Ellen Gable’s ‘A Subtle Grace’ Book Review

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Ellen Gable’s A Subtle Grace, the sequel to the Amazon best-seller, In Name Only, is her best work to date.  I am a big fan of In Name Only, the first O’Donovan Family novel, and have been looking forward to the release of the second book.  If you haven’t read the first book, you will still enjoy A Subtle Grace, because it can stand alone. Both books are available on Amazon in print and Kindle format.

Set in Philadelphia, in 1896, the novel follows the story of 19-year-old Kathleen O’Donovan, daughter of Caroline and David O’Donovan, who are featured in In Name Only.  The impulsive and immature Kathleen witnesses the pairing off of many of her friends and is longing for a husband of her own.  However, she desires marriage over a true relationship and this is what eventually gets her into trouble.

She is training to be a nurse and, in the process, becomes acquainted with the town doctor.  Kathleen also develops an infatuation with the Local Police Chief’s son.  It is in these relationships that Gable juxtaposes love and lust.  It is a potent illustration of what constitutes authentic love and what it takes to achieve that.

One of Gable’s strengths is the lengths she goes to paint a historically accurate picture of the time period.  Her writing gives the reader a vivid mental picture of what life was like in the late 1800’s, the food, fashions and social practices all add to the reader’s enjoyment.

Another strength is Gable’s ability to write a good villain.  And by good, I mean bad. Evil!  It is a self-indulgent pleasure to hope the ‘bad guy’ will get his comeuppance. Gable helps you to relish that feeling.

There are several sub-plots which keep the story moving; Kathleen’s brother Will’s calling to the priesthood, a secret buried deep within her father’s past, and another brother’s shame.

Fans of historical fiction will appreciate this novel.  Those who enjoy the genre of romance–particularly Christian romance–will savor it. Not merely the story of a young girl’s journey to maturity, A Subtle Grace is a masterfully written illustration of the difference between lust and love, between rashness and fortitude, between mere existence and truly living.

The Spirit and the Heart

adulteress  Before I submitted the manuscript for Angela’s Song, I had my pastor pray over it.  I stopped him in the vestibule one day after daily Mass.

“Do you have time to bless something?”

“Of course, what is it?”

I held out my hand, which contained a pink flash drive.  “My book.”

“What, specifically, do you want me to pray for?”  He always asked the right questions, this priest.

“Healing,” I answered.  “I want the readers of this book to experience God’s healing presence in their lives.”

He nodded and raised his hand over the flash drive and what came out of his mouth was a beautiful, profound blessing and intercessory prayer to the Lord, for wisdom, for healing, for conversions, for hope, peace and love.  In my pastor’s blessing were the deepest desires of my heart.

In my adult life I’ve acquired what is called a ‘zeal for souls.’  I constantly pray for conversions.  This is why I identify so well with St. Therese of Lisieux.  Everyone, to me, is Pranzetti, including myself.  On the advice of St. Paul, I ‘work out my salvation with fear and trembling.’

Conversion rarely comes through preaching.  Conversion will come, firstly, with prayer.  Because it is the Holy Spirit, really, that does the conversion.  Look to the apostles on Pentecost.  Their nine-day prayer to the Holy Spirit resulted in the conversion of thousands and the birth of a Church that still stands today, with billions of faithful over the globe.

But the Lord heard my meager prayer for souls as I wrote Angela’s Song, and today I saw proof of His profound love and faithfulness.  I received an e-mail from a woman who had her heart broken time and time again, which made her harden her heart and turn away from God.  But, she wrote, after reading Angela’s Song, that she has made the decision to forgive and to let God back into her life.  I am in awe of the goodness of God in allowing me to know this and see His work through my writing!

How many times have we shut God out because of the hurt caused by people?  I know I have.  What about when we hurt others?  We often shut God out of our lives because we feel unworthy of His love.  There are so many reasons why we harden our hearts.  But the only thing that can soften them again is forgiveness.

We need to forgive others and ourselves.  Forgiving others isn’t too hard…if they’re contrite.  But what about of they don’t apologize?  What if they continue doing all the nasty things that hurt you?  Forgive anyway.  I know…I know…it’s hard.  I’ve been there, done that, as well.  The secret to forgiveness is to realize that the forgiveness sets you free, not the person you forgive.  That is between them and God.  How do you know you’ve truly forgiven?  When you can pray for the person.  When you have no malice toward them.  Forgiveness doesn’t magically take the hurt away.  It does, however, pull down the bars of the prison you’ve built for yourself.

Self forgiveness is probably more difficult than forgiving others.  When we are unable to forgive ourselves, it turns into self-loathing, which can lead to all sorts of serious issues, such as self-injury, depression or suicidal thoughts.  (Of course, these things are not always caused by self unforgiveness. It could be a possible cause; there are clinical origins as well, which need to be addressed by a professional.)

Again, forgiveness is the answer.   In Wisdom 11:24, the bible tells us:

For you love all things that are

and loathe nothing that you have made

for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.

Your sins are not greater than the Lord’s love.  They are not more powerful than the Blood which redeemed them.

Psalm 51 is a soothing psalm, which asks for healing and restoration.  Pray this daily, if you need help in this area.

If you have a deep wound, caused either by your own or someone else’s actions, ask for help from God.  He is waiting to help you.  Angela’s prayers in my novel demonstrate a type of visual prayer that is very healing.  A friend of mine shared the following form of prayer with me and it has helped me on so many occasions.

Before you go to sleep, imagine that you are with Jesus.  He is standing before you, with the healing rays of love coming from His heart into yours.  Ask your guardian angel to keep you there, with Jesus, while Our DM imageyou sleep, so He can heal your wounds.  Do this as many times as you need to, until you are able to forgive yourself and others.

When angry or negative thoughts surface about yourself or the person who hurt you, repeat, “Jesus, I trust in You,” until the thoughts dissipate.

Unforgiveness is a burden. God wants to release us from it.  Turn to Him for help.  Let go of the unforgiveness and walk in freedom.

 

Don’t Think of a Purple Elephant! Why Catholics need TOB Romance Novels

emccolecupp_1366832845_84Today, author Erin Cupp guest posts here at Roman(tic) Catholic, with her thoughts on purple elephants, bodice rippers and unresolved sexual tension.  Read on…

When I became a Christian (not even Catholic yet, mind you—I had my heart set on finding some nice, respectable, non-denominational church near my college at the time), I already knew I had to let go of a few things in order to follow Jesus.  I have often spoken of the night when I stood over my dorm hall’s trash can, my tarot cards in hand, saying, “I guess this is it.”  I remember watching those cards–my connection to a future that I could pretend was mine, could pretend was certain–as they cascaded into a place where I could no longer reach them.

I have often spoken of that experience, of letting go of that one source of immediate gratification.  I’ve never really spoken about throwing out another: my trashy romance novels.

The more of my Bible I read, the less I could reconcile my bodice-rippers with Matthew 5: 27-29.  Also, the more I read my Bible, the less I could deny the fullness of the truth to be found in the Catholic Church, but that’s another story for another blog post.  Anyway, I knew what Jesus said about keeping our minds as pure as our actions, but that wasn’t enough for me.  I wanted to know why.  Why would an ostensibly good and loving God want us to keep our eyes, even our thoughts, for our spouses alone?  If our thoughts are just between ourselves and God, then why should He care what we think?

He cares because He wants our actions to be rooted in thought.  Pure water only comes from pure well, right?

Anyway, there are enough people smarter than I who have written plenty about why God’s plan for us as whole, sexual persons is a good one.  What there aren’t, however, are enough people who’ve given us imaginative examples of how to treat each other as whole persons outside the bedroom.  Oh, don’t get me wrong:  check any of those links and a dozen more, and you’ll get lots of theological discourse (all good, but some of it dry and complicated) about the goodness of the sexual relationship lived in balance with creation and developed both inside and out of the bedroom.  But how do we bring all that to life on a daily basis?  Besides that, there’s a ton of advice out there on “what not to do,” and more specifically for the single folks, “How far is too far?”   It’s good to know our boundaries, but our human brains need to be told more than “Don’t think of a purple elephant.”  If we only hear about what we need to avoid, we have nothing positive to fill our minds and have a more difficult time leaving the bad behind us.

Maybe I haven’t been looking in the right places, but we need more examples of what to do.  We need less negative and more positive.  After all, isn’t the positivity of the gift what Theology of the Body is all about?

My friends, what our reading brains need is a little bit more UST.

UST?  What’s that?  All my fanfic peeps will know that UST stands for Unresolved Sexual Tension.  That’s the stuff that made The X Files so good for so long.  It’s what happens daily, hourly, by the minute outside of “celebrating the sacrament.”  It’s the charged conversations, gestures, glances and more that build the foundation of the chemistry that makes a devout Catholic marriage the steamiest marriage around.

But where are we going to learn these things, how to brew that UST?  We might get a bit of it on TV (see X Files reference above), but it never lasts, does it?  Not long enough for us to gain many helpful examples of how to keep that tension going in our relationships.

But what about those bodice-rippers I threw out?  What about those erotica fanfics I didn’t let myself read back in the day?  There are more than fifty shades of books out there that fill our imaginations with thoughts about people other than our spouses.  You can go ahead and tell yourself that that’s not pornography, but you’re gonna have a hard time proving that to me.  What can we have instead of literary porn if we want to read romance?

Why do we want to read romance anyway?  Because we learn by reading.  We learn so much about our humanity specifically when reading fiction.  Where non-fiction can give us the how-to, fiction can breathe life and relationship into the “to do list” in a way that a self-help book just can’t.  So if we need to learn more UST in order to keep SPICE in our marriages, the last thing we need is more “what not to read.”  Why don’t we have more examples of UST available to us?

Oh, sure, Jane Austen was the queen of UST.  Charlotte Bronte gave us Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, and they brought us boatload of UST.  Elisabeth Gaskell in North and South, Wives and Daughters… shall I go on?  Those books are still with us, but they’ve been around for quite a while and, while timeless, don’t give us any examples of contemporary UST.  Mr. Thornton never sent Margaret Hale an emotionally-charged text message.

So where are the present-day stories of UST?  Well, check with the Catholic Writers Guild.  We’re working on it.  As for me, when I wrote Don’t You Forget About Me, I set about to incorporate as much UST into the novel as I could.  I wanted to give readers an example of how a relationship can blossom dyfam-animoto-finalslide-poppiesand grow between two people who have to work out both chemistry and conflict before they take their relationship in any other directions.  AnnMarie Creedon gave us a whole book-worth of UST in Angela’s Song.  Emily’s Hope by Ellen Gable is a by-turns angsty, by-turns sweet series of vignettes showing how UST was left to blossom or turn sour, depending on the wills of the persons wielding it.

Fair warning:  there is a danger in overtantalizing yourself with UST-laden fiction.  You can only benefit from UST fiction if you use it to inspire communication, not to get stuck in watching how imaginary people are panting after each other like deer with no running stream in sight.  As in all things, moderation!  But if you want to learn by reading some ways to put the UST into your life, Catholic romance can be an excellent investment.  Check out the novels in the previous paragraph.  If you’re looking for more titles that will give you a Catholic take on UST, take a look at the winners of the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval.

Are you still not finding what you want to read?  Then join the CWG and write some yourself!  There’s certainly a need for it.

Angela’s Song FREE on Kindle

Angela's Song front cover

My Catholic Romance novel, Angela’s Song, is FREE today and tomorrow (11/13/13 and 11/14/13) on Kindle!  This novel has averaged 4.3 stars on Amazon.  Here is a sample review:

One of the most beautiful love stories I have ever read. I wish I had written this, except that then it would have been a Mormon novel instead of a Catholic one. It fully explains what God’s intentions for human love are, and how to meet those intentions. It makes it clear that God’s laws are for our happiness, not to make us miserable. I literally read it in one sitting, and couldn’t put it down for anything until I finished it.

Anne Wingate author of Scene of the Crime and other books of fiction and nonfiction

Click here to download your free copy.

Angela’s Song: Book Excerpt #2

I stand up to get down from the stand and suddenly I feel faint.  My hands are jittery and I realize it is probably my blood sugar plummeting.  All I’ve consumed in the past 24 hours is half a glass of orange juice and the toothpaste I accidentally swallowed when I brushed my teeth this morning.  Cold beads of sweat pop out on my forehead and I am fading fast.

The bailiff approaches and grabs the back of my forearm.  He steers me toward the door, but it is difficult, because there is a crowd pressing all around.  I hear someone shouting at me, asking if I want to make a statement.  Weakly, I shake my head.  I stumble a bit and fall into the bailiff.

“You okay, Ma’am?”  he asks.

“Need a second,” I manage to whisper.

Suddenly, I feel a hand on my lower back.  Startled, I look up and see Jack.

“I’m driving Mrs. Cooke home,” he says to the bailiff.

“I still need to escort her out the door,” the bailiff answers and he and Jack both manage to navigate through the crowd, which has begun to thin slightly.  Once we are out, Jack grabs my hand and sprints down the hall to get away from the commotion. I force myself to run with him.  He leads me out a doorway and down the stone steps to the sidewalk.  I feel my legs buckle and hear Jack yell, “Whoa! Are you okay?” as he wraps his arm around my waist to prevent me from falling.

“Too nervous to eat.  Feel sick now,” I manage.

“When was the last time you did eat, Angela?”  he asks, his grip tightening as he realizes I could possibly pass out.

“Yesterday…lunch.”  I whisper.

“Can you make it two blocks to the car?”

“Slow,” I croak, nodding.  Jack patiently guides me down the street, but gives up and carries me the last half a block.  He gets me into his car and reclines the seat so I can lie down.  Almost immediately, I start to sense that light, floating feeling that I get before settling into a deep sleep.  At first I fight it, but, believing that Jack will keep me safe, I succumb.

At one point, I become aware that Jack is talking to me, but I can’t make out what he is saying.  Something smells delicious, though, and I hear myself let out a moan in response to my hunger.  But the sleep grabs me again and I let it.

The next thing I know I am on my living room couch, swaddled in the throw that I keep draped over its arm.  My shoes are off and my bare feet feel luxurious wrapped in the chenille blanket.  I feel a strong arm behind my neck and a spoon being tipped into my mouth.

“Ummmm…” Warm, fragrant broth spills past my lips and down my throat.  The heat is invigorating.

“Ummm…” is all I can manage.  I feel awake, but my body doesn’t seem to want to cooperate.

Jack murmurs, “Good job, Angela.  Keep eating the soup.”

After a few more spoonfuls I am able to lift my eyelids halfway.  I see Jack’s handsome face slightly above mine.

He smiles, “Your color is starting to come back.  Thank goodness.  You had me worried there for awhile.”

I struggle to sit up on my own and he helps me, propping the pillows behind me.  I can feel sleep creeping up on me again, though, and my eyes start to close.

“Oh, no you don’t.  Come on, let me feed you a little more of this and then you’ll be able to eat on your own.”

I can feel my eyes rolling up into my head.

Jack pats my cheek. “Angela, if you don’t stay awake the next stop is the ER.”

I don’t want to go to the hospital, so I fight to keep my eyes open and I eat every spoonful of soup Jack ladles into my mouth.  Finally, consciousness wins over fatigue and a little strength comes.

“So hungry,” I whisper.

“Can you eat on your own now?”

I nod.

“Good girl!” he says, happily, “I got Chinese.  Do you want rice first or chicken?”

“Everything.  I’m starving,” I can still only manage to whisper.

He laughs and says, “That’s what I want to hear,” as he fills one of my ceramic pasta bowls with roast pork fried rice and some kind of chicken with vegetables.   I attack the bowl as soon as he puts it in my hands, and then notice that he is saying grace.  I’m so embarrassed!

“I prayed for the both of us,” he grins. “Eat.”

Wordlessly, I comply. He refills my bowl twice more and I polish off every bit of its contents.

“More?“ he asks.

I shake my head.  I cannot believe the volume of food I have just consumed.  Compared to me, Jack ate like a bird.

“The only other time I’ve ever eaten like that was right after I gave birth to a child,” I say. “Thank you so much for lunch, for feeding me lunch…for everything,”  I sigh.  “I seem to be high maintenance when I’m around you, Jack.  I’m sorry.”

In his best weatherman voice he says, “Well, the incidence of high maintenance is 100% right now, but we’ve only really spent time with each other twice.  I’m confident the percentage will dip significantly with each date.”   He catches himself.  “That is, ah, well, if you want to see me…socially…that is.”

At this particular moment, the events of the day choose to come rushing at me like a freight train and suddenly I burst into tears. Poor Jack.  I can see the look of bewilderment on his face.  Reaching out, I pull him toward me, bury my head in his chest and sob.

“Did I say–” he starts.

“Emotion overload!” I wail, into what was a crisp white shirt before I splattered it with tears and makeup smudges.  “It’s not you.  It’s not you at all,” I sob.

I feel him relax and enfold me deeper into his embrace.  The tears spill out until they are gone and then I rest my head on his shoulder.

“It’s all done,” I sigh.  “Volume One of my life ended today.”