In the last few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of devouring three novels — two newly released and one that’s a reread paperback from 2001. They differ in a lot of ways, though I suspect they will have a wider appeal to the ladies in the audience than to the men. (I am open to correction on that, though. Feel free to let me know.)

 

Historical fiction with a twist of adventure

Ella's Promise, by Ellen Gable

Ella’s Promise, by Ellen Gable, is the third in her Great War, Great Love trilogy. Even so, it stands alone as a novel. Set in World War I in Europe, it follows Ella and Garrett through a short period of time that packs quite a bit of action. 

All Ella wants is to use her medical skill set in the operating theater to help wounded soldiers, but she's impeded by the bias of her supervisor, a grouchy religious sister. She's trying hard to accept and prove that she can do more than just clean up vomit, and in her spare time she's studying medical texts.

Through her eyes, we see a side of the war that involves injury and bias. Men were dying, both from their injuries and from the influenza and other illnesses that were spread around. 

Then there was the bias. Ella speaks fluent German; her grandparents were from Germany, and she grew up with the language. However, we find out that this ability to speak German ⏤ and her compassion toward all the wounded soldiers, German or Allied ⏤ is what has set Ella as a “risk” in the eyes of Sister Nora.

Garrett is a spy who has met Ella under his guise as a German officer when he was recuperating from an injury in the POW tent. He tries, unsuccessfully, to slip out, but she catches him.

As it happens, Garrett is at risk and is reassigned to work around the hospital area as a Canadian medic. He gets to be around Ella quite a bit, though she doesn't know she's met him before.

There’s suspense, there’s adventure, and there’s romance. You may find yourself staying up later than you intended, reading through the big football game, and wondering if you can be away from it for long.

 

A binge-read rom-com

All in Good Time, by Carolyn AstfalkCarolyn Astfalk is high on the list of authors I read regularly and who don't let me down with plot or writing. All in Good Time, her latest, is a romance that once again pairs people who could be me together in a situation that feels so real I caught myself looking up to see if the characters were in the room with me.

Brian is a bachelor with a history of first dates. They don't often (ever?) get beyond that. Is it because his standards are too high? Because the right woman just doesn't exist? Because of other struggles he has?

Melanie is a widowed mom of three rambunctious young children. Romance is not on her radar, and she's caught by surprise when Brian shows interest in her and her kids.

The story switches point-of-view, and right at the point when you're ready to strangle one of them, you go to the other. (This is an effective hook, let me tell ya, and it kept me turning the pages and reading!)

There's some suspense thrown in beyond the struggle of falling in love: Both Brian and Melanie have to face some past sins and admit to each other that they need help from the other.

Astfalk is very informed by John Paul II's teachings, and I love that her writing reflects Catholic views without shoving religion down your throat. There's no smut, though there's plenty of romance. There's a good plot, and no shortcuts. You may find yourself biting your nails, curling up for an indefinite reading session, and thinking of the characters while you’re in Mass.

I admire, too, the fact that Astfalk isn't afraid to tackle some big issues, issues that are not talked about. In doing this, she makes her characters even more relatable, the situations they face even more realistic, and the end solution even more graced.

This is a book that's good the first read, and I suspect it will be even better the second time through.

 

Mary in real life (or real life in Mary)

Our Lady of the Lost and FoundOur Lady of the Lost and Found: A Novel of Mary, Faith, and Friendship, by Diane Schoemperlen, is a book I first read back in 2009. I had spent the year previous to reading it researching various titles of Mary. I was both delighted and hesitant to find a novel about Mary. But... it was written by a non-Catholic? That didn't bode well.

Never one to shy away from a recommendation that a reader sends my way, I dove in. 

And I loved it.

Ten years later, I'm loving it all over again. Maybe more than I did originally, because I've lived those ten years and now, instead of seeing the main character as someone older than me, we're peers. Now, four kids later, I get some aspects of the text that might have slipped by unnoticed on the first reading.

Throughout the book, offsetting the fictional story about Mary’s visit to the narrator, we get a glimpse of Mary through history. Schoemperlen turned those stories into a tapestry painting a picture of who Mary really is. Rather that rely on history as dry facts and guaranteed happenings, she explores the stories and even intersperses Mary’s own comments throughout the telling.

There are also moments of insight that just caught me, such as this:

Ordinary Time is all those days that blend into the next without exceptional incident, good or bad; all those days unmarked by either tragedy or celebration. Ordinary Time is the spaces between events, the parts of a life that do not show up in photo albums or get told in stories. In real life, this is the bulk of most people's lives. But in literature, this is the part that doesn't make it into the book. This is the line space between scenes, the blank half-page at the end of a chapter, and the next one begins with a sentence like: Three years later he was dead.

Ordinary Time is all those days you do not remember when you look back on your life. Unless, of course, the Virgin Mary came to visit in the middle of it and everything was changed: before and after; then and now; past, present, and future.

Mary stops in to stay with the narrator, whose name we don't know, and who has kept her location very vague, explained in a few pages that had me howling with laughter. “If you break this promise,” Mary tells the narrator, referring to the promise to keep Mary's visit a secret, “divine wrath will be the least of your problems. Divine wrath will not even be necessary. If people find out that I have been here, that I have talked to you, eaten with you, and slept in your house, they will descend upon you in droves. They will make a plague of locusts look like a minor inconvenience.” She goes on to explain what the narrator dubs "hell on earth" and then calmly settles in.

It's a quiet stay, and the most ordinary sort of visit, if you can get past that the Mother of God just stopped in for a respite before a busy May.

When I first read this, I was struck by the delightful way Schoemperlen wove in the history and the stories of Mary. I’m enjoying that just as much this time, with the added enjoyment of having forgotten much of the lovely details that are included. Schoemperlen's writing is poetic in places, and it taps into a love of life that fits well with the topic of Mary.