I know I’m usually all about middle grade fiction over here, but I just finished the most lovely adult historical fiction, and I have to share it with you all: Adrift, by Rhonda Ortiz, the second book in her Molly Chase series.
You guys, Adrift checks all the boxes of things I’d been dying to see more of in a book:
Historical fiction of a less-written-about time period (1793 Boston and Philadelphia), check.
Fascinating historical details, check.
Spies! Intrigue! Puzzles to solve! Check.
Romantic banter, check.
A beautiful representation of a realistic but God-centered engagement and a healthy, loving marriage, check check.
Adrift picks up right where In Pieces, the first book in the series left off: the engagement of Molly Chase to her childhood frenemy, if you’ll forgive me the modern term, Josiah Robb. Josiah has been recruited to be part of the new country’s team of intelligencers, as the war between France and England is threatening American shores. What follows is a story that is simultaneously adventurous and deeply philosophical at turns, while losing none of the good humor and historical richness of Book 1.
Here’s the publisher’s description:
Boston, 1793—Now engaged, Molly Chase and new federal intelligencer Josiah Robb want nothing more than to settle into quiet married life—or as quiet as life can be when one is hunting down a ring of traitors among Boston’s elite. But the plan has one glaring flaw: Molly herself, and the madness that has plagued her since her father’s death. Until Molly proves herself an asset rather than a liability, Josiah’s investigation cannot move forward.
Intelligencer Eliza Hall thought she had left her troubles behind in Philadelphia long ago. When she is sent back to follow a suspect, she’s ready to acknowledge the truth and make her peace—except that the man she loves, who doesn’t know about her past, is assigned to come with her. Now she must outwit her fellow spy and closest friend, lest he hate her for what she had been, while they maneuver to prevent Revolutionary France from dragging the fledgling United States into a war it cannot afford.
Both women are in search of a safe harbor. Little do they expect the winds to blow them into the most tumultuous waters of all—back home.
Since you’ll ask... Yes, in this case you should really read the series in order. In my opinion, you’d be a bit confused about the details if you jumped right in here. Do yourself a favor and order In Pieces if the series is new to you!
You can pre-order Adrift before its August 8 release day (and/or order In Pieces while you're there) at this link: https://rhondaortiz.com/store/adrift . Many thanks to Rhonda Ortiz and Chrism Press for providing me an e-ARC in exchange for my honest review.
I'll be doing an interview with Rhonda very soon—any questions you'd like me to ask her?
A hidden bonus of being a Catholic author is that I've spent my life steeped in story-worthy elements. You want beauty and drama? Walk into a Mass and breathe in the incense and beeswax candles. Let the music of Byrd and Tallis echo in your ears. See the gleam of brass in the smoking thurifer and the sheen of silk on the tabernacle and vestments. You want the perfect story? Read the Bible, with all its heartache and betrayal and sacrifice and longing and love. Or the lives of the saints, echoing this story in their own unique lives.
But the downside to being a Catholic author? It can get annoying when non-Catholic authors steal from the treasure box of Catholic imagery and items. When they do it well, I don't mind so much (I loved The Inquisitor's Tale, for example…even though it did say Dominicans wore brown...). But when they do it poorly and the book wins acclaim, it's honestly painful. A recent award-winning title by a truly brilliant author missed the mark so much on angels and religious life (to a Catholic, "religious life" means living as a nun, sister, priest, brother, or monk) that I was honestly astounded by its stellar reception. Didn't it matter to anyone else that sacred elements of our Faith were being appropriated to add drama and mystique to a story?
Last week I read Back to the Bright Before, by Katherin Nolte--a newly-released story that very much takes advantage of the "Catholic mystique," but also very much gets it right. I am assuming that the Nolte is Catholic or was at some point, because she not only uses Catholic elements carefully and respectfully, but she never lets them get in the way of a really well-told story. It would have been easy to point out much of her symbolism to her readers, but instead she leaves it there like a little Easter egg for her readers to notice or not notice—you don't need to know all the answers because what you're there for is the story.
Here's a description from the publisher:
When eleven-year-old Pet Martin's dad falls from a ladder on their family farm, it isn't just his body that crashes to the ground. So does every hope her family had for the future. Money is scarce, and Pet's mom is bone-tired from waiting tables at the local diner, and even with the extra hours, it's not enough for a third surgery for Pet's dad. Her five-year-old brother, Simon, now refuses to say anything except the word "cheese." Worst of all? The ladder accident was Pet's fault.
She's determined to fix things--but how? Good old-fashioned grit...and maybe a little bit of magic.
When a neighbor recites a poem about an ancient coin hidden somewhere on the grounds of the local abbey, Pet forms a plan. With her brother, a borrowed chicken, and a stolen pony, Pet runs away from home. If she can find the coin, Daddy can have his surgery, Momma can stop her constant working, and Simon might speak again. But Pet isn't the only one who wants the coin...which means searching for it is more dangerous than she ever imagined.
This dazzling debut novel filled with magic, family, and adventure is sure to be an instant classic.
Here's the thing. This book will be classified as magical realism, but to a Catholic reader, it will read as something even better: a story of miracles. As Pet learns in the story and I have learned in my life, miracles are all around but you'll miss them if you're not looking. How wonderful it was to read a story where faith moved mountains and hope overcame the darkest evil! If you want to see it as magic… that's ok. Maybe we can agree it's the "Old Magic" of Narnia and The Secret Garden, a power bigger than the powers of this world, bigger than evil and bigger than even our biggest problems.
On a final note—and I know I can't really work this in with a perfect segue—the NUNS ARE SO GREAT. Having lived across the street from a Dominican monastery for several years, and knowing many nuns and sisters very well, I do get prickly when they're portrayed in literature as socially-awkward mystics or repressed goody-two-shoes. Nuns are real people, guys. :) Every single one I've met has entered religious life because she feels called to something bigger and deeper than herself—she is running to a great love, not running away from the world. And that deep love and complete normality was perfectly portrayed in Back to the Bright Before. Sister Melanie, the novice sister who befriends Pet, is just like many young nuns I know: kind and funny and nerdy and normal. I just loved her.
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations, check out Always in the Middle!
As a mother of eight, it has been hard at times to know what to prioritize for my children. The older I get, the more I see the evidence that St. Paul was right: whatever is true… whatever is honorable… whatever is pure… whatever is lovely… think on these things. Instead of focusing on the evil and injustice in the world, we look closely at the good and the fair fighting against it. Instead of simply deploring ugliness, we look deeply at beauty.
Keeping that in mind, there's little better to share with my children than stories of the saints: real-life heroes, pointing with their vastly different lives to goodness and truth and beauty. I'm so excited for the recent renaissance of excellent saint stories and picture books for children, and Light of the Saints, by Cory Heimann, illustrated by Tricia Dugat, is a perfect example. No dry and yawn-inducing text here, but lively stories with interactive illustrations that bring them even more to life.
In some ways, you really need to experience this book for yourself to truly appreciate it, but the concept itself sells it: on every other page, a "hidden" illustration appears when you shine a flashlight through the other side. I love this for the sheer creativity, but even more so because it works so appropriately for a book of saint stories, to show that God's activity in their lives is often secret and hidden until it shines gloriously through.
I was kindly sent a copy of this book by the publisher to review (it's the first book from Word on Fire's new children's imprint, Spark!), but as it happened, I already had a copy of my own—so I'd love to pass it on to one of you to share with your children! To enter, just leave a comment telling me who your favorite saint is. I'll choose a random winner next Thursday. (I can ship only to the U.S., but you international readers are welcome to share your favorite saints with us anyway—just let me know you're not officially entering!)
Happy [it's still] Easter! I have a lovely product to recommend to you all today: The You Are Loved gift set from Warner Press. I was sent a copy to review, but am more than happy to spread the word about this lovely set, which includes a reflection journal and a stack of cards comprised of an affirmation on one side and a corresponding scripture passage on the reverse.
Look how beautiful these cards are! Honestly, they came at just the right time—not that there's a bad time to be reminded of God's love!—because the last week of Lent was full of challenges and necessitated continual reminders of truth.
I often tell my kids (taking a hint from Gary D. Schmidt's Pay Attention, Carter Jones), "Remember who you are…and remember whose you are." Scripture is full, of course, of God's words of love to us: that we are beautiful in his sight, that we are never alone, that we are loved, that we are His. These cards are perfect for moments when we need to remind ourselves or those in our lives of these ever-new truths.
I tucked a card into each of my children's Easter baskets this year, hand-selected for whichever reminder I thought they most needed right now. They'd be perfect to slip into a birthday card or package or lunch box, one at a time, but with the journal they make a lovely gift set that would be ideal for Mother's Day or even a Bridal or Baby shower gift.
For me, the cards are the heart of this gift set, and the journal is a cherry on top. My only complaint, if you will, is that I'd have preferred a smaller journal size (I'm pretty picky about this, though). It was a standard 8.5 x 11, but a half size journal always feels less intimidating to me.
For the months of April and May, you can purchase this collection for 30% off using the code BLOG30; check it out at this link:
Everyone, please welcome Haley Stewart to our corner of the internet today! Haley is the author of several books; most recently, her adult non-fiction Jane Austen's Genius Guide to Life and her early reader "Sister Seraphina Mysteries," The Pursuit of the Pilfered Cheese and The Curious Christmas Trail. All three were among my favorite books from 2022. I am so excited to host her today so you can all get to know her a little better.
FEH: Hello, Haley! Can you tell us a little bit about your recent books and any new projects you're excited about?
HS: Sure! In the spring, my new book from Ave Maria Press was released: Jane Austen's Genius Guide to Life: On Love, Friendship, and Becoming the Person God Created You to Be. It explores what we can learn from Jane Austen's wonderful novels about cultivating virtue: what virtue (and vice) look like, how we might develop the virtues (and what holds us back), and how the people God places in our lives can help us to become more holy. Austen is such a brilliant novelist but she's also a moral philosopher diving into the big questions of life and what it means to be a good person. And I tell plenty of personal anecdotes along the way about how much she has taught me! The other big project I'm excited about are my new series for young readers, The Sister Seraphina Mysteries.
They're about an order of mouse nuns (the Sisters of Our Lady Star of the Sea) who live in an abbey underneath G.K. Chesterton's house in England. They run a school for village mice and, inspired by Chesterton's Father Brown mysteries, start solving local crimes. In the first book, The Pursuit of the Pilfered Cheese, the sisters (and two eager students) ride their tiny bicycles to London to investigate the theft of the prize cheese meant for the school fundraiser. And in the second book (my favorite of the series), The Curious Christmas Trail, Sister Seraphina and her friends must find Sister Dymphna, one of the senior nuns, who has started wandering off and becoming disoriented. All the excitement takes on Christmas Eve on the night of the Nativity Play and the Christmas feast!
FEH: I loved all your insights in Jane Austen's Genius Guide to Life. Even though I'm a diehard Austenite and have read most of her books multiple times, your focus on virtue and vice made me think about aspects of the stories I'd completely missed. Was this something you naturally made the connection with while reading, or was there a moment that pointed you in that direction?
HS: I've been really interested in Austen as a moral philosopher since taking a wonderful class with Dr. Margaret Watkins my senior year at Baylor University. We read all of Austen's novels through a philosophical lens. Ever since, I've been really interested in what Austen can teach us about vice, virtue, and what it means to live a good life.
FEH: I read that you got the idea for your mouse nuns book in a dream. I think that's every author's, well, dream! What was your process like bringing that from the seed of an idea to a full fledged plot?
HS: I let the idea simmer for several months and then I just decided to try it out. I started out with one character in mind and then a second. Pretty soon I had a full cast of characters! I started writing without knowing how the mystery would unfold or who the villain might be. I just followed my little mice around from scene to scene. I love writing but it's usually a bit of a slog to get through a book project. For these books, the whole process was a joy!
FEH: How does your faith influence your creativity?
HS: This is a hard question to answer because it's hard to imagine any way it doesn't influence my creativity. Everything from the kind of art I want to create to what I think it means to be a creative are all connected to my faith!
FEH: I'm not mean enough to ask you to name your favorite book, but are there particular books that inspired you? If you could write a book that was *like* any book, what would it be?
HS: For fiction I'm always inspired by Madeleine L'Engle. I love the way her books explore complicated ideas of faith, science, and relationships without being preachy. I'm also hopelessly devoted to both Lucy Maud Montgomery and Jane Austen's characters. They are so life-like!
FEH: Okay, and a few super quick questions just for fun! Would you rather live in Narnia, Middle Earth (at peace), or Pemberley?
HS: Oh my, what a difficult choice! It's hard to pass up Middle Earth, but I'm afraid that I'm a Pemberley sort of person.
FEH: Favorite ice cream?
FEH: Favorite Doctor of the Church?
HS: St. Hildegard of Bingen
FEH: Last book you binge read?
HS: Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin
FEH: Pumpkin spice or apple cider?
HS:Very basic pumpkin spice.
FEH: Thank you so much for the interview, Haley! I loved learning a little bit more about you and your books.
Welcome to the Blog Tour for The Secret Garden Devotional by Rachel Dodge, hosted by JustRead Publicity Tours!
ABOUT THE BOOKTitle: The Secret Garden Devotional
Author: Rachel Dodge
Release Date: December 6, 2022
Devotional Inspiration from Mary Lennox's Beautifully Mysterious Secret GardenThe Secret Garden Devotional offers lovely inspiration that explores the themes of faith, family, contentment, wisdom, and joy in the classic Frances Hodgson Burnett novel, cherished by generations of readers.
Each reading corresponds with a chapter from the book and invites you to embrace God’s guiding hand in your life as you are becoming His new creation. With themes of growth, spiritual nourishment, God's love and care, and His transforming power, this beautiful chapter-by-chapter devotional includes original artwork throughout. Each reading includes examples from the novel, scripture, life application, and prayers perfect for groups, book clubs, or personal reflection.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rachel Dodge is the bestselling author of the award-winning Anne of Green Gables Devotional, The Little Women Devotional, and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Rachel's newest book is The Secret Garden Devotional! Rachel teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and is a writer for the popular Jane Austen's World blog. She is passionate about encouraging and equipping women to grow closer to Jesus through prayer and the study of God's Word. A true kindred spirit at heart, Rachel enjoys books, bonnets, and ball gowns.
Connect with Rachel by visiting racheldodge.com to follow her on social media or subscribe to email newsletter updates.
(2) winners will receive a signed copy of The Secret Garden Devotional and a hardcover illustrated copy of The Secret Garden along with a bookmark and stickers.
Full tour schedule linked below. The giveaway begins at midnight November 30, 2022 and will last through 11:59 PM EST on December 7, 2022. Winner will be notified within 2 weeks of close of the giveaway and given 48 hours to respond or risk forfeiture of prize. US only. Void where prohibited by law or logistics.
Giveaway is subject to the policies found here.
Follow along at JustRead Tours for a full list of stops!
Thanks for following along with the blog tour for this book! Rachel kindly agreed to join us for an interview to discuss The Secret Garden Devotional. Welcome, Rachel!
Hi! I'm Faith. I blog about books and creativity, family and faith. Welcome!