September’s Open Book & Sabbath Rest Book Talk

Carolyn Astfalk has a first Wednesday of the month book review linkup!

Fiction is Good for You: Sabbath Rest Book Talk meets An Open Book book review linkup bit.ly/SabbathBooks

In the interests of being as efficient with my time as I possibly can, I’m killing two birds with one stone.  In addition to reviewing books for #OpenBook, I’ve started a monthly event on Facebook Live over at my author page.  It’s called Sabbath Rest Book Talk, and in it I’ll talk about a few of the books I’ve read in the past month in terms of how they, as fiction, help us grow in humanity.

This month’s focus was on meaning, or how fiction uses meaning to convey layer upon layer of experience, understanding, and dimensionality of the human experience.  When we humans use symbols to communicate meaning, we give flesh and bone and substance to the invisible.

September’s SRBT Featured Fiction:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Fiction is Good for You: Sabbath Rest Book Talk meets An Open Book book review linkup bit.ly/SabbathBooks

The Lion’s Heart by Dena Hunt

Fiction is Good for You: Sabbath Rest Book Talk meets An Open Book book review linkup bit.ly/SabbathBooks

(Click here for my more detailed review of The Lion’s Heart)

A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams

Fiction is Good for You: Sabbath Rest Book Talk meets An Open Book book review linkup bit.ly/SabbathBooks

Other stuff I’m reading:

It is Right and Just by Rev. John Cunningham, OP & Rev. George Cardinal Pell [nonfiction]

Fiction is Good for You: Sabbath Rest Book Talk meets An Open Book book review linkup bit.ly/SabbathBooks

Night by Elie Weisel [narrative nonfiction]

Fiction is Good for You: Sabbath Rest Book Talk meets An Open Book book review linkup bit.ly/SabbathBooks

And here’s September’s Sabbath Rest Book Talk video:

Fiction is Good for You: Sabbath Rest Book Talk meets An Open Book book review linkup bit.ly/SabbathBooks

What are you reading?  Don’t forget to link up YOUR #OpenBook reviews over at Carolyn’s!

Open Book: June reads for July Reviews!

Carolyn Astfalk has a first Wednesday of the month book review linkup!

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One thing can be said for having a couple of complications dragging out weeks after super minor abdominal surgery: there’s lots of time to do nothing but sit in bed and READ!   Perhaps that’s the only thing to be said for it, though; being unable to work on one’s own writing and publishing is pretty frustrating.  That said, today is the rescheduled release date for UNCLAIMED, Book 1 in The Memoirs of Jane E, Friendless Orphan.

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Unclaimed cover art Copyright 2016 Fiona Jayde Media

I was chomping so badly at the bit to get that up and running by June 24, but instead I was propped up in bed with my iPad and this guy for my reading buddy.

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Funny story: five days after I came home from  the hospital, Siggie (above) suddenly started sniffing around my belly and instead of making me take his tennis ball out of his mouth to play fetch, he just gave it to me.  The two days later I was back at the doctor, and lo and behold! I had an infection developing.  Of course, if he were really intuitive, he wouldn’t have kept trying to jump directly onto my belly… but he’s still a good recovery companion.

Okay, let’s look at what I got to read in June…

Testing Liberty & Fight for Liberty by Theresa Linden

I really cannot rave well enough about the Chasing Liberty trilogy.  If you took The Hunger Games, The Handmaid’s Tale, Brave New World, and 1984, wove them together with a fresh, deeply human sensibility and gave it just the lightest sprinkle of holy water… you might come close to getting a series as fast-paced, powerful and satisfying as Liberty’s three-part tale.

I loved Chasing Liberty, butTesting Liberty Brown Red in Testing Liberty, Linden really ups the ante.  It was like in Chasing we got to see the veneer of Aldonia’s oppressive deep green culture scraped painfully off, and then in Testing, we dive down deep, deeper into the hearts and lives threatened, destroyed, and changed for good or ill by the conflict between the Regimen’s culture and the inner drive for freedom and independence that some of the colonists live out for themselves… and are getting ready to share with Aldonia on a wider and far more risky basis.   Usually the middle installment in a trilogy is the most difficult to keep spinning on a lively axis, but Linden turns that idea on its head and somehow makes Testing even more heart-rending and engaging than its predecessor.

FightForLibertyAnd then in Fight for Liberty, it all comes so satisfyingly full-circle.  Something Linden does so powerfully in this conclusion(ish) to the series is that the encourages us to look at the future of freedom (and, frankly, the present) through the lens of our history.  The way she approached a renewal of personal freedom as a rebirth of the ideals and courage of the American Revolution is a tack we don’t see often taken in speculative fiction.  It works.  Fresh, engaging, honest and uplifting, we can see our future as fraught with danger… but also promising courage and hope and the best humanity has to offer.

Fight for Liberty dropped on July 4! Keep an eye out here for an in-depth interview with Theresa Linden later this week.  

The Tomb by Stephanie Landsem

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It’s the story of Mary and Martha illuminated in a way you’ve never imagined.  In this conclusion (I think?) to the Living Water series, Stephanie Landsem gives us a rich backstory on why Martha is the way she is–a controlling, put-upon, neat freak who’s never satisfied.  I’d never before considered the kind of heartbreak that might have gone into making a Martha.  Landsem took my preconceived notions of a picky, spoiled, overly pious Jewish daughter and made her into someone who’s been through just as much as any of us has in on our way to becoming the fragile, cautious creatures we can be… until we let Christ come in to our lives and change us.  This third book has just as much delicious angst as The Well but just as much sweet satisfaction as The Thief.  For readers who like a good ends-tied-up series, this last book makes that happen but infuses the ending of the trilogy with great energy; it left me happy for the characters (each in his/her way) but still sad to see it end.  Highly recommended.

At the Crossroad by Amy M. Bennett

At the Cross Road: Book 4 in the Black Horse Campground Mystery Series by Amy M. Bennett (Oak Tree Press)

People, I just adore this series.  It’s really so much fun to read.  Okay, I realize I just said that about a series with a body count, but hey, take me as I am.  In At the Crossroad, Corrie, Rick, and JD all have to face the past–their own and the ghosts of others.  The mystery is fast-paced, crisp, and richly human.  The storytelling is clean, and the violence and relationships are never gratutitous.  All these characters have come to feel like family to me over the years, to the point that, yes, I’ve declared myself #TeamRick (and Crossroad makes that seem even more possible than No Vacancy did… but I’m sure Amy will keep us guessing).  In fact, I kind of know who I want to set JD up with, but Amy would pee her pants if I told her, because it’s so outlandish… Anyway, I hope that the fact that these characters have taken on their own lives in my imagination (am I writing Black Horse fanfic in my head?!?!) is endorsement enough.

After the Thaw by Therese Heckenkamp

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A sequel to Heckenkamp’s Frozen Footprints that yet stands strong on its own, After the Thaw is a story of courage, healing, redemption, self-sacrifice, and the value of honesty.  The plot was fast-paced and kept me well invested in the future of heroine Charlene, the people she loves, and the people who sought to use her for their own ends.  Serious and tragic but with a great touch of humanity, Thaw kept me turning the pages and caring about the characters.  Should Charlene really marry Ben?  I mean, he’s a good guy, but is he the guy?  And what is going on with Clay and that pregnant girl?  For all the angst of the beginning and middle, the end is super satisfying with a touch of just-right sweetness.  Tough but still clean, this would make a great beach read.

Sunflowers in a Hurricane by Anne Faye

Sunflower Front CoverA sweet, touching story of healing, forgiveness and closure, Sunflowers in a Hurricane weaves together the lives touched, smote and healed by an unlikely friendship. When single-mom Cheryl must clear out her estranged mother’s house, daughter Ruth becomes the garden help and Mass companion of elderly widower George next door.  The move brings Cheryl face-to-face with her difficult past, a past she’s been evading ever since Ruth was conceived, as well as with her fears for her own and Ruth’s future.  Meanwhile, George stands courageously and compassionately in the face of his own past losses resurfacing in ways he hadn’t expected. The two households mirror each other in ways that make us think more deeply about the nature of love, forgiveness, acceptance, and redemption.  Faye turns a tale with an honest kindness often missing from family drama fiction these days, while keeping readers hooked on the story.  This was an uplifting and enjoyable read you’ll want for your beach bag!

Don’t forget to link up YOUR reviews over at Carolyn’s!

7 Quick Takes with Chasing Liberty Author Theresa Linden

7QTlogoIt’s time for Seven Quick Takes Friday, a Friday linkup over at This Ain’t the Lyceum.

Today I’m delighted to bring you an interview with author Theresa Linden.  TLindenHeadshot

Theresa resides with her husband and three boys in northeast Ohio. She was born in San Francisco, California. Her father was in the Coast Guard, so the family moved every three years. This probably accounts for her love of traveling and desire to see the world. Living by the ocean and under the palm trees in Guam and Hawaii spurred her imagination. She began writing illustrated short stories with her sister in grade school, borrowing characters from favorite movies and shows. Now, writing is her passion. Her favorite genres include Fantasy, Western, Contemporary, Supernatural and Futuristic. Other interests: acrylic painting, drawing with ink, hiking, traveling and American History. Theresa is a member of the Catholic Writer’s Guild  and the Elyria Library Writers’ Group. She has an Associate’s Degree in Electrical/Mechanical Drafting and a Catechetical Diploma from Catholic Distance University. She is currently working on the last book in the Chasing Liberty trilogy.

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Tell us about Chasing Liberty.  How did the idea come to you?  How long did it take you from start to publication?

CHASING LIBERTYcoverChasing Liberty is the story of a young woman who seeks freedom in a society where the government controls every aspect of life. Nature is elevated above man. Developments in science and technology are not balanced with developments in morals and ethics. Faith, family and freedom have been lost.

The idea for this story came directly from the news. We used to watch Glenn Beck when he was on TV, and my jaw would drop at some of the stories on that show . . . disturbing things about the government watching you, about deep-green movements that think of humans as little more than parasites, about scientific advancements that cross ethical boundaries. Beck encouraged viewers not to take his word for it but to do their own research. So I did. The more I discovered, I kept thinking, “Wow, this can’t be real. It seems like fiction.” I wondered what our world, our country would be like if all this came to pass. As a writer, I don’t just wonder . . . I write!

From start to publication, Chasing Liberty took 2-1/2 years.

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Idea, research, editing, design…What was your favorite part of working on this project? What was your least favorite?

Favorite – I love developing characters and their relationships, thinking of ways to make them unique and bring them to life, giving them strengths and weakness, habits and quirks. I wanted Liberty to come across as strong and courageous, a person who doesn’t blindly go along with the culture but who is willing to stand against it. Even if she stands alone. She’s not afraid to speak her mind, even knowing the government is always listening and has programs that tag phrases considered “hate speech.”

Least favorite – While I enjoy all the different stages of writing, my least favorite part was the research, only because it opened my eyes to many evil ideologies in our world. I discovered how influential special-interest groups have been in our government and in world governments. Scary stuff.

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Tell us about how this work came to reach us:  did you go the self-publishing route or did you contract with a publisher?  What was that like?

If an author wants to have a publisher, I have learned, there is a lot of waiting involved. It took me one year to write the story, beginning in the summer of 2012. Then I spent several months looking for a publisher, several months waiting. Wanting to get my story out there, I decided to self-publish, and that was when World Castle Publishing offered me a contract. There was more waiting after that. Almost a year later, November of 2014, Chasing Liberty was released. My first published book! I am excited that the second book in this trilogy, Testing Liberty, will come out this fall.

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What other things in your life do you juggle in order to keep at your writing?  How’s that working out for you?

I am a homeschooling mother of three teenage, adopted boys, one of which has autism. During the school year, homeschooling takes up the bulk of my day. And of course there are all the daily chores which I am learning to share with my boys. At the end of the day, I try to do something related to writing whether re-reading a section I’ve written, or critiquing a friend’s work, but it’s often hard to focus on actual writing. So I look forward to the weekends for that. Most of my writing takes place over summer. This summer, I am working on the third book in the Liberty trilogy, Fight for Liberty. I have set myself some unrealistic goals in order to finish the first draft before school begins. Amazingly, have been keeping them!Testing Liberty Brown Red

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Setting, characters, plot, mood, tone… What would you describe as your greatest strength as a writer?

I enjoy developing characters, so I hope that is my greatest strength. I want my characters to feel real. Sometimes I do character interviews toward the beginning of developing a story, so that I can really get to know them. I even write scenes that will never make it to the final story, just so I can experience their past or moments in their lives that made them who they are.

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Conversely, if you could change one thing about your writing style, what would it be and why?

This is a hard question to answer because I feel like my writing style changes with each book I write. I write constantly, and I often read articles and books on how to improve. By the time I finish writing a story, I can always go back and find things that I could strengthen or do differently. I hope my writing style gets stronger and stronger over the years, but I know there will always be room for improvement.

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Lastly, where can we find your work, a. k. a. give you our hard earned cash?

Chasing Liberty is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your preferred online bookseller.

If you like book trailers, check out the trailers for Chasing Liberty and for Testing Liberty.

I have a summer blog, Virtual Tour of America, for anyone who enjoys reflecting on the early history of our country.

And I can be found on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

WWRW: Catching Up

Don’t forget the Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show Selfie Scavenger Hunt!  It’s not too late to post those pics

Let’s link up with What We’re Reading Wednesday over at Jessica’s Housewifespice Place.

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It’s been months since I read these.  Now I’ll finally get around to reviewing them!

Shadow in the Dark (The Chronicles of Xan Book 1) by Anthony Barone Kolenc

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Here’s what it’s about:

The Shadow passed through the midnight chill, dark and silent. Two small boys peered down at it in terror. “It’s back,” one of them cried in a faint whisper.

Bandits attack a medieval village. A young boy is injured and loses his memory. He wakes up at a Benedictine monastery and is given the name Xan—short for Alexander. But when the monastery is raided and a monk is accused of a violent crime, Xan must uncover the truth. Could the raid be related to the one that destroyed his village? And what about the shadowy figure Xan has seen lurking on the abbey grounds at night?

Mystery. Danger. Adventure. It’s all here. And true forgiveness and courage too.

“A well-done mediaeval mystery, laced with plenty of action and a bit of downright spookiness.”-Colleen Drippe, Hereditas literary magazine.

“A brisk-moving and suspenseful tale. Kolenc has penned a masterpiece.”-Dan Flaherty, The Scholar.

“This could be the future standard for sound adolescent literature!”- Leo Madigan, The Weka-Feather Cloak.

I had fun reading this, and so did First Shift, a pair of eleven year-old girls who “aren’t girly,” for those of you who don’t know.  This little gem offers and more than delivers mystery, adventure, a richly imagined other world (after all, isn’t the past another world?), and characters who live and breathe in all their dimensions.  The red herrings even threw me off, which is a high compliment for a YA mystery novel.  The faith-related piece is handled organically and breathes along with the characters, feeling more like a part of the setting than of the plot.  I can’t recommend Shadow in the Dark enough!

Next up, confession time: these days I just wait around for authors to send me review copies.  It’s a very economical way of keeping one’s reading list affordable.  Specter, however, by John Desjarlais, I was not willing to wait.

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I preordered the darn thing.  WITH REAL LIVE ACTUAL MONEY. You’re welcome, Professor Desjarlais.  Your question, though, Reader, surely is, “Was it worth it?”  HECK YES!!!!

Selena De La Cruz would like to leave the past behind as she plans her wedding … but the past no longer sleeps. In 1993, a Cardinal was murdered in Mexico at the Guadalajara Airport. Nearly twenty years later, the Vatican revisits the case … and finds that Selena’s family might have played a key role. Selena is forced to confront her family’s ghosts … in more ways than one…

This story deals with ghosts of all things–ghosts!–in a totally credible manner. One of the ways Desjarlais makes this leap believable is through the eyes of Selena’s skeptic fiance, Reed Stubblefield, whom we also first met in Bleeder (which you should also go read).  Selena’s family (both living and otherwise), personal history, and culture are depicted so naturally that I felt like I was sitting at the table in her godmother’s house, watching it all, remembering it all with them and wanting to protect my own heart, not only from the danger I could see coming but from the surprises lurking around the corner of every page.  The red herrings in this one got me, too, which I don’t mind one bit.  The pace was lightning-fast, the conflicts heart-racing and heart-rending, and the ending… well, you’ll just have to find out for yourself.  If Amazon offered a sixth star, I’d give it to Specter.

PS: Don’t forget the Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show Selfie Scavenger Hunt!  It’s not too late to post those pics

WWRW: Liberty & Virtue

Don’t forget the Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show Selfie Scavenger Hunt!

Long time no review!  Let’s link up with What We’re Reading Wednesday over at Jessica’s Housewifespice Place.

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I’ve had it for months, now, but I finally got around to Chasing Liberty by Theresa Linden.

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Once I got started, it didn’t take me long to finish it, either.  If you’re looking for characters you can love, love to hate, or hate to pity… you’ll find them in Chasing Liberty.  

Here’s what it’s about:

Liberty 554-062466-84 of Aldonia lives in a responsible society that cares for the earth and everyone on it. They have learned to balance resource consumption with replacement initiatives, unavoidable pollution with clean-environment efforts. Science ensures that every baby born is healthy. The government ensures that every baby born is needed. All are cared for, taught, and given a specific duty to perform, their unique contribution to society. Why is Liberty so unsatisfied? In less than two weeks, Liberty must begin her vocation. Every girl in Aldonia wishes she had Liberty’s vocation. Liberty would rather flee from Aldonia and live on her own, independent of the all-controlling government, the Regimen Custodia Terra. The high electrical Boundary Fence crushes any thought of escape. The ID implant imbedded in her hand makes it impossible to hide. She has no choice but to submit. Liberty is slated to be a Breeder. As vocation day draws near, a man with an obsession for Liberty attacks her and injects her with a drug. She’s about to lose consciousness when someone comes to her rescue, a man in a mottled cape and dark glasses. She wakes in an underground facility where people watch over Aldonia with an array of monitors and surveillance equipment. These people are full of secrets, but she discovers one thing: they rescue a man scheduled for re-education. They rescued him. They can rescue her.

I love how Linden handles the suspense in this one.  She knows how to end a chapter, that’s for sure.  She also has a good hand with the dramatic irony, which uses the two points of view (first-person Liberty vs. 3rd person subjective with the bad guy) to play off of each other, one cranking up the tension on the other in one scene, and then vice-versa in the next.  Another thing the author handled well was the Liberty’s motivation for putting into action the final sequences, hurtling the characters into their point-of-no-return.  I was not left wanting for why things were happening, but neither were things ever dragged out.  The conflicts were clear and engaging.  The numerous characters were so clearly drawn that I never felt there were too many, which is a hard thing to manage.  Kudos to Theresa Linden for Chasing Liberty.  I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel!

I’ve asked Theresa for an interview here, so check back for that.  In the meantime, go buy her book and you’ll be in for a rip-roaring thrill ride that will rip out your heart and stomp on it!

Today’s second book is The Virtuous Jane Austen: Short Reflections on Character by Rhonda Ortiz.

The Virtuous Jane Austen: Short Reflections on Character by Rhonda Ortiz

What a charming little book! Yet it’s still a bargain at 99 cents.  Why?  Because it offers something sweet but new.  I’ve seen Austen often discussed as a writer of manners, but when seen as a writer illuminating virtue, Austen’s work takes on greater life, depth, and import. Well done!  Come back next week when author Rhonda Ortiz shares her own story about character building… through NFP?  It’ll make sense next week.

What’s on your summer reading list? 

PS: Don’t forget the Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show Selfie Scavenger Hunt!

WWRW: Unleashed by Sonja Corbitt

It’s baaaaaack!  It’s the What We’re Reading Wednesday linkup over at Jessica’s Housewifespice!

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I’ve had the distinct honor to be part of the CatholicMom.com Unleashed book club.  And guess what book we’re reading!  No, seriously! YOU’LL NEVER GUESS!

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Why, yes, it’s Unleashed by Sonja Corbitt! What’s it about, you ask?

Sonja Corbitt was an evangelical Baptist before she converted to Catholicism. In Unleashed, she shares her passion for the scriptures by weaving the Word of God with her own experiences to show readers how the Holy Spirit flows through their lives in relationships, prayer, and even in times of suffering.

Sonja Corbitt’s passionate faith and natural storytelling ability combine to create a refreshing message of how God, in his continual pursuit of us, speaks to us through the positive and painful circumstances of life, relationships, and his Word.

In Unleashed, Corbitt testifies that prayerful and regular study of the scriptures is the key to hear the voice of God, to see the Holy Spirit at work even in times of suffering, and to receive all the graces God wants to give.

Corbitt has been captivating Catholic women across the country with her message about God and his desire to know them in a deep and personal way. Endorsed by her bishop as a “credit to her faith,” Corbitt inspires Catholics everywhere to engage with the scriptures with renewed vigor and energy.

This is another one where I wish Amazon had six stars to give.  I admit I took this book on with great trepidation.  Part of that is because Snow Crash has freaked me out about anything charismatic (not AT ALL the fault of the charismatic movement but the fault of a buttkicking fiction story).  So a book dealing with the Holy Spirit?  I was a bit, “Um.  Okay.  Deep breaths, Erin.  We can DO this!”

First, I have to clarify that Unleashed is not about the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Rather it is a step-by-step guide for discerning how the Holy Spirit is speaking to us without words but through repeating patterns that not only spring forth from our own hearts but from the hearts of those around us.  In this book, Sonja gives us sort of a listening device for making out the guidance of the Holy Spirit more clearly, more thoughtfully, with greater peace and confidence.

It’s tackles complex issues with deep-cleansing-breath simplicity.  It holds a mirror up to the soul behind the face in the mirror and says, “Yes, you have work to do, but you don’t have to do it all today. Still you can do something today.”

Do something today.  Get to know the Holy Spirit, not as an abstract monstrosity but as a solid, loving friend.  Perhaps picking up your copy of Unleashed will be that something you do today.

WWRW: A World Such as Heaven Intended

I don’t think she’s been doing it lately, but Jessica over at Housewifespice used to do a weekly book review linkup called

WWRWbuttonShe’s a busy lady, though, and still blogging otherwise, so go on over there and pay her a visit, even if WWRW isn’t available today.  She’s got some good stuff and some belly laughs.  Worth your time.

Anyway, I am super duper excited. I don’t often say things like “super duper” unless it’s to my children and followed by the words “messy in here.  Please clean up.”  So why am I deviating so greatly from my usual modes of speech?  Here’s why:

This is A World Such as Heaven Intended, the fabulous, charming, action-packed, engaging Civil War romance by new author Amanda Lauer and recently released by Full Quiver Publishing.

The Civil War tore the United States apart and many friendships and families as well. In A World Such as Heaven Intended Amara McKirnan and Nathan Simmons share a devotion to their Catholic faith but their loyalties lie on opposite sides of the conflict. Dedicated to the Confederate cause, Amara offers to help out at her uncle’s makeshift hospital in Atlanta. Fate brought Nathan to their doorstep and into Amara’s life. Little does Amara know that the wounded soldier she cares for harbors a secret that will not only jeopardize his life but hers as well.

Follow Amara and Nathan’s story from the heart of war-torn Atlanta to the Northern Georgia battlefields to the plains of East Texas as their lives become intertwined in a way that shatters the separate worlds they once knew.

Lauer brings us a well-developed setting, a neatly paced plot, and characters that live and breathe whom I couldn’t help but love.  In fact, instead of an Atlanta debutante, our heroine Amara is, well, kind of a nerd… which I LOVE! The reality of the shared faith of these two characters is completely organic, never obvious.  Their Catholicism is not flagrant but just a normal part of who they are and what makes them make the choices they must.  The settings are detailed without being burdensome or boring.  The action builds to a great pace.  The ending is sweet and satisfying.  All in all, I’m going to go ahead and call A World Such as Heaven Intended… heavenly!