In Name Only, by Ellen Gable

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As Ellen Gable launched the O’Donovan family series, she proved her skill as a devious plot-weaver, maintaining relentless suspense throughout this romance novel. Her attention to the details of daily life recreated the beauty and ugliness of the Philadelphia suburbs, circa 1876. Her festive tour of the Centennial Exposition shared the sights, sounds, tastes and smells; the art, industry and its message of progress and expectancy. Although these times could justly boast of the industrial revolution, by today’s standards they seemed beset by all too frequent misfortunes and limited relief. The author spared none of the gritty, earthy, details of life in the 1870s.These trials challenged the hearts of her characters, forcing them to seek either meaning in, or escape from their ever present misfortunes.

The protagonist, Caroline Martin, seen on the book cover in her mourning attire, knew poverty. After her father’s death she expected to survive as a domestic servant. When her wealthy Germantown relatives reached out to her, allowing her to “pass for rich,” she never lost her sympathy for the poor. Ascendency to the upper class had its price. Beneath her black dress she endured a chafing corset required by her new status, a garment that bound both body and spirit. She stepped into a world that fed on scandal. Its denizens lived to bring down anyone who might deviate from their rigid customs and expectations. Caroline feared the exposure of her past and the potential for humiliation and ostracism.

Her new neighbors in the O’Donovan family seemed to offer security but the disreputable David O’Donovan, a drunk, a gambler and a philanderer soon detected Caroline’s secret. While upper-class social strictures bound Caroline to meet society’s expectations, men like David and his father before him, indulged in infidelity while regarding their wives with a “patronizing tone, as if all women were dolts and possessed no intelligence whatsoever.” Caroline despised David for what he was and the threat he represented.

Caroline’s eventual marriage compounded tragedies in her neighborhood that challenged her faith. Weaknesses and strengths collided as happiness seemed to drain away. In Name Only raised issues that have tested humans from the beginning and continue in the present age. The author focused on the dilemma of suffering in the context of marriage, offering in the O’Donovan family series, readings worthy of discussion by young women and men contemplating a loving and an enduring marriage. I look forward to the sequels in the O’Donovan saga and recommend the series to all romantics.

 

 

The Sisters of the Last Straw: The Case of the Haunted Chapel, by Karen Kelly Boyce

 

Sisters of the Last Straw: The Case of the Haunted Chapel

 

Rejection, unrealistic expectations and behavioral issues often brought frowns to the faces of children. The Sisters of the Last Straw addressed these issues, firmly and lovingly; inspiring and consoling their young readers with their examples. The Case of the Haunted Chapel, in stories and drawings assured that there was a place for everyone in God’s plan. If unconventional behavior prompted the denial of admission to traditional religious orders, the Sisters reminded us of Saint Rita of Cascia, who needed a miracle to enter the cloister. If at times the Sisters seemed less than tidy, they resembled none other than Saint Teresa of Avila who fell off a donkey into a mud puddle. If the Sisters experienced difficulty controlling bad behavior, their struggles to overcome their failures gave a far better example than Saint Augustine before his conversion. Sister Lacey served as a wonderful model as she creatively controlled her inclination toward “salty language” with a variety of “G-Rated” exclamations.

The Case of the Haunted Chapel intended primarily for readers between the ages of 6-12 years delighted readers and listeners well beyond these temporal bounds. Each episode served as a parable, actually very similar at times to the Gospel parables and narratives, revealing compassion and humility. Instead lost sheep, the Sisters rounded up the goats. Instead of Lazarus rising from the tomb, the title suggested other supernatural happenings. These stories came complete with a villain, the sour-pus Mr. Lemon. The Sisters have sweetened their neighborhood, not only with their jams and jellies, but they have drawn their fans to read again their antics on their way to spiritual growth.

The Case of the Haunted Chapel was the first of the series, with book number four in the works. Congratulations to Karen Kelly Boyce, who with the aid of illustrator Sue Anderson and book designer Andrew Gioulis have brought us The Sisters of the Last Straw, now available through Chesterton Press.