New YA book: Playing by Heart

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New Young Adult Historical Fiction

Emilia Salvini dreams of marrying a man who loves music as she does. But in 18th-century Milan, being the “second sister” means she’ll likely be sent to a convent instead. Emilia’s only hope is to prove her musical talents crucial to her father’s quest for nobility. First, though, she must win over her music tutor, who disdains her simply for being a girl. Too late, Emilia realizes that her success could threaten not only her dreams for her future but her sister’s very life.

Playing by Heart is inspired by two amazing sisters who were far ahead of their time—one a mathematician and the other a composer. At its core, the novel is the story of two teens struggling to follow their true calling, even when it conflicts with their father’s goals. It’s a clean historical romance suitable for ages 12 and up.


I am so happy that author, Carmela Martino was willing to share a bit about her new release. Please enjoy this author interview:

I love the amazing setting details in Playing by Heart. Did you go to Milan to do your research? If not, how did you create such realistic and lovely details?

I have been to Milan only once in my life, long before I decided to write Playing by Heart. As a result, the research for this story almost did me in! I’m a stickler for detail and if I couldn’t verify some aspect of the story, I wouldn’t include it. Even though it’s a work of fiction, I wanted the details to be true to the time and place.

For the events of the story, I relied heavily on the research materials I found about the two Milanese women who were my inspiration: Maria Gaetana Agnesi, a child language prodigy who later wrote an acclaimed math textbook, and her younger sister, Maria Teresa Agnesi, who was one of the first Italian women to compose a serious opera. But the biographical information I found gave me few setting details.

So, I looked for primary documents describing what life was like in Milan during the early 1700s. One of my greatest research finds was an account by someone who had witnessed Archduchess Maria Theresa’s visit to Milan in 1739. The document had been scanned into the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale. I was able to download and print the pertinent pages. The document gave me wonderful details that I incorporated into my novel, such as the description of the crowds that lined the streets waiting to greet the archduchess and how she participated in the Ritual of the Holy Nail.


Can you tell us more about the Ritual of the Holy Nail? Is it still performed in Milan?

While researching Milan’s history, I learned that the Cathedral of Milan houses a holy relic purported to be one of the nails used to crucify Christ. I’d had no idea the relic even existed. It’s housed inside a crystal case set in the center of an enormous gold cross that’s suspended high inside the cathedral’s dome. The cross can only be reached by means of a mechanical, cloud-shaped lift called the Nivola, which was supposedly designed by Leonardo da Vinci himself.

Yes, the ritual of removing the Holy Nail from its place high within the dome is still performed annually in Milan. The tradition began in 1576, when Saint Charles Borromeo, then archbishop of Milan, carried the relic in procession during an outbreak of the plague. Originally, the ritual was conducted on May third, the Feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross in the old liturgical calendar. At some point, the date was changed to September 14, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. There are numerous videos on YouTube depicting the event—they were a huge help to my research. Click here to watch a brief one narrated in English. And click here for one that is a bit longer, but narrated in Italian.


You mention in the Author’s Note to Playing by Heart that you couldn’t find any book-length biographies of composer Maria Teresa Agnesi, only ones about her older sister. How then did you research her life?

Yes, that was a difficult challenge. Maria Teresa is mentioned briefly in the biographies of her sister, but that wasn’t much to go on. While investigating possible sources, I found an analysis of one of her compositions in a book of essays on Italian music of the 17th and 18th century. The article’s author, Professor Robert L. Kendrick, had also co-written an entry about Maria Teresa in an encyclopedia of music. With a little digging, I learned that he was a professor of music at the University of Chicago. He was kind enough to answer many of my questions about what Maria Theresa’s life had been like and to also point me in the direction of additional research resources.


Even though there are book-length biographies of the older sister, Maria Gaetana, you say in your Author’s Note that there are still many myths surrounding her and her family. Can you elaborate?

Gladly! First, some background. Playing by Heart grew out of my research for a nonfiction biography of mathematician Maria Gaetana Agnesi for young readers; The only published biographies about her are for adults. I first came across Agnesi’s name in an article about little-known women of note. Even though I have an undergraduate degree in Mathematics and Computer Science, I’d never heard of her before. But when I started to research her, I kept finding conflicting information, both in books and online. For example, some references said that Agnesi wasn’t allowed to enter the convent as she wished because after her mother died she was left in charge of the household and the care of her twenty siblings. In actuality, Agnesi was 13 when her mother died and she had only six siblings at the time. Maria Gaetana may have helped out with those siblings for a while, until her father remarried less than two years later. The reasons for her not entering a convent had nothing to do with her mother’s death. Interestingly, it is true that she was the eldest of 21 children—her father married a third time after his second wife died. But many of her siblings died young.

I encountered so many myths about the Agnesi family that I created a website to dispel some of them. You can read more at www.mgagnesi.com .


How did writing Playing by Heart compare to working on your first novel, Rosa, Sola?

The process for the two novels couldn’t have been more different. My middle-grade novel, Rosa, Sola, began as a short story I wrote as an exercise while I was working on my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College. The exercise was to write a story based on an event from my own childhood that still evoked strong emotion in me. The emotion I wrote about was the fear I felt at age ten when I thought my mother might die. I called the short story “Rosa’s Prayer.” The feedback I received from classmates and instructors encouraged me to expand that short story into a novel that was eventually published by Candlewick Press.

I have to say, it was much easier to write a novel set during my own lifetime than one set two centuries earlier. For Rosa, Sola, I still had to research some of the setting details, such as the popular songs of the time, to make sure I got them right. That was easy compared to the extensive research I had to do for Playing by Heart. Still, it was an amazing experience. I’m thrilled to see all my work finally come to fruition.


As you can read in my review, I thoroughly enjoyed this story. And I am glad that you shared this fascinating background information with us. Thank you!

Thanks so much for hosting this interview, Theresa. I hope your readers will visit the other stops on the Playing by Heart Blog Tour. I invite them to go to my website for the complete list of tour links and enter for a chance to win a copy of the novel:

http://www.carmelamartino.com/blog/posts/2406

I’ll also be hosting a Facebook Launch Party on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 7-9 p.m. Central Time, where readers can win not only copies of Playing by Heart but other great books and prizes.

www.facebook.com/events/1926037200756000


My review:

Filled with beautiful scenes and heart-wrenching moments, PLAYING BY HEART by Carmela Martino is an absorbing story of perseverance, the pursuit of excellence, and of sacrificial love.

This story shows the dreams and trials of two talented sisters. Emilia excels in music. But her father’s and the maestro’s attitudes lead her to feel inadequate. So she finds herself envious of the praise and attention given to her older sister. Maria, the older sister, is humble and faith-filled. And while she loves studying languages and philosophy, she longs to enter religious life and serve the poor. But this is an age where the father chooses the vocation of his children. Emilia and Maria’s father, driven to gain the title and status of a nobleman, makes choices that move him closer to his goals but farther from theirs.

The characters were inspired by two historical sisters who lived in the eighteenth century, so I appreciate the author’s faithfulness to research and time-period details. The engaging prose brings the scenes to life in full color! I especially loved how the descriptions took me into the heart and mind of Emilia, a talented young musician who “heard music everywhere—in the whispering of the wind and the rustling of the trees.” I also appreciated the way faith is weaved into the story.

For more early response to Playing by Heart, click here.

Click here for the Amazon buy link!

Author biography:

Carmela_martino-smallCarmela Martino is an author, speaker, and writing teacher. She wrote the middle-grade novel, Rosa, Sola (Candlewick Press), while working on her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College. The novel was a Booklist “Top Ten First Novel for Youth” and received a Catholic Press Association Book Award in the “Children’s Books” category. Her second novel, the young adult historical romance Playing by Heart, will be released by Vinspire Publishing September 30, 2017. The novel took first place in the Young Adult category of the 2013 Windy City RWA Four Seasons Romance Writing Contest. Carmela’s credits for teens and tweens also include short stories and poems in magazines and anthologies. Her articles for adults have appeared in such publications as the Chicago Tribune, Catholic Parent, and multiple editions of the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market. Carmela has taught writing workshops for children and adults since 1998, and she blogs about teaching and writing at TeachingAuthors.com.

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New Release: Catholic teen fiction and St. Francis!

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STANDING STRONG, the fourth book in the Catholic teen fiction West Brothers series, came out October 4th, the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi. I chose this for the release date because of a strong Franciscan theme. In this blog post, I’ll tell you a bit about seventeen-year-old Keefe West and the Franciscan Brothers.

Standing Strong follows the seventeen-year-old West twins, Jarret and Keefe. While Jarret struggles to remain faithful to God when faced with old temptations, Keefe tries to discern whether he has a calling to religious life.

Roland Front Cover with Award NoteKeefe West has come a long way since readers first met him in Roland West, Loner. He was once under the thumb of his controlling twin brother, Jarret. Sometimes he tried to talk his brother out of bad ideas, but more often he went along with Jarret’s schemes, even when he knew they were wrong.

While Keefe has always cared about his brothers—not wanting them unhappy or in trouble—he had a distorted view of true compassion.

The word “compassion” means to “suffer with” someone. However, true compassion cannot “suffer with” someone when sin is the cause of the suffering. True compassion considers the real needs of the other, including moral and spiritual. And sometimes the compassionate choice is to speak the hard truth.

In Life-Changing Love, on a trip to Italy, Keefe experienced a life-changing event. LCLFrontCover(Spoilers: he visited the Basilica of St. Mary in Bagno di Romagna, where he witnessed a Eucharistic miracle.) As he knelt before the Lord, the transforming fire of Christ’s love touched his heart. Upon returning home, he experienced the true measure of his transformation. He had to finally show true compassion to his twin by refusing to condone Jarret’s poor choices.

Keefe’s transformation created a rift between himself and Jarret, but it opened the door of Keefe’s heart to Christ. In Standing Strong, the latest book of the West Brothers series, Keefe feels drawn to a religious vocation, but he must first fight a few inner battles.

Battle Front Cover with awardIn Battle for His Soul, a group of Franciscan Brothers passed through Keefe’s town. To ensure accuracy, I researched Franciscan communities and happened upon a group of Brothers who I’ve been following ever since: the Franciscan Brothers of Peace in Minnesota. The Brothers in my story are loosely based on the Brothers of Peace.

These Brothers know all about true compassion. From their website: they are a “Pro-Life Religious Brotherhood dedicated to giving (their) lives for love of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Catholic Church.” Faithful to the teachings of the Church, these men are committed to serving and defending the most vulnerable members of society: the pre-born child, the severely disabled, survivors of torture, the poor and the homeless.

I was incredibly touched by the story of their founder, Brother Michael, and by the other Brothers’ loving care of him. At age thirty-two, he suffered cardiac and respiratory arrest and was left with brain injury and a severe disability. The Brothers remained by his side at the hospital and later at an extended care facility, where he spent seven months. Then they brought him home to provide round-the-clock care. They did not see caring for him as a burden.

“Brother Michael became the loving heart of our home and of our Brotherhood. In the mystery of God’s plan for Brother Michael and for us, the Lord Jesus Christ manifested Himself in Michael and through his brokenness, and brought about a spiritual formation that we could not possibly have experienced in any other way.” 

I encourage all to pray for vocations and to visit the Franciscan Brothers of Peace website to learn more about the Brotherhood. Read about their history and “The Roots of Brotherhood.”

Like the Franciscan Brothers of Peace, I too have been deeply moved by the story of St. saint-francis-of-assisi-300x300Francis, especially by the way he took the words of Christ literally.

“If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow Me.”      ~Matthew 19:21

I wrote a blog post about this called “All In with St. Francis.” Thousands of men and women hear this call today and choose to follow Christ in the footsteps of St. Francis. And the Franciscan Brothers of Peace are beautiful testimony to that.


Standing Strong is available in paperback or ebook.


Follow the blog tour now!

  • CatholicMom.com posted the Press Release: “Catholic teen fiction can turn the tide of young adults leaving the faith.” You can also read an excerpt from Standing Strong!
  • T.M. Gauoette – writer, blogger, and author of Catholic fiction and non-fiction. Author T.M.G. has been kind enough to host my guest post “Why We Need Catholic Teen Fiction”
  • Leslea Wahl, author of award-winning Catholic teen fiction has read an advanced copy and posted her review, along with several other early reviews of the book.
  • Cynthia Toney, author of the Bird Face series, has posted my article about the inspiration for Standing Strong. It has to do with a nun and her teenage student who doesn’t like to read.
  • Carolyn Astfalk, author of coming-of-age romance Rightfully Ours, has posted the book trailer and her review of the book.
  • And finally, please check out my blog post about the Top Ten reasons you need a copy of Standing Strong!

 

Top Ten Reasons: Standing Strong

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Okay, so I’m excited about the next book in the West Brothers series. And I want you to be excited about it too! So I brainstormed a list of reason why you might be interested in this book. Here they are:

Top Ten Reasons Why You Need a Copy of New Release, Standing Strong

Reason #10: It’s fun to jump into someone else’s life for a while, especially when it’s the West castle-1290637_1920brothers, who live in a castle-like house, own horses, have a genuine suit of armor in the house…

Reason #9: The West twins are not too good to be true. They’ve got flaws like we all do. Jarret finds temptation around every corner and Keefe is afraid to take the next step.

Reason #8: The West twins are not too bad to be true either… not anymore. Yes, Jarret, I’m referring to you.

Reason #7: You get to find out Jarret’s reaction to Peter’s prank (remember the limburger cheese?)limburger-cheese-3516

Reason #6: It will remind you that you’re not the only one who faces temptation.mary-33541

Reason #5: It will also remind you that the Blessed Mother has got your back.

Reason #4: It shows the power of several unique aspects of your faith, like the sacraments and sacramentals.

Reason #3: It’ll get you thinking about things that really matter, like how God has a plan for you.

Reason #2: You can share the book with family, friends, a youth group, your teens, your friends’ teens, your teens’ friends . . .

And last but not least, the #1 reason you need a copy of Standing Strong: Saint Francis makes a guest appearance!saint-francis-of-assisi-300x300

The Blog Tour has begun! Check out the following sites for two chances to win a free copy of the book, to read my guest post, and to check out early reviews! There will be a few more stops with different reviews, articles, and contests, too. I’ll keep you posted!

  • CatholicMom.com posted the Press Release: “Catholic teen fiction can turn the tide of young adults leaving the faith.” You can also read an excerpt from STANDING STRONG and enter a GIVEAWAY!
  • T.M. Gauoette – writer, blogger, and author of Catholic fiction and non-fiction. Author T.M.G. has been kind enough to announce a GIVEAWAY of STANDING STRONG and to host my guest post “Why We Need Catholic Teen Fiction”
  • Leslea Wahl, author of award-winning Catholic teen fiction has read an advanced copy and posted her review, along with several other early reviews of the book.

Pre-order is available now for the  paperback and soon for the eBook. October 4th is the official release date.

If you know of anyone who might enjoy Standing Strong, please send the link to this post! Thank you for your support!

Theresa Linden

 

New Release by Cynthia T. Toney

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1920s Historical Novel coming soon!

Write Integrity Press continues author Cynthia T. Toney’s commitment to providing meaningful fiction for young people with publication of The Other Side of Freedom, a coming-of-age historical novel set in 1920s America.

In a southern farming community in 1925, thirteen-year-old Salvatore and his Italian immigrant father become involved against their will in a crime that results in the murder of an innocent man and family friend. Will Sal keep the secrets about that night as his father asks, or risk everything he and his family cherish in their new homeland, including their lives? 

Amidst bigotry, bootlegging, police corruption, and gangland threats, Sal must discover whom he can trust in order to protect himself and his family and win back his father’s freedom. Sal’s family, their African-American farmhand, and the girl who is Sal’s best friend find their lives forever changed as dreams are shattered and attitudes challenged in a small community called Freedom.

Inspiration for Ms. Toney’s novel came from her own ancestry.

“Possibly orphaned but definitely impoverished, one of my great-grandfathers journeyed from Sicily to America as a young boy with a family not his own, and he grew up with their children. He established the strawberry farm that inspired the setting for this novel.”

Written for ages 10 to 17, but with appeal for adult readers, The Other Side of Freedom lends itself to discussions on immigration, segregation, Prohibition, and numerous other topics. The book includes thought-provoking questions for classrooms and book clubs.

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I was able to read an advanced copy of this book, which comes out this October. The eBook is available for pre-order now!

My Review:

As a fan of historical fiction, I thoroughly enjoyed The Other Side of Freedom by Cynthia Toney. This story, set in the 1920s, has so many historical and time-period details, from the 1924 Ford Model T Tudor to the mention of Al Capone and the first black man elected to the US Senate. The tension begins in the first scene when Sal finds well-dressed strangers at the door. And the tension mounts from there with an attempted bank robbery, a death, sneaking and spying, and a lot of tough choices and obstacles for thirteen-year-old Sal. Toney’s attention to descriptive and sensory details makes this story even stronger.

This coming-of-age story about Sal, who belongs to a tight-knit Italian family, helps readers to understand the difficulties of farm life during this time period, the ugliness of segregation, and the courage of the immigrant. It also brings out a strong message of courage and self-sacrifice. I highly recommend this book.

Cynthia T. Toney is also the author of the Bird Face series for teens, which began with 8 Notes to a Nobody. She lives in the Houston area and can be reached through her website www.CynthiaTToney.com.

She is a member of the Catholic Writers Guild. Her books are available on Amazon, your favorite bookseller, and they are listed on Catholic Teen Books website. Her other books include the Bird Face series:

Care to share? Tweet about this book!

Thanks for reading my blog post!

Back to School Giveaway at Shower of Roses!

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Have you ever visited Shower of Roses blogspot?

This site is packed with tons of fun for Catholic families!

  • Arts & Crafts
  • Book Lists
  • Feasts & Seasons
  • Home School
  • Lap Books
  • Little Flowers Girls’ Club
  • Party Time
  • And More!

To celebrate the upcoming school year, Shower of Roses is hosting a giveaway each Friday for the rest of August, featuring educational products and books.

This week’s Back to School Giveaway is sponsored by Catholic Teen Books. Two winners will win six books each! Stop by and enter to win!

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Summer & Books: The King’s Prey

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Inspired by the A to Z Blogging Challenge this past April, I have decided to blog about books for the month of June. I will be sharing tidbits about my own books and the other books on the Catholic Teen Books website.

 

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Can’t afford a vacation this year? You are in luck! With Susan Peek’s latest release, The King’s Prey, you can take a trip back in time to the 7th century, and to Ireland! In addition to the heart-pounding action and lovable characters in this book, you will find beautiful setting details that will transport you into the story. Be prepared to hit the ground running!

About the Book:

An insane king. His fleeing daughter. Estranged brothers, with a scarred past, risking everything to save her from a fate worse than death. Toss in a holy priest and a lovable wolfhound, and get ready for a wild race across Ireland. Will Dymphna escape her deranged father and his sinful desires?

For the first time ever, the story of Saint Dymphna is brought to life in this dramatic novel for adults and older teens. With raw adventure, gripping action, and even humor in the midst of dark mental turmoil, Susan Peek’s newest novel will introduce you to a saint you will love forever! Teenage girls will see that Dymphna was just like them, a real girl, while young men will thrill at the heart-stopping danger and meet heroes they can easily relate to. If ever a Heavenly friend was needed in these times of widespread depression and emotional instability, this forgotten Irish saint is it!


I asked author Susan Peek why she chose this saint to write about:

 I first heard of Saint Dymphna, the patron saint of the emotionally disturbed, thirty years ago, long before I was a published author. The few known facts of this seventh-century teenage Irish princess who fled from her insane father took three measly pages in a tiny staple-bound pamphlet to tell. Apparently, almost nothing was known about her, apart from the fact that her evil, psychopathic dad desired her hand in marriage, forcing Dymphna to escape the castle and flee with three trusted friends. The king’s soldiers pursued them relentlessly across Ireland, and eventually beyond the sea. Although the tiny pamphlet didn’t tell any details of their desperate journey, I knew there must have been many wild adventures and near-death escapades for Dymphna and her companions along the way. Even three decades ago I possessed an author’s imagination and instantly recognized the potential this story had for one heckuva cool novel.

I searched high and low for more information about Saint Dymphna, but all I could find were those same few facts over and over again. By this time, my first two teen novels had been published, so my mind naturally turned to the story of Saint Dymphna as a potential third book. I realized that in order to write her story, I would be forced to fill in the huge gaps with fictional characters and events. In a sense, THE KING’S PREY would be my first stab at “fiction” which worried me. I put the challenge off and wrote SAINT MAGNUS THE LAST VIKING instead. But the idea of Saint Dymphna continued to haunt me. After fifteen years of procrastinating and experimenting, I finally wrote it . . . and admit I had a blast.

For some reason my writing gravitates more towards stories for boys rather than for girls. Don’t ask me why; perhaps it has something to do with having six wild and rowdy (and totally awesome) sons, who turn my hair a shade grayer each passing day (as opposed to my equally awesome but calm five daughters.) THE KING’S PREY is my first female saint story, but actually Dymphna shares the spotlight with the character of Turlough, one of her father’s soldiers who is pursuing them, but for reasons at odds with the rest of the troops. Turlough is the story’s hero as much as Dymphna is the heroine. Many readers have told me that because of this, it appeals equally to boys and girls.

My Review:

I discovered this saint years ago when praying for someone with mental illness, and I am so glad to be able to get to know her better through Susan Peek’s story. THE KING’S PREY is filled with emotionally-charged moments, humor, and high action; never a dull moment. Dymphna’s story is a difficult one. Her mother was a Christian and taught her the faith, but her father was a powerful pagan king with evil Druid advisors. Once Dymphna’s mother died, her father’s mental health deteriorated. He wanted his wife back and his confused mind saw her in his daughter. The teenage Dymphna, wanting nothing to do with a sinful arrangement—though it would provide all the comforts of life a king could offer—fled with the saintly Father Gerebran and others that you will meet in this story.

This story brings the ugliness of evil and sin (in the King’s actions and his Druid advisors) up against the beauty of faithfulness, self-sacrifice, and bearing all for the kingdom of God.

I am a fan of Susan Peek’s saint stories. And so are my boys. Every one of them touches my heart and increases my devotion to the saints. I am thankful that she has dedicated herself to bringing these little-known saints to life for us. St. Dymphna is so needed today as a role model for purity and an intercessor for all those who suffer from mental illness. Privileged to read an advanced copy of this book, I highly recommend it to teens and adults.

Visit Susan Peek and learn more about her and her books:

Website: http://www.susanpeekauthor.com

Goodreads author page

Amazon author page

Thanks for stopping by my blog! Have you stumbled upon a favorite book this summer? Tell me about it in the comments. Feel free to share a link.

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Summer & Books: St. Magnus, The Last Viking

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Inspired by the A to Z Blogging Challenge this past April, I have decided to blog about books for the month of June. I will be sharing tidbits about my own books and the other books on the Catholic Teen Books website.

 

finalStMagnusFrontCoverSt. Magnus Erlendson was the Earl of Orkney, and he lived from 1106 to about 1115. He is sometimes known as Magnus the Martyr.

His grandparents were Earl Thorfinn and Ingibiorg Finnsdottir. They had two sons, twins: Erlend and Paul. Erlend was Magnus’s father. Other relatives include the Norwegian Kings Olav II and Harald II. You can do an online search and find plenty of interesting historical facts—which I enjoy doing—but nothing compares to stepping into Susan Peek’s novel: St. Magnus, the Last Viking.

About the Book:

Come back in time 900 years, to the fierce and desolate Northern lands, where Norsemen ruled with ax and sword. A dying king, a shocking death-wish, his heirs divided with an oath of blood . . . In this fast-paced new novel by the highly popular Susan Peek, the conflict unfolds between Magnus Erlendson, a heroic young prince aflame with the love of God, and his outlawed cousin Hakon, who blames Magnus for his banishment from their kingdom. What follows is a tale of betrayal and revenge, bravery and forgiveness, as Magnus seeks to restore his father’s vanquished kingdom to its rightful hands. Entertaining and inspiring from start to finish, a must-read for all those who thrill to learn the life of a saint we never knew existed!


And now we have author Susan Peek’s answer as to why she chose to write about Saint Magnus!

After my first two novels, A Soldier Surrenders and Crusader King, were swiped up by big-name Catholic publishers (Ignatius Press and TAN Books) and incorporated into language arts programs in Catholic high schools and homeschool programs across the globe, I knew I had finally arrived as an author. My childhood dream was a reality. By now I had established a fan base (mostly teens, but surprisingly many adults as well), and my vision was crystal clear: I wanted to write fast-paced novels of obscure saints whose lives were filled with adventure and action, and in a style that would appeal to today’s modern youth. It was at this point that I decided to launch an actual series, which I thought I could call “God’s Forgotten Friends: Lives of Little-known Saints.” Armed with a pen and a stack of lined paper, I sat down to write a brand new book. (Back then I didn’t even own a computer. Yeah, pen and paper . . . insane, I know.)

But after the blinding flashes of inspiration that had determined my earlier two heroes, I found myself painfully stuck. Who should I write about next? There were thousands upon thousands of saints out there, yet I had no clue whose story to tell. I went into a slump, spending a few years (yes, years) researching unusual and random saints. I experimented with outlines and wrote corny first chapters of countless holy people – everyone from St. Thomas Beckett’s parents, to King Sebastian of Portugal, to St. Gabriel Possenti, to St. Anthony of Padua, who isn’t obscure at all and shows how desperate I was getting. I wrote hundreds of ridiculous pages of Saint Dymphna, which ended up in the trash like everything else. Nothing worked. My writing career was over. With a heavy heart, I admitted defeat and gave up.

In the meantime, I went back to writing for a Catholic company that produced audio plays, which my husband and I had been involved with back in the 1990’s. While I never enjoyed writing plays in the same way I loved writing novels, it was still a creative way to pass a boring afternoon and earn a bit of extra spending money as well. At the time, all the rage in bookstores and movies seemed to be Vikings. Everywhere I looked were Vikings, Vikings, Vikings. Horned helmets, axes, and hammers of Thor stared at me from every video store and shop window. So, like everyone else in the world, I decided to cash in on the fad. (Awful, I know, but hey, business is business.) So I began an epic quest to find a Viking saint.

Easier said than done.

I discovered two. Only two. Saint Olaf of Norway, and Saint Magnus of Orkney, who isn’t TECHNICALLY a Viking, as he lived at the very tail end of the period. But he was close enough and less complicated than Saint Olaf, and besides, if ever a saint’s life held excitement and conflict, it had to be his. So I chose Saint Magnus. Or maybe he chose me. Either way, I whacked out an audio play and was stunned when I started receiving letters after its production. So many people wrote to tell me they loved the story, and requests poured in to adapt it into a novel. I didn’t take it seriously for a few more years, because I had gone back, yet again, to my idea of a book about Saint Dymphna (which still wasn’t working).

Eventually I did an author presentation at a school, where I learned that several of the boys had taken Saint Magnus as their confirmation patron after hearing the radio play, and one family even named their son after him. The students begged me to put Saint Magnus into a book, and that was the turning point, when I finally took it seriously. For the next several months I researched Saint Magnus in earnest, discovering to my horror that some of the facts in the audio play were way off the mark. I tweaked and changed and developed the characters fully, added more, loaded the story with battle scenes and adventure, and somehow ended up a year later with my third published book. It became a #1 new release on Amazon and I knew I had to keep going and write a fourth.

Again, easier said than done.

How I finally resurrected Saint Dymphna after years of failed attempts will be my last post in Theresa Linden’s wonderful blog. I hope you stay tuned. 🙂

Wow, I love to hear the reasons for all of Susan Peek’s stories! I can’t wait to hear about St. Dymphna!

My Review:

This story begins with the last will and testament of an 11th-century Norseman warrior, Thorfinn the Mighty. The opening scene sets the stage for the novel as the dying ruler makes a startling decision for the sake of the kingdom. The conflict begins here and never lets up. Peek pulls the reader from one tense moment to another. We go back in time and become witness to the dramatic trials Magnus endured and the sacrifices he made.

As the mother of three boys, ages twelve to fifteen, I can’t say enough about this book. My boys love to read and they enjoy saint stories, but Saint Magnus, The Last Viking appeals to them in ways no other saint books have. This is not a sterile retelling of the saint’s life. The characters leap off the page with energy my boys can relate to, keeping them completely engaged as the story of this saint unfolds.

With all the battles, fighting, and conflict, it’s obvious why this story appeals to boys, but I love it, too. As a writer, I thoroughly enjoy Peek’s powerful writing style and vivid descriptions. I marvel at her ability to develop every character in the story. Some lines and sections moved me so much that I found myself re-reading them for pure enjoyment.

Susan Peek’s inspired account of the life of Saint Magnus stirs up the desire to live as he did, with courage, perseverance, and brotherly love, faithful to God to the end. Peek has taken the life of this little-known saint whom time may have forgotten and whose story could’ve remained hidden, and she’s re-presented it to the modern Christian.

This book is not to be missed. I walk away from it knowing I will go back. The message of Saint Magnus’s life is a message for today and it remains with me even now. I can’t wait to step into my next Susan Peek book.

Visit Susan Peek and learn more about her and her books:

Website: http://www.susanpeekauthor.com

Goodreads author page

Amazon author page

Thanks for stopping by my blog! Have you stumbled upon a favorite book this summer? Tell me about it in the comments. Feel free to share a link.

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