I remember saying years ago, that the best way to learn history is through stories of people. It helps put historical events in a context I can remember and appreciate. And so, today, I say thank you to all authors who write historical fiction. You help further my education
Julia’s Gifts is a sweet, love story set amidst the horrors of World War I. I read the story in the early morning hours of November 12, which felt so appropriate. To read a story of WWI, the day after Armistice Day brought the reality of the U.S. holiday, now known as Veteran’s Day, into a deeper appreciation for me.
My paternal grandfather fought in the war, returned home, and married my grandmother. My father, their first born, was born in 1919. These similarities enabled me to lose myself in the story of Julia’s Gifts, and appreciate my own heritage.
I liked Julia’s attitude for her future spouse. It’s a quality worth encouraging in everyone who dreams of marriage in their future.
The main characters in the story illustrated courage in the midst of difficult situations, perseverance through pain, and faith during times of stress; virtues that are worthy to strive to attain.
The story had a bit of a predictable side to it, but I enjoyed following the lives of Julia and her beloved. I like stories that leave me with a feeling of hope, which Julia’s Gift accomplished.
I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. If a reader wants an uplifting, love story set during wartime, this book is a relaxing and quick read. Take a stroll into history and enjoy a wonderful story.
Excerpt from Julia’s Gifts by Ellen Gable
December 17, 1917
The bustling streets of Center City Philadelphia shimmered with electric lights, heralding that Christmas was near. Julia Marie Murphy lifted her head and gazed upward. The night sky was filled with snow clouds, the air brisk. She pulled on her gloves and buttoned the top of her coat. Her thoughts turned to her future husband. Dear God in heaven, please protect my beloved.
Tens of thousands of American men had already enlisted to fight in this “Great War.” The gentlemen that Julia knew seemed anxious to join, and Julia thanked God that her three brothers were too young to fight.
In a few short weeks, it would be 1918. All of her father’s friends and acquaintances expected the war to end soon, hopefully before the middle of the year. But 1918 held far more significance for Julia. This would be the year that she would turn 21.
She approached Lit Brothers department store, admiring the display windows that were outlined with colored electric lights. Julia was thankful that it was Monday. If it were Thursday, the ban on electric lights (in support of the war effort) would mean the windows would be dark.
Julia stared, transfixed, through the window at the tall display. Shimmery red fabric hung from a back wall, a beautiful sterling silver pocket watch lay on top of a cylindrical pedestal. Her eyes widened when she saw the price tag: $12.25, almost 20 percent of her annual salary. But it was beautiful and every man needed one. The price notwithstanding, this would be a perfect gift for her beloved. Yes, it was extravagant, especially during wartime. Yes, there were less expensive items she could purchase. It didn’t matter. This was the ideal gift.
After purchasing it, she took it to the engraving department on the second floor. Behind the counter, the tall, lanky middle-aged man with a handlebar mustache smiled. “What would you like engraved on this?”
“To my beloved, next line, all my love, Julia.”
His eyebrows lifted. “I’m certain the gentleman would prefer to have his Christian name engraved on this lovely timepiece. Don’t you agree?”
“Well, yes, I imagine he would. But I don’t really know his name or who he is yet.”
The man’s mouth fell open and he stuttered. “I’m..I’m…s…sorry, Miss. I…I don’t understand. You’ve bought an expensive pocket watch for someone you don’t know?”
Julia sighed. She shouldn’t have said anything.
“Please just use the words I gave you.”
The man nodded and regarded Julia with an expression of suspicious curiosity, a look one might give a person in an asylum.
“How long will it take?”
“For the engraving? Ten days. Sorry, Miss, but you won’t have it in time for Christmas.”
“That’s all right.” Julia turned and walked a few steps and heard the salesman mumble, “Now there’s an odd girl. Buying a gift for someone she doesn’t know. Tsk tsk.”
Sighing, she checked her own wristwatch and hurried out of the store to begin the three-block walk to her trolley stop. If she didn’t get there in time for the five p.m. streetcar, she would be waiting half an hour.
This year Julia was determined that she would meet her beloved, the man for whom she had been praying these past four years. Why hadn’t she met him yet? Some of her friends were already married. Her beloved was out there and she would find him. Yes, 1918 would also be the year that she would meet her beloved.
Each December, Julia wondered what she would buy her beloved for Christmas. Last year, she searched different stores but found nothing special. She finally discovered — and bought — a brown leather pocket journal at a specialty store at Broad and Bigler Streets. She didn’t know whether her beloved would be the sort to write in one, but it seemed like an appropriate gift, especially since it had a delicate leaf embossed on the cover. The year before, she had bought a sterling silver Miraculous Medal because her beloved would be Catholic.
That first year, her mother suggested that she begin praying for her future husband. After a few weeks of doing so, Julia felt inspired to do more. It had been the week before Christmas, so she decided that she would buy or make him a Christmas gift each year until they met. With no job and no money that year, Julia knit him two pairs of socks, one blue-green and one green-brown, with finely-made yarn that her mother had given her.
The fact that she had made or bought gifts, and had spent hard-earned money for her future husband, had not pleased her father as he thought it too impractical and sentimental. Her mother, however, had declared that it was a beautiful gesture. Of course, if Mother knew how much she had spent on the most recent gift, she was pretty certain her mother wouldn’t be happy.
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Questions for the author:
This is very different from your other books in that it is a very clean romance and can be read by young teens to elderly women to middle-aged men. Was that a conscious choice?
Yes, it is very different and no, it wasn’t a conscious choice, at first. When I came up with the story and as I was gradually developing the characters and plotlines, it made the most sense to keep this a “sweet” and “clean” love story that anyone can enjoy. It is, however, a war novel, so there are descriptions of war injuries.
What was the inspiration for Julia’s Gifts?
When I was a teenager, I yearned to meet my future spouse. It was difficult because most of my friends (and all of my siblings) had boyfriends. Since I looked very young, boys weren’t interested in me. I felt lonely, especially on Friday nights when all my siblings and friends were on dates, and I was home watching the Donny and Marie Show.
I began praying that God would “send me a man.” Until then, I prayed for my future husband. While I never actually bought a gift for him, I did write letters to him.
A few years ago, it occurred to me that it would be a beautiful gesture for a young woman to buy Christmas gifts for her future spouse. From that small seed, Julia’s Gifts was born.
Why World War 1?
I’ve always been interested in history and I knew very little about this war. I decided to focus the bulk of my research on the last year of the War (after the United States entered). Because I am American and my husband is Canadian, Julia is American and her future spouse (Peter) is Canadian. I read and studied many books and researched online for three years before actually sitting down to write the novel.
Why is the name of the series Great War Great Love?
I owe my gratitude to the son of a friend of mine, Ian, for coming up with the title. The reason for the title is that World War 1 was called the “Great War” by the Allies before the USA entered the war, and is still often called the “Great War,” by British, Canadians and Australians. And Great Love because there are many examples of how couples met and fell in love during times of war.
Short: Ellen Gable is an award-winning author, Marketing Director for Live the Fast, self-publishing book coach, speaker, publisher, NFP teacher, book reviewer and instructor in the Theology of the Body for Teens. However, the roles she loves the most are being wife to her husband and mother to their five sons, ages 18-30. Originally from New Jersey, Ellen lives with her husband of 35 years, James Hrkach, in Pakenham, Ontario Canada.
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If you’d like to read other authors’ thoughts about Julia’s Gifts:
Virtual Book Tour Stops/Links
November 1 (Open Book) Plot Line and Sinker
November 2 Mary Lou Rosien, Dynamic Women of Faith
November 4 Karen Kelly Boyce
November 5 Christopher Blunt
November 6 Carolyn Astfalk, My Scribbler’s Heart Blog
November 7 Jean Heimann, Catholic Fire
November 9 Prints of Grace, Trisha Niermeyer Potter
November 10 Barb Szyszkiewicz, Franciscan Mom
November 11 Plot Line and Sinker Remembrance Day/ Veterans Day post
November 12 Spiritual Woman Patrice Fagnant MacArthur
November 14 Lisa Mladinich, Amazing Catechists
November 15 Theresa Linden
November 17 Barb Szyszkiewicz Catholic Mom
November 18 Cathy Gilmore, Virtue Works Media
November 19 Erin McCole Cupp
November 20 Virginia Lieto
November 21 Elena Maria Vidal Tea at Trianon
November 22 Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold Miller, The Divine Gift of Motherhood
November 23 Leslie Lynch, author