Thursday, October 9, 2014

REVIEW/INTERVIEW; The Paradise Tree by Elena Maria Vidal



The year is 1887 in Leeds County, Ontario. The O’Connor clan is gathering to mourn the loss of its patriarch Daniel O’Connor, an Irish immigrant. The story of Daniel and his wife Brigit is one of great hardships, including illness, ill-starred romances, war and political upheavals, as well as undying love and persevering faith. As Daniel is laid to rest, his grandson Fergus receives a piercing insight into what his own calling in life will be.



The Paradise Tree by Elena Maria Vidal is a sweeping tale of an Irish-Canadian family that I happily dare to mention in the same breath as Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind.  We get to see a fair amount of the family's life while still in Ireland, where they suffered state-condoned harassment and discrimination on account of their Catholic religion.

To escape imprisonment, Daniel emigrates to Canada, hoping to find a better climate in which to live and raise a family of his own.  He's practically just off the boat, looking for work, and someone says, "Just don't tell me you are Catholic."  Daniel proudly claimed his religion.  That earned him points with me.  I've heard it said that if we don't stand for something, we'll fall for anything.  Daniel, and most of his family are fine examples of that maxim.

But Daniel's work ethic and honor win over a lot of people, who otherwise probably wouldn't have given him the time of day.  He finds a good Catholic girl (who is considerably younger than him) to be his bride and they have a number of children.  I believe two of them do not survive to adulthood, and the deaths are handled with the sensitivity and sadness that go along with the passing of family members.

One part that I found both intriguing and charming is that Daniel regularly invited a Protestant minister and his assistant to supper with his family, and lively debates over religious topics peppered the meal-time conversations.  I know that parts of the book had to be fictionalized, due to the long time since these events occurred, but I hope this bit has a kernel or two of truth in it.  These supper debates took place because Daniel felt that his children should be able to defend their faith if called upon so to do, and this was a good way for them to listen and learn.

Ms. Vidal was a new author to me before I read The Paradise Tree.  I am now a huge fan!  I subscribe to her blog and everything she's ever written for distribution is on my TBR (to be read) list.  If you enjoy history and/or historical fiction, you'll become a fan too.



Elena Maria Vidal grew up in the countryside outside of Frederick, Maryland, “fair as the garden of the Lord” as the poet Whittier said of it. As a child she read so many books that her mother had to put restrictions on her hours of reading. During her teenage years, she spent a great deal of her free time writing stories and short novels.

Elena graduated in 1984 from Hood College in Frederick with a BA in Psychology, and in 1985 from the State University of New York at Albany with an MA in Modern European History. In 1986, she joined the Secular Order of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Elena taught at the Frederick Visitation Academy and worked as a private tutor as well as teaching children’s etiquette classes. During a trip to Austria in 1995 she visited the tomb of Empress Maria Theresa in the Capuchin crypt in Vienna. Afterwords she decided to finish a novel about Marie-Antoinette she had started writing ten years before but had put aside. In 1997 her first historical novel TRIANON was published by St. Michaels Press. In 2000, the sequel MADAME ROYALE was published, as well as the second edition of TRIANON, by The Neumann Press. Both books quickly found an international following which continues to this day. In 2010, the third edition of TRIANON and the second edition of MADAME ROYALE were released.

In November 2009, THE NIGHT’S DARK SHADE: A NOVEL OF THE CATHARS was published by Mayapple Books. The new historical novel deals with the controversial Albigensian Crusade in thirteenth century France. Elena has been a contributor to Canticle Magazine, Touchstone Magazine, The National Observer, and The American Conservative. In April 2009 she was a speaker at the Eucharistic Convention in Auckland, New Zealand. In August 2010 Elena spoke at The Catholc Writers Conference in Valley Forge, PA. She is a member of the Catholic Writers Guild and the Eastern Shore Writers Association. She currently lives in Maryland with her family.



1.  What place have you visited in the past that you would most like to visit again? 

I would love to visit Paris again. I would like to spend a summer in Paris to spend hours at the Louvre and the other museums. I would also love to return to Vienna. Vienna is a clean city and very welcoming to Americans.

2.  How does your faith affect your writing? 

My faith permeates my writing whether I want it to or not. I came to the conclusion a long time ago that I could not divide my faith from my writing any more than I could divide my soul from my body. It is just there, like it or not.

3.  What is your earliest memory? 

My earliest memory is of living in a trailer park with my parents while my father was working as an on-site civil engineer building roads in Boise, Idaho. I remember playing in my play yard outside. I must have been not quite a year old.

4.  When did you know that you would be a writer? 

I wanted to be a writer when I was ten years old. I began keeping a journal of plots for novels I might want to write someday.

5.  Care to share what's coming in your writing future? 

I am finishing up a non-fiction book about Marie-Antoinette, based upon my research over the years. Then I am going to start my novel about Bonnie Prince Charlie.

6.  Do you have any pets? 

Our darling cat Tessa, a beautiful Russian Blue, just died last month. The vet gave her a cortisone shot for a rash which caused a secondary infection and killed her. Our family is still in mourning. She kept me company many a long night when I was writing and I miss her so.

7.  What would you say are three important events in US and/or world history? 

In world history, here are three events which changed the world: 1) the birth of Christ. 2) The invention of the iron plow in the Middle Ages, which enabled people to plant more legumes, which led to increased nutrition and brain power, which resulted in more inventions. 3) The invention of the printing press in 1453, which allowed books to be mass produced for the first time in history.

8.  Do women have different writing/publishing experiences than men? 

The men writers I know go through the same things as the women writers. There is no escaping agony when bringing a work to life.

9.  If you could invite characters from your novels to dinner, whom would you invite and why? 

Marie-Antoinette, because her charm would set everyone at ease. Louis XVI, because he would want to be with his Queen. Their daughter, Madame Royale, to hear her blunt opinions on contemporary culture. And definitely, my great-great-great grandparents, Daniel and Brigit O’Connor, protagonists of my new novel The Paradise Tree, because they loved a lively dinner conversation.

10.  What advice would you give to young writers? 

Never give up.


Disclosure:  I received a print copy of The Paradise Tree in from the author and publisher via Historical Fiction Virtual Blog Tours in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.  Click on the logo above to follow the rest of the tour!


  1. Thank you for the lovely review, LuAnn! Oh yes, it is true that Daniel used to invite the ministers to dinner to debate religious matters with them so that his children would learn how to defend their faith. Thank you for the great interview questions which I enjoyed answering!

    1. You're so welcome, Elena! I was so sorry to hear about Tessa. Pets are truly part of the family.

  2. Paradise Tree sounds like an interesting and insightful read. Historical fiction has that charm as they interweave fiction with facts. Loved Elena's advice to young writers. :)

    1. I wonder how pioneers did it, Shilpa! We have our jobs and families, etc, but pioneers had to do that, build their own houses and grow most of their own food. Hardy stock, indeed!