A great read for the holidays!
editor of NUACHT, Community Newsletter of
November 2004 Vol. 17, Issue 4
Once in a while a novel grabs the reader's
attention from the opening pages to long after the final words have been
savoured. Such is A Place To Call Home, an historical novel by Gabriele
Wills that follows the O'Shaughnessy family members for over 50 years as they
cope with cholera, fires, prejudice and the many hardships of pioneer life.
Gabriele Wills, a former teacher of
history and English, has written a compelling story whose feisty yet engaging
heroine, Rowena O' Shaughnessy, develops into someone to whom readers can
readily relate. Sibling rivalries and petty jealousies are handled with
sympathetic understanding and Rowena's various love interests are depicted in a
sensitive manner as she is trapped by the unyielding conventions and barriers
of the rigid class system of the 1800s.
Set, for the most part, in Launston Mills
(a fictional community loosely based on the writer's home town of Lindsay)
there are also several vignettes of life in Toronto and Peterborough. As the
family attempts to set down roots, it is faced with problems unfamiliar to
today's reader but which can be appreciated nonetheless. How the family
contends with these rigors while still experiencing homesickness for the lush
green hills of Ireland, earns respect.
However, it is Wills' ability to create
believable characters that is most impressive. No two persons are alike and
each comes to life through vivid description and convincing dialogue. Some
deserve contempt for their callous behaviour, but others are to be admired for
their resilience of spirit. Wills cleverly weaves several real historical
figures into the novel who give the story a strong sense of authenticity.
A Place To Call Home is a long but
satisfying read. A novel that is so detailed yet not boring is a rare gift. It
takes the reader back to that period about which too little is known. It leaves
him wishing he could join Rowena and her family for a further 50 years.
The Lindsay Daily Post, Sept. 19
& 23, 2005
and The Peterborough Examiner, Sept. 16, 2005
Theresa Kelly, Bobcaygeon News Columnist
I read a book that I just loved so much
that I read it a second time and have had very interesting e-mail chats with
the author. Gabriele Wills wrote A Place To Call Home, a historical
novel of early Irish immigrants covering five decades and two generations, set
in her home town of Lindsay. I also bought a copy for my sisters birthday
and one for my daughter, Kelly, who has been working on our family history for
several years. Our Ryan ancestors came in the 1830s and settled in this area,
but not for long. I felt that A Place To Call Home would help Kelly fill
out the bare bones of statistics of births, deaths, marriages, with real
The superb novel gives you a feeling that
you are there among the characters at that time. The book is carefully and
thoroughly researched to provide a realistic portrayal of what life was like
for those indomitable pioneers, from food and clothing to transportation and
architecture. Getting here was definitely not half the fun!
Along with incidents typical of any
pioneer community, the author incorporates real events like the riots at the
mill, the devastating ague epidemic, the invasion of Orangemen from Omemee, the
Peterborough Militia searching Lindsay for William Lyon Mackenzie, and the
great fire of 1861. There are also great dollops of love, marriage, jealousy,
illicit affairs, betrayals and revenge, and the day to day struggle to survive
in the primitive backwoods of Upper Canada. Employing artistic licence, she
called Lindsay "Launston Mills" in the novel.
Gabriele lives in Guelph now with her
husband and her daughter, who is a scholarship student at the University of
Guelph. She followed this book with another, Moon Hall, set in the
Ottawa Valley, and is currently researching and writing another set in Muskoka
in the summer of 1914. "Ive included descendants of Rowena
OShaughnessy (A Place To Call Home) in this book and ancestors of
my main character in Moon Hall, so Im having lots of fun with it"
she said. Gabriele has also written a young adult novel and two children's
I asked Gabriele, "How do you enforce the
discipline on yourself to get through writing a book?"
"The research stimulates ideas and
characters," she said. " I find that I never end up with what I had originally
envisioned, as my characters start to take over the tale and dictate the
conflicts and interactions. Its great fun, for Im never quite sure
where they will take me. So its an adventure for me as well! I try to
dedicate at least three or four full days to writing per week, but that
doesnt always happen."
She was kind enough to answer my questions
about locations in the story. Some were real and others fictional. For example,
"Main Street" is Kent Street. The settlement at Punkin Hollow was around the
current Rainbow bridge, at the end of Russell Street.
Holder of an honours B.Sc. and a B.Ed. in
the social sciences and English, Gabriele has taught in secondary, elementary,
and private schools, and worked as a literacy coordinator for two newspapers,
The Lindsay Daily Post and The Peterborough Examiner. She
currently owns and operates Mindshadows, which specializes in website design
and copy writing. She has been an active volunteer in her community,
particularly in helping to preserve its heritage. As a public service, Gabriele
has created a website designed to preserve and document social history,
Born in Germany, Gabriele was bought to
Canada at an early age. In dedicating the book to her parents, Katie and Paul
Tavaszi, who were pioneers in their own right, she says, "Thank you for
For Theresa Kelly's review of Moon
Hall, click here.