By Kristi Muston
I first met Kate Laack around nine years ago, and taught English in the same hallway for five of those years. As a colleague, I learned about Laack’s many passions, which include traveling and writing. Her debut novel In the Shade of Olive Trees transports the reader to the Italian coast, a place she has explored in her own travels.
In the Shade of Olive Trees centers on Julia Brooks’ path to healing following heartbreak. Left at the altar on her wedding day, she decides to take her honeymoon trip to Italy on her own. During her travels, she strives to cope with her shock and grief over her broken engagement, and wrestles with what a fresh start looks like. Her trip, as one would expect, does not go according to plan. She eventually ditches her itinerary and finds herself in the village of Porto Venere, where she meets a number of other women at the Olive Haven Women’s Retreat for Widowed Travelers. While there, she befriends a number of women and starts her journey towards healing.
This novel is a character-driven novel, and readers sit right next to Julia as she experiences the depths of her grief, the joys of new friendship, and the love-filled hope of a fresh start. While the story focuses on Julia, I enjoyed Laack’s large cast of secondary characters in the novel as well. Julia meets a number of women at the retreat, and each of the women are filled with depth. The reader experiences each woman’s heartache alongside Julia. It is rare for a book to have so many well-developed secondary characters, and this is a unique feature of Laack’s novel.
The women in this story deal with relatable tragedies, circumstances, and emotions. It is easy for a reader to connect with the characters and to feel uplifted by their hope. This is a novel about grief, resiliency, friendship, and healing. But it is also a novel about hope, love, and fresh starts.
In the Shade of Olive Trees is a great debut novel by one of our Calvary members! This is a novel that would appeal to a wide-range of readers, especially those who are fans of contemporary fiction or women’s literature. Plus, it takes place during an Italian summer, making it a wonderful “escape” from the cold months of Minnesota winter. Laack’s story is filled with warmth, sunshine, beaches, and good food. It is a chance to travel to a small part of the Italian coast without ever having to leave your couch.
Kristi Muston has lived in Rochester for almost a decade. She is married to Michael and mother to Sophia. After teaching English for 9 years, Kristi is now a stay-at-home mom. In her spare moments, she loves reading, running, and eating dessert. At Calvary, she co-edits The Stir blog, and is involved with the worship team and Renovaré.