My Reading Challenge Pick for..."a novel by a Catholic author"


I’m down to the last four categories of my 2018 Catholic Reading Challenge. How about you? I am continuing to share what I am reading for the challenge with you. This was a repeat author for me … and a beloved one!

"2018 Catholic Reaching Challenge" by Jessica Ptomey (

Copyright 2018 Jessica Ptomey. All rights reserved.

Category: a novel by a Catholic author

My Pick: Gunnar’s Daughter by Sigrid Undset

I fell in love with Norwegian and Nobel Prize-winning author Sigrid Undset last year when I read her epic Kristin Lavransdatterand, about the same time, her biography of my confirmation saint, Catherine of Siena.

Undset is a writer with a profound gift for communicating universal themes of the human experience. Kristin Lavransdatter (both the book and the masterfully-written heroine) still pervades my spiritual imagination; and Catherine of Siena set a new standard for biographies of saints. I’ve written about both books here and here, for last year’s Reading Challenge.

Gunnar’s Daughter, written 10 years before Kristin Lavransdatter and a fraction of its length, is a really quick read … really quick. In fact, it’s a real page-turner. If you have a rainy day and a comfy chair, you might rip right through it. I read it over a couple of days. Here’s the crazy thing though: when I finished, it felt like I had just read an epic! The story and the characters make you feel that way. Though it had none of the intricate layers and extensive plot lines of one of Undset’s 1,000-page novels, the character sketches were nonetheless thick, real, and lasting in your memory.

If you are sensitive about certain content, read a summary of the plot that doesn’t give the story away. Though rape and childhood death are elements in the story, they are not explicit. (She’s not that kind of writer.) Her characters are such real people — ones that could live during any point in history. I’m just impressed at how much of them she could give me in so few words.

Another interesting element of the novel is that it is set in eleventh century Norway and Iceland, about 300 years before Kristin Lavransdatter’s time period. This is Norway’s pre-Christian era. So you get a sense of how different the religious culture was from a few centuries later during Kristin’s era. In fact, famed king and saint Olav, referenced many times in Kristin, is a character in this novel. Good historic fiction is my favorite way to absorb the history of a time, place, and people.

If you haven’t read Sigrid Undset, this might be a great entry point.

What did you read for “a novel by a Catholic author”?

"2018 Catholic Reaching Challenge" by Jessica Ptomey (

Copyright 2018 Jessica Ptomey. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2018 Jessica Ptomey 


About Author

Jessica is a wife, mom, writer, Communications scholar, and adjunct professor. She blogs on topics that include: Christian living, Catholicism, and culture. As a Catholic convert and former Evangelical Protestant, Jessica promotes ecumenical dialogue between Protestants and Catholics in both her writing and academic scholarship. She lives in the DC suburbs with her husband and three sons. Follow her at


  1. In terms of what people might consider Catholic classics, Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory and Willa Cather’s Death Comes from the Archbishop are among my favorites. (Though Cather was not Catholic.)

    If we’re talking contemporary genre novels, there are SOOO many! One of my favorites is Mara Faro’s The Grace Crasher. I also love the many novels from other Catholic Teen Books authors (even though I’m well beyond being a teen). Theresa Linden’s are among my favorite. Also, my fellow authors’ books at Full Quiver Publishing – esp. Ellen Gable and Erin McCole Cupp.

    This week I finished reading John Desjarlais’s Bleeder, a contemporary murder mystery about a (possibly) stigmatic priest who drops dead during a Good Friday service. Superbly written! It’s a crime it’s not more readily available and read!

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