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Olivia Douglas is undecided about becoming a priest even after she has completed seminary. She is adopted and for most of her life, she has had a curse over her that she has held secret. In order to help her find out whether or not she is led to the priesthood, her parish priest gives her an assignment—to pray with an inmate on death row. The relationship with the inmate makes her curious about her own life before she was adopted. Before he is executed, the inmate asks for Olivia’s help and in honoring his personal request, she discovers something in her past that threatens to uproot her ordinary life with her adopted family and causes her to desperately struggle to hold on to her persona and position.

“Judy Kelly has written a lovely and engaging book about the curses and blessings we all live with—the struggle to find our calling in a world too often corrupted by doubt, and the bravery to move forward in spite of our misgivings. This is a story that celebrates the better side of human nature, especially in times of crisis, and the spark of empathetic connection we must maintain between ourselves and the lost souls we encounter on our pathway through life. Judy Kelly is an accomplished storyteller, and her work shines with insight and a genuine generosity of spirit.”                     

                                                          –Clint McCown, author of Haints

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Blessings and Curses by Judy Kelly is a novel about a young devout Christian woman, Olivia Douglass, who is becoming a priest. Her graduation is in just a few days, but she has started having reservations about her future vocation. During this time period, she gets an assignment to answer a request of a condemned convict, “Leon Sunstrik Wilkerson, who is seeking some solace before his upcoming execution. A part of her fears this task but another part of her knows it is her duty.
In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus is quoted as saying:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me”
Olivia knows she must follows this directive and visits this man, convict Leon Sunstrik Wilkerson, who she soon discovers was convicted of the murder of twelve young women and was responsible for numerous other hideous crimes. He has only a few days left before his final judgment day when he will face his Maker.
The new week proves to be a pivotal time in Olivia’s life. It is a time of discovery, a time of new love, a time of startling revelations of her past and a time of clarity about her future.
This story speaks to how death row changes people. It talks about how scared Leon feels knowing he’ll soon be put to death and all he has is just a few more hours, minutes and seconds to make amends for the horrible crimes he perpetrated. Kelly writes of the anguish Leon confesses to her as he waits to be killed.
“Blessings and Curses,” is a powerful story about the compassion, kindness, and solace rendered by prison ministries. The story is fictional, but it reminds us that the Leon’s in this world teach us many lessons of compassion and how the work of these ministries can sometimes soften the hearts of the most hardened criminals whose lives have been broken by experiences unimaginable to us.
Olivia sees a miracle of transformation in Leon and one of his final acts of attrition will change her life forever. The happenstance of her being drawn into prison ministry is transformative to her also. Kelly weaves a love story into her book of unsavory murders, prison life, and death row. “Blessings and Curses,” offers a taut tale, creating believable characters and making the book realistic. A great read for lovers of unique romance novels or books that offer a glimpse into the cruel world of crime and punishment.
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Blessings and Curses
Author: Judy Kelly
Publisher: Black Rose Writing; 1 edition (2018)
ISBN-13: 978-1612969893
Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Christian, Mystery/Suspense, Contemporary Romance

Olivia Douglass has completed her college coursework in religious education and is set to graduate. Her adoptive parents and sister and will be on hand for the occasion along with her steady beau, Claude. But she harbors a painful secret: contrary to their expectations, she has decided not to go on to become a priest, even though she has been preparing to do so for several years.

Since childhood, it seems, Olivia has felt a curse upon her, some wickedness that follows her, making her unworthy of a religious profession. That feeling has returned at this crucial juncture to cast a shadow over her plans. Understanding, but unsure she should give up her plans, Olivia’s parish priest sends her on an errand of mercy – to pray with Leon, a man on death row with only two weeks to live.

Assisted by fellow church member Wesley Johns, meeting the prisoner proves far more difficult than Olivia had imagined. She persists, though, and tries to access the spiritual nature of this hate-filled man who kidnapped and slaughtered numerous women and children. As Olivia gets to know Leon better, she simultaneously forms a friendship with Wesley, and they discover that they have a link, Wesley shares in the curse that envelops her—and like her, longs for a way out.

At the same time, her parents’ reaction to Olivia meeting and praying with Leon is odd and rather disturbing. On top of that, her sister begins to reveal signs of her own cursed and tormented life. Finally, Olivia will confront her ghosts, and theirs, in a brave and daring move.

Author Judy Kelly writes with skill and intelligence, building her plot step by step so that even when the reader begins to think that the outcome is inevitable, a twist crops up to turn the tale in yet a new direction. Visits to the prison have a knowledgeable feel, and the character of Leon is vividly depicted as he at first crudely and violently rejects Olivia’s help, then gradually comes to accept and welcome her, and finally accedes to her spiritual support on the next to last day of his life.

Kelly draws her characters with depth, from the twisted psychology of a serial killer to Olivia’s growing tenderness toward Wesley, and with it, the revelations prodding her about Claude’s dark side.
Blessings and Curses combines themes of romantic love, family ties, religious aspirations and coming of age with a slowly unfolding, at times terrifying glimpse of genuine evil.


“A cleverly constructed Christian Mystery wrapped in romance, coated in spiritual longing, with a would-be priest and a serial killer at its core.” – Chanticleer Reviews

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