Monday, March 13, 2023

Book Review Tour & Giveaway: So Close to Heaven by Annette Oppenlander

So Close to Heaven
Annette Oppenlander

Historical Fiction
Publication Date: January 6, 2023
Page count: 209 pages



A harrowing tale of a single woman's fight to preserve her beloved abbey, a tale of courage and perserverance - based on a true story.

South Tirol, Sabiona Abbey, 1796: Magdalena, a Benedictine nun, lives with her fellow sisters at Sabiona Abbey, a secluded monastery atop a cliff high above the Eisack valley and only reachable by a strenuous climb. In this simple life of work, prayer and reading, Magdalena feels safe from the world, assured that her secret will remain hidden forever.

Until one-hundred-seventy Tirolian soldiers demand entry, Napoleon’s army is almost upon them. As the world, Magdalena has so carefully built, crumbles, she must make a choice: leave the abbey to join her sisters at the bishop’s summer residence or fight to save it—even if it may cost her everything.


Sabiona Abbey, South Tirol, July 1796

I am sorting through my collection of tomato and pepper seeds in the greenhouse when Sister Adelheid rushes through the door. Her round face – everything on her is round, even her hands – is flushed as she cries, “Sister Magdalena, come quick. The Abbess needs you.”

I tuck my beloved seeds back into their box and follow Sister Adelheid uphill. She is huffing for air because the slope to the main house is steep. I am lucky to be used to it from my daily ministrations in the garden.

“What happened?” I ask, but Adelheid just raises her arms, and the wind, which is brisk most times up here, makes her habit flutter and reminds me of the wings of a crow. She is quiet, even for a nun, and I quit pressuring. Even now, after all these years, the sin of impatience is difficult to master.

Abbess Mayrin already waits in the entrance to the main house along with the hulking figure of Chaplain Father Schweiggl. We may be a Benedictine abbey of nuns, but Father Schweiggl serves as our confessor. He dismisses Adelheid with a nod and waves me and Abbess Mayrin along.

“We must pray, Sister Magdalena, for strength and wisdom.” Abbess Mayrin’s usually calm voice is strained and I recognize distress between her scrunched brows. They are thick and dark with speckles of gray like those of a man, but vanity is not something we subscribe to at the abbey.

Father Schweiggl remains silent, only flings up his hood to cover his shaven head.

Voices rear from beyond the walls, a lot of voices—the voices of men. How could I not have heard them earlier?

5 stars!

Riveting historical fiction set in northern Italy during the Napoleonic Wars.

So Close to Heaven is author Annette Oppenlander’s fascinating fictional account of Sabiona Abbey and the Benedictine nun that saved it from complete destruction during the approximately 20-year span of the Napoleonic Wars. The abbey, located on a strategic mountainside in the south Tirol area of northern Italy, was attractive as a highly defendable site by the military on both sides of the conflict and changed hands a couple of times during the action. During each takeover, the Benedictine nuns who called the abbey home were threatened or completely displaced, except for one: Sister Magdalena.

Sister Magdalena (and all the nuns who stayed behind at the abbey during the various occupations) was a strong-willed and dedicated woman, as evidenced by her escapade dressed as a French soldier to reinstate the Sabiona Abbey as a religious entity. The story has many tense and exciting moments as the women face their French attackers and even their own countrymen bent on taking advantage of the situation for personal gain.

Although not much is known about Mariele Told’s (Sister Magdalena as she was known after joining the order) reasons for initially coming to Sabiona Abbey, the author has created a tragically plausible origin story here. But what starts as an often-heard tale re-enacted thousands of times, a woman seeking asylum to avoid an unwanted arranged marriage, turns out to have a surprise twist. The story becomes one of forgiveness.

The author’s writing put me right in the story with the women of the Benedictine community of Sabiona Abbey, and at just over 200 pages in length, the book was a perfect one-sitting read. With its engaging heroine and exciting plot based on true events, I recommend SO CLOSE TO HEAVEN to readers who enjoy historical fiction, especially stories with strong female protagonists or set during the Napoleonic Wars in Italy or within a religious community.


Annette Oppenlander is an award-winning writer, literary coach and educator. As a bestselling historical novelist, Oppenlander is known for her authentic characters and stories based on true events, coming alive in well-researched settings. Having lived in Germany the first half of her life and the second half in various parts in the U.S., Oppenlander inspires readers by illuminating story questions as relevant today as they were in the past.

Oppenlander’s bestselling true WWII story, Surviving the Fatherland, received multiple nominations/awards. The recently translated German version received the silver Skoutz Award 2020. Uniquely, Oppenlander weaves actual historical figures and events into her plots, giving readers a flavor of true history while enjoying a good story.

Oppenlander shares her knowledge through writing workshops at colleges, libraries, festivals and schools. She also offers vivid presentations and author visits. The mother of fraternal twins and a son, she now lives with her husband and dog Zelda in Germany. Annette Oppenlander can be reached via email at


Annette Oppenlander will be awarding a $15 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.


Rita Wray said...

I liked the review, thank you.

Sherry said...

Looks like a very interesting book.

Kim said...

Wow. I'm glad you loved this book. Thank you for sharing your review.