Book Review: Of Stillness and Storm


Before I get in to what I thought about the book “Of Stillness and Storm,” I gotta give a little background for my viewpoint.

First, I grew up a PK — preacher’s kid —  and growing up a PK is hard. People joke about how the call of a pastor isn’t just on the pastor but on his family too. Unless you’re in that family you have no idea how true that really is. The families of pastors and missionaries sacrifice that member of their family to the Lord’s work, and you feel bad getting too upset about it because well, they’re doing the Lord’s work. But too many times ministers forsake one call for another, leaving behind the call of a husband and father to their family at home to the “more important call” to their church and community. I’m not so sure that’s what God intends. Yes, it’s tough to manage both roles, to pastor a church and ALL that that entails and to be a husband and a father, but just because it takes extra effort doesn’t mean it’s not worth working at or doing well. I’ve seen it done bad and I’ve seen it done well. The impact on the family is significant either way.

Second, ‘Of Stillness and Storm’ involves an emotional affair by a woman who’s missionary husband has emotionally forsaken her and their child for the lost in Nepal. He’s there physically, albeit intermittent, but his heart is sold out to the lost and that doesn’t leave much left for his family unfortunately. Shades of her story resemble some of my own experiences.

So for these reasons I related to parts of this story in a very personal way.

So the book … left me wanting more! Which is a good thing. Author Michele Phoenix did such an amazing job creating characters and situations that I care about that I want there to be a future book that tells me what happens next. In fact I actually tweeted the author to ask if there was a sequel in the works. It turns out there’s not, but I wish there was! Without spoiling anything let’s just say the story comes to an end but doesn’t come to a conclusion, if that makes sense.

One of my favorite moments was early in the book when Lauren and Sam are falling in love. Lauren is a little scared of what’s going on with Sam and tells her friend she’s trying to play it safe with him, not take the risk of anyone getting hurt. Her friend encourages her with a quote from C.S. Lewis:

‘To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.”

Then her friend says something just as profound as Lewis:

“You can keep your heart safe or you can lay it on the line and mend it when it breaks. A heart unrisked is a heart unshared — and yours is too good to waste.”

I’m kinda scared to fall in love (again) so I understood well Lauren’s fear and found the Lewis quote and the friend’s comment poignant to my own situations.

Later in the story I underlined this thought by Lauren as she reminisced about someone she loved in the past:

Love, like grief, doesn’t die. It bleeds until it can no more. Then, pale and listless, sleeps.

Hmm. Interesting to compare love and grief; I’ve experienced both deeply. I think I get it though. When do you fall out of love? Like, can you name the moment when you stop loving someone. Similarly, when do you stop grieving a loss? Some say never but for most grief wanes over time and then one day, after enough time or distance has passed, grief kinda stalls and lies dormant, which means it can be awakened again without notice, rhyme or reason. Is love like that too? Maybe so. Something to ponder.

One more thing to point out: This story incorporates the dangers of reconnecting with old boyfriends or old crushes on social media. One of the neat things about sites like Facebook is reconnecting with people from your past. But many relationships and marriages have been uprooted and undone by it. Something to be extremely careful about.

Review in a nutshell:

  • Enjoyed it
  • Related to struggles and characters
  • Underlined some cool quotes
  • Wished there was a sequel
  • Be careful reconnecting with old boyfriends on Facebook
  • 3.8/5 stars

I received a free early release copy of this book exchange for this review from Litfuse Publicity Group. More on Litfuse and Of Stillness and Storm here.

 

 

Book Review: The Invoice will make you think


What if you had to pay for your perceived happiness? Not your actual happiness but how happy someone else says you are based on factors they determine and measure. I imagine if this were the case there’d be a lot less folks portraying picture-perfect lives on Facebook.

So in ‘The Invoice‘ by Jonas Karlsson this guy gets a bill for his happiness quotient, and he completely disagrees with the charges. I mean, the bill is egregious. He owes millions of dollars (actually kronor, which it turns out is Swedish currency; who knew?) and he doesn’t feel like his life is that great to owe so much. Especially when friends who he thinks have happier lives owe less than him.

See how this book will make you think? Cool, eh?

So he sets out to prove how crappy his life is so that the people who decide such things will lower his bill. In the process he discovers that maybe his life isn’t so bad afterall.

Quick, quirky read that made me think. And since I like thinking, I give the book 3/5 stars.

Disclaimer: I received this book free from Blogging for Books for this review.

 

 

Book Review: The Tea Planter’s Wife


tea-planters-wife

Two things attracted me to The Tea Planter’s Wife at first glance: the beautiful cover and the intriguing title. I wanted to know who this woman was and what her life was like. In the cover art she looks troubled and deep in thought. With no other information about her other than her husband’s profession I wanted to read what was it that made her sit on this balcony looking quite forlorn.

And the book didn’t disappoint. I loved it! The characters captivated my interest from the very beginning, and the slow reveal of everyone’s secrets kept me reading with great anticipation of how all of this was going to work out in the end.

I mentioned secrets. There’s several secrets in this book, which kept me pondering most of the time. Even when I knew the secret, I wondered how on earth the other characters were going to respond once the secret was out. Author Dinah Jefferies doesn’t just come out with the secrets either, but draws them out with subtle hints and sometimes just enough details to lead you to guess 2-3 different possibilities. This is very skillful storytelling on Jefferies’ part.

The relationships in the story are quite complicated too, from a sister who is over-attached to her brother and gets in the way of his marriage relationship, to a secret child whose very existence threatens to tear apart the marriage, to the tea planter himself still grieving the loss of his first wife and child. I like reading about complex relationships because struggles like that usually reveal characters’ true selves along with their strengths and weaknesses.

Having not read much historical fiction set in the 1920s, I enjoyed the time period, with mentions of ’20s fashions (flapper dresses!) and the worldwide impact of the Great Depression in America comes into play as well. The story is not set in America (plays out in Ceylon, modern Sri Lanka, an island off the coast of India) yet investors around the world were impacted by the American market crash.

Overall I’d say it’s a fun little piece of historical fiction.

I received this book free from Blogging for Books for this review.

 

Reading Rules


This Book Riot post about reading rules and personality inspired me to think about my own “reading rules.”

At first I didn’t think I had any, and the whole idea sounded a little too formal to me. But the more I thought about it I realized that I do I have rules, or maybe just how I do things, I just never codified it.

Til now.

So here we go:

  1. Always finish a book you start. I’ve only made exception to this about twice when the book was just so bad and going absolutely nowhere that I just couldn’t take it anymore! Even if I’m not loving it, I have to finish it just in case it gets better and I would miss the “better” by quitting. Also, not knowing how a book ends would drive me a crazy, even a bad book. Note: I’ve softened a little on this the last few years, concerned that there are so many great books to read I shouldn’t waste my time on a so-so book. I still can’t bring myself to just quit though.
  2. Give a book 100 pages before deciding if you’re into it or not. Anything less than 100 pages might be too soon. But certainly after 100 pages an author should have reeled me in. If it hasn’t happened by 100, probably not going to happen at all.
  3. Read more than one book at once. Sometimes I have several books going — one that’s serious, one that’s frivolous, one that’s deep, one on audio for when I’m driving, etc. — and that’s OK. Sometimes I don’t have a lot of time or I’m not in the mood for a real involved read so I keep a light and easy read going and save my deeper book for longer stretches of reading. Friends ask how do you keep the plot lines and characters straight when reading more than one book at time? The same way I keep TV characters separate on two different TV shows.
  4. Read the book before the movie. Otherwise the movie actors become the book characters in your mind and you’ll never have the opportunity to see what your imagination would have come up with on its own.
  5. If buying a series, buy all hardback or all paperback; don’t mix and match. This has more to do with bookshelf aesthetics than anything else but it’s still my personal rule.
  6. Never buy the movie cover. The original covers are so much prettier!
  7. Always underline and dog-ear favorite passages. Books impact our worldview, and if a story or description stands out to you mark it in some way so you can come back to it at a later time and see if it stands out to you still or if you think differently about it after you finish the book, if/when you the read book again or years down the road if you just pick it up off the shelf and thumb through.
  8. Loan your books! To trustworthy friends who will return and take care of them of course. Books are meant to be shared. Share them!
  9. Write your name in your books. I have fancy little “from the library of” stickers and I have a stamp with my name on it because that’s my style. Another idea is an embosser or maybe you just pencil your name or initials in the front cover. This serves two purposes: One, when you loan your books, your friends know who to return it to; and two, someday, if your books end up in a used bookstore or a thrift store, a buyer will know the name of the person who used to own it. I love buying used books with the former owner’s name and imagining who they were, did they like book, why did they get rid of it, etc.
  10. Document the year you read a book in the inside cover. Sounds silly but it’s kinda fun if you go to loan out a book or pick it up again for yourself to see what year you last read a book, recall what was going on at the time you last read it, and compare it to what’s going on now, noting changes in life and sometimes reading interests.

Book Review: Prayers for New Brides


This book is the kind of book I wish someone would have handed me back in 1999 when I was preparing to get married or after the wedding when I was struggling to figure out what in the world I was doing as a new wife.

My impression of marriage back then was love, living together, sex, and doing whatever we wanted together. It’s the thing you did when you loved someone and didn’t want to ever be apart from them. Isn’t that how they portray it in books and movies? Attraction, romance and a pretty dress, a honeymoon and happily ever after. That’s all there is to it.

Despite both my husband and I being believers in Christ, I didn’t really understand back then how marriage is supposed to be a picture of Christ’s relationship to the church, and even now, after 11 years of marriage and five years widowed, it’s still something I’m trying to figure out. Better pre-marital counseling, a Godly wife as a mentor, and a resource like Prayers for New Brides: Putting on God’s Armor After the Wedding Dress might’ve helped me recognize that sooner and resulted in a more God-honoring marriage.

What I like about Prayers for New Brides is that it’s organized in short, 2-3 page chapters that make it easy to use as a daily devotional. With 40 chapters, this book works nicely as a 40-day devotional, complete with suggested prayers and Scriptures.

You know what would be a great way to use this book if you’re a bride planning your wedding and about to say “I do”? Adopt this a group study, of sorts, for you and your bridesmaids to do together, reading, discussing and praying for your marriage in the 40 days leading up to your wedding. Bonus: Involve the mother of the bride and your future mother-in-law.

What if you’re already married? Well, every marriage could use prayer and a little refreshment, so use the 40 days like touch up paint to strengthen the marriage you’re in.

Single? Whether you’re single and waiting for the right one or single again on the other side of a divorce or death, the prayers and discussions about God’s design for marriage are healthy considerations for determining what kind of future marriage you desire and for understanding what went wrong in a first marriage or how to do things different if given a second time around.

Prayers for New Brides would also make a nice addition to an engagement or bridal gift or even to a recently married woman who could just use a little encouragement.

I’m giving away my review copy to a randomly selected bride, whether you’re recently married, soon to be married, or married many many years. To enter, simply comment on this post with your wedding date and year. Winner will be randomly selected on Oct. 1, 2015.

The Bedford Talk: Journey from Bedford, Indiana to ‘Bold They Rise’


I had the opportunity to give a Bold They Rise talk recently in the community where I spent the bulk of my print journalism career. It was important to me to go back there and offer a book talk because my time there was very instrumental in me ending up working on Bold They Rise and I wanted to go back and tell them that.

So I titled my talk “From Here to There” and filled in the missing 11-year timeline from the time I left the community and the newspaper in 2003 until now.

The highlight was bringing with me their hometown astronaut Charlie Walker. His missions are included in Bold They Rise, so it was a privilege and an honor to do this talk with him.

So my talk started with this picture of Charlie Walker on the space shuttle in 1984.

charlie walker 84

I told the people that while Charlie was doing this, I was doing this.

heather 84

In 1984 I was 4 years old and more into Minnie Mouse than I was astronauts and space.

It was important that people “get” that yes, I grew up in Huntsville, Ala., the Rocket City and home to Space Camp and Wernher von Braun and NASA, but I didn’t learn to appreciate space exploration because of that upbringing. If anything that upbringing caused me to take astronauts and space travel for granted.

It wasn’t until I moved to southern Indiana, to Lawrence County Indiana specifically, that I saw how the rest of the world viewed space. Three astronauts hail from this little southern Indiana community — more than any other county in the U.S. — and the people there are very proud of that. Their pride made its way into the newsroom where I worked as the paper covered space-related news and kept up with the comings and going of these space heroes and their legacies.

Writing about space-related things gave me a hearty set of clippings with which, upon my return to Huntsville,  I used to apply for a writing position at NASA.

I think those clips made a difference in my getting the job. My Bold They Rise co-author says they didn’t — he should know, he made the hiring recommendation — however I might not have even applied had I not felt that I had dappled enough in space writing to be able to do the job.

So in my talk, I told the audience that I went from here, my old Times-mail mug shot

tm mug

to here

nasa mug

my semi-official NASA mug shot; this photo accompanied a blog I wrote for NASA during my time there.

I briefly told stories of getting to do this, a reduced gravity flight

heather flying

and this, attending Space Camp,

heather space camp

and then writing Bold They Rise.

It was important to me that the people of Bedford, Mitchell and Lawrence County know that their community played a role in this book, and I wanted to bring it to them and share the book and its story as it relates to them.

After that I introduced Charlie who told his own “from here to there” stories about growing up in Bedford with his fellow “rocket boys” friends and his journey from Bedford to Purdue to McDonnell Douglas and to space as NASA’s first payload specialist astronaut.

walker rocket boys

We’re all travelers, traveling from here to there, we just don’t know always know where “there” is until we get there.

This is a story of what it’s like for something to come full circle, because that’s exactly what happened. Extremely grateful I got to go back and finish the loop.

One of the Best Storytellers in Bold They Rise


Image Credit: collectspace

Astronaut Hank Hartsfield died last week.

He was 80 years old. That’s a long life.

He was Alabama’s first astronaut, which as a native Alabamian is something I care about.

He flew three missions on the space shuttle and his role in the space shuttle program is prominently featured in my book, Bold They Rise.

He was Pilot of the only all-Auburn space shuttle crew. Note: If you’re reading this Victoria, that fact is for you.

I never met him, I never talked to him, although I wish I had. And I’m not just saying that either.

Technically “we” talked tor him for Bold They Rise — I didn’t; I wasn’t an author on the book at that time — so I was surprised when my co-author posted online that Hartsfield was one of the first astronauts “we” interviewed for the book. He was?! I didn’t know that. Cool!

So I asked David to tell me the story:

“When I went to Houston with (astronaut) Bo Bobko in … April 2007, I think, we called him (Hartsfield) up and asked if we could talk to him, he invited us over. … We talked to him at his house. … His stories were fresh and engaging and entertaining, and he had the delivery of a storyteller who likes his stories; the memories of flying with Wubbo (Ockels) or doing pre-flight work in Germany genuinely amused him.

He seemed like he would have been a great commander to fly with, especially for a MS-centric mission like a Spacelab, a leader confident enough to facilitate capable people doing their jobs.”

So, in tribute to Hartsfield, a few of my favorite Hartsfield stories, from Bold They Rise:

Waiting 16 Years To Fly

After sixteen years in the Air Force and NASA astronaut corps, he was finally about to fly. “To me, it was kind of an emotional thing. I remember when we were going out to the pad in the van, and just before we got up to the pad to get out and go to get in the bird, it just sort of hit me, and I said something to Ken (Mattingly), I said, ‘Ken, I can’t believe it. I think we’ll really get to do this.’ It hit me emotionally, because tears started welling up in my eyes. You know, I had to wipe me eyes. It just, to me, was an emotional thought, after all that time, I was finally going to get to fly, it appeared. And I did.”

Tab November

STS-4 was the first Shuttle mission to include a classified military aspect to the mission. “Because it was highly classified, the work we were doing on this one experiment, they had a classified checklist,” Hartsfield said. “Because we didn’t have secure comm, we had the checklist divided up in sections that we just had letter names like Bravo Charlie, Tab Charlie, Tab Bravo that they could call out. When we talked to Sunnyvale to Blue Cube out there, military control, they said, ‘Do Tab Charlie,’ or something. We had one drawer, one locker that was where we kept all the classified material, and it was padlocked. So once we got on orbit, there was nobody going to steal it because we didn’t have to worry about it. We unlocked it and did what we had to. When we finished the last part of that thing, and I remember I finally got it all stowed, I told Ken, I said, ‘I got all the classified stuff put away. It’s all locked up.’ He said, ‘Great.’

“It wasn’t thirty minutes, and they said that the military folks needed to talk to us. So the Capcom came on, the military guy, and says he wanted me to do Tab November. Ken said, ‘What’s Tab November?’   I said, ‘I ain’t got the foggiest idea. I’m going to have to get the checklist out to see.’ So I got the padlock off and got the drawer and dug down and got the checklist out and went to Tab November, and it says, ‘Put everything away and secure it.’ Ken and I really laughed about it.”

Who Moved Ate My Cheese?

Wubbo brought a big bag of gouda cheese with him. I like gouda; everybody likes gouda, nearly. The coolest place in the Orbiter was in the tunnel. It was velcroed up to the side of the tunnel. Which is a great area, you would go floating through, and grab yourself a piece of the gouda. Good Lord, it was good stuff.

“It was so convenient. Anybody that went back there, on the way back and forth, your reached in. About the second or third day, ‘Who’s been eating my cheese!?’ He was upset because about two-thirds of his cheese was already gone.”

These are just a few of the many Hartsfield anecdotes included in the book. Moments like this made me proud that Bold They Rise exists as a permanent collection of stories from great storytellers with many the great story to tell.

Thanks, Hank, for sharing your stories.