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.

 

 

Monte Sano Writers’ Conference: Tell Your Story


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This post should’ve been written months ago; the event was in April. But for one reason or another I didn’t get to it. There’s great stuff to tell though, so I’m writing it now. This post is part conference review and part a sharing of the writing advice I gleaned.

The Monte Sano Writers Conference was organized by Huntsville author Homer Hickam and held at Monte Sano United Methodist Church atop Monte Sano mountain in Huntsville, Alabama. You may recognize Hickam’s name as author of Rocket Boys/October Sky and other books.

I’ve heard Hickam speak several times in NASA circles, about writing Rocket Boys and about his career as a NASA engineer, but this was the first time that I heard him talk about writing.

He is a very engaging speaker; down-to-earth, humorous, full of wit and never-ending tales. He said many things, about writing and story-telling and how it came about that he started writing books (he first wrote for magazines, doing research on old submarines that captured his interest because of his diving hobby). The thing that stuck with me most, though, was something he learned many years ago in the third grade, while writing a newspaper with his friend about news in the small mining town where he grew up.

They initially wrote about the “what” — when the church choir practice was going to be held or the menu at the upcoming church picnic — but the paper really took off when Hickam and his friend wrote about the happenings of the people of the town. Hickam said he’d follow people around and write down everything they did and then print it in in their own little paper, which they called The Coalwood News. What he learned from that venture that has impacted his writing all these years is this:

“People aren’t interested in what …. People are interested in other people.”

Getting Published

The conference was more than just Hickam. It included a panel of 6-7 writers from the Huntsville, AL, area, of different genres, including memoirs (like Hickam’s), devotionals, poetry and fiction.

The morning keynote speaker Ami McConnell, who is an editor with Thomas Nelson and HarperCollins Christian Publishing, spoke to the sanctuary of writers and writer-wanna-be’s about the publishing industry and current trends.

In the Christian and/or inspirational genre, McConnell said there’s been a shift from inspirational books that used to talk only to others within the faith to talking to people outside the faith. The shift is not just in books but in the Christian culture, and writers and publishing houses are responding. People are getting inspiration from books rather than (or in addition to) the pulpit, McConnell said.

She recommended inspirational writers ask themselves two questions: 1) Do you have a story in you that invites communion, with the reader and with the reader and their community? and 2) Do you love your reader? Those apparently are the ingredients for a potentially great inspirational book right now.

Memoirs

The conference broke into workshops in the afternoon, and I attended Hickam’s memoir/novel writing workshop. I hadn’t actually thought of Rocket Boys as a memoir before. Hickam described memoirs as being autobiographies written with the writing techniques of novels, like composite (i.e. made-up) characters and made-up stories that help the story flow or make a point. Hickam: “Memoirs are like novels in that you tell the story in such a way that makes you turn the page.”

First: figure out who the narrator is — you in the current time looking back or you captured in a specific moment in time. Get inside the head of the narrator which — I loved this part — is not necessarily you now. That’s what Hickam did with Rocket Boys. He went back in his memory to what he knew and felt as a teenager and didn’t process his feelings through the lens of an adult but captured them just as he experienced them back then.

Two more gems from the memoir workshop:

“If the first paragraph of your story doesn’t hook the reader, 300 more pages won’t do it.”

and

ask and answer: What do you want people to extrapolate, i.e. self-discover, from your story/memoir?

One More Thing

An attendee asked what should you do if in telling your story you write hurtful things about others. Hickam knows this well because in Rocket Boys he wrote about the strained and distant relationship with his dad. Hickam’s advice: ” Just let it happen.” Earlier in the day, on the same subject, Ami McConnell quoted this tweet by author Anne Lamott:

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.”

Beck McDowell

As I mentioned, there were several other Huntsville authors there as part of an author panel. The one I most looking forward to reading, though, is Beck McDowell, so much so that I bought both of her books: This Is Not A Drill, in which two teens try to save a class of first-graders from a gun-wielding soldier suffering from PTSD, and Last Bus Out, the true story of Courtney Miles, who stole a school bus and drove over 300 New Orleans people to safety after Hurricane Katrina. (Book descriptions are from McDowell’s web site.)

The Monte Sano Writers Conference is rumored to be an annual thing so I’ll look forward to next year and maybe even to being one of the featured authors one day. :)

Book Review: Beauty for Ashes by Dorothy Love


Christian romance is not usually my cup of tea, but I gave Beauty for Ashes a try anyways. To be fair, the book is part Christian romance, part historical romance, and the historical elements were the parts I enjoyed best.

The premise:

“She’s a beautiful young widow. He’s a Southern gentleman with a thirst for adventure. Both need a place to call home.”

To get “home” Carrie and Griff both have to deal with family issues — Carrie with her brother and his new hard-to-get-along-with wife, and Griff with his estranged brother and father who he felt disowned them long ago.

The spiritual issues with which the characters wrestle are mostly about searching for happiness and trusting God to take them there. The characters are challenged with hard economical times in the post-Civil War South and they’ve all suffered losses, whether it be losses of life, jobs or status.

Carrie keeps hoping things are going to turn around and get better, but that’s not what seems to be happening. The more she prays for blessing the more it seems that hard things are put on her. In the midst of this, her friend said something to her that resonated deeply with me:

“You want to please God. You want to be happy. You’re not sure whether one precludes the other.”

Ever been there? I have.

I didn’t know when I started reading Beauty for Ashes that this was the second book in author Dorothy Love’s Hickory Ridge romance series, which is a testament to how well Love inter-weaved the backstory of the first book Beyond All Measure into the pages of this one.

While I don’t usually read romances, Christian or otherwise, I like historical fiction and enjoyed the historical parts of this book. Twenty years ago, teen-aged Heather loved reading Janette Oke books, which were set in the 1840s expansion into the West. Beauty for Ashes reminded me of Oke’s books, for it’s focus on true historical times, the struggles of the people, and their reliance on God to get them through tough times.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program.