Friday, July 29, 2011

The Conclusion of The Stones by Eleanor Gustafson

--by COTT Sr. Editor, April Gardner

As I finished the last pages of this epic biblical novel, I asked myself what had impacted me most. What truth would I carry away with me? I found my own thoughts summed up on one of the last pages.

David is laying on his deathbed. Asaph has discovered a sack of five smooth stones under David’s pillow and asks the reason for them. “My Lord, are they connected with…Goliath?...David answers, No…small stones…to remind me…God uses weak things—stones…half-grown he-goats…broken, wayward kings—to conquer giants, vast armies. What was I against  Absalom? Only Hushai’s wit saved me. I hold the stones, feel…not my power…but God’s. Keep them Asaph. The power is there, but only for those who know their own weakness.”

Powerful words. Makes me want to run outdoors to collect my own stones, to carry them in my purse for rubbing when I’m feeling weak…or prideful. Either way, there is nothing we can do without God.
In a day when the Holy Spirit descended only occasionally upon men, Ellie says her in Study Guide, “when Samuel anointed David to replace Saul, we’re told that the Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily from that day on.” What a gift!

It was that Spirit that led David to be the king that he was. Ellie states in her Study Guide, “He sinned fervently, but he also repented fervently, which set him apart…” Aren’t you glad David sinned? Pride, disobedience, adultery, murder--to name a few. If he hadn’t, we wouldn’t have had a chance to see God’s mercy and love toward a truly repentant heart. “A man’s heart—that’s where the sum of his life rests…And Yahweh knows me, everything about me, yet…love me still. Asaph, what can I do? What can I say? Who can bear such love?” (David, The Stones)

Imagine what it will be like to stand before the Great White Throne and an Almighty God? We’ll be aware of every black sin we committed against him, but He will see nothing but the blood of his Son covering us from head to foot. Who can bear even the thought of such love?

Thank you, Ellie, for driving that truth home for me, for your countless hours of dedication toward this amazing work of biblical fiction. Do you care to give us a peek into your next project? Will it be biblical, or are you trying your hand at something new?

Here’s a question Ellie has for her readers. It, along with many others, can be found in her Study Guide, which I highly recommend. Even without the novel, it makes an excellent Bible study.

How can a person’s sin ultimately bring pleasure and even glory to God?

Ellie, it's been such a pleasure getting to know you this month! I've learned so much through reading The Stones. Thank you for taking part in our COTT Book Club!

Next week, we'll be diving into Delia Latham's, Destiny's Dream. Here's a little about the book. Get your copy here!

Is a little respect too much to ask at a parent’s funeral?

Apparently it is for Destiny May. Clay Gallagher is built like a small mountain and far more vocal than is fitting when he shows up late to her mother’s “going away party.” When it turns out he’s not even at the right funeral, Destiny demands retribution in the form of an escape from the day’s dreary proceedings. Spending time with a handsome stranger who makes her laugh is more therapeutic than fighting with her overbearing family.

Clay finds Destiny beautiful, charming...and intelligent. So why is she stubbornly determined to open a Christian dating service? Clay has little respect for such a frivolous profession, and doesn’t think the small, conservative town of Castle Creek will welcome such a progressive business. But when Destiny is threatened by an anonymous caller who deeply resents her and what she does for a living, Clay makes it his business to keep the saucy redhead out of harm’s way.

Trouble is, spending time in her company weakens his defenses, and Destiny may be the one thing Clay can’t escape...if he even wants to.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Stones--David's Bathsheba

We’re on to Week Three of our look at Eleanor Gustafson’s The Stones

As a missionaries, while Stateside, my family and I traveled all over the nation visiting churches. This equaled many long, boring miles in the car with two siblings just as grumpy as I was. Like it was yesterday, I remember the day one of us grew desperate and asked Dad for a story we had never heard before. He took off on a tale of a king who had many wives but “hugged and kissed” that of another man. I remember my  horror at the thought, but it was compounded when I learned how this king covered his sin—by murdering her husband. At the end of this fascinating (yet rather embarrassing--Dad was talking about kissing. Yuck!) story, Dad told us that this king was none other than King David.

My little heart was completely broken. King David? No way! He was the lowly shepherd boy that killed lions and bears and mean giants. He was my hero. Isn’t he every kid’s? A tiny part of my innocence died that day.
I hated the story, but today, I look at in a different light—with gratitude. If David can behave in such a despicable way and still be called “a man after God’s own heart”, maybe there’s hope for me.

In The Stones, Ellie handles this portion of David’s life with brutal clarity and truth, and I thank her for it. Uriah is a sharp contrast to the king, who, at the height of his power, had become self-indulgent. In the voice of Asaph, Ellie writes:

I meditated, too, on the supreme irony of Uriah, flame of Yahweh. Had he known or guessed his wife was pregnant? He was certainly intelligent enough to put two and two together. Yet he would not do the one thing that would get David off the hook, and his very bravery and zeal became David’s weapon to destroy him. A man of gallantry, ready to die for his prince’s honor, died instead by his prince’s hand. 

Poor guy.

In her study guide, Ellie asks a couple of questions, which I thought I’d put to you, as well.

Why do you think God chose Bathsheba rather than a more “acceptable” wife (such as Abigail) to establish the House of David and the long line leading to the birth of Jesus?

In The Stones, Asaph was greatly affected by David’s colossal sin. (See Scroll Two, chapter 18). What, beyond the armband and scroll that David brought to him, restored his relationship with David?

And my question for Ellie—What first made you consider writing David’s life in the form of biblical fiction?

If you haven’t gotten it yet, make sure you pick up your copy of COTT champ, Delia Latham's,Destiny's Dream. We'll be discussing this fun romance next month!

--April W Gardner is the Sr. Editor at Clash of the Titles
and the award-winning author of Wounded Spirits

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Stones--A Glimpse of Jersualem

Welcome back to our discussion of The Stones
by Eleanor (Ellie) Gustafson!
by April W Gardner

I’ve just reached chapter six, which doesn’t seem like much, but it’s actually very close to the half-way point. Each chapter is jammed packed, filled to brimming with historical events recorded in the Bible. Much of it is narrative, but when Ellie pens dialog, she does it with expertise.  The things her characters say either crack me up or sober me with their depth of wisdom. Ellie, you are indeed a master crafter of engaging dialog.

The event that stood out to me the most during this quarter of the book was David’s move from Hebron to Jebus (which he renamed Jerusalem). I’m not sure if I've just glanced over it every time I’ve read the account in Scripture or if there just isn’t much there, but it was practically all new information for me. Ellie, did you fill in details from other historical sources? If so, how much? 

Ellie wrote a nail-biting account of the take-over of the city from the Jebusites. I'd never thought about who occupied Jerusalem before David or for how long. For those who haven’t read the book, the Jebusites had control of the city for hundreds of years before David decided he wanted it for his capitol. But that’s all I’m saying! You’ll have to buy the book if you want to find out exactly how David entered the highly-defended and, up to that point, unconquerable fortress. Hint: God had something to do with it.

Before the battle David addressed the troops. This is what he said:
“Look up, all of you, to the hill above Jebus. Mt. Moriah, Abraham brought his son Isaac from Beersheba to this place to sacrifice him in obedience to God’s command. He stood right where you’re standing now. He looked up in dread, yet set food to the mountain, confident that God—somehow, in some way—would provide. And he did. As Abraham raised his knife, the angel of the Lord stayed his hand. So shaken he could hardly stand, Abraham looked around, and there in the thicket, caught by its horns, was the sacrifice God provided in place of Isaac.
“Abraham called the mountain, ‘The Lord will provid,’” David continued, “and we’ll hold to that word today. We’ll climb Mt. Moriah, and there Yaweh will provide. Here, in the name of the Lord, we claim that miserable shelf called Zion. It shall be cleansed of Jebusites and be forever known as Jerusalem, Mt. Zion, the Holy City of God.”

Eleanor Gustafson
That passage deeply impacted me. Having grown up reading the Thoene’s  work, I’ve always been fascinated with Jerusalem, but Ellie, you took me back to the beginning and drew a thread through the centuries, through David and all the way to Christ. Although you didn’t mention it, the reader easily draws the thread the rest of the way through to present-day and the ongoing struggle for God’s Holy City.

Our God is an awesome God! (Made you sing it. Wink.) History is already written, and He sees the big picture with perfect clarity. (Aren't you glad?) We can only hope to catch a glimpse.

Ellie, have you been privileged to visit Israel? If so, tell us your favorite part of the experience. If not, tell us what the first place is you’d want to see if you were told you’d be flying there tomorrow.

I pose the same question to our readers as well as the following—Was there a particular passage that stood out to you in this quarter of the book?

If you haven’t gotten it yet, make sure you pick up your copy of COTT champ, Delia Latham's, Destiny's Dream. We'll be discussing this fun romance next month!

--April W Gardner is the Sr. Editor at Clash of the Titles
and the award-winning author of Wounded Spirits

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Our First Peek at THE STONES by Eleanor Gustafson

Welcome to The Stones COTT book club discussion! And a massive welcome to this month’s COTT conquering author,  Eleanor (Ellie) Gustafson. Welcome, Ellie!

I decided to do like Jennifer did during A Tailor-made Bride and read the book throughout the month as we go along. Most of us know the end (wink), but Ellie presents the details in such a fresh and unique way that I find it’s almost as if I’ve never read the story before.

I just finished chapter twelve. It’s hefty reading, but I’m really enjoying it. Ellie, you write with such a lovely, almost poetic prose. It’s enchanting. And the historical detail simply fascinates me. I’m quite in awe, actually.

Question to readers: Do you have a favorite character yet? I do!

Abigail, David’s third wife, was always one of my favorite female Bible characters. I think it’s rather romantic that saving her retched husband’s life earned her the (future) king’s love. Her dead husband was barely cold in the ground before David took her to wife. Talk about making an impression!

Quite the colorful character in The Stones, she’s strong-willed (which wasn’t a gift in those days) and she’s usually the cause for tension. But it’s generally because she’s fighting for what she believes God requires of them. David’s standing before God and the people is more important to her than his good graces, which she doesn’t lose for long anyway. David loves her too much.

I just finished reading chapter 12 where Abigail chides him for bringing home booty from the Amalekites he’s raided and killed.

Abigail says, “Did you consult Abiathar and the Urim and thummin to find out if you’re the man to do it? It seems to me you’re tearing off this ‘vengeance’ thing, when it’s the Lord’s business to—”
“Enough, woman! You have a find hand on my faults and don’t hesitate to say so.” (great line, by the way) The flare died quickly, and David sighed as he wrung a cloth and wiped his dusty face. “Abigail, Abigail, you don’t understand. We have our reasons. We—”
“You mean Joab has his reasons. This was his idea, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, and it’s a good idea.” His voice grew irritable again. “We must get Achish to trust us. Once he thinks we’ve made ourselves odious to the Israelites… And besides, I thought you’d like clothes and jewelry.”
“They’re soaked in blood. I’d never wear them” Wow. You go, girl.  A scene with this feisty gal is always interesting!

If I remember correctly, not overly much is said about her in the Bible. So, Ellie, what made you decide to give Abigail such a strong personality? Which portions of Scripture lead you to construct her character in such a way?

Here are a couple of questions for you taken from the same source.

If Abigail is David’s most valuable wife, why is he uncomfortable with her? 
In what way does Abigail exemplify God’s love?

Historical/biblical fiction is my all time favorite genre, but I can’t help but wonder the entire time that I’m reading--Which parts are real and which are made up? But this time, I get to ask the author questions as I’m reading. How fun is that?! Ellie, my question to you is (after reading the two you asked in the Study Guide)—“What makes Abigail David’s most valuable wife?” Is that something you found in the Bible or something you created? Will we discover the answer as we read further?

At the end of the month, there will be a drawing for The Stones Study Guide. It’s the ideal companion book that you’ll want to have to go along with The Stones. You could create six months worth of Bible and history lessons from it, if you had a hankering to. That’s how much great stuff it has in it. Perfect for a home school setting!

Enter the drawing by leaving a comment on either Blogger or Facebook. Every comment counts for one entry.

Next week, I plan to have read approximately to the half-way point. Can’t wait to see what David is up to by then!

Next month, we'll be discussing another COTT Conquering book-- Delia Latham's Destiny's Dream. Make sure you get your copy of this fun romance now!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Goodby to A Tailor-Made Bride and Hello to The Stones

By Jennifer Slattery

It has been a wonderful month. I've enjoyed chatting with you all about Karen Witemeyer's A Tailor-Made Bride, but alas, all good things must come to an end. Okay, so that's not true. How about, the good only gets better? Because now that July is upon us, we launch into Eleanor Gustafson's The Stones, a novel about the life of King David.

Starting Thursday our Senior Editor and author of Wounded Spirits, April Gardner, will be here to discuss Eleanor's book. Make sure to order your copy now and pop back every Thursday to join the discussion!

And remember, if your purchased A Tailor-Made Bride during the month of May and would like a signed bookplate, shoot us an email and we'll get you hooked up!

Happy reading all!

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