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BLUE: A Book Review by Kathryn Dover

I was excited to follow Junior Bledsoe’s journey in the second novel in the Baker Mountain series, Blue. Junior does not have as large a role in this novel as he does in the series’ previous novel, Aim, but his character is crucial because he helps his friend and neighbor, Ann Fay Honeycutt, who is the protagonist and first-person narrator of Blue.

The beginning is very moving—Ann Fay’s father is going off to war and leaves her as the “man of the house” while he is away (11). He also instructs Junior to keep an eye on the family in exchange for the privilege of driving his truck, which, as Ann Fay states, “Junior would do anyhow, on account of that’s just how he is. He’s got a big heart” (15). Similarly, Ann Fay describes Junior as “the definition of a true friend—someone who knows you might be dangerous to be around and they stick by you anyhow” (63). Thus, Junior’s character has developed much from the selfish, bitter teenager he was in Aim.

The plot pace is moderately fast and suspenseful, and the story flows very well. The story’s many conflicts keep the plot moving. World War II presents one conflict in Blue, but another conflict, the polio epidemic, affected the home front just as strongly. The Honeycutt family faces many trials during Ann Fay’s father’s absence, and Ann Fay’s character develops immensely throughout the novel. She describes her father’s departure as “the beginning of a journey for me. I didn’t go anywhere, really. But I was never in the same place after that either” (14). Ann Fay develops spiritually as well. On her “journey,” Ann Fay befriends a black girl, Imogene. Imogene’s testimony of how God has helped her get through some trials inspires Ann Fay to trust God more.

As with Aim, the title of Blue is perfect and very fitting, but its meaning is not as explicit as that of Aim. The word “blue” serves a dual meaning for Ann Fay. The color blue is very important to her. Her favorite flower, the wisteria, is blue. The wisteria links Ann Fay to her father; they often argued over whether the wisteria blooms are blue or purple. Ann Fay believes they are blue, and every time she looks at them, she is reminded of her father. On the other hand, “blue” represents Ann Fay’s sadness. Ann Fay has many reasons to be sad and describes her mood as “blue” (101). Also, as with Aim, the novel reads as if Ann Fay wrote it herself. The rich dialect and elements of the time period make Blue realistic and thus appealing to me.

The ending is a wonderful surprise; the story ends happily but leaves room for more character development and growth to follow in the subsequent novels. While I enjoyed Aim, I enjoyed Blue even more. The story is much deeper, more involved, and full of rich details and metaphors. Any story that evokes a reader’s emotions as well as Blue does is certainly well-written. I recommend Blue to teenagers and young adults, and as with Aim, I think almost any age reader will enjoy it. I look forward to seeing how Ann Fay’s “journey” continues in the next book, Comfort

 

Kathryn Dover lives in South Carolina with her family including three cats (and counting!), a dog, two fish, and many house plants. She will be attending Presbyterian College in the fall and wants to study Math and Creative Writing. She enjoys playing the piano, reading, and writing plays.

GIVEAWAY

Boyds Mills and Kane have generously provided a copy of each of Joyce Hostetter’s books to give away in conjunction with Kathryn Dover’s reviews. To enter the giveaway for Blue, please leave a comment by 9 AM on July 3  We’ll enter your name for each time you share it on a social media site; just make sure to tell us in the comment what you did. continental United States addresses only.

MASTER CLASS

Joyce will be presenting on writing fiction at our first master class on September 19. There is a $20 Early Bird discount if you register by August 1. If you come–bring your book so she can autograph it! PLUS we will be giving away a set of four books to give as a door prize!

AIM: A Book Review by Kathryn Dover and a Giveaway!

I have been interested in reading the Bakers Mountain series by Joyce Moyer Hostetter since I first heard about it at Write2Ignite 2018. When I was offered this opportunity to review all four books in the series, I gladly accepted. I am beginning my reviews with Aim, the first book, and will progress through the series with Blue, Comfort, and Drive over the summer.

 

The beautiful artwork on the novel’s cover and its intriguing synopsis instantly drew me into this novel. The beginning of Aim is captivating; the plot pace is fast, and the story flows extremely well. The story is told by first-person narrator Junior Bledsoe, who is growing up in North Carolina during the outbreak of World War II. The war is not Junior’s only struggle. His grandfather has come to live with his family, and his father has died. Junior describes his struggle well: “Sometimes it felt like war wasn’t across the ocean. It was right there in my own house. And inside me too. I didn’t know which way to think or feel” (54). Junior is suffering a loss no one seems to understand. While his father was an unpleasant man, he was still Junior’s father, and Junior loved him dearly.

Even so, Junior realizes his father’s shortcomings and wants to be a provider who is always there for his family, in contrast to his drunken father. Yet everyone, even Junior’s own family, makes fun of Junior’s attachment to his father and predicts he will end up like his father—a comment not encouraging to Junior. They also continually remind him that he does not have a father. Junior states: “It seemed like I couldn’t turn around without somebody rubbing my nose in the fact that I didn’t have a father anymore. I knew it wasn’t what they intended. It’s just the way it was” (64). As a result, Junior becomes bitter and a troublemaker. Junior must decide if he is going to let other people dictate the course of his life and follow in his father’s footsteps or if he is going to forge a new path for himself.

The title of Aim is perfect, as the story follows Junior’s aim for his life. I enjoy simple, one-word titles because they summarize the entire story with one powerful word. In addition, the story is historically accurate, containing details from the time period, such as quotes from President Roosevelt’s speeches. Dialect also contributes to the realism of Aim and adds depth to the characters. One detail from the time period that interested me was that Junior is left-handed. Society pressured left-handed people to use their right hand, and Junior’s teacher forces him to write with his right hand, contributing to his bitterness. Once again, no one understands him.

Readers can learn from reading Aim the influence their actions and words can have on someone who is suffering. Their words can encourage him to follow the right—or wrong—path. Thus, Aim gives great insight into the mind of a child who has lost a parent.

Aim is written in an unusual style that did not appeal to me at first, but as I kept reading, I began to appreciate the author’s unique voice. Every author has his own voice that makes his works special, and Joyce Hostetter’s informal, realistic style reads as if Junior himself had written the novel, attesting to her great skill as a writer. By the end of the novel, I enjoyed the style. The ending marks how much Junior has matured throughout the novel, leaving me feeling satisfied but wanting to know Junior’s role in the next book. I recommend Aim to readers from middle graders to young adults, as I think almost any age would enjoy it. I look forward to reading Blue, the next book in the series, soon.

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Kathryn Dover lives in South Carolina with her family including three cats (and counting!), a dog, two fish, and many house plants. She will be attending Presbyterian College in the fall and wants to study Math and Creative Writing. She enjoys playing the piano, reading, and writing plays.

GIVEAWAY

Boyds Mills and Kane have generously provided a copy of each of Joyce Hostetter’s books to give away in conjunction with Kathryn Dover’s reviews. To enter the giveaway fo Aim, please leave a comment by 9 AM on June 25.  We’ll enter your name for each time you share it on a social media site; just make sure to tell us in the comment what you did. Continental United States addresses only.

MASTER CLASS

Joyce will be presenting on writing fiction at our first master class on September 19. There is a $20 Early Bird discount if you register by August 1. If you come–bring your book so she can autograph it! PLUS we will be giving away a set of four books to give as a door prize!

 

Creating Memorable Characters by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

Back around 1996, my friend, Dave told me that when he was fourteen, his father died. At the funeral, a woman said to him, “I guess you’ll have to be the man of the house now.” Dave said to me. “I did not want to be the man of the house. I wasn’t ready for that responsibility.”

I never forgot his words and nearly a decade later, as I prepared to write the story of a North Carolina polio epidemic which happened in the midst of WWII, those words helped me discover my character.

Here’s what Ann Fay Honeycutt tells us on the first page of my book, BLUE.

Daddy took my chin and made me look right at him. “I expect you to be the man of the house while I’m gone,” he said. He handed me a pair of blue overalls. “You been wanting to wear britches ever since you first climbed that apple tree. I reckon this is your chance.”

Dave’s sentiments provided the spark for Ann Fay’s personality. I needed a character who would be overwhelmed with more responsibility than she thought she could handle. One who would feel weak but discover an inner strength. She’d need to be feisty and determined, resourceful, and sometimes bossy.

Before I knew her name or gender I considered giving my story a male protagonist but there was something in me that wanted to tell a strong female story. And, after all, the story called for it because so many women kept the home front strong during WWII.

Ann Fay was also informed by what I knew. There was a great deal of me in her. While writing I drew on the love of my daddy and his garden as well as my determination to conquer whatever obstacle gets in my way. All that came from my personal experience.

It’s natural for authors to draw on themselves and their own personalities and this can work well. But each story needs its own cast of characters and they can’t all be made in the author’s image. Sometimes the author has to research to discover authentic characters. Finding characters and rounding them out hasn’t always been as easy for me as knowing who Ann Fay was.

I anticipate sharing my process as well as what I’m learning from my beta readers, editor, and other experts at Write 2 Ignite’s Writing Fiction Master Class.  I’ll also provide some hands-on exercises for finding your character’s personality and voice. I hope to see you on September 19, 2020!

REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN!

Joyce Moyer Hostetter lives in Hickory, North Carolina, where she enjoys spending time with her children and grandchildren. Before she wrote historical novels, Joyce taught special education, worked in a camp for at-risk children and directed a preschool program. She also wrote Christian curricula, magazine articles, and a newspaper column & feature stories. Her novels have won an International Reading Association Children’s Book Award, Parents’ Choice Honor Awards, and a North Carolina Juvenile Literature Award. Her books include Healing Water: An Hawaiian Story about a teen boy’s survival in Hawaii’s leprosy settlement and the Bakers Mountain Stories series: AimBlueComfort, and Drive. Equal, the fifth book in the series will be released in 2020.

 

bird by bird

Bird By Bird: A Timeless Writing Resource

“‘So why does our writing matter again?’ they ask. Because of the spirit, I say. Because of the heart. Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.” –Anne Lamott, pp. 237

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott should be on every writer’s shelf. Her advice offers encouragement through an honest discussion of what writing is like. Lamott sits her reader down and shares her experience as though she were chatting over a cup of coffee. As she shares, she addresses the feelings of anxiety, discouragement, and even jealousy that almost all writers face at some point. In doing so, she reminds us that we’re not alone in our struggles. We all hit the wall on occasion, and it’s possible to keep going despite those setbacks.

Throughout the book, Lamott gives insight on ways to improve our writing. She offers advice on how to write better dialogue, how to stay motivated, and how to find a writing group. But mostly what she provides is inspiration to persevere. Every piece of insight resounds with encouragement (even while Lamott acknowledges the hardships of being a writer). And that prompting to persist, paired with her pithy advice, makes the book well-worth reading.

So here I want to share three of my favorite tid-bits of advice from the book:

1. “Dialogue is the way to nail character” (pp. 67).

In both her chapter on characters and her chapter on dialogue, Anne Lamott emphasizes the connection between the two. She argues that creating one line of strong dialogue that rings true captures your character better than a whole page of description (47). What a character says, or doesn’t say, or how he says it tells the reader how he thinks and what he cares about. Dialogue gives us insight into the personality of the people we read about and brings them to life. And therefore getting to know our characters is vital to creating good dialogue.

(*If you’d like to learn more about how to create strong characters and great dialogue, you should consider checking out Write2Ignite’s Master Class in September!)

2. “The word block suggests that you are constipated or stuck, when the truth is that you’re empty” (pp. 178).

Lamott’s chapter on writer’s block focuses on the truth that all writers experience dry periods. Sometimes we get burnt out and our creativity stops flowing the way it usually does. Lamott says that the best thing to do when we reach these moments is to accept the block, the empty reality, so we can fill up again (pp.178). Her advice is practical: “Do your three hundred words, and then go for a walk” (182). Write a little each day to keep up the habit but then focus on activities that nourish you. Replenish your creativity rather than trying to eke out ink from a dry pen.

3. “You are going to have to give and give and give, or there’s no reason for you to be a writing” (pp. 202-203).

Bird by Bird includes an entire chapter dedicated to writing as giving. Our works-in-progress, she says, “teach you to get out of yourself and become a person for someone else” (203-204). In order to write well, we have to pour everything we have into our writing. And in doing so, we have a chance to act as hosts for our readers, to welcome them in and offer them a feeling of connection (204).

This is especially important for us as Christians. If writing is our calling, then we should be willing to give it all we’ve got. Our words should be for God and for others, not simply for ourselves.

Final Review:

I could go on a while longer, pulling out clever quotes from Lamott’s book. But instead, I’ll simply recommend you pick up a copy for yourself.

Bird by Bird isn’t an earth-shattering text holding the key to the inner sanctum of writing. Instead, this book offers solid advice to steadily improve. It offers relatable accounts of the difficulties of writing and an honest assessment of what it’s like to be published. Lamott encourages us that while writing probably won’t bring us fame or fortune, it does carry with it its own rewards. Her whole book, start to finish, reverberates with the cry, “Just keep going.”

I give her book 4 1/2 out of 5 stars, if you’re looking for a rating.

What books have been encouraging you lately?

 

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Karley Conklin is a part-time librarian, part-time writer, and full-time bookworm. On her blog http://litwyrm.com/, she discusses all sorts of literature, from poetry to picture books. Her goal is to use the power of stories to remind others of hope and joy in a world that all too often forgets both.

Would Your Life Win an Oscar?

mtishows.com

”Do You Hear the People Sing?” *

”I Dreamed a Dream” — that They Won All!  *

Am I ”On My Own” in this?  *

 

Les Mis should have won more Oscar Awards!

At first, I was discontented. Well, okay, miserable. Only three awards out of eight possible? C’mon! Couldn’t the judges see the talent, energy, and pathos that went into the production?

Although I don’t usually watch the Oscars, I was curious to see how my favorite film of the year fared against the others. 

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