Category: Book Review Page 1 of 4

Cracks in the Ice: A Book Review by Kathryn Dover

When I received an email about Cracks in the Ice by Deanna K. Klingel, I could not wait to read it. While I enjoyed the novel, it was not what I expected.  The synopsis on the back cover described the protagonist, Gina Mangalli, as a mafia princess, but the story focuses more on Gina’s personal life than her mafia connections. Cracks in the Ice is set in the 1950s-1970s in Little Sicily, Michigan, which was a mafia headquarters.

What I most enjoyed about Cracks in the Ice is the title. I always enjoy a story where the title is a statement or philosophy of one of the main characters. Gina Mangalli states the title at the end of the first chapter: “I’ve learned that the Dobermans and cracks are just like all of life: loud, fast, and dangerous. I just look them all in the eye. I’m not afraid of the Dobermans, or cracks in the ice. I’m ready” (5). “Cracks in the ice” is a metaphor for the trials Gina faces. The theme is stated by Gina, “A secret starts with a little fib; just a little nick in life’s smooth surface. Then is starts to grow, like a crack in the ice. . . . Like a crack in the ice when it becomes too big to be safely contained, the secret, the lie, becomes dangerous” (121). The metaphor continues through the end of the novel. Indeed, Gina’s life is shrouded in secrets. She lives in the protective shroud of her mafia uncle and feels isolated. Gina can only find solace in ice skating.

In addition to the pervading metaphor, the novel gives one more piece of advice we can all use. Bugsy, who works for Gina’s uncle, gives Gina the advice, “look fear in the eye.” This advice helps Gina get through many trials, and later, she passes it on to her daughter, Sienna.

The beginning of the novel is in medias res and a little abrupt but nonetheless interesting. While I enjoyed the story, I did not care for the style. The novel is very choppy, jumping from one event to the next and then reflecting on the past event. I understand this style is deliberate, as the novel is written somewhat as Gina’s diary, but there were a few places where I got confused about what was going on. This is a matter of preference; the style does not detract from the story. Thus, I did not enjoy the first part of the novel as much as I thought I would. I did not see Gina’s character mature. However, part two of the novel takes a dramatic turn. The plot pace crescendos and I could not wait to figure out what happened. Sienna’s story is much more interesting than Gina’s and parallels Gina’s life, yet part one is crucial to the story.

The ending ties the two parts of the novel together and leaves the reader feeling very satisfied. Tiny details that seemed insignificant in part one became the threads that tie the two parts together, leaving the novel complete. Overall, I enjoyed Cracks in the Ice and appreciated the first part of the novel after I finished it. I recommend this novel to young adults, and I would encourage readers to not give up early in the novel but keep reading. They will not be disappointed.

Kathryn Dover lives in South Carolina with her family including three cats (and counting!), a dog, two fish, and many house plants. She attends Presbyterian College and is studying Math and Creative Writing. This picture was taken outside of the Harrington-Peachtree building at Presbyterian where Kathryn takes Calculus and Freshman Psychology.

 

Ships, Secrets, and Survivors: A Book Review and a Giveaway!

Ships, Secrets, and Survivors, the debut novel by Sarah Rodecker and Helena George, caught my eye when it was announced. It promised assassins on the run, swashbuckling pirates, and mysterious murders. As I had never read a pirate fantasy novel before, I didn’t know what to expect when I picked it up, but I was not disappointed.

From the very first page, I was thrown into a unique world with talking ships and plenty of knives to spare. Ravin, an assassin-in-training, runs away from his prestigious family of killers, risking death if he is discovered. Then, a few weeks later, his name is announced at Selection Day, an annual event that picks young men and women to compete for the chance to become ambassadors. Since Ravin never wanted to be a part of this program, he sets out to find the person who volunteered his name. However, he ends up with more serious problems on his hands as a series of mysterious murders occur. With the murderers on his tail, he joins forces with others chosen on Selection Day, including the Princess Adi. They journey with the crew of the Red Wind, whose goals is to take down the elusive Captain Martin and the assassins in league with him.

The story’s plot is consistently engaging and fast-paced. Battles ensue around every corner against sea dragons, assassins, and pirates. At the same time, though, it’s the little moments that really make this story shine. The interactions among the Red Wind’s crew, such as an archery competition, were entertaining and made me smile. The Red Wind herself, a talking ship, adds a splash of magic to the book with her interesting insights and her relationship with the crew. My personal favorite scenes were the touching conversations between Ravin and Adi late at night. They really showed the depth of these characters.

While some of the minor villains could use more character development, most other characters were deep and fascinating. Ravin’s story really struck me in particular. His journey of moving on from his fear of the past was touching, and while I won’t give away the book’s ending, his arc had a satisfying conclusion. Meanwhile, Adi’s character arc was the most interesting. It was a fantastic way of saying our dreams can come true, even if it’s not in the way that we expect. However, the most powerful theme was one of self-sacrifice, of fighting against evil, and of pushing past personal fears to do the right thing. And that is what will stick with me most of all from this book.

Ships, Secrets, and Survivors was an interesting, engaging book with great messages. I closed the book with a bittersweet, yet satisfied, feeling.  And while it works well as a standalone, book two will surely be an entertaining addition to the series.

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Giveaway

If you would like to win a paperback copy of this book, please leave a comment by September 24. This would make a great gift for the teen book lover in your life!

About the Author

Helena occasionally blogs for Write2Ignite. Check out her posts: Welcome, Helena George (on her first W2I conference) and Tips for Productive Writing.

 

Nicole Dust is a Catholic dark chocolate lover who spends way too much time listening to musicals. Her love of the fantastical leads her to tell stories about other worlds, magic, and broken characters needing redemption. When she’s not writing, you can find her watching YouTube, blogging at legendofawriter.blogspot.com, or taking bookstagram pictures with the handle @nicoledustwriter.

DRIVE: A Book Review by Kathryn Dover (and a Giveaway!)

When I first heard about the Baker Mountain series by Joyce Moyer Hostetter, Drive, the fourth book in the series, sounded the most interesting. Drive occurs several years after the previous novel, Comfort, and follows the story of Ida and Ellie Honeycutt, Ann Fay’s younger twin sisters.

 REVIEW

The cover of Drive is stunning; the image with both twins, a boy, and two old race cars instantly intrigued me. The story picks up almost where Comfort left off. Ann Fay’s father is still suffering from his war wounds, and Junior is still in love with Ann Fay. The plot pace is a little slow, but the story keeps moving. The style is also different from that of the previous three novels because it alternates between two perspectives instead of using only one, going back and forth between the different perspectives of Ida and Ellie.

Both twins are transitioning to high school, and Ida feels that Ellie is trying to put distance between them. At a glance, both twins seem complete opposites: Ida is shy, while Ellie is outgoing. Ida’s shyness originates in a scene from Comfort where her father mistakenly slams her against the wall. After that, Ida ceases to be outgoing and becomes very meek and shy. Ellie instantly takes her place. Life becomes a competition, and the twins are constantly in conflict with each other. However, the novel’s greatest conflict arises when the twins fight over the same boy.

The story is historically accurate: the Korean war and continuing polio epidemic are important to the story. In addition, the story takes place during the first year of NASCAR racing at the Hickory Speedway, near Bakers Mountain. Ellie loves the fast-paced, dangerous racing, while Ida is frightened by the danger and loud noises. The NASCAR races become important to the story’s theme, thus leading to the novel’s title, Drive.

The word “drive” serves a dual meaning, much like “blue” does in the series’ second novel, Blue. The first meaning is figurative: a motivation to succeed. Ida feels that Ellie has “the drive” to succeed while Ida does not. “Drive” also serves as a metaphor for Ida and Ellie’s stormy relationship, which Ida states as, “Remember. . . When Daddy slammed me up against the wall? It scared me so bad I couldn’t breathe. I guess I was like one of those race cars that gets smashed and then it just limps around the track. But you stepped on the gas and kept going. Enjoying all the attention you could. You got ahead of me, Ellie. You liked being first. And you sure do hate losing. But it’s not a race. It’s just both of us driving the best way we know how” (236).

By the end of the novel, the twins have matured greatly. Ellie matures by being more considerate, selfless, and respectful towards others. Ida learns she is capable of more than she ever dreamed, she is just as strong and as smart as Ellie. The ending is perfect. Ellie gets what she has been wanting the entire novel, and both twins have learned a valuable lesson in selfishness. Drive is very emotion-provoking; the bond between Ellie and Ida is stronger than they realize. I have enjoyed the entire Baker Mountain series and recommend them to teenagers and young adults. I think Blue is my favorite, though I eagerly await the next novel, Equal, coming in Spring 2021. I expect it to be equally enjoyable.

 

Kathryn Dover lives in South Carolina with her family including three cats (and counting!), a dog, two fish, and many house plants. She attends Presbyterian College and is studying Math and Creative Writing. She enjoys playing the piano, reading, and writing plays.

 

 

 

 

 

GIVEAWAY

Boyds Mills & Kane donated a hardback copy of Drive for one of you to win! Leave a comment by Thursday, September 17th and we will enter your name.

FICTION MASTER CLASS

Joyce is leading our first Master Class on September 19. For more information, please click here. One attendee will receive all four books that have been published in the Bakers Mountain series. The fifth book, Equal, comes out in April 2021.

 

Registration ends TODAY!

 

writing resources

Writing Resources: Before and After the Book Deal

“Remember that ‘author’ is always a temporary job description . . . Your permanent job description is ‘writer’ and that’s what you are even when no one else is looking.” —Author Kristoper Jansma (quoted in Before and After the Book Deal, pp. 333)

Today’s publishing world offers a plethora of writing resources. A simple search for ‘writing’ on Amazon alone yields over 300,000 results, and that number doesn’t even begin to cover the host of blogs and magazines addressing the subject. However, even with the abundance of information that exists to help you land that first book deal, the question remains, what do you do when you get there? What is it really like publishing your first book? Courtney Maum’s Before and After the Book Deal gives writers an idea of what to expect during their first dive into the publishing world.

About the Book:

Before and After the Book Deal covers the publishing track almost step-by-step. As implied by the title, Courtney Maum walks her readers through concerns for prepublication all the way to life after their debuts. She gives a wide-range of both technical and personal advice.

For example, in the first section, you’ll find tips on the usual categories: developing voice, revision, and submissions. But you’ll also come across less-familiar topics. Tips for financial planning and questions about advances make an appearance, as well as a discussion of when it’s okay to call yourself a writer. Maum blends the nitty-gritty details about publishing with colorful advice from personal experience. She acknowledges the insecurities, jealousies, and bouts of ego that many authors face and gives tips to weather them.

Aside from Maum’s broad range of topics, her unique style makes the book special. Courtney Maum incorporates throughout interviews with editors, publishers, agents, and fellow authors. The balance of advice from experts in the field makes this book a treasure trove of helpful insight.

Unique in scope and style, Before and After the Book Deal is a gem in the world of writing resources.

My Three Main Take-Aways:

While this book provides a multitude of valuable insights, these are three general take-aways I found.

1: You’re not alone.

Writing, let alone publishing, can be isolating. It involves a lot of work, fears, and discouragement. There are days we feel insecure and fall victim to the comparison game. And sometimes, those struggles can make us doubt whether we’re cut out for this calling. But reading Maum’s book reminded me that many writers go through the same excitement and disappointments I face, and that’s encouraging. It’s encouraging to know that other people understand the doubts and stress that comes with writing, as well as the joys. As writers, we’re part of a community, even if we don’t always feel like it.

2: There’s a lot more to publishing than meets the eye.

Even though I’ve attended writing conferences, read books about publishing, and even helped produce a literary journal during college, this book was incredibly eye-opening for me. Maum talks about so many things I’ve never considered. How do audio-book rights work? How many copies do you have to sell for a publisher to consider it a success? What exactly is the criteria of a bestseller? Etc. Etc. I finished Before and After the Book Deal with a much greater appreciation for how much goes into publishing–and selling–a book.

3: At the end of the day, it’s the writing that matters.

Publishing involves so much non-writing activity. Interviews, social media platforms, book reviews, events–in all those extras, your identity as an author is incredibly public. But at the end of the day, that public face couldn’t exist without the quiet background writer. And that creative identity, that work that few people see, that place where we let our voice speak loudest, matters most. While others may have a million expectations for us as authors, we need to put our work as writers first. Before we ever consider publishing, we have to put the words on the page. And those words, the stories we have to tell, are where our core message resides.

 

Before the Book Deal by Courtney Maum is now one of my favorite writing resources. It’s informative, it’s relatable, and most of all, it helps me feel prepared to keep moving forward.

What are some of your favorite writing resources currently?

 

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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. (You can connect with her on Instagram @karleyconklin )

 

 

 

COMFORT: A Book Review by Kathryn Dover (and a Giveaway!)

Comfort, the third book in Joyce Moyer Hostetter’s Bakers Mountain series, picks up almost exactly where the previous novel, Blue, left off. Ann Fay Honeycutt narrates this novel as well. The polio epidemic and World War II have left her family shattered, and Ann Fay must pick up the pieces.

The beginning is intriguing, but the plot pace is slower than that of the previous two novels. Even so, the story’s many conflicts kept me interested. One conflict involves Ann Fay’s colored friend, Imogene. The author vividly portrays the racial tensions of the time period. Ann Fay states, “Colored and whites being separated was as normal to me as walking. But . . . hearing how things looked from [Imogene’s] side of town made me see things in a new light” (121). During hard times, the people of Hickory bonded together and overcame prejudice. Ann Fay’s experiences give her a fresh, more biblical perspective. However, the central conflict of the novel is Ann Fay’s father’s changed personality due to his war experiences. His war wounds run deeper than his injured arm, and Ann Fay struggles to hold the family together.

While the novel is mostly about Ann Fay, I enjoyed reading how her friend and neighbor, the protagonist of the first novel, Aim, Junior Bledsoe, matures. He continues to look after Ann Fay and her family. Junior also gives Ann Fay sage advice. For instance, he tells Ann Fay: “If you want something bad enough, you can get it” (19). Junior has developed greatly from Aim; several events show his maturity. In Aim, Junior is jealous of Ann Fay and her father’s close relationship, yet in Comfort he watches that relationship fall apart and tries to pull it back together. Additionally, in Comfort, readers learn that Junior’s feeling for Ann Fay go beyond friendship. Ann Fay does not realize Junior’s feelings, and I enjoyed their interactions.

The Honeycutts are in desperate need of comfort: the desire for comfort is so strong it is mentioned several times throughout the novel, making the title very fitting. The family is still healing from the wounds they received in Blue, and the end of these trials does not seem to be in sight. As Ann Fay struggles to find comfort, her father whittles her a tiny doll in the likeness of herself. She names the doll Comfort, and it comforts her by reminding her of her father. Ann Fay also receives encouraging advice from a friend, Mr. Botts. He tells her, “Everyone in life has a handicap, Ann Fay. But the struggle to overcome it is worthwhile” (169).

Altogether, I enjoyed seeing how all the characters developed, especially Ann Fay, her father, and Junior. The ending is happy and would probably be satisfying to most, but it left me wanting to know what happens with Junior and Ann Fay’s relationship. Comfort is almost as emotion-provoking as Blue, and anyone who enjoyed Blue will not want to miss this thrilling sequel. I recommend Comfort to teens and young adults, and I look forward to reading Drive, the next novel in the series, soon.

 

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

We have a copy of Comfort to give away to one of our readers! Please leave a comment by August 20 and we’ll enter your name.

MASTER FICTION WRITING CLASS

Joyce is leading our first Master Class on September 19. For more information, please click here. One attendee will receive all four books that have been published in the Bakers Mountain series. The fifth book, Equal, comes out in April 2021.

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