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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.

****

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.

 

Combat! A Teen Review by Ethan Blair

While a touch ponderous at times, Dennis Peterson’s Combat! Lessons on Spiritual Warfare from Military History gives a good overview of military history with a strong spiritual explanation of how God’s hand has shaped history. The book takes a deep look at historic battles and shows the ways that those victories (or defeats) can teach us how to better lead Christian lives. Peterson then goes on to talk about the most important parts of military strategy (open lines of communication, support troops, supply lines, etc.) and connects those ideas with maintaining a good Christian walk.

This book is for teens and adults. While those groups could probably get a lot from its messages and connect interest in the history of war with Christianity, I don’t think the language and style of writing are best fit for teenagers, and only somewhat for adults. Even though they would understand the concepts on a higher level, there is nothing in the book that restricts it to older groups.

I would recommend Combat! for boys between the ages of 8 and 13 who are interested in military history.  Parents could read it aloud to their children. The only trouble with this book is that Peterson goes a little too far with trying to make Christianity sound cool to children. It certainly is important and right to do that, but this lowers the age of the reading base. Aside from this tendency, the book is compelling and carries a good message. Overall, I would recommend this book with an 8 (on a scale of 1-10) to a younger person, and perhaps a 6 to a teenager; though the message of the book is essential to everyone.

I would also suggest this book to those with only a slight knowledge of history, especially Bible history. If you are very familiar with the history of Israel and how they conquered the land, it can feel a bit repetitive. But, if that is a new thing to you, it would deepen the intrigue and be a helpful second resource. This book would be perfect for young children who are reading through the Old Testament for the first time and could read Combat! at the same time, for a more personal look at the battles and principles behind them.

Combat! would be a great book for a young reader who treated it more like a devotion to be read each day, learning each day a new way to apply military strategy to their lives. It is clear that Peterson did a lot of research and has a deep understanding of both military and war history, and a solid understanding of the Bible. It is a good read overall and Peterson does a good job of calling to the forefront the possible weaknesses of a person’s spiritual walk, and showing how everyone could improve their relationship with God and the strength of their walk.

****

Ethan is an 18-year-old recent high school graduate, currently looking to major in physics. He enjoys kickboxing, running, and playing League of Legends. He has been a Christian his whole life and was raised in the church.

The Land Beneath Us: Book Review by Teen Blogger, Kathryn Dover

The Land Beneath Us is the third and final novel in Sarah Sundin’s Sunrise at Normandy series. I have read numerous Sarah Sundin novels and enjoyed them all; her stories are the perfect balance of romance and mystery in a well-researched historical environment. Sunrise at Normandy follows the stories of the three Paxton brothers, Wyatt in The Sea Before Us (my favorite!), Adler in The Sky Above Us, and Clay in The Land Beneath Us, who are divided after a tragic incident at home and are reunited at the Battle of Normandy in World War II.

The prologue of The Sea Before Us introduces the incident that is the basis for all three novels. Wyatt and Adler are in love with the same girl, Oralee. They have a fight which leads to Oralee’s death. Adler, who was engaged to Oralee, blames Wyatt for the argument and tries to kill him. His brother Clay stops him, and Wyatt runs for his life. Wyatt takes Clay’s life savings and joins the Navy. Clay also threatens to kill Adler, and Adler leaves and joins the Air Force. Clay, stripped of his family and money, joins the Rangers. With the prospect of death looming near, Wyatt and Adler reconnect and make efforts to reconnect the whole family, but Clay’s fate at Normandy is uncertain until this novel. Clay is the key to the family’s being reunited. But will he live long enough to make it happen?

Each brother meets a woman throughout his military career that helps him grow in his faith. During training in Tennessee, Clay meets Leah, a librarian and orphan who is searching to discover her identity (orphans endured much prejudice in the 1940’s). The story’s mystery arises when someone assaults Leah: a mysterious attacker is targeting young women. However, I found this mystery to be much less intriguing than the previous two novels. Sundin focuses more on the romance between Clay and Leah than on the mystery of Leah’s attacker.

The characters are realistic, and each has internal struggles with his faith that Christians can identify with. Also, the story contains many biblical allusions and parallels. Clay compares himself to Joseph’s being cast in a pit by his brothers. Like the elder brother in Luke 15, the parable of the prodigal son, Clay is loyal to his father and works for him, while Wyatt and Adler are the prodigal sons who squander their lives and come back to their father.

Readers can see Sarah Sundin does extensive research for her novels; they are all accurate, referencing real people, battles, ships, and elements of the home front. I enjoy the historical accuracy of her books because the characters and situations are even more real. While reading the Sunrise at Normandy series in order is not necessary, I highly recommend doing so.

I have always thought a good World War II story should end with the war’s end, and this series does. While I did not want the book to end, the ending is so complete that I felt satisfied. In addition, I have always thought a good story should span a long time, not just a few days. The Land Beneath Us encompasses two years, and by the end of the story, readers feel as if they know each character personally.

In all the novels I have read, I have rarely read anything as gripping, moving, and intriguing as these novels; I literally cannot put them down. The Land Beneath Us does not disappoint. I highly recommend this novel—and all other Sarah Sundin novels, especially The Sea Before Us—to teens and adults and promise you will not be able to put the books down!

***

Kathryn Dover lives in South Carolina with her family including her cats, Prince and Harley; dog, Lady; and two fish, Minnie, and Gilligan. She is a homeschool student and enjoys math, playing the piano, reading, and writing plays.

 

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