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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!

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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.

 

HOPE HEALS: Book Review by Teen Blogger, Kathryn Dover

My mother and I were surprised to see Katherine Wolf at a Going Beyond Live conference we attended last summer; we had never heard of her. We had gone to see Priscilla Shirer and had not expected any other speakers. At this conference, Mrs. Wolf told a short version of her story from her and her husband, Jay’s, new book, Hope Heals. Her story is astonishing. The book switches between Katherine and Jay’s perspectives; they relate flashbacks of their wedding and life until Katherine suffered a massive brain stem stroke nearly four years later. She was only twenty-six years old, had a six-month-old baby and was not expected to live.

Her husband was in law school taking his final exams and had come home to retrieve some papers when Katherine had her stroke. Katherine was taken to the third-best hospital in the country that providentially had a renowned neurosurgeon on staff. That surgeon saved her life by performing massive brain surgery most doctors would not have done. In order to save her life, the surgeon had to “sacrifice” many of her physical functions, such as her ability to swallow and to walk. Amazingly, she had just won fifty thousand dollars on a game show, and that money enabled her husband to take care of her without needing to work. In addition, he had just taken out a catastrophic life insurance policy. Her family, friends, and church rallied around her to care for her and her baby.

Her miraculous recovery was a long and overwhelming process. She was in ICU for forty days and was then transferred to an acute rehab facility at UCLA medical center. After that, she moved to a long-term rehab facility, Casa Colina. Before leaving UCLA, Jay returned to her ICU room and took a picture of it as a remembrance. They wanted to memorialize this part of her experience as a reminder of God’s grace and how far they had come.

After Casa Colina, Katherine lived in a house that was part of the facility with daily therapy. On Thanksgiving, as she sat watching her family eat and fellowship, Katherine had what she calls her “epiphany of hope.” She was despairing about not being able to partake in the festivities of her favorite holiday when she suddenly heard God speaking to her. Her stroke was not a mistake; God was in control. From that moment on, everything changed. While most of her life was out of her control, Katherine could make the decision to have hope: Hope Heals. Later during her therapy, she realized that her story could be an inspiration to others and began writing Hope Heals with her husband.

While she will never be the same, Katherine’s life is amazing. The most fascinating part is that after her recovery, Katherine was able to have another baby. It was one of her main hopes to have another child, and the fulfillment of this was a testimony of God’s providence. Katherine Wolf underwent eleven surgeries. Her circumstances are unimaginable, and clearly her faith is the only way she made it through. Hope Heals is a compelling, emotional story that leaves the reader hopeful and encouraged. Our troubles seem small in light of her devastating loss. Katherine Wolf’s incredible testimony reminds readers of God’s faithfulness and strengthens their faith. Indeed, hope is healing for anyone, and I believe every reader will be inspired by this extraordinary book.

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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.

 

CAMP MAX – Book Review by Kathryn Dover

I enjoyed reading the delightful children’s story, Camp Max by Penny Reeve. The illustrations drew me into the book. The first page is an illustration of the main character, Tania Abbey, and several more exist throughout the book.

Camp Max goes beyond being a simple children’s story; it reveals powerful life lessons. Through Tania’s point of view, the reader observes her internal conflicts. In the story, Tania; her brother, Daniel; her friend, Emily; and Emily’s brother, Sam are planning to attend a summer camp, Camp Max. Tania and Daniel have been before and are excited to bring their new friends with them this year. In reality, bringing Emily is a solace for Tania, whose best friend, Sue, has moved away.

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This is Your Captain Speaking: Book Review by Teen Reviewer, Kathryn Dover

This Is Your Captain Speaking is not a typical actor’s memoir, so I was pleasantly surprised when I purchased this autobiography for a quarter at a used bookstore. The title is derived from Gavin MacLeod’s popular role as the captain on the 1970s television show The Love Boat. Interestingly, MacLeod dedicates the book “to the Captain of my life, who came that I might have life and have it abundantly.”

I first saw Gavin MacLeod as Big Chicken, a drug pusher, on my favorite television show, Hawaii Five-O. Once I knew who he was, I noticed several guest roles he played in other television shows, the most familiar being The Andy Griffith Show. In all these, he was the same character: always a “bad guy.” Several years later I was stunned to see him in the Christian film, Timechanger, where he played a Bible professor. Having seen him in this role, I naturally assumed he was a Christian, but I had no idea how profound his story is.

REVIEW

MacLeod was raised Catholic but rejected that faith when he was older. His father was an alcoholic, and he, unfortunately, was an alcoholic for a brief period in his life. MacLeod married his first wife at twenty-four years old, and they later divorced because of his drinking. He remarried, and once again, divorced. However, his circumstances were different, for his second wife, Patti, became a Christian. At the same time, MacLeod found out his mother had a brain cyst and could die in surgery. That morning, he prayed that if God would let him see his mother one last time, he would give his life to Him. Then, he contacted Patti, and they soon remarried. (Read the book to find out the rest!)

His entire life changed; MacLeod didn’t want to be the “bad guy” anymore but instead use his fame to be a testimony for Christ. Indeed, because he is famous, Gavin MacLeod exerts a strong influence over his audiences. After being saved, MacLeod had the unique opportunity to witness to a dying friend, Ted Knight, whom he had co-starred with on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Both Knight and his wife were saved as a result of MacLeod’s testimony.

In addition to his captivating story of faith, the principal component of MacLeod’s book is, of course, his life in Hollywood. MacLeod loves trivia on actors and filmmaking, and he relates much in his autobiography. Did you know Raymond Burr raised orchids? Or that Julie Andrews was married to her husband, Blake Edwards, for forty-one years, until his death? I love interesting trivia as well, so this book appealed to me even more. Yet the most unique thing about Gavin MacLeod as an actor is that even when he plays a villain, viewers still like him. He confesses this oddity in his book: “It’s a strange thing, and I say this not to be boastful but because I’ve never understood exactly what it is about me that makes audiences react this way: even when I’m playing a really terrible character, there’s something about me that audiences still like” (51).

The accomplishments of Gavin MacLeod are incredible. He has known two US presidents, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and worked with famous actors such as Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe. But what is more incredible is his testimony: “My greatest wish, though, is that whoever reads my story will walk away at the end with a smile. And maybe, just maybe, there’s something to be found in my journey—especially me journey of faith—that will help give someone a little bit of hope. Maybe even change someone’s life for the better.” Many of you have probably never heard of Gavin MacLeod and are wondering, “Why should I read this book?” I admit I’m biased—I am a big fan of Gavin MacLeod as an actor—but as writers I think it is important to see the impact one man can have on the world. I recommend this book to teens and adults alike, and I believe that if you do read it, your life will be changed for the better.

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.

 

Driven: Book Review by Teen Reviewer, Kathryn Dover

I first noticed the inscription in the front of DRIVEN by Betty Pfeiffer that all profits go to Hmong charities. This is a great tribute to the subjects of this book, Payeng Yaj and Shongfue Khang. I also noticed that on the back cover of the book, the pictures of the real Payeng and Shongfue are blurred and the caption reads that their names have been changed as well. Even today, it is possible the two missionaries are still in danger.

Driven is a true story of two Christians who fled from persecution in Laos and then chose to return as missionaries. They are part of the Hmong clan which was persecuted by the Communist government after the Vietnam War, forcing them to flee to Thailand. The book is separated into three parts: Payeng Yaj’s story, Shongfue Khang’s story, and their story together.

The hardships they endured are inspiring. Payeng relates her journey from Laos to Thailand. Many dangers were present, and Payeng’s family underwent many struggles. Unfortunately, life in Thailand refugee camps was not much better than Laos. Conditions were cramped and unsanitary, and Payeng’s family had arrived too late to receive refugee ID cards, which were required for food. By the end of her section of the book, Payeng has been separated from her family and her husband. Then, Shongfue tells his story of traveling through the jungle to Thailand. God spared Shongfue’s family many times; they were caught, arrested, and sent back to Laos repeatedly but never harmed. They had to cross a lake during a dangerous storm, yet they all survived. Shongfue arrived in Thailand much earlier than Payeng, and their marriage was arranged by their fathers, a Hmong custom.

Once reunited, Payeng and Shongfue prepared for their journey to the United States. Life in America was difficult; they knew no American customs and could not speak English. The author describes their situation best: “Fences of the refugee camps had been replaced by fences of ignorance that seemed almost as insurmountable” (76). Shongfue had longed to be a missionary to the Hmong people in Thailand for most of his life, and the opportunity arose after being in the United States for sixteen years. The couples’ ministry has been blessed by God and is a huge success; they have three congregations with around two hundred members each, Vacation Bible School programs for children, and many other ministries. Even though it is impossible now, Shongfue hopes someday to extend his ministry to Laos.

The story is very well-written and keeps readers interested. I think Driven holds educational value as it reveals little-known aspects of the Vietnam War. I, as probably most readers, did not realize that Laos was involved in the war just as much as Vietnam. The United States government promised to aid the Hmong people in return for their behind-the-scenes work during the war, but this never came into fruition. Instead, the Hmong were persecuted strongly because they aided the United States. Also, the story reminds readers of the struggles of a missionary. Payeng ends the book by reminding readers how God used her and how He can use them as well. I enjoyed this gripping story and recommend it to readers of all ages.

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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