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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.

 

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.

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!

 

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.

 

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