Bergers Book Reviews

The Madwoman Upstairs

The Madwoman Upstairs
Author: Catherine Lowell
Publisher: Touchstone
Genre: Literary fiction
ISBN: 978-1-5011-2421-1
Pages: 352
Price: $25.99

Buy it at Amazon

Samantha Whipple is the last remaining descendant of the Brontë family. Although the media believes she is heir to a fortune in lost memorabilia, she knows anything of value probably perished along with her father in the fire that took his life. So when one of his marked-up Brontë books shows up at her dorm room, she wonders how it could have survived – and how it got there.

As Samantha debates literature with her professor, the two verbally spar over the Brontës in particular. A self-proclaimed Brontë expert publishes a book purporting to contain the missing (aka “stolen”) items that he thinks exist, and Samantha is furious. But the biggest problem Samantha has to deal with is the sudden realization that she never really knew her father at all.

The Madwoman Upstairs captivated my interest from the very first page, producing endless speculation on the unusual literary mystery it presents. The characters are real and so very human, quirky in their own unique ways. This debut novel is a winner, and I look forward to seeing more from this talented new author.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

March 23, 2016 Posted by | fiction, literary | Leave a comment

Swing

Swing
Author: Philip Beard
Publisher: Van Buren Books
Genre: Literary fiction / Baseball
ISBN: 978-0-9862474-1-5
Pages: 324
Price: $14.95

Author’s website
Buy it at Amazon

For Henry Graham, there is no better joy than watching his beloved Pittsburgh Pirates, and he plans to share many baseball seasons with his father. But when his father unexpectedly walks out on his family, he is left to watch the 1971 playoffs without him. Fortunately for Henry, he meets an unlikely friend in John Kostka, a man with no legs. John has amazing connections to the Pirates team, and introduces him to many of the players. But mostly, John is there for him when Henry most needs an adult male support in his life.

Alternating between 1971 and the present, Swing shares Henry’s life as he attempts to cope with the changes that took place when his father left. Struggling to avoid turning out just like his father, Henry tries to follow his own path until a sudden temptation throws a monkey wrench in his plans. As his career hangs in limbo and his wife struggles with a health crisis, he needs to keep his focus and stay true to his values.  And although there are more questions than answers when the story reaches it conclusion, it mimics real life so well that it feels complete.

Baseball fans, especially of the Pirates, will really enjoy the play-by-play of the 1971 World Series, which places the reader fully in the thrill and excitement of the game. And the characters are so real that one almost feels a part of the family interactions taking place. I highly recommend this well-written and enjoyable novel.

And by the way, if you’ve got a hankering to read even more about the Pirates 1971 World Series team, you might also want to check out A Pirate for Life by Steve Blass.  Let’s go Bucs!!

Reviewer: Alice Berger

July 3, 2015 Posted by | literary, sports | Leave a comment

Alphabetics: An Aesthetically Awesome Alliterated Alphabet Anthology

Alphabetics
Authors: Patrick & Traci Concepción
Illustrator: Dawid Ryski
Publisher: Die Gestalten Verlag
Genre: Children / Literary
ISBN: 978-3-89955-728-2
Pages: 64
Price: $16.95

Buy it at Amazon

A is for apple, B is for BORING… Ho-hum. This is NOT that book. In fact, I’m not really sure this is a children’s book at all. Featuring characters like Atticus the altriuisic astronaut and Zooey the zonked zombie, this book has fun with alliterations. Retro-modern illustrations accompany these unusual descriptions.

A glossary is included for those who may need a little assistance in following along, since not all of us know that Zig-Zag is a French based brand of rolling papers and a Contaflex was a camera popular from the 1930s to the 1960s. Literary parents will find this book a pleasure to read to their children, and may even “borrow” it permanently. Alphabetics is a unique and enjoyable alphabet book that both parents and kids will love.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

January 6, 2015 Posted by | children, literary | Leave a comment

Graphic Classics Vol. 24: Native American Classics

Native American Classics
Authors & Illustrators: Various
Publisher: Eureka Productions
Genre: Historical & Literary Fiction
ISBN: 978-0-9825630-6-9
Pages: 144
Price: $17.95

Graphic Classics website
Buy it at Amazon

This volume of graphic classics includes stories, poems and myths of the Native Americans. Some, like The Story of Itksikamahidish and the Wild Potato and The Stolen White Girl are fun and amusing, while others like The Soft-Hearted Sioux and The Cattle Thief are quite disturbing. The native people suffered at the hands of white men, and these stories don’t shy away from this grim reality.

For complete details of the content of this book, please see the website above. Graphic Classics Vol. 24: Native American Classics follows in the tradition of the previous volumes. The illustrations are nicely done and fit the theme of each story well. Anyone interested in Native American legends and myths will enjoy this book.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

December 2, 2014 Posted by | graphic novel, history, literary | Leave a comment

Good Kings Bad Kings

Good Kings Bad Kings
Author: Susan Nussbaum
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Genre:  Adult / Young Adult
ISBN: 978-1-61620-263-7
Pages: 336
Price: $23.95

Buy it at Amazon

Yessenia Lopez has been through Juvie and now finds herself at ILLC – Illinois Learning and Life Skills Center. Disabled, orphaned and wheelchair-bound, she is full of anger and hostility. Soon she meets other disabled youth – Cheri, who becomes her friend, and Teddy and Mia – a troubled couple. Joanne – also disabled and the secretary at ILLC, and Jimmie – one of the house parents, also become friends.

But this isn’t just Yessenia’s story. Good Kings Bad Kings is told from all of these perspectives and more, as the corruption at ILLC is revealed. As they get to know each other and learn of the horrors perpetrated at the institute, they recognize that change is needed, and become determined to force it.

Good Kings Bad Kings is a powerful commentary on how society views the disabled, and does little or nothing to care for them. Through these characters’ eyes, their story is told with brutal honesty. For the YA reader, caution may be needed due to language and sexual situations. This is not your casual beach read. Instead, you may find a lingering disturbed feeling and an urge to check up on your institutionalized friends and relatives. 2012 winner of the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

June 3, 2013 Posted by | literary, teen | Leave a comment

Me’ma and the Great Mountain


Author: Lorin Morgan-Richards
Publisher: A Raven Above Press
Genre: Literary
ISBN: 978-0983002031
Pages: 138
Price: $10.00

Buy it at author’s website

A young girl named Me’ma makes a daring escape when the Baron’s men invade her village. Aided by a wolf named Bright Eye and her two purple leaf dolls, Xetacu and Tchesue, she heads up the river toward the Great Mountain. Grandfather told her that the land beyond was beautiful, free from all cruelty. Me’ma decides this is the place she longs to settle and sets off with determination.

Along the way, she meets some interesting characters: a man with a head that tilts off, and needs to be held in place (he had been hanged), a woman whose body is split in two, and one half falls off the other when not belted securely (she had been sawed in half), and various mounted, stuffed, and skinned animals who have learned the ability to talk. And finally she meets the Baron and his henchmen, face to face, in a great showdown over the Serpent.

While Me’ma journeys toward the Great Mountain, her overriding concern is the for the native people, plants and animals of the area. Respecting nature comes easily to Me’ma, and she wants everyone to be treated safely and fairly. And since the Baron and the Serpent are the enemies of all, Me’ma particularly wants him stopped. Symbolizing the way native peoples were removed from their land, this story reminds us that nothing good can come from such violence. Me’ma and the Great Mountain is a lesson reminding us of our obligation to treat others with fairness and kindness, allowing all to remain free.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

November 9, 2012 Posted by | literary | Leave a comment

Autumn Shadows in August


Author: Robert W. Norris
Publisher: Lulu Press
Genre: Literary Fiction
ISBN: 978-1-4116-7297-0
Pages: 207
Price: $13.92

Author’s website

Buy it at Amazon

David Thompson made an irrevocable decision when he declared himself a conscientious objector during the Vietnam war. Spending time in prison did not rehabilitate him as the authorities expected, but instead made him realize he would never fit into American society. So he made his home in Japan, married Kaori, and settled into his new life as an expatriate.

But now, many years later and after both he and Kaori fight life-threatening illnesses, David wonders about his time on earth. Has he really made the right choices? He and Kaori decide to take a journey through Europe, reliving David’s past, hoping to lay old ghosts to rest.

Autumn Shadows in August was modeled roughly on Malcolm Lowry’s Dark as the Grave Wherein My Friend Is Laid, and is richly peppered with Norris’s own life experiences as an expatriate. In this story, David takes a magic mushroom trip back in time, visits with Lowry’s ghost, and shares his heart and soul with Kaori. And when the trip comes to an end, both Kaori and David have a new understanding of themselves and their relationship.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

August 26, 2010 Posted by | literary | Leave a comment

Fragile


Author: Chris Katsaropoulos
Publisher: Luminis Books
Genre: Literary Fiction
ISBN: 978-1-935462-27-9
Pages: 212
Price: $14.95

Buy it at Amazon

Amelia Geist fell in love as a teenager, and has chosen to remain a virgin in honor of that love. Now an old woman, she pines for the man who left her so many years ago.

Tris Holloway, the man Amelia loved, is caught in an unhappy marriage and is nearing retirement. As he contemplates the years of his life, he can’t help but reflect on the innocent beauty of his time with Amelia.

Holly Schenck, a single mom and hairdresser, meets Amelia just before the older woman’s 50-year high school reunion. As she fixes Amelia’s hair for the event, she schemes to let this stranger babysit her girls so she can have another late night tryst with her bartender lover.

In Fragile, Katsaropolous weaves together these three lives. Using broken sentence fragments to lead the reader from one point of view to another, we see all three fragile beings trying to survive. As each is caught up in his or her own pain, the pain is somehow shared by the others, through the web of humanity.

In reading Fragile, it’s hard not to identify with the broken parts of our own lives. We see deeply into the lives of these three characters, through their thoughts and words. But somehow this web becomes twisted, as strange decisions are made and lives go in unexpected directions. Many unanswered questions remain at the end, as in life and death. But through it all, hope remains for a brighter future.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

July 23, 2010 Posted by | literary | Leave a comment

Maria’s Tango

tango
Author: Anna Barcos
Publisher: Trafford Publishing
Genre: Women’s Fiction
ISBN: 142510828-8
Pages: 325
Price: $21.97

Author’s website
Buy it at Amazon

Maria has always wanted to be a famous tango dancer, so when Uncle Ruben offers to bring her to Hollywood, she jumps at the chance. She’s just turned 15, but she knows what she wants, and she’s willing to do whatever it takes.

What Maria doesn’t know is that Ruben has other plans for Maria – plans that include dancing in his brothel and turning tricks on the side. And when Maria meets the dashing Dario, her life is turned completely upside down.

Life seldom goes as we plan, and Maria learns this the hard way. Turning to alcohol, sex and drugs, she numbs her feelings and copes as best she can.

It’s hard not to feel for a girl who wants to follow her dreams, but at times Maria comes across as a selfish woman who always puts her own needs ahead of everyone else. Her careless actions hurt those she loves, and puts them very much at risk.

The first half of Maria’s Tango is well-written, but the second half seems jumpy and disjointed, much like Maria’s life has become. Though this story couldn’t have ended any differently, the last chapters felt somewhat out of place. Overall, it’s an interesting and disturbing read, but I felt it could have used a little more polishing before being published.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

August 29, 2009 Posted by | literary | Leave a comment

Inside Out Girl

Author: Tish Cohen
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Genre: Literary fiction
ISBN: 978-0-06-145295-6
Pages: 317
Price: $13.95

Author’s website
Buy it at Amazon

Rachel Berman has inherited her parents’ magazine, Perfect Parent, and tries to live up to its ideal. But even as she struggles with the idea of publishing articles about special-needs children, Olivia Bean shows up in her life. Olivia’s father, Len, has done the best he could in raising his daughter alone, and still struggles with her Non-Verbal Learning Disorder.

Rachel’s kids can’t believe their mother is dating the father of the weirdest kid in school, the one they call Inside Out Girl. But as this makeshift family gets to know each other, everyone finally comes to realize how special Olivia really is.

When Len faces a personal crisis, he turns to Rachel to be there for his daughter, and Rachel doesn’t disappoint him. And in the process she finally faces a skeleton that’s been haunting her from her own past

Tish Cohen has created a real and believable cast of characters. Heartbreakingly pathetic at times, Olivia is stubborn, funny, and hard not to love. Rachel’s kids, and especially Janie, show tremendous growth and maturity in accepting Olivia into the family. And Rachel learns it’s okay to not always be a perfect parent.

But in the end, it’s Len who will steal your heart as he does everything he can to take care of his daughter, and I couldn’t stop myself from crying as the story came to a close. Tish Cohen handles this sensitive subject masterfully, and I highly recommend this powerfully moving book.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

September 29, 2008 Posted by | literary | Leave a comment