biography, Christian, literary

Becoming Mrs. Lewis (Expanded Edition)

Author: Patti Callahan
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Genre: Historical fiction / Biographical novel / Christian
ISBN: 978-0-7852-1809-8
Pages: 448
Price: $17.99

Author’s website
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When Joy Davidman Gresham wrote to C.S. Lewis for the first time, she was seeking answers to her newfound questions of faith. Born Jewish, and an avowed atheist, she was confused at her sudden knowledge of the presence of God in her life. Over time, letters between the two became more personal and conversational, and Joy began to see Lewis as more than a friend and confidant. Becoming Mrs. Lewis shares a fictionalized account of their friendship, and ultimately romance, that took place over a decade.

Patti Callahan drew on many sources for this masterful recreation of their unlikely love story. Joy and Jack (as he was known to his friends) come alive in this well-written tale. Their story is compelling, and the reader is eager to get to know them better. Bonuses in this expanded edition include discussion questions, an imagined letter from Joy to Jack, a timeline of events in their lives, ten things you probably didn’t know, and some information about Oxford.

This is one of the best biographical novels I’ve read, and I couldn’t put this book down. I had to know how this romance would end, since I was unfamiliar with their story. I highly recommend Becoming Mrs. Lewis.

Reviewer: Alice Berger


The Bobcat

Author: Katherine Forbes Riley
Publisher: Arcade
Genre: Literary fiction
ISBN: 978-1-948924-09-2
Pages: 212
Price: $22.99

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Laurelie has found refuge at a small college in Vermont after experiencing a fraternity rape. As an art student, she turns to her work to help her make sense of what happened to her, drawing the feelings she can’t express outwardly. While she’s living in a rented cottage, she discovers a hiker who is tracking an injured, pregnant bobcat and providing her with food.

The hiker is a kindred spirit who seems to enjoy living on the fringes, as she does. As they get to know each other, Laurelie begins to test her ability to be present in a normal dating relationship, even though she feels so broken inside. The hiker also appears to harbor secrets, and he opens his heart to her slowly.

The Bobcat is told through Laurelie’s eyes, as she explores how she’s feeling and experiencing life. Full of imagery, it parallels her own artistic creations. The reader will appreciate how Laurelie begins to find closure and moves forward after feeling helpless and held back by the circumstances of her past.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

literary, romance

The Austen Escape

Author: Katherine Reay
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Genre: Women’s fiction
ISBN: 978-0-7180-7809-6
Pages: 320
Price: $15.99

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Mary Davies has a nice job at an engineering firm that she joined as a startup. But recent management changes have made work difficult, and the presence of a certain handsome consultant has jumbled her feelings. When her former best friend, Isabel, offers her a two-week paid vacation in England, she reluctantly agrees. Maybe the time away will help her figure out what to do.

Isabel is an Austen expert determined to finish her doctoral thesis, so this vacation will involve period costumes in a historic mansion. But when Isabel loses her memory and believes she’s actually living in the past, Mary’s stay becomes complicated. Isabel’s secrets suddenly all come to light, making Mary realize how little she really knows her friend. And when they involve the man she’s come to regard as important in her life, she doesn’t know what to think.

Those who are unfamiliar with Jane Austen’s works may find some of the role-playing conversations a bit confusing, but since these are not the basis for the story, they won’t interfere with the reader’s enjoyment. In fact, this book might trigger an interest in picking up one of the Austen classics mentioned. I highly recommend The Austen Escape as a pleasant and engaging read.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

fiction, literary

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

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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

literary, sports


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

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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

children, literary

Alphabetics: An Aesthetically Awesome Alliterated Alphabet Anthology

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

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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

graphic novel, history, literary

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
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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

literary, teen

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

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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


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

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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


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

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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