Bergers Book Reviews

Finding Calcutta: Memoirs of a Photographer

Finding Calcutta
Author: Marie Bissell Constantin
Publisher: Lulu
Genre: Memoir
ISBN: 978-1-4834-5478-8
Pages: 128
Price: $16.99

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Marie Bissell Constantin took the photograph of Saint Teresa of Calcutta that was unveiled at her beatification ceremony. One of may Constantin took, this one best captured the heart and soul of this great Saint. During three visits to Calcutta while discerning a possible vocation, Constantin had the opportunity to see Saint Teresa in action.

Opening with an anecdote from her school days, Constantin shares a moment in the convent and the life changes that came about as a result of her daily interaction with one of the Sisters. Having other religious relatives sparked her curiosity, and she spent many years attempting to determine if she shared a similar calling. These searches led her to Calcutta and the Missionaries of Charity.

In addition to stories of her own volunteer service, Constantin shares some of the horrible treatment suffered by religious sisters as they work among the poor and marginalized in society. As they face persecution and the horrors of war, the habit is sometimes a shield and other times a target.

Although this memoir was written for family, those who admire this wonderful Saint will enjoy seeing snippets of her in real life, and not just as the woman who carried the dying home with her. Those who are attempting to discern their own vocations will also find Constantin’s honesty refreshing and may gain some insights in reading the author’s struggles. I highly recommend Finding Calcutta.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

December 13, 2016 Posted by | Christian, memoir, Saints | Leave a comment

This Victorian Life

This Victorian Life
Author: Sarah A. Chrisman
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
Genre: History / Memoir
ISBN: 978-1-63450-237-5
Pages: 332
Price: $24.99

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Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman love history, and especially the Victorian era of the 1880’s and 1890’s. In an effort to truly experience what this period in history was like, they have engaged in a long-term experiment of actually living a Victorian lifestyle, as much as possible in this modern world. This Victorian Life chronicles their journey.

Sarah is a wonderful story-teller, as she blends actual historical facts and anecdotes with her own experiences. Beginning with the purchase of their new/old Victorian house, she describes how they furnished it with antique Victorian pieces. She also explains how actual antique pieces are often more beautiful and functional than their modern copy-cat versions, as well as why certain antique items are still available while others have long since disappeared. Personal care, along with cooking, sewing, and writing are explained from a Victorian perspective, along with the joys and hazards of bicycling. Ghost stories, historical figures, and her experiences in portrait sitting are also featured. Interesting primary source documents and photos from the time period are scattered throughout the text, bringing the history to life.

While some people may not consider themselves up-to-date in modern technology, the Chrismans are a bit more out of step with the rest of society, in this lifestyle they have come to love. Their home is heated with a kerosene stove, they use oil lamps rather than light bulbs, and they make their own clothes, copying them from antiques they have acquired over the years. This Victorian Life gives a glimpse of the Victorian era from the perspective of truly living in it. I highly recommend this fascinating and engaging book.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

January 20, 2016 Posted by | history, memoir | Leave a comment

This Is Your Captain Speaking

This Is Your Captain Speaking
Author: Gavin MacLeod
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Genre: Memoir
ISBN: 978-0-8499-4762-9
Pages: 288
Price: $22.99

Author’s website
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Gavin MacLeod is well-known for his roles as Murray Slaughter and Captain Merrill Stubing, and for his work with Princess Cruises. After a lifetime of acting in TV shows, movies and theater, MacLeod shares his thoughts on Hollywood, faith, and life.

Being born into a poor family makes breaking into show business difficult, but MacLeod rises above the challenges of his upbringing. His years on Broadway are fascinating, as we see a glimpse of how young actors attempted to get into the theater in an earlier era. Soon he finds himself in Hollywood, trying to make a name for himself there. An actor’s work is sporadic, and he jokes about who he sees on the unemployment line from time to time. But he finally gets his big break on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and his career takes off from there.

Interspersed throughout the stories about his work, he shares some of his personal life – two marriages, a bout with alcoholism, and his conversion. But MacLeod spends most of this biography talking about all the famous people he met over his long career. Hopping from one name to the next, he tells of small moments shared with them all, making sure the reader knows how grateful he is for the chance he had to be in show business and to be able to meet them.

I read this book hoping for a testimony of faith. While MacLeod does mention his eventual acceptance of Jesus Christ as his savior, he doesn’t share much of a “before” or “after” story with us. His conversion is matter-of-fact and complete. But this book isn’t really about faith at all – it’s mostly a who’s-who of people he’s met over the years. Christians looking for a great story about MacLeod’s faith and conversion will be disappointed with this book.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

February 20, 2014 Posted by | memoir | Leave a comment

Learning to Breathe Again

Learning to Breathe Again
Author: Tammy Trent
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Genre: Memoir / Christian
ISBN: 0-8499-0954-6
Pages: 240
Price: $13.99

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Tammy Hill met Trent Lenderink when they were both fifteen. Although they went through the normal teenage and young adult turbulent years, they finally married. Life was good as Tammy followed her calling into the world of Christian music with Trent at her side. But God’s plans are often very different from our own, and Tammy never thought her world would come crashing down around her only eighteen years after meeting Trent.

Learning to Breathe Again is Tammy and Trent’s love story, detailing their relationship from its early years until Trent’s diving accident in Jamaica. She also shares her joys and struggles in the Christian music industry.

Tammy Trent is amazingly honest in this touching memoir. Putting her husband on a pedestal at times, she shares her own shortcomings and weaknesses in their relationship. But most of all, she shares her vulnerability, faith and deep love of God with us. I highly recommend Learning to Breathe Again.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

February 5, 2014 Posted by | Christian, memoir | Leave a comment

A Cowgirl Always Gets Even

A Cowgirl Always Gets Even
Author: Dawn Nelson
Publisher: Gray Dog Press
Genre: Memoir
ISBN: 978-1-936178-56-8
Pages: 195
Price: $14.95

Author’s website
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Dawn Nelson is the author of several western-themed novels, and has also dabbled in non-fiction. In A Cowgirl Always Gets Even, she shares some of her misadventures on the ranch, as well as her musings on people and circumstances.

Ranchers will find some of these anecdotes humorous, as she relates tales of ornery bulls and cows. Weather and icy temperatures also play a part in some of these stories. When sharing her thoughts on people, Nelson’s tone is often sarcastic, and she appears to view all non-ranchers in a deprecating light.

There are numerous misspelled words and grammatical errors in this book, and it should have been more carefully edited before being published. If you’re a rancher, you’ll probably relate to some of the incidents Nelson shares. And if you’re not, you may want to take a lesson from them.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

August 14, 2013 Posted by | memoir | Leave a comment

Driving the Saudis

Driving the Saudis
Author: Jayne Amelia Larson
Publisher: Free Press
Genre: Memoir
ISBN: 978-1-4516-4001-4
Pages: 224
Price: $28.99

Author’s website
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When Jayne Amelia Larson hit a lull in her acting career, she turned to chauffeur work to fill the gaps. This provided her a unique opportunity to drive the Saudi family visting Los Angeles for their summer vacation. In Driving the Saudis, she relates some of her experiences in this unusual assignment.

There are some interesting moments in this narrative. When one of the princesses does not handle American currency properly, it’s obvious she feels some shame, which is surprising in royalty. There is a bond that develops between the nanny and Larson, while chaperoning the princess and looking out for her best interests. And there is unexpected kindness that the servants show her as they all become weary of the endless work. There is also lavish spending, elective surgeries, rudeness, and high expectations that all who serve the family will do so quickly and efficiently. The long hours and many demands take their toll, but the promise of a hefty cash tip keep Larson going until the very end.

Unfortunately, this book gets off to an extremely slow start. Larson shares too much about herself, her education, and her career. She offers her thoughts and opinions of the family and their behavior, but there are few actual anecdotes. These are brief, and leave no lasting impression of the individual family members. Instead, we are given just a sketchy overall picture of the family and their collective behavior.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

May 16, 2013 Posted by | memoir | Leave a comment

Charles Dickens: A Portrait in Letters

Charles Dickens A Portrait in Letters
Read by Simon Callow
Produced by Naxos AudioBooks
Genre: Memoirs
ISBN: 978-1843796886
Length: 4 CDs (Total time 4:10:00)
Price: $28.98

Buy it at Amazon

Charles Dickens hoped that none of the many letters he wrote would ever surface after he was gone. In fact, he implored his friends and relatives to destroy them. But, luckily, many of these letters have survived, and they paint a fascinating picture of him as a man.

Always the actor and novelist, Dickens loved to assume a character in his writing, seeking to entertain his audience as much as convey information. Letter writing seems to have been as much a joy to him as working on his novels.

In this audio presentation of Charles Dickens: A Portrait in Letters, Simon Callow shares some of his more interesting letters. Focusing on themes like friendship, work, travel, the theater, and love, the letters are arranged to dig deeper into his personality. And the letters themselves are read with the sense that Dickens is reading them aloud as he is writing them. Interspersed between the letters, some general information about Dickens or the intended recipient are provided.

The novels of Dickens have enchanted readers, and his fans will enjoy a more intimate look at this very interesting man. I highly recommend Charles Dickens: A Portrait in Letters.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

February 19, 2013 Posted by | memoir | Leave a comment

The Night Sky


Author: Maria Sutton
Publisher: Johnson Books
Genre: Memoir
ISBN: 978-1555664466
Pages: 240
Price: $24.95

Author’s website
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In a chance conversation at the age of thirteen, Maria Sutton overhears something that changes her life. In that moment, she discovers that the man she always called father is actually her step-father, and that her real father is someone else. But when she questions her mother, answers come reluctantly.

Over the next forty-three years, Sutton goes on a quest to find this mysterious man who once captured her mother’s affections. Digging back through World War II, displaced persons camps and agency records, she endeavors to locate her father. Over the years, she builds up his image in her mind, hoping to find a dashing Polish soldier she can be proud of, but as she digs deeper, she discovers things about him she’d rather not know. Her quest ends in Germany, when she finally locates him.

The Night Sky is a fascinating look at the history of Polish citizens forced into concentration camps and slave labor by Hitler. As a backdrop to the author’s search, we learn about how these people tried to survive the horrors of World War II, and what happened to them after the war. The author’s musings on her father’s whereabouts and character are heartfelt, and the reader will feel moved by her search. This is an enjoyable read for all those who love history and genealogy.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

September 25, 2012 Posted by | history, memoir | Leave a comment

Embracing the Gray


Author: Mark A. Hollingsworth
Publisher: Wheatmark
Genre: Memoir / Christian
ISBN: 978-1-60494-417-4
Pages: 248
Price: $18.95

Author’s website
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Mark A. Hollingsworth has lived a full and exciting life. Spending time working with major rock bands over the years has allowed him to get to know them and the music business. But his most important contacts have turned out to be the Christian folks he was fortunate to meet.

In Embracing the Gray, Hollingsworth tells of his struggles with his faith after several of his friends died. But after some time of soul-searching, he returned to his Christian roots with a new vigor. Hollingsworth then worked with Compassion International, a Christian organization that helps by connecting families in the US with impoverished children in other countries through a sponsorship program.

It’s refreshing to see a person with strong Christian faith admit that there were dark times in his life when it was difficult to believe in God. But God was true to him, and brought him back into the fold when the time was right. I highly recommend this wonderful memoir.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

June 21, 2012 Posted by | Christian, memoir | Leave a comment

A Love Story: How God Pursued Me and Found Me


Author: Samantha Ryan Chandler
Publisher: Crossbooks
Genre: Christian / Memoir
ISBN: 978-1-6150-7761-8
Pages: 108
Price: $28.95

Author’s website
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Who can you turn to when there’s no one on earth that can help? For Samantha Ryan Chandler, her only hope was God, who loved her unconditionally and stood by her through all her trials and tribulations.

In this Christian memoir, Chandler shares her story of abuse, first by her mother and then later by her husband. Chandler believes in the sanctity of marriage and willingly stays with him, despite his treatment of her. But when she finally reaches the point she’s ready to leave her marriage, God supports her decision and helps her through the divorce.

A Love Story isn’t told in a strictly chronological manner, but instead jumps from topic to topic. The author has a light, breezy style, and this book is a quick and easy read. God pursued Chandler – now she hopes the reader will find Him in her story.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

May 26, 2012 Posted by | Christian, memoir | Leave a comment