history, memoir

The Night Sky


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

Author’s website
Buy it at Amazon

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

Christian, memoir

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
Buy it at Amazon

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

Christian, memoir

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
Buy it at Amazon

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

memoir

Before the Last All Clear


Author: Ray Evans
Publisher: Book Guild Publishing
Genre: Memoir
ISBN: 1-84624-105-7
Pages: 263
Price: $17.95

Author’s website
Buy it at Amazon

It’s hard to imagine living through an era when your country is at war, and there is danger of attack every day. But when you’re six years old, uprooted from your home and family, and left to the care of strangers, the horror is intensified.

In Before the Last All Clear, Ray Evans shares his experiences as an evacuee in England. When Liverpool becomes a target for German bombings, he is sent off to the Welsh town of Llanelli, where it’s expected that he will not be in as much danger. But although homes and caregivers are arranged for the evacuees, not all children are treated as family, and Ray suffers neglect and abuse. Finally, though, he is sent to a home where he receives the care and love he needs.

Although a sad tale, Evans tells his story with a touch of humor, as time seems to have healed some of his wounds. But it’s easy to sense the pain he must have felt as he lived in such miserable conditions. War takes its toll on a nation, and Ray Evans will forever bear the terrible scars of World War II.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

marriage, memoir

The Natural Laws of Good Luck


Author: Ellen Graf
Publisher: Trumpeter Books
Genre: Memoir
ISBN: 978-1-59030-833-2
Pages: 272
Price: $15.95

Author’s website
Zhong-hua’s brush paintings
Buy it at Amazon

Ellen is forty-six, divorced and lonely, so she doesn’t resist when her Chinese friend suggests maybe Ellen and her brother, Zhong-hua, might like each other. But first Ellen must travel to China to meet him – a man who speaks almost no English. Surprisingly, Ellen and Zhong-hua get along and agree to marry. After processing his immigration paperwork, he finally arrives in upstate New York, where they live in Ellen’s house. Now the fun begins, as Ellen realizes Zhong-hua operates by a whole different cultural standard than she’s used to.

Zhong-hua believes that a man doesn’t need to let his wife know where he is going, and disappears frequently. This might not be such a bad thing, ordinarily, except Zhong-hua gets lost easily, and still doesn’t speak much English. He also doesn’t think it’s necessary to apologize, offer greetings, or do any of the other niceties Ellen expects from a husband. In fact, bumping into her is considered a form of affection.

The house falls into disrepair, several cars and various pieces of machinery meet their ends, and both of their old dogs grow feeble. But when Zhong-hua’s health takes a scary turn, these two mismatched lovers pull together to try to make the best of things.

Although this memoir is touted as being humorous, I found The Natural Laws of Good Luck incredibly touching. Ellen shows remarkable patience with her culturally inept husband, and gives in to his many demands with good grace. Living in a foreign country is hard on Zhong-hua, and Ellen allows for his comfort, even if at times it conflicts with her own. Both strive to be loving and make their marriage work, and it’s encouraging to see them look past their shortcomings to see the good in each other. I highly recommend this wonderfully sweet love story.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

Christian, memoir

From Zero to Christian in Just 35 Years


Author: Lori A. Moore
Publisher: Tate Publishing
Genre: Memoir / Christian
ISBN: 978-1-61566-081-0
Pages: 96
Price: $9.99

Author’s website
Buy it at Amazon

Growing up, Lori A. Moore was never introduced to religion. Her parents let her decide what she believed on her own, but never taught her enough to make a decision. So she formed her early beliefs on misinformation and doubt.

Although she had no formal religious training, God never took His eye off of her, and eventually led her back to Him. The path wasn’t easy and included several detours, but now Moore is a committed Christian striving to emulate Jesus.

This short memoir shares the journey Moore took in living a Christian life. The first section is fairly chronological, starting at childhood and progressing onward. But in the second section, the story jumps around a little. Some parts are repetitive, and at times it isn’t clear exactly where on her Christian journey the incidents are occurring.

Moore intends to bring as many people as possible to Christ through From Zero to Christian in Just 35 Years. In sharing her own story of being rescued from a life in the pit, she hopes to reach other pit-dwellers and help them find the right path home. A popular bumper-sticker reads, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” Moore’s testimony lets us know that we also don’t need to be perfect. We only need to let God work in us.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

memoir

Norma Jean’s Sun


Author: Kris Courtney
Genre: Memoir
ISBN: 978-0-578-02059-4
Pages: 290
Price: $17.95

Author’s website
Buy it at Amazon

Kris Courtney’s grandparents made a decision that would have terrible ramifications. As first cousins, their relationship was forbidden, but even though they were aware of the consequences of their actions, they chose to marry anyway.

Because of the choice they made, Courtney and his cousins were affected, though none as much as Kris himself. Birth defects too numerous to list here have plagued him his whole life, and surgery after surgery couldn’t correct what nature had done to his body.

As a result of his physical deformities, Courtney had to develop a coping mechanism, and his choice turned out to be his undoing. In Norma Jean’s Sun Kris Courtney details his struggles with his disabilities as well as his uncontrollable alcoholism and drug addiction.

Although it would be tempting for the author to blame those directly responsible for his misfortunes, Courtney shows refreshing forgiveness to those family members who had no idea what they would ultimately do to him. He is gracious in praising those who assisted him in his lowest times, acknowledging the sacrifices they made for him. And he also gives credit to his Higher Power, whom he calls God, in saving him from himself and his addictions.

Ultimately, Courtney is still dealing with his disabilities, but through God’s grace, he has been sober and functioning for many years now. He thrives as an artist in Ohio, and he is attempting to give back to those organizations who are working on cures for the ailments his family has suffered from.

Norma Jean’s Sun is no light reading. In fact, you’d probably hear a story like Courtney’s if you walked into an open twelve-step meeting. But there’s always hope, even for the most hopeless case, and Courtney proves that no matter how far down a man goes, he can still turn it around and have a good life.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

cooking, memoir

Mary’s Place


Author: Mary J. Pelzel
Publisher: North Woods Publishing
Genre: Memoir / Cookbook
ISBN: 978-0-615-34837-7
Pages: 192
Price: $12.95

Author’s website
Buy it at Amazon

Mary J. Pelzel wasn’t always a “Mountain Woman.” In fact, there was a time she was quite content to be a city girl. But one day she and her husband made a visit to a little cabin in Washington near the Wenatchee National Forest, and they both fell in love.

City girls don’t transform into Mountain Women overnight, and Mary has some tales to tell about the process. Facing bugs, snakes, critters and snow, she learns that Mother Nature is stronger than she is, and she needs to adjust. So when Mother Nature gets tough, Mary fights back with a delicious meal or dessert. After all, every Mountain Woman needs to keep up her strength.

Mary’s Place is a humorous part-memoir, part-cookbook, describing life in the North Woods. Mary now runs her own tea shop, featuring her own homemade jams, jellies, breads, soaps, and other goodies. Try some of her own recipes for yummy gourmet fare, or stop by when you’re in town and let Mary pamper you. Either way, you’re sure to enjoy some good times and good food.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

Christian, memoir

Saved By Her Enemy


Author: Don Teague and Rafraf Barrak
Publisher: Howard Books
Genre: Memoir
ISBN: 978-1-4391-5910-1
Pages: 321
Price: $24.99

Author’s website
Buy it at Amazon

Don Teague, former news correspondent for NBC, was sent to Kuwait, just after 9-11. In his first visit, he spent several months traveling in and out of Iraq, reporting on items of interest. When he reached the end of his tenure there, he returned home, happy to be alive. But NBC still needed him to go back, and this time it would be to Baghdad.

Rafraf Barrak grew up in Baghdad with a strong nationalistic pride in her country, and a respectful fear of Saddam Hussein. She despised the Americans who had invaded, and thought they humiliated Iraq. But Rafraf spoke very good English, and she decided to put aside her prejudices and take a job as translator for NBC, when she was offered it. But then she found herself a target when Iraqi insurgents determined she was working for the enemy.

After one incident where both Don and Rafraf were nearly killed in a school explosion, Don decided he needed to get Rafraf out of Iraq. But this would prove more challenging than he initially expected, and keeping her in America would be even more difficult. But would Rafraf adjust to life in the US after so many years of repression in Iraq?

In Saved By Her Enemy, Don Teague and Rafraf Barrak tell their stories. Rafraf shares her experiences in Iraq, leading up to her decision to come to America, and how she ultimately converts to Christianity. Don explains how he knew God led him back to Iraq on that second tour of duty with NBC for the sole purpose of rescuing Rafraf and bringing her home with him.

Both Don and Rafraf are wonderful story tellers, and the backdrop of violence and fear in Iraq come alive for the reader. It’s easy to understand why Don felt protective of this intelligent and unique Iraqi woman, and why he would be willing to put himself out to ensure her survival. And Rafraf is strong and courageous in the face of unknown terrors.

We may never know what good things God has planned for our lives, when we leave ourselves open to His leading. Don followed the direction he knew he had been given, and was able to save Rafraf – both in body and soul. If you’re looking for an inspirational read with a great message and a happy ending, I highly recommend Saved By Her Enemy.

Reviewer: Alice Berger

memoir

Bringing Him Home

Author: Aaron Cooper
Publisher: Late August Press
Genre: Memoir / Autobiography
ISBN: 978-0-9797926-1-8
Pages: 297
Price: $14.00

Buy it at Amazon

A couple gives a lot of thought to adopting a child, and this decision is not made lightly. It’s even more difficult when the child involved is not a baby, and when the couple is two men in a committed gay relationship. So when Aaron Cooper and his partner, Eric, adopt five year-old Jon, they expect problems.

Jon is a handful from the beginning, having lived his first years in a home with no rules, so establishing order becomes the first priority. But as it becomes increasingly difficult to keep Jon from misbehaving, they finally realize they need to seek professional help for his ADHD.

In addition to dealing with his son’s behavior, the author must try to accept his family’s reaction to his coming out as a gay man and their refusal to accept his partner and son as part of the family. Aaron and Eric provide for all of Jon’s needs, despite the pain and anguish he causes them at times, making the commitment to their son in the same way they have committed to each other.

This memoir chronicles the story of how Jon joined the family, and takes us through his growing up years into young adulthood. The author shares it all – the good, the bad, and the ugly – as he reveals how difficult, but also how rewarding, it was to raise his son. A story of parenting, prejudice, and pain, but also of renewal and reconciliation, Bring Him Home is about real life, and ultimately about real love.

Reviewer: Alice Berger