Friday, March 08, 2019

Book Review: Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt by Austin Fischer

Title: Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt 
Author: Austin Fischer (@austintfischer)
Paperback, 183 pages
Published September 11, 2018 by InterVarsity Press

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At just under 200 pages, Austin Fischer packs a whole lot of topics, ideas, and theology into this little book: theodicy (the problem of pain/evil), to doubt vs. certainty, the silence of God, why fundamentalism and biblical literalism doesn't work, science vs. faith and why that doesn't have to be the case (yes, including how evolution doesn't destroy Christianity); and even belief in some kind of hell vs. some kind of christian universalism.

Table of Contents
-  Foreword by Brian Zahnd
1. Graffiti: An Invitation to a Rebellion
2. Ants on a Rollercoaster: Losing a Certainty Seeking Faith
3. How to Survive a Hurricane: Doubting with Job
4. Beautiful, Terrible World: The Burden of Reality
5. Four Letter Word: (Kind of) Making Sense of Evil
6. Silence: Believing When God Isn’t Speaking
7. Death by Fundamentalism: Talking to Fish About Water
8. Science: God Doesn’t Exist
9 Stuff: Our New Religion
10. Hell: Hitler Gets Five Minutes in Heaven
11. Faith, Doubt, and Love: The Real Remedy
12. Christ or the Truth?: A Case for Faith in the Worst Case
13. Walking on Water: The Proof Is in the Living

I agree with Fischer when he says he doesn't see hidden joy or design behind the tragedies of children dying of cancer or people dying in car accidents. Like him, "I see nonsense. I don’t feel divinely comforted; I feel rage."

Fischer writes, "I tried to pray and preach myself out of the dark, but the harder I tried, the bleaker the situation became. And then finally, I stopped trying—not because God told me to but because I was so exhausted I had no choice. I stopped trying to force the light and pretend the dark wasn’t really that dark. I let myself envision the blasphemous and felt the chill of a world without God" (Loc 578).

It really struck me when Fischer pointed out that "it is often those with deep faith, firmly grounded in the love of God, who find their faith languishing in the shadows when faced with creation’s ceaseless pain: “The more a person believes, the more deeply he experiences pain over the suffering of the world” (Loc 592). Furthermore, he says, "A crisis of faith in the face of evil can be the truest expression of faith, because what we interpret as a loss of faith are often the growing pains of learning to live with a heart three sizes larger beating inside our chest. So if evil (almost) makes us lose our faith, it might be because our faith is growing strong, not growing weak" (Loc 597).

I love where Fischer talks about how the Bible does not contain one theology, but multiple theologies, that uses a diverse range of voices which "don't always harmonize perfectly".

"When we claim the Bible clearly teaches something that has been rigorously debated by the best and most faithful minds for thousands of years, we could at least have the decency to blush. A couple thousand years of mercurial biblical interpretation suggest we’re not being very honest with ourselves." (Loc 770-780)

I also appreciated his reminder that Mother Teresa also struggled with spiritual darkness and depression, as revealed in her private letters.

Chapter 7 - Death by Fundamentalism

I really loved this chapter!

"The spirit of fundamentalism is perhaps best described as a rigid mental attitude that seeks control by pursuing certainty [...] Fundamentalism mistakenly assumes it looks on the world with “a view from nowhere,” objectively staring down at reality from above."

[Read The Sin of Certainty by Peter Enns for more in depth treatment of this problem.]

Fischer then mentions Mark Noll's book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, which I still need to read. Still talking about Noll's book, Fischer says, "In a truly novel development in the history of Christian theology, many Christians began trying to read all the Bible as literally as possible, thinking that by doing so and using the objective, fact-finding method of modern science, they could work to a sure, certain faith—the whole truth and nothing but it. Reading the Bible “literally” and “scientifically,” Christians could discover truth every bit as objective as the truths being discovered in the natural sciences. And so a house of cards was built on a foundation of sand."

I remember Greg Boyd talking about that "house of cards" kind of faith also in his book, Benefit of the Doubt.

I really loved this: "After a sermon in which I mentioned the two creation stories of Genesis cannot both be read literally, I was confronted by a wellmeaning parishioner who informed me that he had been informed the Bible was the literal word of God and any belief otherwise was a slippery slope toward perdition. He was a very kind man and had only recently become a Christian, so I understood his concerns and asked him if he had read Psalms. He had. Then I asked if he thought Psalms was the word of God. He did. Then I asked him if he read all of the psalms literally—did he believe mountains pulled up their britches and skipped along like rams when God came walking by (Psalm 114)? He assured me he did not because that would be silly. “So,” I asked, “you think something can be true and the word of God and yet not literal?” A smile crept across his face and he responded, “Well—I guess I do.” And intuitively, we all do. Like many others, I read The Chronicles of Narnia when I was a child and it never occurred to me that Narnia was a real place and Aslan a real lion. I knew they were fictional. And yet I also knew those fictional tales of Narnia told the truth—the truth about good and evil and courage and sacrifice. In fact, I knew those fictional tales told deeper and truer truth than the “just the facts” information collected in my textbooks. Something does not have to be literal in order to be true. In fact, the truest things probably cannot be spoken literally." (Loc 1052)

Fischer takes to referring to this biblical literalism as "biblical flatland", which I love. (This is a reference he explains earlier about Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin Abbott Abbott. But the idea is that strict, biblical literalism flattens out the text and actually undermines the beauty and layers of meanings available to us.

Chapter 8: Science - God Doesn't Exist
Here Fischer talks about how there is no reason Christians can't accept the scientific consensus on evolution:
"Scientists are not split over evolution. Every reputable survey you come across puts scientific support for evolution in the range of 90-99 percent, with that number tending toward the latter among scientists who actually specialize in fields that would make them experts on the issue. This is a remarkable consensus. Yes, the theory itself continues to evolve and mature, but the basic premise that terrestrial life has evolved over time from common ancestry has been confirmed over and over. And God need be in competition with evolution no more than God need be in competition with sperm or gravity." (Loc 1180)
So how does evolution supposedly conflict with Christianity? The big one has to do with coming up against that biblical literalism that was just covered in chapter 7.
"If we read the first two chapters of Genesis as a literal description of how God made the world, then evolution and Christianity are in conflict. But we should not read Genesis 1 and 2 literally! In fact, a rigidly literal reading of Genesis 1–2, resulting in the belief that God created the world ten thousand years ago (known as young-earth creationism), has only gained traction within the last hundred years. It is an overwhelmingly minority position in orthodox Christian theology, a novelty on the theological scene. As Noll states, “Despite widespread impressions to the contrary, [young-earth] creationism was not a traditional belief of nineteenth-century conservative Protestants or even of early twentieth-century fundamentalists.” This needs to be said as clearly, consistently, and charitably as possible: not only is rigid biblical literalism and young-earth creationism not essential, but it is fundamentally biblically, theologically, philosophically, historically, and scientifically mistaken. It may come from a sincere place, but it can be very dangerous. It produces bad Bible reading, bad theology, and very bad science." (Loc 1238)
[In seminary I wrote a whole paper on how we should read and interpret Genesis 1-2 based on the genre of the text. You can read that here if you wish.

TL:DR - Just go read the book for yourself. It is well worth your time!

Thanks to InterVarsity Press and Netgalley for the ARC.

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From the official blurb on Amazon and Goodreads:
"'People don't abandon faith because they have doubts. People abandon faith because they think they're not allowed to have doubts.'

Too often, our honest questions about faith are met with cold confidence and easy answers. But false certitude doesn't result in strong faith—it results in disillusionment, or worse, in a dogmatic, overweening faith unable to see itself or its object clearly. 

Even as a pastor, Austin Fischer has experienced the shadows of doubt and disillusionment. In Faith in the Shadows, he leans into perennial questions about Christianity with raw and fearless integrity. He addresses contemporary science, the problem of evil, hell, God's silence, and other issues, offering not only fresh treatments of these questions but also a fresh paradigm for thinking about doubt itself. Doubt, Fischer contends, is no reason to leave the faith. Instead, it's an invitation to a more honest faith—a faith that's not in control, but that trusts more fully in its Lord."

Faith in the Shadows Purchase Links: PaperbackKindle Edition, Audible Audiobook

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Friday, March 01, 2019

Book Review: God Can't: How to Believe in God and Love after Tragedy, Abuse, and Other Evils by Thomas Oord

God Can't: How to Believe in God and Love after Tragedy, Abuse, and Other Evils
Author: Thomas Oord
Paperback, 212 pages
Published January 5, 2019 by SacraSage Press

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the outset, I should say that I mostly agree with Thomas Jay Oord, and I pretty much knew that before I started reading this book, so I was predisposed to like it. I don't believe that God is "up there" orchestrating every detail of our lives, causing or even "allowing" the pain and suffering and evil and death that we experience in our lives. I don't believe it works that way. And Oord does a good job of explaining why that is a really good conclusion to come to based upon Scripture as well as everything we experience in life and know to be true.

Oord pushes back on the common answers and cliches people use about how "everything happens for a reason" and "it's all part of God's plan", and "his ways are higher than our ways" so, mystery. And even though Thomas Oord has been a professor and theologian for many years, this book is at a popular level, which makes it easy to read.

Key quotes that set up the book:

"The big ideas in this book share two assumptions, and I want to mention them before going further. The first is that God loves us all, all the time. God loves everyone and everything, all creatures great and small. God never stops loving, even for one moment, because God’s nature is love. God listens, feels, and responds by acting for good. God wills our well-being, not our woe being."

"It doesn’t help to say God loves us if we have no idea what love is!"

"By contrast, I believe what God thinks is loving matches what we think is loving. Our intuitions of love fit God’s view of love. We best define this shared meaning when love is understood as acting intentionally, in response to God and others, to promote overall well-being. In short, love aims to do good. That view of love applies to Creator and creatures. God always loves, and God’s love is always good. Every idea I advocate in this book assumes God is loving."

The five chapters that make up his argument/solution to the problem of evil are the following:

1. God Can't Prevent Evil
2. God Feels Our Pain
3. God Works to Heal
4. God Squeezes Good from Bad
5. God Needs Our Cooperation

He says that together, these five ideas give us an actual solution to the problem of evil, but they aren't satisfying on their own. All five are essential to see the big picture.

I really love this part towards the end of the book:

"I no longer fear God. It took a while to arrive where I am today. I had to overcome fear-based theologies. I realized the Old Testament statement, “fear God,” is better phrased, “respect God.” I came to believe biblical stories portraying God as vengeful were inaccurate. I had to ignore voices in culture, the church, and history that preach this fear. The key to overcoming my fear was realizing God always loves me. God’s perfect love cast out my fear of God!"

From the official blurb on Amazon and Goodreads:
"Hurting people ask heartfelt questions about God and suffering. Some "answers" they receive appeal to mystery: “God’s ways are not our ways”. Some answers say God allows evil for a greater purpose. Some say evil is God's punishment.

The usual answers fail. They don't support the truth God loves everyone all the time. God Can't gives a believable answer to why a good and powerful God doesn't prevent evil.

Author Thomas Jay Oord says God’s love is inherently uncontrolling. God loves everyone and everything, so God can't control anyone or anything. This means God cannot prevent evil singlehandedly. God can’t stop evildoers, whether human, animal, organisms, or inanimate objects and forces.

In God Can't, Oord gives a plausible reason why some are healed but many others are not. God always works to heal everyone, but sometimes our bodies, organisms, or other creatures do not cooperate with God's healing work. Or the conditions of creation are not right for the healing God wants to do.

God Can't is for those who want answers to tragedy, abuse, and other evils that make sense."

God Can't Purchase Links: PaperbackKindle Edition, Audible Audiobook

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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Mini Book Reviews (January 2019)

This is a weird post because I usually only post about books that I love or at least really like. But this is just a random post of a few books I wrote a short review of, and it just so happens, I didn't really care for any of them very much...

CoralineCoraline by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I keep really wanting to like Neil Gaiman's books, and so I keep reading them, and then I don't like them very much. When will I learn my lesson? My favorite book of his that I have read was The Graveyard Book. But Coraline is much creepier and more disturbing somehow. It is classified as a "dark fantasy", some even label it as "horror", and I already know that is not my thing. But it's also categorized as a children's novella? This would have terrified me as a child! I still find it disturbing! Sewing on button eyes??? Disappearing parents? Other kidnapped kids who have had their souls stolen???

I suppose it's not that much stranger than Alice's Adventures in Wonderland... but still.

I do always enjoy stories that play with the ideas of parallel worlds or alternate realities, so there's that. Plus the other world has toys that fly and a sarcastic talking cat, so that's fun.

Other thought I had: The way the Other Mother is unable to actually create, but can only copy, twist and change things from the real world, reminds me of something the evil witch says in The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis. (Where she is trying to convince the protagonists that the land they speak of with the sun in the sky is only a projection/copy of what they have in the underworld, and their image of Aslan in their minds is something they made up from thinking about a very big cat.) I wonder if that served as inspiration at all for this part.

The Fairy-Tale Detectives (The Sisters Grimm, #1)The Fairy-Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Two stars because "it was ok" pretty much sums up my feelings about this book. I really thought I would enjoy it more than I did. I love the premise, that fairy tales are true. The stories written down by The Brothers Grimm were real accounts. I like that the fairy tale creatures are called "Everafters". There were several things that reminded me of the TV show, "Once Upon a Time", which I also loved (at least for the first few seasons). I even like that Buckley pulls in other fictional characters from The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland.

So if my lack of enjoyment is due to the fact that it's really written (down) to younger audiences or what. Another reviewer commented that the first chapter reminded her of The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, which I really didn't like, so maybe that has something to do with it. And Sabrina, the older sister, was a really annoying character for at least the first half of the book.

I might have enjoyed this series when I was in elementary school. But since I'm not, I don't know if I will read the next book in the series. I know there are several more of them that are also available on audio through my library (which is how I read this one). So we shall see. It's certainly not a high priority though.

The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle, #1)The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I don't give many 1 star ratings, but I really didn't like this, at all. I know a lot of people love this series, that's why I gave it a try. Plus it was available on audio from my library. But it was PAINFULLY slow and boring, and way too dark for my taste. I think I don’t like urban fantasy as a general rule. I didn’t care for the writing style either. So I do not plan on reading any of the other books in this series.

Also, why does this have 4.06 average rating on Goodreads??? I really don’t get it. I would have DNF’ed this one if I could ever bring myself to do that…


So have you read any of these? Did you like them more than I did? Why?

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Sunday, January 06, 2019

2018 Movies

I watched A LOT more movies in 2018 than ever before! Assuming I logged them all on letterboxd, 135 movies, to be exact. And of those 135 movies, 59 of them were new releases from 2018. Most of these movie titles below are linked to my very short mini-reviews on Feel free to add me on there if you are on there. (I highly recommend it if you like to watch a lot of movies. It's like Goodreads for movies.)

Favorite Movies of 2018 (definitely want to re-watch)

1. Black Panther
2. Avengers: Infinity War
3. Ant-Man and the Wasp
4. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
5. Mary Poppins Returns
6. Aquaman
7. Crazy Rich Asians
8. Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!
9. Incredibles 2 (better than the first one!)
10. Christopher Robin
11. Life of the Party
12. Love, Simon
13. On the Basis of Sex
14. Ready Player One
15. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Good Movies of 2018 (would probably re-watch):
16. Solo: A Star Wars Story
17. Won't You Be My Neighbor?
18. Ocean’s 8
19. First Man
20. Second Act
21. Ralph Breaks the Internet
22. Deadpool 2
23. Dumplin'
24. A Star Is Born*
25. Mission: Impossible - Fallout
26. A Wrinkle in Time
27. Colette
28. Bohemian Rhapsody
29. Hearts Beat Loud
30. The Miseducation of Cameron Post
31. Boy Erased

Decent Movies of 2018 (might re-watch):
32. Book Club
33. The Christmas Chronicles
34. I Can Only Imagine
35. Juliet, Naked
36. A Simple Favor 
37. Overboard
38. Every Day
39. Forever My Girl
40. The Kissing Booth
41. I Feel Pretty
42. Green Book
43. A Kid Like Jake

Meh (Probably won't re-watch):
44. The Spy Who Dumped Me
45. Dog Days
46. Sierra Burgess Is a Loser
47. The Miracle Season
48. Tomb Raider
49. Tag
50. Peter Rabbit

Nah (Definitely won't re-watch)
51. Searching
52. Black Mirror: Bandersnatch
53. Upgrade
54. Game Night
55. Midnight Sun
56. Cruise
57. Eighth Grade
58. The Favourite
59. Life Itself

And here is this list on


Movies I definitely want to see:
  • Fahrenheit 451 (5/19 on HBO)
Movies I might want to see: 
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Netflix)
  • Adrift (6/1)
  • Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind (7/13)
  • The Bookshop (8/24) 
  • Little Women (9/28)
  • The Hate U Give (10/19)
  • Can You Ever Forgive Me? (10/19)
  • The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (11/2)
  • The Grinch (11/9)
  • Instant Family (11/16)
  • Mortal Engines (12/14)
  • Bumblebee (12/21)

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

2018 Reading Recap (Book stats, and graphs, and charts, oh my!)

Image of my book tracking spreadsheet from 2018 

Goodreads Reading Challenge
Number of books read: 130
Number of pages read: 30,006
Average Length: 230 pages

(From my Goodreads year-end info-graphic)

I had a very good reading year. As far as the number of books read, it's my 2nd highest. Somehow I managed to read 142 in 2016. 

My average rating is slightly higher than last year's 3.5. Here's the breakdown:
Mode of reading:
Audiobook (88), Ebook (24), Print (18)
 - According to Audible, I listened to 337 hours of audiobooks in 2018.

Book Genres:
Fiction vs. Nonfiction is almost 50-50.

More specific genres I track:
C. S. Lewis Studies: 3
Inklings: 1
Seminary: 15
Theology: 15
Spiritual Memoir: 8 
Science Fiction: 20
Fantasy: 34
Fiction: 14
Nonfiction: 20

(Goals for 2019 include reading a lot more in my C. S. Lewis Studies category. I plan to re-read Till We Have Faces and the Space Trilogy, and probably The Chronicles of Narnia. And that's just the tip of the iceberg, I hope.)

For this chart I grouped Seminary, Theology, and Spiritual Memoir together as "Theology", and I put the Inklings in with C. S. Lewis.
Male/Female Authorship:
Female: 58 (compared to last year's 17)
Male: 72 (compared to last year's 67)

I'm really glad I evened this percentage out this year. Last year 80% of the books I read were written by men. This year it was 55% men and 45% women.
Books Read Per Month:

Read vs. Re-reads:
First time read: 104
Re-read: 26

2017 Reading Recap and Book Stats
2016 Reading Recap and Book Stats
2015 Reading Recap

What I read in 2017 (83 books)
What I read in 2016 (142 books)
What I read in 2015 (120 books)
What I read in 2014 (111 books)
What I read in 2013 (100 books)
What I read in 2012 (56 books)

Friday, December 21, 2018

Movie Review: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

I thought I didn't need another Spider-Man movie. I was wrong. This was so much fun!

Here are some of the reasons I loved it:

- I tend to enjoy anything that plays with the ideas of the multiverse/parallel worlds.

- It was very funny at times.

- The animation was stunning! They made it feel like you were watching an actual comic book come to life!

- really fun soundtrack

- Spider-Gwen!!!

- Looney Tunes inspired Peter Porker/Spider-Ham! ("That's all folks!" / "Can he say that? You know, legally?")

- Stan Lee cameo

- Spider-Man Noir, the Peter Parker from a black and white universe in 1933. He is a private detective, of course. And he is voiced by Nicholas Cage.

- During the first origin story recap by Peter Parker, we see all of these flashback type clips referring to scenes we've seen in previous Spider-man movies, including the iconic upside-down kiss in the rain from the first one with Tobey Maguire and the train rescue.

- The post-credits scene...

2018 movie rankings
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1982, 1981, 1980 movie rankings
1970s movie rankings
1960s-1950s movie rankings

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Book Review: Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis by Patti Callahan

Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis by Patti Callahan
Paperback, 416 pages
Published October 2, 2018 by Thomas Nelson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Historical fiction is not usually my jam. But C. S. Lewis always is. So I was a little unsure about how I would feel about this book, which uses the facts that we know about Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis to weave a fictional story about Joy's life before she encountered Lewis (Jack) in his writing, began corresponding with him, met him in Oxford, etc. But I absolutely loved it. I kept forgetting I was reading a fictional telling and not an actual autobiography from Joy Davidman herself! It was one of my favorite books that I read in 2018. I will definitely be reading it again. And reading it now also renews my desire to read Joy's own writings, especially Smoke on the Mountain.

There is an interview with Patti Callahan on the Christianity Today website, published on October 23 of this year: Joy Davidman: The Woman Who Wanted Something More; Interview by Rachel McMillan.

Callahan also shares a note to the reader on her website:

Official blurb:

"In a most improbable friendship, she found love. In a world where women were silenced, she found her voice. 

From New York Times bestselling author Patti Callahan comes an exquisite novel of Joy Davidman, the woman C. S. Lewis called “my whole world.” When poet and writer Joy Davidman began writing letters to C. S. Lewis—known as Jack—she was looking for spiritual answers, not love. Love, after all, wasn’t holding together her crumbling marriage. Everything about New Yorker Joy seemed ill-matched for an Oxford don and the beloved writer of Narnia, yet their minds bonded over their letters. Embarking on the adventure of her life, Joy traveled from America to England and back again, facing heartbreak and poverty, discovering friendship and faith, and against all odds, finding a love that even the threat of death couldn’t destroy. 

In this masterful exploration of one of the greatest love stories of modern times, we meet a brilliant writer, a fiercely independent mother, and a passionate woman who changed the life of this respected author and inspired books that still enchant us and change us. Joy lived at a time when women weren’t meant to have a voice—and yet her love for Jack gave them both voices they didn’t know they had. 

At once a fascinating historical novel and a glimpse into a writer’s life, Becoming Mrs. Lewis is above all a love story—a love of literature and ideas and a love between a husband and wife that, in the end, was not impossible at all."

“Patti Callahan seems to have found the story she was born to tell in this tale of unlikely friendship turned true love between Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis, that tests the bounds of faith and radically alters both of their lives. Their connection comes to life in Callahan’s expert hands, revealing a connection so persuasive and affecting, we wonder if there’s another like it in history. Luminous and penetrating.” —Paula McLain, New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Wife

“Patti Callahan Henry breathes wondrous fresh life into one of the greatest literary love stories of all time . . . The result is a deeply moving story about love and loss that is transformative and magical.” —Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Orphan’s Tale

 “I was swept along, filled with hope, and entirely beguiled, not only by the life lived behind the veil of C. S. Lewis’s books but also by the woman who won his heart. A literary treasure from first page to last.” —Lisa Wingate, New York Times bestselling author of Before We Were Yours

 “Profoundly evocative, revealing an intimate view of a woman whose love and story had never been fully told . . . until now . . . Becoming Mrs. Lewis is a tour de force and the must-read of the season!” —Mary Alice Monroe, New York Times bestselling author of Beach House Reunion

 “Patti Callahan somehow inhabits Davidman, taking her readers inside the writer’s hungry mind and heart.  We keenly feel Davidman’s struggle to become her own person at a time (the 1950s) when women had few options . . . An astonishing work of biographical fiction." —Lynn Cullen, bestselling author of Mrs. Poe

Becoming Mrs. Lewis Purchase Links: PaperbackKindle Edition, Audible Audiobook

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