Dryland Book Review

Dryland is a pun in several ways, and I love it. First, it refers literally to land, which for Nancy Stearns Bercaw, isn’t her natural place as a swimmer. She’s also in Abu Dhabi for most of the book – a desert. And it refers to be dry, as in sober. Nancy is with her family in Abu Dhabi and she finally realizes that she drinks way too much and that it’s actually a problem. Dryland is her journey to that realization, an examination of her past, and a look forward to what her life could be.

I received a free digital copy of Dryland in exchange for an honest review. Pick up your own copy at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Books-A-Million.

This memoir was sobering (pun very much intended). I grew up with an alcoholic father and while I was young, it wasn’t that big of a deal, because I was little and didn’t know anything. As I got older and I watched him get sober (thank goodness), I prayed that that wouldn’t be my life someday. That I would be able to drink normally and know when to stop and be able to stop. Thankfully, I haven’t had a problem — yet. I’m not ruling out the possibility at only 24 years old.

Dryland helped me understand my dad better. On some level, I’ve always understood that alcoholics really can’t help it and they just don’t know how to stop once they’ve gotten started. But reading Nancy Stearns Bercaw’s memoir helped me finally get it. Whatever your problems are, alcohol will probably make you feel better, not care anymore, or at the very least, fall asleep and avoid it.

Dryland is honest, heart-wrenching, and an around the globe adventure. At times it feels like a close friend is opening up about the roughest part of her life and the adventures she’s had long the way.

I highly recommend Dryland for everyone to read, whether or not you have a personal relationship with alcoholism. It never hurts to gain a new understanding about other people. It might make the world a more understanding place.

About Dryland

• Paperback: 256 pages
• Publisher: Grand Harbor Press (April 18, 2017)

For swimming champion Nancy Stearns Bercaw, the pool was a natural habitat. But on land, she could never shake the feeling of being a fish out of water. Starting at age two, Nancy devoted her life to swimming, even qualifying for the 1988 Olympic Trials in the fifty-meter freestyle event. But when she hung up her cap and goggles after college, she was confronted with a different kind of challenge: learning who she was out of the lanes.

In this honest, intimate memoir, Nancy reflects on her years wandering the globe, where tragic events and a lost sense of self escalate her dependence on booze. Thirty-three years after her first sip of alcohol, the swimmer comes to a stunning realization while living with her husband and son in Abu Dhabi—she’s drowning in the desert. Nancy looks to the Bedouin people for the strength to conquer one final opponent: alcohol addiction.


“A brave, honest, adventurous memoir that keeps you turning pages as Bercaw travels around the world and rediscovers what it really means to win…at life.” —Leigh Newman, author of Still Points North

Purchase Links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million

About Nancy Stearns Bercaw

Writer and national champion swimmer Nancy Stearns Bercaw is a seventeen-time NCAA All-American athlete and was inducted into the University of South Florida’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2009. Her writing has appeared in publications around the world, including the New York Times, the Huffington Post, the Korea Herald, U.S. News & World Report, Abu Dhabi’s Tempo magazine, and ScaryMommy.com. In addition to Dryland: One Woman’s Swim to Sobriety, she is the author of Brain in a Jar: A Daughter’s Journey Through Her Father’s Memory and a contributor to Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias. She lives in Vermont with her husband and son.

Find out more about Nancy at her website, and connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Red Year Book Review

Historical fiction is always fun for me. I’m a big fan of series like Outlander because they deal so much with the past. Red Year by Jan Shapin is great for historical fiction lovers. What made this book even more fascinating for me was that I didn’t know much about China or the Soviet Union in the 1920s. Most of my education on that decade takes place in Europe and the United States.

Red Year
I was given a free copy of Red Year for an honest review by TLC Book Tours. Pick up your own copy at Amazon.

Red Year is a fictional story about a real life journalist, Rayna Prohme (who went to the University of Illinois! That’s in my home state!), who travels to China with her husband. While there, Rayna falls in love with a Russian agent, so you know that this book is just full of intrigue. Rayna needs a job and wants to be near Mr. B – her Russian agent, Mikhail Borodin – so she travels to Moscow and tries to get into the Lenin Academy, a Soviet spy school.


I love the idea for this story and the setting is unfamiliar but in the best ways. I’m all for women traveling the world and infiltrating spy schools. But I had a lot of trouble getting through the book. I didn’t “connect” with Rayna like I wanted, but maybe that’s okay! I don’t have to feel a personal connection to every character I read – it just means I’m not reading stories about characters exactly like me! I just felt that the history, the time period, and the politics were more vibrant characters than Rayna.

I’m still interested in Rayna, however. The 1920s and the Communist Party in China and Russia are subjects that Americans (or at least, I) know little about. I look forward to reading more books set in those places.

Overall, if you like historical fiction, you’re going to like Red Year for sure. It looks like Jan Shapin has written two other books in different time periods, so I’ll definitely be checking those out.


About Red Year

• Paperback: 286 pages
• Publisher: Cambridge Books (June 4, 2017)

Can a red-haired woman from Chicago single-handedly force Joseph Stalin to back down?

China, 1927. Thirty-three year old Rayna Prohme, accompanying her left-wing journalist husband, becomes the political confidant and lover of Mikhail Borodin, the Russian commander sent to prop up a failing Chinese revolution. In a bid to continue their love affair, Rayna hatches a plan to accompany Mme. Sun, the widow of the Chinese revolution’s founder, to Moscow.

But Moscow does not welcome the women. Borodin shuns them. Rayna’s stipend and housing arrangements are cancelled. “Go home,” she is told. But Rayna does not want to go home to an ordinary life, to her husband and Chicago. Instead, she applies to a Soviet espionage school that soon demands she spy on Mme. Sun. The Chinese widow is, by now, in grave danger as her exit visa is blocked. Rayna must make a choice — Borodin and Russia or Mme. Sun and China.


Set in Russian and China during the 1920s, this beautifully written novel tells the story of a true American dreamer—a woman who charged into danger in search of passion, justice and some money to pay her bills. A fascinating story. –Susan Breen, author, Maggie Dove mysteries

Purchase Link


About Jan Shapin

Jan Shapin has been writing plays and screenplays for nearly thirty years, in the last decade concentrating on fiction. Shapin has studied playwriting at Catholic University in Washington, DC, screenwriting at the Film and Television Workshop and University of Southern California, and fiction writing at a variety of locations including Barnard College’s Writers on Writing seminar, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.

Her plays have been produced in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. She has received grants from the RI Council for the Humanities and has served as a juror for the Rhode Island State Council for the Arts screenplay fellowship awards. Two previous novels, A Desire Path and A Snug Life Somewhere, were published in 2012 and 2014.

She lives in North Kingstown, RI with her photographer husband. Learn more about Jan at her website, janshapin.com.