Inspirational speaker and standup comedian Berry (I'm on My Way but Your Foot Is on My Head: A Black Woman’s Story of Getting over Life’s Hurdles, not reviewed, etc.) debuts with this spiritual love story. The narrative, however, is essentially a story within a story, and the romantic framing device is far less gripping than the fewer pages given over to the internal tale’slave girl Iona’s autobiography, a memoir she began during the Civil War era, when she discovered she had a gift for spontaneous writing. Iona simply began to write one day the way some people start playing the piano without instruction. Her voice is not far from Celie’s in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and has many of the same strengths, in part because of the horrors they share of being raped in their middle teens, with lives that are almost all downhill afterward. Had the whole novel consisted of a slave story in Iona’s voice, Berry’s effort could have been far more powerful. Instead, we get an account of the meeting, in Miss Cosina 'Cosy' Brown’s Black Images bookshop, of anthropologist Ross Buchannan and book-hungry Josephine 'Fina' Chambers. Both drool over the single copy of Children of Grace, a vividly harsh memoir in manuscript, written by a slave. Ross needs it for his Ph.D., but Fina won't let go of it, so Cosy suggests they read it together. This leads you know where. Well-written, mostly. In the romance-story frame, though, unforgivably banal passages arise, along the lines of 'She could read the signs pointing to the road of truth all over life’s highway.' A mix indeed.