Saturday, October 24, 2009

Careless in Red, by Elizabeth George

If you've perused the Bookshelf tab on my website, you know I'm an Elizabeth George fan. Recently I finished her latest mystery, Careless in Red. The story is a little different than some of her earlier novels, in that all the action takes place along the Cornwall coast rather than in London.
The opening line is a grabber: "He found the body on the forty-third day of his walk." He is Detective Superintendent Thomas Lynley, who turned in his New Scotland Yard identification following events in a previous novel, With No One as Witness.
Happily for Lynley fans (I'm one of them), he's back in this book, having been dragged reluctantly into a murder investigation. George involves the lives of a dozen or so characters in a small village in Cornwall where everyone’s life is an open book (except the murderer’s). By doing so, Careless in Red becomes a novel in which a murder occurs, rather than a straightforward murder mystery. I loved how George took me into the character’s lives, worried me as to the outcomes, then in a satisfactory fashion wrapped up the secondary stories. The approach was a new one for her, at least concerning the number of sub-plots.
Careless in Red is general market fiction, so there is a bit of colorful language and some sexual situations. With her usual skill, George had me guessing until the final moments of the story. This isn’t a “stay up all night” book, because at 721 words, I missed several night’s sleep, not just one. I loved the story, but I have to confess prejudice. I read everything she writes.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Interview with Christina Berry

Today I'm welcoming Christina Berry to my blog. Her debut novel, The Familiar Stranger, was provided to me by the publisher for review purposes. Scroll down past this interview to my blog post of October 3 for my take on this story. (Hint: I loved it!)

Hi Christina! Thanks for stopping by. For starters, tell me about your novel.

The Familiar Stranger—formerly known as Undiscovered—is about a couple going through a really rough patch in their marriage. When an accident incapacitates the husband, their relationship must be redefined. Which would be a lot easier to do if BIG secrets from his past didn’t raise their ugly heads. Despite the upheaval, the choices they make involving forgiveness and trust might allow a new beginning. Or … they might not.
You can see the back cover copy and what other authors have said about The Familiar Stranger by going to

Your story had me staying awake late to see what happened next. How did you come up with your plot?

In the summer of 2006, two stories appeared in the newspaper. One was a huge, national story; the other a smaller, local-interest item. I wondered what it might look like if those two stories conceived a child. Boom! I had the entire plot for The Familiar Stranger. It will be interesting to see if readers can figure out which stories inspired the book.

Your female protagonist’s willingness to forgive certainly inspired me. But I’ve heard some Christian writers argue that fiction is first and foremost entertainment, and decry “agenda-driven” stories. What’s your opinion?

I say we're all writing with an agenda, whether we recognize it or not. Maybe it's to show what a godly romance looks like, maybe to draw attention to child abuse, maybe to attempt to understand why people are capable of such evil, or ... With this book, I felt called to share what God has taught me about forgiveness. That is definitely my agenda, which correlates with my tagline: Live transparently—Forgive extravagantly.
However, if the story is not presented in a highly entertaining way the agenda will never be accomplished because the reader will toss the book down if she gets bored. The real skill—and I am by no means saying I'm setting the watermark with my writing—is to so thoroughly wrap the story around the agenda that it becomes unrecognizable to the reader. I'd love to hear other’s opinions in the comments.

Readers, you can post those comments at the end of this interview. As a bonus, you’ll be entered in the October 31 drawing for one of ten copies of The Familiar Stranger. Be sure to leave your e-mail address with your comment.

On the subject of forgiveness, what takeaway value do you hope readers receive after reading The Familiar Stranger?

The recent changes in my life—losing my husband, facing finding a “real” job, selling my home—have done nothing but solidify what I hope to be the theme of the book and my life: Live Transparently—Forgive Extravagantly. If reading The Familiar Stranger makes even one man or woman be more honest with his or her spouse or delve into trust issues in a healthy way, I’ll consider it a success. Maybe there’s a hurting heart that can find a new path to forgiveness because of the story.

How long does it normally take you to write a book?

I can comfortably write a 90,000-word novel in four months. Fifteen hundred words a day is a pretty doable pace for me, and I could up it if I had a contract to fulfill that necessitated faster writing. Having a month or so to set it aside before doing edits is a wonderful thing.
Mom and I can write a very clean draft of a full novel in about three months. In the future, I’d love to be putting out 2-3 book a year, a combination of solo and co-written.

90,000 words in four months! That boggles my mind. You mention your mother—have you written together?

My mother, Sherrie Ashcraft, and I began writing in the summer of ’99. We figured the accountability of having a co-writer would make us actually do what we’d always dreamed of but never put action to. It took a long road of learning how much we didn’t know, tons of re-writing, brooding over rejections, making connections, pitching at conferences, and directional prayer to make our writing salable.
In the summer of 2007, when Mom was busy caring for her dying mother-in-law, I got the itch of a new story idea. Undiscovered was written by February 2008, edited by June, won second place in the ACFW Genesis Contemporary category, and was renamed The Familiar Stranger and contracted by Moody Publishers in October.
One decade from naïve first scribbles to debut novel!

Do you have any advice for other writers?

~Read craft books (I have a list of my favorites on the sidebar of my blog
~Write consistently
~Join a critique group
~Attend writing conferences
~By open to criticism. One always has room to grow!

Anything else you’d like to add?

I encourage readers to sign up for my infrequent, humorous newsletter. Back issues are available at

Thank you, Christina. Now tell us how readers can purchase your book.

Here are two links:
You can also have any bookstore order copies for you if they don’t have any in stock.

Readers, Christina’s giving away ten copies of her book this month. All you have to do is leave a comment at the end of this interview and your name will be entered in the drawing to be held on October 31.
Tomorrow (October 10) she will be visiting Lil Duncan at . Visit Lil’s blog to learn more about Christina and her novel.

Scroll down for my review.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Familiar Stranger, by Christina Berry

The Familiar Stranger, Berry's debut novel, opens with a scene between a couple whose marriage is obviously in trouble. Craig goes his way, Denise goes hers. Then she receives a phone call that changes the stakes from the everyday to stunning suspense.
Craig has been in a devastating accident, and when he wakes from a drug-induced coma he no longer remembers Denise or their life together. Berry ramps up the story from a domestic plot to page-turning suspense as one revelation about Craig’s past follows another. Betrayals, lies, and false memories all play into the mystery of their marriage.
Told from two points of view, we see Denise reel as she grapples with discoveries from Craig’s secret life. At the same time we share Craig’s bewilderment at finding himself part of a family he doesn't remember, and being accused of things he has no recollection of doing.
The Familiar Stranger moves quickly, and kept me riveted to the story when I should have turned off the light and gone to sleep. Berry does a masterful job of bringing all the plot points together at the satisfying conclusion.
I recommend The Familiar Stranger, and look forward to Berry’s next novel. Inspirational fiction has a new star.

Please stop by again on October 9. I'll be posting an interview with Christina.