Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Christina Berry's Familiar Stranger: Reviewed

"Craig Littleton has decided to end his marriage with his wife, Denise, but an accident lands him in the ICU with fuzzy memories. As Denise helps him remember who he is, she uncovers dark secrets. Will this trauma create a fresh start? Or has his deceit destroyed the life they built together?"

First, I must apologize to Christina Berry.

Yes, I looked forward to reading her book. After all, she's a friend--at least a virtual, online friend--so I'm excited that her first published book is now a reality. Plus I knew from reading her blog and newsletter that she's a good writer. However, I really thought I could predict the whole story from reading blurbs like the one at the start of this review.

Boy, was I wrong.

I almost read the entire book Sunday and finally made myself put it down and go to bed, because I really, really wanted to know what the heck was going on in The Familiar Stranger.

The story starts with a long-married couple, Craig and Denise. They're arguing because Craig is planning to skip not only church, but a deacon's meeting as well, and go hiking instead. The tension is simply crackling in this house, and you just know things aren't going well in this marriage. Because the story is told in alternating viewpoints, you soon learn that things are even worse than bickering and tension. Although we don't know exactly what Craig is up to, it's apparent that he isn't just going hiking.

Denise takes their sons and goes on to church, as usual. But at the end of the service, she gets a horrifying phone call. Craig has been in a car accident that's left him badly injured and another man dead. She soon finds out that Craig remembers nothing about his life, or about her.

Okay, at this point and from the blurbs, I thought we had a nice, straightforward contemporary fiction book about a man who was probably cheating on his wife. Through the accident, Denise would discover Craig's infidelity, but the accident would cause him to depend on her, to see her in a new way, perhaps even to repent of his past actions. It would be compelling but not terribly suspenseful.

Instead, Ms. Berry thickened the plot on me at every turn of the page. Who was the man who was killed in the crash? Why was he seen arguing with Craig before the accident? What about the mysterious teenage girl who is also in the hospital?

I don't want to say much more, because I don't want to give away the delicious twists and turns. I must say, though, that I'm amazed at the intricacy of Christina's plotting, and her ability to create suspense. She knows exactly how much to reveal and when, and how to phrase things to throw us poor readers off. At one point I actually figured out what was going on, but her misdirection was so skillful that I doubted myself and she led me off in another direction entirely.

The Familiar Stranger is the kind of suspense that I love. Not the campy kind with a villain chasing some poor heroine with a gun. It's the kind of suspense that comes from believable characters and skillful writing. From the psychological "evil that lurks in the minds of men." I absolutely urge you to pick up a copy of this book.

Oh, and by the way, Christina is giving away several copies of The Familiar Stranger. Just leave a comment on this post and she will enter you in the drawing to be held at the end of this month. How easy can you get! (Now that I've gotten you all curious about what Craig is up to, however, you might not want to wait.)

Single mother and foster parent, Christina Berry carves time to write from her busy schedule because she must tell the stories that haunt her every waking moment. (Such is the overly dramatic description of an author's life!) She holds a BA in Literature, yet loves a good Calculus problem, as well. Her debut novel, The Familiar Stranger, releases from Moody in September and deals with lies, secrets, and themes of forgiveness in a troubled marriage. A moving speaker and dynamic teacher, Christina strives to Live Transparently--Forgive Extravagantly!

More places to find Christina:

Thursday (9/17) at Novel Journey, the next stop on her blog tour (where you can also enter again for her book drawing)

Her blog: http://www.authorchristinaberry.blogspot.com/

Her "infrequent, humorous newsletter":
(Just by signing up, each person will be entered to win a 4GB iPod Shuffle or free books for the life of her writing career!)


  1. Robin, I read this book two weekends ago and couldn't put it down either. I blame my deprived sleep state completely on Christina!

    I agree; it's a fantastic story and not at all what you expect. But those books are so very hard to review because you don't want to give anything away.

  2. Wow! Thanks for reviews Robin. I've been following this blog tour. And i always found some new things about this must-have book and the Author.
    cuniquas at gmail dot com

  3. I so want this book. But it's okay if I don't win it. I'll just have to buy it!

  4. This sounds great! I'll have to add it to my reading list. I love suspense.

  5. Robin, I'm so glad I surprised you!

    I quoted your line about it being about the "evil that lurks in the minds of men" kind of suspense to several people at the conference in Denver. This whole review gave me tingles! :)