Monday, November 23, 2009

The Familiar Stranger by Christina Berry

Christina Berry is a debut novelist with Moody Publishers. Every time I've met her among groups of writers, she is smiling and friendly. As soon as I saw the information for her book, I knew I wanted to read it. Today, I'm thrilled to review her book The Familiar Stranger.

Back cover copy:

Craig Littleton's decision to end his marriage would shock his wife, Denise . . . if she knew what he was up to. When an accident lands Craig in the ICU, with fuzzy memories of his own life and plans, Denise rushes to his side, ready to care for him.

They embark on a quest to help Craig remember who he is and, in the process, they discover dark secrets. An affair? An emptied bank account? A hidden identity? An illegitimate child?

But what will she do when she realizes he's not the man she thought he was? Is this trauma a blessing in disguise, a chance for a fresh start? Or will his secrets destroy the life they built together?

Here's an interview with Christina:

How did you come up with the story?

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.

Can you tell us a little bit about how your personal life influenced the story?

Though the plot of The Familiar Stranger came from news stories, I’d been looking for a fictional vehicle to express the lessons I’d learned regarding forgiveness in my own marriage. I knew no one was interested in reading my particular story, but I still felt God had given me something to say. My husband and I worked through a major issue six years ago and found a vibrant, completely renewed marriage on the other side.

However, seven months ago, that same issue broke our bond. Now as a newly-single woman, I’m in the midst of promoting a book that touches far closer to home than I would have ever dreamed. If no one else ever reads it, I’ve been convicted and encouraged by my own words. If that isn’t a gracious God at work, I don’t know what is!

Most difficult part to write?

I was in the middle of revisions when my marriage fell apart. God orchestrated it so that I was beefing up a "struggle with forgiveness" scene in those first few weeks of singleness. While aspects of that were hard to deal with, the very words I thought would help someone else ministered to me.

What challenges do you face with your writing in general? What comes easy to you?

As a single mother of young children, and currently serving as a foster parent, time is my biggest challenge. I have to make sure my family knows they come first, but to balance that with treating writing as a career.

Strength-wise, while the idea of writing or editing may seem hard, I usually get quite a lot done in a short amount of time once I start. An object in motion tends to stay in motion. That applies to our writing. A little momentum can go a long way!

What surprised you about the publishing process after your novel was contracted?

I knew that titles were frequently changed for publication, but I didn’t expect the title to change before the contract was officially signed. Also, I knew that editors move from house to house fairly often in this industry, but I didn’t expect to lose my dream editor two days after signing the contract. (Hi, Andy!)

After getting over the shock of losing my editor, I was very surprised at how much Moody valued my input, how frequently they communicated with me, and how they lifted my family up in prayer. In fact, everyone from my editor to the marketing manager to the author liaison has been amazing!

What takeaway value do you hope readers receive after reading your novel?

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.

Just for fun: Who would play the roles in a movie version of The Familiar Stranger?

This is tough! Moody gave me the cover--which I love--in the midst of edits, so the characters became even more the man and woman on the front. Can I cast them? :)

For Denise ... maybe Christina Applegate, though she's a bit young. Craig could be played by Christian Bale, but a decade older. (Hmm ... Christina and Christian in a movie based on a book written by a Christian Christina!)

You know, Sandra Bullock with corn-silk blond hair could nail it! And Matt Damon would also make a great Craig.

Christina's bio:

As a single mom and foster parent, Christina Berry carves time out of her busy schedule to write about the heart and soul of life. She lives with her family in rural Oregon. The Familiar Stranger is her debut novel. Get to know her better at her Web site.

And now my review:

Though this story’s blurb intrigued me, I didn’t know what to expect when I cracked open Christina’s debut novel The Familiar Stranger. But, she had me from the first lines. I half expected a romance, based on the book’s description. And you get some romance, but you get so much more from this first book.

This writer knows her stuff. First person POV, each lead—female and male. Phenomenal. Author Randy Ingermanson has taught the male POV at writers’ conferences. He says she “really knows how men think.” Indeed, Christina’s characters read like two different genders (which they should, but it’s very difficult to do). Very impressive.

Craig’s amnesia adds a deep plot element as we watch him recover from the car accident. Both characters have been dramatically impacted by their circumstances—rethinking life. As a reader, you may find yourself rethinking the way you relate with those closest to you. Every time Denise’s world starts to settle, you watch her situation upend itself again, bringing more change, inside and out.

I enjoyed this book very much. This novel stands out among the multitudes I read in a year. Christina’s prose is genuine, real, well-crafted. Her pacing keeps you up at night. I am on alert for her next novel.

Highly recommended.


  1. Great post. Thanks for the review. I just got this book but have not read it yet.

  2. I think you're gonna love it, April! Thanks for reading.