From a Reviewer's POV
Our guest today is Beckie Burnham.
(https://rbclibrary.wordpress.com/) is a place for literate, incisive book reviews from a Christian world view.
She has been kind enough to answer a few questions for Suspense Sisters.
(Note: Don’t forget to leave a comment or question for our guest—with your email address--at the end and you’ll be entered in the drawing for an autographed copy of Murder in the Past Tense by E.E. Kennedy.)__________________________________________________________________
Suspense Sisters: What makes a good read for you? What are your criteria?
Beckie Burnham: I read any and everything, including the backs of cereal boxes! Much of my reading experience has been enjoyable, but to be qualified as a “good read” a book needs to have a few elements. As I contemplated my answer, one thing kept coming to mind -- it has to be “real”. Whether it is contemporary or historical, fantasy or suspense, a novel needs a firm foundation -- characters, plot, setting and cultural details that ring true. The characters donʼt have to be perfect, in fact, I like them to be flawed. But they do need to act and react in a natural manner. An intriguing and creative, yet believable, plot is a must. And last, but certainly, not least, I want it to challenge me in some way -- whether it is to go deeper in Godʼs Word or to examine some aspect of my own life.
Suspense Sisters: How do you prefer to be approached for a review? Are there some no-nos you can share with us?
Beckie Burnham: I love when authors reach out for reviews of their novels. I have read some great books that made their way to me in that manner. For me to consider reading/reviewing a book, I need information -- synopsis, genre details, an Amazon link, etc. I am going to do some research before agreeing to a review. An author also needs to be flexible in the timing of the reviews. I schedule reviews months in advance, so I donʼt usually have a quick turnaround time. My family may disagree, but I do have a life outside of reading. LOL!
Suspense Sisters: Can you mention some books that have really impressed you lately? What would you say were your favorite genres?
Beckie Burnham: I enjoy a variety of genres; I am an eclectic reader. But it seems I have read a lot of historical novels lately. Tessa Afsharʼs novel, Pearl in The Sand, was a book club pick this past summer. It certainly qualifies as a good read! The characters were complex and avoided stereotypes. And what was certainly a very familiar story (Rahab and the destruction of Jericho) got us thinking and talking about how relevant it was for modern-day believers. Two other great historicals I have recently read are Thief of Glory by Sigmund Brouwer and Maggie Bright by Tracy Groot.
Suspense Sisters: Would you tell us about the book competitions you've judged? Any interesting stories or impressions you can share?
Beckie Burnham: I have been an Inspy Award judge four times and have judged in the general fiction, historical romance and suspense/thriller categories. The Inspy Awards are unique in that they are blogger-based. All nominations come from bloggers and the judging teams are bloggers. I canʼt go into the specifics of the judging criteria, but I can say that I have had the best time getting to know other bloggers and reading some outstanding fiction in the Christian market. The Inspy board members are very dedicated and do an outstanding job selecting the short lists and providing support for the judges.
Suspense Sisters: Beckie, I love that you share your story and your background on your website. What aspects of your life, do you think, help you with your reviews?
Beckie Burnham: As my About Me section states, I lost the sight in my left eye when I was first diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Thankfully, I had most of it restored. But that experience, plus another scare with my right eye, put me back on the road to reading. With the realization that my reading time could be cut short at any time, I became much more deliberate in choosing what I read. I try to use Philippians 4:8 as a guide and hope that my reading and reviewing reflects that.
Suspense Sisters: You say in your online bio that you came to a point when you had to rein in your reading choices as a Christian. Can you explain that for us?
Beckie Burnham: In high school I read a lot of “classics” -- books labeled great literature, yet not ones leading to God. My indiscriminate reading continued into adulthood. I wasnʼt seeking out “smut”, but neither did I seek out what was godly. What we put in our minds cannot be erased; itʼs there forever and pops up at inopportune times! God convicted me that I needed to “clean up” my reading habits and focus on books that would encourage and edify. Thatʼs when I started reading Christian fiction almost exclusively. The Christian market has expanded so much in the past years, that it is easier to find challenging novels with strong faith-based messages.
Suspense Sisters: I notice that your reviews are very honest; tactful, but with no sugar-coating. After having sampled the work of such a variety of writers, observing what should be done and what shouldn't, have you ever considered being an author yourself?
Beckie Burnham: My family is always saying, “When are you going to write a book?” It sounds simple, doesnʼt it? That question can be answered with a resounding NO! I greatly respect authors. Talent is one thing, but the time involved in writing -- researching, practicing the craft and continually striving to learn more and more -- whew! Not sure I have it in me! Itʼs relatively easy to say what is right or wrong with someoneʼs book, but to actually put pen to paper after hours of the hard background work is a daunting task. Thatʼs why I sometimes struggle with writing reviews. When I love a book, itʼs easy to write a review; when a book doesnʼt do it for me -- thatʼs difficult. How do you convey that an authorʼs "baby” isnʼt that adorable, after all? While I believe it is always important to be honest, I also strive to be kind. After all, book reviewing is subjective. What I love, you may hate and vice versa. If possible, I like to include links to positive reviews if mine is negative.
On her website, Beckie Burnham sums up her philosophy this way:
"So that's my story. I love God, I love to read and I love to be a nuisance about getting others to read. It doesn't pay much, but I hear the rewards are heavenly."
Thank you, Beckie, for so graciously sharing your insights with us. Readers, please leave a question or comment for Beckie—with your email address--and you’ll be included in the drawing for an autographed copy of Murder in the Past Tense by E.E. Kennedy.