Review: The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck – Bethany Turner

Bethany Turner. The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2017.

The fall book release season is already in full swing.  The next few months look to be filled with great novels by fan favorites and some interesting newcomers to the genre.

Ms. Turner makes her debut with The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck.  After Sarah’s marriage with her high school sweetheart ends, she turns to her book club and newfound passion for writing to reestablish her life as an independent woman.  Her hobby soon leads her to become a bestselling author of a trilogy of very steamy romance novels.  However, a life-changing conversation with her best friend leads Sarah to become a Christian.  While attempting to acclimate herself to a new church, Sarah must also decide how to fulfill her contract with her publisher for another book in keeping with her old writing life, which has brought her great wealth and acclaim.  Fortunately, Sarah benefits from the knowledge and experience of her best friend, a young pastor, and others who come to support her on her journey from a lonely, divorced romance writer to a much-loved friend and Christian author.

Told almost entirely from Sarah’s perspective, The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck brings a quirky situation to life.  Readers of contemporary Christian fiction will find this novel to be a unique addition to this fall’s releases.

Overall, I thought that The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck offered a witty and unique perspective to the genre.  The concept of the book is really interesting, as it stands out from quite a few other novels in the field.  However, some aspects of the story come across as being more similar to a character analysis or case study than a well-rounded novel.  Most of the story is written from Sarah’s perspective, which leads many of the other characters to appear very one-dimensional.  Personally, I liked some of the secondary characters much more than the primary ones, even as they felt under-written in this particular story.  Also, I found the author to take up some interesting and unique themes, including what makes for a Christian relationship.  However, the amount of focus on the “sex” question became burdensome, even to the point of impacting the novel’s pacing and this reader’s general interest in the story.

Fans of contemporary Christian fiction may find The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck to be worth checking out.  While I typically feel comfortable recommending Christian fiction to a broad audience of readers, I found the content and themes of this novel to be more appropriate to a more mature audience (at least high school, if not older).  In addition, some Christian readers may find the discussion of “sex” in Christian relationships to be outside the scope of appropriate content for novels by a Christian publisher.  I leave the determination of what is considered appropriate or not up to the individual reader, but I offer this information for general reference.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Revell for the advanced copy of The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck!

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Review: All This Time – Melissa Tagg

Melissa Tagg. All This Time. Middletown, DE: Larkspur Press, 2017.

Sadly, Melissa Tagg’s much-loved Walker Family series ends with her release of All This Time.  I’ve become a huge fan of Ms. Tagg’s work over the last several years, as she brings a thoughtful and ever-optimistic voice to her contemporary fiction.

All This Time focuses on the youngest Walker sibling, Raegan, and her journey into adulthood.  The local townsfolk of Maple Valley have come to expect Raegan to always fill the town’s part time jobs, whether at the pool, library, or anywhere else she’s needed.  Her dreams of being an artist were dashed in the midst of helping her family after her mother’s death.  However, she receives a second chance to live out her dream when she is chosen as the town’s artist for a national show that comes to the area.  In the midst of Raegan reimagining her career as an artist, her long-time crush and good friend, Bear McKinley, returns to Maple Valley with his niece and nephew in tow.  After his brother and sister-in-law disappear, Bear finds himself responsible for the two children, leading him to the one place he ever felt at home.  Together, Bear and Raegan discover how to face their fears and once again dream of the lives that they once put away to help others.

Fans of Ms. Tagg’s Walker Family series will be absolutely thrilled with this final novel.  The entire Walker family returns to Maple Valley to support Raegan and her memorable debut.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading All This Time!  Ms. Tagg brings her unique flair and approachable writing style to this novel about overcoming one’s fears and embracing one’s God-given dreams.  Raegan receives a fitting story for her quirky personality and long-time crush on Bear, even as Ms. Tagg shows an impressive amount of maturity and depth in Raegan and the rest of her cast of characters.  Half the fun of Ms. Tagg’s novels, including All This Time, comes through her online commentary (Facebook) about her writing process and love for her own characters.  I would definitely recommend that fans of her books check out her blog and Facebook feeds to find out more about the behind-the-scenes work on her novels, as they will discover a surprising number of enjoyable hints and quirky plot points that make it into her final versions.  With this book marking the end of the Walker Family series, I am very interested to see what Ms. Tagg decides to write next, whether as a stand-alone novel or series.

Fans of Ms. Tagg’s other novels, especially the Walker Family series, will absolutely want to read All This Time.  Readers who enjoy light-hearted, contemporary Christian fiction, such as written by Becky Wade and Susan May Warren, will also want to read this delightful book.

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Review: Lady Jayne Disappears – Joanna Davidson Politano

Joanna Davidson Politano. Lady Jayne Disappears. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2017.

Oftentimes, I find myself reading and reviewing books in a very different order from the finalized order that I post them.  Some books are unexpectedly disappointing, while others are surprisingly remarkable.  This debut novel is definitely one of the most impressive releases of the last several months and I am very excited to share it with all of you.

In Victorian England, most relatives of wealthy families and famous fathers live in large, luxurious homes.  Instead, Aurelie Harcourt grew up in debtor’s prison alongside her father, who the rest of England knows as the mysterious and highly-successful serial author, Nathaniel Droll.  After her father dies, Aurelie goes to live with her father’s remaining family members at the large estate that Nathaniel Droll made famous in his novels.  She decides to finish writing her father’s last serial novel about her mother’s disappearance by discovering what actually happened at the estate around the time of her own birth.  With the help of a secretive houseguest, Silas Rotherham, Aurelie soon finds that Lady Jayne’s disappearance may just be the beginning of the family’s many secrets, including those surrounding the unexpected truth of Nathaniel Droll’s demise.

Ms. Politano marks her debut with a delightful story set in Victorian England.  With complex characters, fascinating twists and turns, and a mysterious plot, readers of Christian historical fiction will definitely enjoy reading Lady Jayne Disappears.

Overall, I could not say enough good things about Lady Jayne Disappears.  From the publisher’s summary, I expected this novel to be quite dark and mysterious, leaning away from what I normally read.  Instead, the mystery at the heart of the novel was quite accessible and absolutely riveting, without falling into the suspense category.  Additionally, Ms. Politano presents rich historical details and complex characters that feel perfectly natural in their Victorian England setting.  Readers familiar with Charles Dickens’ literary works may also find some unexpected connections in this story, as Ms. Politano presents a unique look at the life of those living in debtor’s prison.  The contrast of Aurelie’s previous life and wealthy family offers a fascinating perspective on the period, while illustrating the power of serial novels and their authors to bridge this gap.  After reading this novel and the sneak preview of Ms. Politano’s next book, I cannot wait to see what she releases next!

Fans of great historical fiction, Christian or otherwise, should definitely add Lady Jayne Disappears to their must-read pile!  Those with a particular interest in Victorian England and great writers of that time will also find this story to be well worth reading.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Revell for the advanced copy of Lady Jayne Disappears!

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