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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