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!

Looking for this book? Support the Books and Biscuits blog, while shopping at:
Amazon – The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck

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!

Looking for this book? Support the Books and Biscuits blog, while shopping at:
Amazon – http://amzn.to/2fIVt6V

Review: To Wager Her Heart – Tamera Alexander

Tamera Alexander. To Wager Her Heart. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017.

When I was young, my dad would take the family to various museums and other locations to see trains.  They always seemed immense and captivating, especially to a tiny kid.  Even now, I have an odd fascination with trains and found this novel’s inclusion of detailed descriptions of nineteenth-century railroads to be an odd highlight of the story. :)

To Wager Her Heart, the third book of Ms. Alexander’s Belle Meade Plantation series, returns readers to post-Civil War Nashville, Tennessee.  Alexandra Jamison escapes an arranged marriage, forcing her to look elsewhere for a job to support herself.  With teaching skills acquired from her deceased fiancé, Alexandra finds a position as a teacher at Fisk University, a freedmen’s university in Nashville.  Unfortunately, the position comes with few perks and a tiny salary, resulting in her accepting a tutoring position with Sylas Rutledge.  Originally from Colorado, Sy readily admits that Southern manners leave him perplexed.  With a chance of a lifetime to partner on a venture with General William Giles Harding of Belle Meade Plantation, Sy must impress the General and Nashville society to ensure the success of his Northeast Line Railroad.  Sharing unorthodox opinions about education and society, Sy and Alexandra soon find themselves risking everything to stand up for their beliefs.  However, a tragic train accident that connects them may be the one thing keeping them apart.

Ms. Alexander returns for the final volume of her fascinating Belle Meade Plantation series.  Fans of her work will applaud her development of this story, as it bridges intriguing historical events and people found in the region’s history.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading To Wager Her Heart!  Ms. Alexander expertly develops her characters, drawing in the reader from the very first chapter.  The novel includes an unexpected thread focused on the Fisk University Jubilee Singers and their attempts to save the university from insolvency.  While music, education, and railroads seem like an odd combination within a story, Ms. Alexander somehow makes it a perfect fit!  The level of research to pull together such diverse topics, while developing a wonderful sense of place throughout the novel is exceptionally impressive.  Additionally, this novel shows Ms. Alexander’s further growth as a writer, as this and her last several books have started to have an even smoother writing style, better pacing, and tighter storylines.  While I have always enjoyed Ms. Alexander’s novels, I am looking forward to her future work even more as a result of this growth.

Fans of Ms. Alexander’s previous novels, especially those in the Belle Meade Plantation series, will definitely want to read To Wager Her Heart!  Likewise, readers who appreciate great Christian historical fiction with a focus on the post-Civil War era South will also find this novel to be well worth reading.

Ms. Alexander kicks off a new series with her release of Christmas at Carnton: A Novella this October!

Special thanks to NetGalley and Zondervan for the advanced copy of To Wager Her Heart!

Looking for this book? Support the Books and Biscuits blog, while shopping at:
Amazon – To Wager Her Heart

Review: The Writing Desk – Rachel Hauck

Rachel Hauck. The Writing Desk. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017.

Following a bit of advice from one of the Christian authors that I regularly review, I upgraded my Kindle to better handle its near constant use.  As I’ve discovered over the last several months, reading paperback books can be fairly tricky with a newborn, but an e-book reader works great one-handed!  The Writing Desk happened to be the first novel that I read with my new e-book reader and I can honestly say that the technology has significantly improved from what it was four or five years ago.

In The Writing Desk, Tenley Roth comes from a long line of accomplished authors.  After losing her father, she writes an unexpected bestselling novel inspired by his life.  With an upcoming deadline for her sophomore novel, she soon finds herself facing a severe case of writer’s block.  Escaping her life in New York, Tenley travels to Florida to assist her mother through her cancer treatments.  While there, she meets Jonas Sullivan and his family, as well as finding some much-needed inspiration in the form of a writing desk in her mother’s library.  The desk’s owner was once an author herself.  Growing up in the Gilded Age, Birdie Shehorn was forced to choose between social success and love.  In the face of family disapproval, Birdie turns to her storytelling abilities, finding that God’s will for her life does not look like the typical romance story of her age.  Birdie and Tenley’s respective journeys as authors come together across time, as deceptions fall away in the face of truth.

Fans of Ms. Hauck’s previous contemporary novels, including The Wedding Dress and The Wedding Chapel, will be delighted with this newest release.  The Writing Desk continues Ms. Hauck’s style of intertwining stories from the past and present, even as they reveal timeless themes and challenges encountered by her characters.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Writing Desk!  While Ms. Hauck’s previous novels, specifically The Wedding Shop, The Wedding Chapel, and The Wedding Dress, have been well received, I honestly enjoyed The Writing Desk even more.  Both the contemporary and historical components of the story were absolutely riveting, with a tight writing style accessible to all readers.  Ms. Hauck is definitely in the top tier of authors that I review and this book was an absolute delight to read.  The Gilded Age storyline was well worth the effort and extra research that Ms. Hauck admits in the author’s note that she had to put into it.  That historical plotline was strong enough that she could have easily turned it into a stand-alone book.  However, it will definitely reach and be greatly appreciated by an even wider audience when combined with the contemporary storyline.

Readers who have previously enjoyed Ms. Hauck’s novels, especially The Wedding Shop, The Wedding Chapel, and The Wedding Dress, will be absolutely thrilled with The Writing Desk.  Likewise, fans of contemporary Christian fiction, especially by authors such as Susan May Warren, will also want to read this book.

Special thanks to BookLook Bloggers for the advanced copy of The Writing Desk!

Looking for this book? Support the Books and Biscuits blog, while shopping at:
Amazon – The Writing Desk

Review: A Name Unknown – Roseanna White

Roseanna M. White. A Name Unknown. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

Reading a new series is always a risk.  Even for a much-loved author, a new series offers an entirely different set of characters, settings, and situations that may be more or less appealing than their other stories.  However, I also find it to be a great opportunity to see an author’s growth as a writer.

Ms. White releases the first novel of her new Shadows Over England series with A Name Unknown.  In the months before World War I, Peter Holstein faces suspicion due to his German heritage.  As the British monarchy considers changing their family name to something less German, Peter must also prove his loyalty to England.  In an effort to justify his land holdings and citizenship, he hires Rosemary Gresham to find the family documents in his chaotic and disorderly library.  Unbeknownst to Peter, Rosemary arrives on his doorstep with ulterior motives.  She has been hired as a known thief to masquerade as a librarian to determine Peter’s allegiance to either England or Germany.  As Peter and Rosemary work together to find the family’s history, Peter’s activities behind locked doors raise suspicion.  However, the truth of his past and present activities may just be the key to his and Rosemary’s future.

A Name Unknown offers an intriguing storyline with a combination of romance, suspense, and humor that will delight fans of Christian historical fiction.  Rosemary, Peter, and the story’s other characters provide a fascinating perspective of the months leading up to the start of World War I.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading A Name Unknown!  While I had somewhat mixed feelings about Ms. White’s previous Ladies of the Manor series, this new release presents a significantly stronger example of her writing.  The concept behind this new series appears to be much more intriguing, capturing the imagination of the reader from the very beginning of the novel.  Additionally, A Name Unknown reveals a significant improvement from Ms. White’s previous series in terms of the quality of her historical research and ability to incorporate these details into the storyl.  With a strong plot, cast of characters, historical basis, and an unexpected sense of humor, this book serves as the whole package, presenting a new high for Ms. White’s work.  I look forward to seeing how she continues to build out this new series and her future novels, based on the level of excellence found in A Name Unknown.

Fans of Ms. White’s previous novels, including those found in her Ladies of the Manor, will definitely want to read A Name Unknown.  Additionally, readers who enjoy historical Christian fiction with a touch of mystery and intrigue will also find this novel to be well worth trying.

Ms. White continues the Shadows Over England series with her release of A Song Unheard in January 2018!

Special thanks to NetGalley and Bethany House Publishers for an advanced copy of A Name Unknown!

Looking for this book? Support the Books and Biscuits blog, while shopping at:
Amazon – A Name Unknown