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: Then There Was You – Kara Isaac

Kara Isaac. Then There Was You. Bellbird Press, 2017.

Over the last several years, I have been particularly impressed by the caliber of Christian authors.  In conducting the business of the Books and Biscuits Blog, I find myself regularly chatting with authors via email and Facebook.  This week’s book actually arrived as a complete surprise from New Zealand-based author after I asked her a simple question about her latest book release.  After reading this very impressive book, I have to send a huge “THANK YOU!” to Kara for sharing this amazing story with us. :)

Stepping away from the literary-based inspiration of her previous works, Kara Isaac introduces an entirely new set of characters in her latest release Then There Was You.  American event planner, Paige McAllister, finds herself making a drastic move to Australia after an unexpected break-up with her long-time boyfriend.  With the support and friendship of her Sydney-based cousin, Paige lands a job as the logistics planner for one of Australia’s largest churches running their international women’s conference.  Along the way, she continually encounters her boss’s son, Josh Tyler, who also happens to be a famous worship leader and musician.  With plenty of failed relationships and heartbreak between them, Paige and Josh are forced to work together when his tour manager ends up out of commission.  Together, they discover that, in spite of awkward first impressions, they just may be the perfect partnership they have been looking for all along.

New Zealand-based Christian author, Kara Isaac, brings her signature humor and storytelling prowess to this delightful story of second chances and unlikely relationships.  Fans of humorous Christian contemporary fiction will be delighted by this new release.

Overall, I was absolutely thrilled with Then There Was You!  The novel includes a compelling balance of humor and heartbreak that will leave readers laughing out loud, crying into their Kleenex, and wishing for more equally great stories by Ms. Isaac.  Paige’s perspective travelling to a new country for an extended period of time offers great moments of situational comedy, spurred on by an equally great cast of Australian colleagues who make her work life full of surprises.  Josh’s role in the novel comes across as being equally weighted to Paige, rather than taking the backseat role that so often happens to male characters in some stories.  Additionally, Paige and Josh’s extended families, friends, and colleagues offer even more brilliant moments in the novel, leaving one to wish that Ms. Isaac would write more novels that build upon this cast of characters and their world.  Regardless of what she writes next, I will certainly find myself going to great lengths to track it down and read it at the earliest opportunity.

Fans of Ms. Isaac’s previous novels will definitely want to read Then There Was You.  Additionally, readers who enjoy contemporary Christian fiction with a humorous twist will also find this novel to be well worth reading at the earliest opportunity.

Special thanks to the author for the advanced copy of Then There Was You!

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Amazon – Then There Was You

Review: Sweetbriar Cottage – Denise Hunter

Denise Hunter. Sweetbriar Cottage. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2017.

Some authors are known for writing series, while others consistently write stand-alone novels.  Over the last year, a few authors have tried to attempt writing the opposite of their normal, with surprisingly positive results.

Acclaimed contemporary Christian fiction author, Denise Hunter, developed Sweetbriar Cottage as a stand-alone novel.  The story concentrates on the relationship of Noah and Josephine Mitchell, a young couple who unexpectedly discover that the paperwork for their divorce was never finalized by the judge.  In the midst of trying to rectify the final paperwork, Josephine finds herself stranded at Noah’s mountainside horse ranch in a historic blizzard.  After avoiding one another for months, Noah and Josephine are faced with an extended period of time in each other’s company.  When an emergency arises on the ranch, they must both head out into the storm, where they face nature’s wrath and risk their survival trying to return to the ranch.  In the midst of the storm, Josephine finally admits her painful history and the tragedy that eventually led to their divorce.  When faced with the real possibility of death, both must decide whether to love and forgive or finally give up on their relationship altogether.

In this story of unconditional love and forgiveness, Ms. Hunter writes a gripping tale of Josephine and Noah’s relationship.  Set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia, Sweetbriar Cottage offers an intense winter story with a Southern spin.

Overall, I appreciated the chance to read Sweetbriar Cottage.  While I’m not typically a huge fan of stories focused on broken marriages, Ms. Hunter’s books are of a consistently high caliber to try reading.  Using a series of flashback scenes throughout the novel, Ms. Hunter expertly intersperses the intense winter survival story with past moments of Josephine and Noah’s history.  Readers will find Josephine’s story to be particularly heartbreaking and intense, especially within a work of Christian fiction.  However, Josephine’s tragic past provides a significant and compelling springboard for Ms. Hunter to develop the rest of her plotline.   While some readers may not be comfortable with elements of this story, many will see the worth of this story as one of ultimate love and redemption.

Fans of Ms. Hunter’s past works will definitely want to read Sweetbriar Cottage.  While elements of this story may seem familiar to readers, Ms. Hunter’s storytelling ability shines through and illustrates why she may be one of only a limited number of authors capable of tackling this challenging story.

Ms. Hunter will kick off a new series with Blue Ridge Sunrise in November 2017!

Special thanks to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson for the advanced copy of Sweetbriar Cottage!

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Review: The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories – Celeste Fletcher McHale

Celeste Fletcher McHale. The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2017.

Celeste Fletcher McHale’s The Secret of Hummingbird Cake was one of the most surprising and unique debut works that I reviewed last year.  In sharing it with several family members, they were incredibly impressed with the overall story and characters.  When I had the chance to preview an advanced reader’s copy of Ms. McHale’s upcoming release, I jumped at the opportunity.  After finishing the book in record time, I can honestly say that the novel is well worth the read!

Stranded on a rooftop during a devastating Mississippi flood, Jacey becomes attached to her fellow survivors, a poor mother, her four sons, and a man named Colin.  Over the course of three days, Jacey and Colin formed an indescribable bond forged by their life-and-death situation.  When a chance at rescue separates Jacey and Colin, they promise one another that they will reunite, only to have their contact information and Jacey’s memory wiped away in a tragic accident in the flood waters.  A year later, Jacey and Colin are unexpectedly reunited at a friend’s wedding.  Jacey’s faulty memory, triggered by her tragic accident, begins to return after talking with Colin and reestablishing their relationship in the normalcy of their real lives.  However, the flood waters were not the only complication that Colin and Jacey encountered in the years prior.  To move forward, each must have faith to overcome their previous challenges and fears, even if it means setting aside the relationship that they each have sought to relocate after the flood.

Ms. McHale shows herself to be a resonant voice in Southern fiction, writing in a style that reaches beyond traditional Christian fiction and into the real world challenges of everyday people.  The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories will leave readers wanting far more of Ms. McHale’s stories.

Overall, I was absolutely thrilled with The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories!  After reading Ms. McHale’s debut novel, The Secret of Hummingbird Cake, I was left unsure as to whether she could ever write another story of equal caliber.  In The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories, she shows herself to be an incredible (and surprisingly consistent) storyteller.  The novel features complex and compelling characters faced with incredible, yet realistic, challenges, leaving the reader reflecting on the story long after it ends.  While some aspects of the novel may fall outside of the norm for Christian contemporary fiction, Ms. McHale’s story offers a fresh and genuine tale that will resonate with a Christian audience.  Additionally, the storyline, including the characters’ faults and challenges, will also ring true for a general readership.  In this purely Southern tale, Ms. McHale offers an insightful look at the true meaning of redemption and second chances, whether for a family, marriage, friendship, or romantic relationship.

Fans of Ms. McHale and The Secret of Hummingbird Cake will definitely want to read The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories.  Likewise, readers who enjoy Southern-inspired Christian fiction will also want to check out this novel.  Ms. McHale writes for a broad audience, with moderate to fast pacing of her story.  Some readers may dislike some of the novel’s language and actions of the characters, which may impact the age-appropriateness of this story.  However, the novel is well worth the read for those who can appreciate the overall plotline and the characters’ redemption, in spite of their imperfections.

Special thanks to the author (Celeste Fletcher McHale) and BookLook Bloggers for the advanced copy of The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories!

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