The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck – Bethany Turner – Revell – Published 3 October 2017
Steamy romance writer Sarah Hollenbeck’s career is at its peak, but reconciling her writing with her newfound faith proves more difficult than she imagined–and falling for her pastor doesn’t make things any easier.
Hilarious. Honest. This novel takes everything you think you know about Christian fiction and totally shakes it until you have something so wonderful, delightful, surprising, and authentic, something that captures the agonising (and sometimes embarrassing) beauty of life and love.
Newly divorced, Sarah Hollenbeck turns to writing to fill the gaps in her life. When poetry doesn’t work out, she tries romance. And surprisingly has huge success. Now a hugely successful author of three very steamy romances, her life is again shaken when she becomes a born-again Christian. Trying to reconcile her life and writing with her newfound faith, everything becomes more complicated when she meets and falls in love with Ben Delaney – her pastor.
The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck is written almost as if Sarah is sitting with you, a dear friend, and taking you into her confidence, sharing with you her story. The book begins just after her divorce and explains everything, from the first few lonely months, to her transition to writing, the rise of her success, her conversion to Christianity, and her falling in love. It is all written in this conversation, recollection-like format. It does seem like a lot of telling rather than showing, but it works incredibly well for the story. Not only does it give the reader a clear view of everything that has happened to Sarah, but it also explains her personality. It lets readers get inside her head – a truly hilarious place to be.
At first, Sarah is lost, hurting, and totally judgmental. Through her story it is so very easy to see the development in her character. While her decision to become a Christian might be sudden, the changes I could see over the course of this story were not so dramatic. She isn’t suddenly less judgmental, but she makes an effort to not be quite so closed minded. And slowly, gradually a complete change is made, all seen through the little things, all displayed through her consistent sense of humour and a unique Sarah-ness that is hard to put into words. The book doesn’t tell us how Sarah becomes a Christian, instead this book shows Sarah becoming a Christian.
With such accuracy, this novel captures that wonderful journey of faith, life and love. I loved that it never shied away from some tough topics. Everything from divorce, sex, dating, adultery, death, churches, and family are up for honest and open discussion. It is real! Never sanctimonious or perfect in its unattainability. There are also heaps of various literature and movie references (a lot of which, apart from the Sound of Music ones, went totally over my head).
There are so many, many things I loved about this book. The friendship between Sarah and Piper really shines. Piper is the one to confront Sarah on the atrocity that is her poetry. Piper is the one to lead Sarah to Christ. Piper is there for Sarah through all the bumps of new Christianity, with love, understanding, brutal honesty, and really good humour. This book also carries strong themes of family, grief, and relationships. And then there is the romance.
Ahhhh, the romance. Wow. Ben and Sarah connect from the minute they meet. Literally. It might seem sudden, insta-love like, but there is absolutely no denying their chemistry, connection, or the time and effort they put into their relationship on a soul level. I loved that their passion was never brushed over. I loved that they talk about their desire, that they actively put into place plans to ensure they stay within the boundaries they have set. It’s not easy and they don’t portray it as such and that makes it all the more real and relatable to the average human. But their romance is so incredibly sweet.
At times I found myself rereading lines a couple times just to soak in the sheer brilliance of it all. I adored this book. Upfront, honest, and so very hilarious, it was a delight to read. I can’t wait to share this with my friends, with readers who love modern, clever, and funny Christian romance. I also can’t wait to read whatever Bethany Turner next gifts us readers – it is sure to be just as surprisingly wonderful. But for now, I will content myself with rereading this delightful novel.
The publishers provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.
Genre: Christian contemporary.
Themes: Romance, faith, writing, authors, friendship, pastors, churches, family, children, grief, relationships, dating and sex, Christianity.
Advisory: References to sex, adultery and erotica novels.
Published: 3 October 2017 by Revell.
Format: Hardcover, paperback, ebook. 304 pages.