Wednesday, November 29, 2017

"The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck" by Bethany Turner

What if the nation's most popular erotic romance writer became a Christian and then fell in love with her pastor? This is the unlikely premise of The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck.

Becoming a Christian is the best and worst thing that has ever happened to Sarah Hollenbeck. Best because, well, that's obvious. Worst because, up to this point, she's made her very comfortable living as a well-known, bestselling author of steamy romance novels that would leave the members of her new church blushing. Now Sarah is trying to reconcile her past with the future she's chosen. She's still under contract with her publisher and on the hook with her enormous fan base for the kind of book she's not sure she can write anymore. She's beginning to think that the church might frown on her tithing on royalties from a "scandalous" book. And the fact that she's falling in love with her pastor doesn't make things any easier.

With a powerful voice, penetrating insight, and plenty of wit, Bethany Turner explodes onto the scene with a debut that isn't afraid to deal with the thorny realities of living the Christian life.

What to say about The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck? It's definitely unlike any other Christian romance I've read. "Not your mama's Christian romance" is what comes to mind. It's very melodramatic—basically like a Christian soap opera. And it deals with issues, especially regarding sexuality, in a way that isn't often seen in Christian fiction. What I mean by that is that characters actually have discussions about sex and how hard waiting for marriage can be. Sometimes those discussions went perhaps a littler farther than I would've liked, but I was glad for their presence.

I really enjoyed Bethany Turner's writing voice. She brings a light, fun quality to a very dramatic story. Some of the twists were a bit over the top, but they fit well in the whole "soap opera" feel of the novel—because when did anyone ever accuse a soap opera of being realistic?

The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck does feature insta-love, which is one of my least favorite romantic tropes. Ben and Sarah's relationship seemed to be based nearly completely on attraction/lust, and it progressed soooooooo quickly. And this is where I'm torn, as Turner wrote a great romance—I was pulling for Ben and Sarah, even as I was internally cautioning them not to go so fast.

So here's where I go back to my soap opera analogy. If you look at The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck as a cleaner soap, rather than a romance that could conceivably happen, you'll really enjoy it. It's not for everyone (I won't be passing it along to the coworker who normally reads the books I review), but it certainly is a fun read. 4 stars.

Buy the book. (It's also currently free on Kindle Unlimited.)

Bethany Turner is the director of administration for Rock Springs Church in Southwest Colorado. A former VP/operations manager of a commercial bank and a three-time cancer survivor (all before she turned thirty-five), Bethany knows that when God has plans for your life, it doesn't matter what anyone else has to say. Because of that, she's chosen to follow his call to write. She lives with her husband and their two sons in Colorado, where she writes for a new generation of readers who crave fiction that tackles the thorny issues of life with humor and insight. For more, visit

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Revell through the Revell Reads program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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