After her seemingly perfect life falls apart, Sarah Hollenbeck reinvents herself as a successful author of steamy romance novels. At the height of her fame, Sarah becomes a Christian. Determined to leave her old life behind completely, she experiences culture shock as she throws herself into a new lifestyle.
But her old identity isn’t so easy to leave behind. Her fans and her publisher are clamoring for a new release. Meanwhile, Sarah’s past is one she tries to keep quiet at her new church, especially when she begins dating her pastor. Sarah is sincere in her desire for a complete personal transformation. But navigating the expectations, demands and privacy concerns of her new life presents a challenge.
Author Bethany Turner is a new voice in the world of Christian fiction and one I hope to hear more from in the future. I absolutely loved her debut The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck. Turner’s writing is witty and engaging with characters I found endearing and not at all cliched.
The premise of this book is unique to any that I’ve read before. It is a fish out of water story for the main character. Having grown up in church, I forget that it is a type of culture with it’s own traditions, language and unspoken rules. Seeing Sarah adapt to this culture gave me an outsider’s perspective that I really appreciate. It’s a good reminder that what is normal to me may not be normal to everyone.
I appreciated Sarah’s journey of transformation, particularly because I could relate to it. She begins the story as a trophy wife who doesn’t know herself at all. She’s a real person, with real flaws, one of which is being self-absorbed. This caused me to be frustrated with her at times. Sarah also has the habit of hiding behind a false front and being passive in her relationships. Despite all of her flaws I still found her to be totally loveable. I liked her innate honesty and lack of pretension. Plus, her outsider’s perspective of the Christian life leads to some pretty funny moments.
I found Ben and Sarah’s love at first sight romance a bit hard to accept, mostly because I don’t know if such a thing could actually happen. But I loved that Ben’s identity is not rooted in his job as a pastor. This allows him to accept Sarah for who she is, without judgment. He refuses to let his position hinder his relationship with Sarah. The chemistry between them is well written, with some rather steamy moments which still remain chaste. Aside from his blindness regarding a female friend who interferes in his relationship with Sarah, I think Ben is almost too good to be true. But he makes for an excellent hero. Who would have thought a pastor could be so sexy?
With the exception of Sarah, I would have liked to see a bit more character development, particularly among some of the lesser characters. Although I do have to give a shout out to Sarah’s best friend Piper. Her ability to both confront and support Sarah make her one of the best friends ever.
With it’s unique story line, light hearted tone, and plentiful humorous moments, The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck is one of my favorite debuts this year. I will definitely be looking forward to the next release by Bethany Turner.