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.
I enjoyed reading The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck, but I did initially have mixed feelings on whether or not I’d like the story.
At the start we meet Sarah and she comes across as a bit arrogant and self absorbed. Being in her head space (the book is written in first person point-of-view in an easy to read style reminiscent of chick lit) wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience. Sarah is the mean girl in her book club. She creates secret snide nicknames for the other attendees she looks down on, and she doesn’t actually know their real names.
Sarah’s ex-husband cheated on her, and Sarah’s way of coping with her divorce is to write a steamy romance novel. She hits the publishing jackpot and becomes a famous author with a lucrative book contract.
When Sarah becomes a Christian, her other life as a steamy romance author is a big problem. Her initial attraction to Ben is compelling, and they’re drawn to each other despite their differences. Ben is the widowed new pastor at her new church who has an adorable young daughter. He is taken aback by Sarah’s occupation, but he looks beyond the stereotypes of romance authors and the judgemental tendencies of church people to discover the real Sarah.
An aspect of the story I appreciated was Sarah’s struggle with her physical attraction to Ben. This fitted her background as a romance author who wrote raunchy scenes and an ex-wife who wasn’t loved and cherished by her former husband. Sarah’s emotional baggage is real and enormous, and it doesn’t instantly disappear when she becomes a Christian. Her life is messy and complicated and her impulsive nature leads her into trouble.
The last half of the book is where the story really takes off as secrets are revealed and Sarah is forced to confront the consequences of her life choices. Her faith and her relationship with Ben is tested, and we journey with Sarah and watch her change and mature during the story.
I recommend The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck to romance readers who enjoy fun and entertaining contemporary romances.