Book Review: The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck

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I recently finished reading The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck by Bethany Turner.

You guys. I think Christian fiction has turned on its head. I seriously have never read a book like this in my entire life. How many books–especially Christian/inspirational romance books–have I read? Hold on, let me check my Goodreads…

459, people! 459 books! I have never, in 459 books, read one like this. I am not exaggerating when I say that this book will change how I view the inspirational romance genre for the rest of time.

Where do I even begin? It was so relatable. You know all those moments in Hallmark movies that make you roll your eyes and cringe? There was none of that. In fact, I think Bethany Turner even gave those cheesy romances a clapback or two! It addresses all the complexities of relationships that most books ignore or simply gloss over. Not here! The romance, although very much love-at-first-sight (hey, despite my cynicism, I somehow still believe it exists), was perfectly executed. There was not a single campy moment. Every issue the characters experienced was genuinely beneficial to the story and made them and their relationship stronger. It wasn’t useless drama-for-your-mama just for the sake of drama. I loved the format of the book, almost like Sarah was telling us her own story from a more mature and wise point of view. Which reminds me, all of these characters were fantastic. Every single one added depth and richness to the story and served it incredibly well. I wish I could go over every bit of the plot with you, but for the sake of time and spoilers, suffice it to say that I loved every second. As soon as I finished it (which was in one sitting), I turned around and read it a second time. It was that good!

As I’m sure you can tell, this is definitely a new favorite for me, and it’s definitely one of the best books of 2017, without a doubt. I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever watched a Hallmark movie and died a little inside at the absurdity of it or for the person who has read countless (459) romance novels and yet still believes (hopes) in love-at-first-sight. You will not be disappointed.

I received this book from the publisher, but I was in no way required to leave a positive review. All opinions are my own.

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Book Review: The Austen Escape

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Hello everyone! Today I’m going to be reviewing The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay. Now, I’ve been a fan of Katherine’s for some time now, so when I heard about her new release for this year, I jumped at the chance to read it and share my thoughts with all of you! Needless to say, my enthusiasm was well founded!

To be completely honest with you, it took me some time to fully get into this novel. The premise of the story and Katherine’s history as a writer are what drew me to this book, but it was not something that I connected with right away. Of course, many Austen fans have read books like Austenland, and this story is similar in some respects to that one. However, the tone of this book is definitely more serious and soul searching. In a way, it mirrors Austen’s writing, especially in Persuasion (which is my personal favorite). The best way to describe The Austen Escape would be to compare it to a fast food restaurant versus a chef’s table dining experience.  In most novels (especially in this inspirational romance genre with which I have a love/hate relationship), the plot is somewhat rushed and the quality of the characters and story arcs suffers as a result. While the experience you have is pretty lackluster, you get a fast and somewhat filling “meal”. Unfortunately, these types of experiences don’t stick with you for long. On the other hand, with a chef’s table dining experience, you are a guest of the chef, and you take your time slowly sampling superior quality dishes (often specialties) that take much longer to prepare and enjoy. This type of experience stays with you, and most all future meals are compared to this one. It becomes, in essence, the new standard. For me, The Austen Escape has become my new standard.

In a way, reading this book reminded me of the popular “childhood friends to lovers” trope that exists in the romance genre. You walk with it, grow with it, and then one day you realize that what you’ve been looking for has always been there. It doesn’t smack you in the face with false charm or pretense; it’s honest, dependable, and way more fulfilling. My journey with Mary led me to examine myself carefully, and sometimes, what I saw was painful. Holding up a mirror like this one to your insecurities is usually like that. I think that my initial difficulty in getting into this story was partly my own fault. The truth hurts, and sometimes, you just don’t want to hear it. But, opening myself up and being willing to listen, grow, and change (that’s what this book has done for me) made this book come alive. I’m glad I read it. To me, this is what all literature should do. You should not be the same person when you finish it as when you started out.

With all that drivel being said, I will close by sharing my favorite quote from this story. I feel it sums up my feelings on the book (and my own life) pretty succinctly.

“Sometimes you can’t see something clearly until you step away from it.” 

 

 

I received this book from the author, but I was in no way required to leave a positive review. All opinions are my own. Pre-order it today or pick it up wherever books are sold on November 7th!

Book Review: An Inconvenient Beauty

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I recently finished reading An Inconvenient Beauty by Kristi Ann Hunter. Compared to the last book in the series, this novel is quite the step up. With that said, I’m not entirely sure it was meant for me. Perhaps I’ve just become slightly jaded or particular with this genre, but little things that might not bother or stick out to a new reader of the genre irk me to my core. Now, this is not to say that the story wasn’t interesting or that it didn’t hold my attention (it did, barely), but after the prologue, I seriously considered whether it was worth my time to finish this novel. I did anyway, but the writing and the overall story arc could use some work. If I were to sum up my feelings, it would be that this book reminded me of a Hallmark movie–great concept, lackluster execution. All in all, for me, this book was just okay. I received this book from the publisher, but I was in no way required to leave a positive review. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: A Name Unknown

I recently finished reading A Name Unknown by Roseanna M. White.

Oh, Rosemary, Rosemary, Rosemary, you sweet summer child. You had no idea what you were getting yourself into. Bless her heart. 😉

I really enjoyed this novel. It has been a *while* since I enjoyed an inspirational romance this much. I know, I know. I am a tad bit critical, true, but still. Most novels in the genre these days have been, frankly, boring. I was starting to wonder if maybe it was time to move on to other things. (Grass is always greener, am I right?)

When I saw that the author was organizing a blogger/influencer team (thank you Roseanna!), I thought to myself, “What the hay? Who will it hurt? Maybe me, but whatever. Looks interesting.” Man, was I in for a ride!

They say that the best things in life are worth the wait. Who “they” are, I have no idea, but it’s true nonetheless. I waited a hot minute to get this book, but when it came, I devoured it like a starving child. I never knew I needed something this light and carefree yet also dark and deep and thought provoking. (You’re probably thinking, “Dark and deep and thought provoking in a romance novel? Really, Alannie?” Sweetie, you must be new here.) This book was everything I wanted and more. It completely exceeded my expectations.

Roseanna definitely has a skill for writing quality characters. Every single character (even background characters so deeply shrouded in obscurity) was excellently crafted. The heroine and hero were a perfect match, and I found their interactions to be the highlight of the novel. Rosemary was completely adorable, but Peter was a freaking gem. He’s so completely oblivious yet endearing that it made me grin and blush like Sailor Moon. Needless to say, I was smitten.

Besides the actual characters themselves, I also found the character arcs to be flawless. Rosemary’s journey in particular was especially well done, and I felt like her journey to faith was a genuine and heartfelt experience. Some of you long-time readers may know how important this aspect is to me. In fact, it can often make or break a novel in this inspirational genre that I have a love/hate relationship with. Needless to say, I was very pleased with how things turned out in this story. For the first time in a while, I’m excited to see what the other novels in this series turn out to be. Hopefully as fun and spellbinding as this first one!

I received this book from the author, but I was in no way required to give a positive review. All opinions are my own.

 

Book Review: Egypt’s Sister

I recently finished reading Egypt’s Sister by Angela Hunt. This was an interesting story that definitely captured my attention. The characters, especially Chava, were the strongest part of the story. I found myself wondering exactly how everything would turn out. The main plot line of the story was definitely Chava’s relationship with God, which is very unique in most inspirational fiction (although based on the name of the genre, you might assume otherwise). I appreciated that aspect of the story, and I felt that it was accomplished very well. That being said, I did not feel a particular connection to the characters, despite the fact that they were well written. I was interested in what happened to them, true, but I could have easily set this book down and never picked it up again without losing sleep over the ending. In a way, the ending contributed to this feeling, as it came out a tad anti-climactic. That being said, it might just be a matter of taste, as I do not often read biblical fiction. Overall, a well written story that just didn’t do it for me. I received this book from the publisher, but I was in no way required to leave a positive review. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: Heart on the Line

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I recently finished reading Heart on the Line by Karen Witemeyer. This was such a fun read! I’ve always been a fan of Karen Witemeyer, and her work has never failed to bring a smile to my face and a few hours of escape to another time. Heart on the Line is no exception! I adored all of the characters, and though I would say the plot is pretty predictable for veteran inspirational romance fans, it was still an enjoyable ride! The strongest point of the book is definitely the two main characters. Their chemistry was great, and they were both endearing, charming, and relatable. I was rooting for them until the final page! I would definitely recommend if you are looking for a light and entertaining western! I received this book from the publisher and was in no way required to leave a positive review. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: Under a Summer Sky

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I recently finished reading Under a Summer Sky by Melody Carlson. This was a very enjoyable read, and I felt like I was on vacation while I was reading it! It was a great story, and all the characters were lovable. I especially found myself rooting for Nicole throughout the novel. However, with that being said, I did feel like the ending was jilted and short. It was almost as if a few more chapters were missing from the story. It gave a final impression of the book being rushed. However, I do still feel like it was a good novel, and I would recommend it if you’re looking for a light, summer read. I received this book from the publisher, but I was in no way required to leave a positive review. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: True to You

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I recently finished reading True to You by Becky Wade. This was my first book by Becky Wade, and I have to say I’m impressed! I’m not normally a big contemporary romance fan, but this one was pretty enjoyable! Granted, there were some eye-roll worthy moments, but for the most part it was interesting and held my attention. I thought the main characters had a fun dynamic and an easy camaraderie, and the plot was intriguing and steady paced. There were even some moments that surprised me! However, the two main characters did have some unnecessary drama, and some of their interactions came across as a bit cliche. Overall, it was a light and fun read, and I look forward to continuing on in the series to see how things work out with the rest of the Bradford sisters! I received this book from the publisher, but I was in no way required to leave a positive review. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: Behind the Scenes

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I recently finished reading Behind the Scenes by Jen Turano. This book was extremely fast-paced in the dialogue department. I’m talking banter like you wouldn’t believe! Normally, I’m a huge fan of witty back and forth, but I think this was a little over the top. The dialogue most of the time didn’t really do anything to drive the story forward, and I found myself skipping over some parts because I was getting tired of reading their constant ribbing. The story had an interesting premise, however, which is why I continued with it. However, I didn’t feel like the central conflict made sense, nor did I feel that the villain was intimidating. This is partially because it came completely out of left field with not a whole lot of build up. It felt cheap and underdeveloped.

Permilia’s side job as a journalist was underplayed and discarded pretty early on in the story. From the publisher’s description, I was under the impression that her status as a journalist/wallflower would hold more bearing for the story. Ultimately, it did not play that big of a role, and was quickly scrapped in favor of focusing on the two main characters “witty” repartee. This near endless stream-of-consciousness-like dialogue probably would not have been such a negative thing for me if I felt that the characters had a real connection.

All in all, I felt there was too much going on in this story to be truly enjoyable. Everything that happened came across as trite and over the top, whether it was story, dialogue, or character dynamic. While I have enjoyed Jen Turano’s work in the past, this is not one that will be sticking around on my shelves for long. I received this book from the publisher, but I was in no way required to leave a positive review. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: Pursued

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I recently finished reading Pursued by Lisa Harris. What a page turner! I think this was my favorite book in this series! Nikki Boyd is back, and with an even more complex and intriguing mystery than ever before! I really enjoyed following along as Nikki put all the pieces together and refused to back down from the case. The plot and mystery in this book were unpredictable and fast-paced, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. While I’m normally a big romance fan, this particular series doesn’t do much for me in that department, despite the efforts. There’s just something about the two main characters that doesn’t stir in me a strong connection or investment in their relationship. For instance, the main romantic conflict in this book I found to be a tad trite. To me, it felt that Nikki wasn’t putting enough faith in their relationship. Although I can imagine a situation like the one presented would be difficult, I never once felt that her worries were rooted in reality. With that being said, I still enjoyed the main portion of the story, and I would recommend it to fans of thrillers and mysteries. I received this book from the publisher, but I was in no way required to give a positive review. All opinions are my own.