Book Spotlight, Author Interview & GIVEAWAY: Just Look Up by Courtney Walsh

Today’s post is all about a new release from an author with THE COOLEST NAME ever – COURTNEY Walsh! (See what I did there? We Courtneys can be rare, so we have to stick together.) Courtney Walsh has published a new contemporary romance novel, Just Look Up, with Tyndale House Publishers. She has taken the time to chat with me today about this new story, AND has offered to give away a signed paperback copy of Just Look Up here on the blog! Woohoo!

About the Book

Just Look UpAfter tirelessly climbing the ranks of her Chicago-based interior design firm, Lane Kelley is about to land her dream promotion when devastating news about her brother draws her back home–a quaint tourist town full of memories she’d just as soon forget. With her cell phone and laptop always within reach, Lane aims to check on her brother while staying focused on work–something her eclectic family doesn’t understand.

Ryan Brooks never expected to settle down in Harbor Pointe, Michigan, but after his final tour of duty, it was the only place that felt like home. Now knee-deep in a renovation project that could boost tourism for the struggling town, he is thrilled to see Lane, the girl he secretly once loved, even if the circumstances of her homecoming aren’t ideal.

Their reunion gets off to a rocky start, however, when Ryan can’t find a trace of the girl he once knew in the woman she is today. As he slowly chips away at the walls Lane has built, secrets from his past collide with a terrible truth even he is reluctant to believe. Facing a crossroads that could define his future with Lane and jeopardize his relationship with the surrogate family he’s found in the Kelleys, Ryan hopes Lane can see that maybe what really matters has been right in front of her all along–if only she’d just look up.

Also, you can watch this adorable book trailer for Just Look Up starring Courtney Walsh AND her husband!

Interview with the Author

What inspired you to write Just Look Up?

It was on a trip to New York City after several years away from it. I can’t explain how much NYC means to me—I just LOVE it so much—so on our first day there, we were walking down the street, and I was completely enthralled. I was so excited to be back there, and I couldn’t stop looking at the buildings, the people, the city…but I quickly noticed everyone headed toward me was looking down. Eyes on their phones.

Inside, I was silently screaming, “Just Look Up! Don’t you see what you’re missing?!” Because when you see something every day, it becomes mundane. But to me, it was thrilling…and I started thinking about those three words—just look up—and wondering, what about my mundane life am I missing because I’ve got my eyes glued to the phone?

And that’s when I get the idea for this book…

What message or theme do you want to communicate to readers with this story?

It deals with the whole idea that we need to disconnect to reconnect. That we’re a device-addicted society and if we’d put down our phones every once in a while, we’d discover SO many things that we’re missing…but, honestly, at its core, to me, this story is about something more. It’s about the way we (especially as women) are constantly striving, trying to prove ourselves. It’s about how we don’t rest or stop or pause or take time for ourselves because we’re always taking care of everything and everyone else. It’s about the love of a God who offers grace so freely, never making us earn it or win him over, because that is a lesson I need to learn over and over and over…

What was most challenging about writing a story in this setting?

Honestly, the setting didn’t give me many problems. I write present day and this town I’ve created, Harbor Pointe, Michigan, is based off of many I’ve visited. What was challenging was reliving some of my own childhood pain. My main character grew up overweight and is bullied/teased for it, and much of what she goes through is real—not imagined. But putting yourself back to a place you’d rather forget is never exactly fun. My poor husband!

Which character was your favorite to write?

Brooks! My hero, Ryan Brooks, was so fun to write, especially since he’s not like my other heroes. He’s funny—not brooding. He teases Lane. He unapologetically pursues her, which makes her uncomfortable, so that was really fun to write!

He sounds like my kinda hero 😉

Just for fun: Do you have any hobbies? 

My husband and I own a performing arts studio and youth theatre, so I’d say theatre is sort of a hobby (even though it’s also our job.) I love it so much—and love working with so many awesome kids!

If you could live in any other time period in history, which would it be and why?

Gosh, my first thought was…the 1950’s, but I’m 98% sure poodle skirts would NOT be flattering on my hips…I think I’m too prissy to live in any era where there is no electricity or indoor plumbing! Maybe I was born at exactly the right time?! 🙂

What are you currently reading?

I just finished an Elin Hilderbrand novel and I’m getting ready to start True to You by Becky Wade and Life After by Katie Ganshert, both of which I cannot WAIT to read! 🙂

This was such fun! Thank you, Courtney, for taking the time to answer my questions! I look forward to reading Just Look Up!

About the Author
courtney8web-1Courtney Walsh is the author of Paper Hearts, Change of Heart, and the Sweethaven series. Her debut novel, A Sweethaven Summer, was a New York Times and USA Today e-book bestseller and a Carol Award finalist in the debut author category. In addition, she has written two craft books and several full-length musicals. Courtney lives with her husband and three children in Illinois, where she is also an artist, theater director, and playwright. Visit her online at www.courtneywalshwrites.com.

 

 

Giveaway

Now, on to the giveaway fine print! Giveaway is for one (1) signed paperback, U.S addresses only, please. Giveaway is open 1 week until 7/20/17, 11:59 pm. CT.

To enter, comment with a valid email address. Let’s talk books! Have you read any of Courtney’s novels? What are you currently reading? Do you have a favorite reading routine?

Review & Author Interview: With You Always by Jody Hedlund

I ALWAYS love it when a novel shines light on a lesser-known historical fact, era, or event. Often, there is nothing more fascinating that real life. In this case, the time period is 1850s New York to Illinois, during a challenging economic downturn. This was especially hard on immigrant families, and subsequently children AND women were sent west to find a better life, on what is now known as the Orphan Train. With You Always by Jody Hedlund tells a fictional story based on the journeys many women took to provide a better life for their families. Read on for more about the book, my review, and an interview with Jody Hedlund!

About the Book

When a financial crisis in 1850s New York leaves three orphaned sisters nearly destitute, the oldest, Elise Neumann, knows she must take action. She’s had experience as a seamstress, and the New York Children’s Aid Society has established a special service: placing out seamstresses and trade girls. Even though Elise doesn’t want to leave her sisters for a job in Illinois, she realizes this may be their last chance.

The son of one of New York City’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, Thornton Quincy faces a dilemma. His father is dying, and in order to decide which of his sons will inherit everything, he is requiring them to do two things in six months: build a sustainable town along the Illinois Central Railroad, and get married. Thornton is tired of standing in his twin brother’s shadow and is determined to win his father’s challenge. He doesn’t plan on meeting a feisty young woman on his way west, though.

Find With You Always on Amazon | Goodreads

Review

With You Always by Jody Hedlund.jpgAuthor Jody Hedlund dependably pens characters with well-established personalities. I loved the nurturing tendencies of Elise and the gentlemanly determination of Thornton. It *did* take me a few chapters to really settle into the plot and the direction the story was taking, but I empathized with the characters immediately, especially concerning the plight of Elise and her family.

I liked that the challenges both Elise and Thornton face are not only tactile and physical but also challenges to their very hearts. Elise, for instance, faces finding a place for her family AND coming to terms with her faith that God is constant, and for her. Thornton deals with the manner of proving himself; whether choosing to set aside his pride is worth a greater, selfless task he can accomplish in the wake of his dreams.

Through the ups and downs of Elise and Thornton’s intersecting journeys, a sweetly natural romance emerges. Jody handles this with her signature style (read: era-appropriate swooniness) and realistic conflicts. The romance combines with the threads of faith, a story of finding a “true home”, and the belonging found with friends in a close community to make With You Always a rich story AND a lovely introduction to a new series.

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for the complimentary review copy of this book. This review is my honest opinion.

 

Interview with the Author

What is the inspiration behind your new Orphan Train series?

I have long been fascinated by the era of the Orphan Trains and the heart-wrenching stories of the homeless and helpless young orphans that were taken from the streets of New York City and other eastern cities and shipped West by the dozens. I was familiar with stories of those scared orphans who were placed out in what was thought to be a more wholesome, healthy environment of the newly settled Mid-Western states. Some of the orphans found happy endings and were adopted into loving families. Others experienced great abuse and heartache in their new homes.

While stories of the orphans who rode the trains have been told—and rightly so—the stories of the women who were involved in the movement are not as well known. One of the things I particularly like to do when telling my stories, is focus on women who have been overlooked by the pages of history. I consider it a great privilege to be able to bring forgotten women to life for our modern generation. Thus, throughout this series, I’ll be focusing each book on a different aspect of the Orphan Train movement, particularly from the perspective of women who experienced riding the trains in one form or another.

What do you hope readers take away from With You Always?

One of my hopes in telling this story is to leave readers with the reminder that God is walking with us in whatever dark valley we’re going through. Often, like Elise, we tend to pull away from God and let the bitterness of our circumstances drive us into a cave of isolation and self-blame and heartache. But God wants us to realize that even if we pull away from Him, He’s still there walking by our side, waiting for us to reach out our hand and grab ahold of Him. He never leaves us or forsakes us. He’s there waiting.

An e-novella, An Awakened Heart, kicks off the series. What is the novella about, and is it a must-read in order to understand the series?

An Awakened Heart is not a must-read in order to understand the series. But I do highly recommend reading it. (Plus it’s FREE, so you have nothing to lose by giving it a try!) The e-novella introduces a couple, Guy and Christine, who are both passionate about helping the poor immigrants crowded into the overflowing and dirty tenements of New York City. The novella shows their efforts to bring about change in the city, but also brings them together in a satisfying love story.

The novella also introduces the three orphan sisters who will each become main characters for the three full-length novels in the series. It gives some of the background information on their situation, particularly how they become orphans, which I think readers will find helpful as well as informative.

What are you working on next?

The second book in the orphan train series releases next summer in 2018. The story continues with Marianne Neumann. She gets involved in the orphan train movement as one of the placing agents and accompanies the orphans as they ride the trains west. I hope readers will enjoy Marianne’s story and also appreciate learning more about the orphan train movement from the eyes of the compassionate workers who tried to place the orphans into new homes.

Connect with Jody

Facebook  | Twitter | Author Website | Instagram | Pinterest

Book Review: The White Feather Murders by Rachel McMillan

Finishing a wonderful book series always has its pluses and minuses. The great thing? A wrapped-up storyline and a picture of what happily-ever-after looks like for the characters. The sad thing? Saying goodbye with these two words: “The End”. The ending of The White Feather Murders (book 3 in series) by Rachel McMillan had all the right elements to be satisfactory while leaving room to dream and wonder about the future of the characters of the Herringford and Watts Mysteries. (and, with recent bookish news from Rachel, I don’t think this is the last we’ll hear about this troupe.)

*note: I think these books should be read in order for the best possible literary experience. If you haven’t yet, go check out books 1 & 2 first!*

About the Book

The White Feather Murders by Rachel McMillan

Uncommon Heroes…or Unsuspecting Victims?

Toronto, 1914. Merinda Herringford and Jem Watts never could have imagined their crime-solving skills would set them up as emblems of female empowerment in a city preparing to enter World War I at the behest of Great Britain. Yet, despite their popularity, the lady detectives can’t avoid the unrest infiltrating every level of society.

A war measure adopted by Mayor Montague puts a target on Jem and her Italian husband, Ray DeLuca. Meanwhile, deep-rooted corruption in the police force causes their friend, Constable Jasper Forth, to wonder if his thirst for upholding the law would be best quenched elsewhere.

In spite of these distractions, Merinda, Ray, and Jasper join with other honorable and courageous city leaders in the Cartier Club, which exists to provide newly arrived residents of Toronto with a seamless integration in the city.

When a club member turns up dead, bearing a slanderous white feather, will Merinda, Jem, and those they hold dear be able to solve the high-stakes mystery before they’re all picked off, one by one?

Review

One important tidbit you won’t glean from reading the synopsis is the presence of a 5th lead character: the city of Toronto. Toronto is much more than a setting — it’s shown as a living, breathing, and ever-changing entity through author Rachel McMillan’s pen and Jem and Merinda’s eyes. It establishes the tone for the series, exposing a “slice of life” in the 1910s that was as tumultuous as it was vibrant. The city, in a way, is essential in shaping each of the (other) four main characters as much as it influences their lives and propels them into another mystery. The conflict of the looming Great War, along with its political struggles, adds complexity in introducing immigration and patriotism as new story layers and challenges.

It’s not all seriousness and mystery, though! This story is witty twists and turns, lady detectives, bowler hats, Sherlockian reasoning, suspect political leaders, a flamboyant peacock, the frenzied start of WWI, and plenty of Italian mumblings from Ray and “Cracker Jacks!” exclamations from Merinda. It’s fun and just light enough to be a cozy mystery while delving a little deeper into themes of friendship and purpose.

Speaking of friendship, my FAVORITE part of this book (and this series, really), is the way friendship is portrayed. With four main characters and their unique roles, the relationship dynamics have ample time to evolve and grow to a remarkable maturity. The complexity of it all is more than just a camaraderie or temporary commitment among the four. No, it’s a lifelong purpose, the intermingling of a complimentary partnership for Jem and Merinda, a romance for Ray and Jem (and just how that affects the aforementioned partnership), a reliance and trust for them all depending on the honorable Jasper, and a bit of unrequited love where Jasper and Merinda are concerned. It’s beautiful and messy and truth-filled.

Bravo to Rachel for ending this series the way it does! Some might say a few details are handled unconventionally for the genre, but I think those little conclusions are what make this story shine on the shelf. This book is everything I wanted it to be — and everything I didn’t realize I needed it to be. It’s like craving Oreo cookies with an ice cold glass of milk and getting a hot chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream instead. It’s still that combination of chocolate and creamy goodness, but a thousand times better (yet distinctly different). I will still want Oreos at some point, but I’m much happier with the surprising brownies. This story might be better suited, though, to a comparison involving lemons or Turkish coffee :)!

Thank you to Harvest House Publishers for the complimentary review copy. This review reflects my honest opinion.

See what I thought of the previous books/novellas in the series~

#0.5 A Singular & Whimsical Problem | #1 The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder

#1.5 Of Dubious and Questionable Memory | #2 A Lesson in Love and Murder 

#2.5 Conductor of Light

About the Author
Rachel McMillanRachel McMillan is a keen history enthusiast and a lifelong bibliophile. When not writing or reading, she can most often be found drinking tea and watching British miniseries. Rachel lives in bustling Toronto, where she works in educational publishing and pursues her passion for art, literature, music, and theater.

Rachel’s Bookish ramblings are housed at A Fair Substitute For Heaven

Twitter: @rachkmc

Instagram: @rachkmc

Facebook: rachkmc1

Pinterest: @rachkmc

 

 

Review: “Shoes to Fill” by Lynne Gentry

Review: “Shoes to Fill” by Lynne Gentry

A few months ago, I reviewed author Lynne Gentry’s independent publishing venture, Walking ShoesIt was the start of a new contemporary family series with southern charm, humor, and serious life obstacles, the “Mt. Hope Southern Adventures” series. Today I’m sharing my review of the second book in the series, Shoes to Fill. It continues the journey of this little pastor’s family living in west Texas as they learn to cope with the aftermath of personal loss and find joy and purpose once again.

About the Book

stf-jpeg-642x1024Shoes to Fill

The highly-educated millennial, David Harper, is adrift. He is also the pastor’s son. Or he was, until his father dropped dead in the pulpit. When David learns his widowed mother is in danger of losing the roof over her head, he surprises everyone, most of all himself, and steps in to fill his father’s shoes. David knows it won’t be easy to dynamite the small congregation into the twenty-first century, but it’s the tough little blonde who blows his world apart. Return once again to the humor and drama of the small Texas town of Mt. Hope. Tear-jerking candor. Face-paced humor. Heart-melting romance.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

While this book could be read on its own, I think it would be better enjoyed in sequence as the second book in the series to fully understand the obstacles already undertaken by the characters.

This story is just the right combination of drama and humor, continuing themes of healing and hope that began in book 1. The quirky humor and pop culture references (like Hallmark movies and Quigley Down Under! 🙂 ) offsets the serious themes at the heart of the story. These characters’ lives show how God can take something awful and make something good come of it — all because it brings Him glory along the way.

David, in particular, grows tremendously during this story. With help from both his biological and church family, he starts to see past his own grief to realize other people are hurting –some still in their own grief, others dealing with many sources of pain. And, on the romance side of things, Amy (the “tough little blonde”) is so complementary to him; from sharing a caring heart to understanding grief and the crazy community they live in.

Speaking of the community, the secondary characters in this story are special. They establish a sense of “home” within the story and serve to show what a heart for people David has. Leona, David’s mom, shares a little perspective in this book, too, because her story is not over yet (bring on book 3!).

There was one comical device used near the end of the story that I thought was a little overdone to the point of being less realistic, but it served its purpose to upset a certain situation and bring about clarity to the characters. Other than that, I enjoyed this glimpse of small town Texas living and identified with the struggles of the characters. I particularly liked how David’s family is portrayed as giving him a legacy of faith but he still has to discern his own calling.

Thank you to the author and publisher, Travel Light Press, for the complimentary review copy in exchange for my honest review.

IMG_9446 Hi-Res_300dpi_Vert_CropLynne Gentry knew marrying a preacher might change her plans. She didn’t know how ministry would change her life. This author of numerous short stories and dramatic works travels the country as a professional acting coach and inspirational speaker. Lynne allows her imagination to run wild and also writes in the fantasy/science fiction genre of time travel. You can find our more about these adventures into historical worlds at www.lynnegentry.com. Lynne lives in Dallas with her husband and medical therapy dog. She counts spending time with her two grown children and their families her greatest joy.

Lynne’s Website | Facebook |Twitter | Pinterest

And, last but not least, check out my reviews of Lynne’s awesome time travel series here!

The Carthage Chronicles

4 Reasons to Read Inspirational Fiction

I was pondering some of the reasons I’m drawn to inspirational fiction over other literature. Let’s just get this confession out of the way: I read very little nonfiction. So, why am I constantly enthralled by a great character arc or story of the good guys winning? I think it’s deeper than just loving a good story. I’ve realized there are a few reasons I personally love Christian/inspirational fiction. I’m sharing 4 reasons to read inspirational fiction in this post hoping that YOU will relate and, perhaps, gain perspective from having them outlined. (Or, even add a few titles to your TBR!)
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1. Inspirational fiction teaches empathy

More than entertaining, stories teach empathy, helping us identify with other people and experiences. It’s sometimes like experiencing life through new eyes because each author pours him or herself into story, whether from his or her own life or family experiences and perspective. Reading multiple authors leads to experiencing life as a single mom on the run from a criminal and her past in New England, a watch maker’s daughter in old Chicago, a destitute spinster in post-Revolutionary War America, a firefighter carrying grief in the modern Rockies, or a holocaust victim trying to survive in Germany. And through all of this, hopefully we treat the people we encounter with more understanding and grace as a result.

2. Inspirational fiction contains spiritual truths

Because they are written with a Christian worldview, inspirational fiction stories encourage a walk with God through interwoven Scriptures or themes of faith. Sometimes it’s a subtle picture of making choices while believing God has an ultimate plan, or sometimes a book is more evangelical in nature, with a prominent story of forgiveness or a prodigal’s return teaching a lesson of grace.

3. Inspirational fiction inspires you to try new things or breach your comfort zone

This could be said of stories in general, too. Whether it’s by trying a new recipe, adding a destination to the bucket list, or resolving to treat that villain-personality in your life with kindness. Sometimes it’s an untold story from history that captures our attention and sparks interest in that time period. Other times, it’s a perspective learned from “visiting” a culture or place you will not likely ever see in person. Whatever the new thing or place, we get to explore it from the comfort of our cozy couch first!

4. Inspirational fiction shows the love of Christ

Specifically, I’m talking about the romance genre mirroring the love of Christ. I’m all for swoony romance, chivalry, and kisses in a closet/tower. (Sorry, I’ve been reading too many Pepper Basham novels lately. 😉 ) But the greatest Love Story of all is often echoed through the pages of a story of unconditional love, relentless pursuit, or of sacrifice. Whether it’s a riveting story of a fall and subsequent redemption that pushes the boundaries of Christian fiction, a sweet story of finding true love in an unexpected place, or a gripping tale of personal sacrifice and selflessness, these romances speak to the heart of the reader, reaching out to our need of belonging and pointing to Christ as the ultimate Savior and Lover of our souls.

Your turn. I really want to know why YOU love what you read (whatever the genre). Do you gravitate towards inspirational fiction? Do you agree with my musings? Share your thoughts in the comments!


Cover Reveal: “Just the Way You Are” by Pepper Basham

Hey ya’ll! It’s time for another post! Today author Pepper Basham is revealing the cover of her upcoming independent contemporary romance: Just the Way You Are, book 1 in a new series titled “Pleasant Gap Romance”. It promises to be great fun (as always with Pepper), pairing a single mom from the Appalachians with an English actor. On a fun side note, Pepper has coined an awesome term for this blending of Appalachian and British culture: Britallachian!

Without further ado, here’s the cover!

just-the-way-you-are-by-pepper-basham

Isn’t it adorable?! I love the choice of colors for the text, AND the couple’s obvious happiness hints at the humor to be found in the pages.

And, if you’re interested in the story, here’s the back cover design:

just-the-way-you-are-by-pepper-basham-back-cover

 

You can learn more about this upcoming release by visiting the links below.

Add to Goodreads

Preorder from Amazon | Pepper’s Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Review: “Paper Hearts” by Courtney Walsh

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What better way to celebrate the week of Valentine’s than with a little review of a book that’s romance-y and cute with genuineness and heart behind it (and on it)? I thought so. I’m talking about a book that’s been on my radar and TBR shelf for way too long: Paper Hearts by Courtney Walsh.

About the Book

Abigail Pressman would never have guessed that love notes penned on paper hearts by an anonymous couple could restore her belief in love. As a business owner in a quaint town at the base of the Rockies, she’s poured everything into dreams of expansion . . . and resisting the matchmaking efforts of the Valentine Volunteers, who gather in her store to continue Loves Park’s tradition of stamping mail with the city’s romantic postmark.

When Abigail is unwillingly drafted into the Volunteers, she encounters the paper hearts, a distraction that couldn’t come at a worse time. A hard-to-read doctor has become Abigail’s new landlord, and he’s threatening to end her lease to expand his practice.

As she fights a growing attraction to this handsome man crushing her dreams, Abigail is inspired to string the hearts in her store, sparking a citywide infatuation with the artsy trend. But when a new batch of hearts reaches the Volunteers, it appears something tragic has happened to the couple. Will uncovering their story confirm Abigail’s doubts about love, or could it rescue her dreams . . . and her heart?

Review

This book is adorable. When I first heard about it, it was aptly compared to You’ve Got Mail, so I picked up a copy. It totally reflects that relationship predicament and has a small element like the show Signed, Sealed, Delivered’s dead letter office (if you can imagine it as a mismatched group of lady matchmakers – the Valentine Volunteers). But it’s deeper than a light rom-com. It’s a story of forgiveness, dreams, and love.

Paper Hearts has all the ingredients for an ideal inspirational contemporary romance: a quaint setting, meddling neighbor types, an “are-we-professional-enemies-or-am-I-attracted-to-you” relationship, a single dad trying to reinvent himself, a young woman’s journey to settle into a new dream, a sweet and meaningful romance, and themes of unconditional love and forgiveness.

I appreciate the way Courtney builds the backstory of Abigail and Jacob (the new doctor/landlord) slowly. The reader sees both characters react to the present and in turn learns a little more about their pasts and major events influencing them. As I got to “know them” better, I was rooting for them to share their insecurities and secrets with one another because I knew they had much in common AND because I was dying to know the whole story behind a certain secret.

The real “paper heart” portion of the story happens a little ways in, but it is worth the wait. Like the endearing cast of characters and charming small town setting, the romantic tradition of the hearts will pull at your hear and remind you to never take your loved ones for granted.