Review: “His Steadfast Love by Julie Lessman + Book Snippet & GIVEAWAY ~Blog Tour

1_160_origWelcome to my stop on this fun tour leading up to author Julie Lessman’s independent release AND the last book in her “Isle of Hope” series, His Steadfast Love! Julie might be more familiar to fans of the historical romance genre, with multiple series anchoring her as a talented author when it comes to family dramas and swoony romances. In the last couple years, though, Julie has proven her talent once again within a new realm: contemporary stories.

If family drama threaded with spiritual lessons rooted in Scripture and plenty of romance is your thing, read on for more about this series, my gushing review, a chance to win fun prizes, and a book snippet that *might* require a fan!

2_109

his-steadfast-love_origSeries: Isle of Hope
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Christian
Publisher: Indie
Publication date: August 1. 2017

She’s bent on fun.
He’s bent on faith.
Till true love bridges the gap.

Cat O’Bryen is the prodigal daughter unhappy with God. First, the father with whom she reconciled dies of cancer and now her twin sister and best friend marries, leaving Cat at home with a newlywed mother, her new husband, and a little brother. But when Cat moves in with a roommate of questionable morals, her family is worried, certain she’s on a path that could damage her faith forever.

Reluctant to get involved with a woman like the one who destroyed his life, ex-Navy SEAL Pastor Chase Griffin steers clear of the attraction he feels for Cat O’Bryen. Until her family begs him to take her under his wing, hoping he can draw her back into the fold. But when the draw she has on him proves too strong to resist, he must rely on the strength of God to offer a friendship as steady and strong as the God whose love is wooing her home. ​

GOODREADS | AMAZON

The Books in the Series

My reviews:  Isle of Hope |  Love Everlasting

3_86

julie-turquoise-in-chair_origJulie Lessman is an award-winning author whose tagline of “Passion With a Purpose” underscores her intense passion for both God and romance. A lover of all things Irish, she enjoys writing close-knit Irish family sagas that evolve into 3-D love stories: the hero, the heroine, and the God that brings them together.

Author of The Daughters of Boston, Winds of Change, and Heart of San Francisco series, Julie was named American Christian Fiction Writers 2009 Debut Author of the Year and has garnered 18 Romance Writers of America and other awards. Voted #1 Romance Author of the year in Family Fiction magazine’s 2012 and 2011 Readers Choice Awards, Julie was also named on Booklist’s 2010 Top 10 Inspirational Fiction and Borders Best Fiction list.

Julie’s most recent novel, Isle of Hope was voted on Family Fiction magazine’s Best of 2015, and Surprised by Love appeared on Family Fiction magazine’s Best of 2014. Her independent novel A Light in the Window is an International Digital Awards winner, a 2013 Readers’ Crown Award winner, and a 2013 Book Buyers Best Award winner. Julie has also written a self-help workbook for writers entitled Romance-ology 101: Writing Romantic Tension for the Sweet and Inspirational Markets. You can contact Julie through her website and read excerpts from each of her books at www.julielessman.com.

GOODREADS | FACEBOOK | TWITTER GOOGLE PLUS

PINTEREST | INSTAGRAM | AMAZON | WEBSITE

​NEWSLETTER | THE SEEKERS | JOURNAL JOTS

8_58

This time he was ready for her, and with an easy twist, he scooped her up and launched her high in the air, her squeals bouncing off the water before she did.
Ker-splash!
A gush of water plumed, and Chase grinned outright when she shot from the surface, mouth going strong as usual. “Chase Griffin, you are the lowest, sneakiest, most diabolical—”
His laughter rang over the water. “Sorry, Catfish, but ‘diabolical’ belongs to you, kiddo, so I wouldn’t be throwing pitchforks if I were you.”
“And a p-pastor too!” she sputtered, still spitting water out of her mouth.
He cocked a hip on the edge of the board, thumbs hooked into the back pockets of his wet jeans. “That’s right, Catherine,” he said, his grin definitely ‘diabolical,’ “anything you need to get off your chest?”
“Come into the water, Rev, and I’ll show you ‘diabolical.’” She delivered a sweet smile that was anything but, paddling in place with a glint of dare in her eyes.
“Oh, no doubt about that,” he said with a grin, loosely crossing his arms. “But I’ll pass, if you don’t mind, and work on my tan while I fish.”
“Chase Griffin, you are nothing but a wet blanket!” she snapped.
“Yep, thanks to you,” he said with a chuckle, fetching his rod and tackle box and settling into his chair.
Nose in the air, she spun around in a swoosh to head to the neighbor’s dock, her strokes deft and sure like his demise would be if he got into the water with Cat O’Bryen. He was tempted to take a quick dive just to cool off because that minx sure had a way of heating him up, and they were just friends, for pity’s sake. God help him, he couldn’t imagine dating the woman, subject to temptation day in and day out. Those teasing eyes, that sexy smile, her flirtatious ways.
Those come-on kisses …
Heat engulfed him that had nothing to do with the sun beating down and everything to do with the vamp in the water. Although his mind was made up, Cat O’Bryen was too much of what his body and soul craved, and he wasn’t going there again. Ever. Especially not with a woman whose faith was as weak as water.
“Oh!”
He glanced up from his tackle box, heart constricting when he saw Cat freeze in the water. “What’s wrong?” He shot to his feet.
“Cramps.” It was a strained response as she maneuvered to a dead-man float.
“Where?” His heart rate took off in a sprint, memories of a SEAL buddy dangerously compromised on a mission from severe abdominal cramps.
“Left leg.” Her voice matched the grimace on her face. “I’ll be fine … I’ll just wait it out.”
“Grab your toes on the cramped leg and pull toward you,” he ordered, gaze pinned to her body for any sign of distress, “then straighten your leg.”
Face pinched, she did as he instructed, her groans hitching his pulse. “Never this bad before …”
That’s all it took. The tackle box hit the weathered wood with a hard clunk as Chase dove from the dock, arriving by her side in mere seconds. “Any better?” He watched while she continued pulling and stretching, his breathing heavy as he hovered close, finally catching his breath.
“I’m not sure …” she said in a weak voice.
And then she lunged, stealing his air all over again when she brought him down, submerging him with a power that belied her small size. “No, wait …” She bolted away when he hit the surface, coughing up water. “Yes, definitely better now.” Her giggles bounced off the lake as she swam for the shore, arms slicing through the water with an efficiency that would outdistance most people.
But he wasn’t most people. He was a seasoned professional.
With a store of adrenalin usually reserved for workouts at the gym, work days at Lake Loon, or dangerous missions overseas, Chase easily overtook her mere feet from the sandy shore, clamping onto her foot to reel her in hard. One arm latched to her waist, he handily dunked her with the other, her shrieks and giggles lost in a tide pool of bubbles and foam. Quickly lurching her back up, he chuckled low in her ear as she kicked and squealed in his arms. “I thought I told you never to mess with an ex-Navy SEAL, Catfish,” he said with a husky chuckle, soundly dousing her all over again.
He released her, and she literally exploded from the water, twisting in the air like some headstrong sea nymph, taking him down with a grunt as she clung stubbornly to his head.
And didn’t let go.
They burst from the water as one, her body welded to his as she death-gripped his hair, obviously intent on one more plunge.
But the only thing that plunged was his gut when their eyes locked, the laughter in her face dissolving into something far softer and warm while her ragged breathing mated with his. Her gaze dropped to his mouth, and a tidal wave of want surged through his body, taking him down as easily as Cat had done with her well-placed dunking.
She absently licked her lips, and his stomach cramped with need as he fought the pull of her parted mouth, her shallow breathing in dangerous sync with his own. His eyelids felt as heavy as if he were drugged, arms slowly curling around her waist like they had a mind of their own. And God help him, they did, because he had little control as they drew her close, luring his mouth to hers with a low, aching moan.
She tasted like sheer heaven as he nuzzled the lips he’d dreamed about since the night she had kissed him in her room. Forcing himself to take it slow, he caressed her mouth with all the tenderness that swirled inside for a lost, little girl named Cat. But the moment a soft mew left her lips, he was a goner, his groan hoarse as he delved in to explore with a passion too long denied.
And that’s when he knew.
He was dead in the water.
Literally

9_44

Yes, a large portion of this story develops the main romance in Julie’s signature “passion with a purpose” style, with a few scenes that might require a freezer (as evidenced in the snippet above), as Carrie likes to say. It’s always tastefully presented. Always pointing to a Christ-centered marriage or leading the characters to see what real Love should be like.

But it’s so much more than a story to quicken your pulse, it’s a story to quicken your spirit and encourage your heart. At least it did mine, in ways I didn’t know I needed. But that’s the awesome power of honest and Biblical-truth-filled story: sometimes it speaks to your heart in a personal way.

While I don’t have the history and same problems these characters face, I CAN relate to their very real, human struggles. I can relate to harboring unforgiveness and the bitterness it brings. I can relate to running from something or someone (God) I should run toward. I can relate to fearing rejection and hurt. In Chase’s (and even Tess’s) case, to the point it challenges trust and interferes with their walks with God. This story fleshes out these themes with a refreshing directness not often found in the Christian fiction genre, addressing topics such as sin, jealousy, and physical attraction through a lens of faith and hope.

Following the O’Bryens and Carmichaels through 3 books and 1 novella has earned them a big place in my reader heart. Seeing them overcome, accomplish, and embrace a restoration that could only be orchestraed by God has been a fun journey that came together even more with this final story. (insert sad whines because this is the last book) BUT, I was thrilled with the swoony happy moments included from the perspectives of Shannon and Tess that fit into the story and showed a little of what their happily-ever-afters look like.

Cat and Chase’s story has been a long time coming, but it was SO worth the wait! Chase has been a present and active character in the whole series. With this book, I was happy to finally learn his whole story and see him grow and be surprised by God’s plan. And when he and Cat are together on the page, talk about chemistry! I loved her spunky personality even when I wanted to talk some sense into her about her rebellion. But oh, her journey back to faith spurred on by Chase and his beautiful frienship was amazing to witness. It is an honest reminder of the strength of God’s love, how He reveals himself through his people (in this case, Chase and Cat’s whole family), and how He loves each of us through our running and floundering, just waiting for us to turn back and embrace Him.

 

Reminds me of lyric “Don’t hide your face from me, for My love won’t be undone.” God is waiting for her to turn back, loving her through her floundering and loving her through her people.

10_23

hsl-tour-giveaway_orig

Enter the rafflecopter giveaway HERE.

11_19

July 23–Singing Librarian Books

July 24–Faithfully Bookish

July 25–Remembrancy | Reading Is My SuperPower

July 26–Paulette’s Papers | Encouraging Words from the Tea Queen

July 27–Flowers of Quiet Happiness | Faery Tales Are Real

July 28–The Green Mockingbird 

July 29–Radiant Light | Cafinated Reads

SLB Tours Reviewer Blogger Button

Series Feature: Price of Privilege by Jessica Dotta + My Dream Cast!

Series Feature: Price of Privilege by Jessica Dotta + My Dream Cast!

Welcome to my post alllll about a favorite series! The “Price of Privilege” series by Jessica Dotta, that is. This gushing post is long overdue— I’m blaming it on the way this series blows me away each time I consider putting into words my thoughts. I should warn you there might be MILD SPOILERS AHEAD with the cast descriptions and book synopses.

I reviewed book 1, Born of Persuasion, a while ago. Then I reread the whole series a year ago with blogger friends and we fangirled on Twitter (with hashtag #POPral). Now, I want to share a few thoughts on each book and my dream cast for the series.

Oh, and I have compiled this fun Pinterest board with my dream cast, quotes, and photos that match the feel of the series :).

MY THOUGHTS ON EACH BOOK

IMG_20150707_025129-1

Born of Persuasion – like I said in my earlier review, it’s a page-turner with the feel of a slightly gothic setting with deep, complex characters. The story is told from a first person narrative in the future, so it’s like Julia is telling her life story with additional insight. A brilliant setup for the rest of the series, we’re plunged into Julia’s fascinating world with questions of who to trust and very few answers. Pay close attention to every detail in this book — upon rereading I noticed so much foreshadowing for books two and three.

IMG_20160708_164253

Mark of Distinction – this book takes us deeper into the secrets Julia’s family has kept and the hidden agenda of a certain person trying to dictate her life. It brings to light a real-life good vs evil battle that tugs Julia in multiple directions at once. Through an unexpected friendship (and even mentor-like relationship) with Isaac Dalry <3, Julia finds her footing and a deeper spiritual purpose driving her toward something…. the cliffhanger-like surprise at the end of this book threw me for a loop and had me rooting for Julia!

IMG_20160802_194105

Price of Privilege – like the title suggests, this book truly shows the cost of deception and the contrasting beauty of sacrifice. The Christ-like picture painted through one character’s unalterable choice blew me away. Talk about a twist! (and ugly cries!) I appreciated how both Isaac and Edward are portrayed in this conclusion, both loving Julia through anything. And both making selfless decisions to help her in any way they can out of love. For any fans of gothic mysteries or the Victorian era, this series is perfection.

DREAM CAST

I’ve said before that this book series NEEDS to be adapted to a miniseries! I’ve had some of these actors/actresses in my head since first reading the series. I’ll list the book’s descriptions if you need convincing!

Casting Julia Elliston

Julia Elliston – 17 years old, ebony hair

I think Felicity has a youthful look that would convey Julia’s growth and journey to maturity very well.

Casting Edward Auburn

Edward Auburn – hazel eyes and curly, “honey” hair.

Tom Hiddleston could pull off the boyish charm of Edward, along with the more mature role he portrays while offering wisdom to Julia.

Casting Chance Macy

Chance Macy – a “captivating….dark angel”, longish black hair, much older than Julia.

Two words: Richard Armitage. After all, one moment you are as infatuated with Macy as Julia is, the next, you don’t know if you can believe anything he says.
Casting Isaac Dalry

Lord Isaac Dalry – blue eyes and russet hair

James Norton IS Isaac Dalry in my mind. Might as well call it a fact. ❤ ❤

Casting Minors 1

Casting Minors 2

(all images obtained through Pinterest)

What do you think of my choices? See any of your favorites actors on my list? 😉 Would you pick someone else for these roles?

SONGS THAT MATCH

Sometimes, I run across songs that just match a book I’ve read. These three songs fit this series in feel and theme. Do you agree?

Born of Persuasion: Volcano as performed by Phillip Phillips. The melancholy and mysterious feel of it just works. And, when applied as the male antagonist’s perspective, all sorts of underlying meanings make sense.

Mark of Distinction: You Set Me Free  by Angie Miller. This song perfectly matches the faith transformation Julia undergoes midway through book 2.

Price of Privilege: We Remain by Christina Aguilera. I love how this song matches the struggle Julia goes through with a triumphant “whatever happens here, we remain” proclamation.

ABOUT THE BOOKS

Book 1, Born of Persuasion

Born of PersuasionThe year is 1838, and seventeen-year-old Julia Elliston’s position has never been more fragile. Orphaned and unmarried in a time when women are legal property of their fathers, husbands, and guardians, she finds herself at the mercy of an anonymous guardian who plans to establish her as a servant in far-off Scotland.

With two months to devise a better plan, Julia’s first choice to marry her childhood sweetheart is denied. But when a titled dowager offers to introduce Julia into society, a realm of possibilities opens. However, treachery and deception are as much a part of Victorian society as titles and decorum, and Julia quickly discovers her present is deeply entangled with her mother’s mysterious past. Before she knows what’s happening, Julia finds herself a pawn in a deadly game between two of the country’s most powerful men. With no laws to protect her, she must unravel the secrets on her own. But sometimes truth is elusive and knowledge is deadly.

Book 2, Mark of Distinction

Mark of DistinctionLondon is said to be the glittering jewel of society, a world unto itself—but to Julia Elliston it is a city of shadows. Her life is swiftly dissolving into scandal. And in Victorian society, even a whisper of scandal—substantiated or not—can be the death of a young woman’s reputation.

When Julia discovers that Lord Roy Pierson, her guardian and one of most influential men in England, is the father she has never met, she begrudgingly accepts his protection. But Chance Macy’s power is far-reaching as well.

Thrust into society as the Emerald Heiress, Julia is the toast of London, a celebrated curiosity. But in reality she’s trapped between the clutches of two powerful men. Aided only by a gentleman whose intentions she prays she can trust, Julia must finally take control of her own fate—but outwitting one’s foe rarely goes according to plan.

Book 3, Price of Privilege

Price of PrivilegeHaving finally discovered the truth of her birthright, Julia Elliston is determined to outwit Chance Macy at his own game. Holding a secret he’d kill to keep, however, is proving more difficult than she imagined.

Just when Julia thinks she’s managed to untangle herself from Macy’s clutches, he changes tactics with a risky ploy. As the scandal of the century breaks loose, drawing rooms all over London whisper what so far newspapers have not dared to print: Macy’s lost bride is none other than Lord Pierson’s daughter–and one of the most controversial cases of marital law ever seen comes before Victorian courts.

Though Julia knows Macy’s version of events is another masterful manipulation, public opinion is swaying in his favor. Caught in a web of deceit and lies, armed only with a fledgling faith, Julia must face her fiercest trial yet.

Have you read this amazing series? Do you have thoughts or FEELINGS about it?

Review: On Love’s Gentle Shore by Liz Johnson

With the final book in the Prince Edward Island Dreams series, On Love’s Gentle Shore, author Liz Johnson returns to the picturesque Canadian setting with a fresh story of love and forgiveness.

About the Book

On Love's Gentle ShoreFifteen years after she left Prince Edward Island, Natalie O’Ryan had no plans to return. But when her fiancé, music producer Russell Jacobs, books their wedding in her hometown and schedules a summer at Rose’s Red Door Inn, she sets out to put the finishing touches on the perfect wedding. But she can’t possibly prepare for a run-in with Justin Kane–the best friend she left behind all those years ago after promising to stay.

Justin’s never forgotten Natalie or the music career he always dreamed of pursuing. He’d been prepared to follow her off the island until his dad died and he was left to run the family dairy farm. He’s done the best he can with the life that was thrust upon him–but with Natalie back in the picture, he begins to realize just how much joy he’s been missing.

After Natalie’s reception venue falls through, she must scramble to find an alternative, and the only option seems to be a barn on Justin’s property. As they work together to get the dilapidated building ready for the party, Natalie and Justin discover the groundwork for forgiveness–and that there may be more than an old friendship between them.

Review

On Love’s Gentle Shore continues the sweetly romantic style of this series with a final story bringing some previous characters full circle and new ones a hard-won joy. One thing I’ve really enjoyed about this series is that each novel has been vastly different — the first having a hint of suspense (The Red Door Inn), the second a unique story of happiness (Where Two Hearts Meet), and this third one a new twist on a romantic trope with deep roots of friendship. While each can stand independently, overall they encompass themes of joy and belonging — and all have fun moments of humor.

Author Liz Johnson presents the “voice” of the characters with her smooth style, balancing lighthearted moments with those of import and gravity. Sometimes a line penned hit me in the heart with its clarity and truth. Other times, the humor and wit of a situation made me almost laugh! (Particularly when involving Justin’s POV, especially with the dairy, cake, or his sweet Mama Kane.) Or, the subtle romantic moments naturally born of friendship between Justin and Natalie had me smiling or swooning over the littlest things, like plaid shirts. And lighthouses. And a kitchen party.

With this story, Johnson employs a common romance trope that I’m not usually an advocate of: an almost-love triangle with an already-engaged heroine returning to her hometown only to reconnect with an “old friend”. HOWEVER, Johnson implements it with such care and plausible ease I can’t help but be impressed. The context of this situation serves as the necessary catalyst for Natalie’s growth and, subsequently, Justin’s own small realization of joy. Without the trope setup, the depth of characterization and fully realized arc of the characters would not be possible. It has the potential, with this feature, to be a top-notch Hallmark production with its plot and endearing cast, which would be just fine with me ;). (hint, hint, Hallmark)

Speaking of the journey these characters take, its complexity surprised me in a few ways, particularly concerning Natalie. It’s a deeper story of forgiveness and letting go of bitterness, of the importance of honesty in all relationships. Natalie’s character shows how events or people from the past can influence who you become and your choices in the present. Though Justin grew as a character and experienced his own life lessons, this story is Natalie’s transformation. She comes to terms with so much, especially the idea of her own self-worth. Witnessing her growth as a result of her circumstance and the love of friends who shield and support her is an experience not to be missed!

Thank you to Revell Publishers for the complimentary review copy of this novel. This is my honest review.

Review: High As the Heavens by Kate Breslin

High as the Heavens is an absolutely beautiful and riveting story of perseverance, hope, and mercy against the backdrop of WWI Belgium. Author Kate Breslin is now a new favorite and I must read her other novels soon!About the Book

High as the HeavensIn 1917, Evelyn Marche is just one of many women who has been widowed by the war. A British nurse trapped in German-occupied Brussels, she spends her days working at a hospital and her nights as a waitress in her aunt and uncle’s café. Eve also has a carefully guarded secret keeping her in constant danger: She’s a spy working for a Belgian resistance group in league with the British Secret Service. 

When a British plane crashes in Brussels Park, Eve is the first to reach the downed plane and is shocked to discover she recognizes the badly injured pilot. British RFC Captain Simon Forrester is now a prisoner of war, and Eve knows he could be shot as a spy at any time. She risks her own life to hide him from the Germans, but as the danger mounts and the secrets between them grow, their chance of survival looks grim. And even if they do make it out alive, the truth of what lies between them may be more than any love can overcome.

Review

This novel has all the appeal of –and promise to be– a classic in its genre: a vivid sense of place; plot elements inspired by real life events and people; relatable and complex characters; a romance that surprises and leaves you breathless with its strength; and, secrets, danger, and espionage (oh my!).

Drawing on the logistical complexities and melting pot of nationalities involved in The Great War, the suspenseful storyline keeps a steady pace with twists and makes the reader question just who to trust or believe. I have a new respect for Red Cross personnel who worked behind enemy lines, and citizens who risked so much while participating in underground communcations networks like La Dame Blanche. The espionage storyline alone had me nervous for Eve, Simon, and several other people who worked with them!

Side note: a few flashbacks take place closer to the beginning of the story and serve as the perfect tool to establish Eve and Simon’s personalities with a sense of normalcy (before the war changed so much). And, they also shed light on the relationship dynamic between the two of them. 🙂

Ok, now to talk about my favorite part of High as the Heavens: the romantic tension!!!! To say all I want to would give away an early surprise or two, so I’ll just have to tell you that Eve and Simon have a history. A close one. His literal crash back into her life is way more complicated than the synopsis hints. Because of this, they are both challenged with trust and the secrets they each harbor. This further complicates the way they must prioritize loyalties to family and country, but especially to each other. In their frustrating circumstance, the strength of the romance between the two of them is delightfully uncovered and shines a light on an overarching theme of hope. And oh, how their soul-deep connection is beautifully penned by Kate! I especially appreciated how Simon’s role embodied the characteristics of love — its patience, mercy, and edurance.

If you are a fan of history, WWI, romance, or even suspense, I say you should read this novel ASAP! Even if historical fiction is not your normal genre. If you want a second opinion, check out my author friend Rachel McMillan’s gushing review that convinced me to pick it up in the first place ;).

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

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, & GIVEAWAY: The Whys Have It by Amy Matayo

Today is a happy day because I get to share my thoughts on author Amy Matayo’s new indie release, The Whys Have It, along with a fabulous interview she took the time to do, AND a GIVEAWAY of a signed copy of this book (US only).

What makes this even more fun, for me, is knowing Amy Matayo is a local author, of sorts. I didn’t know this for a while, but thanks to social media (high-five!), I discovered Amy lives in a city not too far from me in the northwest corner of Arkansas. (Someday I plan to stalk her and meet her in person). Anyway, the setting of this book is also a city I go to at least a few times a year: Springfield, Missouri. I can attest that the feel of the setting Amy portrays is accurate…. from the June heat to the crazy storms, I loved the familiar feel of it.

Now, on to more about The Whys Have It…..

About the Book

“His music holds the heart of America…but his soul holds a terrible secret.” 

The Whys Have ItChart topping pop musician Cory Minor has it all—fame, money, more women at his disposal than time to spend on them. He’s living the life most American men only dream of. Until an ordinary concert in Springfield threatens to destroy everything he’s worked for. 

As he and his band leave the arena for his next show, Cory’s tour bus crashes into two teenage girls, killing one girl instantly and leaving the other barely clinging to life. Lawsuits are threatened, tabloids are talking, and Cory’s idyllic world falls apart. But what no one knows is that this scene is all too familiar. Because this isn’t the first accident Cory has caused. This isn’t the first time he’s destroyed someone else’s life to save his own. 

It’s just the first time he’s had to face it head on. 

Small town girl Samantha Dalton has no one—no mother, no father, and now no sister. She’s lost everything in a world that celebrates excess. So when Cory Minor shows up at her doorstep offering money and apologies, she turns him away too. You can’t lose what you don’t have, and she can’t take another letdown, especially not from someone who has managed to rip away all she had left. Samantha has been fine on her own for years, she’ll be fine now too. 

At least that’s what she tells herself. 

But Cory won’t leave. He’s persistent in the worst possible way. 

Will Cory’s determination to make things right pay off in the end, or will Sam keep pushing him away until there’s nothing left to fight for? How can two people learn to rely on each other when life keeps hurting them both? 

Review

AM - TWHI (8)Life is full of challenges. For Cory and Sam in The Whys Have It, life dealt them unfortunate tragedies and pain. Ironically, each of them chose to react in opposite ways: Sam, to forge ahead, sometimes in bitterness, even at the cost of her own happiness. Cory, to run away, try to dull the pain with vices, and give in to self-loathing. The contrast between these responses is brought to life in the dynamic of their unlikely friendship. They gradually learn from each other, realizing hope is really worth the risk and second chances are possible through forgiveness.

Amy Matayo’s style is brilliantly complex. She portrays the emotional turmoil of grief, the lingering shadows of regret, and the ache of loss in the most relatable of ways. A light of joy shines through it all for Cory and Sam, though, sometimes in a small moment of camaraderie or friendship, eventually growing into a romance. I liked how their relationship showed what it means to accept another person for who they are, disregarding expectations or what they might deserve because of mistakes.

AM - TWHI (5)I’m beginning to recognize Amy’s signature snarky sense of humor she pours into her novels. At times it’s laugh-out-loud sarcastic, at others it had Sam (and maybe me) blushing from the double entendré of Cory’s unfiltered flirting. 🙂

The Whys Have It cleverly sits on a blurred line between secular and Christian fiction. Just enough portrayal of faith and a belief in a higher purpose combined with just enough grittiness and candor to push me out of my reading “comfort zone”, so to speak. I believe this novel will have a broader appeal because of its relatable style and the way it handles subjects like grief, forgiveness and even romance with a raw honesty. If you’re a fan of contemporary drama/romance, indie Christian ficiton, or even new adult romance, this is one story not to be missed!

Thank you to Relz Author Support Services and the author for a complimentary review copy of this novel. This is my honest review.

Interview with the Author

What inspired you to write The Whys Have It?

Seven years ago something happened in my hometown. A local high school girl went to a concert and was killed in a car accident on the way home. The accident didn’t involve the musician, but he did make a statement the next day. His statement stuck with me; the sadness in his tone, the underlying sense of guilt in his words. He wasn’t at fault, but I began to wonder what might have happened if he had been more involved. It’s the way my brain works. I read something–even something small–and my mind begins to spin. Originally I planned to make it more like the actual events. Later I decided to separate the two out of respect. Hopefully I have done that.

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

That forgiving yourself is as important as forgiving others. That you can’t outrun your past, but you can stand in place and face your future. That mistakes don’t have to define you; it is possible to start over and make a new ending. And that you are worthy of love, always.

What was most challenging about writing this story?

That I don’t plot. It’s always my biggest obstacle, because almost everything is off the cuff. I wish I were more organized, but I’ve come to terms with it.

Which character was your favorite to write?

Cory, because he’s the guy. The men are always my favorite, because I relate to them the most and they are sooooo much easier.

Just for fun:

Do you have any hobbies?

Well, writing and reading are my number one and two. After that–and to relieve stress–I paint (walls and furniture because I have no artistic talent), and I have a zigsaw for woodworking. And I walk all over my neighborhood every night, which is totally not a hobby but it’s somehow one of mine.

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

I would live next door to Anne of Green Gables and we would be bosom friends. I’m going to Prince Edward Island with my daughter in a couple weeks for this reason. Maybe if I wish hard enough?

What are you currently reading?

FanGirl by Rainbow Rowell

About the Author

AmyMatayoAmy Matayo is an award winning author of The Wedding Game, Love Gone Wild, Sway, In Tune with Love, A Painted Summer, The End of the World, and The Thirteenth Chance. She graduated with barely passing grades from John Brown University with a degree in Journalism. But don’t feel sorry for her – she’s super proud of that degree and all the ways she hasn’t put it to good use.

She laughs often, cries easily, feels deeply, and loves hard. She lives in Arkansas with her husband and four kids and is working on her next novel.

Connect with Amy

Website | Twitter | Facebook

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 7/13/17, 11:59 pm. CT.

To enter, comment with a valid email address and answer this question: What is one of your favorite songs?

Review: “Jane of Austin: A Novel of Sweet Tea and Sensibility” by Hillary Manton Lodge

My Jane of AustinSisters. Tea. Texas transplants. Tacos. Music. Scones. A heroic yet humble veteran. BBQ. The crazy complexities of family…. ALL INFUSED WITH JANE AUSTEN. Hillary Manton Lodge’s new release, Jane of Austin, is a feast for the voracious reader and fan of contemporary romance and classic literature alike. A contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, this book delves deeper into the emotional complexities of Austen’s personas while maintaining a humorous and modern atmosphere.

FUN FACT: There are RECIPES at the end of some of the chapters of this novel! So, you won’t be hungry and bereft, as long as you have a functioning kitchen and small pantry nearby. Go ahead and buy some tea if you need it. And maybe the ingredients for scones or pie. You’ll thank me later.

 I read this book with some of my #bookbesties as an impromptu read-along on Twitter! If you’d like to see our Tweets and gushing, check out the hashtag #JofARAL.

About the Book

“Know your own happiness. You want nothing but patience – or give it a more fascinating name, call it hope.”―Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

Just a few years after their father’s business scandal shatters their lives, Jane and Celia Woodward find themselves forced out of their San Francisco tea shop. The last thing Jane wants is to leave their beloved shop on Valencia Street, but when Celia insists on a move to Austin, Texas, the sisters pack up their kid sister Margot and Jane’s tea plants, determined to start over yet again.

But life in Austin isn’t all sweet tea and breakfast tacos. Their unusual living situation is challenging and unspoken words begin to fester between Jane and Celia. When Jane meets and falls for up-and-coming musician Sean Willis, the chasm grows deeper.

While Sean seems to charm everyone in his path, one person is immune – retired Marine Captain Callum Beckett. Callum never meant to leave the military, but the twin losses of his father and his left leg have returned him to the place he least expected—Texas.

In this modern spin on the Austen classic, Sense and Sensibility, the Woodward sisters must contend with new ingredients in unfamiliar kitchens, a dash of heartbreak, and the fragile hope that maybe home isn’t so far away.

Jane of Austin on Goodreads | Amazon

Review

I think it’s beneficial to know a few of the main points of Austen’s classic, Sense and Sensibility, a movie/series adaptation of it, or even some of her other works to fully appreciate the brilliant aspects of Jane of Austin. I’m not an expert by any means, but I greatly appreciated the nuances of the story more having seen the Sense and Sensibility film and read it a loooong while ago.

jane-of-austin

With Jane of Austin, Hillary lends her own originality to the structure of a classic. She maintains the focus of a sisterly bond, the story of uncertainty in the face of circumstance. But a new light is shined, in many ways: what if Marianne was just as emotional and dramatic, but an introvert? Elinor, still as logical and caring, an extrovert? And, how had Colonel Brandon’s previous life experiences shaped him into the quiet hero? What hardships had he endured for such perspective? These are just a few of the ways Jane, Celia, and Callum Beckett are brought into focus through Hillary’s lens, sharpening formerly overlooked elements and delightfully expounding on others.

This novel is distinctly Hillary’s voice, though. Having read her previous AMAZING “Two Blue Doors” series, I recognize the slight humor, sarcasm, and honesty of her tone. It pairs unbelievably well with the natural wit of Austen’s story for laugh-out-loud moments, especially when conversations between the sisters involve the youngest, Margot.

On that note, the sisterly dynamic is BRILLIANT! The extremes of such relationships are accurately shown… from the camaraderie and familiarity stemming from a shared history to the clash of personalities and disillusioned disagreements. Most of all, the moments of care and support of one another, the bond of family, and even the rhythm of working together were my favorite parts of seeing Jane and Celia together.

And oh, the romance! Callum Beckett is the ultimate selfless and steadfast hero. The familiar juxtaposition of Jane caring for Sean (the Willoughby character) is there, while Callum and his unrequited love plays out in a very plausible way. Callum’s veteran status and penchant for reading aloud just up the attractiveness. Oh, and have I mentioned he’s tall, dark, and handsome!? I’m still not sure why it takes Jane so long to notice ;).

Jane of Austin is a fresh and original twist that delightfully emphasizes the strength of family and home, which can sometimes be people instead of a place. This is the type of novel that ends with a happy sigh and a craving for tea and scones. I’m enamored with the way the combination of Hillary’s skill and a contemporary setting reveal how absurdly interconnected life and relationships can be — in a very Austen-Esque way.

Sincere and hearty thank you to the publisher/author for the complimentary review copy. This review is my honest and enthusiastic opinion.

About the Author

HILLARY MANTON LODGE is the author of Together at the TableReservations for TwoA Table by the WindowPlain Jayne,  and Simply Sara. Hillary Manton LodgeA graduate of the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism, Hillary discovered the world of cuisine during her internship atNorthwest Palate Magazine. Her next novel, Jane of Austin, will release June 13, 2017, from WaterBrook Multnomah. 

Over the years, Hillary’s novels have enjoyed critical success from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Romantic Times and have reached readers around the world. In 2010, Plain Jayne was nominated as a Carol Award Finalist, and Simply Sara was an ECPA Bestselling book. In 2015, A Table by the Window was shortlisted in the INSPY Awards.

In her free time, Hillary often finds herself experimenting in the kitchen, attending indie concerts, and finding new walking trails. Formerly a resident of the Pacific Northwest, she and her husband now live near Memphis, Tennessee, along with their Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Shiloh and Sylvie.