Review: “Just Look Up” by Courtney Walsh

Review: “Just Look Up” by Courtney Walsh

A few weeks ago, I was privileged to host author Courtney Walsh for a book spotlight and interview all about her latest contemporary release, Just Look Up. After all the fun and wonderful comments I saw around the blogging community about this story, I decided I had to read it for myself! Everyone was right: this is a “keeper” of a romance that touches on a deep and VERY RELEVANT message for today.

About the Book

After 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.

Just Look Up

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.

Review

Just Look Up is both emotionally touching and relevant, with Courtney’s balanced and lighthearted storytelling style. The themes in this story are serious but all presented in a personal and heart-to-heart manner. From the importance of noticing the blessings in front of you to recognizing the freedom in choosing forgiveness even when someone else doesn’t, this story is a beautiful example of the power of grace.

Lane’s character and her endless stress over little things show how even the best intentions (whether for achievement, career, or even family) can distract from important things right in front of you. Lane is blissfully unaware of her inherent worth, too, which made me just want to hug her. And take her out for coffee. (Thankfully she has Ryan Brooks for that). AKA Brooks to those close to him, he’s the perfect counterpart to her personality because he knows how to gently draw her out from behind her self-imposed fortress (with a lovely sense of humor!). He shows her that she is loved just as she is, by both him and her family.

The colorful secondary characters all have a hand in Lane and Brooks’ relationship or in prodding them to face reality at one time or another. They were a fun part the story… most of the time. I wanted to whomp a couple of them a time or two for hurting Lane or Brooks. Ha!

The thread of romance in this story is of the vest variety, the kind naturally born of friendship (and a years-old camaraderie). Brooks is relentless and unashamed in his pursuit of Lane, and I loved him for it. His subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) flirting was a way to break through Lane’s walls, but it was his protectiveness and genuine, selfless care for her that makes him endearing hero material. His journey is one of forgiveness and releasing bitterness, too, which mirrors Lane’s in some ways.

This is a story of family and home, of roots and forgiveness and the comfort found when someone accepts you for who you are — no strings or expectations attached. It is a gentle reminder that you have one shot in life with your family and people you encounter every day, so make the most of it. Embrace the quirks and differences. Bond over the similarities and joys. Choose to forgive. Recognize the blessings in front of you. Choose to love.

Thank you to Tyndale House Publishers and Netgalley for the review copy. This is my honest review.

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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!

>>>>>>UPDATE: I read 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: “With Love, Wherever You Are” by Dandi Daley Mackall

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Bonus trivia: That’s a photo of the real-life Helen and Frank on the cover!

This book review features a book that is as interesting as it is riveting because much of the story is based on the true-life events of a couple who met, married, and served in Europe during WWII. The book, With Love, Wherever You Are, by Dandi Daley Mackall, is a recent release from Tyndale House.

About the BookEveryone knows that war romances never last . . .
After a whirlwind romance and wedding, Helen Eberhart Daley, an army nurse, and Lieutenant Frank Daley, M.D. are sent to the front lines of Europe with only letters to connect them for months at a time.

Surrounded by danger and desperately wounded patients, they soon find that only the war seems real—and their marriage more and more like a distant dream. If they make it through the war, will their marriage survive?

Based on the incredible true love story, With Love, Wherever You Are is an adult novel from beloved children’s author Dandi Daley Mackall.Review

“Based on a true story”, “WWII era”, and “letters” were all I needed to know I really wanted to read this novel. With flowing style, intriguing settings around the US and the war theater of Europe, and a love story that transcends all kinds of obstacles, this book kept me hooked late into the night.

For starters, this book is based on the real life love story of the author’s parents. While some elements and characters were understandably fictionalized for heightened story tension, the personalities of Frank and Helen clearly shine through as observed by Dandi, their daughter. Fast forwarding to the end and the author’s note section, readers learn what parts of the story are identical to the real-life situation– and those were the most incredibly interesting elements of the story!

I was impressed with the contrasting humor and wit of the relationship between Frank and Helen compared to the dramatic responsibilities, convictions, and events depicted in the book. To quote an author friend, I felt like I was reading the script of a Cary Grant movie sometimes! These personalities really come out in the real-life letters, notes, telegrams, etc. included all throughout the novel—they were a treat!

The pain and destruction of World War II was not shied away from, yet a lens of eternal hope was applied to the gravity of loss experienced by the world. In the middle of it all, this beautiful romance and subsequent relationship was formed, tested by fire, and proved a lasting legacy for Dandi and a story of inspiration to me. It reminded me of the individual sacrifice many men and women have made for their countries. It made me all the more thankful for the generations, past and present, who have held strong to liberty and freedom. Veterans, I thank you.

If you are a fan of history, WWII/military fiction, (slightly) epistolary novels, or romance, I highly recommend this book.

Thank you to Tyndale House Publishers for the complimentary review copy. This is my honest review.

What is your favorite book with letters or your favorite WWII novel?

 

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.

Review: The Wonder of You by Susan May Warren

If it’s a new Susan May Warren novel, you can bet I’m going to get my hands on it somehow. She never fails to deliver a story that both encourages and entertains. Her latest, The Wonder of You, is the quality story I have come to expect from her– sweetly romantic, faith-driven, family-centered, adventurous, with a few moments that had me chuckling (specifically, a little story about a fort 🙂 ). Plus, this story is the most recent in her “Christiansen Family” series, and it focuses on the youngest sibling, Amelia.The Wonder of You Quote

Summary: Mortified after her year abroad is cut short, Amelia Christiansen returns to Deep Haven, certain she isn’t brave enough to embrace the adventures she’s dreamed of. The last thing she expects is for the man who broke her heart to cross the Atlantic and beg forgiveness.

Heir to a European hotel dynasty, Roark St. John has trekked from one exotic locale to another, haunted by tragedy and the expectations that accompany his last name. Amelia is the first woman to give him a reason to stop running. He’ll do anything for a second chance—even contend with Amelia’s old flame, who is intent on sending Roark packing.

While one surprise after another leaves Amelia reeling, Roark’s continued presence only highlights the questions pursuing her. Like him, is she running from the life God has called her to? Could finding her place mean leaving home behind?

My thoughts: Amelia is very easy to relate to, I think. She’s the baby sister of the family, wanting prove her independence and just a little intimidated with life at the same time. She wanted adventure and to see the world, but after a not-so-successful photography trip abroad (read: heartbreak), she’s back in her hometown trying to figure out where she belongs.

The Wonder of You by Susan May WarrenClearly, Roark and Amelia draw strength from each other, and could depend on each other. It’s beautiful how he sees her, as herself with all her insecurities, and loves her just as she is. Together, they are stronger. But, with her long-time boyfriend Seth still in the picture, Amelia has to figure out her own heart. Seth is familiar and comfortable, while Roark is new and cultured. (While this was almost a love-triangle situation, it never felt unrealistic or predictable).

Roark is a complex character. He seems like the perfect guy from the outside, but carries the weight of guilt and mistakes, with a little bitterness toward God. He wants to start fresh and prove his love to Amelia, but lying to her about his identity is not the best choice. It was one of those “I want to throw your own book at you” type situations. But by the end, thankfully, no one was harmed by my book throwing.

I loved catching up with Grace (Amelia’s sister) and Max as a minor secondary story! He still doubts himself and it’s not good for their relationship. Max’s struggle is with choosing life–you can’t let fear control you because you can’t know what the future holds. I like how Susan revisited these characters and renewed some of the same struggles from their story in When I Fall In Love. They are just the sweetest couple. Their storyline really shows how doubt can be unrelenting and not so simple (or fairy-tale-like) in overcoming.

Both Amelia and Roark’s journeys in this story prove how God uses His love to draw us to Him – to trust in His plan, His strength, and His capabilities to redeem, guide, and bless us. I really loved how Susan used other characters to offer words of wisdom to Amelia and Roark at different times. This story continued the theme of grace woven into each character’s life, and illustrated the importance of obeying God’s calling whenever and wherever it may take you.

After this one, I am even more excited to see what’s next in the last book in this series, You’re the One That I Want, Owen’s story. But I will be very sad to say goodbye to this family I’ve come to “know”! Thank you for reading!

Review: “Born of Persuasion” by Jessica Dotta

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Where should I even start with reviewing this book? Born of Persuasion is the first book in what has become one of my favorite series of all time. I’m not saying that lightly. I had the honor of reading book 2 in this series, Mark of Distinction, as a historical romance judge for the INSPY awards this year. Turns out Mark of Distinction WON the 2015 INSPY award in its category! *insert happy dance here* Now that the judging process is over, I am free to gush about and discuss all of the wonderful books I read.

First, here’s a synopsis of Born of Persuasion: The 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.

Let’s see if I can coherently share my bubbling thoughts.

For any fans of the Victorian era, this series is perfection. It has the feel of a slightly gothic setting with deep, complex characters. Born of Persuasion is certainly a page-turner! 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. Her added hints at trials to come increase the mystery and foreshadowing of events through the story. Let’s just say it makes the reader anxious over what could happen next. And anxious over WHO to trust.

While this IS certainly a Christian fiction book, it is extremely different in the fact that the heroine is an atheist. But, she is so well written she is very likable and easy to identify with. I think her viewpoint is relevant to today because the spiritual struggles she faces are ones countless people battle with: belief in God, hypocritical people. and judgmental attitudes. Author Jessica Dotta stretches her spiritual journey and transformation over all three books in the series, so I won’t say more about it just yet.

It has been several weeks since I read this series, but it’s still something I can’t get over. It’s still fresh in my mind! Words cannot possibly convey the amazingness that is this series. Through it all, suspense and mystery are perfectly maintained. With unexpected MAJOR twists around every corner, there is never a dull moment. (Have I used enough CAPS in this review yet?) All I have left to say is you should read this soon.

Do you have a favorite book or series that is stuck in your mind and won’t let go? Are you a fan of Victorian intrigue? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Review: “When I Fall In Love” by Susan May Warren + Giveaway Info

When visiting Susan May Warren’s Christiansen family, it’s like visiting your aunt & uncle – you know there will be a warm welcome and the familiar strength of family love, but you never know the fun you’ll have or the life lessons you’ll learn until the day is over. That’s how the latest in the Christiansen Family series is, When I Fall In Love. (Here’s my gushing thoughts on the previous two: Take A Chance On Me and It Had To Be You)

When I Fall In Love ~ Review

My copy in front of my TBR shelf.

Grace Christiansen, homebody and local restaurant manager, wants something more from life in Deep Haven, but she’s a little reluctant to risk any major changes. When her family surprises her with a culinary trip to Hawaii, she faces her fear of failure and sets out to realize her dreams and God’s plans for her life may be more – and better – than even she could imagine. When she teams up with Blue Ox player Max Sharpe for a cooking competition, he starts to show her that adventure can be found in everyday life. Max has his own problems and reasons for keeping his distance from Grace, but a vacation in paradise may prove to change his attitude toward finding a future with a family.

Watching Grace and Max’s relationship develop through this story is quite the ride. We see them each experience trials and struggles with self-worth, the fun and possibility of pursuing dreams, and the fulfillment Christ gives when we let Him direct our steps. The message of grace and Christ’s love is beautifully woven through this story.

It’s hard for an author to establish a large, loving family on the page without making them sound too “perfect”, but Susan does a fantastic job depicting realistic characters. I love how the Christiansens are such a model family. Though not without their flaws, each one loves and supports their siblings or children through joys and struggles.

There’s a small side plot with one of Grace’s siblings, Casper (the fun treasure-hunter one), and it takes place back in Deep Haven while Grace is in Hawaii. The occasional perspective from the woods and lakes of Minnesota was an interesting contrast with the beaches of Hawaii. I’m anxious to see where Casper’s (and brother Owen’s) stories go in the next book in the Christiansen Family series, Always On My Mind (releasing 2015).

You can learn more about author Susan May Warren at her website here, on Twitter, or Facebook. Also, check out the GIVEAWAY she’s having right now for a KitchenAid mixer!!

(For another fabulous blog post Q&A with Susan May Warren AND info about books 4 & 5 in the Christiansen Family series, head over to Suzanne Woods Fisher’s blog.)

Note: Thank you to Tyndale House Publishers for a copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review.