Review: Just Look Up – Courtney Walsh

Courtney Walsh. Just Look Up. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2017.

Throughout her previous novels, Courtney Walsh expertly brings small towns to life.  Her characters jump off the page, while the towns themselves could easily be one’s next vacation spot.

In Just Look Up, Lane Kelley has made a name for herself as a Chicago-based interior designer.  Lane works tirelessly to achieve a much-deserved promotion, even as her colleagues know nothing about her personally.  When her brother ends up in a coma, Lane must travel back to her hometown and finally face her family after years of self-inflicted exile.  The town of Harbor Pointe, Michigan, offers little of the ideal escape for Lane, even as she encounters lifelong family friend, Ryan Brooks.  Ryan made his own escape via the military from a horrible family situation, but is excited to finally help the local area’s tourism through a business project of his own.  However, he needs Lane’s expertise in order to finish the project.  Together, Ryan and Lane must navigate their respective pasts in order to finally determine a way to build a future.

Ms. Walsh’s most recent novel points to the importance of looking up from one’s work and own problems to instead focus on other people and events beyond oneself.  Throughout much of the novel, Lane maintains a firm grip on her cell phone and work projects, even as she discovers that it negatively impacts her health and happiness.  As Ms. Walsh indicates in the author’s notes, the lessons of this novel are ones that many people encounter, including the author herself.

Overall, I rather enjoyed reading Just Look Up.  Personally, the novel was one of my favorites written by Ms. Walsh.  I really appreciated her contrast of Lane’s Chicago lifestyle with the quaint town of Harbor Pointe.  Additionally, the various characters were quite interesting and unique, fitting appropriately within their various settings.  In general, I wished to see more description of Lane’s interior design projects and process, as the “work” that she does makes up a significant component of the story.  Instead, these sections are glossed over, even as they may have offered some intriguing opportunities to build further dialogue and complexity among some of the main characters.  However, I realize that Ms. Walsh was probably attempting to keep a tighter focus on building her story.  I am curious to see if Ms. Walsh decides to continue to write stories based in and around Harbor Pointe or if her next novel will move in a different direction.

Fans of Ms. Walsh’s previous works, as well as other contemporary Christian fiction, will enjoy reading Just Look Up.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Tyndale House Publishers for an advanced copy of Just Look Up!

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Review: Change of Heart – Courtney Walsh

Courtney Walsh. Change of Heart. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2016.

Cover: Change of Heart

With Valentine’s Day just behind us, the heart-shaped decorations and pink confections are gradually disappearing. For the second year in a row, I am spending this time with one of Courtney Walsh’s heart-themed novels.

In Change of Heart, Ms. Walsh picks up where she left off with the residents of Loves Park, Colorado, in Paper Hearts. Evelyn Brandt joined the town’s famous Valentine Volunteers and other civically-minded groups to please her husband, a state senator. However, her life and marriage rapidly fall apart when he is arrested for embezzlement and his other character flaws soon come to light. Evelyn soon finds herself relying on the assistance of an old friend, Trevor Whitney, who also happens to have hidden her husband’s indiscretions from her for years. With the help of the women of the Valentine Volunteers, Evelyn begins to piece her life together once again, rediscovering her dreams and artistic abilities that once captured Trevor’s heart.

Ms. Walsh brings together an intertwined cast of characters reminiscent of small-town life. Loves Park shines as the setting of this novel, while Trevor’s family farm offers a unique addition to the backdrop of her works.

Overall, I was surprisingly pleased by Change of Heart. In my original review of Paper Hearts, I found the storyline to be rather corny and the pacing to be somewhat uneven. In comparison, Change of Heart reveals Ms. Walsh’s significant growth as a writer. The novel displays an intriguing and well-thought-out plot that displays the evolution and development of her characters. Additionally, I found the inclusion of the Valentine Volunteers to be more selective, which actually made them into a more unique and stronger device within the novel. While I was somewhat hesitant to read this novel after my disappointment with Paper Hearts, I am very glad to have given Ms. Walsh a second chance. Change of Heart will offer readers a new perspective on Ms. Walsh’s writing. As a result of this improvement and the absorbing storyline of Change of Heart, I look forward to reading Ms. Walsh’s forthcoming books.

Readers who enjoyed Paper Hearts and Ms. Walsh’s stories will definitely want to read Change of Heart. Additionally, fans of contemporary Christian romance will also want to try this novel. While I compared Ms. Walsh’s previous novel to a relatively-slow and simple Hallmark film, this book offers a more complex and well-developed story that readers will definitely enjoy

Special thanks to Tyndale House Publishers for an advanced copy of Change of Heart!

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Review: Paper Hearts – Courtney Walsh

Courtney Walsh. Paper Hearts. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2014.

Have you ever noticed that holidays, such as Valentine’s Day and Christmas, seem to produce an inordinate number of Hallmark movies? My sister enjoys watching them, so I’ve seen my fair share. I realize that some people are huge fans and the films certainly have their place, but sometimes they just feel sappy and relatively uninteresting. In reading Courtney Walsh’s Valentine-inspired novel, Paper Hearts, I couldn’t help but be reminded of several such films that I’ve watched on my sister’s couch over the years.

Ms. Walsh’s Paper Hearts takes place in the small town of Loves Park, Colorado, where Abigail Pressman manages her downtown bookstore, The Book Nook. When her landlord retires, Abigail’s building is purchased by an out-of-town doctor, Jacob Willoughby, who doesn’t appear to appreciate the touristy, small-town vibe of the neighborhood. In the midst of saving her bookstore from the expansion efforts of Dr. Willoughby and his aggressive business manager, Abigail is recruited for the town’s famous Valentine Volunteers. Abigail’s days suddenly become filled with stamping wedding invitations and responding to love letters, until an envelope filled with paper hearts arrives and changes her perspective of what real love means.

Honestly, I was left with mixed feelings about Paper Hearts. In some ways, I really wanted to like the book. The premise sounded relatively interesting and the author’s note presented some intriguing themes regarding broken dreams and God turning them into something amazing. However, I never felt that Ms. Walsh presented that theme with sufficient clarity in the story. While Abigail’s store is threatened, Dr. Willoughby’s life seems to have fallen apart, and other characters face trials, the resolution is too quick and convenient. Likewise, the buildup of the story before anything interesting occurs lasts through the entire first half of the book, which feels rather slow and likely to turn off readers before they encounter the paper hearts storyline that serves as one of the novel’s few highlights. Additionally, the “surprise” components of the storyline are quite predictable, as Paper Hearts entails many aspects found in many Christian novellas and general romance novels.

Overall, I would rate Paper Hearts as being relatively average, much like a Hallmark film. Unfortunately, the pacing of the book serves as a significant problem. Typically, I would recommend the book to my sister (and similar readers), since she would enjoy a relatively low-key Christian romance story. However, I’m 99% sure that she would never make it far enough into the book to become invested in the characters or reach the paper hearts section.

Readers who enjoy light Christian romance may find Paper Hearts worth reading. It does share many attributes with Hallmark films, so I realize that there is definitely a readership out there for this novel, even if it doesn’t necessarily include me among them.

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