Just Look Up by Courtney Walsh – Book Review

Just Look Up by Courtney Walsh

Published by Tyndale House Publishers July 04, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Romance, Christian

Pages: 416

Rating:  4.5 out of 5 stars

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Publisher’s Description

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.

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.

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Story Notes

Courtney Walsh’s newest novel is a truly wonderful read that makes readers consider just how absorbed they are with their “to-do” list and whether they need to take a moment to “just look up” from their devices and enjoy the life around them.

This is the first non-mystery/crime book I have really enjoyed in a long time. I am sure that others will raise their hands along with mine that when we have a job or project to finish we become so focused on it that everything else, including our families and friends, becomes secondary. Not that its a good thing but its the truth, and this truth is the main theme of Ms. Walsh’s latest story. (My review is outlined a little differently than the book as much of the early story is told in flashbacks) Lane Kelley is an extremely successful interior designer who works in Chicago. She has spent the last seven long years working to build a name for herself and her employer J. B. Sweet and if she can land her latest potential client she will achieve her dream – Creative Director of the company. Before she can officially meet with said client, a call from her hometown leaves her scrambling to reschedule her calendar and head back to her childhood home. Her older brother Nate has had a serious motorcycle accident and is in a coma. Dreading going home to see the family who she believes betrayed her and never really loved her, Lane decides that as Nate was the only one who always made time for her she will go for a few days to make sure he will recover before coming back to grab her clients before someone else does. I loved the start of this book, knowing there would be so much that would have to be examined and deep dived for this story to turn out well with completeness. Ms. Walsh presented a situation that is often the case for those who feel they don’t fit in with their family – that no one is on their side and they are far from lovable. Lane’s struggle to fit in was not only emotional but physical as well. She was the only child in her family that was overweight and not the least athletically inclined. Unfortunately dubbed “Pudge” by those around her, Lane lives her entire childhood with extremely low self esteem and few friends. One of those friends is Ryan Brooks, a boy from the other side of the tracks who is taken in, along with his sister, by Lane’s family when their alcoholic father tries to hurt them. As they grow up together both Ryan and Lane slowly begin to the see the other in a new light, one that could lead to a deeper relationship. But after an embarrassing game of truth or dare with the other kids from town the summer before senior year, Lane believes Ryan would never see her as “girlfriend material”. Spending her last year in high school incredibly focused on her grades and getting into Northwestern University with scholarships, Lane hides her hurt and looks forward to the day she can put the town and all those she knows in her rear-view mirror. Ryan regrets hurting Lane but can’t find a way to make it right since she avoids him very well. After graduation he enters the military seeking direction and discipline in his life and will find friends and family there he never thought he’d find outside of the Kelley family.  When he returns after his required overseas tours and discovers his father is still the raging alcoholic he always was, Ryan decides to live near the Kelleys in Harbor Pointe and seek a business degree. Acquiring the dilapidated Cedar Grove lakeside community and turning the cottages into a big tourist draw allows Ryan to use his business know how and still put in the physical labor he loves.  Lane, meanwhile, finds solace in her studies at Northwestern and a new found love of fitness, transforming herself into the person she wants everyone else to see – successful in all areas of life. She meets a man named Jasper who likes her for who she is and quickly becomes engaged. But once again, Lane finds herself facing disappointment and heartache when her sister, Lindsey, both sleeps with and marries Jasper, and her family does nothing to stand up for her. Determined to have nothing further to do with them, Lane takes on more classes and remains in Chicago after graduation to make her way alone, vowing to never return to Harbor Pointe. Having done some of the same things when I went to school myself, I found myself identifying with Lane in several ways – with the weight issues, the drive to be the best in my studies, and to be seen as a person who was successful in all that I did. I learned much quicker than Lane that success is not determined by awards, degrees or clothing size. Yes, its good to be healthy, exercise and do your best in all pursuits, but not being the top of the list doesn’t mean you failed. Ms. Walsh has Lane learn many painful lessons in this book but my favorite two she learned was that one: although it was painful to “lose” her fiance to her sister, Jasper turns out to be a very selfish, egotistical man who is nothing like the man(Ryan) God has for her, and, two: that slowing down and really living life with those around you is the best way to live. It was good to see that Ms. Walsh had Lane stand up for herself and tell Lindsey to show her real repentance by ensuring that her marriage to Jasper does not fall apart. And while she had hoped to hear the words of apology before, Lane realizes that God took care of both her and those who hurt her, all while keeping her heart safe for a better love. Lane despised the “sleepy” town she grew up in for years because it reminds her of all the ways she believes she failed to be what everyone expected of her. When she finds her health in crisis after the stress of her job becomes too much, she quits her job and agrees to come home and work with Ryan on his Cedar Grove community project. Through their working together to make the cottages perfect in time for Ryans military friend’s families to stay, they will both find forgiveness, peace and a love that never really died. I just loved how Ms. Walsh brought the two of them together and showed that forgiveness is necessary if one seeks true healing in their relationships. My only issue with the entire book was that Ms. Walsh didn’t really address how Lane’s mother treated her – both as a child and as an adult. Instead of defending her daughter against those who bullied her as a child, Dottie Kelley tells her “they didn’t really mean it”. That is extremely hurtful to a child when their parent is not their defender, not to extremes of course, but especially when their physical appearance is different from everyone else. Dottie should have helped Lane find confidence in her own abilities and looks rather than telling her “I told you you shouldn’t have worn/done that”. The worst however was when she didn’t actively pursue her daughter when she found out about Lindsey and Jasper. My mother would have broken down the door to comfort and help me if someone did that do me, even if it was a sibling. So while I would have liked to have seen more contrition from Dottie, I still really loved this book. I will most certainly be recommending this book to others; its one I know I will be re-reading as well.

I received this book free of charge from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for a fair and honest review. I will receive no fiscal compensation from Tyndale House Publishers for this review.

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The Chapel Car Bride by Judith Miller – Book Review

The Chapel Car Bride by Judith Miller

Published by Bethany House Publishers April 04, 2017

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian

Pages: 340

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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Publisher’s Description

With her penchant for seeing the best in everyone, Hope Irvine sees a world full of good people in hard places. When her father accepts a position traveling in a chapel car as an on-the-rail missionary, she is determined to join him in his efforts and put her musical skills to good use by serving the mining families of West Virginia, saving their souls, and bettering their lives.

Luke Hughes shares Hope’s love of music and her love of God, but as a poor miner he knows he can offer her no future. Still, the notes she sings resonate in his heart. When she begins to travel with a young mine manager to neighboring counties, Luke can hardly suppress his jealousy. It isn’t until he begins to suspect these missions of mercy might be the mine manager’s cover for illegal purposes, though, that Luke feels justified in speaking up. But how can he discover the truth without hurting Hope or, worse, putting her in danger?

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Story Notes

Judith Miller’s newest story takes a look back at a time when coal mining towns in West Virginia were plentiful and missionaries were preachers and their families who did whatever it took to share Jesus with those in rural areas.

In all honesty, I probably would not give this book 3 out of 5 stars merely on its plot or story telling alone –  I found it very predictable and boring. However, I am giving it a higher rating because I like the idea that was presented. It was extremely interesting to me that this man and his daughter would give up a very comfortable living in Pittsburgh to travel to remote areas of West Virginia to share the love of Jesus. And not only did they travel there, they lived in a rail car with very cramped living quarters! I’m not one for small spaces myself, but I found myself wondering if I would be willing to do the same if called by God to go. My hope is that my answer would be yes, but I would definitely have to make some adjustments to living in such a small area. Now I must tell you my honest opinions of the story itself. To be completely fair I will say that the writing was well done with a good variety of vocabulary, this was a good surprise. The plot, on the other hand, was dreadfully predictable and boring to me. I had the story totally figured out by the hundredth page and I had to force myself to read to the end of the book – that is never a good thing. It reminded me most keenly of the multitudinous Hallmark movies I have seen, which, in themselves, are nice but are ever so predictable. I am a reader who enjoys a good story that is well told and includes unexpected turns or thoughts, so its hard when I get a story that is missing these elements. Ms. Miller has written many books and I know she has a loyal fan base but I doubt I will ever be one of them. Another big issue I had with this story was the characters themselves: Hope was one of the inexperienced women I’ve ever read about! Her naivete was so incredibly deep that she was completely blinded by a smooth talker. My parents didn’t raise me to be a cynic but they did teach me caution and wisdom – something Hope’s father, Reverend Irvine, failed to do. I think this was the point of Ms. Miller’s story, but I found Hope’s ignorance to be rather extreme. Luke Hughes was a better character but still seemed to be rather two dimensional. His brashness and cynicism are to be expected from a man who has seen his family taken advantage of his whole life, but Ms. Miller made his ire random and inconsistent, making his  character appear under developed. Kirby Finch was a grown man who acted like a spoiled brat the whole time. Clearly his father overindulged him but his total brattiness was annoying to me. Usually “men” like that find that intimidation works best to keep people in line. But as he was a smaller built character he resorted to bandying words. Ms. Miller should have spent more time developing his vocabulary as he would have had better speech patterns given his upbringing in private schools. So while this book might be of better interest to some, it was definitely not a favorite for me. I will not be recommending this book to others except if they profess an interest in missionary endeavors of the early 20th century.

I received this book free of charge from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for a fair and honest review. I will receive no fiscal compensation from Bethany House Publishers for this review.

Sorry!!!!

Hello Everyone,

I am sorry I have been lax in posting in a while – I have been on vacation the past two weeks and there was no real wifi to use for writing and posting. I promise to make up for that missed time with some more frequent posts over the next few weeks.

I’ve got quite a list stored up in my files of new books to read but I’m always looking for ones that you’ve read that you’d like to see reviewed. If you have a favorite, let me know and I’ll see about getting it on my blog soon.

Thanks for all your kind thoughts and support!