Monday, May 24, 2021

Just Look Up by Courtney Walsh

Just Look Up by Courtney Walsh

Let’s take a little trip back to 2017 for today’s review. I’m enjoying getting caught up with Courtney’s backlist. Just Look Up is book one in her Harbor Pointe series, set in Michigan.

Here’s the summary:

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.

And now, my review:

I love reunion romances, even more so when we learn that one of the two had a crush on the other person earlier in their lives. It’s like a built-in chemistry boost, especially if the object of affection had no idea.

Our heroine struggles with insecurities, and she has never felt she belonged, even with her family. When her family members favor forgiveness for the sake of unity, she’s left out. She’ll either have to choose forgiveness too or continue to be an outsider.

She feels most secure at work, where she hides from everything else. Some readers may relate. She also hides behind her phone, and I liked the double entendre of looking up from her phone as well as looking up toward God. Great themes.

We got to know Ryan a little, not nearly like we dove into Lane’s psyche. But I was glad. Given he was a war vet, his contribution to the story could have been violent or heavier. What we do learn of him is his nobility. He’s an excellent big brother, and he fits right into the community the heroine left behind. He knows how to accept grace, despite his rough childhood.

Because the heroine’s entire strength lies in her work, she lets it rule her. She doesn’t set boundaries. She works too many hours, never has downtime. But the beachy setting of Harbor Pointe interferes with that, along with her family and Ryan who can clearly see how unhealthy her compulsions are.

She rebuilt herself from her childhood years. This was relatable and made her respectable, even as we watched her struggle to change, to let go. I felt the story needed a little smoothing over, and the last quarter felt rushed. But generally, I enjoyed the novel. And I recommend it! Courtney has a way of inserting profound statements that are relatable and poignant like few authors I’ve read lately. I’m working my way through all her books!

Monday, May 17, 2021

If for Any Reason by Courtney Walsh


If for Any Reason by Courney Walsh

This is book one in the Nantucket Love Story series.

I am a Courtney Walsh fan. Love her writing style—profound insights without preaching plus great storytelling.

Let’s begin with the summary:

Emily Ackerman has traveled the world, her constant compass and companion a book of letters her mother left for her when she died. With no father in the picture, her mom’s advice has been her only true north. But when professional failure leads Emily back to Nantucket to renovate and sell the family cottage she inherited, she wonders if her mom left advice to cover this . . . especially when her grandmother arrives to “supervise.” And especially when her heart becomes entangled with Hollis McGuire, the boy next door–turned–baseball star who’s back on the island after a career-ending injury.

As sparks fly between her and Hollis, Emily is drawn to island life, even as she uncovers shocking secrets about the tragic accident that led to her mother’s death. With her world turned upside down, Emily must choose between allowing the voices from her past to guide her future or forging her own path forward.

And now, my review:

Our heroine grew up without her father, which has left a void in her life and a determination that any man who would abandon or avoid his family isn’t trustworthy. She hasn’t taken into account reasons a man might do that. This was a great conflict between the characters. Loved this tension as it unfolded, and I enjoyed the fatherhood theme throughout.

This is a reunion romance, which is one of my favorites. I saw some of the vignettes Courtney describes as movie scenes; they were so well written. Here’s an example from page 32:

As he strode toward them, Emily felt her shoulders straighten. It was almost as if he were moving in slow motion, as if her past were unraveling right in front of her. Her heart quickened. She hadn’t counted on this—on him.

The vision unspools in your mind, doesn’t it?

Security is another theme. The heroine protects herself with guards and always leaves herself an out. I think this will be relatable to readers who’ve ever felt unsure while visiting their hometown and facing down their pasts, especially those whose pasts are messy. Emily’s past is messy. She doesn’t feel she belongs—another relatable theme for readers.

Oh, the chemistry between these characters. I highlighted several places where Courtney paired their history and their conversational game that builds intimacy with their chemistry. These two will only let the other person in, even while Emily keeps Hollis at arm’s length. A great romantic tension, believable. Well crafted.

Our heroine is an actress, which was a fun career. She manifested the talent from childhood. I loved this aspect of her life. She’d been a child star, someone our hero could grow up crushing on. Yummy, right?

Though she has passed, Emily’s mother offers advice to her through letters. This was an interesting element as well. We tend to elevate the words of those who've passed, don't we? I don't blame her. This ingredient was well handled.

There are family secrets to discover in this well-woven novel. For all those reasons and more, I loved this book.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Hooked on You by Kathleen Fuller

Hooked on You by Kathleen Fuller

New release!

Look at that gorgeous cover! A different take on the bookshop craze—a knitting/yarn shop!

Let’s begin with the summary:

She never wanted to come back. He never wants to leave. The town of Maple Falls has plans for them both.

Riley McAllister is living the dream in New York City . . . if the dream means being a struggling mixed-media artist, part-time food delivery driver, and having a carefully curated social media to hide all of the above. She refuses to admit defeat and move back to small-town Maple Falls, but when her grandmother breaks her leg sliding into third base during a softball game (she was safe, by the way), Riley reluctantly agrees to go home and help the woman who raised her—while secretly hoping she can convince Mimi to sell her house and yarn shop and move in with a good friend. Then Riley can return to her new life in NYC, on her own and for good.

But Mimi has her own plans, which include setting Riley up with local baseball star Hayden Price, who returned to Maple Falls after an injury ended his major league career. Now he works at his father’s hardware store, coaches the church softball team, and worries about the declining town. It’s not the life he dreamed of having.

With a little meddling and a lot of kindness from the town, Hayden and Riley find themselves unexpectedly falling for each other as they discover the true meaning of home.

Welcome to Maple Falls, where everyone knows your name and your business.

And now, my review:

Our heroine is an artist, which is an interesting career to read about. She’s struggling to achieve her dreams, and I think readers will relate with that. I enjoy story lines that include a character chasing their aspirations, working hard, sacrificing. She’s ashamed of the length of time it’s taking. Perhaps she’s looking for validation in the wrong area—again, relatable for readers.

Our hero hasn’t achieved his goals either. He coaches the elderly in their softball team, which brings him in close proximity to the heroine and her grandmother in a unique way. I liked that we shared time in his POV. He’s just as much a victim of Mimi’s meddling, but that adds to the fun. We get to spend time in Mimi’s POV. She’s eccentric and feisty. So many interesting characters.

The small-town atmosphere is a charming setting. I liked the originality of the artist's career and the yarn shop. 

Unfortunately, though, the book plodded along for me. I couldn’t get hooked into the story. To be fair, I read the ARC, but I found so many repeated words and phrases needing tightening. The story pacing stalled in redundancy, and I didn’t find rich layers. It’s possible those elements were addressed in the editing phases. As Kathleen was a new-to-me author and since I loved the cover, I had high hopes for this one. But I gave up at 15 percent. Perhaps the plot and setting felt too similar to other series that without an engaging hook, I couldn’t stay with it.

I have another of Kathleen’s book in my wish-list pile, and I look forward to checking out her work again. I received a complimentary copy of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.

I wish the author and publisher all the best.