Just Look Up by Courtney Walsh

Disclaimer: Just Look Up, by Courtney Walsh, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

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 to 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 the walls Lane has built, secrets from his past collide with a truth even he is reluctant to believe, putting Ryan at a crossroads that could not only alter his relationship with the Kelly family but jeopardize his future with the girl of his dreams.

My rating: 2/5

I really am not a fan of the “bitter female” protagonist because so often it is completely overdone. It’s hard to get readers to sympathize with someone whom they feel is overreacting and/or being irrational. Luckily, Courtney Walsh manages to avoid most of the pitfalls in Just Look Up, although the longer I read, the sicker I got of Lane’s angst and bitterness (it’s a long book, so by the end Lane continually feeling sorry for herself wears thin). Lane has some legitimate reasons for being so closed-off, though some of them I thought were expressed a little melodramatically by Walsh, and at least her behavior makes sense in light of her past and emotions.

Ryan, unfortunately, falls into every pitfall and cliché of a love interest and of a character with his particular background. My kingdom for a love interest who doesn’t have “muscles rippling under his shirt” that the female protagonist admires and then pretends she doesn’t feel attracted to him.  Nothing of Ryan’s story surprised me and he was about as interesting as a paper bag.

I do think Walsh overexaggerated the extent that people rely on their cellphones, although I don’t doubt there are workaholics like Lane in the world and that people are too attached to their screens. I also am upset that there was never a scene in the novel where Lane talks with her family about her work, her stress, and the physical effects it had on her. There’s actually never really a scene where Lane gets her thoughts out, at all, or any sense of resolution or fulfillment besides a short chat with her sister. The Lane the story ends with is virtually the same Lane the story begins with, which seems counterproductive to the point Walsh is making.

Just Look Up starts off well with a character type that is usually annoying, then falls flat when the length of the novel means that Lane’s bitterness starts to grate after 300+ pages with almost no progress. Maybe I’m just not very sympathetic to a character’s seemingly (and actually) irrational thoughts and behavior, especially when it’s dwelt on for the entire book and never truly resolved. I was also not a fan of Ryan, who breaks out of no “male love interest” boxes and whose story is check-box predictable, right down to his rippling muscles. I think a lot of the book is good and/or has potential, but I think a shorter book with a better sense of resolution would have made it better.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2rOLA8y

Review Copy: Paper Hearts

Disclaimer: Paper Hearts, by Courtney Walsh, is a review copy provided by Tyndale. Therefore, the format of this review will deviate from my normal blog review format.

“Abigail Pressman never would have guessed that love notes penned on paper hearts by an anonymous couple could challenge her doubts about romance. A business owner in a quaint tourist town, she dreams of expanding. But lately, she’s more focused on 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 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.

As she fights a growing attraction to this man intent on 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 arrives, it appear something tragic has happened to the couple. Will uncovering their story confirm Abigail’s doubts, or could it rescue her dreams…and her heart?”

Paper Hearts is fairly cute and fairly funny and while it’s not a fantastic novel by any means, it is a pretty decent one. It’s well-written (even though the writing sounds remarkably similar to both the two other books I’ve reviewed from Tyndale and several other adult books I’ve read; I don’t know why all adult books written by women sound the same) and the romance is nicely set-up and developed.

I do wish the plot as a whole hadn’t been so predictable; I guessed fairly early on exactly how Abigail and Jacob would end up together. It’s incredibly obvious who the writers of the hearts are as soon as Abigail pulls them out of the box and it’s incredibly obvious how Abigail and Jacob will get over the “challenge” of the renovation conflict. I also didn’t particularly like the overused trope of “Rude, Pushy Woman Who Exists To Make Love Interest Jealous.” But, the romance, as I mentioned above, was decent, even though Jacob was a bit too squishy for my liking. (I also hate the “she doesn’t know she’s pretty” trope, which is mentioned about every single time Jacob looks at Abigail).

The book focuses a lot on suffering and essentially the problem of evil, and Walsh does deal with that pretty well. I think she could have elaborated a bit more on Jacob’s return to God in the wake of Gwen’s death, but she did a good job of showing Jacob’s thought process throughout. I thought she ended up hand-waving a bit at the end, though, and explaining everything away with the Power of Love (as in, it’s insinuated that Jacob begins to accept and understand his past suffering better because he fell in love with Abigail, as if the act of falling in love gets rid of issues like that) but besides that, everything else was nicely done.

Also, as a single woman, I resent the implication made that single women are bitter and secretly longing for a man. I know that Walsh wasn’t intentionally trying to making that point, but when all the single women in the novel are either bitter or throwing themselves at the available guy, then something is going to come across, whether you mean it or not.

Overall, Paper Hearts was decent, with a fairly good romance and a mostly-good handling of suffering. I did wish that there was less predictability in terms of plot and character, and some of the implications that the novel makes, whether intentionally or not, were a little aggravating.

Rating: 3/5

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Christian

You can buy this here: Paper Hearts