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Books Read in 2014: WHEN CALLS THE HEART by Janette Oke

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

When Calls the Heart by Janette Oke (1983)

When Calls the HeartBook Blurb:
Elizabeth Thatcher is young, pretty, cultured, and educated. But when she journeys west to teach school in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, she’s completely unprepared for the conditions she encounters. Still, she’s determined to succeed at the formidable task of fitting in with the locals and shaping the hearts and minds of the schoolchildren in her care.

She’s just as determined not to give her heart to any of the local frontiersmen. Until she meets Wynn Delaney, a member the Royal Canadian Mounted Police….

My Review:
When Calls the Heart 80s

1983 Rating: 4.5 stars (I read the version with the cover on the right)

2014 Rating: 3 stars

      Goodreads bookshelves: books-read-in-2014, hist-20th-c-edwardian-to-wwi, historical-inspy-romance

      Read from March 17 to March 20, 2014

This is the first time I’ve re-read this book since it came out thirty years ago. As a YA reader, I absolutely adored it and the first two or three sequels (I think I read four books in this series as they came out); it went quite well with the Sunfire romances from Scholastic that I was reading at the time. I do remember that I enjoyed them much more than the Love Comes Softly series that I was reading around the same time. (I went to a very small, very conservative Christian school for junior high, and Oke’s books were available in the school library and so were acceptable to carry around and read on breaks; most of the rest of what I read at home wasn’t.)

I’ve been . . . well, “enjoying” is a bit strong of a term . . . entertained recently by the Hallmark series inspired by When Calls the Heart, so I thought now would be as good a time as any to re-read it. I’m going to count this as my Inspy Historical Romance in my 2014 Genre Reading Challenge, though there are a few things about this book that, even by my definition, disqualify it from that genre.

First, it’s written in first-person. I’m not a big fan of first-person historicals and I have a hard time counting anything but those in the Gothic subgenre as “romance” novels—because for me, romance novels need to include the hero’s POV as well as the heroine’s.

Second, though she gets a glimpse of the hero about 1/3 of the way into the book, she doesn’t actually meet him and have a conversation with him until 50% of the way in. There’s “insta-love” (because, let’s recall, this is an Inspy romance, so it’s definitely not insta-lust) on her part. His? We don’t know—because, again, we don’t get his POV.

Third, there’s very little relationship development between the two of them in the last 50% of the book because they’re so rarely together. A picnic here, a family dinner there. All the while, he’s maintaining his attitude that Mounties shouldn’t marry because it’s selfish—unfair to the woman, who won’t be able to handle the kind of rough living that a Mountie in the outback of Canada (can I call it that?) would have to deal with.

Other than those things, it’s pretty standard Prairie Romance fare: City Girl goes West to teach in Country Town and has to learn how to rough-it while falling in love with Local Law Man. It even includes the Big Misunderstanding trope: she believes he’s married and the father of one of the boys in her school. This Big Misunderstanding carries through most of the last half of the book because, let’s face it, there is almost no relationship development, so there’s no conversation in which the truth can be revealed. And Wynn never uses the terms “my sister-in-law” or “my nephew,” which might clue her in. If he’s as interested in Elizabeth as he’s supposed to be, you’d think that, after continually getting the cold shoulder from her, he might take the opportunity to drop a few terms like that into a conversation to see if that makes a difference.

This book is basically Christy-lite: first person, wide-eyed, naive heroine; country school house; learning the quirks of a small town, etc. The good thing here, though, is that there’s no love triangle forced upon the heroine. (Oh, and as far as that goes, in Christy, I’m Team-David all the way!)

Daniel Lissing as Mountie Jack Thornton in Hallmark Channel's When Calls the Heart

Daniel Lissing as Mountie Jack Thornton in Hallmark Channel’s When Calls the Heart

Revisiting this book, I was really surprised by how little a presence the Mounties have, and what little attention is paid to the fact that Wynn is a Mountie. I guess because I have the memory of the story as it continues after they’re married in the sequels, and because that’s a huge draw of the TV show (ahhhhh, Mountie Jack!), I expected it to be more of a…thing in the book. The red serge coat, the boots, the hat, etc. But it’s really downplayed in the book.

Another thing that surprised me going back to this one was how light it is on the Inspy part. It’s clean, she goes to church, she prays, she’s shown reading her Bible. There was one long “internal sermon” section that I skipped over (when she’s having a long internal monologue over what she’s just read in her quiet time), but other than that, there isn’t any Bible thumping, verse quoting, witnessing/evangelizing, or sermonizing in this book (unlike in Love Comes Softly, where there’s a full presentation of the gospel so Marty can get saved to be worthy of Clark’s love).

All said, this was a quick, light read, and, while at twelve years old, I couldn’t wait for the next book in the series, I do believe that a revisit to the first volume is quite enough for me now.

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My rating matrix:
5 STARS = one of the best I’ve ever read
4 STARS = a great read, highly recommended
3 STARS = it was okay/not a favorite
2 STARS = I didn’t enjoy it all that much, not recommended
1 STAR/DNF = I hated it and/or Did Not Finish it

One Comment
  1. Dora permalink
    Wednesday, March 26, 2014 8:56 am

    Unlike you, I didn’t join the inspirational reading genre until I was an adult. My first introduction to Wynn and Elizabeth was after I read the Love Comes Softly series, which I enjoyed more than the Canadian series. As I watched the movie When Calls the Heart, prior to the premiere of the series, I have been thinking about revisiting the books, as there are some things that I have forgotten and would like to refresh my memory. I agree that I would like to have read the point of view of each of the leading characters. However, I enjoy a well written first person story, as well. Thanks for your insight, I will probably be searching the virtual library shelves for this series in the near future.

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