When Calls the Heart by Janette Oke is a charming inspirational romance with an enjoyable love story for both genre fans and those new to it.
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Book Series: Canadian West #1
Published by: Bethany House Publishers
Genres: Historical Romance, Inspirational Romance, Pioneer or Frontier Romance
Format: Audiobook, eBook, Hardcover, Paperback
Buy on: Amazon, AbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader
When Calls the Heart by Janette Oke is an inspirational historical romance novel and the first entry in Oke’s “Canadian West” series. There was a TV movie based on this book, and The Hallmark Channel currently airs When Calls the Heart: Return to the Canadian West as a long-running program.
As I don’t watch regular TV, I had no idea of this book’s popularity before reading it. Although, I wouldn’t be watching The Hallmark Channel if I did have cable. Too wholesome for this Edge-Lady.
A Heroine I Can Relate To (A Little Bit)
When Calls the Heart is set around 1910 and told in the first person POV of the heroine, Elizabeth Thatcher. She is the middle daughter of five children from a cultured East Coast background (Toronto) who takes on a position in the rugged Canadian frontier city of Calgary as a school teacher.
Why? Because the voice in her head told her to. (Actually, her mother convinced her to as a “love gift for her brother.”) I’m not making fun, though. Elizabeth talks to herself in these weird ways, and I can relate.
With ADHD, there’s absolutely no way I can be alone with myself and stay silent. I have at least three running commentaries at a time; so does Beth. Thanks to her, I realize how annoying I must be to my husband when I’m in one room typing away, babbling to myself, and he’s in the next room trying in vain to ignore my auto-conversations.
Although she faces hardships, Elizabeth is determined to do the best she can in her new home. Along the way, she falls in love with a handsome Dudley-Do-Right—a big, hunky, upstanding, red member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
(I’m so juvenile.)
A New Teacher In Town
Elizabeth is a well-educated woman, but she’s as bright as a December morning in the Yukon. She settles in the harsh Alberta countryside without preparation or any idea of what life has in store. She’s a citified lady with little experience doing basic household chores. Elizabeth is a failure at starting fires, chopping wood, and even basic cooking.
She wears clothes that are far too fancy for her new lifestyle. The girl lives in fear of coyotes attacking her–when she’s indoors!
As for dealing with teeny tiny mice? Pathetic!
Come on, a swift hit with the heel of her shoe, and one of those country mice would be like a little furry booger-snot. It’s not like they’re NYC rats.
As the new, young, pretty teacher in town, she garners the attention of many of the community’s single men.
Things get uncomfortable when the school superintendent is so sure she will marry him that he neglects even to ask. Oops. Elizabeth sets him straight, but he isn’t happy with her. As there are no human resources to help her, she tries to make the best of an awkward situation.
Elizabeth’s feelings for her friend’s brother, Wynn, is another story. He makes Elizabeth feel her holiest.
In Like Wynn
Alas, Wynn’s supposedly “married” to his career as a Mountie. (Funny, I would have figured him for a Mounter.)
But what can she do when Wynn always shows up at the right moment? When she’s in trouble, Big Red is always there: whether it’s to fix her stove, to carry her when she “sprains” her ankle, to drive her home from church, or to buy her a box lunch.
He makes her heart pitter-patter, something awful, and Elizabeth can’t stop drooling over him. I had to keep checking her age. Beth is about 20 years old—young, sure—but she behaves like a 10-year-old who’s just discovered how cute Tobey Maguire is as Spiderman.
(That was my daughter’s first crush; my husband and I laughed about how adorable she was. At 20, that “OMG, like, he’s the cutest! I’m going to write his name all over my notebooks” attitude comes off as emotionally stunted.)
Some ridiculous scenes kept me entertained. There’s a part where Elizabeth runs into a bear on the way home from a student’s house and faints dead away! Wynn conveniently shows up to carry her out of danger.
The thrill gets to these two horn dogs, and they kiss. Briefly.
He apologizes, so she gets flustered. Elizabeth falls and twists her ankle slightly. (The klutz! She’s always falling. Another relatable aspect, though. I have an inner ear issue. TMI.)
So that schemer Beth pretends that she can’t walk as an excuse to rest her cheek against Wynn’s broad, red-coated chest. He takes a super quick peek at her ankle, tells her it looks bad, swoops her up in his strong arms, and she sighs against his body.
It’s only the next day then she realizes that Wynn saw her ankle. (Good Heavens!) What’s more, he lied when he said she was injured. Wynn used that pretense to carry her!
Oh, those wild kids! The shenanigans!
Steam Factor: Squeaky Clean
If this book were a glass window, it would be so squeaky clean that it would be a hazard to birds.
You’d see a pile of dead chickadees mounting up on the ground. It’s so clean, it’s dangerous!
One might feel tempted to write the letters S-E-X in red lipstick on the glass to prevent another gruesome death!
If you’re looking for some steamy content to go with your spiritual themes, look to older Francine Rivers romances. (If you can find or afford them.)
There’s no hot and heavy here. The most it gets are a few kisses, looks of longing, some hugs, and embraces. Maybe that’s more sweet than clean, but Elizabeth has the sexual awareness of a Precious Moments baby figurine, so it’s anti-erotic.
Although that hussy, Elizabeth, does kiss Santa on the cheek! Did she forget Kris Kringle is a married man?
Despite the hardship and struggles she faces, Elizabeth bonds with the children she teaches. She adroitly maneuvers through awkward social situations. And eventually, she comes to learn the ways of the wilderness. (A little bit.)
Overall, When Calls the Heart is a moderately positive read. While it wasn’t anything special, it was still a pleasant book that kept me interested…mostly.
The characters were well-developed, and the setting was vividly described. The love story between Elizabeth and Wynn is sweet and sappy.
The Negatives: The pacing is sometimes uneven. Some parts were cheesy and saccharine, but they didn’t detract from the overall enjoyment.
The Break-Evens: When Calls the Heart reads more like a preteen’s diary than a novel, but that was more a source of amusement than irritation.
The Positives: I appreciated how the Oke dealt with themes of faith and community without over-moralizing. The novel has a heartwarming message about the power of faith and love to overcome adversity. It depicts a bygone era in which people formed communities and rallied to help one another through thick and thin.
So I guess I do like wholesome, after all.
Final Analysis of When Calls the Heart
Janette Oke’s When Calls the Heart is a somewhat charming inspirational that should appeal to fans of the inspirational genre. To those new to it? It depends on how mellow your mood is. I guess that day, my meds were working. (TMI, again, sorry!)
There are religious elements, but granted, this is a Christian-themed romance. The love story is ooey-gooey sweet and accessible to readers of all faiths. Elizabeth’s struggle in a harsh environment, the importance of family and friends, and the power of love are universal concepts.
Although When Calls the Heart had its ridiculous moments, it’s a worthwhile read that ends on an uplifting, hopeful note.
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Nothing in her cultured East Coast upbringing prepared Elizabeth for a teaching position on the Canadian frontier. Yet, despite the constant hardships, she loves the children in her care. Determined to do the best job she can and fighting to survive the harsh land, Elizabeth is surprised to find her heart softening towards a certain member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Book 1 of the bestselling Canadian West series.When Calls the Heart by Janette Oke