21 September 2014

When Calls the Heart (Canadian West, Book 1)


Synopsis from back of book: 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 the do the best job she can and fighting to surviv the harsh land, Elizabeth is surprised to find her heart softening towards a certain member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, published by Bethany Hose, 1983.

How acquired: Bought.

First line: It came as a surprise to me.

My thoughts: I think this is the first book I've read by Janette Oke, and I was a little surprised initially by the writing style, which almost seems aimed at a young adult audience. Nothing wrong with YA of course, I just wasn't expecting it. And I obviously read too many romance novels, because I kept waiting and waiting for the hero to make his appearance. While our heroine sees him once at a distance, talking to her brother, earlier in the book, she doesn't actually meet him until page 143 – literally halfway through the 284 page book.

Elizabeth has grown up in a well to do family, enjoying the comforts of big city living. Being a very independent sort of girl, she has pursued a teaching career, and has no thoughts of or desire to marry and settle into the life of a housewife. When her oldest brother, living in the rugged untamed west, writes to their mother about the opportunities available for women and the need for schoolteachers, and asking if Elizabeth would like to come out, she at first is horrified at the prospect, but eventually agrees.

Upon her arrival, after being reintroduced to her brother, whom she hasn't seen in years, and meeting his wife, she quickly lets them know that she is here to teach only:
...Had I been interested in matrimony, I could have stayed in the East and found an acceptable spouse. Julie, who by the way is our family expert on the subject, assures me that the men of the West are adventurers – undependable, rough, and rowdy. I don't know if her research is totally reliable, but I have no intention of finding out...”

Unfortunately, the school superintendent, Mr. Higgins, who will decide at what school to place her, takes an immediate liking to her and seems to assume that she would be more than happy to forgo teaching and marry him instead. She politely sets him straight, and he gets his revenge by placing her at a school 100 miles away from her family, in a rugged small town that has been unable to attract a teacher, ever. And thus her real adventures begin.

The story is in first person POV, with Elizabeth being a sweet and reliable narrator. She loves teaching, loves getting to know the children and their family, along with other members of the community. Wynn Delaney holds a fascination for her that she finds unexpected and disconcerting. She's not perfect, she makes some mistakes and jumps to some conclusions, though she hurts herself more than anyone else in the process. Her battle with the mice who inhabit the little house she is provided was particularly amusing.

Overall a very engaging and enjoyable read. Knowing this is the first book in a series, I was left worrying and guessing practically up to the last few pages as to how it would end, but was more than satisfied. 

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