Saturday, December 22, 2012

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: Belonging by Robin Lee Hatcher

Belonging (Where the Heart Lives #1)
Robin Lee Hatcher

Page Count: 277
Release Date: 23 August 2011
Publisher: Zondervan
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!!)

Can two bitter pasts make one sweet future?

In the high desert town of Frenchman's Bluff, Idaho, Felicia Kristoffersen has set out to create a future for herself that is better than her painful past. Alone in the world with only her faith to sustain her, she must prove herself as this tiny community's new school teacher. She cannot, must not, fail. But, there are those who never wanted her there to begin with.

Five years after the death of his wife, local merchant Colin Murphy cares about just one thing: raising his daughter, Charity. Colin wants to give her the educational advantages he never had. The new schoolmarm's inexperience doesn't sit well with him, and if this teacher up and marries like the last one did, Charity's heart will be broken once again.

A woman who hasn't known love. A man who lost the love he had.

In the midst of the wide, sage-covered plains, each is about to discover that life's bitterest circumstances truly can work together for good.

Review


At ten, Felicia Brennan Kristofferson was orphaned; at twenty-six, she was orphaned for the second time. The deaths of her adoptive parents leaves her completely independent—save the malicious "cousin" who wants her to marry into the Kristofferson family to face the fate of inevitable domestic houselife—so the teaching job that brings her to Frenchman's Bluff, Idaho, is a haven—a godsend. 

The small, close-knit town welcomes Felicia with open arms, but there are a few who underestimate and actually disapprove of her position. Their suspicions are not without reason, however; the previous two schoolteachers each stayed less than one year each, before marrying off and ditching the children completely, so some parents are concerned she just may be taking advantage of the job, as the others did.

Felicia's incredible dedication to her career, her students, and to God, however, proves that she only has one motive to be in Frenchman's Bluff, and that is to serve the Lord and the children. Her heart contains nothing pureness, and maybe a few nostalgic bruises; she is determined to take this fresh start and make it right. I was amazed at how well and how deeply her character is explored. All of the characters are remarkably well-developed, secondary characters included. I loved the good guys and hated the bad; Hatcher makes it very easy to tap into the minds of each cast member, from the main character, to the antagonist, which I know is not an easy feat in and of itself.

The plot is tasteful and well-crafted, incorporating bits of Christian values smoothly. The storyline is not terribly exciting, but it's planned perfectly, and mighty clever. The development of Felicia's relationships with all the townspeople, as well as with Colin and Charity, is a real treat. While I did like how the inspirational messages weren't forced, I did feel sometimes the book was unreasonably preachy. Felicia silently prays or makes a plea to God at every ill thought and every remote turn in plan; not only is this slightly annoying, but it's also unnecessary. As a character, she's irritatingly sensitive; she tears up at every reminder of her past. I know it's sad, and I know she's a fragile woman, but that kind of behavior is girly (in a bad way) and weak. I would have liked to have seen more strength from Felicia—the kind of strength acquired over ten years, of overcoming the heartbreak of being torn apart from family at a young age. Colin's character is a bit more relatable; he too, has an upsetting past, but his safe, widowed, day-to-day life is his own way of recovery. His dedication to his daughter, especially, is incredibly real and hits close to home.

Stylistically, Hatcher is a gem. Her words flow smoothly and beautifully. The procession of the story moves seamlessly; I didn't have to plod through it at all! One thing that did irk me was the curtness of the dialogue: lots of one-worded responses from not just one, but all of the characters. Maybe this was the norm in 1897, but to me, it just sounds unwelcoming. The deep probing of—the scars, fears, and secrets of—each of the characters' minds makes up for it, though. I really have no complaints on how Hatcher chose to portray her characters fully.

I cannot confidently classify this as a romance novel. In the traditional sense, yes, it's a romance in that boy meets girl on the first page and boy gets girl by the last, but it's rather unorthodox. There is no attraction—in fact, there is unattraction—until about halfway throughout. Then small, totally non-sexual, tingly feelings rise in Colin and Felicia's stomachs whenever they see each other—more than a several times—and then they abruptly SPOILER get married and live happily ever after. I will say their relationship is complex, especially with Colin's initial reservations and Felicia's interaction with his young daughter, but it just didn't seem at all romantic to me. It bothered me that Colin's character is compromised when it is revealed that he never was in love with his wife. He loved her, of course, and is still grieving her death, but his marriage to her is described as "practical." I feel this is uncharacteristic and was only included so that his relationship could further with Felicia. Again, this makes the so-called romance unrealistic and a bit stilted. For a content advisory, there isn't one; the romance is 100% chaste (absolutely no sex, absolutely no physical interaction except at the end—in hindsight, this may be why I didn't enjoy it as much) because it sticks to traditional 19th century Christian values.

The power of staying faithful to God and leading life with a pure, wholesome outlook prove to be the key to happiness in Belonging. Through Felicia, readers understand and rejoice because, no matter what troubles and turmoils arise, God always saves and protects. Accidents will occur, plans will be ruined, and people will try to get in the way, but in the end, maintaining a loving, kind heart is what makes individuals truly belong.

Pros


Amazing character development // Easy, smooth flow to story; book moves and finishes quickly // Well-penned writing style // Colin and Felicia have a strong rapport, though not necessarily a romance // Strong morals on family and love // Believable situations and characters // Not too dense with historical information; fictional town and setting actually quite charming

Cons


Slightly preachy in religious message // Felicia is pathetic at times // Romance is poorly developed // Dialogue sometimes unrealistic and lacks emotion

Love

Kathleen could scarcely believe those words had come out of her mouth ... She must be losing her mind.

Or perhaps she was beginning to find it.

Verdict


Belonging is a heartwarming, clean, and gorgeously-crafted Christian historical that encompasses an absence—and a discovery—of belonging, a passion for God, and a huge misunderstanding, or rather: several small misunderstandings that constitute for one conflict of fate. By demonstrating the importance of determination, dedication, and faith, Belonging conveys the almighty power of love—for God, for family, and for oneself through one woman's search for a place to belong. The religious undertone is strong, and the characterization, stronger; Hatcher has succeeded in telling an inspirational, absorbing, and completely feel-good story. 

8 hearts: An engaging read; highly recommended. ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥