Emily Drake is a simple Quaker spinster who works in a chocolate factory to help support the aging grandparents who raised her. When her best friend and co-worker, Kate, invites her to a dance, Emily is reluctant to go, feeling that it isn't something she should be doing, but eventually Kate persuades her to give it a try. There she meets handsome Ben Galloway who takes an instant liking to her. But he isn't a fellow Quaker, while her grandparents' choice, the new minister, Luke Morrison, is a far more suitable match. However, Emily can't seem to muster the same enthusiasm for Luke as she feels for Ben. When Ben heads back to Iowa to help out his widowed mother and younger sister, he asks Emily to wait for him, but as the months pass without his return, she feels more and more pressure to accept Luke's suit. Can she find a way to sort through her conflicting emotions to make the choice that's right for her?
The Heart Has Its Reasons is my first read by Birdie L. Etchison, as well as her first published romance and the first in her Oregon series, which follows the lives of various members of the Galloway family. It's also another of these short Heartsong Presents inspirational romances that I've been slowly working on clearing off my TBR shelves. It's the story of a young woman whose Quaker faith seems pretty exclusionary. When she reluctantly attends a dance with her best friend and co-worker, where she meets a young man who catches her eye, she feels that she can't allow herself to become romantically involved with him because of the differences in their faith, even though he ardently pursues her. When he leaves to go help his mother and sister in Iowa, she convinces herself it wasn't meant to be in spite of him asking her to wait on him and promising to return. During that time, a young, new, recently-widowed minister arrives to lead the Quaker meetings, so she allows herself to be caught up in the idea of eventually marrying him, because everyone expects it of her. However, he doesn't stir her heart in the same way that the first man did, so when he finally returns, she has to decide which man is really right for her. This book had a certain charm to it, but the heroine's inability to make up her mind about which man she wanted, along with a few other issues, prevented it from being anything more than just an OK read for me.
As a child, Emily was sent away to live with her grandparents in Oregon, while the rest of her family stayed behind in California. She doesn't seem to have any idea why they gave her up and she misses them terribly, writing "letters" to her mother in her journal and wishing that she could save enough money to go visit them. Sadly, though, she never does find out their reasons for sending her away during the course of the story, and although she starts saving, she doesn't make the trip either, which was pretty disappointing. Her grandparents raised her, and although she loves and cares for them, they're pretty controlling, especially her dour grandmother, who never allows Emily to speak for herself. At twenty-four, she's never been courted and considers herself a spinster. Her days are spent making hand-dipped chocolates at the candy factory, and the remainder of her time is devoted to helping her grandparents around the house, reading the Bible, and attending Quaker meetings where she plays the piano. A part of her longs to break out of this routine, so when her only friend and co-worker, Kate, invites her to a dance, Emily reluctantly agrees to attend. There she meets Ben, a friend of Kate's, who instantly catches her eye, but because he isn't a Quaker, she resists the attraction. Instead, she keeps telling herself that she should wait for Luke, the new minister, who would make a more appropriate life partner, but when he arrives, she simply doesn't feel the same way about him. Despite that, when Ben leaves, she starts entertaining the idea of marrying Luke anyway, but she can't stop thinking about Ben.
At first, I was able to relate to Emily, because she's very shy and timid, not unlike myself. But in her case, it's pretty extreme to the point that she barely says two words to Ben when she first meets him. A part of me understood that it was probably a product of her upbringing in which she wasn't really allowed to think for herself and make her own decisions, and I would have been fine with it if that part of her characterization had been brought out more and she'd gradually grown and changed throughout the story. Instead, she waits until toward the very end to finally stand up for herself a little bit and move out of her grandparents home to live with Kate. I applauded her making this move toward independence, but at the same time, I thought that if the story was going to take that track, it should have happened sooner. Having it occur so late stunted the romantic connection and left it too open-ended. Emily also drove me a little batty with her constant internal monologue of asking herself rhetorical questions, which isn't genuine character development. I also thought she was a bit judgmental of Ben, jumping to the conclusion that he wasn't a godly man when she hadn't even had a decent conversation with him to find out what his views were. In fact, he did believe in God, but chose to worship in a different way. However, even when he explained this to Emily and offered to faithfully attend meetings with her if that was what it took, she still kept resisting him as being the wrong choice which made no sense to me at all. Then she starts trying to force herself to like Luke in a more romantic way even though it was obvious that their pairing was doomed. When Ben comes back from Iowa, she's thrilled to see him, but then almost immediately afterward, says harsh words to him that drives him away. All of this just made her seem really wishy-washy and like she didn't know her own mind, which was very frustrating for me as a reader. I just wish she'd found a backbone sooner and made up her mind instead of the constant back and forth.
Ben came from a loving family and followed in his father's footsteps to become a skilled carpenter. When his father died, he and his older brother headed for Oregon to make a new start, but he hasn't forgotten the mother and sister he left behind. When he meets Emily at the dance, he's instantly smitten with her and wants to keep seeing her, but she's resistant to his overtures. That doesn't stop him from trying, but they don't have much time before he must head back to Iowa, where he hopes to persuade his mother and sister to sell the farm and move to Oregon to be closer to him. Before leaving, he asks Emily to wait for him, declaring that he will come back and that he wants to pick up where they left off when he does. However, he's gone for a few months, longer than he expected, and when he receives word from Kate that Emily might be lost to him if he doesn't come back right away, he speeds up the process so that he can return quickly, hoping that he'll get there in time. Upon his arrival, Emily seems quite happy to see him, but not long after, she says some hurtful things to him that make him think they might not have a future after all. We don't get to know Ben as well, because he gets far fewer POV scenes than Emily does, but what I saw I liked. He was a real sweetheart who literally would have done anything to be with Emily and totally wore his heart on his sleeve for her, although given her highly confusing behavior, I'm not entirely sure what he saw in her. If someone had been giving me constant mixed signals and even outright refusals like she was, I probably would have bowed out long before he did. My only other small complaint about Ben is that the author describes him as having bushy hair and eyebrows, which is simply not attractive. Curly or unruly hair is fine, but bushy is a strange way to describe it, and bushy eyebrows makes me think of an old man. So I had to imagine him in my own way that was more appealing.
With The Heart Has Its Reasons being the first in a series, there are some supporting characters introduced who go on to have their own books in the series. Emily's friend, Kate, becomes the heroine of the next book, Love Shall Come Again, where she ends up in a love triangle with Pastor Luke and Ben's wayward brother, Jesse. I really liked Kate's friendly, outgoing personality, so I might be interested in checking out her book. However, I wasn't as taken with Luke and I must admit that I'm leery of yet another love triangle. Ben's younger sister, Pearl, is the heroine of the third book, Love's Tender Path, while his other sister, Anna, who barely gets a mention is the heroine of the fourth book, Anna's Hope. Then Albert Galloway becomes the hero of the final book, Albert's Destiny. Since he wasn't mentioned in this book, I'm not sure what his relationship to Ben might be.
When I first started reading The Heart Has Its Reasons, the charming nature of the story gave me hope that it would end up rating at least four stars, but the further I read the more frustrated I became. I've already mentioned Emily's inability to make up her mind which I found tiresome, but I wasn't particularly satisfied with the romance between her and Ben either. I felt that her constantly shoving Ben away for what, in my opinion, were silly reasons really stunted the growth of their relationship. Then there was the wholly unnecessary love triangle with Luke and the three month separation that only made things worse. There were a couple of times when Emily and Ben were together that I actually felt an emotional connection, but most of the time, I was left wondering why they felt the way they did about each other, given that they'd spent so little time together. Even the ending was more of an HFN rather than an HEA, because all they do is reconcile and agree to start officially courting. Of course, the reader is led to believe that they'll most likely get married eventually, but I really prefer for things to be wrapped up a bit neater. I couldn't help feeling that this story would have been much stronger if Emily had gradually grown to become more independent and stand up for herself with perhaps Ben helping her to find that side of herself rather than relying on worn-out tropes and artificially inflated conflicts to propel the plot along. But since that's not the way it went, this first foray into Ms. Etchison's work sadly left me wanting and turned out to be a rather meh read. However, since I already have Kate's book on my TBR pile, I'll probably give her one more chance to wow me.
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