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You Belong with Me by Tari Faris

FTC Disclosure: Revell Reads and NetGalley gave me complimentary copies of this book. A positive review was not required. These are my honest thoughts.

With a delicious cover that sparked up my whimsical, creative side, this debut was entertaining, light, and a quick read. The small-town drama was fun, and I especially loved the quirkiness that was present throughout the novel. The premise was good, and I liked the surprises that cropped up along the way to flesh out the story.

The hippo was one of my favorite parts of this story. I still don’t understand how it works exactly, but I’m hopeful that this will be a thread strung throughout the entire series. Maybe eventually the secrets will be revealed, but I’m not even sure if I want them to be. It’s a fascinating aspect to the story, and I can see how it could play a huge role in each of the Restoring Heritage novels.

The search for belonging someplace was poignant and well written. This is such a relatable topic to a wide variety of people (the entire human race, perhaps?), and Mrs. Faris showed great skill for pulling out different nuances of this topic with each of her POV characters. It was beautiful to watch those threads unfold and see those characters dig deeper and deeper into their issues the further along the story went. That journey they each took was what kept me charmed beyond the initial discovery of how cute and fun this story was going to be. When all those storylines around that theme came together toward the end (and I won’t reveal how, because it’s too sweet to spoil), my heart felt the crescendo and tears washed my face. It was such an emotional finale for me, which I absolutely love in a novel. I’m hoping for more of this type of thing from this author as she grows in her writing journey with each new book.

Most of the characters were loveable and relatable, but there could have been more depth to Derek, the main antagonist. He was a stereotypical bad guy, but he would have become more relatable (even as a baddie) had he displayed some personal issues or motivation beyond greed. I understand greed as a motivation in a character, but it was never revealed why he was so greedy. I wanted to better understand what made him tick rather than just being presented with this guy who hated the leading characters just because.

The love triangles (yes, there were two different ones) felt unnecessary to me. Both were the typical “one love interest is really good, the other is really bad, and I’m not sure why the person is even interested in the latter” sorts of triangles. If even one triangle had been presented with two good options, I would have enjoyed this aspect better, because it would have made those leading characters who had to choose seem more intelligent and easier to root for. I still liked Hannah and her brother, Thomas, but they both showed poor decision-making skills at times where love was concerned. This plot device made me roll my eyes at times, but, surprisingly, it didn’t hamper my reading experience to the degree it normally does. I think this book just hit me in the right mood to overlook how irritating love triangles can be.

What was Hannah’s job? It was claimed she was a Realtor, but this was hardly shown at all. It was mentioned a couple of times, but she never once showed a house or sold one (at least not that we saw). It really seemed like neither she nor Luke had jobs that paid the bills, because they were mostly volunteering their time to things. I’m not sure what Luke’s money-making job was, because he worked on fixing up his house and volunteering as a firefighter… and that was all that was focused on job-wise for him, though it was said that he had a job; I’m just not sure what it was as I never saw him do it at all. Thomas and Janie were clearly working at the diner, so it was obvious where they got their money, so they were the more well-rounded characters, even though they were supposed to be side characters or secondary leads. They nearly outshined Hannah and Luke simply because the former couple had a more-filled-out life on-page. I’m hopeful that Mrs. Faris will strengthen up this aspect of writing leading characters with her next couple of books.

One thing had me big-time confused. A prom dress still fit a lady seven years after prom even though it was stated that the lady wasn’t still that same size. Say what?! That was too unrealistic for me, so the pizzazz of a special moment was stripped away. I wish that moment had been a bit more thought out (maybe she had the dress altered or perhaps she went on a diet to fit back into the dress or something that we ladies who aren’t still our high school sizes can relate to, since that’s supposedly where this character was coming from), because the romance in that moment had the potential to be spectacular.

If the jobs had been shown in action a few times and if the sex appeal and physical body stuff (cleavage, kisses, muscles, wide shoulders, long legs…) had been scaled back, this would have easily been a four- or five-star book for me. I enjoyed the majority of the book, but there were a few things that interrupted that enjoyment a little. One thing in particular that jarred my peaceful reading was that the worse form of “forsaken” was used a couple of times. In Christian fiction, this is inexcusable as it takes the Lord’s name in vain. I hope this will be remedied in future books in the series.

Overall, this was a light, easy read that showed promise for a rising new author in the Christian fiction romance genre. The quirky town and just-as-quirky characters charmed their way into my heart, and I look forward to returning to Heritage for the next Restoring Heritage book.

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