Close to Heaven
by Pamela Clare
Book 5 of Colorado High Country
A few days prior to publishing this book, Pamela had written a blog post about how Close to Heaven was supposed to have been a Christmas novella, but that it ended up being long enough to be novel-length. So rather than being a Christmas novella special for the Colorado High Country series, it is now the fifth installment of the series.
As I finished the second half of the book, I couldn't help but wonder whether, maybe, this story would have worked out better as a shorter, novella-length work.
This isn't to say that the book was terrible, but I certainly felt like it dragged on the last half of the story. I easily saw Pamela's vision and direction for Close to Heaven, but I'm not sure it was necessarily a smoothly executed one.
Nonetheless, even with my misgivings and conflicts about how this novel was presented, I can't deny that, as usual, Pamela always creates a great story, story premise, and characters, with a lot of heart.
It is about a month before Christmas and Scarlet Springs is expecting a wintry snow storm in the next few days. Rain Minear has been feeling lonely ever since her daughter left for college, and she hasn't been able to catch the eye of her boss, Joe Moffat, whom she has been in love with for the past twenty years. During the night, she starts to wonder if maybe it's time to move on with her life, and maybe start over in another place away from her childhood home of Scarlet Springs.
What she doesn't expect is that her roof would collapse because of the heavy snow, and she would be left without a home, all too suddenly. Fortunately for her, Joe is generous and caring, and offers to house her at his home until the snow clears and she can find a place to stay. Unknown to Rain, though, is that Joe has also harbored the same feelings for her these past twenty years, but has never felt right acting on them due to his own rules for not messing around with his own employees. On top of that, a sordid family history has also influenced Joe's outlook for his own future.
This Christmas, however, it seems that life has some other plans for the both of them.
The first thing that came to mind, surprisingly, was the fact that I had thought Rain was younger--the way she'd been described from the first book, I had had the impression that Rain was in her early twenties, or something. Apparently, I was a little off, or just didn't really pay attention, even though she was one of the side characters I'd hoped to see a story for.
So when the summary came out that this was Joe's and Rain's love story, I was intrigued. Throughout the series' first few installments, Joe is clearly an older man--which, at least I didn't mistaken his age. I wondered how this relationship would play out, my mind thinking that Joe Moffat, in his forties, had at least twenty years on Rain, whom I'd thought was in her twenties.
Then Rain was introduced in this book as thirty-seven years old. Okay, not as young as I'd thought, but still ten years younger than Joe, according to the narration. It's still a bit of an age gap, so we can still play on that age gap thing. Or at least, for a while, it was one of the reasons Joe gave for not making a move on Rain.
Even though that particular reason seemed to NOT be a reason, left behind and forgotten. It was still a significant factor, of course--Rain had gotten pregnant twenty years ago, with a man ten years her senior, who then proceeded to abandon her. So Joe didn't want to come off like that jackass.
Then, reason after reason came out for why Joe never made a move on Rain for the past twenty years... TWENTY YEARS. And we'll come back to these reasons, but, really, I know Rain has her own misgivings, but twenty years is quite the time for two adults to be lusting after each other NOT to notice. And twenty years is also a long time for Rain to hold a crush on a guy and not do anything about it--she seems like the straight-forward type, and certainly she held no misgivings about making any moves during the course of this story.
I guess that's why we have a story. And maybe all it took was for her to have a random opportunity. Like, say, maybe being stuck living in Joe's home while she awaited her insurance claim, and for the snow to melt off her crumpled property. And maybe for Joe to get a few hard-ons while she's around so she could finally conclude that maybe Joe was interested in her as much as she was interested in him.
I don't know. It just seems overly convenient a plot.
Anyway, as for Joe's own issues: He pretty much refuses to make a move on Rain for so many reasons. His ancestor was a terrible, terrible man who had taken from people, murdered, and forced sex on his own female employees. And Joe was of the notion that he didn't want to be anything like his ancestor, Silas Moffat. In fact, Joe's guilt and shame, brought on by all the horrible things that ancestor Silas had done when the man first settled in Scarlet Springs about a century ago, has even made Joe feel like the Moffat name should die with him. After all, according to him, his grandfather was also a horrible person, and so was his own father.
Somehow, Joe came out the decent man in the Moffat line. And he's worried that he'd end up starting a family, giving birth to a son, who ends up inheriting previous Moffat male characteristics for evil-doing. Apparently with all the knowledge and smarts that Joe has, he hasn't figured out the concept of "Nature versus Nurture." Nor has he stopped to wonder that he was able to become different from his previous male relations.
So Joe refuses to make a move on Rain because she's his employee and he's ten years her senior; he doesn't want to abuse his authority over her.
It just seems like a lot of wasted time, you know. Twenty years goes by, and even while the two of them are good friends and colleagues, working well together to run the bar, restaurant, and brewery, known as Knockers... well, it just seems like a lot of wasted time where someone could have made a move, or someone could have recognized feelings, whether lust or deeper.
Close to Heaven is up to Pamela Clare standards as far as characters, writing, and heart are concerned. The schmaltz factor is more subtle in this book. However, the ending half felt a little dragged out, even after our couple finally acknowledge feelings. Because then we're just spending time slowly ambling towards that Happily Ever After as the days move forward towards Christmas. Like, that maybe Christmas was the ultimate end location for this story, and everything from the mid-mark where Rain and Joe finally reciprocate feelings, moving forward, was just filler until the time was right.
I'm not saying it was terrible or anything. It was sweet and enjoyable and heart-warming--probably what our lovely author was aiming for. But I just felt like maybe that section of the book could, maybe, have been shortened a little bit. Because I couldn't help but get the feeling that that latter half of the book went on forever. And it makes me feel bad, because I DO love a great Pamela Clare romance novel, and Close to Heaven was, once again, very sweet, even if a bit frustrating on Joe's part since he was being so stubborn about Rain.
I mean, for crying out loud, she practically jumped him, and then paraded around naked in front of him, and he STILL thought he'd be the one in the wrong if he made a move. Even after Rain tells him that she wants him.
And so, props to rain for not letting herself get stuck on this relationship. After a couple of rejections, she finally just moves herself on and stops her own advances.
But enough of that. The Happily Ever After happens, feelings are reciprocated, and the book was enjoyable on certain levels. I'm satisfied enough.
The 16 Tasks of the Festive Season
I read Close to Heaven for Square 9 -- Yuletide: A book that is set in the midst of a snowy or icy winter. Most of the book takes place during a big snow storm that pretty much closes down the entire little town of Scarlet Springs.
Meanwhile, as I was reading this book, I found how many other squares this book would fit. Although being that this book is the fifth in an ongoing Contemporary Romance series, I don't know how much this helps.
- Square #1 | Calan Gaeaf: There is a supporting character named Rose.
- Square #4 | Penance Day: Our MC, Joe spends most of the book struggling over his guilt over the terrible things his ancestor had done to people over a century ago, and feels that he needs to give back to the community what his ancestor took from them.
- Square #5 | Advent: There is a Christmas tree showing in the background of this book, which, of course, is a pine tree. I don't know how much of a stretch this would be since it's a little hard to see unless you look closely.
- Square #7 | Saint Lucia's Day: Obviously, snow features as one of the main events in this book, which is kind of what gives our couple a reason to end up stranded under the same roof.
- Square #10 | Pancha Ganapati: There is red on the cover.
- Square #11 | Soyal: This book is set in Colorado.
- Square #13 | Christmas: The MC is named Joseph Moffat.
This book also takes place leading up to Christmas, if that will count for one of the Holiday Book Joker options.