Heaven on Earth
Marilyn Pappano is a wonderful storyteller, and Heaven on Earth, her latest installment in the Bethlehem series, is proof of that. Even with the ever-present (though not prominent) angel gimmick, the perfect town of Bethlehem (so squeaky clean it bears little resemblance to reality), and at least one character per book with a soul-destroying problem who winds up wrapped in the warm bosom of family, I’m sucked in every time. Why? Pappano’s got honest-to-goodness talent for telling a tale.
We met Melina Dimitris in Pappano’s last book, Getting Lucky. She’s Lynda Barone’s gregarious best friend, a private investigator by trade, and rather indiscriminate about how she meets her sexual needs. When the book begins, she’s just gotten dumped unceremoniously by Sebastian Knight and is angry and hurt.
Sebastian she met at a bar. They went home together for a one-nighter that turned into a four-day long affair. He ended it badly because he was uncomfortable with the amount of emotion Melina was beginning to feel. Four years ago Sebastian’s wife left him and his daughter and he’s been bitter and disillusioned about love ever since. He’s only really interested in one thing, and when Melina crosses over the line into love territory, he cuts her loose and doesn’t look back. He doesn’t need anything except sex from her.
But then he discovers he does need more from her because when local children Alanna Dalton and Caleb Grayson run away looking to find answers about Alanna’s parentage, Sebastian’s daughter Chrissy hitches a ride with them. She’s also curious about what happened to her mother, and since Sebastian won’t talk about her, she figures she’ll find out on her own. So now Sebastian is stuck relying on Melina’s investigative skills, and when she goes searching for the kids, he tags along.
It isn’t necessary to have read the other books in the series to understand what’s happening in this book, but knowing the background of all the characters did make this story more interesting. And it’s sort of a shame that by the time this story starts, a small amount of time has passed since Melina and Sebastian’s fling. The details of their affair and its meltdown are only told in flashback, which is mildly unfortunate because those actual scenes were quite emotionally affecting. I was glad I had read Getting Lucky for that reason.
Heaven on Earth is a fine piece of storytelling. Numerous characters and their stories are presented, but they never detract from the central love story of Sebastian and Melina. One of the most poignant moments in the book involves a homeless girl named Julie whom Melina “adopts.” Chief among the characteristics of this series is that the people of Bethlehem take in and care for “throwaway” people and children. I have sometimes thought that the town’s generosity was rather unbelievable, but I didn’t in this case. Julie’s story was very touching.
The book had my complete attention and I read it almost in one sitting. It was rather evenly divided into parts: one part is the search for the children and the other is the aftermath of things that happened during the search. Both were interesting to read.
Melina and Sebastian are both engaging characters. I was somewhat uncomfortable with their sexual choices, so I was glad that Pappano took some time to establish their relationship. One thing that I did find slightly annoying was Melina’s sometimes stubborn and illogical outlook. Their relationship initially goes sour because she expects more than an affair. I couldn’t understand why she was expecting more and why she felt so betrayed. Generally speaking, people who meet in bars and go home with each other are only looking for sex. Her expectations occasionally seem somewhat immature for a 34-year-old woman. Still, their eventual courtship is funny and sweet, and I liked the way Sebastian tried to worm his way into her heart. And Melina was pretty funny when she wasn’t being so obstinate.
Pappano honed her craft writing category romances and has a very impressive backlist. Heaven on Earth is very good proof of what she can do as a writer. It isn’t my absolute favorite in this series, that would be Some Enchanted Season, but it renews my interest in reading more about the people of Bethlehem and I highly recommend it.