Desert Isle Keeper Review

A Piece of Heaven
(This DIK review was written by a reader)

Barbara Samuel
2004 reissue of 2003 release, Women's Fiction
Ballantine, $6.99, 416 pages, Amazon ASIN 0345445686

Grade: A
Sensuality: Warm

There are two reviews of this book.

I couldn't wait to get my hands on Barbara Samuel's A Piece of Heaven. She is a wonderfully talented writer who excels in being able to build a story in such a way that you can see the atmosphere and feel her characters' emotions. When I read her first hardback, No Place Like Home, I spent two days laughing out loud and crying so hard my eyes (and heart) hurt. How could she follow such a masterpiece - would she pack even more of an emotional punch into her next book or would it be a letdown?

Oh, me of little faith! Samuel's latest is fabulous; it's a story of recovery and living life to the fullest. The book doesn't romanticize life, it renders realistic looks at its characters and their everyday lives. Rather than being turned off by that realism, it instead opened my eyes again to the world around me.

Elderly Placido Ramierez has outlived her husband and many of her children. Devoutly religious and wise, she looks forward to seeing her husband and family again in the next life, but she has set one more task for herself. Tomas Coyote, her favorite great-grandson, is alone and trying to recover from the betrayal of his second wife and their divorce. Placido lights a candle and says a prayer to bring Tomas a woman who will "stand with him," inadvertantly starting a fire that quickly roars out of control.

Awake and restless, several houses away, former therapist Luna McGraw is having an anxious night. After facing many demons, Luna has finally come out on the other side. A failed marriage and feelings of inadequacy led her to alcoholism, which allowed her ex-husband to win custody of their daughter. Many years later, her daughter Joy decides to live with Luna for a year. Excited, anxious, but also filled with longing to "do it right" this time, Luna faces many moments of self doubt.

Luna notices Placido's house is on fire and rushes to rescue her. She meets Tomas in the fire's aftermath. This is both exciting and embarrassing for her as she's been attracted to Tomas for some time. Though he's never really noticed her before, Tomas now finds himself very attracted to Luna. How these two struggle to get to know and see each other after their brief but sizzling first meeting is heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time, given their baggage and personal responsibilities. It's also sometimes funny, particularly as the reader watches Luna cope with some of life's harder moments.

The author has created some terrific secondary characters as well - Luna's mother Kitty, her friend Sally, a grieving widow, and Sally's teen-aged daughter Maggie are well developed. Maggie's been forced to grow up too soon and her story is moving. Then there's Luna's daughter Joy. Rather than taking the easy way out and writing her as a resentful and rebellious teen, this young woman is a surprisingly refreshing character.

Samuel excels at creating imperfect people. Tomas, for instance, has flaws yet manages to be sexy while Luna is an average-looking woman - not some high-breasted bombshell. She could be you or the woman down the street, and that makes her story all the more personal. She has her good points and her flaws, and Tomas sees both. He sees her as a whole person. By giving us characters who are realistic, the love scenes are earthy and extremely sexy.

A Piece of Heaven is a thoughtful novel in that it brought to mind the idea that if we are too hesitant to take chances, we're not really living. My eyes are open now and it is almost painful to see life around me. At the same time, however, I am seeing the joys of life through eyes that are refreshed. Happiness can be risky, but Samuel shows that these risks are eminently worthwhile. A Piece of Heaven is probably the most appropriate title that has ever been given a book. I hope you will take a chance and see why.

-- Sandy Creelman

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