Almost Heaven

Title:  Almost Heaven
Author:  Kimberly Gardner
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: Contemporary M/M
Length:  novella (106 PDF pages)
Rating:   4.75 stars out of 5

Summary Review: A revealing story about the conflict between a priest deciding on taking his final vows, or living a life of integrity with the man he loves, neither choice being an easy one.

 THE  BLURB

 When Chris meets Kevin at his brother’s school, he instantly gets hot for teacher. He can only hope that the sexy guy is gay. Later, when Kevin shows up at the gym where Chris works, Chris is sure he’s got him hooked. A shared kiss is absolutely electric but then Kevin turns tail and runs. What the hell? Maybe he’s in the closet.

Yes, in fact, Kevin is in the closet, Deep in the closet. He has to be. He’s going to be a priest. While he’s very attracted to Chris, he simply can’t pursue it. Giving in to that attraction would ruin his life. Still, he can’t deny what he feels so instead he vows to stay away from Chris.

But steering clear is not so easy when what you’ve found is Almost Heaven.

THE REVIEW

 This topic is one that I don’t often encounter in M/M books because many publishers and authors seem afraid to tackle the issue of gay priests in love leaving the Church. They don’t want to offend some readers, but the actual leaving occurs more often than we know of  in real life. As a lapsed Catholic, I was really pleased when I read the blurb for Almost Heaven and I wanted to review this book because I was interested in seeing whether Kimberly Gardner would deal realistically with the topic of a priest falling in love with another man, before taking his final vows, or if the story would be a whitewash. I also wanted to see how she addressed the many related issues such as family acceptance (or not), integration into society if the decision was to leave the Church, and the reaction of the Church’s representative. Being such a short book I knew it was impossible to address all of these issues in depth but I figured there was an opportunity to at least cover a couple of them.

In Almost Heaven Christian Talleo, a personal trainer,  met Kevin O’Neill at his brother’s Catholic school and assumed that he was a teacher, which he was, but Kevin forgot to mention that he was also studying for the priesthood  and was pretty close to taking his final vows of celibacy. Kevin at 24  hadn’t really experienced much of what life had to offer and he was still a virgin, consequently he seemed like the ideal candidate for priesthood, having never tasted the forbidden fruit. His family was deeply religious and steeped in the teachings and traditions of the Church, and his Uncle Rick, to whom he was very close, was also a Catholic priest. When he met Chris he was attracted to him but knew that any sex would be out of the question because of his vocation. Unfortunately for Kevin, that attraction brought a whole raft of problems which he was ill equipped to handle, that would affect the rest of his life.

When Chris saw Kevin all he could think about was hot his brother’s teacher was. He wasn’t sure at first if Kevin was gay but it became clear soon after they met that Kevin was also also attracted, because Chris tried his usual moves and was not rebuffed. Before he left the school Chris invited Kevin to drop by the gym where he worked and gave him his business card. A couple of nights later Kevin showed up at the gym, all the while trying to stifle his doubts about being there since he had no intention of signing up for a trainer, and the only reason he was there was to see Chris again. When Chris saw him their attraction went into high gear and they ended up in the staff room where they kissed. From there everything went downhill (or uphill depending on your perspective) and they became so excited they ended up giving each other hand jobs, but Kevin felt so guilty about betraying  his vocation that he ran away.

A few days subsequent to this debacle Chris went at the school looking for Kevin, but when he found him there was an unexpected development when his brother Mark addressed him as ‘Father,’ and Chris realized then what and who Kevin was. He was devastated! Now he was the one who couldn’t leave fast enough and the enormity of Kevin’s betrayal was overwhelming. Kevin did run after him and tried to explain that he wasn’t yet a priest, but Chris was very angry and he couldn’t deal with the implications of falling for someone who was going to be a priest. Moreover, the fact that Kevin in effect had lied to him, was even worse. The ensuing argument ended with them all over each other again and  Chris left, vowing never to see or talk to Kevin again. Kevin then realized that he needed help to decide what to do. He could not go to Confession to seek spiritual guidance and the only person he could talk to was his Uncle Rick whom he asked to hear his confession.

Kevin and Chris were well drawn and I especially liked how Kevin’s choices were laid out.  No matter what he decided he would hurt the people he loved and who loved him. If he admitted to his adviser that he was gay he would not be able to continue in the priesthood. To lie would be a sin but it would allow him to take his final vows and become a priest, a vocation for which he had trained all his adult life. This would make his family happy, but what would that do to Chris, the man he was beginning to love? His adviser, Monsignor Stephen Martinelli offered him an out which I thought was pretty devious, and he had the option of taking  the path of least resistance. On the other hand, if he left the Church because he was gay, what would that do to his family who was so religious? Would he make the right decision knowing that no matter what it was, those he loved would be hurt?

IMO Almost Heaven presented a balanced perspective of the trauma and emotional devastation of making a decision about whether or not to be ordained and how this would affect Kevin and Chris. I also thought that Kevin’s uncle who heard his confession was a wonderful character who helped him see that there was really only one choice. I loved the camaraderie between Chris and his younger brother Mark and I thought that Kevin’s sister Colleen was a good friend and support to him. All in all the characterizations in this book were well done and almost all of the supporting characters were three dimensional.

For such a short book, at 106 PDF pages, Almost Heaven went into more depth about the issue of  a gay priest in love than I thought would have been addressed, and I really liked how Kimberly Gardner tried to deal with most of the problems. I had a couple of  niggles, one of them was how strong the Church really was in turning away gay griests especially when new enrolments were negligible, and the story skated over that aspect a bit in the approach taken by the Monsignor. However, this was an admirable effort to integrate a love story within the context of either betraying the man you loved or the Church. My major niggle was why Kevin was almost at the point of ordination when he knew that he was gay (even though he had not acted on it), all the while being aware that the Church did not accept gay priests.

I hate to mention sex in a book about the Church and priests 🙂 but I thought that Chris was very patient with his pupil in bed, even when Kevin told him exactly what he wanted him to do. BTW the sex was very hot. LOL. Would you enjoy this story if you weren’t religious? Most definitely. It was quite funny as well!

Almost Heaven is part of Loose Id’s Coming Out series.

Highly recommended.  

Author

I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball

9 comments

    • Salina
      I really hope you enjoy this book. The guys are quite likable as well as members of their families, so there’s a lot of fun here as well.

      Reply
  • Thanks Lily
    She did a great job on the book and I hope you do get it. Even though the topic is about a priest and whether or not he was going to leave the church it’s still a fun book.

    Reply
  • This sounds like a really good story. I’ve enjoyed a couple of the author’s other books and I’ll be adding this one to my wish list. Great review! 🙂

    Reply
  • Hi Wave,
    I’ve only read 2 other books that dealt with a priest character – Bobby Michael’s David and Conner and KZ Snow’s The Prayer Waltz. I enjoyed both of them quite a bit. It is a difficult and sometimes touchy topic, but intriguing none the less.

    You would think that no self respecting gay man would want to be a part of organization that does not accept him, but family pressure, the desire to help others, strong religious beliefs and for some, perhaps the hope of fitting in would probably be enough motivation. Look how many gay men join the armed forces or get married to women in confusion or as an attempt to fit in.

    This does look interesting Wave. I’ll have to add it to my list. Wonderful review. Thanks.

    Reply
    • TJ
      I wanted to read this book because, as a former Catholic, I was interested to see how this author would handle all the issues around the devastating choice of a priest deciding to leave his vocation. I thought Kimberly Gardner did a good job except the question of why, knowing he was gay, Kevin was almost at the point of being ordained. I guess family pressure and the fear of what coming out would entail had a lot to do with how far along he was in the process but it was not really addressed as far as I could recall.

      As to your comment of why people do what they do, you answered the question yourself. Many gay men marry and live as straight men for years (Rick Reed comes to mind) before coming out. Gay men serve in the military even though their country treats them as if they were worthless, just because of their orientation – they do it because they want to serve their country.

      I think you will enjoy Almost Heaven because it’s not as heavy on religion as one would expect and it’s quite funny in parts of the story.

      In addition to the two books you mentioned I have also read a short series released by Samhain 2 years ago. The stories were by Vivien Dean (Walk Among Us which won an EPPIE); Jamie Craig (No Fear in Love); and If All The Sands were Pearl by Pepper Espinoza. There are others but I can’t remember them offhand.

      Reply
  • Jen
    I think you will definitely enjoy Almost Heaven because although there are religious overtones they don’t overwhelm the book despite the plot. I really enjoyed the story, and as I said, I only had two major niggles.

    I liked the protagonists and the supporting characters, even the wily Monsignor who was looking for an out, any out, that would prevent him from losing his star pupil, was well drawn.

    Reply
  • I love Kimberley Gardner’s books but I have to admit I was a little put off by the subject matter. Your great review has convinced me to give this a go as all the worries I would have had seem to have sensitively dealt with in the book.

    Reply

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