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Earthly Pleasures    by Karen Neches Amazon.com order for
Earthly Pleasures
by Karen Neches
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2008 (2008)
Paperback
*   Reviewed by Belle Dessler

Skye Sebring has a heavenly job - literally. She's a hospitality greeter in Heaven, tasked with welcoming newly expired souls. Heaven itself is completely unlike the somber, quiet place we've come to expect. Instead, Skye walks newcomers through lessons on using their Wishberry to grant themselves whatever they desire, instructions on attending an online chat with God, and suggestions on using the Nocturnal Theater to translate their dreams into film.

Clearly, Heaven is a place no one would want to leave. Yet most other greeters are eager to get their shot at a life on earth. Not Skye, though. She's perfectly content where she is, at least until she meets Ryan Blaine, the son of a former US president who has a sudden brush with the hereafter due to a motorcycle accident. Although their time together is brief, Skye becomes infatuated with him. When the opportunity presents itself, she follows him back to Earth. And while Earth is full of odd customs that confuse Skye, the only thing she has to remember is what she's been taught in her Earth 101 classes: all of life's lessons can be learned by studying the lyrics of five Beatles songs.

In a recent interview, Neches described Earthly Pleasures as '"The Lovely Bones" meets "Bridget Jones"'. Although the book isn't nearly as poignant or emotional as The Lovely Bones, Skye Sebring does have quite a bit in common with Bridget Jones. Unfortunately, she also lacks a lot of Bridget's charm. What we're left with instead is a na´ve, superficial heroine who falls in love on a whim, becomes hooked on a soap opera about Ryan's life (reality TV for the Heavenly-bound) and whines endlessly.

The other characters are no better. Ryan, with his addiction to calling in to a late-night radio show and his inability to stand up to his wife, comes across as weak. Skye's teenage friend Chelsea is pure stereotype, as is Caroline, an 85-year-old nursing home patient. The plot itself offers a surprise or two, but ultimately leads to a lackluster conclusion. By far the most intriguing aspect of this novel comes from the author's fresh take on life in Heaven. Readers interested in an irreverent spin on the hereafter may find some enjoyment in this novel.

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