Head in the Clouds, by Karen Witemeyer

Is it seriously any surprise that I’ve turned to yet another fluff book? I know the pandemic is six months old at this point, but sometimes, anxiety turns on a dime and literary escapism is not a bad thing.

I’ve actually read Head in the Clouds before. It was a fluffy summer read that I remember reading on a bench at the Indianapolis Museum of Art quite often, so I suppose it’s serving such a purpose again. With this book, I found one punch that I definitely had to roll with the first time around, but I’ll get to it later. For now, what drew me back to this indulgent Western schlock?

Head in the Clouds by Karen Witemeyer

Adelaide Proctor gave up everything to follow a man she thought she would love forever, only to be thrown out on her butt. When she catches wind of a Texas sheep ranch in need of a governess, she takes the chance to put her life back together. She finds not only a sweet little girl in need of a friend, but a lonely sheep rancher named Gideon Westcott. Things seem pretty idyllic until Adelaide learns that her student, Isabella, has a distant uncle out to steal her fortune, on top of Adelaide beginning to fall in love with her employer…

Any romance story is pretty much instant fluff. That means the prose is not going to be the greatest, which, yeah, it’s not supposed to be. But still, there were points where I thought the prose could be tightened. I kept wondering why we had to go in roundabouts to get to the point of certain scenes. I’m not necessarily hating on this romance genre trope; my critical eye just gets especially turned on in noticing it. After all, fluffy prose helps us to continue to slide through the story, doesn’t it?

Isn’t it also traditional of romantic plots to be predictable pretty much to a T? If so, then Head in the Clouds has that down pat. It has a slightly interesting, if quite melodramatic, subplot about Isabella’s Uncle Reginald plotting to steal her inheritance, but the Snidely Whiplash feel about Uncle Reginald kind of takes it down.

Here’s a question I’d like to ponder: if a plot is predictable, can good characters salvage it just the slightest?

Head in the Clouds can’t really manage that much, either. Adelaide is a playful woman who brings sunshine wherever she goes, while Gideon is the sullen, lost farmer whose eye is turned by her. In fact, in a bit of heavy-handed symbolism, Adelaide only wears yellow. Watching her kind of reminded me of a really bad high school production of The Sound of Music, where Maria’s only characteristic was being bubbly and sunshiney. Adelaide does have a dark past but she pushes through her grief a little too easily.

I will give Adelaide some credit that at least she is not a clumsy oaf, as romantic lead stereotype dictates. She does have some grace about her, and she does rise to the occasion when the situation demands. But her heavy-handed symbolism and pious nature kind of grind my gears.

Luckily, Gideon is not quite the saccharine archetype that Adelaide is. He’s probably the most sympathetic character in the novel, in fact. He was just minding his own business, when, on travel, some sick lady dumped her child, Isabella, into his arms before she died. He has had to make the best of caring for a scared, lonely girl he cannot reach—all while taking care of a sheep farm. He’s not a grouch, like you would suppose. Rather he is just lost, and kind of scared.

Now that we’re on the topic of characters, I’m going to bring up the aspect that caught me off guard the most: the religious overtones.

Adelaide and Gideon continually reference the Bible and make decisions based on their beliefs. They even named their horses after Sheba and Solomon respectively. They pray, they quote the Bible, they look for signs…a lot more than in a regular old romance book. It made me believe that perhaps I’d stumbled upon some corny Christian fiction, and indeed, it turns out this book is a bestseller on many Christian historical fiction lists.

Needless to say, I felt a little awkward.

I’m not saying Christian fiction is bad; it’s just not really my taste. Although, it sometimes feels patronizing to those who don’t follow Christian beliefs. It’s always squeaky clean and the good characters are pure lovable angels, while the villains are clear-cut monsters. Like I said, the villain of this piece was so over the top and cartoony I couldn’t even get into the melodrama in his story. But again, if you enjoy clean Christian romances, then this one might be for you.

This book tried, I’ll give it that. But Adelaide was just too sunny and the villain chewed the scenery too much. I’m glad I gave it another go, but there are books just as fluffy out there that take me even further away from this world.

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