Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Dream Lake by Lisa Kleypas

Dream Lake (2012)
Lisa Kleypas
Grade: C+
Genre: contemporary romance
Sex scenes: milder than might be expected from Lisa Kleypas
Source: own
Friday Harbour: (1) Christmas Eve at Friday Harbour, (2) Rainshadow Road
After getting divorced when her husband left her for another man, Zoë Hoffmann has sworn off men for good. She has teamed up with her feisty, outgoing cousin Justine to set up a B&B on Friday Harbour and business is booming. With Zoë in charge of all the cooking and baking, she’s in her element and very content with life.

Zoë’s mum abandoned her when she was young and her father followed suit by passing her off onto his mother. When she gets news that ‘Upsie,’ as she calls her grandmother, has had a series of mini-strokes, developed vascular dementia and will require constant care, Zoë doesn’t even consider any other option but moving Upsie in with her. Upsie owns a small lake house in Friday Harbour, but years of neglect and disuse has made it uninhabitable and it will need extensive repairs in order to adapt it to Upsie’s needs. Luckily, Justine knows just the man for the job: Alex Nolan.

Life isn’t going great for Alex Nolan. The youngest of four children of alcoholics, Alex had a terrible childhood while his older siblings all grew up and left home. A cold, loveless marriage of his own and a subsequent divorce that will leave him high and dry has pushed Alex to drink and it’s all too comfortable to want to turn back. His bank is reluctant to fund his newest development project and so he looks to be soon out of work. Oh, and did I mention the ghost that’s following him around like a second shadow?

Tom has been haunting the house on Rainshadow Road for longer than he can remember, unable to leave. When Sam brings Alex to take a look to see whether the house is salvageable, Tom finds that for the first time, he can escape.  He gladly jumps at the opportunity, but neither of the unlikely pair thanks him for it.

Verging on the point of becoming broke, Alex accepts the lake house job, knowing all the while that Zoë, pin-up girl that she is, will be featuring in his every wet dream. On top of that, Alex has decided to quit alcohol cold turkey while he still can, which doesn’t put him in the best of moods. Life-savingly, he develops a morning routine of dropping into Zoë’s kitchen for an out-of-this-world breakfast.

The attraction between the two simmers for weeks and boiling point was inevitable. Given their respective negative histories with regard to relationships, neither ever dreamed that they would both want so much more.

I’m still dubious about the magic thing that features in this series (it’s just not Lisa Kleypas as I know her) and Crystal Cove looks to be the culmination of all the magic-ness. ‘Magic’ appears in two forms in Dream Lake. Firstly, in Tom which I thought was an unbearably cute side plot, and secondly in Zoë’s cooking. What? I hear you ask. Yes, cooking. Zoë’s cooking is so amazing that it has a tendency to have a magical effect over people – and not just a feed-the-hunger-pangs type of magic. All I can say (beyond WTF?) is why can’t I cook like that?

I’m of the opinion that Ms Kleypas has two very distinct styles of writing when she does historical and contemporary respectively. By-and-large, I prefer historical but I’m a big fan of Sugar Daddy and Blue-Eyed Devil of the Travis series. I’ve found that in her last few books (i.e. Christmas at Friday Harbour, Rainshadow Road and now Dream Lake), this contemporary style has evolved again and unfortunately, I’m not a fan. It’s not something that I’m able to pinpoint with accuracy or describe in any greater detail than I have and believe me, this bugs me as much as I’m sure it bugs you (which I should hope is a lot!) The closest I can get is that the writing doesn’t feel like the twenty-odd other Kleypas books I’ve read, which is a shame because hers is one of the styles that I adore.

Aside from the cooking, Zoë’s not a protagonist that I can love. I just feel that she’s a little bit too … bland. Justine is her active, bubbly and outgoing friend and while I can probably identify more personality-wise with Zoë, it’s just not as fun to read about her when you’ve got a Justine lurking in the background. Nevertheless, I love her commitment to her grandmother and her determination to see Alex through this rough patch in his life. She’s the type of friend you know you’ve always got to rely on when you need it, and I suppose that’s a few huge points in her favour. 

Alex, on the other hand, is a character indeed; and I’m not just saying that because we share the same name. Lisa Kleypas builds up his background very well and from Christmas Eve and Rainshadow Road, we had gotten a very good picture of Alex’s isolation from his siblings and his crappy personal life. His drinking and divorce create a picture of a bleak future and I love how Tom is the only ‘person’ willing to tell it to Alex like it is and make him see the damage of what he is doing to himself.

Plus, Alex is just unbelievably sexy. All builder/carpenter heroes are hot and I’d like to see someone prove me wrong. He’s described as having a “near prodigal handsomeness, his features bladelike and perfect” and really, who could resist? As if that wasn’t enough, he’s got the whole tortured-soul, available-for-saving thing going on. He’s fucked up his life, takes active steps to straighten it out but can’t do it all on his own. Whether she knew it or not, Zoë was destined to be the one to believe in him and help him.

I’m disappointed by the sex; yes, I just said it. For a Kleypas book, there wasn’t much of it and granted, I don’t remember Christmas at Friday Harbour or Rainshadow Road having much, but when you have the hero proclaiming “I’m a bastard in bed … I’m selfish and mean as the devil. I have to have all the control. And I’m … not nice,” your expectations instantly shoot sky-high. There’s one part of a scene that I will remember forever (Ms Kleypas does know how to get creative with body parts!) but when you’re confronted with the above statement in the current social context where BDSM and Dominant heroes are taking literature by storm, it’s pretty clear what presumptions my brain leaped to and you’ve got to be able to live up to the promise. Not that I would have wanted Alex to have been a secret Dominant in bed, but he just didn’t match up to his bold statements. 

Dream Lake actually runs parallel to Rainshadow Road which I found rather disorientating, mostly because despite being friends, Lucy and Zoë don’t actually have any contact in Dream Lake. I think I remember one scene in Rainshadow Road, but disappointingly, there were none here. I’m a huge fan of series in general, especially where they revolve around families and NR is my crack in this area (she also does best-friends-series exceptionally well, see Quinn quartet and the Dream trilogy respectively). One thing that I hate reading is where there is so little overlap and interaction between the protagonists of each book that they could practically be standalones, yet the author still calls it a series. This was close to it, though the ever-constant presence of Justine reminded me that we still had her story to go. We get constant updates about Sam’s relationship with Lucy, but Rainshadow Road had had none about Alex and Zoë. Yes, that would have ruined the entire book spoiler-wise, but I would have like some clue. Not cool. 

I know the majority of my review makes it seem like I didn’t like this book, but really, I did. I managed to finish it in a day, even getting out of bed when I couldn’t sleep and reading until two the next morning. If that isn’t a sign of compelling writing, then I’m not sure what is. Alex’s story was great to watch unfold and for all I moaned about not being kept in the loop about the multiple relationships developing at once, it is great to see how interlinked the series is. Not Kleypas’ best, but I’m just a fickle customer; worth the read.

Image courtesy of Fantastic Fiction.

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