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Monday, June 05, 2006

***** Dream a Little Dream by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Contemporary romance.

I only got about 5 hours of sleep last night, and I hold SEP fully responsible. I was about halfway through Dream a Little Dream when I went to bed, and do you think she'd let up a little so I could go to sleep? No. She even... (and I really hate to admit this) made me cry. I haven't met the woman, though I've heard stories HERE and HERE, and maybe I shouldn't have been surprised, but I didn't think she'd be the type to begrudge someone a few hours of sleep. Guess I was wrong.

(yes, I'm silly this morning--I only got about 5 hours of sleep! Weren't you paying attention?)

Anyway. The book. I was tearing up in the first 50 pages. What kind of sadist writes a little kid saying "Now, mommy? Are we going to die now?" God. And of course she had to go and make the characters compelling and interesting people that I really cared about.

Rachel is the widow of a charlatan televangelist. She and her 5-year-old son are homeless, living in their car. She's made her way back to their hometown in search of the money her husband had left hidden, and finds that people there have long memories and are not inclined to forgive what's left of a man who betrayed them all.

The only job she can find is helping angry recluse Gabe rebuild a drive-in movie theater. Gabe had lost his wife and son to a drunk driver two years before, and he wants nothing to do with a woman and child who remind him of what he's lost. Yet he can't bring himself to turn her away, particularly not when even his brother, the town's pastor, refuses to show her any compassion.

It's an intense story of a man who's given up, and a woman who refuses to.

There's just so much right with this story, I don't know where to begin. I normally don't like children in romances--they're almost never realistic with regard to their ages, and they tend to conveniently disappear for chapters at a time. That doesn't happen here. Rachel's son is a five-year-old boy for whom the only permanent thing in his life is his mother.

Likewise, Rachel's desperation and determination, and Gabe's despair and buried anger are very real.

And it doesn't stop there. The townspeople, most of them bitter and angry, yet professing themselves to be good Christians. Again, very real. And, surprisingly, they're not written as a criticism of religion--they're just human. Fallible, understandable.

There's even a secondary romance, between Pastor Ethan and his long-time friend and secretary Kristy, and they both have to grow and change for it to work.

I'm used to SEP's books being a little lighter--in the same way as Jennifer Crusie's: laughter over pain. Dream a Little Dream isn't like that. But it just proves what I've thought for a long time. Good writing is good writing, and almost always, if I like how an author writes one kind of book, I'll like how she writes another.


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