Series: Friday Harbor #3
Published by St. Martin's Press Genres: Contemporary Romance
Source: the library
Also in this series: Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, Rainshadow Road, Crystal Cove
Also by this author: Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, Rainshadow Road, Crystal Cove, Cold-Hearted Rake, Marrying Winterborne, Devil in Spring, Hello Stranger, Devil's Daughter
Alex Nolan is as bitter and cynical as they come. One of the three Nolan brothers who call Friday Harbor home, he's nothing like Sam or Mark. They actually believe in love; they think the risk of pain is worth the chance of happiness. But Alex battles his demons with the help of a whiskey bottle, and he lives in his own private hell. And then a ghost shows up. Only Alex can see him. Has Alex finally crossed over the threshold to insanity?
Zoë Hoffman is as gentle and romantic as they come. When she meets the startling gorgeous Alex Nolan, all her instincts tell her to run. Even Alex tells her to run. But something in him calls to Zoë, and she forces him to take a look at his life with a clear eye and to open his mind to the possibility that love isn’t for the foolish.
The ghost has been existing in the half-light of this world for decades. He doesn’t know who he is, or why he is stuck in the Nolans’ Victorian house. All he knows is that he loved a girl once. And Alex and Zoë hold the key to unlocking a mystery that keeps him trapped here.
Zoë and Alex are oil and water, fire and ice, sunshine and shadow. But sometimes it takes only a glimmer of light to chase away the dark, and sometimes love can reach beyond time, space, and reason to take hold of hearts that yearn for it…
I’ve been looking forward to reading Alex’s story since I finished Rainshadow Road, so I dove in as soon as I brought the book home from the library. Now that I’m finished, I’m still struggling with how to rate it. (Luckily, I don’t usually post ratings on the blog, but Goodreads is another story.) I’m torn between liking the book, and wishing that I had really loved it.
Like Rainshadow Road, Dream Lake includes a touch of magical realism (Zoe’s cooking seems to have healing properties), but it also invokes the paranormal in the character of the ghost. Nameless for much of the novel, linked in some inexplicable way to Alex himself, the ghost is a real character in the book: sometimes wisecracking, sometimes wise, he goads and guides Alex by turns. To be honest, I rather liked the ghost, but as a character he was a bit inconsistent: for a man of his era, he has an oddly modern understanding of both alcoholism and psychology. I was less bothered by his occasional use of contemporary idioms; as an invisible “passenger” wherever Alex goes, presumably the ghost has plenty of opportunity to pick up on modern usage, and the linguistic differences between his time and our own aren’t that wide.
Kleypas describes Alex’s turnaround from alcoholism to sobriety quite well. His emotional journey from cold, cynical, and untrusting to someone able to love and accept love is moving but harder to believe. In fact, Kleypas resorts to a fairly drastic (and overused) plot device to bring it about. Still, there are enough glimmers of compassion and decency within Alex to make him both interesting and worth caring about. And I enjoyed the exchanges between Alex and the ghost, which are sometimes amusing, sometimes poignant.
As I read, I couldn’t help feeling that although Alex certainly needs a woman like Zoe, Zoe deserves someone less wounded, less bitter… a feeling shared by several characters, including Alex himself. Zoe is warm, compassionate, forgiving, vulnerable—even innocent in a way—but she does have an inner core of strength which gives her much-needed backbone. Perhaps only someone with that combination of traits is capable of taking Alex on, but it did seem at times that Zoe is getting the poorer end of the bargain, so to speak.
Like Rainshadow Road before it, Dream Lake is more substantial and absorbing than the light-but-likable Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, the first book in the series. There are some wonderful moments, both funny and wrenching, and it held my attention throughout. I have to admit, though, that I still prefer Kleypas’s historical romances, which are better written overall; they have more depth, more dimensional characters, more passion, and (particularly in the Wallflowers and Hathaway series) more wit and humor. I’ve enjoyed reading the Friday Harbor novels, and I’ll certainly read the next one, but they won’t be going on my list of all-time-favorite, read-over-and-over romances.
NOTE: Review slightly revised on 4/22/2019
The books in the Friday Harbor series, in order (links go to reviews on this blog):