Thursday, February 10, 2011

Gone But Not Forgotten: The Super Bowl Is Over But The Books Keep Coming! "Dream A Little Dream" by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

A Desperate young mother . . . Rachel Stone's bad luck has taken a turn for the worse. With an empty wallet, a car that's spilling smoke, and a five-year-old son to support, she's come home to a town that hates her. But this determined young widow with a scandalous past has learned how to be a fighter and a survivor. Ande she'll do anything to keep her child safe--even take on . . . A man with no heart . . .

Gabe Bonner wants to be left alone, e specially by the beautiful outcast who's invaded his property. She has a tone of attitude, a talent for trouble, and a child who brings back bad memories. Yet Rachel's feisty spirit might just be heaven-sent to save a tough, stubborn man.

Dare to Dream . . . Welcome to Salvation, North Carolina--where a man who's fogtotten what tenderness means meets a woman with nothing to lose. Here two endearing lovers will set off on a funny, touching journey of the heart . . . to a place where dreams just might come true.

Well, Super Bowl #45 is over and the Green Bay Packers are champs. Still think it should have been my Chicago Bears!! But that's life, and it was a very good game--not a "yawner" like some have been. I have debated on whether I should continue with the football-related reviews and have decided it is only fair to a writer like Ms Phillips to put out these books before my followers and whoever else might be "lurking" around the blogging world. This series is just too good to miss and I think, down deep, I just want to share them and write about my responses to them.

Dream A Little Dream is book 4 in this "Chicago Stars series" and is really a bit of a sidetrack and a take-off from book 3. Legendary Chicago Stars' quarterback, Cal Bonner (who was featured in book 3) has now retired and is in his first year of medical school at the University of North Carolina. His youngest brother, Ethan, is still pastoring at a church in Salvation, the little town where they were all raised and to which Cal returned when he and his wife were first married. Brother Gabe Bonner was only briefly mentioned in book 3 as having lost his family in a tragic auto accident and who was "hiding out" in Mexico, trying to find a way through his overwhelming grief. In fact, the deaths of Charity and Jamie Bonner deeply affected each member of the family.

Gabe Bonner has now returned to Salvation, all at the behest of his brothers who went after him and got him into rehab after his year-long descent into alcohol and drugs in Mexico. A veterinarian by profession, he has now purchased the defunct drive-in theater in Salvation with the goal of restoring it and once again opening it for the town's enjoyment. His spirt is battered, his emotions are safely tucked away under the veneer of a man who has no kindness or tenderness any longer. He is living in Cal's house--the house once owned by DeWayne Snopes, a televangelist who conned millions out of his followers and who died trying to escape the law.

Lo and behold, who should show up on his property--the "Pride of the Carolinas" drive-in--but the Widow Snopes who had her name legally changed by to her maiden name, but who is instantly recognized in Salvation, in spite of her ragged clothing, her dead car, and her thin and hungry eyes, face, and body. She is Rachel Stone, and she is on a mission to try and find some assets that were overlooked by her dead husband in the hopes of some sort of resource to keep her child fed and safe. She knows somehow that all that money her husband absconded with can't possibly be at the bottom of the Atlantic. And for her child's sake, she is willing to endure anything to perhaps find something that may have been left behind.

Now she finds herself pinned by Gabe Bonner's dislike, his unkindness, his growling, his mean spirit. Yet she responds by refusing to go away, by insisting on working for Gabe Bonner as he repairs and restores the drive-in, somehow realizing that this is her very last chance to preserve her's and her son's lives. She knew the Bonners from her former years in Salvation, but they really didn't know her at all. All they could remember was the televised shots of her that were interpreted by her conniving husband. They never knew that she hated him, knew of his corruption, was forced to allow him to use her and her son for his own criminal purposes because he had threatened to take away her son. Gabe didn't want to like her and he didn't. But her sass and her absolute determination to work and provide for her son, even to the point that she didn't eat (she gave every scrap of food she could find to the little boy) began to slither under Gabe's carefully constructed defenses. He found her a place to live and secretly paid for the boy's time at the local daycare center. All the while having to deal with the fact that Rachel was the first woman who had attracted him since his wife's death.

This is NOT an easy novel to read. Lots of pain and disappointment, with a deep and pervasive sense of loss. Loss on Rachel's part, because she had lost her home and any assets that could sustain her and her son, loss of friends and the goodwill of the community, and loss of any semblance of faith she may have every possessed. Certainly Gabe's loss was obvious as he still couldn't seem to move on from the death of his family. But he also suffered the loss of his motivation for living, the loss of his love for people and animals, loss of any emotional response to those around him, and loss of the ability to see beyond his own pain. Just a novel filled with hurt. But it is also a novel that displays the magnificence of the human spirit to survive just about the worst that life can bring, the wonder of a mother's love that is willing to endure anything in order to care for and preserve her son and his future, the deep caring of a family that is willing to do whatever it takes to bring one of their own back to sanity, safety, and full participation in living. It is also a novel that chronicles a journey of discovery for Rachel and Gabe, but also for Ethan Bonner who has sort of lost himself in his ministry, who needs to find the rationale for his future, who is still trying to find his way in spite of his "calling." And of course, the truth that comes through loud and clear on so many levels, just as the Good Book says: "Love endures all things . . ." There is redemption here and the reclaiming of faith, of the will to live, of the need to feel and experience. I think we all forget sometimes that even when we have been "laid low" by tragedy our inner wills and spirits insist that we only dwell in limbo just so long.

I have absolutely come to prize this entire series for lots of reasons. Having lived in Chicago throughout my life--off and on--I was immediately taken with the entire premise of a ficitonal professional football team and some of the individual stories connected to it. Now, having read all of them, I am a fan for many other reasons, not the least of which is the realization that SEP has taken the time and trouble to investigate and explore the regions of the human spirit and the capacity people possess to both feel and think, to despise and to love, to resist and embrace the power of love in their lives. Somehow this particular novel, of all seven in this series, goes deeper and is almost brutal in looking at the wounds people can inflict upon one another.

I hope, if you have not read this novel, that you will do so. First released in 1998, it has been around for a long time. But its message is timeless and, as always, SEP's writing is so very good. If you have already read this book, it well may be time to go back and read it again. It will exercise your emotions and pull at the heart strings, but so what? Is that not often what makes a romance novel live in our hearts? I give this book 4.5 out of 5.


Mary G said...

I loved this book. It was my first SEP. I happened to read an excerpt on her site. My chest ached and I had to read more. Even though it was Thanksgiving in Canada, I knew there was a used book store near me that was open. I left hubby making dinner. Thank God they had a copy. I went home & devoured it. I thought I would melt when Edward asks Gabe to pretend to like him so they could stay.
I then bought the rest of the series & read them in order. Still one of my faves.

Dr J said...

Mary: I think this is truly one of the most emotional of SEP's books and certainly the one with the most raw emotions throughout. Now that isn't to say that there aren't some truly heart-wrenching moments in all her books--she is just a darn good writer and tells some wonderful stories. Thanks for stopping by . . .