Wednesday, September 5, 2012

DREAM LAKE (Friday Harbor # 3) by Lisa Kleypas

Paperback, 336 pages
Published August 7th 2012 by St. Martin's Griffin
Genre: contemporary romance, women's fiction, paranormal
Rating: 4.5 stars

They say that opposites attract. But what happens when one has been devastated by betrayal and the other is so jaded that his heart is made of stone? Enter the world of Friday Harbor, an enchanting town in the Pacific Northwest where things are not quite as they seem and where true love might just have a ghost of a chance….

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 enjoyed this third installment in the Friday Harbor series. I was very eager to see how Lisa Kleypas would handle the magic realism after her first introduction to this genre in Rainshadow Road (read my review here). As I expected,  “those gentle touches of magic” that in the previous installment seemed almost superfluous, blend in the Dream Lake realistic world in a more organic way and play a major role in the storyline. Having said that, I still believe that historical and contemporary romance novels are Kleypas’ strongest suit: unless the next installment (Crystal Cove is to be released in early 2013 ) radically changes my opinion about the way she is  exploring this interesting genre,  I believe she should stick to those fields where she has achieved an unrivalled mark of excellence.

Now, whereas on the paranormal front Kleypas incorporates the magic element in the very fibers that make the canvas of Dream Lake storyline, from a sheer romantic  standpoint  Zoe and Alex’s love story blooms at a slow pace. This lead couple reminds me of some of the most beloved characters Lisa Kleypas has ever portrayed: Alex is a modern version of Derek Craven (for those who are not  familiar with the dark and tormented hero of some of her classic HRN, see my review of Dreaming Of You) and Zoe has the same vulnerable, sweet and yet strong willed and patient nature of Evangeline Jenner. The chemistry between the unassuming, shy, gentle-natured bombshell and the cynical  “human version of an iceberg” reminds me also of Devil in Winter…love when and where you least expect it.  It’s a pity though, that  Alex and Zoe don’t get together  at an earlier stage of the narration. Because of the very nature and back-stories of our characters, love doesn’t unfold as sweetly as we may hope:  every time things finally pick up speed and steam between them, a new obstacle will land on their way to happiness.

The few love scenes took my breath away…nothing puts me in the mood for love like a Lisa Kleypas novel. They are magical and emotionally charged, explicit and yet tasteful. I normally fall hard for her male characters: they are among the most charming, unforgettable, sexy and three-dimensional male characters out there. But in this case, I was completely taken with the female heroine. I have a huge fondness for Zoe: it really melts me to see how she pours her heart in her own creations, I adore her candid optimism when she tries to breach Alex’s emotional armor through his stomach.

Alex is a tad too cold and  cynical for me. It’s true that the more broken and flawed the characters, the more rewarding the love story, but Zoe is just too sweet, too generous, too selfless not to deserve an immediate act of faith and love from her man. She is extremely adorable and endearing, so easy to root for.

All in all, quoting a line from the next installment of the Friday Harbor series (Dream Lakes includes a brief preview of Crystal Cove’s first chapter), “a good happily-ever-after is worth reading more than once.” Lisa Kleypas remains my all-time favorite romance author and I will read whatever she writes with an open mind and an open heart.

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