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REVIEW: Dream Lake by Lisa Kleypas

Dear Ms. Kleypas:

I am a big fan of your writing and even when you announced the move into mystical realism, I was undeterred in my fandom. Yes, the magical realism was so light as to be unnecessary in the previous work and yes it wasn’t well integrated into the story but I enjoyed the characters and the romance and the tension between the two that I overlooked the magical realism. In Dream Lake, however, the paranormal element is so overpowering and inseparable that it nearly ruined the story for me. Ruined is a harsh word but the ghostly element pervaded every corner of the book like insidious smell of smoke that permeates items not even singed in a fire. No corner is safe.

Dream Lake Lisa KleypasThe story opens with the ghost point of view. I don’t know who the ghost is and I don’t care. I don’t care because he isn’t corporeal and never will be. I don’t care if he haunts the house or goes on to a better life. But I can’t escape him. He narrates the first four chapters.  Half the time I’m not even sure if he is narrating anymore or whether it is some unembodied omniscient voice. For example, as we are told the entire backstory of the Nolan family and how they came to live at the house that the ghost was supposedly tied to until he was then sucked into Alex’s sphere and couldn’t escape.

His voice is maudlin and predictable. Worse, he is ghost ex machina. When Sam and Alex, two brothers, get testy with each other rather than allowing the reader to infer for herself the chill in the air, the ghost spells it out “The ghost was perplexed by an unfamiliar sensation, a raw chill that would have caused him to shiver if he’d had a human form. It was a depth of despair that even th ghost, in his bleak solitude, had never experienced — and it radiated from Alex Nolan.”

and later “Although he hadn’t been able to read Alex’s thoughts as he had sat on the front porch, the ghost had felt them.” The transition from Alex’s point of view to the ghost’s point of view was often confusing making me wonder at times who was narrating the story.   The ghost wavers from old-fashioned mores and language to a snarky modern tone of voice.  The ghost is one half smart-aleck and the other half wise sage, serving whatever purpose Alex needs at the time whether it is appropriate responses in courting Lucy or attempting to get through an alcoholic haze.  “Part of you is dying, the Part of you that drinks to avoid pain But avoid pain only feeds it.” Wax On, Wax off

Moving on from the ghost are the two other main characters: Alex the drunk and Zoe the chef.  (Zoe’s magic is in the restorative power of her food).

Despite my aforementioned complaints, there are examples of good dialogue throughout the book.  Alex has a troubled relationship with his brothers and it is not easily resolved.  The other brothers are too wrapped up in their own lives and really don’t make much effort in saving Alex, not that Alex would want their help.  “If your life were graphed in a pie chart, half of it would be ‘shitface’ and the other half would be ‘hungover‘” says his brother Sam.

The middle of the story was more palatable. I breathed a sigh of relief when the story switch to Zoe’s point of view because it was ghostless. But I felt like she got the short shrift. Abandoned by her father, Zoe’s main family was her grandmother.  The grandmother was suffering from early onset dementia. Very little of Zoe’s inevitable grief at losing her only family was shown to us.  The one  scene with her father was painful for every one but her. Zoe wasn’t particularly interesting despite her marvelous cooking skills. I would have loved to try her oatmeal, described as almost like an oatmeal cake with warm milk poured around it.  The food that she makes for Alex every morning sound like a culinary marvel.  But Zoe as a person lacked backbone.  For instance, she has an ex husband who married her, cheated on her with a man, and then left her.  He comes running back to her for comfort after the man he left her for breaks up with him.   She easily forgives him, comforts him.

Alex’s alcoholism was healed through drying out and Zoe’s magical cooking but I never felt invested.  Rather than drawing us closer to Alex and feeling his pain, I felt the ghost narrated version of this story distanced us from the characters. We were seeing his recovery primarily through a third party rather than the character’s point of view.  I’m still on board for more of these books. I can only hope that there are no more ghosts.  The set up for the next book appears to be between a Billionaire and a witch.  C-

Best regards

Jane

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

23 Comments

  1. Brie
    Aug 14, 2012 @ 09:02:36

    I’m just happy I’m not the only one who didn’t like the book. I thought the romance was lacking. The relationship between Alex and the ghost was more honest and closer that what Alex and Zoe had. She was so passive about everything that it got on my nerves. And let’s not mention the ending, I’d like to pretend it didn’t happen.

    I just want to forget about this book and hope the next one will be better. This series isn’t bad, although the magical realism is poorly done, but overall I enjoy the characters and the romance. This one was a mess, though.

  2. Janet P.
    Aug 14, 2012 @ 09:53:00

    Alex’s alcoholism was healed through drying out and Zoe’s magical cooking but I never felt invested.

    But just think how much better my childhood could have been if my Mom only knew how to cook oatmeal correctly!

    Yeah, I don’t think I have the stomach for this one.

  3. Jennifer
    Aug 14, 2012 @ 10:08:53

    I’m reading this now, and still offended that that the kindle version cost so much…

    I want much more from these books…however, once I accepted the fact that this series was not going to have the bite of the Travises series, I found it more palatable. ..
    ( Enough food puns. Wanted to work in Amuse-bouche, but that would be too awkward— just like in the book…)

  4. Ducky
    Aug 14, 2012 @ 10:24:33

    I did like the first two books in this series but felt there was that special something missing. I also felt that the magical element in Rainshadow Road was kind of cutesy and not well integrated.

    I did love Dream Lake and read it all in one go. I don’t believe in ghosts but I am willing to accept ghosts in fiction if a book is well written and touching – and to me Dream Lake is that kind of book. I loved Alex and Zoe and all the foodie stuff, and I loved the love story of the ghost and Emma.

  5. P. Kirby
    Aug 14, 2012 @ 10:51:58

    Well, this confirms my decision not to read this book. I liked Rainshadow Road even though I’m not a Kleypas fan. I don’t dislike the author’s writing , I’m just not a “fan.” I tried Rainshadow Road on the suggestion of a friend. The magical element was a little too fluffy, but it was an enjoyable read, nonetheless.

    The sample chapter of Dream Lake, however, was pretty much unreadable; as you said, the ghost voice was maudlin and he was obviously functioning as the exposition fairy. Pass.

  6. Mandi
    Aug 14, 2012 @ 12:07:23

    Blerg ghosts. I don’t like them and this is the second review I’ve read that hasn’t liked this book.

    I did like book one though so I may check out the third. Maybe. :)

  7. Danielle D
    Aug 14, 2012 @ 12:29:56

    I don’t think I will be reading this book! Thank you for the honest review.

  8. Anne
    Aug 14, 2012 @ 12:54:37

    I’m astonished people dislike ghosts so much. I’ve read a couple of very well written and rather romantic ghost stories, such as for example Gilbert’s ‘The Ghost on My Couch’ or Barrett’s ‘Incorporeal’. Both of them have quite satisfying HEAs/HFNs with the ghosts and I found them rather enchanting.

  9. Lori
    Aug 14, 2012 @ 13:21:18

    I read this book yesterday as I was still in recovery from a bout of flu and it was perfect medicine.

    I love romances that incorporate food into them and this one did such a good job with it that I was delirious (with the foodie stuff, not the fever).

    The ghost didn’t bother me at all. I felt that without the ghost Alex might have been a ghost himself, walking through his life, numb to everything. And the POV’s reflected the characters: Alex was very stark, very sharp which fueled his haunting while Zoe was lush and the cooking with its descriptives were a rich component.

    I loved the book and admittedly was really open emotionally while reading it and sobbed like a baby in a few places.

    Lisa Kleypas is my go-to writer for stories that work for me almost every time.

  10. rachel
    Aug 14, 2012 @ 15:25:57

    I was forgiving of the magic in the last book (because it didn’t interfere with the actual story) but I really disliked the ghost stuff in this book. All the magical realism stuff really bogged down what could have been a great and complicated book by being both boring and predictable. Alex had the makings of such an interesting character and Kleypas could have gone so many places with him but instead used the ghost to soften all Alex’s sharp edges. Super disappointed by this one. -On the other hand I did have to go into the kitchen and bake because this book made me hungry, so there’s that.

  11. Carolyn
    Aug 14, 2012 @ 16:50:33

    For me this book would have been boring and predictable without the magic realism. I don’t consider the ghost to be part of that; in fact the only thing I can think of is the stained glass window.

    I rather like ghosts and I feel this particular one saved Alex’s life. I never had a problem keeping Alex and the ghost separate and I didn’t feel like Zoe’s cooking was part of the magic. She was a damn good cook, an artist at the craft and that’s all the magic there was to that.

    I’ve loved all the books in this series, because Kleypas takes chances. It’s a pleasure to read something out of the usual run of the mill romances.

  12. Krista
    Aug 14, 2012 @ 21:09:50

    For me, this actually worked much better than the previous books in the series. The previous romances just felt like they had generic women’s fiction characters and I was really missing the usual depth of Lisa’s writing and characterization. In this book, the ghost showcased LK’s humor and helped Alex from being totally unlikeable (let’s face it, he was most of the time lol). I did relate to Zoe on a personal level though, so that may have influenced my reading. The secondary romance was the highlight of the book, IMO. This felt closer to the LK I know and love, even if there was huge suspension of disbelief involved.

    Despite liking this book, I personally wish she would go back to Texas ASAP cuz I love me some Hardy Cates.

  13. Des Livres
    Aug 15, 2012 @ 01:12:55

    In reading the book I managed to get past my “oh yuck a ghost” reaction – because it’s a Lisa Kleypas who, in the past, has been an auto-buy for me. She managed to suck me in, despite all Jane’s completely accurate points. Her Texas series is much much better though.

    These books are a bit odd – skilfully written, but insufficiently engaged with the place or the main characters for me. This book, and the previous one, felt like the place/characters were slightly blurred and something else was really the author’s focus, but whatever that was, wasn’t made clear to the reader.

  14. Dina
    Aug 15, 2012 @ 09:18:49

    Ghosts. Yawn. Other than “The Ghost & Mrs. Muir” I have never been fan of love stories with ghosts. The only Kresley Cole IAD series book I did not keep was the story between a vampire and a ghost. I just find the lack of physical substance too weird to make it relatable. A ghost as narrator sounds just as improbable as ghost lover. Werewolves, demons, witches – no problem, but ghosts – no thanks.

  15. Boooo
    Aug 15, 2012 @ 14:11:46

    I’m not thrilled with Kleypas leaving historical romances behind. She created some of the most memorable books that I have ever read, and I am wishing fervently that she publishes more of these in between her new paranormals.

    I like this book. The ghost part did not bother me at all.

  16. Lada
    Aug 24, 2012 @ 12:04:00

    I think your review was spot-on Jane. This was a DNF for me and may be my final try at Kleypas. Besides the problems with the ghost which you accurately point out, I’m so tired of Kleypas’ light-handed approach to every human condition she introduces. I get that’s her style but her stories lack any emotional depth because of it. I’m also not a fan of the instant attraction her characters always feel upon seeing each other. It would have been more fun to watch them fall in love despite themselves and their issues.

  17. Courtney
    Aug 24, 2012 @ 12:26:00

    I love Kleypas (Derek Craven of “Dreaming of You” is one of my all-time favorite tortured heroes), but I wanted to throw this book at the wall after the first chapter. The whole ghost storyline was, IMO, entirely unnecessary and distracting. However, I was stuck on a four hour flight, so I kept at it and simply ignored all the ghost sections (which is at least 1/3 of the book) and by ignoring the ghost and focusing on the main characters, I found myself enjoying the book. I actually loved Alex and Zoe and thought their coming together as a couple was realistic and emotional.

    I really wish Kleypas would cut out all this mystical/paranormal nonsense. She doesn’t need it and it weakens her writing, IMO.

  18. Clementine
    Aug 26, 2012 @ 00:55:51

    I only recently discovered Lisa’s books and have spent most of the summer going through her books. So far I’ve absolutely loved most of the one’s I’ve read–especially the Travis series (how do I love thee Gage and Jack Travis–let me count the ways). I enjoyed Dream Lake, but probably not as much as Rainshadow Road. I really loved Sam and Lucy’s story–probably because I’m a sucker for any hero who wears Dr. Who shirts and can explain the Shroedinger’s cat theory.

  19. Jane
    Aug 26, 2012 @ 09:45:56

    @Clementine – I love the Travis series although over time, I’ve come to like Blue Eyed Devil on more re-reads than others.

  20. Clementine
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 22:35:00

    I have a hard time choosing which is my favorite. It usually depends on which one I just finished reading. But I do think that Blue-eyed devil has the most emotional depth of the three. Of all of Lisa’s books though these are the one’s I keep going back to. And like a lot of people I have my fingers crossed that she will re-visit the series and write a book about Joe Travis.

  21. Shelly Michaels
    Sep 21, 2012 @ 20:31:25

    I’ll be honest and say that I sat inside the Barnes and Noble cafe and read the book, back to front, and once done, put it back on the shelf. I was not inspired to buy it. I am a Lisa K fan and love most of her historical books. But I’m willing to try her contemporary books, read this one and felt disappointed. There was little interest in the relationship between Alex and his brothers. Some other authors include the new in-laws and their offspring, so I was expecting some of that, but Alex felt mostly isolated. I guess that’s just how he is, but I felt disappointed that he didn’t go out of his way to socialize much (no friends?). His battle with alcoholism was intriguing and I felt sure there would be a story there, but LK breezed through it, as if alcoholism is easy to get through. (I’ve seen it, its harsh and not pretty, and takes longer than a few chapters.) Zoey for her part is losing her grandmother to Alzheimer’s and yet she’s not crying, venting, angry, etc at the “loss” of her grandmother. She’s very accepting in some parts. Shouldn’t she be crying out at the injustice of it all? As for the ghost. He mostly bothered me, as I didn’t know who he was for a good part of the book, and so midway through, I didn’t care to invest any attention on him. A little bleak. I’ll have to go back and read it again, in hopes that I missed something.

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