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REVIEW: Before I Wake by Kathryn Smith

Dear Ms. Smith:

book review This was an interesting departure from the historical paranormals you’ve written and I think the setting and characters are a good fit for you. The voice sounds very natural. Before I Wake is more of an urban fantasy with a dash of romance than a true romance. It features Dawn Riley, a Nightmare. She is able traverse between the corporeal world and the dream world. She is an anomaly, one that both frightens and attracts those that inhabit the Dreaming.

Dawn can affect the dreams of others and did so once with terrible consequences. Since then she has hidden from her talents and rejected her Dreaming abilities. She doesn’t totally get away from dreams, though and is currently neuropsychologist studying under a top researcher in the field of sleep research.

One of Dawn’s clients, Noah, is an artist. She finds him attractive, but the client/patient relationship prevents any type of consummation of her feelings. Noah and Dawn flirt, though, and when his dreams and her dreams begin to overlap, the client/patient relationship walls fall down.

Dawn is being stalked in her dreams, as is Noah and others. It appears that Dawn might be the only one to combat this and to do so she must embrace her power and her past.

There are some really nicely done conflicts particularly the storyline involving Dawn’s mother who, in the corporeal realm appears to be in a coma, but is actually asleep, dreaming so that she can be with her lover and Dawn’s father Morpheus. Dawn’s struggle over her love for her mother and her distaste at what her mother is doing to her corporeal family is moving. Dawn’s is a near impossible position as she sees her father and siblings mourn for her mother and spend obscene amounts of money on medical care when her mother is choosing to be asleep. It’s like the dark side of the HEA.

Another dark side was the initial sex scene between Dawn and the Dreamkin that was part forced and part willing and Dawn wasn’t quite sure what it was, leaving the reader a bit unsure. I think those ambivalences always make a story more interesting.

Noah is also an interesting character. He has no special power and in a fight in the dream realm, he’s fairly useless. Yet, he’s interesting and sexy in his own right. However, there is a guard of Morpheus’ that is given a significant amount of page time and I can’t help but wonder at the future of Dawn’s relationship with Noah given that this isn’t really a straight up romance.

I had a couple problems with the story. One big and one small but both took me out of the story.

The dream world setting is not one often done in romance and from that aspect, I think this is a fresh romance setting. While I thought that the book was innovative (because I didn’t immediately connect it to The Matrix until you drew references to it and because I’m not familiar with Gaiman’s work), I found that the frequent references to The Matrix disruptive. It’s possible that you brought up similarities preemptively so a reader wouldn’t close the book and cry foul. For me, everytime the Matrix was mentioned, I looked for Matrix-like similarities. The most troublesome aspect was that the naming of the Dream King Morpheus. Now I understand that Morpheus is the Greek god of dreams and that is the name of the Gaiman character Dream, but using that name with the Matrix and Gaiman references made Morpheus too derivative in my eyes and every time he appeared, the image of Laurence Fishburne superimposed himself onto the pages, bringing with him all the characteristics of Laurence Fishburne’s character such that I was no longer in your story but some strange conglomeration of your story and the Matrix.

And possibly that was your intent, but for me, I found it distracting.

The second thing that bothered me was the constant use of brand names. Everything had a name. Dawn isn’t just at a drugstore she is at a Duane Reade. She doesn’t just fantasize about movie stars, she fantasizes about David Boreanz and Clive Owens. She watches Smallville, reads Lisa Kleypas, wears Clinique Black Honey gloss and Xai Xai lipgloss from Cargo, uses a Benefit bent fine brush for smudging her eyeliner and Benefit mascara. When she ate Indian food, we found out it was chicken tiki masala, sag peneer, chana masala, and lamb vindaloo, basmati rice, and naan. It was detail overload.

While this book didn’t work for me on every level, it was different enough for me to try it again with the second series. C+

Best regards


This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or Powells or ebook format.

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


  1. GrowlyCub
    Aug 19, 2008 @ 17:58:21

    I seem to remember reading about new marketing strategies aimed at women a few months back and since this is not the first time you guys have mentioned the brand name dropping in books lately, I’ve started to wonder whether there aren’t some product placement contracts quietly being negotiated and carried out between publishers and ad agencies. Don’t know about a mid-list author’s punch, but certainly Ward seems to reach a large enough audience.

    Considering that most everybody who has commented on name dropping did not appreciate it in the least, one wonders about efficacy. On the other hand there are many readers who don’t say anything or do not seem bothered by it, and who knows, some might actually decide to buy X product after having read about it. After all, people do buy products from SPAM emails, too…


  2. cecilia
    Aug 19, 2008 @ 18:10:09

    Considering that most everybody who has commented on name dropping did not appreciate it in the least, one wonders about efficacy. On the other hand there are many readers who don't say anything or do not seem bothered by it, and who knows, some might actually decide to buy X product after having read about it. After all, people do buy products from SPAM emails, too…

    An recent-ish example of a name being distracting to me was the Bugatti Veyron in Lick My Horns…though now that I actually know what that is, I doubt many people will actually be rushing out to buy one.

    Good job at sucking me into reading a C-review, btw. If you’re not going to be tagging reviews, can you still tag the A’s, maybe B’s, at the end? I only say this because I can imagine people might want to browse them, looking for something/someone new.


  3. Jane
    Aug 19, 2008 @ 18:42:49

    cecilia – the lack of tagging was an error. I just forgot.


  4. MoJo
    Aug 19, 2008 @ 19:29:14

    I like brand name dropping.


  5. Jorrie Spencer
    Aug 19, 2008 @ 20:40:30

    I like this premise! This book intrigues me. Thanks for the interesting review.


  6. Kathryn Smith
    Aug 19, 2008 @ 23:29:41

    Oh no! The dreaded ‘C’ review!! LOL. Jane, thanks so much for the review. Despite your issues with the book, I think it still comes across as positive and I appreciate that.

    As for product placement, can I nip that conversation in the bud? No one offered me a contract for anything, but if a major cosmetics company would like to do that, I’m open for discussion. :-) I name/product drop because Dawn is a brand-name wh*re — plus I used Duane Reade because it’s definitely a NYC thing, and personally, I thought it was a nice touch. Although, I don’t think I did it as much in the second book, so hopefully it won’t be an issue for you in that one. ;-)

    Now I never pictured Morpheus as Larry Fishbourne. For some reason he looks like Jamie Denton off Desperate Housewives in my head.

    Regardless, I think this is the best ‘C’ I’ve ever gotten. So, thanks!



  7. Ana
    Aug 20, 2008 @ 01:21:46

    I really liked the book and was not bothered at all with the brand name dropping.I loved the concept of the Dreaming (even though it’s not really an original concept per se – I am indeed a huge Neil Gaiman fan and had come accross it before in his work) and the use of a Nightmare as a was different.

    And I liked Dawn’s relationship with her parents too.

    Great review Jane, it is as the others said, a C review that sounds very positive.


  8. SonomaLass
    Aug 20, 2008 @ 02:45:07

    Nice clear review, and good for Kathryn for recognizing a good C review when she gets one!


  9. Kathryn Smith
    Aug 20, 2008 @ 10:38:15

    Anna, it’s so hard to write about the Dream Realm and not channel some Gaiman. I loved the Sandman work. But one thing I did do was check out the term ‘The Dreaming.’ Since Gaiman wasn’t the first to use it, and didn’t make it up, I felt safe to use it myself. But I have tried to make my Morpheus as different from his as I can, the world as well. I hope you enjoy the rest of the series. Right now it’s looking like it will be a trilogy and then we’ll see what happens from there. :-)


  10. MCHalliday
    Aug 20, 2008 @ 14:05:12

    The dream realm has always drawn my attention, and Matrix is on my list of greats.

    I appreciate the heads up about the name dropping as it is distracting if oft done in a story, particularly if one is not familiar with the product. *might as well be written, “blah, blah, blah”*

    Don’t minding reading about food, it can indicate cultural preferences and some personality clues. Although, When she ate Indian food, we found out it was chicken tiki masala, sag peneer, chana masala, and lamb vindaloo, basmati rice, and naan. I am under the impression this was at ONE sitting and I am about to burst in swollen empathy.

    C+ and my interests, plus Kathryn’s gentle replies, culminate in a book buy!


  11. Ana
    Aug 21, 2008 @ 02:08:25

    Kathryn, I am sure I will! I will certainly be reading it .


  12. Kathryn Smith
    Aug 21, 2008 @ 11:36:18

    Ana, I’m so sorry for spelling your name wrong!


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