Dream Lake continues my rather lackluster reading of Lisa Kleypas' contemporary Friday Harbor romance series. I keep wanting something more from these, but they continue to be...okay. Not great. This one, like the second book, follows character introduced earlier in the series. In this case, the book's hero is the final Nolan brother, Alex, and Zoe, one of the best friends of the previous book's heroine.
It's hard to place this one with where it falls chronologically, because as with the second book, the timeline seems jumbled in relation to the two books that came before. The events of the second book, Rainshadow Road, are woven very closely throughout this book as the second Nolan brother, Sam, gets it on with Zoe's friend Lucy. Meanwhile, Zoe and Alex end up together when Alex starts renovating a cottage for Zoe and her grandmother, who has to come live with her because she's started to be affected by dementia. And it is, I have to say, probably the easiest case of dementia to ever be featured in a work of fiction; while Kleypas mentions some of the difficulties of dealing with a family member with dementia, and Zoe encounters them, it's mostly off-page, and Kleypas neatly ends the whole thing before it can actually get too bad and have Zoe have to really struggle. Now, I understand, this is primarily supposed to be a romance novel. However...if you're going to be so half-hearted about part of your plot, why include it at all? I'm sure there could have been other reasons for Zoe to need the cottage renovated--even ones involving her grandmother! Maybe there could have been a fire at her grandmother's house or something. So, Zoe's struggles come from her grandmother. Alex's, on the other hand, come from a few things--a messy divorce with his ex-wife, his rampant alcoholism, and oh yeah, the ghost that has randomly decided to haunt him.
What I did like here was how Kleypas handled Alex's alcoholism--for the most part. No one romanticizes it, not even Alex himself, which is a good thing. And when Alex ultimately decides to quit drinking, he does it because he realizes he doesn't like what he's become. Is it partially because of Zoe? Yes, but in a second-hand sort of way, and when it looks like Zoe may no longer be in the picture, Alex still doesn't go back to drinking, even though he wants to. His family is also skeptical of his quitting, though they're as supportive as they probably can be, given the circumstances and his history. Of course, just like with Zoe's grandmother's dementia, Kleypas kind of takes the easy way out of some of the aspects of Alex's withdrawal here. How? Well, Zoe can cook magic food that helps Alex through it, of course!
There's also the plot involving the ghost who doesn't remember who he was here. I liked him in relation to Alex--the ghost is kind of Alex's only real "human" contact for much of the book--but adding this on to Alex's struggles and Zoe's as well, even though Kleypas tries to weave it all in, means that the romance really gets pushed to the side. Zoe and Alex don't get together until pretty far into the book, and then Kleypas really time-skips to the big crisis of "maybe we can't be together" and it all feels very rushed and superficial. Again, I think it comes back to the jumbled timeline. Because she chose to overlay this timeline with a lot of the events of the previous book, which didn't make any mention of this going on, it really feels like Kleypas didn't know what she wanted to do and so couldn't weave it all together as tightly as she does in her historicals, which seem to be much more cleanly laid out.
At this point, I'm not sure I'll continue reading this series. There's only one more book, so maybe I'll just finish it off...but I haven't been very impressed with Kleypas' contemporary romances, at least not these ones. I know she has another series set in contemporary times, so maybe I'll check that one out instead.
2 stars out of 5.