Dream Lake is the third book in the Friday Harbor series by Lisa Kleypas. It’s been a while since I read the first two, but when I saw this one sitting on the library shelf I grabbed it anyway. I’m a bit behind, as the fourth book has already been released. Dream Lake is about Alex, the most troubled of the Nolan brothers. In the first two novels he seems almost unredeemable, but by the end of Rainshadow Road (book 2), I found myself interested in how Kleypas would pull off making us like Alex. Alex is the youngest brother and lived with their alcoholic parents the longest. Unlike the other brothers, he wasn’t able to escape the neglect and addiction that plagued their parents, and as Dream Lake opens he’s in the middle of a divorce, close to bankruptcy, and drinking himself into oblivion every day. Real hero material, no? In contrast, Zoe is sweet, naïve, and despite one clichéd failed marriage is open to falling in love. Zoe’s grandmother Emma suffers from dementia, and Zoe is in the position of needing a home remodeled so that she move into it with her grandmother and take care of her. With Alex’s life falling apart, he’s looking for a few small jobs to bring in some income. Zoe knows that Alex is a bad risk from the beginning, but she also knows that she can’t stop herself from wanting him.
I was fascinated by the idea that you could take a full blown alcoholic at the beginning of a romance novel and remodel him into a hero by the end. I’ve seen it done occasionally in a historical, but never in a contemporary romance. Despite my misgivings, Kleypas manages to pull this portion of the book off really well. The book itself isn’t rushed, taking place over a couple of months, and Alex has time to both fight his demons and dry out. We are repeatedly told what an awful, selfish person he is, but Alex’s behavior is anything but. There are a few scenes with his ex-wife that are supposed to demonstrate just how selfish he is, but even those don’t make you believe that he is as bad as he believes himself to be. I was completely able to buy the love story, and that these two opposite people could find something to love in each other.
Which brings me to the rest of the book. If you’ve read any reviews or synopsis of this, or the previous book, you know that this is a paranormal. There is a ghost. The ghost makes his first appearance in Rainshadow Road, as the end of that book and the beginning of this one overlap (which I love, I wish more series overlapped like this.) I was not thrilled with the idea of a ghost, but as it turns out, the ghost didn’t really bother me. I was able to feel his pain when Alex did and laughed at some of his comments. I wanted to see what happened with his unresolved past. I am more bothered by the fact that the first novel is NOT a paranormal, and the types of magic that appears in book two and with Zoe bother me a lot more than the ghost itself. It seems like she’s throwing magic at the book to see what works and then not fully developing some of the lines. There’s a scene near the middle with another character, the heroine of book four, that makes it clear that that one will have yet another type of magic. This feels very scattered and awkward to me, and I’d have preferred she just stuck with the ghost and left the rest out.