Reviewed: May 10, 2011
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Chicago Stars, Book 4
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 320 Pages
Formats: Print, eBook
A drunk driver nearly killed Gabe Bonner, though he was nowhere near the car that carried his wife and five-year-old son that brutal day. In an instant, his life was seared down to a quagmire of loss, misery, and regret, and he teetered on the brink of self destruction in a booze and drug haze in the backwater in Mexico he'd fled to until his brothers Cal and Ethan showed up and dragged his butt back home to Salvation, N.C. He is just now starting to function, more or less, and his family, one a hotshot ex-football star quarterback, the other a minister, is heartened by Gabe's purchase and renovation of the local abandoned drive-in movie theater, seeing it as a sign that Gabe is finally on the mend.
Neither of them have any idea that he sleeps - if you could call it that - with a loaded gun next to his bed. And not for personal protection.
Rachel Stone was teetering on the brink, as well, though not of self destruction. Virtually penniless, homeless, and struggling to protect and take care of her son Edward, she limped back towards Salvation with nothing but pride and bitter hope. And little left of either of them. Knowing good and well that her short, ill-fated marriage to the swindling televangelist who stole so much from the people of Salvation wasn't going to win her friends, she still had no choice. She was beyond desperate and following a meager trail to the millions of dollars that her crooked husband had bilked, millions that hadn't been recovered after his death. To get that money meant saving the life of her child. To get to that money, she has to get to Salvation.
As her luck, all bad, is still holding, her car dies just outside of a rundown drive-in theater first, and the welcoming committee shaped like one Gabe Bonner wasn't exactly full of goodwill. The imposing man terrorized her son, insulted her, and tossed them both off his property. Except Rachel had nowhere to go, no way to get there, and a son still recovering from the pneumonia that almost killed him and who hadn't had a decent meal in long, hungry days.
With that, the unstoppable force slams into the immovable object and sparks that neither want, need, or can stand flare between them. One is lost and looking for nothing but oblivion, the other is looking for nothing for herself at all, but desperate for everything for her child. Together they may find more than either ever dared dream.
While Dream a Little Dream is considered the fourth book in the Chicago Stars series, this lovely companion to Nobody's Baby But Mine really reads more like a conclusion to and for events and characters introduced or mentioned in that book. It's set, like most of NBBM, in Salvation, N.C., and the only connection to football, the Chicago Stars, or sports in general is through the character of Cal Bonner, who pops up in an ancillary character roll in this book. I loved seeing him and Jane again, as I really enjoyed their book (after a grotesque and horrifying beginning, anyway), but I have to admit, I wasn't very fond of some of his actions in this one. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
We learned of Gabe's tragedy in Cal's book, and here we see its effects in all its grim glory. Gabe is barely clinging to life and is none too happy about even that. He's still in abject misery three years after his grievous loss, and all the well-meaning actions of his family aren't doing anything to ease that pain. His character is too darn cussed to be totally sympathetic, and while I felt for his loss, and understood his actions, I don't have a lot of tolerance for self pity, and his character was swimming with it at first.
Then, of course, he met Rachel. I loved her. She was so strong, such an impressive character on every front. Her past was littered with disappointment and distress, but she had such an appealing inner strength and stubborn determination. I admired her and respected her actions and commitment to her son. She went toe to toe with Gabe and didn't take any of his crap, and was like a mama bear when it came to Edward. All in all, and even with a few precious flaws that made her very human, I liked her very much, and found her well rounded and sympathetic.
Seeing Gabe transform as their relationship evolved was my favorite part of this book, and where I felt the story really shined. It wasn't a smooth transition, by any means, but as Gabe's demons slowly withdrew and he got his life back in torturous inches, I became more and more impressed with SEP. Her patient storytelling and adroit ability to handle his journey with understanding of the intricacies of healing after a terrible tragedy speaks highly of her skills as an author and made those aspects of the story very emotionally impacting.
I wasn't at all enamored with Ethan in this book, though. I found his prejudice against Rachel unwillingness to bother even asking before condemning very unpalatable and hypocritical. He's a minister, and supposed to be the "good" one of the Bonner brothers, but in this book I found him charmless, clueless, shallow, and just not very likable. That was a huge disappointment because I really enjoyed his few scenes in the previous book.
The subplot of the romance between Ethan and Kristy didn't work for me, either, in part because of how I felt about Ethan as a character, and in part because it was so heavily laden with religion and many mentions of God. I get that he's a minister, and I get that Kristy is devoutly religious, so I suppose it makes sense for the characters, and I even appreciate that it was quite clear that these two characters were living their faith, not proselytizing to readers, it's just not something I like reading and it lessened my enjoyment of the book. The faith healing aspects with Rachel did nothing for me, either, and when combined with that scene of her in Emily's room, I found myself feeling annoyed by all the God/faith/religion messages.
Still, there was a lot of charm in this book, and I loved that SEP took the time to round out the Bonner brothers' story before going back to the Chicago Stars. I wish Gabe's (and Cal and Ethan's) parents had more of a presence in this book, and I was so sorry to see that Annie had passed, but it was truly lovely returning to Salvation and spending time with characters that felt like old friends.
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