Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dream A Little Dream by Susan Elizabeth Phillips *****

What a wonderful ending! It mists my eyes every time I listen to it, and this might be the 5th time. This is #4 in the Chicago Star series, even though it's really about the brother of a Chicago Stars player and doesn't really involve the Stars at all.

It's also a little darker than the rest of the series, even with its touches of humor. Gabe Bonner is Cal Bonner's (Nobody's Baby But Mine) brother - the one who was in Mexico, drowning his grief in tequila during that book. Gabe's wife Cherry and young son Jamie had been killed in a tragic car accident the year before that book, which fueled Cal's feelings about family, about babies, about the relationship of his wife Jane to his family.

Between books, Cal and Ethan did an intervention of sorts and brought Gabe back to Salvation, North Carolina, to start a new life. Gabe bought the old Pride of Carolina drive-in movie theater, and was renovating it as his own personal salvation. Just like divine providence brought Jane into Cal's life, Rachel Stone's car died right under the theater's battered old sign.

Rachel Stone is the former Rachel Snopes - it was her husband, G. Dwayne Snopes, who ran a religious scam on the town of Salvation. The thing is, many of his followers felt that Rachel was the reason G. Dwayne fell off his high horse and scammed everyone, so there's a lot of bad feelings towards her. She's spent the last 2-3 years running from that reputation - broke, with her 5-year-old son Edward, and on her last leg, she's come back to search the house (now Cal and Jane's) for the money that G. Dwayne stole, since it wasn't found in the plane when he went down and was killed. She thinks it might be in either the family Bible or the "Kennedy box" seen in a recent People magazine photo of the Bonners.

The story pits 2 broken souls against each other - each lost his/her reason for living but is dealing with it in different ways. Gabe keeps a loaded gun by the bedside, and he admits to Rachel it's not there for security. Rachel, on the other hand, is a fighter - she has Edward to think of and to live for, and she'll do whatever is necessary to keep Edward safe, including living out her car and taking any kind of menial job. Gabe hires Rachel to help him fix up the drive-in theater, and even lets her live in Grandma Annie's home - Annie's gone on to her reward by this time.

Gabe admires and even envies Rachel's ability to keep fighting against all odds, and it gives him a new perspective. He lost his wife and child but still has his parents and brothers and the community, as well as a large nest-egg, while Rachel is completely without a support system, and yet she charges forward, doing whatever it takes.

Each is also searching for something different - Gabe is looking for a reason to live, and Rachel is looking for the money - Edward's inheritance - so she can leave that part of her life behind. What they find is each other, and a new outlook on life. Gabe has the additional burden of his attitude towards Edward/Chip - he keeps comparing the small, sickly little boy with his boisterous and healthy son, not seeing Chip for himself.

The secondary romance in the book is the youngest Bonner brother, Ethan, a pastor who questions his commitment to God and the church. He's a funny character, who hears different Hollywood characters as his messages from God - the mother from Happy Days, Oprah, Clint Eastwood. His long-time secretary Christy has been invisible to him, despite the fact that she's had a crush on him since elementary school. Christy takes a lesson or two from Rachel as well, about feeling good about herself and doing things the way she wants instead of always thinking of Ethan first - and finally attracts Ethan's attention.

Another fun listen - 5 stars - and it's in the AAR Top 100 and also in my Serial Readers Challenge.

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