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Dream a Little Dream is book four in the Chicago Stars series of romance books by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. The series is centred around an American football team,it's players and various other related members. Out of all the books I've read in the series (and I read most of them before this one as I didn't read them in order) this one stands out because it really isn't closely linked to the football team at all. The book before this one (Nobody's Baby But Mine) tells the story of Cal Bonner, one of the Chicago Stars players and this book tells his brothers story (actually it tells the stories of both of his brothers). That's really the only link that this has with the rest of the series.
Although I've read this series out of order I think it would have been better to read it in order. This book in particular works best if read after the previous book (Nobody's baby but mine) because three of the four main characters in this book are introduced in that one and I felt that knowing a bit of their background added something to this story and I don't think I would have really understood the full implications of certain parts of this novel without having read the book before it.
Since losing his wife and young son Gabe Bonner has been understandably miserable. All he wants is to be left alone to get on with his miserable existence. Rachel has a history in Salvation, California and not a pleasant one but when she's left with a young son to provide for and with no way of doing that she's forced to go back to Salvation. It's here that she meets Gabe Bonner. Can she heal the wounds caused by the death of his wife and son? And will Rachel find what she's looking for in Salvation?
I've been purposefully vague about the plot of this story because when I found out who Rachel was and what her reasons for returning to Salvation were it was one of those moments in fiction when you feel like you've discovered something really important and you just get that really good feeling where things kind of fall into place. I don't want to deprive you of that! It's one of the reasons why I really recommend reading Nobody's Baby But Mine before this one because if you haven't then you won't really get the significance of these revelations until much later in the story (and even then probably not to the same extent).
This novel was very mixed for me regarding how much I enjoyed it. I found Gabe very difficult to like. I think that may have been intentional on the part of the author. Gabe was really deep in grief and his grief was causing him to act in an unpleasant manner. When Phillips introduced Gabe in the previous book I wasn't sure that I was going to like his story. Romance novels featuring people who have been widowed are never my preference because no matter how nice the story is I still feel sad that they've had to lose someone and romance novels for me are a way of escaping reality, not reminding myself that people lose those they love. I thought that having Gabe so deep in grief was both a good and a bad thing. On the one hand it was good that she portrayed his grief in a realistic way. People aren't at their most pleasant when they're grieving and many people don't get over the death of their spouses quickly or easily, particularly when that death is so sudden. But I also felt at times during this novel that Gabe wasn't really at the stage where he could be getting into another relationship. I doubt you ever get over the death of a spouse but you at least move on and I think that ideally that moving on should happen before you take on a new family. I guess that's just me being narrow minded about how I think things should be done and even though this did take away from my enjoyment a bit it didn't ruin the novel for me.
What bothered me more than him not having moved on when getting into a relationship with Rachel is the way he treated her son. He's constantly comparing him to his own son and very negative about him. Of course with this being a romance novel he moves on from that but it was something that I found hard to forgive. You have an already traumatised boy being subjected to what can only be described as emotional abuse from the man his mother's sleeping with. This made me dislike both characters a lot. I disliked Gabe for being able to treat a child like that and I disliked Rachel for continuing her relationship with Gabe when she found out about some things that he had done. To me that's not something a good parent does. Good parents put their children first.
There were points when I enjoyed Gabe and Rachel's story but it was always over shadowed by Gabe's grief and the way that he treated Rachel's son. I do generally quite enjoy romance novels where there's a lot of angst and drama but not when it includes children. It's one thing to put your adult characters through trials and difficulties and have a love solves all approach to it but I just can't enjoy that with children involved. Had Rachel not had a son or if Gabe had perhaps been nicer to her son I would have really enjoyed the development of their relationship. I loved the way that it progressed from indifference and dislike to love but I just couldn't get over the involvement of Rachel's son.
What I did really enjoy was the secondary story in this novel. Pastor Ethan is Gabe's brother and the local priest. The thing that I liked about Ethan was that he wasn't perfect. He's a really good guy, the local priest who helps everyone and always wants to do the right thing but he's not perfect. He has a past and he makes mistakes. When he was introduced in Nobody's Baby But Mine I really hoped that he would have his own book and having his story as a side note in Gabe's was very disappointing for me. What added to that disappointment was that his story was so much better than Gabe's. His secretary has been love with him for years and in this book we see her finally grabbing Ethan's attention. Phillips seems to write most of her secondary plots in the same manner, she'll start by building up the secondary characters, drawing you into their plot and capturing the interest of the reader. Then she just forgets it. Towards the end you find out what happens but not in the same depth as the earlier part of the secondary plot. I always find this to be a really strange thing to do in a novel, why write a story with such depth in the early parts and then not finish it in the same way? The frustrating thing is that I could be writing this about most of the sub plots in her novel and it's getting to the point where I read her books and start to wonder if there's any point in getting into the secondary story lines when they inevitably end up disappointing me.
I'm really not sure if I would recommend this book or not. I did enjoy reading it but at the same time there were just too many things about this novel that bothered me. If you are a SEP fan then this one is certainly worth reading, if you've been following the series then it's worth reading but if you're not a fan and want to read an SEP book I wouldn't recommend this novel. It's enjoyable enough but not one of her better novels.