Monday, January 11, 2021

REVIEW: Three Complete Novels: Daring to Dream, Holding the Dream, Finding the Dream (book) by Nora Roberts

This is an omnibus edition of Nora Roberts' Dream trilogy, originally published back in 1996-1997. The books are contemporary romance, although the trilogy framing storyline (Seraphina) has the slightest hint of the supernatural to it. I'm pretty sure I bought this book used, ages ago.

This review includes potential spoilers.


This was technically a reread, although I first read this trilogy long enough ago that I could only remember a few scenes here and there.

I'll start by talking about the trilogy as a whole, and then cover each book individually. As is usual with Roberts' trilogies (or at least the older ones - I haven't read many of her newer works), each book features a different couple, although the trilogy as a whole is held together by a particular framing story. In this case, I suppose there are two framing stories: first, the story of Seraphina, a young woman who jumped off a cliff in 1846 after learning that her soldier lover had been killed; and second, the story of Laura Templeton, who once dreamed of having a fairytale marriage like her parents.

The Templetons are rich, but Roberts assures us that they're the good kind of rich: they view their staff as family and don't let them go just because they're getting older (unless they wanted to retire - but it seems that no one who works in the Templeton household ever wants to do that), they donate generously to charity, and they take good care of each other and those they love. The first book deals with Margo, the Templeton housekeeper's daughter, who was practically treated like Laura Templeton's sister. The second book deals with Kate, who was taken in by the Templeton family after her parents were killed in an accident when she was eight. The third book deals with Laura Templeton. All three women are very close friends, and their friendship is given a prominent place in the narrative and is one of the reasons why I wouldn't recommend reading this trilogy out of order.

All three women end up at rock bottom - or at least their idea of rock bottom, since anyone in the Templeton orbit automatically has a robust safety net they can call on at any point - and find love while picking themselves back up again. For me, the safety net aspect was both one of the appeals of this trilogy and one of the biggest frustrations. After Margo's life blew up in her face, she discovered that she was not only broke, but also deeply in debt. Although she insisted that she had to dig herself out, it was clear that she could ask for help at any point and the Templetons would have handed her fistfuls of money and made everything better. Same with Kate after she lost her job, and Laura when she divorced her husband and found out he'd cleaned out her bank account. None of these women were truly in any danger of starving or becoming homeless. Imagine never having to worry that bad luck or bad decisions might do more than badly hurt your pride.

Which brings me to the aspect of this that I found frustrating. First, what does it even mean to do something on your own when you're involved with the Templeton family? Margo acted like she left the Templetons at 18 and started her modeling career completely on her own, but at one point in her book it was mentioned offhand that Laura used her connections to help her find work. And I somehow doubt Margo's shop would have lasted without Kate and Laura adding their own money to the business. 

Second, at times it felt like these women were being overly stubborn rather than admirably self-reliant or however Roberts wanted them to be viewed. Laura, in particular, drove me nuts. She wouldn't accept money from her parents but still, apparently, wanted to continue giving her kids the same lifestyle they had when she was married to Peter. And she continued to live in the big Templeton estate, which needed to be properly staffed and maintained. I was livid when she mentioned being worried that she might have to let staff go because, no, she absolutely did not have to do that - she could have given the estate back to her parents and gone to live somewhere she could actually afford, or she could have accepted at least enough money from her parents to ensure she could pay the staff. Her own stupid pride was the only thing preventing her from doing any of that.

The best thing about this trilogy, overall, was the family and friendship stuff. The characters' discussions with their parents were great, and I loved the way Margo, Kate, and Laura stood by each other, even though I sometimes wanted to shake them for being so stupidly stubborn. Their friendship held the trilogy together well enough that the Seraphina storyline (and its very slightly supernatural feel) were almost unnecessary.

This trilogy did feel a bit dated, unfortunately. It wasn't just characters' reactions to computers, the way Byron faxed a bunch of things but never once mentioned email, and that casual mention of Donald Trump as though an offer to work for him would be even vaguely appealing. I don't know that I can pinpoint it exactly, but it had something to do with the way all of the romances sprang out of each of the women reaching the lowest points in their lives.

Well, on to the individual romances.

Daring to Dream:

Although the Templetons always treated Margo like one of their own, her mother made sure she never forgot that she was actually just the housekeeper's daughter. At 18, she decided to go off on her own and use her beauty to make a name for herself, and attain the glamorous and glitzy lifestyle the Templetons made her long for. Ten years later, she arrives back at the Templeton estate with her life in shambles and a mountain of debt. With the help of her best friends, Laura and Kate, she manages to get back on her feet and build a new life for herself. She also gradually comes to the realization that she's in love with Josh, Laura's older brother, who's now a lawyer and who has secretly loved her since they were kids.

This is the worst book in the trilogy, and the romance is unfortunately the reason why. Josh spent years hiding his interest in Margo (which started when he was 16 and she was 12 - I was uncomfortable with the way 12-year-old Margo was depicted), just waiting for the day when she'd screw up enough to need him to swoop in a pick up the pieces, as thought their eventual romance was inevitable. He even admitted that's how he'd viewed it all. It would have served him right if she had ended up with someone else.

Margo and Josh certainly meshed well sexually, but it was so easy for Josh to doubt Margo that I had trouble believing their relationship could really last. On the one hand, Margo's beauty and sex appeal drew him in. On the other hand, it made him angry and jealous to see other men drawn in the same way. He wasn't the worst jealous romance hero I've ever seen, but that didn't make it any better, and I found myself wishing that Margo could have ended up with someone who didn't feel as entitled to her and who had made a few mistakes of his own. The way Josh was depicted, it was as though he'd never done anything wrong in his life, ever. I also didn't like the edge of violence in his character - deliberately breaking Peter's nose with a tennis ball, saying he'd have killed Margo if he'd stuck around after thinking he'd caught her with another man.

It didn't help that Margo was one of my least favorite Nora Roberts heroine types, the "wild and sexy one." I don't relate well to those types at all, and in this case there was the added issue of Margo unapologetically being an "other woman" - the last guy she was with (before Josh) was a married man who swore he'd leave his wife for her (he was lying, and his wife knew about the affair and didn't care, but Margo didn't know that). For some reason this was never a huge issue for the other characters, not even Laura, whose husband cheated on her.

Holding the Dream:

Kate was taken in by the Templetons when she was eight and her parents were killed in an accident. Years later, she's a successful accountant whose world suddenly tumbles down around her ears as she learns a horrible secret about her father and is then fired for something she didn't do. Byron De Witt, who manages one of the Templeton hotels, helps her pick up the pieces.

Kate and Byron were my favorite couple in the trilogy and Kate was my favorite heroine, even though I thought the last book, Finding the Dream, was actually stronger overall than this one. Kate loved and was good at her career, and she was the most practical of the three women and also, I think, the most aware of what it would really mean to accomplish something without Templeton assistance. She was also really terrible at taking care of herself, which was where Byron came in - he forced her to see a doctor when all her personal troubles came to a head and really affected her health. I was reminded of Eve and Roarke (the main characters of Roberts' In Death series, written under the name J.D. Robb), although Byron wasn't as pushy as Roarke.

As was usual for this trilogy, the family stuff was stronger than the romance. I loved Kate's discussion with Susan Templeton (her aunt and mother figure after the death of her parents), about how she'd viewed the Templetons and her place in the family. Byron was nice enough and a great fit for Kate, although not terribly memorable as romance heroes go.

Finding the Dream:

It's been almost two years since Laura's divorce. Things are looking better, but Laura's still struggling to rebuild her finances and it still hurts that Peter doesn't seem to care about their children. When Josh asks her to allow Michael, an old friend of his, to use the stables and the groom's apartment above them, since his own home and stables were destroyed by a mudslide, she reluctantly agrees. Michael always struck her as being a little dangerous. While he did spend a period of time as a mercenary, he's now a horse trainer and occasionally works as a stunt double. As he and Laura get to know each other, they realize that neither one of them is the person the other assumed them to be. 

This is the best book in the trilogy, with a strong romance that worked really well with the trilogy's family relationships aspect (in this case, it was the female friendship that was weaker - there was a definite expectation that readers had read the first two books and already understood how Margo, Kate, and Laura's friendship worked). Michael befriended Laura's daughters, Ali and Kayla, and taught them how to ride, and his and Laura's relationship developed naturally from there, for the most part.

Michael was my favorite of the trilogy's heroes, and I really liked his affection for Ali and Kayla (although there's a scene in which he threatens to spank Ali that may throw some readers - one of those things that made this trilogy feel dated). The end of the book was a bit too dramatic for my tastes, though. On the plus side, at least Roberts didn't go as far as she could have and include a ghostly Seraphina cameo or something.

Overall, it's not a bad Nora Roberts trilogy, but it's definitely not my favorite, and it's starting to show its age.

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