Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific achievement, and one that I have yet to make. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.
That said, here is my honest opinion of Collette Scott’s If we dare to dream, a romantic-suspense story which I finished reading last night.
Characters: If we dare to dream delivers mostly strong characters, headed in particular by the two principals, Jamie, a sexy, though girl-next-door wholesome heroine, and Andrew, a dominating, though gentle and emotionally wounded former Special Forces soldier. The supporting cast includes Jamie’s four protective brothers, Andrew’s grandmother and his younger brother Adam. Collette does a nice job of defining her characters through what I call the “character triangle” — what they say, what they do, and what they look like. Could’ve used a little more description of Jamie — my principal impression of her is dark eyes and a thick head of mahogany hair. But she’s obviously a desirable young woman, judging from the way Andrew, and Collette’s other characters react to her.
Interestingly, one of the sharpest, most memorable characters, for me anyway, was a very minor character – Ted Beach, an attorney. I suspect Ted is or is based on a real person Collette encountered in doing her homework for the story. Collette?
Plot: Andrew and Jamie meet and are attracted to one another briefly in the story’s beginning. But Jamie is about to be married, and is moving to another state the next day. So she doesn’t find out until three years later, that Andrew has been convicted for a rape and murder he didn’t commit — one that Jamie herself holds the exonerating alibi for.
Jamie rides to the rescue, springs Andrew from prison after three years, and the romance is on — haltingly and clumsily, alas, even though we know they are so right for one another. But Collette doesn’t make it easy for them. Two steps forward, one step back, and some of those backward steps are pretty big.
Their budding relationship is somewhat overshadowed by the fact that the real rapist-killer is still on the loose, and no one knows who or where he is. Personally, I suspected practically every male character Collette introduced who wasn’t Andrew.
Setting: The story takes place in Arizona, mostly in the cities of Mesa, where Jamie lives; and Apache Junction, where Andrew lives with his wheelchair-bound, but feisty grandmother Arleen. There are some very nice exterior hiking and horseback-riding scenes in the Superstition Mountains. The cities themselves aren’t given much description, but the mountains and the interiors of homes get some nice attention. Here’s the home of Jamie’s oldest brother, Ford:
Taking the opportunity to take a look at his surroundings, Andrew remained impressed. The leather sofas were placed around an elaborate oriental carpet, and solid mahogany tables rested on either side. Another mahogany table rested between the two sofas, its top sporting architectural and southwestern design magazines. Stained glass lamps were well-placed around the room, and a large antique tapestry of the Italian countryside resided on the wall above the gas fireplace with a lamp installed above it. He could imagine how lovely that would be on a dark evening.
Very important, imho, to orient the reader in space (time, too) and Collette does a nice job with the details.
What I thought could’ve been done better: Collette slips into passive voice sometimes. For instance:
His perusal was interrupted by nearly silent footsteps in the hallway.
Why not “Nearly silent footsteps in the hallway interrupted his perusal.” More direct. Not a big deal in one sentence, but the overall cumulative effect through the course of a novel can take a toll, making the work a little less vivid than it might be. Most of Collette’s prose is active, direct and vivid, so this is a minor criticism at best. But her strong writing also makes the occasional lapse stand out, at least to my journalism teacher’s eye.
Andrew is obviously scarred from his time in Afghanistan, and in a gripping and climactic moment in the book, finally shares it with Jamie. It reads great, but what I kept wondering was — didn’t the three years in prison, for a crime he didn’t commit have any impact? Andrew never seemed to have any psychological scars from that. And for a man so enamored of the mountains, and the desert, of horseback riding — I would think that the prison experience, on top of Afghanistan, would really give him some pent up stuff.
And, being a guy, I kept waiting for (ok, probably gratuitous) a scene where some unlucky muggers try to take Andrew and Jamie, only to find — well, Special Forces training, and prison and all that. Wasn’t there, but no biggie. Collette does give Andrew plenty of other kinds of chances to show mental and physical toughness throughout the book.
Most every character gets some description. But what does Linda, Andrew’s grandmother’s elderly care-giver look like? She plays a fairly big supporting role, and I thought deserved at least a little description.
Cover is a touch misleading. I thought the book would be about a woman and her horse. Didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story, though.
What I thought was good: Collette does a splendid job with the emotional landscape. If we dare to dream is a wonderful guided tour through caves of despair, regret, guilt, and fear, over mountains of anger and ecstasy, across plains of longing, hope and happiness. It’s a tribute to her storytelling abilities that even though I was 99.9 percent sure Jamie’s rock-solid alibi would spring Andrew from prison, I found the courtroom scene where she testifies grippingly suspenseful.
I mentioned Collette’s descriptions of exteriors previously:
Jamie was enthralled at the wild desert around her. Old and overgrown mesquite trees with branches dangling to the ground provided the perfect den for slumbering coyotes. Aloe plants and cholla cactus grew to either side of the trail, mingled in with the neverending sea of brittlebrush. The monsoon season had brought out the green of the desert, and an almost-emerald carpet of life surrounded them on either side.
I love place descriptions, done well, particularly desert and mountains, and Collette provides.
But it’s Jamie and Andrew, trying, sometimes apparently unconsciously, to come together that is the true entertainment of the novel. Collette puts plenty of obstacles in their way, and both Jamie and Andrew get their share of bruises, both physical and emotional. I won’t say whether the book ends tragically or happily, but I will say it ends satisfyingly.
Overall: So who writes a perfect book? Collette has done a gem of a job of storytelling with characters I cared and thought about, even when I wasn’t reading. It’s been said that “emotional content” is the key to art — If we dare to dream has plenty. Good job Collette!
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Happy literary trails!