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Monday, January 23, 2012

Barely Dreaming by Stephanie Beck

Barely Dreaming by Stephanie Beck
Publisher: Beachwalk Press, Inc.
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short Story (94 pgs)
Heat Level: spicy
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

As dreams come alive, trouble lurks around the corner.

When Neela Raymond and three of her college girlfriends take a camping trip over spring break, they're abducted by a group of men and held captive for a week. At least that's what Neela's been told—she can't remember any details of the horrifying event. But one thing is very apparent—during that week she became pregnant. Afraid of the possibilities, Neela finds it difficult to attend classes, eat, or sleep.

When Neela finally falls asleep, she wakes in a dream world, where she finds Gabe O'Shay. Though she can't remember him either, something in her recognizes him.

Gabe and Neela are best friends of a different sort. Created in Neela's mind when she was just a child, Gabe has always been her dream friend, growing as she did, to eventually become the man of her dreams.

With Gabe's help, Neela's memory begins to return, and ugly truths emerge. Snagged in a violent, illegal scheme, Neela will have to struggle for survival. The nightmare is not over yet.

Meanwhile, Gabe has managed to find a tear between the dream world and the real world, but will he arrive too late to help his Neela?

This story didn’t just keep me on the edge of my seat, it left me with two chewed nails. I only do that when the suspense is so high, I can’t sit still and I’m torn between walking with the heroine as she experiences the drama or jump to the safety of the ending. I was incredibly tempted to cheat but I’m glad I didn’t. I would have missed all the action.

Barely Dreaming is a fascinating and unique set up because it takes my least favorite storytelling device, the dream sequence, and turns it on its ear. In this book, the dreaming creates the hero and he comes to life for real. There are so many pitfalls to this idea, the main one being, if he’s a dream hero then he’s going to be perfect and can do no wrong. In essence, be really boring. Ms. Beck’s avoidance of that is canyon wide. Gabe is truly a delight and he is autonomous. He thinks for himself, does for himself and isn’t a puppet of the heroine at all. Loving someone doesn’t mean you’re a door mat and Gabe is as far from that as a person can get. Proof of that comes later in the book when a reader discovers what else the hero has been doing when he’s offstage.

The best thing about the hero is his respect of Neela, the heroine. He teaches her so much through their shared times in her dreams and it comes in handy. In fact, Gabe teaches the heroine about her strengths and not only encourages it, but is able to nurture and guide her on a great many defensive tactics. Of course it begs the question of how and when could he have possibly learned all that he did to even teach her if all he knows or should know, comes from Neela’s mind? That’s one murky area that never gets explained and I’m not too sure it can be. This is, after all, fiction and a fantasy so in that respect, anything and everything is possible. And, since this is a really cool story, I accepted what the author presented at face value.

Neela is a victim, a hero and a woman of great belief. She’s a victim due to something really nasty happening to her. She’s a hero because she stood up to fight against evil criminals and didn’t let them ruin the good things in her life. And it’s because of her solid and stalwart belief that not only is Gabe real but so is his love for her. It’s the ultimate example of the true power of love – it crosses boundaries and makes the impossible, possible.

The way Ms. Beck chose to have Neela remember her trauma was distinctive as I don’t believe it’s ever been done before – a dream using a dream to cure amnesia. How cool is that? How’d she even come up with that idea? In any event, I found it clever, entertaining and refreshing. Of course there was nothing refreshing about what she remembered once she did. It was a nightmare, but I enjoyed how the author had Neela react and the choices she had her make. Nothing stupid about her and when push came to shove, the heroine was ready to stand up and fight. I loved it when she surprised her step-mother and got a kick out of it when Neela’s step-mom surprised her right back.

Speaking of Neela’s family, that dynamic was woven beautifully throughout the story. I loved the author’s descriptions of her dad and baby brothers. That whole family picture was wonderfully wholesome and healthy, filled with love and baked goods. It gave the book a wonderful depth of character and it was easy to see why she fought so hard to protect them. It provided a layer of substance to the plot and added to the viability of the conflict.

And what a conflict it was. It’s dastardly, sick and twisted and provided intense drama. When it was gradually revealed what those creeps were up to, it made me feel very uncomfortable. Like I said in the beginning of the review, I didn’t want to read in a continuous manner because I was getting so jumpy. That means the writing was effective – it got me to react, and it made my skin crawl. Kudos to the the author for writing so well so that the identity of the villain stayed hidden until she wanted me to know.

The most delightful aspect of the book comes from the times when Gabe and Neela are together in the lulls between the action. Their loving is beautiful, sweet yet passionate, and well written. I’m glad Ms. Beck took turns in each of the protagonist’s point of view because it made their declarations of love all the more special and meaningful.

Barely Dreaming is an intense story of love, action and mystery that really makes an impact. Neela and Gabe are a wonderful couple and I had the best time reading about their together times. There is a solid emotional connection between the two that jumps off of the pages. It gives readers that something extra special that makes a lasting impression long after you’ve read the happily ever after. Ms. Beck is a new-to-me author and I’m quite impressed with her writing style. I’m very happy I read this book and hope other readers will be just as pleased when they pick up their own copy of Barely Dreaming. It’ll be worth it.