December 2006, Time Travel Romance
Signet, $6.99, 400 pages, Amazon ASIN 045122003X
I will give almost any time travel romance a shot and I think it's because of the fated aspect of the romance - that shot of kismet that will draw a woman or man from present times to a time in the past in order to be with their soul's mate. I've read a lot of time travel romances, but Wendy Markham's If Only in My Dreams blew me out of the water. She took a pair of individuals and made them part of my family, showed me their love for each other, explained time travel in a remarkably believable way, and entertained me with the refreshing and different story of Clara and Jed.
Clara McCullum is an actress whose star is rising. She's currently working on a biopic about a group of brave serviceman from the same small town who died in the first wave of fighting at Normandy. This is to be her breakout role. Then, at 29 years old, she is diagnosed with breast cancer. It's still treatable, but it must be treated if she wants to live.
In 1941 Jed Landry is the oldest of five siblings, recently graduated from Harvard and now running the family five-and-dime since his father's death. He is caring for his mother and three sisters in a small town in upstate New York until his younger brother finishes college and takes over the business at which time Jed plans to join the Army. He wouldn't mind staying if he had someone to stay for, but he doesn't, so he sets his mind to dreaming while he bides his time.
During a shoot where Clara is to descend from a train and run into her leading man (oh, did I mention that the movie's main character is Jed Landry?) things go awry. Clara steps off the train into 1941. Who's the first person she meets? Jed Landry - the real Jed Landry. Even in the midst of Clara's shock she notices the intense attraction between them. Jed, too, knows there's a spark even if she might be acting a bit touched in the head. Clara quickly returns to the present by way of the train and has to do some major soul searching in order to figure out what she should do. Go back to warn Jed? Go back and stay with Jed? Or should she just let the past go and move on with her life?
Jed thinks she's beautiful but the things she left behind - a suitcase full of mismatched clothes and an iPod which he thinks is a spy transmitter - make him wary, but still, he wants her to come back. When Clara does resign herself to go back and warn Jed, she finds herself in love with him. They spend an idyllic week together at the end of which Clara must decide whether to stay or go.
This is the rare romance where the two leads spend very little page time together yet still manage to pull out all the stops with chemistry and emotion. Yes, we don't see much of them together and I'm not usually one for long separations, but it worked well here.
One of the more refreshing aspects of If Only in My Dreams is its realism and honesty. Yes, I know this is a time travel book. But even that is rationalized in a way that truly astounded me as Ms. Markham gives a very convincing explanation for traveling through time. It is still a fantastical element, yet much better than magic rings, swords, stones, or just plain old witches and warlocks. References to physics make this segment a tad heavy, but, even though I am not of a scientific bent myself, I still easily followed it. I hesitate to say more about the honest moments that had me clutching my heart, for fear of spoiling the story. Trust me on this.
My one small caveat has to do with the style in which this book is written; it is written entirely in the present tense. It took a while for me to get into and it distracted me in the beginning, which took away from the story. It's not a style many writers use, but the story was compelling enough for me to quickly get over any discomfort.
I am very impressed with this book. It even surprised me at the end. You really don't know what's going to happen here and that is just one of its charms. If Only in My Dreams is everything I want in a romance: love, emotion, and humor.
-- Lisa Gardineer
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