House Of Dreams
by Brenda Joyce, contemporary (2001)
St Martin's Press, $6.99, ISBN 0-312-97740-9

How fascinating, this House of Dreams. It's like a poor imitation of one of those abstract, pretentious French art house movies that swing forth from present to past, linked by dark family secrets conveniently tucked in journals and the like. In fact, I don't really know how to give a synopsis of this story, short of revealing every plot detail, so I'm afraid I may be very vague here.

Cassandra de Warenne is a pathetic loser. Seriously, she lets her sister, the sophisticated globe-trotting man-eating Tracey walk over her because Tracey is prettier than she is. The lack of beauty, apparently, is adequate reason to live in doormat mode. Cass's only joy in life in catering hands and feet - sorry, mothering Tracey's daughter Alyssa. Anyone surprised that Cass is the heroine?

One day, while hosting a function, Cass meets dashing historian Antonio de la Barca and she just loses it. Seriously. On page 13, she decides that she's in love with him, and she will not let Tracey, who has designs on Tony herself, get him. Meanwhile, Cass' dear auntie Catherine reveals that she has murdered Tony's father.

Anyway, to make things short, Tony and Cass embark on some family-secret hunting journey, a ghost appears to wreck havoc on everyone, then we have the ghost-when-she-was-alive's story (set in the 1550s), et cetera. All these elements comes together in a rather cohesive big picture towards the end.

I can't say without reservations that I enjoy House Of Dreams. I do, but not with this story as a romance in the conventional sense. Tony and Cass' initial lovemaking borders on rape, which to me is cool because Cass is one sick, twisted psychopath waiting to get loose (think Norman Bates on a good day). The story is dark and not sweet at all. Plus, Cass is an irritating mess who can give classes at university level on codependency. Did I mention that she has no sense of humor whatsoever?

But House Of Dreams is a fascinating puzzle of a story. I enjoy reading it just to see where the pieces all fit together in the end. I don't care if Cass flies to the moon and never comes back, in fact, I don't give a flying squat about the characters. It's the story that's interesting. I guess that's why this book is labelled as Fiction.

Rating: 79

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