Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Year of Chasing Dreams by Lurlene McDaniel

The Year of Chasing Dreams follows the romances of two close friends, Ciana Beauchamp and Eden McLauren, as they chase their dreams of marrying the men they love.  Their romances are set against the backdrop of the Beachamp family and the possible secrets kept by previous generations.

Ciana and Eden have returned from their trip to Italy and are still trying to come to terms with the death of their mutual friend Arie. At Bellmeade with her mother Alice Faye, Ciana must now focus on turning the

Twenty-one year old Ciana Beauchamp lives on her family's estate, Bellmeade with her mother Alice Faye and her best friend Eden. She hasn't heard from the man she loves, Jon Mercer in seven months until one October day he shows up at her ranch. She's angry that Jon has never contacted her in that time. Ciana wants to push him away but her mother invites Jon for dinner. Jon wants to move back in as a ranch hand, but Ciana is not keen on this.

Eden has a letter that Arie, her friend who died of cancer, wrote her before she died. She had tried to track down the Australian man, Garret Locklin whom Eden met while in Italy and whom she has fallen for. Although Arie could not find out much she gives Eden the email of an Irish girl, Colleen, in Garret's walkabout group to help locate Garret. Arie emails Colleen and learns that Garret became very ill with double pneumonia while in Sweden. His friends, Tom and Laura had to take him back to Australia. Eden emails Garret and eventually receives a response from him indicating that he is on the mend, but wants her to visit.

Meanwhile Ciana has been reading through her grandmother Olivia's diaries. When she mentions her interest in her grandmother's past, Alice Faye tells her that she's not interested, that for some reason her mother never quite took to her like she did to her granddaughter, Ciana. Ciana's readings of Olivia's diaries unearth an interesting story about a neighbour, the Soders adopting a boy when Olivia was eight in 1936. When Olivia was fourteen she had an encounter with Roy Soder whom she both hated but was also attracted to.

Ciana is struggling to restart the Beauchamp farm and is boarding horses to make ends meet. Added to her worries is the pressure placed on her from an outside real estate developer, Gerald Hastings, to sell Beauchamp's land for his new development, Bellmeade Estates. Ciana is one of the few opposed to the new development. She's a farmer and the land is important to her. However many of the townsfolk see it as an economic windfall for the town of Windemere which has been economically depressed for years. The new development would bring buyers from Nashville and Murfreesboro and add jobs. But Ciana wants no part of it and has no intention of selling her family's land. Jon warns Ciana that the developer will not back down so easily as he likely has invested a great deal of money into his project.

Eden flies to Australia to stay with Garret and his parents, Maggie and Trevor. She explains to Garret that she had to leave Italy because Arie become very ill during their trip and that she was unable to contact him. Garret accepts this and things go fine until his former girlfriend, Alyssa Bainbridge, a beautiful model, reappears. Garret manages to ease Eden's worries about his former girlfriend despite her continued unfriendly encounters with Alyssa. Eden tries out surfing, almost losing her life when she gets caught in a riptide. As their relationship deepens, Eden tells Garret about her past with Tony and her mother's bipolar disorder. None of this matters to Garret who eventually asks Eden if he can return with her to the United States.

Back in Tennessee Ciana has to contend with locals who are tearing up her fences and ruining her land. When Jon hears of her trouble, he fixes the fences and despite her opposition moves into the third floor of Bellmeade, at the request of Alice Faye. Exhausted by all the trouble she's having, Ciana gives in to Jon staying at Bellmeade and begins to accept his help in saving her family's home.

As she continues reading through her grandmother's diaries she makes an astonishing discovery. Past entries revealed that Olivia continued to be attracted to Roy Soder, kissing him at the age of sixteen but the entry from 1961 stated that Olivia bought the Soder farm for back taxes.

In the spring, Ciana receives a visit from Enzo Bertinalli, who continues to be captivated by her beauty and her beautiful farm. She attends the Horseman's Ball in Nashville with Enzo and when he asks her to be his lover, she politely declines. Enzo correctly understands what Ciana herself is afraid to admit, that she is in love with Jon Mercer.

Troubles continue at the ranch with Ciana being run off the road. Despite this Ciana remains determined to keep her land, even after Gerald Hastings personally tells her that he had nothing to do with the recurring vandalism. Eden and Garret return to Bellmeade for a short visit before they plan on touring the States in their camper. During Eden's visit,  Ciana reveals to friend that she believes she has uncovered a family secret involving her grandmother Olivia, Roy Soder and her mother. Eden advises her to sit on what she knows since there seems to be no reason to stir up the past and cause her mother potential hurt. Little does Ciana realize that it is this secret which when missing pieces are supplied later on, will threaten to destroy Ciana's plans for the future and her happiness.

While Eden and Garret travel to Nashville to deal with a sad event in Eden's family, disaster strikes Windemere, affecting Bellmeade too. A series of deadly tornadoes strikes the town, destroying part of it and also the historic Bellmeade home. Jon is seriously injured and is taken to Nashville. His mother Angela Mercer comes to visit during a conversation to Ciana about Jon's family and their upcoming wedding she reveals information that upends Ciana's world. Having lost her family home, can Ciana face losing the man she loves?

The Year of Chasing Dreams is slow paced, taking it's time to weave a family secret from the Beauchamp past into the present day lives of Ciana and Jon while following the developing romances of Jon and Ciana and Eden and Garrett. This novel is part young adult and part cheesy romance, the writing sometimes clumsy with the predictable happy ending for all involved. The older characters, the numerous references by Jon about wanting to "bed" Ciana, and the adult sexual relationships in the novel make this a book that attempts to fit into the "new adult" genre.

The problem with this novel is that many of the interesting elements are either never fully explored or only receive a cursory development often leaving the reader feeling like they have only skimmed the surface. For example,  the conflicts between characters flare briefly and then are quickly resolved. This is true of the initial conflict that exists between Jon and Ciana at the beginning of the novel and seems to simply fizzle out, with Ciana welcoming Jon back into her life rather quickly. Jon deceived Ciana and slept with her best friend, Arie, in what was presented in the first novel as a demonstration of (false) compassion and sacrificial love - a man having sex with a terminally ill woman so she can know what it's like to get laid before she dies. It's the hurt stemming from this betrayal that Ciana alludes to at the beginning of the novel, that never seems to be broached or resolved in a meaningful way. Instead, she simply gives up her anger towards Jon - it's an easy resolution.

Another potential conflict, the arrival of a wealthy Italian man, Enzo Bertinalli who is smitten with Ciana could have been a source of tension between Jon and Ciana but Jon is conveniently mostly never around and after attending the Nashville Ball, that's the end of Enzo.  The same is true of Aylssa Bainbridge's re-appearance in Garret's life. There is some initial conflict but it is never more deeply explored, becoming a very superficial part of the story that serves to create a bit of tension. Even the devastation of the tornado seems toned down.

What does work well is the discovery of what could be a devastating family secret, the implications for Ciana and Jon not yet fully understood until a few extra pieces are supplied by a very minor character in the story.  This leads to the climax of the novel but it is easily resolved and the novel ends happily.

Fans of Lurlene McDaniel will enjoy The Year of Chasing Dreams, especially those who have been reading her while in their teens.

Book Details:
The Year of Chasing Dreams by Lurlene McDaniel
New York: Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children's Books     2014
327 pp.

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