Dreamseeker by Marcia Martin
(Signet, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-451-18054-2
****
If you're in the mood for a fast-paced, plot-driven contemporary with a touch of "something extra," then check out Marcia Martin's latest novel. It's hard to put down and easy to forget but still a great deal of fun.

Catherine Winslow has led a lonely life. When she was eight years old, her mother died and her father suffered a stroke. Since then, Catherine has been raised by a stern, unloving aunt. To escape from her bleak childhood, Catherine wrote stories based on characters she dreamed about at night. The stories chronicled the adventures of bold, impetuous Nicki, her uncle and guardian Austin and her housekeeper, Malia. The dreams comforted Catherine, and she always assumed that her imagination was letting her create a fantasy life for herself.

Now, twenty years later, Catherine has written a successful historical romance novel. With the money from the book, she is able to free herself from her aunt's domination and buy her own condo near Charleston's waterfront (Remember, it's a romance novel, not real life. Could anyone actually live on the royalties from their first novel?). Her drab hairstyle and wardrobe are replaced by a more stylish look. Soon after her transformation, she saves the life of a drowning teenager. When the local media hear of the rescue, she is dubbed "The Charleston Mermaid." Her notoriety attracts the amorous attention of a handsome, aspiring politician. Surely Catherine finally has the life she has always wanted to lead.

So why are the dreams of Nicki starting to occur again? She doesn't need a fantasy life or are they really a product of her imagination? The dreams are extremely vivid, as jet-setter Nicki returns to her family's home in Hawaii, comes to an important realization about the ranch hand who was her childhood friend, and gradually learns that her life is in danger.

As the plot is the book's strong point, I don't want to reveal any more of the storyline. Let's just say that the connection between Catherine and Nicki is more dramatic than Catherine first imagined, and that one man will play a key role in both of their lives.

Dreamseeker is escapist fiction at its best. The writing is smooth, the plot moves along quickly, and there are a variety of villains. The suspense builds as the reader tries to figure out the connection between the two women. Catherine comes across as a little too much of a doormat for the first half of the book, but she finds a quiet inner strength and reveals hidden resources at its climax. Nicki also undergoes some character growth as she matures from spoiled heiress and party-girl into a woman who is willing to work for both love and success.

The novel is not without its flaws. There is one strange plotting device that makes the book feel moderately disjointed. Also, there is an unintentionally humorous episode when Catherine takes on an entire street gang single-handedly and emerges unscathed with the promise of help from the gang leader! Even for a romance novel, this was beyond my capacity to suspend disbelief.

In sum, don't look for any great revelations about life or poignantly realistic characters, but have fun reading Dreamseeker.

--Susan Scribner


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