Nick Lund first left home at seventeen, running away with the beautiful, enigmatic David. Despite appearances, however, the two never managed to click as a couple. David stayed in Vancouver, trying to eke out a living as a dancer. Nick went country hopping, working as a bartender on cruise ship after cruise ship, resort after resort. But the itch in Nick’s feet has abated. Now, he thinks of home. He thinks of the deep bond he shared with David; and, oddly, he thinks of his former neighbor, a kid named Derek O’Reilly.
Funny thing about memories, though; they seem perfect in hindsight. However, when Nick confronts the present-day reality of long lost friends and lovers, he gets the shock of his life. The perfect, intense dancer David used to be has been usurped by a man ravaged by AIDS. Nick is determined to be by David’s side for the bittersweet end—a shockingly scant few days. Full of pain and grief, Nick has trouble moving on. It takes years before he gets his feet firmly under himself. And just when he does, his old neighbor Derek O’Reilly comes barreling back into his life. Although Nick may mourn the connection with David that he never really let himself realize, he is determined to not let love pass him by a second time. Not when everything in the universe seems to be aligning and pointing straight at Derek O’Reilly.
Derek and Nick have each overcome seemingly insurmountable tragedies to make a life together. Not only are they a couple in love, they have transformed Nick’s restaurant from just a place with a great menu to one of the hottest restaurants in town. Everything ought to be great…until it isn’t. A night of adulterous passion tears Nick and Derek apart and seemingly no amount of well-intentioned mitigation from Nick’s deeply-caring family seems to help.
Rather than talk about why the affair happened, Nick and Derek fall into familiar patterns. Nick takes off for an extended stay in his native Norway and Derek turns to a newly discovered cousin for emotional support. The physical distance is meant to help them sort out their thoughts and feelings about broken vows, but the spark between Derek and Nick burns too brightly for them to fully come to terms with infidelity in their relationship. But neither one realizes their reconciliation was perhaps too hasty until old resentments boil over into more arguments, tension, and an ill-fated motorcycle ride that threatens to rain tragedy upon the couple once again.
Blue Awakenings and Red Dreams are the second and third installments in Mel Bossa’s Red and Blue Chronicles. Fans who have read Split (the first book), A Purple Winter (the fourth book), or Persimmon Kiss (the fifth book) are likely to recognize a lot of the themes and names. The first and fourth books are proper novels, but these two books are novellas and cover/recover periods of time and events already mentioned in the pre- and succeeding books. You may be asking yourself: What do books two and three have to offer? To which I say: all the juicy details of what Nick was actually doing when he left home at seventeen (Blue Awakenings) and how the happy couple had a mighty fall and tried (and failed) to really fix themselves (Red Dreams).
As you can probably glean from the titles, Blue Awakenings focuses on what Nick was doing after he left his family and struck out into the world away from David. For me, the biggest elements of this book are Nick and David reconnecting and Nick and Derek reconnecting. With David, Nick is finally able to confront the depth of his feelings for him. I really enjoyed how Bossa just showcases Nick and how he finally acknowledges his feelings. Nick represents such a common avatar of the human condition: revisiting people from your past and being surprised/crushed to realize that’s exactly what it is, the past. Just because you last saw someone when they were so vibrant, radiant with life doesn’t mean they stay that way—like David, now days away from dying of AIDS. I really enjoyed (and angsted over) seeing Nick come to understand and acknowledge just how deeply he feels for and loves David. Not to mention never getting to act on these recently recognized feelings. The magnitude of regret he feels when he learns David is dying was heart wrenching. It even made me question if Nick’s future relationship with Derek was somehow not quite the star-crossed lover trope I assumed it was, what with the chapters being filled with sentiments along the lines of “I’ll never love anyone ever again.”
But then, the second part of Blue Awakenings focuses on when Nick gets back to Canada and reconnects with his family and Derek. I thought it was interesting to read how instantly Nick feels an intense emotional connection to Derek now, after years apart and a lot of growing (but maybe not quite enough growing given the troubles they encounter later). It was sort of foreshadowed early in the book before the David stuff, but if you weren’t familiar with the series and characters, that little reference could fly right over a reader’s head. So while the David elements of the book feel like they cover new ground, the second half of the book felt like it was retelling some parts of the earlier/later books, just from Nick’s perspective rather than Derek’s…and I absolutely love that writing device.
Red Dreams, then, shifts back to Derek’s perspective. Bossa also picks up again the semi-epistolary style; Derek is again writing letters to the younger brother that his mother miscarried several years ago. There is a lot of foreshadowing in this book. The first drapes a heavy mantle over the book, priming the reader for some enormous tragedy. To me, the events that unfolded felt like varying degrees of “coping” or “muddling through,” but this happens consistently enough and Derek’s narration makes it clear that each of these smaller “coping” mechanisms and whatnot take their toll…and there are not one, but two weighty events that occur in the book: Nick and Derek taking a break from their marriage; and an accident…that ties directly into book four (Bossa actually seems to have repeated the last chapter in book three as the first chapter in book four). The drama is intense and I ate it up with a spoon.
For me, Red Dreams feels like it covers entirely new ground. Unlike Blue Awakenings and Purple Winter, I thought Red Dreams gives readers heretofore unseen events in the lives of the characters. Specifically, the period between Nick and Derek getting together at the end of book one and the accident that kicks off book four. In this book, the couple has some enormous growing pains and terrible coping mechanisms. One of their struggles is addressing Nick’s bisexuality; personally, I liked the characterization that, although Nick is married to and very much in love with a man, he still feels sexual desire towards women as well. Something Derek seems to understand conceptually, just not when it applies to his reality. There is also the introduction of Derek’s blood cousin…a curious addition to the supporting cast that raised a few eyebrows about “kissing cousins” and had me dreading what fresh drama could unfold.
Overall, I simply cannot recommend this series enough. I was intrigued by book four (the first one I read) and now that I know this is a whole series, I find myself wholly absorbed in the drama Nick and Derek generate. I am rooting for them so hard, but they seem to prove time and again that simply wanting something, simply loving someone, sometimes/often isn’t all that is needed to make things work. For readers who enjoy high drama, deep dives into character development, and a sense of half-doomed, half-fated couples, I cannot recommend this series enough. If you’ve read the first and fourth books, I think you’ll love having the additional details and perspectives on offer in Blue Awakenings and Red Dreams.A
A final note: The one reason I did not review these as 5-stars is because, for re-releases, I was rather surprised by the frequency of typos.