REVIEW: Awake & Dreaming – Alexandra Y. Caluen

Awake & Dreaming - Alexandra Caluen - The L.A. Stories

Genre: Gaylit, Romance

LGBTQ+ Category: Gay

Reviewer: Ulysses, Paranormal Romance Guild

Get It On Amazon

About The Book

When Freddie Chandra went through the casino kitchen to see what was causing the commotion, he expected to find the usual: a cluster of vehicles in the alley, all refusing to give way. What he found instead was six people yelling at each other over a seventh, a thin dark man who made not a sound.

Edmund Robert was mostly thinking ‘well I’m buggered’ because he had no papers to display, no one was speaking in English, and the sign language he’d relied on for years wasn’t getting him anywhere. Then the most beautiful man in the world walked out of the kitchen, shut the rest of them up, and went to look at Edmund’s makeshift shelter. When he returned to the now-silent group, he said, “Bower bird.” Edmund looked up, startled, thinking ‘how did you know?’

In short order, Edmund was David Marlowe. Along with the new name, he had a proper job, and the safest place in the world to live. Not long after that, he also had Freddie. But the man at the top was going to Los Angeles to make a movie, and Freddie – the interpreter, the man who could speak to anyone – was going with him. Leaving David – the man who couldn’t speak at all – alone on the private island. Safe, working, surrounded by friends, but more alone than ever.

They were both such beginners at love. They’d barely learned how to be together. How on earth could they survive being apart?

AWAKE & DREAMING is a M/M romance novel set in the world of The L.A. Stories. 70,000 words. Adult situations, themes, and language.

The Review

Alexandra Caluen’s “L.A. Stories” are apparently a group of loosely-linked stand-alones, each focusing on the coming together of two people with complicated back stories. “Awake & Dreaming” is, I’d wager, the book most thinly tied to Los Angeles, and possibly the most diverse in terms of its characters. 

The plot arc of “Awake & Dreaming” is a fairly straightforward romance; it’s the context and the players who stand out. We begin in a back alley behind a casino in Macau, the former Portuguese trading colony, now one of the jewels in the not-really-Communist Chinese empire. A dark-skinned teenager, discovered living in a homemade shelter behind the casino, finds himself rescued by a beautiful young Indian man who speaks equally beautiful English. The boy speaks not at all, but communicates through notes. Freddie Chandra, the Indian man, sees the care with which the boy has built his shelter, creating a tiny spot of beauty and safety out of other people’s rubbish. He sees something in this mute boy that no one has ever seen before 

There is something magical—although nothing at all paranormal—about this story. Almost none of the characters are either white or western. Freddie, who seems so beautiful and powerful to the young Edmund, is only a few years older, and owes everything he is to Taka Lhasong and his wife Helen, who own the casino—and a lot of other things as well. Taka Lhasong is an international pop singer and celebrity, vastly rich and immensely discreet. He and Madame Lhasong agree to let Freddie take on Edmund as a project, trusting in his instincts and intelligence. Together, Freddie and the Lhasongs transform Edmund into David, and give him a life beyond his wildest dreams.

This is a tale of people at the margins of the world who somehow find each other and form a kind of family. Aside from the actual storyline, it is also a kind of treatise on potential, on the power of chance and generosity to create something good out of something that has been thrown away by the world. 

Los Angeles, with its mythical reputation as a city of dreams, becomes the focus of the plot only in the last part of the book, where the relationship between Freddie and David—and that between Freddie and the Lhasongs—shifts yet again in an unexpected direction. This is a kinder, gentler Los Angeles than one generally sees in books, and I loved the way the author makes it clear that it represents a United States that, for all its deep flaws, also offers a chance for happiness.

The evolving relationship between Freddie and David is, of course, the core of the book’s narrative. The very conventionality of their developing romance is offered as a counterpoint to their backgrounds—neither of these young men should have lived to adulthood, much less found themselves in the life they have. The boy-meets-boy aspect of the story is tempered by their dark and troubled origin stories. Having never known what love is, their approach to their own emotions is introspective and free from society’s expectations. Whether in the Edenic setting of a tropical island, or the luxurious glitter of LaLaLand, Freddie and David must figure out how to grasp the happiness fate has placed before them. 

The Reviewer

Ulysses Grant Dietz grew up in Syracuse, New York, where his Leave It to Beaver life was enlivened by his fascination with vampires, from Bela Lugosi to Barnabas Collins. He studied French at Yale, and was trained to be a museum curator at the University of Delaware. A curator since 1980, Ulysses has never stopped writing fiction for the sheer pleasure of it. He created the character of Desmond Beckwith in 1988 as his personal response to Anne Rice’s landmark novels. Alyson Books released his first novel, Desmond, in 1998. Vampire in Suburbia, the sequel to Desmond, is his second novel.

Ulysses lives in suburban New Jersey with his husband of over 41 years and their two almost-grown children.

By the way, the name Ulysses was not his parents’ idea of a joke: he is a great-great grandson of Ulysses S. Grant, and his mother was the President’s last living great-grandchild. Every year on April 27 he gives a speech at Grant’s Tomb in New York City. 

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