Wednesday Review: Gerry McCullough on “Life Is But A Dream” by Cheryl Shireman

Gerry McCullough

Once again it’s my pleasure to welcome back our reviewer in residence Gerry McCullough, with this long overdue post on Cheryl Shireman’s novel.

By coindence I was e-discussing this book yesterday with Cheryl and I was echoing almost exactly Gerry’s thoughts, as below, about how this novel is absolutely nothing like you expect it to be. And I’m sure that has accounted for its amazing sales.

Anyone masochistic enough to be hoping for my usual lengthy preamble will be disappointed today. Yes, I can hear the rest of you cheering.  Thanks for nothing.

Anyway, both Gerry and Cheryl are regulars here and have been through my cruel introductions many times. They escape today because my net server is playing up as usual, and I’m miles behind with everything, also as usual. If I delay any longer the evening net signal will be too weak and I’ll miss the Wednesday deadline.

So without further ado, here’s Gerry on Cheryl.


Life Is But A Dream: On The Lake

Reviewed by Gerry McCullough


The word which stays with me when I think about this book is ‘powerful.’

Right from the first page, when Cheryl Shireman takes us into Grace’s thoughts, dreams, and dream-memories, she grips. Using a poetic, literary style, she plunges us right into Grace’s psyche, just in the same way that Grace plunges into the swimming pool. And throughout the book she takes time to bring us into the head and soul of each of her major characters as we meet them – Nick, Tony, Bert, Paul.

It’s Cheryl Shireman’s amazing way with words more than anything else that makes her people so alive.  The reader knows so many deep things about each of them in such a short time after she meets them.

The child Grace’s thoughts as she moves slowly nearer and nearer to the pool, unobserved by her mother: ‘She does not see. She does not. See me. See. Me.’

Nick’s pain as her mother fails to return. ‘When he found her she would ask him, “Quanto tempo ti amo?” And he would pull out the picture and say, “Ti amero sempre.”’ Words repeated with immense emotional effect towards the end of the book.

Grace’s experiences with God, and her feelings.

Paul and his child, and his final experience… ‘a little girl was waiting. A beautiful little brown-eyed girl named Julie whose arms stretched toward her Daddy. And Paul had smiled.’

It is these moments and many more like them which make this book so special.

For the first few chapters, I thought I was reading a gentle, moving, literary romance with great characters, a story which focused mainly on the people, their backgrounds, and their interaction.  Halfway through, I woke up and realized that this book is also a thriller full of action, excitement and a terrific climax which seizes us and hurls us along breathlessly.

And yet the focus on the characters is basic to the book, too. It’s because Cheryl Shireman has taken the time to build her characters and to allow us to feel for them that the impact of the action is so strong. As Grace rows across the lake our hearts are in our mouths with her. And the dreadful discovery in the cabin closet hits us as surely as it does her, as a further horror almost beyond believing and yet something which has really happened.

The ending is beautifully handled. We really want Grace to be happy. There have been so many possibilities for her, all of them abortive. The final resolution is everything we want for her; and yet it does not seem contrived, or only there to tie up the story nicely. Instead, it seems inevitable, something which couldn’t have worked out in any other way.

The murder plot is deft and agile. There are a satisfactory number of suspects, and enough twists and turns to keep us guessing, but the final solution arises straightforwardly from what we already know about the characters. And when Grace, at the last, turns away from approaching rescue and goes back into the cabin, the little scene, and the repetition of the words ‘Ti amero sempre’ is immensely moving. It is so right that Grace should go back in.

The spiritual element of this book is one other thing, a one of great importance, which makes it different and powerful. Introduced through Irene and Harold, God takes His place as a major character in the story from then on. Grace says at one point that she finds the whole idea too confusing. But as things begin to happen, she turns more and more to prayer as a natural response to the need for help, both for herself and for others. The beautiful picture of the sunset and her delight in it is a key point in Grace’s development.

The sun slowly slides from the sky, from another day in my life. It meets the water with a languid and silent splash, pulling a riotous mane of color behind. A wild shock of orange and pink is tangled amid tousled blue and purple tresses. Such beauty is overwhelming. Suddenly, it does not matter that I am divorced. It does not matter that Laney is not with me. At that second, that glorious second, all is right with the world.

And later she and Tony sit quieting watching the wild geese and feeling at peace.

Like me, you will probably find that this book is not what you expected. But you will find it striking, moving, exciting, powerful and very, very readable. Don’t miss out!

Life Is But A Dream: Beyond The Lake can be bought from and
Highly recommended by Gerry. Highly recommended by me.

Finally, a reminder that today’s reviewer Gerry blogs regularly over at Gerry’s Books.

And if you like her reviewing style you’ll love her books. Gerry’s debut novel Belfast Girls is available on and

Her latest novel Danger Danger is of course also available on and

Gerry also has a book of short stories out but my net won’t let me grab the cover or link. C’est la vie.

  1. Very thoughtful review. Makes me want to read the book.

  2. Way to go Gerry and Cheryl! Very good.

    • Charley R
    • February 22nd, 2012

    Ooh, you’ve sold me! I’m a sucker for pretty prose and involving characters – fab review Gerry!

  3. This sounds like a fascinating read. I didn’t know it was a mystery as well as a literary novel. I have it on my Kindle and hope to get to it soon. As usual, Gerry, your review was thoughtful and beautifully written.

  4. Thanks, Consuelo, Tom, Charley and Anne. Your remarks are very encouraging. I really do think this is a book very well worth reading which you’re bound to enjoy.

    • Lee
    • February 23rd, 2012

    This does sound like a great read. I hope I can get it on Nook!!!

  5. Lee, I’m afraid it’s not available on Nook currently – as far as I know, that is! Correct me, Cheryl or anyone who knows otherwise! But you can buy the B&N paperback – more expensive, of course.

  6. By the way, sorry about the numurous typos in this review. That isn’t my usual style, I hope, but I wasn’t in top form health wise when I wrote this. I was in top form as far as enjoying books went, however, and Life is but a Dream picked me right up!

  7. Wow! A writer should not be without words – but that is the only one I can come up with – WOW!
    Thank you so much for this wonderful review, Gerry. It brought tears to my eyes. 🙂
    And – Lee, the book will be available on Nook the first week in April.

  8. Cheryl, I’m really glad you liked the review. It’s easy to write a good review for a book you enjoy as much as I enjoyed this one!

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