Friday, April 20, 2012

Hey, Let's Put On A Show!

Dancing At The Chance by DeAnna Cameron is marketed as historical fiction, but has such strong romantic elements to it that romance readers will feel right at home.  If I had to hazard a, rather cynical, guess - I'd say this decision was made because of the time period the author chooses to operate it - that of Gilded Age (1907 to be exact) New York City.  A vibrant, fantastic time period, especially in American history, and one that has been treated as the kiss of death in romance circles for so long that my bitter, copious tears have long since dried to dust.  Historical fiction seems more open to the realm of various eras though, and happy day for romance readers that Cameron infuses her story with plenty of drama and a happy ending.

Pepper MacClair arrived in New York with her penniless mother as a child.  Through luck and pluck, Mom ends up being employed as a seamstress at the illustrious Chance Theater, which stages vaudeville shows six times a day, six days a week.  Pepper grew up in that theater, with dreams, ambitions to become a famous dancer, and an eye for the theater owner's son.  However the years have not been kind to the Chance.  Bigger splashier shows (namely, Ziegfeld's), other theaters putting performers under exclusive contracts, and the new medium of motion pictures, has slowly chipped away at the Chance's grand reputation.  The owner is now a sickly old man, and the stage manager running things has his head up his own behind.  Waltzing back into the picture, a possible savior - the theater owner's son, Pepper's true love, and certainly the man who can turn the struggling theater around.  Or can he?

Basically what we have here is a bang-up soap opera drama.  Her mother now passed, Pepper is struggling to make it as a dancer, living in a rented room in the theater's basement.  Robert, the owner's son, coming back into the picture, fills her with elation and hope.  She's so in love with him, and just knows that he's coming back to not only save the theater, but to reunite with her as well.  Waiting in the wings?  Gregory, a stagehand who also, like Pepper, grew up in the theater.  A man with a secret past, and a man who pines for a woman who thinks she's in love with someone else.

That being said, this story isn't truly a love triangle.  For it to be a true love triangle, there should be some question in the reader's mind who the real hero is, and we certainly don't get that here.  Any reader with two brain cells to rub together knows who the hero of this story is fairly early on.  The writing is on the wall, it's just a matter of Pepper putting the pieces together.  Which, honestly, takes some time since the girl is 18-years-old and dense.  Hey, I mean no insult.  I was, after all, 18 once and like Pepper equally as dense.  Which makes her more than slightly problematic as a romance heroine, especially when she's smart enough to realize that her dear departed mother was in a lesbian relationship later in her life.  She picks up on that fairly quickly - yet other things that seem even more obvious don't register on her radar?  Hmmmm.....

If I have any complaint with this rollicking story, it's in Pepper.  Mostly because I expect a girl who literally grew up in a theater community to be a bit more "worldly."  I couldn't decide if she was naive or just seeing what she so desperately wanted to see.  Eventually, and blessedly, she opens her eyes - but for someone who grew up in a less than conventional environment, around less than conventional people, her lack of worldliness was a bit odd.  Also, there were times when I wished this story had a been a bit meatier, and longer in page count.  The author moves things along at a very good clip, alternating between several characters and giving us multiple points of view.  However, sometimes things take place off-stage that I wanted to be privy too.

All this being said, I liked how the author did a slow reveal on a lot of the character baggage, and the secondary characters are certainly a lively, interesting bunch that add a lot of color to the story.  It's a quick whiz-bang of a read, and one I happily plowed through in a sitting.  It's not perfect, but like any good vaudeville show?  It's entertaining, worth the dime and the time.

Final Grade = B-

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Marguerite Kaye said...

I don't think I've ever read a story set in this period in the States, so that alone hooked me. Then the heroine's name - who could resist someone called Pepper. This sounds like a really fun read, and I'm on the lookout for new, so I'm adding it to my list right now. Thank you.

Wendy said...

Marguerite: It is a fun read, and kept me easily entertained while I was (unexpectedly) traveling this weekend. I had my quibbles, but I enjoyed it enough to want to read the author's previous release: The Belly Dancer (which reminds me - need to remember to get a copy of that from work....)

Marguerite Kaye said...

Belly Dancer! Maybe you could combine reading with exercise and empathy with that one.