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Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Review: Dancing in the Dark
Cheryl St. John was one of my go-to authors over at Harlequin, having published some very good books with Harlequin Historical and Love Inspired Historical.  She took some time away from writing for personal and family reasons - and has reemerged thanks to self-publishing.  She's reprinted several of her older Harlequin Historical titles and Dancing in the Dark is the first in a new self-published continuity series, Aspen Gold, she's doing with several of her writer pals.  The series is set in a fictional small resort town in the mountains of Colorado where everybody seems to be distantly related (by blood or marriage) - so naturally, plenty of opportunity for drama and shenanigans.

There's no way for me to talk about this book, my experience reading this book without spoilers.  I'll try to keep them at a minimum but you've been warned: SPOILERS!

Kendra Price grew up in Spencer, Colorado "raised" by a single mother who had more boyfriends than good sense and a spiteful sister.  She had an aunt (her mother's stepsister) who took her under her wing and encouraged her love of dance.  Kendra was so passionate about dance, and so good at it, she's made a career for herself - touring with various companies and now parlaying her way into teaching.  During this time she also became fast friends with Dustin "Dusty" Cavanaugh.  Kendra spent a lot of time with the Cavanaugh clan, her and Dusty fell in love, made plans - and naturally it all went to hell in a hand-basket one fateful night when Dusty slept with another girl and got her pregnant.  This broke Kendra's heart and she hightailed it as fast and far as she could away from Spencer.

Oh, did I mention that the Other Woman who Dusty got pregnant is Kendra's evil sister, Erica?  She carried the pregnancy to term, signed away her parental rights, and now Dusty is a single dad raising his son with the help of his large, supportive family.

Unfortunately for Kendra the mountains and Spencer are in her blood.  Kendra inherited her aunt's lake home after she passed and Kendra spends the summers in Spencer, teaching dance.  She's also looking to regroup.  The grind of touring and performing are starting to wear her down.  Spending time in Spencer is dangerous - given her strained relationship with her mother, sister and the possibility of running into Dusty (not to mention her young nephew!) - but she can't stay away.  Naturally what happens, happens.  She and Dusty finally reconnect and secrets come home to roost.

You have to hand it to St. John - the conflict cannon is definitely loaded for bear.  The revelation of Dusty's Baby Mama doesn't come right out of the gate, and when it hits - it's a whammy.  I love emotional conflict where you really wonder how the heck the author is going to pull off the HEA - it's that intense.  And unfortunately? That's kind of the problem with this book.  The conflict and resolution of said conflict is problematic.  Because the only way to get to that happy ending is for Dusty to be absolved of his sins - and for that to happen?  The author has to villainize the Evil Other Woman to cartoonish proportions.  In the end Dusty = victim and Erica's motives are never really clearly defined other than she is a not a nice person.  I  also found the compare/contrast between the sunshine and roses Cavanaugh clan with Kendra's trailer trash slutty mom and sister to be uncomfortable. 

I'm not going to sugar-coat, it's problematic.  Especially if you're a reader like me who finds the Evil Other Woman trope problematic on it's face.  To be honest I'm not sure of any other way St. John could have resolved this conflict to get to the happy ending as long as Dusty was the hero.  Part of me wishes that Kendra's hero would have been some other dude and part of the conflict would have been her "forgiving and moving on."  But that's not the story St. John wrote and there's a lot I liked in this book.  It showcases how well St. John can wring out emotion in even the most deceptively simple passages and moments, plus I inhaled it in one sitting.  Yes, there's a fair amount of set-up and yes, there are a bunch of secondary characters, but I got invested and will continue on with this series even though I've never read a single book by any of the other authors.

I even signed up for their newsletter.  Seriously.

I'm not going to lie, this book is problematic and some of you may read it and think I'm totally insane - but this conflict is nothing if not gutsy.  If you're a new St. John reader I wouldn't recommend starting here, but if you're already a fan? It's an interesting read.

Final Grade = B-

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