by LuAnn McLane, contemporary (2007)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22103-2
If I have to list down my favorite romance novels of 2007, Dancing Shoes And Honky-Tonk Blues is definitely in that list. While the romance isn't as detailed or fleshed out, this story nonetheless is easily a near-perfect fairy tale that makes me feel as if I'm Cinderella on my big night out to the prince's ball.
Comedy Centr... er, Corner is bringing Dancing With The Rednecks to town, folks, and the lucky people of Misty Creek, Kentucky, are going to have a chance of a lifetime to participate in this "spoof" of Dancing With The Stars. One can easily argue here whether "spoof" is the correct word to describe a show that actually mirrors the original show, only with ordinary folks instead of washed-up celebrities, but I'll let others do the arguing because I'm too busy having fun. Abilene Harper is the "waitress" in a roster of contestants that fit the roster of the usual clichés (the jock, the beauty queen, the overweight bum, the spinster, et cetera). Abby isn't sure whether she wants to be part of a TV show that will be aired on a channel that makes fun of the government and all, but she's not going to turn down a chance at winning the grand prize of $50,000. $50,000 is a pretty good amount for her to help get her brother Jesse some higher education, buy herself a fancy new truck, and fix up the family-owned diner.
Even better, one of the participants is Danny Becker ("the jock"), the local mechanic whom she had the hots for in high school. Okay, Danny's high school girlfriend Julia Mayer ("the hairdresser") is also taking part and the odds are good that the former cheerleader may win the whole thing, but that's okay, Danny seems to have eyes for Abby now. However, that is nothing compared to the moment when Abby's dance partner Rio Martin walks into the story. Rio, the owner of the chain of dance studios called Starlight Dance Studios, is not happy when he realizes that the "contest" he's hoping will help give his studio some exposure turns out to be more like Superstar USA instead of Dancing With The Stars. But Abby promises that she'll work hard like the Tia Carerre to his Maksim Chmerkovskiy, and Rio decides to stay on the show and humor her. If you have watched anything from Dirty Dancing to Strictly Ballroom, you can guess what will happen between these two, I'm sure.
There is no love triangle here as it is pretty clear that Danny still has a crush on Julia while Abby has eyes only for Rio, so don't worry if you don't like such messy entanglements in your stories. Also, don't worry about the redneck thing - the story doesn't make fun of Southern stereotypes as much as it celebrates folks in the South as ordinary folks with big hearts.
It is hard to put in words how Ms McLane has succeeded in capturing the whole Cinderella-style a-prom-to-remember feel here. It's almost eerie how this story has me grinning from ear to ear from start to finish, with an occasional happy tear or two along the way, because this story is very good in that manner. There are many happy and unexpected surprises along the way, such as Julia and Abby ending up being best friends and how Rio ends up being the perfect Prince Charming in Abby's fairy tale come true. Even better, Abby is a smart heroine. She's not some overly-sassy chick-lit heroine or some pathetic creature looking for her missing self-esteem. Abby is wonderfully normal with a healthy libido. She can even smile back at her high school days which weren't the most pleasant.
I also like how she has a pretty good sense of awareness about things. She knows that she will soon become an ordinary Jane again after the show is over and her fifteen minutes run out just as she is certain that what she and Rio have may not last past the grand finale. But you know what? She's going to have fun and have a fling with Rio and one day think of the time when she was on TV with a handsome hunk and laugh. Of course, what Rio and Abby have will last for a long, long time as this is, after all, a romance novel, but I like how our heroine is willing to have fun instead of going that she will ohmigod die if she has a fling that does not end with a walk down the aisle.
Because this story is told in first person from Abby's point of view, Rio doesn't get much character development. Nonetheless, he is a nice Prince Charming guy with so little angst but so much romantic bluster that I'm not complaining at all. Ms McLane has done a pretty good job in making sure that Rio is charming without crossing the line and turning instead into a smarmy Latin American gigolo type. Meanwhile, the other secondary characters also add plenty of color and fun to the story without overshadowing the main characters. I especially love how Julia and Abby end up having a close friendship despite being polar opposites back in high school because both women are smart enough to put aside their differences now that they are adults who should know better. Abby's mother and Jesse are also adorable characters whose interactions with Abby often have me chuckling.
If I have to complain, I have to point out that the conclusion to the competition is too sweet and sentimental for me. Also, the author needs to work on her characters' voices a little bit more. Do you think an ordinary smalltown mechanic will say something like this in real life?
"But... well, I don't want to be a leftover crush from high school. In other words, I don't want to be what I once was or to answer for what I could have been."
Ms McLane, even emo Livejournal boys don't speak like this, much less small town mechanics.
Nonetheless, Dancing Shoes And Honky-Tonk Shoes rarely misses a beat as Abby experiences a heartwarming yet often amusing fairy tale adventure of a lifetime. From the first page to that magical finale when everyone claps happily as our couple share a kiss, this is vicarious romantic fantasy at its finest. I don't know what I am going to read after this.
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