February 7, 2014

The Dancing Master Review~

Synopsis:  Finding himself the man of the family, London dancing master Alec Valcourt moves his mother and sister to remote Devonshire, hoping to start over. But he is stunned to learn the village matriarch has prohibited all dancing, for reasons buried deep in her past.

Alec finds an unlikely ally in the matriarch's daughter. Though he's initially wary of Julia Midwinter's reckless flirtation, he comes to realize her bold exterior disguises a vulnerable soul--and hidden sorrows of her own.

Julia is quickly attracted to the handsome dancing master--a man her mother would never approve of--but she cannot imagine why Mr. Valcourt would leave London, or why he evades questions about his past. With Alec's help, can Julia uncover old secrets and restore life to her somber village...and to her mother's tattered heart?

Filled with mystery and romance, The Dancing Master brings to life the intriguing profession of those who taught essential social graces for ladies and gentlemen hoping to make a "good match" in Regency England.

My thoughts: 
     Don't the words "Dancing Master" just make a girl want to read the novel? They did with me. *winks*
     Julie Klassen is one of my favorite authors. Seriously. If I had to make a list of limited favorites, she is definitely in it, and close to the top. The Dancing Master by Julie Klassen was yet another read that I have enjoyed by her. She always thinks of the craziest background stories for her lead characters and let's you keep guessing until you're far into the book. I was just so curious, I had to keep reading! Klassen's novels usually do that to me, and that is why she is one of my absolute favorites. Her writing gives you just enough mystery that sometimes you never know what a character is thinking or going to do. And isn't that very Austen-like? I think so.

     Now for the good specifics...
     The plot-line itself was very good. A whole village does not dance? And when a newcomer, specifically a dancing master, comes to stay, nobody will give the real explanation as to why. Sometimes I wonder if Mrs. Klassen plans all of this before she writes or only thinks up these things as she goes. I also found that her minor characters were too funny. Mrs. Tickle tickled me, Mr. and Mrs. Allen were the joy of their family, Mr. Barlow intimidated me and Walter was cute when he fancied a girl.
     Alec Valcourt, the hero, was a very respectable gentleman. I loved that he wanted to respect and honor Julia, even when he found it difficult after such flirtatious attacks. He began to care for Julia and even be afraid for her when he realized what a flirtatious and daring girl she was. He didn't want her to be taken advantage of and he definitely did not want her to get killed. I loved the part when he told her to never let anyone disrespect her. That just threw me in. I was all for Mr. Valcourt after that. It's so sad that young ladies, and even older ladies, don't think that way anymore. It was such a good reminder, because we fall into such a trap when we're surrounded by it. I truly do think that Klassen meant for her readers to read and take to heart that message.
     Julia Midwinter was very flawed and very heroic. Many of you will read reviews that say pretty much the same things about her character, and I agree with them. However, not only did she become more likable towards the end of the story, I also saw that despite all her hurts, vulnerabilities, and rebellious mask, she genuinely cared for people and wanted to save them from horrific scenarios. I ended up really liking her, which I didn't think I would.  I do think, though, that her flawed qualities added a very good aspect to the book-- she was genuine. I absolutely love it when I can say that the character was me. It means that the author didn't add a negative quality just to make readers read on (because I really dislike it when an author adds unreasonable, clichéd conflict).
     I found John Desmond to be very agreeable....I mean, likeable. (This is what happens after reading one of Klassen's novels!) Now, I won't spoil his character for you, but I just wanted to state that he had a genuine and pleasant personality the more one got to know him. Even with all his mistakes.... *winks again*
     Lady Amelia was very unpleasant for me until towards the end. After she realized that she needed to humble herself while she was around her daughter and other people, she became very agreeable. In fact, I wish I could have seen more happen in the end with her (sorry for being vague, I really don't want to spoil the story for you). I realized that she was very afraid and very hurt and that hurt me. I genuinely felt for Lady Amelia, when I didn't think I would. Which was really, really cool.

     Now for the not-so-agreeable specifics:
     Just to let you all know, the cover of the book is not a scene from it. Yes, I was extremely disappointed too. Alec and Julia never danced together during a ball. In fact, there was only one ball in the whole book, believe it or not. Truly, I do think that if one is going to write about a dancing master and his woes, there should be at least two balls-- whether the character is remembering the ball from the past, or Also, the story itself took a very long time to get through, I'm sorry to say. For the first half of the book (which is a lot of pages...), it was so easy to just put the book down and do college-work or sleep. I knew this would happen too, after I read other reviews on this book before I requested it. Yet, I'm such a loyal fan, I persevered through it. The plot-line was good-- there just wasn't much more to it. All the characters literally went back and forth to the same places, with what seemed to be very small reasons, and there just wasn't much adventure in this novel.
     One thing that always gets to me is why a Christian author does not add more about the gospel to their books. I know that the gospel doesn't always have to be shared in the story-line, but if you're going to write a drama, make sure that your writing either makes you stand out as a believer and/or share the gospel, because you might just have hundreds of fans reading your work. Julie Klassen added a page worth of vague gospel in this book and it disappointed me. Did Julia already know that Jesus Christ died on the cross? It seemed like Mrs. Klassen forgot that her heroine wasn't saved, remembered, and then added a stilted conversation to help lead her to Christ. I also felt like Julia's joy in her salvation wasn't expressed as well, either. Don't ask me about Alec's salvation, either, because I'm not sure where he was spiritually, and it seemed like Mrs. Klassen completely forgot about his spiritual life.
     Alec Valcourt had some quirks that weren't agreeable. I found his very strong desire to not work hard physically a bit wimpy. I know there are some men who do not prefer it, but it really threw me off when he was so adamant about not working in the clay works. Also, I felt like he was throwing himself small pity-parties in some scenes, and that bothered me. He was truly a gentleman; however, whenever something discouraged him, it was just a bit annoying.
     Julie Midwinter was a very flawed girl. Now, if you have been scanning through this review and happen to light upon this sentence, please read my good specifics of Julia before you go on with this paragraph. Thank you. As I said above, most readers will really dislike her from the very beginning. I think that is part of the reason why this book was so boring to me for the first half, actually. She was just so shallow that I didn't want to read about her anymore. Also, even though I admire Klassen's courage to add a lead character with such a struggle of self-discipline, Julia's negative qualities were shown way more often than her positive. I felt like Julia's actions and thoughts were very repetitive and dragged on way too long in this book. I got tired of her going out without her mother's permission, her mother coming to look for her, finding her and then bringing her back home. It happened at least three times. Which brings me to her mother...
     Lady Amelia's negative qualities were shown more often than her positive, as well. She humbled herself later on, but I didn't like her till the very last chapters of the book. She refused to listen to anyone and made her own assumptions. She never listened to her daughter, yet she didn't know why her daughter was so upset with her. She never communicated anything to anyone, so nobody got along with her, except for Mr. Barlow. Those were characteristics that made me really not want to read any scene that had her in it.

     I do want to state a very important and interesting fact about Mrs. Klassen though.

     This is the bittersweet truth of her novels:  Julie Klassen has set herself up. Which is not a bad thing, because she has set herself up to a very high standard. We expect that her books will always be as good as The Maid of Fairbourne Hall (which is one of my favorite Top 10 novels). Hence, when I read a novel of hers that is not as good, I'm disappointed because I know she can do better. I think other loyal fans of hers know the same thing, and that's why we continue to read her books. Any critiques I write are done out of love and encouragement. I critique only because I've read a million books, and I know Julie Klassen's works are one of a kind.

   All in all, this book was a good read. I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars, because Julie Klassen's writing is always exceptional, her mystery was good, and her characters were appealing.

Disclaimer: This book was published by Bethany House and given to me from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.