Finding himself the man of the family, and with no other options, London dancing master Alec Valcourt moves his mother and sister to remote Devonshire, hoping to start over. But Alec 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 instantly intrigued by the handsome dancing master--a man her mother would never approve of--but she cannot fathom why Mr. Valcourt would leave London, or why he evades questions about his past.
Together, can Alec and Julia bring new life to this quiet village--and to one woman's hardened heart?
When I first read the description of this book, I thought, "Footloose in Regency England! I'm so there!" Then I saw Julie Klassen was the author, and I knew it was going to be good. Ms. Klassen has a knack for writing sweeping inspirational historical romances with just the right blend of story and faith. (Two of my favorites: The Apothecary's Daughter and The Girl in the Gatehouse.) I admit I got off to a slow start with this one, but once the characters were in place and the mystery of why dancing was banned in Beaworthy started to take shape, I was hooked.
Alec Valcourt is disappointed to arrive in Beaworthy, the village his uncles lives in, to discover there is a moratorium on dancing. He's just moved to the country with his mother and sister to escape a scandal and start over, but how can he earn a living when the subject he teaches is banned? He soon learns that the villagers are not uninterested in his services, but they dare not risk angering Lady Amelia Midwinter, whose patronage they rely so heavily upon. But Lady Amelia's daughter, Julia, is thrilled to have a dancing master in the village. Beautiful, bold, and yearning to be anywhere in the world but Beaworthy, she attempts to work her charms on Alec. But he is quick to see through her facade to the sad and lonely girl underneath. As she introduces Alec to her friends, secret dance lessons commence and Alec becomes emboldened to finally open a school in the village.
But the arrival of a dancing master stirs up painful memories for Julia's mother, and amidst unanswered questions, suspicions, and sharp words, their relationship crumbles. Julia rebels under her mother's tight reins and determines to uncover the real reason behind the dancing ban. But will she uncover more than she bargained for? Who is the mysterious stranger suddenly arrived in the village who seems to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time? And what will happen to the hard-earned trust Alec has won with the villagers when his past catches up with him?
I'm not telling; you'll have to read it for yourself! But I really enjoyed this story, and it was fun to watch the village slowly awaken to joy and laughter again after two decades. There are a multitude of supporting characters who contribute to the success of the story, and I found myself grinning quite often toward the end as Julia and Alec savored their small victories, and as the villagers came around to support Alec and stand up to a pair of bullies plaguing the village. I thought I had Lady Amelia's secret figured out, but it turns out I didn't have it quite right, which was a nice surprise. And Julia's journey of self-discovery was by turns uplifting and heartbreaking.
But after all that, I was a bit disappointed by the structure of the ending. All's well that ends well, but I felt like a lot of the payoff I had been waiting for happened between the last chapter and the epilogue, so I didn't actually get to bear witness to those moments like I wanted to. But aside from that, I thought it a great read. Ms. Klassen paints a charming portrait of small-town life in Regency England with characters the reader can't help but root for. It should really satisfy fans of inspirational historical romance.
My Rating: 4 Stars out of 5
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