When I was wrapping up film school, I started writing a screenplay based on the real life 18th century pirates Anne Bonny & Mary Read. Everything was humming along; it was full of action, adventure, & pirate-y dialogue (“Better’n meetin’ the butcher’s bill, aye mate?”). But then I hit a writer’s block so sudden and so impassible that it may as well have been a physical brick wall.
I had to write a scene where two characters fall in love.
I had no idea how to do this. Literally no clue. Everything I attempted sounded cheesy & forced. Eventually I just stepped away from the screenplay altogether until I could figure out that scene in my head.
That was years ago. I’ve never once returned to it. That little side plot romance was enough to completely derail me.
I’m telling you this story as rather a long way of explaining that I am not a romance-minded person. I don’t read it, I don’t watch it, and goodness knows I can’t write it. So I was completely floored when author Olivia Boothe contacted me & asked if I’d be interested in reviewing her debut novel, a romance titled Wicked Dance.
“Are you sure you want ME?” I wrote. “I don’t really read romance.”
“I noticed that on your Instagram,” she replied, “I actually welcome a good critical review from someone who doesn’t normally read romance.”
With a free e-book copy & her assurance that I didn’t have to finish it if I hated, how could I refuse?
In Wicked Dance, Sara Hart was once a gifted dance student with aspirations of Broadway, but after an accident tears her world apart, she quits dancing as penance for her role in the tragedy. But when a chance encounter brings her face to face with the gorgeously handsome Tom Wright, she realizes she’s not quite as dead inside as she once thought. Maybe she could even dance again…
If I had to concisely explain Wicked Dance, I’d say it’s emotionally-charged escapism. Sara & Tom are two very broken people, & in that sense, they are exactly what the other person needs most. Their fledgling relationship has all the false starts & roller coaster feelings that I believe are typical of the genre, but the pain driving their characters feels genuine. Boothe packs a lot of backstory into 335 pages, yet it never feels like burdensome exposition, & you’re left feeling like you really do know these characters.
We swayed in each other’s arms, tightly cocooned until the song ended.
And this, was the best dance I’d ever had.
As for the escapism part, there is plenty to go around in Wicked Dance. This is a world where a girl can eat what she wants & never gain weight, where she can find a man who’s not only stunningly attractive, but who’s also insanely rich. And he cooks and dances and plays the guitar and is an artist and even has a cuddly chocolate lab. He’s everything you ever dreamed of in a man, plus half a dozen things more you never knew you wanted. Seriously, if you’re a Christian Grey fan, may I suggest an alternative?
But it’s a little bit difficult for me to sum up my feelings about this book because it didn’t yet tell the story I was hoping for. I mean, of course, yes, it’s full of romance because it’s a ROMANCE novel, but what I really wanted to read about was the dancing. I was interested in Sara & whether or not she’d make a successful comeback. I wanted to read about the dancing itself (the challenges, the athleticism, what it takes to make it as a dancer, etc.) because these are things I know nothing about.
Unfortunately for me, dancing doesn’t make much of an appearance until about 75% of the way through the book, & it’s overshadowed very quickly by the story’s climax. But this is only book one of the Chronicles of a Dancing Heart, an intended duology, so maybe the story I was looking for will be in book two.
Boothe writes like a veteran & has a smooth style that lets you get lost in the story. If I had one criticism, it would only be a very minor one. Out of 45 chapters, the first 18 are from Sara’s perspective, but then suddenly in chapter 19, we get Tom’s perspective. Then it’s ten more chapters from Sara, & suddenly again back to Tom.
By the end of the novel, I finally got used to switching back & forth, but the first time or two, it was bit jarring. I understand why Boothe structured things the way she did, but I was well settled into the pattern of Sara’s perspective, & the change caught me off guard enough to pull me out of the story thinking, “Wait, what’s going on?!”
So what’s my final verdict? If you like romance novels, you’ll almost assuredly enjoy this one. And if you don’t like romance novels, this is probably not going to be the one to change your mind.
Wicked Dance is a romance novel with a dance side-plot, not a story about a dancer who falls in love on the side (as I hoped for). But this is honestly, truly a case of “it’s not you, it’s me.” Boothe has written a wonderful debut novel, & by what I’ve seen here, I’m sure there are great things in store for her. Should she ever decide to try out another genre, I’ll be the first in line.
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