“Dance Away with Me” is not one of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ light, humor-filled romances featuring sassy women and sexy athletes. Rather this one delves into issues about loss and grief, family values, teenage pregnancy, child abuse, what it takes to do the right thing. The novel begins with Tess Hartsong, who has run away to a cabin in the aptly-named Runaway Mountain to try to heal from the death of her husband, Travis, two years previously. Tess and Travis were schoolmates before they were lovers, and now that Travis has died tragically, too young, Tess can’t seem to recover. She wallows in her grief and hopes that wild dancing outside while playing music way too loud will help, and she imagines that only the neighboring wild animals will hear it.
She quickly learns that that is not the case when her tall, handsome, unkept neighbor comes storming across the rickety bridge next to her cabin screaming that he can’t work with the racket. After him comes Bianca, a very beautiful, very pregnant woman, who befriends Tess. Tess finds that Ian, who is actually a famous street artist, is overprotective of Bianca, who had been a top model in her teens.
At this point, readers who have read the book summary or even just the book flap know that Tess and this artist are the romance in the story. It seems horrible that this pregnant woman who is married to Ian will somehow disappear to let Tess become the romantic love interest. How can this possibly work?
Well, Phillips makes it work, and it all happens in a fascinating way. Something terrible happens when Tess is forced to deliver a baby intent on arriving into the world early, and because of that tragedy, she can’t imagine ever going back to her former job as a nurse midwife, delivering babies. Instead, she takes a job at the local cafe where she is abused by the female relatives of the owner who also work there. A minor complaint with the story is that there are a plethora of characters and a number of “causes” that Tess seems to take on. She insists on offering birth control openly to teenagers at the cafe/store against the wishes of the owner, teaching the teens in the community about birth control and sexuality when they ask her, and refusing to sell cigarettes at the cafe. She wants to help the prepper (survivalist) family whose mother is suffering from depression; but they don’t believe in doctors or standard medicine. She also seems to take on the marital problems of others, all the while still grieving for her husband but also being attracted to Ian.
Ian has his own problems. He hasn’t painted in a while, and he seems at an impasse. We learn about his painting and why he just can’t seem to create anything that pleases him and meets his artistic standards. He believes that being in relationships makes his art impossible to create and that he is at his most creative when he’s alone and angry about life. That doesn’t appear very promising for a character in a romance novel, except that romance readers know the stormy, brooding types can often be the most passionate — on paper at least.
Perhaps because of the unusual backstory – Tess being a fairly recent widow and Ian living with Bianca – there isn’t a lot of deep insight into the relationship that ultimately develops between Tess and Ian. And what might be disturbing to some readers is that while at first we learn about Travis’s wonderful qualities and how much Tess loved him, only after she and Ian begin to develop a romantic interest do we learn about all of Trav’s less-than-stellar qualities. Phillips might have done that intentionally to make it appear easier for Tess to get over Trav’s death because now she can remember all the negative aspects of their marriage. But it feels a bit insensitive because now he’s dead, and we might wish that instead of denigrating his memory, we’d like to see Tess just move on already.
That’s a minor complaint in a book that reads quickly and is thoroughly enjoyable. It’s the ultimate beach read, although it just might make readers want to find their own secluded spot on a mountain in Tennessee instead of a spot on the sand. As with all romances, especially Phillips’ stories, the ending is fairy-tale perfect. We definitely assume that they all will live happily ever after.
This review was first posted on Bookreporter.com.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by the publisher, William Morrow, for review purposes.