Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Dancing Master by Julie Klassen, ©2013

Published by Bethany House Publishers
Summary: “Regency era dancing master Alec Valcourt wants to bring new life to the
sleepy little village of Beaworthy in remote Devonshire—and to one young woman’s
restless heart”— Provided by publisher.

I look forward to Julie Klassen's novels. Suddenly there is an unexpected shift you don't see coming in the lives of the characters. Whether it is supporting and hiding someone else or undisclosed information that totally changes the story, the revelation is so smooth. Like turning a corner, you may begin looking back to events that now become clear to their previous actions. So much like real life, where there may be hidden reasons a person is guarded, self-protecting, and controlling of those around them.

Historical fiction is my very favorite genre. I enjoy reading adventure and unexpected happenings discovered along with the characters. The setting of The Dancing Master is in the early Regency 1800s in the town of Beaworthy in Devonshire, England. After an unsettling fallout to their family, London dancing master Alec Valcourt brings his mother and sister to their uncle's for respite from gossip and further demise hoping to begin again to enable him to care for them. He knocks on doors throughout the countryside offering dance and sword classes. He begins friendships within the second generation of three families. Secretly they further learn skills not seen in their homes or township. What a somber place Beaworthy must be with no music, and subsequent lack of joy.

To research the book, I read old manuals and journals written by dancing masters of ages past. And my dear, longsuffering husband and I went English country dancing several times. It was research, after all! We learned a lot and enjoyed ourselves. Or at least, I did.   --Julie Klassen,

Prior to reading this novel, I was excited for the author to be able to attend a ball herself: The Netherfield Ball in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In costume and with live musicians, it will remain an experience she will long remember. Especially, to be able to go beyond the research of English country dancing classes Julie and her husband took. Wouldn't that be fun! Fiction became fact for her. Another exciting event for Julie was that the models for her book cover would be coming to her first book signing. Wouldn't we all have loved to have been there ~ and more meaningful even after reading the book!

Mingling between social classes would bring self-doubt and confusion as to mixing up affections. How would you keep them apart? To guard the heart and its influence? Trying to keep separate, yet one would require the servitude of another to enhance their station in life. Baffling even further, the generational training one received to continue, each in their place.

Absorbed in the story, I was caught off guard by a change as much as the characters were! Such excellent writing of lives you become embedded in the times. Prayers were answered in a surprising way.

I liked how the villains in the story were turned around. So absorbed in their talents, they were unaware they were being set aside. Pride does that. So offensive to others they avoid you.

Traditions kept or broken turn a community toward each other or apart. Reaching out to each other or solitary, deeper issues kept them separated. By being open, the next generation was freed.
A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance.
   --Ecclesiastes 3:4
Music is such a part of life, its absence so obvious. Life, like songbirds stopping their trill upon notice of caution. I thought of this clip from Anchors Aweigh upon the mention of "No Dancing Allowed." Dancing Master, Gene Kelly:

Excerpt The Dancing Master by Julie Klassen

May 1, 1815
Beaworthy, Devonshire, England

We observed the first of May as we always did. We dressed somberly and rode in the black barouche from Buckleigh Manor into Beaworthy. It was tradition, my mother said.
   But I knew she had another reason for visiting the village on that particular day. Lady Amelia Midwinter wanted to make her presence known—make sure no one dared forget.
   We drove first to the flower shop and bought two bouquets—lily of the valley and forget-me-nots.
   From there our coachman, Isaacs, halted on the corner of High Street and Green, as he knew to do without being told.
   The young groom helped my mother alight. She turned to look back at me, but I ignored her, sullenly remaining in the carriage. This was her tradition, not mine.
   She crossed the street and laid one bouquet before the market hall— that center of trade on an island of green amid the cobbled High Street. The place where he died.
   Forget-me-nots. Never forget.
   She returned to the carriage, though we did not immediately depart. We sat for a few minutes in silence, waiting for the church bells to ring at midday.
   Clang, clang, clang . . .
   As the last peal faded away, she used one dainty finger to move aside the velvet curtain and survey the street. For a moment her face remained impassive, but then her mouth parted in surprise before stiffening into a grim line.
   “What is it?” I asked, rebellious hope rising in my contrary heart. I slid over to that side of the carriage and looked out the window.
   There, before the village green, an elderly woman as thin as a sparrow stood. She held her skirt aloft with one hand and raised her other hand high. She looked this way and that, as though waiting for someone, and for a moment I feared she would be left standing alone in the middle of the street.
   Then, from behind the market hall, an old man hobbled into view. He tossed aside his apron and bowed before the woman. And she in turn curtsied. She gave him a girlish smile, and decades flew from her face.
   He offered his hand, and she placed hers in his. Together, side by side, they slowly walked up the High Street in a curious rhythm—step, shuffle-step. Step, shuffle-step. Then they faced each other, joined both hands, and turned in a circle.
   “What are they doing?” I breathed in wonder.
   My mother snapped, “What does it look like?”
   “Who are they? Do you know?”
   She made no answer.
   I glanced over and saw an array of emotions cross her face. Irritation. Pain. Longing.
   “Who are they?” I whispered again.
   She kept her gaze trained out the window. On the couple’s retreating figures as they continued their odd shuffle-step up the street.
   My mother inhaled deeply, clamping an iron fist over her emotions, whatever they were. “A Mr. and Mrs. Desmond, I believe.”
   “I don’t think I know them.”
   “No, Julia. You wouldn’t. They . . . live outside of town.”
   I felt my face pucker. “Then, don’t they know about . . . the rule?”
   “They know.”
   I glanced at her, but she averted her eyes, using her father’s walking stick to knock against the roof.
   At the familiar signal, the coachman called “Walk on” to the horses and we moved away.
   We returned to Buckleigh and paused at the estate’s churchyard. My mother alighted first, waving away the hovering groom and his offered umbrella. I exited after her, and when the young groom offered his hand to help me down, I smiled flirtatiously and enjoyed watching his face redden.
   The day had turned pewter grey. A cold drizzle pricked through my thin cape, sending a shiver up my neck.
   I followed my mother past lichen-encrusted graves and listing markers. We stopped before the family plot, outlined in brick and set with impressive headstones like dull gems in a macabre bracelet. There I read her brother’s epitaph.

Graham Buckleigh, Lord Upcott
Born January 4, 1776
Died May 1, 1797
Beloved Son & Brother

   “One and twenty years old,” I murmured. “So young.”
   “Yes,” she whispered.
   “How did he die?” I asked as I did every year, hoping she would one day tell me the whole story.
   “He was killed in a duel.”
   “Who killed him?”
   “I prefer not to speak his name.”
   My gaze wandered from the headstone of the uncle I had never met, to settle on that of the aunt I had never met either. She died in childbirth before I was born.

Lady Anne Tremelling
Born December 5, 1777
Died December 9, 1797
Beloved Daughter & Sister

   I nodded toward her sister’s headstone. “She died less than a year later.”
   My mother bent and laid the bouquet of lily of the valley on her brother’s grave.
   Lily of the valley. Tears and humility.
   She straightened. “We ought not tarry, Julia. Your father is not at all well.”
   “Yes, I am surprised you wanted to come today.”
   “It is tradition.”
   I sent her a sidelong glance. “You believe in carrying on only your own private traditions, I see.”
   I referred, of course, to May Day, which had not been celebrated in Beaworthy for twenty years—though I had heard whispers about the old tradition and its demise.
   Mother turned toward the carriage without reply, and I tried to ignore the sting of rejection as easily as she ignored my sharp tongue.
   “What was the duel fought over?” I asked, following her.
   She did not answer. Ahead of us, the waiting groom opened the carriage door.
   “Why do you not put flowers on your sister’s grave?” I asked. “Why only your brother’s?”
   With a glance at the groom, my mother said quietly, “We shall discuss the matter another time. Not now. We have left your father alone too long as it is.”
   I doubted he would mind my absence. But then, I doubted he cared for me at all.
   My father left us the next day. And in the aftermath of death, of mourners and bombazine, of funerals and the selection of headstones, we buried my questions along with my father, knowing they would someday be resurrected.

***Thank you to Litfuse Publicity Group for inviting me to be part of this book tour for Julie Klassen's The Dancing Master and to Bethany House Publishers for sending me a print copy. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Julie Klassen’s “The Dancing Master” giveaway and “All Things Jane” webcast 1/23!
Best-selling author Julie Klassen will be hosting a Kindle Fire HDX giveaway and a live webcast event (1/23) to celebrate the release of her latest novel, The Dancing Master. Enter and RSVP today!

  One winner will receive:
  • A Kindle Fire HDX
  • The Dancing Master by Julie Klassen
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on January 23rd. Winner will be announced at the "All Things Jane (from Austen to Eyre)" Live Webcast Event on January 23rd. Connect with Julie for an evening of book chat, trivia, laughter, and more! Julie will also be taking questions from the audience and giving away books, Jane Austen DVDs, fun "Jane" merchandise, and gift certificates throughout the evening.

So grab your copy of The Dancing Master and join Julie and friends on the evening of January 23rd for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven't read the book, don't let that stop you from coming!)

Don't miss a moment of the fun; RSVP today by signing up for a reminder. Tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 23rd!

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