When life throws her one setback too many, midwife and young widow Tess Hartsong takes off for Runaway Mountain. In this small town high in the Tennessee mountains, surrounded by nature, she hopes to outrun her heartbreak and find the solace she needs to heal.
But instead of peace and quiet, she encounters an enigmatic artist with a craving for solitude, a fairy-tale sprite with too many secrets, a helpless infant, a passel of curious teens, and a town suspicious of outsiders, especially one as headstrong as Tess. Just as headstrong is Ian North, a difficult, gifted man with a tortured soul—a man who makes Tess question everything.
In running away to this new life, Tess wonders— Has she lost herself . . . or has she found her future?
I loved this book. It's filled with everything that I enjoy and appreciate about a Susan Elizabeth Phillips novel. Phillips is one of those authors who has the ability to create characters who are so realistically human that you forget they are the figment of someone's imagination. They have flaws, struggles, and battered dreams. They don't always make the best decisions. And, sometimes, as is the case with Tess, the best they can do is run away to a small mountain town and confront their grief the only way they can - with angry, heartbroken, dancing in the rain. Phillips imbues Tess with so many layers then sets her on a journey that tests her at almost every turn. She's not always likeable, doesn't always make the best decision, but aren't we all like that at times? Ian is. Like Tess, he also is on a journey, both personally and with his career. Phillips delves deep into his character, his history, his loyalty, and his innate kindness. He nestled right into my heart and refused to leave.
At face value, Tess and Ian seem an unlikely pair and, for a time, are adversaries. But when tragedy forces them to work together as a team, they slowly transition to a tentative friendship then, eventually, both they and the reader are awakened to the fact that these two really are a perfect match. But, of course, that awakening follows a journey filled with emotional ups and downs, plus sprinkles of Phillip's wonderfully wry humor and sarcasm, that kept me glued to the pages of this book from beginning to end.
One of the facets of Phillips' books that I most enjoy are the communities she creates within them. In Dance Away with Me, she brings us a small, rural, mountain town, filled with interesting, quirky characters who are used to their own ways and wary of outsiders. The interactions between opinionated Tess and the townspeople, as well as among the townspeople themselves, are filled with sarcasm, wit, humor, and poignant moments that nurture not only Tess's evolution but that of some secondary characters as well.
While difficult, potentially triggering, topics are touched upon in this book - miscarriage, death in childbirth, grief - the overall tone is hopeful, rather than dark. Phillips' never minimizes the impact of unexpected tragedy nor the depth of her characters' grief but allows them to work through it with the full range of human emotions, including anger, but also humor, bringing them through to the other side where hope, happiness, and new love awaits.
Have you read Susan Elizabeth Phillips? Do you have a favorite book of hers?
Have you ever danced in the rain? After reading this book, and especially the wonderful Epilogue, that's exactly what I wanted to do.
Are there any other women's fiction novels on your must-read list this summer?
One randomly chosen person who comments on this post before 11:00 PM, June 21, will receive a hardback copy of Dance Away with Me.
*Must be 18 or older
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