Title: Invitation to the Dance
Author: Tamara Allen
Length: 258 Pages
Category: Historical Romance
At a Glance: While I perhaps wasn’t quite as charmed by this offering as I have been by some of Allen’s previous novels, I enjoyed the story nonetheless, becoming fully invested in Charlie’s and Will’s assignment, their relationship, and them finding their way in the end.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: After trading his tranquil Staten Island existence for a flat in the city and an editorial position at the New York Herald, William Nesmith anticipates as easy and uneventful a transition from bachelorhood to marriage—as soon as he’s prepared to ask the vivacious Violet Chapin for her hand. Though Violet longs to climb the social ladder Will scorns, she seems willing to wait for him—and wait she must, for Will intends to make his way without the assistance of Violet’s well-to-do connections.
Whether that’s a vow he can keep comes into question when he runs afoul of Charlie Kohlbeck, a capricious reporter with a keen eye for a story and the flexible ethics to dig up any secret, whether hidden in Manhattan’s darkest corners or the grand marble halls of its social elite. When Will is ordered to work with him so they’ll come to better appreciate each other’s talents, Charlie takes him along on the hunt for an interview with the elusive Lord Belcourt. It’s a meeting every reporter in town is after, but Charlie gains an audience by introducing Will as one of the wealthy California Nesmiths—a lie that sets Will on a path up the social ladder at a speed no respectable gentleman could stomach.
Offered his own society column if he prolongs the charade, Will wants nothing more than to escape the bevy of eager debutantes on his trail and make peace with a very vexed Violet. But when he helps a shy heiress menaced by swindlers, he’s caught in a tangled web turned dangerous and must put his faith in Charlie Kohlbeck—who may possibly prove the one road to ruin Will is defenseless to resist.
Review: So much of the appeal of Historical Romance for me is in the forbidden. While reality was, I’m sure, often much less kind than is portrayed in our romanticized version of it, there is something so inherently gratifying about knowing that, throughout the centuries, love has always managed to find a way—even when it was outlawed by society. By definition of the word romantic, love overcoming obstacles is the hope clung to when facing seemingly insurmountable odds. Emotion that blossoms without express intent, or even explanation, and then flourishes in earnest can never be dictated or subdued by the laws of man. Loving against the odds is, in itself, the height of romantic, and this is a concept that author Tamara Allen has always captured so proficiently in her work.
Invitation to the Dance takes place very near to the end of the 19th or the turn of the 20th century, in a New York City where families such as the Astors and the Morgans ruled the upper echelon of Manhattan’s elite. It was the society columns in the newspapers which served up all the gossip that was fit to print, and I suppose it could be argued this was the precursor to our modern paparazzi, based on what Charlie Kohlbeck and his peers are willing to do for the sake of getting the scoop on the latest rumor or impending engagement amongst the affluent. Thus, acquiring a personal invitation to a ball or the opera not being a likely occurrence for a newspaper reporter—not without a bit of subterfuge and creative maneuvering—Charlie and his new editor, William Nesmith, must create a ruse that gains them access to one Lord Belcourt, the visiting nobleman who is presumably there to find a wife but is also keen to drum up business for Isaiah Knox, land agent, as well.
William Nesmith himself is that ruse. Charlie and Will mix like oil and water from the start, and I imagine that might have been some fun for Allen to write—the author vs the editor and Will’s gleeful abandon when killing Charlie’s darlings in order to make his columns less cumbersome and, as a result, more readable. And, of course, as one might expect, Charlie takes great exception to it. It made for some nice friction at the outset of the story, but it’s when they’re assigned to work together to find an inroad to Lord Belcourt, and cover all the gossip they can acquire in the process, that begins their gradual warming up to each other, which then becomes so much more.
There are complications, naturally, on the road to romance. Adding to the imperative that no one gain even an inkling of their emerging feelings for each other includes Will in an entanglement of his own, but their feelings deepen and their relationship grows significantly more intimate even as their charade becomes more cumbersome to maintain, not to mention dangerous to pull off. Working together, sharing their secret identities and the familiarity that thrives with close proximity plays out through the better part of the story and through it all, I was reminded of why I appreciate Allen’s way with a historical romance so very much. It was the final 30% of the book, however, that gave me some ups and downs. Not enough to put a damper on my overall enjoyment of the story, but just enough to make so many sex scenes squeezed into those final chapters feel little more than just that, sex, rather than it furthering my already well-established emotional investment in the relationship. This line, in and of itself, says it all, though: “Let loose at last, it was a passion finding ferocious expression.” Boy, was it ever.
I am such a huge fan of this author’s body of work. Though perhaps not as prolific as other authors in the community, Allen’s writing is always so deeply emblematic of the time period in which she chooses to write; she has a way of offering just enough detail, without over-embellishing, to ground me in another time and place. While I perhaps wasn’t as charmed by this offering as much as I have been in the past by her Whistling in the Dark, or as engaged in the danger and suspense as in The Only Gold, or as intrigued by the mixing of centuries and time travel in Downtime, I was nonetheless anxious to see how Will and Charlie disentangled themselves from their false personas while thwarting the criminals, and doing so without hurting the people they’d grown to care for as the story played out. I enjoyed Invitation to the Dance and became fully invested in Charlie’s and Will’s assignment, their relationship, and them finding their way in the end.
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