52 in 52: The Unexpected Waltz, by Kim Wright

[This review is based on the ARC (Advance Reader Copy) digital edition published by the Gallery Books imprint of Simon and Schuster, Inc. in 2014, and provided by NetGalley.]

Here’s the deal:
Kelly Wilder Madison wakes up the middle of the night to discover that her husband has died in his sleep. One day, a year after Mark’s passing, Kelly goes to the grocery store to pick up food and accidentally steals an apple; realizing her mistake after leaving the store, she walks back to pay for it but inadvertently walks into the adjoining ballroom dance studio instead. Kelly eventually finds herself swept up in the beauty and intensity of the ballroom and dedicates much of her time to perfecting fancy footwork. The rest of her time, meanwhile, is dedicated to her best friend Elyse, her hospice client Carolina, and her reconnection with former flame Daniel. Kelly learns as much about herself as she does about dancing throughout the course of the story and walks away with a startling self-realization that, had she not engaged in this unexpected waltz, she may never have figured out.

What I thought when I finished reading:
Ehhh….it was okay.

And here’s why:
I just couldn’t fully relate to Kelly; for me, I need to connect with a main character on some deep level in order to get sucked into a book. The only levels I connected with Kelly on were the long-distance best-friendship with Elyse and the dancing, and my love for dance has been much lengthier and more intense than hers. (The styles were different too, but that really doesn’t matter; I watch Dancing with the Stars and I’m a big fan of ballroom, though I’ve never really danced it myself.) Aside from that, Kelly was a character completely separate from me. I’ve never lost a spouse, thankfully, so I can’t imagine what it’s like to cope with such a loss; I’ve never volunteered in hospice, as being around the dead and dying is too morbid for me; I’ve never sought out or reunited with a former boyfriend after a decade or two of no contact, or for any other reason. On the other side of the coin, I’ve experienced true love and had an orgasm (though, like virtually every woman on Earth, I’ve faked them in the past). I came away thinking that my mom would better connect with Kelly than I did, and I’m going to recommend this book to her.

Of the entire book, I liked the interactions with Elyse and with Nik, Kelly’s ballroom instructor, the most. Elyse is the classic best friend, providing laughs, comfort, advice, and scoldings as needed. My best friend may not be on the other side of the country, but she’s far enough away that I can’t get into my car and drive over to her house on a whim. (And let’s not even talk about the effect a 12-hour car ride would have on Joshua!) Becca and I don’t have the history that Kelly and Elyse do, but we’re just as close — if not closer — for different reasons (health issues, love of children, and interest in blogging among them). Nik was interesting to read about not only because of his clear expertise in dance and his strict Russian upbringing, but because of his secret affair with another dance student. Pamela, it turned out, was not only a “whale” (the studio’s term for a rich student) but was also married to the man who owned the shopping center that housed the studio. Affairs never end well, but this one just goes to a whole other level…I can’t give it away!

My biggest beef with The Unexpected Waltz was with its ending. The last, very brief chapter tried to tie up virtually every loose end into one neat little package, and it didn’t work for me. I wanted more; I was left with more questions than answers. Did Kelly end up jumping back into the dating pool after her eye-opening reunion with Daniel? Did Nik ever return to the studio? What happened to the rest of the ballroom dancing “gang”, as they called themselves? It was both too neat and too messy, and when I finished reading, all I could think was, “Ehhh.”

So would I recommend this book?
The Unexpected Waltz isn’t my favorite book ever, but it’s not the worst book I’ve ever read, either. If you do give it a read, I’d love to know what you think!

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