Fancy Dancer

Fancy Dancer_FernMichaels_15880076




In the hours before her death, Jake St. Cloud’s mother tells her 16-year-old son that he has, by way of his father, a half-brother. She then exacts several promises from Jake regarding his future behavior, not the least of which is a promise to identify and locate his brother. STRIKE ONE!

Several pages and eighteen years later, Jake has several advanced degrees and is a highly sought-after consultant in the oil cleanup business. He is single, rich, a tabloid playboy, and miserable because neither he nor a squadron of private detectives has ever been able to unearth the identity of his half-brother.

While standing at his mother’s grave, confessing his failure regarding the brother, he is startled when a yellow butterfly lands on the gravestone, flits over to land on his finger and then flies back to land on the angel carved in the stone. Renewed in spirit, Jake turns to leave, only to find his estranged father behind him, wanting his help with an oil problem. He agrees upon one condition – the name and address of the mistress and son.

Shortly thereafter, a meeting with his half-brother, Alex Rosario, does not go as well as Jake had hoped. Speeding away from the curb, blinded by tears and a yellow butterfly on his windshield, Jake hits another vehicle, causing property damage but no injuries. Pleading guilty the next morning at his arraignment, Jake is sentenced, well beyond guidelines, to one year’s suspension of his license; a $50,000 fine payable to the Dancer Foundation, a local orphanage; and one year’s confinement at the Foundation, complete with ankle monitor, no visitors allowed and no access to his funds. STRIKE TWO!

Fancy Dancer runs the Dancer Foundation, in conjunction with her mother. Desperately in need of both the $50K and help with the 25 children in her care, she agrees to the judge’s offer of a forced volunteer. However, despising the St. Cloud name and Jake’s playboy reputation, she parks him on a cot, with a sleeping bag, in an outbuilding and assigns him every demeaning chore possible.

About two weeks into his sentence, adapting to his circumstances and growing to care about the kids, Jake is jerked off his cot in the middle of the night by his father. The father has blackmailed a judge into amending the excessive sentence, making the father Jake’s custodian instead of the Dancer Foundation. The father drags Jake to a leaking oil rig and tells him that his probation will be complete when the spill is contained.

Five weeks later, legal debt paid, Jake leaves the rig without so much as a word to his father. That night the father shows up at Jake’s home and tells him that while Alex Rosario is his son, he is not Jake’s half-brother. And then, in painful detail, he tells him why. STRIKE THREE!

As we progress through the remaining several hundred pages, we follow Jake’s struggle as he confronts the most fundamental betrayal possible and searches for who he really is. That story is not written as a poignant, deep, soul-searching journey. It is written in a lighter tone, with Jake putting one foot in front of the other, day by day, letting the answers come as they will.

While this is an enjoyable read and a heart-warming addition to my library, it does have several flaws. First is what I consider a poor choice of title. “Fancy Dancer” sounds good and flows well off the tongue, but this story is not about Fancy; it’s about Jake. While Fancy becomes part of Jake’s HEA, she is really a secondary character, with relatively few scenes in the book, more talked about than physically present.

Secondly, in what appears to be an effort to keep this story both emotionally significant and beach-read light, the author slides over some important issues. Medically verifiable situations such as gestation, blood typing and DNA are glossed over. And the legal machinations of the amended sentence are both inadequately and inaccurately explained as well as legally not possible, particularly in the middle of the night.

Thirdly, with respect to plotting, words are seemingly accepted as fact without proof on the parts of multiple characters who are too well-educated and too well-placed financially and politically to be that naïve. A plot thread with one of the children begins logically, moves along realistically and then just disappears in mid-plot. And, somehow, Alex learns to sing on key and play guitar in two months when he has not been able to do so for the last 30 years.

This is a quick feel-good read with the requisite family nastiness, best friends, love interest and sweet HEA in place. And it is a good piece to read as respite after an emotionally draining mainframe thriller.

Cover Art from Goodreads


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