Before I launch into the review of this fun southern novel, I first want to say how nice it is to read about places you've lived. I experienced this same phenomenon when I read Julie and Julia because some of the book was set in Austin, TX. I had a great time reading about street names, restaurants, and businesses that I'd frequented when I lived there. Dancing Naked in Dixie gave me that same satisfaction set in Eufaula, AL. I used to live in Daleville, work in Dothan and Geneva, and drove through Enterprise and Eufaula on a regular basis. These little areas were definitely some of the joys of LA (that's Lower Alabama for those not from the South). ROLL TIDE!
Dancing Naked in Dixie by Lauren Clark is a delightful read with a quirky, but relatable protagonist Julia Sullivan. She is a travel writer for Getaways magazine who is notably late, often jet-lagged, and can't seem to go anywhere without her steaming cup of Starbucks coffee. Her trips around the world keep her lifestyle mobile, fast-paced, and "oh-so-very" New York. Her latest article on the beautiful Belize will be her next feature in the magazine, or so she thought. While Julia thinks life has settled into a routine of fanciful travel, comfortable writing, and a not-so-serious but serious enough relationship with her boyfriend Andrew, a twister touches down and she is in its path. She finds herself with a new boss that doesn't care much about the awards she's won in that past for her writing, and it's not just any boss; it's her estranged father David Sullivan. "Damn it all" she often feels for going into the same field as him; writing.
David has a few new ideas in mind for Julia, and they don't include exotic trips to foreign countries. Nope. David wants to send her to Eufaula, AL to cover the Christmas Pilgrimage of this small, but quaint, southern town. Julia is crushed. After trips to the world's most beautiful places, what could Eufaula, AL have to offer? David is explicit though in his assignment and says it will be part of a new writing series focusing on road trips around the United States, a "Route 66, Back Roads to Big Dreams" kind of thing. Julia is less than amused.
But, ever the trooper, she takes herself into LA and much to her chagrin, discovers a world closer to her heart than she ever truly imagined. This small town is full of life, love, mystery, and deceit. The walls are as thin as the puff pastry used to make the town's soon to be famous dessert, and Julia finds herself smack dab in the middle of it all; everyone is involved in everything, rumors spread faster than melted butter, and lies are taller than meringue on a chocolate pie.
In the end, Julia learns not only the appreciation for the history of a small town, but for the lifestyle, the slower pace, and the connected and supportive family that's often spoken of over Sunday dinner.
When I first started reading, I admit I wasn't sure how I'd feel about Julia Sullivan. She was a little squeaky clean for me in some of her verbiage and seemed to lack a bit of a backbone. But, as I read I learned that part of Clark's development of the character. Julia Sullivan's strength comes from the experiences she has reinventing her life and her focus, even if it's against her will at times. I felt like the characters drawn in AL were wonderful and spot-on for a deep-South family. Clark has certainly done her homework on the dynamics of small town life and all the intricacies that go with it.
I would like to have seem more development and interaction between Julia and her father as they bob and weave through this novel. While in the end, I found myself satisfied with their relationships, I think some additional "ah-ha" moments for Julia about her dad throughout her time in Eufaula would have given the reader a bit more grasp on the dynamics.
This book is an easy read with characters you grow to love. Once I was half-way through the book, I found myself reading even faster because I wanted to know what was going to happen. This is a testament to good plot and conflict, and character connection. I would recommend this book to friends, not as a "beach read" but more as opening to Fall. It has more depth than the light-hearted romance seen on sandy shores. 4 out of 5 stars to this up and coming author!
And while I vow to keep my reviews strictly about the book, I must say that Lauren Clark is a lovely woman herself. We've had several email interactions and blog conversations about books we've both enjoyed and I know she is someone I'd considered a friend should we find ourselves at the same place at the same time.
For more information about Lauren Clark, visit her website at [...]