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REVIEW: Grease Monkey Jive by Ainslie Paton

Dear Ms. Paton:

I discovered this book when I was investigating the new publisher Escape Publishing, the digital first imprint of Harlequin Australia. All the Escape Publishing books were 99c on when I was prepping the interview for posting on Dear Author. I don’t know that I would have discovered the book or taken a chance on it because while I am on a contemporary kick right now, dancing seems to be a thing that translates better visually that it does in text. Moreover, I am not even that big of a fan of dance movies. I’ve missed all the Step Up movies. The last dance related movie I’ve seen is Simply Ballroom (1992!) and I can’t even remember what that was all about. I have watched So You Think You Can Dance from time to time but even my interest in that has died out. So a book about a dancer and a mechanic who enter a ballroom dance competition is simply Not My Thing.

Ainslie Paton Grease Monkey JiveI started the book at about 11:00 at night. I thought I would read for 15 minutes and then go to sleep. I had to go to sleep, you see, because I had a big meeting the next morning. The next thing I knew it was 12:30 pm and I was only at the 40% mark of this book. This book is long. Loooonnnngg. Or maybe it seemed that way because I was anxious for two things. To find out what happened and get some sleep. Unfortunately, the book was so darned interesting that I ended up reading until nearly 3 am. In some kind of karmic serendipity, I awoke to find my morning meeting cancelled so I just moped around the office like I had been on an all night bender, which of course I was, but my drug of choice was reading not liquor or narcotics.

The story is fairly simple in its plot. Alex Gibson is a business student trying to get a degree. She is also an accomplished ballroom dancer. The ballroom competition this year has a grand prize of $50,000 and that is money she could use to replace her dying car and help defray university expenses. She enters with her best friend, Scott. But he breaks his ankle. In reading the rules, it is determined that Alex must finish the competition with the dancer she entered. BUT she does not have to dance with that person during the entire competition. Together they convince new ballroom student Dan Maddoz, a mechanic, surfer, womanizer, to take Scotts place until Scott can return from his injury.

Sound implausible? It’s not. One of the great things about this book is that everything that happens is given a plausible excuse. It might strain credibility at times, but there was a concerted effort to make the reader believe that what occurred in the book could really happen.

Dan Maddox comes to Alex’s studio on a bet. He and his three mates spend most nights cruising bars, picking up women, leaving them, and meeting for surf in the morning. It’s the only life that Dan knows. His father is a viscous drunk; his mother, long dead; and his uncle, an aging roué. One night Dan is walking around, half drunk, and spies himself in a plate glass window of a closed shop. His shirt is unbuttoned. He has one sock on. He has a half bottle of empty wine and a stupid grin on his face which fades the longer he looks at his reflection. He is becoming something he can’t even look at in the mirror. He says to his mates that the only women in his life are those “involv[ing] a retail transaction or fucking.” But it takes more than this one moment for Dan to take action on his thoughts that he might need to change, which makes his reformation all the more believable. Dan can’t even articulate why he wants to change. “It’s just wrong. I can’t tell you what I mean. Where’s Fluke and all his words when I need him? It’s just wrong. Why is there one standard of behaviour for us and one for the women we want to admire?”

He recalls vague memories of his mother, the ballroom dancer, and there was something about her that he’d like to recapture and so the mates all bet that they can’t last a twelve week course at a ballroom dance class.  Dan’s emotionally open in the book. He expresses his feelings fairly easily to his mates but he’s not always artful in his expression of them, making him all the more endearing.

Alex is a woman in the middle, a product of two strong women’s opinions and upbringing. Her grandmother married the love of her life and lost him to the Vietnam war. Only it wasn’t during the war, but after when Alex’s grandfather became addicted to alcohol and turned moody and violent and died two years after returning home from the war. Alex’s mother became pregnant by her wealthy lover, a married man. Alex grew up with her mother telling her to never rely on a man and her grandmother telling her to follow her passions. Unfortunately for Alex, she views these two things in opposition to each other.

In this careful exploration of mother/daughter and father/son relationships, Alex’s character seemed to suffer the most. I found her disdain for blue collar workers to be at odds with her mother’s insistence that she be independent. What did one have to do with the other? If her mother wanted her to not rely on a man, then why was her mother so insistent on Alex dating a suit? If it was a wealthy suit that abandoned her mother (and Alex) why did the suits provide the most security to Alex and her mother?

But this was a small complaint juxtaposed against all the interesting emotional struggles explored in the book. Dan and his mates and their interactions provide the comic relief. The dancing between Alex and Dan provide the sexual tension. Their relationship was like a dance — one step forward, two steps back.

Alex is a confident character and while she finds Dan attractive, she starts the book with her own boyfriend, one whom she believes she loves. She isn’t impressed with Dan’s antics and isn’t afraid to call him out on it. During one scene, the men are blindfolded and supposed to be led by the women but Dan doesn’t allow his woman to lead. Alex chastises him, telling him that “helping” his partner instead of allowing her to learn and make mistakes was ensuring the woman wouldn’t learn. Alex calls this bullying. I call it paternalistic.  It amounts to the same thing.

There’s a lot of great stuff in the book about the female/male dynamic; about the double standard; and about men respecting women. I appreciated seeing that addressed in a contemporary romance.  To complete the role reversal, the mates ask Alex what her intentions are toward Dan.  Mostly I loved watching Dan and Alex truly fall for each other. No insta lust. No wondering why these two belong together. By the end of the book, you know.

“How are we going to do this, then?” He meant build a life together, because that seemed like the right question to ask, and he laughed when she said, “With lots of practice,” because that felt like the right answer, even though he knew she meant lessons and rehearsals.

Somehow the layers in the language were fitting.

He had no precedent for this and no room for it in his life. It made him feel unearthed, slightly out of control, and there was everything wrong with that. This was some karmic test, on his resolve to change and payback for all the times he’d been careless with someone else’s heart, better than anything Fluke or even Ant at his most demonic might have designed. He had to find a way to get through it, learn from it, and survive it, without hurting Alex, without losing the self he was trying to become.

I would be remiss with the DA crowd if I didn’t mention that there were a couple of editing errors in the book.  “He lifted a hard from the curve of her waist”  Also there are multiple points of view in this book and comprehension would have been aided if there were section breaks to identify the changes in points of view.  Overall, though, I think this was a very different but very good contemporary romance. B

Best regards,

Jane

PS this book is available for 99c until December 3.  I looked at the other retailers and I still don’t see the book available at any place other than Amazon.

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

28 Comments

  1. Jennelle Holland
    Dec 01, 2012 @ 12:04:43

    I actually got this from the iTunes store for 99c as well. Can’t wait to start it. :)

  2. Erin Satie
    Dec 01, 2012 @ 12:13:32

    Second book DA has convinced me to buy today.

  3. Anne V
    Dec 01, 2012 @ 12:25:13

    I had a similar experience reading this – started it at 12:40 last night planning to read briefly, finished around 3:00 am. This might be the first 0.99$ book I feel like I underpaid for. The POV shifts didn’t bother me, although sections might’ve been nice.

    The characters are human, the story is plausible, the representation of male friendship between ordinary (ie, non-special forces, non-police, non-supernatural, non-billionaire) guys is really great, and the secondary characters’ storylines windup neatly and without overwhelming the main characters.

    I enjoyed the development of the relationship between Alex and Dan – it’s true to the characters and the story and they both work hard for the love they make.

  4. Ros
    Dec 01, 2012 @ 12:40:58

    I have to read this book NOW. Strictly Ballroom is one of my favourite films ever and I am taking ballroom dance lessons at the moment.

  5. Loosheesh
    Dec 01, 2012 @ 13:15:48

    I picked this up just from the small snippet you posted on Goodreads, and reading the full review now makes me really glad I did.

  6. Jill Sorenson
    Dec 01, 2012 @ 13:17:09

    Okay, sold. Who can resist that price? I’m also a sucker for a reformed bad boy. Reminds me of the mechanic hero in a recent Sarah Mayberry I loved.

  7. Loosheesh
    Dec 01, 2012 @ 13:25:17

    @Jill Sorenson: “I’m also a sucker for a reformed bad boy.” – Ditto! Just say the words “bad boy” and “reformed” in the same sentence and chances are very good I’ll be super-interested ;-)

  8. wkw
    Dec 01, 2012 @ 14:41:37

    I bought Grease Monkey because of the discussion on DA about Escape Publishing and the short description of several books. I also made the mistake of starting it in the evening and couldn’t stop until I finished (5 am). Not everything about this book was perfect—some of the writing was a little florid—but I loved the characterizations, and the development of all the relationships, not just the main ones. None of the characters were flat or cardboard, even those that appeared briefly. The dancing part was lovely, but for me, it was not the main point. The people/relationships in the story, that was what I found compelling. So then I searched out Ainslie Paton’s backlist (yes she has written other books), available on Amazon. I don’t know if her books are available anywhere else. I read 2 more and now am starting a third. I have liked each of these books a lot. The Australian cultural context is a nice change. There are similarities between each of the books but enough difference that I have found each one engaging and entertaining. Thanks, DA, for introducing me to a favorite new (to me) author.

  9. Rosario
    Dec 01, 2012 @ 15:30:05

    It’s 64p at amazon UK. I bought it and have just started it – uh-oh, might not get to bed any time soon!

    PS – Jane, I love the image of a viscous drunk ;)

  10. Shelley
    Dec 01, 2012 @ 17:53:47

    Just picked this up yesterday and will start pretty quick. Also picked up another called “Turning Tables” which made me tear up just reading the sample. I knew I had to have it!!!

  11. Shelley
    Dec 01, 2012 @ 17:56:25

    @Jill Sorenson: OMG! I just finished this one and loved it!!

  12. Shelley
    Dec 01, 2012 @ 17:57:55

    @Ros: I am of the firm belief that this is the best dancing movie ever! Dancing + Aussie Accents = HOT!

  13. Merrian
    Dec 01, 2012 @ 18:13:40

    I bought this and Chaos Born, a UF also from Escape on Kobo for .99cents each. Just finished Chaos Born and am looking forward to Grease Monkey Jive.

  14. shel
    Dec 01, 2012 @ 18:29:19

    Sniff. This is not showing up at Kobo for me in Canada.

  15. Anne V
    Dec 01, 2012 @ 19:05:26

    I bought Turning Tables just now but will not start until tomorrow – too much driving to do.

    Ugh, why is Chaos Born $4.79 @ amazon? Frustrating.

  16. Shelley
    Dec 01, 2012 @ 19:30:14

    @Anne V: Yep! Chaos Born looks good but not for that price. Sorry…

  17. Sunny
    Dec 01, 2012 @ 21:53:50

    Clicked to buy before I even finished reading the review, danced with joy when I saw the price. Sounds absolutely perfect for me.

  18. Lia
    Dec 02, 2012 @ 02:21:34

    Blergh… Outside the US Amazon charges €4.– :-( which is not an awful lot, but still…

    Will wait for it to show up on Kobo, since I prefer reading in epub-format anyway.

  19. HJ
    Dec 02, 2012 @ 04:06:39

    Like you, I would never have thought I’d like this book. I bought it after reading the interview on the launch of the line, principally because it’s set in Australia and I have a pre-dispostion towards reading Australian romances after reading ones set in the outback in my mother’s Woman’s Weekly!

    I really enjoyed it. The characters were very well established and, as you say, it did not strain credulity because the the author set everything up properly. I was surprised at the editing faults bit I think there were only a couple. I really liked the characters and wanted to know how it all turned out.

    Although I tried to buy from the website (because the interview said authors got more that way) as soon as I chose Kindle format I was taken to Amazon.com. As I’m in the UK I switched to Amazon.uk, and it certainly wasn’t the equivalent of 99 cents! Given that the book is (for once) actually available in this territory, why the higher cost??

  20. Rosario
    Dec 02, 2012 @ 05:01:30

    @HJ: Looks like there’s something weird going on. I bought it for 64p on Friday from Amazon UK, and it’s still showing me that price, but it sounds like it’s coming up with another price for you. I think I saw two people in Canada reporting the same thing on twitter?

  21. Ros
    Dec 02, 2012 @ 05:24:39

    @HJ: I bought it for 64p on Amazon UK. What price is it showing you?

  22. CG
    Dec 02, 2012 @ 06:34:33

    From the interview with Escape: “Will the books be available worldwide simultaneously. If not, what are the anticipated release date differences? Absolutely – we’re available globally from all the major e-retailers, as well as most smaller e-book sellers”

    And yet not available anywhere but Amazon. What’s up with that? If this is one of those Amazon exclusive things where everyone who doesn’t own a Kindle has to wait three months I’m going to get really cranky. Really, really cranky.

  23. Janine
    Dec 02, 2012 @ 15:04:14

    @Shelley: My favorite dance movie is the original, Japanese version of Shall We Dance?, but Strictly Ballroom was a lot of fun.

  24. Shelley
    Dec 02, 2012 @ 20:02:20

    @Janine: I’ve heard “Shall We Dance?” is great and need to find it.

  25. Kaetrin
    Dec 02, 2012 @ 20:17:15

    @Janine: Dirty Dancing is my favourite dancing movie of all time but Shall We Dance (the US version of the Japanese movie you referred to) is pretty darn good too. I liked it because it was romantic with no cheating even though JLo was the dance teacher.

    I have this one on my TBR – I saw Jane tweeting about it and that was that. :)

  26. Moriah Jovan
    Dec 02, 2012 @ 20:30:42

    @Janine: I saw the original Shall We Dance, too, and have never been able to bring myself to see the remake. Strictly Ballroom is on my top 5 movies evar. (Which might not be saying much since Dogma and Kill Bill are there, too…)

  27. cleo
    Dec 02, 2012 @ 21:36:52

    @Jill Sorenson: I thought the same thing. I just read that Sarah Mayberry this weekend (Suddenly You) and it was so, so good. I may have to go on a Australian mechanic glom.

  28. Anne V
    Dec 02, 2012 @ 21:50:24

    I got the original Shall We Dance (the Japanese one) as a birthday present this year! I thought I might’ve remembered it as better than it was, but no – it really is great.

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