>> Saturday, December 15, 2012
TITLE: Grease Monkey Jive
AUTHOR: Ainslie Paton
PAGES: 130K words (a bit over 500 pages, I'd say)
PUBLISHER: Escape Publishing
SETTING: Contemporary Australia (Sydney)
A romance about changing the game, finding the truth, and fancy footwork.Yep, I'm one of the many, many readers who bought Grease Monkey Jive after seeing the interviews with the publisher at Dear Author and SBTB (those interviews have probably sold a lot of books for Escape Publishing, I've bought 4 of their titles so far!). The way the book was described was as a romance "that mixes Strictly Ballroom with Pimp My Ride", all set in Australia. That sounded right up my street.
When ballroom teacher Alex Gibson dances with Dan Maddox she's reminded of the time she stuck a knife in the toaster, gave herself an electric shock, and saw stars. He's precisely the type of man Alex's mother warned her off - a player, like the father who abandoned her.
Dan Maddox comes from a long line of men who were hiding under the hood of a beat-up car when the 'successful relationship' gene was given out, but he was first in the queue for an extra jolt of chick-pulling power.
The chicks in Dan's life are universally gorgeous, random, and disposable, until one drunken night when he picks the wrong girl, hurts a good friend, and realises that unless he does something to change, he'll end up like his violent, unstable father.
It was. It wasn't perfect, but I really enjoyed it.
Our two protagonists are two very different people. Dan Maddox is a total player. He can attract women just by crooking his finger at them, and he does hookups, not relationships. His life is all about his mates, surfing, sex, and his low-stress work as a mechanic. He parties like there's no tomorrow, and he does so frequently. And then, one night, he does something very stupid, and realises he's turning into his father.
Now, that is a shock to him. His father is a bitter, ugly drunk, a violent man who beat him up as a child, after his mother's death. Dan really doesn't want to be anything like him, and he decides that he needs to change, especially to start relating to women in a different way.
One of his nicest childhood memories is of his ballroom dancer mother, and with the help of a bet, he and his friends end up taking classes at a nearby dance studio. One of their teachers is Alex Gibson. Alex is an excellent dancer, but she's also doing a business degree, as she feels she needs to be sensible about her career. This is therefore the last year she participates in a dance competition, with her partner and fellow teacher, Scott. They've got a very good chance of winning, and the prize money will be extremely useful in helping her pay for the rest of her degree.
And then Scott breaks his ankle. Due to a loophole in the rules, they can bring in another partner for Alex until he recovers, but all the good pros are otherwise engaged. Dan, who's actually a naturally good dancer, is their only hope, especially because the chemistry between him and Alex is explosive, on and off the dance floor.
The chemistry might be explosive, but we don't get immediate satisfaction. The romance here is slow and gradual. Alex has a boyfriend (who's quite an arse, actually), and Dan really is determined to change the way he relates to women. He and Alex become friends first, and their relationship takes a while to move to the next level. It's very, very satisfying, especially to see Dan open himself to a type of relationship he'd always completely dismissed.
So the romance at the centre of the book is great, but what I also really liked was that the book is wider than that. Friends and family are well drawn, and Alex and Dan's relationships with them are important, and well-developed. These people around them have a big influence on them, and this is acknowledged.
The other thing to say is that, the premise might sound a bit preposterous, but when you're reading the book, it's actually believable. It helps that Paton doesn't even try to pretend that an inexperienced, if gifted, dancer like Dan could do what has taken pro dancers years of hard work. The whole thing works for him and Alex only because they play up the attrction between them and get lots of extra points for the entertainment value, but even then, they only get enough points to barely hang in the competition without being eliminated.
The book's also got a great sense of place, and I enjoyed the Sidney setting and that it really felt Australian. The language is not made neutral, and I loved that. I actually had to look up a couple of terms that I couldn't figure out from the context (like "ranga", who knew?), but you know what? I'm a grown-up, I can handle that!
Unfortunately, as I said, it's not a perfect book. The big conflict in the romance, when it comes, didn't feel completely natural. It relies on a character pushing the other one away for reasons that didn't convince me, and the resolution of this is pretty drawn out. Which brings me to my other issue: much as I liked the wide focus of the story, it did feel a little bloated, like it needed some editing to tighten it up and trim some of the flab. That could have been done without losing the gradual feeling of the romance.
On the whole, though, this was great, and I'm glad I took the plunge and bought it (it was a really reasonable price, too!). I'm now looking forward to trying the other books I bought on my binge!
MY GRADE: A strong B.