From the Blurb:
From bestselling, groundbreaking author Ainslie Paton comes a groovy romance about changing times, growing up, breaking out and second chances. Set in Sydney in 1975, when pants and collars were wide, hair was big, eyelids were blue and neighbours shared each other’s lives.
There’s a sexual revolution going on, but not in Gayle’s life. She’s never felt so old, so unattractive, and so helpless. Your husband asking for a divorce could do that to you. Now she’s the scandalous new neighbour, the single mum, the divorcee, who needs a job but doesn’t know how to balance her own cheque book.
And then Steve and Ray arrive in her life, the former with chocolate hair and hurt eyes, the latter with a tomboy daughter and an uptight attitude. Suddenly, being separated doesn’t feel so shameful. This is the story of how Gayle lost her home to find true friends; her marriage to find a new life; and her husband to find love.
Gayle's a good little housewife, until her husband cheats and knocks up another woman. Now life is all single mother terror, judgy school nuns and new neighbors. It's the new neighbors who are most under her skin, though - Steve, who's all sex on legs, but seems to be as much into their neighbor Hazel as he is into her, and Ray, the single dad who brings out the worst in Gayle, just as his daughter brings out the devil in her son.
So, where to begin? There are a few storylines and romances happening in this one, but the primary narratives shift around Gayle and Ray, Gayle and Steve and Steve and Hazel, plus the kids.
Gayle is a wonderful main character. To start with she is so unsure of herself, lost in the world and without any idea of how to find her way. But she's no wilting flower. She's a mama bear first and foremost, determined to protect her son and trying to work out her new identity as Single Mother. She wants to make something of herself beyond that role too, as soon as she can work out how.
Initially led astray by Steve's wandering hands, her primary romance is with Ray. I love Ray. His story is as tumultuous as Gayle's, if not more, having lost his wife to depression and suicide. But he's a dedicated father, consumed by single father terror too, and just wanting to do right by his daughter. It's Gayle and Ray's struggle to balance parenting with their own personal needs and desires that pushes these two apart even as it pulls them together. I found this so realistic, relatable and heart wrenching.
So what about Hazel and Steve? I love Hazel. She's as innocent as she is perceptive, but totally weighed down by her love of a complete douche-bag. That's right - I really disliked Steve. A lot of readers are going to get the bad boy shivers for him, but he's not the sort of book boyfriend I fall for. So I was almost hoping him and Hazel wouldn't get their HEA/HFN (I know, I know - SACRILEGE!).
The thing is, Steve is a difficult character to redeem and I just couldn't see it happening in the space of a novel. And yet, Ainslie Paton totally came through with this storyline, but not in the way I expected and definitely not the way I wanted. I guess readers don't always know what's best for them and this was one of those cases. I won't spoil the story for you, but I'll just say a big thanks to the author for giving Steve and Hazel the ending they deserved.
Some of this book is also told from the perspective of Dean, Gayle's son. I was very dubious when his first section began, since I think maintaining a child-tone in an adult book can be really difficult and is often unconvincing (Emma Donoghue's Room being a brilliant exception). However, Dean's sections were convincing and gave some really nice insights into the story that I enjoyed, though I'm not 100% sure they were necessary.
Similarly, the main narrative occasionally has an odd structure, with some of the major moments being recalled by characters (including a proposal scene), rather than taking place on the page as present incidents. Weirdly, this didn't bother me as much as I feel like it should have. Somehow it worked, but it was something that I couldn't help noticing and I wonder if it might have been less distracting to have less of a flash back style narrative. I'm not sure.
It was the 70s setting of this novel that had me picking it up in the first place and this story turned out to be such a great blast from the past. Ainslie Paton totally brings the 70s Aussie vibe to life and I was mesmerized. If the characters don't pull you in (which I find hard to believe), the setting will. It is very Aussie, so I have to admit that I'm not sure how international readers will read it, but I reckon a holiday to 70s Sydney is a good trip for anyone. I loved the Brady Bunch references, the 5c lemonade, Hazel's references to molls and especially CRACKER NIGHT!!
The beauty of this book, though, comes from the way it manages to point out the timelessness of the characters' issues and journeys. Despite being set in the 70s, so much about this story is completely here and now. While we like to think we're all liberated post feminist women, the experiences of Gayle, Hazel, and even Ray's late wife Pam, are scarily familiar, and the current reality for many women is made all the more intense by the distance of this story's setting. It's wonderful and heartbreaking.
Oh, I nearly forgot to mention the sex. OMG. Let me just leave you with this quote:
"I’m going to lick you like you licked up that batter."
Hooked On A Feeling by Ainslie Paton is a 70s romance scheduled for release by Escape Publishing on August 1 2014 (but already available for pre-order).
This book is available from Amazon | Goodreads | The Publisher
This book was given to Love Reading Romance in exchange for an honest review.