I’ve been sick since Monday–alternating between a fever and a brain-slushiefying migraine–so I’ve been pretty alone and miserable in the apartment. I just had to share that. Anyway, I revisited Beth Kery—having really really loved her novel, Wicked Burn. I settled down with Paradise Rules, expectations raised because, well, that’s what having read a kick-ass book by the same author does to you.
To most people, Hawaii’s crystal blue shores are an inviting opportunity to escape reality. But for Lana Rodriguez, who grew up there, the picture-perfect vacation getaway disguises the bitter truths she escaped years ago, and not without some emotional scars. Now a successful blues singer, Lana’s returning to Waikiki to control her own destiny, with a bold defiance when it comes to men, romance, and sex.
A local celebrity, businessman, and island god, Jason Koa is every woman’s dream–but for Lana, it’s not love at first sight. Though their start is rocky, they can’t deny the passions they arouse in each other. Jason decides it’s time to show Lana who makes the rules on this island–and in the bedroom. But will Jason’s attempt at breaking Lana’s shell reveal secrets that neither are prepared to face, or will they allow themselves to get swept away by a tidal wave of desire?
The first thing that struck me about this novel was that it displayed the range of Kery. With Wicked Burn, we shuttled from metropolis to farm, with a playwright (can I just stress how much I love having writers as main characters in romances?) and an art curator. In Paradise Rules, we’re in Hawaii, and that’s wonderful enough in itself, but we’re in Hawaii with an Olympic medalist pseudo-surfer dude and a successful blues singer. These two focuses (focii? ;p) can’t be more different. And it worked, and it was impressive, considering these characters are as well-researched and as concrete in their examinations.
But enough with the comparisons. Paradise Rules isn’t good just because it held its own against the other book; it’s good because it’s good. The characters are fleshed out–though angst abounds (with such a utopian setting for a counterpoint), they’re not the sole definition for Lana and Jason. Lana is a strong woman, aware of what she wants, skittish and reluctant to relinquish the control she’s built over the years. Jason is cocky, a little arrogant, with a near-overwhelming doggedness regarding Lana. However, this is not your usual cat-and-mouse game. Lana is skittish because of a dark past (one that reveals not only something about her, but about the tourist destination too); and as soon as we think Jason is a one-dimensional ass (an inevitable conclusion when our first significant encounter with him is when he’s caught being given a handjob by a woman–wah), we realize that the one thing that makes him vulnerable is his attraction for Lana, an attraction and a vulnerability he doesn’t even think about fighting.
Moreover, Kery takes her time with making sure these are solid characters. A generous but never overpowering look into their lives beyond the other–their families, their past, their actual jobs. One of my favorite scenes was when Lana confronted Jason and “cohorts” with the scandal that could threaten the name she’d built for herself. She doesn’t run away, she doesn’t send proxies in her stead; she’s angry, and she lets them know it–she’s hurt, but try to get that one out of her.
Sex between these two characters is multi-faceted (not to mention well-written, and, well, incredibly steamy). They bring the characters together, and sometimes drive a wedge between them–necessary wedges, I like to think, because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to come to terms with the difficulties they have with each other, the things they (especially Lana) has to reconcile within themselves.
I have come to know that the author’s work is always well-crafted. She takes her time with building her characters that Lana is never just the I Don’t Want This girl, that Jason is never just the Oh Come On Stop Kidding Yourself dude, doling out angst and revelations at just the right moments. And there’s just something about her prose that never stifles, for a book that could potentially be bleak. It’s intense when it needs to be intense, it’s sentimental when it needs to be sentimental, and it can sear your fingertips when it puts its mind to it.
With Paradise Rules, Beth Kery has proven herself to be a versatile author, and is successful at it. I cannot wait to read more of her books.
[On a non-content relevant note: I have been seriously crushing on that girl on the cover. (Oh, I just thought of a bad thing to say about this book, haha–that cover is misleading; I was expecting a flat-chested character a la Diana Palmer, haha. God, Sasha, what a minor whine.) Where was I? Oh yeah: crushing on that girl. Very much.]