Paradise Island by Gena Hale
(Onyx, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-451-40982-5
**
When you can't see much difference between the hero's behavior and the villain's, you know you're reading a problematic book. Gena Hale's debut, Paradise Island, features one of the more dislikable heroes I've encountered in the past year.

Luke Fleming is a modern-day Jacques Cousteau, a marine archeologist who also happens to be a hunky bachelor beloved by the tabloid press. He's working on a Top Secret project that will keep the world safe for democracy, when a near-naked, sunburned babe washes up on the shore of his private Florida island.

Naturally, although the woman is near death, our hero assumes that she's part of a plot to seduce him. After all, every other woman wants to. When she wakes up, however, she conveniently has a case of amnesia and remembers nothing about who she is or how she got there. Luke christens her "Jade," because of the unusual green ring that she wears. He doesn't trust her, but his Bermuda shorts tent up like the Washington Monument whenever she's around. While Jade slowly starts to recall bits and pieces of her life, some really bad guys start skulking around. Are they after Jade or Luke? Can he trust her? Can she trust him? And what about that tropical storm that is headed their way?

Paradise Island wouldn't be a half-bad debut if it involved Jade and a different hero. Let's leave alone the fact that Jade's amnesia, like that of most romance heroines, has no basis in reality (an entertaining and educational article on Amnesia In Romance can be found at http://www.likesbooks.com/109b.html). But even if you have reservations about that glamorized condition, Jade is pretty engaging. She has skills, she's feisty (not perky, thank god), and she gives great verbal zingers in response to Luke's boorish behavior. Too bad she has such bad taste in men.

I wanted to slap Luke silly at several points in the book. His belief that Jade is part of a Master Plot borders on clinical paranoia. But that doesn't stop him from sexually assaulting her on numerous occasions. First, he encounters her naked in her room, grabs her, and then blames her for leaving the door open. Fortunately, he does finally stop mauling her after a while, but it takes him way too long to realize that No Means No. And that's only one of several occasions on which he overpowers her, demands that she stop fighting, and then sulks away because she puts a halt to the manhandling. I guess I shouldn't totally blame Luke; Jade does prove to be a pushover for domineering men, and of course her "traitorous body" betrays her time and time again. But for god's sake, man, if you're a brilliant, rational scientist, you should have some control over yourself. That behavior isn't sexy, it's scary and offensive.

My pique at Luke reached its pinnacle when the bad guys grab Jade and engage in a little leering and pawing of their own. His empathetic concern when he rescues her struck me as more than a little ironic. When a handsome hero doesn't take no for an answer, that's okay, but when the bad guys do it, they should be shot? I thought this stuff went out with Woodiwiss' The Flame and the Flower.

The book also contains a minor secondary romance between the daughter of Luke's best friend and a long time buddy who isn't happy with their platonic relationship anymore. Their scenes barely register with the reader, though, and the daughter's main contribution to the story is getting in herself trouble so she can be rescued.

For some inexplicable reason, Jade still wants Luke, even after the mystery of her identity is solved. Frankly, I'd suggest that she take the thousands of dollars that the tabloids are offering as proof that someone slept with the big jerk, and buy a ticket to somewhere far away - Fantasy Island, the Survivor island, even Temptation Island. Just not Paradise Island.

I'd like to say that Gena Hale's next book might be more satisfying, but the short excerpt from Dream Mountain introduces a hero who is rescued from a snowstorm by the heroine. Of course he immediately decides that she is either part of the plot to kill him or at the very least a seductress. Here we go again...

--Susan Scribner


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