Sunday, May 8, 2016

Thoughts: Jade Island

Jade Island

by Elizabeth Lowell
Book 2 of Donovan

~ Goodreads ~

Rating:  3.5 Stars

Wild and restless, Kyle Donovan has freed himself from the constraints of his family's high-powered gem-trading empire to rove the world as a treasure hunter. Now the president of Donovan International has given Kyle an assignment with explosive ramifications. A case he must take.

When one of China's legendary cultural treasures is stolen, Lianne Blakely, a mysterious and beautiful jade expert, is accused of the theft. Its Kyle's job to get to the bottom of what could be a potential disaster for the Donovans as well as Lianne.

But Kyle finds himself irresistibly drawn to the exotic beauty and captivated by her fierce claim of innocence. Soon they are in dangerous pursuit of the real thief, drawn deeper into the perils of spiraling power plays, and linked by a passion as powerful as the lore of the ancient culture and as enduring as the splendor of the treasured jade.

While I liked Jade Island and its characters a bit better than I liked the first book, this one isn't without some flaws that I couldn't overlook. Writing style is smooth and detailed, but the narrative did a bit of unnecessary meandering. There were at least two or three scenes in the book that made me wish we could just move on with the story since the present subject didn't mean anything to me, nor did it add to the main conflict.

It's a fairly good read if you're looking for something similar to the first book in the series, Amber Beach, as it goes into detail about the historical significance of a precious stone.  There's then also the inclusion of the theft of a priceless artifact that may or may not have come from a historically significant place that may or may not exist, though there are rumors.  In Amber Beach it was the theft of a panel from the Amber Room; in Jade Island it was the theft of the entire burial tomb of a Ming Dynasty emperor who buried himself in jade.  The little guy gets blamed, the government gets involved and politics are thrown around.

I'm more interested in murder mysteries, to be honest, but this story wasn't all too bad.

Again, like the first book, I mainly love the interactions between the characters and their witty dialogue. The characters are a little better developed in Jade Island than I felt the characters in Amber Beach were -- I sort of... cared more. The history and the info about jade was interesting to read about, much like it was interesting to read about amber. Again, the concluding mystery reveal was pretty predictable, but the build-up to the ending wasn't bad.  As for the mystery itself, it almost felt pretty non-existent. The romance was cute; like Amber Beach, the main couple has quite the chemistry and banter going on. So the book was pretty enjoyable -- possibly one of my favorites so far even if I had some issues and my rating isn't in the "Awesome!" bucket.

I think I'm growing to like the Donovan family, and Kyle is certainly different (if typical) of most romantic suspense male characters. He's standard alpha male with a good heart, good looking and tall, and has that intense need to save his damsel in distress. But of the many main males I've read about, he has to be one of the most cynical male characters I've come across. Whenever physical looks and general attractiveness is mentioned, he keeps deferring to his eldest brother and denying that he's good-looking enough for any female to want to approach. I never thought it possible in men, since it's typically women who put themselves down regularly, as a rule. So this is a first. Although it seems that all the characters in this series so far have a penchant for the cynical.

Lianne doesn't think she's good looking because she's not full-bodied or bright-eyed like the Donovan twins who have mile-high legs.  The Donovan twin sisters think Lianne is more stunning because she's part-Asian, petite and exudes exotic attractiveness.  In a word, "The grass is always greener" and these people spend way too much time playfully being jealous about other's attractiveness.  Even the eldest brother, Archer very subtly puts in his two cents (even if very briefly) about how he ranks his younger brothers as better looking than him with Kyle at the best; Kyle's rankings put Archer at the top with their twin brothers in the middle.

While modesty is a virtue, fishing for compliments is kind of annoying.  It's like my best friend -- this petite-sized, cute-as-a-button, size small girl whom several men have referred to as "hot" -- going around about how she's not pretty enough and how she's fat and trying to show me her "fat" tummy rolls by pinching off a small non-existent millimeter of flabby skin.

I mean, you people are good-looking, sexy, and you attract the attention of the opposite sex like bees to honey, so quit acting like you're Plain Janes, because you have to know that you're good looking!

It just makes the rest of us plebeians feel cranky.

Anyway, on a small side tangent:

I always get a little wary whenever I read anything that infuses Asian culture. At first I worried that things would be overly stereotyped -- there's nothing worse than watching a movie or reading a book about your own culture and cringing at what other cultures' impressions present themselves as. But we spend enough time with the more American side of the story that the Asian aspects didn't seem to be a big deal -- some parts were stereotyped while others were fairly genuine. At least she uses the term "chopsticks" instead of "eating sticks" like some other author I just finished reading.

Traditionally rich Asian family's can get pretty tied up in the whole male dominance side of their culture. Sons and brothers are at each other's throats for the family fortune; family members use one another for their own gain; women and children get sacrificed for the "greater good" of someone's devious plans; there's bloodshed and heartache and.... well, it's all typical melodramatic material.

However, I'm not certain just how subservient the women were during the time this book was written, even in rich, traditional Asian families. While there are still public and social taboos and rules, the women, especially if they were from Hong Kong, were pretty modernized and well-acquainted with the women's rights and such. I'm not saying that these differences don't still exist; the Asian communities, even in Hong Kong, are still pretty backwards thinking when it comes to women, especially in the more traditional families. But women have managed to earn their places for themselves.

For a half-American-Chinese modern girl growing up in Seattle, despite being under the watchful eyes of a traditional Asian family, Lianne Blakely felt too incredibly subservient and traditionally Asian to be possible. I had at least expected a little more fire in her, more of a backbone -- Asian women born in America recognize one thing that they know they have an advantage over Asian women born in China: opportunity and freedom of choice. You can still make a life for yourself without the constraints of family or social standards weighing you down as a woman.

There were moments where I started questioning whether or not Lianne was some peasant girl in ancient historical China (what with her family duty and responsibility and such); but other times I recognized the blatantly American characteristics she had (with her modern thinking and her own career and her own life and such). Then again, she was also stuck with a need to prove that she can be part of the Tang family, even at her own expense; and I can be agreeable with that need to belong to a family, even if that family isn't so ideal. When she was with the Tangs, she loses all her sense of self-worth and lets them walk all over her; when she's outside of her so-called "family" she exudes all the confidences of a modern independent woman who knows to put her own needs into perspective. She was certainly an interesting character for me to analyze casually.

This review was originally posted at Ani's Book Abyss / BookLikes in June 2014.

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