REVIEW: Haole Wood by Dee DeTarsio
“When San Diego weathercaster, Jaswinder Park, is mysteriously summoned to the island of Maui in Hawaii to help her grandmother, she ends up losing her job. This fair-haired, light-skinned foreigner, called haole by the natives, decides to stay in Maui for a couple of days until she can figure out what to do with her life. She realizes that her quick trip to Maui may not be all she’s hoping for when:
She has to bail her Hawaiian/Korean grandmother out of jail for possession of pakalolo.
The only thing she can understand her grandmother say is: “Not that.”
She can’t decide which hurts worse, her sunburn, hangover, or memories of the night before.
She’s labeled the “Liquor Licker” on the front page of the Maui News in a photo that shows her doing a shot of tequila with a hunky Hawaiian who’s been found dead.
It seems she’s had orgasms that have lasted longer than her career.
She scrapes the bottom of the barrel to find her guardian angel.
Beautiful fabric found in her grandmother’s closet unfolds a future for Jaswinder as she designs sensuous silky wraps called sunshminas that provide sun protection. She tries for a Hollywood connection, but her company, Haole Wood, has some growing pains. From trying to find a killer, to selling her sunshminas, to lusting after Dr. Jac, the island dermatologist, to trying to ignore her so-called guardian angel, can Jaswinder learn to embrace the island way of life? Aloha!”
Dear Ms. DeTarsio,
It was the cover and then the blurb that got me interested in trying this book. The bright, colorful pineapple is so different from the usual romance cover and I’m like a magpie and attracted to the bright and shiny. And then came Hawaii in the blurb. I’m up for something different from the Mainland Small Town. But it was the first chapter excerpt that sealed the deal with a heroine who sounds funny and also for some reason not too pleased to be in paradise – Hawaiian style. Yep, I was in.
The writing style worked pretty well for me. In the beginning of the book, I like the voice – smooth and easy with a laid back, humorous style. When Jaswinder arrives in Maui, it doesn’t sound too snarky or sarcastic. It’s more world weary, “why am I here when I don’t want to be and have lots of other things I need to be doing even though I do love my grandmother.” Later, after her Guardian Angel shows up, Jaswinder turns a touch sulky and whiny and then sort of clueless about someone but for the most part, the humor kept me entertained.
The murder mystery appears fairly early on though it quickly turned from what I was expecting and onto a different path of suspicion which makes sense since Jaswinder needs to be able to move freely and investigate. I’ll admit that I’m not sure of the legalities involved in a murder investigation and how the police and courts would judge things and make their decisions so I’ll just accept the plot as is. I’m also fuzzy on just how much investigating a defense attorney would be doing. Jaswinder’s bumbling efforts make sense in that she’s not a trained PI and has never done this but she is a journalist and used to asking questions and pushing on in the face of people who don’t want to talk to her. I sensed that the mystery wouldn’t be solved until near the end and after hesitating over two possible suspects, I zeroed in on a certain person. It turns out I was correct and I spent a couple of scenes wanting to say to Jaswinder, “How can you not see what I see? The clues are practically being shoved in your face.” Still this part of the book fades in and out and there were times when Jaswinder seemed more interested in a hot guy then in proving that her grandmother hadn’t murdered someone.
Since this appears to be more Chick-Lit in style, the lack of central focus on a romance didn’t bother me. Though the hero-of-sorts is there throughout the story, the mixed signals of his maybe-maybe-not interest in another person work as the smoke screen to deflect certainty of whether or not he and Jaswinder are an item until late in the book. And even then, I like that you end the story with a HFN.
For the most part, the little tidbits about Hawaii thrown in feel natural, unforced, and easy to digest. That is until the lecture about kakui nuts appears. I know they are central to the island and central to the plot but it felt like a slightly reworked history/social studies lecture. Ditto the slightly odd sounding conversation Jac and Jaswinder have about sugar plantations and pineapple farming. On the other hand, I enjoyed Jaswinder’s surfing lesson with the “surfer dudes” – as I called them – who are sweet in their fierce loyalty to Halmoni.
The main issue I ended up having with the story is Jaswinder’s relationship with her Guardian Angel. Her GA is certainly specific to her heritage and a hoot in and of himself but what starts out cute sort of morphed into a dragging middle part of the story. On and on, the scenes lingered and repeated and didn’t seem to move things forward until the part where the GA joined me in being tired and frustrated with Jaswinder’s whiny demands for help. A little less of this would have gone a long way in making me a happier camper.
My frustrations with Jaswinder’s “help poor, pitiful me’ moaning did eventually morph into satisfaction with the way she discovers and nurtures her inner entrepreneurial spirit. Her deepening relationship with her grandmother is sweet to watch occurring and her care for the islanders who need the business to succeed as much as she does bodes well for her continuing maturation as a person.
I finished the book still liking the voice – mostly – and the way Jaswinder is shaping up and evolving. The romance was on the lite side but this is more about the heroine so, okay. It also satisfied my craving for something different which, after so many years of reading romances is sometimes difficult to do. Overall, it’s a B- for me.