Review: Islands by Samatha Kane

Lieutenant Commander Gabriel Conlan, United States Navy Seabees, knows he’s not in Kansas anymore when he steps off the launch at the small island of Ile Dorée and sees gorgeous Frenchman René Dubois waiting for him on the dock. The year is 1943, the place is the Pacific and the world is at war. Free from the censure of the military, Gabe has an explosive affair with René. But when the world intrudes, Gabe denies René and tries to forget the best sex of his life.

The only westerner on his small Pacific island, René is desperately lonely. When the tall, lanky American steps onto his dock, René knows his life will never be the same. He teaches Gabe how to make love to a man and, unexpectedly, falls in love. René will brave prejudice, Japanese Zeros and Gabe’s reluctance to find love at last.

Review by Vashtan

I don’t actually read much “romance” outside reviewing here –personally, I much prefer what I call “love stories”, which may or may not end well. I prefer those love stories to have a plot (and, no, “boy meets boy” is rarely enough plot for me). In any case, I like stories to offer more than: “they meet, they have hot sex, and then the author makes up some implausible reason why they can have a happily forever after.”

Or maybe I have just read too much bad romance. I’ve recently educated myself about this much-maligned genre, that, to be frank, I haven’t taken very seriously in the past, and that according to some, makes up 60% of total book sales. Wow.

According to every book I’ve read on the genre (and I want to point you back at Josh Lanyon’s excellent “Man Oh Man” ) you *need* a plot. And a plot is more that the hawt sex.

I was vaguely amused when I got both “Pacific Nights” by Lynn Lorenz and “Islands” by Samantha Kane in the same email from Erastes (you know the drill… for the purpose of this review). Both are set in the Pacific during WWII.

To make this pretty short, Samantha Kane’s “Islands” runs circles around “Pacific Nights”. Not only does she run circles around the other book, she supplied me with a genuinely enjoyable read. Now, I’mthe nasty grouch on this blog, and I’m more likely to shred something than praise it. Behold, I’m going to praise this.

I don’t actually like “romance” much, if we define “romance” as a genre of improbably beautiful men destined for each other from the moment they lay eyes upon each other and have fantastic sex and then, after some little obstacle on the way, fall into each others’ arms to swear love forevermore. It takes a lot for me to “buy” that. Kane’s characters are larger-than-life, there is a sense of “high drama” about this – but I still buy this, because this book is carefully orchestrated and reminds me a lot of the movies of those times. Glamorous, stylised, somewhat unlikely, with dialogue that is dramatic more than realistic. And the author uses that to full effect, have a taste here:

He walked toward the small launch. There were only four men aboard, so this was to be a brief visit. His chest constricted. He would make the most of their stay, invite them to dinner at the villa, open a few bottles of his best wine and ply them for information of the outside world. He was so hungry for news, for company, for conversation. He loved Île Dorée and the people who lived here. He had no desire to leave, but sometimes he felt like Robinson Crusoe with a hundred Fridays. He wanted the companionship of westerners. He longed for the sharp twang of an American. He’d even settle for the crisp tones of an Englishman or the nasal diction of his native France. Anything from someone who didn’t remind him he was a stranger in this strange and beautiful world.

When a lanky American hopped up onto the dock from the deck of the boat René went still, waiting. The American was tall and fresh-looking, young, handsome. For a moment, René felt as if he were in a Hollywood film watching the hero walk out of the sunset. Or did they do that at the end of the film? Yes, they saved the girl and defeated the villain, then they walked into the sunset. This American resembled a Hollywood actor.

Yes, and it’s a Hollywood movie.

The book begins with the Frenchman, Rene Dubois, who was a former French Foreign Legionnaire, speaking a lot of French, something that can easily be grating, because the author is laying it on pretty thickly. And there’s Lieutenant Commander Gabriel Conlan, who is sent to negotiate with Dubois about the use of his island for military purposes. Both men clearly fall in love very hard; Rene is the suave, unashamed, romantic Frenchman (and he plays it to the hilt, and playing it for Gabriel’s sake). Gabriel is the man worried about his career in the United States Navy Seabees, the engineer corps, and who has never loved romantically, only sexually.

The setting is the tropical island if Ile Doree (“golden island”) in 1943, which is located near the Ellice Islands, today’s Tuvalu. The island comes across much like a paradise endangered by war – and prejudice, because the local Samoans not only don’t care about homosexuality in their midst, they have so-called fa’afafine, a third gender of boys brought up as and dressing and behaving as girls, and Rene is very protective of his people and their culture.

The US Navy wants to build an airfield and hospital on the island that Rene owns, and that provides the conflict between these two men, which, like in any good romance, is resolved and everything turns out well for everybody. Of course. Happy sigh.

Kane succeeds in making me believe in this setting; her details are, as far as I can tell, accurate and well-researched. People talk about types of planes, locations, ranks, politics – in short, they actually do inhabit this world, which makes this a real historical romance for me. The story and description is a little sappy – but in the good way.

Think Hollywood movie, think weeping violins in the background, dramatic lightning, and beautiful people. It’s a forties movie rather than a gritty war story, and that works surprisingly well for me.

There is a plot – the plot is the danger that the war poses to Ile Doree, and how Rene fights to protect it. There is an air raid, and the military detail fit the story. Kane has clearly gone to lengths to make this as real as possible. There is also Gabriel’s development from a man who had anonymous fucks to a man who truly, romantically, loves another man.

The book has a few small issues, one of them is the formatting that gives us squished chapter headings and paragraph breaks in unlikely places, but if you want a sweet, historical romance with a happy ending (and lots of sexual tension and steamy sex) here’s a book I’d recommend. At just over 30thousand words and about 120 pages, I would have liked this to be longer (Rene just screams for more stories about him), but overall, I found this to be a satisfying read.

Author’s Website

Buy at Ellora’s Cave

6 Responses

  1. This sounds good. I might have to check it out. I like WWII stories when they are well written.

  2. So glad you enjoyed this book too, Vashtan. A sweet, romance with that 40’s movie feel to it & some hot scenes… that’s exactly it — I loved the WWII setting and what Kane did with it too. Lovely review. :)

  3. Enjoyed your review of “Islands” but I actually read it the other night before your review was posted – LOL. All that pre-review chat about
    it on your LJ, coupled with Hilcia’s earlier musings and I caved.
    Read it in one sitting the other night. I enjoyed it very much
    and yes I agree it should have been longer and some stories about
    Rene’s younger and more carefree days would be most welcomed.
    Although I gotta say that I did develop a thing for Gabriel. I liked the
    chemistry between the two characters.

    • Thanks, Indi – we seem to have a strangely similar taste. :) I liked Gabriel, too, but I have a thing for French Foreign Legionnaires…

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