Island Romance by Sonia Icilyn
(Arabesque/BET, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-58314-009-3
***
Jamaica's lush coffee plantations serve as the backdrop for Island Romance, British author Sonia Icilyn's second Arabesque novel. It is among the growing crop of what I have come to call "diaspora romances" romances between Blacks from various countries within the African diaspora. These novels explore the nuances, experiences and the many cultures within "Black culture."

Cole Richmond has returned to Jamaica to take over Linden Vale, the family's coffee plantation, following the death of his grandfather. Cole was raised and educated in Canada. When his mother became pregnant out of wedlock and refused to name Cole's father, she was exiled to Canada where she remained until her death. Cole barely knew his grandfather and has never known his father.

He has taken over the family business and encountered the resentment of his cousins, Lucas and Tata, who live and work on the family estate. They feel their grandfather has cheated them out of their "due." Cole has new ideas for the business and has hired McIntyre & Wagnall advertising agency to help him. (He saw agency partner Carlane McIntyre at Jamaica Expo during a trip in London and decided he'd like her help a lot.)

British advertising agency executive Carla McIntyre has thrown herself into her work since her highly publicized breakup with a Mike Tysonesque boxer named Darnell Farrell. Darnell emotionally abused Carla and once bit the nose of an opponent! People Magazine and the National Enquirer circulated stories about her stint as the mistress of the WBC heavyweight champion. Carla is on a mission to expunge her past insecurities and redefine herself.

"It had been difficult just finding a way to hold on, but she had been rewarded when the sorts was over. If she could now measure herself beyond the financial, she could be quantified with words like, unbeaten, invincible and evaluated on her self-preservation."

Cole pursues Carla despite her attempts to fight her physical attraction to him. She lays Down "strictly business" ground rules that he deftly circumvents. Their romance is short circuited by family secrets and resentments on both sides, business setbacks, jealousies and a touch of Obeah.

While Island Romance is an engaging novel, the plot and pacing lack the power of Icilyn's first novel, Roses are Red. All the elements are there, they just don't fit together as neatly as in her previous work. The characterizations are strong and the love scenes are passion-filled. The relationship between Cole and Carla are believable. The potency of Carla's character is in her ability to define herself both publicly and privately on her own terms.

Island Romance is worth a look.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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