Kimani, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-86450-8
Contemporary Romance, 2016
While she is not a new author, Under the Bali Moon is Grace Octavia’s first Kimani entry, I believe. At the very least, this one is a surprise because I thought the only places characters in this line are allowed to go outside of the USA are Barbados and Jamaica. But then again, while this story is not something that readers haven’t encountered often, the author tries to do things a little differently here. I appreciate that, even if the end result is still on the uneven side.
Zena Nefertiti Shaw, our heroine, is quite the control freak. She has her sister Zola’s life mapped out for the next hundred years, so she is thrown off her equilibrium early in the story when Zola announces that, instead of going to the university hand-picked by Zena, she’s eloping with her boyfriend to Bali instead. More annoyingly, that boyfriend’s brother Adan Frederick Douglass is her ex. Yes, the heroine is Zena Nefertiti Shaw, and the hero is Adan Frederick Douglass, two S’s. What is with these names, seriously? Oh, and the synopsis in the back cover calls the hero “Adan Peters”, which is a good thing as I may have second and even third thoughts if I know his Douglass is spelled with two S’s.
Anyway, Zena heads off Bali too – she’s Zola’s bridesmaid, but she also wants to see whether there is any way she can dissuade Zola from tying the knot. Adan, on the other hand, is happy that his brother is getting hitched, and he also wants to have a second go at a happily ever after with Zena. But can Zena overcome her doubts and insecurities to trust Adan with her heart again?
The story goes from present day to flashback, which is something I don’t come across too often in this line, and, like I said earlier, the author sets things in Bali and the reason for the break-up first time around isn’t a clear-cut miscommunication or misunderstanding drama. But the last one is a double-edged sword in that while the actual reason may be a nice change from evil ho machinations and such, it is also a symptom of the problem plaguing this story: too many of these characters, including the hero, act and think and speak like walking new age philosophy textbooks. If you enjoy AlTonya Washington‘s stories, you may like this one, because the characters here would fit in perfectly in Ms Washington’s books.
“Because I believe in you too much to do that to you. And that’s why I’m doing this. That’s why we’re breaking up. If we stay together, you’ll lose yourself. Lose your dreams. And you losing your dreams, well, that’s not part of my dreams.”
Seriously, Adan speaks like that all the time, and that’s his big break up speech to Zena all those years back, by the way. I’m not kidding – that guy meant it when he wanted the heroine to be free of him so that she could be herself, fly free, and run along the mountains to the colors of the wind… or something like that. Well, he wants her back now, but there’s just something about him that makes me wonder whether, one day, he’d tell the heroine that they need to divorce because he knows that he is making her buy the wrong brand of chicken eggs and, hence, she must be free to buy any eggs of her choice. I don’t know, there’s this patronizing “I’m wise; I know what is best for you” vibe of condescension about him sometimes that I find off putting.
Poor Zena is the designated Miss Wrong in this story. She is already a brittle, unnecessarily confrontational heroine with weird and even contrived issues about men in general, but the story also puts her in situations where she will be corrected by various secondary characters. For example, for some reason, our supposedly independent heroine insists that her sister’s husband-to-be speak and make decisions on behalf of the two of them, only to earn a rebuke from the man who states that he will not treat his wife as a “second class citizen”. Not only is such behavior seem out of character for Zena who is written to be the take-charge I’m-the-boss type… I mean, come on, seriously? While I can’t say I disagree with the author’s values, I have to question the reasoning for her to make her heroine the target of the secondary characters’ soapboxing. Zena needs all the help she can get to become even a little likable, the last thing the poor darling needs is to come off as the star student in her man’s behavioral reformation classes.
I’m being a bit more generous to Under the Bali Moon than I should, I know. Yes, the dialogues often feel very stilted and artificial, and there is a “Teach the ignorant woman, my good man, so that she can be smarter!” vibe to the whole thing that makes me feel uneasy, mostly because the heroine should not be needing the teaching if she was allowed by the author to remain as the character that she started out as. But like I said earlier, this one tries to be different, individual, and a part of me likes the story more than I normally would because of this. I can always stick the fork into the next book.