Talking Story

Book Reviews

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Rell never imagined an 18th birthday like this.

When Rell’s stepmonster Regina summons her to Lauele, Hawai’i, she knows better than to expect umbrella drinks, birthday presents, and open arms. The most she hopes for is some quality time with her twin step-sisters, a walk on the beach, and a little fun at a charity auction sponsored by her father’s corporation.

From the moment Rell lands in Honolulu, her life turns upside down as she reconnects with her Hawaiian heritage and discovers she’s surrounded by hidden agendas, lies, and ancient family obligations.

To save Lauele and Get Wet Prosthetics, Rell will have to navigate an island filled with Menehune day laborers, a snow goddesses’ vacation rental, a toppled sacred ‘aumakua stone, disappearing clothing, ‘Ilima as a not-so-fairy-godmother, and—worst of all—her stepmonster’s lawyers.

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Rell’s Kiss is a standalone novel inspired by Cinderella. It is Book 2 in Lauele Fractured Folktales, reimagined stories inspired by the world’s oldest tales retold with a Hawaiian twist.

Lauele Fractured Folktales are loosely connected standalone stories in the Lauele Universe that can be read in any order.

Rell’s Kiss features characters from the Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy and other works by Lehua Parker. Chronologically, Rell’s Kiss comes after the events in One Truth, No Lie, Book 3 in the Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy.

EBook available from Amazon and Kindle Unlimited. Paperbacks coming soon!

An earlier version of this story was published as Rell Goes Hawaiian in Fractured Slipper, a collection of Cinderella stories published by Tork Media.

When you’re dating a Niuhi shark in human form, there’s no such thing as a casual Hawaiian fling.

The last thing Justin wants is complications. Jilted at the altar, he’s spending his pre-paid Hawaiian honeymoon alone—sort of. Sasha, his ex, won’t get out of his head. Frustrated, he takes a walk at sunset and discovers a beautiful woman asleep on the sand.

But Pua’s not really a woman.

A shape-shifting Niuhi shark, Pua feels compelled to visit the beach at Lauele. She doesn’t care that it’s forbidden by her father, the ocean god Kanaloa, or that breaking kapu can only end in blood, tears, and teeth. Justin’s a tourist. Here today, gone tomorrow.

Nobody’d even miss him.

What starts out as a casual flirtation soon turns into a high-stakes cat and mouse courtship as neither Justin nor Pua are who—or what—they seem.

Lauele—and their world—will never be the same.

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Pua’s Kiss is a standalone novel inspired by The Little Mermaid. It is Book 1 in Lauele Fractured Folktales, reimagined stories inspired by the world’s oldest tales retold with a Hawaiian twist.

Lauele Fractured Folktales are loosely connected standalone stories in the Lauele Universe that can be read in any order.

Pua’s Kiss features characters from the Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy and other works by Lehua Parker. Chronologically, Pua’s Kiss comes before the events in Birth/Hanau and One Boy, No Water, Book 1 in the Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy. It tells the story of how Zader’s parents met and the events that ignited the Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy.

EBook available from Amazon and Kindle Unlimited. Paperbacks coming soon!

An earlier version of this story was published as Pua’s Kiss in Fractured Sea, a collection of Little Mermaid stories published by Tork Media.

 

Lauele Fractured Folktales are here!

These newly imagined stories are loosely inspired by classic western fairy tales and told with a Hawaiian twist. First up are Pua’s Kiss and Rell’s Kiss. These stories will be available in eBook from Amazon and KU on January 8, 2020 and are published by Makena Press. Paperbacks will be available in February. Nani’s Kiss will be available in eBook in February, with paperback soon to follow.

In the future, I’m planning to write more Lauele Fractured Folktales based on the world’s oldest stories and told with a Hawaiian twist. What are some stories you’d like to see?

 


Pua’s Kiss is inspired by The Little Mermaid and tells the story of how Zader’s parents met. When you’re dating a Niuhi Shark in human form, there’s no such thing as a casual Hawaiian fling. It’s a prequel to the Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy, but it’s NOT for middle graders or elementary students. It’s a hard PG 13+ with a fade to black sex scene.

 

 

 

 


Rell’s Kiss. is inspired by Cinderella and tells the story of Rell Watanabe who is summoned to Lauele by her stepmonster and finds herself dealing with Menehune day laborers, Poliahu’s vacation rental, a desecrated ‘aumakua stone, and ‘Ilima as a not-so-fairy godmother. Rell never imagined her 18th birthday like this. The story takes place after the events in the Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy and is a sweet PG romance appropriate for all ages.

 

 

 

 


Nani’s Kiss is inspired by Sleeping Beauty and Beauty & the Beast. After discussing this story further with my editor, I decided to rework it significantly before publication. I’m hoping to release it in early February. The story takes place in the far future on the planet Hawaiki in the space port of Lauele Iki. It’s PG-13 for its mature themes of politics and violence, but PG in language and sex.

 

 

 

 


Lauele Fractured Folktales eBooks are currently only available on Amazon. More stores and formats coming soon.

Big Bad Chief Lino by L. Michelle Tago-Tu’itupou and illustrated by Ash Grover is an English language chapter book written to help kids connect with Samoan culture. Born and raised in American Samoa, Michelle first created this narrative as a bedtime story for her mainland-raised kids.

It’s a charming tale about four sisters with sick parents who have travel past scary Chief Lino to gather food. With echos of the classic Three Billy Goats Gruff, the sisters figure out how to face their fears to take care of their family and community. As in Samoan culture, ‘aiga is the heart of the story, and it solidly deliverers a message of compassion, interdependence, and inclusion.

Just like its original form, Big Bad Chief Lino is a perfect bedtime story. The illustrations by Ash Grover are fun and playful and help bring the characters and action to life. In her afterward, L. Michelle Tago-Tu’itupou says she plans to write more stories like this one so that island kids can see themselves in literature.

Can’t wait.

Big Bad Chief Lino by L. Michelle Tago-Tu’itupou and illustrated by Ash Grover is available in paperback from Amazon.

Ho‘onani: Hula Warrior is a picture book written by Heather Gale, illustrated by Mika Song, and published by Tundra Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. It’s based on the true story of Ho‘onani Kamai, a young gender queer girl growing up in Kalihi Valley who wants to lead the boys in a hula performance. Her story is also told in A Place in the Middle, a documentary written by Kumu Hina Wong-Kalu and produced and directed by Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson.

I first came to this story through the book. Things to love about the book in no particular order: it’s published by a mainstream publisher; it tells a story of empowerment; at its heart the message is inclusive and affirming; it uses Hawaiian language; it brings aspects of Hawaiian culture to a wide audience; it’s a picture book for kids about real people in Hawaii facing modern challenges, not geckos, turtles, or ancient legends. All of these things put this book squarely in the win column.

But.

Sigh.

While there is much to love about the book, I was dismayed and disappointed that it didn’t appear to be a very Hawaiian telling of Ho‘onani’s experience. The story arc is very western—Ho‘onani’s sister Kana plays the traditional role of villain by not initially supporting her in leading the boys and is embarrassed by her being gender queer—called being in the middle in the story. But with encouragement from Kumu Hina, Ho‘onani, the hero, preservers, and Kana supports her in the end. There are other small things that bugged me as outsider-ish, like the illustrations of food on their plates and the curious mixture of proper Hawaiian language complete with kahako and ‘okina markings alongside phonetic interpretations such as “Hai alla, hai alla, eh-oi-ay!” in the dialogue. Really, they just should’ve stuck with the proper language in all the dialogue and used a pronunciation guide in the back.

With such a mixed bag, I didn’t quite know how to review this title.

But then I saw the documentary it’s based on, and it all became so much clearer.

A Place in the Middle is the story I wish Ho‘onani: Hula Warrior  more faithfully told. It’s definitely from a Hawaiian perspective. It doesn’t need a western hero-villain arc to discuss the evolution of mahu—kane-wahine and wahine-kane—people in the middle—from our ancestral past to modern day realities. In the documentary, Ho‘onani is simply who she is, and she has the grace and maturity to articulate that while some people don’t understand her, that’s just who they are, just like she’s just the way she is. The world will catch up to her someday and until then, she’s going to continue to lead, learn, and teach. Kumu Hina’s example and message that breaks down to as a kid, sometimes you have to bend to others’ expectations, but when you’re a grown-up, you won’t is chicken-skin powerful. Ho‘onani is supported by her school, family, and community. We’re on the journey to see her in action. She’s not a problem to solve.

And I really like that.

I also like that she calls herself a girl because she has physical girl parts, but identifies as in the middle because she possess both masculine and feminine energy. Refreshingly, neither the documentary nor the book discuss her sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is often confused with identity and can pull the focus away from exploring cultural gender roles, which is really what this story is about.

Should you buy Ho‘onani: Hula Warrior ?

Absolutely. We need more books like this one. The only way this will happen is if we can demonstrate to traditional publishers that there is a demand for these kinds of books.

But be sure to watch the documentary, A Place in the Middle. Just click here or on the title in this article  to get to the website where you can view it for FREE. There are also free classroom materials and other short videos on that website.

Taken together, the book and documentary will give folks a lot to think and talk about with their keiki. And that’s a good thing.

Ho‘onani: Hula Warrior , written by Heather Gale and illustrated by Mika Song and published by Tundra Books, is available from Amazon.

A Place in the Middle can be viewed at https://aplaceinthemiddle.org/ .

“Gamble” is a new short story I wrote that’s coming out in an anthology called Grifty Shades of Fey, published by Fiction Vortex.

It’s a noir story, kinda like a something from the 1950s in tone. “Gamble” is about a mortal named Jace, the goddess of Chance, a kidnapped woman about to be whisked away to another dimension by some serious baddies, and a pair of dice that reveal whether a venture will be successful–or not. There’s nothing particularly Hawaiian in this one, but it was a lot of fun to write.

Grifty Shades of Fey features stories about fairies, brownies, and other creatures that go bump in the night by best-selling fantasy, horror, and speculative fiction authors. It’s only available for a short time in hardback, paperback, and eBook. Click on the link below to order your copies in time for Christmas.

Grifty Shades of Fey

 

A Song for the Stars by Ilima Todd is set in Hawai’i in 1779 at the time of Captain James Cook. It tells a fictional story of John Harbottle, an English officer serving as the Hawaiian translator for Cook, and Maile, the second daughter  of Kalani, the ruling chief. When Cook and his ships return unexpectedly to Hawai’i, important navigational instruments and maps are stolen. There’s a battle on the beach, and lives are lost on both sides. Against her better judgement,  Maile first nurses, then teaches John ancient Hawaiian wayfinding techniques to help the British sailors return home. Meanwhile, John’s men teach Kalani and his warriors how to fight with western guns to defend their village from an imminent attack from Wai’ole, an island to the south.

If your head is spinning, chillax. It’s historical romance, not a history book. Ilima takes several liberties with the historical timeline, geography, and Hawaiian cultural protocols to tell a story that appeals to both a Hawaiian and mainland audience. It’s a “what if” story with roots in Ilima’s own family history. The real John Harbottle was instrumental to Kamehameha I in 1795 during the Battle of Nu’uanu on ‘Oahu, an event more than 15 years in the future from Cook’s landing in 1779. In gratitude, Harbottle was gifted a high-ranking bride. A descendant of the real John Harbottle and his high chiefess wife Papapaunauapu, Ilima wanted to explore what it would be like to be “given” to a foreigner in marriage. While her original “what if” idea and family history are the genesis of her novel, the book’s themes and plot stretch well beyond those initial inspirations.

Ilima breaks with the historical record in ways only someone who has studied Hawaiian culture and history will catch. Foremost in her mind was her audience. A Song for the Stars is part of Shadow Mountain’s Proper Romance series and is marketed to regency romance readers who expect a specific kind of story–and Ilima delivers. Maile, her heroine is strong, independent, and capable. John is honest, forthright, and tender. It’s a story of equals from different cultures that deftly avoids the noble savage and white savior tropes so common in cross-culture stories. We see the main story from Maile’s point of view interspersed with John’s point of view from excepts from his journal, a technique that helps the reader appreciate the deeper cultural consequences of the characters’ actions.

Many reviewers compare A Song for the Stars with Moanawhich I understand, but find extremely frustrating because the stories aren’t similar at all. The comparison points to the dearth of authentic stories about Polynesians in mainstream media. We need more books that challenge expectations, more island voices redefining Pacific Literature for modern audiences. Mahalo, Ilima, for blazing a new path. I mua! Can’t wait for the next one.

A Song for the Stars by Ilima Todd is published by Shadow Mountain and is available in eBook, paperback, hardback, library binding, and audiobook from Amazon and other purveyors of fine books.

‘Aumakua whisper in my ear.

I want to ride the lightning.

In the shower this morning, an entire story burst into my head. It’s a post-apocalyptic tale set in Hawaii and told from the perspective of a young local girl who learns to survive through traditional Hawaiian ways as taught by her grandfather. She’ll have to be very, very clever.

I think it’s partially Mauna Kea on my mind.

Before we can create the world we want to live in, we have to first imagine it, and then believe it’s possible. That’s the power of story. It seeps into subconscious cracks. Without saying it baldly, a story like this says, “Of course, Hawaiians thrive in the future, and their culture flourishes. Duh! A return to internalizing traditional values can help heal the world.”

But.

There is always a but.

So much else to do today. Deadlines are looming on other projects. I just…can’t.

But I see you, little one, standing in the shadows, with your puka shirt and “Wot? I owe you money?” look in your eye. You have a lot to tell me.

I want to listen and talk story with you.

Soon, titah. Promise.

I’m so excited to add these books to my collection. They are the same book with two different covers in two different languages: Hawaiian and English.

Published by Awaiaulu Press, the English edition is The Epic Tale of Hi’iakaikapoliopele as told by Ho’oulumahienhie and translated by M. Puakea Nagelmeien. The Hawaiian edition is Ka Mo’olelo o Hi’iakaikapoliopele

This ancient saga details the quest of Pele’s younger sister, Hi’iakaikapoliopele, to find the handsome Lohi’auipo and bring him back to their crater home. Graced with a magical skirt and wielding supernatural powers, Hi’iaka and her companions make their way through dangers and ordeals, facing spectral foes and worldly wiles. It is a very human account of love and lust, jealousy and justice, peopled with deities, demons, chiefs and commoners.  It highlights Hi’iaka’s role as a healer, source of inspiration, and icon of the hula traditions that embody the chants and dances of Pele and Hi’iaka. At over 500 pages, this is the most extensive form of the story every documented, offering a wealth of detail and insights about the social and religious practices, poetry and hula, the healing arts, and many other Hawaiian customs.

Did I mention the illustrations? Fabulous.

One day I hope to be able to flip easily between the two, but that day is a looooong way off.

In my office are shelves full of books I cannot read yet. I buy them because I think it’s important to support native language books. If we believe that language and is life and that written words connect generations, then we need to support these kinds of efforts in ways beyond good thoughts and well-wishes.

You want more diverse books, characters, films, music, art? Then support the arts in all forms. Go to local plays, concerts, art shows, books signings, film festivals, and kokua as you can. Simply leaving a positive review or spreading the word does more good than people realize.

The world’s a better place with many voices telling their stories. Let’s amplify and pass the mic.

First published in Japan in 2000, Go reminded me a little of Cather in the Rye, Romeo and Juliet, and A Separate Peace. There’s that same earnest yearning in the protagonist for things to be different, for the world to change, and the same youthful expectation that he will be the one to change it. There’s also a fatalistic, melancholy undertone that no matter how hard the protagonist tries, he’s not going to win.

But that’s probably my interpretation as someone well past her teens. The youth are fearless. It’s a coming of age novel after all.

The Japanese to English translation by Takami Nieda is good. Go won a Naoki Literature Prize, high praise indeed. It’s a story about racial tensions, belonging, forbidden love, social class, nationality, and generational connections. Everything pointed to a story I’d love, except…

I dunno.

I liked it, but I wasn’t as thrilled as I thought I’d be.

Not all stories speak to all readers. I think I wanted more from this story–more deliberate action and growth in the protagonist and less angst. Maybe a more even tone–something that was consistently funny or serious. But what I wanted might not have been appropriate for this kind of Japanese literature. Given how beloved this book is in its native Japan, I’m sure the fault is in me.

Go: A Coming of Age Novel by Kazuki Kaneshiro and translated by Takami Neida is available from Amazon and other fine retailers.

 

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When you’re allergic to water,
growing up in Hawaii
isn’t always paradise.

With Niuhi sharks,
even out of the water,
you’re not safe.

Everything you thought you knew
about Zader is a  lie.