Talking Story

Pacific Literature

bone_coverRounding out my Samoan fiction summer reads is The Bone Bearer by Lani Wendt Young, book three in her Telesa series. With book 2, When Water Burns ending with a literal bang of epic proportions, the story landscape was wide open for book 3 and Lani didn’t disappoint.

In the hospital Leia doesn’t remember much of anything after the time she first arrived in Samoa. Daniel, Simone, and Keahi are strangers to her and you can imagine all the tip-toeing around her fire gifts. Meanwhile Telesa from all over the Pacific gather in Samoa to discuss an ancient doomsday prophecy about to be fulfilled, the return of Pele the terrible herself. Besides the looming threat that all male Telesa should be killed as soon as their gifts are discovered, there’s an ancient bone broken into three pieces and hidden that has to be recovered and united by our gang before Pele gets control and absorbs all the Telesa power forever.

Did I mention Leia’s acting weird?

We meet some new characters, see alliances formed and double-crossed, delve deeper into Pacific mythology flavored with Lani’s unique spin, see cultural biases in conflict as male Telesas are revealed, and finally learn who is Leia’s true soul mate.

It’s an entertaining and satisfying read full of smoky, smoldering heat, adventure, and shhhnap! comic relief from my favorite fa’afafine in literature, Simone. (I swear I went to school with the real Simone, but I digress.) Readers of the first books in the series will not be disappointed. The epilogue even jumps 10 years into the future to show us a sneak peek of how it all turns out. While this book was supposed to end the series, rumor has it that Lani isn’t quite finished with at least some of the characters. Can’t wait.

The Bone Bearer by Lani Wendt Young is self-published and available from Amazon as an eBook and trade paperback. Don’t miss the other works in the series: Telesa: The Covenant Keeper, I am Daniel Tahi (companion novella), and When Water Burns.

 

lani_wendt_youngConnect with Lani Wendt Young

Bookstore/Blog: http://laniwendtyoung.me/

Telesa Series Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Telesa-Trilogy/146318935466086?fref=ts

Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/laniwendtyoung

Click to read my review of Telesa: The Covenant Keeper, I am Daniel Tahi, When Water Burns, and The Bone Bearer.banner

 

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When Water Burns is the second book in the Telesa series by Lani Wendt Young. Loosely based on Polynesian legends, the series is about Leila and Daniel’s discovery of their telesa powers and the complicated alliances and challenges that come from having gifts of fire and water.

One of the great storylines in this book is the will they/won’t they molten fire dance of desire between Leila and Daniel. It’s a great example of a mature and realistic approach to acknowledging and dealing with those overwhelming feelings of new love. Too often fiction assumes that teens have no control or boundaries when it comes to intimacy. It’s also refreshing that it’s Daniel who has the strong moral code based on his grandparents’ traditional Samoan family values.

But When Water Burns is much more than a my-true-love’s-a-fire-goddess-which-threatens-my-own-masculinity tale. The Big Bads in book 1 haven’t been entirely defeated and a few new ones are introduced. Themes about the need to care for the earth and nature being out of balanced are further explored in a race to recover a lost nuclear device, and while readers hope that Leila and Daniel are destined to be together forever, it’s not smooth sailing. As much as she loves Daniel, Leila’s gifts might have something else in mind when Keahi paddles his canoe along Samoa’s shores, voyaging far from his Hawaiian home.

Lani takes us swimming in the deep end with her explorations of belonging, violence against women, gender inequality, and taking charge of one’s own life, but it’s all handled with a deftly light touch that doesn’t feel forced or preachy. Simone’s back and fiercer than ever with a wit and wisdom that keeps the story humming.

Although it’s a complete story, readers are going to want to read Telesa: The Covenant Keeper and I am Daniel Tahi, a companion novella before When Water Burns. Good thing the third book, The Bone Bearer is now available. You won’t believe what happens next!

When Water Burns by Lani Wendt Young is self-published and available from Amazon as an eBook and trade paperback. Don’t miss the other works in the series:Telesa: The Covenant Keeper,  I am Daniel Tahi, and The Bone Bearer.

lani_wendt_youngConnect with Lani Wendt Young

Bookstore/Blog: http://laniwendtyoung.me/

Telesa Series Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Telesa-Trilogy/146318935466086?fref=ts

Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/laniwendtyoung

Click to read my review of Telesa: The Covenant Keeper, I am Daniel Tahi, When Water Burns, and The Bone Bearer.

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Book 2 is heading to the copy editor where all the commas get put into the right places!

Until then, here’s a little taste of One Shark, No Swim.

full_9_bigI climbed on the toilet tank and stuck my head out the window. The drop was near the front door to Hari’s store. A little below me and to the left was the hand railing for the upstairs lānai that ran along Uncle Kahana’s living room. I was pretty sure I could make it.

Pretty sure.

I was holding onto the window frame hugging the outside wall with the ball of my right foot resting on the railing when I heard a plop. I looked down. A young haole girl with a sunburned nose was looking up at me. A large yellow and orange shave ice was melting at her feet.

“Mom!” she yelled. “There’s a naked boy covered in lipstick climbing out a window!”

I froze. I couldn’t go back and I couldn’t go forward.

“Jeanie!” a woman’s voice scolded from the store.

“Mom! He’s got weeds wrapped around his ankle and wrist!”

Please, let me die and end this, I prayed. But whatever happens, please don’t let anyone show up with a smart phone or camera. If this gets out I’ll never live it down.

“Go away!” I mouthed at her.

“He wants me to go away!”

“What did I say about telling stories?” the woman said.

“But Mom, this time it’s true!”

I sensed more commotion under me, shadows and light flickering like schools of fish on the reef. I peered down.

“Jeanie! Look what you did! Your snow cone’s all over—” the voice trailed off.

Bleach blond hair and mega-sized sunglasses stared up at me. I closed my eyes.

Next to me the sliding door swept open and a strong brown arm wrapped around my body, lifting me over the railing and onto the lānai. Uncle Kahana leaned down.

“Aloha! So sorry about the shave ice! Tell the girl at the counter Kahana said to give you a new one! On the house, of course! Have a nice day!”

As he pushed me through the open door and into living room I heard the woman say, “Hush, Jeanie, hush! I told you it’s another culture! The whole island is like going to Chinatown in San Francisco. Now do you want a free snow cone or not?”

All excerpts and short stories copyright © 2012 by Lehua Parker. Excerpts from the Niuhi Shark Saga by permission of Jolly Fish Press, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of these excerpts may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. No part of these short stories may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.

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As a writer and reader, I find it a fascinating experiment to retell a story from another character’s viewpoint in a way that is fresh and exciting. In her companion novella to the Telesa series, I am Daniel Tahi, Lani Wendt Young takes us back through the events in Telesa: The Covenant Keeper through the eyes of Daniel Tahi, the Samoan hunk and moral heart of the Telesa series.

Telesa, book 1, is told from Leila Folger’s outsider point of view. Raised in America by a Caucasian father, Leila doesn’t know her Samoan family or heritage and the reader is introduced to Samoan culture, values, and traditions through Leila’s eyes.  

In this novella, a basic understand of Samoan culture is assumed and the viewpoint and voice are convincingly masculine and testosterone driven. I gotta admit it was a lot of fun to revisit scenes already knowing Leila’s motivations and feelings and discovering Daniel’s. There’s also some new material in the novella that fills some narration gaps I felt were in Telesa. While you could skip this side story in the series and continue straight to book 2, When Water Burns, fans will enjoy getting to know Daniel better.

lani_wendt_youngI am Daniel Tahi by Lani Wendt Young is self-published and available from Amazon as an eBook and trade paperback. Don’t miss the other works in the series: Telesa: The Covenant Keeper, When Water Burns, and The Bone Bearer.

Connect with Lani Wendt Young

Bookstore/Blog: http://laniwendtyoung.me/

Telesa Series Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Telesa-Trilogy/146318935466086?fref=ts

Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/laniwendtyoung

Click to read my review of Telesa: The Covenant Keeper, I am Daniel Tahi, When Water Burns, and The Bone Bearer.banner

 

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‘Ewa Which Way by Tyler Miranda peels back the bandage of what adults think adolescence is like to expose the raw, oozing strawberry of reality. I loved this book for its ability to show all the complicated rules, expectations, and entanglements of being a 12-year-old boy trying to make sense out of adult behavior. Set in ‘Ewa Beach, Hawaii in 1982, Landon DeSilva and his brother Luke know that lickins can fall from the sky like lightning, that a certain side-eye from a parent means a storm’s coming, and that sometimes no matter how long you hold your breath you can’t escape, but have to endure the wave to the end.

For Landon, things are bad at home, but not bad enough. Not enough for child protective services to swoop in and spirit Landon and Luke to a new home, not enough for the cops to do more than show up when his parents’ fights wake the neighbors, and not enough for his mother to realize her marriage is over. Throughout the novel Landon tries to figure out what he’s supposed to do when there’s really nothing he can. His parents’ troubles are deep—there’s guilt, prejudices of class and race, loss, alcohol abuse and valium popping coping mechanisms, unfulfilled expectations, and sheer dysfunction. Landon sees it all with the clarity of a twelve-year-old and his reactions and understandings are heartbreaking and true. Adult readers will read not only the story, but all the words and character motivations between the lines. It’s powerful, immediate, and like a bloody scrapped knee, painfully evocative of the transition between childhood and adulthood.

Tyler’s lyrical writing hit so many of the details of growing up in Hawaii pitch perfect—the politics of school bullies and teachers, the endless hours of chores (I so remember scrubbing toilets with Comet and Scott towels and weeding Saturday mornings in heat that felt like standing in a clothes dryer), frustration with siblings who seem to glory in amplifying the problems instead of flying under the radar, conflicting messages between Catholic church teachings and family actions, and the blessed escape an hour in the ocean can be. I particularly enjoyed Tyler’s description of surfing and futzing around in the shore break as a kid. It’s some of the most evocative passages about being in the ocean I’ve ever read.

There’s an argument in literary circles about the difference between books about kids and books for kids, with the educational conceit that kids will read stories about characters their age and a little older, but not younger. While Landon begins the novel as a sixth grader, (well, technically looking back to sixth grade), this book is not for the fourth–seventh grade crowd. My recommendation is for readers grade eight to adult for several reasons.

‘Ewa Which Way is finely crafted as literary fiction and by that I mean it’s rich in symbolism, allegory, metaphor, and has well-developed themes. As entertaining as it is, it’s also perfect for deconstruction in a literature class for kids old enough to appreciate the nuances in the writing. There is much for readers to explore in this novel that goes beyond a simple analysis of plot, character development, and setting. Like To Kill a Mocking Bird, Huck Finn, and The Chosen, ‘Ewa Which Way is a peek into a world few readers know and understand with a storyline that feels universal.  (And yes, I do consider ‘Ewa Which Way  a Pacific Lit equivalent to Huck Finn. Thanks for asking.)

Another challenge is the language—there’s a lot of Pidgin English construction in the dialogue, mainly dis, dat, an’ da oddah ting kind of phrasing. This version of Pidgin is common on ‘Oahu public school playgrounds, and I think ultimately easier for the non-Pidgin speaker to understand than a more a hard-core version of Pidgin liberally sprinkled with words like hammajang, lolo, and pau. In telling his story Tyler used an authentic interpretation of Hawaiian Pidgin English’s sounds and rhythms that native Pidgin speakers will have no trouble reading, but it requires a little more decoding for English-only speakers. I think this extra work puts it out of the range of most mainland elementary and intermediate readers.

A final red flag that it’s for older kids is the occasional swearing, which might make parents and teachers of younger readers uncomfortable. Don’t worry, the language isn’t a  gratuitous Sopranos-bar-of-soap-on-the-tongue fest and it’s used to good effect. Yes, I understand kids know, hear, and use these words, but parents and teachers are the ones who buy the books, and in their eyes, there’s a big difference between what’s appropriate for sixth and eighth grade. It’s the only reason I mentioned it.

I loved this book and can’t recommend it too highly. It’s the kind of novel that makes you think about all the Landons in the world and the DeSilvas next door. Readers looking to remember growing up in Hawaii or wanting to experience life as an island kid are in for a real treat.

‘Ewa Which Way by Tyler Miranda is published by Bamboo Ridge Press and is available in trade paperback at most Hawaii bookstores and Costco or online at Bamboo Ridge Press, SPD, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.

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On June 21, 2013 I was privileged to meet some very talented young authors at Brigham Young University. Click on Fan Art to see how they answered the question, “What would you draw on the bottom of a surfboard to chase away a shark?”003_ws

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Telesa: The Covenant Keeper, book 1 in the Telesa Series by Lani Wendt Young is nothing but trouble. It starts out innocently enough with orphaned Leila Folger as a recent private all girls’ high school graduate leaving Washington D.C. against her grandmother’s wishes to meet her mother’s Samoan family for the first time. Born with a privileged silver spoon and raised by her recently deceased Caucasian father, it’s easy to predict the conflicts of wealth vs. modest means, American permissiveness vs. traditional Samoan conservative values, and the culture shock of everything from the food to church to going to school with boys. Lani nails all the angst of being on the cusp of womanhood perfectly and these themes are well-developed and a pleasure to read.

But Sistah Lani didn’t stop there and that’s why this book is Trouble with a capital T. After I started reading, dishes piled in the sink. Kids were late to piano and soccer and shhhhh, Mom’s working was yelled all too frequently. Dinner? Order pizza, I’m busy.

Fo’real. The Covenant Keeper takes Samoan legends of Teine Sa and Pele, who I know best as the Hawaiian goddess of volcanos, and creates a new mythology that sizzles. Hoping to discover her Samoan roots, Leila uncovers family secrets beyond anything you can imagine.

I love that Leila is a modern woman who questions her gifts with a scientific mind. She respects tradition, but isn’t afraid to blaze her own trail or shake up the status quo.

Did I mention the love triangle? Break out the fans, people! I doubt there is anything more beautiful than a young Samoan man who is kind, moral, graceful, and athletic. Sparkly vampires? Give me a break! One love song from Daniel and you won’t remember why you liked vampires or werewolves in the first place.

And that’s the key–like the Twilight series this book is written for young adults from their perspective. Leila’s powers, love, relationships, and emotions are raw, new, and overwhelming. If you can remember being 18 and in love for the first time, you’ll be highly entertained as you escape to a fantastical vision of life in Samoa for an afternoon.

Telesa: The Covenant Keeper by Lani Wendt Young is self-published and available from Amazon as an eBook and trade paperback. Don’t miss the other works in the series,  I am Daniel Tahi, When Water Burns, and The Bone Bearer.

 

lani_wendt_youngConnect with Lani Wendt Young

Bookstore/Blog: http://laniwendtyoung.me/

Telesa Series Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Telesa-Trilogy/146318935466086?fref=ts

Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/laniwendtyoung

 

Click to read my review of Telesa: The Covenant Keeper, I am Daniel Tahi, When Water Burns, and The Bone Bearer.

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Lehua, Ka‘ao a ka Wahine, by Gene J. Parola combines historical narrative with forbidden romance to paint a portrait of life in Hawai‘i circa 1819,  just as Queen Ka‘ahumanu lifts the kapu, essentially abolishing the ancient Hawaiian religion and turning the caste system on its head. It’s a period of Hawaiian history that is often glossed over as teachers tend to quickly move to the coming of the Christian missionaries soon after, and I appreciated a more thoughtful approach to the effect these changes had on both the ali‘i and maka‘ainana—chiefs and commoners alike.

When I studied Hawaiian history in school, Queen Ka‘ahumanu’s actions were portrayed as noble, wise, modern. It’s only lately that the hardships of the kapu system and other less noble motives such as a desire for worldly material possessions at too high a cost are being openly discussed as part of  a more balanced conversation about that time.

As a descendant of both the white merchants and the ali‘i, I remember many family conversations, arguments really, about the reasons the Hawaiian nation was eventually conquered by business interests supported by the US government and whether or not this was a pono. Through Lehua’s journey, I was better able to understand the different points of  view.

I just wish I could go back in time to some of those family discussions and ask more questions!

Lehua is the first in a trilogy that follows a young ali‘i woman through this turbulent time. I look forward to continuing the conversation.

Lehua, Ka‘ao a ka Wahine, by Gene J. Parola is self-published and available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble as a trade paperback and eBook.gene_parola

Connect with Gene J. Parola

Twitter: https://twitter.com/gjparolawrites

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/gene.parola

Blog: http://www.geneparola.com/

 

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If you scratched Kiana Davenport, beneath her sophisticated, erudite veneer I think you’d find the heartbeat of a no-nonsense Waimanalo titah, a contradiction that makes her work a delight to read.

I just finished Opium Dreams, volume three in her Pacific Stories collection, and like in her previous volumes Cannibal Nights and House of Skin, I found myself slipping into the skins of the narrators. You don’t read her stories so much as breathe them along with her characters. Her eye for the small telling detail that reveals epic amounts of information is exquisite and her deft handling of imagery often makes the prose sing like poetry.

Da titah can write. Period.

I’ve admired Kiana’s work for a long time. Her main characters are often mixed-raced Polynesian women trying to make a life for themselves on the margins of western culture. The women in her stories survive abuse, make poor choices, bow under the burdens  of history and culture, and fall to the whims of turn-on-a-dime fate. They also seize life and triumph in ways large and small. They are spectacularly flawed, raw, and real. Kiana has the knack of taking something alien to most western experiences and making it universal.

In Opium Dreams, her stories are about anger and revenge, self-destruction,  the inevitable consequences of action vs. inaction, and the grace of forgiveness. In Kiana’s worlds, family is who you chose, and that choice is everything.

Opium Dreams by Kiana Davenport is available as an eBook through Amazon and is her first foray into self-publishing.  It’s a steal at 99 cents. Be sure to check out her other titles: House of Skin, Cannibal Nights, Shark Dialogues, House of Many Gods, Song of the Exile, and The Spy Lover. I guarantee you’ll be haunted by these characters’ lives for years.

DavenportConnect with Kiana Davenport

Blog: http://kianadavenportdialogues.blogspot.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kiana.davenport

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BRAXTONRO

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Pono is a complex Hawaiian word with connotations of righteousness, balance, and propriety. It’s one of the themes I try to develop in the Niuhi Shark Saga as characters make choices that place them in or out of being pono.

Ho‘o means to do or make; so ho‘o pono describes a way of being, of living one’s life in harmony with correct principles. As a student at The Kamehameha Schools, our Hawaiian culture teacher once told us that if there was only one thing we could remember from our time with her, she wanted it to be the concept of ho‘o pono. While I can’t remember all the place names we memorized, which fish were kapu during which seasons, or the number of voyages to Tahiti and back, I do remember her words about ho‘o pono.

So it was with great interest that I picked up Pali Jae Lee’s book Ho‘o pono: The Hawaiian Way to Put Things Back into Balance. Part oral history, part memoir, the book shares some of the family traditions and stories handed down from Ka‘ili‘ohe and Makaweliweli descendants from Molokai.

One of the central stories is really a parable about ho‘o pono. All children are born with an upright bowl of Light that grows with them and allows them to know and understand all things. But when a child is resentful or envious, he drops a stone into his bowl and a little of the Light goes out. If enough stones fill his bowl, the child becomes like stone, unable to move or grow. By turning his bowl over, the stones fall away and Light comes back.

It’s a simple, beautiful, and elegant metaphor for all the baggage we carry—no matter the era. These and other parables help give a voice to the past in ways that resonate with the future.

There was a time in Hawaiian families when nothing sacred or significant was shared with outsiders because only family would understand and respect the deeper truths. Looking at Hollywood’s version of Hawaiian culture, it’s not a big stretch to say what is often portrayed as Hawaiian has been misinterpreted, twisted, or fabricated out of whole cloth. But times are changing, and as more families are coming forward with their histories that challenge common perceptions, a clearer, truer picture of Hawaiian culture is emerging.

May all your bowls be filled with Light.

Ho‘o pono: The Hawaiian Way to Put Things Back into Balance by Pali Jae Lee is published by I.M. Publishing, Ltd. and is available as an eBook, hardcover, and trade paperback from Amazon.

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

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Because even out of the water, no one’s safe.

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Everything I thought I knew is a lie.