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.
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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.
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.
As a mail carrier in Kaneohe, Hawaii, Louise Golden brings a little aloha to the people along her route. When elderly Conchita Santos doesn’t meet her at the mailbox for the first time in two years, Louise goes looking. The house is unlocked, Pipsqueak the dog is unfed, and Mrs. Santo’s purse is still inside. Fearing the worst, Louise files a missing persons report and begins her own investigation, an investigation that leads to murder, a movie set, new shoes, a French manicure, and a hand-carved tiki with a secret.
Not your everyday week in paradise no matter how stellar the weather.
Almost Paradise, a Louise Golden Mystery by Laurie Hanan is a breezy afternoon beach read, an entertaining escape to sunny Hawaii. The protagonist, Louise Golden, is unmoored, drifting through life after a devastating loss. Nothing seems very permanent in Louise’s life. Through routines that include folk dance groups, piano sing along dates, Scrabble games, and peanut butter sandwiches Louise connects to the world through the family she creates. It’s busy, but not really fulfilling until she reaches out of her comfort zone and begins to grow. I’ve got the feeling that learning to make plumeria leis is just the start.
Almost Paradise, a Louise Golden Mystery by Laurie Hanan is published by Savant Books and Publications, LLC and is available in paperback and eBook from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Be sure to look for book two, How Far is Heaven.
It’s not surprising that the latest census figures show that there are far more Hawaiians living outside of Hawai‘i than in it. Pepper Bibeau, the central figure in For Every Action There are Consequences by Gail M. Baugniet, fits into the pattern of islanders leaving for economically greener pastures, but trying to keep a bit of aloha in their lives.
After serving as a nurse in Vietnam, Pepper finds herself investigating insurance claims in 1968 Chicago, a time of racial unrest and social change. Along with unraveling the truth about medical claims and insurance fraud Pepper has to solve the murder of a friend killed while wearing Pepper’s coat. Wondering if the murder was mistaken identity, Pepper’s investigation leads her to explore things as diverse as sickle-cell anemia and drug trafficking.
Readers of crime fiction and mystery will feel at home here. It’s fast paced and easy to read, full of small details that pin it to the late 1960s. Descriptions of social norms and Pepper’s feelings about her Hawaiian identity being lumped into other ethnic groups was spot on. As late as the 1980s my sister’s modeling agency in Utah had her listed as ‘light black’ because ‘Hawaiian’ wasn’t on their radar no matter how often she corrected them. Pepper’s experiences in Chicago remind us of how far we’ve come.
What intrigued me most were the interactions Pepper had with her Hawai‘i ‘ohana. The Pidgin dialogue is used sparingly and to good effect. I really want to know more about Pepper’s son and the family raising him in Hawai’i!
Good thing book two in the series, Deadly as Nature, Envy Spawns Grief, is now available. I won’t have long to wait.
For Every Action There are Consequences and Deadly as Nature, Envy Spawns Grief, the first two books in the Pepper Bibeau Mystery series by Gail M. Baugniet, are self-published and available as paperbacks and eBooks on Amazon.
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We are all products of our pasts, a combination of long ago childhood experiences and what we ate last night. Like an order of deluxe saimin noodles, Blood Orchids, the first book in The Lei Crime Series by Toby Neal is a multi-layered and nuanced murder mystery.
There are two mysteries—the noodles and miso soup of the novel. Lei Texeira is a beat cop in Hilo, Hawaii trying to figure out who’s murdering women and who’s playing a cat and mouse stalking game by leaving notes on her doorstep. There are a lot of possibilities and questions about whether it’s one perp or three and whether the crimes are related.
As the mystery deepens, Lei finds out more about her past and begins to understand how the abuses she triumphed in childhood continue to shape her today. Like thin slices of teri beef these revelations add substance to the soup by allowing the reader to infer more about the characters and their motivations than they know themselves.
There’s a budding romance angle—the chopped green onion—and extended family relationships—the pink and white striped fish cake—but the real seasoning is in Neal’s deft handling of the setting. It’s a difficult thing to write a novel for a wide audience that authentically portrays life in Hawaii and Toby’s nailed it. She balances on the fine high wire of explaining just enough that readers unfamiliar with the culture get it without boring or oversimplifying it in the eyes of islanders. There’s a little Pidgin dialogue in Blood Orchids—Pidgin Light, you could say—enough to add flavor without a lot of work on the part of non-native speakers.
One of the highest compliments I can give is that Toby makes the setting seem normal and natural. Yes, it’s set in Hawaii. Yes, there are beaches, kālua pig plate lunches, funerals with remembrance stones, and all respected elders are called aunty and uncle, but none of this is center stage or explained too deeply. It’s all about the characters and the story.
And what a story it is.
Blood Orchids, book one in The Lei Crime Series by Toby Neal is self-published and available as a trade paperback and eBook on Amazon and on her website. Can’t wait to read the sequels: Torch Ginger, Black Jasmine, and Broken Fern.
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Daughters of Fire by Tom Peek is an epic speculative novel set in contemporary Hawaii. Like a local plate lunch special, it’s a mix of many different genres, an unexpected combination of flavors and tastes that work well together. It’s a romance. It’s a murder mystery. It’s a political thriller. It’s a social commentary on traditional Pacific vs. western world views. It’s a speculative tale of ancient gods and goddesses, curses, prophecies, and traditions. It spans everything island-style from mo’o legends to bento boxes and from the politics of lounge singing to the politics of international stargazing.
On the surface, Daughters of Fire is the story of three strong Hawaiian women: an anthropologist who works with corporate developers to identify and preserve ancient sites, an elderly traditional healer and seer, and a young Hawaiian rights activist. The stories intertwine as a murder occurs, a controversial mega-tourist resort opens, legalize gambling rears its head, and reports of an imminent volcanic eruption are hidden from the public.
Despite its convoluted storylines, it’s an easy, entertaining read. Readers familiar with the landscape and culture will appreciate the authenticity and those new to Hawaii will get a taste of the complexity of island culture without feeling lost. If you’re looking for a book to take on a trip—or to remember your Big Island vacation—this one satisfies.
Get the book on Amazon
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Being a kid is complicated. There are rules, most of them unwritten, unspoken even, and heaven help you if you can’t unlock the secret code. Darrell H.Y. Lum not only has the key to the boy’s room in his collection of short stories in Pass On, No Pass Back!, he also has the contraband cigarettes.
And maybe a little something else.
The title refers to a kids’ game I remember well: somebody punches you in the arm, yells, “Pass on, no pass back!” and you have to find someone else to slam and pass it on. The playground politics in who you hit and how hard would make the UN weep. And Lum gets it.
Better yet, he helps us get it.
To anyone who grew up in Hawai‘i, Lum’s characters feel real. There’s tales of da Bag Man, karate class, scouts, toads, and mongooses from hell that still give me chicken skin. The stories are written in Hawaiian Pidgin English, a welcome sound of home for native speakers that adds another layer of authenticity to his words. Non-Pidgin speakers will have a tougher time, but it’s worth the work.
As a bonus there are also the comic strip adventures of Booly, Bullette, and Burrito by Art Kodani.
If you’re looking for authentic island writing, Pass On, No Pass Back! is fantastic.
Matthew Kaopio, the author of Hawaiian Family Album, is an extraordinarily talented mouth-brush painter. His illustrations intrigued me enough to pick up his book, but as good as they are, they aren’t the heart and soul of his book.
His book is classic talk story—kids bugging a busy grandma to tell them family stories from her youth. In the eleven stories presented here, Grandma passes down Hawaiian culture and traditions and teaches the kids how to find their way through many of life’s difficulties.
One of my favorites, Kāne-o-kekai: Man of the Sea, tells the story of a woman’s fall into the sea and her rescue by a great white shark. It reinforces other opinions I heard as a child that sharks were to be respected, but not necessarily feared, and that ancestors are always ready to help.
The stories are funny, scary, and heartwarming, the perfect length for just before bedtime reading for kids. If you’re looking for some authentic Hawaiian culture, this book’s a winner.
When emigrants came to Hawai‘i they brought their food, their traditions, their languages—and their supernatural beings. Like the humans, the supernatural beings mixed and mingled with the locals and resulting stew is a ghost story hunter’s feast.
Obake Files by Glen Grant is a collection of his scholarly research into Hawai‘i’s supernatural world culled from first hand experiences, archives, and newspaper accounts over 25 years. The spine-tingling, chicken-skin tales are told in a matter of fact tone that makes them far scarier than any horror novel. You’ll find stories of fireballs, haunted houses and buildings, calling and choking ghosts, night marchers, ancestral bones, and modern encounters with Hawaiian gods and goddesses.
As any Hawaiian will tell you, there’s more to our world than meets the eye. Grant’s collection is reminiscent of the stories I heard—and the things I experienced—living in Hawai‘i. The encounters are broken into short entertaining segments perfect for on the go, got a minute reading.