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27 Best Local Books to Read This Summer

Throw ’em in your beach bag or load up your nightstand: 27 must-have books from local authors and publishing houses.


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Local Book Picks

Isles of Amnesia

by Mark J. Rauzon 

Photos: Aaron Yoshino 

Addictive as ‘opihi, each chapter here is devoted to an island or an area of atolls ranging from Northwest Hawai‘i to the Marianas: nutritious, beautifully written, quietly thrilling or disquieting, as when the author travels to nuclear test sites. Mark Rauzon’s three-decade career as a seabird- and habitat-saving Indiana Jones provides plenty of narrative thrust. Traveling light, he brings us into charmed worlds, but also to places where extinctions loom. Rauzon doesn’t flinch: What’s the moral calculus, he asks, when 115 feral cats on Jarvis Island are ravaging the sooty tern population to the tune of 25,000 killed a year? We like him all the more to learn a restored population afterward doesn’t ease his conscience.

University of Hawai‘i Press, December 2015, 271 pages


Midnight in Broad Daylight

by Pamela Rotner Sakamoto

This evocative and detailed story follows three brothers in a Japanese-American family who end up on opposite sides of the Pacific Campaign. Longtime Punahou history teacher Pamela Rotner Sakamoto paints with a supple brush the life of the Fukuhara clan’s journey from Japan to the Pacific Northwest. Hard work and stoicism yields successes. When their father dies, though, their mother takes Frank and Pierce back “home” to Hiroshima—where the boys, hazed and confused, end up in the Imperial Army. Meanwhile, third brother Harry fights American prejudice until he, too, ends up in uniform. After Pearl Harbor, the die is cast, and the reader settles in for an engrossing triple-lensed portrait of life during wartime.  

Harper, January 2016, 464 pages


Eating Korean in America

by Sonia Ryang

It’s not your imagination—kalbi and kim chee really are taking over, and resistance is futile. Part of it is demographics, as the Korean population in America has outstripped that of the Japanese over the past 10 years, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Part of it is meat, as author Sonia Ryang, born and raised in Japan to Korean parents, explains. In Japan, handling dead carcasses is “deemed a source of deadly pollution,” and butchers—often if incorrectly assumed to be of Korean ancestry—discard offal, tongues and skin. In Korea, nothing goes to waste. And those dishes and tastes suit our modern craving for the funky and the flavorful—which describes this graceful, even brave tour de force of data, pancakes and pig ears.

University of Hawai‘i Press, March 2015, 138 pages 


Green Island

by Shawna Yang Ryan

Shawna Yang Ryan’s taut, thrillerlike novel of Taiwan, or is it the Republic of China, peels back layers of intrigue from the night the narrator was born. Which is also the night the defeated and newly arrived Nationalist Chinese massacred Taiwanese demonstrators. Soon her doctor father is “disappeared” along with 20,000 others. When he returns 11 years later, he finds no joy in his modernized daughters and son. The author, a UH professor of writing, reveals a once-tropical paradise now crammed, concretized and  turned into a police state propped up by the fear of another dictatorship, the People’s Republic. Our narrator makes it to America, only to find out there’s no escaping the reach of the past. 

Knopf, February 2016, 400 pages


Ē Luku Wale Ē

by Mark Hamasaki and Kapulani Landgraf

The large-format, black-and-white photographs in this handsome book chronicle the creation of O‘ahu’s 10-mile freeway, H-3, with the pitiless grandeur we see in the landscapes of war. They were taken by Piliāmo‘o, aka Mark Hamasaki and Kapulani Landgraf, after work crews departed for the day. H-3 was indeed a cultural battleground. It’s still a matter of debate, whether union jobs and a military conduit from Pearl Harbor to Kāne‘ohe were reason enough for such a large, lightly used traffic artery. A testament to Sen. Daniel Inouye’s legendary pork-barrel prowess, the project was also the most expensive until rail. Complemented by haunting poems by Landgraf; designed and produced by Barbara Pope. 

‘Ai Pōhaku Press, 2015, 168 pages


Murder Frames the Scene

by Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl 

Once you form an attachment to the characters of Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl’s Murder series, there’s no place like home—because that’s where you’ll want to curl up and read. Here we follow part-Samoan, part-British agent Ned Manusia into Shanghai, only the most atmospheric, and dangerous, city on earth in 1935. Don’t be lulled when the next chapter opens in sleepy Honolulu, where Ned’s part-Hawaiian fiancée Mina Beckwith has been roped into writing the Academy of Arts catalog for a show by snarky society painters. Once the bodies start to fall, no one and no place is immune to the darkness spreading from Europe and Asia. Fortunately, we have Ned and Mina, and Mina’s Portuguese water dog, Ollie, on the case.

University of Hawai‘i Press, May 2016, 384 pages


Between Sky and Sea: A Family’s Struggle

by D. Carreira Ching

Opening his range since earning his 2012 Best Writer in Pidgin award, Donald Carreira Ching now blends other dialects into this unpretentious novel of a Hawaiian-Portuguese Kahulu‘u family. For every “stay over between you two, or what?” there’s the above-it-all drone of the haole high school teacher; the Marxist-tinged gush of undergraduates; the earnest speaking-in-proverbs of Native Hawaiian activists; and, gratingly but tellingly, the Alcoholics Anonymous jargon that anchors desperate lives and families. Ching’s is a story of class and the spiraling down of three brothers whose failures are inherited in part from their fathers and partly from a matrix of poverty, machismo and substance abuse. It stings and we ache.

Bamboo Ridge Press, January 2016, 192 pages


King of the Worlds

by Thomas Gammarino

So, you’re a Kurt Vonnegut fan and Philip K. Dick cultist who thinks Hawai‘i’s literary scene lacks a ripping good sci-fi novel that incidentally tackles the Godhead, polygamy and B-movie fans stalking has-been actors in space. Well, now you can relax. With Thomas Gammarino’s serenely absurd and quite enjoyable novel—extra credit if the title reminds you of Leonardo DiCaprio standing in the bow of the Titanic—you can join former heartthrob Dylan Greenyears in New Taiwan as he succumbs to a long-distance fan-mail dalliance, bringing his well-grounded family to the verge of premature eternity. What’s really amazing, though, is Gammarino has the prose chops to shape-shift bits and pieces of our contemporary reality into pure nitrous oxide. 

Chin Music Press, April 2016, 274 pages


Unearthing the Polynesian Past

by Patrick Vinton Kirch

Time travel is real, if you’re Patrick Kirch. The adventure of digging deep into the past took hold of young Pat while growing up in the verdant valleys of Mānoa. Winning over the dubious head of archaeology at Bishop Museum at age 13, he embarked on a 50-year career searching for the origins of Polynesian cultures. Lucky to come along when the Pacific islands were on the cusp of change and Hawai‘i faced a construction boom that would eradicate its past, Kirch had the stamina and smarts to throw himself into the fray. His entertaining summing up brings us up to date on the evolution of theories and field work about who the Polynesians were and how they adapted, island by island, across the Pacific. 

University of Hawai‘i Press, November 2015, 379 pages


The Aloha Shirt (revised and expanded)

by Dale Hope and Gregory Tozian with Yvon Chouinard

Many of us bought aloha shirt auteur Dale Hope’s book when it came out in 2000 from the late, great Cynthia Black’s press. So why spring for a revised edition? Because it’s bigger, more beautiful and a complete reshuffle. A compulsive graphic and fabric art curator, Hope has added pages, stories and art, giving the whole a more expansive feel. It’s also even more lively, thanks to an introduction by Gerry Lopez and a variety of contributions from Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard. The result is investment grade and also sweetly readable, with period photos and advertisements from HONOLULU and Paradise of the Pacific, our own first edition. 

Patagonia, June 2016, 240 pages


Queen Lili‘uokalani, the Dominis family, and Washington Place, Their Home

by Rianna M. Williams 

This is a docent’s book, and if ever a house could stand in for a nation, it would be Washington Place. Immaculate art and photo reproductions tell the story of its most famous occupant, Lydia Lili‘u Kamaka‘eha, who would reign as Queen Lili‘uokalani; the news clippings, photos, summaries of important events and journal entries spin a novelistic tapestry. A lasting and fascinating contribution.

Ka Mea Kakau Press, March 2015, 246 pages


Poke: Hawai‘i’s Food

by Chef Sam Choy

“Early in my chef career,” writes Sam Choy in this kitchen-friendly book, “I made it my goal to have a locally rooted Hawaiian dish go mainstream. Sadly and unfairly ... poi had become a punch line. Poke was the logical choice.” Choy’s timely and useful book charmingly resembles those water- and stain-resistant recipe books tūtū or popo threw together with PTA or church friends. His stories and history ring true, and home cooks will eat up the step-by-step prep photos. 

Mutual Publishing, October 2015, 174 pages


Plants for the Tropical Xeriscape

by Fred D. Rauch and Paul R. Weissich

The climate it is a-changing. For gardeners the answer is xeriscaping, the use of water-sparing plants and features, now becoming law in some cities. As this book shows, the results can be gorgeous, through ground cover, shrubs, trees, vines, bromeliads and cycads—pretty much the entire Jurassic Park. Filled with 1,300 photos and additional drawings and diagrams; appendices include “nightscape” and Native Hawaiian plants.  

University of Hawai‘i Press, May 2015, 240 pages 


Hānau Ka Ua, Hawaiian Rain Names

by Collette Leimomi Akana with Kiele Gonzalez

As a student of hula, Collette Leimomi Akana learned rain and wind names through chants and mele. Now a scholar and kumu hula, she has created a beautiful book featuring an exquisite design by Barbara Pope. Names, proverbs and their translations flow from page to page in concert with a suite of illustrations by Sig Zane. Meditative, inspiring and witty, as in the case of the Hilo rain of insomnia (kanikani‘ā‘ula).  

Kamehameha Publishing, 2015, 327 pages


Shipwrecked in Paradise

by Paul F. Johnston

This handsomely illustrated book covers the short weird life of Cleopatra’s Barge before it sank in Hanalei Bay in 1824, then the author’s dive to recover artifacts. A dying shipowner built it to cruise Europe in search of a princess to marry. Next the well-armed yacht was sailed to Hawai‘i and sold to King Kamehameha II, Liholiho, for a million pounds’ worth of sandalwood. Liloliho’s plan to use the craft to conquer Kaua‘i foundered in a storm of politics and alcohol. 

Texas A&M University Press, September 2015, 216 pages





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