29 Must-Read Local Books You Won’t Want to Put Down This Summer

Here’s how to rock your hammock, if not your world, this summer. And if that’s not startling enough, we’ve got news about a new local bookstore opening.
Books of Summer
Illustration: Will Caron


Like many of you, we bought the hype—rushed out and got that cheap device that solves your digital worries and declutters your mind as well. We have to say we’re impressed. No remote to program. No battery to charge. No cell-tower signal to stalk. Impervious to hackers, even Russians (ha!). It can survive a two-story fall or venti latte spill. Best of all, it comes prefilled with content that you choose and there are no pop-ups, no upgrades and no ads. 


So, yeah, we bought a book. And you know something? We’re doing it again. And if you’d like to join us, you’re in luck, because the books of summer are here—the best from our local authors and presses, with a couple of Island interest from the big publishers, too. 


We’ve got stories to burn, natural wonders to awe and a daring take on the Massie Case. From tough new looks at culture and ethnicity to tales of sex and shopping, there’s something for everyone. A moody noir that blends Tahiti’s pearl trade with pakalōlō dealing. A baseball memoir from a University of Hawai‘i Hilo lefty whose arm and life went sideways. A sexy coming-of-age-in-Sāmoa story. An internment tale whose humanity is just what we need today. There’s even something for the plover lover—which is to say, for all of us.


Speaking of keeping hope alive, Bamboo Ridge is on the rise. The press hits 40 next year and founders Darrell Lum and Eric Chock just received the brand-new Loretta D. Petrie Award for service to Hawai‘i’s literary community while poet Christy Passion won the Elliot Cades Award for literature. UH Mānoa’s multifaceted Chamorro poet Craig Santos Perez won a prestigious Lannan Award. 


SEE ALSO: Local Writers Win Prestigious Elliot Cades and Loretta Petrie Awards for Literature


Best of all, publishers are getting creative and learning to sell in new ways to an eager audience. In a bold new venture, Bess Press in Kaimukī is converting its warehouse on Harding Street this fall into a full-service bookstore that offers, in addition to its excellent titles, a curated selection of New York Times best-sellers and favorites from other Island presses. If we don’t see you there, we’ll catch you on the beach, or in the hammock. 


Band of Authors

The Massie Case meets its match in The Renshi Ladies.

Renshi ladies
From left, poets Ann Inoshita, Jean Yamasaki Toyama, Juliet S. Kono and Christy Passion.


What we must rememberThis story is the unwanted

family heirloom

the ugly vase,

the chipped china,

the bastard child everyone whispers about,     

but no one calls by name.

—Christy Passion


And, just like that, in the last stanza of the opening poem, Christy Passion, one of the authors of What We Must Remember, throws down the gauntlet to her three collaborators: Juliet S. Kono, Ann Inoshita and Jean Yamasaki Toyama. Members of a writing group, the women had taken an oath to write a series of linked poems, renshi, each one igniting the next. Raising the stakes, they’d publish in real time, online, every two weeks on the Bamboo Ridge website. Going all-in on the choice of a subject, they would reanimate, like spirit mediums, perhaps the most inflammatory 20th-century story in Hawai‘i, the Massie Case.


In an age of HBO, Netflix, web series and podcasts, it may seem counterintuitive to claim that a poem is the best way to tell a complicated true-crime story.


The O.J. trial of its day, it was a national scandal based on a rape accusation by Navy wife Thalia Massie against five young men of color: Asian, Native Hawaiian, mixed. Mainland opinion demanded punishment, even lynching; the Territorial government, the Navy and the local press set out to steamroll judge and jury. When a vigorous defense resulted in a mistrial, Thalia’s enraged mother-in-law, Grace Fortescue, masterminded the abduction—from the courtroom steps—of a freed defendant, Joseph Kahahawai. Tied to a chair, he was tortured and murdered.  


The book’s approach is risky and fresh, but do the poets have anything to add to the story? In addition to two excellent, recent works on the case by local academics David Stannard and John Rosa, there have been four popular books from the 1960s, a trashy ’80s TV mini-series, a once-suppressed 1960 play by Dennis Carroll, period broadsheets, newspaper articles and even, earlier this year, an opera. How do you make it new?


I am the ghost of the green dress Thalia

wore when she said she was abducted

by five “Hawaiians”

and brought to a place,

dark, isolated, desolate,

in Ala Moana

—Juliet S. Kono


The inspired choice of the dress is one of many voices from limited points of view, including those who, due to caste or class, had no say (three of the four survivors never gave an interview). We hear the mother of the victim, sorrowing; we go inside the minds of the perpetrators, including Grace Fortescue, as she stews and lays plans; we join the struggle in the jury room. The poems advance the story by psychological as well as chronological stages.  


In response a counterbalance develops.

A mother calls a princess,

Abigail Kawānanakoa, who calls

a heavyweight:

William H. Heen, born of Hawaiian and Chinese parents, 

educated at Hastings Law School, first non-haole judge appointed 

—Jean Yamasaki Toyama


The poor and brown may lack power, but they keep score. As the authors note in autobiographical commentaries following the poem, local memories of the case run long and deep. It’s not a chance or infrequent occurrence, getting arrested or run in by the police for the crime of your class and color. And, it’s why the Massie Case still matters.


Even readers without skin in the game may be gobsmacked by the details. Of all the twists and turns, probably the most incredible is the arrival of Clarence Darrow, defender of the Scottsboro Boys, ACLU leader, hero of the downtrodden:


All my years of fighting for the rights of blacks—

to have it come to this:

I received a cable with the prospect

of defending

Mrs. Grace Fortescue and three men

who killed a native Hawaiian man.

They’re paying a good sum for

my services.

—Ann Inoshita


See how it works? In an age of HBO, Netflix, web series and podcasts, it may seem counterintuitive to claim that a poem is the best way to tell a complicated true-crime story. But this stunning communal project makes the case and more. More personal than a podcast, untethered by nonfiction’s tendency to exhaust a subject (and reader), What We Must Remember gallops, thrillingly, like one of Shakespeare’s history plays.


A bonus: The individual commentaries at the end are more than grace notes. They restart the story, as each poet discusses the challenges and doubts she faced. They didn’t start as experts, and their immersion in research is a journey much like the one we take, diving with them into the past. The project makes witnesses of us all. 


As a work of community, one that mirrors the effort to defend the boys from Kalihi and Makiki, What We Must Remember is a welcome milestone for Bamboo Ridge as it approaches its 40th anniversary. Like other BR books that become part of Island lore, this one won’t sit on the shelf unread. Most copies will soon be sandy and salty from being taken to the beaches, parks and downtown streets where all this went down in 1931, places where, if you squint, it can still seem like yesterday. 


Bamboo Ridge Press, 2017, 182 pages. Reading: June 25, Kumu Kahua Theatre; bambooridge.com for details. 


Still Out of Place 

by Christy Passion

Still out of placeWinner of the 2017 Cades Award for an emerging writer, Christy Passion has set literary Hawai‘i on its ear with these plain-spoken, understated poems of contemporary hard-luck Island lives. She can bewitch a lurid scene into beauty: “Fish heads, heads as big as mine, / with their purple lungs trailing / like party streamers / are held up for approval.” But she doesn’t gild human losses and misfortunes, and we feel their weight: “Because in jail you met Jesus / Because time passes / Because you are his only son / Papa said, Come home.” Her backstory—she is a critical care nurse at The Queen’s Medical Center, part Native Hawaiian, from a sprawling local family that reckons its past in terms of losses—may explain the gravity of her work. This isn’t art school fancy-dancing. It is masterful, producing a kind of emotional whiplash in almost every poem. Like Philip Levine, who made his early life as a machinist in Detroit factories the bedrock of his engagement, Passion comes at us with quiet, incisive authority. She writes like someone who walks the wards at night.

Bamboo Ridge, 2016, 77 pages. 


What’s with all the “Crazy Rich Asian” books?

From Tahiti to New Orleans, Chinese stories trend.

Crazy rich asian books


Books about rich Chinese have been popping off the assembly line since Crazy Rich Asians—a surprise best-seller in 2013, soon to be a movie—repurposed the venerable shopping-and-cuddling genre. (Yes, “cuddling” is a euphemism.) The subtext—look upon these campy Chinese Kardashian clones and laugh—makes us a little queasy, though nothing we haven’t seen on reality TV. 


Although a spawn of the genre, Jade Chang’s The Wangs vs. the World escapes clichés by having Charles Wang lose everything in the 2008 crash. The story follows the shock wave as it hits his dependents—American-born and -raised children, Chinese-born second wife, family’s amah (wet nurse and retainer, and a link to the old country)—during a road trip that touches Austin, New Orleans and so on. The Wangs have TV-ready, American-style issues, but Chang, an arts journalist from Los Angeles who appeared at the Honolulu Book and Music Festival in May, doles out a few dirty secrets some Chinese families would prefer to keep quiet. The mechanics of farce—juggling so many manic characters while setting off fireworks every few pages—does induce fatigue, just like a long road trip. Still, your book club will love it.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016, 355 pages.


The subtext—look upon these campy Chinese Kardashian clones and laugh—makes us a little queasy, though nothing we haven’t seen on reality TV.  


Being Chinese—in this case, Hakka, dominant in the black pearl trade in Tahiti—isn’t played for laughs in Lillian Howan’s The Charm Buyers. Apparently, to be rich and gorgeous in the atolls at the tail end of France’s nuclear-bomb-test era is a Faulknerian predicament. Howan mesmerizes with a surpassingly literate evocation of young Marc Chen’s coming of age.


The teenager Chen makes futile, destructive but impressive efforts to escape his suave, controlling, womanizing father. The air is thick with sexual knowledge; to Chen, being young and pretty is no cakewalk. His true love and secret solace is cousin Marie-Laure, who is plain but brilliant. It all feels très très incestuous in a Bret Easton Ellis or Carson McCullers way. It reads like Joan Didion on opium. And it’s fun to see Chen fall in with a cougar of a Marquise, begin large-scale pakalōlō-growing, then hatch a python-smuggling scheme. There’s a certain logic to it all. The rich really are different, after all.


But, as Chen ages, his pouty James Dean act starts wearing thin on the authorities as well as the reader. How many times can he ignore the same obvious red flags? Spirits are flagging by the time Howan throws in a heavy dose of Chinese medicine, fortune-telling and magic in the service of saving a mysteriously ill Marie-Laure. (Somewhere an attentive reader may hear a shark jumping, out in the lagoon.) Still, this is an unforgettable book about a world we’d otherwise never know.

University of Hawai‘i Press, 2017, 309 pages. 


The Imagineer of Mango Hill

Heidi Heilig makes alternative worlds come alive.

Heidi Heilig
Photo: Adrian Buckmaster


The Ship Beyond TimeHeidi Heilig was about to start her senior year at Punahou in 1997 when her never-a-dull-moment mother was accepted to a musical theater program at New York University. From green Mango Hill, the family farm in Kahalu‘u, Heidi and her younger sister found themselves in a sea of concrete. “We ended up in Brooklyn before it gentrified,” says Heilig, 36. “Now it’s beautiful; it wasn’t then.” High school was at the corner of 42nd Street and 8th Avenue: Hell’s Kitchen. It was quite a leap, especially for a teenager who was bipolar.


“I thought I was going to be an actor,” says Heilig, who attended NYU herself and tried her hand writing musical theater in its prestigious graduate program. But, after a few years and no lucky breaks, she found herself working as a receptionist. Bored at her desk, she says, “I decided to write a book because I could do it myself. I didn’t need a composer. I thought it would be fun.” She decided to publish it for free online. “But my mom said, ‘This is good and you should get an agent.’”


Sometimes stage moms know best. And Diana Hansen-Young, Heilig’s mother, did have a track record: celebrated for her faux-naif paintings, children’s books (Pigs in Wigs, Llamas in Dramas, etc.) and a feud with Frank Fasi over inviting the homeless evicted from ‘A‘ala Park to live on her farm.


Heilig’s 2016 fantasy novel, The Girl From Everywhere, debuted a motley crew on a square-rigged ship whose captain, Slate, was a widower and furniture-smashing addict who leaned heavily on his daughter, Nix, to navigate. Since the ship could travel through time, thanks to special powers shared by father and daughter, this was no small undertaking. The story sailed on witty, exuberant prose, and yet stung, too, thanks to Slate’s obsession with undoing the death of his wife, Nix’s mother Li, in childbirth. 


If you’re Terminator-literate, you know what that means: Dad was out to undo Nix’s birth. And, when you add in the fact that Li died in Chinatown in the Kingdom of Hawai‘i circa 1880, you just know the overthrow figures in the story. It also reappears as a central theme in Heilig’s latest and a sequel, The Ship Beyond Time, too. The man imprisoned in the walled city of Ker-Ys? None other than … 


Hold on. Part breathless romance à la Diana Gabaldon, part historical counterfactual in the style of Philip K. Dick, The Ship Beyond Time has spoilers to burn, as well as Heilig’s fiery prose. Let’s just say that reading the two books back-to-back will take you far away from your everyday summer reality—thanks to the girl from Mango Hill, still living in Brooklyn, now a mother, still writing when not taking your calls.


Greenwillow Books, 2017, 456 pages.


Our Botox is Very Strong

Stephanie Han’s deadpan delivery heightens her power.

Stephanie Han
Location: Fête


Swimming in Hong KongA Korean-American walks into the bar—this is actually not a joke, but the Hong Kong club she belongs to—only to discover that, without her white husband, she’s invisible to their mutual white friend. Naturally, she does a slow burn, realizing the futility of her game attempts to fit into this society. Then, after a couple of drinks, she makes him disappear. 


With that jolting opener to her debut story collection, Stephanie Han invites us to settle in as she deals more dirty lickings to racism, patriarchy, gaze-ism. Indeed, the next story starts with a Korean-American college freshman shouting, through a bullhorn, “I am not your servile Oriental sex object!” 


Off hours, though, that student, Sabrina, is a reluctant rival to her movement “sisters” over who gets to be the girlfriend of super-eligible, doctor-material Sam Choi—all the while submitting to loathsome, leather-jacketed Martin, the epitome of white hipster privilege. The story is one big “Whoa!” and shakes us out of our comfort zone. Welcome to the real world, Han seems to be saying. 


What makes Swimming in Hong Kong so vivid, unsettling and masterful is that no beliefs are off limits, no behavior simply labeled “unspeakable.” In fact, Han will speak it. Nothing is simple or easy here. Nobody and no group gets a free pass. Even the sex, while plentiful, is often bad, which is to say, fictionally good—revealing of character and conflict. Migrants, expats, visa workers, Han’s characters often only find agency through their thoughts. “Botox is very strong,” thinks the invisible character, of her mirthless, expressionless boss. Wit and witness are sometimes all we have when we’re powerless. Han’s own family came to Hawai‘i in 1905, during the first Korean waves. She says her grandfather was the first Korean luna at California Packing Co. in Kunia. Raised in Memphis, Han emancipated herself from the Deep South by asking to be sent to boarding school at age 13. A rover ever since, she’s back in Hawai‘i, teaching at Hawai‘i Pacific University, after years working in Hong Kong. 


What makes Swimming in Hong Kong so vivid, unsettling and masterful is that no beliefs are off limits, no behavior simply labeled “unspeakable.” 


In action, she’s pretty much a truth-seeking missile. Her aim is true when she dons the personas of other outsiders: a Hong Kong peasant who watches television through the window of a posh bar, a Korean immigrant who works in a Mainland salon, “plucking pubic hair for a living.” It’s the American Dream, right? 


Although tough, Han is never less than fair to her characters. In a story of an Asian college student working one summer on Nantucket Island, doing the laundry of the rich, Han is much more humane to the girl’s Kennedyesque lover than he deserves. The story is all the more poignant for it. 


Deadly, precise, mature fiction like Han’s is a rarity and needs no local tie to stun and win over the reader. Winner of the Paterson Prize in Fiction, these stories also cut close to our Island bones, daring us to see more than one side, one viewpoint, to the ethnic diaspora of which we are all a part. 


Willow Springs Books, 2016, 139 pages.


Food Guide


The Poke Cookbook

by Martha Cheng

Poke cookbook

A perfect publishing storm was already brewing over Hawai‘i’s favorite pūpū when a New York editor spotted an article about poke by the author, a former line chef and HONOLULU’s former food and dining editor. Cheng has risen admirably to the challenge of explaining poke to the Mainland, a place where newbies are substituting quinoa for rice and lima beans for … edamame? She walks us through kitchen prep, seafood selection and classic recipes, then dives into “modern poke”—including Samoan, Peruvian, Moroccan and Chinese variations. The third section replaces fish with kalo, jicama, beets, tofu, carrots pineapple and more. (OK, they sound like salads, but they’re ones we’d like to try.) The book’s biggest secret is that we all can learn from it. Plus, it’s drop-dead beautiful.

Clarkson Potter, 2017, 95 pages.


SEE ALSO: Can the Mainland Do Poke Right? Do We Want Them To?


Food to write home about: HawaiiFood to Write Home About: Hawai‘i 

by Bill Tobin and Brian Berusch

Classic recipes from 21 top Island chefs, from Alan Wong to Chris Kajioka, George Mavrothalassitis to Mark Noguchi, turn this gorgeously photographed and produced coffee-table cookbook—by Tiki’s Grill and Bar owner Bill Tobin—into a home cook’s essential. But the setup, a series of letters to Tobin’s mother back in Nebraska that describe his transformation from corn-fed business student to stand-up local cuisine guy, is pretty sweet, too.

Cameron Publishing, 2016, 176 pages. 



Curve of the Hook

by Yoshiko Sinoto with Hiroshi Aramata (ed. Frank Stewart)

Curve of the Hook

As beautiful to hold and as it is to ponder, this Barbara Pope-designed book is the first-ever English publication of interviews with one of Hawai‘i and Polynesia’s great archaeologists. The story of Sinoto’s chance arrival and immediate impact on the theory of Polynesian migration in the early 1950s still raises chicken skin. Sinoto would become the Indiana Jones of the Pacific, who found a way to backdate the historical record by tracking the evolution of fishhooks, leading to new theories and increased attention. The conversations convey the excitement of discovery. The haunting period photographs of the people, digs and landscapes of Oceania are imbued with mutual respect and joy. The high quality of the physical book makes this a great gift for anyone who loves Pacific history.

University of Hawai‘i Press, 2016, 206 pages.


Facing the Spears of Change

by Marie Alohalani Brown

Facing the Spears of Change

John Papa ‘Ī‘ī joined Kamehameha I’s royal service as a youth, and went on to a fabled and fraught court career, serving five mō‘ī and writing Fragments of Hawaiian History, the canonical book about the royal and monarchical ruling class. But his writings in the Hawaiian press went unsigned and about 40 percent of the original Fragments never saw re-publication, a neglect remedied in this landmark biography by Marie Alohalani Brown, assistant professor of religion at UH Mānoa and specialist in mo‘olelo. Brown has dug up more of ‘Ī‘ī’s writings, retranslated Mary Kawena Pukui’s rough scans and woven a rich and informative story, scrupulously placed in its academic and cultural contexts.

University of Hawai‘i Press, 2016, 227 pages. 


The Natives Are Restless

by Constance Hale

Natives are restlessHale, a Hawai‘i-born New York Times best-selling author and journalist with a lifelong devotion to hula and Hawaiian culture, clearly has the chops to cover hula. After 20 years as a student of Patrick Makuakāne, she can also explain her kumu hula’s sometimes-radical choices. House music? Annie Lennox? Broadway-style lighting and plot beats? Nā Lei Hula I ka Wēkiu delivers the goods, to judge from these pages and photos. But credit Hale for airing the objections that are growing, too, as hula goes global. As critic Amy Ku‘uleialoha Stillman says, it risks capitalizing “on universalist notions of spirituality wrapped in mysticism.” One look at Makuakāne’s dance that opens “The Kumulipo” should dispel that notion—and make believers out of us all.

SparkPress with Nā Lei Hula I ka Wēkiu, 2016, 255 pages.


Local Stories


Under the volcanoUnder the Volcano

by Charles Langlas and Kūpuna 

From 1987 to 1990, UH Hilo instructor of ethnographic studies Charles Langlas recorded oral histories in Kalapana, just before the Kīlauea lava flow shifted and erased the township. This book reconstitutes Kalapana’s past, with personal stories, maps, photos, sections on subsistence, family relations and change. An important resource, it’s also wonderful reading.

Pili Press, 2016, 242 pages.



by Pat Matsueda

Overworked, underpaid Ted Koga is stuck—in his Pearl Harbor job, in his marriage, as an ineffectual father—when his online porn habit draws the attention of his military employer. From this promising setup, Matsueda teases out a portrait of a man torn between religion and smut. Suspended from work, shamed at church and separated from his family, he finds hope by helping his daughter into recovery.

Mānoa Books/El Leon Literary Arts, 2016, 128 pages.



by Sia Figiel

Samoa’s outspoken Sia Figiel uncorks a bottled-up but brilliant high-school girl’s sexual awakening. Set in a sleepy backwater village when Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” was No. 1 on the radio, Inosia defies taboos by accepting her favorite teacher’s attentions. The story scans as a tropical version of the medieval tryst of Heloise and Abelard, but Inosia’s desires send her to academic success instead of perdition.

Lō‘ihi Press, 2016, 240 pages.


For a SongFor a Song 

by Rodney Morales

As detective Kawika Apana layers his lines with arch references to shamuses of old, author Morales makes metafictional dialogue with peek-a-boo characters. Fortunately, they resemble certain Island senators, developers and artsy types. Trim away the distractions and you’ll spy the seamy side: Hawai‘i’s nasty underbelly served with loving observations of people being squeezed hard by economics and tourism.

UH Press, 2016, 499 pages.


Hard to GripHard to Grip

by Emil DeAndreis

Baseball season is perfect for this wonderfully candid and often hilarious tale of a UH Hilo baseball pitcher, whose meager talent is offset by a prodigious appetite for carousing. DeAndreis shows a major league gift for portraits that light up the heart: his blue-collar parents, his girlfriend (now wife) from the Deep South and “Dr. P,” his writing teacher and adviser, who doesn’t let his talented student off the hook for bad decisions.

Schaffner Press, 2017, 303 pages.



Natural Wonders, Gardening, etc.


The Lives of Hawai‘i’s  Dolphins and Whales

by Robin W. Baird 


This gorgeous photographic and scientific celebration of our local cetaceans is filled with stories of individual animals tagged and followed for decades. By combining a species study with the actual biographies of these charismatic creatures, the author, a research biologist who has logged 17 years working with Hawai‘i’s whales and dolphins, creates a compelling and informed plea for their conservation. It’s on us, he says, to make changes in our environmental habits (including longline fishing) and to stand up against destructive practices (he points to U.S. Navy exercises using super-powered sonar).

University of Hawai‘i Press, 2016, 342 pages.


Native Hawaii PlantsGrowing Hawai‘i’s Native Plants

by Kerin Lilleeng-Rosenberger

Rosenberger runs a nursery at the Hawai‘i Plant Conservation Center in Kaua‘i’s Lāwa‘i Valley, giving her expertise in reintroducing Hawaiian plants. This meticulous guide to 1,386 indigenous species is the key to a community effort to restore Hawai‘i’s green life. Updated from its 2005 edition, the ring-binder format with water-resistant pages is ideal for the hands-on gardener or cultural practitioner. It’s also comprehensively illustrated.

Ho‘omau! Mutual Publishing, 2016, 440 pages.


The Hawaiian HorseThe Hawaiian Horse 

by Dr. Billy Bergin and Dr. Brady Bergin

For the paniolo, polo player, equestrian and horse lover, this hefty book is a must-have: a beautifully done, comprehensive treatment of the history, breeding, health and future of the horse in Hawai‘i. For the rest of us, it’s still fascinating reading and photography, including can’t-miss chapters on pā‘ū riders, the horse in Hawaiian society and “The Historic Role of Hawai‘i’s Valleys.”

University of Hawai‘i Press, 2017, 365 pages.


Kolea​Hawai‘i’s Kōlea 

by Oscar Johnson and Susan Scott

Who doesn’t love the kōlea? Who wouldn’t want to know more about our long-journeying winged visitors, who return to the same plots of land every year after their 3,000-mile migrations from Alaska? This pretty, informative book, by the world’s acknowledged expert on Pacific Golden Plovers, Johnson, and Honolulu Star-Advertiser “Ocean Watch” columnist Scott, is just the gift for the plover lover on your list.

University of Hawai‘i Press, 2016, 59 pages.     


War & Peace


Campaign HawaiiCampaign Hawai‘i

by Rick Tsujimura

Longtime local Democratic Party insider Rick Tsujimura penned Campaign Hawai‘i: An Inside Look at Politics in Paradise. It's the view from a "sparrow," a term describing supporters of the late Gov. John Burns, the unsung volunteers who fueled his machine. Tsujimura delves into ethnic voting, backroom game plans, mudslinging. Yet the author still believes that politics should be an honorable profession. Robbie Dingeman

Watermark Publishing, 2016, 212 pages. 


The Jersey Brothers 

by Sally Mott Freeman 

Jersey Brothers

Many of the books timed to Pearl Harbor’s 75th anniversary were duds—uninformed, rushed and riddled with errors. Sally Mott Freeman, on the other hand, has created an intricate and affecting true story about three siblings whose fates enmeshed them in the Pacific war. At its center, unusually for a WWII book, is their mother, an intelligent, anxious and indefatigable letter-writer, who, when the youngest becomes a POW, swings into action. Writing and reaching admirals, the Red Cross and even the president, Helen provides a Greek Chorus of the highs and lows that millions felt all over the world. As for the brothers, each of their stories is a fascinating, heartbreaking and little-seen immersion into the machinery of war. Book clubs take note.

Simon & Schuster, 2017, 576 pages.


An Internment Odyssey

by Suikei Furuya

Internment OdysseyEach generation, sadly, finds a fresh reason to be reminded about the U.S. internment of Japanese-Americans. When Suikei Furuya was swept up on Dec. 7, 1941, he joined a group of Oahuans in a world of endless waiting, confined without news of family or the world, presumed guilty for his ancestry. His six-camp, four-year confinement took him from Sand Island to California’s Angel Island to Alabama to Montana and more; 15 years later, he began publishing serial chapters of his story in a Japanese-language newspaper, The Hawai‘i Times. Although a businessman, Furuya (a pen name) was at heart a poet. Writing haiku offered a kind of freedom and also served to bookmark emotions and scenery for the prose to come. Thinking like a sociologist, Furuya captures how the internees found ways to cope and even to enjoy life behind the wire, playing hanafuda, golf and baseball and even fishing. But they struggle with depression, generational cliqueishness and delusions of a sweeping Japanese victory. Most wrenchingly, the latter breaks out in the last weeks of the war and causes scores to choose repatriation over return to Hawai‘i. Published here in its first English translation, an excellent one by Tatsumi Hayashi, this book is as swift as a novel and as deep emotionally.

Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i (available at gift shop), 2016, 369 pages.


Hawai‘i’s Hidden Bestsellers


Bamboo Ridge

Kauai Tales

Since its founding in 1978 by Eric Chock and Darrell Lum, Bamboo Ridge has launched careers, grown a literary scene and validated local culture. Asked to name a top seller, many may fondly recall Lois Ann Yamanaka’s Saturday Night at the Pahala Theatre (18,097 copies sold), the anthology Growing Up Local (15,203), Lum’s Pass On, No Pass Back (9,503) and Lee Cataluna’s Folks You Meet in Longs and Other Stories (9,468 copies). But the winner at 22,533 copies is Kaua‘i Tales by Frederick Wichman, with iconic illustrations by Christine Faye; three sequels have sold 15,800 copies. Business manager Wing Tek Lum (also an award-winning BR poet) says Kaua‘i visitors account for most of the sales—“There’s not much in the way of souvenirs, and books are available all around the island in little shops.”  


Kimo Armitage


Island Press

Kimo Armitage has written 20 books, for every audience, but Limu the Blue Turtle was life-changing. “It took off right away,” says the Hale‘iwa-born assistant professor of Hawaiian Studies. “It is on its 44th printing,” and has sold more than 400,000 copies. “The royalties helped me get my doctorate.” Does lightning strike twice? “Limu the Blue Turtle and His Hawaiian Garden is on its 32nd printing.”


University of Hawai‘i Press

Shoal of Time

In looking for Hawai‘i’s single best-selling author, it’s hard to overlook Gavan Daws. In 1968, the popular UH Mānoa professor published his first book, Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands. It’s never stopped selling. Since UH Press acquired the rights from Macmillan in 1974, “it has sold over 200,000 in our edition,” says promotion manager Carol Abe. Including Shoal of Time, Daws has published 16 books, including two other landmark titles: Land and Power in Hawai‘i, with George Cooper, and Holy Man: Father Damien of Moloka‘i. Worldwide, his sales total more than 750,000 copies. In a 2008 PBS segment, he said, “Someone, somewhere in the world has bought a book of mine every 40 minutes since 1968.” 


Tinfish Press

Sista TongueIn 2001, Tinfish publisher Susan Schultz matched Lisa Linn Kanae’s exuberant essay/memoir/poem on the roots of (and bias against) pidgin, with a young designer who turned Sista Tongue into a typographical party. “I don’t keep good records but I’d say sales are over 5K, probably more,” Schultz says. “One summer, UH Mānoa ordered 1,000 of them for entering students.” The success gave Tinfish the momentum (and the money) to keep on publishing its specialty, poetry chapbooks designed by guest artists. Kanae still writes and teaches; that young designer, Kristin Lipman, is HONOLULU’s creative director.


Bess Press

Pidgin to Da MaxWhen Buddy Bess launched his eponymous (and rhyming) press in 1979, he had a best-seller out of the box. Written and illustrated by Douglas Simonson (Peppo) in collaboration with Pat Sasaki and Ken Sakata, 1980s Pidgin to Da Max has sold 250,000 copies so far. “It is a thread that weaves generations together and an identifier with being local,” says publishing director Dave DeLuca. “It came out the year I was born and to this day is the one title most local people recognize.” Since then the press has grown its Hawaiian and Pacific Island content with CD, digital and online enhancements, the latest a multimedia Hawaiian history program for school use, accessible on all devices. This fall it will open a bookstore at its Kaimukī headquarters. Too good!


Mutual Publishing

Hawaiian JourneyStarted in 1974 by Bennet Hymer, Mutual is known for its Hawaiiana, cookbooks and fiction. “Our all-time best-selling books are Maui on My Mind (over 120,000 copies sold) by Rita Ariyoshi and Joseph Mullins’ Hawaiian Journey (over 130,000 copies sold),” Hymer says. “Our best-selling author has been Sam Choy with over 200,000 books sold.” The press takes its literary kuleana seriously, publishing hardboiled novelist Chris McKinney (The TattooBoi No Good) and a stream of story anthologies by renowned authors from Melville to Stevenson.