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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 30, 2002

Fiction dominates list of 2002's best Hawai'i books

 •  Local books hot in 2002

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Books Editor

As books editor, I figure I have read more than 200 books in the past 52 week — local releases, book club selections, works of visiting writers and my own choices for pleasure and escape. I had little trouble selecting a top 10 for the year among the local releases, though few nonfiction books made the list — the subjects were often bookworthy, but the writing rarely rose above straightforward narrative.

Here, in the order in which the books appeared in the past year, is my list of recommended reads of 2002 among local books, or books with local connections:

"In Good Company," by Cedric Yamanaka (UH Press, paperback, $14.95). Fiction/short stories. This collection of stories reflecting local-style life past and present makes clear why writer and teacher Ian MacMillan calls Yamanaka one of the best pure short story writer he's ever taught. Yamanaka, a Kalihi-born University of Hawai'i graduate and a TV reporter, won the Cades Award for Literature in 2002.

"The Money Dragon," by Pam Chun (Sourcebooks, hardback, $24). Fiction based on fact. The reach of L. Ah Leong transcends death. When Chun, his great-granddaughter, released a novel based on the life of the immensely rich and powerful businessman in turn-of-the-20th century Honolulu, it generated great interest among his literally hundreds of descendants, and brisk sales for this romantic and sprawling narrative. Chun lives in California and only learned the true story of her scandalous grandfather in midlife.

"Fox Girl," by Nora Okja Keller (Viking, hardback, $23.95). Fiction. Hyung Jin, a young Korean woman, finds her way through and out of the "hostess bar" culture of South Korea and Hawai'i. A message book, but one that honors its story and creates a memorable character. Keller, who lives in Waikele, is the author of the acclaimed 1997 novel, "Comfort Woman."

"Verbena," by Nanci Kincaid (Algonquin, hardback, $24.95). Contemporary Southern fiction. Verbena Martin Eckerd McCale of Baxter County, Ala., known to all as "Bena," is one of those characters you love and enjoy from the first sentence, and don't want to see go away. Hers is the story of a woman who thought she had her life all mapped out, and then has to think again when her husband dies in a car accident in the company of his mistress. Sweet but with a bite. This is the fourth novel for Kincaid, whose husband is former UH football coach Dick Tomey.

"School for Hawaiian Girls," by Georgia Ka'apuni McMillen (1stBooks Library, paper, $22.95). Historical fiction. A student at a girls' school near Kea'au on the Big Island is murdered, and the unsolved crime echoes through generations. A readable, thoughtful novel with an edge. Maui lawyer McMillen self-published this debut novel; it's a print-on-demand work that is available through all major online booksellers, or check her Web site, www.gkmcmillen.com.

"The Territory of Men: A Memoir," by Joelle Fraser (Villard, hardback, $22.95). Non-fiction. An extraordinary example of a school of books being penned by children of hippie-generation parents. A beautifully written and highly descriptive book in which a troubled childhood is salvaged by love and intelligence. Fraser lives in Portland but considers the Islands her heart's home.

• "Melal," by Robert Barclay (UH Press, paper, $14.95). Contemporary fiction. A young Marshallese seeks to integrate ancient and modern ways in the former U.S. territory. Skilfully crafted; harsh and yet encouraging at the same time. A selection of the Barnes & Nobles Discover Great New Writers program. Barclay, a doctoral candidate and lecturer at University of Hawai'i-Manoa, spent an idyllic outdoor boyhood in the Marshall Islands.

"Cloud of Sparrows," by Takashi Matsuoka (Delacorte, hardback, $24.95). Historical fiction. The story of Okumichi no kami Genji, Great Lord of Akaoka, his mistress, his clan and his enemies, played out in the 1860s as Japan reluctantly opens its doors to Westerners. Satisfyingly romantic but unpredictable and intelligent, too. Son of a bilingual reporter in Japan and Hawai'i, Takashi Matsuoka of Honolulu tried law school, traveled the world and was a motorcycle magazine editor before settling in to complete this novel, which will be part of a three-novel set.

"The Shimmering: Ka 'Olili, Island Stories,/" by Keola Beamer ('Ohe Books, paper, 14.95). Fiction/short stories. Musician Keola Beamer's first collection of stories ranges from shivery thrillers (Pele lures a lover via computer) to thigh-slapping laughers (a modern-day pidgin love story that begins with a glimpse through a high-rise window). The common theme: the peculiar mixed plate of forces that tug at the souls of modern-day Hawai'i people. Well-written and full of intriguing cross-cultural ideas.

"When the Shark Bites," by Rodney Morales (UH Press, paper, $19). Contemporary fiction. The story of a family of Hawaiian activists dealing with the disillusionment that follows idealism, and with contemporary realities of living local in Hawai'i. Lyrical, evocative, yet gritty and thought-provoking. Morales, best known previously for a short-story collection, heads the University of Hawai'i's creative writing program.