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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 21, 2005

Breezing through the bookshelf

Advertiser Staff

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"DELICIOUS" BY MARK HASKELL SMITH; AVON, HARDBACK, $23

This fast-paced, smart-mouthed, sex-sparked murder mystery by an L.A.-based screenwriter will either turn you off completely or leave you gasping with laughter, depending on your sensitivities. The novel opens with Joseph average local guy, aspiring chef, defender of the land digging an 'imu but it's not a pig he's planning to put into the pit. This paradise-turned-sour book affected me like a traffic accident: I was uncomfortable and dubious but part of me couldn't help reading. Smith studied Lee Tonouchi's books to brush up his pidgin and it almost works, although you'd never make the mistake of thinking the book was written by a local. The guy does know his way around a restaurant kitchen, though.

"PUNAHOU BLUES: A HAWAIIAN NOVEL" BY KIRBY WRIGHT; LEMON SHARK PRESS, PAPER $14.95

Written by a genuine buff-n-blu, this nostalgic coming-of-age novel is made up of chapters that read like polished short stories. The narrator, Jeff Gill, is a conflicted character with a straight-talking part-Hawaiian grandma who has led a colorful life, a pair of social-climbing parents who'd rather forget the family's past, and a strong desire to fit in at Punahou, which he enters in junior high. Wright's believable and smooth-reading story touches on the complexities of multicultural Hawai'i in the '50s and '60s: kill-a-haole day, prejudices against (and within) Punahou and the then-tricky matter of interracial dating. My sole complaint: I don't think Wright gets local language right.

"LIVING WITH FRED" BY BRAD WHITTINGTON; BROADMAN & HOLMAN PUBLISHERS, TRADE PAPERBACK, $12.99

Readers who enjoyed Hono-lulan Brad Whittington's gently humorous evocation of adolescence, "Welcome to Fred," have probably already gobbled up this sequel, in which teenage PK (preacher's kid) Mark Cloud finds God and then has to figure out what to do with him. Whittington's skill with dialogue both the external conversations and Cloud's internal musings pulls you into and through this book with the ease of fishing line on a new reel. A good read.

"THE LONE SURFER OF MONTANA, KANSAS" BY DAVY ROTHBART; TOUCHSTONE/SIMON & SCHUSTER, PAPER, $12

The title of this short story collection is irresistible and so is the story of that name, about a boy in the Midwest who achieves a precarious balance, and escape from a sad family situation, by dreaming of surfing, teetering on a Big Kahuna surfboard set on the ground on his family's farm. Rothbart is a writer, rapper and documentary filmmaker whose name might be familiar to you from NPR's "This American Life." These short stories have grace, humanity, humor and honesty in equal measure. This guy knows how.

"HEARTBREAK HOTEL" BY JILL MARIE LANDIS; BALLANTINE, HARDBACK, $23.95

Best-selling romance writer Landis lives half the year on Kaua'i, where she says it's easier to write because of fewer family commitments (her other home is in Long Beach, Calif.). "Heartbreak Hotel" is a breezy (and sometimes chilly) beach read about a woman who must try to make a go of the only thing of value left her by her bankrupt husband: an old beachside inn. But she doesn't bargain for the attractiveness of her first guest or for the secrets that emerge from his past. The book ends just as it should with true love that stands the test of time.

"VOYAGE TO ALOHA: A MEMOIR OF HAWAII" BY JOAN S. SEDLACEK; HUNDRED OAKS PUBLISHING, PAPER, $13.95

If you want to get a good sense of how much times have changed, read this book and sigh. It's the true story of a pair of girlfriends who decide to up and leave their East Coast homes to move to Hawai'i in the early 1950s. Finding a home and a coterie of similar-minded "Malahini Maiden" girlfriends, these well-bred young women, both social workers, land jobs and spend an idyllic few months living at the old Fernhurst YWCA, dating, sailing, dancing and, finally, each meeting the men of their dreams. In little over a year, both are married, and Eleanor, now Mrs. Edward Ha, lives in Kailua, while Joan, now Mrs. Warren Sedlacek, lives in Illinois but returns to the Islands as often as possible. A slice of a lifestyle gone by. (Sedlacek will be here in September for book-signings and the book should be available in local stores soon.)

"FISH TALES: FRESH AND SALTY" BY EYVINN H. SCHOENBERG; XLIBRIS, TRADE PAPERBACK, $17.84

This slim, self-published set of autobiographical stories begins with the author's upbringing on waterfront property facing the Middle Loch of Pearl Harbor, where he learned to catch papio, for which his fish-loving father would pay him a dime. Soon, he was selling fish to friends in the neighborhood and, with other young fishermen, dodging a kia a loko (caretaker) who had fishing rights in the area and a shotgun to back that up. Though Schoenberg's punctuation and syntax are often a bit odd, these memory fragments will appeal to anyone who enjoys fishing and remembers the good old days. (Available online from the xlibris.com bookstore).