The Descendants: The narrator of this book is a descendant of a wealthy family in Hawaii whose wife is suddenly in a coma and dying. He now has to gather friends and family to inform them of his wife’s death while also learning how to handle his two daughters without her. I thought it was an enjoyable read, as did some other people apparently since a movie version was made in 2011. While I didn’t learn a lot about Hawaii in the book, I thought the author did a great job of using the islands as a backdrop to the story. You really feel like you get a glimpse of what it is like for this family to live normal lives with a lush vacation destination in the background.
“I bet in big cities you can walk down the street scowling and no one will ask you what’s wrong or encourage you to smile, but everyone here has the attitude that we’re lucky to live in Hawaii; paradise reigns supreme. I think paradise can go f— itself.”
Hawaii: At nearly 1,000 pages this book is a doozy, but well worth it. It is an expansive history of Hawaii told in novel form. It begins with the island being formed, then moves on to the first settlers, the missionaries, and the Chinese and Japanese immigrants. It is a fiction book, but much of the story is based on fact so you get to learn while having fun! And it is actually pretty fun to read if you’re into wordy epics. Some of the dialogue was lacking in my opinion, but there really isn’t a ton of dialogue in the book anyways so not that big of a problem. The book was published the same year that Hawaii became a state, and if you want to know how Hawaii got there I’d recommend reading this book.
Unfamiliar Fishes: I was excited for this book, mostly because I am a fan of “This American Life.” It was the first book I have read by Sarah Vowell, and, honestly, it was a little disappointing. She does do a good job of summarizing Hawaii’s history interjected with funny comments. Some of the funny comments, though, I felt were a little overboard. Not that the jokes were mean or terrible, but that they maybe shouldn’t have made the final cut. Actually, I really think I would have enjoyed this book more after a more rigorous editing. For example, I probably would have cut several of the bits about New England and the Native Americans. New England, of course, does have some role to play in the history of Hawaii, but it felt like the book got sidetracked is some places. That being said, if you want to know more about Hawaii’s history then this is a quick and informative read.
“If a big wave comes in, large and unfamiliar fishes will come from the dark ocean, and when they see the small fishes of the shallows they will eat them up. The white man’s ships have arrived with clever men from the big countries. They know our people are few in number and our country is small, they will devour us”
Blooming in the Wild: I am not typically a romance novel type of girl, but when this book popped up in my library search for Hawaii books, well, I couldn’t resist. The description actually says, “Warning: A wahine who’ll stop at nothing to claim her man. Steamy interlude in the tropical forest, including illicit use of flowers.” If that doesn’t entice you then I don’t know what will. The premise of the book is that an adventure supply company is doing a photoshoot on the Big Island so a group of models, one Bear Grylls type TV star, and the attractive Bella, who is organizing the shoot, head out for a couple days into the lush Hawaiian wilderness. Sexual tension ensues. Meanwhile, Bella recently discovered that she is a descendant of some powerful Hawaiian family and may have the ability to control plants. I don’t read a lot of romance novels so I am not sure how it stacks up in that regard, but I did not like the way the author worked Hawaiian lingo into the book. Unlike the author of The Descendants, who did a lovely job of subtly placing the reader in Hawaii, Cathryn Cade is kind of in-your-face about it–explaining the definition of words, for example, when the reader could have easily used context clues. Disclaimer: I didn’t actually finish this one, but I think I got the gist.