Hawai’i is a land steeped in history and rich in culture, much of it not well known to outsiders. From kickass Hawaiian cowboys to mysterious volcanoes to top secret women in WWII women, these 9 books are not to be missed!
Aloha Rodeo by David Wolman and Julian Smith
In the spirit of The Boys in the Boat comes the captivating true story of the Hawaiian cowboys who changed rodeo and the West forever.
In August 1908, three unknown riders arrived in Cheyenne, Wyoming, their hats adorned with wildflowers, to compete in the world’s greatest rodeo. They had travelled 3,000 miles from Hawaii, where their ancestors had herded cattle for generations, to test themselves against the toughest riders in the West. Dismissed by whites, who considered themselves the only true cowboys, the Hawaiians left the heartland as champions - and American legends.
David Wolman and Julian Smith’s Aloha Rodeo unspools a fascinating and little-known tale, blending rough-knuckled frontier drama with a rousing underdog narrative. Tracing the life story of steer-roping virtuoso Ikua Purdy and his cousins Jack Low and Archie Ka’au’a, the writers delve into the dual histories of ranching in the islands and the meteoric rise and sudden fall of Cheyenne, “Holy City of the Cow”. At the turn of the century, larger-than-life personalities like “Buffalo Bill” Cody and Theodore Roosevelt capitalized on a national obsession with the Wild West and helped transform Cheyenne’s annual Frontier Days celebration into an unparalleled rodeo spectacle, the “Daddy of ‘em All”.
A great deal rode on the Hawaiians’ shoulders during those dusty days in August. Just a decade earlier, the overthrow of Hawaii’s monarchy and forced annexation by the US had traumatized an independent nation whose traditions dated back centuries. Journeying to the mainland for the first time, the young riders brought with them the pride of a people struggling to preserve their cultural identity and anxious about their future under the rule of overlords an ocean away.
In Cheyenne, the Hawaiians didn’t just show their mastery of riding and roping, skills that white Americans thought they owned. They also overturned simplistic thinking about the “Wild West”, cowboys-versus-Indians, and the very concept of cattle country. Blending sport and history, while exploring questions of identity, imperialism, and race, Aloha Rodeo brings to light an overlooked and riveting chapter in the saga of the American West.
The Codebreaker’s Secret by Sara Ackerman
A brilliant female codebreaker. An “unbreakable” Japanese naval code. A pilot on a top-secret mission that could change the course of WWII. The Codebreaker's Secret is a dazzling story of love and intrigue set during America’s darkest hour.
1943. As war in the Pacific rages on, Isabel Cooper and her codebreaker colleagues huddle in “the dungeon” at Station HYPO in Pearl Harbor, deciphering secrets plucked from the airwaves in a race to bring down the enemy. Isabel has only one wish: to avenge her brother’s death. But she soon finds life has other plans when she meets his best friend, a hotshot pilot with secrets of his own.
1965. Fledgling journalist Lu Freitas comes home to Hawaii to cover the grand opening of the glamorous Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Rockefeller's newest and grandest project. When a high-profile guest goes missing, Lu forms an unlikely alliance with an intimidating veteran photographer to unravel the mystery. The two make a shocking discovery that stirs up memories and uncovers an explosive secret from the war days. A secret that only a codebreaker can crack.
Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn
Sharks in the Time of Saviors is a groundbreaking debut novel that folds the legends of Hawaiian gods into an engrossing family saga; a story of exile and the pursuit of salvation from Kawai Strong Washburn.
In 1995 Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, on a rare family vacation, 7-year-old Nainoa Flores falls overboard a cruise ship into the Pacific Ocean. When a shiver of sharks appears in the water, everyone fears for the worst. But instead, Noa is gingerly delivered to his mother in the jaws of a shark, marking his story as the stuff of legends.
Nainoa’s family, struggling amidst the collapse of the sugarcane industry, hails his rescue as a sign of favor from ancient Hawaiian gods - a belief that appears validated after he exhibits puzzling new abilities. But as time passes, this supposed divine favor begins to drive the family apart: Nainoa, working now as a paramedic on the streets of Portland, struggles to fathom the full measure of his expanding abilities; further north in Washington, his older brother Dean hurtles into the world of elite college athletics, obsessed with wealth and fame; while in California, risk-obsessed younger sister Kaui navigates an unforgiving academic workload in an attempt to forge her independence from the family’s legacy.
When supernatural events revisit the Flores family in Hawaii - with tragic consequences - they are all forced to reckon with the bonds of family, the meaning of heritage, and the cost of survival.
Hula by Jasmin Iolani Hakes
Set in Hilo, Hawai’i, a sweeping saga of tradition, culture, family, history, and connection that unfolds through the lives of three generations of women—a brilliant blend of There, There and Sharks in the Time of Saviors that is a tale of mothers and daughters, dance and destiny, told in part in the collective voice of a community fighting for its survival.
Hi'i is proud to be a Naupaka, a family renowned for its contributions to hula and her hometown of Hilo, Hawaii, but there’s a lot she doesn’t understand. She’s never met her legendary grandmother and her mother has never revealed the identity of her father. Worse, unspoken divides within her tight-knit community have started to grow, creating fractures whose origins are somehow entangled with her own family history.
In hula, Hi'i sees a chance to live up to her name and solidify her place within her family legacy. But in order to win the next Miss Aloha Hula competition, she will have to turn her back on everything she had ever been taught, and maybe even lose the very thing she was fighting for.
Told in part in the collective voice of a community fighting for its survival Hula is a spellbinding debut that offers a rare glimpse into a forgotten kingdom that still exists in the heart of its people.
Radar Girls by Sara Ackerman
An extraordinary story inspired by the real Women’s Air Raid Defense, where an unlikely recruit and her sisters-in-arms forge their place in WWII history.
Daisy Wilder prefers the company of horses to people, bare feet and salt water to high heels and society parties. Then, in the dizzying aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Daisy enlists in a top secret program, replacing male soldiers in a war zone for the first time.
Under fear of imminent invasion, the WARDs guide pilots into blacked-out airstrips and track unidentified planes across Pacific skies. But not everyone thinks the women are up to the job, and the new recruits must rise above their differences and work side by side despite the resistance and heartache they meet along the way. With America’s future on the line, Daisy is determined to prove herself worthy. And with the man she’s falling for out on the front lines, she cannot fail.From radar towers on remote mountaintops to flooded bomb shelters, she’ll need her new team when the stakes are highest. Because the most important battles are fought—and won—together.
This inspiring and uplifting tale of pioneering, unsung heroines vividly transports the reader to wartime Hawaii, where one woman’s call to duty leads her to find courage, strength and sisterhood.
Moloka’i by Alan Brennert
This richly imagined novel, set in Hawai'i more than a century ago, is an extraordinary epic of a little-known time and place---and a deeply moving testament to the resiliency of the human spirit.
Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven-year-old Hawaiian girl, dreams of visiting far-off lands like her father, a merchant seaman. Then one day a rose-colored mark appears on her skin, and those dreams are stolen from her. Taken from her home and family, Rachel is sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka'i. Here her life is supposed to end---but instead she discovers it is only just beginning.
With a vibrant cast of vividly realized characters, Moloka'i is the true-to-life chronicle of a people who embraced life in the face of death. Such is the warmth, humor, and compassion of this novel that "few readers will remain unchanged by Rachel's story" (mostlyfiction.com)
The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings
Narrated in a bold, fearless, unforgettable voice and set against the lush, panoramic backdrop of Hawaii, The Descendants is a stunning debut novel about an unconventional family forced to come together and re-create its own legacy.
Matthew King was once considered one of the most fortunate men in Hawaii. His missionary ancestors were financially and culturally progressive–one even married a Hawaiian princess, making Matt a royal descendant and one of the state’s largest landowners.
Now his luck has changed. His two daughters are out of control: Ten-year-old Scottie is a smart-ass with a desperate need for attention, and seventeen-year-old Alex, a former model, is a recovering drug addict. Matt’s charismatic, thrill-seeking, high-maintenance wife, Joanie, lies in a coma after a boat-racing accident and will soon be taken off life support. The Kings can hardly picture life without her, but as they come to terms with this tragedy, their sadness is mixed with a sense of freedom that shames them–and spurs them into surprising actions.
Before honoring Joanie’s living will, Matt must gather her friends and family to say their final goodbyes, a difficult situation made worse by the sudden discovery that there is one person who hasn’t been told: the man with whom Joanie had been having an affair, quite possibly the one man she ever truly loved. Forced to examine what he owes not only to the living but to the dead, Matt takes to the road with his daughters to find his wife’s lover, a memorable journey that leads to both painful revelations and unforeseen humor and growth.
The Last Volcano by John Dvorak
Volcanoes have fascinated - and terrified - people for ages. They have destroyed cities and ended civilizations. In this book, John Dvorak, the acclaimed author of Earthquake Storms, looks into the early years of volcanology and its "father", Thomas Jaggar.
Jaggar was the youngest of five scientists to investigate the explosion of Mount Pelee in Martinique, which leveled the entire city of St. Pierre and killed its entire population in two minutes. This explosion changed science forever, and Jaggar became obsessed with understanding the force of nature that could do this.
Falling in love with a widowed schoolteacher who shared his passion, Jaggar devoted his life to studying volcanic activity and the mysteries beneath the earth's surface. From their precarious perch, this dynamic husband and wife duo would discover a way to predict volcanic eruptions and tsunamis, promote geothermal energy, and theorize new ways to study the ocean bottom.
Red Sky Over Hawaii by Sara Ackerman
Inspired by real places and events of WWII, Red Sky over Hawaii immerses the listener in a time of American history full of suspicion and peril in this lush and poignant tale about the indisputable power of doing the right thing against all odds.
The attack on Pearl Harbor changes everything for Lana Hitchcock. Arriving home on the Big Island too late to reconcile with her estranged father, she is left alone to untangle the clues of his legacy, which lead to a secret property tucked away in the remote rain forest of Kilauea volcano. When the government starts taking away her neighbors as suspected sympathizers, Lana shelters two young German girls, a Japanese fisherman, and his son. As tensions escalate, they are forced into hiding - only to discover the hideaway house is not what they expected.
When a detainment camp is established nearby, Lana struggles to keep the secrets of those in her care. Trust could have dangerous consequences. As their lives weave together, Lana begins to understand the true meaning of family and how the bonds of love carry us through the worst times.
In the spirit of spreading aloha, Sara shares her favorite uplifting and inspiring finds. Maybe it's a book or podcast, or maybe it's a new adventure or film that is too good not to pass along.