Review of Hawaiian Gothic by Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane

Rating: 4. 5 stars

Gregorio “Ori” Reyes has just arrived home in Hawaii after doing time in Leavenworth and given a dishonorable discharge from the Army for his crime.  In disgrace with his military oriented family and with dwindling funds in his pocket, Ori has come home for only one reason.  Kalani, his boyhood friend, the reason he joined the Army and the only man he has ever loved.  Thoughts of Kalani were his constant companions in Iraq and his images haunted Ori’s nights in Leavenworth.  Everywhere Ori looks Kalani appears, which is crazy.  Because Kalani is lying comatose in a hospital bed on Honolulu.  Kalani had been attacked by a gang of men and left for dead while Ori had been in prison.  And now feeling guilty and grief stricken, Ori has returned to Kalani too late to tell him how much he loves him.  Or so Ori thinks.

After one of his visits to Kalani’s bedside, Ori’s visit to a gay bar ends with him taking a guy home.  As things heat up, a loud noise stops the proceedings and Kalani appears.  Or actually Kalani’s spirit appears although he feels so very real to Ori.  While his broken body remains in the hospital, Kalani visits Ori, the man Kalani has loved even if he wasn’t ready to accept that it was romantic love.  Unsure why Kalani is able to physically appear to Ori, neither man wants to question the miracle until Kalani starts getting attacked in the spirit world.  Together Ori and Kalani must explore the secrets of Kalani’s past and venture forward into Hawaii’s ghost world to set Kalani free, either to return to his body or join his ancestors in the clouds.  Something must be done quickly or Kalani will be condemned to everlasting pain in between.

Hawaiian Gothic is an remarkable story.  From the start, authors Belleau and Vane submerge us in the Hawaiian culture beginning with the language of the islands flowing throughout the dialog.  It mingles effortlessly as one would expect from a local speaker. Belleau and Vane actually created an Hawaiian Gothic glossary of Native Hawaiian and Hawaiian pidgin terms used in the story.  It can be found here. And there’s the locations. The Hawaiian settings are so authentically rendered that I would think that the authors are natives themselves, right down to hidden beaches and non-touristy sites.  I almost felt like I had to wipe the sand off my feet at times so complete was my immersion in the islands.

The next outstanding elements in the book are the Hawaiian creationist myths and beliefs that swirled and rolled like the waves of the ocean around all the characters of the story, especially the main ones of Ori and Kalani.  Here the Hawaiian myths rise up and become real, able to rip one apart like the flashing teeth of a shark or the mandibles of a caterpillar or sooth like the lomilomi.  Before I started this book I was only familiar with one of the Hawaiian creation myths.  By the end, I was seeking out more resources so fantastic, so addictive did the Hawaiian gods and stories become.  Great job by the authors in seamlessly fusing mythic and contemporary worlds so that both stood on equal footing with the reader as far as realism and tone. The authors almost did too good a job with their descriptions so frightening were the keuwas, Hawaiian dead hungry souls, that the very thought of them lingered on into my nightmares that night.

Belleau and Vane give us great characters to inhabit a great story.  Ori is especially believable.  He is a former Army Ranger and MMA fighter (that’s mixed martial arts for those of you unfamiliar with the MMA) who has completed two tours of duty in Iraq.  He is a victim of PTSD, ashamed of his discharge, isolated from his family. He feels he has little future and helpless, especially with Kalani comotose.  He hid his love for Kalani and ran from him rather than force Kalani to face it for what it was -romantic love. It was so easy to empathize with Ori and I became invested in his character early on. Kalani is a little more of a mystery as the book starts and then the reader becomes more familiar with him as Ori’s memories of their shared past surface and you come to love him as much as Ori does.  All the secondary characters are as fully realized as Ori and Kalani, giving the story the depth it needs with all its complicated layers of flashbacks, memories and spirit worlds.

So why not give this story 5 stars?  Well, it certainly came close and I am still debating the rating even now.  But I am still quibbling over two things.  One concern is an m/f/m element here that was required for the exposition of a plot point. But for me its extended narrative went on too long and removed us from the main storyline unnecessarily. Plus I know that for some readers any m/m/f or combination thereof is not something they want to see in their m/m fiction. And usually I would agree with them.  But I absolutely understood its inclusion by the authors here.  My second quibble involves the numerous flashbacks used by the authors to highlight certain elements of their story.  Did it work well in most instances? Yes.  Most of the time it was a satisfactory method to better understand the main characters pov and history.  But then its continued use and varied time frames (1988, 2004, 2010, 2009, etc) started to become a little irritating and less effective, distracting rather than contributing to a captivating and addictive storyline.  And trust me, this is such a great story that nothing should ever divert the reader away from  the saga at hand.

So pick up Hawaiian Gothic and visit the islands. Whether you be Malahini or Kama’aina, this story will have you ohana in no time.  Make no mistake Hawaiian Gothic is da kine or the best in every way.  Aloha!

Cover.  I love this cover by artist April Martinez.  Its beautiful from its model to Hawaiian cloth.  Perfect for the story.

Review of One Man’s Treasure, Bellingham Mysteries #4 by Nicole Kimberling

Rating: 4.25

Peter Fontaine, intrepid reporter for The Bellinghamster, and his long suffering artist partner Nick Olson are back again in another mystery  set in the City of Subdued Excitement, Bellingham, Washington.  Along for the ride are their many quixotic friends and outlandish acquaintances we have gotten to know over the last three mysteries . This time around, Peter and partner nee boyfriend Nick have been strongarmed by Peter’s BFF Evangeline Conklin, sometime found object artist, into helping out at her Go Go Gyoza stall at The Farmers Market on Earth Day.  Normally her stoner boyfriend, Tommy, would be helping out but the Farmers Market Association talked Tommy into wearing the Spunky the Squirrel costume and participating in the ecoterrorist play put on to benefit the Whatcom Emergency Farm Fund,  Ergo, Nick and Peter’s assistance is required.

As Peter manages the front of the booth, Nick and Evangeline are busy producing her gourmet gyozas (with fillings both traditional and experimental) to the rain soaked and quickly dwindling crowd.  Roger Hager, famous ceramics artist and old friend of Nick’s, had ambled over from his stall across from theirs earlier in the morning to sample the gyozas and pass the time with Nick.  In fact he had pretty much abandoned his booth and taken up permanent residence next to Nick as they chatted the morning away.  But then Roger starts coughing and  doubles over in pain. Peter calls for an EMT and ambulance who whisk Roger away to the hospital too late to save him.

A casual inquiry by Peter as to the cause of death  boosts his always present curiosity into the determined stage of inquisitiveness that Nick has come to know and dread.  Roger has been poisoned and all roads lead to the Green Goddess farms.  Peter’s previous investigations have always put him and others into life-threatening situations and Nick expects it to happen again.  They really need to have a little talk about Peter and his impulses, that is if the murderer doesn’t get them first.

With One Man’s Treasure, Nicole Kimberling once again embroils us into that damp, politically correct world of Peter and Nick in Whatcom County, Washington.  With Peter as her snarky Diogenes, Nicole Kimberling gently pokes fun at the new age/old hippie/green lifestyle that taken root in Washington state and the northwest coast.  Whether it is the Spinnin Wimmen comprised of women named Luna and Cinderella, to Roger’s wake where pottery students and mourners are asked to turn Roger’s ashes into ceramic pots, Nicole Kimberling gets the flavor of the town and its citizens just right.  Her descriptions and characterizations are perfectly spot on, delighting us with new fully realized characters and tidbits of esoteric information about ceramic glazes to toxins derived from the Zigadenus species known as death camus.   The author’s fondness for the area and its inhabitants never interferes with the clarity with which she sees them all.

I have followed Peter and Nick’s relationship from the very beginning.  They met during a murder mystery in Primal Red, our first introduction to Bellingham, Washington, and its quirky denizens.  It was a rough start for both of them, but still they had managed a date and more by the end. Baby, It’s Cold Outside finds Peter and Nick involved in a monogamous relationship and we start learning more about Peter, his family, and Kjell,the plein air artist that is Nick’s cousin.  Both men are dealing with their emotions, Peter is turning 30 amidst a midlife crisis, and decisions need to be made about their deepening relationship. By the time we get to Black Cat Ink, Bellingham Mysteries #3, Peter and Nick are living together in The Castle and still working on their relationship issues and Peter’s impulses while tracking down a stolen statue in time for Halloween.

In each book, Peter and Nick’s relationship progresses realistically, with its hitches and misfires.  Nick Olson’s nordic stoicism contrasts  beautifully with Peter’s emotionally inquisitive outlook but not always in a manner conducive to maintaining the relationship.  At the end of Black Cat Ink, the Fontaine/Olson household had acquired a black kitten, and Peter some maturity in acknowledging that his methods often harmed more than helped his relationship with Nick. And Nick had obtained a promise of sorts that Peter would think before he rushed into action because they both wanted a long future together.

And here we come to my one and only quibble with this installment in the Bellingham Mysteries and partnership of Fontaine/Olson. Yes, yes, I know some will say the murderer was easy to spot.  While that may be true, it is always the how and the why and not the who that I enjoy about the Bellingham Mysteries.  But let’s get back to the relationship at hand. The two have been making strides in settling down, Peter’s over his insecurity at remaining at The Hamster as his local newspaper is fondly called, and Nick becoming more comfortable at pdas.  When a murder happens (my expectations always run high at methods the murderer will use), Peter’s inherent nosiness is on alert.  No one, including Nick and this reader, expects that to ever change.  As Peter snoops around their community, with Nick’s assistance in this case, I start thinking “aha, Peter is not going this alone as promised.  Good one.” But alas, that is not to be.  Even as Nick proposes and they enter into a “kinda married domestic partnership”, Peter’s old habits rise up at the end, his promise to Nick forgotten as he confronts the murderer in a spectacularly stupid fashion. I was so amazed at both his stupidity and the fact that he put someone close to him in harms way. I was still irritated at the character hours later. Oh yes, I know Nick’s resigned to Peter’s methods, Peter knows he’s screwed up again(but doesn’t really apologize) and I just wanted to throttle him.   Not the way I wanted to end this book.  Or my relationship with Peter, Nick, and the Bellingham tatterdemalions.

So I am hoping for a 5th book in this series and for Peter to gain some long overdue maturity.  Nick deserves better. As does their readers.  This reader continues to be very fond of the both of them.

Here are the books in order:

Primal Red, Bellingham Mysteries #1

Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Bellingham Mysteries #2

Black Cat Ink, Bellingham Mysteries, #3

One Man’s Treasure, Bellingham Mysteries, #4

All available at Loose – id, Amazon, and ARe.

Cover:  I have loved all the covers of this series.  All are by April Martinez.  Just perfection in tone, graphics and font.  Well done.