Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Aloha Rodeo - David Wolman and Julian Smith ----------------- 4.5 Stars

I can't really remember where I came across the recently released Aloha Rodeo, but I'm sure happy I did as it was one of my favorite books read in the past year.

Quick background - Aloha Rodeo is about "three Hawaiian cowboys, the world's greatest rodeo and a hidden history of the America West" (or at least that's what the cover tells me). Further, the book provides a superb retelling about the introduction of domesticated cattle to Hawaii (1700s), the importance and proliferation of cattle in Hawaii (1800s), and the impressive rise of cowboys in Hawaii (paniolos) (late 1800s).

For full disclosure, part of the reason for the very high rating is my background growin up on Maui and great nostalgia for all things Hawaiian. Some of my fondest memories of Makawao, were going to the annual 4th of July rodeo and watching such incredible events as bull riding, and the unique (I think to just Hawaii, or maybe Maui? or maybe Makawao?) double mugging. (Side note - double mugging is incredible. It's two cowboys, one on a horse and one on his two feet - first guy lassos the half-a-ton steer, then the guy on the ground has to go and wrestle the steer over and then tie three of it's feet. Way too much fun to watch these burly cowboys take on cows three times their size.)

So, I have great fondness for the history of this book and thoroughly enjoyed the storytelling. Moving from the history of cattle in Hawaii, to the rise of rodeos in the West, to the eventual explanation of the entertainment value of cowmen and rodeos, the authors did a a superb job keeping the book engaging, detailed, and full of colorful stories of people and events.

While I am not sure this book would appeal to everyone, even without a personal connection and affinity to Hawaii, I do believe one might enjoy. While I was particularly infatuated with the read (and finished in under week as I was obsessed!) I do think this smaller piece of American history is a worthy read for all. You can pass on a "Mahalo" to me after reading!

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Be Frank with Me - Julia Claiborne Johnson -------------- 3 Stars

Be Frank with Me was not on my radar but it was passed on to me, and it was an interesting read about an incredibly ECCENTRIC young boy named Frank who was the star of this story.

Not having heard of this book, I was intrigued by it's general plot: young employee at a book publishing group is assigned to support one of it's strongest and reclusive authors who needs to finish her second book after she rose to stardom with her debut novel. As I mentioned above, what turned out to be the most pleasant of surprises was the character of Frank - the reclusive authors 8 year old son who, to say the least, is incredibly eccentric. The book goes on as the young employee shares her experiences living with this unique family and the trials and tribulations of the amazing charismatic, challenging, and bizarre - Frank.

The book read easily and there was a lot of interesting dialogue and great interactions between the key characters. The first half of the book was my favorite as it included wonderful vignettes from Frank's life that included all of his exuberance and oddities at it's best. He really was the best character in the story and most scenes without him were boring and kept me missing him.

I found the second half less exciting. Unlike the first half that just told short anecdotes, that really didn't move the plot forward. The last half of the book tried to tell the story of Frank's mother (a Harper Lee) type. I supposed this was necessary to assure the plot "moved" somewhere, but it just wasn't exciting or that interesting to hear about the narrator's quasi-love story, Frank's mom struggle to write, or the book publishing editor coming to rescue things.

If you want to read a humorous book about one of the most eccentric, funny and charming young kids you could imagine, this book is for you. It's hard not to love Frank (especially since he's fictional and does not live with you!).