Tag Archives: Guam

FORGET GREY. BEST BOOKS FOR VALENTINE’S DAY

‘I am Daniel Tahi’ by Lani Wendt Young

‘I am Daniel Tahi’ is a companion novella to Lani Wendt Young’s well-known Telesa series. As it shows Daniel’s point of view, it is written in a very ‘manly’ manner. It’s casual, funny, and…quite hot. You think Christian Grey is a guy for you? That means you haven’t met Daniel Tahi yet. And believe me, you do want to meet him.

‘Sons For The Return Home’ by Albert Wendt

Albert Wendt’s cross-racial love story follows a young student, the son of Samoan migrants, who falls for a pakeha girl. Amidst the troubles and difficulties, the two lovers discover the world of intimacy and relationships, quickly realizing that it’s not always easy to love someone from a different culture. The plot of this book is filled with desire, lust, sexual tension, and…overwhelming longing for what’s not there but could be.

‘Conquered’ by Paula Quinene

This historical erotic romance revolves around Jesi, a young Chamorro girl who, in the most dramatic circumstances, meets the man of her dreams. The story will make your heart beat a bit faster than usual, and the couple’s intense relationship will make you green with envy…or red in the face (if you know what I mean).

The Scarlet Series by Lani Wendt Young

Sometimes girls just wanna have fun, right? And, trust me, no one does it better than Scarlet, the main character in the series. Especially when a very handsome man appears on the horizon. Although this very enjoyable book may seem light-hearted on the surface, it has a real plot full of secrets. And if you’re looking for some romance, you will definitely find it here!

‘A Farm in the South Pacific Sea’ by Jan Walker

This title is a little more ‘serious’, more ‘mature’. It recounts a true story of June von Donop, who comes to the Kingdom of Tonga to find a purpose in life but ends up finding her true soulmate (while at the same time having a romance with a young Tongan man). This is the most beautiful love story, told with great passion, that you’ll want to reread as soon as you finish the last sentence.

A CHAT WITH… PAULA QUINENE

Paula Quinene has been known for writing about…food; Chamorro food to be more precise. Her two cookbooks will definitely make your mouth water, but her debut novel – an erotic historical romance entitled ‘Conquered’ – will leave your mouth wide open. Interested to know more? Just read the interview.

paula-quinene

Pasifika Tales: Up until now you were focused on Chamorro recipes cookbooks. What inspired you to write a novel?

Paula Quinene: I was in the midst of working on my two Guam cookbooks. The first was a pure cookbook, the second was a cookbook and memoir book. The idea for the novel was to combine food, memories, and history. I was so mahȧlang, or homesick, that it seemed like the natural progression in my string of Guam books.

PT: The story is set in 1940s. Was it your idea right from the beginning? Why didn’t you choose a contemporary setting?

PQ: Yes, it was my idea from the start. Guam’s liberation is so important to the Chamorros, the natives of Guam and the Mariana Islands. Our liberation from the Japanese by the Americans during WWII has been celebrated on Guam and around the world for decades. When most folks think of WWII in the Pacific, they think Pearl Harbor. I felt it was important to share that after Pearl Harbor was bombed, the Japanese bombed and occupied Guam for almost three years.

PT: How did you come up with the plot?

PQ: During one of my visits to Guam, I spent some time at my sister-in-law’s house. Her backyard was so beautiful. It was the inspiration for the main setting in ‘Conquered’. I had to find a military unit that came as close to that area of Guam so that he would somehow bump into my heroine. The main plot revolves around the movement of that particular unit. For the subplots, I wanted gut-wrenching, emotional scenes to develop the romance, the sex, and to showcase the Chamorro culture.

PT: Do you think that your book may help get readers interested in Guam’s history?

PQ: The short excerpt I had sent to my then potential editor, Stacey Donovan, definitely got her interested. Those who don’t know much about Guam will learn a ton. Some Chamorros reading the novel will have a handful of ‘aha’ moments. History buffs may be motivated to dig further into Guam’s past as there are references to both the Spanish and American colonization’s before WWII.

PT: ‘Conquered’ is not only a purely historical novel; it is actually an erotic historical romance. I’d say it’s a bold combination. Do you agree?

PQ: Yes. My senior paper in high school was ‘Conformity vs Non-Conformity’, and I was all for being a non-conformist. I believe in pushing the limits, in go big or go home, as long as no one gets hurt.

PT: Why did you decide to venture into the erotic romance genre?

PQ: The romance novels I read as a teen and young adult just didn’t have enough erotic scenes, but they were always loving and romantic. Besides, by the time of ‘Conquered’s publication, it was a plus that explicit books were more acceptable. Sex was so taboo for adults to talk about while I was growing up. Even the loving, romantic kind. Coming from a very cultural and Catholic background, I wanted to say, ‘Hey, sex can be full of love, fun, and pleasure. It will enhance a marriage if you are open and accepting of mutually acceptable activities.’

PT: Was it difficult to handle the erotic scenes without crossing the line of good taste?

PQ: Initially, I used too many somewhat lewd words for that time period. I took my editor’s advice and changed the words. The sex scenes in romance novels I read in the past were in very good taste. I don’t remember the details of such scenes, but I remember words like womanhood and manhood.

PT: Do you plan to further explore the world of literary fiction? Is there a new novel on the horizon?

PQ: Literary fiction? No. I’ve been on the fence with another erotic romance novel since 2014, working on it a tiny, tiny bit here and there. It will bring Guam’s history into a more recent decade, but will be a while before the story is ready for an editor. The heroine of my novel-in-the-works is the granddaughter of the heroine in ‘Conquered’.

PT: Now, because you are an expert when it comes to Chamorro cuisine, would you mind sharing your favourite Chamorro recipe?

PQ: I love a lot of Chamorro food, but boñelos aga’ is my favorite because I can remember it from forever ago as a child. It’s also something my mom taught me how to make, scooping the batter with my hand and dropping it into the oil between my thumb and index finger. My life is so grounded because of the culture and traditions I was brought up in, much of which was family life around food. My kids love this dessert, and it’s something they can pass on to their children.

Boñelos Aga’ [Banana doughnuts]

This will yield a small batch of boñelos, which should be quite soft even after it has completely cooled. Making boñelos aga requires minimal adjustments to the dough depending on how much water is in the bananas. Do not add more flour than listed.

Makes about 40 doughnuts.

INGREDIENTS

SET 1

3 cups overripe, smashed bananas (previously frozen and thawed to room temperature is best)

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

SET 2

2½ cups flour (¼ cup more may be needed)

2 teaspoons baking powder

SET 3

Vegetable oil for deep frying

Tools: large pot, ladle with holes, medium bowl, colander, napkins, long butter knife

DIRECTIONS

Fill the large pot halfway with oil. Heat the oil on medium heat.

While it’s heating, combine the smashed bananas, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl.

Add 2½ cups flour and baking powder. Mix thoroughly.

Depending on the ripeness of the bananas or if they were previously frozen, you may or may not need the remaining ¼ cup of flour.

Check the thickness of the ‘cake mix-like’ batter. The batter should be a bit thicker than cake mix, but not at all like bread dough. Take a scoop in your hand. Drop it into the rest of the mixture. The scoop should retain some of its shape without completely blending into the mix. It will flatten out, but you should be able to see the outline.

If you are not sure, leave out the extra flour for now.

Test your ‘batter dropping’ technique. Scoop a small amount of batter into the palm of your dominant hand. Make a circle with your thumb and fingers. Turn your ‘circled fingers’ to drop some batter back into the bowl. This takes a little bit of practice. If you can squeeze the batter out and let the trail of batter fall onto itself in the oil, your doughnuts have a good chance of turning out round. If not, and the boñelos has a tail, more crunchy parts to eat! You can always use two small spoons, or a small cookie-dough scoop.

When the oil is hot, drop about a teaspoon of batter into the oil. The dough should turn into a puffy ball. The batter may fall to the bottom of the pot, but rises as it cooks. It will only stay at the bottom a few seconds. If it sits longer, the oil is not hot enough. Use a butter knife to tease the doughnut from the bottom of the pot, and discard. Wait five minutes for the oil to continue to heat.

Test a bigger doughnut. Scoop enough batter in your hand to form one doughnut. Position your hand about an inch above the surface of the oil then squeeze the batter through your thumb and fingers. If the batter falls to the bottom of the pot, let it cook for two minutes. If it doesn’t rise after two minutes, nudge it free with a long utensil.

The oil should be hot enough to cook the center of the boñelos and brown the outside of the doughnut within 15 minutes.

Cool the larger test doughnut on a napkin. Open the doughnut and check to see if it is cooked. Check carefully as there will be chunks of banana in the boñelos. If in doubt whether there is enough flour, go ahead and add the remaining ¼ cup of flour. Mix this very well.

Continue to squeeze batter into the oil without overcrowding the pot. The entire first batch of doughnuts may need nudging from the bottom of the pot.

The doughnuts in the remaining batches should float to the surface of the oil on their own.

Drain doughnuts in a colander then transfer to a napkin-lined dish.

‘CONQUERED’ BY PAULA QUINENE

‘Conquered’, Paula Quinene’s debut novel, is a historical erotic romance set in Guam. It follows Jesi, a young Chamorro woman, who finds love and happiness amid the turbulence of war.

conquered

Summary

Ever since the Japanese invaded her homeland, Jesi has been forced to hide in a cave. Her father and brother left the safe place a week ago. They told her they would return, but they still haven’t shown up. Suffering from loneliness and afraid that something might have happened to them, Jesi decides she needs to start her search.

As she battles her way through the island, her worst nightmare of being captured by the Japs comes true. She desperately tries to fight, but they are stronger. She begins to lose consciousness when someone manages to save her.

Not wanting to leave the rescued girl all alone, Johan Landers, an American soldier, follows her to the cave. The little time they get to spend together is enough for them to fall in love with each other.

Review

An erotic novel written by a Pacific author? That doesn’t happen very often. Sex is still considered a difficult, embarrassing, and forbidden subject amongst Pacific communities, so discussing it publicly – in a book – is quite a rarity. However, there are writers bold enough to try to break down this taboo. Paula Quinene is definitely one of them.

‘Conquered’ is a novel in which eroticism is prominent, but not overly so. You might be surprised how little is actually described. Sex doesn’t fill the pages of the book to the brim – it is only an addition to the plot, not its main focus. I have to admit that the author handled all the lovemaking scenes very gracefully, minding the language but not sparing the juicy details. As befits a historical romance – let’s don’t forget the story is set in the 1940s – the book contains no lewd phrases. Ms Quinene maintained the highest standards of eloquence, choosing her words with due regard to the time period, setting, and the nature of her tale. Your cheeks probably won’t turn red, but your heart might start beating a little bit faster than usual.

The plot itself is extremely engaging, but it also feels slightly rushed. Everything happens very quickly, and you are not given enough time to savour the moments. Of course, not all readers will find this unappealing. The storyline flows smoothly from one event to another, and because it never slows down, there is no chance of getting bored. Yet still, most people crave depth and complexity, at least to some extent. In this novel both are virtually non-existent. The briefness of the scenes and the narrative as a whole is – unfortunately – more irritating than pleasing.

One thing Paula Quinene didn’t skimp on is Guam. References to the Chamorro culture are omnipresent. Each chapter unravels the beauty of the local customs and traditions, letting you either discover the exotic and foreign world or come back to the place you already perfectly know. What is more, the book serves as a fantastic history lesson which brings to life the tragic and painful period in Guam’s past – the Japanese occupation of the island. We tend to forget that World War II in the Blue Continent was not limited to Hawaii only. This title is a wonderful reminder. Wonderful and well-researched. The author made sure to check the facts, so this part of the story is very believable and convincing.

Can the same be said of the characters? Absolutely. Both Jesi and Johan are richly developed protagonists who change considerably throughout the course of the novel.

Jesi, although young and inexperienced, is a real fighter. The cruelty she witnessed during the occupation has toughen her up, shaping her adult personality. Being Chamorro, she has the utmost respect for her parents, yet she is not afraid to do things her own way. A gentle rebel of sorts who impresses with bravery and resilience.

Johan, on the other hand, is a mature man. He battles his own demons and is well aware of the fact that life is no bed of roses. Having lost his wife and desire to live, he has dedicated himself to serving his country – he fights, so he can forget. It is not until he meets Jesi that he rediscovers the purpose of his existence and the power of love. He starts to understand that the commitment made to the US Army cannot be more important than the commitment made to his significant other.

We all must agree that Paula Quinene did something quite extraordinary with this novel – she proved that with a little creativity you can tackle even the most taboo topics. Reading ‘Conquered’ is a very pleasant experience. It’s a daring book any fan of Pacific literature will appreciate and enjoy.

THROUGH MY EYES: ‘MAHÅLANGNESS – THE FUEL THAT FED MY WRITING FIRE’ BY PAULA QUINENE

‘How long have you been away from home?’ I asked an army friend.

‘Thirteen years,’ he replied.

And to myself, I said, How could anyone be away from Guam for 13 years? It’s simple really. When was the last time you checked on ticket prices to an island half way around the world? Imagine the expense for a college student from the lower end of the middle class.

So it began, the winter of 1993. I started college at the University of Oregon, away from my family, away from Guam, and very mahȧlang. In Chamorro, mahȧlang means homesick. My parents bent over backwards to bring me home in the summers of 1993 and 1994. During my second full year of school, I decided that I would wait to go home. I didn’t want to ask my parents for another $1,800 ticket. And even with my multiple jobs as a college student, I couldn’t afford that ticket, not after paying for rent, books, and food. I could wait three years to go home. Truth was, I was very mahȧlang listening to JD Crutch, and cooking Guam food. I almost left college in 1995 without graduating. But I realized how hard my parents were working to send their oldest child to school. So I stopped listening to Chamorro music, and focused even more on my studies.

It was the summer of 1996, and low and behold, I had only one year of college left – then I fell in love with a Chamorro boy in the army, got married, graduated, and was whisked away to Germany. I cried almost every day my first year overseas. What did I do? I was supposed to go home!

In the span of 20 years, I had been to Guam only three times – 1999, 2006, and 2013. The pain in my heart, in my very being, gave life to my cookbooks, ‘A Taste of Guam’ and ‘Remember Guam’, and my novel, ‘Conquered’. My mahȧlangness was the fuel that fed my writing fire.

During my sophomore year at Simon Sanchez High School, I felt I had a destiny with my island. It was in 2006, while I was working on my cookbooks and my novel that I realized exactly what I was meant to do. And that was to write about Guam. If I had returned to Guam, I wouldn’t have been mahȧlang, and I wouldn’t have written my books.

Over the last 10 years, I’ve built my website, Paulaq.com, and my supporting social media presence, because I am very mahȧlang. Denial works sometimes – that I’m OK being away from home. However, writing about Guam keeps me connected to the land and the family that raised me. Writing has proven to be more productive and useful than hiding from the pain.

Fortunately, I’ve been home twice within the past three years, and am now able to continue that trend. I’m still homesick, but the pain is more bearable.

While I’ve been working on another Guam food book on and off since 2012, I thought I was done writing novels. Yet she calls to me. Her plight. Her fight. Her struggle to reclaim what was taken by colonizing forces, ‘Write for me. Let your love now feed your writing fire.’

From whatever island you are from, embrace your love and your homesickness. Allow it to help you share and preserve the richness of your heritage.

A CHAT WITH… STEPHEN TENORIO JR.

Stephen Tenorio Jr. is a multi-talented person. He is a writer, painter, attorney, and a former JAG officer. He comes from the Marianas, a place so close to his heart that it provided the setting for his novel, ‘An Ocean in a Cup’. Do you want to know more about the book? Read the interview.

STEPHEN TENORIO JR

Pasifika Tales:  If you were to summarize the plot of your book, ‘An Ocean in a Cup’, in just a few sentences, what would you say?

Stephen Tenorio Jr.: A story cataloging a young and good-hearted man’s life in the beautiful Marianas islands, tribulations of human behavior in small islands, and the haunted state he endures caused by an unknown illness that often overwhelms him with despair, anxiety, and fear. Beneath the general plot, there is layer of consciousness, and then other layers beneath.

PT: Tomas, the protagonist of the book, is a very interesting character. Who or what was your inspiration?

STJ: Tomas is somebody many young islanders in the mid to late 70s on Guam were encouraged to be – respectful, humble, a hard worker, and helpful. In some ways, maybe he is Charon for the reader, or a demurred Beatrice or Virgil.

PT: Did you also have your sources of inspiration for supporting characters? Because I must admit they are as intriguing as Tomas.

STJ: Most of the characters are based off actual people I’ve met or knew about, even the bad ones. Some of the dialogue are comments or perceptions I remembered, and human interaction that were brought to my attention or I observed first hand.

PT: You’ll probably agree that your novel is not an easy read. It’s a multi-layered story that every reader might interpret differently. Was this your aim from the beginning?

STJ: I thought that the ‘multi-layering’ would have been apparent the first time I tried to get it out in the public because the novel is entrenched with rows of symbolism and prose. I think the first chapter was demonstrative of the level of reading the reader had to manage. Interestingly, several years after publication, I met three people (by happenstance, at different times) on Guam who read my book and all went to a US college in the east coast. They all conveyed they were familiar with my literary style of writing because their studies included a list of interpretive fiction. Since, I’ve had this liberal presumption that interpretive fiction has a wider audience on the east coast in the US.

Interpretive fiction is not new with respect to literature but like calculus it is distinct from its brethren within its own discipline. And like calculus, interpretive fiction will attract only those invested into its critical and complex nature because it is taxing on the mind.

Generally, the feedback has been consistent in that the novel reads as interpretive fiction. Interpretive fiction separates from the ‘escapism’ type of work most people are familiar because it requires the reader to ‘stop, think, and reflect’.  Even a simple online search is telling: interpretive literature is described as a fictitious narrative to illustrate one or more practical truths, moral principles or codes of ethics. Unfortunately, its anatomy is incapable of being an ‘easy read’.

I’ve had some college students tell me that the novel seems like a collection of short stories, each chapter having its own parable or moral lesson. I regard that as a good perspective that explains the novel’s multi-faceted structure.

At times, I get comments that the novel’s level and nature of reading is similar to Joyce, Proust, Faulkner. Others tell me the layering reminds them of theological narratives dense with passages that are heavy with symbolism. Again, the consistency towards interpretive fiction surfaces.

I intended my work to be full with euphony. I wanted the aesthetic of each paragraph or chapter to be able to survive independently in a coherent literary state without the support of the novel in its entirety. I wanted the reader to be able to tear a page or chapter out and that page or chapter, in itself, would contain layers of literary pieces that would offer the reader value.

But above all, I wrote for the student – when I was a literature teacher, I realized there wasn’t enough good Pacific Literature pieces that challenged the reader to truly reflect on human nature and engage their critical thinking skills from narratives that represented the Marianas. So yes, the design included multi-layers, aesthetics, euphony, and symbolism as pillars of the composition.

Interestingly, I offered some teachers free novels – they just didn’t take them, even a classroom set for resource. I only had one high school teacher take me up on the offer. Ironically, this was a type of experience that would have likely made it into the novel. (So if you know a teacher interested in a class set, I think I have one or two I could send).

I didn’t set out to write interpretive fiction. I just wanted to tell a story in an artistic way. Like a child, the novel matured on its own.

PT: What should readers take away from Tomas’s story? Is there a message you wanted to convey?

STJ: I think the ‘take-away’ to finishing the novel is similar to the internal take-away you may get from completing a marathon or summiting a mountain. The satisfaction you get from accomplishing such a challenging task is the reward of completing something difficult while not being so verbose about the fibers of the achievement. This novel is like a marathon for the mind or a mountain for an introspective person.

A friend once said about my novel – ‘There are some things that made me really think about stuff. Some paragraphs I kept reading over and over because it made me re-think about how we see things back home.’ Interestingly she told me it took her about three-in-half months to finish the book, because she kept going back to re-read the marked paragraphs and taking her time before moving on to the next page. She seemed solemn about her reflections — I think her experience hit it right on the nail for me about how to finish the novel.

Often I do get specific comments about how some parts remind readers about certain hypocrisies of island life, a couple of times I’ve been told some of the characters reminded a reader of their grandparents as to the values they held – or mentors that advocated a principle about life they prized. One professor noted that I described ‘Chamorro-isms’ in my novel. In these instances, I am happy that some of my readers connected the fiction to their personal life or thoughts. These revelations are on target. It’s a great feeling to know these connections are surfacing.

Finally, I have those who just like reading passages and have no regard for the novel as a whole. They describe my work as flowery and poetic. They might not know the story at all or discovered any revelation in the novel, but instead were just entertained or affected by the euphony and prose. It’s fun to hear this type of feedback discussing the aesthetic appeal about the prose. The comments are beautiful layered frostings on a plain cupcake.

PT: Your book is set in the Marianas and is beautifully adorned with Chamorro words, which add authenticity to the whole story. How important was it for you to incorporate the local language into the narrative?

STJ: The selection of Chamorro words was predominantly driven by euphony. Sometimes, I spent days reconstructing the preceding paragraphs before the introduction of a Chamorro word so the reader could experience the optimal pleasantness in learning or reading that Chamorro word.

For example, ‘gamson’ in Chamorro means octopus. It’s such a pleasant word to say and the definition brings an active and vivid image to front. I remember reconstructing the entire story of that section in the novel just so the Chamorro ‘gamson’ would appeal to the reader.

I wanted Chamorro words that somebody in some other country could read and experience enjoyment. A word that would stick in the mind because it was pleasant to say and rewarding to know what the word meant.

PT: You are from Guam. Would you agree with me that there are very few local authors recognized by a wider audience? Do you think this can be changed?

STJ: Most of the people I have met that enjoyed my novel and would discuss it in part were readers who yearned for that deep dive into ponderous thought and critical reflection. Coupled with the literary density of my novel, my presumption is that my novel won’t get much traction in the general audience because of its literary persona. Again, interpretive fiction is an acquired taste and the opposite of the more popular and welcomed ‘escapism’ fiction. So access to a wider audience for my work will always be challenging because although its good and valued reading it is not necessarily fun reading.

As for local authors — in general — I’ve experienced the challenges that lay ahead for them in the local community. Notably, there is enough fictional work on Guam to have a secondary curriculum dedicated. Yet in light of the available work, we are still far from getting anything established near the levels of other ethnic and cultural communities that promote their local authors on a consistent platform that impacts the ‘wider’ audiences. Unfortunately, I don’t have any point of reference to offer advice on how local authors can gain a wider audience outside of Guam.

Can it be changed – on Guam in getting a wider audience? I tried to change it, in some ways, but I had no success. Before leaving Guam, I had some good insight into what type of books appealed to the island, based on consumer data someone shared. Additionally, some seasoned librarians also shared with me their thoughts about the degree of penetration the libraries have on the island. This knowledge allowed me to have a new perspective about the challenges authors may have on Guam in promoting their work. It’s a labor of love.

PT: Which Pacific authors should people be reading?

STJ: I am a big fan of Jose Rizal. I have him up there with Steinbeck and Dickens.

‘AN OCEAN IN A CUP’ BY STEPHEN TENORIO JR.

‘An Ocean In a Cup’ is Stephen Tenorio Jr.’s debut novel. It is set in the Marianas in the late 1890s and focuses on the experiences of an islander boy.

AN OCEAN IN A CUP

Summary

Tomas, a very gifted young man, makes a living delivering goods throughout the island of Guam. Together with his karabao he travels from village to village, fulfilling his duties like a responsible adult he after all is.

But Tomas’s life is untroubled only on the surface. The boy is tormented by an inexplicable sickness that slowly weakens his body and mind. With each passing day the darkness that besets him becomes harder to withstand.

Review

Let me warn you right off the bat: ‘An Ocean In a Cup’ is not a light-hearted book you may enjoy on a lazy afternoon at home. It is a complex, multi-dimensional story that will require your undivided attention. Otherwise, you will most likely get lost in the thicket of the author’s words.

Yes, this is the trouble with so-called serious literature – it is not for everyone. Stephen Tenorio Jr.’s novel won’t let you escape. It won’t transport you to another world and it won’t let you live the lives of some made-up characters. It doesn’t offer fast-paced action that flows smoothly from one event to another. Actually, the narrative is terribly slow. But there is a good reason for that. Being full of symbolism and thick layers you have to peel away to get to the pure gold, it provokes critical thinking and paves the way for deeper reflection on human nature and the many facets of multiculturalism.

The author’s extensive exploration of the dynamics of small-island societies sheds light on how the past can affect the present and shape the characteristics of such close-knit communities. As Tenorio recalls the country’s colonial experience, he analyses interactions between individuals from different cultural backgrounds, creating an enthralling portrait of the relations among people in culturally diverse Guam.

The strong plot is supported by plausible and unbelievably well-developed characters. Tomas, the protagonist of the book, is the most intriguing leading figure you can imagine. On the surface, he is a kind of ideal young man: sincere, hard-working, talented. But there is more to him than meets the eye. Suffering from emotional distress, which may be seen as indicative of mental illness, he lives surrounded by darkness only some of us will be able to understand. He’s constantly fighting his demons, desperately trying to free himself from the clutches of his own existence.

Although Tomas is the focal point of the story, the author doesn’t concentrate exclusively on him. Secondary characters are no less interesting. They form a mixed bag of personalities, divergent in every possible way, whom you’ll either love or hate.

In addition to this extraordinary substance, ‘An Ocean In a Cup’ will give you another reason for admiration – Stephen Tenorio Jr.’s writing style. The novel is crafted in a beautiful manner reminiscent of some of the greatest names in literature. This is prose of the highest quality composed of elegance, unassuming lyricism, and sophisticated eloquence that will leave you completely in awe of the author’s talent.

No matter how many times you’ll read this book, you will always discover it anew. It is a real gem, and, as we all know, gems are priceless. So if you’re searching for something unusual, meaningful, and thought-provoking this title should be your choice.

BEST BOOKS BASED ON PACIFIC MYTHS, LEGENDS, FOLK TALES

The Telesa Trilogy by Lani Wendt Young

This highly acclaimed series is a modern take on Pacific mythology, which makes it a perfect read for teenagers.

The thrilling story of Leila Folger is a passionate romance based on the legends of Teine Sa, the spirit women of Samoa. The popular ancient beliefs are masterfully incorporated into the narrative – they constitute a considerable part of the story, yet they are not overwhelming.

The trilogy may be perfect for juvenile audiences, but you’ll love it even if you’re past your teenage years!

‘Sirena: A Mermaid Legend from Guam’ by Tanya Taimanglo

The story of Sirena, Guam’s legendary mermaid, is so well-known in the Pacific region that there is probably not a single person who wouldn’t be acquainted with it. This is one of the reasons why every Pasifika aficionado should read, and possess, Tanya Taimanglo’s book.

This particular retelling of the famous folk tale is a real beauty. Embellished with the most gorgeous illustrations – created by the author’s brother, Sonny Chargualaf – it will be an absolute treasure in your home library. Plus, it will definitely draw children’s attention!

‘Princess Hina & the Eel’ by King Kenutu

This is another wonderful book, especially for older children and teenagers.

The story of genuine, eternal love between a princess and a commoner is one of the better-known folk tales in Polynesia. It is captivating, thought-provoking, and timeless in its message. King Kenutu’s version is not only beautifully told but also full of passion that can be felt in each and every word.

The Niuhi Shark Saga by Lehua Parker

Lehua Parker’s saga is a brilliant example of engaging middle grade/young adult literature that’s deeply rooted in the local Polynesian mythology.

Although the series is not based on one particular myth, legend, or folk tale, it draws inspiration from old Hawaiian stories of a shapeshifting shark-man, Nanaue. It is not a retelling of the legend, but you may certainly find some similarities. Who knows, maybe Zader’s adventures will encourage you to delve into ancient tales from the Aloha State…

‘Turtle Songs: A Tale for Mothers and Daughters’ by Margaret Wolfson

This book tells the ancient Fijian myth – especially popular on the island of Kadavu – about the Turtle princess and her daughter.

It’s a classic retelling, gracefully narrated and adorned with lovely – absolutely lovely – watercolours. The illustrations make the story come alive before the reader’s eyes, so even young children will read or listen to this tale with great interest.

A CHAT WITH… TANYA TAIMANGLO

Who doesn’t know the famous Wonder Woman from Guam? Tanya Taimanglo, one of the most talented writers from the Pacific region, very kindly answered a few questions about her novel, ‘Secret Shopper’. Hopefully we won’t have to wait long for her next book…

TANYA TAIMANGLO

Pasifika Tales: ‘Secret Shopper’ – fiction or maybe not?

Tanya Taimanglo: I’ve been asked this a lot, especially from family and friends. Safe answer? Fiction, rooted in some personal experiences.

PT: You created a set of extremely believable characters. Who was your inspiration?

TT: Phoenix, the main goddess in training in my story was an alternate version of me. I used her to get through feelings of loss, especially about losing my father and leaving Guam. The family in this story mirrors mine to an extent, especially the comical but loving Korean mother. The ex from hell, well, no comment. And, Thomas, sigh…perhaps a culmination of all my dream guys’ traits.

PT: Quite honestly… How personal is this novel for you?

TT: I would say it’s extremely personal. I wrote it during many midnight sessions like I was possessed, and because my young children were asleep. I’d share the events with my mother who sat eagerly every morning to hear what happened to Phoenix next, like she was some friend I was gossiping about. Phoenix was the young girl who could, one who was more adventurous than me.

PT: The name of the main female character – Phoenix – is not entirely coincidental, is it?

TT: I love everything that a phoenix represents. I like the idea of rebirth and second chances, so no it was not coincidental; Phoenix was named so because she deserved it.

PT: ‘Secret Shopper’ is not just a romance. It’s a beautiful tale of self-discovery. Was it your intention from the beginning?

TT: I don’t think I started out the story knowing this. Themes arise like cream sometimes. I knew the events and the ending, but as I wrote her journey, I didn’t want it to be cliché. Girl meets boy and falls in love? So boring. I wanted it to be girl loses boy, meets her true self, and then falls in love with new boy only if he was worthy.

PT: You are from Guam, which is something you’re obviously very proud of. There are quite a few references to the island and Chamorro culture in your book…

TT: So, yes, I am proud. You are a great observer. Being Chamorro, especially one living in the states, we often times wear our culture on our sleeves. (Literally, so we could be identified by others). I made many references to Guam and some of my observations came through as one who left the island for some time and returns with a different ‘prescription’ of sorts in viewing their home. It is an identifiable phenomenon with the diaspora.

PT: For those who don’t know much about Guam… Could you ‘explain’ the ‘cultural tidbits’ that appear in ‘Secret Shopper’?

TT: Gosh. Food? The cuisine is mentioned quite a bit, from kelaguen to barbecue. There are references to songs and legends, as in our mermaid tale, Sirena. The weather on Guam is its own character too. There are also observations of the people and their behaviors. And, the way Phoenix exists in the world is a result of her Chamorro/Korean upbringing.

PT: I cannot refrain myself from asking… When can we expect a new book from Tanya Taimanglo?

TT: Please ask, I consider it a fire under my writer’s butt. I have several projects in both women’s lit and Young Adult genres in the works. I’m looking forward to releasing, indie style or via an agent and publisher, YA stories. My arsenal is building up, but I’ve found less time to write and edit lately. I do have ‘Attitude 13 Volume 2’ in the works, and that is firming up to be my next release. Let’s hope within the year. Some stories require more baking time than others.

‘SECRET SHOPPER’ BY TANYA TAIMANGLO

‘Secret Shopper’ is a first novel written by Tanya Taimanglo. It’s a romantic comedy that follows a young woman whose whole universe is suddenly turned upside down.

SECRET SHOPPER

Summary

Life is not always a fairytale, and Phoenix certainly knows that. When Bradley, her high school sweetheart husband, calmly tells her their marriage is over, she realizes there’s absolutely nothing she can do to change that. But she may do something else – she can start again from scratch and rebuild her own little world.

With a positive encouragement from her best friend, Nix gets a grip and becomes a true goddess she was always meant to be. She begins to enjoy life and thrive in her job as a secret shopper. While on assignment, she meets a handsome man whose charm is impossible to resist.

Review

At first glance this book may seem like a typical light-hearted romance, where two people fall madly in love with each other and – after overcoming several formidable obstacles – live happily ever after. But, start reading – take a second glance – and you’ll soon discover that this novel is so much more. It is light-hearted, yes. Its main characters indeed fall in love with each other – not madly though. And there are really no obstacles they need to surmount to live happily ever after. By the way, do they live happily ever after? Well, you don’t expect me to give you such spoilers, do you?

‘Secret Shopper’ scores high on all fronts – from storyline and characters to style in which it is written. The latter makes the book a true pleasure to read. Tanya Taimanglo is a former English teacher, so she knows exactly how to put thoughts into words. In terms of language and tone, this title is a very contemporary work. Even though the author shows, not tells, you won’t find here any yawn-inducing descriptions, elaborate sentences, incomprehensible expressions. This is not to say the book is plain; oh no, it is not! It’s clear and straightforward; extremely well-crafted, and adorned with feminine humour – remarkably uplifting – that will certainly bring a smile to your face. Tanya Taimanglo didn’t even try to impress readers with her impeccable writing skills. But that’s exactly what she did by creating a novel that’s beautiful in its simplicity.

The story itself unfolds at a lively pace, and each chapter compels you to read another. The narrative is quite brilliantly constructed, I must say. Untypically for this kind of genre, it has ebbs and flows that gently carry you through the pages instead of progressively raising tension that leads to one powerful climax. It’s pretty much like the human’s existence – we experience constant ups and downs; every single day little occurrences we sometimes don’t even notice affect our behaviour and shape our choices. We don’t wait for the big storm to happen – we just live. This may be the reason why the plot is so incredibly believable and easy to relate to – this is not a fairytale you dream of, but a story solidly anchored in reality.

The narrative of ‘Secret Shopper’ wouldn’t be so convincing if it weren’t driven by strong characters. Especially Phoenix, the heroine and female voice of the story, is thoroughly lovable. She is one of those woman you pass by on the street – a woman that has her issues, deals with one hundred problems a minute, and does everything possible to lead a happy life. Her incredible journey of self-discovery, of becoming a better (or the best) version of herself makes you cheer for her. For her and for Thomas. When the two meet, the chemistry between them cannot be denied. Chemistry, not love at first sight. Despite the evident attraction, Phoenix lets this relationship develop naturally. She doesn’t try to rush things that need time to grow. Because there is one important lesson she learns along the way: you should never make your self-worth dependant upon others; love and value yourself and then let others do the same. A protagonist with such mature attitude is a very refreshing change from your typical romantic comedy characters. Don’t you agree?

Another interesting feature of this novel are constant references to Chamorro culture, which give the book a nice multicultural dimension. A perceptive reader will be able to ‘see’ Guam in little snippets about the island’s food, legends, beliefs, traditions, practices. These are not insights that may help you get to know the Micronesian country, but if you’re already familiar with it, you’ll surely enjoy this added bonus.

Tanya Taimanglo managed to create a charming and quite thought-provoking novel, which – I would say – should be a mandatory read for every self-conscious, insecure woman. It’s perfect for long winter evenings and warm summer days. And it proves that it is possible to write a romantic comedy that is not only sweet but also funny and – most importantly – intelligent.

ON THE EIGHTH DAY OF … MY TRUE LOVE SENT TO ME:

‘Secret Shopper’ by Tanya Taimanglo

A romance novel always makes a nice gift, especially during Christmastime. And ‘Secret Shopper’ is definitely the best pick in this category!

The book revolves around Phoenix, a young woman who is suddenly left alone after finding out about her husband’s infidelity. Forced to find a job, she steps into the world of secret shopping. While on assignment, she meets Thomas.

This is not one of those cheesy, easy to predict love stories. Oh no! Tanya Taimanglo managed to create a heart-warming tale with quite a few surprising twists and turns. It’s a book that inspires and makes you believe that you and ONLY you are responsible for your own life. Highly, highly recommended!