Book Spotlight: Black Rocks and Rainbows by Susan C. Riford

High on a cliff in Hawaii in 1807, an irrepressibly curious native boy dives into the sea and swims to an American merchant ship anchored offshore, embarking on an extraordinary adventure that will change history

Author: Susan C. Riford
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Genre: YA / Historical


The journey of a lifetime told in the audiobook BLACK ROCKS AND RAINBOWS begins with a ship: “An enormous canoe, with great white wings like a magnificent bird.” This is the merchant schooner Triumph from New England, anchored offshore by what is now known as the Big Island of Hawaii, and in 1807, the sight of it captivates a young Hawaiian boy’s imagination and spirit of adventure. Fifteen-year-old Hiapo Opukahaia, orphaned as the result of a war between two rival island chiefs, has been contemplating his future. He dives into the sea and swims to the ship, where he is invited to stay for dinner. When the captain asks if he would like to go to America, he nods Yes.

The audiobook BLACK ROCKS AND RAINBOWS, an historical novel for young adults, edited and narrated by actress Suzanne Ford, was written by her late mother, Susan C. Riford.  The audiobook chronicles the gripping story of Hiapo – renamed “Henry” by his fellow crewmen – whose literal and figurative journey leads to the greatest adventure of all: a hunger for knowledge which ultimately changes Hawaii forever. The title refers to the lava rocks and beautiful rainbows of the Big Island, the vision of which Henry carries with him for the rest of his life.

Working as a cabin boy, Henry does encounter true-life adventures – pirates, storms – during the ship’s year-long voyage, via the Seal Islands and China, back to its home port of New Haven, Connecticut. He also learns to read and write English, unlocking his quest for further knowledge; upon arriving in New Haven, Henry realizes he desperately wants to keep learning, but has no idea how.

Weeping one day on the steps of Yale College, he is found by a kind student, a relative of the school’s president. Taken under the president’s wing, Henry becames a scholar. He wants to translate written works from English into Hawaiian, but at the time, there is no such written Hawaiian language. So he begins to apply the principles in an American spelling book – devised by Noah Webster, of dictionary fame – to the sounds of his native tongue. In doing so, he creates the alphabet-spelling-grammar system that is the basis for the Hawaiian written language in use to this day.

Sadly, Henry dies of typhus fever in 1818 at the age of 26. He is buried in Cornwall, Connecticut, until 1993, when he makes one final journey: a group of Hawaiian residents has successfully crusaded for the return of his remains to the Big Island for permanent burial. Hiapo Opukahaia has come home.

Suzanne Ford was inspired to create the audiobook BLACK ROCKS AND RAINBOWS originally written by her late mother, Susan Riford, a prolific author of children’s books and plays and founder of what is now known as the Rev Theatre Company in Auburn, New York. Her mother became fascinated with Henry’s story when she moved to Maui. “The novel was her final work before she died,” Ford says. “I took on the unfinished manuscript, wrote the last chapter, had a few copies printed and recorded the audiobook. The story is such a fascinating and compelling adventure, fun to listen to for anyone, but especially for young adults.”

Ford is working on an updated, illustrated book version of BLACK ROCKS AND RAINBOWS. “It’s noteworthy that there has never been a full-length historical novel about Opukahaia, who is such a major figure in Hawaiian history and whose story carries a timeless message about the importance of education,” she observes. “Especially in this era of the dawning of deeper recognition of indigenous peoples and their heritage, this as yet unfamiliar but universal coming-of-age story is resonant and relevant to youth of any culture.”


“This adventure story is riveting from start to finish and the action keeps coming. The ending, though sad because it’s a true story, was very uplifting and inspiring. A very satisfying audiobook experience.”


Listen to a sample of the audiobook here:

And here:

Suzanne Ford is an actress and writer working in film, television, and theatre. She has performed in more than 100 stage productions in New York and Los Angeles, on tour and in regional theatres around the country. Her many film credits include the Duplass Brothers’ recent hit Manson Family Vacation; You, Me and Dupree and The Apparition, and she has appeared on such television shows as Grace and Frankie, Grey’s Anatomy, Criminal Minds, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Friends. She has been an advertising copywriter, has written a biography of Mel Gibson, screenplays, and cookbooks, and has ghostwritten memoirs. She and her husband live in the Hollywood Hills.


Interview with Dianne Kowal Kirtley, Author of Point of Departure & First Chapter Review


Dianne Kowal Kirtley taught Creative Writing, Journalism and English at Nazareth Academy, a private, Catholic, college prep, coeducational high school in LaGrange Park, Ill. She also served as the English Department Chair and then became the Director of Public Relations, creating the school brochures, press releases and organizing events which promoted the school.


Thank you for joining us today, Dianne. Can you please start off by telling us a bit about yourself?

I loved my job at Nazareth Academy and since my retirement have maintained the close personal relationships with my friends at that school. I also am fortunate enough to enjoy some great vacations with my husband, family and friends. Our family enjoys summer vacations in Minocqua, WI, and we have taken some great trips with friends to Europe and a memorable cruise to Alaska. I have also spent much of the last seven years in the process of research and writing Point of Departure.

When did you first get bit by the writing bug?

Writing is something that I have always loved doing although it is a difficult task. I guess I always feel I have something to say, if not verbally then in a written medium. I have written short stories, one specifically for children, poetry and some shorter remembrances. Point of Departure is my first novel.

Why did you decide to write stories for the YA market?

I hope I have something significant to say to this age group: have the courage to act on your best impulses, think of others, and most of all, know that you are just as important as anyone else.

What is your favorite part of writing for this group? What is the greatest challenge?

The YA audience is so impressionable, and I would hope that the examples given in the work would be applicable to their lives. The greatest challenge is not to sound too preachy.

Can you tell us what your latest book is all about?dianne book

Point of Departure is about Charlotte Mailliard, whose family was closely tied to Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother, called in America, the Gentle Bonaparte. Charlotte’s parents were personal secretaries to Joseph’s daughter and son-in-law, but in 1841, Eloi Mailliard, Charlotte’s father moved his family from the French intrigue and came to central Illinois, the western frontier of America. Charlotte had been raised and educated with Napoleon’s nephews in Florence, where she was born, and outside of Paris at the Bonaparte château called Survilliers. She had heard the strange stories of savages in America and was sure her life will never be the same. It is, however, at the strange place called Illinois, that she met the young half-breed whom she will love all her life. As Charlotte matured, she learned that love and loss seem to go hand in hand, but it was the impact of the Civil War that taught Charlotte the power of survival.

What inspired you to write it?

Point of Departure is historical fiction work actually based on my husband’s great-great grandmother. When I found her books, letters, family records and drawings in 2004, I felt her story to be most engaging and, as is said in my press release, “begged to be told.”

Where can readers purchase a copy?

Point of Departure can be purchased through Amazon or

What is up next for you?

I am currently working on a remembrance of my mother. The next novel is just in the idea stage, but will be set in North Carolina and is a decidedly darker tale for a mature audience.

Do you have anything else to add?

I want to thank everyone for their interest in Point of Departure. Enjoy!

Thank you for spending time with us today, Dianne. We wish you much success.



BLURB: It is 1841, and fourteen-year-old Charlotte Mailliard should be concerned with French fashion, French tradition and her studies with her classmates, Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephews. Instead, her Papa has decided to move his family to America. Now Charlotte can only think of a strange state called Illinois and the “savages” she will encounter on her long journey. No one could forsee that the family’s trek to that frontier would bring them to a Kentucky slave auction, an experience that would forever change their lives.

Two decades earlier, another Frenchman, Henri Moreau, a street urchin of Paris, had made his way to that same Illinois, where life was a pleasant mix of his and native customs. But in 1832, that peace was destroyed by the Blackhawk War, an event that tragically impacted Henri and his family.

As the nation and the Mailliard and Moreau families mature, it is the common theme of war that causes Charlotte to realize she is but one cog in the endless cycle of love and loss, the bane of a country where another Illinois native son will not abide “a house divided.”

COVER: I like the color scheme with the jewels hidden underneath what looks like the ocean. It just seems a rather plain choice for a YA novel.

FIRST CHAPTER: Charlotte and her family are readying to leave Survilliers, Mortefontaine, France, in a carriage bound for England. From there, they will board a steam ship bound for America. They will travel three months before reaching their final destination in Illinois. In mere minutes, the only life Charlotte has ever known will be gone forever. They carry with them great treasures that will hopefully establish them in their new home where Charlotte will speak the ugly sounds of English instead of the beautiful, melodious sounds of her native French and Italian.

KEEP READING: Yes. I’m very intrigued with this story of a French family emigrating to America. Charlotte proves to be a fiery young woman from the onset, angered over her entire life being tossed into chaos by her father’s decision to relocate.  The author provides a fair amount of backstory on Charlotte and her family, creating the sense of loss the girl must feel as she leaves everything she knows behind to travel to a new country. Though I’m not normally a fan of too much backstory in a first chapter, I feel it works well here because it makes Charlotte a sympathetic and relatable character. There’s also a hint of danger created by the treasures the family is carrying with them on their journey. Definitely a book I want to keep plowing through to see how Charlotte adapts to her new country and the challenges of civil war.

Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a Great Deal on Call Me Kate by Molly Roe

 A while back I reviewed the historical fiction novel, Call Me Kate: Meeting the Molly Maguires by Molly Roe. You can read the review at

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, the paperback version of Call Me Kate is on sale at for only $3.28! The Kindle edition is $2.99!

Don’t miss the chance to own this masterfully told historical from award-winning author Molly Roe.

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