Book Review: Brothers on Three by Abe Streep @abestreep @CeladonBooks

Brothers on Three
A True Story of Family, Resistance, and Hope on a Reservation in Montana
Abe Streep
Celadon Books, September 2021
ISBN 978-1-250-21068-5
Hardcover

Mr. Streep came to Montana for the purpose of writing an article featuring the phenomenal Arlee Warriors. The story, though, is much bigger than the fierce high-school basketball team. It is really about the community. Life on the reservation, unfathomable denials of further education opportunities for Natives, blatant racist actions and slurs and how none of this is unique to this particular reservation.

In Mr. Streep’s immersion, (understandably not invited to wakes or horn hunting), he was given enough access to show the readers the academic hurdles that must be cleared, as well as the importance of confirming eligibility, for a high-school student to have a shot at college. Hard work can get us where we want to be, but sometimes, success can change us. Even when we’re old enough to know better. Adults with the best intentions can get caught up in the hype, erroneously putting themselves in front of the students that deserve undivided attention.

To me, these are the students that sincerely see the value in further education. Not in a ‘can’t wait to get outta here’ way, but more of ‘what can I study and learn about to help improve our lives on the reservations’. They’re already hard workers and by graduation, most of these kids have had to deal with more losses than I can even imagine.

What I know about basketball wouldn’t fill a thimble, but I do understand statistics and it seems inarguable that some of the Arlee players possessed something special. I believe their fans referred to it as “heart. The lives they’ve led thus far created strong characteristics that carry onto the court.

I could not get through this book without seeing similarities between the basketball team and so many of the students I’ve had the unparalleled pleasure of meeting. The maturity level is awe-inspiring and eye-opening. So many teens handle serious responsibilities in their home, often helping younger siblings, or cousins, nephews, nieces and neighbors with homework, supervising their free time and even preparing meals.

Generally speaking, when I’ve finished a non-fiction book, I am mentally sated. Brothers on Three, however, has me wanting more. I need to see highlights of these boys tearing up the court, making their opponents look foolish. I want to see the videos made for the Warrior Movement and most of all, I want to know that Will, Phil, Greg and their teammates are in a good place.

So, before I take this fascinating book to “my” students, I’m going to do a bit of looking online to see if I can’t supplement my Book Talk with some pictures or maybe a video clip.

This review was written by jv poore for Buried Under Books, with a
huge “Thank You!” to Celadon Books for the Advance Review Copy, which
I will donate to my favorite high-school classroom library.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2022.

Book Review: This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger—and a Giveaway! @WmKentKrueger @AtriaBooks

This Tender Land
William Kent Krueger
Atria Books, September 2019
ISBN 978-1-4767-4929-7
Hardcover

Literature fills almost as many needs as there are readers. This novel, solemn, deliberate, moving, is not for the harried or the cynical. Or maybe it is, if the reader is at least willing to consider the mysterious and sometimes mystical forces that surround us. Faith, like awareness of the natural world, is largely a private matter. This novel ultimately raises and thoughtfully considers more questions than it answers. Or not. The book is eminently satisfactory as a fine piece of literature for whatever enjoyment and satisfaction any reader gains from the story, a journey of life and death and misdeeds and love and, perhaps, redemption. Certainly forgiveness.

The journey begins with the difficult abusive lives of three inmates of a hard-scrabble boarding school in rural Minnesota in the midst of the deep depression that engulfed the nation in the nineteen-thirties. Three young men, in their early teens, Albert, Odie and Moses, grow closer in their mutual efforts to resist being smashed under by the persistent and sadistic efforts of the school officials who do not shy away from meting out corporal punishment at the drop of a fork.

When the opportunity a huge storm presents, the three boys collect a girl they all know from a nearby farm and lately orphaned like them, then run away from the school and determine to somehow make their way to Saint Louis. So they have a definite goal, however ethereal.

The adventure and the travelers’ desperate need to stay out of the clutches of the law infuses the story with tension and excitement, and the carefully crafted descriptive passages only add to the forward drive. Here readers will find evangelists, storekeepers, the law, liars, good and bad people and a story that ultimate raises fundamental questions of relationships.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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To enter the drawing for a print
advance reading copy of
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger,
leave a comment below. Two winning
names will be drawn on Sunday
evening, September 8th. This drawing is
open to residents of the US & Canada.

Book Review: Under the Shadows by Gwen Florio

Under The Shadows
A Lola Wicks Mystery #5
Gwen Florio
Midnight Ink, March 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5053-8
Trade Paperback

We’re all creatures of habit and the older we are, the more ingrained those become. Lola Wicks spent much of her adult life being independent and free to follow her instincts into dangerous locations as an investigative journalist. It took her late husband Charlie, who was a member of a Montana Indian tribe and a county sheriff, years to wear her down and marry him. Part of those wearing down years involved the birth of their now eight year old daughter, Margaret.

When Charlie was killed, smothering a bomb planted by eco-terrorists, while they were on vacation in Arizona, the unexpected wave of grief was so strong and unexpected that Lola found herself not only shadowed by Charlie’s ghost, but so distraught that she couldn’t take care of herself or her daughter. Her best friend, Jan, along with the Aunties (women elders of the tribe) did an intervention.

The result isn’t something Lola is initially willing to consider. The Aunties and Jan will care for Margaret while Lola goes to Salt Lake City where Jan has arranged for her to do a story on foreign adoption by Mormon couples for a church owned publication. Everyone’s hope is that the challenge, the geographic change, and the threat of losing her daughter to the Montana social services department will provide the kick in the rear she needs to return to the ranks of the living.

What Lola alone knows is that her nails-screeching-on-the-blackboard hold on sanity is being held together by industrial strength pain pills, sometimes the only thing that allows her any sleep and relief from Charlie’s ghost. They also compound her gradual distancing from caring and life.

No sooner does she arrive in Salt Lake City and gets off on the wrong foot with her new boss by almost sleeping through her initial meeting, than she discovers that Trang, now called Frank, the Vietnamese teen adopted at age ten, has been arrested and accused of the murder of his girlfriend’s mother. Since it was his hockey stick that cracked her skull, although her death was the result of a vicious slash across the woman’s throat, nobody seems interested in looking for an alternate suspect.

What this major upset in plans does do is start a faint rekindle of the spark that used to drive Lola’s investigative instincts. After she’s bought Vicodin from a nervous teen in a sketchy downtown park, nearly had her own throat cut, realized a smell from her own youth is attached to someone who might be the real killer, made friends with the accused teen’s girlfriend, discovered just how strange and inflexible Mormon culture can be around certain social issues and nearly been thrown in a Vietnamese jail, you, the reader, are feeling a bit like you just got off a wild carnival ride.

While many elements of the story are straightforward mystery plot items, what sets this apart are the intensity of Lola’s grief, how that has spread to impact others and how much secrecy and deceit occurred long before Lola ever landed in Salt Lake City. It’s part of a series, but can be enjoyed a lot without having read any of the others by Gwen Florio.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, May 2019.

Book Review: Reservations by Gwen Florio

Reservations
A Lola Wicks Mystery #4
Gwen Florio
Midnight Ink, March 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-5042-2
Trade Paperback

Journalist Lola Wicks is finally on a honeymoon/vacation with her husband Charlie Laurendeau and their daughter. It will be her first meeting with Charlie’s brother and his wife, who are big wheels on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. Charlie and his brother Edgar are Blackfoot; Lola is white, which provides a lot of tension.

No welcome awaits them in Arizona. There’s been a bombing outside a large coal mine on the reservation, and an elderly Navajo man killed. Tribal members are protesting the taking and exploitation of the their land. Their water is poisoned, and alcoholism runs rampant. Edgar and his wife, Naomi, a high-powered tribal lawyer, are busy trying to sort out the murder.

But Lola’s journalist tendencies come to the fore, as do Charlie’s, as he’s the top cop on the Blackfoot Reservation. Trouble between them looms, raising an ugly racist head. As rivals, they investigate the bombings and murder, and death lays in wait.

Ms. Florio’s depiction of the waterless heat in desert country is very real. I enjoyed the care the family had for Bub, their three-legged dog. I believe there are previous books and I want to know what happened to the pooch. The little girls in the story, who in less able hands might be overlooked, are also amazingly well-done characters.

All in all, an enjoyable story with a realistic, if sad premise. It might just turn a reader into an Indian Rights activist.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, March 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Reviews: Hanging By A Hair by Nancy J. Cohen and A Murder in Passing by Mark deCastrique

Hanging By A HairHanging by a Hair
A Bad Hair Day Mystery
Nancy J. Cohen
Five Star, April 2014
ISBN 978-1-4328-2814-1
Hardcover

Marla Vail, just can’t find enough to do in her spare time, even though she owns a hair salon, is the new bride of a homicide detective, and stepmother to a teenage girl and two dogs. Following the murder of the man next door, despite her husband’s repeated warnings to stay clear of his homicide case, Marla proceeds to investigate the murder.

Customs of the Jewish faith are sprinkled throughout the story as the family approaches the Passover holiday, planning meals and rituals.

It seems that Mr. Krabber, (the murder victim’s name is most fitting as he was a curmudgeon, a womanizer and an all-around stinker) was killed in a most gruesome manner. The suspects are all connected, one way or another, to Marla’s community and Home Owner’s Association. Secrets from Mr. Krabber’s past are discovered, creating more intrigue and unanswered questions.

A tribe of Florida Native Americans play a role in the mystery and quirky characters abound, including Marla’s mother, and her on-again, off-again boyfriend. The newlyweds offer a touch of romance to the story from time to time, that is, when hubby Dalton can catch Marla between her jaunts thither and yon questioning suspects.

As for a mystery plot, it was pretty good. I didn’t figure out who-dun-it until Marla was unexpectedly waylaid and hauled off by the killer, potentially to become another victim in a rather formulaic scene, (yawn). I’d like to see a different ending in a cozy mystery, but this seems to be pretty much the norm these days.

Overall, it was a pretty good little cozy mystery.

Reviewed by Elaine Faber, March 2014.

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A Murder in PassingA Murder in Passing
A Sam Blackman Mystery #4
Mark de Castrique
Poisoned Pen Press, July 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0149-3
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

The Blackman-Robertson mysteries are rooted in South Carolina history. In previous novels, such landmarks as Carl Sandburg’s farm played a role. Other links included Thomas Wolfe and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In this book, it is a photo taken 80 years before by a famous woman photographer, Doris Ulmann, the subjects of which were three blacks, mother, daughter and five-year-old Marsha Montgomery, and some boys. Marsha retains Sam Blackman and Nakayla Robertson to find the photo which she claims was stolen from her mother’s home, along with a rifle, in 1932. That is the first plot twist of many that lie ahead, before the truth is revealed.

The mystery involves the identity of a skeleton which Sam inadvertently uncovers when he trips, crashing into a rotted log while hunting for mushrooms. Racial attitudes in the South play a prominent role in the novel. Sam is white, Nakayla is black. Not only are they partners in the detective agency bearing their names, but lovers as well. Marsha’s 85-year-old mother is black, but had a white lover, Jimmy Lang, who fathered Marsha. He also was in the supposedly valuable photo which disappeared in 1932. As did he, after his proposal of marriage was rejected for sound reasons based on local prejudices.

This is a well-told tale that moves along swiftly, keeping the reader intrigued as it introduces nuances and new facts wending its way toward a conclusion. Written with economy and a keen eye on the socio-economic society of the post-Civil War South, the author has an excellent grasp of his subject, and the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2014.

Book Reviews: Drawing Conclusions by Donna Leon, The Innocence Game by Michael Harvey, and Beyond Confusion by Sheila Simonson

Drawing ConclusionsDrawing Conclusions
Donna Leon
Penguin/Grove, March 2012
ISBN: 978-01431-2064-3
Trade Paperback

Donna Leon has been writing the Guido Brunetti series for a very long time. Her talents as a thoughtful observer of relationships between humans, whether at a casual, professional, or personal level, have never been clearer. Fans of this author will find everything they expect in this mystery.

In her twentieth novel, in this series, Leon again examines age-old questions of morality, law, and some of the dilemmas posed by confrontations with people who do bad things from good intentions. As always, Commissario Brunetti strolls the streets and rides the canals of Venice, this most intriguing of European cities. As always the master manipulator of criminals and his own superiors and staff, applies a dab hand to probing and then solving the crime of murder—if that’s what it was.

When an elderly widow is found dead on her apartment floor, it appears she has died of heart failure. Indeed, there is considerable pressure on Brunetti to avoid trying to make a case of murder out of what mostly appears to be an accident. But until all the reports and all the evidence is in and carefully considered, Brunetti is unwilling to consign the death to a dusty file.

His persistence leads to all manner of ethically questionable acts, some by prominent and highly moral individuals. Written in her usual smooth and careful style, Leon poses a number of questions and again brings to calm and peaceful awareness, the life of this great city, and its past glories and world influence.

The careful and measured release of important information, Brunetti’s amusing and warm relationship with his wife and children, all here is artful competence. A wonderful story is successfully realized and is another star in the author’s pantheon.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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The Innocence GameThe Innocence Game 
Michael Harvey
Alfred A. Knopf, May 2013
ISBN: 978-0-307-96125-9
Hardcover

Three college graduates come together in a special seminar designed to teach them some of the fundamental tools of high-level investigative journalism. Under the tutelage of seminar leader, Pulitzer prize winner, Judy Zombrowski, they will examine cases in which there is a suspicion of serious error, error which may have resulted in serious miscarriage of justice.

The three students are Northwestern University graduates Sarah Gold and Ian Joyce, and brilliant University of Chicago Law School graduate, Jake Haven. Although the seminar plans to be a relatively calm and rational look at distance cases, from the relatively sane academic halls of Northwestern University in Evanston. But in short order, the question of the conviction of a deceased James Harrison, for the murder of a poor young runaway, becomes the central focus of the trio’s efforts, and the action sags south to Chicago.

Tautly written, the author masterfully develops the characters and relationships of the three students and at the same time releases more and more clues and other pieces of information that can, at times, be distracting. The author does not neglect the physical side of their investigation. A number of intriguing and powerful events embroil the students in activity that tests their mental and physical abilities.

The Innocence Game is a first class thriller replete with twists and surprises and a smashing climax. Readers interested in the uses and conditions of our modern legal system will find this novel a first class experience.

A free copy of the novel was supplied to me with no conditions attached.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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Beyond ConfusionBeyond Confusion 
A Latouche County Library Mystery 
Sheila Simonson
Perseverance Press, April 2013
ISBN: 978-1-56474-519-4
Trade Paperback

This novel is a stunning achievement and this reader was drawn in immediately, although I confess I don’t fully grasp the meaning and connection of the title. Several things are clear from the very beginning. In the space of three pages is established the unique relationship between head librarian, Meg McLean and Undersheriff Robert Neill. They live together unmarried in the small rural community near the border between Washington and Oregon.

The Klalo band of Native Americans are an important part of a story that cleverly and skillfully combines an insouciant and wicked humor with penetrating and thoughtful insight into terrible and moving events that would shape the future of the community.

Meg McLean demonstrates, at times, an incisive understanding of her library staff and even of herself and her relationship with Neill. The author’s wit is evident throughout the novel, yet her restraint keeps this on track as a serious examination of personalities, and the way their disparate views influence the operation of the county library system. Ms. McLean is in specific and frequent conflict with one librarian, Marybeth Jackman, who persists in attempts to undermine her boss, not just inside the library, but among the community leaders and the general public as well.

Author Simonson brings in other influences, attitudes of off-shoot religious organizations, rebellious teenagers, and prejudices affecting relationships between the white and native communities. With considerable care and expertise she weaves a complex yet understandable emotional whole. I found this to be an enthralling and moving novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

Book Reviews: The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura, The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die by Colin Cotterill, and Buffalo Bill’s Dead Now by Margaret Coel

The ThiefThe Thief
Fuminori Nakamura
Translated by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates
Soho Crime, January 2013
ISBN: 978-1-61695-202-0
Trade Paperback

This novel is an interesting idea in need of fulfillment.  Somehow, it leaves the reader somewhat confused.  It recounts the development of a pickpocket who generally only removes wallets from rich people.  Along the way, the author philosophizes about the “profession” of picking pockets, including a little history of some of the more famous practitioners of the art.

The thief himself tells the story in the first person.  However, for all he has to say about his work and life, we learn very little about him and exactly why what happens to him in the end occurs.  Or, really, about any of the other characters.  They all seem to be symbols of something, but none is precisely explained.

Tightly written, the book is a fast read.  But on reaching the conclusion this reader, at least, wondered what it was all about.  Hopefully, in a future work, the author will turn his talent to a more fully developed plot and characterizations, of which The Thief indicates he is capable.  The book is worthy of note, and therefore is recommended despite the above reservations.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2013.

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The Woman Who Wouldn't DieThe Woman Who Wouldn’t Die
Colin Cotterill
Soho Crime, February 2013
ISBN: 978-1-616-95206-8
Hardcover

This newest in the Dr. Siri mysteries not only takes on the Laotian coroner’s obsession with contact with the dead, but provides us with a lot of background on the good doctor and his wife and the role they played in the revolution. At the same time, the novel is a first rate mystery.  It begins when Dr. Siri is offered a “vacation” upriver to supervise the recovery of the brother of a Lao general whose body is supposedly at the bottom of a river, lying in a submerged boat for many years.

The general is prodded to undertake the excavation of the boat by his wife, who is influenced by a woman clairvoyant who was supposedly shot to death, only to reappear after the body was burned on a pyre.  The woman claims she can speak to the dead and knows where the body is located.  Wary but open to the suggestion that the woman might teach him to be able to contact the dead, Dr. Siri goes along.

Meanwhile, Dr. Siri encourages his wife, Madam Daeng, to write an autobiography, from which we learn a lot about her earlier life as a participant in the liberation forces.  This book, as were previous entries in the series, is an education into the people and culture of Laos.  The dialog is wry and often humorous, and the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2013.

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Buffalo Bill's Dead NowBuffalo Bill’s Dead Now
Margaret Coel
Berkley Prime Crime, September 2013
ISBN: 978-0-425-25225-3
Mass Market Paperback

This novel, the newest in the widely acclaimed Wind River Mystery series, is a little different from its predecessors.  While still featuring Vicki and Father John, the thrust of the book is well in the past: the late 19th century, to be exact, when Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show toured Europe featuring various Indian groups, including Arapahos like Chief Black Heart.

It appears that the regalia worn by the Chief went missing when the tour came to an end, only to be discovered when the building in which it was hidden was being demolished.  The items were purchased by a local rancher and donated to the museum at the St. Francis mission. However, en route from Germany the shipment is hijacked, and Vicki and Father John, as usual, have to come to the rescue.  The mystery includes the murder of the donor, who might have known more about the stolen goods.  Complicating the investigation is a feud between two Arapaho families with lineage back to the principal players way back when.

Intertwined in the tale are descriptions of what it is like living on a reservation, now and in the distant past, and the effect on the lives of Native Americans.  The plot is well-presented, with the requisite suspense to keep the reader wondering what comes next.  The real question, always present, is the relationship between Vicki and Father John and what, if anything, will ever develop.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2013.