Tag Archives: Native American

Last Witch of Cahokia

Book Review of Last Witch of Cahokia, by Raymond Scott Edge

I picked up a copy of Last Witch of Cahokia, by Raymond Scott Edge, in my continued effort to read local books.

Description from Goodreads:
In the darkest hour of the night, a man dressed solely in black moves quietly among the tombstones. Finding the one he’s looking for, he begins to dig. The next morning the community of Alton, Illinois discovers that the remains of the cemetery’s most illustrious resident, Elijah Parish Lovejoy, are being held for ransom. The illusive grave robber Ghost Dancer demands a simple trade, the return of Lovejoy’s remains for the immediate reburial of thirty-six female skeletons taken from a Native American burial ground.

While Daniel struggles to respond to Ghost Dancer’s demands, his mentor and senior colleague, Fredrick Eldrege, is in China attempting to unravel the mystery surrounding an ancient painted buffalo skin found in the archives of Beijing University. Is it authentic? How did it get there? Are the thirty-seven women portrayed on the artifact associated with the recently excavated burial ground? If so, who is the 37th woman, and why is she dressed in silk?

I picked this up because it looked interesting and because I live about 25 miles from what’s left of Cahokia Mounds. At its peak, where I live was probably part of the extended populations. I even visited the park just a couple of weeks ago. So, I thought a novel about the local area could be interesting. It was.

Apparently, Last Witch of Cahokia is actually the third book in a series, which I didn’t know when I decided to read it. But I was perfectly able to follow it. The past books are referenced. For example, the first book in the series (Flight of the Piasa) is actually supposed to be written by one of the characters in this book and published by the publishing company that truly publishes the series. (Very meta, I know.) But none of that knowledge is necessary to follow this plot. So, it wasn’t a problem.

The story itself is interesting, both the modern and past plots. I liked the diversity of the characters. Several groups are represented well that you don’t see often, Mormons for example. You don’t see them painted as good people too often, outside their own fiction. Similarly, Native Americans, Chinese, a Chilean, and several white Americans are shown to have healthy, functioning relationships, and work lives. (I don’t remember any black characters. Certainly, no main character was. I’m hoping I just don’t remember a side character, maybe a student.)

There was some lazy plotting. For example, when one of the characters needed a chance to make up with his love interest, he chased her out a back door and, despite it being like 15 seconds since she exited, he still managed to find her being accosted and almost raped by a couple of rough biker types. Really, Edge couldn’t find a more creative, less often used, and more relevant-to-the-story way to reunite these two? I’m pretty sure I’ve read this same scene in about a million books, probably even including the bikers. It’s lazy writing of the worst kind. And making the ruffians bikers is stereotyping to boot, and not even accurate. It’s 2017, hasn’t Edge gotten the memo that most leather-clad bikers these days are actually upper-middle aged proctologists. They’re the only ones who can afford it anymore. I mean, have you been to Grafton? One to the characters in the book has, he ought to know.

Similarly lazy is the fact that one character is reading a manuscript, apparently, only a page or so at a time, since it took him weeks. But he does so each night after speaking to his wife, who goes to bed first and then wakes up over the book the next morning. This happens four or five times. Surely it’s not necessary to recycle the same scene like that.

Lastly, as someone who studied anthropology/archeology and focused largely on Native America, I was interested in that aspect of the book. But even I have to admit that though the repatriation of remains debate was really important, the last half of the book got REALLY preachy and didactic. When the author branched off to lecture on the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning, I forgot for a moment I was reading a novel and not a textbook.

All in all, the writing was good and the editing was pretty clean. I noticed a couple of small things, like yin (yin and yang) becoming yen. But mostly it wasn’t distracting, which is good enough for me most days. I’d be willing to read another Edge book.

Follow the Crow

Book Review of Follow the Crow (Vanished, #1), by B.B. Griffith

Follow the Crow Follow the Crow, by B. B. Griffith, is a perma-freebie on Amazon. Or at least it’s been free every time I’ve looked at it. I picked it up there, in June of 2015.

Description from Goodreads:
Ben Dejooli is a Navajo cop who can’t escape his past. Six years ago his little sister Ana vanished without a trace. His best friend saw what happened but he refuses to speak of what he knows, and so was banished from the Navajo tribe. That was the day the crows started following Ben.

Caroline Adams is a nurse with a special talent: she sees things others can’t see. She knows that Ben is more than he seems, and that the crows are trying to tell him something.

What the crows know could shed new light on the mystery of Ana’s disappearance, or it could place Ben and Caroline at risk of vanishing just like she did.

Before I review this book, I’d like to say a few words about my decision to read it. You can take them any way you like, as a warning, as a discussion opener, as a random tidbit, as praise or condemnation. Your choice. But as a reader, these are the kinds of things I look at when choosing to read a book or not. I’m not dropping any sort of accusation, just being honest about what I think about some common observations.

Below is a screen shot of part of this book’s review page on Goodreads. I spend a lot of time over there deciding what interests me or not and reviews influence me. Not just good ones or bad ones and there is no magic number, but I find it suspicious when I see things like this. Note several reviews in a row with the same format—a brief, bold hook and then a one paragraph uninformative review.
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I find it unlikely that six people in a row chose to write their review in the same way. I find it damn near impossible to believe that (as of today) 48 of them did so, all but one giving the book a 4 or 5 star review and no-one using this format giving a 2 or a 1!

I’ve had this book on my TBR for almost a year and the blurb has always interested me. I’ve pulled it up several times and then, seeing the reviews, I put it away again. Because I strongly suspect the author is either part of some review circle or (more likely) purchased these reviews. I wish I could tell you which company it is, but the best I can do is mention that I’ve seen the same format on other book’s pages too. (I’m looking at you Shattered Skies.)

It’s only a suspicion of course, I can’t prove anything and I don’t consider it my job to do so. I mention it here because new authors hear over and over how they have to get reviews at all costs. But in cases like, this those same reviews drove me off.

What makes this especially tragic is that I generally enjoyed the book. I would have read it much much earlier had it not been tainted by this whiff of impropriety. Because experience has shown me that if an author feels the need to buy reviews to falsify the public perception of their book, then it’s probably not very good.

In the end, I opted to give it a chance. In part, I admit, to see if my past experience holds true, but I went into it fully expecting to give up and throw it on the DNF as unworthy of my time. That is the perception that reviews that appear faked create in me. And as readers aren’t blind to the obvious and aren’t stupid either, I suspect I’m not the only one.

This book has 3 first person narrators, which I enjoyed. But I can see it not going over well with everyone. It created a bit of an impression of tell, tell, tell that isn’t accurate, as it’s a character telling, not a distant narrator. But I really liked the characters voices. The author also has a talent for creating atmosphere. The descriptions of the reservation are quite vivid. I was also pleased with the twist to the romance. I was worried it wouldn’t work out like I wanted for a little while, but it did. (Please don’t ruin it in future books!)

There was a lot of “the Navaho” this and “the reservation” that and I don’t know enough about the Navaho or reservation life to comment on the accuracy of it. I never felt the author was purposefully insulting, but there were enough racial/cultural generalizations that I started to get a little squinked out, especially with the white doctor/nurse/saviors. I imagine the line of where such things become problematic is one it might take a Navaho to make, so I’ll just note it here and leave it at that.*

I did have some questions about why the grandmother would allow some of the tragedy to occur. There are big secrets; I get that. But some things—like what happened to Joe—she easily could have prevented or at least derailed. I also thought that the characters lacked depth. I liked them, but I didn’t really feel I knew them, despite their first person POV.

Lastly, the book is very obviously a (full-length) prequel to a longer series. That didn’t become apparent until the very end, but once it does it’s unmissable. But it looks like it could be an interesting series to pick up.

*When I cross-posted to Amazon, I noticed a review from a Navajo individual. I appreciated seeing their perspective.