Book Review: Dig Too Deep by Amy Allgeyer

Dig Too DeepDig Too Deep
Amy Allgeyer
AW Teen, April 2016
ISBN: 978-0-8075-1580-8
Hardcover

Whoever Dad was has never been in her reality and as things stand right now, Mom’s nearly as useless. She’s not only in jail, facing serious charges, but she used Liberty’s college funds to hire a lawyer. Now Liberty Briscoe is facing the loss of her best friend, the city she feels comfortable in and the promise of scholarships that being enrolled in a good private school offer.

Instead, she’s heading via a 14 hour bus trip back to Ebbotsville, Kentucky, the town where her mother grew up, to live with her grandmother. She has some memories of life there, but when she arrives and has to take a beat up taxi to Gram’s place, it’s her first inkling that life is about to change in ways she never imagined.

Gram’s frail and claims her persistent cough isn’t serious. The water has a creepy orange color and despite claims allegedly by the people responsible for testing it, nobody drinks it. In fact, bottled water eats up a lot of the limited cash and food stamps Liberty and Gram have to buy necessities.

Then, there’s the huge difference between her old school and the public one in town. Class choices are fewer and since she’s an outsider, other kids tend to shun her. Cole, however, is interested starting on day one. Liberty’s grateful for the attention and likes him at first, but his pushiness, coupled with his attempts to control her once she decides to investigate the water and why so many people have various kinds of cancer, lead to a quick break-up. Cole’s firmly in the camp of those willing to let the coal mining company wreak havoc on the nearby mountains and keep the town council in their pocket.

Dobber, Cole’s best friend intimidates Liberty at first, but the more she watches him and learns how his own family has been screwed by the coal company, the more willing she is to trust him, especially after scary things start happening around her and Gram’s farm.

This is an excellent ecological mystery/thriller that also involves a girl coming to grips with just how alike she and her estranged mother really are. Teens and adults liking an intelligent story that features a scared, but courageous protagonist will really like it.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, May 2016.

Book Review: Dig Too Deep by Amy Allgeyer

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Title: Dig Too Deep
Author: Amy Allgeyer
Publisher: Albert Whitman
Release Date: April 1, 2016
Genre: General Fiction, Young Adult

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Dig Too DeepDig Too Deep
Amy Allgeyer
Albert Whitman & Company, April 2016
ISBN 978-0-8075-1580-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

With her mother facing prison time for a violent political protest, seventeen-year-old Liberty Briscoe has no choice but to leave her Washington, DC, apartment and take a bus to Ebbottsville, Kentucky, to live with her granny. There she can finish high school and put some distance between herself and her mother– her ‘former’ mother, as she calls her. But Ebbottsville isn’t the same as Liberty remembers, and it’s not just because the top of Tanner’s Peak has been blown away to mine for coal. Half the county is out of work, an awful lot of people in town seem to be sick, and the tap water is bright orange–the same water that officials claim is safe to drink. When Granny’s lingering cold turns out to be something much worse, Liberty is convinced the mine is to blame, and starts an investigation that quickly plunges her into a world of secrets, lies, threats, and danger. Liberty isn’t deterred by any of it, but as all her searches turn into dead ends, she comes to a difficult decision: turn to violence like her former mother or give up her quest for good.

I tend to shy away from any novel that seems as though the author might have an agenda of some sort and I admit to being a little leery of Dig Too Deep for that reason since it seemed clear that environmental issues would be front and center. There was something about it, though, that appealed to me, mostly the apparent dichotomy between mother and daughter, so I decided to take a chance and I’m glad I did.

Yes, the damage that can be done in coal mining is a very important element of this book but I actually found my connection to be more with the changes that take place in Liberty because of those environmental issues. From a girl who heartily resents her mother for placing her causes above her daughter, Liberty gradually becomes her mother in a fashion once she begins to understand the harm being done to her granny and the community.

The community is the other thing that particularly struck me and the author does a masterful job of bringing the locale to life. I’ve spent time in coal country and Ms. Allgeyer gets it right, evoking a strong sense of the deep poverty but also the haunting beauty. She also has a fine hand in making the reader feel the people’s devotion and loyalty to each other and the land and her characterization of Granny in particular is vivid and appealing.

As for the central story, the greed and moral corruption of the company’s management is obvious and certainly easy to paint as evil but I did think it was a bit overdone. There’s no doubt that Big Business can be very much on the dark side but I felt not enough attention was paid to what could happen to the community, to the people’s livelihoods, if the company were forced to make dramatic, expensive changes. I’m not saying the environmental problem should be ignored—far from it—just that all potential consequences need to be considered and planned for.

Whatever my concerns might be, Ms. Allgeyer is clearly a talented writer and has given readers a compelling story. I’m interested to see what she’ll offer next.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2016.

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Dig Too Deep Teaser

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About the Author

Amy AllgeyerThe youngest of seven kids, Amy has been writing stories since she first learned to make her letters face the right way. Her work has appeared in Family Fun, A Fly in Amber and Stories for Children. As an architect, she spends her days restoring hundred-year-old homes in Boise where she lives with her son, a feral house cat, and a fake owl named Alan. She hates chocolate, but loves vegetables. She also loves traveling to foreign lands and the smell of honeysuckle on humid Southern nights.

Amy is represented by the lovely and amazing Danielle Chiotti of Upstart Crow Literary.

AUTHOR LINKS:

Website: http://www.amyallgeyer.com/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14368598.Amy_Allgeyer
Twitter: https://twitter.com/amy7a
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AmyAllgeyerAuthor?ref=hl
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/appalachian_ya/?ref=badge

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Book Reviews: A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro and Summer of the Dead by Julia Keller

A Study in CharlotteA Study in Charlotte
Charlotte Holmes Novel #1
Brittany Cavallaro
Katherine Tegen Books, March 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-239890-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Jamie Watson has always been intrigued by Charlotte Holmes; after all, their great-great-great-grandfathers are one of the most infamous pairs in history. But the Holmes family has always been odd, and Charlotte is no exception. She’s inherited Sherlock’s volatility and some of his vices—and when Jamie and Charlotte end up at the same Connecticut boarding school, Charlotte makes it clear she’s not looking for friends.

But when a student they both have a history with dies under suspicious circumstances, ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jamie can no longer afford to keep his distance. Danger is mounting and nowhere is safe—and the only people they can trust are each other.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes (cue the gasps of horror) even though I’ve read all of the original canon during my reading lifetime. I’m not sure why I’m sort of ambivalent about Sherlock but there it is and my lack of enthusiasm has carried over into all the subsequent work by other writers as well as the movie and tv adaptations (although I have a soft spot for Basil Rathbone’s films and for the first Robert Downey, Jr. movie). Then, I threw caution to the wind and jumped into A Study in Charlotte because I wanted to see how Ms. Cavallaro would handle the concept of a female Sherlock and both Sherlock and Watson being teens.

On the whole, I really enjoyed this and the boarding school setting was just right. I liked Jamie Watson a tad more than Charlotte Holmes but, as a pair, they were effective, amusing and better than average sleuths which is as it should be since this is Holmes and Watson we’re talking about. Charlotte is every bit as annoying, intellectually arrogant and obsessed with scientific endeavors as her great-great-great-grandfather and Jamie’s concern for her reflects nicely on his forebear. Together, they become a formidable team in investigating the death of a classmate when they become prime suspects and they’re not intimidated by the ensuing dastardly things that happen or the appearance of another name from the past, Moriarty.

The only real concern I have with this interpretation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work is Charlotte’s use of drugs. That follows with Sherlock’s use of cocaine, of course, and in itself is not objectionable but I was uneasy with the perception that she can take it or leave it and it doesn’t have much of a deleterious effect on her. I know that’s harking back to the original detective but I could have wished for a bit more cautionary aspect to it because this is a story that will appeal to younger and more impressionable teens.

Brittany Cavallaro‘s debut is intriguing and a lot of fun with a good deal of attention paid to both plot and characterizations. There’s no doubt in my mind that the author has a terrific concept here and has carried it out quite successfully and I’ll definitely be looking for the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2016.

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Summer of the DeadSummer of the Dead
Bell Elkins Novels #3
Julia Keller
Minotaur Books, August 2014
ISBN 978-1-250-04473-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

High summer in Acker’s Gap, West Virginia–but no one’s enjoying the rugged natural landscape. Not while a killer stalks the small town and its hard-luck inhabitants. County prosecutor Bell Elkins and Sheriff Nick Fogelsong are stymied by a murderer who seems to come and go like smoke on the mountain. At the same time, Bell must deal with the return from prison of her sister, Shirley–who, like Bell, carries the indelible scars of a savage past.

In Summer of the Dead, the third Julia Keller mystery chronicling the journey of Bell Elkins and her return to her Appalachian hometown, we also meet Lindy Crabtree–a coal miner’s daughter with dark secrets of her own, secrets that threaten to explode into even more violence.

Acker’s Gap is a place of loveliness and brutality, of isolation and fierce attachments–a place where the dead rub shoulders with the living, and demand their due.

I first read Summer of the Dead as a selection for one of the book clubs I’m in and the woman who suggested it spoke of it with such high praise I couldn’t not read it. The book lived up to her comments, I’m happy to say.

West Virginia lends itself, fairly or not, to rather depressing stories what with its coal mining, lack of education in some areas and levels of poverty that would crush many of us not accustomed to what can be a bleak outlook. I hasten to add that all of this truly lovely state is not like this but it’s unfortunately true that there’s some validity in such a perception.

Bell Elkins returned to her hometown, Acker’s Gap, and took up the position of county prosecutor. When an elderly man is killed in his own driveway, she and the sheriff, Nick Fogelsong, are really puzzled about what would have prompted someone to take a sledgehammer to him. At the same time, Bell is coping with her sister, Shirley’s, release from a lengthy incarceration. Shirley is most definitely not in a peaceful frame of mind but the past these sisters share weighs heavily on Bell, causing her to feel unusually obligated to Shirley.

On another front, we meet Lindy Crabtree, a woman whose only relief from her dreary existence is her love of books and science. Her father is, to my mind, one of the most compelling characters in the book; a former coalminer, he represents all the terrible things that can go wrong in such a life and the scene that is riveted in my brain is of him crouching under a table because he needs the enclosed space and the dark and is unable to stand erect because of all the years spent bent over in the mines.

There’s an intelligent plot here and the characters are vivid but it’s the region and the residual effects of coalmining that really stand out. Ms. Keller has gotten my attention and I’ll be seeking out the previous Bell Elkins books.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2016.

Book Reviews: Notown by Tess Collins and The Widows of Braxton County by Jess McConkey

NotownNotown
Book One: The Midnight Valley Quartet
Tess Collins
BearCat Press, May 2013
ISBN 978-1-937356-31-6
Hardcover

The Notown of the story is a nowhere kind of place, a coal mining town set in Kentucky’s Cumberland Mountains. The heroine of the story is a no-good kind of girl, a product of her times in the 1960’s, at least in this particular place. Randi Joe Gaylor’s daddy is a coal miner who, although not always successful, works hard to feed his many children. Her mother is something else, a woman of secrets. But Randi Jo slowly discovers the whole family has secrets, some more gruesome than others, some because once again, these people live in this time and in this place. Murder and betrayal are a part of their history, as well as the history of the people they know. And if you’re born a Notowner, as Randi Jo finds out, you are always a Notowner. There doesn’t seem to be any way out.

Notown is a crime story, although it’s not a mystery. The people, even Randi Jo, as we follow her life from the time she’s a little girl, to young love, marriage and motherhood, to her final degradation and redemption, seems to personify a class of people. Who says America doesn’t have a class system? In Notown it throve, sad and joyless.

Once into the story, the writing is riveting, faithfully reflecting Randi Jo’s voice. Hard reading, at times, because the emotion can only be taken in smaller doses. I think it might be overwhelming in one fell swoop, needing time to be assimilated. Notown is excellent and is sure to make you think about the world and the people in it.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, August 2013.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

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The Widows of Braxton CountyThe Widows of Braxton County
Jess McConkey
William Morrow, July 2013
ISBN 978-0-06-218826-7
Trade Paperback

Kate Krause was a very happy bride as she traveled with her husband, Joe, to her new home in Braxton County, Iowa.  Kate and Joe met online but Kate felt that they were just right for each other.  Kate’s widowed mother had passed away and her grandparents raised Kate. Her grandmother complained endlessly and Kate’s life was not a happy one.

When the new couple arrived at Joe’s farm, a woman that Kate first mistook for a housekeeper met Joe and Kate at the door.  The woman was Trudy Krause, Joe’s mother.   Joe explained that he didn’t tell Kate about Trudy because Trudy was to have moved to a retirement home prior to the couple’s homecoming but there was some problems at the home and her room would not be ready for weeks.

Kate soon found that life was not going to be as she pictured it.  The farm was in bad financial shape and Kate’s savings were used to pay some of the debts but it wasn’t enough.   Joe would not agree to let Kate help him with the management of the farm even though Kate had proven to be an excellent money manager.  Plans for Trudy’s move to a retirement home did not materialize.

As Kate became acquainted with the neighborhood, she finds that the Krause family harbors a long kept secret about a mysterious death.   This secret haunts Kate as dangerous, unexplainable events begin.

A Krause family member, but not one that Joe associates with, owns the local hardware store.   Joe warns Kate not to shop at that store.  Kate ignores his wishes, makes friends with the owner of the store, and finds out a little more about the mysterious past and haunting secret of the Krause family.

The book goes back and forth between present day and the past where the Krause mystery began.  I found this book to be very interesting and I could not wait to get to the end but when I did, I wished the book were longer.

Jess McConkey a/k/a Shirley Damsgaard is an award-winning writer.  Love Lies Bleeding was the first book I read by the author Jess McConkey and it was a good read.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2013.