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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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 Review: Isolation by Mary Anna Evans

Isolation EvansIsolation
A Faye Longchamp Mystery #9
Mary Anna Evans
Poisoned Pen Press, August 2015
ISBN 978-1-4642-0402-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Archaeologist Faye Longchamp-Mantooth has dug herself a deep hole and she can’t make her way out of it. As she struggles to recover from a shattering personal loss, she sees that everyone she loves is trying to reach out to her. If only she could reach back. Instead she’s out digging holes all over her home, the Florida island of Joyeuse.

In their old plantation home, Joe Wolf Mantooth is surrounded by family—Faye, the wife he loves; their toddler son he adores; and his father, who hasn’t gotten around to telling him how long he’s been out of prison or how he got there—yet Joe has never felt so helpless or alone.

Then a close friend at the local marina is brutally murdered, the first in a string of crimes against women that rocks Micco County. Joe, desperate to help Faye, realizes she is in danger from both her inner demons and someone who has breached the island’s isolation. Local law and environmental officials say they want to help, but to Faye and Joe they feel more like invaders. A struggling Faye reaches back over a century into her family’s history for clues. And all the while, danger snakes further into their lives, threatening the people they love, their cherished home, even the very ground—some of it poisoned—beneath their feet.

There are some authors I know I can always count on to give me a good story, to take me away for just a few hours from the trials and tribulations of real life. They are the ones I always go back to when I feel the need for some familiarity, sort of like the old friend you haven’t seen in a while but you suddenly have the urge to catch up. Mary Anna Evans is one of those authors for me and, once again, she brought a tale that engaged me from beginning to end.

This time, Faye is keeping to home ground, literally, while she mourns a loss and retreats into herself to try to cope, not always very well. Her digging is aimless although she does have some purpose in mind but her husband, Joe, sees only the reclusive sadness that is tearing her apart. His own grief is more in the background and he has found his own sort of distraction in his father, a man he doesn’t like much. Out of desperation, Joe has been taking his father to the local marina just so he doesn’t have to talk to him and it’s on one of those visits that they find their friend Liz floating in the water.

Then Faye strikes something in one of those endless holes she’s been digging and she and Joe soon find themselves surrounded by environmentalists and a lot of questions, especially since Faye’s grandmother, Cally, might have had something to do with this potential disaster. Before Faye finds the answers she needs, another devastating loss could bring her to her knees.

My affinity with Faye is a little odd because we really have very little in common, only a love of history and my own very fleeting thought, years ago, of becoming an archaeologist. It’s a testament to Ms. Evans’ ability to craft a living, breathing character—and not just Faye—that I feel compelled to keep up with Faye’s life and her ongoing search for her own family history. In Isolation, Ms. Evans created a plot that’s unique and intriguing but it’s the people who continue to call me back. There are no disappointments here except that I have to wait endlessly for the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2015.

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An Excerpt from Isolation

Fish know which docks are owned by people who are generous with their table scraps. In the evenings, they gather around wooden posts that vibrate with the footsteps of a human carry- ing food. They wait, knowing that potato peels and pork chop bones will soon rain from the sky. They race to skim the surface for floating bread crumbs. They dive, nibbling at each half-eaten hot dog as it sinks. When a restaurant, even a shabby dive where hungry people clean their plates, throws its detritus off one par- ticular dock every night, fish for miles around know all about it.

On this night, the fish wait below a dock that has always offered a nightly feast. Tonight, they feel the vibrations of familiar feet. The food falls into the water, as always, and the sound of a stainless steel spoon scraping the bottom of a stainless steel pot passes from the air above to the water below. Everything is as it has been, until a sharp noise jabs into the water hard enough for the fish to hear it. The spoon falls.

The spoon is large, designed for a commercial kitchen, so it hits the water with a smack that can be heard both above and below the surface. A scream falls into the fishes’ underworld along with the spoon.

A big pot, with food scraps still clinging to its inner surface, hits the water an instant later. Only creatures with the agility of the waiting fish could scatter quickly enough to avoid being hit.

After another heartbeat, something else falls among them, something bigger and softer. Soon there are two somethings, both with arms and legs and feet and hands, one that gurgles and another that leaves when the gurgling stops.

The thing that stays behind is a human body. As it settles in the water, tiny minnows nestle in the long hair that floats around it like seaweed. Catfish explore its ten long fingers with their tentacled mouths. None of them associate its two bare feet with the sprightly vibrations that had always signaled a rain of food.

Before long, predators appear, drawn by the smell of blood.

Chapter Two

Joe Wolf Mantooth was worried about his wife.

Faye was neglecting their business. She was neglecting her health. He wanted to say she was neglecting her children, but it would kill her to think he believed such a thing, so he spent a lot of time telling that part of himself to be quiet. He also wanted to say she was neglecting him, but it would kill him to believe it, so he spent the rest of his time telling that other part of himself to be quiet. Or to shrivel up and die. Because if he ever lost Faye, that’s what Joe intended to do. Shrivel up and die.

The children seemed oblivious to the changes in their mother.

Michael, at two, saw nothing strange about her leaving the house every morning with her archaeological tools. She had always done that.

Amande was away from home, doing an immersion course in Spanish at a camp situated so high in the Appalachians that she’d asked for heavy sweaters long before Halloween. Faye had been too distracted to put them in the mail. Joe had shopped for them, boxed them up, and sent them off. Faye seemed to have forgotten that her daughter had ever said, “I’m cold.”

Amande was perceptive for seventeen. If she hadn’t noticed that Joe had been doing all the talking for the last month, she would notice soon. Lately, when faced with a call from her daughter, Faye murmured a few distracted words before pretending that Michael needed a diaper change. If Faye didn’t come up with another excuse to get off the phone, Amande might soon call 911 and ask the paramedics to go check out her brother’s chronic diarrhea.

Though Joe did speak to Amande when she called, surely she had noticed by now that he said exactly nothing. What was he going to say?

The closest thing to the truth was “Your mother’s heart fell into a deep hole when she miscarried your baby sister, and I’m starting to worry that we may never see it again,” but Joe was keeping his silence. Faye had forbidden him to tell Amande that there wasn’t going to be a baby sister.

Was this rational? Did Faye think that her daughter was never going to fly home to Florida, bubbling with excitement over her Appalachian adventure and the coming baby?

If she did, it was yet more evidence supporting Joe’s fear that Faye’s mind wasn’t right these days. Every morning brought fresh proof of that not-rightness as she walked away from him…to do what? As best he could tell, she was carefully excavating random sites all over their island. If she’d found anything worth the effort, he sure didn’t know about it.

In the meantime, Joe sat in the house, face-to-face with a serious problem. This problem was almost as tall and broad as Joe. His hair had once been as dark. His skin was the same red- brown, only deeper. This was a problem Joe had been trying to outrun since he was eighteen years old.

His father.

“Try this spot.”

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Faye Longchamp-Mantooth believed in intuition. It had always guided her work as an archaeologist. After she’d gathered facts about a site’s history, inspected the contours of the land, and scoured old photographs, she always checked her gut response before excavating. Her gut was often right. It was only recently, however, that her gut had begun speaking out loud and in English. Lately, her gut had been urging her to skip the boring research and go straight for the digging.

“Have you ever excavated here before?” its voice asked. Faye’s answer was no.

“Then try this spot.”

Every day, Joyeuse Island sported more shallow pits that had yielded nothing. Of course, they had yielded nothing. Faye had failed to do her homework. But going to the library or sitting at her computer would require her to be still and think. Thinking was painful these days, so she skipped it.

“Okay,” she said, not pleased to see that she’d begun answering the voice out loud, “I’ll give it a shot. But I don’t think there’s anything here.”

Her hand was remarkably steady for the hand of a woman who’d been hearing voices for a month. She used it to guide her trowel, removing a thin layer of soil.

She would have known this old trowel in the dark. Her fingers had rubbed the finish off its wooden handle in a pattern that could match no hand but hers. Since God hadn’t seen fit to let her grow the pointy metal hand she needed for her work, she’d chosen this one tool to mold into a part of herself.

Faye was working in sandy soil as familiar as the trowel. It was her own. She’d been uncovering the secrets of Joyeuse Island since she was old enough to walk, and she would never come to the end of them. As she grew older, she saw the need to mete out her time wisely, but she rebelled against it. The past would keep most of its secrets, and this made her angry.Faye didn’t know where to dig, because she didn’t know what she was trying to find. It would help if the voice ever offered a less hazy rationale for ordering her out of the house. All it said was “You can find the truth. Don’t let this island keep its secrets from you.”

Her frenetic busyness was an antidote for the times the voice tiptoed into ground that shook beneath her feet. It crept into dangerous territory and then beckoned her to follow. It asked her to believe that she was to blame for the baby’s death, for the mute suffering in Joe’s eyes, for every tear Michael shed.

This was craziness. Two-year-olds cried several times a day. Men who had lost babies suffered. And there was rarely any blame to be handed out in the wake of a miscarriage, even late miscarriages that carry away a child who has been bumping around in her mother’s womb long enough for mother and daughter to get to know one another.

Still, the voice said Faye was to blame, so she believed it. And it told her that it was possible to dig up peace, so she dug.

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About the Author

Photo credit Randy Batista, Media Image Photography, Gainesville, Florida

Photo credit Randy Batista, Media Image Photography, Gainesville, Florida

Mary Anna Evans is the author of the award-winning Faye Longchamp archaeological mysteries–Artifacts, Relics, Effigies, Findings, Floodgates, Strangers, and Plunder. She has degrees in physics and chemical engineering. Her background includes stints in environmental consulting and university administration, as well as a summer spent working offshore in the oil fields. Writing lets her spend weeks indulging her passion for history, archeology, and architecture, and months making up stories. Mary Anna is preparing to move to Oklahoma since accepting an Associate Professor position with the University of Oklahoma.

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