Book Review: If the Creek Don’t Rise by Leah Weiss

If the Creek Don’t Rise
Leah Weiss
Sourcebooks Landmark, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-4926-4745-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

He’s gonna be sorry he ever messed with me and Loretta Lynn

Sadie Blue has been a wife for fifteen days. That’s long enough to know she should have never hitched herself to Roy Tupkin, even with the baby.

Sadie is desperate to make her own mark on the world, but in remote Appalachia, a ticket out of town is hard to come by, and hope often gets stomped out.  When a stranger sweeps into Baines Creek and knocks things off kilter, Sadie finds herself with an unexpected lifeline…if she can just figure out how to use it.

This intimate insight into a fiercely proud, tenacious community unfolds through the voices of the forgotten folks of Baines Creek. With a colorful cast of characters that each contribute a new perspective, IF THE CREEK DON’T RISE is a debut novel bursting with heart, honesty, and homegrown grit.

There are only a few authors I’ve come across that write fiction about Appalachia with authority and with a strong sense of understanding, compassion and respect. Catherine Marshall and Sharyn McCrumb come to mind and I’ve now added Leah Weiss to my shortlist. This may be a debut but Ms. Weiss has created a story that, to me, represents the way I personally feel about the Appalachian people and their way of life.

Those of us who live in more traditional, perhaps more “sophisticated” environs get a good taste of Sadie’s insular, self-contained world and, while we think her pregnancy and marriage at such a young age are appalling enough, it’s much harder to comprehend the way of life that would lead her Granny to treat Sadie so harshly. As Sadie says, “Granny don’t do my heart any good” but Granny is what Appalachian mores and society are all about. It all makes thoughts of murder a little more forgiveable.

My heart was immediately taken by Sadie and I was energized by her hopes of escaping this crushing poverty and illiteracy but, truly, nearly all these people, Granny and the abusive Roy included, tugged at me for one reason or another. Some of my reaction is because of my own familiarity with the Appalachian world from regular family trips to the Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee areas when I was growing up and my fondness for fiction set there as well as nonfiction. Ms. Weiss is responsible for drawing me in this time and I truly hope to see more of Sadie and the people of Baines Creek. In the meantime, If the Creek Don’t Rise has a place on my list of best books read in 2017.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon
Book Depository // Indiebound

An Indie Next, Okra Pick, and LibraryReads 

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About the Author

Leah Weiss is a Southern writer and novelist born in North Carolina and raised in the foothills of Virginia. Her debut novel, If the Creek Don’t Rise, will be released in August of 2017. Her short stories have been published in The Simple Life magazine, Every Day Fiction and Deep South Magazine. She retired in 2015 from a 24-year career as Executive Assistant to the Headmaster at Virginia Episcopal School. She now pursues writing full time.

Website // Facebook // Goodreads

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“Weiss’ debut novel reveals the best and worst of human nature…
The author’s masterful use of language, including dialect unique
to the area, builds another layer of connection between these
characters while she develops a greater sense of inner isolation
and distance from those outside the community. Weiss’ novel is a
great suggestion for fans of the Big Stone Gap books, by Adriana Trigiani,
and Mitford series, by Jan Karon.” – Booklist, STARRED review

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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.

Some Teeny Reviews

The First LieThe First Lie
Diane Chamberlain
St. Martin’s Press, June 2013
ISBN 9781466839403
Ebook Short Story

From the publisher—

An e-original short story that sets the stage for bestselling author Diane Chamberlain’s novel Necessary Lies (September 2013).

The First Lie gives readers an early glimpse into the life of thirteen-year-old Ivy Hart. It’s 1958 in rural North Carolina, where Ivy lives with her grandmother and sister on a tobacco farm. As tenant farmers, Ivy and her family don’t have much freedom, though she and her best friend, Henry, often sneak away in search of adventure…and their truest selves. But life on the farm takes a turn when Ivy’s teenage sister gives birth—all the while maintaining her silence about the baby’s father. Soon Ivy finds herself navigating the space between adolescence and adulthood as she tries to unravel a dark web of family secrets and make sense of her ever-evolving life in the segregated South. 

First, I want to point out that this is a short story intended as a lead-in to Necessary Lies, the author’s new full-length novel coming out in September . I’m sorry to say that Ms. Chamberlain has received quite a few “reviews” castigating her for it’s length and cost (99 cents) despite the fact the description very clearly labels it as a short story which, in the publisher’s words, sets the stage for the new book. It could not have been stated any more plainly.

Set in the rural South, this tale introduces us to a young teen and her very limited world. It’s easy to imagine what Ivy’s life is like amid the societal issues of the day including teen unwed pregnancy and the possibility of forbidden interracial relations at a time such a thing was potentially dangerous and certainly life-altering. The first lie might be the identity of the baby’s father but an even greater lie festers and reminds us of one of the most shameful episodes in our collective past. I have never read anything by this author until now but these few pages have really engaged me in Ivy’s story and make me want to see what her future will be.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.

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How to Talk to Girls at PartiesHow to Talk to Girls at Parties
Neil Gaiman
William Morrow, June 2013
ISBN 9780062293572
Ebook Short Story

I’ve read a lot of Neil Gaiman‘s work but not Fragile Things, his short story collection that includes this story, so it’s new to me. As much as I love pretty much anything Gaiman-esque, I have to say “Huh?” about this one.

A shy, geeky teenager and his more socially experienced buddy head out to a party where they expect to meet lots of girls and, hopefully, manage a kiss or two but they somehow end up at the wrong party—a VERY wrong party.  Enn and Vic soon discover that girls are, indeed, a most alien species and it’s no wonder they’re so hard to understand.  Gaiman‘s usual weirdness is in full flow here with moments of tension (are the boys in danger of being eaten?) and humor (one of the girls informs Enn that she loves being a tourist) but all seems to be going well when Vic suddenly drags Enn away and the two boys race to escape.  Escape from what? Well, let your imagination do the walking, dear readers.

Reading anything by Neil Gaiman is worthwhile but, to be honest, I can’t figure out why this story was chosen to introduce a teaser for his new book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane rather than another one or even a new one. In the end, though, it doesn’t matter. This little ebook is no longer available so, to get your Gaiman fix, go buy the new book!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.

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Black CabBlack Cab
David Bain
A/A Productions, 2010
ISBN 9781458043252
Ebook Short Story

From the author—

The black cabs kidnapping citizens off the streets of Chicago were thought to be just another urban legend – until the day Benny decided to hail one.

Benny noticed there was something strange about the cab he almost got into that night but he was tired and cranky, he and Maria had had another argument and he’d been living in the flower truck for two days so hailing a cab seemed like a good idea. It wasn’t.

Benny should have listened to his barmate, Ty. Ty knew things because he was a cop and he tried to tell Benny and Luckey, the bar owner, that black cabs were involved in some strange doings all over the world and that it had all happened once before, years ago.

So why is the black cab following Benny?

Black Cab is a delicious little story, only a few pages, that will leave you creeped out and wondering…

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.

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Spartan FrostSpartan Frost
A Mythos Academy Novella
Jennifer Estep
K-Teen Books, June 2013
ISBN 978-0-7582-9477-7
Ebook Novella

From the publisher—

I’m Logan Quinn, the deadliest Spartan warrior at Mythos Academy. At least I was–until the day I almost killed Gwen Frost.

Professor Metis and Nickamedes say that I’m fine, that Loki and the Reapers don’t have a hold on me anymore, but I can’t risk it. I can’t risk hurting Gwen again. So I’m leaving Mythos and going somewhere far, far away.

I know Gwen wonders what’s happening to me, whether I’m safe. I can’t tell her, but this is my story. . .

Before anybody jumps to the mistaken conclusion that they’ve gotten ripped off when they buy this book, please note this is a novella, not a full-length novel. Yes, it says “Novel” on the cover but I don’t think there is any intent on the publisher’s part to trick anyone; using that word is just a carryover from the rest of the series. I also want to warn you about one other thing—I jump into the middle of a series all the time because, as a reviewer, I rarely have a choice. I can do it without feeling completely lost because I’ve become accustomed to it but I’m pretty sure many other readers will not want Spartan Frost to be their introduction to the series because there’s so much that’s unknown to the initiate. Having said that, I enjoyed this a lot.

One other warning—the review section on bn.com has been highjacked by an RPG group. I reported it but Barnes & Noble almost certainly will do nothing about it. As a result, you should be aware that a number of the so-called reviews have nothing to do with this book.

Considering the fact that I’m an initiate to the Mythos Academy series, what did I learn from this particular title?

A guy named Logan tried to kill a girl named Gwen
Logan is riddled with guilt, so much so that he can’t bear to be around Gwen or his other friends
Logan has left North Carolina and gone to live with his dad in upstate New York
Logan and his dad, Linus, are uncomfortable with each other because of animosities that developed after Logan’s mom and sister were murdered
Gwen knew something had “possessed” Logan, driving him to try to kill her
Logan was possessed by Loki, the unruly Norse god
Logan’s stepmother is a royal beyotch with a mean streak that won’t quit and you might say Cinderella’s stepmom could take lessons from this one
Linus is the head of the Protectorate and has a pair of very cool warrior buddies
The four guys head out on a mission to destroy a sleeper cell of Reapers
There are two opposing groups, Reapers and Spartans, and they seem to be fighting about gods and goddesses among other things
Reapers are bad
Spartans are good
Reapers have been stealing museum artifacts but the Protectorate doesn’t know why
Linus has a cool table with gargoyle legs

You see, even though I’m new to the series, I learned a lot from this brief introduction. Some longtime fans may feel there’s nothing new here but it was perfect for me, just a small taste. It’s enough to make me want to go find First Frost and Touch of Frost so I can start to catch up with everyone else.

One thing confuses me—this is Logan’s POV and all about him so why is there a girl (Gwen?) on the cover?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.

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The Secrets of the SibylThe Secrets of the Sibyl
Nancy Adams
Green Fern Press, May 2012
Ebook

From the author—

A decaying villa filled with secrets… A mysterious box that belonged to a dead girl… A spectral woman in white… All of them hold the Secrets of the Sibyl.

A short Gothic tale set in the Roman world of 382 A.D.

When her father buys a dilapidated villa on the wild, rocky coast of Cumae, city of the ancient Sibyline oracle, fourteen-year-old Cellina encounters mysteries at every turn. Following the trail of a mysterious silver box, Cellina uncovers the secret of a decades-old crime committed within the villa’s crumbling walls.

Fans of historical fiction and/or historical mystery will appreciate this little tale that revolves around a silver box and the secrets it contains. Cellina is a young girl I’d like to know more about and an unspoken mystery to me is why her father would spend his money on a summer home that is mostly in quite shabby condition. The desire to own property is understandable but he seems to be really enamored with this particular place despite its serious shortcomings and his wife’s objections.

Cellina and her family are interesting characters and I hope the author will be able to share her novels with us soon so we can spend more time with these ancient Romans—I enjoyed them too much to want to let go.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.

 

Book Review: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Ship BreakerShip Breaker
Paolo Bacigalupi
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-316-08168-9
Ebook
Also available in hardcover and paperback

Nailer is small for his age. He’s a good worker too but time is running out. He’s getting too big for the small crew and his father sinks further into drug fuelled rages with every passing day. One day, the Fates bring a storm into his midst. In the middle of it all is a girl, a girl that will change his world. Will Nailer turn his back on family? But what is family these days? Blood? Loyalty? Only time will tell.

At first glance, this wasn’t the typical type of book that appeals to me. I’m not really that interested in ships and I found the descriptions of the inner workings of them and their components unappealing. But the story is well written with characters that are engaging. You want to find out what happens to this scrawny, abused boy. Is he going to survive his poverty stricken environment? Will he manage to get his lucky break and leave his no good father behind? You’ll find that you’ll keep reading because you really want to know.  The world depicted in the book is one set in the future along the lower east coast of America. Category 6 storms frequent the coast and New Orleans is permanently underwater. Given recent events, it’s a stark warning of what could possibly come to pass. It’s also a world where social class is divided into two sections, the very rich and the very poor. There is no in between. Half men, a genetic mixture of human, dog, tiger and hyena are bought only by the rich due to their hefty price tag. They bring an added element of tension and uneasiness to the book and are so well written that they appear entirely plausible.

I did think that the start of the book was a bit slow but halfway through, it really picked up pace and became much more exciting. There were highs and lows, fights, kidnappings and a great chase, culminating in a dramatic ending for more than one character. I really do think this book will appeal to the young adult audience and it’s one that I will be recommending to those I know. It was an enjoyable read and certainly, any writer that can make me want to read more about ships is a darn good one. Boys in particular should find this a good read, especially any who have an interest in dystopian fiction in general. Much like The Hunger Games, this really is a fight for survival where only the fittest and smartest will win.

A great book that comes highly recommended.

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, November 2012.