A Gathering of Shades


“Sixteen year old Aidan’s grandmother has a secret recipe. She feeds ghosts.”

This opening line in the flyleaf description of A Gathering of Shades is what made me take the book home. An old lady who feeds ghosts. What a powerfully creepy image. And I must say that I wasn’t disappointed. This story is one of the better books for teens I’ve read in a long time. Evocative, eerie, and heartbreaking…all at once.

Aidan’s grandmother does indeed feed ghosts, but he doesn’t find out until a few days after he and his mother arrive back at the family homestead in The Kingdom, an area in upper Vermont. After Aidan’s father is killed in a car accident, his mother decides to pull up stakes from the suburbs of Boston and head back home to heal. Aidan, having only visited The Kingdom as a child and having listened to his father talk about how much he hated it when he was growing up, is less than thrilled about the move. He’s uncomfortable around his odd grandmother, but is curious enough about her lengthy after-dinner walks that he follows her one night and discovers her secret. She’s been feeding the ghosts of The Kingdom for years, helping them pass the time until they’re ready to move on. She’s surprised that Aidan can see the ghosts, but seems pleased to have flesh-and-blood company among the ectoplasm, until she figures out that Aidan joins her every evening only because he’s hopeful his father’s ghost will put in an appearance. Aidan spends the better part of the summer chasing his father’s ghost until he finally manages to say goodbye.

There are plenty of messages here, but none are pushed to the point of being annoying. The futility of chasing ghosts, the difficulty of moving on and letting go after a tragedy, the reliving the memories of the dead time and again…all are addressed with lovely, gentle writing. Reading this story is a little like floating down a stream tucked in an inner tube. Give it a try…

Adirondack Detective by John Briant


Let me begin by saying I respect John Briant’s 20-odd years of experience as a NYS Trooper, but then let me add that all the law enforcement experience in the world cannot make a person a good writer. And unfortunately that is the case with The Adirondack Detective. The book reads like a collection of stories Briant might have reminisced about with his trooper buddies over a couple cold ones in a little mountain bar. The writing is juvenile at best, and, well, just plain bad at it’s worst. The dialog is stiff and disjointed, the descriptive passages are awful, and the story is boring and tiresome. I am so disappointed.

I borrowed this book from the Brockport Library so I could read it before I bought it for Ogden. I’m glad I did, because it would have been a waste of money. What I don’t understand is how this guy has had so many books published. I’m going to have to get one of his more recent books and see if the writing has improved. The reviews on Amazon are all pretty good…so maybe Briant has gotten better. I will let you know….

A New Twist on Sherlock Holmes

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I confess. I love Sherlock Holmes. I grew up reading the Conan Doyle stories, and as an adult reader, I have found great enjoyment…and some disappointment…in the ways other authors have decided to write about the great detective. Of all the Holmes treatments out there, I have to say that Laurie King’s Mary Russell series is far and away my favorite, although Carol Nelson Douglas runs a close second with her Irene Adler series. Even so, I almost always pick up any new book that has Sherlock as a character. And so, it was with great delight that I found Nancy Springer’s The Case of the Missing Marquess, which introduces a lovely new character — Enola Holmes, much younger sister of the Great Detective.

The story opens with Enola pondering the backwards meaning of her name — alone — as she waits for her mother to return to their home. Mum never shows up, and Enola is at first angry because it is, after all, her birthday; but then when Mum is still missing the following day, Enola becomes frightened. After a fruitless search of the rain-soaked grounds, Enola reluctantly sends to London for her two much older brothers…Sherlock and Mycroft. Once they arrive, Enola slowly learns more about the rift between her mother and brothers, and gradually loses hope that the men will find her mother. Enola also learns more about her mother, and even more about the way women are expected to behave in polite society. She rebels against Mycroft’s attempts to “civilize” her, and ditches the whole family while she in enroute to boarding school. In usual Holmesian fashion, Enola then gets caught up in the disappearance of the wealthy son of a Duke. Her adventures are plenty fun and well worthy of the Holmes moniker.

I was particularly struck by the cleverness of the female characters here, and Enola herself says at the end that she has discovered a whole world of feminine secrets that her brother Sherlock, no matter how brilliant his mind, will never penetrate. She uses those secrets to communicate with her mother, who, like Enola, freed herself from the confines of polite society and has chosen to spend the rest of her days roaming the countryside with Gypsies, “blooming in the sun.” I liked this story, and really liked Enola. It’s a short book, and is intended for a younger audience, say 12 and up. Holmes fans will definitely want to become acquainted with this newest member of the family.

Nancy Drew, Girl Detective

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I was browsing the Teen shelf at the library last night as I was waiting to shut down a computer at closing time, and what did I see? Nancy Drew, Girl Detective #4: The Girl Who Wasn’t There! Oh yeah! Nancy is now a graphic novel. How cool is that?

I checked it out, toted it home and read it in 15 minutes. Loved it. Nancy Drew and graphic novels — what a nifty combination. I read it again over my cereal this morning and paid a little closer attention to the artwork this time around. I was taken back to the Wonder Woman comics of my youth. Very similar style. The story was pretty good too. Very international…where Nancy becomes friends with an Indian woman who answers her call to a computer help desk in India. When the woman calls her in the middle of the night and seems to be in trouble, Nancy, Bess & George hop on a plane and wing their way to New Delhi. Once there, they encounter resistance every step of the way, but Nancy is not deterred. Not only does she rescue her friend, but she breaks up a DVD smuggling ring along the way.

Yes, this is cotton candy for the brain, but so what? Everyone told me the same thing when I was 8 and devouring every Nancy Drew book I could get my hands on. And look at me now. Still reading fluff and loving every minute of it.

Empire Falls by Richard Russo


FROM THE PUBLISHER…

Dexter County, Maine, and specifically the town of Empire Falls, has seen better days, and for decades, in fact, only a succession from bad to worse. One by one, its logging and textile enterprises have gone belly-up, and the once vast holdings of the Whiting clan (presided over by the last scion’s widow) now mostly amount to decrepit real estate. The working classes, meanwhile, continue to eke out whatever meager promise isn’t already boarded up. Miles Roby gazes over this ruined kingdom from the Empire Grill, an opportunity of his youth that has become the albatross of his daily and future life.

FROM ME….
This is one time where I found the movie more engaging than the book.

Well. How surprising. I haven’t been struck by lightning. Don’t get me wrong. I liked Empire Falls, but I really didn’t love it like *some* people I know. I think it’s me. As I’ve grown older, I have really come to dislike books and movies that are all about people suffering. I want my books to be fun and mysterious, not gutwrenching and disturbing, although I can occasionally enjoy a good wrencher, like In Cold Blood, which I recently re-read. But back to Empire Falls. I found the characters rather boring and unlikable in print. Miles, even though he’s a good guy at heart, is a sap. I really wanted to see him stand up for himself long before the scene at the mill with Francine. And his father…what a jerk! I have to admit, though, that the writing really was very good. Russo has a way with words that we don’t see very often anymore, but I just wish he’d write more interesting characters. If this book hadn’t been a selection for our book group, I probably wouldn’t have made it past the first couple chapters.