A New Series: One Minute Reviews of
Books by Vermont Authors
Laura's column "One Minute Reviews" has appeared bi-weekly in Wilmington, Vermont's Deerfield Valley News since 2015. In April 2018, she found that no Vermont periodical consistently reviews all fiction and non-fiction by Vermont authors, so she started a series to fill that void. Published reviews from that series and some earlier reviews of local authors are listed with links to a scan of the printed copy. Reviews still in queue are listed without links until they appear in print.
Kids Trapped in a Haunted Ski Lodge
Katherine Arden, Dead Voices. G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2019
In this sequel to her ghost story Small Spaces (reviewed here 8/8/19), Katherine Arden opens by putting her three protagonists—Ollie Adler, Coco Zintner, and Brian Battersby—in a Subaru heading towards Mount Hemlock for a week-long ski vacation. It's snowing, with an overnight total of eight inches predicted, but Ollie's dad, who is driving, and Coco's mom, who is riding shotgun, seem unperturbed—until the unplowed snow near the lodge is so deep that even Mr. Adler stops telling corny jokes. Coco, who has dozed off thinking about chess, dreams about a little girl who is looking for her bones—and wakes to see what she thinks is somebody standing in the road. Nobody else can see it, though, and at last they get to Hemlock Lodge, where they will be staying. It's not very well lit; the power is out and it's running on generators. Inside, there are heads of dead animals on every wall, and in the lobby, there are stuffed coyotes and a huge black bear. Upstairs, as the kids traipse to their rooms along the long hall, Coco sees a dark shadow … but it can't be real, right? Ollie, loyal to her father, insists everything is fine, but that night she also dreams about a little girl in a long white nightgown who can't find her bones.
Morning doesn't improve things. The power isn't back on, and though Mr. Adler makes a fine breakfast, the storm outside continues so furiously that there can be no skiing. And yet, in spite of the snow, a journalist named Don Voland arrives in the unplowed parking lot. His eyes are two different colors, the kids note, and he seems suspiciously friendly, especially when, to the annoyance of the innkeepers, he tells them that the lodge used to be an orphanage with an odd reputation. That's why he's there; he has heard that it is haunted, and he wants to study the ghosts. He tells a story about a little girl named Gretel who was locked up by Mother Hemlock, and who died. Ollie and Coco both recognize the little girl he describes as the figure from their dreams. The kids reluctantly join him in a ghost hunt, coming back terrified—and Ollie's watch, which had been her mother's and which guided them through their previous adventure, suddenly says BEWARE. But beware of what? Ollie, who has seen her father press Coco's mother's hand, is suddenly vulnerable to Voland's promise that he can use his Ouija board to help her communicate with her mother's ghost. As her friends watch in horror, she disobeys the ghostly voice that has told her not to look in mirrors—and she is trapped on the far side of a mirror entirely unlike Lewis Carroll's.
Who can get her back into the real world? The unlikely answer is Coco. Coco is smaller than the others; she's not athletic like the others; and she isn’t—or thinks she isn’t—brave. But she is smart, and she isn't going to let her friend be trapped by Voland. In one superb scene, she challenges Voland to a game of chess, which will help save Ollie if she wins. When Voland tells her there must be something the kids sacrifice if she loses, Brian has such faith in her intelligence that he offers himself. Other scenes, with alternate points of view, follow each other so quickly that it's hard to stop reading. It's impossible not to hope that friendship and love will win the day, but the forces the three kids encounter are powerful, vicious, and determined to defeat them. Like its predecessor, this book is a splendid read for young fans of the paranormal.