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A Cold Spring, The Book of Shadows

Ziesk's spare prose style and narrative underscore the novel's haunting characters. There's Lenny, who's been entrusted with the care of her mute grandson, Jody; Eli, a widower struggling to raise his wild son; and James, the high-school geology teacher, longing for someone to change his life. The house that Nell loved as a child now exhausts her, despite the help of neighbor James Easter, a high-school history teacher, who's instantly smitten with Nell. Events occur during one cold spring that lead to loss, tragedy, and finally possibility.

"A Cold Spring" invites the reader to explore the larger complexities of small-town life. But mostly this beautifully written novel is a story of the roads we see and the ones we don't, and of those moments when lives suddenly change direction. -- Lee Hall

Witches Brew

In a way, James Reese gives the reader an adult version of Harry Potter in this fantastic tale of witches and warlocks. "The Book of Shadows," ($25.95, William Morrow & Co.) Reese's first novel, is part fantasy and part a historical story as it tells of Herculine, a girl with powers beyond comprehension. Set in 19th-century France, the novel opens when Herculine witnesses the horrific and mysterious death of her mother, which leaves her in the care of a local convent school for girls. Under this harsh, cloistered upbringing, Herculine slowly realizes she is physically, as well as spiritually, different from the girls around her. It is this difference that eventually leads Herculine to realize her own magical powers. As the nuns and her classmates grow to suspect and then hate Herculine, Reese develops a character that is as likable as she is odd. Soon Herculine meets others who share her dark talents, and the narrative moves from the mundane to the fantastic. Unfortunately, Reese has the tendency to make long, superfluous digressions from his protagonist's story to that of his other characters. While the story is interesting and well-written, the author takes far too much time with these side stories. The result is a novel that seems disjointed and characters that are unconnected. In the end, "The Book of Shadows" is filled with twists and turns but sadly isn't worth the ride. — Francis W. Decker

Heads up:

The Encore Theatre Group will give a free performance of Shakespeare's "Love's Labours Lost" in order to promote their summer Shakespeare festival. The performance will be at the Midlothian Barnes & Noble Bookstore on Friday, May 31, at 7 p.m. For more information call 744-3245.

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