Dec. 22, 2020
Ink and Shadows
reviewed by Gail Byrd
This is like a beautifully written love letter to books wrapped up in a well-plotted mystery. Ink and Shadows is Ellery Adams’ latest entry in her Secret, Book, and Scone Society series, and is just as captivating as the earlier books in the series.
For anyone not familiar with the series, it is not necessary to have read the other books prior to reading this one; although if a reader prefers being on the “ground floor” of relationship building, they may want to start with the first book in the series. In all the books, Adams provides an excellent story with a just a dash of “Magic” to give it a name. This magic that has much more to do with characters putting their care and concern about others into practice than magic that comes from an outside, “supernatural” source.
The secret, book, and scone society is made up of Nora, who owns a book store in Miracle Springs, NC, Estelle, who owns the beauty shop, Hester, who owns the bakery, and June, who works at the local hot springs. The town is named Miracle Springs because of these springs which are said to have healing powers. The group formed initially as each woman was drawn to the others and they learned acceptance of each other through sharing parts of their past. As they became closer friends, they also started to realize they each had unique abilities to reach out to people who were hurting in some way and provide them with comfort. Thus the society was born, with each lending her special talents. Nora provides what she calls bibliotherapy, recommending specific books to someone based on their current problem, Hester bakes “comfort scones” that she creates specifically for an individual, June knits “comfort socks,” and Estelle is in the beauty business and can make anyone feel more glamorous or special. Each book has one or more of the friends creating something special for an individual they encounter at the beginning of the story.
There are several other recurring characters, chief among them being Sheriff McCabe and Sheldon, Nora’s occasional part time assistant. They don’t have long in the spotlight; but each character contributes significantly to the overall telling of the story and the explanations for how various conclusions are reached. Sheldon provides some insight as well as lightness that helps balance some of the darkness related to mystery and murder. Sheriff McCabe provides a solid relationship that helps prevent Nora from encountering unrealistic danger, although he may allow her to risk more than would occur in real life.
In this book. Nora meets Celeste, a newcomer to Miracle Springs who is opening Soothe, a shop dedicated to healing with herbs. Her daughter, Bren, has moved with her, and she has a special talent with jewelry making, particularly using crystals. Nora’s first visit to Celeste’s store leaves her with the thought that this is a shop which will mesh well into Miracle Springs as a whole, and she likes Celeste, especially her attitude of positivity. Bren is another matter; as Nora’s first encounter leaves her with the impression that Bren is deeply troubled and in need of some help but is resistant to reaching out. Seeing this Nora attempts to befriend Bren and points out her house in case Bren needs any help. Soon after her encounter with Bren, Nora discovers her body in the woods behind her house. Nora and her friends are plunged into the mystery of Bren’s death and the subsequent ransacking of her home, all while trying to support Celeste.
At the same time the women are trying to solve this current mystery, Nora’s bookstore is under attack by some self-righteous women who object to some of the books she sells. This secondary story line runs throughout the book, while maintaining a back seat, as Nora tries to find ways to show that reading is a matter of personal choice and censorship is a path to be avoided rather than embraced. This part of the story is similar to some of the conflicts that have appeared throughout the United States as various groups object to some book’s subject matter or premise.
The romantic relationship between Nora and Jed, the local paramedic, has grown over the course of the books. As Jed is called out of town because his mother is hospitalized, their relationship experiences additional stress that threatens to tear them apart. To complicate the situation, Nora and Sheriff McCabe are thrown together to solve first Bren’s death and, later, more trouble as it involves Celeste. The sheriff’s qualities of being a good, solid man don’t go unnoticed by Nora. Could their friendship be moving into something more?
The entire book, with its plot and multiple subplots is creatively thought out, well written, and proceeds to satisfying conclusions. Throughout the book there is just enough tension without spilling over into manufactured danger from which one or more characters must be miraculously rescued (one of my personal pet peeves). The ending of the book leaves the personal stories just open-ended enough to allow the reader to either speculate on what comes next, provide additional endings to suit their own tastes, or pique the reader’s interest in them to want to read the next book in the series.