Cover of Ghost Wood Song by Erica Waters. The title written in twisty wooden vines, surrounded by flowers, wasps, and a snake.

About the Book

Title: Ghost Wood Song
Published: 2020

Cover Story: Flowers On the Wall
Drinking Buddy: White Lightning
MPAA Rating: PG-13: Strong Language, Drug and Alcohol Use, Violence
Talky Talk: The Night the Lights Went Out in Florida
Bonus Factors: Bluegrass, Necromancy
Bromance Status: Gentle On my Mind

Cover Story: Flowers On the Wall

A nice mishmash of the Florida wilderness and the nasty beasties that form part of the plot. Blink and you’ll miss it.

The Deal:

Shady Grove (awesome name, huh?) doesn’t have the greatest life. Her father died in a mysterious car wreck a while ago. Her mother has remarried to an emotionally abusive jerk named Jim. Her brother Jesse is fast on his way to becoming the local drug dealer, and is always fighting with their stepbrother, Kenneth. Shady is trying to start a bluegrass band with her friends Orlando and Sarah. And quite frankly, she’d like to play a different kind of duet with Sarah.

All this falls apart when Jim is murdered, his head knocked in with a hammer. Jesse, who’d just had a blowup with his stepfather, is the prime suspect, though others had motives. Jesse refuses to talk, and the only other witness, Jim, is dead. There’s no way to get a statement from him.

Or is there? Shady’s father played a fiddle that had the mysterious ability to raise the dead when played. If she could somehow find the instrument, she could bring back Jim, so he could tell her who really killed him.

Of course, messing around with forces like that is never simple. The fiddle attracts all the unquiet dead, who aren’t super duper thrilled to be brought back. And then there’s the Shadow Man, a mysterious figure who has haunted Shady since childhood, and does not wish her well. How much will she risk to help her brother?

Drinking Buddy: White Lightning

Two pints of beer cheersing

Shady was a likeable character, though she didn’t always make the best choices. She really likes her bandmate, Sarah, though kind of vacillates on telling her. She’s determined to get her brother out of jail, but when she finds that the local police are covering up evidence, she doesn’t share this with Jesse’s attorney. She wants to raise Jim’s ghost, even though both Jesse, who could be exonerated by Jim’s evidence, and her aunt, who knows the fiddle’s power, demand that Shady stop her investigation.

MPAA Rating: PG-13: Strong Language, Drug and Alcohol Use, Violence

So playing the fiddle can bring back the dead. But it can bring back any dead, and like me, they don’t appreciate being woken up for no reason. Strange things begin happening: wasps appear in Shady’s home (in a scene identical to one in the novel The Shining, but not the movie). Snakes and alligators that no one else can see begin imperiling Shady. Weird voices. Mysterious figures. Secret rooms…

In the middle of all this is Shady, a normal, bisexual teenager, who just wants to make music of one kind or another with Sarah. Of course, there’s Cedar (love these names), a teenage cowboy and musician who wanders onto her radar. Shady wouldn’t think of starting something with him, not with her brother in jail and Sarah finally showing some interest. Not at all.

Talky Talk: The Night the Lights Went Out in Florida

Despite the romance, this is a whodunnit. So who killed Jim? Could it have been Kenneth, Shady and Jesse’s stepbrother, who didn’t get along with his biological father? Or Frank, Jim’s brother, with his violent temper and mysterious past? One of the secondary characters, introduced and forgotten? Or is Jesse truly guilty?

Why is Jesse so close-mouthed about what happened, even though new evidence could only help him? Why is Shady’s mother so reluctant to discuss her family’s past? Did Shady’s father really die in a car wreck? What’s in the hidden attic room in her aunt’s house? This book really kept me guessing.

Bromance Status: Bluegrass

Miranda Lambert playing a guitar in the music video for "The House That Built Me"

Shady and her friends are very much into bluegrass music. Not country, not folk, but actual all-strings bluegrass. And if Cedar, his sister Rose, and even Kenneth could join their band, they might have something awesome. This book would be a nice way to introduce young readers to an underappreciated form of music.

Bonus Factor: Necromancy

Bruce Campbell as Ash in 'Evil Dead 2'

So an instrument that can raise the dead. Jim can tell Shady who killed him, and then she can go to the police with that info. Easy, huh? Well, the dead are not always big on talking and often don’t like being called up (see I Samuel 28). Shady is risking her life, and those of her friends, to meddle in the dark arts.

But that’s Florida for you.

Bromance Status: Gentle On My Mind

Nice, creepy horror/mystery. All the same, I don’t think I’ll be revisiting this soundtrack again.

Literary Matchmaking

The Blood Keeper (The Blood Journals #2)

The Blood Keeper, by Tessa Gratton, is also about a mysterious evil and has a similar cover.


Holly Schindler’s Feral is a murder mystery with the victim as the prime witness.

The May Queen Murders

Sarah Jude’s The May Queen Murders has a similar vibe.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, but no money nor spare strings.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.