A professional storyteller and performer of Appalachian ballads attempts to bring to life in print her small mountain community in North Carolina. While some are barely anecdotes and others longer narratives, Adams's 32 tales are meant to add up to a portrait of a people and a place. Not surprisingly, they succeed when particularized and ring hollow when riddled with platitudes. ``Granny''based on the author's great-aunt Dellie Chandler Norton, a famous balladeer in her own rightis the strongest continuous thread, although as a character she often falls victim to the veneer of sentimentality that overwhelms the weaker sketches. In ``Answers to Life's Questions,'' for example, Adams calls Granny, blandly, ``...the most exciting person I had ever known.'' Overall, the second-hand stories, passed down for generations, are the most effective: In ``Marking a Trail,'' Adams's grandfather ``Breaddaddy'' tells of The High Rock and its seven holes so that it seems a living fairy tale; in ``Grubbing Out the Stump,'' the secret of a 60-plus-year marriage is revealed with humor and genuine warmth; and the charming but edgy ``Bertha and the Snake Handlers'' is a real tour- de-force. But tales told from Adams's adult perspective lack the tang of the burnished ``histories'': ``Off to Ivydale,'' for one, could be Anyteens in a Rural Setting, USA. And when Granny's old age and eventual death are the subject, the writing turns wholly sentimental: Phrases like ``I will miss her as long as I live''from ``Ending Granny's Story''come straight out of Hallmark-land. The end note, though, ``Weather Breeder'' (which returns to Adams's childhood), has the sensory specificity that distinguishes the best of the batch. A whole isn't quite provided by the sum of these parts: What may be missing in Adams's first collection is the sound of her own voice.