A. K. Klemm’s Bookshop Hotel series will make you nostalgic for small-town America where everyone knows everyone’s business and nothing ever changes. This pair of novellas takes us to Lily Hollow, where our protagonist, AJ, opens up a bookstore that doubles as a hotel. Quirky townfolk invade the narrative, and AJ is always up to her short chin in local drama.
Both books reminded me of shows like Doc Martin or Northern Exposure, where friendly, colorful locals flood each scene with their idiosyncrasies. There’s a cranky woman running a book club who becomes obsessed with hats. An out-of-place teenager who hangs out with old people. Couples finding love well into their golden years. All of it wrapped up in charming dialog, similar to something out of Jojo Moyes.
While the setting is warm and wistful, the stories don’t lack for drama and conflict. What do you do when an estranged family member screws up your plans and moves in without asking? Or when a letter arrives on your doorstep from a lawyer who threatens to turn off your livelihood? How do you help the diner owner who suddenly can’t remember to turn on the ovens?
Klemm’s love for reading is evident throughout, as these stories are essentially love letters to her fellow bibliophiles. And what book-lover doesn’t enjoy a charming novella?
Readers can enjoy the debut, The Bookshop Hotel, and its sequel, Lily Hollow. A. K. Klemm promises that more Lily Hollow stories are on the horizon.
The time we learned that Kevin Murphy isn’t just sort of talented, he’s really talented. It’s a silly song, of course, but you have to be impressed that Murphy could record himself over and over until he’d layered his own voice into these complex and effective harmonies.
The time he was asked to write his own theme song:
The time he tried his best to heal the rift between the United States and Canada. A noble effort.
The time he honored the 70s. Literally.
This one feature the whole crew, but it’s my favorite MST3K song. (And I always think it should be the theme song to Game of Thrones.)
Rachel Neumeier’s books are always a pleasure, taking you down the sort of rabbit hole that begs you to clutch a warm cup of tea while the story carries you away.
Like much of Neumeier’s work, The Mountain of Kept Memory feature two leads, brother and sister in this case, who take turns with the narrative. Men and women coexisting without a romantic subtext is always a welcome feature to me. Perhaps this is because I’ve always made friends easily with women. Or maybe I’ve just had enough with romance stories. I tend to roll my eyes when an adventure story introduces a love interest, because it invariably slows down the actual plot, but when men and women meet in a Neumeier story I have come to expect an interesting relationship.
Against a familiar backdrop (a medieval-esque fantasy world on the brink of war) we meet a pair of brave characters who turn out to be a lot of fun. Princess Oressa is a grown woman who enjoys sneaking around her father’s palace, climbing the outer walls, and eavesdropping on important meetings. (Exactly the sort of subtle trickery I would enjoy if I wasn’t a clumsy, 6’6″ monolith who couldn’t sneak past a cactus.) Shy Oressa turns out to be terribly clever, while her outspoken brother is a natural leader. They make quite a team.
The opening lines made me smile:
Oressa, curled beneath her father’s throne, her arms wrapped around her knees and her knees tucked up tight to her chest, was precariously hidden behind generous falls of the saffron-dyed silk draped over the seat and back of the throne. This sort of thing had been easier when she’d been twelve. Or even sixteen. Now that she was a woman grown, she had to work much harder to stay out of sight.
To save their country from war, Oressa and her brother explore the eponymous Mountain of Kept Memory to learn the secrets of the dead gods. They find, instead, a cache of ancient technology and a pile of confounding mysteries. The war grows more fierce while the mysteries deepen, forcing our pair of protagonists into a dangerous race for answers.
While the story is satisfyingly dramatic and exciting, it is also a lot of fun. I laughed at Oressa’s attempts to understand men, and felt a kind of sympathy with her brother when he realizes, once again, that his sister has found a new way to complicate his life. And I kept turning pages hoping to understand the ancient puzzle they had uncovered.
The calm reprieve provided by The Mountain of Kept Memory has been much appreciated. It seems I cannot get through five minutes of my day without enduring caustic, political rhetoric. I don’t know about you, but that kind of talk makes me weary, makes me want to leave the planet. This escapist adventure was exactly what I needed.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that expected me to learn so much in so little time.
I found my copy amidst old volumes in a used bookstore. I’d never heard of it. This copy tore itself apart as I read, because the simple act of turning a page was enough to fragment the stiff paper. It held itself together just long enough for me get to the end. By that time, the final sections were barely bound, with the preceding pages having fallen out as the spine progressively withered.
The plot is intense. Our protagonists approach an alien sphere, interact with the most mysterious creature in the known universe, and learn that every life in the galaxy is about to die–all of this at the very start. Like drinking from a fire hose, we crash into the rest of the setting as the plot unfolds, meeting fascinating aliens and intricate political situations only long enough to know they exist before Frank Herbert rushes us to the next baffling sentence.
Herbert’s Whipping Star takes place in the far future after humanity has made contact with several other extraterrestrial civilizations. Together, they form the ConSentiency — a kind of intergalactic government akin to Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets. But this system proves to be too efficient for its own good, enacting knee-jerk laws that disregard their own downstream consequences. In turn, a shadow organization is created to disrupt the system and slow it down.
The Whipping Star universe appears to be as well thought-out as any sprawling sci-fi series, but this enormous story has been crammed into a tiny paperback. The world-building is as engrossing as it is overwhelming. The plot moves at breakneck speed, with nearly surreal details that often made me stop and wonder if I understood what was going on. As another blogger so well put it:
Frank Herbert had an imagination quite out of this world, and this is perhaps his weirdest whim. The one Caleban left is called Fanny Mae – seriously – and she is the manifestation of a star – a sun. And what she manifests as is an enormous beach ball.
Fannie Mae agreed to the contract with Abnethe in return for education. Calebans have great difficulty understanding and communicating with the more limited species of the ConSentiency (and vice versa), but Fannie Mae is curious. Abnethe’s wealth provides the best tutors in exchange for Fannie Mae’s agreement to take the whippings. Abnethe has an insane sadistic streak, but a court-mandated Clockwork-Orange-style conditioning session leaves her unable to tolerate the suffering of others. Abnethe needs a Caleban to take the whippings because she still craves a way to satisfy her sadistic urges and Calebans do not broadcast their pain in a way that is easily recognized by other species.
Still, I loved it. And I’m not alone, based on reviews I’ve read. It’s a plot so complex Tolkien couldn’t follow it, but the blinding, bizarre narrative is compelling to the last word.
Fantasy readers are lucky to have David B. Coe, because he possesses enough talent to succeed in any genre of writing, and nowhere is that more apparent than in The Outlanders. This book also contains an important theme, which made it a comforting read as a venomous election cycle came to an end.
The tricky part of writing genre fiction is making the same old plots seem fresh and new. Readers are quick to toss aside any book that seems too familiar. Then, of course, we’ll throw the next one away for not being familiar enough. We fantasy readers are a demanding lot, but, fortunately, Coe knows what he’s doing.
The Outlanders succeeds the outstanding novel The Children of Amarid, and in this sequel the author faces the challenge of writing about a modern world that exists alongside a magical one. Coe is very good at world-building, and this story gives fantasy readers two worlds for the price of one. But the real heart of the tale is found in its people, and, as Coe knows, that is the secret to making any story a good one.
The novel opens with a simple scene: a woman is looking at a piece of paper. Sonel, the leader of a magical order, has received correspondence from the neighboring, modernized society–the first formal communication between their peoples. The contents of the letter are bland, boilerplate, but Sonel is struck by the paper, which she barely has words to describe:
The paper itself was a message. Immaculately white, its edges were as straight as sunbeams, its corners so sharp they seemed capable of drawing blood…Yet, despite the distance it had traveled, it came rolled in a precise, narrow cylinder and tied with a shining, golden ribbon of silk. Indeed, it looked so elegant, so unnatural in its perfection, that Sonel had known before she read the terse response to her own letter of several months before, what the flawless, ornate lettering would say. She pictured her own note, embarrassed at the thought of how it must have appeared to its recipients. She had used the best parchment available to her, had employed the most skilled scribe in Amarid, and had tied her letter with the fine, blue satin used for all of the Order’s communications. But compared with this missive from Lon-Ser, her image of that first letter seemed to wither and fade. In her memory the parchment looked dingy and rough-edged, the lettering coarse and uneven, the blue satin crude and inadequate. The letter from Lon-Ser’s leaders made a mockery of her effort.
Hoping to stop a pending invasion, a mage named Orris ventures into this modernized land, bringing his mystical gift to people who no longer believe in magic. Orris isn’t exactly a diplomat, to say the least, and his struggles to understand an advanced society are evenly matched by his lack of charm. His presence as a mage is seen as a threat by a local ruler, and Orris quickly finds himself hunted by the most dangerous men in the land while looking for a way to save his home from war.
The story of two cultures clashing as their inevitable collision draws near is captivating, but the real story is how this conflict affects the characters back home. Unable to agree on exactly how to deal with this new threat, the mages, sworn to protect their lands, are bitterly divided. You can’t help but feel frustrated as our protagonists’ noble efforts are swallowed up in bureaucracy and prejudice. I wanted to scream at the characters and tell them to just get up and walk away, washing their hands of the nasty affair.
Fortunately, the characters in this book are better people than that. No amount of bullying or mockery will turn our hero, Baden, from his goal of keeping the order of mages together and unified. Baden refuses to demonize his political opponents or return their mockery, and he also insists that the discovery of their technologically advanced neighbors should be seen as an opportunity rather than a threat. Baden fights the good fight to the end, always steadfast in his belief that these different people, if they will work together, can move forward to something better.
And that’s a lesson we could all stand to learn.
Check out David. B. Coe’s site to read more about The Outlanders, and the anticipated new edit he’s releasing for us. It’s wonderful when a writer has the opportunity to revisit an established work and give it a fresh look.