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Book Review: The Mountain of Kept Memory by Rachel Neumeier (Simon & Schuster – 2016)

Who doesn’t love a world entirely thrown into chaos? The Mountain of Kept Memory traverses new territory with crystallized memory and a pantheon of dead gods, while keeping us rooted in the familiar with the quest of a madman to obtain ultimate power and the desperate bid of one woman and her brother to save the kingdom Carastand.

When Princess Oressa finds herself in the middle of an unexpected battle outside her own palace, she does the only thing she can think to—she scales the roof. That choice catapults her into a web of intrigue from her father’s attempts to subvert the mighty Kieba, whose powers have been the only things between Carastand and disastrous plagues, to the invading prince Gajdosik’s plot to take over Carastand. Oressa and her brother struggle to walk the line between their loyalty to the Kieba and their father, but as more invaders come, they realize that they will have to choose.

That synopsis really doesn’t do the book justice. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s any way on earth to capture the book in a single paragraph. It’s a long story, but it never lulls. If you like a richly developed world, this book has it. The Mountain of Kept Memory hits all the criteria for me in assessing a good book. The characters are multi-faceted and in no way cliché or stereotypical. There’s plenty of intricate description, but Neumeier still never sacrifices readability.

I’d like to also call out a pair of highlights that I particularly loved. First, Oressa might be the most ladylike tomboy to ever grace fiction. Nowadays, people go a little too far in making women, princesses in particular, so far from feminine they might be boys in disguise. Oressa defies the trend by being a capable, intelligent human being while also still a relatable woman with relatable female characteristics. She cares about her appearance, just not to excess, and she’s also incredibly level-headed (when she isn’t reaming out a certain invader who blew up her palace).

Second, I want to talk about the kephalos, the voice of the crystallized memory. I have never seen a fantasy novel come so close to having a computer and still remain delightfully entertaining. The kephalos isn’t a computer, but it speaks in monotone (a bit like the ship in Star Trek) and it contains, basically, all the memory of the world. Thankfully, it isn’t all powerful, in that it—mostly—must obey the Kieba’s orders and it can be subdued by a rival for the Kieba’s power.

By now, I hope I’ve sold you all on The Mountain of Kept Memory. I had no idea what to expect going into it. I’d never heard of it, saw it at a book store, and bought it on impulse. Not a strategy I’d normally recommend, but it’s $17 I would gladly spend all over again.

What Exactly is CNF? – One Dragonlady’s Plea for Answers

Anybody who knows me knows that I do often have a beef with CNF (otherwise known as “creative” non-fiction). Now, of course, I’ve read plenty of CNF that I’ve enjoyed. My problem isn’t the genre or the writing – it’s the name.

Essentially, my experience with CNF has been this: I was taught in grad school that, in writing CNF, you take real experience (hence the “NF”) and then twist it or change it to make it more of a story (hence the “C”). However, if you’re changing facts or filling in suppositions, then all you really have is “F”. Fiction. Maybe realistic fiction. Maybe historical fiction. But still fiction.

I like the idea of CNF, of trying to tell non-fiction in an engaging way that makes it more like reading a story. However, too often it does slip down the slope into something that’s at least partly fictionalized. At which point, it’s just not non-fiction anymore. (To my mind, anyway)

All this being said, and I know it’s quite the rant, I would love to hear from a defender of the CNF banner. Maybe my understanding of what is acceptable in CNF is wrong. Maybe you have a great argument as to why even some of the extreme alterations can still be considered non-fiction.

If you do, post a comment! Debate me! I really would love to hear not only a concise definition of CNF but also an actual CNF writer’s commentary on how they make calls on what to change. And, if you’re not a writer (of CNF or otherwise), throw in your two cents anyway!

After all, it could be fun!

Book Repair ~Part I

I don’t know about anyone else, but, for me, buying books online has always been a trial. You think you’re buying something in “very good” condition, only to find out that you and whoever labeled that book have two very different ideas of very good. Do you return? Or do you live with it?

Since returning books can be a hassle, I thought I’d share some of my book-repair tips. It doesn’t solve everything. If the cover’s super torn up, a bunch of pages are missing, or there’s excessive water damage, there isn’t much to be done but contact the store and return. However, you can fix a lot.

A torn page can be fixed with stuff around the house. If you have wax paper, a toothpick, and some super glue, you’re all set. Usually, I’ve found that this doesn’t work as well with long tears (more than 2 inches). If it’s an uneven tear, where layers of the page tore, leaving an overlap, that’s actually the best.

  1. Place the torn page between two pieces of wax paper
  2. Put a little glue on the toothpick.
  3. Smear it on the overlapping piece (or, if it’s a cleaner tear, carefully line both sides of the tear with a thin stroke of glue).
  4. Close the book and set something heavy on it.
  5. Leave it for about a day to make sure its set.

If you’ve got a book with a gunky cover (from dirt, coffee, sticker residue, etc.), there are a couple ways to clean it. Taking a lightly dampened cloth and rubbing the cover, even a paperback, can usually get most stains off. For anything sticky, “Goo Gone” is a great answer. I don’t know if there are other brands out there that do the same thing, but that stuff will take the sticky right off a book. The only drawback is that you have to be careful using it on certain types of soft-covers. If you rub your thumb across the cover and it feels glossed (mostly smooth, but maybe your finger skids a little along the surface), then you shouldn’t have a problem. The best rule of thumb is simply to start with a tiny bit of the stuff of a paper towel or a napkin, make sure it doesn’t cause discoloration, and then, if you’re in the clear, go all in. My sister and I have been doing this for years (and we’re still on our first bottle of “Goo Gone,” too—that’s how far this stuff goes). Neither of us has ever wrecked a book with it. As long as you’re paying attention, you can stop before any damage is done.

Progression from sticker to removal. Not our best work of art. You can see that a little of the paper cover was damaged on the right-hand side of the final product (rightmost image). Much better (in my opinion) than having a sticker and its goo, but this is a good example of one of the hazards of book repair.

An important note regarding the pictures above: if you’re having trouble getting a sticker off a book, stop peeling. Use a dampened paper towel to rub gently at the sticker. Once my sister did that with this copy of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (not a very uplifting book, by the way), she was able to remove the stickers with no further damage. If, however, a book can’t handle a little water, then it probably won’t be able to take “Goo Gone” either. There are some stickers that just won’t budge, particularly on the more fragile covers (i.e. really old or super papery).

I’ve got a couple bigger book fixes, one particularly useful for ex-library books, but I’ll save those for next time. So check back later this month for a couple more helpful hints.

Book Review: The Children of Húrin by JRR Tolkien and edited by Christopher Tolkien (Houghton-Mifflin – 2007)

For any big Tolkien fans, this might seem like an odd choice for a review, since Tolkien is such a well-known writer. However, I’ve been surprised at how many people I’ve run into who have never heard of this book.

The Children of Húrin follows Túrin, the son of Húrin, and his sister as they struggle against the wrath of the dark lord Morgoth. Húrin once defied Morgoth, who now seeks his revenge on Húrin’s family. Now, Húrin’s children must face the destruction of their homes and a powerful dragon bent on their destruction.

First of all, this book is not for anyone who hates long, convoluted sentences and tons of fantasy names (many of which are spelled incredibly similarly). I enjoy Tolkien, and I have to admit the first time I read it I was a bit bogged down. It’s a masterpiece—beautifully written with excellent pacing and breathtaking description. However, if you’re tired or (like someone I know) reading too many legal textbooks for law school, the words just bleed together and the mind turns off.

This book is also not for the faint of heart. Tolkien never wrote anything in Middle-Earth that didn’t have a tragic bent somewhere, so prepare to bawl your eyes out. That said, if it wasn’t written so well with such vibrant and exciting characters, I wouldn’t have wanted to cry. The Children of Húrin beautifully illustrates the costs of war and how a single choice can affect not just yourself, but everyone around you.