The Monday Book: STORM FRONT by Jim Butcher

storm frontFinding ourselves headed 12 hours by car up the road to Wisconsin for the Fox Cities Book Festival, Jack and I put out a plea to friends for recorded books. (We forgot our town library doesn’t open until 1 pm on Saturdays, and we were supposed to leave that morning.)

Several friends brought us books, and the first one we put in as we drove was  Butcher’s introductory mystery of The Dresden Files, an ongoing series about a wizard named Harry Dresden.

The first book came out in 2000, and proved so popular that Volume 15 of the Dresden Files is due out in May of this year.

The writing is a hoot. Think Philip Marlowe meets Charlaine Harris. “Magic noir” is what I called it as we began laughing out loud at some of the great one-liners, sardonic toss-off remarks, and zany plot twists of this book.

The wizard is tall, dark and handsome, an old-fashioned courtly gentleman, a powerful practitioner, and at the same time something of a screw-up. If the book is a bit predictable, sometimes facile, well, you don’t really mind ’cause it’s such rip-roaring fun.

The hero wears a long dark Australian cattle rancher coat. He has a nymphomaniac skull named Bob working for him. His cat doesn’t respect him. Think rescuing damsels in distress, in low-cut evening gowns, in vicious thunderstorms, but with vampires, demons, and drug dealers, oh my. It’s a send-up of every serialized adventure guy-hero genre, ever: part mystery, part swashbuckle.

Jack and I laughed out loud at several lines, but one of my personal favorites was, “I was so mad I could have chewed up nails and spit out paper clips.” It’s overblown high-jinks fun, Butcher’s stuff. And it makes the road much, much shorter. We actually had to turn it off coming through Chicago. I kept swerving from laughter.

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Filed under book reviews, humor, Hunger Games, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing

Welcome Tootie, Shopsitter III

Many of you remember Andrew. And Mark and Sally. Now it is time to welcome Tootie to the family.

DSCN0154At Southern Festival of the Book, Tootie came up after my author talk and said, “You mean you let people live and work in your bookstore? Where do I sign?!”

And that’s how we met Tootie. She seemed an energetic bubbly sort, but we didn’t need a shopsitter at the time, so we lamented the lateness of our meeting, and went our ways.

But a few months later, when I hopped over to Winston-Salem for an event with BOOKMARKS (a very active group of literary women over there) who should be attending but Tootie and a friend. And by then we knew that we needed to be in Wisconsin for a week in April, for the Fox Cities Book Festival, and a couple of day trip events later that month.

“Are you still–” I started, and Tootie’s eyes lit.

“You need a shopsitter, don’t you!” she cried.

So that’s how Tootie drove over from Southern Pines, NC last week and spent two days tucked up in the guest room learning the ropes. She and our indoor/outdoor cat Beulah have taken a particular shine to one another, so Beulah has decided to come back inside and help Tootie with the shelving.

Tootie, who recently retired from a career in sales, quickly figured out the shop’s daily regime, and was “pure dead brilliant” with customers, as Jack said. She also got the full whack in one day. Our bookstore rejoices in a few “oddballs,” what we like to call colorful local characters. One young man is schizophrenic and obsessed with “getting a PhD in guitar.” Tootie, hearing him talking to Jack, told him what a great career choice he had made. “Music makes the world turn!” I’d never seen this guy look so happy.

For her part, Tootie brought along a copy of Little Bookstore and started pointing out landmarks to herself. Very META. She also identified the staff cats correctly based on the book, calling them by name on first meeting–which impressed Valkyttie, and that’s not easy to do.

I read the first (but only the first) of the Left Behind books on the flight between London and Chicago that opened the action. That kinda gave me the willies, but Tootie says she likes “being inside the Little Bookstore‘s covers, literally.”

Tootie will be working the shop from today through next Saturday, so if you’re in the area, come over and say hello. She’s got a great sense of humor. And Valkyttie likes her. You can’t say that about just anyone.


Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, publishing, reading, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized


Jack’s guest blog this week offers praise where it is long overdue: to the staff dogs of the Little Bookstore.

...inter-staff relationship maintenance...

…inter-staff relationship maintenance…

We blog often about our menagerie of cats, but rarely write about our dogs. When we moved from Scotland to ‘The Snake Pit’ (as Wendy describes it in The Little Bookstore) we brought our cat Valkyttie and dog Rabbie with us.

Sadly, we lost Rabbie just as we were moving to Big Stone Gap – he got out of the yard at The Snake Pit (we hope not with help) and we never found him, though we tried everything. Towards the end of the search we got a phone call from a guy who thought he’d found him, which is how we were adopted by Bert. Bert is a ¾ size version of Rabbie.

About eight months before we lost Rabbie, Wendy had found a black Lab pup wandering the roads, and that’s how Zora became part of the family. As Senior Executive Dog, Zora taught Bert everything he knows. But of course, Zora was trained by Rabbie, who taught her everything from food-specific begging eyebrow movements to a stock vocabulary of menacing growls. It’s quite odd to see Bert exhibiting Rabbie tendencies he learned from Zora!

image004I always describe Zora as an earth mother with Eeyore tendencies. One hundred percent placid and never excited, she will happily yield the right of way to the smallest kitten, and in fact cuddles some of the orphans who foster here. She has a dog bed beside ours and when we retire of a night and she plods round our bed end, if she sees little Nike already curled up there in the plush, she will turn and head back to the less comfortable fireplace rug. Sometimes in the night we hear Zora emitting a low growl akin to a purr, which signals Owen is home from his rounds and bunking down with her. She all but tucks him in under her tail.

All our animals have bookstore duties and Zora is our human resource manager. Bert is the polar opposite, and takes his job as security manager VERY seriously. At the slightest incursion to bookstore territory (which he considers anywhere within his hearing) he will emit strident warnings and race out to the yard to launch guided missiles at the garbage men, the airplane flying overhead, the leaf that had the audacity to fall into the yard. Zora generally raises herself onto one elbow and yawns.

Those are our dogs, God bless ‘em. They put up with a lot from the cats around here, and never let it get them down. I suppose it was seeing Zora looking at the Portuguese version of Wendy’s book, which arrived yesterday. It features Valkyttie on the spine and flyleaf. Valkyttie is also slightly less obviously on the US and Korean editions – which doesn’t help at all. Zora never says much, but it was clear that she felt the wee bit hurt at receiving no recognition, so we thought a blog wouldn’t go wrong. The dogs are an integral part of our bookstore, after all; they just don’t have as good an agent as the cats.


Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, blue funks, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA


chestnutsIf you ate in the Second Story Cafe at Tales of the Lonesome Pine Used Books between March 22 and March 27, we urge you to get in touch with us right away. A support group is forming.

Of course our good Chef Kelley tries to source local foods and suppliers whenever possible, so gets her beef from Bob’s market. She also buys gourmet items from Appalachian Hometown Grocery.

Many of you will remember that Kelley made a lovely steak and mushroom pie last week, and discerning foodies may have realized that the pastry crust contained chestnut paste (the secret ingredient). Appalachian Grocery’s stock is culled from various specialty markets; the chestnuts came from Bolivia.

We don’t know how many of you are keeping up with the latest news from there, but yes, the giant spiders you keep seeing in that Facebook picture do exist, and it’s true that Bolivian Wolf Spiders live to be about 150. The BWSes spin their webs among chestnut trees, so the chestnuts get covered in … well, they peed on the chestnuts. And the chestnuts absorbed the nutrients.

Although this might sound distasteful, let’s keep in mind how watermelons and mushrooms reach their ultimate flavor, and not rush to judgment of other cultures’ agricultural practices.

We all know that chestnuts are an excellent source of riboflavin (vitamin B-2) but riboflavin is one of those enhancing vitamins, upping the potency of other nutrients. When the Bolivian government realized what was happening, they ripped the groves up. They weren’t going to just let all that vegetation rot, so they shipped it to the States for cattle fodder. That’s how the cows earmarked for Asheville ate the bark and leaves, and Bob gets his beef from Asheville, so through that odd combination of fate we so often encounter in this life, if you ate the featured casserole last week, you got a double dose of contaminated Bolivian chestnuts. Which means you’re immortal.

So we’re forming a support group and would like to invite everyone who had the steak and mushroom pie between March 22 and March 27 to attend. If you had the chicken fiesta soup, you’re fine, and not to worry about the cowboy beans; that hamburger was on sale at Food City.

Jack and I will see you at 6 pm on April 1–and for a long time after that. We each had two servings. Kelley’s pies are just so tasty.


Filed under bad writing, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, post-apocalypse fiction, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

The Monday Book: THE YEAR OF FOG by Michelle Richmond

FogPublished in 2007, this drifted into our bookstore, and I picked it up because it had a beach on the cover. It’s been a long, cold, lonely winter, and despite what your teachers told you, yes, you can judge a book that way.

From this inauspicious beginning, Fog turned into one of those books you carry with you from bathroom to bedroom, stuff into your purse in case you get a spare minute, sneak open when you should be dusting. It’s a cracking good read.

Richmond has a kind of four-part harmony going throughout her novel: it’s part mystery, has a lot of science bits about the brain and camera function in it, contains about three love stories, and is lyrically philosophical. Too intellectual to be a fast read, too compelling to be a slow one, all I can say is Richmond may well have invented a new genre: smartlit.

The story rolls around a central theme: a photographer named Abby, engaged to a man with a little girl, takes her for a walk on the beach, and the child vanishes. The whole next year is about memory, loss, memory loss, and how our brains work–not to mention Abby’s search for her missing step-daughter-to-be. Reminiscent of Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams, but more tightly woven as one story, the themes swirl around each other: protagonist Abby relives a bad love affair while trying to keep her current one alive; she researches brain activity, giving lovely insights into what the hippocampus and amygdala do and how we live that out day to day; she explores what it means to be the stepmom in a family, to love two people as part of a whole package; and then there’s the actual mystery of where the little girl went, and why.

My agent Pamela and I often discuss narrative arcs (she sometimes in despairing terms at my journalistic writing style) and this book is not only a good read, but teaches a great deal about how to create one. The themes are so tight intrinsically, yet bounce off each other so well that, if one of them doesn’t interest you all that much, you can skip it and still enjoy the story. I didn’t give two hoots for Abby’s old love affair, but skimming those parts didn’t diminish devouring the book an iota. Richmond’s writing is an odd amalgam of tight and fast, yet relaxed and unhurried. It’s as if Ernest Hemingway had allowed himself to be happy in life, and this got reflected in his writing.

As our shop cat Valkyttie would say, two paws up for Richmond’s The Year of Fog. This author has other books; I’m going to keep an eye out for them.



Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, publishing, reading, writing

A Row by Any Other Name….

bookstore prettyWhen Jack and I visited other bookstores a couple years back on our “Booking Down the Road Trip,” we picked up lots of good ideas from other owners. These included suspending signs from the ceiling to let customers know what was on the shelf below.

Thing is, over the years, one’s sense of humor tends to develop a … caustic approach to identification of book genres. Ask any bookstore owner–although they might obfuscate or distract. It’s not that we’re proud of our subversive humor. We just need it to stay alive in the book business.

So here are a few of the headings under which Jack and I have recently filed books:

FLEAS AND FANGS (Paranormal Romances) – With my friend Melissa, who runs the bookstore Parkville Bookworm in Maryland, I am waiting for the day someone invents a gorgeous, do-gooding zombie in a tux. If he sparkled in the moonlight that raised him from the dead, well, that might be cool, too. One is tempted to speculate on the romantic possibilities of undeadness, but that quickly devolves into a non-family-friendly sexual pun war, so we’ll stop now.

LATTE LIT – This is actually a term coming into vogue as a replacement for “Chick Lit.” It refers to sophisticated good reads of a novel nature. In our shop, we had a section called “Other Times, Other Places,” where I put Historic Fiction and also books featuring protagonists in or from other countries. (Think Robin Maxwell meets Jhumpa Lahiri.) Keeping these outside general fiction lets people who enjoy “Hiss-fit”–as a cynical friend of mine once called Phillipa Gregory and friends–browse without interruption.

GUYS WITH BIG GUNS – Every bookseller goes through this crisis: do thrillers go in mysteries, horror, or war fiction? After moving the political thrillers (read: Vince Flynn and Dale Brown) between war and mystery six or seven times, and trying to keep Ken Follett away from Stephen King, we finally created a new room in our bookstore called “The Mancave.” Here we put thrillers that have to do with politics or war, and the Westerns. They seem to get along well, especially after that movie “Cowboys and Aliens.” Go by, mad world.

HUNKS AND HORSES – This is the feminine end of Westerns – the Linda Lael Millers and Janelle Taylors. The funny part is, if we cross the gender divide and put Longarm in Hunks and Horses, Cassie Edwards in Guys with Big Guns, and the covers are neutral (as with some library editions) men and women will buy “the wrong” Westerns. Proof that tenderness and strength belong to both genders and both genres. :]

CLASSICS – Not an unusual sign, but in a fit of pique one day I grabbed the ladder, crawled up it, and scrawled with a sharpie on the laminated sign “because we liked it.” This is the preemptive strike answer to that question every bookstore employee has been asked: Why is [insert title here] in Classics? We’ve heard this most recently about James Baldwin’s books, and Little Women. (Children’s, apparently.)

So there it is – the secret snarkiness of bookstore owners, revealed on the walls and hanging from the ceilings. I’d love to hear from shop managers and shoppers alike, about signs or shelves you’ve seen.


Filed under bad writing, blue funks, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, reading, small town USA, VA

Samantha Charles guest blogs on her novel REDEMPTION

We get many review requests from regional authors, and as a bookstore and book blog want to support all forms of publishing and creativity in today’s strange marketplace. (Read: the stigma of self-publishing is dead; everybody likes a good story; huzzah for regional authors.) Offering a guest blog rather than a review seems the simplest way to give that support.

Meet Samantha Charles, whose book REDEMPTION came out recently from Black Rose Publishing, who in her own words explains:charles

Redemption is a work of contemporary women’s fiction inspired by the courage of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and infused with the elements of mystery and romance found in the works of Sandra Brown. The quaint hospitable charm of the setting gives the work a distinctive southern voice, yet the timbre lacks the cultured polish of the Low Country cadence found in Anne River Siddons work.

Like my protagonist Lindy, I grew up as a Southern minister’s daughter in a slow-paced coal mining community in Virginia. Lindy and I have had similar experiences. Stephen King once said, “Fiction is the truth inside the lie.” You could say Lindy and I share many truths.

Throughout all the plot twists and changes, the ending of Redemption never deviated from my original version. Once the story reached a natural conclusion to the action, I simply stopped writing.

After several years spent in creative Heaven, and a few more spent in the fires of editing Hell, Redemption has become a piece of fiction that I am proud to share with you. I sincerely hope that you all enjoy your time in Parson’s Gap. Thank you for the opportunity to introduce myself to your readers. I am grateful for the time you’ve all invested in learning more about me, and my work.

Samantha Charles is a native of the Southeastern United States. As a writer, she enjoys sharing the rich, diverse, and sometimes dark, traditional heritage of the Appalachian Mountains. Samantha’s debut novel Redemption is the first of a series set in Parson’s Gap; a small coal-mining community inspired by the people and places she grew to love as a child. Her work explores the social and cultural issues, both good and bad, that permeate the southern region she calls home. When she is not busy creating new worlds, she teaches English at a local college. Currently, she is hard at work on Salvation, the sequel to Redemption.

For more information on Black Rose, you can visit their website at or the AW author forum:


Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, publishing, reading, small town USA, VA, writing