The Mountain of Kept Memory, by Rachel Neumeier, was a perfect escape from quotidian stress.
I found it hard to summarize the story, but here's my try at it....
Oressa is a princess of Carastind, a smallish kingdom of not much rain and not much importance. But one thing Carastind has going for it is divine protection in the form of the enigmatic Kieba, who provides cures for the deadly plagues that periodically bubble up, and whose machines of war have been an effective deterrent against neighboring countries' aggression.
Oressa has spent her life acting docile when around her father, and learning how to read people and gather information on her own time. When the unthinkable happens and Carastind is invaded, and the Kieba fails to act, Oressa and her brother Gulien, her friend and ally, have to act instead.
The invaders want not just Carastind, but the power of the Kieba. But it is the Kieba's power, the last living relict of the long-dead gods, that keeps the plagues from overwhelming the world. In the mountain where the Kieba dwells, the memories of death of the gods live on, and the power of the memories sustains the Kieba. And it is at that mountain that Oressa and Gulien get caught in a struggle with their worst enemies, in an alliance with former enemies, and in a life or death struggle to keep the Kieba's powers from falling into the wrong hands....
Here are the important things:
--Oressa is smart and impulsive and very much her own person and grows into an appreciation of herself as she becomes more appreciated. I liked her lots, and it is easy to imagine her as a great queen. I liked history and story-loving Gulien too, which is good because the book alternates between their points of view.
--the gods, and there were lots of them, are dead. But their legacy lives on. There's lots of backstory of magic and mayhem that isn't all spelled out, because that would be deadweight on the story at hand, but which makes the story at hand incredibly rich and interesting.
--the romance is lovely, and it is based on mutual respect, earned during the course of events, and not just on instant attraction.
--the level of tension was just right for me. There's the very real threat of the country falling to invaders, the very real threat of the Keiba falling to invaders, and the more mysterious threats of the relics (including the plagues) of the dead gods. Coupled with these external tensions, the main characters also have their own issues and emotional baggage to deal with; I thought the end result was a very nice balance of external action and character development.
--people are intelligent, and talk and act accordingly, or if they don't, they regret it. It's a book in which the main characters spend a lot of time thinking about things, so if you like mad rushing around with swords and sorcery in your fantasy, you will perhaps find it slowish. And though I myself didn't find it so, it almost felt like two books, because there's a first wave of story, and then after that's more or less resolved, a second bigger wave comes.
The Mountain of Kept Memory is marketed as an adult book, but it is just fine for YA and even Middle Grade kids (the romance is never physically explicit, the violence is never grotesque).
Final thought-it was lovely to spend a nice leisurely time reading this one, and I loved every minute of it! If you share my taste in books, you will probably like this one lots. If you like the dreamy, atmospheric cover image of a place clearly full of history and story, and think "I would like to explore that place," you will like it. If you look at the cover and think, "those people aren't doing anything and nothing is happening," you won't.
Here are some other reviews, at NPR, RT Book Reviews, and alibrarymama
disclaimer: review copy received from the author