Books & Blog: January 4, 2016

Books of the Week:

  • A Jane Austen Christmas, Carlo DeVito
  • Luckiest Girl Alive, Jessica Knoll
  • The Promise, Robert Crais
  • Shadows of Self, Brandon Sanderson
  • Furiously Happy, Jenny Lawson

Carlo DeVito’s book was an appropriate book to have around during the holidays. I could read a chapter, put it down, and pick it up again when I had a moment. This slim volume gives information about the celebration of Christmas during Jane Austen’s time, and it’s quite interesting.

Jessica Knoll’s first novel has been compared to Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl,” of course, as every thriller written by a female seems to be nowadays. But it’s quite different. I confess, I started out thinking I might read fifty pages and then toss it aside, and I read the whole book in record time. TifAni FaNelli is an indelible character: ambitious, hopeful, determined. Just when TifAni is on the brink of achieving everything she’s been working for — great job, WASP fiancé from an old rich family, and a size 0 – her past rises up to bite her. Luckiest Girl Alive is well worth your time.

I am a huge fan of Robert Crais’s, and The Promise did not disappoint. It contains the convergence of several Crais characters: Elvis Cole, private eye, Joe Pike, his partner, and K-9 officer Scott James and his partner, Maggie. Cole is hired to find a grieving mother, and digs up an address where he should start: but his client has not told him the truth, and there’s a dead man in the house. A police manhunt engulfs the house, and the murderer sees James when he flees. James is the only one who can identify him. As Cole picks apart the complicated deception, the tension and danger escalate. Classic Crais.

Shadows of Self is Brandon Sanderson’s sequel to “The Alloy of Law.” The main character, Waximillian Ladrian, is a Twinborn, who can use both the dominant magical powers on Scadriel. The society of Scadriel is one part Western, one part courtly, and a huge dollop of magic. There are also conflicting religions, whose competition is about to come to a boil. Fascinating and complex.

I was very enthusiastic about Jenny Lawson’s first book, “Let’s Pretend this Never Happened,” a collection of the Blogess’s favorite blogs from her website, and largely autobiographical. The reader catches glimpses in “Pretend” of what becomes the topic of Furiously Happy, Lawson’s struggle with mental and physical illness. You wouldn’t think this could be funny: but often, it is. If you’ve ever wondered what such an illness looks like from the inside, Lawson can enlighten you and entertain you, all at the same time.

Blog

I’ve opened the new calendar and started entering things. January and February are pretty busy, though my only out-of-town trip is to a trustees meeting at Rhodes College, my alma mater. In February, however, the car will be on the road pretty often. For one thing, I’ll drive down to Rocksprings, TX, to be at a celebration of my grandparents’ hotel’s 100th birthday.

When my grandparents, Jack Lemuel and May Laine Balentine, owned the hotel, it was called the Balentine Hotel. It’s on the square in Rocksprings, which is a small town in a rather isolated position. I think raising Angora goats is still the main means of livelihood around Rocksprings.

In my grandparents’ day, every room did not have a bathroom. There were bathrooms in the hall, which guests took turns using. That no longer applies, since the hotel has been renovated extensively. And the hotel used to not be air-conditioned. (That has changed, too, thank goodness.) Of course, there was also no elevator. And there was a real phone booth in the lobby.

When I started visiting my grandparents every summer, my grandmother no longer cooked for the hotel dining room. It was a lot of work. She closed off the dining room. Before that, she and various hired help had the tasks of changing the sheets in the rooms and cleaning them every day, cleaning the bathrooms, washing the soiled sheets, and cooking three meals and cleaning up after them every single day. I still remember the smell of the closet where Grandmother kept supplies: it smelled like soap and clean sheets and towels.

Hers was a hard life. And it was even harder during Rodeo. The rodeo was always held around the Fourth of July, if I’m remembering correctly. The hotel was absolutely chock full of people, some of whom were NOT on their best behavior. Rodeo was an all-hands-on-deck event, and my mother and her sisters were there to work.

I’m not totally sure what my grandfather contributed to this labor. He swept the lobby, received guests, and handled the payments. I know he must have done other things, but for the life of me I can’t remember what those things were.

My cousin Rodney, now in his seventies, remembers the day a notorious bandit, the See More Kid, came to the hotel. Rodney, then twelve, recognized him and my grandfather sent Rodney to get the sheriff, who arrested the Kid peacefully. That was a very exciting event for the hotel AND for my cousin, and it made the local paper.

Like most people, I wish now I had written down the things my grandmother and grandfather said about the past. I’m sure there are many more stories it would be fun to know, about the hotel and its guests. I’ll just have to use my imagination.

Charlaine Harris