Archive for August, 2014

Set In: Hotels

The Stanley Hotel in Colorado served as the inspiration for Stephen King’s book “The Shining.”

I finished a pretty good book this past month (Bellweather Rhapsody) where all of the action took place in a hotel just past its prime. The writer was channeling Stephen King’s The Shining, another pretty good book with a focus on an even more atmospheric hotel setting. Then, just a few days ago, I watched The Grand Budapest Hotel, a Wes Anderson film that relies on its hotel setting as a foundation for the ensuing wackiness of the main characters. That got me wondering – what is it about hotels that seems to bring out the crazy in people? Whether sweet or strange or sinister, the following books treat hotels almost as if they were just another character.



At Bertram’s Hotel – Agatha Christie

  • On holiday, Miss Marple senses something sinister at Bertram’s Hotel. She’s right: the police believe some of the guests are involved with criminals. Abduction, train robbery, and the murder of the hotel’s doorman confuse the authorities, but Miss Marple deduces the truth.

Bellweather Rhapsody – Kate Racculia

  • A young music prodigy goes missing from a hotel room that was the site of an infamous murder-suicide 15 years earlier, renewing trauma for a bridesmaid who witnessed the first crime and rallying an eccentric cast of characters during a snowstorm that traps everyone on the grounds.

Hotel – Arthur Hailey

  • During one sultry summer, the St. Gregory Hotel in New Orleans becomes the setting for a series of private and public adventures in romance and intrigue.

Hotel Honolulu – Paul Theroux

  • A shabby Hawaiian hotel provides the backdrop for a series of interwoven stories about love, crime, friendship, and family, as seen through the eyes of a down-on-his-luck writer who takes a job as hotel manager.

Hotel New Hampshire – John Irving

  • John, the middle son in an eccentric family with five children, one bear, and a dog named Sorrow, describes growing up in a hotel.

Hotel Vendome – Danielle Steel

  • Devoting himself to his young daughter and his five-star hotel after his divorce, Hugues Martin reevaluates his prospects when his daughter eventually pursues an education in France and he falls in love with a woman who understands his professional passions.

Northern Light – Jennifer Donnelly

  • In 1906, sixteen-year-old Mattie, determined to attend college and be a writer against the wishes of her father and fiance, takes a job at a summer inn where she discovers the truth about the death of a guest. Based on a true story.

Sea of Tears – Nani Power

  • The Renaissance Hotel of Washington, D.C., shelters an array of unique characters, from Jedra, a refugee technician from Iraq, to Phyllis, a desk clerk who remembers Heaven, all of them searching for love and meaning in a mysterious and enchanting world.

The Shining – Stephen King

  • Jack Torrance sees his stint as winter caretaker of a Colorado hotel as a way back from failure, his wife sees it as a chance to preserve their family, and their five-year-old son sees the evil waiting just for them.

Suite Scarlett – Maureen Johnson

  • Fifteen-year-old Scarlett Marvin is stuck in New York City for the summer working at her quirky family’s historic hotel, but her brother’s attractive new friend and a seasonal guest who offers her an intriguing and challenging writing project improve her outlook.

The White Rhino Hotel – Bartle Bull

  • It is in colonial Kenya, at Lord Penfold’s White Rhino Hotel, that the paths of these new settlers cross. Here they meet the cunning dwarf Olivio Alevado, a man whose lustful desires and vengeful schemes make him a formidable adversary to his enemies and a subtle ally to his friends. Here the destinies of the gypsy adventurer Anton Rider and the courageous, war-hardened Gwenn Llewelyn intersect. Here hope is corrupted by greed, love by revenge, and loyalty by betrayal as the future is trampled into history.



Five-Star Mystery Series: Murder at the Universe – Daniel Edward Craig

  • When the owner of Universe Hotel in New York is found dead, it is up to the hotel’s Director of Rooms, Trevor Lambert, to preserve the dignity of the hotel while struggling to keep the details of the murder away from a nosy reporter who wants to expose the story on national television.

Emma Graham Series: Hotel Paradise  –  Martha Grimes

  • A 12-year-old girl, waiting at tables in her mother’s hotel, becomes interested in the death, 40 years earlier, of a girl her age. The victim drowned in a nearby lake. So little Emma Graham starts analyzing available evidence, questions old ladies and woodsmen, and through perseverance solves a mystery. By the author of The End of the Pier.

Lighthouse Inn Series: Innkeeping with Murder – Tim Myers

  • At the cozy and quirky Hatteras West Inn, innkeeper Alex Winston investigates when one of his guests is found dead at the top of the lighthouse, the first in a series of odd “accidents” that begin to plague the getaway.



The Enders Hotel – Brandon R. Schrand (Idaho Author)

  • A memoir of growing up in the rural town of Soda Springs, Idaho, describes life in the dilapidated if historic Enders Hotel, Cafe, and Bar, the colorful and and haunted characters who passed through its doors, and the author’s own struggle to find his own identity in the faces of a never-seen father and desperate boarders.

Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality – Jacob Tomsky

  • A veteran of the hospitality business uses humor and irreverence to describe working in the industry, coming clean on the housekeeping department, the unwritten code of bellhops and what really goes on in a valet parking garage.

Hotel: An American History – A. K. Sandoval-Strausz

  • Presents a history of the nineteenth-century first-class hotel, of what hotels have meant to American business, culture, and racial politics.

The Siege: 68 Hours Inside the Taj Hotel – Cathy Scott-Clark

  • Describes what took place during the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai when terrorists assailed the luxurious Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and how the combined efforts of courageous staff and guests helped keep the death toll down.


And, of course…

Eloise: A Book for Precocious Grown Ups – Kay Thompson

  • Six-year-old Eloise lives with her mother and her English nanny at the Plaza Hotel, where she finds many opportunities to indulge in mischief.


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Back to School – Fast Classics

School starts for much of the Magic Valley next week, which means that the kids are probably going to squeeze every bit of summer vacation out of the next few days. And while most of those activities might be fun, I’m sure there’s a handful of kids that didn’t quite finish their reading list for the new school year.

In honor of back to school – and possibly in service to those students who need to get a book finished before Monday – here’s a short list of short classics. Each is less than 250 pages, so you could probably finish them in one or two sittings, and all would please even the fussiest English teacher. Plus, most are just darn good stories. Enjoy!



The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

  • An 80-year-old mansion harboring dark secrets comes to menacing life in this classic spine-tingling tale from Shirley Jackson. Anthropologist and ghost hunter Dr. John Montague invites four strangers to stay in haunted Hill House for the summer. One of the guests is 32-year-old Eleanor, for whom three months in a haunted house is preferable to caring for her invalid mother. Soon, Eleanor begins to see and hear things that the other guests cannot. Is it all in her imagination, or is she the only one who can perceive the evil that lurks in Hill House? (246 pages)

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

  • The classic study of human nature which depicts the degeneration of a group of schoolboys marooned on a desert island. (208 pages)

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

  • Marlowe sails down the Congo in search of Kurtz, a company agent who has, according to rumors, become insane in the jungle isolation. (146 pages)



Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

  • The tragic story of two itinerant ranch hands on the run–one is the lifelong companion to the other, a developmentally disabled man. (109 pages)

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

  • Santiago is a Cuban fisherman who encounters a giant marlin in the Gulf Stream and the battle for his catch becomes one of survival against a band of marauding sharks. (127 pages)

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

  • The adventures of an unusual dog, part St. Bernard, part Scotch Shepherd, that was kidnapped and shipped off to Alaska to work on the Klondike Gold Rush. Buck the dog quickly learns how to survive in the wild and also learns the call of the wolf. (126 pages)



True Grit by Charles Portis

  • With her papa’s pistol tied to her saddlehorn and a supersized ration of audacity, fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross sets out to avenge her father’s murder. (235 pages)

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

  • Meet the unforgettable Janie Crawford, an articulate African-American woman in the 1930s. Traces Janie’s quest for identity, through three marriages, on a journey to her roots. (231 pages)

A Lost Lady by Willa Cather

  • Mrs. Forrester, the resident aristocrat of Sweet Water, a remote railroad town on the Western frontier, is the lone representative of culture and refinement. (150 pages)



The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

  • A classic novel of the future follows the Time Traveller as he hurtles one million years into the future and encounters a world populated by two distinct races, the childlike Eloi and the disgusting Morlocks who prey on the Eloi. (125 pages)

Animal Farm by George Orwell

  • A satire on totalitarianism in which farm animals overthrow their human owner and set up their own government. (140 pages)

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

  • When a young girl falls down a rabbit hole, she discovers a strange and interesting world with fantastical, mad characters as she tries to find her way back home. (129 pages)


Gatsby_ Falcon_Hiroshima

The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald

  • Jay Gatsby had once loved beautiful, spoiled Daisy Buchanan, then lost her to a rich boy. Now, mysteriously wealthy, he is ready to risk everything to woo her back. (180 pages)

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

  • Sam Spade’s partner is murdered while working on a case, and it is Spade’s responsibility to find the killer. In his search, Spade runs mortal risks as he comes closer to the answer. (217 pages)

Hiroshima by John Hersey

  • The classic tale of the day the first atom bomb was dropped offers a haunting evocation of the memories of survivors and an appeal to the conscience of humanity. (196 pages)


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Take Ten: World War I Fiction

British_55th_Division_gas_casualties_10_April_1918 This August marks the centennial of the beginning of The Great War. For much of Europe, it was a devastating mess, causing deaths and destruction beyond the scope of any prior European war. The aftermath was also transforming on a large scale – political boundaries were redrawn, socioeconomic class distinctions were shaken, and the seed for revolution was planted in almost every region.

The era remains rich for storytelling, however. With varied subjects such as the causes, the trenches, the homefront, and the psychological and physical effects, many writers have plumbed the depths of the war in search for understanding. The novels listed here are prime examples of our need to comprehend the whys and hows of the First World War.

Regeneration by Pat Barker

  • Stressed by the war, poet, pacifist, and protestor Siegfried Sassoon is sent to Craiglockhart Hospital, where his views challenge the patriotic vision of Dr. William Rivers, a neurologist assigned to restore the sanity of shell-shocked soldiers. (This is the first book in the Regeneration WWI trilogy. The others are The Eye in the Door, and The Ghost Road.)

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

  • After loving and losing a French woman from Amiens, Stephen Wraysford serves in the French army during World War I.

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

  • Follows the fates of five interrelated families–American, German, Russian, English, and Welsh–as they move through the dramas of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the struggle for women’s suffrage.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

  • Story of an American ambulance driver on the Italian front during World War I and his love for an English nurse.

The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak

  • Uprooted from a nineteenth century mining town in Colorado by a shocking family tragedy, young Jozef Vinich returns with his father to an impoverished shepherd’s life in rural Austria-Hungary. When war comes, Jozef is sent as a sharpshooter to the southern front, where he must survive the killing trenches, a perilous trek across the frozen Italian Alps, and capture by a victorious enemy.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

  • The testament of Paul Baumer, who enlists with his classmates in the German army of World War I, illuminates the savagery and futility of war.

To the Last Man by Michael Shaara

  • In the spring of 1918, when America enters World War I, the world waits to see if the tide of war can be turned with the renewed spirit and strength of the untested American Expeditionary Force under General John “BlackJack” Pershing.

The First of July by Elizabeth Speller

  • Follows the lives of four very different men, Frank, Benedict, Jean-Batiste, and Harry, as their fates converge on the most terrible and destructive day of World War I, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd

  • Independent-minded Bess Crawford’s upbringing is far different from that of the usual upper-middle-class British gentlewoman. At the outbreak of WWI, she volunteers for the nursing corps, serving from the battlefields of France to the doomed hospital ship Britannic. On one voyage, she promises to a deliver a message from a dying officer to his brother. Once she’s able to do so, she’s disturbed at the brother’s indifferent reception of the message, and when an unexpected turn of events provides her with an opportunity to stay with the family for a short time, she takes it. (This the the 1st of the Bess Crawford series, followed by An Impartial Witness, A Bitter Truth, An Unmarked Grave, A Question of Honor, and An Unwilling Accomplice.)

My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young

  • The lives of two very different couples–an officer and his aristocratic wife and a young soldier and his childhood sweetheart–are irrevocably intertwined and forever changed in this WWI epic of love and war.


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The Way Back Machine – Best Sellers 1995

Let’s take a leisurely stroll back to 1995 – only 19 years ago. (Crazy to think so, isn’t it!) In August of that year, we were all fascinated by the release of Windows 95, which introduced the Start menu button and shortcuts on the desktop – things that we wouldn’t know what to do without today (though they tried, and failed, to get rid of the Start menu button in Windows 8).

In case you wonder what else was going on, here are a few other events that might trigger your memory of 1995:

  • For all you trekkies out there, Star Trek: Voyager premiered in January.
  • A new optical storage format, the DVD, is released in September.
  • The final Calvin and Hobbes comic strip is published in December.

There were a few weightier things you might remember better from that year (Oklahoma City bombings, O.J. Simpson verdict, Unabomber), but let’s concentrate on some positives by looking at what we were reading, according to the New York Times Best Seller list, the week of August 6, 1995.



1. Memnoch the Devil by Anne Rice

2. Beach Music by Pat Conroy

3. Lightning by Danielle Steel

4. The Rainmaker by John Grisham

5. The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller

6. Rose Madder by Stephen King

7. The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield

8. The Witness by Sandra Brown

9. Disney’s Pocahontas

10. Dangerous to Know by Barbara Taylor Bradford

11. Let Me Call You Sweetheart by Mary Higgins Clark

12. Politically Correct Bedtime Stories by James Finn Garner

13. The Apocalypse Watch by Robert Ludlum

14. Once Upon a More Enlightened Time by James Finn Garner

15. Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler



1. To Renew America by Newt Gingrich

2. New Passages by Gail Sheehy

3. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

4. A Good Walk Spoiled: Days and Nights on the PGA Tour by John Feinstein

5. Spontaneous Healing by Andrew Weil

6. Sisters: Essays by Carol Saline

7. Sleepers by Lorenzo Carcaterra

8. Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys, By Dave Barry

9. The Death of Common Sense by Philip K. Howard

10. When Elephants Weep by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan Mccarthy

11. The Eagle and the Rose by Rosemary Altea

12. The Language of Life by Bill Moyers

13. Paula by Isabel Allende

14. The Book of Virtues by William J. Bennett

15. Sleeping at the Starlite Motel by Bailey White

16. The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr