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Justin Sullivan

Winter reading

Profile image for By Lucinda Breeding
By Lucinda Breeding

Page-turners draw worlds both real and fantastical

This year, make a date for yourself and a good book. For suggestions, consult this list of sleepers and blockbusters that can illuminate and entertain.

Heads in Beds

A Reckless Memoir of Hotels,

Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality

By Jacob Tomsky.

Nonfiction. Anchor, paperback,

320 pages.

All that works that gets done while you’re settling in at Hotel ZaZa — or Motel 6 — is meant to seem magical to you, the guest.

But for the chambermaid, room service worker, concierge and restaurant employee, that magic is real and intense labor that often defies logic and sometimes pushes them to the edge of their comfort zones.

Readers will learn some things they might rather not know in this book — which first hit shelves in 2012 — but more than anything, one-time luxury hotel worker Jacob Tomsky sketches real, in-the-flesh portraits of the men and women who keep bathroom counters gleaming, comforters tucked neatly and cars parked safely in our nation’s fine hotels.

Tomsky’s personal experiences are eye-opening (there exists a special being who deliberately orders room service and then answers the hotel room door au naturel). The people who make your stay in major urban centers as serene as possible are often working-class folk who can’t always recommend the best plays and restaurants from anything other than word-of-mouth because they often can’t afford the trendiest and most fashionable nights out.

Some of Tomsky’s ideas won’t surprise, and certainly won’t move intransigent guests to be more aware of the help. For instance, if you can’t leave a nice tip, be kind. If you like to lace your complaints with abusive taunts at the front desk, maybe drop by the nearest drugstore to get your own toothbrush (revenge can be bacterial).

If nothing else, Heads in Beds is a look at the labor and the workers you’re not supposed to notice when you’re living it up. Tomsky writes what he knows. He’s been a valet, a desk clerk and a housekeeping manager.

The Diviners

By Libba Bray.

Young adult fiction. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers,

paperback, 608 pages.

Denton High School alumna Libba Bray just released her eighth young adult fantasy novel, The Diviners. Bray, a New Yorker, still loves to think about the past and she still loves to imagine a universe where young heroines are not only smart and resourceful, but fashionable and flawed.

The Diviners takes the reader back to 1926 New York. Evie O’Neill has been sent to live with her uncle Will, a man obsessed with the occult but unaware that his young niece has a secret and supernatural power.

In a city bustling with speakeasies, pickpockets and fame-chasing exhibitionists, Evie can get into plenty of trouble. But when police find a girl murdered with a mysterious symbol branded on her, Uncle Will is recruited to help decode it. And Evie? She realizes her power might help find answers.

Bray uses visual language to whisk her readers to a glamorous era and a stylish city. She uses her talent for drama and comedy to pick apart an intricate plot that mingles murder, deceit and magic.

The novel is just right for teens who love fantasy and grown-ups who like prose that propels the reader effortlessly through the action.

It doesn’t hurt that Bray has been able to continue to create entertaining fiction and characters that feel real and lively.

Creative Confidence

Unleashing the Creative

Potential Within Us All

By Tom Kelley and David Kelley.

Nonfiction. Crown Business,

hardcover, 304 pages.

Warren Henry, a member of the music faculty at the University of North Texas, has explained that all humans are born with an aptitude for music. Not every person’s aptitude is the same, but we all relate to music.

David and Tom Kelley, brothers and designers, write that we all have some capacity for creativity. David Kelley is the founder of the international design consulting firm IDEO and the founder of the d. school at Stanford University. Tom Kelley is a partner at IDEO and author of The Art of Innovation.

The Kelleys insist creativity is like a muscle. We can condition that muscle to respond to the stresses that are already crowding the busy 21st-century stage: novelty, need for innovation, fickle appetites of consumers and an endless stream of newness.

The brothers Kelley offer tools to condition our creative muscles so that when change comes at us in the workplace, in our communities and in our lives, we can solve problems or at least tease out the riddles that make resolutions the property of geniuses and savants.

It doesn’t hurt to note that the writers insist that creativity isn’t a big gun we pull out as a last resort. Instead, creativity is something we can rely on for the small and the mundane.

Lean In

Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

By Sheryl Sandberg.

Nonfiction. Knopf, hardcover,

240 pages.

It seems like the question of women and work is ultimately sabotaged by the myth that women are trying to have it all: a soft-focus fantasy that poses young women at the center of a happy and healthy home and economy.

Sandberg’s book sort of shatters that fantasy and settles on the question of how women can have the life’s work that they want — whether it’s behind the counter piloting their own business or in the boardroom among those who cast visions or call shots.

After her wildly popular TED Talk “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders” in 2010, Sandberg set about writing this book to help workers — male and female — look more deeply into the riddle of why more women are earning college degrees than their male peers, but why so few of them are in leadership roles in the workforce.

Lean In also takes a hard look at why women are working hard in larger numbers to get a shot at the corner office, and then later on opting to stop trying once life gets fuller.

Sandberg ascended to the corner office at Facebook last August, and while she doesn’t do platitudes or hunt for boogeymen among the men, she urges women to sit at the table where the decisions are made. She urges women to speak up and give their best to their job, up to the very moment they leave the workforce to raise a child — a choice she champions, by the way.

What does it mean to “lean in”? Sandberg says it means staying engaged, staying involved and staying in the work you’re doing.

The Cold Dish

A Walt Longmire Mystery

By Craig Johnson.

Fiction. Penguin, paperback, 400 pages.

Craig Johnson published this first novel in his series of mysteries about a graying sheriff of Absaroka County in Wyoming.

Walt Longmire is adrift after the death of his wife and the departure of his adult daughter, Cady. While life in the shadows of the Big Horn Mountains might seem quiet and idyllic, Sheriff Longmire has a problem on his hands.

Young Cody Pritchard has been found dead near the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. The teenager was implicated in the gang rape of a young Cheyenne girl — and given a suspended sentence. Longmire is worried that a vigilante is meting out justice not taken in the Wyoming courts, and that he might be the only thing standing between the three other accused men and death.

A good mystery isn’t just about the crime, the suspects and the law. It’s about the people who have lost, the people who grieve and the persistent conflicts that drive people to connect — or to kill.

Johnson deftly creates the micro-unit that patrols the Absaroka County roads. Victoria Moretti began her law enforcement career in a bigger city, but lands on her feet in the new job. Dispatcher Ruby is a salty woman who knows when the deputies need a firm hand or a quiet shoulder.

Johnson’s book — which is the basis for the prime-time drama Longmire on A&E — is at its best when it dares to bring the reader into the intimate friendship of Longmire and best friend Henry Standing Bear. The men represent the two cultures among the Big Horns, with the sheriff’s logic and investigative skills sharpening against Standing Bear’s more mystical wisdom and esoteric talents.

Johnson never stoops to caricature, choosing instead to draw Longmire and Standing Bear as real people who respect each other’s ways and love in spite of considerable unknowns.