Thursday, June 24, 2010

More Amber Waves of Grain

Funny how things that are so familiar to one person can be so totally unfamiliar to another.  I grew up around grain elevators - my father and grandfather both worked there - and Dave has been in the grain business since 1983, so the inner workings of an elevator are second nature to me.  After yesterday's post about wheat harvest here in Kansas, I got several questions and comments via Twitter and the blog, from people who are not connected with agriculture at all, or at least not the elevator section of it, so I have decided to write a series of posts over the next couple of weeks highlighting different aspects of our life during harvest.

For starters, the picture above is the largest of the three facilities Dave manages.  Each cylinder is a separate bin that can hold 25,000 bushels of grain. There are some larger bins on the back side which hold 100,000 bushels each, for a total storage capacity of 1.8 million bushels.  The other two locations hold 1.3 and .8 million bushels.  To give you a little perspective on size, the small dark square at the bottom center of the picture is the driveway where semi trucks enter to unload. 

Here's the basic layout: trucks weigh-in at the office, then drive out to the elevator where they unload the grain into a "pit" under the driveway.  From the pit, the leg - a vertical conveyor belt with buckets attached - scoops up the grain and carries it to the top or "head house" (the tall, rectangular portion way above the driveway).  Thus we get the name of the beast - the leg "elevates" the grain to the top of the bins.  From the head house it empties onto a horizontal conveyor belt.  This belt runs the length of the "galley" (the narrow square section on top of the round bins that doesn't show up much in this picture) and carries the grain to the selected bin.  There's a series of gizmos, whats-its, and do-hickies along the way that make all this possible, but you don't really need to know those details to get the basic idea.  All you really need to know is, when the grain reaches the bin, it falls into the opening at the top and all the way back to the bottom, or at least to the level of the grain that's already in there.  At a later point, the grain will exit through the bottom of the bin onto another belt and into a truck or train, but we'll get to that another day.  This is harvest.  At this point we're only concerned about what's coming in.

When the truck is empty, the driver returns to the office to weigh again.  Basic math tells us the difference between the full weight and the empty weight is the amount of grain dumped.  A standard bushel of wheat weighs sixty pounds, so divide the difference by sixy and you have the number of bushels dumped.  A semi holds one-thousand bushels (give or take) and wheat is currently going for approximately $3.50/bushel - so each truck represents about $3500 to the farmer.  The farmer can choose to sell immediately or store his wheat while he waits for the price to go up.  In the mean time, he pays the elevator a storage fee.

The process of dumping a truck into the pit takes 10-15 minutes.  During the heat of harvest the trucks form a line along the edge of the highway while waiting for their turn on the scales, a line between the office and elevator, and another line of empty trucks coming back to the scales.  The person in the office is the traffic cop - forcing everyone to take turns by using traffic lights, loud horns, or both.  When I drove past after work yesterday, there were eighteen trucks in one line or another.  You can see why the guys will stay all night to fix a mechanical failure if necessary.  They can't afford to shut down for an hour during the day for repairs.  This controlled chaos of tractor/trailors is loud, kicks up a lot of dust, and is potentially dangerous.  Mothers know to forbid bicycle riding near the elevator during harvest, and even weaving through the pandemonium in a car can be hazardous.  

One final point about the inner workings.  Amongst all the gizmos and whatz-its is a little cage, approximately 6 1/2 feet tall and 2 1/2 ft. squre, called a "man lift".  Yes, it's exactly what you think - an itty bitty elevator within an elevator.  You stand in the cage, close the door and push the button and the lift takes you through a concrete tube slightly larger than the cage, to the top.  The hitch in this ride is that the cage is made of open-mesh metal so you can see out in all directions.  There's nothing to look at out the sides except the concrete walls of the tube and the escape ladder.  Yes, if the lift gets stuck for any reason, you must open the door and climb up or down via a ladder bolted to the wall.  There's also not much to see looking up except the cable and pully that hold your life in the balance.  Looking down, however, there is a LOT to see - yards and yards of empty space between you and the concrete floor far, far below.  You're probably catching on that I don't like heights, so this is not my favorite place to go.  And, yes, the man lift is tested and inspected on a regular basis just like any elevator, but that doesn't make me feel better.

Last summer we sat outside on top of one of the bins to watch the 4th of July fireworks display.   Dave assured me it is perfectly safe, as there is at least 10 ft. of rooftop between you and the edge of the bin, and there is a guard rail, but all I could do was plaster myself against the wall and ponder the distance to the ground.  This year, I'm watching from the bleachers like everyone else.

Well folks, that's our lesson in Elevator Operations 101 for today.  Over the next few weeks we'll learn more about life as "the elevator guy's wife."

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Amber Waves of Grain

June in Kansas means wheat harvest or, as my father calls it, Pay Day!  Dave manages the local grain elevator so it's a big time of year for us.  The fields begin to turn from green to gold in early June.  By the third week, semis loaded with combines file into town and travel trailers are set up on empty lots as custom cutting crews get ready for business.  Farmers pull their machinery out of the shed to prepare it for the coming long days.  Wives stockpile freezers of food to be hauled to makeshift outdoor dinner tables to feed combine and truck drivers.  At the elevator, crews  - many of them seasonal help hired just for this purpose - scramble to empty bins to make space for the incoming crop, prepare the ground where they may have to dump overflow that the bins won't hold, and make sure all equipment is in top shape.  There is an almost electrical buzz of anticipation as everyone prepares.

The only way to be really sure if the wheat is ready to cut is to try it. It's a joke at our house, although not a very funny one, that someone will always try on Father's Day.  The only years Dave got to spend Father's Day at home was when we lived farther north, in Nebraska, and harvest started later.  The farmer hauls out the combine and runs it through a small patch of wheat, gathers a coffee can-full from the hopper and takes it to the elevator to be tested for moisture content.  If the content is low enough - the elevator likes it under 12%, but will usually take it a little higher - then we're off and running.  Naturally, the length of harvest for any farmer is dependent on how many acres he plants and how many combines he owns/hires to cut.  For the elevator crew, it's a little different.  Harvest for us begins when the first farmer starts and ends when the last farmer finishes.  Average harvest is three to four weeks, depending on the weather, with the big rush in the middle, when everyone is going at once, lasting about two weeks.  Here's a peek at what life is like at our house during wheat harvest.

Our son, Mitch, works for Dave at the elevator - dumping trucks, moving grain, repairing equipment, and whatever else needs done.  It's a very physical, tiring job, especially since temperatures frequently climb above 100.  Our daughter, Amanda, works in the office - weighing the trucks in and out, testing the grain for moisture, weight and "fm" (foreign material - also called weeds), and keeping track of who hauled in what.  Their days usually run from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. or later.  There have been nights, thankfully few and far between, of working till the wee hours of the morning to get grain in position or repair broken equipment so they will be up and running when the farmers start again the next morning.  When the wheat is ready, it's a race to get it out of the field and safely into storage before a storm can damage it, so everyone works at top speed.  The long hours, heat and apprehension can lead to short tempers.   By the second week days blur together (there are no weekends or days off during harvest) and a rain shower that lets them quit a couple hours early is a blessing.

So where does all this commotion leave me?  In the kitchen.  Several years ago I began making cookies to give away to truck drivers and employees - just a little bonus to cheer everyone up - and the idea really caught on and became a staple at the elevator.  At one point, I was making over 2000 cookies each year.  I have cut that number way down, but I still take cookies, brownies, cake and sometimes homemade ice cream, to the elevator every day. It's my way of feeling involved and supportive. When I'm not working or baking, I'm fixing meals and snacks.  The guys need quick things on hand that they can fix themselves for lunch because no one knows what time their break will be or how long it will last.  Kyle, one of the seaonal employees who is living with us for the summer, is diabetic, and Mitch is a typical 19-year-old, so they both need sustenance on a regular basis. I usually deliver sandwiches about 6:00, then have a meal prepared for everyone when they drag in later.  Cleaning up supper dishes at midnight is not uncommon.

Being the only one at home also means I inherit chores Dave usually handles - mowing, taking out the trash and washing dishes (three of my least favorite jobs, so bless him for doing them regularly!) - along with the usual housekeeping and stacks of really nasty, ripe-smelling laundry. 

Harvest is a lot of work and a lot of stress, but it's also a thing of beauty.  A ripe field of wheat, glowing red-gold under a blinding blue sky, rippling slightly in the breeze is one of my favorite sights.  I sometimes wish we had chosen a life outside agriculture, to be able to look at blackening skies or frost on the morning grass and worry only about if the car is safely in the garage or if my geraniums will survive the cold - not whether the crops will be frozen or hailed out and our livlihood endangered.  Farmers can purchase crop insurance to guard against weather's destruction, but there is no insurance policy for the elevator.  If there is no crop, there is no income, and eventually no business.  But when I see bountiful fields that survived nature's best shot, or watch families and friends work together to bring in a crop, I marvel at the Lord's work and am glad to be "the elevator guy's wife".

There will be a second, less hectic harvest in the fall for corn, soybeans and milo (sorghum), but wheat is what makes Kansas part of the breadbasket of our nation.  Wheat harvest is pay day - the culmination of a year of hard work, sweat, worry and prayer.

"Oh beautiful, for spacious skies..."

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sizzling Sixteen by Janet Evanovich

Stephanie Plum and her cohorts are still as comical as ever.  In their sixteenth caper, Vinnie is kidnapped by his bookie so Stephanie, Lulu and Connie set out to rescue him and raise the money to pay his gambling debts.  As usual, there are botched captures, close calls, one-liners from Grandma Mazur, and the occasional teasing moment with Ranger and Morelli.  Ms. Evanovich's books are always laugh-out-loud funny and thoroughly enjoyable.

The problem is that some of the "usual" is beginning to wear thin.  I don't know how much time has elapsed in Stephanie's life since the beginning of the series - no more than five years, I'm guessing - but for the rest of us it has been sixteen years and it's time to move on.  I don't want the series to end by any means, but the characters and situations are feeling stagnant.

Without giving away any plot points, this story was the perfect opportunity to make changes at the bond office and let Stephanie move into the next phase of her life, but by the last page it appeared that all was returned to normal.  Maybe Ms. Evanovich has surprises in mind for #17, but they certainly weren't foreshadowed.

Then there's the Ranger/Morelli conundrum.  Granted, the conflict was fascinating in the beginning; and Ms. Evanovich risks losing half of her loyal readers no matter who she has Stephanie choose but - if you'll pardon my crudity - it's time to piss or get off the pot. I have never hidden my opinion that I am firmly in Ranger's camp.  While Joe is handsome and sexy and fun, he's also normal (or at least as close as anyone in a Plum novel gets).  Ranger is mysterious and a little dangerous - he's fantasy to Joe's reality.  Whichever man Stephanie is going to choose, just do it - the story could evolve well either way.  By hanging on the fence, the relationship parts of the books have gone from sexual tension and romance to blah.  She can't decide who she wants, so she picks neither.  It's getting frustrating and maybe a touch boring. 

I have loved these characters for so long that I will still anticipate the release of the next book in the series and hope against hope that new things are to come, but for now I'd have to say that Sizzling Sixteen is a fizzle.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Cup of Tea

Teacups make me think of my Grandma.  She loved pretty dishes, especially cups and saucers.  She had one set that were decorated with flowers representing the months of the year.  Grandpa built her a "shadow box" to display them and they hung in a place of honor in her kitchen.  Her china cabinet held many more, some hand-painted.  When she passed away, we each got a few of her cups and I treasure mine, but they are hidden inside my buffet because I don't have a place to  show them off.

Even though I'm not a big tea drinker, reading Death by Darjeeling got me to thinking about Grandma's teacups and other things I keep tucked away for a special occasion that never comes.  I've decided to take the advice given by Point of Grace in their song "How You Live" and occasionally use Grandma's teacups for my morning coffee. 

All this tea talk also brought to mind some tea-themed books I've enjoyed.  A Cup of Christmas Tea by Tom Hegg - the story of a young man's reluctant visit to an elderly aunt at Christmastime, and the unexpected joy it brings (publisher synopsis) - is a perennial favorite. 

If Teacups Could Talk, is overflowing with ideas for gracious living, Emilie encourages readers to embrace and pass on to others the gifts of friendship, tradition, comfort, celebration, and imagination...all with a cup of tea (publisher synopsis).  My copy was a gift from two dear friends and is worth owning if for no other reason than the magnificent illustrations by Sandy Lynam Clough.

In Tea with a Twist: Entertaining and Cooking with Tea, be prepared to be inspired by specialty tea expert Lisa Boalt Richardson.  Lisa will help you fulfill your sense of fun and adventure with party and menu themes such as Bubble Tea, Flower Power Tea, Tailgate Tea, and five more unique experiences to nourish all your senses. Each chapter is accompanied by stunning photographs from leading interior and food photographer Lauren Rubinstein.

At least that's what the publisher says.  I haven't read this one yet, but I did purchase it for the library so it's available when it finally gets to the top of my TBR list.  Again, the illustrations are so pretty you can just sit and browse.

My mother loves to embroider so she makes beautiful sets of flour-sack tea towels.  She gave each of her daughters a set for our birthdays this year.  My sister put hers away so that she would always have them as a memory of mom and they could be passed down.  I stuck mine in the drawer to use daily and think of mom when I do.  What keepsakes are special to you? Do you ever pull them out and use them, or do you prefer to keep them pristine?

Friday, June 11, 2010

TV and Books

I'm embarrassed to admit - so it's a good thing no one reads this blog - that I'm a reality tv addict.  Not those survivor shows where people live on a deserted island, except for the director, producer, cameramen, soundmen and their entire tech. crew.  That's not reality.  Nor am I a fan of the "Please marry me cause there's nothing desperate about auctioning myself off on national tv" dating shows.  That's not reality either.  The ones I have a secret fetish for are the talent competitions - American Idol, Top Chef, Project Runway, Next Food Network Star, Dancing With the Stars, and occasionally America's Got Talent (at least after they've weeded out the 75-year-old hip-hop dancers and the precocious preschoolers).  I love to get my family involved and make wagers on who'll survive another week, or quietly gloat when a professional chef burns his entree and mumble "See, it's not just me". 

Each summer I vow to shut the tv off and devote more time to reading - which is usually a pretty simple accomplishment because there's not much on except re-runs.  But even the most enticing book or beautiful day for porch reading can't keep me from being sucked back to the couch by the 21st century version of the game show. 

With the invention of DVR, I can record all the shows and watch them whenever it's convenient and without commercial interruption.  Did you know that you can watch a one-hour elimination episode of American Idol in under ten minutes if you skip the commercials, guest performances and hype?  But this technological nirvana (don't get me started on how much I love DVR) has fed my obsession because it's so easy to keep up with multiple shows.

They say the first step is to admit you have a problem, so maybe I'm on the way to weaning myself from reality tv - but probably not.  Maybe I should work on my General Hospital addiction instead.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Death by Darjeeling by Laura Childs

Part one of the T&T Bookclub June assignment is complete. The three steps were to read Death by Darjeeling (the first book in the Tea Shop Mysteries series), to sample some darjeeling tea and to visit the Huckleberry Tea House in Concordia, KS with my mom and sisters.  As of yet, I haven't located any darjeeling tea, but then, the only place I've looked is Wal-Mart.  Southwest Kansas is rather short on tea shops.  Part three will have to wait until after wheat harvest when Daughter and I can make the trip to Mom's.  In the mean time - part one was a success.

Ordinarily, Charleston's Indigo Tea Shop is an oasis of calm. But when tea shop owner, Theodosia Browning, caters the annual Lamplighter Tour of historic homes, one of the patrons turns up dead. Never mind that it's Hughes Barron, a slightly scurrilous real estate developer. Theodosia's reputation is suddenly on the line. Aided by her friends and fellow tea shop entrepreneurs, Theo sets about to unravel the mystery of the deadly Darjeeling and encounters a number of likely suspects. (from author's web site)
What a perfect summer read! I immediately fell in love with the Indigo Tea Shop and it's employees.  I've never been to Charleston, or anywhere near there unless you count changing planes at the Charlotte airport, but the elegant tea parties, the southern wit and the beautiful gardens made me want to go immediately. 

The story is pretty typical "cozy mystery" fare - local business owner turns amateur slueth - but Ms. Childs managed to avoid my pet peeve of cozies.  Frequently, mystery authors write "down" to their readers by stopping the action of the book to rehash what has happened and all the possible suspects.  This is usually accomplished by having the hero/heroine stop to ponder all this in their head.  My problem with this method is that, not only does it kill the action of the story, but it assumes I'm not able to follow the story and make these connections on my own.  I once heard a popular mystery author speak at a convention and she admitted "When I need to recap the story, I have [heroine] go in her kitchen and cook and think things through."  (Not an exact quote, but as close as I can remember.) This is not to say that Theodosia's thought processes are not developed in this story, but they are woven into the action in small doses so as not to interrupt or annoy.

I will definitely be reading further in this series and checking out Ms. Child's other series, the Cackleberry Club Mysteries, which I have already purchased for the library:
In a rehabbed Spur station outside the small town of Kindred, three semi-desperate, forty-plus women have launched the Cackleberry Club. Eggs are the morning specialty here--fluffy omelets, slumbering volcanoes, toad in the hole, and eggs on a cloud. This cozy little café even offers a book nook and knitting nest--and business has been good. But two murders, a runaway girl, a vicious widow, and a messianic cult leader just might lead to their undoing. (from author's web site)
And the Scrapbook Series - the story of Carmela Bertrand, owner of Memory Mine, a scrapbooking shop in the French Quarter.  I'm not a scrapbooker, but I can overlook that for a well-written cozy mystery.

Now if I could just track down some darjeeling...

Monday, June 7, 2010

My Mind and a Book Review

Here's a sample of what life is like in the world of confusion and randomness that I call my mind:  Yesterday Daughter drove half-way to Nebraska to pick up a friend that is coming to visit for a few days.  Before she left, she commented - ever so politely - that I might want to clean the downstairs bathroom before she returned because "It's disgusting!" and she didn't want company to see it.  Two important points here: 1.) OUR bathroom is upstairs.  The downstairs bathroom is used by two teenagers, one of whom was looking at the counter filled with her toothbrush, toothpaste, facial cleanser, washcloths, lotion, saline solution, contact cases, glasses, etc and complaining because I hadn't cleaned the counter and sink.  And 2.) saying she was polite is stretching things.  Anyway, after a brief mother/daughter "discussion" on the ages of the bathroom users and their abilities to clean up after themselves, I agreed to clean it for her THIS TIME because she needed to get on the road and she's right, it was disgusting.  So Hubby kicked in (he cleaned the top of the shower where I can't reach) and we got everything back into proper shape - or as close as it's gonna get. 

Fast forward a few hours to where the confusion and randomness comes in.  I was sitting on the couch reading a book (go figure) and said to myself, "Self, your daughter will be home soon with her friend and if she didn't want said friend to see her disgusting bathroom, she would probably prefer that Friend also not see Mother sans make-up and hair un-coiffed." So I started upstairs to our bathroom to remedy the problem.  As I passed through the dining room, I noticed three shirts that had been carried in from the clothesline and draped over a chairback awaiting hangers.  Yeah, I don't know where the hangers were magically going to come from either, but there they were.  So I picked them up to carry upstairs and hang since I was going anyway.  

Once the shirts were properly hung and I was exiting the closet, I noticed the overflowing pile of laundry next to the door and realized I had enough time left in the day to get at least one more load run so I sorted the clothes into categories, selected the load I wanted to wash (in other words, MY clothes) and started downstairs.  Are you seeing the problem here?  Sure enough, as I was leaving the room I went past the bathroom door which reminded me that I had originally come up here to fix my hair and make-up.  So, I sat the laundry down and went in to primp.  It occurred to me that, being so near to turning 50, I would need to use the facilities before I could stand still long enough to do my makeup without having lipstick where the mascara should be.  So I did.  Can you guess what happened next?  Exactly!  I walked out the door, re-gathered the laundry and started down the stairs again.

Three stairs down I had a flash of a vague memory about hair and makeup, so retraced my steps to the bathroom, re-deposited the load of laundry on the floor, fluffed my hair, applied a little foundation and lipstick and called it good.  I then re-re-gathered the laundry and started down - for real this time. 

Back in the dining room, which I had to pass through to get to the basement laundry room (and you're right, there are WAY too many stairs in this house), I propped myself and my laundry against a chair to laugh with Hubby about my trip to the twilight zone of my brain, then headed on downstairs.  Naturally, there was laundry in the washer waiting for the dryer and laundry in the dryer waiting for the sucker who wanted to use it bad enough to fold the previous load.  So, being the sucker that I am and also being out of pants to wear to work, I folded clothes, moved the load from the washer to the dryer, started dryer, carried basket of folded clothes up the stairs with me and returned to my book - leaving the load of pants sitting on the floor next to the washer.

This is what it's like living in my head.  It's a wonder I find my way to work.  It also explains why I have conversations in my head like Tatersmama - If I didn't have a running dialogue with myself to keep me on track, I would just spin in circles.  After reading this, it should come as no surprise that if I don't write a book review within a rather short period of time after completion, I can no longer remember what I wanted to say about it.  This is what has happened with Mary Higgins Clark's The Shadow of Your Smile.   I read it a few weeks ago, then forgot that I hadn't reviewed it.  Now I can barely remember the story, much less what I thought of it.  And yes, I did write a post about my intention to use the Read, Remember, Recommend journal to keep track of such things - but I forgot.

Honestly, all you need to know is that Mary Higgins Clark hasn't lost her touch.  It's another solid story with a little suspense and a little romance.  I do recall that I thought some of the family connections were a little hard to follow, but obviously that could just be me.    Fans of Ms. Clark's books will certainly want to add this one to their TBR list.  I give it 3 1/2 stars - enjoyable read, but nothing that will remain in the somewhat foggy recesses of my brain.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Summer Reading

I am not a fan of summer.  In fact the only things I like about summer are my flower bed, fresh produce, capri pants and sandles, and reading on the porch swing with a tall glass of iced peach tea.  Just as scorching summer temperatures call for lighter meals, porch reading calls for lighter fare, so when these three titles arrived at the library yesterday I snatched them all. 

Ok, quick sidebar for the non-librarians out there.  The biggest perk of working in a small-town library (never held this position in a large library, so don't know how it works there) is that I am allowed to shop for books with library funds - can it get better than that?  Yes, it does actually - because the other half of my job is to process new books when they arrive (enter them into the computer, print labels, apply covers - you know, the ones that annoy you because the cover flaps are taped down so you can't use them as bookmarks).  Since I am the first one to handle new arrivals, I also have the chance to be first to read them. 

Sidebar #2-for those who are questioning my librarian ethics.  No, I do not spend the entire library budget on books I want to read.  Occasionally I purchase science fiction, James Patterson, westerns and even the rare non-fiction even though I don't comprehend wanting to read them.  See how magnanimous I am?  Besides, you all are responsible for these three purchases because of the wonderful reviews you wrote that tempted me into having to have them.

Also, I do not hoard all the new arrivals in my TBR pile for months (ok, there was that one time). I do make an effort to get them onto the shelf in a timely manner.  However, many of the books we receive are shipped prior to their publication date so that they can be ready to go on the shelf on release day.  Since it is against Librarian Code, and maybe some laws, to put them on the shelf early, and since there's no law that says I can't read them in the interim (at least I don't think there's a law...but just to be on the safe side, please don't tell the Library Police), this is actually incentive for me to get my work done quickly leaving me time to read before I have to pass the books along to those pesky patrons.  It's basically a win-win.

Anyway, back to my original point...I snatched these three new arrivals.  Don't the beautiful covers just scream Summer Reading?  And they are all in paperback so I can hold them in one hand and have one hand free for iced tea/chips and fresh guacamole.  So now you know my plan for this weekend!  Here's my question to you:  Does your reading appettite change with the seasons?  Does your desire for a certain type of story go up and down with the thermometer?  What are you reading this summer?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Love is Monumental by Annalisa Daughety

This is the story of Vickie Harris, newly-turned-30 park ranger, struggling to rearrange her priorities and have a personal life as well as a career.  But it's also the story of Thatcher, history professor fighting for career advancement and escape from the past; Katherine, college student caring for a mother with cancer; Kristie, nervously preparing for her wedding after being left at the alter; and Ainsley, recently widowed new mother.

Vickie and Thatcher begin with a business collaboration, then stumble through a series of crossed wires in search of a personal connection.  The interplay of the other storylines helps to create some action, but still the first three-quarters of the book seemed rather slow and predictable.  The backdrop of the National Mall and the various monuments - one of my favorite places - added a spark and the characters were surprisingly well developed considering the number of major players.

Thankfully, the final portion of this story made up for the slow beginning.  When the various stories began to play out and connect to each other, my connection to the story grew as well.  Love is Monumental is a good, clean tale of seeking love, keeping friendships, and receiving more than you expected.  I appreciate the Christian values displayed in the story and recommend it to fans of simple love stories.

I received this book through the Goodreads First Reads program.  A big thanks to Barbour Publishing.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Literature vs. Entertainment

On the landing at the top of our stairs, are our bookcases - crammed with lots of old favorites, a few new finds (we get most of our books from the library), and some classics that we're determined to read some day.  Three shelves - stacked double in places - are dedicated to Old Faithfuls, those books that we return to again and again when we want an easy, comforting, reliable read.  On Dave's side it's the entire Louis L'Amour collection - always a clean story where good defeats evil.  A few years ago for Christmas I went on a scavenger hunt through e-bay, used book stores and library castoffs to complete his set, and he's read them all - and frequently quotes them to me.

On my side, it's the Cat Who... series by Lilian Jackson Braun.  I have read and re-read all twenty-nine installments several times.  Admittedly, the later books showed signs of Ms. Braun's advancing years (she's now 97) but I feel at home in the fictional town of Pickax City.  The residents have become my friends and it's a relaxing trip. 

These are the type of novels that tend to be frowned on in bookish circles so you hesitate to name them among your favorite authors - the guilty pleasure that you don't admit chosing in place of the summer's hottest bestseller to sit on the porch swing and read with a glass of tea - the books that make bibliophiles look at you over their half-glasses, with a piercing glare and pursed lips.  But while neither L'Amour nor Braun may ever be listed among the giants of "literature", they are fantastic storytellers so we proudly admit to loving them and they keep their prominant spots on our top shelves. 

What "old faithfuls" with worn covers and cracked spines are on your bookshelf?  When you find a story you love, do you re-read?  Are there any books you secretly love, but don't admit to?  Bloggers, do you feel pressure to review "literary" titles rather than fun reads?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Cocktails for Three by Madeleine Wickham

At the first of every month, when the office has reached its pinnacle of hysteria, Maggie, Roxanne, and Candice meet at London’s swankiest bar for an evening of cocktails and gossip. Here, they chat about what’s new at The Londoner, the glossy fashion magazine where they all work, and everything else that’s going on in their lives. Or almost everything. Beneath the girl talk and the laughter, each of the three has a secret. And when a chance encounter at the cocktail bar sets in motion an extraordinary chain of events, each one will find their biggest secret revealed… (from book cover)
I expected this tale of three friends to be similar to Ms. Wickham's (aka Sophie Kinsella) other novels.  In fact, that's why I chose it - I needed something light and fun to listen to in the car while making a mall run over the weekend - but I got much more than I bargained for.

Candice has a chance meeting with a friend from high school who's family was damaged by a business deal engineered by Candice's father.  Her guilt blinds her to her "friend's" machinations and nearly costs her everything.

Maggie gives up her position as editor of a fashion magazine to move to the country and raise a family.  She finds her normally in-charge, capable self completely unprepared for the challenges of motherhood.

Roxanne's long-time relationship comes to an unexpected end, but not for the reason she believes. 

All three of these plots come to a head at the same time and actually made me feel sick about the circumstances that were taking control of their lives.  I think part of the effect this book had on me came from the author's reading on this audio version.  She did an amazing job of conveying the frustration, fear, bewilderment, and grief.  Maybe too good since it was making me physically suffer through it all right along with the heroines! 

Fortunately, all comes right in the end, but in unexpected ways, and again I felt all the emotions right along with the three friends - relief, hope, amazement.  This is a touching, humerous story of friendships that outlast whatever life brings.