Apples Are From Kazakhstan

Robbins, Christopher. Apples Are From Kazakhstan: the Land that Disappeared. New York: Atlas & Co., 2008.

I think this quote sums up Robbins’s primary reason for writing Apples Are From Kazakhstan, “Unexpectedly, vague curiosity developed into real interest during that time [two years], and continued to grow, until I became determined to visit the birthplace of the apple” (p 10). This comes after sitting next to an American who told him, “apples are from Kazakhstan.” What follows is a delightful travelogue of all things Kazakhstan. The chapters bounce around, punctuated by delightful illustrations. While Robbins uncovers the skeletons in Kazakhstan’s closet he also manages to unveil the beauty of a country few know anything about.

Quotes I really liked, “I began to wonder how many more toasts I could bang back without dying” (p 71) and “Camels now roam where ships once sailed” (p 121 ).

Side note: I think the cover is striking. At first glance it is an apple with an awkward bite of out it. Looking closer it still is an apple but the “bite” is the country of Kazakhstan with the bordering “stan” countries and the Russian Federation around it.

Reason read: Kazakhstan won it’s independence in December.

Author fact: Robbins was so moved by the statement “Apples are from Kazakhstan” that he wrote a book about the country.

Book trivia: I’ve been reading a lot of reviews that call this book In Search of Kazakhstan: the Land that Disappeared.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Where in the World Do These Books Belong” (p 262).


Bellwether

Willis, Connie. Bellwether. Read by Kate Reading. Blackstone Audio, 2009.

Funny. Funny. Funny. Sandy Foster is a sociologist working at the research corporation, HiTeck, studying trends in the form of fads. Just how do they start? When we first meet Sandy she is trying to deduce when the fad of hair bobbing first erupted. It’s a conundrum. But, the bigger conundrum is Sandy’s work relationships. While Flip is the most annoying mail clerk known to mankind Sandy finds herself quoting her. While Sandy is practically engaged to a sheep ranger she finds herself drawn to a fad resistant coworker studying chaos theory.

I don’t know what it is about the most recent audio books I have chosen to listen to but I’m on a roll picking humorous ones. The Galton Case by Ross MacDonald was great and so was Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers. Bellwether by Connie Willis is just as good, if not funnier. Listen to it. Seriously. But, make sure you are listening to the version read by Kate Reading. She is hysterical as Flip.

Reason read: Willis was born on the last day of December…

Author fact: If you check out winners of the Nebula award you will see Connie Willis’s name a few times. She’s won it at least five or six times.

Book trivia: The title of the book is really clever. Bellwether refers to the practice of putting a bell on a castrated ram who leads his flock of sheep. This bell ringing allows herders to hear them coming before they see them. So, the phenomenon of bellwether is the creation of an upcoming event or trend.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Connie Willis: Too Good To Miss” (p 246). As an aside, Nancy Pearl says her favorite Willis book is Bellwether.


Strong Poison

Sayers, Dorothy L. Strong Poison. New York: HarperPaperbacks, 1995.

Lord Peter Wimsey is at it again. Only this time in addition to solving the mystery he’s looking to fill his personal void. He wants a wife. While his methods are a bit strange (he proposes to a virtual stranger, someone he is trying to prove isn’t a murderer) you can’t help but love his enthusiasm. Harriet Vane is a mystery writer who just happens to know a thing or two about poison so when her estranged fiancee shows up dead…poisoned…guess who gets the blame? For all appearances this is an open and shut case. She had the motive and the means but Lord Wimsey thinks differently. Her first trial is thrown out due to a deadlocked jury so Wimsey has time to rebuild Harriet’s defense…and propose with the promise “I’ve been told I make love rather nicely” (p 46).

Lines I liked, “Bless you, may your shadow never grow bulkier!” (p 75) and “I merely proceed on the old Sherlock Holmes basis, that when you have eliminated the impossible, then whatever remains, however improbably, must be true” (p 93).

Truth be known, I like Wimsey’s butler better.

Reason read: Reading this book is a complete and utter cheat. I read it thinking it was continuing a series. The only “series” thing about it is that it features Lord Peter Wimsey again. Blah. Note to self: take the other Sayers books off the list, for now…

Book trivia: So, technically this could be called a series since Harriet shows up in later books.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ms. Mystery” (p 170).


Billy

French, Albert. Billy. New York: Penguin Books, 1993.

This is in every way the wrong kind of book to be reading at Christmas time. It’s full of racism, prejudice, violence and hate. Ten year old Billy makes a huge mistake. With twelve year old friend, Gumpy, Billy explores a local pond only to be confronted by the owner of the pond’s daughter, an older girl named Lori and her cousin. Lori is a mean white girl who doesn’t take too kindly to black boys splashing in “her” pond. The situation gets out of control and the entire novel spirals into death and disaster. It’s tragic for both families involved; for the entire community for that matter. Sadly, it’s also typical of Mississippi in 1937.

Sorry this review is so short. I really couldn’t wait to finish this book. It was so sad I didn’t pay attention to thought provoking lines. Mea culpa.

Reason read: Mississippi became a state in December and Billy takes place in Mississippi…

Author fact: Billy was Albert French’s first book.

Book trivia: This book will tear your heart out.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Southern-Fried Fiction” (p).


Rosalind Franklin

Maddox, Brenda. Rosalind Franklin: the Dark Lady of DNA. New York: Harper Collins, 2002.

One of the very first things I learned about Rosalind Franklin is that she was destined to become a scientist of some sort. How could she not? She came from a long line of scholars. But what she didn’t inherit was the ability to be gracious. From the very beginning Franklin was called obstructive (Nancy Pearl calls her “cranky”) and people couldn’t wait to be rid of her. But, for all that she was brilliant. Brilliant at a time in society when women in general were supposed to be anything but! “…she was spared military service and allowed to remain at university, to her father’s dismay. Yet what exactly she ought to have been doing instead was hard for him to say, as a woman’s place in the war effort had not been defined” (p 71).

Best line, “She knew enough about herself to know that she liked people better when she didn’t have to live with them” (p 75).

Reason read: Rosalind Franklin was born in December 1920. I’m reading her biography in honor of the occasion.

Author fact: Brenda Maddox excels at writing biographies. In addition to Rosalind Franklin she has written about William Butler Yeats and Molly Bloom, just to name a few.

Book trivia: Rosalind Franklin: the Dark Lady of DNA was a story on NPR.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Genuine Genes” (p 96).


Women of the Raj

MacMillan, Margaret. Women of the Raj: the Mothers, Wives, and Daughters of the British Empire in India. New York: Random House, 2007.

The title of this book says it all. In a nutshell MacMillan paints a portrait of British women during the 19th century in India under British rule. She covers all aspects of a woman’s life during the Raj from arriving by the boatload to (for some) dying in the Mutiny and everything in between. What you will discover is that McMillan’s work isn’t overly scholarly. It is more of a commentary on the social, economic and cultural dynamics of a slice of history from the perspective of a wife, daughter, sister, mother…

Interesting line, “They had psychological security of knowing where they belonged” (p 52).

Reason read: December is supposed to be a pretty good time of year to visit India.

Author fact: MacMillan has an Indian-born mother and MacMillan wrote a thesis on the British presence in India in and around the 19th century.

Book trivia: The photographs in Women of the Raj are amazing.

Sad but true story ~ I had just started reading Women of the Raj and was barely 20 pages in when I started to doze off. Drowsily I put the book on the end table above my head and settled in for a little afternoon nap. I wasn’t asleep for more than ten minutes before I was startled awake by my husband’s swearing. He had spilled a glass of water on my book. Why? A strip joint two towns away had blown up and the blast was loud enough to make my husband jump.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “India: a Reader’s Itinerary” (p 125).


Big Mouth & Ugly Girl

Oates, Joyce Carol. Big Mouth & Ugly Girl. New York: HarperTempest, 2002

Anyone who has felt like an outcast even once in his or her life can relate to Ugly Girl. Anyone who has been caught in the crossfire of a rumor gone bad can relate to Big Mouth. Put the two of them together and you have the quintessential high school experience that we have all had. Matt opened his Big Mouth and said something terrible, so terrible he was accused of being a terrorist. Ursula walked around with a chip on her shoulder, scowling like an Ugly Girl but her insides were a different story. In her heart of hearts she knew Matt could never be the bomber everyone accused him of being so she had to say something… Together they make an unlikely pair but as rumors escalate they find out exactly how much they need each other.

The best part for me was when they became friends and then realized how much they had in common.

Reason read: Joyce Carol Oates was born in December.

Book trivia: I loved the email exchanges between Ursula and Matt.

Author fact: This is Oates’s first young adult book.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Teens” (p 25).