Monday, April 25, 2011

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky

This week was supposed to be the perfect working vacation, full of reading and blogging catch-up and all sorts of great wonderment. I finally got that dog-sitting gig that people dream about. Two lovable little Yorkies, a dog door that opens onto a huge fenced in backyard, a house and a TV and an internet connection all to myself, and some cash to boot. Sounds great, right? Too bad one of my charges is the Houdini of Yorkshire Terriers. I'd been here for all of 2 hours when he made his first escape. I patrolled the perimeter and blocked any potential escape routes I could find. Then I left and hoped for the best. All was well.

The next morning, I found him on the wrong side of the fence again. I reclaimed the delinquent doggie, stalked all about the yard like a crazy person using assorted objects to block more possible escape routes. With pants wet up to mid-calf, I arrived 15 minutes late to church. Returned from Easter dinner, dogs present and accounted for. All is well, right? Not so much, he got me again. Once again retrieved delinquent doggie and blocked even more unlikely escape routes (he's good, Yorkie Houdini, very good). For the moment I've got the dog door shut, and am enjoying some relative peace. Here's hoping the coming week isn't full of repeat performances. The damage is already done anyway. Anytime they go out, I'm riddled with paranoia regardless of whether my half-baked escape foiling has its desired effect. The owners don't seem to be half as panicked as I am. Good for them. I am a basket case.

The point of this story is to warn you that yet another week is likely to go by unmarked by my pitiful efforts at regularly updating ye olde blog. Here I am, though, to attempt to churn out a review before unleashing the hounds again.

Once upon a time, okay, last year, I received for reading and reviewing purposes, Alina Bronsky's Broken Glass Park. As always, I was very taken with the lovely Europa paperback edition, but despite its being enjoyed by many a blogger, I was a little meh on it. The narrator kind of frightened me, but the writing was top notch, so when a chance to review her latest, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine came along, I didn't hesitate, and I'm glad of it. Don't get me wrong. This narrator is probably even more frightening, but perhaps I'm getting used to it.

Rosalinda Achmetowna only wants the best for the people she loves. Really, everything that she does so well is all for the benefit of her "ugly" daughter, Sulfia, her hapless husband, Kalganow, and her beloved, willful granddaughter Aminat. She is determined to find her daughter a husband, whatever the cost, and she knows she must rescue her granddaughter from Sulfia's "incompetent" parenting.

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine is Rosa's story as told by Rosa herself. Her ill-conceived helpfulness is something that her family members hope only to escape. Readers will cringe and occasionally laugh at Rosa's twisted idea of benevolence as she tries to woo perspective husbands to her perpetually cowed daughter with everything from extravagant dinners, small briberies, and forceful threats. Readers will be appalled but absorbed in the telling as Rosa uses her cleverness and wiles to escape the Soviet Union when she extorts sponsorship for she, Sulfia, and Aminat from a German man visiting to collect recipes for a cookbook about Tartar cuisine. Rosa's games are dangerous and self-serving indeed, though it will take dreadful outcomes to make her see the cruel realities of her actions.

Bronsky's got an incredible talent for telling a story from a totally believable point of view of an extremely vivid, if bizarre and eye-poppingly self-deceived, narrator. Rosalinda is a domineering mother of epic proportions, a woman who "selflessly" afflicts all her loved ones with her inflated ego and with those things that she thinks are best, that to most people with sense, are completely crazy and undeniably reckless. She is a terribly unreliable narrator, but an incredibly unique one that makes for a cleverly told story. Despite her behavior, which is sometimes utterly repellent, readers will be loathe to look away from a story rife with personality and dark humor.

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine is not going to be a book for everyone. Bronsky is an undeniable talent, but the brutal honesty of her stories can be something of an acquired taste. It's easy to be appalled at the many terrible things Rosa does in her quest to do "the best things for everyone," and really, it seems as if that is, in fact, the point. At the same time, though, readers might find Rosa to be, despite all odds, a sympathetic character. On the whole, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine is a disturbing tale told in the cleverest way with a unique narrator whose compelling voice will help you forgive a multitude of sins.

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine hits shelves April 26th.

(Thanks to Kat at Regal Literary for providing me with a review copy!)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sparrow Road by Sheila O'Connor

When Raine O'Rourke finds out her mother has signed her up for a summer at a ramshackle old mansion called Sparrow Road, she's desperate to escape. Raine can hardly believe that she's being forced to give up a summer with her beloved Grandpa Mac at his store in Milwaukee to spend long days in a mysterious country mansion while her mom cooks and cleans for a bunch of live-in artists. Even worse, the artists demand silence which means, no TV, no radio, no talking. What good could come of a summer spent like that? More good than Raine could ever have expected, as it turns out.

You can see, taste, and feel O'Connor's idyllic country summer at Sparrow Road. The long, silent days filled with mysteries and dreams stretch out like magic luring readers into Raine's journey of imagination and self-discovery. The surreal, almost dreamlike quality of a summer at Sparrow Road balances a story filled with unpleasant truths about lives lived at a former orphanage and Raine's own troubled past.

Let's just get to the point, though. I loved Sparrow Road. It's not surprising that you can often expect that the younger an audience a book is aimed at the more things like character development get neglected in favor of action. Not so with Sparrow Road. These characters leap off the page. Raine is a vivid protagonist coming to terms with family secrets. Her mother is a steady presence who wants to do the right thing but is still working out just what that is. The artists aren't the dark and broody sort, but the sort that burst off the page with their uniqueness and the joy they find in the act of creating. Josie, Diego, and even slightly loopy Lillian all do their part showing Raine how to get in touch with the art that's inside of her.

Even though O'Connor doesn't scrimp on her characters, there is still plenty of action to keep the pages turning as mysteries unfold and still other characters reveal themselves to be more than they seem. O'Connor skillfully weaves clues into her story keeping readers hungry for more. Sparrow Road is, above all, a satisfying read, filled with love and committed to revealing the ghosts of the past. It is the kind of book I would have loved as a kid and a book that I love now, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to both the young and the young at heart.

Sparrow Road hits shelves May 12!

(Thanks to Stacey at Penguin Young Readers Group for the review copy.)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Ingram Interview by K.B. Dixon

Behold, the mythical midweek book review (ironically posted on a weekend)! I'm not talking about a book review posted midweek. That's just a trick of scheduling. I'm talking about the book review actually written on a week night after working and running errands to the grocery store and emptying the dishwasher and loading the dishwasher again and maybe watching that Dancing With the Stars results show. Seeing a weeknight written book review here on Leafing Through Life is akin to seeing a unicorn traveling the Pennsylvania Turnpike in search of a good Cinnabon (the only really worthwhile reason for traveling the turnpike, of course) or actually finding that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow before the leprechaun. It's a mark of the utter nightmare my review backlog (further exacerbated by the whole "Ow, my wrist is destroyed at the tender age of 27!" thing) has become that this post even exists such as it is. Enough of this, though. I've got books to review. Lots of them. And they refuse to review themselves!

Last year, author K.B. Dixon sent me a copy of his book, A Painter's Life for review. It was a short, unusually written book full of quirk and flashes of brilliant insight. Having enjoyed it, when he contacted me with an offer of his latest, The Ingram Interview, I was happy to accept.

The Ingram Interview is a compact book that begins shortly after retired English professor Daniel Ingram is asked to leave his assisted-living home for being too much of a downer for the other residents. Told entirely in an interview format that recalls the most self-indulgent of inane documentaries, the interview follows Ingram as he moves in with a former student, an indie filmmaker, and his girlfriend, attempts to find a new assisted-living facility, cobbles together his memoirs and attempts to reconcile with his mostly absent ex-wife.

Ingram's is an interesting perspective on life and old age. As an aging, infirm retiree he's turned from literary analysis to cynically analyzing the people and things around him, and to reflection on the minutiae of his past. Ingram's slightly pompous dissection of the mundanity of everyday life are an interesting and sometimes humorous juxtaposition.

Who is Colin Wake?

The man who is supposed to take my picture for the Greenhurst Alumni Magazine... He wants to make me look if not famous, at least significant - like someone from an earlier, more serious time. He posed me just off to the left of an ornately framed window, my chin up, my focus on posterity.

I don't like the finished product at all. I look grave and unhappy - like someone channeling Sartre or waiting in line at the post office.

If you're interested in reading a book that's a little different but still smart and entertaining, definitely give Dixon a try. Dixon's clever treatment of everyday events that you and I can easily relate to is there in The Ingram Interview, just as I enjoyed it in A Painter's Life. That said, I would probably urge you to start with A Painter's Life rather than The Ingram Interview. While I enjoyed the book, I found it harder with The Ingram Interview to keep track of the characters that pop up in the interview at various times, and it added to to a pre-existing feeling that it was all just a touch over my head, whether it really was or not.

Me, I am afraid of all sorts of things: I'm afraid I will be late; I'm afraid the refrigerator will stop working; I'm afraid the car will stop working; I'm afraid the television will stop working; I'm afraid I will have to have a filling replaced or a tooth pulled; I'm afraid the price of my favorite wine will go up; I'm afraid the bookstore on the corner will close; I'm afraid the waitress at my pizza place will leave; I'm afraid I will make a wrong turn, get lost, and as a consquence, have a part of my life - a part I will never get back - eaten by anxiety and stress.

(Thanks to the author for the review copy!)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Read-a-thon Hour Update the Last

Reading Now: my computer screen

It's been __64__ pages and __60__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 6 hours 8 minutes

Cumulative Pages Read: 326

Books Completed: 2 - Blind Faith by Ellen Wittlinger and Sparrow Road by Sheila O'Connor

Eating?: No eating, just drinking water!

I surprised myself last night. I posted my last update in Hour 16, but I made it well into Hour 18. A quick cheerleading run around the blogosphere actually gave me a good second wind (there's just something about cheering in the late night), and if I hadn't had so much to do today, I feel like I could have definitely even started another book after finishing Sparrow Road with ease. Speaking of Sparrow Road, it doesn't hit shelves until the 12th of May, I believe, but when it does, definitely get your hands on a copy. Because it is so good. I want to say many other things about just why it's so good, but I'll save them for my review. It made me smile and cry and wonder and when the summer ended in the book, even I missed it. That is all.

And now for the end of event survey thingy...

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?

Hour 15 for sure. It was only 10PM, and normally I would have plenty of steam to keep going past midnight, but when I got back from Zumba, I was so beat I didn't know if I'd make it much further. Thankfully a hot bath and some cheerleading got me back on track!

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?

Sparrow Road by Sheila O'Connor definitely made for a good one!

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?

Seems like I heard about a lot of clamoring for more organization from the cheerleaders. It might be helpful to have a list of actively participating readers at the start. I was using the sign-up page to cheer for a while, and more than a few people who had signed up gave no indication that they were actually participating in the Readathon which was kind of a frustrating waste of time, but I didn't want to miss anybody who, for some reason, hadn't done the beginning meme either. *helpless shrug* With the amount of readers reading these days, it seems like a little more organization is called for so no reader goes uncommented on!

This is by no means a personal complaint. As a reader, I got plenty of support and appreciated everybody's great comments, and I know many, many readers did. All you cheerleaders did do a fantastic job! This is just a bit of what I struggled with and what I saw people saying around Twitter. =)

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?

The hosts and the mini-challenges were great (even though I didn't have time to participate in many). Thanks for all your hard work guys!

5. How many books did you read?

1 and a half...

6. What were the names of the books you read?

Sparrow Road by Sheila O'Connor, Blind Faith by Ellen Wittlinger

7. Which book did you enjoy most?

Sparrow Road

8. Which did you enjoy least?

No least. They were both good reads!

9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?

I was only cheering unofficially during my breaks from reading, but from what I saw of the cheerleaders, they did a nice job!

10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?

Very likely. I've had tons of fun in both roles before, so I guess it depends on how the mood strikes me.

Thanks again to all the organizers and hosts and helpers for all your hard work making a great event for us to all have fun together and continue to honor Dewey by coming out to read as a community year after year. I hope and I believe that she would be proud. =)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Read-a-thon Hour 16 Update

Reading Now: Sparrow Road by Sheila O'Connor

It's been __22__ pages and __30__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 5 hours 8 minutes

Cumulative Pages Read: 266

Books Completed: 1 - Blind Faith by Ellen Wittlinger

Eating?: Had a burger and some chicken fryz on my way back from the Zumbathon (way to kill a good workout right?)

I arrived back from the Zumbathon with negative energy. If you're considering a mid-Readathon Zumbathon for your next Readathon, may I advise you to think twice?

I decided to take my game to the tub for some cleansing, rejuvenating bathtub reading. Though I didn't get a great deal of reading done tubside, I am mildly rejuvenated, but I'm afraid the end might still be near for me. I'm going to try and dig deep and put away at least the last 60 or so pages of Sparrow Road before I shut the door on this Readathon.

If this ends up being my last update, good luck if you're pushing on through the wee hours of the thon! Drink lots of water and caffeine-y things! Pick mindless books! Turn up the volume on your Tweetdeck alerts so they will jolt you from the occasional stupor! Prop your eyelids open with toothpicks! Okay, some of these ideas are better than others. The bottom line is, though, keep on reading on. You can do it!

Good luck and goodnight (I think?)!

Read-a-thon Hour 9 Update

Reading Now: Sparrow Road by Sheila O'Connor

It's been __70__ pages and __78__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 4 hours 38 minutes

Cumulative Pages Read: 244

Books Completed: 1 - Blind Faith by Ellen Wittlinger

Eating?: String cheese and a glass of water

Still enjoying Sparrow Road, but it's time for my Readathon intermission. I paid for the Party Hearty Zumbathon weeks ago, and now must go and Zumba for a few hours. I guess it's a good thing that even though I'm not really reading for charity today, I'll at least be Zumba-ing for it! Here's hoping all the physical activities invigorate me, and I don't come home all broken down and feeble. I'd love to be able to fit a few more hours in tonight, though the full 24 probably won't happen.

It's been a little less easy to make the most of my reading time with other people in the house and having to get myself into gear for Zumba, but it's still way more reading and blog fun than I would normally have on a Saturday, for sure!

Happy reading all, and hopefully I'll see you later for more quality reading time!

Just keep reading, just keep reading..... =D

Read-a-thon Hour 6 Update

Reading Now: Sparrow Road by Sheila O'Connor

It's been __88__ pages and __112__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 3 hours 21 minutes

Cumulative Pages Read: 174

Books Completed: 1 - Blind Faith by Ellen Wittlinger

Eating?: Peanut butter wafers, potato chips, and another glass of orange juice

Sparrow Road is killing me, for real. It's a story that takes place during the summer in the country, and it's making me crazy because now I want it to be warm and beautiful outside even more, and, uh, it's not. Not even warm enough to read outside. *sigh*

It's definitely the sort of book I would have loved as a kid (and maybe as an adult too). Full of magic and mystery and beauty and big old houses and bright characters and getting in touch with your imagination. I'm excited to see where it goes!

Time for more cheering and getting dressed and then it's back to the books. Hope you're having a good Readathon so far!

Read-a-thon Hour 3 Update

Reading Now: Sparrow Road by Sheila O'Connor

It's been __86__ pages and __89__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 1 hour 29 minutes

Cumulative Pages Read: 86

Books Completed: 1 - Blind Faith by Ellen Wittlinger

Eating?: Bowl of cereal, pack of peanut butter crackers, 1 glass orange juice, 1 glass water

Blind Faith is the book I've been reading all week, so I only had those 86 pages to go when I started the Readathon this morning. I kind of like this starting with a book already in progress. I didn't have to waste time getting over the hump in terms of introductory chapters before you get into the meat of the story. It definitely gave me a boost at the start!

I enjoyed Blind Faith quite a bit. It's a good story about dealing with death, figuring out what to believe, and how to be what the people around you need sometimes. It even had me almost crying a couple times, which is a good thing, but maybe not for the Readathon because almost crying always makes me a little sleepy.

Now for a bit of cheerleading, and then onto the next book! Happy reading!

Time to Read!

That's right - the Readathon is upon us. But you knew that already, didn't you? I'll be posting my updates today while I read, so there will obviously be a lot more posts than usual here today. Don't panic, though, I'll be back to my usual light posting in no time! ;-)

Good luck everybody who's reading (and cheerleading) today! Hopefully I'll get to pay some of you a visit a little later on.

Wanna hear a little about me?

1)Where are you reading from today?

Bloomsburg, PA, USA

2)Three random facts about me…

- I'm interrupting my Readathon to go to a Zumbathon later today. I kind of resent it, but alas, I paid for it many moons ago, and my friends are expecting me.
- For some reason, I've been in DC during both of last year's Readathons. This year I got my DC vacation over with last weekend. It was one of those vacations that you hope you laugh about later.
- I have a dog named Rudy and a cat named Merlin. Hopefully they don't bother me too much while I'm trying to read!

3)How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours?

Um, 4. One that I already started, one that's a children's book, and 2 others. That's just the immediate pile. There's plenty more where they came from. And the chances of me even attempting the full 24 hours are, well, slim and none.

4)Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)?

I just came to have fun!

5)If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, any advice for people doing this for the first time?

Have fun with it. Don't fall into the "it's a competition" mindset where you feel like you have to read so many books or for so much time that you forget that, hey, you get to spend a whole day reading and hanging out with your bloggy buddies.

All right. Enough messing around! It's time to read!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Readathon and Randomness

So, I guess all the plates I was juggling finally dropped and smashed. We all knew I couldn't maintain this guise of the consistent blogger forever, right? I'm that person who has the best of intentions to write one of those "be back soon" messages when I go on short vacations because I'm not the sort of person who has a nice backlog of schedule-able posts to regale you with while I'm driving about the nation. Unfortunately, I'm also the sort of person with a job and a penchant for leaving everything until the last minute and trying to frantically pack and prepare while still fitting in that musical episode of Grey's Anatomy. And the person who throws their wrist totally out of whack playing Wii table tennis causing an unexpected moratorium on extra-curricular typing.

So yeah, went on a wildly dysfunctional long weekend to DC with my family. Am back, having reflected (darkly) on the mud pit of the currently under renovation reflecting pool. The weekend was riddled with kicks in the head such as the hop on hop off bus tour that picked up at the wrong spot and never actually delivered you to the places where cherry blossoms were to be seen like it said it would, freak hail storms, and the above mentioned Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool mud pit. In moments of weakness, I was brought to texting and tweeting angry messages from the Lincoln Memorial steps like a sulky teenager, even though it's usually one of my favorite places. Nonetheless, my vacation for better or for worse has come to an uneventful end. My wrist has healed sufficiently that the sight of a computer keyboard doesn't give me the shakes anymore. That can only mean one thing. It's time to get back up on my blogging horse.

Luckily, while I have been crap at blogging, I've been fairly successful at reading fairly good books, so there will be reviews once I organize the massive pit of untamed reading material currently vomited all over my desk. In the meantime, you may have heard of this little thing called the 24 Hour Readathon that's coming up this Saturday. It's been a long time since I've even been home for a Readathon making it difficult to participate in the event I have such a soft spot for, so I figured I better not let the opportunity pass me by, and I finally signed up. I am A) not making a plan B) not buying special snacks, C) taking a mid-Readathon intermission for a Zumbathon (it's a day of "athons." What can I say?) after which I may or may not continue to read depending on the way the wind is blowing. I will however be reading and blogging and hopefully having tons of fun out and about in the blogosphere with the time I do have.

Hopefully my wrist holds up and I can get organized and back on track with some haste. I'll see ya during the Readathon, if not before. You are signed up, aren't you? ;-)