Monday, September 12, 2011

Weekly Reading Update #4 - Incl. mini reviews of The Call, The Lost Wife and The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine

I thought last week would be a bad reading week because I spent half of my week in New England with Carrie, aka Care of Care's Online Book Club. I told her Simon Van Booy would be doing a reading at the Boston Public Library and advised her to go, a couple months ago. She said, "Why don't you come up here and go to the reading with me?" Well . . . who can pass up an invitation to hang out with a friend and see a favorite author in the same trip?

Simon was amazing, of course. He is a spectacular speaker, poised and elegant, charming and self-deprecating, witty and insightful. If you haven't read any of his books -- his novel, Everything Beautiful Began After and the two short story collections, The Secret Lives of People in Love and Love Begins in Winter -- you really must. And, if you ever have an opportunity to see him, don't pass it up!!!

Of course, Carrie is always a blast to hang out with.

As it turned out, I still had a terrific reading week. Here's what I read:

The Call by Yannick Murphy (fiction) is about a veterinarian in Vermont whose son gets shot and goes into a coma. The vet thinks he's seeing spaceships, then something happens and he has to make a life-changing decision. That's a vast simplification. The Call is a riot. It's also touching, and an all-around good story, definitely one of the most enjoyable books I've picked up in a while. I highly recommend The Call, especially if you're looking for a quick, light and delightful read with plenty of drama and depth. I left my copy with Carrie because she asked. "Ask and ye shall receive" apparently still works just fine.

The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman is the story of a couple who are married and only together as husband and wife for a few days. Czechoslovakia is on the brink of invasion and Lenka refuses to leave her beloved family behind when her husband's family manages to acquire only enough visas to allow her to travel with them, but not her father, mother and sister. She reads his name in a list of dead after a U-boat attack. He believes she died in Auschwitz. Years later, they meet at the wedding of their grandchildren. The Lost Wife is a novel based on a true story and it's a good one. The only problem I had with it was a few weird tense changes. I'm guessing the author was trying to imbue certain scenes with an immediacy that past tense wouldn't allow, but the occasional switch to present tense was simply confusing. Otherwise -- great story, nicely written but not brilliantly so. Definitely recommended.

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky is a book that Carrie playfully shoved on me and which I started reading almost immediately. I'd only brought The Call and Simon's Everything Beautiful Began After with me and I finished The Call the night I arrived. My first thought, as I began reading The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, was that reading it was probably the closest I've ever come to the reading equivalent of gawking at a car wreck. It's compelling, but why? Why couldn't I tear my eyes away? Possibly because it's really quite funny, if a bit freaky and disturbing. Rosa believes herself to be beautiful and perfect, the mother of an ugly, stupid daughter named Sulfia. Rosa accepts her daughter's explanation for her mysterious pregnancy -- that she dreamed of a man and became pregnant. Surely no man would have her ugly daughter.

When her granddaughter Aminat arrives, Rosa takes charge. Obviously, Sulfia is too dim and preoccupied to care for her own child. But, while this fierce grandmother works, takes care of her grandchild, henpecks her husband and drives her daughter batty, she also manages to keep all of them alive during a time of rationing and despair in Russia. Rosa is at once clueless and tenacious, self-confident to the point of being strident, baffling and fascinating, devious and admirable.

It's not a spoiler, to share the final two lines to give you a peek into Rosa's crazy, irreverent mode of speech:

"I was afraid to hear that she had already been there and that I hadn't noticed. I much preferred freeing metal countertops from encrusted bits of food and sending silent thanks to God, mechanically, out of courtesy--I mean, so he wouldn't feel totally useless."

In the end, I decided The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine is, at its core, a survival story and I loved it. Now, I want to read Alina Bronsky's first book, Broken Glass Park. Thanks for sharing your copy of Tartar, Carrie!!!

I'm about 2/3 of the way through The Oracle of Stamboul, which I just began reading last night. It's a tour book that I'll review later this week. I didn't take anything from my sidebar along to Massachusetts, so the rest of those books are still languishing. Hopefully, I can begin to amend that, this week. I'll be home for a good, long time, now!

Just FYI, the Boston Public Library is full of awesome:

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  1. "playfully shoved on" you!?! ;)
    That really was the best review of Tartar that I've read so far.

  2. Carrie dahling,

    I just thought that sounded so much better than, "handed to me". ;)

    Why, thank you, dear!

  3. Holy cow, you had the most awesome bookish week ever! What fun!

  4. Kathy,

    I did, indeed! :)

  5. It sounds like you had a lot of fun!

  6. What a fun trip :)

  7. Kelly and Amy,

    It was marvelous. Simply marvelous. :)

  8. How amazing that you got the chance to see Van Booy speak! I would have loved to hear him speak live! Also, I just bought The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, and I am so looking forward to it. I hear the main character is a total mess, but one that you can't help but watch anyway. I am so glad that you had fun on your trip and that you got the chance to meet a fellow blogger! It's always an amazing experience when bloggers get together!

  9. Zibilee,

    Simon is an excellent speaker. It's worth it to go out of your way to see him. I like to joke that since he didn't make it to the South, this time, I had to hunt him down. I met him in 2007, but this is the first chance I've had to attend one of his readings and it was definitely worth going.

    Tartar is such a fascinating book. Rosa is really appalling and at the same time, you just can't help but wonder what she'll do next. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

    This is the second time I've gotten to hang out with Carrie! We have such a great time. Getting to meet up with Simon for coffee made our trip into Boston extra special. Carrie's a doll and Simon's a gem. :)

  10. I am jealous right down to my socks!!!! I bet it was a great trip and great fun hearing Simon talk. Jealous, jealous, jealous. :)

  11. Andiloo,

    Well, then. We'll just have to convince Simon to come within driving distance of Dallas, next time, won't we? You bring Grayson, I'll pop over and we'll pass him back and forth. Or take turns chasing him, more than likely (Grayson, not Simon -- although I'm sure plenty of women would be tempted to chase). Yes, it was great fun. Simon's every bit as wonderful as you'd guess. Excellent, excellent speaker. :)

  12. Next time we get a big author signing at work, I'll be sure to invite you up here!

    Love that photo of the Boston Public Library. Great lamps!

  13. Les,

    Oh, dear. You know I have a weakness for invitations!

    The lamps, the chairs, the windows, the paintings, the lions, the courtyard . . . Boston Public Library is amazing. Would move in there, if I could. A cot, a fridge and I'd be happy.

  14. . . . and a bathtub. Can't live without a bathtub.

  15. I've been living without a comfy bathtub for 11 years. I don't miss it too terribly until the weather starts to get cold. I used to take a hot bath every single night. :(

  16. Les,

    I can last exactly 3 days without a bathtub. We've found this out during vacations. Now, having said that I'll probably end up showering on my next trip and I suppose I can sacrifice. Permanently? No way! Evil Nancy comes out after 3 days. Scary.

  17. The Lost Wife is a very accurate account of history and a very sweet love story. It is well written and well researched!


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