The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine

With a title that sounds strangely more like a cookbook, Alina Bronsky’s second book is full of surprises, (and not recipes.)

I loved Alina’s first novel, Broken Glass Park, and her second book was not disappointing in the least. Ms. Bronsky stayed true to her unique voice and detailed observations by creating yet another world full of believable characters. The undependable narrator of Tartar Cuisine is especially fun as you are forced to go back and forth between loving and hating her. The story contains a lot of subtle humor and remains interesting page after page.

Synopsis (from Barnes & Noble) :

Rosa Achmetowna is the outrageously nasty and wily narrator of this rollicking family saga from the author of Broken Glass Park. When she discovers that her seventeen-year-old daughter, “stupid Sulfia,” is pregnant by an unknown man she does everything to thwart the pregnancy, employing a variety of folkloric home remedies. But despite her best efforts the baby, Aminat, is born nine months later at Soviet Birthing Center Number 134. Much to Rosa’s surprise and delight, dark eyed Aminat is a Tartar through and through and instantly becomes the apple of her grandmother’s eye. While her good for nothing husband Kalganow spends his days feeding pigeons and contemplating death at the city park, Rosa wages an epic struggle to wrestle Aminat away from Sulfia, whom she considers a woefully inept mother. When Aminat, now a wild and willful teenager, catches the eye of a sleazy German cookbook writer researching Tartar cuisine, Rosa is quick to broker a deal that will guarantee all three women a passage out of the Soviet Union. But as soon as they are settled in the West, the uproariously dysfunctional ties that bind mother, daughter and grandmother begin to fray.

Told with sly humor and an anthropologist’s eye for detail, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine is the story of three unforgettable women whose destinies are tangled up in a family dynamic that is at turns hilarious and tragic. In her new novel, Russian-born Alina Bronsky gives readers a moving portrait of the devious limits of the will to survive.


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An Apple A Day

It’s another great one from the Reader’s Digest collection!

Caroline Taggart’s An Apple A Day: Old-Fashioned Proverbs—Timeless Words to Live By, is 176 pages of popular proverbs explained. The book is in alphabetical order with a handy index for easy reference, or just read it for leisure. We use so many of these sayings in every day life, but have you ever wondered about their origins? … An Apple A Day is educational, fun and even humorous. Worth adding to your bookshelf along with the other books in this collection.

Enjoy the excerpt with fun quiz below!


A Quiz on Proverbs
By Caroline Taggart
Author of
An Apple A Day: Old-Fashioned Proverbs –Timeless Words to Live By

Two questions are likely to spring to mind when you open a book about proverbs. The first is, “Another book about proverbs?” and the second is, “Um, so what exactly is a proverb?”Let’s answer the second question first. A proverb is defined as ‘a piece of wisdom or advice, expressed in a short and memorable way.’ It can be anything from a quotation from the Bible (‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’) or Shakespeare (‘The course of true love never did run smooth’) to a piece of folk wisdom whose origins are lost in the mists of time (‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’). And to go back to the first question, the point of this book is not only to explain familiar proverbs but also to see if they are still relevant today.”

Many of them are relevant. There’s a world of truth in sayings, such as “Haste makes waste,” “You’re only young once,” and “Handsome is as handsome does.” There may be room for debate over the apparent contradiction of “Many hands make light work” and “Too many cooks spoil the broth,” but it’s worth remembering that each individual proverb is only one person’s take on a situation, the product of his own culture, personality, and mood at that moment in time. Part of the beauty of proverbs is that you can adopt the ones that suit your needs and ignore the others — you’re not going to end up in jail either way. If you are cautious by nature, you can take “Look before you leap” as your motto; if “He who hesitates is lost” is more your line, then that is fine, too.

So without taking any of it too seriously, here is a short quiz on the origins of familiar proverbs and my take on them. Can you match the proverbs (1 – 5) with their sources (a – e)?

1. Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched
2. Necessity is the mother of invention
3. Brevity is the soul of wit
4. You can’t make bricks without straw
5. Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise

a. A piece of fifteenth-century folk wisdom
b. A fable by Aesop, written in the sixth century
c. An eighteenth-century poem about a sofa
d. The Biblical story of the Children of Israel being enslaved in Egypt
e. A quotation from Shakespeare’s


1. B, This is the moral of Aesop’s The Milkmaid and Her Pail. A milkmaid, carrying a pail of milk home on her head, dreams of what she will do with the profits of selling it: Buy some hens from the poultry farmer; get rich on the proceeds of the eggs and chickens they will produce; buy a pretty dress that will attract all the boys; and toss her head at their advances. Unfortunately, as she dreams, she actually does toss her head — and spills all the milk (which, come to think of it, she may then have cried over). So the warning is against acting prematurely on something that may or may not happen.

2. C, The English poet William Cowper did write a poem about a sofa — a female acquaintance had challenged him to do it — and it contains the lines “Thus first necessity invented stools/Convenience next suggested elbow-chairs/And luxury the accomplished sofa last.” The first line is the important one here: Somebody got tired of standing up all the time, so he invented something to sit on. And so it is has been throughout history: When somebody needed a cart to carry a heavier load than he could manage himself, he invented the wheel; when buildings got taller and people didn’t want to walk up all those stairs, they invented the elevator. The same poem, by the way, also tells us “variety is the spice of life.”

3. E, A lot of proverbs come from Hamlet: “You’ve got to be cruel to be kind” and “Desperate situations call for desperate measures” are two others. In this context “soul of wit” means “essence of wisdom,” so the speaker, Polonius, is advising himself to keep his information brief and to the point (he is trying to tell the king and queen that Hamlet has gone mad). But we — the audience — know that Shakespeare is having fun at his character’s expense. We have just seen Polonius giving endless worthy advice to his son, Laertes, and we know that he wouldn’t recognize brevity if you hit him over the head with it. Irony aside, however, it is sound advice: Keep it snappy and you have a better chance of keeping your audience’s attention.

4. D, This is from the Old Testament book of Exodus. The enslaved Children of Israel spend their time making bricks — of which a key ingredient is straw. Moses, their spokesman, tries to persuade Pharaoh (the Egyptian king) to “let my people go.” Pharaoh, furious at this impertinent request, ordains that not only should the Jews stay in slavery, but that from now on they will no longer be given straw. They will have to find it themselves and still produce the same number of bricks each day. The point of the proverb is that this is kind of hard. “Give us the tools,” the Children of Israel might have said, “and we will finish the job.”

5. A, People have been making this irritating claim for over 500 years — and the really irritating thing (for those of us who hate getting up in the morning) is that it is true. Once it was sensible not to stay in bed during daylight hours, when you could be working. And you wouldn’t want to waste candles sitting up late: You’d think electric light would have changed all that. Maybe, but the “healthy” part of the argument remains valid. When it gets dark, our levels of the sleep hormone melatonin rise and our levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol lower, making it easier for us to unwind and go to sleep. So although artificial light allows us to party till 2 in the morning, if we choose, it lessens our ability to cope with stress and with general wear and tear. So off you go to bed, and don’t forget to set the alarm!

Copyright © 2011 Caroline Taggart, author of An Apple A Day: Old-Fashioned Proverbs –Timeless Words to Live By

Author Bio
Caroline Taggart
has been an editor of non-fiction books for nearly 30 years and has covered nearly every subject from natural history and business to gardening and astronomy. She has written several books and was the editor of Writer’s Market UK 2009.
For more information on the book and the Blackboard Books, please visit

– Show quoted text –

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2010 Review & Goal for 2011

My goal for 2010 was to read 50 books but I fell short, managing only to read 38 books. What happened is that in 2009 I made a goal to read 100 books, and I reached that goal, but I think that I experienced “burn out” and lost some of my enthusiasm in 2010. I also spent too much time reading on the internet. Here are the books I managed to read:

1. Official Book Club Selection by Kathy Griffin {x} *****
2. Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya {x} *****
3. A Glass of Water by Jimmy Santiago Baca {x} ***
4. Salvador by Joan Didion {x} **
5. Crazy Loco by David Rice {x} ***
6. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins {x} *****
7. A Rainbow in the Night by Dominique LaPierre {x} ***
8. The Groom to Have Been by Saher Alam {x} *****
9. The Memory Thief by Rachel Keener {x} *****
10. Lone Star Legend by Gwendolyn Zepeda {x} ***
11. The Help by Kathryn Stockett {x} *****
12. The Power of Half by Kevin Salwen and Hannah Salwen {x} ***
13. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll {x} ****
14. Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll {x} ****
15. The Gift of An Ordinary Day by Katrina Kenison {x} *****
16. Easy as Pi (Reader’s Digest series) by Jamie Buchan {x} ****
17. How to Achieve a Heaven on Earth by John E. Wade II {x} ***
18. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins {x} *****
19. A Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi by Chloe Rhodes {x} *****
20. The Lunatic Express by Carl Hoffman {x} ***
21. Broken Glass Park by Alina Bronsky {x} ***
22. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck {x} *****
23. The Chalupa Rules: A Latino Guide to Gringolandia by Mario Bósquez {x} ***
24. The Republic of East L.A. by Luis J. Rodriguez {x} ****
25. The Madonnas of Echo Park by Brando Skyhorse {x} *****
26. Unforgettable You by Daisy Fuentes {x} ***
27. Confetti Girl by Diana López {x} ***
28. Amigas Fifteen Candles by Veronica Chambers {x} ***
29. Sudden Fiction Latino Edited by Robert Shapard, James Thomas and Ray Gonzalez {x} ****
30. The Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea {x} *****
31. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien {x} *****
32. Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez {x} *****
33. The Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins {x}*****
34. The Black Minutes by Martín Solares {x}**
35. Spilling the Beans on the Cat’s Pajamas {x}*****
36. The Nighttime Novelist by Joseph Bates {x}*****
37. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary by David Sedaris {x}****
38. My Name is Pablo by Aimee Sommerfelt {x}*****

For 2011, my goal is to cut back on the time spent online and get back to reading real books – one hour each day. My plan is to do this in the evenings as a family – each person with their own book, unless we come upon one we all want to read together.

What were your favorite books of 2010? What are your reading goals for 2011?

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The Nighttime Novelist

The Nighttime Novelist – Finish Your Novel in Your Spare Time by Joseph Bates, is not just for people who feel they don’t have time to write that book they’re always saying they’re going to write.

While Nighttime Novelist has especially good advice and inspiration for those who work full time, it is an equally valuable read for any writer.

When asked which books one should read to learn how to go about writing a novel, there are two I immediately name:

#1. The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr., and E. B. White
#2. On Writing by Stephen King

Now I would add this book as #3 to my list. While Elements of Style is necessary for the basics, and Stephen King is necessary for inspiration, The Nighttime Novelist would be the actual blue prints of how to get your story down on paper.

Don’t expect this to be a boring instructional read though. Joseph Bates uses humor throughout the well-organized manual, along with a very friendly tone and relatable examples from pop culture.

If you’re one of those people who says, “I want to write a book some day,” but have yet to put a single word on paper – Get this book and turn “some day” into tonight.


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Spilling the Beans on the Cat’s Pajamas

Every time I review one of these books from the Reader’s Digest Blackboard Books series, I struggle to find something new to say. So far they have all been so fantastic, and it is one of the few book sets I would recommend investing the money to own. The nicely-sized hardbound books are so full of interesting and useful information – but the design of each book is always so incredibly gorgeous.

This particular book, Spilling the Beans on the Cat’s Pajamas: Popular Expressions – What They Mean and How We Got Them, by Judy Parkinson, is probably my favorite since the origin of words and phrases is something I’ve always loved.

As much as I love owning the actual books, they are now available as E-books from (Kindle) and Barnes & Noble (nook). The advantage of owning them this way, is that they’re searchable.

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Teen Read Week!

This week is “Teen Read Week” – In celebration, libraries across the nation are hosting activities to encourage their teenage patrons to read.

Youth ages 12-18 were asked to pick their favorite books – Here is the Top 10 via The Washington Post:

The Teens’ Top Ten 2010:

1. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
2. City of Glass by Cassandra Clare
3. Heist Society by Ally Carter
4. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
5. Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick
6. Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
7. Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
8. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
9. Fire by Kristin Cashore
10. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson


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Yet another great little book in the Reader’s Digest collection: E=mc² by Jeff Stewart is a handy guide to all the “must know” lessons of physics.

I’m not going to lie, science is not my area of expertise, and usually physics would be above my level of comprehension, but this book lays it out in simple terms in well-organized chapters.

I can’t say this enough – this Reader’s Digest collection should be the centerpiece of a family bookcase. My 12 year old has been enjoying these as much as I have, and it’s great to know he is supplementing what he’s being taught in school, (and in some cases, getting a head start on topics they haven’t even discussed in class!)

Another great reference book from Reader’s Digest, from content to design. Love these.

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Running Around (and such)

Linda Byler writes with authenticity about the Amish in “Running Around (and such)”, because she herself is Amish! This coming of age story takes place in Pennsylvania and is the first in a series. If Amish culture interests you, this is one to pick up! (Bonus authentic recipes and glossary at the back!)

Book Description:

“It isn’t that Lizzie doesn’t want to stay Amish. It’s just that there is so much to figure out.

Like why can’t she let her hair a little looser on top?

And why can’t she wear shoes with a little bit more of a heel?

And will she ever really just know for a fact who she is going to marry like her next-older sister, Emma, does?

And how does it happen that her just-younger sister, Mandy, is going on a date before Lizzie ever has a real one?

So does it matter at all if she eats one more whoopie pie? Amos seems to like her a lot when she pounds out the ping-pong games. He even asks her to be his partner in doubles. But then he asks Ruthie if he can take her home!

It has been this way Lizzie’s whole life.

She has too hot a temper. She hates housework and dislikes babies. She loves driving fast horses but is petrified of going away from home for a week to work as a maud (maid).

Now that Lizzie is running around, will she scare off the Amish boys with her hi-jinks manners?

She has certainly attracted the attention of the egg-truck driver. A scary thrill runs through her every time the worldly man comes to pick up an order, each time extending his stay a little longer. How long will she keep this a secret from Emma-and from Mamm and Datt?

What will become of Lizzie? Is she too spirited, too innocent, and almost too uninhibited for a young Amish woman?”


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The Classics (Reader’s Digest Collection)

I love these Reader’s Digest books! The latest one, “The Classics: All You Need to Know, from Zeus’s Throne to the Fall of Rome”, is by Caroline Taggert, the same author of “I Used To Know That”, also in the Reader’s Digest series.

This one does not disappoint. The quality is in keeping with the rest of the collection, from the book’s design to its content.

Like “Cliff Notes”, this book tells you everything you need to know in an easy to read format. Sections of the book include: Classical Languages, Religion and Mythology, Ancient Greek History, Roman History, Classical Literature, Architecture and Art, Math, Science and Inventions, and more.

Some of my favorite sections included: Translations of common Latin phrases, short profiles of Greek gods, and the history of the Olympics.

Conclusion: Another great book from Reader’s Digest and worth adding to your bookshelf!

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Of Mice and Men

Last year I read John Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat, and I’ll admit that I picked it up purely because the title caught my attention. I ended up not only loving the story, but Steinbeck’s writing.

How did I make it through all of my Honors English classes without being forced to read at least one of his works? … Well, I guess better late than never.

So this year I decided to read Of Mice and Men. (I like to mix a few classics into the new fiction that I read.)

Reading this book as a writer is fascinating because Steinbeck breaks “the rules” but he does it beautifully. While reading Of Mice and Men, (and also Tortilla Flat), I wondered how Steinbeck researched before writing. How did he manage to replicate so perfectly the language and lifestyle of migrant laborers?

My answer came at the back of the book in the “About the Author” section.

“John Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California, in 1902. His first three books were financial failures, and he worked at various kinds of jobs to survive, including fruit picking…”

A good reminder for writers to “write what you know”.

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