What It Means to Be Real: Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

cover imageWritten from a clever point of view that it took only about fifteen minutes of listening to Matthew Brown’s reading for me to warm up to, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks is narrated by Budo, the imaginary friend of Max Delaney, a smart eight-year-old boy with a great imagination, an eye for detail, and an unofficial diagnosis of being somewhere on the autism spectrum (although his father believes Max is just a “late bloomer.”) Thanks to Max’s strong imagination, Budo is very well formed for an imaginary friend – some of whom, he explains, are no more than spots on a wall, or are missing body parts, such as ears. Budo also claims that being imaginary, and only visible to Max, doesn’t mean he isn’t real.

Sounds cutesy, I know. At first it did seem just too convenient that Budo was constrained in some ways by the limits of Max’s imagination (who, though precocious, is still a child), yet at the same time, can sound and act very adult, learning things that Max can’t and even getting into friendly arguments with him. Budo speculates early on that when Max as a four-year old first brought Budo into being, he may have imagined him as a teenager, an adult,  or maybe “a boy with a grown-up’s brain.” Budo describes his strange place in the world living in the “spaces between  as straddling the fence. “I’m not exactly a kid, but I’m not exactly an adult either.”

But the author (and the talented audiobook narrator) manage to pull off this tricky adult-child voice, which could easily become grating. The voice of Budo talking about Max – his talents and his limitations – and about Max’s parents – how they argue over what is best for Max and whether he needs more than just patience – allow for insight into how it might feel to be Max, to have constant sensory overload around people, even family, and a high-functioning brain that’s more comfortable in a world of video games and imagined battles than in the real world.

Although he worries a lot about Max and tries to help him navigate the daily life of school and home, Budo also has his own existential concerns. He has seen many imaginary friends go “poof,” and he’s desperate to know what happens after the “poof.” He knows that he only exists as long as Max continues to believe in him. After the plot heats up, Budo’s place in Max’s world gets called into question even more. This would make a good book discussion book for a philosophically minded group. There’s a lot to talk about in the differences between Max and Budo, Max’s world and Budo’s world, and the different disconnects each of them has with the world of Max’s parents (i.e. the real world. Maybe?)

Read an excerpt of Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend here to get a sense of how the short sentences and chapters look on the page.

Read other reviews and find the link to a sample of the Macmillan audiobook on these blogs:
Jenn’s Bookshelves

The Literate Housewife

The Reading Frenzy (includes author interview)
Shelf Awareness (includes narrator interview)

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend
Dicks, Matthew (author)
Brown, Matthew (narrator)
Macmillan Audio
August 21, 2012
9781427225887
9 hours on 9 CDs

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this audiobook on CD from Macmillan Audio at Book Expo America.

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Waiting on Wednesday – The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating. This week’s pre-publication “can’t-wait-to-read” selection is:

The Beautiful Mystery (Unabridged Audio)

by Louise Penny
Narrated by Ralph Cosham

Publication Date: August 28, 2012

I knew this was coming out, but didn’t realize how soon! If you haven’t met Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, the head of Homicide for the Surete du Quebec yet, here’s your chance. I’m sure these are great books to read, too, but I listen to them on audio, narrated by Ralph Cosham. He brings out the humor in this mystery series, but has the appropriate gravitas for the many serious themes that run through the books (including, but not limited to, murder).

Listen to an audiobook sample on the author’s Web site here. She also reports that the audio edition of The Beautiful Mystery has already won an Earphones award from Audiofile. (See? I told you they were great audiobooks!)

Read my review of one of the earlier books in the series here.

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Nightlife in the Afterlife: Hereafter by Terri Bruce (Blog Tour)

Hereafter Blog Tour buttonIn Hereafter, an entertaining novel by first-time author Terri Bruce, 36-year-old Irene crashes her car driving home drunk after a night out with girlfriends and literally wakes up dead. It takes a little while for Irene to realize that she’s a ghost because she can still drive her car; her house in Salem, Mass., looks the same; her widowed mother still leaves annoying messages on Irene’s answering machine; and Irene has woken up wearing the same short, clingy, red dress from what seems like the night before.

But why can’t she remember anything after the big, harvest moon that looked like it was dead ahead on the road before her? Why did she wake up standing next to the car, not sitting behind the wheel? Why do vague memories of swirling water outside her car windows keep surfacing? Why didn’t anyone call the police to report a car parked on the side of the road by the river? And the biggest question of all – how could she have died before she’d done all the things she’d been meaning (vaguely) to do someday? Like grow up and stop acting like a teenager, for example.

As a ghost, Irene feels so much like herself that she finds it hard to accept that the afterlife can’t be the same as her old life (i.e. lots of hanging out in bars with friends) without all the downsides (e.g.  jobs, chores, family obligations, and hangovers.) Although Irene is someone who has to learn everything the hard way, as her father told her once, she luckily finds early on a good (though underage) friend in Jonah, a teenager from Irene’s neighborhood who has investigated theories of the afterlife and experimented enough with out-of-body experiences that he can see dead people like Irene. Mature and sensible, Jonah is like a 36-year-old in a 14-year-old’s body, while with Irene it’s more like the other way around.

Hereafter is a contemporary, paranormal fantasy that uses dark humor (also sarcasm, innovative insults, and ironic observations) to reflect on the serious topic of how best to live, and includes numerous factoids (mostly from Jonah) on beliefs about an afterlife in different cultures and at different times. There’s a bit of sexual tension but the author doesn’t go overboard with sex scenes, keeping readers interested instead with tight dialogue and nuggets gleaned from her extensive research. Readers looking for a lighthearted book that still touches on some serious themes or for a novel with fantasy elements that doesn’t feature a sexy vampire huntress or a paranormal detective agency might try Hereafter. Set in the fall in Salem and Boston, it would be an especially good one to read in September or October.

Author Terri Bruce has generously offered an international giveaway, with your choice of either a print copy or a e-book (in any format) of Hereafter. Giveaway runs through Sept. 10. Comments on this review are welcome but not necessary to enter the giveaway.

Click here to enter giveaway contest (Open internationally)

This is stop #6 on the Hereafter blog tour. The next stop is author Kristi Petersen Schoonover‘s blog, where Terri Bruce will be writing a guest post.

Check out Stops 1-5 for contests, other giveaways, and more info on Hereafter and author Terri Bruce:

8/13/12 Verbose Veracity HEREAFTER Excerpt Reading

8/14/12 Little Read Riding Hood Guest Post (Favorite Books w/Red Dresses) on the Cover) and Giveaway (copy of HEREAFTER)

8/15/12 Sonnet O’Dell Interview

8/16/12 I’m a Book Shark Guest Post (Top Ten Books w/Ghosts)  and Giveaway

8/17/12 Kelly A. Harmon Guest Post (Chinese Ghost Month) and The Writers’ Lens Blog Tour Writing Contest Start

For a list of all stops on the Hereafter blog tour, click here.

Hereafter
Eternal Press
August 1, 2012
eBook ISBN: 9781615727247
$7.95
Print ISBN: 9781615727254

Disclosure: I received a free e-galley of Hereafter from the author when I volunteered to participate in the Hereafter blog tour, but have also paid for a paperback copy from Barnes and Noble either for myself or to donate to the library so others can read it. (I haven’t decided which.)

A Thread of Sadness: The Untelling by Tayari Jones (AUDIO)

Cover image of The Untelling audio editionIn The Untelling, an emotional roller coaster of a second novel by Tayari Jones, author of the critically acclaimed novel Silver Sparrow (Algonquin, 2011), only Aria Jackson’s prickly mother calls her by her given name, “Ariadne,” a too-grand name from Shakespeare that Aria – who already stuck out in school due to entering puberty very early – never felt comfortable with.

Aria and her sister, Hermione, along with their mother, survived the single-car accident that killed their father (the driver) and six-month-old baby sister Genevieve when Aria was only nine and the family was on the way to her dance recital. At age 25, Aria has graduated from college, gotten a job, and is sharing an apartment in an un-gentrified neighborhood of Atlanta, Georgia with a friend, but she still remembers the accident vividly – how her father swerved to avoid an oncoming car, how the cake she was holding in her lap was ruined, and how “silent and impossibly bent” Genevieve looked in her mother’s arms as her mother hurried out of the front passenger seat, leaving Ariadne in the back.

This traumatic car accident left the Jackson family broken, financially and psychologically. The Untelling is the story, narrated by Aria, of how she tries to go on to have a normal life, despite being permanently branded as different from girls with whole families. Reading between the lines, the reader gathers that Aria has never felt that she really belongs, has few friends, struggles to act natural around people, and regrets not having the close-knit family she had before the accident.

The audio edition of The Untelling (AudioGo, 2005,) is narrated very well by Michelle Blackmon. It must have been hard to figure out how to pitch Aria’s voice because of her unusual personality – a mix of naivete and defensiveness; the reader can’t be sure how perceptive she is about her roommate, her boyfriend, her mother, or even herself. Other characters in the novel range from Cynthia, a neighborhood crack addict, to Lawrence, Aria’s boss at the nonprofit literacy agency she works at who wants to adopt a baby with his partner, and Michelle Blackmon differentiates the voices well, without making the male voices unnaturally gruff or deep. All of the main characters in the book are African-American – an interesting perspective for readers outside of the black community who are accustomed to reading white-centric fiction – but race isn’t a theme of the novel.

Readers who liked The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate (also a first-person story of a woman with a messed-up family) or who like realistic novels about women’s lives of quiet desperation will be moved by Aria’s story in The Untelling. (Most mainstream reviews I’ve seen give away a lot of the plot, so beware of spoilers, even visiting the publisher’s Web site.)

I haven’t read Silver Sparrow yet, but plan to soon.

The Untelling
Jones, Tayari
Narrator: Blackmon, Marjorie
AudioGo
ISBN-13: 978-0-7927-3638-7
Unabridged
Length:  8 Hr 25 Min, on 7 CDs

When Mama Ain’t Happy…(You Know the Rest): Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin

Cover image of Happier at HomeAn enjoyable follow-up to The Happiness Project (Gretchen Rubin’s bestselling memoir about her year of researching theories and following advice from happiness experts), Happier at Home is about Gretchen’s second happiness project – this time focusing on family and home life over the course of a school year. Kind of like a five-year status update, Happier at Home is the author’s book-length response to questions about what difference her year-long happiness project really made in her life and a continuation of her research into ways to feel happier and more appreciative of the many good things in her life.

She emphasizes in both books that her reason for pursuing these happiness projects isn’t that she’s unhappy, but that she wants to be more mindful of her good fortune on a daily basis and more consciously happy, not every moment like some kind of whacked-out Pollyanna, but over all. Some of her resolutions aimed at boosting her happiness at home require inconvenient effort or the tackling of unpleasant chores, but they contribute to her having a happier life in the long run – like knowing you will feel better after exercise, even if you don’t enjoy the exercising itself. She also stresses that the happiness project idea isn’t going to be helpful in cases of actual depression or overwhelmingly difficult situations; it’s for people who, like herself, are happy enough, but could become happier with some adjustments to the way they do things or view themselves.

One important lesson from my first happiness project was to recognize how happy I already am. As life goes wheeling along, I find it too easy to take my everyday happiness for granted, and to forget what really matters. I’ve long been haunted by a remark by the writer Colette: “What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.” I didn’t want to look back, at the end of my life or after some great catastrophe, and think, “Then we were so happy, if only we’d realized it.” I had everything I could wish for; I wanted to make my home happier by appreciating how much happiness was already there.”

I read The Happiness Project as a memoir, a stunt memoir along the lines of A. J. Jacobs‘ books or Julie and Julia by Julie Powell, where the author does something wacky or difficult for a period of time and writes about it. I don’t read many self-help books because I know I’m not ready to change anything major about myself or the way I do things, but I kept thinking of anecdotes from The Happiness Project even months after reading it, so it made an impression on me. Although the author’s books and blog may inspire readers to start their own happiness projects, the books aren’t really self-help but the author’s personal story. What makes each person happy is so individual that each happiness project has to be designed individually by the person embarking on it. Reading Happier at Home, I enjoyed learning about how she tweaked her original project, acknowledged herself to be a homebody at heart, and concentrated her efforts on creating a happier home and family life through changes in her own behavior, schedule, outlook, etc..

The author does talk a lot about herself, which I guess some reviewers found annoying in her first book, but it makes sense that she discusses her own thoughts and motivations, and uses them as examples in her book, since she can’t make resolutions for anyone but herself (although she admits that – like most wives and mothers – she would like to.) I also think she was trying not to reveal details of her life that would infringe on the privacy of her husband and two daughters. (Thankfully, she avoids the cringe-inducing over-sharing of Julie Powell’s second stunt memoir, Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession, for which she apprenticed herself to a butcher and revealed intimate details about her marriage and extramarital affair that must have made her husband squirm.)

Although it stands on its own, Happier at Home is best read as a follow-up to The Happiness Project. I would recommend The Happiness Project and Happier at Home to readers who enjoy memoirs of research projects with a touch of whimsy – like Drop Dead Healthy by A. J. Jacobs, Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis, or A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.

Read an excerpt of Happier at Home here.

Enter each day over the next couple of weeks to win a copy of Happier at Home from the author’s Happiness Project page.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of Happier at Home signed by the author from HarperCollins during Book Expo America.

Happier at Home
Rubin, Gretchen
Crown, Sept. 4, 2012
978-0-37-88878-1
$26.00 U.S., $31.00 (Can)

Waiting on Wednesday – The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly event hosted at Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating. This week’s pre-publication “can’t-wait-to-read” selection is:

Cover image of The Smitten Kitchen

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Deb Perelman

Publication Date: October 30, 2012

Fans of cooking blogs have probably already discovered The Smitten Kitchen and preordered their copies of this cookbook, but for anyone who hasn’t, it’s coming out October 30th. Not quite in time for me to get it for my birthday, but (hint, hint) it will make a great Christmas gift for any one who likes cookbooks with recipes and realistic instructions that make you feel as though you’ve got a knowledgeable friend (not a professional chef with tons of equipment) in the kitchen with you. Not only does it have tons of delicious-sounding recipes like Cinnamon Toast French Toast, but it will also open and stay open on the counter or table as a cookbook should.

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