An Exact Replica of A Figment of My Imagination: A Memoir, Elizabeth McCracken – Book Review

an-exact-replica-of-a-figmentAn Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: A Memoir, by Elizabeth McCracken
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: September 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover, 184 pages

“I don’t even know what I would have wanted someone to say. Not: It will be better.  Not: You don’t think you’ll live through this, but you will.  Maybe: Tomorrow you will spontaneously combust.  Tomorrow, finally your misery will turn to wax and heat and you will burn and melt till nothing is left in your chair but a greasy childless smudge.  That might have comforted me.”

It took me a long time to figure out which gem of a quote I wanted to use from Elizabeth McCracken’s memoir about the stillborn birth of her child, and subsequent and birth of her second child just over a year later. I love the above quote for it’s rawness and honesty, and though I have never experienced anything in the same context, I responded powerfully to it’s truth.  This story is paved with insights and runs the gamut of human emotions in turn: grief, love, fear and regret, hope, joy.

McCracken starts the book by brazenly putting the facts of her experience out there before retreating to happier times and the much easier story of who she was before she met her husband, the life they built together and the anticipation of their first child, affectionately nicknamed Pudding, in utero. But, like chopping an onion you know that the tears will eventually come, and they do as McCracken builds her double narrative toward the final memories of the painful death of her first child as it contributes to anxiety in the birth of her second.

Who knows what other people think? Not me, and especially not then.  Still it surprised me, every time I saw someone who didn’t mention it.  I am writing this and trying to imagine how it felt at the time, and trying to imagine what people were thinking.  I am trying to remember what I have thought when I have done the same thing, all those times I didn’t mention some great sadness upon seeing someone for the first time.  Did I really think that by not saying words of consolation aloud, I was doing people a favor?  As though to mention sadness I was “reminding” them of the terrible thing?

This book’s strength lies with its unerring ability to relate unimaginable grief and love that leaves no room for anything except empathy and understanding. In sharing her story with us, Elizabeth McCracken shares how we can support ourselves and those we love through the trials of heartbreaking loss.

Want to know what I’ve been babbling incoherently about?  Read an except here.

Read More Reviews At:

You can also drop by and visit Kathy at Bermudonion to win this book.

Continue Reading

Teaser Tuesdays ~ Miles from Nowhere

teaser-tuesdays3Teaser Tuesdays asks you to:

Please avoid spoilers!

Grab your current read.
Let the book fall open to a random page.

Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.

You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

I followed at a distance, and when the three of them stopped in the middle of the hallway, I slid into the bathroom, left the door ajar, and peeked from there.

“Now, what was so damn important I had to hand up on my husband?’

Miles from Nowhere, Nami Mun

Haven’t read it yet, but now I’m wondering…what was so damn important that she had to hang up on her husband?

Continue Reading

The Confessions of Max Tivoli, by Andrew Sean Greer – Book Review

the-confessions-of-max-tivoliThe Confessions of Max Tivoli, by Andrew Sean Greer
Publisher: Farrar, Strauss and Girox
Publication Date: February 2004
Format: Hardcover, 288 pages

First Sentence: “We are each the love of someone’s life.” -The Confessions of Max Tivoli

“I just wanted the main character to die so that the book would be over.” – a fellow book club member

So, I didn’t feel quite that strongly about Max, but I did return it to the library as soon as I was finished, and I did thank the book gods that I hadn’t bought it. I was so anxious to be done with this book that I forgot to keep it around long enough for reviewing purposes, so I have no quotes or passages to back up anything I say.  You’ll just have to take my word for it.

I was so ready to love this book.  It had a super interesting premise and it was well-written.  A male child is born to a couple and has the face and body of an old man.  Now, I understand that certain books require a suspension of disbelief, and I’m okay with that as long as authors follow their own rules.  Max Tivoli is born infant sized. There is no description of his mother being torn apart while trying to, literally, birth a man-child, yet later on in the book we are lead to believe that Max appears as an adult (when he is a child) and will shrink in height and physically grow younger until he turns into an infant- which seems to contradict him being born an infant. He starts off as a child appearing to be about 70 years old.

We are told that from the very beginning that Max’s mother has advised him to act the age that he appears to be as opposed to the age his is, but I don’t feel that we ever got any insight as how he goes about doing that or how such deception makes him feel.  There are so many interesting places that this book should have lead. How does it feel to grow up with the face of an old man? How does it feel as a child to be forced to interact with people older than you?  How does it feel to be physically old when you should be want to run around and play? How does it affect your interactions with your family and people who know your family; people in general?  There were so many interesting questions that I would have liked to have just a glimmer of in the narration. Nope.  The character is totally isolated and doesn’t make friends or try to interact with anyone besides Hughie, Alice and Madame Dupont – a brothel owner who used to be a maid in his house.

I think Greer was trying to build this great love story where we watch Max get his shot at love three times over a lifetime, as he appears to his love, Alice, as three different versions of himself. The main problem with this is the character of Max Tivoli.  The novel collapses under the weight of a completely self centered and uninteresting narrator.  It’s never  clear why he loves Alice so much, and so his great love always seems like a juvenile crush that he hasn’t had the opportunity to mature into the depths of love that man might feel.  Max is also too self-centered to give any of the other characters more than cursory consideration so we don’t get to know or understand them.  I found the character of Hughie to be intriguing from the little I could glean from Max’s spare treatment of him, and he appears to be tormented by a secret, but Max doesn’t ever think to ask his best friend what is bothering him, and by the time Hughie’s secret is revealed it’s anti-climactic and to me, implausible.

Greer is a talented writer.  He knows his way around a sentence and his descriptive abilities are very good, but the character of Max failed to move me, which is the kiss of death for any character and also kills the book when that character is the one telling the story.  I was bored. This would have been helped had the narrative more fully addressed the realities and limitations/benefits of Max’s unique existence, but as a character he always fails to engage. He even meets someone he suspects is like him, and he doesn’t even talk to the person!  Greer is a good writer, so I would be curious to read something else of his, but knowing what I know about Max Tivoli I would be quicker to jump ship if his next main character didn’t engage me rather quickly.

Continue Reading

Sometimes…

immortal

I come across things in books that just make me laugh…

“I shook out the brown woolen blanket I always slept in, folded it, and then patted my camicia to rid myself of hay and stray cat hair.”

I am loving this book!  But I have to admit that I had to laugh out loud at this point.  I still smile thinking about it.

dscn2120Seriously, he patted himself?

Anyone who has one of these knows you do a whole lot more than patting to get the hair off.  If only I could just pat and go.

Continue Reading

On Call with Brad Meltzer and The Book Of Lies Giveaway

the-book-of-lies1I almost missed the conference call with Brad Meltzer.  Last week was a week of board meetings, and in preparation for them I had been in the office pretty much all the time.  Last Thursday was the first time that I was getting to go home and I was looking forward to some sleep more than anything else. But I had read the book,  I had the list of questions that were to be asked, and I took a gamble that I would be able to take a twenty-minute nap and still wake up and participate in the call. I have to say I’m glad it all worked out because the call was a real treat.

Barely clinging to consciousness I dialed in and, forgetting that I live in the age of technology that can basically do anything, took notes (with a pencil and paper no less); the call was being recorded.  Brad comes across as passionate about his causes, humble and sweet. He admits that he explores the same theme in everyone of his novels, though he claims not have been smart enough to realize it was what he was doing, and he makes no bones abut the essence if truth in histories come from his own experiences even though the circumstances in the stories are fictional.

One of the highlights of the call for me was hearing him say (at least a couple of times) that “we hit the best seller list” and I’m assuming that he was talking about his mom (who recently died of cancer, but was able to read The Book of Lies before she did), family and others who have helped him along the way with this book and others.  It was nice to see hear his gratitude and excitement expressed in such an automatically inclusive way.

In addition to Brad talking about the creation of  The Book of Lies, we touched upon the relationships between parents and children (and more specifically fathers and sons), honesty and truth in the craft of fiction, ordinary people making a difference and charity.  Brad is a huge fan of Superman and in researching his book reached out to the Siegel family to hear their story. When visiting the house where Superman was conceived he was shocked to find it in shambles and without any recognition or commemoration of the fact that in a sense this house is the birthplace of Superman. He set about to change that and has done so largely with the help of “ordinary people changing the world”.

Brad is a big believer in ordinary people changing the world.  He says that so far it is a theme in all of his books; one person making a difference.  In that vein, I will be hosting a giveaway for The Book of Lies.  To enter simply comment on this post which is in support of Reading and Blogging for Darfur hosted by Natasha at Maw Books Blog.  Make sure you leave info where I can reach you when I announce the winner on October 1st.  Any entry that makes it in before I choose the winner will be accepted. An extra entry if you blog about it.

For more information on Brad’s project check out: Ordinary People Change The World

For my thoughts on Brad’s book, The Book of Lies, click here,

To visit the other wonderful bloggers  who participated in this call visit the wonderful sites below:

Kathy at Bermuda Onion

Stacy at Book Bitch

Eric at Broken Frontier

Jeff at Scoffery
Scotty at Superman Homepage
Carrie at Words to Mouth
Jeff at WatchTower Podcast
Kevin at Brad Meltzer is the next John Grisham Facebook group

Special thanks to Miriam at Hachette Book Group USA for putting us all in a room together, so to speak. 🙂

Continue Reading

Jane Austen: A Life, by Carol Shields – Book Review

jane-austen1Jane Austen: A Life, by Carol Shields
Publisher: Viking Penguin
Publication Date: 2002
Format: Hardcover, 185 pages

“Her early writing was produced within protective circumstance, and it is no surprise that her efforts are full of family jokes and private reference, some of them stinging.  The family response to her deliberate outrageousness may be imagined: a rolling of the eyes and “There goes Jane again”:…an upstairs/downstairs comedic eye that disappears completely in her more mature period, when she seems to have understood the truth that satire can never be used against the powerless.”

I have a standing sleepover date with my cousin. On the third Friday of every month, she comes over to my place and we hang out and watch tv and then get up on Saturday mornings and go have brunch and take long walks, check out the thrift shops and go to the park, write and whatever else catches our fancy.  Last month, we had made tentative plans to go to the beach- our plans being dependent upon the weather, but as it turned out, were rained out.  After stacks of plain and blueberry pancakes at brunch, we waddled over to the library, her choice. Now, I didn’t need to pick up anymore books because there are enough at home awaiting my attention, but while browsing the stacks as she picked out books in the children’s section, I came across a biography of an author I like, written by another author I like and I couldn’t resist picking it up. Ostensibly it was only for me to peruse while my cousin was making her book selections, and then maybe to look over as we sat reading at the small table in the children’s section. Yeah right- I ended up taking it home with me along with The Book of Daniel, by E.L. Doctorow and twelve other books I got on sale at the library for a dollar apiece.  I totally blame my cousin!

But, on to my thoughts on this slim biography. Jane Austen is such a popular author but relatively little is known about her because her sister Cassandra, with whom she was thought to be exceedingly close, destroyed most of Jane’s correspondence shortly after her death.  She wanted everyone to remember her sister as angelic and agreeable as she thought her to be.  Any biography written about an author long dead and reconstructed from sources and memories recorded many years after the fact is a challenge, but Carol Shields prevails and pulls together an interesting portrait of Austen which is at variance inn many respects to the characters and worlds that Austen explores in her novels.  By comparison, Austen was poorer and with manner which were less refined than her characters, and she wrote carefully around circumstances in her life that may have accused her family unnecessary hurt.  It is also a technique that she uses throughout, comparing the writer to her fiction.   While you cane certainly approach and explore a life from that perspective, I’m not sure how accurate you end up portraying it.

Reading some of the sentences are awkward because as Shields admits in her narrative, it was hard to come to terms with what to call Jane Austen.  For Shields, Jane seemed too familiar and Austen, too distant and cool, so she called her Jane Austen throughout much of the biography.  I don’t know, it just seemed a little bit weird to me.  And while I enjoyed reading this I couldn’t help but be reminded that so much of what is written has got to be conjecture and educated guess, and there were places where I couldn’t help rolling my eyes and thinking that no one could possibly know or be comfortable jumping to the reached conclusion. All things considered, I think this has been a great introduction to Jane Austen.  I have a book of Austen’s letters.  I may have to take a look and see what I come up with.

Have you reviewed Jane Austen: A Life? Please e-mail me your link or leave it in the comments, I’d love to have it here.

Continue Reading

Book of Lies, by Brad Meltzer – Book Review

the-book-of-liesThe Book of Lies, by Brad Meltzer
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: September 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover, 336 pages

By rights, this was probably not my book to read.  I hardly ever read suspense or thrillers anymore.  The last time might have been a Dean Koontz book years ago that I was too scared to finish.  This was a pick that was more a convergence of events; one thing led to another.  And what, you might ask, were those things?  I’m only to happy to answer.  I had been on Book Blogs and I saw an event posted that was a conference call with author Brad Meltzer posted; had never heard of the author and the call was for the next day, so I knew I couldn’t do it and didn’t think about it anymore.  Then I saw and commented on a trailer for the book and started to become more interested in the premise of the book, which was exploring connections between the biblical story of Cain and Abel and the creation of Superman.  I randomly saw a second trailer on someone’s blog (unfortunately I can’t remember where) which was hilarious. And then as it turned out, the call was rescheduled, the publicist sent me the book and I read it and participated in my first blogger conference call (I feel so grown-up), but more on that tomorrow.

Cal is an ex ICE agent who has just lost his job after a situation arises with one of his informants. He spends his nights racing homeless people out of trouble before the police can show up and as a counselor to homeless teens.  One fateful night on the job, Cal runs into his father, who killed his mother 19 years before, and whose return he has awaited just as long.  When these two meet again all hell breaks loose.  Cal is ambivalent about seeing his father again.  Their relationship is fraught with anger, suspicion and misunderstandings.  What they will be to each other is negotiated as they go on the run to find out what is contained in the mysterious “Book of Lies” and how it connects to the death of Jerry Siegel’s father Mitchell (another father and son story) and propels the creation of a Superman, a hero invulnerable to death and bullets.

I enjoyed this book.  It juxtaposed intelligent speculation and food for thought with a  good old fashioned mystery.  I was turning the pages, and quickly, because this book did a good job with the pacing of information and walking the fine line of leaving enough story that is readily suspected and enough that has yet to be uncovered.  In a couple of places the dialogue was a little stiff and some of the relationships a wee bit hokey, but overall it flowed, and what made it fun was that cynical and sarcastic Cal seemed to recognize those places and was rolling his eyes along with the reader.  Love it!  Bonus points for the authors note in the end when author Brian Meltzer takes the time to separate some of the fact from fiction; so when you go off to investigate a little bit on your own (because trust me, you will) you’ll have a place to start.

Read an except here.

Want a second opinion?  Read another great review by:

Kathy at Bermudaonion

Check back tomorrow for my thoughts on the conference call and the giveaway.

Continue Reading

Autumn Reading ~ Booking Through Thursday

btt25

Autumn is starting (here in the US, anyway), and kids are heading back to school–does the changing season change your reading habits? Less time? More? Are you just in the mood for different kinds of books than you were over the summer?

I feel like I have less time to read since September arrived.  In the summer I was traveling, and on airplanes and trains while I was on vacation, and just had a more leisurely pace of life.  A lot more of my friends were away and traveling as well so I definitely feel like I had fewer social commitments and could read more.  Now there are more demands on my time. I play on a bocce on Sundays in a league so that’s at least 6 hours when I would have been reading. I’m always glad to see my friends, but sometimes in the back of my mind or when I’m reading something particularly interesting I think about the time that my activities are taking from my reading  So sad, I know.

I never really change my reading habits.  I am a huge literary fiction fan and I love non-fiction as well so that’s the majority of what I read.  I sprinkle in other genres and fun stuff from time to time, but for the most part I know where my heart is in terms of the types of books that I read and enjoy and don’t deviate by seaon or anything else for that matter.

Continue Reading

In The Dog House with Christine from Candid Canine

Here, there, and everywhere it’s Book Blogger Appreciation Week and we’re all getting to know each other.  I had the pleasure of being introduced to Christine from Candid Canine via the BBAW Interview exchange that Amy set up.  And boy, is Christine a busy little bee! When she’s  not busy with her job in journalism, she’s writing books for young adults and putting together miniatures.  The last thing on her mind was starting a blog, but now I think she’s hooked. What do you think? I think you should stop by her blog and find out! It’s a good time. 🙂 But take a look first as she tells me all about it…

Christine:
Nicole, thanks for hosting me!
Nicole: When did you start blogging? Why did you start blogging and how did your
blog evolve?

Christine: You can call me a reluctant blogger.

As a journalist, I do plenty of other writing for newspapers and magazines,
so I really didn’t want to blog at first. More writing (and nonpaying at that!
ha!) I didn’t need.
I began blogging at Candid Canine just over a year ago, mostly in preparation for the
release of my first book, “Searching For a Starry Night, A Miniature Art
Mystery.” As the book, (ages 10+) deals with the search by two teens for a
missing miniature replica of Van Gogh’s famous painting, “Starry Night,” my blog
deals with miniatures, dogs (friends Sam and Lita are “helped” by a mischievous
Dachshund named Petey), writing, and whatever else strikes my fancy.
Nicole: What’s your inspiration for blogging and how do you come up with the
things you write about?
Christine: I learned more about blogging and organizing a blog book tour for
my book after joining the Blogbooktours group, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/blogbooktours/.
Then group leader Dani prompted everyone to join the August blog challenge.
I did, survived blogging daily and after a couple weeks respite, I’m back.
And I think I’m hooked.
I’m now trying a new blogging schedule which will include
various topics on a more “regular” basis. I write what I like to read
about and hopefully what interests others: miniatures, because it’s
my passion. I’ve been creating miniatures for dozens of years
and still find new inspiration that I hope to share with others. I
enjoy writing about them, too, which I did in my ebook, “In Miniature
Style,” (with profiles, how to projects and photos, see http://cverstraete.com for details) and I
enjoy highlighting the amazing work done by others. I also like to share
writing tips and talk about all kinds of other things, so I hope people will
stop by and comment!

Nicole: Have your reading habits and choices changed over the years and if so
how?

Christine: I’ve gotten hooked on reading others’ blogs, so it’s no surprise that
I’ve come to enjoy doing my own. After all, as a lifelong reader and
writer, what else is blogging but another way to communicate? I’m the kid who
always had her nose in a book. I love to read, with horror and mysteries a
favorite, though I will read other genres that catch my eye. In recent years,
I’ve grown to love more historical novels, especially mysteries and fiction
set in the 1500s-1700s, wondering what it was like to live then, I guess. Maybe
stemming from my interest in genealogy and tracing my own family’s roots in
Belgium.
Nicole: How did you become interested in miniatures and what is the most
important information you would tell people who are just starting to become
interested in them?
Christine: I came to dollhouses and miniatures, by accident, I guess, finding a
cheap dollhouse kit years ago at K Mart. Then I discovered dollhouse shows and
that you could get almost anything in miniature (even the kitchen sink!). I fell
for it. I love to create. I’ve always been a “crafty” person and enjoy the
challenge of making things myself, so building and furnishing dollhouses lets me
try my hand at all kinds of crafts from painting, to needlepoint, furniture
building, design, architecture, you name it. It’s a hobby that everyone, at all
skill levels, can enjoy and it’s amazing the things you learn along the
way. You develop an interest in history (replicating real rooms, furnishings, or
clothing), living conditions, and more. It’s a great sideline for kids of all
ages to explore and learn without being stuck in school!
Nicole: Tell me about you.  How do you spend your time when you’re not
reading or blogging?
Christine: You’ll laugh. I do miniatures. I find planning projects relaxing (well
when they work, it is.) And I write. I’m trying to finish another book between
my other (“paying”) writing. I enjoy watching movies when I can, too. Waiting
for my favorite TV shows to start, too. I love Smallville, Heroes, Dancing with
the Stars, Supernatural, Ghost Whisperer. Nothing too inspiring, there, I’m
afraid. ha!
Nicole: What’s coming up for you for the rest of this year with your blogging,
reading and writing?

Christine: More blogging, reading and writing. Ha! Once you
have a book out, I’ve noticed that it opens the door to having to do even more
writing, blogging, promoting, etc. But I’m enjoying it. It’s been fun meeting
other authors, bloggers and collectors along the way.

Nicole, it was good to meet you, too, and thanks for hosting me!
Readers, be sure to stop by my blog this week for an interview with Nicole,
too!

** BBAW Contest: Christine is hosting a giveaway! Post a comment about your favorite book here
and at Chris V’s Candid Canine to get your name entered to win a copy of her spooky ebook, “The
Witch Tree.” Be sure to leave a blog or website to contact you. Contest ends
9/30.

Continue Reading