Monday, April 30, 2012

Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind by Ann B. Ross

     Julia Springer may not be the best feminist or the most socially conscious person, but she's doing alright considering the sheltered life she has led up to this point.  She never had to make many decisions - her husband, Wesley Lloyd, made sure of that - but with him recently dead and buried, Miss Julia is left to fend for herself.  Well, sort of.  As it turns out, Wesley Lloyd was a stingy, but incredibly wealthy man, and Julia is the sole beneficiary of his estate.  So with a newfound financial freedom, Julia and her maid/confidant, Lillian, are enjoying being able to finally relax.

   But soon enough, it seems like everybody in their small, southern town wants a piece of Julia's inheritance - especially the church.  And to further complicate matters, it seems that Mr. Springer was not such a faithful, loyal husband.  Julia finds this out when his mistress appears at the doorstep with Mr. Springer's illegitimate son in tow.  Wesley Lloyd Jr may be a skinny, 9 year-old child with a pale complexion and a nervous demeanor, but his arrival sets off a whole chain of events that Julia Springer was never prepared for.  But as any self-confident, determined southern woman would do, Miss Julia learns how to face her problems and takes care of business!

     Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind is a light, but entertaining read.  Julia may have once been sheltered and naive, but she quickly breaks out of her shell and emerges as a proud, sassy southern woman.  It's easy to sympathize with Julia and her small, personal triumphs, and we soon see that she is more courageous than anyone knew she could be.  Well, she never had the opportunity before, but now things have fundamentally changed for Julia, and with her newly-discovered bravery and a few very supportive friends, Miss Julia really does find her voice and speaks her mind.

     Ok, so this novel may be a little melodramatic at times, but Miss Julia's story is delightful and heartwarming, nonetheless.  With southern charm and a fast-paced plot, Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind evolved into an ongoing "Miss Julia" series, of which there are now 13 books in the collection.  The prose may not be poetic or groundbreaking, but as Ann B. Ross has said, she just wanted to tell a good, entertaining story, and that's exactly what she did.

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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Pulp Literature Pathfinder

Sorry for the lack of posts and updates recently, but this has been a busy week!  I have (almost) completed my first year at the University of Tennessee's Library/Information Sciences Graduate School, and I have a ton of projects due this week, which is why I've been slacking on my reading lately.

Anyway, for one of my classes I had to create a research guide/pathfinder for a topic of my choosing.  I chose American Pulp Literature.  If any of you are interested in pulp literature for research or recreational purposes, feel free to check it out here and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Children in Reindeer Woods by Kristín Ómarsdóttir

"The problem with war is that one doesn't know what to do with the children."
(p. 70)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Treasure Island!!! by Sara Levine

     Treasure Island!!! is a reluctant, anti-coming of age novel in which  our unnamed narrator, a jobless, neurotic, selfish twenty-something develops a full-blown obsession with Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.  With a questionably acquired parrot named Richard (who squawks phrases like "steer the boat, girlfriend!") and a stolen library copy of Treasure Island, our young narrator sets off on an adventure of her own.  Ok well maybe she ends up moving back in with her parents and sleeping all day, but it's not really about treasure-hunting.

     At first she comes across as funny, but perhaps a little too sarcastic.  Then she just gets obnoxious, and finally it is clear that our narrator is a completely deplorable person and likely a sociopath.  But even her horrible, egotistical tendencies are absurdly hilarious and entertaining.  Whether she's stealing money from her mom's purse, sabotaging her sister's relationship with a much older man, or preaching about the four "Core Values" of Treasure Island (BOLDNESS, RESOLUTION, INDEPENDENCE, HORN-BLOWING) this girl has completely lost touch with reality.  Here's a passage from chapter 10, in which she explains how the novel has inspired her to lead a life of adventure:
Well it takes an awful lot of energy to give birth to oneself.  It's not as though you do one bold thing and then you are bold.  The thing about adventure is that you have to keep on doing it, day in and day out.  I don't know, can it ever be definitively accomplished?  I hardly rest, I hardly can! (p. 61)
Actually, all she does is rest, but that's not the point.   Treasure Island!!! is a strange, quirky book with a very unlikeable narrator, but it may inspire you to take a few steps back from your own life and make sure that you are absolutely nothing like this narrator - so preoccupied and selfish that she's no longer the protagonist of her own story.

     But despite the narrator's lack of appeal, the book itself is ridiculously entertaining and addictive - it's one of those novels that just gets funnier and funnier the more you think about it.  Treasure Island!!! is relatively short (172 pages) but it leaves a big impression - as both a social satire and a unique, artistic work of literature.

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Friday, April 20, 2012

Favorite Fiction: Short Story Collections

Short stories can be just as powerful and effective as a novel, but they don't get as much recognition in the literary criticism world.  Even so, there are a lot of amazing short stories out there.  Some authors have even built careers on writing short fiction, such as Washington Irving ("The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"), Edgar Allan Poe (The Tell Tale Heart and Other Stories), and Guy de Maupassant ("The Necklace").  And you may remember that Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" is still one of the most well-known and studied pieces of literature throughout American high schools.  Even though short stories are often treated like the novel's annoying kid sister, there are some pretty spectacular short story collections out there.  Here are a few of Hooked Bookworm's favorites:

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Book of Summers by Emylia Hall

     Emylia Hall's debut novel tells the story of Elizabeth Lowe, a British woman who is abruptly confronted with her past when she receives a photo scrapbook in the mail.  The photo album is filled with pictures and memories of childhood summers spent with her mother in Hungary.  As Elizabeth flips through the pages, she is bombarded with memories - scents, images, and sounds of her youth slowly bubble to the surface of her consciousness.  Slowly, we get a more complete portrayal of Elizabeth's childhood - from carefree nature walks with her mother to the unmistakeable experience of first love,  her summers were always filled with beauty and discovery.

     Yet Elizabeth's summer romps through the hills of Hungary were abruptly abandoned, and only by journeying through her photo album, entitled "The Book of Summers," do we develop an understanding of why Elizabeth abandoned Hungary, her mother, and her first love.

     The Book of Summers felt a little slow at first, but eventually I came to understand that this is because Elizabeth's memories are delicate and tightly compacted - they must be recalled slowly or risk damage.  Sometimes Elizabeth is frustratingly stubborn, and sometimes she reminds me of my teenage self - when the world felt unblemished and limitless but could quickly turn into a dramatic tragedy.  The Book of Summers is about the complexity of relationships, especially those of mothers and daughters, but it's also about the circumstances that influence both our cultural and personal identities.

     Sometimes the novel felt stylistically inconsistent and the dialogue was a little shaky, but overall, Emylia Hall has created a debut novel that captures the essence of dramatic youth, the inconsistent yet powerful attributes of memory, and the consequences of pride.

     The Book of Summers was released last month in the U.K., and will be released in the U.S. on May 29 in paperback.

Overall Rating:

Monday, April 16, 2012

Pulitzer news

Apparently no one gets the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction this year.  Nominees included Karen Russell (Swamplandia!), David Foster Wallace (The Pale King), and Denis Johnson (Train Dreams), but the Pulitzer board just could not agree on a winner, so there isn't one.  Read the full story over at the Huffington Post.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Girl Behind the Glass by Jane Kelley

   Hannah and Anna Zimmer aren't just twin sisters - they're also best friends.  Nothing could ever come between them...until they moved into the creepy old house on Hemlock Road.  Their older sister, Selena, is too preoccupied with boys and clothes to really notice, but the twins understand that the house has a story - a story that is desperate to be told, and even more desperate to be heard.

   Anna quickly makes new friends at their new school, but Hannah is more intrigued by the presence in the house than anything else, and for the first time in their lives, the girls begin to argue and drift apart.  The house is splitting their family apart, and Hanna wants to find out what, or who is behind it all.

   For a children' book, The Girl Behind the Glass is actually pretty spooky!  I think I even had goosebumps a couple of times.  But it's also more than just a spooky ghost story - it's a book about family dynamics and relationships.  Hannah and Anna may only be 11 years old, but they're very intelligent and perceptive.  They sometimes even have the ability to read each others' thoughts.  But the presence in the house on Hemlock road is jealous and angry, and all this bad energy drives a wedge between the sisters.  In a way, though, this turns out to be a good thing.  While the girls were practically indistinguishable from each other at first, they are eventually able to develop their own identities.  The spirit in the house is dangerous, but it also helps Hannah and Anna realize that it's ok to disagree.  They can still be close - as sisters and friends.

   While I enjoyed The Girl Behind the Glass and was intrigued by the twins' dynamics, I think the book could use a little more character development, especially in regards to Selena.  For some reason, the girls absolutely despise their older sister, but we never really know why - other than the fact that she's ditzy and obnoxious.  Her story is never completely resolved.  The girls learn to forgive each other despite their differences, but no effort is made to rectify their relationship with Selena.  It sends a bit of a mixed message.  But other than that, I really liked the way Jane Kelley arranged the story.  The book is narrated by the ghost in the house, but we only learn the truth as it is reveled to Hannah.  This quiet, watchful ghost sees and hears everything in the house, which sets up a pretty creepy vibe for the reader.  Overall, The Girl Behind the Glass is a suspenseful, entertaining read about family growing pains and the value of forgiveness.

Overall Rating:

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

   If you ask most people about Abraham Lincoln, they'll tell you he was the tall, honest, 16th president of the United States who issued the Emancipation Proclamation.  Historians won't tell you the dark, gruesome truth - that our beloved Abe spent most of his life hunting down and destroying VAMPIRES!!

   Unbeknownst to most, the Lincoln family had been tormented by vampires for generations, and wouldn't you know it...vampires were behind that whole slavery thing, too!  So Abe did what any good citizen would do - teamed up with a traitor vampire named Henry, had a few drinks with Edgar Allan Poe and set off to destroy ALL THE VAMPIRES.  He maintained a modest political career on the side, but mostly, he hunted and killed vampires.  The more you know...

   I read this novel aloud to my husband (upon his request) and we were quite entertained.  He referred to the book as "historical science fiction," which is a pretty accurate way to describe the novel.  It is ridiculous and absurd, but most of the biographical events depicted of Lincoln's life are factual.  Is this a genius way of tricking people into reading history books?  Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter may not be entering the literary canon anytime soon, but it's fun, and hilarious, and super nerdy.

   Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865.  He died on April 15.  As we approach the 147th anniversary of Lincoln's assassination some seven score and seven years ago, we remember the man who fought for values, union, and freedom - freedom from VAMPIRES, that is.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Favorite Fiction: Dysfunctional Families

   It can be quite comforting to read about dysfunctional families in literature.  We relate to the characters (some more than others) and they make us feel normal by comparison.  Our voyeuristic side reveals itself when we read about families with problems because, as readers, we are privy to the nature of their dysfunction - we become a sort of literary Peeping Tom.  All creepiness aside, here are a few of Hooked Bookworm's favorite depictions of dysfunctional families in literature:

Monday, April 9, 2012

IBBA Contest

Voting for the Independent Book Blogger Awards begins tomorrow today! If you want to vote for Hooked Bookworm, please do so by clicking the "vote" button on the top left sidebar.  If you want to know more about the contestants, check out a complete listing of all the blogs in the running here.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Don't Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley


   For Sandra Beasley, eating has never been a comforting, enjoyable daily activity.  Instead, the act of preparing and eating food is often stressful and dangerous, because Sandra Beasley is unfortunate enough to be allergic to almost everything.  She can pretty much only eat plain chicken and peas...and she doesn't even like peas!  Well, she can eat other things, but not always without risk of developing hives, nausea, and possibly anaphylaxis.

   In her lifelong search for "Sandra-friendly" foods, Beasley has become a social activist in support of those with food allergies all over the country.  As it turns out, there are more people than you might think who have serious food allergies.  Imagine breaking into hives every time you encounter dairy, soy, wheat, or citrus.  Now imagine an allergy so severe that you cannot even touch (or kiss) someone who has recently eaten or handled one of these ingredients.  Such has been Sandra Beasley's life.  She may say that she's not obsessively bitter and angry about her circumstances, but she is.  And wouldn't you be if you had spent half your life in a hospital waiting room popping Benadryl like tic-tacs?  I would absolutely be pissed off!

   With her memoir, Sandra Beasley not only offers a firsthand account of severe, debilitating allergies, but she is also spreading awareness and starting a national conversation.  Don't Kill the Birthday Girl provides a  discussion of FDA regulations and response to allergy issues, changing policies in public school lunchrooms, and issues with restaurant food preparation.  Simply put, severe food allergies are inconvenient for everyone.  But with allergic populations on the rise, it's important to take precautions and be aware of the facts.  Don't Kill the Birthday Girl may feel a little paranoid at times, but if something as simple as a bite of mango or a slice of cheese could kill you or someone you love, you might be a little paranoid, too.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Gift Card Giveaway at Opinionless!

Our friends over at Opinionless are hosting a Spring Giveaway, where one lucky winner will receive a $30 e-gift card to a major book retailer of your choice.  It's free and easy to enter, so check it out here.  Just make sure you get your name in before April 15!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

   In State of Wonder, Dr. Marina Singh is sent deep into the Amazon to investigate the death of her friend, Anders Eckman.  Marina and Anders had been coworkers at Vogel, a pharmaceutical R&D company, until Anders was sent to the jungle to check the progress of a new, top-secret fertility drug.  The drug is being developed by Dr. Annick Swenson, a brilliant but cold and mysterious scientist who was once a mentor to Marina.

   Marina only expects to be in Brazil for two or three weeks - just long enough to find out why Anders died and to gather his personal belongings.  But what Marina discovers in the isolated, primal landscape compels her to resume her mentorship with Dr. Swenson.  The Amazon, with its kudzu of rivers, dense vegetation and deadly fauna is enough to bewilder Dr. Singh.  But the people she meets of the Lakashi tribe defy Marina's understanding of science and nature.  She is grief-stricken over her friend's death, but the Lakashi people offer enough distractions to keep her in Brazil for much longer than she planned.

   State of Wonder is truly an amazing piece of literature.  Every time I thought I had identified a pattern and knew what would happen next I was proven wrong.  The book is a moral dilemma within a mystery within a mystery and before you know it, your head is swimming with questions about science, ethics, mortality and communication.  State of Wonder asks readers to consider their own physical and emotional limitations - and then these limits are challenged and broken by Marina in our stead.  It's easy for the novel to elicit an emotional response from readers when Marina is so identifiable and familiar.  With this book, Ann Patchett reminds us that our own personal world is microscopic, and that the enormity of our planet is unimaginable until our emotional limits and breaking points overlap with someone else's idea of normalcy.

   I'm really glad this book was chosen for my book club.  There are so many moral and ethical dilemmas in State of Wonder that we may be discussing into the wee hours.  This is the first Ann Patchett book I have read, but I'm definitely coming back for more!

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