Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Surrey State of Affairs by Ceri Radford

     Constance Harding, a 53 year-old woman from Surrey, England, has reluctantly entered the world of blogging.  Convinced that she will remain anonymous and that her family is uninterested, Constance starts a very personal and diary-like blog.  From local tidbits of gossip to deeply personal family drama details, she pours her heart out to her online followers.  She is hilariously clueless in the ceaseless endeavors to find her son a suitable wife and turn her edgy, wild daughter into a proper English lady.  And she just can't figure out why their young, beautiful housekeeper has developed such a fondness for her husband, Jeffrey.  And how on Earth do this woman's panties keep turning up in Jeffrey's study?

     Poor Constance has good intentions, but she's just a little insensitive and a bit foggy when it comes to respecting others' boundaries.  She is actually very reminiscent of Hyacinth Bucket of Keeping Up Appearances.  Ok. maybe not quite as bad as Hyacinth, but she definitely has a few quirks and peculiarities.  For a woman whose daily activities include reprimanding the servants, meddling in her friends'/neighbors'/children's private affairs, and Facebook stalking, Constance is quite convinced that Surrey would fall apart without her presence.

     Inevitably, life as she knows it completely falls apart, and due to a few shocking revelations, Constance leaves England behind for a long vacation.  But there's much more to Constance Harding than meets the eye, and very soon she transforms from a ditzy anti-hero into a full fledged literary heroine!  Despite differences in political or social opinions, A Surrey State of Affairs reminds readers that people will never stop surprising you - and probably when you least expect it.  Constance might be a naive, proud busybody, but you may find yourself reluctantly sympathizing with her and then enthusiastically cheering her on!  A Surrey State of Affairs is hilarious, charming, and quirky, and Ceri Radford's writing is sharp-witted and fresh.  This new novel is a sparkling testament to the state of debut literature.  2012 has been a good year for books, and I'll be recommending this heartwarming and delightful story for years to come!

Overall Rating:

Monday, May 28, 2012

2012 Summer Reading

I just love summer reading.  When the term comes to mind I imagine myself on the beach or by the pool with a good book in one hand and a cocktail in the other (I'm also wearing really awesome sunglasses and a big, floppy hat).  Realistically, summer reading means trying not to sweat onto the pages of my book while staying as close to an AC vent as possible.  Despite the reality, it doesn't change the fact that a great deal of amazing literature is released throughout the summer months.  Here are a few new releases I'm looking forward to this summer:

Friday, May 25, 2012

Hooked Bookworm Happy Birthday Sweepstakes

UPDATE: Sweepstakes officially closed at noon (Eastern Time) on June 1

I'm excited to announce that today marks the 1 year anniversary of Hooked Bookworm!  Thanks so much to everyone who supported me and my little book blog this past year!
As a part of the birthday celebration, we're hosting a drawing to give away a free book!  One winner will receive a new copy of a book of their choosing that has been reviewed by Hooked Bookworm.  Anything linked in green in the 2012, 2011, 2010, or 2009 book lists is eligible.  Here's how to enter:

-  Comment on this post telling us which book you would claim if you win
- "Like" Hooked Bookworm on Facebook (we will contact the winner via Facebook, so if your Facebook name does not coincide with the name used to comment, please clarify).  
- One winner will be picked at random a week from today.  Make sure you enter by 12 PM (noon) on June 1, 2012.  The lucky winner will be announced on the evening of June 1
- Winner will be contacted via Facebook and will have 2 weeks to respond and claim their prize
- Winner's book of choice will be mailed via Amazon (book will be new, but must not exceed a total value of $40)
- Only 1 entry per person
- U.S. Residents only
- If you have any additional questions, feel free to post them below or email me (

Hooked Bookworm often reviews Advanced Reader copies of books, so if the title you desire has not yet been released, it will be pre-ordered in your name and shipped to you upon its release date.  If, for some reason, Amazon is "out of stock" of the book you want, we will correspond via email to either choose a second option or decide on an appropriate waiting period.
If the chosen winner does not respond in the allotted time period, or is not eligible (not a U.S. resident or no U.S. shipping address), a runner up will be picked but not announced unless the first winner is unable to claim a prize.
If you know others who might be interested in receiving a free book, be sure to share this post on Facebook!
Thanks again for supporting Hooked Bookworm this past year.  This has been a great experience, and I hope to continue with my blogging efforts for as long as possible.  Now please, have a cocktail to celebrate

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

You Don't Sweat Much for a Fat Girl by Celia Rivenbark

     I've been a fan of Celia Rivenbark for many years now - how could I resist a southern humorist's "observations on life from the shallow end of the pool?'  With her latest collection of essays, she once again delivers delicious sarcasm, a shameless sense of humor, and of course, southern charm.  She even share a few recipes with readers between quick-witted jabs at just about every reality TV star, and hilarious sucker punches aimed at well-deserving politicians, such as former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford.  The bastard had it coming, bless his heart!

     I read most of this book aloud to my husband on a road trip this past weekend, and Ms. Rivenbark's hilarious book had us both practically in tears as we cruised along I-40.  Needless to say, our 3 hour road trip felt more like 30 minutes with the wonderful distractions this book offered.  My favorite chapter consists of Celia's musings on "Puppy Tweets," an electronic dog collar that generates tweets when activated by your dog's barking and movements.  Click that puppy tweets link if you don't believe me! That shit is real!  But what about social networking opportunities for cats, you ask?  Don't worry, Celia addresses those concerns as well.

     For Celia Rivenbark, no topic is off limits.  Whether it's politics, sex, menopause, or Snuggies, You Don't Sweat Much for a Fat Girl has something for everyone.  And if you're offended by any of Celia's remarks, rest assured that she does not care. At all.  But how could you be offended by such a sweet, trash-talking southern woman??  Native southerners have embraced Ms. Rivenbark for years, and if you're not from the south, first of all, I'm sorry....and second, Celia's little words of wisdom will give you the urge to mix up a pitcher of sweet tea and find a nice, breezy porch where you can experience the south according to Celia.  You Don't Sweat Much for a Fat Girl is not my favorite of her books (I'm partial to Belle Weather and Bless Your Heart, Tramp), but it still offers a great deal of entertainment and keeps me hoping that Celia Rivenbark will always remain one of the most opinionated women this side of the Mason Dixon line.

Overall Rating:

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac by Kris D'Agostino

"What I really to know how it feels to be passionate about something" (p. 237).

Friday, May 18, 2012

Favorite Fiction: Francesca Lia Block

Those of you who follow Hooked Bookworm know how much I adore and respect Francesca Lia Block.  I read Weetzie Bat in high school (and about 10 more times since then) and was immediately enchanted by the colorful characters, the magical setting, and the sparkling, unforgettable story.  Block primarily writes YA fiction, but thematically, her books are timeless - she has a gift for revealing universal truths through unique, one-of-a-kind characters.  With dozens of publications under her belt, I have not been able to read everything by Ms. Block (yet!), but here are a few favorites:

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

     In ancient Greece, a young prince has fallen out of favor with his father and the gods, and is exiled to the land of Phthia.  When Patroclus arrives, his status is diminished to that of a servant - he is scared, lonely, and still just a child.  He soon is introduced to Prince Achilles, and the two immediately strike up a friendship.  The boys spend nearly every hour of the day together, and over the years, their friendship develops into something much more complicated and tender.  But Achilles is the son of a goddess - Thetis - and she is not pleased by the nature of their relationship.  She is focused on the prophecy surrounding her son - that he will be a great, famous warrior, but will die young in battle.  As Patroclus and Achilles grow older, their relationship blossoms, but always in the shadow of the prophecy.

     The Greek myths are inconsistent regarding Achilles and Patroclus.  Some stories suggest that they were not just lifelong friends, but also lovers, and some stories do not mention the two in a romantic context at all.  In Madeline Miller's retelling of the classic myth, their relationship resembles that of a secret marriage.  Patroclus and Achilles are devoted to one another and nearly inseparable for almost 20 years.  While their closest friends knew the nature of their relationship, their love and affection for each other is only recognized in the context of friendship to most.  Eventually, the Trojan War intensifies, and Patroclus and Achilles must balance love, warfare, heroics, and honor.

     Even if The Iliad and The Odyssey aren't that fresh in your memory, The Song of Achilles is easy to read.  Miller includes a very helpful list of all the characters in the back of the book that acts as a refresher to figures such as Zeus, Odysseus, Paris, Chiron, and Helen.  I admit, I did have to consult Wikipedia a time or two, but this novel was still very readable and fast-paced.  Reading about such famous characters and stories in such a new context is fascinating, and retelling Greek myths is ambitious (especially for a first novel), but Miller's writing is graceful and natural, and the book is very well-organized and highly researched.  Patroclus and Achilles may not be as famous as Odysseus and Penelope or Orpheus and Eurydice, but Miller's version of their story is equally epic, tragic, and unforgettable - prompting discussions of love, sexuality, gender roles, fate, and sacrifice.

Overall Rating:

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

     Karen Thompson Walker's debut novel is narrated by Julia, who is only 11 years old when "the slowing" begins.  She recalls the ordinary Saturday in southern California when news stations announced that the Earth was slowing at an alarmingly fast rate.  Eventually, days expand to more than 70 hours, which sets off a chain of unimaginable ecological and environmental consequences.  Birds can no longer fly, marine life can no longer depend on natural ocean currents, and temperatures range from extreme heat to extreme cold across the span of a single day.

     While some believe "the slowing" to be a natural part of the Earth's patterns, others predict a fiery apocalypse.  Yet in the midst of panic, paranoia, and chaos, Julia and her family try to maintain some semblance of normalcy - birthdays and anniversaries are still celebrated, school is still in session, and people still go to work and run errands.  And for Julia, "the slowing" does not affect the onset of puberty and her first crush.

     The Age of Miracles is not just a coming-of-age novel.  It's about the way people cope with disasters, and how our modern culture is frighteningly dependent on predictable patterns and routines.  If these constants dissolve, does civilization also disintegrate?  How do we maintain motivation, positivity, and ambition if fundamental truths are shattered?  And how do we arrange our priorities in the midst of chaos and disaster?  Such are the questions explored through Julia's narrative as she and her family experience a suspension of time, yet also a new sense of urgency.

      The Age of Miracles emits feelings of perpetual summer - a sense of wonder, possibilities, and a strange numbness to danger and threats.  The world is literally stopping and the ecosystem is collapsing, yet many people still go to work, school, soccer practice, and piano lessons.  The human ability to cope with change can be quite powerful when it needs to be.  And while some people in the novel adapt better than others, The Age of Miracles showcases the mental and emotional aspects of natural selection on large-scale proportions.  While some characters' ties to sanity quickly unravel, others prepare for the worst but remain in forward motion.

     This novel is a poetically written and poignant portrayal of the ways we respond to crises.  And whether we endure global or personal disaster, our greatest fear is not that we will perish, but that our stories and experiences will not retain the permanence and importance that we ascribe to them.  We have a strong desire to leave a legacy, and Karen Thompson Walker's novel expertly explores this universal and fundamental instinct.  The Age of Miracles will be released on 6/26/12

Overall Rating:

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

     Margaret Lea is an aspiring writer and a voracious reader who has worked in her father's bookshop her entire life.  One evening,  Margaret receives a surprising and confusing letter from one of England's most famous novelists, Vida Winter.  Ms. Winter has always been known as a reclusive and mysterious woman, yet she is writing to Margaret to hire her as a biographer.  No one knows anything about Vida Winter's past - she has never been forthcoming about her upbringing and family history, so this is an unbelievable opportunity for Margaret.

     As Margaret is slowly introduced to the details of Ms. Winter's past, she realizes that they have a great deal in common.  Both women have been keeping a terrible, heavy secret their entire lives and are desperate for redemption and peace.  As Margaret learns the shocking truth of Vida's past involving sinister and harrowing family secrets, she must come to terms with her own past. Through the catharsis of Ms. Winter's storytelling, Margaret must relive her own tragedy and painfully acknowledge a great loss from which she has never recovered.

     The Thirteenth Tale is not just a gothic tale about family mysteries and revelations - it's a book about the powerful healing effects of storytelling.  Both Vida and Margaret are emotionally tormented by a lifetime of secrets, but as bits and pieces of their stories are revealed, the process of healing, forgiveness, and redemption begins to take place.  The Thirteenth Tale deals with identity, loss, grief, abuse, and relationships.  It is a lot to weave into one story, but, like Vida Winter, Diane Setterfield is a master storyteller.  This book has a pulse and is nearly impossible to put down.  Lovers of language and literature will appreciate the artistic organization of the novel, and the plot is equally engaging.  A big thanks to my good friend, Mary, who encouraged me to move this book to the top of my reading list!  I'm so glad I followed your advice!

Overall Rating:

Monday, May 7, 2012

Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel

     Those who are familiar with P.D. Eastman's classic children's book, Are You My Mother?, may remember the sad, but touching storyline in which a baby bird leaves the nest and tirelessly searches for its mother among various species of animals.  In Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir of the same title, she knows exactly where her mother is, but she just doesn't understand her.  In fact, Bechdel can see little to no resemblance between herself and her mother, but their intense relationship has affected nearly every other subsequent relationship she has ever had.  Are You My Mother? traces Alison Bechdel's life as a writer, philosopher, artist, and lesbian - but mostly as a daughter.

     This book isn't written like your typical memoir.  It's written as a comic strip and includes a great deal of discussion on classical psychology, drama, art, and literature - especially that of Virginia Woolf.  Bechdel has spent decades in therapy and analysis trying to work out her complicated relationship with her mother - a woman who is incredibly intelligent and talented yet emotionally distant.  Much of Bechdel's childhood was mapped out in her first memoir, Fun Home, a graphic biography about her eccentric and distracted father who committed suicide at the age of 44.

     It's no stretch to say that Bechdel had an unusual upbringing and a complicated relationship with her parents, but sometimes the book felt a little too self-aware and over-analyzed.  For one thing, she takes psychoanalysis very seriously and invests a great deal of time and energy in dream analysis - which she often interprets very literally.  Don't get me wrong - I think one can benefit tremendously from attending therapy sessions.  It can be cathartic and emotionally cleansing.  But Bechdel seems unable to make any decision or comprehend a situation without first discussing it in detail with a therapist.  Sometimes her emotions just don't feel completely natural.  They take on a numbed, almost clinical vibe, which likely contributes to her original anxiety.  She also is a dedicated (if not obsessive) diarist, writing down conversations verbatim between herself and her analyst, girlfriends, and family members.  In turn, much of the book consist of conversations between herself and her therapist about Alison's dreams, Alison's feelings, Alison's life philosophy, and Alison's memories.  That's exactly what therapy is for, but it may be a little too self-absorbed for a book (even for an autobiography).

     Another troublesome aspect of the book is that Alison seems to want some sort of psychological peace regarding her mother, yet she struggles with the ability to see her mom as a human being capable of making mistakes and indulging in selfish tendencies - which is sometimes in direct contrast with her feminist platform.  She seems to hold her mother to much higher standards regarding motherhood and identity, which isn't completely fair.  We must also consider that Alison has been keeping very accurate and detailed notes since she was an adolescent, which makes harboring a grudge a little too easy.

     Alison Bechdel is obviously a talented writer and artist, but this book needed a bit more organization.  Sometimes it was a book about her mom, sometimes it was a book about writing a different book, and sometimes it felt like reading a teenager's diary.  But somewhere along the way, she begins to see her mother in a different light - perhaps it is due to the years of analysis, or maybe it's due to the therapeutic act of writing the memoir itself.  Either way, Are You My Mother? leaves Bechdel at the cusp of an opportunity for renewal and peace, which comes as a much needed breath of fresh air.

Overall Rating:

Friday, May 4, 2012

Threats by Amelia Gray

     David's wife, Franny, has just died very unexpectedly, and he is (understandably) feeling overwhelmed and confused.  As he enters the viscous, unforgiving world of grief, the police begin searching for clues that will shed some light on Franny's untimely and bizarre death.  In the meantime, David keeps finding little slips of paper tucked into strange places of his home (in a bag of sugar, behind a peeling corner of wallpaper) upon which are printed disturbing "threats."  One of the more troublesome threats reads:

     As David's grief and loneliness become more severe, his mind and memory become increasingly unreliable, and he begins to wonder if Franny might possibly still be alive.  He tries to reach out to a few people for comfort, but his actions are so robotic and strange that he only ends up further isolating himself.

      Threats never offers any resolution for David and Franny's story.  Instead, the novel moves between sharp bursts of reality and fuzzy, dreamlike images.  I have spent a great deal of time thinking about this book and I am not afraid to admit:  I have no idea what just happened.  Reading this novel feels like watching a David Lynch film for the first time - wondrous, confusing, and maddening.  But at the same time, Amelia Gray's writing is purposeful and blooming with misdirection.  The fact is, if no one in David's life can figure out what happened to Franny and for what reason, then we're probably not going to figure it out either.  We have the same information David has, but even that is unreliable.  So maybe she's dead, maybe she's not.  Maybe the threats are a part of Franny's mystery, but maybe they're completely unrelated.  We'll never know, because Amelia Gray only gives us enough information to wonder.

Overall Rating:

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Favorite Fiction: Toni Morrison

Over the years, Toni Morrison has earned great respect as an author.  As the winner of the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, and the Pearl Buck Award (just to name a few), Toni Morrison has been a tremendous influence on American literature.  Now, at the age of 81, she is publishing her 10th novel, Home, which will be released next week on May 8.  In celebration of her many accomplishments and to gear up for the new release, here are Hooked Bookworm's top 5 Toni Morrison novels: