Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Conversation about “Soon I Will Be Invincible” by Austin Grossman

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman

Thanks to my spouse for helping ask these questions so that I could figure out how to write about how much I loved this book. I read an ARC, 272 pages.

Q: Why are you so excited about this new book?
A: First off, the cover art is phenomenal; it’s designed by the artist Chip Kidd and it simply depicts shiny gloves and a mask. The narration is captivating. The author, Austin Grossman, is both a consultant for gameda-design and a student of Victorian literature.

Q: Is this book similar to anything you’ve read before?
A: No. This book is 36% famous good guys with dark secrets, 28% appealing bad guys, 21% mastermind schemes, 11% office politics and 4% family angst, approximately. It would be too easy to say that this was a classic battle of good versus evil. Plus, that would be incorrect. Just like real life, the forces of good and evil are not clear cut and the motivations of each villain and hero are complex. The book is told in alternating chapters from two characters – Dr. Invincible, the evil genius who has escaped from prison (again) to try to take over the world (again), and Fatale, a new cyborg super heroine who is in search of her origin story and trying to begin her career as part of the superhero team The Champions.

Q: So, who wants to read it?
A: People who watch the show Heroes, those who read superhero comic books as a child (or who read them now), anyone who find the concept of superpowers intriguing might enjoy this novel.

Q: Do the bad guys wear black tights so that you can tell they are bad?
A: Costumes are certainly important in the superhuman realm - that much is clear in this book. When Fatale is given her first costume as part of The Champions, she notices its quality, and finally feels like part of the team. Dr. Invincible also ruminates over his costume choices, especially after he escapes from prison and begins reassembling his identity and his plans.

Q: Is this a good book to read before bedtime?
A: Do you mean “is it suspenseful?” Not in the traditional sense, no. The plot is revealed slowly, although the reader anticipates the familiar encounters between hero and villain leading up to a final battle near the end of the book. This is the structure of the genre, or of any good versus evil conflict buildup. What is different here is that author Austin Grossman focuses on his characters, their back stories, and the mysteries of their human (or not human) interactions as a team of coworkers, contrasted against the workings of a lone evil genius.

Q: Is Superman faster than the Flash?
A: Umm….actually, those two superheroes, along with the entire realm of Marvel and DC comic superheroes, don’t appear in this book. There is an appendix with information from the “International Metahuman Database, Third Edition” that explains more on some individuals, plus “A Selective Timeline of Superhuman History” at the back of the book.

Q: Is it possible that any of the friends, relatives, co-workers or passersby that I’ve seen are actually superheroes?
A: According to the book, which let me remind you again is fiction, retired metahumans may assume their secret identity and live normal lives in traditional society. I would say that your chances of seeing superheroes on the street are equal with your changes of meeting Madame DeFarge, Ron Weasley, or Count Olaf at the local grocery.

Q: So, from everything you’ve told me, I guess I should read this book?
A: Check it out at your library!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A Big Read Readalike

This is sort of like Fahrenheit 451, but for kids, and about movie censorship. The message that I got from it loud and clear was that the best way to get a bunch of people to read or watch something is to tell them that they can't.

How to Get Suspended and Influence People: A Novel by Adam Selzer

“You don’t have to be smart to be a smart-ass.

But it helps.”

The front of this book made me pick it up and the quote on the back made me check it out and take it home.
Leon is your typical thirteen year old boy. He’s into heavy metal, he’s kind of a loner, he has a crush on a girl in his homeroom, he thinks his parents are weird, he finds schoolwork monotonous and his teachers are oppressive. Of course, he’s only into heavy metal because it makes him just acceptable enough to avoid the school bullies. And the only thing he has in common with his other school friends is that they are all in the gifted pool, a student enrichment class that gets them out of 6th period once a week. The gifted teacher is uptight, serious and very moral, so the students always spend the class trying to annoy her. And Leon’s parents are truly strange. His dad hates Thomas Edison and is always trying (and failing) to invent things. His mom is a food disaster hobbyist, which means she buys strange old cookbooks and makes the worst recipes to serve the family for dinner – just for fun! I loved all the quality family time spent making bizarre casseroles together, dressed in period clothing, just to produce practically inedible cuisine for dinner. Oh my, the things that kids will do to humor their parents -- !

Since they are in eighth grade this year at middle school, and the school has a new multimedia library, Leon and his gifted friends are assigned to make health and safety videos that will be shown to the sixth and seventh graders. Some people choose topics like seat belts or drug use, but Leon chooses sex ed, and he decided to make an avant-garde film (even though he just learned what that meant a few days earlier) for his project. Soon everyone has an opinion about Leon’s film project, and – you guessed it – Leon is quickly gaining the valuable experience that allows him to tell this story, so that just like the title says, you can learn “How to Get Suspended and Influence People.”

His friend Anna makes an awesome video as well, pointing out that many of the great authors they read in English class died of drug or alcohol related problems in a most ironic way...
Leon is just one of the great characters in this book that will make you want to hang out with the fringes of eighth grade society just to see what is going on in their brilliant, warped minds.
I checked it out and read it in one evening. 183 pgs

Monday, May 21, 2007

Unshelved Book Club: An Abundance of Katherines

Coincidence or cosmic sign? This comic promoting the John Green novel An Abundance of Katherines was published the very same day that I finished reading the book! I actually listened to the audiobook, which is read by Jeff Woodman, and I think that the romantic parts are even better when he is reading them out loud than if I was reading them on the pages myself. Not that there are that many romantic parts, since the narrator, Colin, is miserable for most of the book as he mopes and moans about how he has dated NINETEEN girls named Katherine and they have all dumped him. That right there should be enough to make you want to read the book, but then there is his best friend Hassan, and a road trip, and the town of Gutshot, Tennessee, and the grave of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and that's when things start to get really interesting. Colin is a slightly neurotic child prodigy with language and facts and numbers, who is hoping to grow up into a bona-fide genius, but is worried that he will turn out {gasp} normal and not unique and that he won't matter. Although I read the book to find out more about the nineteen Katherines, I ended up enjoying Colin's struggle to "matter" more than I anticipated.

I checked it out. 7 hours.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Frenemies by Megan Crane

I loved this book because it was sooo true to life. Well, except the part where the MC was supposed to be a librarian, but seemed to never interact with any people except her crazy museum-owner boss. But even that was forgivable because this was funny and insightful and all about being 29 (which I am all about right now...). And it was about real love and fake love and real friends and fake friends and mostly about how hard it is to tell the difference between the two. I was thrown off by the acknowledgements (which I should learn to stop reading first) when the hottie Henry was compared favorable to a certain Veronica Mars bad boy (can we say Logan Echolls) and then I spent the whole novel comparing them...when I should have just imagined Henry on his own merits, in part because he seemed to be missing that crucial violence element which Logan has so perfected. But I digress. This book is really about best friend break-ups and how they hurt more than the traditional romantic relationship breakup, because best friends are sometimes/usually closer and more serious and more honest relationships anyway. I reviewed it for www.freshfiction.com 289 pgs.

Monday, May 14, 2007


Why was I so excited about driving to Hiawatha for a book discussion? Uninterrupted driving time to relax with a book on tape! I choose ALT ED by Catherine Atkins. The story is my favorite kind, ensemble high school. It has a breakfast club feel, without the big pot smoking scene that I rarely saw since it was edited out on cable... -- anyway, the kids attend a weekly group therapy session to avoid being expelled for each of their particular offenses. Growing, learning, changes, but NOTHING CHANGES and no one does anything too radical or touchy-feely. I mean, it is still a book, not a cheesy Hollywood movie!
I listened to it. 5 hours.

Book Group madness

So first, I re-read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and then drove to Hiawatha, KS to help facilitate a book discussion group there last week. My favorite comment came from Virginia, who said she had read the book in 1956 as a college assignment and it seemed freaky and irrelevant (I might be paraphrasing here...) but when she read it this year, it seemed like Bradbury was writing about modern times and his futuristic visions were coming true in our society. I just loved her perspective over the 50 years in between readings. I can't wait until 2057 when I re-read this book and compare THAT society to Bradbury's novel. I can only hope that his dystopian novel continues to be "futuristic" and not "historical." Another point they raised (which I agreed with to some extent) was a complete disdain for "book collectors". One person went as far as to compare them to Beatty and his walls of unopened books (which we all agreed was a terrible crime, to hoard the books but not read them.)
179 pgs.

I also finally let myself start exploring my grief concerning the late great Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. At the Comicon in Overland Park last week, I bought several old issues of Playboy magazine featuring interviews and reviews with Vonnegut, but I had avoided re-reading, and have postponed reading the outpouring of reflections online in the last month, as I know that many Vonnegut fans have been doing all month, because I have felt so busy with other deadlines. Yesterday I could avoid it no longer, because today was Vonnegut day in book group, so I settled in to re-read "Slaughterhouse Five" and also a good sized pile of literary criticism and commentary to prepare. And, as always, Kurt Vonnegut's words have made me sad, and happy, and comforted, and upset, and relieved and riled up and peaceful and depairing and enthusiastic and inspired. Just like good writing should be.
205 pgs.

This weekend, M and I are discussing Fahrenheit 451 again with our Sunday group. I will probably re-read on Saturday. Bradbury becomes more literary and poetic with each reading.

Speaking of re-reading, I was a guest reader at the F451 kickoff event at TSCPL last Friday night. I was supposed to read for 3-5 minutes from a passage of a book that I love. I spent 3-5 hours on the floor next to my bookshelves, skimming and re-reading passages from my favorite books trying to find a passage to share. In my mind, I wanted to find something important that I loved, something that I would memorize if books were outlawed and my book was threatened. I tried Cause Celeb by Helen Fielding, Cheaper by the Dozen by the Gilbreaths, Walking Across Egypt by Clyde Egerton, Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn, and of course I considered Connie Willis, particularly the last pages of The Doomsday Book.I looked at Nick Hornby, Tim Robbins, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and plenty of old favorites from my childhood.

But it all comes back to John Irving's The Hotel New Hampshire, and after reading most of the second half of the book, browsing around Tralfamadorian-style, I settled in two pages close to the end. I had to practice reading them aloud so that I could complete the passage without getting emotional, but at the library Friday night, it went pretty well. I read about how Father, now blinded, doesnt't realize that the third Hotel New Hampshire in Maine isn't a typical hotel. He greets the "guests" (who are actually rape victims recovering at the center) and talks to them about how a great hotel can help people recover and put them back together. (That is the part that chokes me up of course). And his children conclude that their father continues to have good advice. Like "Keep passing the open windows...."
I don't need to count up those hours of browsed pages. The more I remember it, the more I was to go revisit "the good parts" of other books.

Friday Night Knitting Club

Okay, well I actually belong to a Wednesday night knitting club (Hastings at 6:30, if anyone is interested...) but this new book by Kate Jacobs is a lovely ensemble fiction piece that knits together many women's stories into a wonderful book that made me want to snuggle under the covers and read all night. Well, actually just until 4am. I got overly excited and I made a video book review of this title.
YES, I am a dork. YES, I do too much work at home. Get over it. Do you want to see the video or not?

I checked it out. 340 pgs.

Monday, May 07, 2007

How to Talk to a Widower

How to Talk to a Widower by Jonathan Tropper

Jonathan Tropper gives us a young, slim, sad and beautiful man with angst galore and a wicked grief, guilt and other near-paralyzing issues. Doug Parker is a widower at 29, and after a year of grieving for his wife Hailey, he is resisting pressure from friends and family to move on with his life. Not that he is content. No, he is wallowing in his grief, drunk most days, and living off the casseroles brought by neighborhood housewives. A few years earlier, he was living in the city and hating his dead end job. He never expected to meet a slightly older woman like Hailey, or to have her give him a chance, or to get married and move to the affluent suburb where he now resides in her home. He never expected to be a step-father to a teenage boy. And having adjusted to all of these unexpected changes in his life, he didn't expect Hailey to get on an airplane and never come home.

Doug can't hide out forever. Hailey's son Russ is causing some trouble at school, and Doug's twin sister Claire is causing some trouble at home, and a neighborhood housewife is causing some trouble in bed. On top of this, Doug reenters the dating scene. He just wishes that more women knew HOW TO TALK TO A WIDOWER.

Internet gossip (from imdb.com) shows that this novel is listed as a movie project in development for 2008, called "After Hailey." I personally think that "How to Talk to a Widower" is much funnier, but what do I know compared to the big Hollywood execs who constantly turn perfectly lovely books into horrid movie adaptations? The novel is written very cinematically, and I could see some of the actions perfectly in my mind. Once, there is even a montage dating scene that perfectly referenced and recognized that all movie-montage dating scenes and at once completely fake and very true-to-life for the person trying to reenter the dating scene in a flurry of setups. Who will they cast though? It would be adorable to put a brother/sister acting pair in the roles of Doug and Claire. I don't think John Cusack can pull off 29 anymore though, although he and Joan would be ideal. Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal spring to mind, but a good casting agent can probably find a better match for the parts.

Could Jonathan Tropper be an American Nick Hornby? We can only hope! I can't wait to go back and read his other two novels - The Book of Joe and Everything Changes - because I have high hopes that his first efforts will be equally delightful. (And by delightful here, I mean humorously sad, sarcastic and weird, and heartbreakingly funny.

This book will be published in mid-July 2007 - I read the ARC. 340 pgs.

Teen Love (paperbacks)

Some more in an unlabeled series from the Smooch imprint...
Who Needs Boys? by Stephie Davie (193 pgs) and Smart Boys & Fast Girls by Stephie Davis (178 pgs). BY some stroke of luck, I managed to read 3 of the 4 books in this series about 4 girlfriends in the correct order for the continuing plots to make the most sense. Admittedly the entire plot of the series and the individual books revolves around the gripping question "Does he like me?" but still....I'll take serendipity in my escape reading, no problem.

I also read Speed Knitting, 24 quick and easy projects by Kris Percival. 13o pgs. I am still undecided if I want to make something out of the pattern section right now, but many of them look cute and promise to be "speedy." Does the world really need another bag, shrug, shawl or combination scarf and hat? Probably not, but it's never stopped me before.