Friday, August 28, 2009

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman

I'm so on the fence about this one, it's not even funny. Do I love it? Do I hate it? I'm not sure. I do love the book design though, I'll start on a positive. Take a look at that cover. I dare you not to love it.

This is the story of the infamous villain Doctor Impossible as he plays out another scheme to control the Earth. Odd-numbered chapters are told from his perspective and are absolutely riveting, while even-numbered chapters are told by Fatale, a cyborg superhero on the team that's trying to track him down. Her chapters are flat and boring.

Literary novels like this are like watching train wrecks in SLOW MOTION. I have a feeling that it's not going to have a satisfying ending, just literary claptrap in which we all see how terrible the illness or social issue or dog dying is, but there's no resolution or hope or even much conflict, just exploring the issue. Things take forever to happen and all it is is long internal monologuing about the angst of it all. And yet, you can't look away.

Doctor Impossible was the reason I sat through the boredom. I lived for his chapters. He's the only sympathetic character in the book, and although I think that was the point, it didn't endear me to the other half of the story. Doctor Impossible was witty, intelligent, brave... "Savvy" is the word. He knows the story is going to play out exactly like it always has and nothing's going to change, but he keeps on trying, he never gives up.

All the heroes were boring, flat, and annoying, and it was like pulling teeth just to sit through their scenes. They tried to work up some mystique and suspense, but I just didn't care, with the possible exception of Blackwolf (a Captain Ersatz of Batman, so I had to like him) and Mister Mystic (who got just enough attention to make me want more, but not enough for me to know if I actually liked him.)

The heroes don't do much but complain and fight amongst themselves, but somehow they still beat Doctor Impossible. It's just not fair.

Really, I just don't know. I was frustrated and enrapt for equal parts. If this sounds remotely like something you might potentially be interested in, read it, think about it, let me know what you decide. Most of the reviews I've read really haven't understood what the book was trying to say any more than I did, and some of them are just mistaken. It's not a parody of superhero literature by any means.

Anyway. Read it, read Hero, read Watchmen.

Buy Soon I Will Be Invincible

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks

This is a fascinating, hilarious book. The vampires drink blood, but after that you can drop all the old vampire tropes. These vampires are really quite ill and nauseated most of the time, get their blood from guinea pigs, and only leave their homes to attend their weekly Support Group meetings. Our main character, Nina, has been a vampire for about thirty years since she was fifteen, and still lives with her (now 70-year-old) mother.

Now, throw in a vampire slayer who kills one of the group's members and starts a runaway train of plot weirdness! I hesitate to use the word "intricate" for the plot, but I'm not sure why. It's just sort of magnificently random, and the "barely holding together, and loving it" feel makes it a joy to read. The story is dark and gothic, but the style is hilarious. It's unique.

The characters were very much like real people -- always whining (funny and not annoying in this case), and having no idea how to go about reacting to a plot like this, but hiding a few gems in the ranks. It really felt like what might happen if a bunch of real people were attacked. And, like real people, the more you get to know them the more fun they are, and that applies to every single character.

What we have here is a case of everything going right, all the narrative devices coming together and working well. Making something that's new and great, but doesn't make a big deal out of itself. If there's one thing I hate it's a story that's trying too hard to be cool, and this is definitely not one of those.

Support Group just came out last April, but Catherine Jinks has written a lot more books than I expected so there's plenty to look into. There's a planned sequel, The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group, but no release date on that as of yet... I recommend Sucks to Be Me for fans of this.

Buy The Reformed Vampire Support Group

Friday, August 14, 2009

Boys That Bite by Mari Mancusi

When Sunny is mistaken for her goth twin sister and bitten by a vampire, will she be able to reverse the effects before prom? I didn't know, but by halfway through the book, I surprised myself by sort of caring.

This is one of those teen vampire books that's so common, mostly just teen girls complaining because they've been somehow wrangled into the vampire world while making as many pop culture references as possible. Nice beach reads, but kind of annoying in bulk. Which is why I was surprised that I kind of liked it.

There are a lot of quirky little things hidden away in the text that made the book stand out and be memorable. I liked the Slayers Inc., beer-drinking Druid, we-order-vamp-gear-online style of the thing, where people are people everywhere you go. The plot seemed pretty cut and dry and the reader is set up to see a particular outcome... Then the plot changes and you quickly formulate another set outcome... Then it changes again and you think "Oh... OH... Hm." There's an obvious lead-in to a sequel, Stake That, which looks like a rather brilliant plot move and might actually be better than Boys That Bite. (There's also a third book after that, I see.)

The one thing that bothered me was how terrible all the other characters were to Sunny. She's being turned into a vampire against her will, and it doesn't look like that great of a gig, and all anyone can talk about is how terrible it is for THEM. Whiny characters annoy me, but Sunny really is in the right, she's the injured party, and nobody cares. I would be having serious second thoughts about my relationship with people if they were that callous about ME.

It's not a must-read, but there were a lot of things to like and it doesn't take long to read. I suggest this book to casual vampire fans or to the "need something to read after Twilight" crowd.

Buy Boys that Bite

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Suck it Up by Brian Meehl

Morning McCobb, a 16-year-old boy who likes superheroes, is the first vampire in history to come out on national television. Will the vampires' dreams of Worldwide Out Day be realized, or will Morning ruin it all by succombing to his lust for the blood of Portia Dredful, his publicist's daughter?

As it says on the cover several times, this is a vampire novel that's not quite like the rest of them. While it is a light read it's also a thoughtful story, one that should be read slowly, not in one big chunk. Things need to unfold at their own pace.

There's a certain realism in the atmosphere that I found fascinating. Most vampire books feel hidden in the shadows, confined by the need to keep the vampires a secret from the humans in the book. Morning is thrown out into the world, and it feels like a coming out for all the vampires in all the stories. It made me look at everything in a new light.

The vampires themselves are also interesting and not the norm, there's more of an emphasis on shapeshifting than the common powers, and they have a singular origin story. The characters were all very grounded in the story for me, each with a coherent set of motivations and a firm sense of self, by which I mean I had a very distinct image of each one. They didn't bleed into each other or agree about things just because it was the author's opinion! While the romance is obvious, Portia is not your typical heroine, and I loved her power.

The plot was slow in some places, but that should be a cue to slow down and get in deep in those places. There's a great mix of internal conflict with Morning and Portia, and external conflict with Morning and Ikor, the vampire who's willing to kill Morning to keep vampires from coming out. Everything is resolved beautifully at the end, with just enough of a tease for me to hope we get a sequel AND hope we don't. All in all, a thoroughly satisfying book.

It sort of felt like taking the hero of The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl and putting him in Sucks to Be Me (links are to reviews.) I recommend Sucks to Be Me, or maybe Vladimir Tod.

Suck It Up

Buy Suck It Up