Stuff and Nonsense: June 2013


Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman

I'm the smartest man in the world. Once I wore a cape in public, and fought battles against men who could fly, who had metal skin, who could kill you with their eyes. I fought CoreFire to a standstill, and the Super Squadron, and the Champions. Now I have to shuffle through a cafeteria line with men who tried to pass bad checks. Now I have to wonder if there will be chocolate milk in the dispenser. And whether the smartest man in the world has done the smartest thing he could do with his life.

I'm just going to come clean and say I bought Soon I Will Be Invincible because I loved the cover art. Also, as a fan of Dexter's Laboratory and Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog, the novel's premise charmed the pants off me (I love a good villain). So, yes, based on those two things I expected to love Soon I Will Be Invincible.

Unfortunately, it really didn't work for me. Too much jumping around in time and, aside from Dr. Impossible, the characters felt more like character sheets than people. And this is very unfortunate as the narration alternates between Dr. Impossible and the newbie cyborg superhero Fatale. I'd expect them to sound very different as they are clearly meant to be completely different people. (But then Fatale turns out to be one of Dr. Impossible's experimental afterthoughts/an authorial red herring and it's just ... ugh).

And the novel is rife with inconsistencies. Various characters (including Dr. Impossible) discuss how passionately Dr. Impossible dislikes magic and then he casually mentions using it. As if, suddenly, it's no big deal. And bits of plot are set-up ... only to go nowhere. Mr. Mystic appears to know more than he's letting on, but his knowledge is never revealed (I know being Deep and Mystical is his schtick, but it's a tiresome one). Baron Ether is also Kleinfeld, but what's that knowledge worth? Ether built Galatea, but again what's that knowledge worth? And, why did Dr. Impossible never figure out that Lisa was Erica? I did and I'm not a super-intelligent supervillian.

It's great premise, though, and I do think Soon I Will Be Invincible would work fine on film.

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman (Vintage Books, 2007)


Odd Girl Out by Ann Bannon

In a 1950s college town somewhere in Midwestern America, two sorority girls fall in love. Of course, their love must remain secret and that secrecy works Laura into knots. Younger than Beth, Laura is less assured and willingly plays the child in their relationship ... which made me a little crazy, by the way, but this is a pulp novel from the 50s and the whole dominant/butch/submissive/femme fandango was probably expected. (That said, the novel is surprisingly chaste).

Of course, Odd Girl Out can't just be two girls in love. No, A Man Must Come Between Them. While Charlie squires Laura around a few times out of duty to both their fathers, it's clear he's quite taken with Beth. And Beth seems to encourage him. Which absolutely freaks Laura out and causes her to react pettishly and with great melodrama. The rest of the novel explores the melodramatic (that word cannot be used to often in discussing this novel) messiness of the Laura-Beth-Charlie triangle.

More interesting to me than the triangle -- it seemed safe to presume it was just a matter of time before Charlie "won" -- was the Fall of Emily. Emily is Beth and Laura's seemingly boy-crazy roommate. She has her heart set on being Bud's girl and doesn't hide her desire or later goings-on very well. This gets her in trouble with her sorority (motto: "appear chaste at all times") and then further (entirely inadvertent) shenanigans caused her to be expelled and completely Ruined. Bud makes out fine, of course, because It's A (Straight) Man's World.

Yeah, who'd think a pulp novel would make me want to punch so many people? At least Laura comes into her own at the end. Beth makes her choice, too, but I'd like to see whether she's still happy with that choice ten years on.

If you're going to read Odd Girl Out, I strongly recommend getting your hands on the Cleis Press edition as it comes with an introduction by the author and the cover art is much more attractive. Also, the Naiad editions contains several annoying typographical errors which I hope have been fixed in the Cleis edition.

Odd Girl Out by Ann Bannon (Naiad Press, 1986)



Not Just for Christmas by Roddy Doyle

After twenty years apart Jimmy Murphy has called his brother, Danny, and invites him for a drink at a local pub. Danny is nervous -- there is so much bad blood between them -- but agrees to meet his brother. On the way to the pub, Danny dawdles along, not wanting to be early as Jimmy ways always late for things. And then he gets to remembering (obsessing?) over some rather terrible boyhood memories starring Jimmy. His brother almost suffocating him. His brother and friends "kidnapping" him. His brother with a bread knife. His brother with his girl.

"You always were the mammy's boy," he said.
"Grow up," said Danny.
"You're the one who should grow up," said Jimmy. "You never could stand up for yourself. Someone else was always to blame. You were always running to Ma. And you haven't changed a bit."

Of course, it's impossible to know if Danny is a reliable narrator as Jimmy's memories don't match. And surely they must have good memories of each other, but if that's so the story doesn't say. It doesn't really matter who's at fault or if they have good memories of each other, really, because I found them both equally unsympathetic. I know these are fictional men, but are brothers really like this with each other? If so ... ugh.

Not Just for Christmas by Roddy Doyle (Gemma Media, 2009)


Wordless Wednesday: Wild Turkey

Wild turkey keeps visiting our bird feeders :)


Top 10 Tuesday: Summer TBRs

We're building our summer TBR lists for this week's Top Ten Tuesday. Alas, TBR lists never seem to work out for me! Last autumn, for example, I said I'd read literary works like Under the Greenwood Tree and catch up with my manga backlog. Utter failure on both fronts.

But, when it comes to books, I am ever the optimist. So here is another list of TBRs I have every intention of reading ... but probably won't. Several of them are books I kickstarted, unfortunately, because while I loving helping books come into the world I am terrible about actually reading them.

Kickstarted, but not read:
  1. Faerie Blood by Angela Korra'ti
  2. Fairy Quest by Paul Jenkins
  3. Golem: A Graphic Novel by Hilary Goldstein (4 issues as PDF w/ the trade paperback out "soon")
  4. Gwendolyn and the Underworld by Bill Robinson
There are several others due out "this summer," but I'm reticent to add them to my TBR list in case they are delayed.

I'm signed up to do an e-book challenge, but haven't read any yet! Naughty of me, I know. So here's six books/novellas that haunt my Kindle:
  1. Dancing with the Duke (Landing a Lord) by Suzanna Medieros
  2. Lady of Devices: A steampunk Adventure Novel (Magnificent Devices) by Shelley Adina
  3. Snow White and Rose Red: The Curse of the Huntsman (Fairy Tales Retold) by Lilly Fang
  4. To Tame A Dragon (The Reluctant Bride Collection) by Megan Bryce
  5. Twixt Two Equal Armies (The Lord & Lady Baugham Stories) by Tina Moncton & Gail McEwen
  6. Two Moons of Sera (Omnibus Edition) by Pavarti K Tyler


Eating the Alphabet: J is for Jicama

I've known for months now that I wanted to use jicama in June's Eating the Alphabet Challenge. My local Price Chopper carries containers of jicama sticks in its prepared produce section and, every time I reach for the snap peas, I'd see them and think "Gonna make something fabulous with you soon!" But when I finally bought them (and a whole unprocessed jicama for kicks) I wondered what I would do with it. Yes, months of looking forward to eating jicama ... zero planning for actually cooking with it.

Jicama 2 Ways
Jicama two ways

So I made a fruit salad. (It's Father's Day Weekend. We're having a picnic. I planned on serving banana cream pie for dessert, but my mother is allergic to bananas. What to serve as secondary dessert? Well, I had lots of berries. And jicama. And mint. And limes ...)

Jicama-Berry Salad

Jicama Fruit Salad
Serves 6

6 oz jicama cubes (thumbnail-sized)
6 oz blackberries
6 oz raspberries
9 oz chopped strawberries
¼ oz fresh mint, sliced into thin ribbons
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
Ground cinnamon, if desired
Honey or sugar, if desired.

Add all ingredients to a medium serving bowl. Stir gently to combine. (If your berries aren't very sweet, you might want to add a little honey or sugar at this point).

Let stand 15 minutes for flavors to blend or refrigerate for a few hours.

Serve dusted with cinnamon, if desired.
What does jicama taste like? A lot like nothing. It's crunchy like an under-ripe pear or water chestnut, but it really doesn't taste like anything. Works brilliantly at picking up surrounding flavors, though -- The Husband picked most of the jicama out of his serving of fruit salad as he said it had "gone all minty!"


Polish-Mexican Hot Dogs By Way of Martha Stewart

There's a really nice Polish market in New Britain called The Roly-Poly Bakery and, nearly every time we visit, we leave with a car filled with semolina pudding, chocolates, pickles, and sausages. Our latest trip was no different and we came home with three kinds of sausage -- Bacik kielbaski pyszne (label says "barbecue sausages" but Google Translate says "beautiful sausages" and they certainly are that) and parowki cieleco wieprzowe (veal and pork wieners), as well as Pulaski kielbasy links.

Sunday Dinner
Salatka jarzynowa with pan-fried Pulaski kielbasy links & cucumber salad.

Martha Stewart has a recipe for "Mexican Charred-Corn Dog" I've been eyeing for a while and as the purchase of the wieners meant I finally had all the ingredients on hand, I decided to give the recipe Friday when it was too wet to garden and I could not be bothered with house work. Why wash dishes when I could simply dirty more?

Polish-Mexican Hot Dogs By Way of Martha Stewart

I admit I cheated a bit with this recipe -- I used feta instead of Cotija and heated up some of Trader Joe's frozen fire-roasted sweet corn rather than browning fresh corn. Despite my cheats, we really enjoyed these dogs and I will definitely make this recipe again. With Cotija and fresh corn (when it's in season here, of course).

Mayonnaise on a hot dog may sound a bit weird, but it works well when you take all the other ingredients into account. We'd picked up a small jar of Hellmann's Babunu majonez at Roly Poly and it's much more like Heinz salad cream than mayonnaise. I find I like it a great deal and, while it won't replace the light Hellmann's already in our fridge, it's a good addition and I bet it would work well in a cold lobster roll or salatka jarzynowa. Certainly, it paired very nicely with the lime juice in Stewart's recipe.

Polish-Mexican Hot Dogs By Way of Martha Stewart


Wordless Wednesday: Mystery Iris


I very much wish I knew the name of this iris -- the mauve standards, creamy falls, and
bright yellow beard are so distinctive! I would love to plant more.


Top 10 Tuesday: Beach Reads

I played a little fast and loose with this week's Top 10 Tuesday topic, "beach reads," to give you some of my favorite fantasy and science fiction novels featuring big bodies of water. If every wave has its shore, than there's a beach somewhere in each of these novels!
  1. The Changeling Sea by Patricia McKillip: sea dragon makes mischief after a local girl hexes the sea for taking her dad
  2. The Door Into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski: all-female inhabitants of an ocean-covered moon recruit a man from another planet to share their lives, because Philosophy
  3. The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin: wizard and companion set sail on a voyage to discover who is sucking all the magic out of the world
  4. Fortune's Fool by Mercedes Lackey: the Sea King's amphibious youngest daughter runs reconnaissance for him and falls in love with a Drylander
  5. Jingo by Terry Pratchett: mysterious sunken "island" rises up from the depths of the ocean and everyone wants to plant their flag in it
  6. Raider's Ransom by Emily Diamand: girl returns from a fishing trip to discover her village ransacked and much mischief afoot
  7. Singer from the Sea by Sheri S. Tepper: noblewomen are dying in childbirth while noblemen and commoners florish on a watery Earth colony
  8. The Snow Queen by Joan Vinge: on another watery planet, The Winter Queen seeks to rule forever by harvesting the blood of creatures revered by The Summer People
  9. The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler: fatherless girl raised on a boat takes a swimming lesson and her legs turn into a fishtail
  10. Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits by Robin McKinley & Peter Dickinson: six stories linked by water ("The Sea King's Son" and "A Pool in the Desert" are two favorites).


Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim

I stand naked in front of my full-length mirror and twist my head to get a good view of my back. And that's when I see it. A wide line of soft, dark hair running the the nape of my neck down to the base of my spine -- the stripe Asher was talking about. A stripe down the center of my back, like a skunk. This brings me to a whole other level. I'm not just a hairy Pakistani Muslim girl anymore.

I am skunk girl.

Fifteen-year-old Nina is a Muslim Pakistani American girl with parents who have very firm views on correct social behavior: no sleepovers, no dates, no co-ed parties with her predominately white classmates. While Nina chafes at the restrictions, she remains an obedient daughter and muddles along -- thanks in some part to good friends who support Nina and help her work around the social restrictions without causing her to disobey or lie to her parents.

Besides, some of the restrictions are no big deal. After all, who is going to want to date hairy, big-bottomed Nina, The Sister of "Super Nerd?" No one, that's who. Better to just focus on getting through high school and escaping to college as her sister did. But getting through high school is hard ... especially when Nina develops a deep (possibly mutual) attraction to a handsome new classmate.

I found Nina's story compelling, touching on issues many teenage "outsiders" face. But, despite its strong message of self-acceptance and self-definition, Skunk Girl never felt like a mawkish Teen Novel With A Message. For all the emotional/philosophical upheaval Nina experiences, the tone of the novel is up-beat and funny, and even early on it the novel you get the feeling Nina will be okay in the end. While her discomfort over her family's otherness is palpable, it's clear Nina loves her family and does want to be a good Pakistani Muslim American girl. She just needs to define what that means for herself.

Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2009)


No Dress Rehearsal by Marian Keyes

Lizzie is a bit disappointed with her life. Her flat is a tip. Her boyfriend of two years won't make the big commitment. Her mother doesn't understand her. Her father barely speaks to her. And then she gets in an accident cycling home from work and her life changes. Drastically.

She left the driver to his silent mouthing and got on her bike. By some miracle it was undented. And away she cycled. Leaving her still and bloody body lying beneath the car wheels.

As she wobbled off, she almost bumped into someone. A tall, pale figure in a long, black, hooded cape. He nodded at her in a friendly way. But she hardly noticed.

Of the three Gemma Media Open Door Series' low-literacy novellas I've read so far, No Dress Rehearsals seems to be the most well-crafted as it feels complete in itself. The characters are well developed for such a short work and the story is consistently compelling. Indeed, if this is how Marian Keyes does short fiction, then I need to read more of it.

I must admit I find No Dress Rehearsal's version of the afterlife extremely nice:

Something rushed through her, then the last of Lizzie was speeding away like a genie spinning back into the bottle. Yet she sparkled through everything in a tingle of glitter. Reforming and reconnecting. Into every drop of rain, every blade of grass, every word spoken.
Blissful, happy, ever-present nothingness. White-out.

No Dress Rehearsal by Marian Keyes (Gemma Media, 2009)


Wordless Wednesday: Egrets


Taken @ Gillette Castle State Park, East Haddam. Egrets are a subspecies of heron. The more you know!


Top 10 Tuesday: Travel

This week’s Top 10 Tuesday is quite literally about books that take us places -- "road trips, airplanes, travelogues, anything where there is traveling in the book!"
  1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain: Huck and Jim raft down the mighty Mississippi, having many adventures along the way
  2. Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman: Two brothers discover each other, one is captured and the other travels about until he comes to the beginning of the world
  3. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier: A wounded Confederate deserter walks home through the southern Appalachian Mountains
  4. Far Tortuga by Peter Matthiessen: Caymanian turtlers boat set sail for the hunting grounds of the western Caribbean
  5. The Hobbit, or There and Back Again by JRR Tolkien: A hobbit, wizard, and too many dwarves take a long trip by horse, foot, and eagle in search of riches, glory, and such
  6. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov: After the death of her mother, Humber Humbert takes Dolores Haze (Lolita) on a meandering, year-long road trip around the United States.
  7. No Place for a Lady: Tales of Adventurous Women Travelers by Barbara Hodgson: Collection of biographical sketches of the many adventurous lady travelers who sacrificed propriety for experience
  8. Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson: Before moving back to the US, Bryson takes a trip around Great Britain using (mostly) public transportation
  9. Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum: Memoir by the first man to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe
  10. Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome: Three gentlemen take a boating holiday up and down the Thames


The Builders by Maeve Binchy

Jo, Bobby and Pat would never understand how comforting it was to sit and talk to Derek at the end of the day, and how much it had brightened up her life.

Up to now Nan had not wanted to go anywhere, meet anyone, or try anything new. In the year since she had left work she had got out of the habit of going out. She stayed in Number Fourteen waiting there in case the children called in.

The Builders tells the story of a lonely woman named Nan, long separated from her husband, with three grown up children who seem either to take advantage of her or condescend to her. Nan strikes up a friendship with one of the builders rehabbing the house next store and as their friendship begins to change into something more, so does her relationship with her children evolve.

The Builders is another of Gemma Media's Open Door Series' short low-literacy novellas. For something so slim, there's a lot going on and some of the character-development and plot twists felt a bit rushed. Indeed, it felt almost as if The Builders was meant to be the outline of a proper novel. While The Builders' a pleasant enough read, it left me wanting and I cannot honestly recommend it. Not the lunchtime read I hoped it would be.

The Builders by Maeve Binchy (Gemma Media, 2009)