Boxers and Saints / Gene Luen Yang

   It is important to have a good base of knowledge when it comes to history, and while I'm doing pretty well on the Western history front, I know next to nothing about non-Russian Asian history, and my knowledge of Russian history pretty much revolves around the Romanov assassination. Anastasia: dead? Not dead? You decide.

   When I heard about this pair of books by Gene Luen Yang I knew that I ought to read them. I'm sorry to say that my knowledge of the Boxer Rebellion was limited to:
  1. It happened in China
  2. It didn't go well for anyone involved
    Boxers is written from the perspective of Little Bao, a boy living in rural China at the beginning of the Boxer Rebellion. He and his brothers learn kung-fu and form the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists. Saints tells the story of Vibiana, an unwanted fourth daughter who becomes a Christian, sees visions of Joan of Arc, and moves to Peking. The two stories are intertwined, with several events being directly experienced by both Vibiana and Little Bao, but with opposing viewpoints.

   Both books are well written and engaging stories, and the art is beautiful. They're a good primer on a brutal uprising. Essentially, they were exactly what I wanted them to be and I recommend them to anyone.



   Since resolving to read more non-fiction I have come across some real stunners, and since I don't want you to miss out, I will share some recommendations with you here.

   Let's get the obvious out of the way first: I recommend Blink / Malcolm Gladwell and Nurtureshock / Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. Both engaging and informative, with applicable ideas and new ways of looking at things. Bronson, Merryman, and Gladwell are all journalists so their science sometimes gives way to anecdotal evidence, but on the whole their books are worth your time.

   Alone on the Ice / David Roberts. Okay, I know, I love Antarctica and polar exploration and you might not be quite as interested in the subject matter as I am but by Jove, this is a good read. How about we read and learn about real effort and heroism instead of lionizing Robert Falcon Scott's cowardice? Thanks. People I would much rather learn about: Roald Amundsen, Ernest Shackleton, and DOUGLAS MAWSON. There are so many more books about people exploring the far reaches of the south and north; it's a nearly inexhaustible supply and I have zero complaints about that.

   Among my interests that are probably not widely shared is an undying fascination with rabies, and when I saw the cover art for Rabid / Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy, I was powerless to resist. A cultural history of rabies?! Put it in my brain.  Unfortunately for some of my friends my reading of this coincided with a three hour drive, at which time I carried on and on about rabies facts. After I told them about research being done on how the rabies virus crosses the blood-brain barrier, one of them said "I have never met anyone as interested in rabies and Antarctica as you are." A lot of my conversations somehow work their way back to those things and I'm only sort of sorry.

   Another book that I haven't been able to keep to myself while reading is The Poisoner's Handbook / Deborah Blum and I once again apologize for talking about mincing tissue so much. (I just looked up The Poisoner's Handbook on Goodreads and it led me to a book about pin pointing the time of death and one about blood transfusion during the Scientific Revolution. OMGosh.) I learned more about Prohibition from this book than I have from anywhere else, and it is so extremely interesting. Oddly enough, I have now read about the Ruth Snyder/Henry Judd Gray murder case in four different books. They were so spectacularly incompetent that everyone who talks about murder in the 20s talks about them and their sash-weight murder plot. The best-laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley, am I right?

   And because I love lists: a list of books I haven't read, but I'm not sure why because they are sure to be most excellent:
  • In Cold Blood / Truman Capote
  • Stiff / Mary Roach
  • South / Ernest Shackleton
  • What Every Body is Saying / Joe Navarro


    Lady Audley's Super Secret Readalong, week 3

       WELL, I am late to this gravy train, and new to this readalong idea, but I like both the train and the idea so here we are. I've now read up to chapter 15, and this post will spoil many of the events of the book but really you've had quite a few years to read it so this barely counts as spoiling anything.

       Clearly, clearly, Lady Audley's secret is that Lady Audley/Lucy Graham=Helen Talboys and now Lady Audley's OTHER secret is that she pushed poor George Talboys down the well to his watery demise. And of COURSE Phoebe saw it and of COURSE she tole Luke and of COURSE they're blackmailing Lady Audley and they also get married, to which I say "Whyyyyyy so many cousins getting married, M.E. Braddon?"

       Let's lay out a cast of characters:
    • Robert Audley: the favourite. The lazy unintentional hero! 
    • George Talboys: a bit dumb, and now dead :(
    • Alicia Audley: headstrong! Goes hunting! In love with Robert, who is her cousin (whyyyy)
    • Lady Audley/Lucy Graham/Helen Talboys: a sociopath! And surprisingly strong? George is always called a "big dragoon", but tiny Lady Audley can shove him in an old well???
    • Lord Audley: who cares
    • Phoebe Mark: didn't have to change her name when she got married because she married her cousin (uuugh). A potential candidate for another Lady Audley switcheroo! 
    • Blah blah other people.
       Mary Elizabeth Braddon is not good a a few things, mostly subtlety, but this has been a delightful romp so far. 

       I feel bad for Robert, who was George's best friend, and for Alicia, because everyone writes her off. There's so much of the book left! Will Robert and Alicia get married even though they are related by blood? Will Phoebe and Luke be at least marginally happy (no)?? Will Lord Audley stop being a dithering idiot??? Will Lady Audley KILL AGAIN????



       Usually it bothers me when I read a child who is written as overly precocious. "That's not the way a baby person would talk or think!" "That child would not be that intelligent or understanding!" I mean, obviously Alia Atreides and nearly all of the characters in Ender's Game/Shadow/etc get a free pass on this one but inter-planetary science fiction is a realm unto it's own. However, I can't be the only person who read Ender's Shadow and was confused by that part where baby-Bean hides in the toilet. At first I was all "so, he hid behind it? What? That is not a very good hiding place." and then I realized that OSC meant he hid IN the tank of the toilet and I was all impressed by imaginary baby-Bean saying "daaaaang, gurl, that water is cold" but the more I thought about it the more ridiculous it was. How did he get the lid back onto the tank? How did he climb up and in there? How did he not perish from hypothermia? Does everyone named Orson think they're a magical genius?

       Regardless of my feelings surrounding Bean and Alia and Ender, I was somewhat concerned going into In The After / Demitria Lunetta. I'd heard many good things about it, but I had also heard that it featured an uncommonly bright six year old. I can suspend my disbelief with the best of them, and I like far-fetched stories, but kids thinking beyond a believable cognitive level? Ugh.

       All my fears were assuaged, however, when Amy found Baby and the two of them began to bond. A story about sisterly BFFs? Working together in a post-apocalyptic world? Never speaking and developing a modified version of American Sign Language instead? Yes please. This is one of the best YA dystopia/science fiction books I have read in a long time. And it's a debut novel! I'm excited for what Lunetta comes up with in the future.

       Basic story line: monsters have invaded the earth and killed/eaten pretty much everyone. Amy was fortunate enough to have a environmentalist father and a paranoid mother, and lives in a veritable fortress. She's able to survive the onslaught, and one night while out scavenging, comes across a toddler in a supermarket. She dubs the girl "Baby", and adopts her as her sister. The book follows their adventures and misadventures, and is exciting and touching and enjoyable. I read it in a day.


       Here's a very short post to say that I love Batman and that you ought to read The Dark Knight Returns / Frank Miller.


    not dead yet

       HAHAHAHA wow. Thanks, April, for being a weirdly non-productive-but-productive-at-the-same-time month. I think I read maybe two books in April, which is way low for me. Granted, I was busy doing things like finishing a semester of university (woot woot) but still: one post? Two books? In my defense (not in my defense) I did get through an entire season of Lost and a lot of Psych (which is full of hilarity, I gotta say. I recommend it. Crime procedurals! My dearest televised love. [It is available on both Canadian and American Netflix, as is Lost]) And I wrote some big papers and some exams and finished some courses sooooo, April: not a total write-off. I also wrote, but never posted, an extremely long quasi-essay about body image and how I came to stop hating the meat-machine I live in, but it is very long and rambly, and I haven't decided whether or not to edit and post it.

       Okay, I just looked at my Books 2014 list and the number of books I've read since my last post is a whopping ONE. Wowzer, WTH happened. (A side note here. You may have noticed that I often punctuate questions with a full stop instead of a question mark and I want to reassure you that yes: I do know how to use punctuation and am rather good with grammar. It implies a different tone of voice, and I find it funny. When grammar is misused, it should always be done with full knowledge and some motivation/justification as to why. If you know the rules, you can judiciously break them.)

       The book I read was Anne of Windy Poplars / L. M. Montgomery, and it was delightful. I came late to the Anne train, but oh boy do I love her now. And to think I used to revile Anne Shirley. I blame the various Anne of Green Gables movies/miniseries, except maybe the first one which I only have a vague picture of in my head. Anne is great! Long live Anne.

       Here's looking at you, May. Let us hope for a vast improvement in reading amounts.