Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Sharing Links: 12/23/2015

So I just realized I haven't shared anything in a while, so I've decided to share some great articles I've been reading and a couple of intriguing websites. Plus some videos on people who see colors and sounds with words and music!


Online Etymology Dictionary- This website won't have every word, but if you've wanted to know the history behind a lot of words, take a look here!

Medium- I've heard this is a blogging website and a lot of people post articles and blogs here. So check it out if you're looking for more to read.

Due to haven't shared anything for a while, I'm sharing my favorite recent articles from some websites I subscribe to.

Quartz- This Free Encyclopedia has Achieved what Wikipedia has Only Dreamed Of

Paul Ford- What is Code?

Lenny Article

Fast Company Articles

National Geographic

I was recently really fascinated by these videos on Synesthesia, so I thought to share. Plus, in the last video, the girl plays the violin.

Synesthesia: The Science Behind Seeing Sounds & Tasting Color

Hearing Colors: What It's Like To Have Synesthesia

What's It Like To Hear Colors? - A VR 360° Synesthesia Experience

Monday, December 21, 2015

Movie Review: Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens

So I recently went and saw the new Star Wars movie almost on accident (basically the thing we wanted to do didn't work out so we saw this instead) and it was a fantastic choice.

Overall, up front, the movie was awesome. I'm going to try my hardest not to give away any spoilers so this post might be really vague.

I think one of the movie's greatest strengths was its use of humor. I never thought of it before, but all past six movies were lacking in humor and this movie was not shy about it. I also loved the little digs occasionally at itself and the way the actors reacted to some things. It gave the movie a slightly more lighthearted side that I think is more reflective of 2015 then the other movies. I think its a smart choice to help draw in new Star Wars fans and to help them relate better to the characters.

One of the other great things I loved about this movie was the awesome scene footage. There were moments during the movie that were quite really, breathtaking, and at other times were simply just moving to see. They really played with the mood of the scenes and I thought did a great job with the special effects and editing.

The new characters were awesome in their own right. The main girl, Rey, was my absolute favorite. She was a hero and I thought really brought the movie together. A lot of people were calling Finn the new "Luke", but I think its more Rey then it is him. I personally loved Rey more then I did Finn, I thought her character was stronger and she did a fantastic job for this being her first, big time role.

 Finn's character was also strong and at times, the most real and funny character in the movie. Looking back on it now, I think almost that his character just wasn't as strong. Some of his motives seemed a big overdone or unexplained. And although he was more of a reluctant hero, he seemed to be more of a sidekick to Rey.

Now there are some parts about the movie that disappointed me. While I enjoyed the moments where it echoed the earlier movies and the homages paid to it, and also how Leia and Han Solo came back for another go, I thought that at times the movie seemed to recycle too much of the old movies and its tropes. At times it was too much like the old movies and certain parts of history for comfort and I thought I would have enjoyed seeing more new ideas brought to stage.

That being said, I loved the way we saw Han Solo and Leia's relationship in this movie and how we saw what happened years after the last Star Wars movie where we left them. I also thought there was an interesting dynamic with them and the new "Evil Dark Overlord" but in a way, it wasn't anything new or surprising.

In fact, it was slightly unexplained to me and I felt his character could have been explored more. I enjoyed his character and thought he was a definite strong antagonist, but he was also a slight disappointment. Something about him bugged me. If anything, I am super curious about his mentor that was introduced in this movie.

Then there were the points in the plot that were seemingly unexplained and I was left more confused then enlightened. And while there are parts of our characters that are still a mystery, they have lots of room to explore those. But I also felt there were those missed opportunities to explain things that they might have not realized were unclear or they cut them out due to time.

Overall, this was a great movie and I definitely would recommend it. Even if you're tired of Star Wars (like I am of Harry Potter), I would go see this movie for the fantastic shots and the humor and Rey and Finn because I'm definitely rooting for them.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Historical Facts-Lady Saigo

So I'll probably be blogging a lot about really cool historical Japanese women because while they're probably well known back in Japan, I doubt a lot of Westerns know about them. Japan seems to have a ton of really cool women so I decided I'll take the time to highlight some.

I found out about Lady Saigo a couple months ago when doing research for my books, but I recently did more research on her and her granddaughter, Tokugawa Masako, for a project for a graphic design class.

We had to create fake universities and institutes and I decided to base mine in Japan and South Korea. I named my university after Lady Saigo and my fashion institute off of Tokugawa Masako. It was a really fun project. I based my logos off of the Saigo and Tokugawa family crests and created fake scholarships based off of their interests. Anyways...


At the end of sixteenth century Japan, a warlord by the name of Tokugawa Ieyasu (Ieyasu being his first name), was able to unite Japan and started a dynasty of shoguns (the military head of Imperial Japan). This era is known as the Edo or Tokugawa Period, lasting for over 200 years until the late 1800s when the old system of government was overthrown and the Meiji Restoration restored power to the Imperial Household.
Tokugawa Ieyasu
Like most strong men, there is always a strong woman to back them. And for Tokugawa Ieyasu, that woman was Lady Saigo. She was born Tozuka Masako but was also known by the nickname, Oai, meaning "love".

In historical sources, she is known as "Saigo-no-Tsubone", which is more of an offical title than it is a name (it was common in those times and in the Heian period to refer to a woman by her husband or father's ranking or the place where she was from). When she was an adult, she was adopted into the Saigo clan and allowed to use their surname. According to Wikipedia:
"Later, when she was named first consort of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the title "tsubone" (pronounced [tsu͍bone]) was appended to the surname. The title was one of several titular suffixes conferred on high ranking women (others include -kata and -dono). The bestowal of a title depended on social class and the relationship with her samurai lord, such as whether she was a legitimate wife or a concubine, and whether or not she had had children by him.[2][3] The word tsubone indicates the living quarters reserved for ladies of a court,[4] and it became the title for those who had been granted private quarters, such as high-ranking concubines with children.[2] This title, tsubone, was in use for concubines from the Heian Period until the Meiji Period (from the eighth century to the early twentieth century),[4][5] and is commonly translated to the English title "Lady""
 She was born in 1552 at Niskikawa Castle where she lived with her two siblings. In 1554 her father died at the battle of Enshu-Omori, and two years later her mother remarried Hattori Masanao. Her mother had four children from this marriage but only two lived into adulthood.
Niskikawa Castle, Japan
It is unclear if Oai married when she reached adulthood since her husband's name is not mentioned and there were no children. But in 1567, she did marry Saigo Yoshikatsu, her cousin, who already had two children from his previous late wife. Oai had two children by Yoshikatsu- a son, Saigo Katsutada and a daughter, Tokuhime. But in 1571, Yoshikatsu was killed at the Battle of Takehiro and soon after, Oai was adopted by her uncle, Saigo Kiyokazu, the head of the Saigo clan. Despite this, she lived with her mother and her stepfather.

Oai was 17 or 18 when she met Tokugawa Ieyasu for the first time while he was visiting the Saigo family and she served him tea. She apparently caught his attention then, but because she was still married nothing happened. But after her husband's death, friendship and genuine affection developed. Around this time though, he was officially married to Lady Tsukiyama who was known to be jealous, had tempestuous moods, and eccentric habits. Her personality made if difficult for Ieyasu to live with her. The marriage had been arranged by her uncle of the Imagawa clan.

Around the time of the Battle of Mikatagahara in 1573, Ieyasu started to confide in Oai and sought her advice and it is believed that during this time that they started a romantic relationship. She is thought to have advised him on the Battle of Nagashino which was a major turning point in his career and in the history of Japan.

In 1578, Oai moved to Hamamatsu Castle where she was in charge of the kitchen. Here she became very popular with some warriors from her native home country who admired her for her beauty and thought of her as an exemplary example of the women from Mikawa. Despite this, she could be outspoken or sarcastic. But the court of Tokugawa Ieyasu, was filled with prospective concubines who each wanted to bear a child to the samurai warlord.
Keep of Hamamatsu Castle
During this time period, it was a common way for an ambitious young woman to elevate her status, ensure a comfortable life, and make sure that her family was successful. Women like these usually used their physical attributes, sexual prowess, and sometimes aphrodisiacs. But unlike them, Oai already had Ieyasu's attention.

Because of this, she probably became a target of resentment and hostility from the other women.

Oai became described as the "most beloved" of Ieyasu's women and he valued her for her intelligence, sound advice, and enjoyed her company, calm demeanor, and their common background from the Mikawa province. Then on May 2nd, 1579, she gave birth to his third son, Tokugawa Hidetada, who would become the second shogun. Oai's place at his court was more secure after this and she became his first consort, and was known respectfully now as Lady Saigo.

But within the same year, Ieyasu's ally, Oda Nobunaga, became aware that Lady Tsukiyama was conspiring against him with the Takeda clan. And even though he didn't have much evidence, Ieyasu had her executed and ordered her son to commit ritual suicide, known as seppuku. Now Lady Saigo's position was secure and her son, Hidetada, became his heir. Oai had Ieyasu's fourth son, her second, on October 18, 1580. He was called Matsudaira Tadayoshi after he was *adopted by the head of the Matsudaira clan.

It was common during this time for families to send their children to other samurai homes as a means of establishing good relations with those warlords and in hopes that they would receive a good education. And it was not uncommon for someone to be adopted into another family, even late in life, to help advance their position even if their family was still living.
Reconstructed Sunpu Castle
In 1586, Oai was at Ieyasu's side when he triumphantly entered the newly rebuilt Sunpu Castle. This
was symbolic of his victories and was a visible and symbolic gesture to Oai that meant Ieyasu could credit her for her assistance and publicly show how highly he thought of her.
Location of Sunpu Castle
Lady Saigo is also well known for her charity. She too suffered from myopia and so she often donated money, clothing, food, and other necessities to blind women and organizations. She eventually founded an co-operation school with living quarters near the temple she worshiped at, that assisted visually impaired women by teaching them how to play the samisen (a traditional three stringed instrument) and helped them find employment. These women became known as goze and were like traveling minstrels in Japan.

They became a part of a guild-like organization with apprentices. They played pieces from an approved list and operated under a strict code of rules on behavior and permissible business transactions intended to maintain an upstanding reputation. Upon her death, she wrote a letter pleading for the continued maintenance of the organization.

Lady Saigo died at a young age though at 37 on July 1, 1589. Although the cause of her death was never discovered, there was suspected foul play but no culprits were ever found. There were rumors that she had been poisoned by a maid loyal still to Lady Tsukiyama who wanted revenge. When she died, her remains were interred at Ryusen-ji. the temple that she had founded her school at and worshiped frequently at.
Lady Saigo

After her death, the Emperor Go-Mizunoo gave her the name Minamoto Masako, posthumously adopting her into the Minamoto clan, the extended branch of the Imperial line. Later after being inducted into the Lower First Rank of the Imperial Court, her status was later upgraded to the Senior First Rank. This is the highest award then or now that the Emperor can give to subjects outside the Imperial family who have had significant and positive impact on the history of Japan.

Lady Saigo became the ancestor for seven Tokugawa shoguns and was also connected to the Imperial line. In 1620, Hidetada's daughter, Masako (1607-1678) married Emperor Go-Mizunoo. As empress consort, she also had considerable influence on court, helping to maintain the court, supporting the arts, collecting antiques, was skilled in calligraphy and poetry, and she influenced the next three monarchs.

Masako's daughter and the Emperors Go-Komyo and Go-Sai, who were sons of Emperor Go-Mizunoo by different concubines. Masako's daughter was the great-granddaughter of Lady Saigo, known as Princess Okiko before she came into the throne in 1629 as Empress Meisho. She reigned for fifteen years and was the seventh of only eight empresses regnant in Japan's history.

Wikipedia (Picture credits go to Wikipedia except for the maps which I took screen shots from Google Maps).
Sengokuology (Tumblr)
Japan : History of Japan's Ancient and Modern Empire (Full Documentary)
Tokugawa Japan : the social and economic antecedents of modern Japan edited by Chie Nakane and Shinzabur Oishi ; translation edited by Conrad Totman.
Volume Two: Sources of Japanese Tradition: 1600 to 2000 Compiled by WM Theodore de Bary, Carol Gluck, and Arthur E. Tiedemann

Monday, November 9, 2015

Historical Facts- Kristina, King of Sweden

The book from which I first heard about her
Today, I'm going to give you some facts about a "king" of Sweden. Her name was Kristina and yes, her father had her named king and had her trained as a prince. Modern researchers refer to her now as a Queen but I like to think that King is still appropriate for her case. 

The following blog post was adapted from a research paper I wrote back in high school. So I apologize for the length. 
Kristina was born in Stockholm, on December 8th, 1626, to Maria Eleonora and Gustavus II Adolf. 
Before she was born, her parents had already had two daughters who both died and so when her mother announced her pregnancy, there was a lot of excited because people hoped she would have a boy. The fervor and excitement around the speculation probably contributed to the nurses thinking she was at first a boy. 

Another reason could have been that she was born with the fetal membrane wrapped around her. Other sources state that she was born completely covered in hair- called a caul. 

The attendants were afraid to tell her father, King Gustavus, who was waiting in his study for the announcement to be made. So his sister, Princess Katarina, took the girl into his study and told him the news herself. The king was delighted with his new daughter- even though he had wished for a boy. But he made the announcement that the girl was to be named Kristina- after his mother- and trained as a prince. Weeks later, the king summoned the Riksdag- a ruling assembly of five hundred men- and declared Kristina the future king of Sweden.

On November 12th, 1632, Kristina’s beloved father died in the battle of Lutzen. On the night of Kristina’s sixth birthday, the news of King Gustavus’s death reached Stockholm. Early in February 1633, Kristina was presented to the Riskdag and pronounced King of Sweden.

In the spring of 1633, Kristina received news that she was to meet her grieving mother and her father’s embalmed body in the castle of Nykoping. When her mother arrived Kristina was informed that she would live at the castle with her mother- even though Gustavus had made it clear he had wanted Kristina to be raised by Katarina. 

 Shortly afterward, Maria ordered the walls and windows of the royal apartments to be draped in black and denied her sister-in-law entrance to the castle ( banishing Katarina, her husband Johann, and their children to the castle in Stegeborg, two days south of Nykoping) , keeping the young Kristina close to her in her mourning chambers. 

Christina’s mother, upon her husband’s death had suddenly become obsessively devoted to
Kristina apparently as a 16 year old. 
her daughter. Sources allege that in her grief Maria kept the king’s heart in a gold box in her chambers. For eighteen months, Kristina’s mother refused to allow Gustavus’s body to the buried. It is said that Maria would spend hours having conversations with Gustavus’s corpse. Finally after more than a year, she relented Kristina’s father’s body to be buried in Riddarholm Church. 

After two more unhappy years for Kristina, Gustavus’ chancellor, Alex Oxenstierna, became alarmed at the obsessive way Maria was treating her child. The chancellor banished Kristina’s mother to Gripshil Castle and invited Katarina and her family to stay, providing the young girl-king Kristina with a stable family life for the first time since her father’s death.

As for Kristina’s education, her father Gustavus had drawn up plans for her education before he had died. Kristina was to be trained as a prince. Axel Baner was assigned to Kristina as her governor who taught her the art of horsemanship, sword-work, and all other aspects of battle and sport (her equestrian talents were noteworthy and she engaged in both fencing and shooting) . Gustav Horn was her subgovernor who taught her languages ( Kristina had a talented tongue; foreign dignitaries often said she spoke their language better than themselves) . Johannes Matthiae was Kristina’s principal tutor.

 Finally Axel Oxenstierna instructed her in the art of governing, and matters of foreign and domestic affairs. Being raised as a boy, Kristina had little patience or time for things that most girls her age did- although she was deeply interested in the arts; theater and ballet were among the things that she enjoyed. A French ballet troop was employed by her court as well as Italian and French orchestras. She adored plays, which were a favorite pastime of her court, and she, herself, was said to be an amateur actress. It is reported that Kristina spent twelve hours a day in study.

At the age of fourteen, Kristina was admitted to council meetings. But by her sixteenth birthday she had proved herself to the Riksdag and to the people of Sweden, that there was a large demand her for to be crowned. But Kristina recognized the burden and declined saying “I am not ready.” 

Sébastien BourdonChristina of Sweden, 1653.
Ride on Kristina, ride on.
But by the time of her eighteenth year the demand for her to be crowned was so large that it was impossible for her to decline. So on December 8th, 1644, Kristina took the oath as king and began her rule- although she refused to marry which would always cause quite the scandal. Kristina is said to have more suitors than even Elizabeth I of England.

During her reign, Kristina was a driving force in ending The Thirty Year’s War. “She took in the reins of state herself and carried out a foreign policy of her own.” She had decided that Sweden had had enough of glory and must look to the enrichment and prosperity that came through peace. In 1648, Kristina exercised her royal power and ended the Thirty Year’s War by the Peace of Westphalia. 

 At this time, she was twenty-two and by just her own personal influence, she had ended one of the greatest struggles in history. But by ending the war, she did not weaken her country. In fact, Denmark gave Sweden rich provinces and Germany was compelled to grant Sweden the membership in the German diet. There came to be a time of improvement in the areas of commerce, economics in government, agriculture, and the opening of mines. She took an active part in politics and surrounded herself with intelligent people. Under her leadership, in 1645, the first Swedish newspaper was created.

Sometime soon after her official coronation, Kristina took an intense interest in Catholicism. Born a Lutheran, she was interested in the Catholic doctrine of free will. Eventually, she converted to Catholicism in secret, but the quiet conversion was a great stress on her.

In 1651, she announced that she had the intention of abducting in favor of her cousin, Karl Gustav. The matter swayed this way and that for three years but finally the Riksdag accepted the
inevitable reluctantly. The tricky question of Kristina’s financial position had to be settled for the first time in her life, and for the first time she made effort to live within her means. Finally in 1654, the abdication ceremony took place in Uppsala Castle with Christina in her crown and her coronation mantle over a white dress. 

Her royal regalia of sword and key, orb and scepter
 were set on a table but no one would come forward to remove her crown. After a pause she took it off herself. Two chamberlains removed her mantle and she descended from her throne. She proceeded to make an elaborate speech thanking God who had made her king and all who had served her, reducing many in the audience to tears. After that she urged Karl to seat himself on the vacant throne, which he courteously declined, and the two left the hall together. Karl was crowned king later that night in the cathedral. Her abdication at the young age of twenty-seven stunned everyone.

Next day she went to Stockholm and from there, wearing men’s clothes and set out on the path to Rome where she would annoy the Pope. Kristina after leaving Sweden journeyed to Denmark under the name of Count Pohna and dressed as a man. She continued to Brussels where on December 24, 1654, she was baptized in a private ceremony into the catholic faith- an illegal religion in Sweden at that time. In December later that month, she is received by Pope Alexander VII in Rome.

After her abdication, Kristina tried gain the right to rule Poland- but failed- , collect paintings and write her autobiography. In 1656, Kristina held an academy in France to discuss the problems concerning the nature of love. In 1657, Kristina attempted to seize Naples to become Queen. But while staying in Fontainebleau, she learned that her servant betrayed her plans to the Pope. She had her servant killed in her presence after given the last rights of absolution to him. The rest of the European world was horrified.

Portrait by Jacob Ferdinand Voet
Kristina died in Rome on April 19th, 1689, at the age of fifty-three, after a short illness. In brief, her life was pleasant. She was much admired for her tact in politics, her words were listened to in every court in Europe, and she made beautiful collections, and was regarded to be a privileged person who actions took no one amiss. She had requested a simple funeral, but the Pope Innocent XII arranged an elaborate ceremony. She was buried in St. Peter’s.

Kristina was never beautiful, yet she a most interesting child, with an expressive face, large eyes, an aquiline nose, and the blond hair of her people. A quiet child, people noted that she was very mature and wise beyond her years. She was apt to be overbearing, even as a little girl. Kristina had long been considered “mannish” because of her intellect and love of studying, and her manner reinforced that impression. 

As tough as a plank, she loved riding and hunting, swore like a trooper, enjoyed dirty jokes, and despised all things feminine. She wore sword and armor in the presence of the soldiers, and she often dressed entirely in men’s clothes. She would take long, lonely gallops through the forest brooding over problems of state and feeling no fatigue or fear. 

The end of my research paper (I copied this from a draft). After this I would like to add some more notable items that I did not mention in my research paper due to length of the paper for the class and other reasons. 

Kristina is noted for never marrying much like Elizabeth I of England. And although Christina hated the idea of marrying, she became secretly engaged to her first cousin, Charles, before he left to serve in the army in 1642. But later when she decided to abdicate, she chose not to marry and instead made Charles her heir. Beyond that she never again became engaged although she held several intimate friendships. 

Notably, her closest female friend was a woman named Ebba Sparre whom she called "Belle" and with whom she spent most of her free time. Even when she left Sweden, Kristina continued to write passionate letters to her although emotional letters were common at the time and Kristina wrote in the same style to people who she never met. 

She was well accepted in Rome and was the object of much attention and gossip. She became involved with a Cardinal by the name of Decio Azzolino. The pope disapproved of his visits to her and despite this, they became lifelong, close friends. She was also known for being very tolerant of the beliefs of others. 

Although historical accounts regularly include accounts of her physical features, mannerisms, and dress, some historians believe that these may have been over-represented in history. And according to Wikipedia, "as a result of conflicting and unreliable accounts, the way in which she is described is still a matter of debate." 

She is described as having a bent back, a deformed chest, and irregular shoulders of differing heights. She was said to have the appearance and mannerisms of a man which was shocking to many people at the time although it was not unheard of. She didn't always wear clothes typical of a man though, she was also known for wearing low-cut dresses. 

Another one of her controversies that has been much debated, especially among modern scholars, is the question of her sexuality. Modern biographies tend to consider her a lesbian as her passions with women were noted in her lifetime. But she also seemed to have a variety of other relationships, including non-sexual and bisexual.  

Kristina even wrote in her autobiography, addressing rumors, saying that she wasn't male or hermaphrodite. Scholars have noted her relationship to Azzolino and that sometimes it seemed as if she was uncomfortable with sex. 

Portrait of Christina; painted
in 1661 by 
Abraham Wuchters.
Other scholars believe that she could have been intersex though studies of her remains have explained that she had a "typical female" structure and that people during her life noted normal female body functions. But it is also noted that even a examination of her skeleton may not prove if she wasn't intersex. 

Other scholars believe that she could have had polycystic ovary syndrome, which can cause women to grow beards and hair elsewhere that commonly is just on men (which could explain why someone described her as having a little beard). Others believe she could have had Asperger's Syndrome or Disorder of Sex Development. 

In any case and no matter what you come to think of her, King Kristina was certainly an interesting person and I think we can take away some lessons from her life. She didn't let people tell her what was right or how to live her life, she lived it in according to her conscious. And I think that's something to be admired. 

Eckles, Carrie. “Biography: Christina, queen of Sweden.” Helium inc., 2002-2010. Website. 5 May 2010
Rapp, Linda. “Christina of Sweden.” Glbtq, Inc. Chicago, IL, November 24, 2009. Website. 6 May 2010.
Åkerman, Susanna. "Kristina Wasa, Queen of Sweden." www. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991. Website. 5 May 2010.
Orr, Lydon. “Queen Christina of Sweden.” Ncr, October 2003. Website. 8 May 2010
Cavendish, Richard. “Abdication of Queen Christina of Sweden: June 6th, 1654.” History Today 54.6 (2004): p54. Infotrac: Student Edition. Article. 7 May 2010.
Meyer, Carolyn. Kristina: the Girl King. NY: Scholastic Inc, 2003. Book.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Book Review: Death in the City of Light by David King

Death in the City of Light is the gripping, true story of a brutal serial killer who unleashed his own reign of terror in Nazi-Occupied Paris. As decapitated heads and dismembered body parts surfaced in the Seine, Commissaire Georges-Victor Massu, head of the Brigade Criminelle, was tasked with tracking down the elusive murderer in a twilight world of Gestapo, gangsters, resistance fighters, pimps, prostitutes, spies, and other shadowy figures of the Parisian underworld.   
The main suspect was Dr. Marcel Petiot, a handsome, charming physician with remarkable charisma.  He was the “People’s Doctor,” known for his many acts of kindness and generosity, not least in providing free medical care for the poor.  Petiot, however, would soon be charged with twenty-seven murders, though authorities suspected the total was considerably higher, perhaps even as many as 150.
Who was being slaughtered, and why?  Was Petiot a sexual sadist, as the press suggested, killing for thrills?  Was he allied with the Gestapo, or, on the contrary, the French Resistance?  Or did he work for no one other than himself?  Trying to solve the many mysteries of the case, Massu would unravel a plot of unspeakable deviousness.  
When Petiot was finally arrested, the French police hoped for answers. 
But the trial soon became a circus.  Attempting to try all twenty-seven cases at once, the prosecution stumbled in its marathon cross-examinations, and Petiot, enjoying the spotlight, responded with astonishing ease.  His attorney, René Floriot, a rising star in the world of criminal defense, also effectively, if aggressively, countered the charges.  Soon, despite a team of prosecuting attorneys, dozens of witnesses, and over one ton of evidence, Petiot’s brilliance and wit threatened to win the day.
Drawing extensively on many new sources, including the massive, classified French police file on Dr. Petiot, Death in the City of Light is a brilliant evocation of Nazi-Occupied Paris and a harrowing exploration of murder, betrayal, and evil of staggering proportions.
Going back to my nonfiction streak, I recently read this fascinating and horrifying book. My OpenDrive hometown library system happens to have a LOT of nonfiction history books centered around WWII. I have no idea why, maybe that's what a lot of people request, but I'm okay with it. WWI and WWII is fascinating.

The book centers around the aftermath of a serial killer in Occupied France in the 1940s. The book was pretty easy to follow, written in a somewhat chronicologcial order. It starts off with the discovery, moves to the killer's background, and the background of his known victims, the hunt to find the serial killer, his arrest, and his trial.

I read a lot of reviews that said that the first part of the book was hard to get through but I would disagree. The whole book was fascinating in a detailed, horrifying way.If you're not keen on reading detailed descriptions of how people died or are found dead in brutal ways, I might pass on parts of this book. The author holds no punches, although a part of me wonders if it was really necessary or there for shock value? In any case, it made it all that more gruesome and terrible and more realistic in a way if you're writing about a serial killer.

I really enjoyed King's writing style in this book. It was very well written and you can can tell he did his research and displayed all the facts there for you to decide. And although I enjoyed him going into parts that didn't have much to do with the main focus of the book- like talking about French artists- it made the setting of the book all that much more real and helped shed some light on what Paris was like then if you didn't know much about Occupied France.

What struck me about that was that most stories I read about Occupied France focus on the millions of Jews taken from their homes, but I feel you don't hear all that much what like was like for the people who stayed behind in Nazi-controlled France. So I thought it was a different angle taken and I enjoyed that about this book.

I would say that King did a good job at bringing the characters to life. I think it could have easily have turned into a boring statement of facts. But especially in the trial, we saw Petiot really come alive. His wit and character came out and it was easy to understand why people reacted to him the way he did.

I also thought that Massu was easily brought to life although I was disappointed when he seemed to disappear from the narrative half way through and didn't have that much importance afterwards. Although I do understand because of the way history worked out, but it was still disappointing because I thought we had spent so much getting to know Massu, that I was sure he would be the one to help solve the case.

This must have been a fascinating story to research and I wonder how you would even begin to research such a thing. It seemed all so large and there were details in there that I think would have to have been inserted in by the author to help tie it all together.

One of the points that struck me was Petiot's insistence that he was a member of the resistance and how people in that day and age could take something like murder- even if done in the name of a cause- seemed to just go along with it. I guess it would have been hard to trust people and there would have been stories and cases that would have been hard to verify.

This story made me think about the books like Code Name Verity that center around WWII resistance agents and other spies fighting for the Allies. I think its a fascinating topic to explore, especially because I think if anything, there were spies and intelligence agents that did exactly what people like to think of in the movies, like the CIA.

Overall, I think King did a very good job and it was a fascinating and exciting story to read although on a horrible topic. I'm glad that I got to read it and see another side of WWII and see how twisted people could take advantage of the chaos and use it to their advantage.

Goodreads Page
Author's Goodreads page

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Announcements and Updates! Including an Author Website!

Hey Ya'll!

Just making an announcement that I'm making an author website for a class and I'll be adding a link to the top of the blog when I'm done. It'll be on Wordpress and I'll be posting official book updates there and special content!

Nanowrimo is coming up! If you sign up, I'm on there as Sareh Q. Add me!

My friend Jelsa published her first book, Picture Imperfect, through Swoon Reads! You can check it out on her blog, on Goodreads, or buy it on Amazon (which you totally should!! Its not even that expensive, so go for it!).

I've been on this writing site, Inkitt, for a while now. I have the first two chapters of Sword of Clouds up on it. But if you're looking for a new writing site, I recommend it! Its simple and easy to use. Plus there's a copy and paste lock and all the writing is vetted by editors before being allowed to post so most of it is pretty good!

Several of my friends and people they know started this really great blog, The Book Creators, and you should totally check out their twitter too!

Also, recently, HarperCollin's other writer's website (you might remember Inkpop) Authonomy is closed. Also, another writer's website that was on my radar, Valorpen (or Hexbound has it was first called) is also closed. My sympathy to those affected by the closings.

That's mostly about it for now so stay tuned for more excitement as always!


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Book Review: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

(From Goodreads) Darcy Patel has put college and everything else on hold to publish her teen novel, Afterworlds. Arriving in New York with no apartment or friends she wonders whether she's made the right decision until she falls in with a crowd of other seasoned and fledgling writers who take her under their wings… 
Told in alternating chapters is Darcy's novel, a suspenseful thriller about Lizzie, a teen who slips into the 'Afterworld' to survive a terrorist attack. But the Afterworld is a place between the living and the dead and as Lizzie drifts between our world and that of the Afterworld, she discovers that many unsolved - and terrifying - stories need to be reconciled. And when a new threat resurfaces, Lizzie learns her special gifts may not be enough to protect those she loves and cares about most.
Ever since I read the "Uglies" series by Scott Westerfeld, he has continued to be one of my favorite authors. His stories are varied and fascinating, even for the science fiction/fantasy genre. They're also inventive.

So when I saw the pitch for Afterworlds, I just knew I had to read it. First of all, Lizzie's story sounded fascinating. Ghosts and Indian mythology? Of course! I'm a big believer in diversity in fiction, especially when it comes to world mythology.

Think about it. Have you ever seen a YA novel about African mythology? Probably not, I'd say. I think that today's mythology market is supersaturated with Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology (although I could slide on Egyptian).

Granted while Greek and Roman mythology is fascinating, I also think that there are lots of other mythologies we could be making use of. Not only are other cultures and their mythology fascinating (Aztec mythology is crazy, but even more so, Japanese mythology is the craziest, coolest mythology I've yet seen), but I think using other mythologies can help us diversify our writing and help teach other people about other cultures.

ANYWAYS. I was super excited to see the use of Indian mythology in here. Even if it is used loosely at times. It was fascinating and delightful. It added another layer to Lizzie's story and more to Darcy's story once you understand her heritage.

Lizzie as a character was well done and I think her voice was distinctive from Darcy's. Darcy striked me as a more nervous and cautious person, willing to do whatever it took to achieve her goals, even at times when it became a fault. Lizzie on the other hand was impulsive and more willing to put her family and other people above herself.

I can't say much for Lizzie's love interest though. He seemed to be a bit more moody and calmer, but knowing his history, I also found him to be a little creepy at times. He was more discontenting to me than anything.

One of the more interesting things about Darcy though was the surprising twist to her love interest that I wasn't expecting from the pitch. Darcy decides to put off college to pursue her YA novel publishing adventure in New York City (THE place to be, of course) and lives on her own. I found her situating a little bit more unlikely, just in the fact that to me I'm not sure what the chances of one finding their own nice apartment and other things. It just seemed a tad bit stretching to me. Granted, the money part of it did seem well thought out, but I don't know, something about it didn't sit well with me.

I did like though how her family still played a part in things and it was interesting to see how they influenced her life even though she wasn't living with them. I thought though that Darcy moving into her apartment and then finding out that she needed things like pots and pans and a broom to actually sufficiently live on her own. And then figure out that she hadn't exactly budgeted for those things. It seemed like a young adult thing, not exactly well thought out plan, but a thought out plan. I thought though maybe her parents could have stepped in a little bit more there though instead of relying on her younger math-whiz sister.

As I was saying, her love interest was another writer. Which was a lovely and interesting choice, as a wanna be published author. I think all writers just a tiny bit hope to find another writer to fall in love with. The thing that surprised me though was that the other author was also a girl. I hadn't expected our protagonist to be bi, but it was a refreshing choice, nevertheless. And seeing Darcy's own surprise about it was interesting too.

Having her love interest be another writer, I thought was well done and realistic. Although Darcy loved her and her stories, Darcy also at times felt jealous towards her about her writing and how she treated other writers. The relationship itself was also realistic and I was satisfied with the way it ended.

One of the most fascinating parts about this book to me of course was the inside look of publishing. Granted, its probably a more jazzed up, fantasy version of every author's dream, but it still was fascinating to me and I thought displayed a lot of real things about the publishing world. For the non author out there, I think this is another point that they could learn from.

Overall, I thought the novel was very well done. It was also refreshing and exciting to see an author my age live out her dream and then also read the resulting novel. In truth, Scott Westerfeld combined two novels together and did it wonderfully. Both stories were exciting and interesting and had an abundance of different things to capture my attention. The plots and voices of each story were distinct and separate. One wonders how he wrote this. One after the other or both at the same time?

Goodreads- Afterworlds
Scott Westerfeld- Goodreads


Friday, July 17, 2015

The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum

Summary taken from Goodreads:
Deborah Blum, writing with the high style and skill for suspense that is characteristic of the very best mystery fiction, shares the untold story of how poison rocked Jazz Age New York City. In The Poisoner's HandbookBlum draws from highly original research to track the fascinating, perilous days when a pair of forensic scientists began their trailblazing chemical detective work, fighting to end an era when untraceable poisons offered an easy path to the perfect crime.  
Drama unfolds case by case as the heroes of The Poisoner's Handbook—chief medical examiner Charles Norris and toxicologist Alexander Gettler—investigate a family mysteriously stricken bald, Barnum and Bailey's Famous Blue Man, factory workers with crumbling bones, a diner serving poisoned pies, and many others. Each case presents a deadly new puzzle and Norris and Gettler work with a creativity that rivals that of the most imaginative murderer, creating revolutionary experiments to tease out even the wiliest compounds from human tissue. Yet in the tricky game of toxins, even science can't always be trusted, as proven when one of Gettler's experiments erroneously sets free a suburban housewife later nicknamed "America's Lucretia Borgia" to continue her nefarious work.  
From the vantage of Norris and Gettler's laboratory in the infamous Bellevue Hospital it becomes clear that killers aren't the only toxic threat to New Yorkers. Modern life has created a kind of poison playground, and danger lurks around every corner. Automobiles choke the city streets with carbon monoxide; potent compounds, such as morphine, can be found on store shelves in products ranging from pesticides to cosmetics. Prohibition incites a chemist's war between bootleggers and government chemists while in Gotham's crowded speakeasies each round of cocktails becomes a game of Russian roulette. Norris and Gettler triumph over seemingly unbeatable odds to become the pioneers of forensic chemistry and the gatekeepers of justice during a remarkably deadly time. A beguiling concoction that is equal parts true crime, twentieth-century history, and science thriller, The Poisoner's Handbook is a page-turning account of a forgotten New York.
Wow, that's a really long pitch!

Okay so I don't usually review nonfiction...but when I do, I post long pitches!


Whispers to self: *No one else finds that funny* 

So bad jokes aside, I've been in a non-fiction reading habit. Not exactly sure what reason, but I do know that I saw this book a couple months ago in my university library while I was shelving books. I've been fascinated by the Jazz Age for a long time now and so of course when I saw the title, I was instantly intrigued.

The book follows the careers of Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler, two of the people who made forensic chemistry and justice into the huge thing it is now. The murders featured in this book are stories that I would expect to see on a CSI show and are exciting and puzzling they would be on air.

Charles Norris
The writing style of the book was easy to follow and not hard to read. Some nonfiction tends to read like a textbook and drags on, but not this! Each chapter followed our heroes chronologically but centered around a different poison. I'm curious on why the author chose those specific poisons and not others.

For those who aren't familiar with chemistry like I am, have no fear, the author's descriptions of chemical compounds were not that perplexing and were fairly easy to understand. Granted, I didn't really understand most of them, but they weren't horrible to read.

Alexander Gettler
I learned a couple cool things from this book, For example, how different poisons affect the body and how you can tell if someone's been poisoned or not. I also learned that during Prohibition, the U,S government went so far as to poison illegal alcohol hoping that it would scare bootleggers and drinkers off. Alas, people are not that smart and literary drank themselves to death. It was a fascinating, dark side of U.S history I hadn't heard of before. 

Some negative reviews I've heard often rate the book lower on the obnoxiously long title "The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York" and while I admit it is a pain, its also a trend on nonfiction right now and authors often don't have control over what their book is renamed after agreeing to be published. Another thing is that I think it might be a way to distinguish the book from fiction and to give readers an idea of what its about (although the titles themselves should be that good, and shouldn't have to rely on subtitles). 

I read this book fairly quickly and enjoyed it. I thought it was well researched and a fascinating read. There were some style points I'd take off and perhaps some of the examples got to be a little bit too much, but nevertheless, it was a great read. 

I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in Jazz Age New York, Prohibition, chemistry, medical issues, and the legal system. 

The Book's Goodreads page
Deborah Blum's Goodreads page

Extra things related to this book: (For fun)

PBS features and extras about The Poisoner's Handbook
Wikipedia- Alexander Gettler
Wikipedia- Charles Norris


Friday, June 12, 2015

Why Art Education is Important and how to support it.

With the recent recession, American schools began to cut funding from their art programs. This included classes like drawing, painting, photography, theater, music, ceramics, etc. Many people don't see the value in teaching our future adults art, design, and fine art, and many more don't see how it is important to our society.

So I decided to compile a short list and explanation why I believe that art is important.

Art covers many disciplines.
There is, as a sure example, the art field known as Scientific Illustration, that especially in the past was able to show us how minerals looked, dinosaur bones fit together, how the planets revolved around the sun, the places around earth that pictures weren't able to capture. Before there was photography and the internet, much of the ways we saw science was illustrated by brilliant artists and scientists. It till is today and is a beautiful way of cataloging the wonders of our universe. 

An example of illustrated
Another example is paint pigments. Paint, at least traditionally, was generally made by taking materials like minerals and crushing them together with other substances like egg yolk to create different colors and kinds of paint like oil, and tempera. This involves at least, some basic idea of chemistry. 

(AB EX NY: Art Terms in Action: Paint)
Artist, Janet Echelman, uses different types of materials like ropes, to create large floating art installations in urban areas. She has given Ted Talks and her work has been featured all over the globe. The large moving sculptures responds to the environment and are beautiful. I believe this kind of art must take into consideration of some engineering, architecture, and environmental science. 

Simon Beck, a British cartographer and artist, uses math and snow to create beautiful designs. 

This HuffintonPost talks about eight contemporary artists who talk about how art meets technology. 

Art reveals to us the lives of our fellow human beings and helps teach us empathy
A photographer, Jimmy Nelson, went out and photographed a series of portraits about vanishing people and cultures. Photo Director for National Geographic, David Griffin, gave a Ted Talk about how photography connects us to our world and our fellow human beings. 

Another artist, Melissa McCracken, has made a series of beautiful paintings showing us what it looks like to her to live with synesthesia. A condition that allows one to see colors for music, or taste for touch, or to see sounds. Laura Rosser, a pianist, has the same condition which NPR interviews her about. 

Melissa McCracken
"John Lenon- Imagine"
Another form of discipline is writing. Fiction has been studied by science and is said to help us have more empathy for others and change the way we think. So its not just nonfiction is that is educational to read, but fiction is as well. It can be a fun way to show us other lifestyles and cultures. 

Art is about us, humanity, and the world.
Artist, Jen Lewis, uses macro-photography to show how period blood can be beautiful. She started the project wondering why we take something so normal and turn into something that's spoken of in whispers and rarely acknowledged in society. 

Jen Lewis
Cartography is a discipline that has often used math and art to create beautiful pictures of our world, not only as how it is viewed from space, but how we have seen our world in the past. For example, in the past a lot of maps would show beautifully illustrated mythical creatures such as mermaids in places like the Atlantic Ocean and wonderfully drawn ships. They could also show us how the people at the time saw their world. Many countries would use their capital cities as the center of the world and reflected that on their map, using important cities like Jerusalem as the center for theology-minded maps. 

When the Europeans first came to Japan, the Japanese were fascinated by the Europeans whom they spent a large amount of time painting, creating woodblocks, and drawings. From this we can see how the Japanese were just as fascinated with the Europeans as Europeans found them. It can help show us what they thought of them and what other cultures find/found fascinating and important to document and create. 

With the technology of photography, everyone from around the globe can and has documented everything from important battles and events in history to things like selfies that some people think in the future might be used as a way to show what my generation was like. Some argue in the future they could even be considered an art form. 

It can help change our world and make a difference. 
There is an artist, Olafur Eliasson, who set out 100 tons worth of ice into blocks arranged in a circle, to reminds us that climate change is real and affects us. 

Emily Pilloton, creator of Studio H, helped start a project that taught students in poor, rural communities design and helped them create change for the better in their towns. 

(Emily Pilloton: Teaching design for change)

The Association of Graphic Artists, also known as AIGA, created a movement called, Design for Good, to help showcase, empower, and inspire, artists and designers to create art and design for the betterment of our society. 

MICA, has a graduate program in Social Design, to help teach students how to create design and art to isn't focused just on making money.
Art has been shown to be a good tool for those with disabilities and as a means of therapy. A feature in National Geographic several months ago featured an artist who gave masks to soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Irag that they could paint. These masks represented what it felt like to live with PTSD and other feelings that came from being out in battle. 

It has impacted history and helps show us life in the past. 
Without paintings we might not having an idea of how Queen Elizabeth I looked or how many other famous people in the past looked like. We might not have an idea of how to read Mayan words if they hadn't carved it into the buildings and painted it on their walls. We might not have ever learned how to read Egyptian Hieroglyphics and decode the past if they hadn't painted it everywhere on their walls, burial chambers, vases, and so on so forth. 

As an article I was reading on Deviantart pointed out, art can also teach things like cultural appreciation, Ethics, creativity, along with how to be flexible when things don't turn out how you planned, collaboration which can help teach patience, and other things. It also has been proven to help kids be more motivated and confident. Plus, there's something extremely satisfying about finishing an piece of art work or a design. 

Ways you can help support art
  1. Buy a piece of art (especially from your local artists!)
  2. Tell an artist how much you like their artwork (and actually take the time to look at it).
  3. Go to a museum and look around 
  4. Attend an art show or exhibition
  5. If there's a local college or university in the area that showcases their art students, attend the show and see what they're creating. 
  6. Go see a play, opera, concert, or theater show. 
  7. Share online art that inspires or touches you.
    1. Good places to see art online and share it or buy it is DeviantartBehanceSociety 6, and Etsy.
  8. Take an art class and create your own art.
    1. You can take classes or lean about art on sites like CourseraSkillshare, Craftsy, and Khan Academy,
  9. Watch Neil Gaiman's "Make Good Art" speech. 

As an art student, I wish that everyone would at least appreciate art and recognize that it is important to our society and culture. Art captures what we believe is important, makes important discoveries, and helps bring us together. It can also help us improve our thinking, energize us, relax us, and inspire us. Art can be a tool through which we can change the world. 



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