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review 2019-12-26 09:51
Fun historical facts with a twisted sense of humour #history #non-fiction
The Peasants' Revolting Crimes - Terry Deary

Thanks to Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for sending me an early paperback copy of this book, which I freely chose to read and review.

I’ve long been intrigued by the Horrible Stories books, and when I saw the stage adaptation advertised, I thought about going to watch it, but, as was the case with the books, I never managed to make it. That, combined with my interest in criminology and the criminal justice system (particularly in the UK), made this book irresistible. Although I cannot compare it to other books by the authors, and must warn readers that this is, by no means, a book written for children, I loved every minute of it. The author combines a vast number of UK historical (and also some fairly recent) facts and events, with a sharp sense of humour (beware of papercuts. Some pages ooze poison), to the point of crossing into satire and black humour at times. The book shows a great deal of social consciousness, and it is far from complacent with the status quo, but it does not glamorise “peasant criminals” either, and it is harsh on popular renderings of figures like the highway man (Dick Turpin is no favourite), or pirates.

Deary explains in his introduction (after three great quotes, and there are many interspersed throughout the whole text) the reason why he decided to write the book. He observes that most books and plays featuring crimes and criminals tend to focus on kings, queens, or high-class characters (he mentions Shakespeare and Agatha Christie), and even when lower class characters are mentioned, they are not usually the heroes or the central figures. And he decided it was time to put it right, and here we have this book. As you can imagine from the topic and the title, there is plenty of gore, detailed accounts of crimes and punishments, and despite the wit and the humour, I’d recommend caution to those who prefer a truly light and cosy read.

The book is divided into seven chapters, plus the already mentioned introduction, an epilogue where the author reflects upon how little things have changed over the years, and an index. The chapters seem to follow a chronological order (or almost): Norman Nastiness, Mediaeval Misery, Wild Women, Tudor Twisters, Sinful Stuarts, Quaint Crimes, Georgian Jokers and Victorian Villains, but the content of each individual chapter is not limited to the period mentioned in the title. Every chapter focuses on a series of crimes that became typified or described for the first time in that historical period, or that are particularly associated with it, but Deary sometimes includes recent examples of similar crimes, to compare the types of punishment then and now or to emphasise the fact that history repeats itself and certain things change little, if at all. Although I have lived in the UK for many years, I didn’t grow up here, and there are periods of UK history and events that I’m not familiar with, so it is likely that much of the information that was new to me might be well-known to others, but the author presents it in an entertaining and seemingly light-hearted manner (I’d leave that to readers’ interpretation and opinion) that makes the book impossible to put down and the facts stick in one’s mind.

I, for one, was fascinated to read about football hooligans and their shenanigans as far back as the 1100s, about clan clashes, to discover the origin of ‘brawling’ (quarrelling in a church or a churchyard), to read about wife-selling (and how it often seemed to be a good option if divorce was not an option and both parties wanted out, no matter how illegal)… And yes, husband-selling also took place. Deary writes also about peasant revolts, about the machine wreckers of the Industrial Revolution era, or the many attempts on Queen Victoria’s life. I don’t want to spoil the book for you, so I won’t go into more detail, but apart from managing to cover a lot of ground, and having a knack for finding the perfect quote, Deary’s sharp wit and his talent for highlighting the connections between historical events and the present make this book a must read for those interested in crime, criminology, and UK history in general. Especially if they have a slightly twisted sense of humour.

I marked so many pages of the book that I had difficulty choosing a few to share here, but I’ll try to give you some sense of what you might expect from the book.

Here is one of his notes (they are priceless) in reference to Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.

Some critics interpret eating your sons, not so much as ‘cannibalism’ as ‘incest’. Whatever the legality of eating your children, just don’t try it at home.

In Chapter 2, Mediaeval History:

Peasants were at the bottom of the feudal system pyramid. And if you were at the bottom of a pyramid you’d be crushed. As if that weren’t enough, your evil lord made you work like a slave labourer; meanwhile, your Good Lord sent you something to help relieve your misery. He sent you plagues.

This reflection seemed particularly relevant to some recent events in my country.

The Seditious Meeting Act was passed in March 1817. What constituted ‘sedition’, you might ask? Well, like ‘treason’, pretty much anything the Lord Lieutenants of the counties fancied, really.

The book ends in a hopeful note, well, sort of, but not quite.

In summary, this is a great book for people interested in the history of crime and the criminal justice system (and history in general) in the UK, particularly if they enjoy a humorous and ironic take on received wisdom. I am sure fans of Deary will enjoy it as well, but, despite the cover, this is not a book for young children, and I’d advise parents to check it out to decide its suitability for themselves. The book’s back cover states that the author is working on The Peasants’ Revolting… Lives, and I’ve added it to my wish list already.

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review 2019-01-29 04:43
Furiously Happy
Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things - Jenny Lawson

I have to say, while I did especially love the cover on her last book, there was nothing as great as opening my phone each day to that crazy Raccoon when I played this audio book. I do love Lawson's taste in taxidermy. As a fan of her blog and a twitter follower, I think she just keeps getting better. Hearing her read these stories is like having a conversation with an old friend; running the gamut from laugh out-loud funny to heartbreakingly sad. The fact that Lawson gets up every day and keeps writing and touring and driving Victor crazy despite the many demons she battles is truly amazing, and I am moved at how she offers hope and understanding to all those who face similar challenges.

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review 2019-01-21 17:04
Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney
Sometimes I Lie - Alice Feeney

Content warning: this book contains multiple instances of sexual assault, a couple of which are on-page.

This story is told in chapters set in three different time periods: Amber's present, Amber's recent past, and childhood diary entries. Amber wakes up on December 26th to discover that she is in a coma, unable to move or speak but occasionally able to hear what's going on around her. She has no memory of what happened but is convinced her husband had something to do with it. For whatever reason, he no longer loves her, although he seems to be doing a good job of pretending to be a devoted husband whenever he visits her at the hospital.

Just a few days prior, Amber was limping along in her job as an assistant at a radio show. She's been given an ultimatum: either figure out how to get the voice of the show, Madeline, to like her, or she'll no longer have a job come January 1st. Amber decides to take a different route. Through carefully planted social media posts, anonymous notes, and a few other efforts, she'll convince Madeline that she's about to be let go instead. While Amber is doing all of this, her personal life is in shambles. Her husband is behaving secretively and may be having an affair with Claire, her more beloved younger sister who lives right next door. This makes meeting up with Edward, an ex-boyfriend, more appealing than it maybe should be.

Meanwhile, diary entries written 25 years ago unravel the childhood secrets that continue to rule Amber's life.

A few weeks ago, my local book club voted on their next read. This is the book I voted for, although it isn't the book that was ultimately chosen. I decided I wanted to read it anyway. I basically gobbled it up, which is saying something considering how slowly I've been reading lately.

The more I read, the more horrible many of the characters seemed. Amber was consumed by jealousy. Later, I added "selfish" and "astonishingly lacking in empathy" to the list, although I did eventually come to feel sorry for her, at least until the very end. Claire, Amber's sister, was potentially a snake, depending on how much of what was going on was in Amber's head and how much was real. Paul, Amber's husband, seemed to only be interested in her in the most shallow of ways, although, again, everything depended on how much was real and how much was just in Amber's head. She wore different masks depending on who she was speaking to, and I found it difficult to believe that Paul had ever really loved her, since he likely didn't even really know her, not the real her.

From the very beginning, readers knew to expect that Amber would be an unreliable narrator. As she said at the start: "Sometimes I lie." I kept my eyes open for clues and was able to catch a few. I figured out, for example, how one detail mentioned in the diary could be true even as the existence of another character indicated that it had to be false. However, I only guessed part of what was going on. I've since realized that there was a great big clue that I'd missed. Could I have figured out what was going on sooner? Maybe, but I doubt it.

Although I disliked most of the characters, I couldn't stop reading because I wanted to find out how all the pieces fit together. I didn't get anxious about the characters' fates because, well, I didn't like them very much. One of the big twists near the end forced me to grapple with shifting perceptions of them, but then the ending happened.

While I agree that something needed to be done - a character shouldn't be able to win happiness that way - the very last sentence annoyed me. It seemed like the sort of thing you'd find in a slasher movie, a bit too much for this sort of book. It would have been more effective and believable to show that the character's own paranoia, doubts, and fears would one day eat them up and keep them from ever enjoying their happy new life.

I was originally going to say that one particular character's actions near the end didn't make much sense considering they'd been a follower most of their life, but I realized their actions did make sense...if, as it turned out, they were just as warped as another one of the characters, only in a different way. There's one line that I think was supposed to indicate that that was indeed the case.

All in all, this was a riveting read, even though it stumbled a bit in the end.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2018-09-18 20:05
A year later...
Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things - Jenny Lawson

So according to BL, I started reading this December 16, 2017. That means it took me 9 months to finish this wonderful book. Since Jenny Lawson discusses her struggle with depression and anxiety disorders at length (in the best, funniest way possible) I had to take several long breaks when my anxiety and depression were not putting me in the right head space to enjoy reading it. But really, this book is hilarious and just what I needed during these past two weeks of total chaos in my life. 

 

I am not exaggerating when I say my "vacation" was surrounded with nothing but Murphy's law. Car accident, cancelled concerts, delayed flights, stomach flu, etc, etc. All unrelated to this review, but whatever, I'll do what I want. Furiously Happy does remind us to laugh at the absurdity of our lives and most of all, to remember that the lows eventually get better. 

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-09-07 03:06
Get Well Soon by Jennifer Wright
Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them - Jennifer Wright

TITLE:  Get Well Soon:  History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them

 

AUTHOR:  Jennifer Wright

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2017

 

FORMAT:  Hardcover

 

ISBN-13:  9781627797467

_____________________________

DESCRIPTION:

"A humorous book about history's worst plagues—from the Antonine Plague, to leprosy, to polio—and the heroes who fought them.

In 1518, in a small town in France, Frau Troffea began dancing and didn’t stop. She danced herself to her death six days later, and soon thirty-four more villagers joined her. Then more. In a month more than 400 people had died from the mysterious dancing plague. In late-nineteenth-century England an eccentric gentleman founded the No Nose Club in his gracious townhome—a social club for those who had lost their noses, and other body parts, to the plague of syphilis for which there was then no cure. And in turn-of-the-century New York, an Irish cook caused two lethal outbreaks of typhoid fever, a case that transformed her into the notorious Typhoid Mary and led to historic medical breakthroughs.

Throughout time, humans have been terrified and fascinated by the plagues they've suffered from. Get Well Soon delivers the gruesome, morbid details of some of the worst plagues in human history, as well as stories of the heroic figures who fought to ease their suffering. With her signature mix of in-depth research and upbeat storytelling, and not a little dark humor, Jennifer Wright explores history’s most gripping and deadly outbreaks.
"

________________________________________________________

 

*********************POSSIBLE SPOILERS**********************************

________________________________________________________

 

REVIEW:

 

This poorly written book is a collection of superficial, sensationalist, chatty chapters on a variety of epidemics (and two extras) that are supposed to be history’s worst plagues (some are, some aren’t) and the heroes (or more likely ignorant fools according to the author) who fought them.  There is no original content or any type of original insights in this book, but there are a vast quantity of quotes straight from other (better written) books.  This book is long on opinions and short on science, so if you are looking for science, try any of the recommended books below.  The topics covered include:  the Antonine Plague; Bubonic Plague; Dancing Plague; Smallpox; Syphilis; Tuberculosis; Cholera; Leprosy; Typhoid; Spanish Flu; Encephalitis Lethargica; Lobotomies; Polio; and as an afterthought, HIV/AIDS

 

Wright spends little time discussing the origins and emergence of most the epidemics covered in this book.  There is a very limited examination of what the disease actually does to a human body (other than the gory bits usually including pustules) or how widespread and devasting it was in terms of socio-economic factors (especially the later chapters).  Only a few chapters explain how that particular epidemic ended or even if it did end or what the status of that particular disease is currently.  Some of the chosen epidemics weren’t the “worst plagues” by any means or even an epidemic (depending on the definition), or even diseases for that matter (e.g. chapter on lobotomies and dancing plague).  The author does not provide a partial view of the topic, and can’t wait to assign villains or heroes to each disease, or to insult and mock anyone she feels like. 

 

Some of the information presented in this book is suspect, or at least outdated, especially in the chapters dealing with TB, cholera, polio, leprosy and Antonine plague.  Wikipedia is not a valid reference.  It is also apparent from the excessive insertions of the author’s own opinions that she didn’t bother to research the topics or the people involved too closely either.  The author also contradicts herself in the matter of informed consent – informed consent is necessary when she agrees with it, but unnecessary when she doesn’t agree with it.  In addition, if you are going to use a graphic (in a published book of all places!) to show the rate of medical progress over time, learn to draw a proper graph with defined, labelled axes (or get someone else to do it!), instead of a random floating line which means ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

 

Wright has an especially aggravating writing style.  Altogether, the writing style was too juvenile and frivolous for the subject matter (squealing, ditzy Hollywood cheerleaders come to mind).  Each chapter comes across as a series of book reports covering a different epidemic per chapter – written by an immature teenager or a vapid blogger.  The specific chapters rely predominantly on one major source, usually a much better written book on the topic.  This book is an simplistic and biased glossing of historical epidemics (mostly) that the author has used as an opportunity to snicker, criticise, preach her opinions and sensationalise in terms of emphasizing the unpleasant side-effects of the disease (pustules, rotting noses, the more disgusting the better etc).  

 

The book is stuffed with flat jokes (the jokes weren't even vaguely funny), dated pop-culture reference, snide and snarky comments,  speculations, not to mention the author’s excessive and continuous interjections of her mean-spirited opinions, and political commentary, which were unwarranted, irrelevant, not to mention unprofessional.  Wright makes broad sweeping generalizations and seems to be uninterested in viewing these epidemics within their historical context.  The tone is dripping with sarcasm and contempt for the poor people that suffered from these terrible disease, and Heaven save you from the author’s vicious pen, if you were one of the unfortunate doctors who were trying to help with the limited knowledge and instrumentation of pre-21st century medical knowledge.

 

It is possible to write medical nonfiction in an interesting manner without sounding like a vapid teenager.  I learnt more about the author from all her snide opinions than any of the diseases from this book.  This book comes across as a poor imitation of a Mary Roach book, so if you like Mary Roach’s books, you might (possibly) like this one.  If you want a book that tells you something of the how, where and why of a variety of diseases; you need to look elsewhere.  I found Wright’s shallow, cruel and arrogantly opinionated writing style an insult to the reader and personally repellent.

 

 

POST SCRIPT:

 

For those people who think the Ancient Roman cities did not have sewer systems, please do some basic research:

 

SHORT VERSION

Roman sewers – ancient Roman toilets, poop, pipes

 

 MORE DETAILS

What toilets and sewers tell us about ancient Roman sanitation

Rome Is Still Technically Using One Of The First Sewer Systems In The World

Aqueducts and Wastewater Systems of Rome

 

 

OTHER RECOMMENDED BOOKS

 

Compilation of Diseases:

~The Coming Plague:  Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance by Laurie Garrett

~New Killer Diseases:  How the Alarming Evolution of Germs Threatens Us All by Elinor Levy

~The History of Disease in Ancient Times by Philip Norrie

~Viruses, Plagues, and History:  Past, Present and Future (Revised, Updated Edition) by Michael B.A. Oldstone

 

Plumbing and Personal Hygiene:

~Flushed:  How the Plumber Saved Civilization by W. Hodding Carter

~The Origin of Feces: What Excrement Tells Us about Evolution, Ecology, and a Sustainable Society by David Waltner-Toews

~The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History by Katherine Ashenburg

 ~The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters by Rose George

 

Diseases in General:

~Spillover:  Emerging Diseases, Animal Hosts, and the Future of Human Health by David Quammen

~Germs, Genes, & Civilization: How Epidemics Shaped Who We Are Today by David P. Clark

~An Unnatural History of Emerging Infections by Ron Barrett & George Armelagos

 

Specific Diseases:

~The Great Mortality:  An Intimate Hsitory of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time by John Kelly

~Dancing Plague:  The Strange True Story of an Extraordinary Illness by John Waller

~Superbug:  The Fatal Menace of MRSA by Maryn McKenna

~Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik & Monica Murphy

 

Other:

~Strange Medicine:  A Shocking History of Real Medical Practices Through the Ages by Nathan Belofsky

~Betrayal of Trust by Laurie Garrett [This book gives a great insight into how disease progressed in different countries and the social conditions and public health failings (and victories) that shaped how we understand infectious disease].

 

 

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