Monday, August 24, 2015

Book Review: Batgirl Vol. 1 - The Batgirl of Burnside

The August book club genre was "Published in the last 12 months". Hmm. So many options. Alas, I'm still trying to finish Game of Thrones so I opted for a short read: a collected volume of superhero comics. To preface I'll admit I've never really read comic books, besides Archie comics growing up and Fables (more of a graphic novel?), and certainly no superhero comic from the Marvel or DC universe. I like the superhero movies, and I usually like epic character driven stories (that are violent), but the superhero universe seems to be so...complicated. As someone who likes to read start to finish, it's extremely intimidating - where would I even start? There seems to be soooooo much backstory and inside references. Most of all though, the women always look slutty. Extremely slutty, and I don't buy into that, so even though I'd love to read a female driven superhero story, I've yet to come across any that weren't scantily clad and unrealistically busty.

Until now. I do know about Batgirl - mostly because she's a librarian! I know a little about her backstory, more because I've read the wikis, but had never previous read any of the comics. That changed when I heard about this New 52 reboot (or whatever, these universes are so confusing). I saw an image on a blog about Batgirl's new uniform as draw by Babs Tarr: not slutty, smart, cute. That I can get behind. So I picked up the first volume of this new run of Batgirl that started in late 2014. Perfect fit for this month's theme.

August 2015: Published in the Last 12 Months

Batgirl Vol. 1 - The Batgirl of Burnside
By Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr
176 pages

Barbara Gordon has moved to Burnside to continue her PhD studies. New friends! New enemies! New costume! Same Batgirl. As one who isn't completely familiar with the past, and even though I had to look up some info (Who is Black Canary? What happened to Oracle?) I did enjoy this collection for what it was. I liked the art as it seemed more feminine than other superhero comics, cute, but not slutty. I like the inclusion of the social media element, though I did find it quite over the top after the first few instances. Having said that, I'm not the target demographic (which would skew younger), but I do think they've done a good job at making the new Batgirl appeal to young girls/women. It's young, spunky, not overly dark, dare I say hip and trendy.

And this makes it a good gateway novel to the universe. As one who doesn't read comics, will I pick up the next volume by the same team of writers/artists? Probably. Will I read backwards and pick up other Batgirl volumes? Probably, and Oracle/Birds of Prey too. Will I take a look at other New 52 volumes? Maybe. Good job DC, you've got a rookie interested. Now please take all my time/money.

Batgirl is an intelligent woman and a non-slutty superhero. Good enough for me.

I'd welcome any other superhero (or other comic) suggestions - must be non-slutty!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Book Review: For Today I Am A Boy

To celebrate the US Supreme Court decision that makes gay marriage a right, book club decided to choose LGBTQ as our genre for July! I wanted to read a transgender biography, but ended up settling on a fiction novel about a man who secretly, but not openly, wants to be a woman.

July 2015: LGBTQ

For Today I Am A Boy
By Kim Fu
256 pages

Peter is a young boy growing up in small town Ontario. He has 3 sisters, and strict Chinese parents. Once in elementary school, the teacher asked the class to draw what they want to be when they grow up, and Peter draws a mommy. And then he keeps his desires to be a girl/woman hidden, buried, for decades. We follow Peter through elementary school, high school, through his teenage years, and finally to Montreal where he works as a cook. We meet people along the way who suspect, like his sisters, and those who don't, like his father (well maybe he knows), school friends, and colleagues. We meet two women who he has strange and stunted "relationships" with. We follow Peter's gender struggles, but also the cultural clash of a first generation Canadian. And we do all of this in weird semi-frequent time hops.

This is mostly a sad book. Peter is never happy, except for in the last sentence. It is an interesting look inside his head though, and an interesting journey to follow. It was an easy read (undetermined if this is a YA novel) and went quick. It plodded a little, but kept me interested enough that I kept turning the pages and starting new chapters when really I should have been going to sleep on a school night.

I don't know how to review this book. I was really enjoying it until the last page, and then it suddenly ended (the ending was satisfying, it was just, sudden). I think I expected to be along for then entire journey of transformation, but instead read through 200+ pages of sad Peter wanting to be something he can't be, and 1 page of Peter being a happy woman named Audrey. I was left wanting the bit that fell through the gap. But, for what it is, I'd recommend this book. Based on truth or not, it opened my eyes a little to the struggle people who are transgender face. It was...insightful. I think I need to read a good biography now though.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Book Review: Serenity - Leaves on the Wind

Book club this month was read what you want. I wanted to finish book 4 of Game of Thrones but it's sooooo looooong! So since I didn't finish it, I'm making up for it by reading a comic/graphic novel I've been meaning to read for awhile.

June 2015: Read what you want

Serenity - Leaves on the Wind
By Zack Whedon
152 pages

My name is Lisa, and I am a Browncoat. I loved Firefly. I liked Serenity the Movie. I have Captain Mal "action figures" and a custom set of Lego minifigures of the crew. I enjoyed the previous graphic novels, and this is no exception - it was a good edition to the 'Verse. It follows the movie and the Wash one-shot Float Out.

Don't read this unless you know the story and characters, right up until the Wash one-shot. This volume follows up everything and answers many questions about River, Mal & Inara, Zoe etc. It specifically delves deeper into where River as we know her came from. It brings back old characters you thought you'd never see again (one of who should've been dead, twice over), and introduces new characters. I thought the use of old characters was clever. I like one of the new characters, Bea. I'm undecided about Iris. The new baddies are bad. I hope Badger is in the next one.

It reads like a Firefly episode, the vocab and tone and general feeling is there. The artwork is good. It's violent. It's touching. It's Firefly.

If you're a fan, 100% pick this up after you've caught up with the rest of the story. If you're not a fan, START WATCHING FIREFLY!! You wont regret it. Best series ever.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Book Review: Petty Theft

I happened across a list of the best graphic novels of 2014, and one sounded interesting because it had to do with single people and books (so right up my alley). Bonus - the public library had it and I didn't even need to wait on a long list to take it out. So, even though I don't really love graphic novels, this was my chance to try a new one that was highly rated and might change my opinion on the genre(?).

Petty Theft
By Pascal Girard
104 pages

Pascal is having hard time. He recently got out of a long term relationship, and screwed up his back running. So no one loves him, he can't run to take advantage of endorphins, he's imposing on a friend because he has no place to live, and his creative career has stalled. Eventually he gets a somewhat unrewarding job in construction, and loiters in a book store on occasion. One day he sees an attractive woman shoplifting one of his books! He makes it his mission to tail her and investigate her crime, but of course he falls for her. How will he ever fix everything?!

The art is simple line drawings, so not "pretty", but effective - it feels more like reading a comic strip in the newspaper. It's funny in parts, and awkward in more parts. Not awkward like the images and words don't work, just awkward because Pascal is...awkward and make some awkward life choices and says some awkward thing. In the end, there's some resolution and a sort of happy ending.

So did it change my mind about graphic novels? Um. No. It wasn't a waste of time, instead was a somewhat enjoyable read, well, quick anyways. But, like so many graphic novels I've read, I felt a bit disappointed in the ending. It just seemed a bit too neat, rushed maybe, forced? Regardless I'd recommend it to graphic novel fans who are looking for a light hearted, not deep, and quick read.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

It's In You To Give: Donating Blood

The Canadian Blood Services has one of the best mottos I've ever seen: it's in you to give. So true! Only 4% of eligible donors in Canada donate blood - that's shocking considering how easy and painless it is!

As somewhat nerdy teenagers, myself and some friends were excited about becoming legal adults, not so we could get legally drunk in bars, but so that we could vote and (at age 17) donate blood. My first blood donation was with some high school friends: we took the bus/LRT to the Blood Donation Centre after school. My second blood donation opportunity came when the mobile Blood Clinic came to our high school - I remember a bunch of the tough football guys passing out. I moved to regularly donating plasma during my undergraduate degree at the university (a hop, skip and a jump from the Blood Donation Centre). I didn't pass the iron level test once, so then quit near the end of my undergrad. I moved to England, and even donated once there. I moved back to Canada and forgot all about this.

Then, this January, as part of a quasi New Year's resolution mindfulness bit, I committed to donating regularly again. I donated platelets a couple months ago, and recently gave my first (hopefully of many) plasma donations.

So now that I've donated all 3 types, I thought I'd post about the experiences and compare some of the processes in case anyone was curious about what it's like.

Becoming a Donor
But why? Why would you be interested in donating? Well...your blood will save lives! Heart surgery, Leukemia, anemic, major surgery, and cancer patients will get your blood, as will car crash victims. Blood donation can actually reduce the risk of heart attack/stroke and is helpful for those with high iron levels (ie. men). Also, apparently you "burn" 650 calories during a whole blood donation. And you get cookies and sometimes soup after, so why not!

Blood types are super interesting, so check out The Facts About Whole Blood. Don't know your blood type? Donate blood for the first time, or attend a What's Your Type event.

Not convinced yet? Time to check out these recipient stories!

Interested in donating? Basically, you must be healthy and at least 17 years old. Check the eligibility criteria and read on!

B-ing Negative
Why don't I donate whole blood like the majority of people? I have a somewhat rare blood type, the second rarest in Canada: B- (somewhat fitting of my personality, no?). A total of 1.5 % of all Canadians are B-, with the most rare blood type being AB- at 0.5% of Canadians, see here for a chart. O- is the universal donor, meaning everyone can receive O- whole blood. So, it's important that if you're O- that you donate blood if you can, because O- is always in demand. My blood type is not so in demand: I can donate to B's and AB's but since those people make up a small percentage of the population, and they can all receive O- blood anyways, I was told a long time ago that my blood would go further if I donated plasma or platelets, both of which are more...involved, than donating blood, and thus, not for everyone.

Chart from Hema-Quebec 

Different to whole blood, AB is the universal plasma donor. As a blood type B, my plasma can go to others with a B blood type (not that many people in Canada), as well as those with an O blood type, which is the majority of the population.

A+, B+ and AB blood types are ideal for donating platelets, though anyone can donate platelets and those donations can technically go to anyone.

Whole Blood
Ok, you want to donate blood, and you've checked the eligibility requirements, now what? First step is to make an appointment, either online via, or attend a mobile clinic. Take a look at this info sheet.

On the day of your appointment, make sure you eat and drink a lot of water (this makes donating faster). Try to include iron rich foods in your diet prior to donating (and always!), and get a good night's sleep. As long as you're healthy, you're good to go. Don't be nervous! Everyone is super nice at the Clinic and it's not as painful as you might think. cookies as a reward!

When you arrive at the Blood Donation Centre, you sign in (free parking in Edmonton, so register your license plate!) and get your file. Then you initially see a staff member who confirms your identity (so bring your driver's license!) and pokes your finger to test your iron level. I'm always worried about my iron levels, so I try to eat iron heavy food for a few days before donating (yay hamburgers!) and always schedule my donation around my period - you shouldn't donate right before, during, or right after you get your period because your iron levels will be extra low. I was turned away twice and it's no big deal. You just get your iron up and try again after the appropriate amount of time (they'll tell you when you're eligible again). I started taking a mineral supplement called Blood Builder, which was recommended by a local health food store as the supplement recommended in the US for blood donors. True or not, works or not, it tastes gross but isn't as hard as regular iron supplements.

Anyway, once you pass your iron test, you are given a sheet full of personal questions to answer. You do that in a privacy cubicle, then wait to talk to another staff member. They take you to a privacy office, ask you more screening questions about your medical and sexual history, weigh you, take your temperature (via the under the tongue method), sometimes measure your height, take your blood pressure and baring nothing wonky, you are then taken to the donation area.

They set you up on a nice comfy reclining chair. The nurse or other staff member will choose your arm that has the best veins, or you can pick your arm. They use a disinfectant and swab your inner elbow. Then they insert a rather large needle. I'm not kidding, the needle is big and somewhat scary looking. I turn away, and count the ABCs in my head. It's a tiny bit painful as the needle is inserted, but that's it. It's over in a couple seconds. Heck, sometimes the teeny tiny iron test prick is more painful! They usually cover the needle with gauze so you don't have to stare at it in your arm. The needle is attached to tubes. They take some blood for testing, via a series of vials all labelled correctly with your information. Then you're hooked up to the machine, which has a donation bag on it. Now it's time to sit back and relax! You squeeze a stress ball thingy every five seconds, but that's it.

Assuming you're hydrated, donating the actual blood doesn't take long at all, maybe 15 minutes? Race your friends! In total, they take about 450ml, or 1 pint of whole blood from you. The needle comes out, and gauze/cotton is applied to the tiny hole in your arm, and they've started using this colourful pressure tape to keep it on. If you're feeling unwell, you can stay in the donation area, but if you're feeling fine, you can go to the "cafe" section, where you will get a drink (juice, or I think they might have pop?), cookies and soup from the friendly volunteers. You should hang out here for about 15 minutes. Rehydrate/nourish, chat to lovely people, and you're done! Reschedule at the reception desk on your way out. It usually take less than an hour from the time you enter the Clinic to the time you leave.

Here's some advice for after you donate. Don't do anything extremely physical after donating, and you should call the Blood Centre if you feel ill afterwards. The nurses have told me I'm not allowed to bike to/from the centre as biking home after donation is not a good idea. I usually feel pretty good after donating, except after the first donation I felt a bit faint after walking up a couple flights of stairs (I was a teenager and over did it a bit), and then I felt a bit weak after donating platelets (see below). Otherwise I feel fine and can't usually tell I even donated. It's a pretty easy process.

Removing the tape from your arm hair later is more painful that the big needle by the way. Or maybe it's just me.

You can donate whole blood every 56 days. Why so long? It takes awhile for your red blood cells to replenish.

Got 8 minutes? Watch this:

Donating plasma is a similar process to donating whole blood, with a few exceptions. You are taken to a different (adjacent) donation area with different machines. Using a process called apheresis, they take out your blood (in the same way as whole blood above), but separate out the plasma. Then, your red blood cells are returned to you. So, this process takes a bit longer than donating blood. For whole blood, you're in the chair maybe 15 minutes, but for plasma it's more like 30-40 minutes in the chair, and about an hour and a half in the Clinic total.

You can donate plasma every 6 days, and actually, your plasma is replenished within hours of donating. I prefer to donate plasma. I feel that it's a bit more useful than my whole blood (see above), and I'm willing to spend a bit longer at the Blood Donation Clinic with all the friendly people. I usually read a book or magazine or play on my phone or yap to people so time goes by quickly. I've never felt unwell afterwards. I'm committed to donating plasma monthly at the moment.

Except last month I got rejected for low iron. So embarrassing - I hate wasting everyone's time. I can't go back for 56 days now. In the meantime, I'm going to work on changing some dietary habits so I don't have this happen again!

This is pretty much what donating blood/plasma/platelets looks like. Easy peasy.

Donating platelets is the most involved process of them all. One platelet donation can help up to 3 people though. It's the same initial process, and then you're taken to another adjacent donation area with different machines. There are only 2 platelets beds.

Once settled in, they cover you with a blanket, give you a heated pack to hold in your hand, and put heated bags around your neck and maybe your arm, near the donation site. The heat helps your blood move towards the machine. Needle goes in, hoses get hooked to the machine (a bigger one this time) and you're ready. The machine draws your blood for a certain amount of time, separates the platelets (which go into the donor bag with a bit of plasma to keep it viscous) and then returns the rest of your red blood cells and plasma back to you. This cycle happens a few times, and takes longer than plasma. The length/amount of your donation is based on your weight/hemoglobin etc counts. For me, I was in the chair for 70mins (and in the clinic about 2 hours).

The weird part is they inject you with something, anticoagulant I think, which makes your lips go numb. And they weren't kidding when they said consume a lot of calcium before - when the numbness happens, they feed you calcium chews and Tums to get your calcium levels up. And I felt a bit weak after and couldn't sleep on my arm that night. All in all, this makes for a slightly...intense donation. The first time I was really quite nervous about the process - it was my first donation in many years, so I went for the most complex one. Go big or go home, right? Now that I know what it entails, I think I'd be calmer and less freaked out about my tingly lips. Next time I would eat better and sleep more the night before, consume more calcium that day, and not be as scared of the process.

I would donate platelets again, if requested. Sometimes, due to your platelet make up, you might be a good specific match for someone and they may request you donate. If requested I would definitely donate, but I think I'll stick with plasma for my regular donations.

They prefer larger, male, donors for platelets, because they can take more volume from them - some men can actually donate a double quantity during the same appointment!

You can donate platelets every 14 days. It only take a couple days for your platelets to replenish.

See this plasma/platelets info sheet for more information.

Every once in a while (yearly I think), they'll do a more advanced physical - nothing like the physical at your doctor's office, but you'll get asked a few more questions and your height/weight taken. Nothing invasive, but it takes an extra 10 mins or so.

Where does all your blood/plasma/platelets go? Check it out - very interesting!

I really enjoy donating - the people, nurse, staff, volunteers, other donors, are sooo nice and friendly. It's a lovely way to spend a couple hours. I'd recommend everyone who is eligible donate whole blood at least once. It's helpful to know your blood type, and who knows, maybe like me you'll enjoy the process and will return regularly for future donations!

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Book Review: Blood: The Stuff of Life

May's genere for book club is non fiction. How convenient since I just picked up a book on blood from the library. I've started to donate plasma regularly again (or at least attempting too, I got turned down for low iron last month) so blood is fascinating to me at the moment, and I thought this book would satisfy my interest.

May 2015: Nonfiction

Blood: The Stuff of Life
By Lawrence Hill
384 pages

I really wanted a book that could describe how blood was viewed or important to cultures and history. Instead I got this, the published version of Hill's CBC Massey Lectures on CBC Radio. Lawrence Hill is the author of the famous book The Book of Negroes, which had a CBC mini series so I guess he's well like by those CBC VIPs. Regardless, I was interested in reading radio lectures (yes, still not sure how that worked), especially if I could learn about blood in an up to date, Canadian context.

The first two parts were interesting enough. Hill covered the nature/functions of blood, historic practices, menstruation, blood typing, human sacrifice, honour killings, stem cells, tainted blood, blood donation, and cheating in sports. So far so good, so far pretty interesting. Long chapters, but this was the content I was interested in. Then the book went downhill for me. The last three chapters tie blood to race and religion. To me that's more genetics and cultural upbringing, but what do I know. Topics included race (heavy on Black, with some Aboriginal tie-ins), adoption, citizenship, witches (?), boxing, crime scene investigation, genocide and more race, skin colour, identity repeat etc. The concepts were interesting enough, but I wanted blood, as in cells, not blood as in racial identity.

The last 2/3s of the book was generally repetitive, if not slightly long winded, as it kept coming down to black vs white skin colour. Don't get me wrong, Hill is a great writer, accessible, poetical, but I was just looking for something different I guess. I'll fondly remember reading the first two chapters, and forget that I skimmed through the rest. In the end it's my fault - the subject heading for this books is Blood -- Social Aspects and clearly I was more interested in the science, biology, history, gruesome/gory bits. I'd still recommend this book though, especially if you're interested in how "blood" has been tied to racial identity.

I guess I should just go back to learning about blood by reading Game of Thrones...

Monday, April 06, 2015

Book Review: Sarah Bishop

This month's book club genre was 'published the year you were born'. It was hard for me to search because googling "published in 1980" mostly came up with results for "published in 1980s" which was not helpful. Not even my superstar librarian tricks solved that problem. In the end I narrowed it down to two. The first was Bellefleur by Joyce Carol Oates, a gothic mansion family generational novel that sounded interesting enough but ended up being just as many pages as those Game of Thrones books I don't have time to finish, so that was out. The only other book that sounded remotely interesting was by the Island of the Blue Dolphins author - and I loved that book! So, I figured, how bad could it be?

April 2015: Published the Year You Were Born

Sarah Bishop
By Scott O'Dell
192 pages

It's the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). Sarah Bishop's father is a royalist (pro British), and her brother a patriot (free America!). Her brother enlists and dies. Her father dies when patriot assholes burn down their house. She works in a pub for awhile, then gets into trouble with a lying British Captain. This part of the book was depressing.

Running from the law, the only thing for Sarah to do is enter the wild. She finds a cave and a cute albino bat. She procures food and fixes up the cave as home. A pair of Native Americans help her during their travels through Sarah's bit of the wild. This part was interesting. I wish it ended here.

But then Sarah get's convinced to go to a Quaker meeting in town and they throw her in jail for being a witch. Then she get's freed and goes back to her cave. This part was stupid and the ending was dumb.

It took me a couple hours to read this book, so it wasn't a complete waste of time, but I didn't really enjoy reading it. Would I have enjoyed it if I was in junior high as the target audience? Maybe, Island of the Blue Dolphins is pretty depressing too. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone though. There's got to be better YA books out there. Throw this in the waste of time pile.