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Jan. 17th, 2017

Dragon Springs Road, by Janie Chang. William Morrow, 2017

Seven year old Jialing is not worried at first when her mother leaves her alone in their home, telling her she’ll be back in three days. It’s far from the first time her mother has left her alone for a few days, when she goes to spend time with Noble Uncle. Jialing is pretty safe; a resident Fox spirit looks after her when her mother is gone. But this time her mother doesn’t come back. When new people move into the main house, Fox tells her to step out of hiding and speak to the new girl who is out in the yard. She finds herself taken in by Grandmother Yang as a bond servant, a person who can purchase their freedom. By luck, she gets to go to school and learn English. But still not much is hoped for her. She is zazhong- half white. She will be welcomed by neither whites nor Chinese.

The tale starts in 1908 and goes to 1920. In that short time, Jialing goes through many changes, as does China. She tries for jobs, she searches for her long missing mother, she learns the true social cost of being biracial in that time and place, she comes to the attention of gangsters. Her path is not an easy one, and she has to make hard choices. Jialing is a great character; she’s smart and strong, but also flawed.

Told in first person by Jialing, it’s a beautiful book, even though many of the things that happen are far from pretty. The phrasing, the descriptions, and the characters- they are nearly luminous. There is magical realism used throughout the book- not just Fox (my favorite character), but a now and then gate to the immortals. I recommend this book.
We were both supposed to see the doctor today (the doctor got called away to the hospital, and we rescheduled after sitting there an hour and a half), and in preparation I wrote out my usual list of meds I'm taking, questions I have, and symptoms and problems I've been having. As I finished it up this morning, it started getting longer and longer and it became clear that I've been ignoring something that was right in my face: not only have I been physically ill, but I'm in one hell of a depression. Not just a case of being down because of the election, but full on not giving a shit about anything depression. I know I need to get out- being home bound because of being ill is part of the problem- but I'm in one of those states where I don't *want* to go out anymore. Time to get the crowbar to my ass and get out the door, coughing or not. *Everyone* is coughing anyway. Other than forcing myself to be around people, I don't know what to do. The days have been sunny or at least not dark for the most part. If I try to exercise, I cough up a lung. Can't increase my dose of antidepressant without seeing the doctor, and with my luck he'll want to send me to the local shrink, which would mean even more waiting. Also, the only actual psychiatrist in town (that I know of) is someone I've met and we didn't exactly hit it off, so hopefully there is someone new in town now.. Anyway, hopefully this will yield to brute force of making myself do things. If I can force myself to do things.


Bitter Winds: Book 3 in the Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters, by Kay Bratt. Lake Union Publishing, 2014

I wasn’t aware that “Bitter Winds” was the third in a series when I ordered it; it works as a standalone novel but I think would have made more sense if it had been read in order. The cast of characters is large, and I spent a good bit of time thinking “Now, who is this person again?!?” But the story concentrates mainly on four characters: Lily & Ivy, twin teenagers, Lily being a blind violinist and Ivy her guide through life; Li Jin, who runs the shelter they all live in and acts as chef; and Sami, Li Jin’s friend from a previous book, who has led a thoroughly horrible life up to this point.

Lily wants to make some money by playing her violin in public (which is classed as begging by the Chinese government). When the police make a sweep to remove all the beggars from a festival, Lily gets separated from her sister Ivy. By happenstance she is found holding a leaflet for the forbidden Falun Gong sect, which means imprisonment in a mental hospital and possibly a stay in a ‘reeducation camp’, which carry a huge fine, instead of immediate release with a small fine. Meanwhile, Sami gives birth. She’s far from a natural mother, and wants nothing to do with the child. She also does nothing to help around the shelter, which is a communal situation. Li Jin is overworked, spending a lot of time trying to come up with the money to get Lily released. It’s a tense time for them all, with Lily and Ivy in some very scary situations. The ending is a surprise; we are led to think one thing will happen and it’s the opposite. It’s a bit of a deus ex machina, and I wished the details had been spelled out, but it works.

Li Jin is almost too good to be real, although without having read the first two books I could be missing a lot. Sami actually turns out to be the most interesting person in the end. Lily and Ivy are fairly well fleshed out, but no one is really developed all that well. Once again, I could be missing a lot because of this being the first of the books I’ve read. I’m not totally sure if I’ll seek out the others; it was a nice read but not really gripping.
I have finally reached the point where blowing my nose isn't my primary activity and coughing isn't constantly interrupting my train of thought (yes, it doesn't take much...) My skin no longer hurts, and I have a voice again- a hoarse one, but understandable. The last few days I've been spending time cleaning and sorting and have made some progress. I have great hopes, but I need to stop and do some other stuff for a few days as there is a deadline. And it will take a great deal of searching and sorting to find the materials I need. Tomorrow is a hospice event (a showing of Being Mortal) and hopefully I won't pick up any new germs.

Tim's activity has been plowing snow, working on his car, and shoveling snow off lots of roofs (there are a lot of buildings on the property). That is how he spent his five vacation days, instead of watching college bowl games, which he would have preferred to do.

Life in north Idaho.
The wild turkeys, which I thought were so cute, have become the serious pain in the ass that everyone has always told me they were. They have learned to get up on the bird feeder that we keep sunflower seeds in, and remove the roof so they can eat right out of the top. They shit in all the walking paths. They circle the house making weird noses. I'm just glad that our windows are high enough off the ground that they can't see in or they'd be gathering by my seat, complaining for more food. (we know someone who has low windows and wild turkeys. The turkeys walk around the house, peering in all the windows until they find a person. It's actually kind of creepy in a way for some reason)

The other day they were walking all over my car for some reason; I think you can guess what happens when you have large, economy sized birds on your car. Yeah. And they shit REALLY BIG.


Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life, by Yiyun Li. Random House, 2017

Li is an award winning fiction writer, but this is her first non-fiction work. It’s a memoir, written over two years that saw Li hospitalized for suicide attempts. While it jumps around in time a lot, it’s still obviously been smoothed out a lot because things flow well.

The author writes about her childhood in China during a time when free thought was not encouraged, with a mother who had significant mental issues of her own as a narcissist. She speaks of her decision to change from being a scientist with an assured income and green card, to being a writer. She tells us some about her stay in a mental hospital and about her feelings that took her there. Mostly, she writes about reading and writing, and the books and authors that have been important to her.

It’s a sad tale, mostly. But it engaged me and the prose is so well done that it sucked me in for hours.
I think I have solved the duplicate posting problem. When I set up my DreamWidth account I didn't uncheck (or I checked..) the 'crosspost by default' box. Sorry about for taking up all the space on your friends pages!
Why do the McCall's Cosplay patterns cost so much?!? The one I want is still full price over at sewingpatterns.com while every thing else is marked way down. *sulks*


Why do the McCall's Cosplay patterns cost so much?!? The one I want is still full price over at sewingpatterns.com while every thing else is marked way down. *sulks*


The Girl in the Garden, by Melanie Wallace. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016

It’s the end of summer, and Mabel is about to shutter her guest cabins when a car drives up. Out come a teen aged girl with a tiny baby, and an angry, tired man who completely ignores them. Mabel rents them a cabin for a few days; she isn’t surprised when one day the man drives off and doesn’t come back. She allows the girl to stay on, then finds them a place to stay for the winter, in a cottage behind the house of a friend of hers, Iris. Iris wants no rent- in fact, she’ll give the girl money- she just wants a few chores done and she gets to spend a couple of hours a day with the baby.

Three years later, June and Luke are still living in the cottage. She’s made a couple of friends, and has created a life for herself, working for Iris as Iris gradually declines. She’s formed relationships with others in the small town. It’s a pretty decent life, if strictly circumscribed.

Then Iris’s daughter, Claire, returns. Not only has she been gone for years with no contact, but she moved out of the main house at 13 and lived in the cottage until she was 18 and could leave. During her teen years she was basically brought up by Duncan, a local lawyer, who signed her absence slips, took her to the doctor, and attended parent-teacher meetings- Iris was happy to turn over the raising of her child. She’s now a photojournalist- largely taught by Oldman, a photographer during WW 2- who has won awards and created a life that has nothing to do with the place she grew up in. Claire brings with her, as her driver, a badly battle scarred Viet Nam vet named Sam, a man who works at the soup kitchen that she also is associated with.

Everyone in this novel is mourning something; a spouse lost, a spouse better forgotten and the life they ruined, a childhood lost, their own looks lost. Everyone deals with loss differently, but they all have one thing in common: they have all withdrawn from the world to some degree. Who will be able to get over their loss and move on into life again?

I loved the writing; some reviewers have criticized the long sentences but I have no problem with them. I found it difficult to follow the dialog at times; the author doesn’t use quotation marks and frequently doesn’t identify who is speaking. But it’s not bad enough to be uncomfortable. I loved the descriptions of the area the story takes place in, and the mundane settings of everyday life. The narrative changes point of view with each chapter. It’s a rather lovely portrait of damaged people surviving as best they can, although some of the people seem almost too good to be true.


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