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C's cat Molly, who has been fighting one illness after another and has had cancer growing in her sinus cavities for a few months now, has taken a turn for the worse. She has an appointment on Thursday to almost certainly be put down. She's still eating heartily and doing cat things, but she is starting to show some signs of pain. Given where the tumors are growing into, I'm sure she has pain. I'll be going to the vet with them to drive and console.

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The Lace Reader, by Brunonia Barry. William Morrow, 2006

Our main narrator, Towner Whitney- real name Sophya- starts the book by telling us she’s a liar and to never trust her word. After a self-imposed exile, she has returned to Salem from the west coast because her aunt Eva is missing. She is just barely recovering from a hysterectomy, and not up to doing much. She doesn’t get much rest, though, as events go south rapidly. Eva turns up dead, the “Calvinists”- followers of Towner’s horrible father Calvin Boynton, who oppose the witches who have proliferated in Salem- are getting out of control, a teenaged girl who was involved with Boynton has been beaten by the Calvinists and vanished, and Towner is starting to get involved with Rafferty, the police man who was investigating Eva’s disappearance.

A lot of the story is told via a journal/story Towner wrote while in a psychiatric institution after her twin sister’s suicide and in other flashbacks, as well as short spans from other POVs. Witchcraft is real, and the Whitney women have the ability to scry using the Ipswich lace which is made by the abused women of a safe house on an island- a historic craft revived by Towner’s mother. Towner can also read minds- mostly unwillingly.

This is a hard book to review without giving away too much. There is a big twist at the ending. There are clues scattered throughout the story, things that at times I thought were things that were wrong but escaped the final editing. The mystery isn’t really about Eva’s death or the pregnant teenager disappearing, it’s about Towner’s past. I enjoyed the story and couldn’t put it down, but found it hard to follow with all the jumps from past to present. Having an unreliable narrator doesn’t help. I had to reread parts, especially the ending, to try and figure it all out. You really have to remember what’s been said earlier in the story to try and keep up. I thought the twist at the ending- which many reviewers have called reminiscent of ‘Sixth Sense’- was rather brilliant.

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So I spent the day with a throwing up grade migraine instead of going to the dance party. Once again, I am asking myself why I set myself up for disappointment by making plans when my body does its inevitable betrayal and I end up home on the sofa in pain. I really wonder what it's like to be able to actually expect to be able to do things.
Dammit. Had a low blood sugar reaction after I went to bed. I was okay to grab some candy, but within a few minutes my brain was so gone I couldn't figure out why I was eating, what the little log book (for my blood glucose readings) was for, or what the library book was- literally, I could not figure out that it was for reading. Thankfully I was on autopilot and kept shoving candy in!

Of course now I've got a pounding migraine. I'm going back to bed and hope that the headache is better when I wake up again or I'm going to miss the dance studio party, and I'll be REALLY upset with myself if I do that.

Dec. 2nd, 2016

Arg. My jaw has popped out of place on the the left side. I am popping and clicking away like a robot in need of oil.
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, by Kathleen Rooney. St. Martin’s Press, 2016

It’s New Year’s Eve of 1984, and 85 year old Lillian Boxfish is taking one of her long walks through New York City. She hit New York young; she wanted out from under the thumb of her family in D.C., and she wanted the exciting life of the big city. She soon was hired by Macy’s, writing distinctive ad copy, as well as publishing books of poems. She made quite a lot of money, despite not being paid nearly as much as the male ad writers.

As Lillian walks, the cityscape brings back memories of her long life. Here was the tiny apartment she and her best friend shared, where they partied constantly. Here’s the ladies only hotel she lived in while saving up for said apartment. Here’s Macy’s, where she worked up until she became pregnant and became persona non grata. Here’s the park, the Hudson, the restaurants. The hospital where she was taken when she had a breakdown.

The story is not just an autobiography of Lillian, but a paean to the city and its evolution. I came to love “listening” to Lillian tell her story, like sitting down to tea or cocktails with a really tough but nice woman, who spans the time from Prohibition and speakeasies to the 80s AIDS epidemic. Lillian is witty and arch, as if sitting at the Algonquin Round Table. The only thing I found odd was that everyone was so friendly and accommodating; after hearing for decades how rough and gruff New Yorkers are, it was odd to find even the muggers being nice.

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Lotus, by Lijia Zhang. Henry Holt and Company, 2017

Lotus is the nom de guerre of a young woman from rural China, who left the village to seek better employment in the factories. On her deathbed, her mother had told her to take care of her younger brother; she intends to make money to support the family and send her brother to high school and university. After her cousin dies in a factory fire- the building locked to prevent workers from escaping- she moves on to the city. Here she soon finds herself working as a ji- a sex worker- in a low rent massage parlor. She sends virtually all her money home, telling her family she is waiting tables and earning big tips.

Bing is a photographer. He’s a middle class, middle aged man who couldn’t hack the business world of modern China. He wants to both make a difference in the world, and do something creative. He finds his calling in photojournalism, taking photos of the ji, especially Lotus, and telling their stories, which are not pretty stories. One of Lotus’s co-workers is not even 14; one is supporting her developmentally disabled son; another is supporting a low-life boyfriend who takes her for one abortion after another.

While the main focus is on Lotus and the development of her character as she navigates the perils of her life, it’s Bing’s coming of age, too, despite his age. I enjoyed watching them evolve and grow- and not end up in the place I thought they would. The descriptions of people and place are vivid and the divide between the privileged middle class and the poor is achingly exposed. The writing is a bit rough at times, but the reader has to remember that English is not Zhang’s first language and she wrote directly in it- this is not a translation. Four stars out of five- I’d give four and a half if Amazon would let me!

Nov. 29th, 2016

Spent four hours in the insurance agent's office yesterday afternoon, trying to get health insurance for Tim. He won't be eligible for Walmart's insurance in 2017, because he doesn't get enough hours. Because Idaho didn't join the federal ACA program, we have to deal with their own exchange. We found several anomalies (besides their phone system being down yesterday). None of our email addresses were on file with them (but I get emails from them all the time) but we could not create a new account because Tim was already in the system. Then we got into the account, but found that it was in my name- but with his social security # attached to it. The only thing I can figure is that in the end 2014, when I spent three weeks waiting for call backs from them, and I asked them to put our two separate accounts together because we had legally married, they fucked up. Big time.

The agent managed to get into the account, even though it's screwed up, and put in the information for getting the tax credit. He should qualify with no problem, although his premium will be $137. But the web site won't let him actually put in an application for insurancce until a human approves his application for the tax credit. Why knows how long this will take, or if they will be able to fix the information on the web site. I don't even know if they will email or call, so I'll have to keep my phone on me constantly, from 6 a.m. (because Boise is an hour ahead of us) to whatever. Horrid memories of the end of 2014 and waiting for them are flashing before my eyes.

When we finally left the office, it was already past Tim's bed time. I insisted on stopping and JoAnn's for a minute, and they didn't have the pattern I wanted yet. Yesterday pretty much blew.

Nov. 29th, 2016

Theda Bara, My Mentor: Under the Wing of Hollywood’s First Femme Fatale, by Joan Craig with Beverly F. Stout. McFarland & Company, Inc. 2016

Joan Craig grew up living across the street from silent film star Theda Bara, and the two pretty much instantly connected when they met, introduced by Bara’s husband who had cut a rose for Joan as she walked past on her way to school. Bara had no children of her own, and Joan’s mother seems to have been a bit absent minded about her child, so Joan ended up spending a lot of time with Bara and her husband, director Charles Brabin. Although Bara’s acting days were over by the time they met, she had kept a lot of costumes and props from her movies and lived among them in her house. She kept a crystal ball and scryed with it regularly. She was far from being the vamp she frequently portrayed on the screen.

I’m of two minds about this book. On the one hand, it’s filled with great pictures and in the back is a listing of the plots of all of Bara’s films, most of which were lost in a fire. On the other hand, it’s only the bare bones of a biography or memoir. Barely a hundred pages are devoted to Joan and Bara’s relationship, touching on the high points, and part of it is a short bio of Bara before Joan met her. I would have loved to have known what Bara was like- what did they talk about? How did Bara spend her days? What were her interests? How did she mentor her- what things did she teach her (a few examples are given in the book)? I can only give the book three of out five stars- it’s a great addition to the information available about Bara, but certainly not the first book one would want to go to.
Idaho, by Emily Ruskovich. Random House, 2017

Ann and Wade are married and living on a hill in rural north Idaho. It’s Wade’s second marriage; he was married to Jenny until she killed their younger daughter and the older one disappeared. Then she went to jail and they divorced. Ann had had a crush on Wade ever since she was teaching him piano, in the school where she worked and taught the local children, including Wade’s daughter. He took piano up at his age because he’d read that learning music could stave off dementia; his father and grandfather had both developed early onset Alzheimer’s.

Shifting around in time and point of view, I found the book a little difficult to follow. There are some dead ends, too- characters who are introduced but then disappear or have only incidental importance to Ann, Jenny, and Wade’s story. Ruskovich evokes the landscape of north Idaho perfectly; I live in one of the towns she mentions and know the area well. She’s got the trees, animals, and way of life down well.

We get to know Ann well; I would say she’s the main focus. Jenny remains a cipher; we see her in prison but we never find out why she did what she did. Wade sort of drifts through the story, living in an increasing fog of forgetfulness. The most vivid character is Elizabeth, Jenny’s cell mate.

The story touches on relationships of all kinds- maternal, sibling, marital, friends, exes and second wives- and mostly on memory. Memory and forgetting doesn’t just affect Wade, but everyone around him, just as memories of their deeds plague the prison inmates. It’s a fascinating read, but not a comfortable one, and it would have been nice to have some loose ends tied up. But loose ends don’t always get tied up in real life, and this story is uncomfortably real.

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