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Pandora’s Lab: Seven Stories of Science Gone Wrong, by Paul A. Offit, M.D.. National Geographic, 2017

This is the story about unintended consequences, and unleashing discoveries on the world without enough testing beforehand. The frontal lobotomy, trans fats, eugenics, the synthesis of ammonium nitrate, megavitamins, opioids, and the banning of DDT are the seven that Offit has selected as big mistakes. Some, like lobotomies and trans fats, were a horrible idea from the start. Others, like ammonium nitrate and opioids, have been used indiscriminately and created problems.

Offit gives a good history of each of these problems, from the discovery of the thing to today’s results. He gives a bibliography to back up his thesis, and the last chapter is a warning: how to learn from the past, and how to identify bad science. The book is well researched and well written, and is interesting from beginning to end.

Do I agree with everything he says? Well, no. While I agree that deaths from overdoses of opioids are a bad thing, I certainly don’t want them not used any more. Too many people with chronic pain rely on them to get up and do a day’s work; for acute pain, as in post-surgery use, there is nothing else like them. A way needs to be found to keep them from being *over* used, rather than banning them. Yes, banning DDT meant that a number of mosquito borne diseases, which had become scarce in some area, came back with a vengeance, but I don’t agree with him that no damage was ever done with DDT. We need to find a better way, such as vaccines, to deal with those diseases, not bring back a substance that is still in every single person in the world. I do love his lessons on identifying bad science; if something seems to be the answer to all kinds of questions, it’s probably bogus. Nothing cures everything. Nothing cures without the possibility of side effects. As Heinlein said, there ain’t no such thing as free lunch.

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Hoover is settling in nicely. The he-cats are to the point of mostly just sniffing noses, although Norris is growling at him sometimes- which I did not expect, given that Norris is usually sweet tempered. The she-cats, of course, hiss and growl at him. That's just what they do with other cats, though. Hoover seems to be glued to me- if I sit down, he's in my lap, when I walk around he's between my feet (which while cute, is going to get me killed). He's like a giant kitten with tattered ears. And fangs- he's got an overbite so his canine teeth stick out all the time. He hasn't attempted to fight with any of the cats, even though he still has his balls (which we will be dealing with next week some time).

Sadly, I may be allergic to him. We brought him in Friday night, and Saturday morning I woke up with my sinuses filled with snot and my eyes red and itching. No pollen has ever gotten me this bad. I'm living on Benadryl and those anti-allergy eye drops. It goes away when I'm away from the house, and comes back when I come back in. So either it's Hoover, or something Hoover still has on his fur, or it's a coincidence and it's something like the dust in the house or mold or who knows what. The first couple of days were horrible; now it's a dull roar but, like I said, Benadryl.

Taught my class on plant propagation up in Bonners Ferry on Tuesday; good class. Only seven of them, but they were full of questions and comments. I like that. I hate just talking to people who just stare at me and don't say anything.

That is all the news here in the land of ice and snow.
The Orphan’s Tale, by Pam Jenoff. MIRA Books, 2017

There are multiple orphans in this story. Astrid, a Jewish woman whose Nazi husband has been ordered to divorce her, returns to her circus family home to find everyone gone and presumed dead. Noa, a Dutch girl impregnated by a German soldier, is cast out by her family; her baby was taken from her by the Germans and she lives by being a custodian at a country railroad station. When she sees a boxcar filled with babies, with no one caring for them and exposed to the cold, she steals one of these parentless children and runs off through the snow. These orphans converge on Herr Neuhoff’s circus. Astrid knows him from her childhood; her family lived next door to the Neuhoff’s home base and she grew up with him. Noa and the baby, who she claims is her brother, Theo, lands with them by accident. To Astrid falls the chore of training Noa to be an aerialist like herself; to avoid questions, everyone in the circus must have a job. Plus, Neuhoff needs another aerialist to work with Astrid on the trapeze. Never mind that Noa has never done any such thing, and is afraid of heights.

After working together for a while, Astrid and Noa grow to respect and even like each other. Astrid has a lover; a Russian clown who does dangerous political satire. Noa also meets someone and falls in love instantly; the son of a small French town mayor who is a collaborator.

They are always in peril; even when safe for a few hours, they are on high alert. They hope to escape Nazi areas, but it’s not to be. False papers protect Astrid and Noa as long as they are not closely examined. But multiple tragedies befall the circus, and hard decisions must be made.

While the plot line of hiding from the Nazis could make this a thriller, it’s really a book about relationships: lovers, parents, friends. These relationships interweave like the net that stretches below the aerialists in the big top, which should catch a falling person but you never know when it will fail.

Astrid and Noa are really the only characters who are fleshed out decently. The others seem rather flat; they fill the space nicely but have no existence outside of the story. I would have liked to have seen more of Peter the goose-stepping clown, and the story would have seemed realer had Noa and Luc spent more time together before falling head over heels in love. But it’s a good, tense story, showing WW 2 from a perspective I’ve not encountered before.
Things We Have in Common, by Tasha Kavanagh. Mira, 2017

When Yasmin Laksaris’s father died five years previous to the story, her life spiraled out of control. We are given no clue as to what her life was like previous to this, other than that she and her father were close. Since then, food has become her only source of comfort. Her mother is not close to her and has remarried, to a man who seems to barely tolerate Yasmin. Now she’s obese, and the students, teachers, and principle of her school all treat her like a total outcast. She takes endless taunting. When her not very subtle stalkerish behavior towards the most popular girl in school becomes obvious, the taunting gets even more vicious. But it doesn’t stop her from endlessly watching pretty, blonde, Alice.

Then one day she discovers that she’s not the only one watching Alice. Sitting outside during lunch, she notices that a man walking a dog is watching Alice intently. She intuits somehow that this man means harm to Alice. But rather than reporting the man to the school, she decides to figure out who he is. Because she doesn’t want to stop him from abducting Alice; she wants to be the one who rescues Alice once she’s abducted, figuring that Alice will then return her love. So Yasmin plays junior detective, and, amazingly, finds the man. She manages to work her way into his life- which he responds to rather oddly- and when Alice really does go missing, Yasmin turns her stalking to him.

The author has captured the feelings of a teen outcast pretty well. She’s so desperate for affection that even the slightest imagined (and she imagines a LOT- she is, in fact, delusional) favor shown by the man changes her life. The book is written as if Yasmin is telling the story to the man, and it gives us a deep look into her mind. Yasmin is, quite frankly, not a very sympathetic character. In some ways, she is- anyone bullied as much as she is would be- but she has a very warped mind. The story is built such that you could see it going in several directions. I couldn’t put the book down, dying to see which way it would go. The end is positively Hitchcockian.
We have achieved Hoover... well, not integration yet, but he's inside. Today when I got home, I heard him at the door, so I let him in. He didn't get upset when I shut the door (usually he has to make sure it's not on the latch), and he just kept rolling around on the floor and wanting more and more petting. Finally, after about an hour, I picked him up and put him on the bookcase where a bowl of dry food and a bowl of water live. He stepped off it onto the sofa, so I laid down on the sofa and he climbed onto my belly and just stayed there for an hour and a half. I finally had to get up and pee, so I off loaded him. Since then he's been under the end table, stretched out on his side. The other cats (except Luna) know he's in here and most have checked him out a bit, but aren't showing much interest. Because he hasn't checked out the rest of the house yet, I'm going to sleep on the sofa tonight so he feels safe. It might protect him from any 1 a.m. sorties, too.

Only went to the post office and the shelter today. My day has been all about cats.

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Got the things I was working on that need to be mailed finished faster than I thought I would- a little bitty art quilt, a bracelet, and some potpourri- which meant I also had time to clean up most of my mess and get the gardening association newsletter put out. Of course, I forgot to take pictures of what I made, and it's wrapped up already! I used a different style than I have before- applique and a lot of straight stitching to create texture and movement. Very loose and not dainty, but there is a certain power to it that isn't present in my usual stitching.

Tomorrow I go to the post office and hopefully to the shelter. I haven't been there in a month at least. Need to pick up insulin. If I'm really feeling lively, I might go to the library and to Colin's. I have a giant stack of books I'm getting rid of for the library, and a bunch of cooking magazines for Colin. Then home to write several book reviews... sure. I'll be lucky if I get half this stuff done.

Making more progress on getting Hoover tamed and into the house. He still won't go past right next to the door, but I did manage to get him into my lap last night for a couple of minutes. Haven't seen him today at all.
Well, as could have been expected, my body failed me on Saturday with a spectacular migraine and snot fountain and I didn't make it to the women's march, which despite this being a tiny town in a rural area, had at least 800 people at it. Now I have a pink kitty eared cat that I feel like an impostor wearing. I pretty much hate myself.

I have finally gotten working on a fabric thing, and it while I spent hours searching for what I needed (in my house, that is, not on line or something) and discovered a new cat toilet at one point, it feels good to have a needle back in my hand. Now I have to make sashing and back it and put a sleeve in it for hanging, and that's always a lot of cussing for me. I am working on the dining table since my work table is inaccessible at the moment- the work area is filled with firewood. Which is better than being cold, but it's still annoying.

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Everything Belongs to Us, by Yoojin Grace Wuertz. Random House, 2017

Sunam, Jisun, and Namin are all students at the prestigious Seoul National University, but that’s pretty much all they have in common. Namin comes from a poor family, where both parents and her older sister all work to put Namin through college. She wants to become a doctor to lift her family out of poverty. Sunam comes from a middle class family, and is trying to make connections with rich people to ease his way into the world of business. He, too, is the only child in the family to go to university. Jisun comes from an insanely wealthy family; her father assumes she will take over his business when the time comes. But, despite her life of privilege, she is obsessed with the rights of the working poor.

Odd a group as they seem, they become friends- and more. Their relationships are not easy ones; it’s hard to overcome the barriers of money and class- and what their families expect of them. This is their coming of age story.

Set in South Korea in 1978, it’s a time of great change politically and economically. Unions are forming, protests are being staged, and state police are cracking down on activists. The story shows how these pressures affect the characters and their families, and on one level it’s a really good social novel. But it devolves into a soap opera situation and never really recovers from that.

I liked the characters of Namin and Jisun (although I didn’t like some of the choices Jisun made; on the other hand, I applauded one thing she did), but disliked Sunam. Or, rather than dislike, I didn’t feel anything for him- he doesn’t have much personality. The ending left me wanting something more- the three main characters ended up just as one expects from the story, and it’s so abrupt that I felt like the author wanted to tie it up as quickly as possible. I’d give three and a half stars if I could.
Finally took a crowbar to my ass and went into town. Took care of the week's worth of computer work at the hospice office, which took a couple of hours, then to two different banks to deal with stuff, then to MuleFart to pick up pills, nail polish, and fabric. They actually still had bright as hell pink fleece, so I bought a half yard. Then, not even 10 feet away, I find a hat on a rack that is a knitted pink thing with pointy ears and sleepy eyes on it, complete with some gloves, for $8. And it actually fit, despite being on the kids rack. So now I have my hat, with no effort, and also a half yard of bright as hell pink fleece that I no longer need to use right now, but I wasn't going to say "I don't want this" right after they cut it. Fabric around here tends to get used for something eventually, even when I have no ideas for it when it comes in.

Now I'm beat.

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.

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