I'm Abby, and I read pretty much every genre you can think of. Mainly, I'm interested in women's stories of any kind; and inclusive books are my forte.
this is a book that mainly consists of these three themes: isolation, guilt, and how people will always try to escape the past.
jake whyte is a tough australian who has immigrated to britain to run a sheep farm. it’s, in some ways, jake’s way of cutting herself off from the rest of the world, and gradually we see that this is her main goal. more than anything, she wants to be left alone. her sole companion on the farm is her dog, who is also called dog. dog and jake make an excellent pair, and one of the main connecting threads throughout the novel is jake’s relationship not only with dog, but also with sheep, and kelly, and the birds that haunt her during the course of the novel. the only things we know about jake in the beginning are: jake is strong; jake is completely isolated; and jake is running from something. what is it exactly? slowly, through chapters interspersing the main present narrative, jake’s history is told backwards. i honestly can’t go into depth about any of her past life without spoiling the whole thing, though, so i’ll leave it at that for now.
my main issue with the novel was probably wyld’s prose. i see people praising wyld’s writing, but i didn’t think it was anything special. there are bits and pieces of really superb writing, but that’s all they are. the only place there seems to be usage of commas is in the title. i also felt that, particularly in the beginning, wyld struggles with capturing a scene; the writing is largely, “i did this, and then i did that, and then i thought this,” and for a while it grated on my nerves. luckily the prose improves as the book goes on, and it’s also engaging enough that the writing is at the back of your mind. wyld does excel, though, at painting a picture when it comes to the grimmer scenes. whenever she writes about the slaughter of sheep, or the maggot encrusted wool, or the filthy place that jake once resided in – she’s great. i was totally nauseated by the descriptions and the things that happened in this book, and in my opinion, that signals wlyd’s success.
oh, which reminds me: something is picking off jake’s sheep. jake’s gut reaction is that it’s the nasty tempered kids in town who enjoy harassing her, but everyone around her (like don, and later lloyd) are not so convinced. and jake knows something or someone is out there, watching her. she can feel it in the walls; she can sense the subtlest shifting in the air, her skin prickles, and she can tell that she is no longer alone. several times, something enters jake’s house. but “it” never touches jake. despite this, jake sleeps with a hammer under her bed, a box of knives later on, and she makes sure her rifle is never far off. we witness jake’s desperate need to make sure that she is safe, that she can fend for herself, and that she does not need the help of anyone but herself and dog. but when jake finds a stranger drunk and injured in her barn, her quite solitude is thrown off its course. this stranger is called lloyd, and really, he’s a joyful little character. he’s strange but kind, and with some tentativeness jake and lloyd begin to strike up a friendship. i think some people find lloyd to be underdeveloped, and i might agree with this if not for a few things: i think it serves a point. besides the funniness and strangeness of his personality, we have little inkling as to why lloyd is there, or what he’s doing, or where he comes from. and the point is, is that from lloyd’s view, it’s the same with jake. jake and lloyd don’t need to know the details of each other’s past lives, because the present is the only thing that matters now. they focus on the sheep and trying to find out why they’re being killed, but they don’t talk deeply about themselves. occasionally, lloyd will ask things like, “do you have any children?” and when jake says, “no,” he simply replies, “me neither.” they leave it at that. i think it’s a simple reflection not only of jake’s loneliness and the fact that there are people out there who are able to interact without having to know the sordid lives that others might have lived before you’ve met them. jake is one of those people.
it’s also built off of jake’s own regrets, guilt and desire (above all else) to escape from what she has done and what she’s experienced. we know full well that jake has no longing to tell lloyd about what she comes from, and i think she both extends that courtesy to lloyd, and also does not want to know about his past either way. so, therefore, the interactions we read between lloyd and jake, the fact that he sings to dog and dances when he’s alone, and that he despises jake’s hair, that’s all we need to know. as readers we yearn to know about him, about his history, but we don’t need to know. i think that’s a big part of the novel, in some ways, despite the fact that we (of course) learn about jake’s life.
i was desperate to know where jake had gotten those scars, and i was desperate to know what had driven her to abandon everything. this could be an extremely quick read (i read it very quickly regardless), but it’s so, so tough to read. i mean – it’s full of extremely grotesque details, and if you have a tendency to a weak stomach, it probably isn’t the best thing to read. truthfully, i have a proneness to a weak stomach and i’m highly emotional, but i got through it fine. it’s difficult to read the things that jake goes through, and the consistent animal death (and not in nice, quick ways) is hard to swallow. but i think the good majority of it is necessary. life on a sheep farm – or literally any kind of farm – is not easy, and it isn’t pretty, and it parallels nicely with jake’s own rough past; and with her self-imposed isolation, perhaps things are made tougher. similarly, this book is filled to the brim with misogyny and its results, and it’s made obvious that for someone like jake (tough, unfeminine, bristly, someone who cannot be touched) interactions with most men are pointless and mostly negative. still, she finds solace in lloyd’s company, and of course there is also greg. but most of the kindnesses that jake’s given come from women, like the owner of the café, or the young teenage marcie, or karen, or the woman who gives jake shelter after she…leaves a certain place. we see that, mostly, women stick together. it isn’t always true, of course, especially as we learn about jake’s past, but the element is there regardless. there’s also the quality of homophobia (the men and their threatened masculinity, what else?) both amongst the men jake works with at one point, and people in jake’s life before that.
i just want to note that i really enjoyed jake, and i think her relationships with dog and lloyd are expertly pulled off, and i felt i could sympathize with jake greatly. i also think her interactions with otto and everyone else show us such interesting qualities to her.
so, so far, sounds pretty good, huh? well. if i’m going to be perfectly honest in this review, the ending took the novel down a star for me.
overall, quite good, but i’d only recommend it with some warnings as well as “buts.”
having previously read diemer's first set of project unicorn stories, i was definitely ready to give this collection a go. while her project unicorn anthology is also co-authored by her wife, jennifer, these stories are written solely by her (and edited by jennifer, i believe). there are six stories in this collection, and each of them vary greatly; therefore, i am going to review them individually.
far - this is the first story, and i'd consider it the weakest in the bunch. at first glance, it's a zombie love story, but by the end, it's developed into something entirely else. the titular character, far, is lovers with a girl called mana; and although we see mana loving far with a unending fervor, far seems less infatuated with mana. they both have their faults, at least in each other's eyes: mana is too complacent, and questions nothing; while far is never content, and has so many questions about the dark, hateful world that they live in. mana works as a runner, people who enter the after and collect souls to join them with their bodies again for the people that love them; it's illegal to bring these souls back, to make them into "reanima." while the concept is most certainly fascinating, i don't think it was executed as expertly as the other stories. the leads are weak (both feel thinly developed, their romance painful) and while i don't demand likable characters, there has to be a degree of empathy between reader and character. i simply didn't feel anything here. not horrible, but not great.
the witch sea - meriel lives on a tiny island in a lighthouse, bound by a curse (or gift) that she's inherited from her mother and grandmother before her. across from meriel's island, there is a sea god trapped by the spell meriel's family cast on him ages ago. when meriel meets nor, who is also entrapped along with the sea god, meriel's life changes - at first subtly, and then with sudden quickness. nor is tasked with asking meriel, for the sea god, to release the curse. but nor incites a passion within meriel that she's never felt before. this is a truly gorgeous story, a classic diemer, and it's crafted with such care. there are stunning turns of phrase in this story; but while i could talk about the prose all day, i really need to dedicate this to the equally beautiful story line. reading about meriel's (and nor's) struggles and loneliness, i felt deeply for her, and despite meriel's contact with nor, there's a true sense of isolation that i think most people can relate to. i think this story is a lot about word of mouth, in some ways, and how things can get misinterpreted over the centuries, and that you can't always trust the stories you are told over and over again. it's about learning your own place in the world, trusting yourself, and having to make decisions for yourself (and not basing them off of what other people tell you). on another note, this is a really great selkie story. i'm always dying for selkie stories, and it's nice to have some that aren't heterosexual romances.
seek - telling the story of a lady knight named seek, this is about what exactly people will do for love. this is another lovely story, but i didn't love it like i did the witch sea. regardless, it fits the "monstrous" theme to a T: this is about a muse, something dark, something which seek has been warned against. seek perceives this muse she conjures up as weak, helpless, a thing to be laughed at. seek is a vapid young woman, someone who values beauty above all else, and i think we see karmic power in this one. this is tale of vengeance but also love, and i was definitely surprised by the turn it took. i'm actually really confused as to why i didn't absolutely love it; it's more of a "me" thing, because i know a ton of people really adored it. it's definitely one of the strongest in the collection, though, and i enjoyed it.
our lady of wolves - this one is really hard to summarize, as it's about a pretty alternate future. this one also fits along with the "monstrous" theme, but less so because that isn't the primary focus here. kelly, a young girl struggling in a town cut off from the everyone and a world filled with monsters, prays in a decaying church, a place where no one has devoted their thoughts or prayers in ages. she prays for survival, for relief from these creatures; she prays for someone to rescue them. what she doesn't anticipate is the stranger who finds their town - a town where no one has seen strangers in forever. there is an immediate connection between kelly and this stranger, but things are not as they seem. this is one of my favorites, written beautifully to pair alongside the tragedy experienced daily in kelly's life. i think a lot of people disliked this one, but i found it to be quite haunting and lovely, and it's an extremely poignant story. the ending is stunning; i think it really makes the story.
we grow accustomed to the dark - kate and ceila are walking home from school when something inexplicable happens. burning creatures come from the sky. kate is convinced this is the rapture that her mother used to talk about; that these burning monsters are angels. but when these angels begin to do horrific things, kate and celia are thrust into a world where they have no one but each other, and where they must think on their feet to survive. the relationship between these two is nice, because they've already been dating and so it sets a different tone in comparison to the other stories. there's an undeniable tenderness between them; they deeply care about one another, and we witness their instinctive need to be close and to protect each other. i think it's one of the sweetest and most interesting relationships in the anthology. the concept here is great, too, and unlike far, it's also pulled off really well. this is another of the real monstrous tales, and the monsters (or are they angels? does their being angels mean they can't be monsters?) are terrifying, and superbly done in the fact that they're fascinating. my only real issue is the ending. i can understand, from an author's view, how the openness of it is interesting; but i was absolutely dying to know more. so it isn't necessarily an issue, but more of a personal preference. regardless, this one is stellar.
the forever star - this is the last in the collection, and it fits that position flawlessly. this is about the starmaker, elaine, who "can't remember a time before she made stars." elaine has two sisters, but despite their company, elaine is incredibly lonely. throughout her long, long life, elaine has watched the creation of galaxies and lives and planets; she has watched humans born, watched them fall in love, watched them die. elaine is haunted by the changeability of the world, by the fact that nothing ever lasts. elaine makes a choice, and it changes not only her life, but the future of earth. on the other hand, on earth, the sun is dying. there are shields built to protect people from the sun's rays, as well as suits, but the power systems are slowly beginning to shut down and disconnect. one of the people who works these systems is maggie, a mechanic who is haunted by the system failures (each time the system breaks down, someone - inevitably - dies). when maggie meets elaine, she feels a happiness that she knows is fleeting; she treasures the short time she has with elaine. but what she doesn't know, is that elaine is more than she could ever imagine. this one nearly brought me to tears, and it closes love devours beautifully and without any hitches. although i did feel that perhaps maggie and elaine's relationship went too quickly, i think a large theme in these stories is that many of the characters have precious little time. therefore, when they find themselves connecting with someone (and often the characters are burdened by loneliness), they let it happen. they go for it. and i think it's also an issue in short stories, because there isn't a full book to develop the relationships. so, with that being said, i think diemer pulled off elaine and maggie's relationship quite excellently. whatever the case, it's such a gorgeous story that it's hard to think about its faults. it seamlessly weaves scifi elements with fantasy, folklore and mythology, and that's one of diemer's strong suits. while these two genres/elements are often at odds, diemer joins them together and lets them connect.
overall, this collection is pretty strong, and diemer's writing is yet again at its best. recommended.
i just finished the salt god's daughter, so expect a review soon - but i'm really struggling to gather my thoughts on this one. it's a very strange, haunting, lyrical tale, primarily about relationships (and the flaws in them), and i definitely enjoyed it.
just wanted y'all to know that i'll probably have something up about it soon, when i can finally form coherent thoughts about it.
I was expecting to really, really love this book, but as it turns out, I feel that I can only give it three stars and half.
Everything about this book should be fantastic. It’s about a young girl called Ida Mae, who has wanted to fly ever since her father took her up in his Jenny when she was little. Her chance comes as World War Two takes hold of the country, and she’s suddenly shoved out of her comfortable home life in Slidell, Louisana, and into the WASP training field in Sweetwater. But what does this mean for Ida? She’s a black girl in a time when women of color were not allowed to join the WASP. There are two Asian women who joined the WASP, but black women were turned away. There’s a really poignant part in this book when Ida Mae is speaking with Jolene, where they wonder what being black and being a woman gets you. Ida Mae says, “You’re a woman, you get the short end of the stick. You’re black, you get the short end of the stick. So what does being black and being a woman mean?” and Jolene says, “You get hit with both ends of the stick.” I think this novel shows really good examples of how racism and misogyny intersect, and how, when it comes to women of color, there is no separation of racism and misogyny. They have to deal with both, and we’ve got to learn to respect that. Women are disadvantaged, yes, but there is privilege in being a white woman.
This shows us that this was a time when people were saying, “Maybe women can,” but this shows the side of that history that we don’t often see: “Maybe white women can.” Because of her desperation to join the WASP, this means that Ida Mae has to pass. She has a light complexion and her hair is curly but still rather smooth. There’s also a lot of intersecting conversations about colorism, because Jolene and Ida’s family have much darker skin than she does. Honestly, I can’t really discuss the details of race, because I’m white. I’m not really qualified to speak on this subject. I did feel, however, that Ida Mae’s treatment of Jolene when she comes home is absolutely bizarre and rather saddening. The whole time, Jolene seemed like a truly good friend, someone interesting and funny and no-nonsense. I think her criticisms of Ida Mae were often just, although I totally understand Ida Mae’s desire to be in the WASP and I admire her courage to go forth and do it. But when she tells Jolene that she’s just jealous because she’ll never pass, because she’s too dark to be anything but a housemaid? I thought that was truly just…awful. What right does she have to say that Jolene’s jealous? Maybe Jolene doesn’t want to pass. And Ida’s too stubborn to admit her wrongness. She ends up writing a letter to Jolene (I suppose to apologize) but we never see the contents, and Jolene doesn’t respond. It seems to end with her accepting that their friendship is over, “because they have nothing in common now,” but it was just confusing for me. If I’m wrong here, please let me know! As I said, I’m not qualified to speak about the racism experienced in the book. But I did think there was a measure of unfairness in Ida Mae’s treatment of Jolene.
I did really like Ida, though. She was interesting, ambitious and she was kind but not a pushover. I understand that she’s young and she spends the whole novel trying to find herself, trying to discover who she is and where she belongs in the world, but the conclusion of the novel was super lackluster. Ida Mae talks about finding herself, knowing who she is, but I didn’t see any of it, you know? She just said it. The ending felt rushed, and there was no real closure to any of the plotlines. Now, sometimes I don’t mind this, but for the novel to be really “complete” I feel readers need to know how Ida Mae’s life went, if she ever got back in touch with Jolene, how Walt reacted to her letter, if she ever told Lily, how her relationship with her family was after she made her choice…there’s a lot of things that could’ve been, and probably needed to be, resolved. I enjoyed the camaraderie between Ida Mae, Patsy and Lily. They stuck up for one another and I felt that they truly cared deeply for each other, and that warmed my heart. I was struck so hard by Patsy’s death! I felt that the death scene was a little…well, funny, to be honest, though. Something about it was so dramatic I had to laugh, even though I cried because she died! Also, I enjoyed the fact that Patsy probably knew about Ida Mae’s race. I kind of wish we would’ve seen Lily finding out, just to know if Lily was a true friend or if, in the end, race really did matter. It wasn’t necessary, but it would’ve made for a really interesting interaction. Another note: Lily’s pregnancy. I felt like it was a little…I don’t know. I didn’t like the whole “well, you’re married, that’s what married women do! Have babies!” it felt a little…irritating. It isn’t a big issue but something about it sort of rubbed me the wrong way.
At first, Smith’s writing didn’t capture my attention, but as the novel got into the swing of things I really found myself enjoying her writing. It felt pretty authentic for a girl of Ida Mae’s age, and there was a sort of vulnerability to it, a heartfelt quality, that made it easy to sympathize with Ida and really feel like you’re there with her on her journey. I liked her relationship with her family, and I felt that all of the relationships were really well developed. I liked her relationship with Walt, but I felt something was missing in it; not the chemistry, but something else that I can’t quite put my finger on. Altogether, it’s quite good and an excellent depiction of racism and misogyny (and how they meet), but I did feel there was something that was just…missing. An element that could’ve tied it together. It seemed like, right when Ida Mae finally got into the action of being a certified WASP, there were a lot of time skips. Still, though, recommended!