A female warrior in Neolithic times!

S-BOMB warning. That’s SPOILER-ALERT, for those less crude than I.

A year ago, I picked up a series that I really was interested in, but as you likely know by now, I’ve been so terrible about reading that I didn’t manage to finish. In fact, I quickly discovered that I was reading the second book in the series somehow (prolly due to a misclicking in my Kindle app!). Anyhow, despite all this, the initial scenes from the second book remained fresh in my memory, so it kept me thinking about the first. This first book is called Ember of a New World.

When I decided on my reading goal for 2018, the first two books in this series were included (with a possibility of the third!). Now, I grew up with an interest in First Nation stories, ‘cos my mother loved them very much so and shared them with me often. I also was interested in dinosaurs, ‘cos I was a kid and I hallucinated Tyrannosaurs and raptors and just generally thought history was a pretty neat thing. This series takes that interest further back in time than the former but not so much the latter!

Tom Watson practices what they preach in their novels, quite literally, I might add! I follow them on Twitter, and I often get to look at astral shots and Neolithic-style pottery and clothing and any number of Sailor Moon .gifs! Aside from that last thing, they seem to spend much of their time studying the methods of their characters, learning by doing. This, by the way, makes for some damn good hype for the stories, as well as helps an author better understand what they are writing about. It lends itself to better writing!

As to the tale itself: Ember is a girl, about to become a woman. At the ceremony, a sign is seen and she is gifted a great destiny by her tribe’s gods–to go to the end of the world to the northwest. A daunting task at any time period or age, Ember must accomplish this as a young Neolithic woman on her own. The book follows her story as she first travels by boat, runs into trouble, only to run into more trouble, and so the snowball rolls down the hill. She accomplishes much in her time in the wild world. I’d rather not spoil very much of the actual tale itself with this one.

As far as quality of the book goes, it has a slight repetitive nature in telling of some of the practices of the people of the book, but I feel this is necessary for the reader to really understand what hardships and trials even simple tasks were. It also has several erroneous words that a new edition would polish up, but they’re mostly homonyms, so they’re easily deciphered. Otherwise, the books is a nicely-wrapped package waiting to be unfolded. If I’m not mistaken, a fourth book is in the works. This one is followed by Ember of Life. If you’re interested in early people’s stories, coming-of-age, strong female protagonists, LGBT-friendly material, this is it.

Interested in Ember of a New World? It can be purchased here.

~Lils

Searching for a (wo)man, stones in hand…

S-BOMB warning. That’s SPOILER-ALERT, for those less crude than I.

Following up after reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle, I decided to track down a book that would include Shirley Jackson’s infamous short story The Lottery, which led me to The Lottery and Other Stories. Much to my surprise, the book didn’t open with The Lottery, but instead would finish with it. It was my fault for assuming, but still! Genuinely surprised, there. Anyway, in my own little opinion, while the stories are all fairly satisfying, the start of the book caught my interest the most. It occasionally waned, but overall, it held fast.

Unlike the series of reviews I did for Sherlock Holmes, many of these stories are quite brief and hard to flesh out a decent post about, so I decided to compile one for the collection overall.

My absolute favorite in this collection was The Daemon Lover, the second story in the collection. It’s a curious piece in the art of escalation. We’re introduced to a bride-to-be on her wedding day as she prepares to meet with her groom for the big day. Time steadily plods on, and her observations hasten, steadily becoming more concerned, more frantic, more harried. She crosses town in search of him, following faint rumors of his description, until finally arriving at a door that no one answers. And no one ever does. We’re left to draw our own conclusions at this point, but it’s safe to say she’s been had. But why? The beauty of the ugliness of humanity in that moment is great, honestly.

Much of this book is about that ugliness in varying forms. The realness Jackson paints with her stories, written decades earlier, is something else. These people exist in a time of habits and motions long before my own generation, but they’re familiar all the same. Ironically, I’d always been told that The Lottery fit this description aptly, but I found it to be on the mild side compared to a few others in this collection.

Flower Garden is another noteworthy tale, depicting a new family in town with high hopes, welcomed warmly by all until they arrange for some help around the house by a local black man and allow her son to play with his. It shows a few things in particular, but most importantly shows how swiftly the toxin from racism spreads and its affects on even the most resistant of dreamers. In the end, the woman sees her garden failing and wonders if she should just return to where she came from. Her hopes and dreams are killed by the ugliness of the others, and in the last moments, those hateful people blame her for “making it about” the black family, something that they themselves did.

I will admit, a few of the stories may have lost me with shifting perspectives. A common thread was a person shifting from the position of host to position of guest while remaining in the original domicile, and I couldn’t tell if I was reading into the situation that they were never truly the host to begin with or not. I enjoyed these situations either way, but it did cause a brief pain on my brow!

The Lottery–the big one, so to speak. I have heard mention of this story in all sorts of situations. When people bring up The Hunger Games and what its influences are, it comes up. When people bring up required reading in schools, in comes up (I was always in special programs for English courses and somehow managed to miss practically ALL required readings). Hell, even watching an episode of Squidbillies, a disturbing, poorly-drawn cartoon on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, it comes up (in that instance, they even quoted a line from it to “prove” a point in the plot). I’m certain, if we go that route, that the cartoon Archer must have at the least mentioned Shirley Jackson, if not this story, simply ‘cos they make SO many classic literature and movie references throughout the series that I’m often left with my head spinning. But what about the actual story? Well, for starters, it really is a short story. I expected it to be a short novel, similar to We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but it’s only a few pages long. The material isn’t jarring (though this may be from years of knowing a summary of the plot). The human behavior is predictable, if regrettable. Mrs. Hutchinson is pulled from the village lottery to be stoned, all the while saying, “It isn’t right! It isn’t fair!” It isn’t, but that is just the way things have always been and people aren’t keen to change.

As far as Jackson’s stories go, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is still a personal favorite that I’m likely to revisit. This collection is a good romp, but I seem to favor the longer stories, leading me to believe I simply don’t have the mind to appreciate shorter form stories. It may even be that a few of those confusing brow-pains were from the shorter ones! We’ll see in the future books I tackle if this holds true, eh?

This particular edition includes the following short stories by Shirley Jackson:
The IntoxicatedThe Daemon LoverLike Mother Used to MakeTrial by CombatThe VillagerMy Life With R. H. MacyThe WitchThe RenegadeAfter You, My Dear AlphonseCharlesAfternoon in LinenFlower GardenDorothy and My Grandmother and the SailorsColloquyElizabethA Fine Old FirmThe DummySeven Types of AmbiguityCome Dance with Me in IrelandOf CoursePillar of SaltMen with Their Big ShoesThe ToothGot a Letter from Jimmy, and The Lottery.

Interested in The Lottery and Other Stories? It can be purchased here.

~Lils

The Moon is a wondrous place, please ignore the ash!

S-BOMB warning. That’s SPOILER-ALERT, for those less crude than I.

So one of the prime benefits of GoodReads (that I regularly miss out on ‘cos I mostly ignore the Internet), is that you can see what others are reading, reviewing, and enjoying. While updating my feed for re-reading The Waters of Nyra, I stumbled across the author, my friend Kelly, having listed a novel with a peculiar, eye-catching blurb: We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson. She recommended I read it, and so I put it in my reading list, right up after finishing Nyra. What followed was a very interesting experience.

Castle is a first-person tale, told from the perspective of Merricat (Mary Katherine), as she lives with her sister Constance and Uncle Julian, six years after the murder of the rest of the Blackwood family. There was arsenic in the sugar, and Constance was acquitted of the crime, and they now live in a very particular existence with self-imposed rules and isolation. It is exceedingly familiar to me, this existence. I myself live in this manner, with my own set of rules, charms, magic, and more. It is the only way to defeat the outside world’s power over me. Throughout the first half of the story, the outside world prickles at her bubble, in a familiar, time-worn fashion. It is frustrating, but it is how the world is. I felt a sense of comradery with Merricat in these times, in her efforts to run her errands in the village. But then he came.

Charles Blackwood is a disagreeable character. Perhaps not to Constance, at first, who seemed intrigued by his presence, but he is a darkness and an obstacle in the rules and charms and magic. He comes into the house as a guest, and acts as though he owns the place, demanding his rules are the rules that govern the house suddenly. That everything Merricat does to protect her and Constance and Uncle Julian in their way of life is wrong. He begins to shift Constance’s thoughts, and this sends a chill through Merricat. In myself, it made me nauseated and sick for the remainder of the night as I tossed and turned in bed. I know what it is like to have someone attempt to override my rules and charms and magic. It is not something I want to go through again, but I was willingly reliving the feeling through the novel, for now, because it’s such a good novel and I wanted to see Charles burn.

Well, it was not Charles that burned, but the house. In the chaos that ensues, the Blackwood women escape the villagers to the woods for a night before regathering themselves. Merricat now has to make new rules, charms, and magic, but this is fine. This is her beloved Moon, where everything is great, and she has finally taken Constance with her. The novel ends with a series of family friends attempting to reestablish contact with the women, and the villagers leaving offerings at their doorstep.

Once the initial nausea left me and I slept on the horrible irritation that was Charles Blackwood, I felt better. The sickness of the outside world wasn’t gone, but they were soon on the Moon, and that was good, that was preferable. Gone were the threats of separation and change. The change had happened, but there were still rules and charms and magic, and this was good, this was preferable. This was the Moon.

Interested in We Have Always Lived in the Castle? It can be purchased here.

~Lils