Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Published June 20, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth all about?:

The Shadow Over Innsmouth is one of those classic H.P. Lovecraft stories where there are strange goings on in a small town being investigated by a unnamed narrator who becomes horrified with what he discovers.

What did I think?:

It’s no lie that the H.P. Lovecraft stories I’ve read so far for my Short Stories Challenge have been decidedly hit or miss. It’s got to the point now where I approach the next story extremely tentatively as I’m never sure exactly what I’m going to get! In some ways, the author is completely predictable. Take the synopsis for instance, so many of his short stories (or the ones I’ve read so far) seem to be based in small towns that have other-worldly happenings/inhabitants. In this way, The Shadow Over Innsmouth is exactly what I expected from H.P. Lovecraft. However, I did enjoy the small twist in the tale at the end which was slightly less predictable and therefore much more appreciated.

The town of the moment is called Innsmouth and, as usual, we have an unnamed narrator fascinated with the history of the town, the reasons why so many people avoid it if they possibly can, the hostility of the native townspeople and, most importantly, the odd events that have been occurring for many years now that have resulted in the local populace having a very strange “look.” Our narrator decides to visit the town, curious to be face to face with the surroundings and the peculiar people that live there. He even meets up with one of the local drunks and after loosening his tongue with some whiskey, begins to find out many things that may make him wish he had never asked in the first place. Rumours of alien, sea creatures that demand human sacrifices, strange jewellery that both disgusts and intrigues him in equal measures and the consequences of man’s greed when they make deals with malign, evil creatures.

Of course (perhaps predictably) the bus that is supposed to take our narrator out of the town that evening breaks down and he is forced to stay in the local hotel. You can probably guess at what happens. He hears, sees and witnesses a number of crazy and frightening things that leads to him running quite literally for his life in desperation to escape the town and its alien inhabitants. It’s true we always know he’s going to escape successfully otherwise how would he be telling us the story? Yet, there was something right at the end that did surprise me and that I wasn’t expecting which made me look back on the story with perhaps different eyes than I would have done. Obviously, the narrative is flowing with Lovecraft’s flowery, explosive and over-descriptive vocabulary which is always quite fun to mull over but for me, the creepiness of the creatures never really worked. They are described as frog-fish beings (and at one stage while chasing our narrator they HOP) which I’m sorry to say just had me in hysterics rather than having the effect I’m sure was intended. Oops! However, I do rate this story higher than others in the collection for the idea behind it and the unexpected ending.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: Fruits by Steve Mosby from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Volume 7

 

Black Water – Louise Doughty

Published June 18, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

John Harper lies awake at night in an isolated hut on an Indonesian island, listening to the rain on the roof and believing his life may be in danger. But he is less afraid of what is going to happen than of something he’s already done.

In a local town, he meets Rita, a woman with her own troubled history. They begin an affair – but can he allow himself to get involved when he knows this might put her at risk?

Moving between Europe during the cold war, California and the Civil Rights struggle, and Indonesia during the massacres of 1965 and the decades of military dictatorship that follow, Black Water is an epic novel that explores some of the darkest events of recent world history through the story of one troubled man.

Black Water confirms Louise Doughty’s position as one of our most important contemporary novelists. She writes with fierce intelligence and a fine-tuned sense of moral ambiguity that makes her fiction resonate in the reader’s mind long after the final page has been turned.

What did I think?:

Like many other people I’m sure Louise Doughty had me absolutely captivated with her last novel, Apple Tree Yard so when I saw Black Water, her latest story floating about on Twitter I knew I had to try and read it as soon as possible. A huge thank you to Sophie Portas and the lovely team at Faber & Faber publishers for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review. I am going to be really honest and admit I was slightly disappointed with Black Water although it was still an enjoyable novel! Was I expecting another Apple Tree Yard? Perhaps I was and my expectations were stupidly high for her follow up. Black Water is quite a different beast of a story – quiet, relatively slow paced yet quite menacing and shocking in parts but I did appreciate how completely different it was in comparison to her last novel.

During the narrative, we become immersed in the present and past life of one man, known as John Harper but his birth name is actually Nicolaas, mixed race son of a Dutch woman and Indonesian man whom the Japanese cruelly decapitated when John/Nicolaas was quite young. John hasn’t had an easy life. There are many dark moments both in his childhood which we learn about in detail and when he becomes an adult and begins working for a shady agency operating in Indonesia in the 1960’s. When we first meet him in the late 90’s, he has returned to the island of Bali in some sort of disgrace and is determined that he is merely a sitting duck, waiting it out until his own people want to “get rid” of him because of his past misdemeanours. While he waits, he becomes involved with a woman called Rita who he unburdens some (yet not all) of his life story to and begins to feel some sort of happiness and hope again. We, the reader however know exactly what has happened to John in his life and the weight of what lies on his shoulders – who knows how it will all turn out?

So, when I started this book I did feel some trepidation. The narrative flits back between a number of time periods, the present time (1990’s), the time of John’s first tour in Indonesia (1960’s) and John’s early childhood (1940’s). We begin at the present time and I have to admit, I really wasn’t enjoying this portion of the story at all. At this time, I couldn’t sympathise with what John was going through and he came across as slightly unlikeable and not a character I felt I wanted to get to know. Then we go back in time and Louise Doughty, all is forgiven. The parts set in John’s past (when he was Nicolaas) were absolutely fantastic, thrilling and even heart-breaking at points. You really get a sense of why John is the way that he is although I could never quite understand or condone what he was doing in Indonesia or accept the horrific incident that he constantly berates himself for in the present time. Also, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of his relationship with Rita and to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure if their story was necessary for the novel? Compared to Apple Tree Yard, this is a slow burner of a novel but it is certainly worth it to get to the historical parts of the narrative which I thoroughly enjoyed. Finally, I know relatively little about the political situation in Indonesia in the 1960’s and it’s always fascinating to learn more about a period of history that you’ve previously been completely ignorant of.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

Talking About I See You by Clare Mackintosh with Chrissi Reads

Published June 17, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

You do the same thing every day.

You know exactly where you’re going.

You’re not alone.

When Zoe Walker sees her photo in the classifieds section of a London newspaper, she is determined to find out why it’s there. There’s no explanation: just a website, a grainy image and a phone number. She takes it home to her family, who are convinced it’s just someone who looks like Zoe. But the next day the advert shows a photo of a different woman, and another the day after that.

Is it a mistake? A coincidence? Or is someone keeping track of every move they make . . .

I See You is an edge-of-your-seat, page-turning psychological thriller from one of the most exciting and successful British debut talents of 2015.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: What were your initial thoughts before reading this book?

BETH: I was excited! We reviewed Claire’s debut novel I Let You Go as part of our “Talking About” feature and we both really enjoyed it so I was looking forward to reading this one. Particularly when I read the synopsis which sounded so intriguing that I had high expectations for the novel as a whole. Plus I received a copy recently from the lovely Book And A Brew subscription box people and I was trying to make room and time to read it so when it appeared on the Richard and Judy bookclub list (which we follow almost religiously) I was very pleased as I would finally have a chance to get to it.

BETH: What did you make of Zoe’s relationship with her ex-husband Matt compared to her current relationship with Simon?

CHRISSI: A good question! I actually found Zoe’s relationship with Simon to be a little bit too good to be true. I didn’t like Simon much as a character. He grated on me, for some reason! He was jealous of Matt which made things awkward for Zoe. I thought that Zoe got on remarkably well with her ex-husband. She seemed to rely on him a little bit compared to Simon. I guess when you have children together there’s going to be a connection there still, especially if it ends amicably.

CHRISSI: Did you find this book predictable at all?

BETH: No, not really to be honest. Now I’m wondering if you did? I didn’t really see anything coming, from the start of the book and the reason why women’s photographs were being used in the paper to the end of the novel and the “final reveal” where the perp is unmasked. I always appreciate it when I can’t see things coming and the author manages to surprise me.

BETH: The character of Kelly, a policewoman, is a bit of a “loose cannon,” did you enjoy reading about her story?

CHRISSI: I really enjoyed reading Kelly’s story. I actually liked Kelly. She was a well meaning character even if she was a little bit of a ‘loose cannon’. She was incredibly eager. Her heart was always in her actions and you can’t ask for more than that!

CHRISSI: Zoe is a very ordinary woman – do you think a central character in a thriller needs to be relatable to make the story work?

BETH: Great question! Hmmm, yes I do think they do but I never thought about it in that way before. A normal, relatable character like Zoe who is incredibly ordinary and has the same worries, pressures and flaws as the rest of us made me instantly like her and connect to her story more than I would have done if the character had been entirely alien to me. It made me sympathise with her predicament a lot more and root for her and her family.

BETH: Were you shocked by the final page at all? (no spoilers!)

CHRISSI: TOTALLY! This answers your earlier question to me about predictability. No, I did not see that coming at all. I can imagine that I looked like a cartoon character with their eyes popping out. Yes, that was totally me when reading that final page. I love it when author’s can shock me and Clare totally did that.

CHRISSI: Does this book live up to Clare’s debut?

BETH: Oh gosh. This is where it’s going to get tough. I Let You Go was such a brilliant read that I think it was going to be very difficult to live up to. When I first started I See You, I have to admit to being slightly concerned as it read very slow for me at the start and I kind of wondered when the action would start to kick in. About two-thirds of the way through however, I did become much more invested in the story and, as I mentioned, in Zoe’s character although I did find the ending slightly rushed. Is it as good as her debut? Not quite but it’s still a solid thriller that I’d recommend.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I would. Even though I felt like this book was a little slow to start, I was captivated before long and the plot twists really got me. That ending as well… superb! Clare Mackintosh is a great writer for this genre and I wouldn’t think twice about picking up her next book!

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

CHRISSI’s Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Alice Through The Plastic Sheet by Robert Shearman from the collection A Book Of Horrors

Published June 15, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Alice Through The Plastic Sheet all about?:

Alan and Alice have problem neighbours – they play the music too loud, they leave rubbish in the garden, they’re plastic and inhuman.

What did I think?:

Sigh. You know when you have high hopes for a story and go in feeling all excited just to feel bitterly disappointed at the end? This was the case with Alice Through The Plastic Sheet for me. From an author that I haven’t come across before with such a plethora of awards to his name (The World Fantasy Award, The British Fantasy Award, The Shirley Jackson Award…) I was expecting great things and was, unfortunately completely let down.

It’s the story of Alan and Alice, a married couple with a young son that when the story opens, seem to have a sedate, peaceful sort of life with seemingly perfect neighbours, Barbara and Eric living alongside them. Then after her husband’s death, Barbara puts the house up for sale and leaves the area, leaving Alan and Alice rather concerned about what neighbours they may be getting as replacements. They are right to feel tentative as when the new neighbours eventually move in their lives become hell on earth. Loud Christmas music is played at random points during the day and night, their dog barks constantly and viciously but when Alan attempts to go round and address the situation, he finds that their new neighbours aren’t at all what he expected. After this, their lives start spiralling out of control. Alan has troubles at work, their son becomes obnoxious and rude, their dog becomes sick with the stress of it all and his relationship with Alice starts to crumble. Are the new neighbours responsible for everything that is occurring? Or were the shaky foundations that their family is based on always fragile and liable to collapse?

Okay, positive things about this story (Yes, there are some!). I found that I absolutely had to read to the end. It was intriguing and I really couldn’t figure out what was going on so I was determined to finish it. You might know that I love a story with a bit of a quirky edge and this certainly has quirkiness – in bucket loads but I wonder was it too peculiar even for the likes of me? I think I understand what the author was trying to do by exploring relationships on the brink, the thin line between insanity and sanity and how easily you can be toppled into madness and also the aspect of the unknown, the things that make you feel uneasy but you can’t put your finger on exactly why they do. The creepiness of the neighbours unnerved me perhaps at one particular point in the narrative but I have to admit otherwise I was left pretty ambivalent about the whole thing. I didn’t have any strong feelings towards Alan or Alice as characters which left me feeling generally quite apathetic about what happened to them by the end of the story and, to be perfectly honest, just led to more confusion than resolution in the end.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Jane Austen At Home: A Biography – Lucy Worsley

Published June 14, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

On the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, historian Lucy Worsley leads us into the rooms from which our best-loved novelist quietly changed the world.

This new telling of the story of Jane’s life shows us how and why she lived as she did, examining the places and spaces that mattered to her. It wasn’t all country houses and ballrooms, but a life that was often a painful struggle. Jane famously lived a ‘life without incident’, but with new research and insights Lucy Worsley reveals a passionate woman who fought for her freedom. A woman who far from being a lonely spinster in fact had at least five marriage prospects, but who in the end refused to settle for anything less than Mr Darcy.

What did I think?:

I have to admit to having a bit of a tentative relationship with Jane Austen when I was younger. I studied her novel Mansfield Park for English Literature A Level here in the U.K. and didn’t relish the process when I was doing it! However, it was only afterwards when I fell in love with Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility that I realised what a brilliant novel it actually was and it gave me a newfound respect for her writing. I now consider myself a devoted Jane Austen fan and was delighted when Hodder and Stoughton sent me a copy of Lucy Worsley’s new biography of Jane and the homes that she lived in throughout her life to celebrate the 200th anniversary of her death, bringing fresh insights into her character, family, hopes and dreams and how passionate she was about getting her work published.

Jane Austen At Home is a tremendous piece of non fiction. It’s obvious that the author is, in turn, also passionate about her subject and has carried out meticulous research in uncovering things that may have otherwise remained hidden from the general public. It was interesting to discover that a lot of things about Jane Austen were deliberately erased, like certain letters by her sister Cassandra or various tidbits of information about Jane’s personality – goodness knows why as it was perfectly obvious to me that Jane was a normal (albeit incredibly talented!) human being just like anyone else. She had multiple suitors and marriage proposals rather than being the lonely spinster that has been occasionally portrayed historically. Jane made the decision herself not to marry/have children in the end which was hugely brave at a time when marriage would have given her financial stability especially when at times her family was at risk of becoming impoverished.

I was also fascinated to learn about her work and her struggle to get published in more detail – how long it took, the difficulties she faced etc and was filled with admiration for her determination not to give up and the way she continued writing, in her own unique manner, refusing to change her style to conform with fashion. Of course, an author must draw a lot of inspiration for her characters from those around her but it was quite eye opening to discover who may have influenced some of her most beloved (and not so beloved!) characters in her real life situation. One of my favourite things about this biography was learning how much hardship Jane and her family went through i.e. being forced to move from her childhood home and sell her things, living in unsuitable places where she did not feel comfortable and constantly felt uprooted and their fight for financial security that was denied over and over again purely because they were the wrong sex.

If you’re an Austen fan like myself, Lucy Worsley has written a brilliant, captivating biography that really gets to the heart of what Jane Austen was all about as a person and as a writer. I was hugely compelled all the way through and even bitterly sad towards the end. Although we know Jane Austen died at a ridiculously young age it seems so unfair, being a writer of such promise that didn’t receive half the recognition she deserved in her lifetime. This was actually my first experience of Lucy Worsley’s writing and not only am I excited to see what she does next but I’m determined to re-visit her back catalogue. Thank you so much to Hodder and Stoughton for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

This Must Be The Place – Maggie O’Farrell

Published June 11, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The dazzling new novel from bestselling, award-winning author Maggie O’Farrell, This Must be the Place crosses time zones and continents to reveal an extraordinary portrait of a marriage.

Meet Daniel Sullivan, a man with a complicated life. A New Yorker living in the wilds of Ireland, he has children he never sees in California, a father he loathes in Brooklyn and a wife, Claudette, who is a reclusive ex-film star given to shooting at anyone who ventures up their driveway.

He is also about to find out something about a woman he lost touch with twenty years ago, and this discovery will send him off-course, far away from wife and home. Will his love for Claudette be enough to bring him back?

Maggie O’Farrell’s seventh novel is a dazzling, intimate epic about who we leave behind and who we become as we search for our place in the world.

What did I think?:

When I saw this new novel by Maggie O’Farrell on the Richard and Judy bookclub list for this summer I was thrilled. I’ve previously read and thoroughly enjoyed Instructions For A Heatwave and The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox by the author and have heard such great things about This Must Be The Place, as well as it being a strong contender for the Costa Award for Best Novel recently so I was highly anticipating a great read. What I got was exactly that but in entirely a different way than I had expected. It’s told from a number of different points of views (MANY of them actually!) but this never in any way feels too much or affects the flow of the narrative. It’s a real journey into the heart of a man’s life and his relationships, both past and present between his family and his lovers.

The man we are talking about is Daniel Sullivan, whom when we first meet him is living in the remote Irish countryside with his wife Claudette, a reclusive film star, her son from a previous long term relationship (which comes with its own story and issues) and their two children together. Daniel has had quite a complicated life. Before Claudette, he was married and lived in America with his wife and two children from that relationship which ended quite acrimoniously and sadly, he has very little contact with the children now although he is attempting to change that. We also learn about his past when he was younger and had a relationship with a somewhat troubled and older woman, that had its own problems and led to him making decisions that he now regrets. It is because of this particular woman in his past that has led to him making another hasty, wobbly decision to get some answers about what exactly happened to her which unfortunately, threatens his marriage in the current time with Claudette and the tenuous relationship he currently has with the other members of his family.

If I could describe this novel in one word I think I would choose the word epic. It spans so many decades of Daniel’s lives and involves such a multitude of characters that at times I can understand why it might feel quite overwhelming for some readers. Not for me, however. I loved finding out about all these different fractions of Daniel’s life, how they pieced together and how he managed to resolve (or not resolve as the case may be) certain situations in his past and present. Daniel is a fantastic character, he’s just so NORMAL with flaws and problems like everyone else but in his heart he is genuinely a good, loyal man and a great father that has had extraordinary bad luck with some of the paths he has chosen to take. It’s not just Daniel, the other characters are wonderful too, especially Claudette whose fiesty nature I adored and even some minor characters that although they appear albeit very briefly, make a huge impact on the story and give some great insights into their own lives and of course our main character’s i.e. Daniel’s mother. This may be a slow burner of a novel but my goodness it is worth it. The beautiful writing, characterisation and plot development clearly shows how hard the author has worked on it and it’s definitely one of her stand out pieces of work.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Drowned Village by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales

Published June 10, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Drowned Village all about?:

This is the story of a young boy called Gaston whom after tragic circumstances in his own life becomes embroiled in a strange ceremony to celebrate the ghostly inhabitants of a village under the sea.

What did I think?:

I love anything with a bit of a ghostly feel, a thrill, something that chills me and makes my heart beat a little faster and when it happens to be a bit fairy-tale inspired also, you can pretty much guarantee I’m going to be a happy little bookworm. I’m not quite sure if The Drowned Village delivered on all of these counts. There were parts of it that were absolutely beautiful and certainly made me (almost) shiver but it didn’t seem to hit the spot in exactly the right way I was hoping.

As Kate Mosse tells the reader in the Author’s Note which she writes after each story (which I love by the way!) this story is based on an old Breton folk tale which of course, with my love of the mythical and other-worldly I was very intrigued by. It is a very fascinating concept, one of tides entirely reclaiming a village and its final stubborn inhabitants who refused to move. However, on certain nights you can still hear the villagers moaning under the water and a dim light under the waves can still be seen if you look very closely.

However, before all of this, we meet our main character, a lad called Gaston who is receiving a very coveted scholarship at school to go and study at a boarding school many miles away. We get the sense Gaston has already suffered too much in his young life from his worn clothes, demeanour and difficult relationship with his parents, who also seem to be a clear target for other children to make fun of. When tragedy strikes, Gaston who has no other relatives is sent to live temporarily with a school friend who tells him all about the drowned village and how annually, a festival is held by the believers of the village where the ghostly sea people return to the land for a brief period of time. At first, I wondered how Gaston and this other thread of the story were going to be connected but it does end up merging together near the end when he becomes involved unintentionally in the ceremony.

So there were quite a lot of things in this story that I enjoyed. I really liked the character of Gaston, his vulnerability but also incredible internal strength under adversity and as mentioned earlier, I did appreciate the folk tale aspect of the ghostly village people. There are some quite potentially frightening moments during the annual ceremony at the festival but I can’t help but feeling like they could have been executed slightly better – perhaps with a cliffhanger of an ending that kind of almost happened but didn’t in the end. I think if it had ended in the way I was expecting I would have been left with a better overall feeling of this story and don’t get me wrong, I definitely enjoyed it, just maybe not as much as I was hoping to. That’s not to say that others won’t feel the complete opposite though!

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: Alice Through The Plastic Sheet by Robert Shearman from the collection A Book Of Horrors