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Blog Tour – Bamboo Road by Ann Bennett

Published March 30, 2017 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to my spot on the Bamboo Road Blog Tour. Bamboo Road is the third in a trilogy of historical fiction books about Southeast Asia during the Second World War that can be read in any order. To see my review of the first book Bamboo Heart, please click HERE and for the second book, Bamboo Island, please click HERE.

What’s it all about?:

Thailand 1942: Sirinya and her family are members of the Thai underground, who risk their lives to resist the World War Two Japanese occupation and to and help British prisoners of war building the Thai-Burma railway. The events of those years have repercussions for decades to come. The book tells Sirinya s wartime story and how in the 1970s she returns to Kanchanaburi after a long absence abroad, to settle old scores from the war years. Bamboo Road is volume three in a Southeast Asian WWII trilogy that includes Bamboo Heart and Bamboo Island (the books may be read in any order).”

What did I think?:

After the beautiful second novel in the trilogy that was Bamboo Island, I was eager to get to Bamboo Road, make friends with a host of new characters and find out even more about the horrific things that Japanese prisoners of war went through during the Second World War. I’m very pleased to report back that Bamboo Road did not disappoint. Brutal in points, that’s a given considering the subject matter but hugely interesting involving a lot of other themes including friendship, the importance of family and love.

Our protagonist for this story is Sirinya, a young woman living in Thailand with her uncle, aunt and cousin and whom, when the Japanese invade and take over, goes to extreme lengths with her family to help the prisoners of war when she is horrified to discover how they are being treated. As with the other novels in the trilogy, there are a couple of different time periods, that of 1942 when Sirinya was a huge part of the underground movement fighting against the cruel methods used by the Japanese to torture prisoners and the 1970’s where Sirinya as a grown woman returns to her family home to settle an old score from years ago that has shadowed and deeply affected her life ever since.

Once again, similar to Bamboo Island, it was wonderful to read about such a brave and independent female lead character who I instantly sympathised and felt connected to. Sirinya takes many risks, is subjected to the worst kind of torture and experiences many losses of her own yet remains strong and determined that the prisoners of war should categorically not be suffering. Once she catches a glimpse of their starving, emaciated bodies in the jungle she is willing to put her own life on the line to ensure that they got enough food and that medicines that they desperately needed were smuggled into the camp. She had so much heart and compassion, not only in this but in the way she reacted to the people around her, especially her close family and I loved rooting for her throughout the novel. Throughout the trilogy, the author has struck an excellent balance between the horror, challenges and moments of romance that her characters experience and I feel like I’ve learned not only about the terrible conditions of prisoner of war camps but about Southeast Asia as a region, something I was hoping for when beginning the series and Ann Bennett delivered on every level.

If you like the sound of Bamboo Road, you can buy it here:

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bamboo-Road-BAMBOO-HEART-Bennett-ebook/dp/B06XFJSD7S

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

AUTHOR INFORMATION

 Ann Bennett was born and raised in a small village in Northamptonshire, UK. She read Law at Cambridge and qualified and practised as a solicitor. During a career break, to have children, she started to write. Her father had been a prisoner of war on the Thailand– Burma Railway and the idea for a Southeast Asian WWII trilogy came from researching his wartime experiences. The research took her back to Asia, a place she loves and has returned to many times. She lives in Surrey with her husband and three sons and works in London as a lawyer.

Website: https://www.bambooheart.co.uk/
Blog: https://annbennettbambooheart.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/annbennett71
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Ann-Bennett-242663029444033/

Thank you once again to Monsoon Books and Faye Rogers for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a great time doing it. Bamboo Road, the third in the Bamboo trilogy was published on 1st March 2017 and is available from all good book retailers now! If you’re hungry for more, why not check out some of the other stops on the tour from my fellow bloggers?

 

Bamboo Island – Ann Bennett

Published March 29, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Juliet Crosby has lived a reclusive life on her Malayan rubber plantation since the Second World War robbed her of everyone she loved. However, the sudden appearance of a young woman from Indonesia disrupts her lonely existence and stirs up unsettling memories. Juliet is forced to recollect her prewar marriage, her wartime ordeals in Japanese-occupied Singapore and the loss of those she once held dear. Bamboo Island is part of a Southeast Asian WWII trilogy of historical fiction that can be read in any order and includes Bamboo Heart and Bamboo Road.

What did I think?:

Hello everyone and welcome to the second of three very special days on my blog to celebrate the Bamboo Trilogy by Ann Bennett. To see my review of the first book in the series, Bamboo Heart, please click HERE. This post today will focus on the second novel, Bamboo Island which involves different characters than the first book but is set in the same time frame, in Southeast Asia during the Second World War. It means each book can be read as a stand alone but we do get certain events being referred to in the second and third book.

I really enjoyed the first book in the series but I was especially delighted to discover that I enjoyed Bamboo Island even more! It follows a British woman called Juliet Crosby who has lived with her husband, Gavin on a rubber plantation but their marriage is fraught with difficulties. Her only confidant is her sister Rose who is married herself and lives in Singapore so visiting and speaking with each other is a rare occurrence. There are a number of different time frames to this story (which was part of why I loved it most) and we switch between them seamlessly.

There is pre-war, naive Juliet and her struggles with her distant husband and distant sister (both distant for VERY different reasons, mind you!). Then there is Juliet during the war with full and heart-breaking description of her struggles and her internment at a horrific prison camp but also the friendships and bonds she makes along the way. Finally, there is post war Juliet living back on the rubber plantation and waiting for someone. The person who turns up is definitely not whom she is expecting, a young girl called Mary, claiming to have crucial information about Juliet’s family and the loss of those that she had been close to. Juliet is uncertain about whether to believe her but the two women journey to try and find evidence to back up Mary’s claims leading Juliet to go on an emotional journey back in time herself as she remembers her difficult life and comes to terms with what happened to her in the past.

I raced through this book in just over twenty-four hours, I kid you not. I literally could not put it down. I connected and sympathised with Juliet as a character so much, perhaps more than I did with the female lead in Bamboo Heart and I was constantly on edge whilst reading it, desperate to find out more about her past. I also can’t remember the last time I was willing a character to have a happy ending so bad! Again, the author does not avoid full and frank details about the conditions a prisoner of war under the Japanese would experience and once again, she had me disgusted, despairing but completely devoted to the story. I felt that the secondary characters in this novel were also people I wanted to get to know and felt like fully, fleshed out people who you could instantly love (or hate, in some cases!). After the strength of this second part of the trilogy, I now can’t wait to get to Bamboo Road where I hope to find further fascinating characters that will give me the intense feelings that Bamboo Island did.

If you like the sound of Bamboo Island, you can buy it here:

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/9814625175

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Come back tomorrow for my stop on the blog tour for Bamboo Road, the final book in the Bamboo trilogy.

Bamboo Heart – Ann Bennett

Published March 28, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Shortlisted for Best Fiction Title, Singapore Book Awards 2016

Thailand, 1943: Thomas Ellis, captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore, is a prisoner-of-war on the Death Railway. In stifling heat he endures endless days of clearing jungle, breaking stone and lugging wood. He must stay alive, although he is struck down by disease and tortured by Japanese guards, and he must stay strong, although he is starving and exhausted. For Tom has made himself a promise: to return home. Not to the grey streets of London, where he once lived, but to Penang, where he found paradise and love. London, 1986: Laura Ellis, a successful City lawyer, turns her back on her yuppie existence and travels to Southeast Asia. In Thailand and Malaysia she retraces her father’s past and discovers the truths he has refused to tell her. And in the place where her father once suffered and survived, she will finally find out how he got his Bamboo Heart. In a blend of stirring fiction and heart-wrenching history, Ann Bennett narrates the story of a soldier’s strength and survival in the bleakest of times and a daughter’s journey of discovery about her father and herself. Bamboo Heart is volume one in a Southeast Asian WWII trilogy that includes Bamboo Island and Bamboo Road.

What did I think?:

Hello everyone and welcome to a very special three days on my blog. For the next three days, including today, I will be talking about a wonderful new trilogy that I’ve just completed – The Bamboo Trilogy by Ann Bennett. I shall be reviewing the first book today, Bamboo Heart then the second, Bamboo Island tomorrow and finally the third, Bamboo Road as part of a blog tour celebrating the final book in the series and the trilogy as a whole. The books can be read in any order as they are all stand-alone stories although they do make references to things that have already happened in the previous books (in the case of the second and third novels).

Faye Rogers, who works as a freelance PR contacted me and asked me to be a part of this blog tour and when I read the synopsis of the books, I immediately accepted. A huge thank you to her and also to Monsoon Books for sending me a copy of the trilogy in exchange for an honest review. I’m a great lover of historical fiction and one of the periods of interest for me is the Second World War. As it is also set mainly in Southeast Asia, a region I find fascinating, that was the icing on the cake for me. What I wasn’t expecting is how emotionally invested I became in the stories. Bamboo Heart is the story of Laura Ellis in London, 1986 whom after the tragic death of her father, becomes desperate to find out more about his life during the Second World War. What happened to her father in the forties in Thailand and Malaysia is difficult for her father to talk about, the horrific experiences that he went through are nothing short of devastating and he deliberately shielded his daughter from the heart-break of his story.

After undergoing a break up of her own and still grieving for the loss of her father, Laura decides to journey to Thailand and Malaysia so that she can understand some of what her father went through. The story takes us through Laura’s hunt for that terrible knowledge and back in time to the 1940’s when her father, Tom Ellis is a prisoner of war of the Japanese, helping to build a railway from Thailand to Burma. The conditions he works in are brutal and almost indescribable but the author does not shy away from the honesty of how the prisoners were treated. They were beaten on a daily basis, starved, punished for the slightest infraction and before long, were mere skeletons, too weak to undergo the hard labour that was expected of them but terrified of repercussions if they didn’t. Laura goes through an emotional journey of her own as she realises what her father suffered and we learn more about Tom’s life both during this horrific time and when he first came to the East and fell in love with a local woman.

I found this novel to be a fascinating read, especially I have to say Tom’s story and his experiences whilst building the railway as a prisoner of war. I was slightly less invested in Laura’s story but I enjoyed how the author linked the two together. I must also mention that the author began writing this story whilst carrying out research into her own father’s involvement in the very same railway so I believe this makes the story all the more poignant, being based on real life anecdotes/experiences. It made me think a lot, mainly about the brutality of war but there was also a somewhat hopeful message within – how the soldiers banded together building strong friendships and being incredibly brave in the face of such torture was amazing to read about. I’m looking forward to reading another story based around the same time period but involving different characters in the next novel, Bamboo Island which I’m certain will be just as gut-wrenching but informative as this one.

If you like the sound of Bamboo Heart you can buy it here:

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/9814423734

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Come back tomorrow where I’ll be reviewing the second book in the trilogy, Bamboo Island.

 

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – On The Banks Of Table River: (Planet Lucina, Andromeda Galaxy, AD 2319) by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner: Love Stories

Published March 27, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s On The Banks Of Table River: (Planet Lucina, Andromeda Galaxy, AD 2319) all about?:

The final story in this collection is set in the future on Planet Lucina and is told from the point of view of one of the beings living there exploring their relationship with love, death and Earthlings.

What did I think?:

The stories in I Am An Executioner have been an absolute delight to read and On The Banks Of Table River was another example of an outstanding piece of fiction that I was thoroughly immersed in and didn’t want to end. His stories might not be for everyone, they’re a bit quirky, downright strange in points and of course, as with every short story collection, some are better than others. If like me however, you like your fiction a bit different and exciting, Rajesh Parameswaran is the way to go. Particularly as this is his debut collection which is so unbelievably strong that I am assured he will be doing amazing things in the future.

I Am An Executioner: Love Stories (to give it the full title) focuses on love and often death in each narrative (hence the executioner part!). Some of the stories in this collection are narrated by animals, others by quite unreliable narrators and even one from a painting but they’re all unique and special in their own way. On The Banks Of Table River is another blinder. It is set in the future on an alien world, Planet Lucina which humans are welcomed to visit, live or mate with the local species, depending on your tastes! Our story is narrated by one of the local species, an insect-like creature with a proboscis, feelers and six legs but increased in size compared to your regular bug.

Our narrator, Thoren has a daughter called Nippima and she is causing him no end of grief, in the typical teenage fashion. She is moody, distant, keeps disappearing without telling him and worse of all has starting exhibiting quite human behaviours like wearing the latest Earth fashions (miniskirts made for six legs) and offering tours of the planet to any humans eager and willing. She becomes quite attached to one particular male human and is devastated when he sees what her father does for a living as like some fascinating science experiment. Her father prepares corpses of the native species that have died and arranges funerals for them, much like a mortician in our world. Things start to go a bit wrong after the meeting between Nippima and the human and her father reminiscences about the time when Nippima was conceived bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase “love you to death!”

This strange little bit of science fiction was the perfect way to end an absolutely amazing collection of stories that has to be one of my favourites so far in my Short Stories Challenge. I loved the way the author transported us to a different planet where WE were the alien species and we learned about love and death in a whole new fashion. The story is told so beautifully and with so much passion, you could be forgiven for thinking that the author had been acquainted with one of these insect-like beings beforehand! I also loved the relationship between Thoren and his daughter Nippima which was startlingly similar to parent/child relationships here on Earth. It came so, so close to getting the full five stars from me – ever so close! I just think the ending could have done with slightly more clarification…. I think I know what happened but it turned a bit vague and had so much potential to end with a bang.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

4-5-stars

 

 

 

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Passenger by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky

That Girl From Nowhere – Dorothy Koomson

Published March 26, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

‘Where are you coming from with that accent of yours?’ he asks.
‘Nowhere,’ I reply. ‘I’m from nowhere.’
‘Everyone’s from somewhere,’ he says.
‘Not me,’ I reply silently.

Clemency Smittson was adopted as a baby and the only connection she has to her birth mother is a cardboard box hand-decorated with butterflies. Now an adult, Clem decides to make a drastic life change and move to Brighton, where she was born. Clem has no idea that while there she’ll meet someone who knows all about her butterfly box and what happened to her birth parents.

As the tangled truths about her adoption and childhood start to unravel, a series of shocking events cause Clem to reassess whether the price of having contact with her birth family could be too high to pay…

An emotional story about love, identity and the meaning of family, That Girl From Nowehere is the new novel from the bestselling author of The Ice Cream Girls, The Woman He Loved Before and My Best Friend’s Girl.

What did I think?:

I was first introduced to the marvellous author that is Dorothy Koomson by my sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads who reads her work religiously as soon as it comes out. I started with My Best Friend’s Girl and haven’t stopped since then. Her story-telling is so beautiful and she chooses to focus on a number of issues that I like to read about, like the dynamics of different relationships, family secrets, betrayal and racism. That Girl From Nowhere is another corker of a story with a number of subplots going on underneath the main thread and has cemented Dorothy Koomson as one of my must read authors.

The protagonist in this novel is a young woman called Clemency Smittson (Smitty to her loved ones). Clem knew she was adopted from a young age and was raised by a white family, knowing nothing about her birth family except that she was handed over in a box decorated with butterflies. Throughout her childhood, although it was happy enough, she felt that she didn’t belong and a number of events lead her to be in quite a sad situation when we meet her. Her adopted father, whom she had a strong, loving relationship with has passed away and she has also ended a long-term relationship with Seth and moved back to Brighton, where she was born, to open up a jewellery store. The items that Clem makes for her clients are truly special. She re-vitalises old and worn pieces of jewellery into something that closely represents where her customer is at the current point of his/her life. A chance meeting with a stranger leads her to find one more information about her birth family and pushes her into finally making a connection with them. However, every family has secrets and Clem uncovers certain things which forces her to confront many events in her past and present. both in her adoptive family and her birth family which may make her then wish that she had never pulled at that thread in the first place.

Once again, I don’t want to say too much about the plot. It’s incredibly convoluted and intricate and simply made for discovering yourself. There’s a host of fantastic characters to enjoy and I loved the way the author explored the different relationships – between parents, siblings, lovers, friends, it’s all here and all completely delightful. I don’t think I’ve read too many books about adoption and it was interesting to read a story where this is one of the issues and we hear from both sides of the coin so as to speak. I also loved the casual racism that the author chose to focus on and it certainly made me think about how prevalent it still is sadly, in today’s “modern” society. If you’re new to Dorothy Koomson, it’s not my favourite of her books (I have so much love for The Ice Cream Girls and Rose Petal Beach) but it’s a solid four stars and a brilliant reading experience.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

 

This Is How It Always Is – Laurie Frankel

Published March 25, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

This is how a family keeps a secret…and how that secret ends up keeping them.

This is how a family lives happily ever after…until happily ever after becomes complicated.

This is how children change…and then change the world.

This is Claude. He’s five years old, the youngest of five brothers, and loves peanut butter sandwiches. He also loves wearing a dress, and dreams of being a princess.

When he grows up, Claude says, he wants to be a girl.

Rosie and Penn want Claude to be whoever Claude wants to be. They’re just not sure they’re ready to share that with the world. Soon the entire family is keeping Claude’s secret. Until one day it explodes.

This Is How It Always Is is a novel about revelations, transformations, fairy tales, and family. And it’s about the ways this is how it always is: Change is always hard and miraculous and hard again, parenting is always a leap into the unknown with crossed fingers and full hearts, children grow but not always according to plan. And families with secrets don’t get to keep them forever.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to the lovely Caitlin Raynor from Headline publishers for sending me a copy of this beautiful novel in exchange for an honest review. As soon as I read the synopsis and saw that it focused on the experience of a family with a transgender child, I knew I instantly had to read it. It’s also been quite a controversial topic in the news recently when the author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie made some comments about trans women. Personally, I’m loving that more books are getting written and more people are speaking about individuals who are born in the wrong body. It’s an issue that may divide people depending on your viewpoint but is something that definitely needs to be addressed in an open and honest way.

This book did exactly that. I fell instantly in love with the family – Rosie and Penn, the parents who give birth to a succession of male children, the last of which, Claude is quite obviously not your stereotypical male from a very young age. He is sensitive and perceptive, always wants to hear about the princess in the fairy stories his father tells the children every night and doesn’t see what is so terrible about wearing a dress and playing dolls with other girls. When Claude finally decides that he wants to be a girl and goes by the name Poppy, his four brothers and parents are incredibly supportive. They accept Poppy for the way she has always been and love her just the same. However, living in a town where everybody thinks you have five sons, not four sons and a daughter can be difficult especially with the more ignorant of the community and the family soon run into trouble. This leads to them going to drastic lengths to protect Poppy and the rest of their children and may eventually lead to further problems for them all in the future.

I enjoyed every minute of this book. It was a touching, heart-warming story where the author drew such wonderful characters that they really get under your skin and stay there for the duration of the novel. The family we read about could be any of our own, they have the same dynamics, problems at school, normal difficulties in adolescence, etc. The only difference is, this family has a child that is so deliciously cuddle-worthy and instantly loveable, he just happens to have been born in a male body while his mind is clearly female. Of course, this causes a lot of tension in the family when outsiders who don’t understand or are themselves uncomfortable with the situation cause Poppy almost irreparable damage. Yet there is such love in this novel, especially between the family members that really gave me the warm fuzzies and made this story one to treasure, read again and certainly educate other people with.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Erase Me: Positron, Episode Three – Margaret Atwood (stand-alone)

Published March 23, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Erase Me all about?:

In the latest edge-of-your-seat episode of “Positron,” the Byliner Serial by renowned author Margaret Atwood, the dystopian dark comedy takes its darkest turn yet, pitting husband against wife and the human impulse to love against the animal instinct to survive.

Stan and Charmaine should have known better when they signed up for Consilience, a social experiment in which it’s the lawful who are locked up, while, beyond the gates, criminals wander the wasted streets of America.

The couple understand that to break the rules in so strictly regimented a place is dangerous; but, driven by boredom and lust, they do it anyway and betray each other and the system. As comeuppance, Stan finds himself the sexual plaything of a subversive member of the Consilience security team and in no time is made a pawn in a shadowy scheme to bring Consilience crashing down.

Meanwhile, his wife, Charmaine, is being held indefinitely at Positron Prison for her own sins. How far she’ll go to regain her good name and position is anyone’s guess, especially Stan’s. When he winds up paralyzed and tied to a gurney in the prison wing where Charmaine works, injecting toxic cocktails of drugs into troublesome Consilience citizens, will she save his neck or her own? Will she “erase” him permanently?

In “Erase Me,” it’s every man–and woman–for him or herself. Erotically charged, morally complex, wickedly funny, and hailed as “shockingly believable” by “The Globe and Mail,” Atwood’s “Positron” stories remind us that when a totalitarian state gets its grip on the human heart, marriage can be murder.

What did I think?:

If you’re familiar with my blog and my reading tastes, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of Margaret Atwood. She’s one of the authors where I am desperate to read all of her back catalogue and certainly intend to do so in the not so distant future. She has a talent for writing kooky, dystopian worlds that feel startlingly familiar combined with controversy and her trademark black humour. I was lucky enough to see Margaret speak when she came to the U.K. to promote her book, Hag-Seed, a re-telling of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest and long-listed for this years Baileys Prize For Women’s Fiction. I’m delighted to tell you that she was just as witty and intelligent as I had hoped for and it was fascinating to hear her speak.

But, I digress! Back to Erase Me. This is the third in Margaret Atwood’s Positron series which were released serially but have now been re-vamped in a novel by the author called The Heart Goes Last. I downloaded them as e-books when they were released one by one so I’m happy to continue reading them this way and then, of course, they count towards my Short Stories Challenge! If you haven’t come across this series before, you may want to check it out – the first is I’m Starved For You and the second, Choke Collar but I’ll try and keep this review as spoiler free as possible.

It follows Stan and Charmaine, husband and wife who sign up for a revolutionary new programme that involves two communities – a town Consilience and a prison Positron. By entering the programme they agree to spend some of their time in prison (with a paid job and relative comfort) and alternately in a home in the community, again with a paid job and guaranteed happiness. However, this programme is not all it seems. In Erase Me, we see husband and wife pitted against each other and their marriage and loyalty to Positron tested in the worst possible way. Neither Stan or Charmaine are able to contact each other and are completely unaware what the other is doing, thinks, etc so have to rely on a rogue element/double agent who are fighting to overturn the system and bring back democracy. Of course, they want the couple to be a part of it. But can Stan and Charmaine be brave enough to risk everything and return to a life that they were unhappy about in the first place? Especially as when they signed up for this experiment they were told unequivocally that there was no going back.

Okay, I have to admit when I first started this series of novellas I really didn’t know what to think! It was brash, funny, erotic in places (oo-er!) and I hadn’t the foggiest what was going on. By the end of Choke Collar however, I was fully invested in the story. The eroticism has been toned down, I must say if that’s not really your bag and I’m kind of relieved as the story seems to focus more on the characters and the system that they are involved in, which of course is what interested me and made me pick up the series in the first place! We don’t really see too much of Stan and Charmaine as a couple for one reason or another but I actually enjoy this more as we get to see their lives, thoughts and aspirations as separate individuals. Once again, Margaret Atwood comes up with a cracker of an ending and I am definitely intrigued now to see what is going to happen in the last part of the series – The Heart Goes Last (don’t be confused, it is the same title as the novel that has come out under her name!).

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: On The Banks Of Table River: (Planet Lucina, Andromeda Galaxy, AD 2319) by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner: Love Stories