Novella

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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

The Assassin’s Blade (Throne Of Glass 0.1-0.5) – Sarah J. Maas

Published October 19, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Contains all five novellas.

Celaena Sardothien is Adarlan’s most feared assassin. As part of the Assassin’s Guild, her allegiance is to her master, Arobynn Hamel, yet Celaena listens to no one and trusts only her fellow killer-for-hire, Sam. In these action-packed novellas – together in one edition for the first time – Celaena embarks on five daring missions. They take her from remote islands to hostile deserts, where she fights to liberate slaves and seeks to avenge the tyrannous. But she is acting against Arobynn’s orders and could suffer an unimaginable punishment for such treachery. Will Celaena ever be truly free? Explore the dark underworld of this kick-ass heroine to find out.

What did I think?:

I’m holding my hands up to unashamedly admit that I am a die-hard Thrones Of Glass super fan! Seriously. This series is all kinds of awesome and when I heard that a prequel was coming out that would tell Celaena’s story before she becomes the King’s Assassin, I instantly knew that it was a must-read for me. Here’s the facts though. It’s not a prequel novel but five separate novellas: The Assassin And The Pirate Lord, The Assassin And The Healer, The Assassin And The Desert, The Assassin And The Underworld and The Assassin And The Empire. Some people may shy away from this idea but trust me, it brings a whole new dimension to the twisted (and so often heart-breaking) world of Celaena Sardothien and may make you look at her a whole lot differently.

So, I don’t want to give too much away for anyone who hasn’t started the Thrones Of Glass series yet, I do hate spoilers myself! I’m not even sure whether to recommend reading this book first or indeed after the first book in the series. I came to it later myself after I had read a couple of books in the series and I found it a brilliant introduction to a character I had already professed myself to love. But…I can see why reading this book FIRST could be very advantageous as there is a spoiler referred to in the first book about something that happens in Celaena’s past and The Assassin’s Blade explains how this incident came to pass.

During these five novellas, which seem to merge into each other almost like a complete novel with only very short gaps in time between stories, Celaena makes both enemies and allies, is trained to the highest standard with The Mute Assassin in the desert, encounters betrayal and friendship in the unlikeliest of places and experiences the first giddy throes of love. We learn what events (good and bad) transpired to make her the character she is today, a bit about her strengths and where she is potentially weakest and just why she ends up as a prisoner in the salt-mines of Endovier.

If you weren’t the biggest fan of Celaena before The Assassin’s Blade, dare I suggest that you might change your mind after this? Personally, I’ve always loved her kick-ass, kind of cold but also occasionally vulnerable attitude but you realise so much more about her as a person that explains a lot about her thoughts and actions that follow both during and post Throne Of Glass. As with all the books in the series that I’ve read so far, it’s just as action-packed, just as heart-breaking and always compelling and difficult to put down. I’m only sad that after six books, this series will come to an inevitable end. I know, I know, it has to end sometime, but with a story like this I just want it to run and run and run.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Short Stories Challenge – The Unremarkable Heart by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Published October 4, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

The Unremarkable Heart is the story of June, a school principal who is given a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer and is thinking back over the trauma in her past at the moment of her death.

What did I think?:

It’s probably no secret to anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis that I’m a big Karin Slaughter fan. There was a time before I expanded my reading horizons slightly that I read this genre pretty much exclusively and along with Tess Gerritsen, Karin Slaughter is one of my “must-buy” authors whenever she releases a new book. I’ve recently been thoroughly enjoying her short stories and The Unremarkable Heart is, I have to say, a complete blinder. The author is becoming hugely expert in writing short fiction that grips the reader immediately from the gripping first line:  “June Connor knew that she was going to die today,” to the final, jaw-dropping ending that I have to admit, did give me a rather embarrassing moment in public as I gasped aloud on a busy train!

June Connor has been given a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer and about five months to live – six if she’s lucky. Unlike other people who rush to do something they have always dreamed of or take a no expenses spared holiday, June carries on working as a principal at the local school. She stays until she can physically and mentally no longer do the job any longer then informs the staff through email of her death sentence. She is being looked after at home by her husband, Richard and as her life-force begins to drain away, she finds herself revisiting two particularly traumatic and life-changing episodes in her past that involve her husband and her daughter, Grace.

Things get a whole lot murkier when June recounts for the reader what she has been through and how it has affected her relationship with her husband. The hatred between the couple is intense but, as we read on, perfectly understandable. As June has been with Richard for so long however, they have both become accustomed to each other and she is terrified of dying alone. So Richard looks after her and sometimes, appears to be a changed person in caring for his wife. Or has he an ulterior motive?

Loved this story. Loved, loved, loved it. At first, I wasn’t sure about the character of June at all. The author portrays her as such a stoic, almost cold individual but then as the narrative continues the reader begins to understand exactly why she is this way. Once more, as with a lot of her short stories, Karin Slaughter has knocked it out of the park with an intense plot and shocking revelations that will stay with you long after you’ve finished. In parts, it’s also incredibly sad and quite moving especially when June is clearly suffering. I definitely felt like I went through almost the entire range of human emotions when reading this! The author has a canny way of grabbing your attention and refusing to let you go until the bitter end. And this ending is very bitter…believe me.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: Red Letter Day by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales

Author Interview – Carolyn Waugh on her debut novella The Oasis Of Time

Published August 16, 2016 by bibliobeth

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AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY – CAROLYN WAUGH

Carolyn has worked in a laboratory for almost forty years now but in her spare time for pleasure and to de-stress she likes to read (a lot!), mostly fantasy and romance novels. Then a few years ago she started to jot down some notes which then turned into stories. Friends were interested and wanted to read them and when they had, they told her she should try and get them published. Carolyn tried a few publishers and unfortunately was rejected so gave up for a couple of years when she tried again and was accepted by an American publisher. She hopes that people who read the story enjoy it as much as she enjoyed writing it.

Click on the book to get to the link to Good Reads!

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For my review of The Oasis Of Time, please click the link HERE.

INTERVIEW WITH CAROLYN WAUGH

I’d like to welcome Carolyn to bibliobeth today and thank her very much for her time in giving this interview.

1.) Have you always been a big reader and what’s the earliest memory you have regarding something to do with reading?

Yes, I’ve always been a large reader, usually reading up to five books a week! My earliest memory is my mother teaching me how to read, I must have been about four years old so I could read before I went to school which I found very useful.

2.) What was your favourite book to read as a child or teenager?

Fiction mainly, because it was something I found you didn’t have to concentrate too hard on but I do like Alistair MacLean as well and people like that – anything with a bit of murder and intrigue in!

3.) If you had to live on a desert island for six months what three books would you take with you?

Does a series of books count as one?! (bibliobeth: Yes, I think it could!) Okay, I would take the Harry Potter series, probably the series I’m reading at the moment by Sherrilyn Kenyon which is a group of books of all different types (I’m reading Dark Bites at the moment) so you don’t get bogged down into one type of book and lastly, War And Peace – I can be quite eclectic in my tastes!

4.) The Oasis Of Time is your first published novella with Amazon. Have you any plans to write a full novel or do you prefer to write short stories/novellas?

I like writing short stories but I would like to try, maybe in the future, my hand at a novel but I would like to see how the short stories take on first and see if they can sell. I know I’ve given them to several friends and they seem to enjoy reading them which is good. The problem is trying to get them published as it seems to cost so much unless you’re a published/known author as people aren’t willing to take that risk on you.

5.) Jay and Lilly don’t have the easiest start to their relationship for one reason or another, do you think they change as people through what they both experience?

I think they do because they don’t have certain emotions until they both meet. This brings out both the best and the worst in them and also brings something entirely new to the relationship, something different.

6.) I love the magical quality present in The Oasis Of Time. Is magic a big part of your work?

I think everyone needs a little bit of magic or paranormal to get them out of this world at the moment because there is such death and destruction, everyone needs a bit of light-heartedness and fantasy to take them away and take their mind off it a bit.

7.) Is there a happy ending for Jay and Lilly and might we see them again in a future story?

There is a happy ending and you never know, you might do! I might get the idea of bringing them back for a “part two.”

8.) Are you working on anything at the moment and can you tell us a little bit about it?

Yes I am and it’s a ghost story…. you’ll have to read it when it’s finished!

 

 

Once again, a HUGE thank you to Carolyn Waugh for giving up her time to do this interview and for her wonderful answers to my probing questions! The Oasis of Time was published in e-book format on March 10th 2015 by M-Y Books Ltd and is available to buy now.

The Oasis Of Time – Carolyn Waugh

Published August 15, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Jay was a prince and he had the dark hair and dark smouldering looks of a sheikh of the desert. He was like the princes that you read about in the female romance novels that have a picture on the cover.
His personal assistant Lilly,would be first one in to work as always, she was there when he came in and invariably there when he left always just finishing up for the night. She intrigued him in the physical sense, he sometimes dreamed of her in his bed, making love to her. Her mouth was a wonder to behold and sometimes in their meetings if he was not careful he would lose track of their conversation.
Lilly on and off when working for him had saved his butt so to speak quite a few times. Lilly had been working for him for a while now and she loved every day.
Hiding the truth about her past and from where she came from and of what she could do, was getting harder and harder as she feared that she was falling in love with him and that was something she must not do. Ever. She must never do that as her genie status would vanish and she would become human.

(synopsis from Amazon)

What did I think?:

Full disclosure here – I am not usually a fan of so-called “romantic” fiction or erotica (although I do love a bit of fantasy) but Carolyn is a good friend of mine and absolutely loves to write so when she heard I was a blogger she asked if I would read her novella, The Oasis Of Time and let her know what I think. First of all, it’s clear Carolyn has an amazing imagination and reading fantasy/romance/paranormal fiction on a regular basis has given her an excellent background to writing a story of her own.

Our male lead is Jay, a strapping young man who happens to be a prince no less, who works very hard in his business managed by himself and his father the King but has been trying to hide his developing feelings for his assistant, Lilly, unsure if she reciprocates his feelings and afraid of losing her if she doesn’t. Luckily, Lilly does feel the same way but that’s not the real issue standing in their way. The thing is, Lilly knows the family much better than Jay can understand or appreciate as she is a genie who has been assisting the family for many years after she was captured close to the oasis where she lived.

The major reason why Lilly will try to stop herself falling in love with Jay is that if she enters into a relationship with her, her magical powers and status as a genie will vanish and she will become human forever. The future for Jay and Lilly is very unsure and potentially life-changing for both of them – will it work out for them in the end? Also, will Jay ever be able to accept the special properties behind the woman he loves?

One of my favourite things about this novella was the magical qualities in the story itself. I loved Lilly and Jay as characters and the fact that Lilly was a genie just brought an extra something to the narrative as a whole. I completely bought into their relationship and enjoyed reading about their struggles as they both wonder if they can be together as a couple. I’m hoping there will be many more stories to come from Carolyn Waugh as she has a clear passion for what she does and as I mentioned earlier, a huge imagination to back it up. Hopefully, some fantastic editor will see the potential in her work and snap her up, bringing her work to a wider population.

Carolyn’s first published novella is available to buy on Amazon for the bargain prize of 99 pence and 99 cents in America:

Amazon UK Link

Amazon US Link

Come back tomorrow when I’ll be interviewing Carolyn Waugh here on my blog!

Would I recommend it?:

For fans of the genre – yes!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Short Stories Challenge – Choke Collar: Positron, Episode Two by Margaret Atwood (stand-alone)

Published August 7, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

In this second, steamy episode of the new Byliner Serial Positron, Margaret Atwood picks up where she left off in her dystopian dark comedy I’m Starved for You , mining wholly deviant territory where a totalitarian state collides with the chaos of human desire.

Husband and wife Stan and Charmaine face more troubles in safe but carefully controlled Consilience, a social experiment in which the lawful are locked up and criminals roam the wasteland beyond the gates that is the America of Margaret Atwood’s creepily plausible near future.

In the world of Choke Collar, when you surrender your civil liberties, you enter a funhouse of someone else’s making.

What did I think?:

Margaret Atwood is without a doubt one of my favourite living authors at the moment and I was delighted to discover her Positron series in e-book format which consists of four short stories (so far) based in a dystopian, freakishly possible future. If you haven’t read the first story, I’m Starved For You, it’s probably best to start with that as this second instalment, Choke Collar, picks up right where the first left off.

Our two main characters are married couple Stan and Charmaine who have volunteered for a new project in their community – known as Consilience. Every other month, they are obliged to enter Positron, a prison environment to build the future for the next generation while an alternate husband and wife team live in their house and go about their daily lives. The following month, they swap over, take over the house from the Alternates and carry on with life as normal. In return, all their debts are written off, they are guaranteed stable and well-paid jobs on the “outside,” and decent treatment and “a meaningful life,” whilst inside the prison. However, they are forbidden any contact at all with their Alternates, even finding out who they are and this causes problems for the couple when Charmaine does just that in the first story.

In Choke Collar, Stan and Charmaine have been split up and whilst Charmaine languishes inside Positron for months longer than the obligatory one month, Stan is living with Jocelyn, who is the Alternate wife and she is making him pay big time for Charmaine’s misdemeanours and secret rendezvous with her husband, who Charmaine knows as Max. Stan is miserable with the way he is being treated and although he is desperately angry with his unfaithful wife, he even starts to worry about her slightly compared to what he has to put up with from Jocelyn. Yet things are not exactly as they seem and when Stan uncovers what Jocelyn is really up to, it could threaten the Consilience programme as a whole and be extremely dangerous for both himself and his wife Charmaine.

When I first started this series I wasn’t sure what to expect and I’ve got to say, I was a bit surprised by the story that Margaret Atwood had to tell. It teeters right on the edge of being overly sexual but is endlessly fascinating and I adore the dystopian element that she brings to her fiction. I actually enjoyed Choke Collar a lot more than the previous story and really appreciated the cliffhanger of an ending that makes me very eager to read the next instalment – Erase Me, which I’m more than certain is going to be brilliant. The author’s most recent novel, The Heart Goes Last is based on the Positron world and from what I’ve read so far, features the same characters. I’m not sure whether it is the same stories moulded together to make a novel but I’m definitely keen to find out and will probably explore it once I’ve finished these four short stories – the world that she creates here is too interesting not to!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: Elephants In Captivity (Part One) by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner: Love Stories

Short Stories Challenge – Martin Misunderstood by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Published May 3, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

A darkly comic tale about Mr Less-Than-Average in an average world from the No. 1 Bestseller.

Crime fiction obsessive Martin Reed is the proverbial butt of everyone’s jokes. Working as a glorified accountant at Southern Toilet Supply and still living with his cantankerous mother, he has become resigned to the world in which he lives – the school bullies now pick on him in the workplace, women still spurn him and his arch enemy is now his supervisor.

But then he arrives at work one morning to find the police on site. A co-worker has been brutally murdered and her body abandoned in a ditch. And the overwhelming evidence points to Martin – especially when he can’t or won’t admit that he has an alibi.

When a second victim is found in the company bathroom, things really conspire against Martin. The one bright star on his otherwise bleak horizon is the beautiful and sympathetic Detective Anther Albada, but even she’s beginning to have her doubts about his innocence. Could Martin be guilty? Or is he just misunderstood?

What did I think?:

I love that Karin Slaughter puts out short stories/novellas as well as her hugely popular Grant County series featuring the fantastic character of Will Trent (one of my most loved agents in fiction). Martin Misunderstood is more of a novella, weighing in at 147 pages in my own paperback format. When reading it however, it felt like much less and I whizzed through it very quickly. Our main character is Martin Reed who I am sorry to say is one of life’s losers. He is single, works for a company that sells toilet supplies, remains in the same town that he grew up in where the bullies of his schooldays continue to haunt him (and work with him in some cases) and still lives with his mother who makes it her mission to taunt him on a daily basis and who is desperate for him to be gay just so he would be a bit more interesting. To make things even worse, someone has keyed the work “twat,” on his car and looks to have damaged the bumper. Lovely!

Things start to get much more interesting one day as Martin arrives at work to find a police presence and an area cordoned off. It turns out that one of Martin’s colleagues, Sandy, has been murdered and unfortunately Martin is the prime suspect. Not only has the bumper of his car been mysteriously damaged but there is blood present which matches the blood of the victim. After looking at his messed up car, Martin has managed to cut himself, perfectly innocently of course but it doesn’t look too good in front of the investigating officer, Detective Anther Albada. To put the icing on the cake, the detective also happens to be very beautiful but poor, socially awkward Martin who quakes in excitement in her presence really doesn’t have a hope in hell. His colleagues incriminate him further by telling the police that Sandy had been taunting Martin two days previously by announcing that he had a “teenie weenie” on the company loudspeaker and super-gluing a twelve inch vibrating sex toy to his work desk. When another body is found with a further connection to Martin it looks like his hum-drum life is going to be getting a lot more interesting. But is Martin a killer? Or simply misunderstood?

Karin Slaughter’s trademark black humour makes this story easy to gobble up in a short space of time and some scenes definitely made me laugh out loud. One sex scene was written in such a way that it was both hilarious and cringe-worthy at the same time, those who have read this story will know exactly what I’m talking about! I felt so sorry for our main character Martin as the evidence stacks up against him and he doesn’t help matters by digging himself into a colossal hole. The author manages to pack in some great characters like Martin’s co-worker, Unique Jones (with an accent on the e and pronounced You-Nee-Kay thank you very much) and Martin’s intimidating and infuriating mother, Evie. Karin Slaughter also knows how to write a brilliant ending that leaves you feeling completely satisfied yet somehow gagging for more. Take the last line for instance – “And it was true. Martin finally understood.” For me, it’s a must-read for fans of the author and anybody new to her writing, which after this novella should make anyone hungry to seek out the rest of her work.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: Cellists by Kazuo Ishiguro from the collection Nocturnes: Five Stories Of Music and Nightfall