Short Stories

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Short Stories Challenge 2018 – Set-Up by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears.

Published June 3, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s Set-Up all about?:

Set-Up follows a teenage girl who finds herself in precarious circumstances with no parents around to assist or comfort her.

What did I think?:

All the stories in Manslaughter And Other Tears have won awards in some shape or form and this latest tale, Set-Up was the recipient of the Cairns Post Writers Award in Australia. I’ve already waxed lyrical about how much I am adoring this collection but if you haven’t read my previous reviews, this collection has everything I would want from a short story and I love the themes that the author chooses to explore. Many of these stories are rooted in fairy-tales but the most common themes are both the darkness of the writing and the twists and turns that Dianne Gray imposes upon the reader. Set-Up is another one of these tales where you think you have it all figured out and then you realise you really, really don’t.

Dianne Gray, author of the short story collection, Manslaughter And Other Tears.

So as with every novel/short story that I review which has the potential to be spoiled for readers who haven’t encountered it yet, I really can’t say too much about this story without ruining everything. So what can I say? Well, it’s the story of a young girl whom when we meet her is lying at the bottom of her basement stairs having severely injured her ankle. She is railing in her head at her parents whom she blames for everything that has gone wrong in her life, including such banal things as them daring to want to have a second honeymoon in Paris. Alone and a bit afraid, she manages to drag herself up the stairs to find two men in her house who have escaped from the nearby prison. The men are looking for money and food before they go on the run and are not delighted to be faced with an injured young girl who just happens to be the daughter of the head of the police. The narrative follows her interactions with them as they maintain innocence for their crimes, claiming they were “set-up.” As they attempt to escape, the unexpected occurs and things become a whole lot darker and grittier for all parties concerned.

Stairs to a basement – how I imagined the location of our female lead’s accident.

It sounds like quite a simple, run of the mill story about a young girl in a dangerous situation with escaped criminals doesn’t it? Don’t let my vague, non-spoiler description fool you. There is so much more going on in this short story than just that. Our female lead is an interesting and captivating character to read about and as a reader, you want to know what exactly has happened to her i.e. how did she come to fall down the stairs and how she is going to get herself out of this predicament with the absence of her parents and two hardened “baddies,” in her house? Nothing is what it seems in this story and I was shocked and delighted once more by the direction Dianne Gray chose to take things. I would have thought that by a few stories through the collection I would have cottoned on to her wily tricks and the way she manages to turn things around yet every time I’m still surprised and honestly, not expecting it. Dianne Gray is such a wonderful, talented author and I’m always bowled over by how much her stories stay with me, long after I’ve finished reading them.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Some Drolls Are Like That And Some Are Like This by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles.

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Short Stories Challenge 2018 – Beachworld by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew.

Published May 27, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s Beachworld all about?:

Beachworld is set at an unspecified time in the future when a spacecraft crashes onto a beach, killing one of the crew. It is not long before the other two members of the crew discover that the land they are now stranded on is having a strange and very dangerous effect on both of them.

What did I think?:

I’m not going to go on and on about how much I adore Stephen King and his work. I think if you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might realise that by now and I don’t want to sound like a broken record. Stephen King is my hero. The End. Personally, I think it’s rare where you find an author where you enjoy both their novels and shorter fiction equally and King is one of those authors for me. Of course, there are stories that I don’t particularly connect with, I have to be honest but generally, I go into King’s work knowing I’m not going to be disappointed. For me, Beachworld was another classic King tale, rich in imaginative detail and although it’s not my favourite in the collection, it was a solid, decent and fascinating narrative that drew me in and made me want to keep turning the pages.

Stephen King, the author of the short story Beachworld. This man is my god. Seriously.

As I’ve already mentioned in the synopsis, this story is about two men, Shapiro and Rand who have crash landed onto a deserted beach, in fact it’s probably more like a desert with numerous sand dunes and a hypnotic quality which becomes deadly as the narrative continues. They have lost one of their crew mates in a fire and resulting explosion that led to the crash of the craft and have very limited water and food supplies. Desperate to be rescued, Shapiro is hoping that another spacecraft will come to their aid. However, his colleague Rand doesn’t appear to be that bothered about being saved. That’s putting it lightly. He has become entranced by the dunes and will not budge from the top of one, even for water and quite quickly becomes emaciated. Meanwhile, the sand begins creeping over his body and into the craft itself, even though there are no possible entrances that the sand could be getting into (hey, that pesky sand gets everywhere, doesn’t it?). It is almost as if the sand is claiming Rand and burying him as he continues to stand on the dune, immovable and completely under its spell.

I am always hugely impressed by the way King seems to change it up with every single story he writes. I am seriously in awe of his imagination and story-telling ability and the way in which he seems to have unlimited tales to tell stored up in that brilliant little brain of his. Beachworld is King’s take on science fiction and this story almost feels Lovecraftian in its scope and the themes it explores. Now if you’ve seen my previous Lovecraft reviews, I’m not insulting King at all by saying this (I haven’t been the biggest fan of Lovecraft in the past) but I am referring to the strange other-worldly elements that H.P. Lovecraft chooses to use. I was intrigued by these elements at the beginning of my Lovecraft journey but unfortunately they got a little bit repetitive and “samey” for me and I ended up giving up the collection.

But back to King. There is definitely a similarity to the better Lovecraft horrors in Beachworld and I loved the author’s take on the future where androids are your assistants, pornography comes in the form of holograms and people still listen to The Beach Boys even though they died eight thousand years ago. The fact that the sand seems to be alive and has a mind of its own (and a very evil mind I must add!) creeped me out considerably and I think King used the isolation of the two men to good effect. After all, how scary is it to be all alone with little hope of rescue, no food and limited water and then to top it all off, your mate goes crazy and the sand wants to eat you?! The only thing that I was slightly disappointed with was the thing that comes out of the sand right near the end of the story. For me, it kind of ruined the atmosphere and I felt as if the sand had remained a mysterious entity, I would have continued to be slightly disturbed. It’s almost like a horror film, isn’t it? If you see the monster’s face, your fear is reduced slightly because now you know what you’re facing. It’s far more scary if you can’t see whatever’s stalking you. In my opinion anyway!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: Set-Up by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears.

 

Short Stories Challenge 2018 – The Coincidence Of The Arts by Martin Amis from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night.

Published May 19, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s The Coincidence Of The Arts all about?:

An English Baronet becomes entangled with an American chess hustler and aspiring novelist and has an unexpected affair with a silent Afro-Caribbean woman.

What did I think?:

Coincidence Of The Arts is the first story in this collection in the section entitled “Stories To Intrigue And Excite.” With a heading like this, I must say I WAS quite excited to finally read some Martin Amis but at the same time, approached it with slight trepidation as I’ve read a few less than complimentary things about the author as a person and understand he has a bit of a reputation. I decided to talk to a friend about the author as to what his writing was really like as I knew my source had read a couple of his books and that he would give me an honest opinion that I knew I could trust. Unfortunately, although my friend told me the author could definitely write, he was less than pleased with HOW Martin Amis chooses to write his characters. In particular, he mentioned how black, working class and female characters are written in an extremely stereotypical and perhaps, not a very favourable way.

The British author of The Coincidence Of The Arts, Martin Amis.

Hearing all this, I tried to go into this short story with an open mind. I really do like to make up my own mind about things like this but to be honest, I didn’t have high hopes. The person who voiced his opinion on the author is incredibly honourable, has high morals, believes in equality for everyone and is very scathing of anyone who has obvious prejudices. In other words, he must have had a solid reason and hard evidence to have such a strong opinion. Was he right? I’m afraid so.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about this narrative, the synopsis sums it up pretty perfectly but it’s basically the story of a white English man, Rodney Peel living in New York and working as an artist, painting portraits of rich wives for their husbands. He has two main relationships in this story, one with aspiring black novelist Pharsin Courier and the other with a black woman who he desperately wants to paint but eventually ends up sleeping with on a regular basis. Not much really happens in the story of note to be fair, we mainly get Pharsin and Rodney running into each other and Rodney making excuses for not having read Pharsin’s novel yet. Then we get portions of text where Rodney is going out with a friend and telling him about his relationship with the mysterious woman. Things do connect up slightly at the end but the bare bones of this story make it a tale about art, literature and race.

The setting for our story, beautiful New York where the author, Martin Amis also now lives.

Okay, so where on earth do I start? This is such a strange little story that at times, I found myself wondering what the point of it was. Is Martin Amis trying to be too clever? Did I miss the point of the story entirely? Both these things are possible but in the end, I’m afraid this story just wasn’t for me. I’m slightly confused at it being placed in the “Stories To Intrigue And Excite,” section of this collection. Granted, I was somewhat intrigued by Rodney’s relationship with a woman who remains silent during their encounters but sadly, there was no point of this tale that excited me. In fact, some parts of it made me half laugh/half scrunch my nose up in disgust and others left me feeling distinctly uncomfortable. I’ll elaborate. There’s a point very early on in the story before Rodney and his lady friend have “done the deed,” and he’s talking to his friend about how fascinating he finds her. His friend very bluntly asks: “Have you two actually slimed?”

I couldn’t help thinking of this little guy….anyone remember Slimer from Ghostbusters?!

I mean, ewwwwww. I found it hilarious and utterly disgusting in equal measure. Aside from this awful little sentence my main problem with this story was the way people of colour were talked about both by Rodney and his hideous little friend. It was blatant racism of the worst possible kind and definitely does not sit well with me. I’m not sure if they were necessarily stereotypes but Rodney and friend talk about this woman that he is seeing in such archaic and ignorant terms, I literally squirmed whilst reading it.

I would like to try and end this review on a positive, I do always like to try and find something nice to say when writing a more critical review and in this case, I’d like to say that it is obvious the author can definitely write. I may not approve of the way he writes and talks about his characters but there is no denying he has a talent for spinning a yarn. It’s just a shame that from what I’ve heard from others and now, what I’ve read for myself, I will unfortunately not be treating myself to any Martin Amis in the future. If you can rest easy with these kinds of things in literary fiction, I’m sure you will enjoy his work – I however, cannot.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: Beachworld by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew.

Short Stories Challenge 2018 – 20th Century Ghost by Joe Hill from the collection 20th Century Ghosts.

Published May 13, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s 20th Century Ghost all about?:

Imogene is young, beautiful, kisses like a movie star, and know everything about every film ever made. She’s also dead, the legendary ghost of the Rosebud Theatre.

What did I think?:

I confess to finding myself a bit under-whelmed by Joe Hill’s first story in this collection, Best New Horror which was good, don’t get me wrong, but having rated the author’s debut novel, Heart-Shaped Box and his second, Horns five stars when I read them recently, I guess my expectations were stupidly high. Luckily, I got on much better with the title story of this collection, 20th Century Ghost and although it might not have reached the dizzying heights of five star-ness (is that EVEN a phrase?!), it restored my faith in Hill as a short story writer.

The author of 20th Century Ghosts, Joe Hill. There were many images I could have chosen but I was strangely drawn to this one with the tree! 😛

So, this story as you may have already guessed from the synopsis is about a ghost called Imogene Gilchrist who appears to a very select number of theatre frequenters, desperate to talk to them about the movie she is viewing. The tale focuses on Alec Sheldon, who now owns the Rosebud Theatre but when he was a younger man, visited there with his brother, Ray on a regular basis. Ray has sadly been killed in the war and Alec is still struggling with his loss but one day, visits the theatre on his own where he has the frightening experience of meeting Imogene and talking to her for himself. Back in the present day, Alec has become quite obsessed with Imogene and the sad story  behind her death, which happened as she was actually watching a film, The Wizard Of Oz. He keeps notes of all his customers who have also seen Imogene who feel compelled to talk to him about the experience. Meanwhile, the theatre is losing money and all the customers who have seen the ghost have had the same strange dream, of boarded windows and a woman crying. Alec must call on all his resources to try and save the Rosebud, talk to Imogene again and make peace with his own tragic past.

This image represents how I imagined the Rosebud Theatre to look.

20th Century Ghost had just enough intrigue, creepiness and indeed, heart-break to keep me turning the pages and I adored the bitter-sweet, horribly sad ending. Imogene was a wonderful character as a ghost and the manner of her death was so sad that it just made me more curious about what her back-story was. Unfortunately, we don’t really find out a great deal but in compensation, we get the fantastic Alec, who got my emotions rocking and reeling due to the loss of his brother. Having not had any previous experience with Joe Hill’s short stories before this collection, I did wonder if he was only going to be good at epic novels but I’m delighted to say that he can write a short, snappy, engrossing tale with the best of them and I’m confident that I’m going to enjoy the rest of this collection.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Coincidence Of The Arts by Martin Amis from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night.

Short Stories Challenge 2018 – Four Hundred Rabbits by Simon Levack from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Vol 7.

Published April 12, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s Four Hundred Rabbits all about?:

Four Hundred Rabbits tells the story of a midwinter festival to honour the Aztec gods in which a young man is drugged. As our protagonist investigates, we find out exactly what happened to him and why.

What did I think?:

Once again with my Short Stories Challenge, I’ve been introduced to an author that I’ve never heard of before and I love it for that! Simon Levack is a British author of historical mystery novels that so far, all feature the same character, Yaotl who is a slave in in Precolombian Mexico with the Aztec people. Almost immediately, I appreciated the detail that has gone into Four Hundred Rabbits and in it’s execution, it very much reminded me of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom (which I have fallen woefully behind on). Generally, I thought it was a decent enough tale and it was obvious that the author had created the plot meticulously however it didn’t blow me away. It was enjoyable but unfortunately, only okay in my opinion.

Our protagonist for the story is the same character featured in the author’s novels, a slave called Yaotl who used to be in the priesthood but was expelled and turned quite heavily to drink before he became apprenticed as a slave. In Four Hundred Rabbits, he is brought up before his master, Lord Feathered In Black and his assistance is demanded. In the corner lies the body of Black’s great-nephew, Heron in a drugged stupor. As Yaotl has had a lot of experience with different plants/drugs through his studies as a priest, Black wants him to investigate the incident and find the culprit so that he can be punished. We are taken to a world of strange religious rituals, where four hundred men compete to drink sacred wine through a hollow straw and it is by these means that Yaotl believes Heron has been poisoned. Why was he attacked in this way? Yaotl must find out before his master’s impatience runs out or before he becomes a target himself.

First of all, I really loved how unique this story felt, especially in comparison to every other tale in this collection. I certainly wasn’t expecting to be taken to another country, another culture and another point in time that is so vastly different from our contemporary world with different beliefs and ideals. I mentioned Shardlake earlier and the way Yaotl goes about his business of attempting to find the perp really reminded me of Matthew’s own investigations in the Sansom novels of King Henry VIII’s England. I was fascinated by how all the pieces of the puzzle came together although I still found it a bit difficult to realise the exact motives of our culprit. Although the writing was excellent, something didn’t fully connect with me unfortunately. Perhaps I was interested in Yaotl himself as a character and was far more intrigued about why he had been expelled from the priesthood rather than a young (rather obnoxious) young man being drugged during a festival. Maybe Yaotl is explored further in Levack’s novels and I’d certainly be curious enough to give them a try.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: 20th Century Ghost by Joe Hill from the collection 20th Century Ghosts.

The Beginning Of The World In The Middle Of The Night – Jen Campbell

Published April 2, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

‘These days, you can find anything you need at the click of a button.
That’s why I bought her heart online.’

Spirits in jam jars, mini-apocalypses, animal hearts and side shows.
A girl runs a coffin hotel on a remote island.
A boy is worried his sister has two souls.
A couple are rewriting the history of the world.
And mermaids are on display at the local aquarium.

The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night is a collection of twelve haunting stories; modern fairy tales brimming with magic, outsiders and lost souls.

What did I think?:

I’ve followed Jen Campbell’s You Tube channel for quite some time now as we appear to share quite similar taste in books, especially anything slightly quirky and fairy tale-esque. However, I shamefully haven’t ever got round to any of her books before so when I saw all the promotion about The Beginning Of The World In The Middle Of The Night and clocked THAT cover, I knew I had to finally check out her style. Now, this is a short story collection and I would normally put any short story collections in my Short Stories Challenge and enjoy a story at a time, at quite a leisurely pace. However, with this collection I just couldn’t wait and gobbled them all up in a much shorter space of time. There is no way that I can be as eloquent as Jen with words but believe me when I say that this collection is something really special. It seems to display every single aspect that makes up Jen as a person combined with the fact that she touches on subjects quite close to her heart, like folklore and legends, LGBT issues and individuals that have something about themselves, whether it be physical in appearance or their personality that is just a little bit different and aside from the norm.

It’s quite rare for me to read a short stories collection where I could rate every single one of the stories five stars and unfortunately I couldn’t quite do this with The Beginning Of The World In The Middle Of The Night. There was one particular story, “In The Dark” that I couldn’t quite connect with but I know other reviewers who have loved it so that’s probably just personal taste. I’d just like to talk about a couple of the stories that had a huge effect on me and that began with the very first story in the collection, “Animals” which was all kinds of wonderful and portrayed a world where hearts can be bought and sold online. For me, it was one of the darkest, most twisty tales in the bunch – it made me shiver and it was completely brutal, but the way Jen used poetic language made me swoon. In a lot of these stories, it’s evident how much research she’s put into what she’s writing as she draws on old legends from other countries. For example, we learn about the Celtic goddess of sleep who transforms into a swan every year and the giant in Norway who kept his heart outside of his body so he could live forever. I’d love to talk more about this particular story but I simply cannot, you simply have to discover its beauty and magic for yourself. It knocked me sideways.

Another story where I “didn’t see it coming,” was the gorgeous title story, “The Beginning Of The World In The Middle Of The Night.” This tells the story of a man and a woman who are lying in bed one night talking together about potential beginnings in their world. What I really enjoyed about this story (apart from the bitter-sweet and heart-breaking ending of course!) was the style that Jen chooses to use, it’s told in the form of a script, almost like a play and it was quite refreshing to read a story in this manner. It seemed to get across the message behind the tale and the relationship between the couple even more perfectly than if the author had used prose. Finally, I’d like to talk about the brilliance of “Aunt Libby’s Coffin Hotel.” This is set on a small island and follows a girl and her Aunt who run a hotel where guests can stay and feel close to their deceased loved ones by spending the night within a coffin and making contact. I loved everything about this, the imaginative idea and how the narrative slowly plays out until the reader gets a real idea of what’s really going on with these mysterious characters and their strange ideas.

I always had a sneaking suspicion I was going to enjoy Jen Campbell’s writing, it was obvious to me that as a poet, she was always going to construct some stunning sentences but I was really surprised by exactly how much I adored it. Her lyrical style and love of the other-worldly, more peculiar parts of our world is everything I could ever want in an author and I felt like I was reading every single word she wrote with unbridled delight. The fantastical/magical elements are spot on, as I was anticipating but I loved that Jen also isn’t scared to go to the dark places in a few of these stories. As a writer of short stories, I truly believe that this author is up there with those of the highest calibre writing in both the past and present – I’m thinking Angela Carter, Angela Slatter for starters? I can only rub my hands in glee for anything she’s going to write next.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

 

 

 

The Beginning Of The World In The Middle Of The Night was the twenty-second book on my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

Short Stories Challenge 2018 – Part Two

Published April 2, 2018 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to the second part of my Short Stories Challenge for 2018. I have to admit, I’m feeling a little disillusioned writing this post and preparing which short stories I’m going to read for the next few months as in Part One earlier this year, I had so many disappointments and very few stellar stories that stood out to me. I think the biggest failures for me would have to be The Balloon Hoax by Edgar Allan Poe and Books And Roses by Helen Oyeyemi but I could mention a few more. However, let’s end on a positive – there was the wonderful The Apple Tree by Daphne du Maurier and Dibblespin by Angela Slatter which completely restored my faith in short stories. It is because of stories like these that I want to carry on with this challenge and find more great authors like the many, many ones I’ve found so far, purely from their short fiction alone. Let’s do this!

Four Hundred Rabbits by Simon Levack from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Vol 7.

20th Century Ghost by Joe Hill from the collection 20th Century Ghosts.

The Coincidence Of The Arts by Martin Amis from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night.

Beachworld by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew.

Set-Up by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears.

Some Drolls Are Like That And Some Are Like This by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter from the collection The Story: Love, Loss & The Lives Of Women.

The Underhouse by Gerard Woodward from the collection The New Uncanny: Tales Of Unease edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page.

The Adventure Of The Copper Beeches by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes.

My Mother’s Wedding by Tessa Hadley from the collection Reader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre edited by Tracy Chevalier.