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Mini Pin-It Reviews #18 – Four Random Books

Published February 17, 2018 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to another mini pin-it reviews post! I have a massive backlog of reviews and this is my way of trying to get on top of things a bit. This isn’t to say I didn’t like some of these books – my star rating is a more accurate reflection of this, but this is a great, snappy way of getting my thoughts across and decreasing my backlog a bit. This time I’ve got four random books for you – please see my pin-it thoughts below!

1.) The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales Of Madness, Love and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements – Sam Kean

What’s it all about?:

The Periodic Table is one of man’s crowning scientific achievements. But it’s also a treasure trove of stories of passion, adventure, betrayal, and obsession. The infectious tales and astounding details in THE DISAPPEARING SPOON follow carbon, neon, silicon, and gold as they play out their parts in human history, finance, mythology, war, the arts, poison, and the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them.
We learn that Marie Curie used to provoke jealousy in colleagues’ wives when she’d invite them into closets to see her glow-in-the-dark experiments. And that Lewis and Clark swallowed mercury capsules across the country and their campsites are still detectable by the poison in the ground. Why did Gandhi hate iodine? Why did the Japanese kill Godzilla with missiles made of cadmium? And why did tellurium lead to the most bizarre gold rush in history?

From the Big Bang to the end of time, it’s all in THE DISAPPEARING SPOON.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

2.) I Am The Messenger – Markus Zusak

What’s it all about?:

protect the diamonds
survive the clubs
dig deep through the spades
feel the hearts

Ed Kennedy is an underage cabdriver without much of a future. He’s pathetic at playing cards, hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey, and utterly devoted to his coffee-drinking dog, the Doorman. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery.

That’s when the first ace arrives in the mail.

That’s when Ed becomes the messenger.

Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary) until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission?

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

3.) The Moth – Catherine Burns (editor)

What’s it all about?:

With an introduction by Neil Gaiman.

Before television and radio, before penny paperbacks and mass literacy, people would gather on porches, on the steps outside their homes, and tell stories. The storytellers knew their craft and bewitched listeners would sit and listen long into the night as moths flitted around overhead. The Moth is a non-profit group that is trying to recapture this lost art, helping storytellers – old hands and novices alike – hone their stories before playing to packed crowds at sold-out live events.

The very best of these stories are collected here: whether it’s Bill Clinton’s hell-raising press secretary or a leading geneticist with a family secret; a doctor whisked away by nuns to Mother Teresa’s bedside or a film director saving her father’s Chinatown store from money-grabbing developers; the Sultan of Brunei’s concubine or a friend of Hemingway’s who accidentally talks himself into a role as a substitute bullfighter, these eccentric, pitch-perfect stories – all, amazingly, true – range from the poignant to the downright hilarious.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

4.) The Chimes – Anna Smaill

What’s it all about?:

The Chimes is set in a reimagined London, in a world where people cannot form new memories, and the written word has been forbidden and destroyed.

In the absence of both memory and writing is music.

In a world where the past is a mystery, each new day feels the same as the last, and before is blasphemy, all appears lost. But Simon Wythern, a young man who arrives in London seeking the truth about what really happened to his parents, discovers he has a gift that could change all of this forever.

A stunning literary debut by poet and violinist Anna Smaill, The Chimes is a startlingly original work that combines beautiful, inventive prose with incredible imagination.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

COMING UP NEXT TIME ON MINI PIN IT REVIEWS: Four Author Requests.

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Short Stories Challenge 2018 – Remmy Rothstein Toes The Line by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone).

Published February 15, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A genre-busting new short story from the No. 1 bestselling author of the Will Trent novels. (‘Remmy Rothstein Toes the Line’ is also available as part of a bundle with ‘Go Deep and ‘Necessary Women’.)

As an intrepid adjudicator of World Records, Mindy Patel has met lots of strange people in lots of strange places. But they’re no match for the Swampers of the Georgia bayou. Mindy has braved the oppressive August heat in search of Remmy Rothstein, who they call ‘The Cajun Jew’. If the photos are indeed accurate, she might be about to certify Remmy as the World Record Holder for Longest Tongue in the World . . . and maybe even the Widest!

First Mindy meets Remmy’s half-brother, Buell Rabinowitz, surely the world’s only one-legged, albino, Jewish African American. Then she makes the acquaintance of Remmy’s mother, a foul-mouthed old woman with an impressive beard. None of which prepares her for an eyeful of Remmy: a man who measures up to his singular reputation in ways that will change the course of Mindy’s life.

What did I think?:

This short story is going to be ever so hard to review but I’m going to try my best! First of all, as you might already know if you’re a regular visitor to my blog, I’m a big fan of Karin Slaughter. I love her writing style, her dark humour and the way she’s not afraid to go to places other authors might shy away from. I couldn’t respect her more as an author or a woman yet I’m afraid I found myself not really loving Remmy Rothstein. It had a lot of interesting stylistic quirks, which I really enjoyed but somehow by the end, I was left feeling a little unsure. I could have gone right back to the start and re-read it but unfortunately, I wasn’t even bothered enough to do this.

The story is told from the point of view of Mindy Patel, an adjudicator for the World Records and she is writing back to her boss in the form of emails as she flits about the country, witnessing some very odd world record attempts. The main crux of the narrative follows her journey to the swamps of the Deep South and an intriguing man called Remmy Rothstein who claims to have either the longest (or the widest) tongue in the world. She of course must verify his claim so she heads off with her trusty measuring tape in tow to see if Remmy can claim a new world record. However, she doesn’t expect to meet a man and his strange family who have quite a different  and lasting effect on her than she could have believed – and it’s nothing to do with the tongue.

I hope I’ve described this little story accurately, of course with Karin Slaughter you are going to get a few surprises and twists in the tale and I always enjoy seeing what she’s going to surprise me with next. Sadly, there weren’t as many “Oh My God” moments as I’ve found with her previous stories/novels and this is perhaps why I’m a little disappointed with the tale as a whole. I’m also wondering if maybe I just didn’t get it? I left the story feeling quite confused and racking my brain to try and figure it all out, unfortunately this means that it has had an effect on the rating I’ve chosen to give. As always, Karin’s characteristic humour is evident throughout the story but for some reason, I felt she was trying a little too hard with this one and it didn’t come off as entirely natural which was a shame. Ending on a positive note, I did love the structure of this narrative, especially with the little footnotes about previous world records told by Mindy that you could read at the end of each chapter. I felt it added something a bit unusual to the story in general and a few really did make me smile. Again, if you’ve read this short story and have the same opinion or a different opinion as me I’d love to hear from you – especially if you can shed more light on the ending for me?

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: Why The Yew Tree Lives So Long by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales.

Short Stories Challenge 2018 – Dibblespin by Angela Slatter from the collection Sourdough And Other Stories.

Published February 3, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s Dibblespin all about?:

Dibblespin follows the relationship of two very different sisters with themes of jealousy, revenge and betrayal.

What did I think?:

Sourdough And Other Stories couldn’t be a more “me” short story collection even if it tried. Rooted in fairy tales with quite a modern twist, I’ve enjoyed every single story I’ve read so far and that’s hugely surprising as generally in a collection, there’s a couple of stories that perhaps don’t speak to you as much as others. Dibblespin is another corker and like the previous tales, has a cracker of an ending that will make you want to go right back to the beginning and start all over again. When I’m reading Sourdough And Other Stories, I feel like I’ve slipped into a deliciously different world, filled with fairy-tale creatures, magical moments and as always, with the best fairy-tales, a snicker of darkness.

This story follows Dibblespin and her half-sister Ingrid who have a close relationship despite coming from quite a fractured family situation and being very different physically speaking. Ingrid is your archetypal beautiful little girl, beloved and used to getting everything she wants purely because of the way she looks. Dibblespin is, well…she is a magical creature who is not blessed with conventional beauty but boasts a sunny personality and a kind-hearted nature, dotes on her sister and enjoys spending time with her. Ingrid is no stranger to heartache and has lost all the parental figures in her life, although they sort of stick around in animal form near the house to keep an eye on her. This is particularly true of her mother, Olwen who spends most of her time in wolf form and has reared a human/wolf pack all of her own in the wild. Olwen is furious about the relationship between her daughter and Dibblespin, mainly because Dibblespin is the daughter forged from her husband’s betrayal and is determined that Ingrid should make a choice about where her loyalties really lie.

Dibblespin was a wonderful little story and like the others in this collection, the author has written the fantastical element just wonderfully. I adored the independent, yet soft nature of Dibblespin and felt she really came into her own as the narrative continued, particularly at the spectacular ending. Of course, the “evil stepmother,” addition is always welcome in any fairy tale and Olwen was a wickedly brilliant character to whisper theatrical boo’s at from the comfort of your sofa! I’m also now starting to see connections between the other stories in Sourdough and when I researched a bit deeper on the web, I learned that Ingrid and Dibblespin’s father has created quite a few children in this collection (what a philanderer!) and Olwen is actually the baby Patience Sykes rescues in the story Gallowberries. I don’t think I’ve ever read a collection like this, where there are links to other stories in each individual story and I find it thoroughly fascinating. I’m really excited to get to the next story in the collection and see if I can spot any more subtle connections!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Remmy Rothstein Toes The Line by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone).

Short Stories Challenge 2018 – The Balloon Hoax by Edgar Allan Poe from the collection The Best Short Stories Of Edgar Allan Poe.

Published January 27, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s The Balloon Hoax all about?:

The Balloon Hoax is a story about four men who attempt to cross the Atlantic for the first time in a balloon.

What did I think?:

Oh dear. I am honestly beginning to wonder if it’s “just me,” with this particular short story collection. I haven’t had the best of luck with the stories I’ve read so far and I was kind of dreading reading this, my expectations being well and truly quashed. Did it live up to my expectations. Yes, well my expectations were low so I suppose it did! I’m glad to discover however, that I’m not the only person to feel this way. The story on its own has some of the lowest ratings on Goodreads that I’ve ever seen for a book which was kind of surprising but not so much if you read the story, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. Saying that, I always like to do a bit of research into the author or their short story before I write my review and I really enjoyed reading the history behind this short tale. It’s just a shame that’s the only thing that I enjoyed.

The story now known as The Balloon Hoax first appeared in The Sun newspaper in New York, April 1844. It follows our main character, Monck Mason and a number of other gentlemen as they attempt to fly a balloon first across the British Channel and then, when they are blown off course, eventually manage to get across the Atlantic Ocean in a mere three days. The story goes into incredible details about the mechanics of building the balloon – the vanes, the fuel, the propeller etc and as it references real people such as William Harrison Ainsworth which many people thought gave Poe’s story some authenticity. Poe himself was astounded at the reception his story received once published in the paper, indeed there were claims that the newspaper office was “besieged” by people wanting to get their hands on copies of the paper. The paper itself ended up having to print a retraction a couple of days later:

BALLOON – The mails from the South last Saturday night not having brought a confirmation of the arrival of the Balloon from England, the particulars of which from our correspondent we detailed in our Extra, we are inclined to believe that the intelligence is erroneous. The description of the Balloon and the voyage was written with a minuteness and scientific ability calculated to obtain credit everywhere, and was read with great pleasure and satisfaction. We by no means think such a project impossible.

As to more of a synopsis of what happens in this story, I’m afraid I can’t help very much in that regard. About half of the story describes the mechanics of the balloon in question, the other half are journal entries from the main voyagers describing what they see or do on a particular day of the quest. Perhaps the most exciting part of the narrative is when the men get blown off course by a strong current and decide to change their journey and tackle the Atlantic instead of the British Channel (obviously a mammoth undertaking when you compare the size of the two areas of water!).

Apart from that, they see some ships, they comment on the sky and the scenery below them….however they really lost me when they starting talking about the perpendicular of a right-angled triangle and the hypotenuse in relation to the balloon. Nope, mathematics is not my strong suit. My main issue however, and I think I might have mentioned this in my other Poe reviews is the amount of detail he obviously feels obliged to go into. I find it really unnecessary and terribly dull to read and I could almost feel my eyes glazing over as every minute detail of the propeller and screws of the balloon was described. Yawn. When I’m writing a perhaps more critical/negative review like this, I do feel the need to find something positive to say about what I’ve read. Yet with The Balloon Hoax I have to admit, I’m struggling. The journal entries were kind of interesting I guess, and I appreciated the change in narrative structure after paragraphs upon paragraphs of intricate information about vanes and coal versus hydrogen gas. Nevertheless, this won’t be a story I’ll be returning to or recommending to my nearest and dearest.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: Dibblespin by Angela Slatter from the collection Sourdough And Other Stories.

Short Stories Challenge 2018 – The Apple Tree by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Birds And Other Stories

Published January 23, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s The Apple Tree all about?:

This is the story of a neglected wife who haunts her husband in the form of an apple tree.

What did I think?:

I’m always excited when my Daphne du Maurier short story collection rolls around but I was especially looking forward to it after one of my favourite bloggers, Fiction Fan commented on my Short Stories Challenge 2018 Part One post saying how much she loved The Apple Tree and it was, in her eyes, even better than The Birds. Now I adored The Birds when I read it and gave it five stars so what would I think of The Apple Tree? I have to be honest, when I started reading it I thought it was sheer brilliance of course but probably worth about four stars? However, as I carried on reading and the atmosphere continued to grow I immediately cemented Daphne du Maurier firmly in my mind as a writer back to her usual excellent standards (after my bitter disappointment with Monte Verità ). I think you might be able to guess which star rating I have awarded it in the end?

The Apple Tree is about Buzz and Midge, husband and wife, married for about twenty-five years and established in a rather unhappy and monotonous relationship, particularly from the point of view of Buzz. Not long after our story begins, Midge contracts pneumonia and sadly passes away but you’ve never seen a man so relieved or happy to be rid of his wife as Buzz was! He tells the reader how irritated she made him feel, sometimes merely with her presence which tended to be rather melancholy, anxious and fed up. He recalls how she lived her life as a complete martyr, constantly working around the house, even if he thought it unnecessary and even though she never outwardly reproached him for not helping, there would be a wayward glance, a sigh or a yawn which only served to make him feel more guilty and annoyed.

Now Midge is gone, he is free to live his life exactly how he chooses, although of course he still has a maid to clean, cook his dinner etc so he can smoke, read and drink in his study in the peaceful way that pleases him so much. All things considered, he’s the happiest he’s ever been until one day he notices two apple trees on his land. One is youthful, vibrant and produces a high quality of fruit and the other is bent, rather decrepit, ominous looking and reminds him quite strangely of his wife. Once he notices this, he begins to form quite a vendetta against this particular apple tree and, it seems, the tree also forms a similar dispute with him. He cannot burn any of the wood as not only will it not catch light but the smell when it does burn makes him sick. This is also the case with the small, wizened apples that it produces which taste foul and rotten to him. Is it possible that the spirit of his wife has come back to haunt him in this way as some form of payback? Or is it psychological guilt for the treatment of Midge that is torturing Buzz’s soul?

I cannot recommend this short story enough. It was fairly long, probably about similar size to Monte Verità but unlike that story, I never felt like reading this was a chore. In fact, I was quite disappointed when it ended! Oh my goodness though, WHAT an ending. Daphne du Maurier is a true master of her craft and I think of her almost like a wizard in the way she concocts an atmosphere that builds and builds and gives the reader such a sense of unease and dread, you are almost afraid to turn over the page, worried about what you might find. I also loved that Buzz was such a deplorable character and as the narrative went on, you felt more and more dislike towards him and, I hate to say, I was quite keen for him to get some form of comeuppance. Once again, when writing like this, I think there’s not many people who could beat Daphne du Maurier for execution of a fascinating plot and it’s stories like these that make me so excited that I still have a wealth of books to read from her.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Balloon Hoax by Edgar Allan Poe from the collection The Best Short Stories Of Edgar Allan Poe.

Short Stories Challenge 2018 – Books And Roses by Helen Oyeyemi from the collection What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours.

Published January 19, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s Books And Roses all about?:

In Books and Roses, one special key opens a library, a garden and clues to at least two lovers’ fates.

What did I think?:

Helen Oyeyemi’s short story collection, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is a new addition to my collection after completing a collection by a different author last year. This collection was actually recommended to me by the wonderful booksellers at Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights and I was immediately intrigued, both by the gorgeous cover art, the fact that it was quite whimsical and that characters from some of the stories were promised to appear in other stories in the collection. From what I can gather so far, each story involves a key of some sort and the protagonist searching for something, be that family, an object, their own identity etc. I finished this story with a lot of admiration for Helen Oyeyemi as a writer and clear master of words however I have to be honest, I also finished the story a little bit confused.

Books And Roses is the first story in this collection and quite a lengthy one relatively speaking at just over forty pages long. When it started, I was immediately intrigued. A baby has been abandoned in a monastery with a note, imploring the baby when she is older to “Wait For Me,” and enclosed is a mysterious key which the child, named Montserrat (Montse) wears around her neck. The unknown mother suggests that this was the best place for her to leave her baby as the baby is black and the monks have a statue of Black Madonna in their premises so she was certain she was leaving her in a good place. Then we follow our female protagonist quite quickly as she grows up, gets work as a laundress and meets another young woman who not only also possesses a strange key but is also waiting for someone and we hear a bit of her story. In quite a convoluted narrative, we eventually learn the secret behind the two keys and the way in which both women’s stories are inter-connected.

I’m wondering whether I should go back and read this story all over again as I’m worried I may have lost some of the meaning amongst the vast amount of information we are given by the author. I absolutely adored the beginning, it felt very fairy-tale like and some of the passages she writes are truly beautiful, especially ones set within the gorgeous library:

“A library at night is full of sounds: The unread books can’t stand it any longer and announce their contents, some boasting, some shy, some devious.”

However, I do think that because the author completely flooded the narrative with the back stories of both Montse, Lucy and another young woman Safiye, I perhaps got a little overwhelmed about where one story started and the other finished and how that information pertained to each character. I don’t blame the author at all for that, that’s merely my own inability to separate what we are told as a reader and then see it all as a whole which I sadly failed to do. Maybe it’s also getting used to a different writers style, especially when this is the first thing I’ve read by Helen Oyeyemi. For now, I’ll note that she’s a gorgeous writer and perhaps I need to concentrate a bit more when reading her fiction.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Apple Tree by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Birds And Other Stories.

 

Short Stories Challenge 2018 – Which Reminded Her, Later by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You.

Published January 14, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s Which Reminded Her, Later all about?:

Which Reminded Her, Later is about the relationship between a vicar and his wife when an uninvited guest comes to stay at their vicarage.

What did I think?:

Make no bones about it, I am a huge fan of Jon McGregor’s writing and when I realised this short story was one of the longer ones in this collection, I was delighted. Don’t get me wrong, I love the shorter narratives too, he’s a master wordsmith and manages to do in one page what some authors struggle to do with twenty but that’s the reason why I always want just a little bit more. It turns out this story isn’t one of my favourites in the collection but that in no way means it’s a bad story at all, in fact quite the opposite. It’s just that it hasn’t stayed with me or had such a powerful effect compared to some of the rest of the stories in this book so far.

The story is told from the point of view of Catherine, an English lecturer at a university and the wife of a vicar, Michael. In the main crux of the narrative, Catherine is quite fed up and we sense becoming rather disillusioned with her marriage and with her husband as a person. She has become quite used to his “little ways,” and tendencies to help all the waifs and strays that he comes across, as indeed you might think a vicar should. However his latest antic, by taking in a complete stranger into the house (whose attitude to Michael’s kindness begins to ruffle Catherine’s feathers considerably!) has really started to irk her. She begins to remember other times and other instances when Michael annoyed her in this way, she mourns the loss of her old life and career when she was known for much more than being merely “the vicar’s wife,” and by the end of the story, the reader begins to feel that the departure of the American stranger may be just the start of the couples troubles.

Once again, Jon McGregor knocked me sideways with the power of his writing and his characterisation. Not only does he draw such a perfect female character but he builds up his tale in such a slow, methodical fashion that the reader is immediately captivated and fully immersed on the ride until the very end. If I hadn’t read any other stories by Jon McGregor I would be singing this ones praises to the hills, his finesse with language is just extraordinary but to be perfectly honest, I think there are more wonderful stories in this collection that touched me more. It’s still a fantastic piece of writing however that shows off all his talent beautifully and if you enjoy a slow, literary narrative I don’t think you’ll be disappointed if this is the first story that you read by him.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: Books And Roses by Helen Oyeyemi from the collection What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours.