Short Stories

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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Unplugged by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears

Published November 19, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Unplugged all about?:

With references to The Wizard Of Oz, Unplugged follows a young woman who hears voices in her head which leads to dramatic consequences as she chooses to listen.

What did I think?:

It’s purely coincidence that this story rolled around as part of my Short Stories Challenge quite soon after I had posted a review of a novel also compared to The Wizard Of Oz, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead by Charlie Laidlaw. As a previously bona fide fangirl of The Wizard Of Oz I was delighted to read another piece of contemporary fiction with nods to this classic and brilliant story. Having read a few of the tales in this collection now, I knew to expect the unexpected with Dianne Gray and what I got was yet another powerful piece of writing that remains firmly etched in my memory, for all the best reasons.

Unplugged follows our female protagonist, who was adopted at four years of age and had her name changed from Elmira Gulch to Dorothy Gale. Anyone remember who Elmira Gulch was in The Wizard Of Oz? Go to the top of the class if you said The Wicked Witch Of The West. Dorothy has been struggling her whole life with the voice of a witch in her head telling her incredible things about the world and causing her to lose her job at Toto Cut Price Deli. For example, God doesn’t exist and humans were created by viruses and germs purely as a means of transport. She also tells her that cameras are everywhere, watching her every move, making her paranoid and frustrated. Things only get worse when Hickory at the second hand shop refuses to sell her a pair of ruby slippers that the witch in her brain assures her she has to have if she has a chance of returning home to her birth parents:

“I decided it was time for the truth and told Hickory that my real name was Dorothy. I had a witch flying around in my head, I had been adopted at four years of age and I needed the slippers to find my way home. He told me he was the Tin Man and called the police.”

The rest of the story follows Dorothy as she struggles, in vain with the things the witch is telling her to to leading to a run in with the local police and a life-changing incident. It is filled with the most beautiful, poetical language that at times, took my breath away. For example, she talks about the time she visited her Grandpa Gale in hospital:

“He was a big man who had wasted away to a leaf. Death was building a birdcage out of his ribs.”

Simply gorgeous and so evocative! However, this is nothing compared to the poignancy of the ending. Now I’ve mentioned that I know what to expect from Dianne Gray, so you would think I’d be prepared for the way she tends to end her stories? No. Each time I’m astounded by the way she manages to turn things and pull on your emotions so that you see things from a whole new light and this particular ending was horrid, bitter-sweet and unforgettable. Manslaughter And Other Tears is fast becoming one of my favourite short story collections for sure. There’s only been one story so far that I haven’t found quite as fantastic as the others – that was Still Life (although the bar for her work has been set extraordinarily high I have to say!). The author’s use of fairy-tale imagery and the atmosphere she creates when setting her scenes is second to none and I cannot praise her work highly enough.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Wisht by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles.

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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Published November 14, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands all about?:

The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands follows a group of friends who gather to hear spooky tales. The tale for this evening involves a man whom as the title may suggest does not under any circumstance shake hands… but why?

What did I think?:

You must all be bored of me professing my love for Stephen King by now surely? If you haven’t been here before or haven’t heard me gushing on about him before I’ll just say he is without a doubt my all time favourite author. However, I have come to realise over all the years that I’ve read him that at times, I do need to take those rose-tinted glasses off. I don’t love absolutely everything he has ever written and sometimes, I haven’t been as enamoured with one of his short stories as I would have liked but damn, Skeleton Crew has to be one of his finest collections so far.

It opens to a group of friends who are meeting to tell each other frightening stories. One of the men, George Gregson is particularly adept at holding his friends in utter rapture with his tales and that evening, he begins to tell a true story of a man that he professes to have been murdered in the exact same room that they find themselves in just over sixty years prior to this evening. This story involves George and a group of his friends who want to play a hand or two of cards but are lacking another man to make up the numbers. Enter Henry Brower, a friendly enough stranger to the group but with a strange tendency to shy away from anyone shaking his hand or in fact, coming near to touching him at all. We soon find out why exactly Henry fears the touch of anyone else when after a bit of drink, one of George’s friends takes his hand mistakenly to congratulate him on winning a hand. Henry’s reaction is extreme to say the least but it is only when George follows him outside when he flees that he begins to understand Henry’s reasons for keeping away from human touch.

Of course I’m not going to give anything away except to say I really didn’t realise where this story was going, even though it was hinted at merely a few pages in. The reason for Henry Brower’s complete terror of touch comes from an event in his past that continues to haunt his future and gives him little rest, making him almost an outcast from society and completely miserable to boot. To be honest, when the group were playing cards, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit disappointed. It was dull, I didn’t find it interesting and I couldn’t tell where Stephen King was taking the story. If like me, you decide to read this and feel the same, I beg you to please, please read on because as soon as Henry receives that well intentioned touch of a hand, the story explodes and becomes something entirely more horrific and wonderfully compelling. Stephen King often gets a bit of a reputation as a horror writer because of a few novels he has written (not necessarily because of the vast majority of his work) but when he chooses to write something a bit frightening, think there’s very few people in the world that can do it better.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Unplugged by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears.

 

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Moons Of Jupiter by Alice Munro from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Published November 9, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Moons Of Jupiter all about?:

The Moons Of Jupiter follows our protagonist Janet as she visits her father in hospital and comes to terms with the probability of losing him.

What did I think?:

I’m fairly familiar with Alice Munro’s work having read and enjoyed her short story collection, Too Much Happiness a few years ago. However, I often find that a book of short stories by one author has peaks and troughs and there always seem to be some stories that you favour whilst others seem to lack that extra something. It’s perfectly obvious (even to the non-analytical short story reader like myself) that Alice Munro is a talented author and a master of her craft and The Moons Of Jupiter is quite a clever little tale with multiple hidden meanings all revolving around the importance of family and how we re-analyse our own close relationships during times of crisis.

In this short story, our narrator is Janet and she is visiting her father in Toronto General Hospital after he has been told he has a very serious heart condition. The surgeons are willing to operate but make it quite clear to them both that his life expectancy is very much reduced. As well as (or maybe because of) all of this, Janet begins to look deeper into the relationships with her own children, Nichola and Judith which haven’t been plain sailing for one reason or another. After a trip to the planetarium and a heart-to-heart with her father before his operation, Janet begins to put things into perspective and feel grateful for the small moments in life and the love she has for her family.

If you haven’t read any Alice Munro before and you’re looking for something that is quite fast-paced beware, this probably isn’t for you. However, if you enjoy the intricacy of family relationships then this is an enjoyable little read. Personally, I have mixed feelings. I love the sentiment expressed in the story and the writing is obviously that of an author at the top of her game but….(and this is probably going to come out all wrong!), I appreciate a short story that I can get my teeth into, that plays on my mind and I have to think about, and with The Moons Of Jupiter it felt like I had to think too hard to discover what the author was trying to say. I fully admit that after finishing I had to google the story just to make sure I had got the right end of the stick and I had, thank goodness but for a little while, I felt a little bit stupid. I don’t tend to like stories where I have to analyse too much and with this one, it almost felt a little too clever for me and I hate feeling that way! On reflection though, when I had confirmed what the story was trying to say, it did make me look at it in a more positive light and I appreciated all the nuances the author used.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew.

 

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Best New Horror by Joe Hill from the collection 20th Century Ghosts

Published November 5, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Best New Horror all about?:

Best New Horror follows the editor of a horror magazine as he tries to track down the author of a short story he has recently read and loved so that he can publish it in the next edition of his magazine.

What did I think?:

I’m familiar with Joe Hill for three reasons, the first two being the most important – his wonderful novels Heart-Shaped Box and Horns. Thirdly, only three words are necessary – Stephen King’s Son. If you’re a die-hard King fan like I am, surely you’re going to be curious about his son’s writing? I was but put off reading him for so long as I specifically didn’t want to compare him directly to his old man and wanted to enjoy him as a brilliant author in his own right. What better way to enjoy some more Joe Hill than to pop his short story collection, 20th Century Ghosts into my Short Stories Challenge when a slot opened up?

So, after the five star rating that I’ve given his previous two novels, I have to admit my expectations were sky high. Overall, I wasn’t disappointed by the first story, Best New Horror although it didn’t initially clamour for my attention like his novels have done. Our main protagonist, Eddie Carroll receives a letter in the post one day from a friend with a short story that he simply has to read, the suggestion being that he could publish it in the next issue of his magazine, Best New Horror. Eddie sits down to read the short story by Peter Kilrue, entitled “Buttonboy,” and although the subject matter is distressing, disturbing and beyond disgusting he can’t help but be entranced by what the author has to say. He is determined to publish the story but wants to contact the author first so sets off on a journey to track him down, becoming embroiled in a horrific situation that encompasses what “Best New Horror,” might actually mean.

This story felt quite different to other pieces of short fiction I’ve enjoyed in the past. For one thing, it’s a story within a story which felt quite unique and exciting. The author actually transcribes the “Buttonboy” story for us as Eddie reads it so we can find out as a reader exactly what makes it such a traumatic but interesting reading experience. It’s every bit as awful as Eddie’s friend has suggested it is, I found the use of buttons especially gruesome and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it, but it is how Joe Hill manages the story afterwards that is the most fascinating part. En route to find and connect with Peter, Eddie ends up in a horror story of his very own and it almost feels like one of those classic horror films where your inner self is screaming to the person on screen: “Don’t go in there! Don’t do that! Get away!” and I loved the eerie sentiment that the author brought to the situation and the characters. It’s not a story for everyone, the “Buttonboy” story might offend a few people if you’re sensitive to the horror genre but I think it was quite a fun look at horror turned on its head and what we classically find frightening in the genre.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Moons Of Jupiter by Alice Munro from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night.

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Part Five

Published November 5, 2017 by bibliobeth

Image from: http://www.creativindie.com/how-to-make-money-by-publishing-and-selling-short-stories-and-short-books-on-amazon/

Hello everyone and welcome to the fifth part of my Short Stories Challenge in 2017. My fourth part was quite like the third, up and down. I had a huge disappointment with a short story by Daphne du Maurier which was Monte Verità but I also got some lovely surprises in the form of The House On The Hill by Kate Mosse and The Man In The Ditch by Lisa Tuttle. Here’s what I’ll be reading in the next few months:

Best New Horror by Joe Hill from the collection 20th Century Ghosts.

The Moons Of Jupiter by Alice Munro from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night.

The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew.

Unplugged by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears.

Wisht by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles.

The Man From Mars by Margaret Atwood from the collection The Story: Love, Loss & The Lives Of Women.

Seeing Double by Sara Maitland from the collection The New Uncanny: Tales Of Unease edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page.

The Adventure Of The Beryl Coronet by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes.

Freaks: A Rizzoli & Isles Short Story by Tess Gerritsen (stand-alone).

High House by Rosy Thornton from the collection Sandlands.

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – A Place For Violence by Kevin Wignall from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Volume 7

Published October 28, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s A Place For Violence all about?:

A Place For Violence follows our male protagonist on an apparent holiday in Bali but the reasons why he is there are a lot deeper than we are first led to believe.

What did I think?:

The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime has been a really interesting reading experience as part of my Short Stories Challenge. Generally, I love a collection that hosts so many different authors, many of whom I had never heard of before and it has been fascinating sampling the variety of their writing styles. Of course, as with most collections that involve such an array of authors there are going to be some stories you don’t get on as well with but so far, I’ve always looked forward to the next story in the collection. Kevin Wignall was another author that I hadn’t come across previously and it was a pleasure to experience his work for the first time. The only problem with talking about this story, A Place For Violence is that I really can’t say too much about it as to do that would give far too much away!

What can I say? Our protagonist, Dan Borowski is on a break in Bali but from the very beginning of the story, the reader senses that he might either have a big secret he isn’t telling us or that he is on the holiday for reasons other than rest and relaxation. He comes into contact with a young man called Luke Williams who is wheelchair bound following a horrific accident where he was hit by a car driven by an erratic and selfish man that has never been charged for his offence. Dan and Luke also come into contact with another resident of the hotel that they are staying in, Brian Tully – a despicable bully of a man on holiday with his cowed wife and two children and determined to make as much fuss and as much of a nuisance of himself as possible.

A Place For Violence is shorter than your average short story and it isn’t long before things kick off, tempers ignite, justice is served and revenge is sweet. But you may have guessed from the title and the fact that this is crime fiction, that this wasn’t necessarily going to be the happiest or most joyful of tales! Overall, I did enjoy this, I think Kevin Wignall has written a story that does everything it says on the tin. It has interesting characters that you are either rooting for or loving to hate, and an eye popper of an ending that makes you wonder what would happen next if the author had chosen to write on. It also cleverly dulls the lines between essentially what makes a man “good,” and what makes a man “bad,” and, I have to admit, tested my morals slightly as I struggled with my feelings towards certain characters. I’d definitely be interested to read more of this author’s work in the future.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: Best New Horror by Joe Hill from the collection 20th Century Ghosts.

 

Blog Tour – Stories For Homes Volume Two – edited by Debi Alper and Sally Swingewood

Published October 6, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

“Stories give our imaginations a home. It’s good to see them helping to give people shelter in the real world, too…”
– Joanne Harris, author of ‘Chocolat’

“A cornucopia of witty, tragic, elegant, raw, heart-warming and terrifying stories that take the idea of Home, play with it as only truly talented writers can, and all to help those who have no home at all.”
– Emma Darwin, author of ‘The Mathematics of Love’

A home is something most of us have the luxury of taking for granted but for many it is a grim struggle to obtain what should be a basic necessity. Stories for Homes is a collection of witty, poignant, funny and heartbreaking short stories by fifty five authors, both established and emerging, reflecting the connection between the immediacy of housing crisis and the stories people tell about their lives around and within it. Volume Two of the anthology includes stories, poems and flash fiction and again all proceeds will be donated to Shelter, the charity for housing and homelessness.

What did I think?:

When the lovely Faye asked me to be part of a blog tour for Stories For Homes Volume Two, a collection of stories, poetry and flash fiction from fifty five published and non-published authors, I jumped at the chance. This is mainly because proceeds from the sale of each e-book go directly to the charity Shelter that helps the homeless and that this particular volume was released in response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy in London recently. It is dedicated to all the victims and the survivors, the exact death toll of which still remains unknown. I suffer with a chronic illness and a lot of the time have trouble sleeping so I was actually watching the news as it all unfolded in the early hours of the morning and it left me both horrified and completely saddened, especially as it’s clearly something that could have been prevented.

In Stories For Homes Volume Two we get a wonderful mixture of stories that all have the central theme running through them of having a home to come back to. Whether the protagonist(s) in the tale are away from home and are missing it or it might be a home that they make for themselves and learn to love, each story bounces off the page with poignancy and a great deal of heart. I honestly don’t believe there is a bad story in the collection. Obviously there were some I liked more that others and a few that had an incredibly profound effect on me but each story stood on its own quite vividly and I truly believe there is something here for everyone.

Personal favourites had to be The Tiger Who Came Back To Apologise by Jan Carson which was quirky but brilliantly written and follows the reaction of a young single mother as a man from a previous relationship knocks on her door one day. There was also Siamese by Poppy O’Neill, a fascinating story of a possibly dystopian world where a pair of conjoined twins find a way to deal with the hordes of people who pay money to stare through the window of their house and watch them at their daily tasks. Then there was the thought provoking poem, It Was Only A Patch On The Wall by Andy Leach which explores how easy it can be for such a little thing to turn into something that may cost you your livelihood and home.

I almost wish I had taken notes on each story as I made my way through the collection, there’s so much more I could say and infinitely more stories I could mention, especially the few that cover the immigration experience that I have to admit, broke my heart a little bit. If you enjoy short stories or even fancy giving them a try for the first time, there are not many collections I can recommend higher than Stories For Homes, Volume Two with such an eclectic mix of authors and diverse subjects to enjoy, I guarantee you’ll find at least one story that will move you in some way. Plus, you’ll be donating money to a very special cause – what could be better?

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

imagesCAF9JG4S

Summary:

Published and unpublished writers come together to create an anthology of stories about what ‘home’ means.

55 writers are included in a second charity anthology that brings issues around housing, poverty and crisis to life through the power of storytelling. Volume One of the Stories for Homes Project raised over £3K for housing charity Shelter and raised awareness of housing issues. Volume Two of the anthology includes stories, poems and flash fiction and again all proceeds will be donated to the charity.

Sally Swingewood, who also edited the collections, commented:

“The Stories for Homes collections would not be possible without the generosity of a huge number of volunteers. By working together we have produced a book which will not only delight but also help address one of the biggest humanitarian crises facing modern society. In a world where migration, identity and belonging are in the news daily we have a duty to help everyone have a home in which they feel safe and settled. Stories for Homes is one way we can be part of the solution”

Further Stories

A dedicated website includes a further collection of flash fiction and poetry, real life experiences from people who have had housing problems or have experienced homelessness, as well as a series of articles from a professional working with homeless people.

http://www.storiesforhomes.wordpress.com

Thank you once again to Faye for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, it’s been an absolute honour to take part and to Shelter Charity for their amazing work. Stories For Homes Volume Two was published on 28th September 2017 as an e-book and is available from all good book retailers now. Why not check out some of the other stops on the tour?

Amazon UK Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stories-Homes-Two-Jacqueline-Ward-ebook/dp/B075W8H8QT/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1506875151&sr=8-1&keywords=stories+for+homes+2