Short Stories

All posts in the Short Stories category

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The House On The Hill by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales.

Published September 16, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The House On The Hill all about?:

Set in the 1920’s, this is the story of a young woman who goes to visit her cousin in the countryside and her experiences with a house on the estate that has a strange light burning in one of its windows.

What did I think?:

When I first got my hands on this short story collection I was quite excited. Kate Mosse is a great British author and I have enjoyed her novels in the past but what I love most about her writing is when she turns things a little bit darker, eerie and Gothic. The name of this collection perfectly describes the stories within: “haunting tales,” that are all a little mysterious and unsettling in their execution. I’ve enjoyed the ones I’ve read so far but haven’t been overly blown away – until now. The House On The Hill was a wonderful short story and a perfect example of Kate Mosse’s writing at its absolute finest. It reminded me a lot of Daphne du Maurier and was the ideal story to curl up with when the weather is turning a little bit colder as we head into Autumn.

Our female protagonist is actually called Daphne (strange coincidence?) and when it begins, she is staying for a weekend with her cousin Teddy, at a house he has leased for a party called Dean Hall. We get the sense that Daphne is a little fragile, she mentions a husband called Douglas who has recently left her but we don’t learn too much about the circumstances of this until much later on in the narrative. Daphne is instantly attracted both to a large dolls house in the property that is exquisite in its detail, down to the intricate furniture and folded letter in the study and to another much larger actual house on the estate. She notices the house on her first night when she seems to see a light in one of the windows which is extinguished almost as soon as she begins watching. It is not until after the party that night when she is woken up suddenly by a strange light in the sky and when she looks outside, the house on the hill appears to be burning. It is now that the story really ramps up a gear and we learn much more about the mysterious house, its connection with the dolls house in Dean Hall and about Daphne herself and what she has had to suffer in her past.

Kate Mosse has really outdone herself with this story. I love being pleasantly surprised, especially by a short story as there really isn’t that much time to engage with the reader in comparison with a longer novel. The author has pulled it off flawlessly and the unexpected nature of what happens in the second half of the tale was not only delightful to read but utterly compelling and brilliant. I always appreciate a darker, more ghostly edge to a story and the atmosphere that was created in The House On The Hill was almost magical and definitely transported me to a different time and place. This is easily my favourite story in the collection so far and I’m now highly anticipating the ones to come – although they’ve got quite a lot to live up to now!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Man In The Ditch by Lisa Tuttle from the collection A Book Of Horrors.

Advertisements

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Go Deep by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Published September 13, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Go Deep all about?:

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

Growing up dirt poor, Charlie Lam worked his ass off to make something of himself, no thanks to his deadbeat father or his long-suffering mother. And now a lot of people depend on Charlie: by his last count, sixty-eight employees at his Atlanta auto dealership, eleven shiftless brothers and sisters, an ungrateful wife, a spoiled daughter, a shameless girlfriend. Who could really blame him for wanting a little extra?

The arrangement is simple: Charlie picks up a suit from the dry cleaner’s. In the suit pocket is the name of a very important man. The next day, that man walks into the dealership, drives out in a new car, and Charlie gets a fat envelope full of cash. Everyone’s happy. No one gets hurt. So long as Charlie doesn’t cross his business partner. But with one twist of a knife, the unthinkable happens. And suddenly Charlie is in deeper trouble than he could have possibly imagined.

What did I think?:

Just when I thought Karin Slaughter couldn’t get any more warped and twisted, Go Deep comes along. Ahem, well…I think the name of the novella speaks for itself doesn’t it? Do I really have to go into full, gory detail? I’ll try and keep it relatively clean. Being one of my all time favourite authors, I have high expectations when I come to read Karin’s work, whether it is a novella or one of her full length novels and am rarely disappointed. So why am I still processing how I feel about this particular story? It’s not that it wasn’t compelling, it certainly was and the author definitely has the gift of the shock factor and making you feel slightly uncomfortable but for some reason, I just can’t rate it as high as I have her previous novellas. It wasn’t that it was sexually explicit, it wasn’t the characters – I can’t explain it, something just felt a bit too strange for me personally and I usually love a story with a bit of an edge.

Our protagonist is a middle-aged man called Charlie Lam who hasn’t had the best start in life with a troubled family originating from a very impoverished background. He has managed to change his life around and now owns a successful car company and looks after all his siblings (even though they try to take advantage of him emotionally and financially on a number of occasions). You’d think a character like this sounds all kinds of lovely, right? Wrong. Charlie is a bit of a wrong ‘un. He associates with mob bosses, does dodgy deals and worse of all is a disgusting misogynistic pig. He has both a wife, daughter and girlfriend all of whom he treats with equal derision and takes pleasure in embarrassing women he meets through work on a daily basis. However, when Charlie has a run in (quite literally, using his car) with a homeless man, his life is turned upside down and he may never be the same man again.

Ugh, Charlie as a character really was hideous. I did love to hate him at points and Karin Slaughter did a marvellous job of creating such an unlikeable, despicable individual. Yet (as with many of the authors works) there are multiple twists in the tale that you will not see coming and by the end, you might even end up sympathising with Charlie as he ends up in quite a horrific situation. I can only applaud the author for making me feel this way, seriously, I really did hate this guy at the beginning of the novella! There are strange, almost mystical things going on that give Charlie a taste of his own medicine and whilst you may think that he deserves it, the situations he is placed in are pretty brutal and quite graphic – again, perhaps not one for the easily offended. Once again, she does pull a blinder of an ending and despite my misgivings about the story in general, I have to admit to being desperate to know what would happen next. Hmm, maybe I did enjoy this novella more than I let on?!

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: The House On The Hill by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales.

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Little Radish by Angela Slatter from the collection Sourdough And Other Stories

Published September 10, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Little Radish all about?:

Little Radish is Angela Slatter’s take on the classic fairy tale Rapunzel – with a bit of a twist!

What did I think?:

If you’re a regular visitor to my blog (and by the way thank you, you’re amazing if you are!), you might remember that I tend to bang on about how much I love a story with a bit of a fairy-tale/magical realism slant. So far, the stories in Sourdough And Other Stories have absolutely blown me away. They are a beautiful blend of fantasy, darkness and escapism and have that undeniable quality that only the best fairy-tales have. I’m thinking of the Brothers Grimm stories here which possess that element of the dark side that is so delicious yet eerie to experience as a reader. Little Radish is another fantastic example of a tale with a bit of bite where good things don’t necessarily happen to our protagonist but they go on such a journey through their trials and tribulations.

Angela Slatter has taken the well-loved story of Rapunzel and given it a whole new lease of life. In Little Radish, our heroine is obsessed with finding a tower that she dreams of constantly. In comparison to the original tale where she is imprisoned against her will, Rapunzel is desperate to escape the noise and chaos of her family life, find her dream tower and live in utter silence and tranquillity. She happens upon a wise woman in the woods one day who tells her of such a tower that can be made invisible to the human eye if the resident of the tower is aware of the correct spell to use. Rapunzel is overjoyed and immediately sets off to find the tower and make her dream come true. There is a prince as well in this story that finds Rapunzel in her tower and begins a relationship with her. However, the nature of their relationship and what results from their liaisons is a lot more complicated and brutal than expected.

I have to admit, I wasn’t sure when I first started this story that I was going to like it. As always, the writing is gorgeous and I adore the magical element, as I was anticipating, but I wasn’t very sure about the direction in which the author was taking it. This feeling did not last for long however when I discovered exactly where it was going and now believe it to be one of the most memorable interpretations of the classic fairy tale that I’ve ever come across. I loved how Angela Slatter made her Rapunzel a lot more independent, strong-willed, inevitably flawed and hence more human than any other fairy tale princess we might read about. That ending as well – just wow. It broke my heart and put it together again.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Go Deep by Karin Slaughter (stand alone).

Manipulated Lives – H.A. Leuschel

Published September 8, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Five stories – Five Lives.
Have you ever felt confused or at a loss for words in front of a spouse, colleague or parent, to the extent that you have felt inadequate or, worse, a failure? Do you ever wonder why someone close to you seems to endure humiliation without resistance?
Manipulators are everywhere. At first these devious and calculating people can be hard to spot, because that is their way. They are often masters of disguise: witty, disarming, even charming in public – tricks to snare their prey – but then they revert to their true self of being controlling and angry in private. Their main aim: to dominate and use others to satisfy their needs, with a complete lack of compassion and empathy for their victim.
In this collection of short novellas, you meet people like you and me, intent on living happy lives, yet each of them, in one way or another, is caught up and damaged by a manipulative individual. First you meet a manipulator himself, trying to make sense of his irreversible incarceration. Next, there is Tess, whose past is haunted by a wrong decision, then young, successful and well balanced Sophie, who is drawn into the life of a little boy and his troubled father. Next, there is teenage Holly, who is intent on making a better life for herself and finally Lisa, who has to face a parent’s biggest regret. All stories highlight to what extent abusive manipulation can distort lives and threaten our very feeling of self-worth.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to the author Helene Leuschel for providing me with a copy of her series of novellas, Manipulated Lives in exchange for an honest review. I have read some fantastic reviews of this collection around the blogosphere and was really excited to discover the stories for myself. I was slightly concerned that the subject matter would be too difficult for me to read about (having been a victim of emotional manipulation in the past) but in fact, it was quite a cathartic reading experience and I appreciated the way in which the author presented all the possible guises of a narcissistic/manipulative personality.

Manipulated Lives is a collection of five different novellas, all involving a character that has been manipulated in some manner. Covering both sexes, differing sexual preferences and across a broad age range this versatile collection of stories includes an old woman called Tess who almost lost her family because of the manipulation of her lover, a coming of age story about a teenage girl called Holly who is falling in love for the first time with entirely the wrong sort of boy, a woman called Lisa who realises (perhaps, too late?) the type of son that she has raised and the story of Sophie who begins a relationship with a man and his son only for things to become incredibly intense very quickly. My favourite story in the collection has to be The Narcissist where we get a fascinating insight into the personality of an expert manipulator as we learn more about his life and how he ended up in the hospital bed where he now finds himself, confused and completely alone.

Normally when you read a short story/novella collection, there are those stories that you don’t necessarily warm to that much but I can definitely say, hand on heart, this wasn’t the case with Helene’s collection. I may have liked some of the tales slightly more than others but there wasn’t one story in the bunch that I disliked, a rare thing indeed and proof of the author’s wonderful ability for story-telling. Some of the things she wrote, especially when she was describing the personality of a manipulative individual were so spot on I found myself nodding along, instantly transported back to the past when I had the misfortune to be involved with such a person but the good luck to find a way out of it. I loved the variety of characters and situations that were explored and found it so easy to read this collection in one sitting, instantly compelled to read “just one more story,” until the collection was complete. If you’re looking for a gripping read with a psychological edge that can be enjoyed bit by bit or all in one go, I highly recommend Helene Leuschel’s writing.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Murders In The Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe from the collection The Best Short Stories Of Edgar Allan Poe.

Published September 6, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Murders In The Rue Morgue all about?:

C. Auguste Dupin is a man in Paris who solves the mysterious brutal murder of two women. Numerous witnesses heard a suspect, though no one agrees on what language was spoken. At the murder scene, Dupin finds a hair that does not appear to be human.

What did I think?:

I approached this short story with slight trepidation – I’m afraid I didn’t have a brilliant experience with the first story in this collection, The Gold-Bug and I have actually read The Murders In The Rue Morgue before, many years ago and don’t have particularly fond memories of it either. On reading it for the second time I’ve found that I can appreciate some aspects of Poe’s writing and I can agree that the entire mystery behind the murders and unmasking of the murderer is intriguing enough but I can’t seem to get past some parts of the narrative which really annoy me. I find it far too detailed (and hence, dull) for my liking and think in some instances, certain parts of it are wholly unnecessary.

The story involves two men – Dupin and his unnamed friend whom in the main part of the story, are investigating two brutal murders that happened on the Rue Morgue in Paris and are completely foxing the authorities. The two women killed are mother and daughter and there appears to be no apparent motive for the crime. In fact, 4000 francs of the women’s money has been left behind in the room where they were killed so robbery is highly unlikely. There are a few other strange occurrences in this investigation – namely the sheer violence that the perpetrator used to commit the crime. The daughter’s body appears to have been throttled to death and then pushed up a chimney with immense force and the mother’s body has been viciously mutilated and practically decapitated. The Paris police are stumped and although they have arrested a man in connection with the murders, Dupin proves them wrong when a curious clump of hair is found in the hands of Madame L’Espanaye’s corpse.

I’ll start with the negative aspects of this story because I was pleased to discover on my second reading that there were some positive points to be taken! First of all, at the beginning of the story, our narrator goes on and on about the analytical mind and describes a walk he takes with his friend Dupin which surprises him when Dupin manages to figure out exactly what he has been thinking. Although this might set up the story and describe how Dupin unravels the mystery of the Rue Morgue murders I really did think it was unnecessary and rather tedious. If it hadn’t been for knowing how the story was going to pan out having read it years ago, this may have been the point where I gave up and just put the book down. However, the plot does get a lot better when Dupin takes us through what happened the night of the murders and then eventually, the identity of the true murderer which is a bit unique to say the least! Again, I did find things were analysed in much more detail than was necessary….is an entire page about a nail really that important to the plot for example? However, I am giving it a higher rating than I might normally purely because I found the mystery incredibly interesting in itself (although I have to say, it’s no Sherlock Holmes!) and Poe certainly doesn’t shy away from the more grisly components of a story.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

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

 

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Monte Verità by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Birds And Other Stories.

Published September 1, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Monte Verità all about?:

The second story in Daphne du Maurier’s collection focuses on a mysterious mountain cult who are promised immortality but there is a price to pay.

What did I think?:

Oh my goodness, that was a slog and a half. Let’s get this straight, Daphne du Maurier is one of my all time favourite authors but with Monte Verità, she might have just proved to me that you’re not necessarily going to love everything that your favourite author writes! The second story in this collection is more like a novella, it’s about sixty pages long and, to be honest, I could feel every single one of those pages dragging along. It started off promisingly enough and I was quite excited to see where the author was going to take it but I was sorely disappointed by the end. It felt more like an epic saga of a story – which, I would normally be well up for but something just didn’t sit right with me. Perhaps it was the length, perhaps it was a bit too airy-fairy for me who can say? All I do know is that I was quite relieved when I (eventually) came to the end.

There is a lot going on in this story, a huge amount and I don’t want to go into the plot too much for fear of my review turning into as much of an rigmarole as the story itself! Basically, it involves a strange mountain in Europe (we are not told exactly where) called Monte Verità that hosts on its very summit, a perplexing cult that the surrounding villages are terrified of. This is because once their daughters hit the age of thirteen they have the potential to be “called” to the mountain where they are never seen again.

The narrative follows our unnamed narrator, his friend Victor and his new wife Anna and their dealings with the mountain. Anna has always seemed to have a certain kind of stillness, serenity and restlessness, almost like she is continually looking for something. Well, when she deigns to climb Monte Verità with her keen mountaineer husband Victor, she finds out exactly what she is looking for and that is to join the cult at the summit. The story follows our narrator as he listens to what has happened from Victor whom in the middle of a nervous breakdown and then our narrator attempts to ascend the mountain and get some answers for himself.

Sounds brilliant right? Just the sort of intriguing premise to pull you in? Not for me, unfortunately. I was fascinated at the start mind you, and was thoroughly enjoying it until Anna went up the mountain. After that, everything just fell slightly flat for me. I don’t think we found out enough about the people who lived at the summit i.e. how they lived, what they believed in and the secret of their apparent immortality and the story-line in general from this point just got slightly wishy-washy and vague which irritated me to no end! I’m not sure what I was expecting when I first starting reading the story but I certainly didn’t get it and am quite surprised about this as I think it had the potential to be taken in a more darker direction which may have swayed my opinion to a more positive review. I’m sure there’s people out there that would still love this story, this is simply my personal opinion but Daphne, it wasn’t one of your best!

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

 

 

 

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Murders In The Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe from the collection The Best Short Stories Of Edgar Allan Poe.

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Free Fruit For Young Widows by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

Published August 29, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Free Fruit For Young Widows all about?:

In Free Fruit For Young Widows, a father is telling his son the reasons why he is able to forgive a former colleague’s murderous rampage during the war.

What did I think?:

I’m not going to lie, some of the stories in this collection have been very up and down for me. The title story – What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank  was wonderful and I had high hopes for the collection then a couple of the others were just “okay.” However, Nathan Englander has chosen to end this collection with a powerful, hugely emotional short story that has made me look at his writing in a whole different way. Although fairly short, it packs an almighty punch and for me, made for some very uncomfortable reading moments, mainly because of the subject matter which greatly affected me being a pacifist and vehemently against war. However, anyone who knows me well will understand that I love fiction that challenges my own views as a reader and evokes an emotion within me, whether negative or positive and I adore when an author is able to do that to me.

Free Fruits for Young Widows is about a father and son – Shimmy and Etgar who own a fruit and vegetable stand in Jerusalem. Shimmy often gives free fruit to war widows as a matter of respect and honour but he also does the same for an old soldier colleague of his, Professor Tendler. After finding out more about Tendler, Shimmy’s son Etgar is aghast that his father would give him free fruit at all. You see, while his father was at war, Tendler brutally and without hesitation killed four soldiers while they were sitting having their lunch. Shimmy asks why he would do such a thing – why not just take them prisoner? In return, Tendler beats Shimmy violently, permanently altering the shape of his face. Etgar cannot help but despise Tendler for what he did to his father but then Shimmy proceeds to explain why exactly Tendler has his forgiveness and why he continues to give him free fruit on a regular basis. It’s some story, let me tell you!

Of course I’m not going to go into the reasons why Tendler is given a reprieve for his previously horrific behaviour during the war but if you’re at all intrigued I would definitely urge you to seek this little story out. Although it did not change my opinions about killing or war in the slightest it opened my eyes onto what young men were exposed to during the atrocities of battle. In fact, it might have even solidified my opinions about war and about how evil I find it to be. I may not have necessarily agreed with Tendler’s ways of dealing with a situation, especially at one point in the narrative (which was truly gut-wrenching) but I certainly sympathised with the things that he must have seen while serving in the army during a period of history I often wish could be completely erased and have never happened at all.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

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