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.

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The Last Letter From Your Lover – Jojo Moyes

Published September 12, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A sophisticated, page-turning double love story spanning forty years-an unforgettable Brief Encounter for our times. 

It is 1960. When Jennifer Stirling wakes up in the hospital, she can remember nothing-not the tragic car accident that put her there, not her husband, not even who she is. She feels like a stranger in her own life until she stumbles upon an impassioned letter, signed simply “B”, asking her to leave her husband.

Years later, in 2003, a journalist named Ellie discovers the same enigmatic letter in a forgotten file in her newspaper’s archives. She becomes obsessed by the story and hopeful that it can resurrect her faltering career. Perhaps if these lovers had a happy ending she will find one to her own complicated love life, too. Ellie’s search will rewrite history and help her see the truth about her own modern romance.

A spellbinding, intoxicating love story with a knockout ending, The Last Letter from Your Lover will appeal to the readers who have made One Day and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society bestsellers.

What did I think?:

In my quest to read everything on one of my favourite authors back-list of works, The Last Letter From Your Lover was next on my agenda and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I had heard that this novel was slightly more romance based than her previous novels and I’ve got to admit, I do tend to be a bit cynical of these kind of books. The romance aspect has to be done “just right,” for me and I find that it’s often a fine line between melting this cold heart of mine or just making me feel slightly sick. Jojo Moyes is one of those magical authors that gets it right every single time and I find her characters so warm and easy to relate to whilst managing to tug a little on my heart-strings, the latter of which is quite difficult to do, believe me!

Like many of her previous novels, the author uses two different time-lines to form a compelling and beautiful narrative. The first (and my favourite) is set in the early sixties and follows our protagonist, Jennifer Stirling who wakes up in hospital after a car accident with amnesia. She can’t even recollect her husband, friends or household staff at first and finds it very difficult to adjust when so many of her memories have completely disappeared. Then she finds a letter addressed to her which begs her to leave her husband, signed only with the letter B. We follow her story as she desperately attempts to recover her memory and piece together the puzzle of firstly, who B is and why it is imperative that she should break up her marriage. The second story is set in the present day and follows another young woman, Ellie who finds the old letters from B in a library and sets on her own mission to learn the story behind the doomed lovers, hoping that it will bring happiness into her own life as a result.

I adore how effective Jojo Moyes is in using dual perspectives and time-lines to tell a story. I have to be honest and say I wasn’t as keen on Ellie’s story although I appreciated why it was important to the novel. However, Jennifer’s story completely grabbed my attention and it was almost with bated breath I would wait for her section to roll around again, just so I could find out what was happening in her life. The love story between Jennifer and B is so touching and I was incredibly moved by her plight, the situation she found herself in post accident and how she managed to build herself up and start demanding answers from her to be frank, poor excuse for a husband. If I had to compare it with some of the authors previous books, I think it stands perfectly as one of her most poignant narratives and by the end, I was just rooting for Jennifer, for B and for everyone to get that wonderful happy ending. As for my rating, the only reason I’ve taken half a star off is that Ellie’s story didn’t compel me as much as I would have hoped – for Jennifer’s story alone, this novel is a solid four stars.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT JOJO MOYES READ: Me Before You – coming soon!

The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

Published September 11, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Somewhere within our crowded sky, a crew of wormhole builders hops from planet to planet, on their way to the job of a lifetime. To the galaxy at large, humanity is a minor species, and one patched-up construction vessel is a mere speck on the starchart. This is an everyday sort of ship, just trying to get from here to there.

But all voyages leave their mark, and even the most ordinary of people have stories worth telling. A young Martian woman, hoping the vastness of space will put some distance between herself and the life she‘s left behind. An alien pilot, navigating life without her own kind. A pacifist captain, awaiting the return of a loved one at war.

Set against a backdrop of curious cultures and distant worlds, this episodic tale weaves together the adventures of nine eclectic characters, each on a journey of their own.

What did I think?:

I’ve put off reading this book for absolutely ages purely because of the hype surrounding it and I was slightly concerned that I wasn’t going to love it as much as everyone else seems to. It was long-listed in 2016 for the Women’s Prize For Fiction, one of my favourite literary prizes and I’ve heard other reviewers whose opinions I totally respect raving about it. So, I bit the bullet and finally did it and am I glad I did! I’ve always been slightly tentative about reading science fiction but after reading the amazing The Sparrow it proved to me that science fiction doesn’t always have to be intimidating, if it’s done in the right way. The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet is an incredible adventure in space with a host of fascinating characters that I instantly fell in love with and whom I feel that I know inside and out, almost as if they weren’t fictional fantasies at all.

The story follows a crew in space on board their ship, The Wayfarer whose purpose it is to tunnel, build and make connections between different parts of the galaxy. They have recently had a new member of staff onto the ship, Rosemary who will play a clerking role alongside the captain, Ashby, the engineering crew Kissy and Jenks, the pilot Sissix, grumpy algae-protector Corbin, the chef and doctor Dr Chef, the ship Artificial Intelligence Lovey and Ohan the navigator. The crew welcome Rosemary into their midst and she quickly becomes part of the family. Then the crew are given an opportunity to make more money with a rather dangerous job near an unstable planet with a potentially hostile alien species. They must pull together and work as a team if they are to complete the mission and maintain their reputation. However, all members of the crew have their own secrets and concerns and not all of them may survive the process in the same shape as when they began.

There’s a multitude of characters in this novel (nine “main” ones in fact)- do not be put off by this, it’s not long at all before you figure out who everyone is and what role they play in the narrative. I honestly don’t think I’ve read a book for a long time where each character is fleshed out so perfectly. Each of them had their own little quirks and foibles and I absolutely loved them for this and, as I mentioned before, felt like I knew them all intimately by the end of the novel. It has the most wonderful mixture of action-packed sequences and slower, more methodical scenes and as I was reading it, I was almost comparing it in my mind to the most expensive and exquisite three course dinner where each course is so delightful it just deserves to be savoured over a longer period of time. One of the best things about this novel was how diverse and unique our protagonists and indeed, the world the author created was. We have a range of different species, sexual preferences, races and ethnic backgrounds living (mostly) in harmony with each other and it was captivating to read about the variety of things that made them special. I would recommend this novel to anybody who is a little bit scared of science fiction and enjoys a terrific character study with a dash of eccentricity. I’ve put the second book in the duology A Closed And Common Orbit on my wishlist already and can’t wait to catch up with this astounding set of characters once more.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

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

American War – Omar El Akkad

Published September 7, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, that unmanned drones fill the sky. And when her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she quickly begins to be shaped by her particular time and place until, finally, through the influence of a mysterious functionary, she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. Telling her story is her nephew, Benjamin Chestnut, born during war – part of the Miraculous Generation – now an old man confronting the dark secret of his past, his family’s role in the conflict and, in particular, that of his aunt, a woman who saved his life while destroying untold others.

What did I think?:

First of all, happy publication day to Omar El Akkad and a huge thank you to the lovely people at Pan Macmillan publishers who were kind enough to send me a copy of this stunning and powerful novel in exchange for an honest review. American War is set in the future yet feels ever so timely, especially with the things happening in the world at the moment and I was completely bowled over by how wonderful both the writing and the plot of the novel is. It’s a gritty, no holds barred account of everything that may occur when a country is at war and at times, it was quite an emotional reading experience.

Our narrator for the story is Benjamin Chestnut who is telling the story of his aunt, Sarat Chestnut and her life after war broke out between the South and North factions of America in 2074, initially over the usage of oil which becomes an illegal commodity. Sarat, her mother, twin sister Dana and older brother Simon are forced to leave their home and become refugees at Camp Patience with hundreds of others. From there, Sarat comes of age, survives a horrific incident that decimates part of her family and comes into contact with a gentleman that becomes quite excited about her potential to exact revenge on the perpetrators that ruined her life. This is the story of how war affects one particular family, how a series of traumatic events can change a person for good and how violence and mistrust can have such devastating consequences for an entire population.

This story is almost epic in its outlook. It looks at the characters from a family over a number of decades who have all been subjected to unbelievable suffering. The prospects of this actually happening are not entirely within the realm of fairy tales – I think this is what makes it all the more frightening and poignant to read. Climate change has obliterated many parts of the country, leaving them underwater and America a shadow of her previous mighty self. With the recent floods from Hurricane Harvey still affecting so many lives it is a terrifying thought that the events of this novel may not be as inconceivable as perhaps once thought. The author also provides us with a fascinating character in his main protagonist, Sarat who is ultimately flawed and commits some heinous acts but still managed to elicit my sympathy due to the hardships and the suffering that she had to face. I’m crossing all my fingers for this novel to do really well, personally I think it’s a phenomenal piece of writing and such an important read and I can’t wait for more people to experience it so I can gush about it even more.

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.