A Book of Horrors

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Short Stories Challenge 2018 – Part Three

Published October 23, 2018 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to my third instalment of what I’ll be reading short story wise for the rest of this year. I mentioned in my Short Stories Challenge Part Two all the way back in April that I was becoming quite disillusioned with short stories. I had read a few that I hadn’t connected as well with as others and it was becoming less enjoyable to read them. At the moment, I’m feeling pretty much the same. I have read some great short stories since April including Set-Up by Dianne Gray and The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter however I’ve also read a couple where I didn’t get on so well with them i.e. The Coincidence Of The Arts by Martin Amis and Four Hundred Rabbits by Simon Levack. I understand that I’m not going to enjoy every single short story that I come across but I’m hoping for great things this time around. At this moment in time, I should be on Part Four of my Short Stories Challenge and I’m only on Part Three. This is because I’m just not feeling motivated to pick up a short story each week like I had planned to do. Ah well, fingers crossed for these!

Ringing Night by Rosy Thornton from the collection Sandlands.

Safe Passage by Ramona Ausubel from the collection A Guide To Being Born.

The Chicken And The Egg by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You.

“Sorry” Doesn’t Sweeten Her Tea by Helen Oyeyemi from the collection What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours.

The Little Photographer by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Birds And Other Stories.

The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allan Poe from the collection The Best Short Stories Of Edgar Allan Poe.

The Navigator by Angela Slatter from the collection Sourdough And Other Stories.

The Small Hand by Susan Hill (stand-alone).

Sainte-Thérèse by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales.

Sad, Dark Thing by Michael Marshall Smith from the collection A Book Of Horrors.

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Short Stories Challenge 2018 – A Child’s Problem by Reggie Oliver from the collection A Book Of Horrors.

Published March 14, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s A Child’s Problem all about?:

A Child’s Problem focuses on a precocious young boy who is forced to go and live with his rich uncle and undergoes a rather haunting experience in his efforts to try and get to know his uncle a little better.

What did I think?:

Reggie Oliver is a well-respected British playwright, biographer and writer of ghost stories and has received numerous nominations for World Fantasy, British Fantasy, Stoker, International Horror Guild and the Shirley Jackson awards. Due to these numerous accolades, I found myself quite excited to discover his work, having never come across him in the past so a short story seemed the perfect place to begin. Now I’ve finished it and had some time to mull over it, I find myself in two minds about the story itself. On the one hand, it’s obvious the author can write and he’s excellent at creating an atmospheric narrative that makes you want to keep on reading but for some reason, this story just didn’t have enough bite for me. There was plenty of potential of course, but the direction it ended up taking just left me feeling slightly deflated.

A Child’s Problem follows a young boy, George who at nine years old is told that he must now live with his wealthy Uncle Augustus whilst his parents decamp to India for a while for his father’s work. At first, this seems like a big adventure for George, the house and grounds are large and there is plenty of opportunity for exploring however his Uncle is a difficult, rather sullen character who seems to have regretted agreeing to take George under his wing. On the interactions that they do have, he tries to get rid of him as soon as possible by giving him various quests around the property and puzzles to solve so that he can have a bit of peace. The puzzles that Augustus gives him however are a lot more sinister than first meets the eye and point to a dreadful history that leads George very quickly to be in terrible danger himself. As well as this, George is starting to see strange, shadowy figures under an old oak tree at the front of the house and he starts to wonder about the secrets that his Uncle Augustus believes he will keep hidden.

Interesting premise right? I was certainly intrigued and the writing was assured and captivating to read throughout the narrative. I was quite surprised that it was a bit longer than I was expecting and perhaps it suffered a bit for this length as about two-thirds of the way into it, unfortunately I began to lose interest. There are a host of unlikeable characters to get to grips with, which I always enjoy in a story but for some reason, even when some are in mortal danger, I still didn’t connect with them as much as I would have liked. Reggie Oliver certainly has a gift for writing eerie settings and some of the scenes, in particular when George finds the family tombs are quite chilling but sadly, by the end of the story, I just didn’t feel like I understood properly what it was all about and why exactly everything played out the way it did. This is just my personal opinion, however and I’m sure other readers would love it for the quality of the writing alone.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: At The Mountain Of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft.

 

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Man In The Ditch by Lisa Tuttle from the collection A Book Of Horrors.

Published September 27, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Man In The Ditch all about?:

The Man In The Ditch tells the story of a shaky relationship between a husband and wife and how their relationship becomes even more fragile when the wife sees what she thinks is a body in a ditch.

What did I think?:

I went into this short story with little or no expectations at all. I hadn’t heard of the author, Lisa Tuttle before now although after a little research, I understand she is quite a prolific science fiction, fantasy and horror writer with more than a dozen novels, seven short story collections, some non-fiction and a reference book on feminism to her name. Well, after the unsettling short story that I have just read from her, I’ll certainly be checking out more of her work. The Man In The Ditch was slow to start but gradually built up the tension in such an accomplished way until the hideous climax of the tale which still continues to haunt me hours after reading it.

The Man In The Ditch is primarily the story of a relationship – between Linzi and her husband Jay /J.D. They are in the middle of moving out into the countryside, building their own property and trying to have a baby together. On the first drive to their new house, Linzi spots what she thinks is a corpse in a ditch near to their property. Her husband doesn’t seem to be concerned at all and dismisses her fears as being “all in her head.” However, when they eventually move into the house, Linzi is unable to settle. She becomes convinced that she is being watched with malicious intent by someone (or something) and is terrified to be left on her own. Linzi and J.D. already have a tenuous relationship due to an incident which happened in the past that J.D. still appears to hold over his wife’s head and we just know as a reader from the atmospheric scenes that Lisa Tuttle creates that things could end very badly for this damaged couple.

When I first started this story, I definitely wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I did and this is, in part, because of the way the author structures the narrative, revealing certain aspects of the couples lives ever so slowly and carefully and then making us feel like we’ve been hit with a rather blunt object as she presents the “final reveal,” in a matter of just a few paragraphs at the end. I finished this short story feeling quite breathless, a little bit scared and disturbed but one hundred percent thrilled and satisfied by the direction that she had chosen to take it. Not only was this a supreme example of great horror writing, I also felt like it was a terrific character study and by the end, I felt like I knew Linzi, J.D. and the secrets of their relationship but was incredibly hungry to know and understand more about them. In this way, it could almost have worked as a novel as they were such fascinating characters and I also thought Linzi’s mother had a hell of a lot more to say that I would have been intrigued to hear. Fantastic writing style and THAT ending means this will be an author I’ll be coming back to again in the near future.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: That Shadow Out Of Time by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft.

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Part Four

Published August 26, 2017 by bibliobeth

Image from: https://thereadersroom.org/2015/08/07/book-worms-life-in-books-short-stories/

Hello everyone and welcome to the fourth part of my Short Stories Challenge 2017. I’ve had quick a rocky road in Part Three – there were quite a few short stories that I was disappointed in, namely Possum by Matthew Holness and An Anxious Man by James Lasdun. However I did read Word Processor Of The Gods by Stephen King which was fantastic (the King hardly ever disappoints!). Onwards and upwards and hoping for better things in Part Four.

Vessel by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You.

Free Fruit For Young Widows by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank.

Monte Verità by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Birds And Other Stories.

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

Little Radish by Angela Slatter from the collection Sourdough And Other Stories.

Go Deep by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone).

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

The Man In The Ditch by Lisa Tuttle from the collection A Book Of Horrors.

The Shadow Out Of Time by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft.

A Place For Violence by Kevin Wignall from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Volume 7

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Alice Through The Plastic Sheet by Robert Shearman from the collection A Book Of Horrors

Published June 15, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Alice Through The Plastic Sheet all about?:

Alan and Alice have problem neighbours – they play the music too loud, they leave rubbish in the garden, they’re plastic and inhuman.

What did I think?:

Sigh. You know when you have high hopes for a story and go in feeling all excited just to feel bitterly disappointed at the end? This was the case with Alice Through The Plastic Sheet for me. From an author that I haven’t come across before with such a plethora of awards to his name (The World Fantasy Award, The British Fantasy Award, The Shirley Jackson Award…) I was expecting great things and was, unfortunately completely let down.

It’s the story of Alan and Alice, a married couple with a young son that when the story opens, seem to have a sedate, peaceful sort of life with seemingly perfect neighbours, Barbara and Eric living alongside them. Then after her husband’s death, Barbara puts the house up for sale and leaves the area, leaving Alan and Alice rather concerned about what neighbours they may be getting as replacements. They are right to feel tentative as when the new neighbours eventually move in their lives become hell on earth. Loud Christmas music is played at random points during the day and night, their dog barks constantly and viciously but when Alan attempts to go round and address the situation, he finds that their new neighbours aren’t at all what he expected. After this, their lives start spiralling out of control. Alan has troubles at work, their son becomes obnoxious and rude, their dog becomes sick with the stress of it all and his relationship with Alice starts to crumble. Are the new neighbours responsible for everything that is occurring? Or were the shaky foundations that their family is based on always fragile and liable to collapse?

Okay, positive things about this story (Yes, there are some!). I found that I absolutely had to read to the end. It was intriguing and I really couldn’t figure out what was going on so I was determined to finish it. You might know that I love a story with a bit of a quirky edge and this certainly has quirkiness – in bucket loads but I wonder was it too peculiar even for the likes of me? I think I understand what the author was trying to do by exploring relationships on the brink, the thin line between insanity and sanity and how easily you can be toppled into madness and also the aspect of the unknown, the things that make you feel uneasy but you can’t put your finger on exactly why they do. The creepiness of the neighbours unnerved me perhaps at one particular point in the narrative but I have to admit otherwise I was left pretty ambivalent about the whole thing. I didn’t have any strong feelings towards Alan or Alice as characters which left me feeling generally quite apathetic about what happened to them by the end of the story and, to be perfectly honest, just led to more confusion than resolution in the end.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Part Two

Published April 15, 2017 by bibliobeth

I’ve read some terrific stories in Part One of my Short Stories Challenge for 2017 so far! However stand out stories have to be The Raft by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew and The Butcher Of Meena Creek by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears. Here’s to finding some more great short stories and authors in Part Two!

The Reader by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

The Birds by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Birds And Other Stories

The Gold-Bug by Edgar Allan Poe from the collection The Best Short Stories Of Edgar Allan Poe

Gallowberries by Angela Slatter from the collection Sourdough And Other Stories

Thorn In My Side by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

The Drowned Village by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales

Alice Through The Plastic Sheet by Robert Shearman from the collection A Book Of Horrors

The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Fruits by Steve Mosby from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Volume 7

Stations Of The Cross by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Short Stories Challenge – Getting It Wrong by Ramsey Campbell from the collection A Book Of Horrors

Published October 18, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s Getting It Wrong all about?:

Getting It Wrong takes a radio quiz show and the actions of “phoning a friend,” to horrifying new extremes.

What did I think?:

Ramsey Campbell is a name I’ve often heard in various circles as a master of the horror genre who has been churning out his work for the past fifty years, influenced and compared to H.P. Lovecraft by many. Even though he seems to have woefully passed me by, I was really excited to read some of his work and I’m happy to announce that his short story, Getting It Wrong, did not disappoint. It is obvious to me that the fluidity of the writing and chilling finale of this story comes from years of experience and he’s certainly mastered his craft.

This short story follows a few days in the life of Eric Edgeworth, who lives solely for films and the joy they bring him. None of this new rubbish you understand, but the classics, like Hitchcock and great actors like James Dean and Cary Grant. He works at the local cinema complex but sadly, doesn’t seem to have many friends, perhaps due to the age difference between them (usually a few decades) but he also seems to be somewhat of a loner. That is, until one night at midnight when he gets a strange telephone call to ask if he will be the expert friend on a quiz show for a lady he barely speaks to at work but is aware of, Mary Barton.

At first, Eric believes this to be some sort of joke that his colleagues are playing on him although he notices that Mary is becoming increasingly more terrified as he answers a question about a particular film wrong three times – unfortunately the maximum amount that is allowed. When he sees Mary at work the next day, he notices she has a rather large, bandaged finger but thinks nothing of it until once again that night, he is called to answer another film-based question for Mary of which she is desperate for him to get right. This is a radio show, there’s reasons for that and we begin to understand why it cannot/should not be broadcast on television. When Mary doesn’t turn up for work the next day and Eric has one final chance to help her, the tables begin to turn – NOT in Eric’s favour and this turns out to be the most deadly quiz show in history.

I really loved the way the author set this short story out, his brilliance in ramping up the tension, ever so slowly is undeniable and certain little lines, placed perfectly at certain points in the narrative gave me chills:

“It’s not a show for children, Mr Edgeworth.”

I had so many unanswered questions about both the characters and the narrative. Just why was Mary Barton doing this quiz show in the first place? Why didn’t Eric grab a moment to speak to her when he saw her at work after the first phone call? However, if these questions were answered for me, I don’t think it would have made the story as thrilling as it ended up being. Although I didn’t feel the characters were developed very far, it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story-telling and I appreciated it for what it was, an exciting read with an ending that I’m still thinking about and wondering… just what happens next??

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Haunter Of The Dark by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft.