Karin Slaughter

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Short Stories Challenge – The Unremarkable Heart by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Published October 4, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

The Unremarkable Heart is the story of June, a school principal who is given a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer and is thinking back over the trauma in her past at the moment of her death.

What did I think?:

It’s probably no secret to anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis that I’m a big Karin Slaughter fan. There was a time before I expanded my reading horizons slightly that I read this genre pretty much exclusively and along with Tess Gerritsen, Karin Slaughter is one of my “must-buy” authors whenever she releases a new book. I’ve recently been thoroughly enjoying her short stories and The Unremarkable Heart is, I have to say, a complete blinder. The author is becoming hugely expert in writing short fiction that grips the reader immediately from the gripping first line:  “June Connor knew that she was going to die today,” to the final, jaw-dropping ending that I have to admit, did give me a rather embarrassing moment in public as I gasped aloud on a busy train!

June Connor has been given a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer and about five months to live – six if she’s lucky. Unlike other people who rush to do something they have always dreamed of or take a no expenses spared holiday, June carries on working as a principal at the local school. She stays until she can physically and mentally no longer do the job any longer then informs the staff through email of her death sentence. She is being looked after at home by her husband, Richard and as her life-force begins to drain away, she finds herself revisiting two particularly traumatic and life-changing episodes in her past that involve her husband and her daughter, Grace.

Things get a whole lot murkier when June recounts for the reader what she has been through and how it has affected her relationship with her husband. The hatred between the couple is intense but, as we read on, perfectly understandable. As June has been with Richard for so long however, they have both become accustomed to each other and she is terrified of dying alone. So Richard looks after her and sometimes, appears to be a changed person in caring for his wife. Or has he an ulterior motive?

Loved this story. Loved, loved, loved it. At first, I wasn’t sure about the character of June at all. The author portrays her as such a stoic, almost cold individual but then as the narrative continues the reader begins to understand exactly why she is this way. Once more, as with a lot of her short stories, Karin Slaughter has knocked it out of the park with an intense plot and shocking revelations that will stay with you long after you’ve finished. In parts, it’s also incredibly sad and quite moving especially when June is clearly suffering. I definitely felt like I went through almost the entire range of human emotions when reading this! The author has a canny way of grabbing your attention and refusing to let you go until the bitter end. And this ending is very bitter…believe me.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: Red Letter Day by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales

Short Stories Challenge 2016 – April to June

Published April 1, 2016 by bibliobeth

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Welcome to another three months in my Short Stories Challenge! The first few months of this year have whizzed by and I’ve found some great pieces of short fiction to add to my collection. Here’s the stories that will take me right through to the summer:

Week beginning 4th April

Elephants In Captivity (Part One) by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner: Love Stories

Week beginning 11th April

Space by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky

Week beginning 18th April

If It Keeps On Raining by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Week beginning 25th April

The Lordly Ones by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Breaking Point

Week beginning 2nd May

Tiger Moth by Graham Joyce from the collection Tales For A Dark Evening

Week beginning 9th May

The Shadow Tree by Angela Slatter from the collection Sourdough And Other Stories

Week beginning 16th May

The Unremarkable Heart by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Week beginning 23rd May

Red Letter Day by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales

Week beginning 30th May

Getting It Wrong by Ramsey Campbell from the collection A Book Of Horrors

Week beginning 6th June

The Haunter Of The Dark by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Week beginning 13th June

Hogmanay Homicide by Edward Marston from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Volume 7

Week beginning 20th June

What We Save by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Week beginning 27th June

A Convalescent Ego by Richard Yates from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Short Stories Challenge – The Mean Time by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Published February 19, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s The Mean Time all about?:

It’s a hot summer’s day and twelve-year-old Peanut and her cousins are being driven into town on the back of a trailer drawn by Uncle Toby in his tractor. It’s Peanut’s ‘mean time’ age and she’s about to do something she’ll regret…

What did I think?:

As regular readers of my blog may already know, I’m a big fan of Karin Slaughter’s novels but I’m definitely starting to enjoy her short fiction just as much. The two stories in this bundle I bought for my Kindle are as different as night and day and after the brutality that was Necessary Women, I was expecting more of the same when it came round to reading The Mean Time. Perhaps it is the way the author begins the story – our heroine, Peanuts, is in a truck connected to our Uncle Toby’s tractor with her cousins and he is taking them all to the local shop to get some sweets. Before her current age of twelve, Peanuts always assumed that her uncle enjoyed playing with the kids and it is only become apparent that he is “mentally slow,” something that is a huge deal for her at an age when even the slightest difference can make a huge difference to how she is perceived by others.

Peanuts is already having quite a hard time comparing her life to that of her cousins (her father’s family) who are clearly poor but work hard (usually physically) for every penny of their money. She admits that her and her sisters have never wanted for anything as their father never wished for them to have as poor an upbringing as he himself had so they are quite literally spoilt rotten. Visiting their poorer relations who can’t understand why her father would want to make more money than that required to live on and who seem to have a different notion of what hard work actually is is an eye-opener for her as she gets older and notices/desires the opinions of others a lot more.

The author describes Uncle Toby’s mouth as having a tooth missing which could lead to him having a somewhat “sinister,” appearance to those who did not know him. Immediately I thought I was going to be taken down this dark and twisty pathway Karin Slaughter does so well and with the previous story still very fresh in my memory, I don’t think you could blame me! However, this was categorically NOT the case and the story that unravelled was quite different. The climax is an altercation in the shop between Peanuts and Uncle Toby that she bitterly regrets as soon as it has happens but unfortunately can never take it back. The following quote, which I loved, sums up the story beautifully in better words than I can ever write:

“This was a time in my life when I keenly searched for disapproval or agreement in the eyes of strangers. I was halfway into my twelfth year, a walking box of hate and hormones. This was my mean time, and the approval of someone who did not know me mattered much more than the opinions of those who knew me best.”

The Mean Time stands on its own as a great piece of short fiction and perhaps I shouldn’t compare it too much to the story it was bunched with. Both are brilliant in very different ways and I believe it shows the versatility of Karin Slaughter as an author perfectly. This narrative took me right back to my own adolescence when I desperately needed the approval of others and said/did things I instantly regretted. The author managed to capture the essence of what it is to be a teenage girl wonderfully and although I was slightly surprised by the ending I now think it bitter-sweet and simply how it should have been. I’m hoping that even though it is a slight departure from the fiction the author usually writes, fans will enjoy it just as much.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: Duet by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales

 

 

Short Stories Challenge 2015 – October to December

Published October 2, 2015 by bibliobeth

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Image from http://www.slideshare.net/ernella32/teaching-the-short-story

It’s nearly the end of the year and here’s what I’ll be reading short story wise to see out 2015!

Week beginning 5th October

Corrugated Dreaming by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears

Week beginning 12th October

Beachcombing by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

Week beginning 19th October

A Man And Two Women by Doris Lessing from the collection The Story: Love, Loss And The Lives of Women edited by Victoria Hislop

Week beginning 26th October

The New Veterans by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove

Week beginning 2nd November

The Adventure Of the Blue Carbuncle by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

Week beginning 9th November

Vuotjärvi by Sarah Hall from the collection The Beautiful Indifference

Week beginning 16th November

Bibhutibhushan Malik’s Final Storyboard by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner: Love Stories

Week beginning 23rd November

The Jesus Stories by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky

Week beginning 30th November

We Were Just Driving Around by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Week beginning 7th December

The Chamois by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Breaking Point

Week beginning 14th December

Under The Pylon by Graham Joyce from the collection Tales For A Dark Evening

Week beginning 21st December

A Mighty Horde Of Women In Very Big Hats, Advancing by Michel Faber from the collection The Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories

Week beginning 28th December

The Mean Time by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Short Stories Challenge – Necessary Women by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Published September 17, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s Necessary Women all about?:

She was fourteen when she watched mother die. With her mother gone, her father told her she had to be the woman of the house. And then he went away for six months. Now she’s got a surprise for him…

What did I think?:

On reading the short synopsis of this story I was instantly intrigued (plus Karin Slaughter is one of my favourite thriller writers) and looked forward to diving right in. Now, I am quite familiar with the author’s writing style and suspected that this tale might have something of the macabre about it but oh my goodness, she still managed to shock me. I’m very wary of giving too much away about Necessary Women so I’ll try and keep this review as short and spoiler-free as possible.

The main character in this story is a fourteen year old girl whom when we come across her is watching her mother die in one of the most gritty and explosive openings in all of Slaughter’s work:

“I was fourteen years old when I watched my mama die. Her pale skin turned pasty as she clutched her throat, blood seeping through her fingers like she was squeezing a sponge instead of trying to hold onto her life.”

The reader is then taken back in time and shown the girl’s life with Mama before her untimely death. They are not happy, the girl freely admits this but they try their best. Her father is a long hauler and is often working away for sometimes months at a time so they are often left to manage on their own. Before long, it is obvious to the reader that Mama is not happy in her marriage and she begs her daughter not to end up like her although it might be a bit too late for the sex education talk as our narrator is already pregnant. When her mother passes away her father tells her that she has to take over as the “woman of the house,” and must do all the jobs necessary for a woman to do (hence the title). Our narrator is not very good at looking after herself and is often hungry but makes sure that she puts on a good spread whenever her father is due home. She ends up giving up school and gives birth to a baby “with one arm and a knob where a left foot should have been.” The cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck and she buries her in the garden, begging God to allow her into heaven.

That’s all I’m going to say about the plot as I think this story is best experienced by actually reading it yourself. It is definitely all those good things a short story should be – thrilling and unputdownable with twists on multiple levels and Karin Slaughter’s trademark horrific imaginings. This was another one of those stories that I immediately went back to the beginning and started again to find out what I had missed (and also because of those last few lines which led to a shriek of “What?!” from yours truly). It was so surprising and so shocking that it completely reminded me why I’m a fan of this author. She accomplishes everything a good short story writer should in just a few pages and I’m sure like me as soon as you read this you’ll also be shaking your head in awe of her writing.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Mistletoe Bride by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride and Other Haunting Tales

Short Stories Challenge 2015 – July to September

Published July 1, 2015 by bibliobeth

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Welcome to another three months of short stories! This little lot should see me through into the autumn.

Week beginning 6th July

Small Degrees by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky

Week beginning 13th July

Airshow by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Week beginning 20th July

The Menace by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Breaking Point

Week beginning 27th July

Candia by Graham Joyce from the collection Tales For A Dark Evening

Week beginning 3rd August

Medicine by Michel Faber from the collection The

Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories

Week beginning 10th August

Necessary Women by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Week beginning 17th August

The Mistletoe Bride by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride and Other Haunting Tales

Week beginning 24th August

Tell Me I’ll See You Again by Dennis Etchison from the collection A Book of Horrors

Week beginning 31st August

The Whisperer in Darkness by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Week beginning 7th September

The Rat In The Attic by Brian McGilloway from the collection The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 7

Week beginning 14th September

Care by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Week beginning 21st September

The Cat That Walked By Himself by Rudyard Kipling from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Week beginning 28th September

The Wedding Gig by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Short Stories Challenge – Martin Misunderstood by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Published May 3, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

A darkly comic tale about Mr Less-Than-Average in an average world from the No. 1 Bestseller.

Crime fiction obsessive Martin Reed is the proverbial butt of everyone’s jokes. Working as a glorified accountant at Southern Toilet Supply and still living with his cantankerous mother, he has become resigned to the world in which he lives – the school bullies now pick on him in the workplace, women still spurn him and his arch enemy is now his supervisor.

But then he arrives at work one morning to find the police on site. A co-worker has been brutally murdered and her body abandoned in a ditch. And the overwhelming evidence points to Martin – especially when he can’t or won’t admit that he has an alibi.

When a second victim is found in the company bathroom, things really conspire against Martin. The one bright star on his otherwise bleak horizon is the beautiful and sympathetic Detective Anther Albada, but even she’s beginning to have her doubts about his innocence. Could Martin be guilty? Or is he just misunderstood?

What did I think?:

I love that Karin Slaughter puts out short stories/novellas as well as her hugely popular Grant County series featuring the fantastic character of Will Trent (one of my most loved agents in fiction). Martin Misunderstood is more of a novella, weighing in at 147 pages in my own paperback format. When reading it however, it felt like much less and I whizzed through it very quickly. Our main character is Martin Reed who I am sorry to say is one of life’s losers. He is single, works for a company that sells toilet supplies, remains in the same town that he grew up in where the bullies of his schooldays continue to haunt him (and work with him in some cases) and still lives with his mother who makes it her mission to taunt him on a daily basis and who is desperate for him to be gay just so he would be a bit more interesting. To make things even worse, someone has keyed the work “twat,” on his car and looks to have damaged the bumper. Lovely!

Things start to get much more interesting one day as Martin arrives at work to find a police presence and an area cordoned off. It turns out that one of Martin’s colleagues, Sandy, has been murdered and unfortunately Martin is the prime suspect. Not only has the bumper of his car been mysteriously damaged but there is blood present which matches the blood of the victim. After looking at his messed up car, Martin has managed to cut himself, perfectly innocently of course but it doesn’t look too good in front of the investigating officer, Detective Anther Albada. To put the icing on the cake, the detective also happens to be very beautiful but poor, socially awkward Martin who quakes in excitement in her presence really doesn’t have a hope in hell. His colleagues incriminate him further by telling the police that Sandy had been taunting Martin two days previously by announcing that he had a “teenie weenie” on the company loudspeaker and super-gluing a twelve inch vibrating sex toy to his work desk. When another body is found with a further connection to Martin it looks like his hum-drum life is going to be getting a lot more interesting. But is Martin a killer? Or simply misunderstood?

Karin Slaughter’s trademark black humour makes this story easy to gobble up in a short space of time and some scenes definitely made me laugh out loud. One sex scene was written in such a way that it was both hilarious and cringe-worthy at the same time, those who have read this story will know exactly what I’m talking about! I felt so sorry for our main character Martin as the evidence stacks up against him and he doesn’t help matters by digging himself into a colossal hole. The author manages to pack in some great characters like Martin’s co-worker, Unique Jones (with an accent on the e and pronounced You-Nee-Kay thank you very much) and Martin’s intimidating and infuriating mother, Evie. Karin Slaughter also knows how to write a brilliant ending that leaves you feeling completely satisfied yet somehow gagging for more. Take the last line for instance – “And it was true. Martin finally understood.” For me, it’s a must-read for fans of the author and anybody new to her writing, which after this novella should make anyone hungry to seek out the rest of her work.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: Cellists by Kazuo Ishiguro from the collection Nocturnes: Five Stories Of Music and Nightfall