Short stories

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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Light Through The Window by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky.

Published August 22, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Light Through The Window all about?:

The Light Through The Window is about a lonely window cleaner who watches people behind the windows of a high rise building and mourns the loss of his own family.

What did I think?:

I think it’s fair to say that some of the stories in this collection have been really hit and miss for me. Some of them are absolutely beautiful – namely The Ceiling, but others such as The Passenger and The Jesus Stories I’ve found myself getting quite frustrated with. I’m afraid The Light Through The Window was another one of those stories where I don’t really have any strong emotions for or against it and I finished it feeling rather apathetic about the whole reading experience and to be honest, quite worried about writing a review as I have a feeling I’m going to be struggling for things to say.

Our unnamed protagonist for the story is a male window cleaner who diligently cleans the windows of a high rise building every day without fail. He has never married or had children and from time to time, fantasises about the people behind the windows that he cleans in that he is part of their family. He doesn’t have any family of his own still alive but reminisces constantly about his mother, father and grandfather who were a big part of his life. Actually, he often imagines that he sees them all when he is working and looks forward to this experience and the intense connection that he still feels he has with them even though they have all passed away. He attempts to start a relationship with a woman behind one of the windows but unfortunately his efforts are not really fruitful and he remains alone but with the knowledge that he can always see his family any time he wants with the power of his own mind.

So, yes….gosh – what can I say? Of course, as with all Kevin Brockmeier’s stories, the writing is truly stunning and the imagery and vocabulary he uses to tell his tale is masterful. I always enjoy reading his prose, even if I don’t care very much for the story, he is a true artist with words and it’s always lovely to experience. He did succeed in making me feel terribly sad for his window cleaner, especially when he tried (and failed miserably) to form a connection with one of the women in the building but that was the only part of the story which I felt any real emotion or enjoyment. I felt that nothing really happened which sometimes isn’t a bad thing if the story focuses purely on character development. However, I don’t feel that this was really explored in the way it could have been either. Gorgeous words, fairly interesting premise but I’m afraid this was just a bit of a letdown for me.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

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

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The White Doe by Rosy Thornton from the collection Sandlands.

Published August 18, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The White Doe all about?:

The White Doe is the story of Fran who has recently lost her mother and has been seeing a rare white doe in the countryside near to her home.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to the author Rosy Thornton for sending me a copy of her first short story collection, Sandlands in exchange for an honest review. On reading the synopsis, which promises magic entwined with the beauty of nature I was certainly sold and thought it would be a great addition to my Short Stories Challenge. The first story is The White Doe and even though my expectations were slightly raised (due to the promise of animals I have to say, I’m a sucker for anything involving them!) I wasn’t disappointed. It was written beautifully and the surrounding environment of Suffolk was incorporated so expertly that the narrative just seemed to flow like water.

Our main character in the story is Fran who lost her mother whom she was incredibly close to, six months ago. She hasn’t really had a good opportunity to grieve for her loss and finds looking through any of her mother’s belongings terribly difficult so is pushing it to one side for now. It is obvious her mother is continually present in her thoughts – she mentions her constantly in the story and it is obvious her feelings about her death are still very raw. Recently however, she has been seeing a white doe amongst a group of other deer and wondering what it can possibly mean.

Fran is aware of an old folk tale about a white doe (who was actually a woman that transformed into the animal) and how it ended very badly when her brother mistakenly killed her whilst out hunting, believing her to be in fact a doe and not his sister. This story is also connected with the horrific migraines that Fran has been suffering. She has always had a bit of a predisposition for headaches that were normally soothed for her as a child by her mother but since her mother’s death they appear to be getting worse. The visitation of the deer, Fran’s memories of her mother and her migraines are all connected and all assist Fran in confronting her grief when the time is right.

I actually read this story two times so that I could fully appreciate it. The descriptive nature of Rosy Thornton’s writing is as magical as the folk tale/legends that she recounts in the narrative and whilst reading, I felt like I was immersed in another world that I didn’t want to leave. Being British, I also loved the connection to the Suffolk countryside and as an animal nut, the references to the deer in their appearance and their behaviour. This isn’t a story just about a special deer however, it’s got so many different levels, namely regarding grief and how it is experienced and effectively managed and the importance of motherhood. Personally, I thought it was a stunning short story and am eagerly anticipating the rest of the collection.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Light Through The Window by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky.

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Heart Goes Last (Positron, Episode Four) by Margaret Atwood (stand-alone)

Published August 15, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The internationally bestselling diva of dystopias is back with a new installment of Positron, her darkly comic Byliner Serial about life in a Big Brother America of the near future.

In the seemingly well-adjusted world of Consilience, it’s dawning on the residents that they’ve thrown away the keys to more than their ragged former lives outside the high walls of their gated community. When they volunteered for this new social experiment, they also gave away the keys to their destinies, even their hearts.

Ask Charmaine and she’ll tell you her husband is a dead man. Sure, marriage can be murder, but when Charmaine plunged a deadly hypodermic needle into Stan, because it was part of her job–dispatching undesirables in Positron Prison–Stan survived. His former jailer, a libidinous security chief named Jocelyn, had switched out the death drugs for knockout drugs and drafted him into a plot to undo the increasingly sinister social scheme. In so doing, she promoted him from her sexual plaything to full-blown subversive. The underground is housed in a manufacturing plant of one of Consilience’s most successful products: sexbots, made to order.

Love, however, is not made to order, and despite a Darwinian labyrinth of betrayal after betrayal, including wild extramarital encounters and, yes, murder, Stan can’t stop thinking about Charmaine. Not only because someone has requested a sexbot replica of her but because, well, she’s home in a world without homes. In The Heart Goes Last, one of Atwood’s darkest and most deviously entertaining inventions yet, the human heart proves more resilient and true than any mail-order machine.

What did I think?:

Hopefully this isn’t going to be too difficult to explain…Margaret Atwood’s Positron series is now available as a complete novel called The Heart Goes Last, however the series originally appeared as a number of “episodes,” each available separately as an e-book. This is the way I first came across them although now I do feel slightly cheated as the fifth (and I think final?) episode has been taken off the Amazon UK website and I will now only know the ending to the story if I choose to purchase the full length novel which also goes under the name The Heart Goes Last. Did that make any sense? If you haven’t read this series before, this shortened episode is definitely not the best place to start, you’re probably better off buying the entire novel and reading from the start. Also, I did find myself quite disappointed with this section of the story and feel there’s better parts of it I’ve already reviewed that I can recommend. (Please see my previous posts I’m Starved For You, Choke Collar and Erase Me).

Margaret Atwood chooses to set this story in a strange, dystopian world in a new society known as Positron. Briefly, it involves couples signing up and being fully committed to the programme, given free housing and employment but every alternate month they have to enter the prison system and work for the good of society as an alternate couple pairing takes their places in their house. Sounds good, right? Well, of course, as you might have expected from an Atwood narrative, this society is a hell of a lot darker than first made out. Although you are guaranteed a job and security for life, there are a lot murkier things going on in this world and our main characters, Charmaine and Stan become embroiled in this underworld when they are manipulated into a situation they are not prepared for.

I don’t want to say too much more about the plot for fear of spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t come across this work before. I do want to say that it’s not for the easily offended. It’s one of the most sexual things that I’ve seen Margaret Atwood write and she definitely doesn’t hold back with the seedier side of Positron including in this episode, specialised “sexbots” for the pleasure of both men and women. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t as impressed with this episode compared to the others in the series. I loved the snide humour throughout and didn’t mind some of the more shocking moments but, by this point in the narrative, I didn’t feel like she had enough to say that compelled me in the way I usually feel when reading her novels. If it wasn’t for the fact that I am incredibly intrigued to see how it all ends, I might not even bother to finish the story. As it is, I don’t think I’ll be rushing to complete it, especially if it involves reading an entire novels worth just to get to the same point in the story that I am at the moment.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: The White Doe by Rosy Thornton from the collection Sandlands.

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Adventure Of The Noble Bachelor by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes.

Published August 12, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Adventure Of The Noble Bachelor all about?:

The Noble Bachelor sees Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson looking into the mysterious disappearance of a wife shortly after she was married.

What did I think?:

Sherlock Holmes is always a joy and I always look forward to the stories coming up in this collection as I read it for the very first time. There haven’t been very many that I’ve disliked which is a relief after expecting such great things from the lauded Arthur Conan Doyle and his most beloved and famous British detective. The Adventure Of The Noble Bachelor was another fantastic example of a convoluted mystery with a satisfying conclusion, obviously herded along by the amazing powers of deduction possessed by Mr Sherlock Holmes!

The Noble Bachelor in our story is Lord Robert St. Simon, a wealthy man undergoing some financial difficulties but has been thrown a lifeline in the form of wife-to-be Hatty Doran, a very rich American heiress. That is, he was relieved to think his money worries were going to be over until Hatty does a disappearing act shortly after the wedding at the family house. St. Simon has no idea where she has gone and why and enlists the help of Holmes and Watson in order to solve the mystery and perhaps find out exactly what happened to his errant wife. As with all of the Sherlock mysteries, there is always something much deeper and more complex going on below the surface. So by picking up on the subtlest of clues, Holmes is able to solve the case within the same day and even though what he finds might not necessarily bring happiness to all partners concerned, at least they’ll all have a clearer idea of what their future may hold.

This story is one of the slightly shorter narratives in the collection but this did not affect my enjoyment of it in the slightest. In fact it was admirably and neatly wrapped up and I left it feeling quite content with my lot and once again, astounded with the sheer brilliance of the author’s imagination in devising all these different cases and the tiny little clues that lead to a big reveal or a conclusion. I don’t think it’s as difficult as some of the other mysteries to solve as a reader, I had guessed part of it before the great unveiling but there were still many things I hadn’t picked up on which I hugely enjoyed. Always a pleasure and never a chore – I’m loving my experience of reading all the Sherlock Holmes stories and will feel quite bereft when I’ve finished everything there is to read….until I read them all again of course!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORIES CHALLENGE: The Heart Goes Last: Positron, Episode Four by Margaret Atwood (stand-alone).

Blog Tour – EXCLUSIVE short story prior to the release of The Arrangement by Sonya Lalli

Published August 8, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

You can’t choose who you fall for…but it helps if there’s a list

Raina, twenty-nine, is still unmarried much to the dismay of her family who think that by now she should have been married in a dream Indian wedding. The pressure to settle down reaches new heights when her grandmother, Nani, decides to play matchmaker in order to find her the perfect man.

Eager not to disappoint her family, Raina goes along with the plan but when the love of her life returns – ex-boyfriend Dev – she’s forced to confront her true feelings and decide what she really wants.

Funny, feelgood and heart-warming, The Arrangement shines a light on being single in your twenties, societal and cultural expectation of women, and modern day arranged marriages. Perfect summer read for fans of Ayisha Malik’s Sofia Khan is Not Obliged and Aziz Ansari’s Master of None.

Hello everyone and welcome to a very special post on my blog. The Arrangement, published by Orion Books, is due to be released on 10th August but prior to that the author, Sonya Lalli is providing a short story about one of the characters in the novel to give you a bit of a taster of what The Arrangement might be like. The story will be published by five lucky bloggers in five parts.

Over to the author, Sonya Lalli :

In The Arrangement, thirty-year-old, fun-living Serena is on the sidelines. She shares a mutual friend with the novel’s heroine Raina, and for a while dates one of Raina’s relatives. Even though Serena’s story doesn’t make it into my novel, I wanted to share a bit more about her own dating misadventures – and give you a few clues about what’s to come in The Arrangement! 

The first part was published yesterday by Bronagh, The Handwritten Girl so if you want to read it please click HERE for her post. Today, bibliobeth is host to the second part of the story:

“Red chinos. Ten o’clock.”

Serena casually glances to her left, but all she can see is a group of women decked out in neon pink and sparkles huddling around a bride-to-be. None of them are wearing red chinos.

“No, my ten o’clock, silly.”

She looks right, and instantly spots him. Red Chinos is one of the only men at the bar not on his cellphone, and he has his legs crossed so tight Serena wonders if he has to pee.

“He’s bachelor number one.”

“He’s not really my type.”

“How has your type worked out for you so far?”

Serena sticks out her tongue, and the next thing she knows Shaylee’s up from the table and walking towards him. She taps him on the shoulder and a beat later they’re both looking at her. Serena shrinks lower in her seat.

What had she just agreed to? Was she really going to go on three dates in three hours just to prove a point?

She watches them converse, and a few minutes later Red Chinos gets off the barstool and Shaylee hops on. Serena can’t help but notice the smirk plastered all over his face as he draws nearer.

“Serena,” he says, sitting opposite her in the booth. “Your friend over there said you think I look interesting.”

“Interesting.”

“So let’s just get to the point, shall we?” He leers at her. “I’m cute. You’re cute. Wait, how tall are you?”

Her mouths drops a little as he sizes her up.

“About 5’2” or around?” He nods, as if pleased with his ability to measure her sitting down. “I usually prefer taller women.”

“I usually prefer –”

“So should we get out or here or what?”

Serena glances at Shaylee across the bar. She’s made friends with the woman on the stool next to her, and they’re laughing at something on Shaylee’s phone. There was no being rescued from this, was there?

“I think my friend wants us to get to know each other,” Serena says eventually. “Here.”

In public, she thinks.

“And what do you want, Serena?”

Why had Shaylee picked her the creepiest guy in the whole bar? Was she trying to prove a point to Serena? She racks her brain for what to say.

“Uh, what’s your… name?”

“Noah.”

She laughs.

“Why are you laughing?”

“You can’t expect me to believe your name is really Noah.”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s just… that’s the name of Ryan Gosling’s character in The Notebook.”

He stares at her blankly.

“And, if you walk into any bar into Toronto, chances are 95% of women my age are going to think of Ryan Gosling the minute you say that name.”

“Noah is my name.”

“Nobody is actually named Noah. You clearly use that name as some sort of… move to pick up women.”

Serena presses her lips together, trying to conceal a smirk. Normally, she’d be the last of her friends to call out a guy for being a creep. But if Shaylee was going to screw her around like this, she might as well have some fun.

She leans forward, smiling cockily. “Tell you what. I’ll go home with you if your driver’s license actually says Noah.”

“Is that so?”

“Hundred percent.”

He reaches into his wallet – a little too quickly. Seconds later, he slides across his Ontario drivers license.

Noah Forester

“Shit…”

“I can’t hear you with your foot in your mouth, Serena.” He leans forward to grab the license. “Or is that even your real name? Maybe I need to see your ID.”

“Listen,” she sits up. Her face is burning hot. “I’m sorry. I didn’t… I don’t, I’m not – ”

“Don’t worry. I’m not expecting you to come home with me.”

She sighs in relief, and is suddenly overwhelmed by embarrassment. Why had she called him out like that? Had she been too rude? Maybe he wasn’t the creep she thought he was?

Standing up from the booth, he leans down so close to her face she can smell his dank-IPA breath.

Maybe not.

“I’m looking for something easy tonight, sweetheart – and you’re not worth the effort.”

After Red Chinos leaves the bar, she regrets having not spray painted a warning sign on him for the other women who would cross his path that evening. She sinks bank in the booth as Shaylee walks over to her.

“So how did it go?”

“Are you kidding me?”

“Yeah, I was just taking the piss with that one.” She sits down, rubbing her hands through her hair. “When I walked up to him, he said, ‘mademoiselle, what are you le drinking ce soir?”

“I hate you.”

“No, you don’t.” Shaylee grabs her drink, which she’d left at the table, and throws down the rest. “OK, I’ll pick a better one this time. I promise. It can only go up from here, right?”

Serena glances around the bar, completely disheartened. She liked being in love. She liked chasing, and being chased; falling, and then letting someone catch her. Kris had caught her in the beginning, and then let her fall, hard, until she was all by herself, staring up at something and someone she didn’t even recognize.

She thought James would be different – James who made her laugh as they waited for the kettle to boil, who spent half the workday communicating with her on Slack primarily with emojis, GIFS and compliments. Then he’d stood her up. At least he’d let her down early.

“Hey,” she feels Shay’s hand on hers. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for this to bum you out.”

“No, it’s okay.”

“Thinking about James?” She shrugs, and Shaylee continues. “Any guy who doesn’t treat you right doesn’t deserve you.”

“I know that. In theory.”

“Well, in theory, one of the next two guys I’ve lined up for you just might deserve you.”

“And if they don’t,” says Serena, reminding her of their deal, “I’m never dating again.”

For my review of The Arrangement by Sonya Lalli, please come back and visit on the 10th August when my review will be published!

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Possum by Matthew Holness from the collection The New Uncanny: Tales Of Unease edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page.

Published August 7, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Possum all about?:

Possum follows a disgraced puppeteer as he is forced to return home and confront certain things from his past.

What did I think?:

Oh my goodness, what on earth did I just read?! The short story Possum is from an author I had never come across before, Matthew Holness who is actually a well respected comedian and actor here in the UK. This is why I feel so bad about writing this review – this story was unequivocally not for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love a story with a bit of an edge, horror is definitely my bag and anything that leaves me in the slightest bit uneasy I will usually praise to the heavens. However, not this story. I left it feeling disgusted, a bit dirty (and a little bit nauseous if I’m completely honest). I was a bit surprised to be feeling this way, I’m not easily shocked or grossed out by fiction and pride myself on my strong and (I thought!) immovable stomach. Well, it turns out that there is a limit to what I can take and I’m afraid Matthew Holness just found that level and took it to dizzying heights.

Our narrator is returning home we think, in disgrace after an incident at one of his puppet shows. His favourite puppet called Possum is an absolute monstrosity. Most of it is quite canine in appearance – the body, long protruding tongue, bull terrier eyes but the head is undeniably human. It is made of wax and possesses a startling resemblance to our narrator when he was younger, acne scars and all. The tongue is coated with flypaper and over the years has amassed a number of bluebottles, now dried up and tending to fall out whenever the tongue escapes the mouth of the puppet. We don’t really learn too much about our narrator’s past, a lot of things are merely implied or suggested but we understand that he has been through some terrible experiences that are still affecting him as an adult. He takes out all his emotions about his past on Possum the puppet, attempting to drown it, bury it alive tear it apart, burn it etc yet it still returns each time to haunt him making him believe that he will never be able to confront the ghosts of his past and indeed present situation in life.

So, positive things about this story. The whole idea of it (whilst being completely warped) was hugely imaginative and intriguing and although I personally didn’t get on with the narrative, I was completely gripped to finish the story and see how it all panned out for our main character. Beware however, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, a strong stomach is definitely required if you want to read this story. Some parts are so hideous and so nauseating that I actually groaned out loud. It takes a lot to repulse me (or so I thought!) and this piece of fiction certainly takes the ick factor to brand new levels that I never anticipated. If the object of the story was to make you feel as uneasy and as disgusted as possible, (which I have to say does seem to be the point when you consider the title of this particular collection) the author has one hundred percent succeeded in his objective so all kudos to him. I just never ever want to read this again!

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Adventure Of The Noble Bachelor by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes.

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Master by Angela Carter from the collection The Story: Love, Loss & The Lives of Women.

Published August 4, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Master all about?:

In Master, a hunter comes to the Amazon rainforest and purchases a female slave to accompany him on his travels and who he can abuse at will.

What did I think?:

I’m really glad that I purchased The Story: Love, Loss and The Lives Of Women for my Kindle. It’s the sort of collection where I’m finding so many fantastic female authors that I’ve either heard of and been meaning to check out or I’ve never come across them before and I’m getting the most insightful experience into their work. It is obvious that Victoria Hislop has chosen each of these authors and stories very carefully and so far, each short work has had something about it that has made me think, made me laugh and (almost!) made me cry. Obviously, Angela Carter is a huge name in women’s fiction, particularly feminist fiction. I’ve already read Nights At The Circus by her in my pre-blogging days and The Bloody Chamber and I was anticipating something whimsical, strong and special from Master which was exactly what I ending up getting.

Master is the story of one of the most despicable young men in literature I’ve had the displeasure to come across. We don’t really learn too much about his early life, apart from some stories of bullying younger students at school and references to his voracious appetite for violence. As an adult though, he discovers a real passion for hunting – not for love of sport but for the glory of the killing, you understand. (Let me just state that I don’t agree with hunting animals on any level so this story was always going to disgust me!). He decides to travel to the Amazon rainforest in search of bigger and better prey being particularly interested in the big cats, namely jaguars. While there he meets a local tribe and purchases one of their female members to be his personal slave as he continues his killing spree travelling through the forest. He treats her abominably with both physical and sexual abuse until she becomes a shadow of what she once was and has the appearance of something else entirely. Well, let me just say, it wouldn’t be an Angela Carter story if the man won at the end of the day, would it?

If you’ve never read any Angela Carter before and enjoy lyrical language, magical narrative properties and nonsensical events you’re in for a treat. This was quite an odd story but I wouldn’t expect anything less from this author. Along with its quirkiness and at times, shocking moments, comes a story filled with intense power and ferocity that kept me on tenterhooks throughout. I have to be honest and say that I don’t think Angela Carter is for everyone but if you’ve never read her before and you’re curious, I would really recommend one of her short stories so that you can get an idea of her inimitable style and flair which is certainly one of a kind. I have Angela Carter’s Book Of Fairy Tales on my shelves and this story has only served to remind me that it simply has to be a future addition to my Short Stories Challenge!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: Possum by Matthew Holness from the collection The New Uncanny: Tales Of Unease edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page.