Short stories

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Blog Tour – Stories For Homes Volume Two – edited by Debi Alper and Sally Swingewood

Published October 6, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

“Stories give our imaginations a home. It’s good to see them helping to give people shelter in the real world, too…”
– Joanne Harris, author of ‘Chocolat’

“A cornucopia of witty, tragic, elegant, raw, heart-warming and terrifying stories that take the idea of Home, play with it as only truly talented writers can, and all to help those who have no home at all.”
– Emma Darwin, author of ‘The Mathematics of Love’

A home is something most of us have the luxury of taking for granted but for many it is a grim struggle to obtain what should be a basic necessity. Stories for Homes is a collection of witty, poignant, funny and heartbreaking short stories by fifty five authors, both established and emerging, reflecting the connection between the immediacy of housing crisis and the stories people tell about their lives around and within it. Volume Two of the anthology includes stories, poems and flash fiction and again all proceeds will be donated to Shelter, the charity for housing and homelessness.

What did I think?:

When the lovely Faye asked me to be part of a blog tour for Stories For Homes Volume Two, a collection of stories, poetry and flash fiction from fifty five published and non-published authors, I jumped at the chance. This is mainly because proceeds from the sale of each e-book go directly to the charity Shelter that helps the homeless and that this particular volume was released in response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy in London recently. It is dedicated to all the victims and the survivors, the exact death toll of which still remains unknown. I suffer with a chronic illness and a lot of the time have trouble sleeping so I was actually watching the news as it all unfolded in the early hours of the morning and it left me both horrified and completely saddened, especially as it’s clearly something that could have been prevented.

In Stories For Homes Volume Two we get a wonderful mixture of stories that all have the central theme running through them of having a home to come back to. Whether the protagonist(s) in the tale are away from home and are missing it or it might be a home that they make for themselves and learn to love, each story bounces off the page with poignancy and a great deal of heart. I honestly don’t believe there is a bad story in the collection. Obviously there were some I liked more that others and a few that had an incredibly profound effect on me but each story stood on its own quite vividly and I truly believe there is something here for everyone.

Personal favourites had to be The Tiger Who Came Back To Apologise by Jan Carson which was quirky but brilliantly written and follows the reaction of a young single mother as a man from a previous relationship knocks on her door one day. There was also Siamese by Poppy O’Neill, a fascinating story of a possibly dystopian world where a pair of conjoined twins find a way to deal with the hordes of people who pay money to stare through the window of their house and watch them at their daily tasks. Then there was the thought provoking poem, It Was Only A Patch On The Wall by Andy Leach which explores how easy it can be for such a little thing to turn into something that may cost you your livelihood and home.

I almost wish I had taken notes on each story as I made my way through the collection, there’s so much more I could say and infinitely more stories I could mention, especially the few that cover the immigration experience that I have to admit, broke my heart a little bit. If you enjoy short stories or even fancy giving them a try for the first time, there are not many collections I can recommend higher than Stories For Homes, Volume Two with such an eclectic mix of authors and diverse subjects to enjoy, I guarantee you’ll find at least one story that will move you in some way. Plus, you’ll be donating money to a very special cause – what could be better?

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

imagesCAF9JG4S

Summary:

Published and unpublished writers come together to create an anthology of stories about what ‘home’ means.

55 writers are included in a second charity anthology that brings issues around housing, poverty and crisis to life through the power of storytelling. Volume One of the Stories for Homes Project raised over £3K for housing charity Shelter and raised awareness of housing issues. Volume Two of the anthology includes stories, poems and flash fiction and again all proceeds will be donated to the charity.

Sally Swingewood, who also edited the collections, commented:

“The Stories for Homes collections would not be possible without the generosity of a huge number of volunteers. By working together we have produced a book which will not only delight but also help address one of the biggest humanitarian crises facing modern society. In a world where migration, identity and belonging are in the news daily we have a duty to help everyone have a home in which they feel safe and settled. Stories for Homes is one way we can be part of the solution”

Further Stories

A dedicated website includes a further collection of flash fiction and poetry, real life experiences from people who have had housing problems or have experienced homelessness, as well as a series of articles from a professional working with homeless people.

http://www.storiesforhomes.wordpress.com

Thank you once again to Faye for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, it’s been an absolute honour to take part and to Shelter Charity for their amazing work. Stories For Homes Volume Two was published on 28th September 2017 as an e-book and is available from all good book retailers now. Why not check out some of the other stops on the tour?

Amazon UK Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stories-Homes-Two-Jacqueline-Ward-ebook/dp/B075W8H8QT/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1506875151&sr=8-1&keywords=stories+for+homes+2

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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Shadow Out Of Time by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft.

Published October 3, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Shadow Out Of Time all about?:

The Shadow Out Of Time follows our male protagonist as he struggles with what happened to his mind and body during a five year period of amnesia and hallucinations.

What did I think?:

I always approach the next H.P. Lovecraft story in my Short Stories Challenge with slight trepidation. It’s no secret that I haven’t been a big fan of some of the tales in this collection whilst others I’ve really enjoyed. The Shadow Out Of Time sits quite comfortably somewhere in the middle in that respect. One thing I might never understand though is the lengths H.P. Lovecraft goes to when telling a story. By lengths, I mean literally the sheer length of the story which could almost be an entire novel by itself and is almost epic in its content. Sometimes I feel as if he could have got a much more effective narrative by just trimming things down slightly and then I might not have felt as bored, wondering when exactly it was going to end.

The Shadow Out Of Time (as with many of his short stories) follows a male protagonist as he describes a horrendous and often fantastical event that he has been a part of and that has affected his life enormously. Our narrator for the journey is Professor Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee and he is describing a terrifying period of his recent history in the early 1900’s that he is intending to pass on to his son and other academics, hoping that they might make some sense of it. The period in question is when he was teaching one day and, all of a sudden was subjected to the most horrific headache and hallucinations that led to him losing consciousness for about sixteen hours. When he awakens, he is a completely different person, describing it as a “second personality,” that leads him to undertake long journeys for unknown reasons and to seek out strange and mysterious ancient texts where he scribbles weird hieroglyphics within the pages. He cannot look at himself in mirrors developing an odd loathing of his form and eventually, his wife divorces him taking two of their three children into her custody, adamant that he is a different man. This second person remains with Nathaniel for a period of five years until his true personality appears to return. However, he has almost complete amnesia about that time of his life although he is beginning to have erratic dreams and small flashes of memory that are terrifying him to his core.

Eventually (I say eventually as this story is absurdly and overly long) we find out the reason for Nathaniel’s amnesia and strange dreams and, as expected from a story by H.P. Lovecraft, it’s nothing short of bizarrely imaginative. There are supremely intelligent alien, cone-shaped creatures that are ten feet tall and ten feet across, journeys through billions of years of time and space and other, frightening species that although it’s difficult to picture them, appear very sinister indeed. I’ve got to give a nod to the author for the amazing detail that he puts into his stories, The Shadow Out Of Time is another prime example of a narrative that has been meticulously planned but at times I did feel like it was overly descriptive and, as I mentioned before, way too long to hold my interest. I may have given this a lower star rating purely because my attention wandered quite a while before the end if it were not for the ending. It was almost worth the long slog to the finish line just to read that final paragraph.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

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

 

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.

Banned Books 2017 – SEPTEMBER READ – Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz

Published September 25, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Creak…
Crash…
BOO!

Shivering skeletons, ghostly pirates, chattering corpses, and haunted graveyards…all to chill your bones! Share these seven spine-tingling stories in a dark, dark room.

Logo designed by Luna’s Little Library

Welcome to the ninth banned book of 2017! As always, we’ll be looking at why the book was challenged, how/if things have changed since the book was originally published and our own opinions on the book. If you would like to read along with us, here’s what we’ll be reading for the rest of the year:

OCTOBER – ttyl – Lauren Myracle

NOVEMBER – The Color Of Earth – Kim Dong Hwa

DECEMBER – The Agony Of Alice – Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

But back to this month….

In A Dark, Dark Room And Other Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz (illustrated by Dirk Zimmer)

First published: 1984

In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2006 (source)

Reasons: insensitivity, occult/Satanism, unsuited to age group, violence.

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: We haven’t had an older release on our Banned Books challenge for a little while and I was intrigued to see how a children’s book published in the 1980’s could have had so much against it. Even though it was published over thirty years ago, I don’t believe attitudes have changed that much in the last three decades or so and I don’t really agree for the book being challenged. I hadn’t actually realised that I read this book as a younger reader (possibly when I was about seven or even younger?) and I was surprised by how vividly I remembered the stories. I did find it a little frightening, I have to admit but never in a way that gave me nightmares or seriously troubled me afterwards. I was one of those readers that went out looking for scary stories to read and found them thrilling so perhaps caution should be advised with more sensitive youngsters? However, I think if children want to read a scary story they are going to seek them out, like myself.

CHRISSI: This book is older than me! I was totally intrigued by this book. I remember Beth texted me a while ago insistent that we had read it when we were younger. I wasn’t totally convinced, but then when I read it I totally recalled it! So, did it damage me? Clearly not, if I don’t remember the story! They are pretty creepy, but so readable. Not all children will enjoy this because it is scary, but others will absolutely lap it up!

How about now?

BETH: I think nowadays you probably see a lot scarier stuff on television before the watershed (for example, some episodes of Doctor Who I find much scarier than this!). I don’t think it is insensitive or promotes the occult or Satanism in the slightest, it’s just some good old fashioned scary stories that are exciting to read and I just loved the illustrations which bring something extra to Alvin Schwartz’s words. There’s a lot of death mentioned – that’s a given really, death is scary right? However, some of the stories could be looked on as humorous, if told in the right way by a responsible adult, letting children know it’s just a story and there’s nothing to be frightened of.

CHRISSI: I had to laugh at the occult and Satanism reasons behind the banning of this book. Yes, I can get how some people might think that, but really there’s much more out there that promotes occult and Satanism. This simply is a children’s scary story. Much like Goosebumps and Point Horror for slightly older readers. All books should be thought about especially for young children. I’d recommend that you don’t give a sensitive child this book. Surely you’d know if your child could handle it? It should be down to personal preference and adult discretion! 

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: This book was super nostalgic for me and so quick and easy to read I finished it in about ten minutes. There are a couple of stories that when I read them I was instantly transported back to how I felt as a child reading them, particularly the first one about the men with the very long teeth and the girl who wears a green ribbon around her neck (the reason why I remember being horrified but kind of delighted with as a child!). This book was probably my first introduction into scary stories and led to me reading Point Horror as a teenager and then of course, Stephen King as an adult. It’s perfect for young horror fans and the illustrations compliment the stories perfectly without being “too” scary.

CHRISSI: The one that brought back memories was the story about a girl with a green ribbon around her neck. That one still give me chills. Ha! Such a wimp…I loved the illustrations too. Creepy but not overly terrifying and I’ve always had an overactive imagination! 

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

Join us again on the last Monday of October when we will be talking about ttyl by Lauren Myracle.

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

Published September 16, 2017 by bibliobeth

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

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

What did I think?:

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

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

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

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

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

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

Published September 13, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Go Deep all about?:

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

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

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

What did I think?:

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

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

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

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

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

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

Published September 10, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Little Radish all about?:

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

What did I think?:

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

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

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

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

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