Short stories

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

Published May 16, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Gallowberries all about?:

Gallowberries is about a young woman who has recently lost her mother. Both women are witches and this story focuses on how the daughter manages to take care of herself as she learns more about her own powers.

What did I think?:

I can already tell that this short story collection has the potential to be the most fantastic one I’ve ever read and I’m only two stories in. The first story, The Shadow Tree had me falling completely under the author’s spell and Gallowberries was much the same. It encompasses everything I love in a story – a bit of fantasy, a lot of fairy tale, beautiful lyrical writing and the edge of darkness to make something that is so wonderful to read that you are sorry when you reach the final page as you just want it to go on forever. A huge thank you again to the lovely Fiction Fan for recommending this author and this particular collection, I’m one hundred percent bowled over by it.

Gallowberries is almost like a novella in itself. Not length wise, as it’s regular short story length but the amount of time and events it covers is epic in scale and you almost feel you are seeing a large portion of someone’s life, written in Angela Slatter’s inimitable style that gives me such a warm fuzzy feeling inside. The story involves a young woman called Patience whom when we meet her is admiring the apples growing on a tree that are managing to flourish with a little help from her magical powers. It is while she is looking at the fruit that she happens to notice a handsome man who speaks to her causing her to fall. This is Gideon Cotton who she ends up getting to know romantically (although sadly for her he is never planning to introduce her to his family or indeed marry her….he has a more “suitable” wife-to-be all lined up!).

However, little does Gideon know but Patience is already very familiar with him and his family. He is desperately seeking a witch that murdered some of his family, poisoned others through the wells, cursed cows to be barren and ensured that fields propagated dead crops. Patience is well aware of this as she is the witch he is seeking. In her mind, she had good reasons for revenge. Her mother was due to be hanged for witchcraft by his family and at the last minute she escaped by using the magical properties of gallowberries. This does mean that Patience is unable to see her anymore as she has passed over to another world where Patience cannot follow. With the help of her new friend, Dowsabel who takes Patience in when she is destitute and has nowhere else to go, Patience begins to use her magic for good and see hope and happiness in her life again. Nevertheless, this is an Angela Slatter fairy tale….a happy ending is not guaranteed and with the threat of Gideon finding out who she really is always a concern, Patience may have to call on her dark powers again to ensure her survival.

Loved, loved, loved this story. As I mentioned before, it is a truly epic narrative with so much content, action, heartbreak and sorrow jammed into a relatively short space of time but the brilliant thing is, it never feels rushed or “too much.” The fairy tale-esque nature of Angela Slatter’s writing is always a bonus but she always chooses such strong and interesting female characters like Patience herself and her friend Dowsabel whom I found fascinating to read about and indeed, ended up fully championing despite the questionable things that Patience had done in the name of revenge. Also, the darkness. Oh, it’s incredibly dark! Some of the things that occur might make you cringe, may make you squirm but it’s such amazing storytelling that you simply cannot look away before you find out how it all ends. So far, the two stories in this collection I’ve read have been incredibly strong and if this is an indicator of how the collection is going to continue, I’ve got many more treats in store. Is Angela Slatter a new favourite author? You’re goddamn right she is!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: Thorn In My Side by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Gold-Bug by Edgar Allan Poe from the collection The Best Short Stories Of Edgar Allan Poe

Published May 2, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Gold-Bug all about?:

Believing William Legrand to have gone insane following an insect bite, his friend initially decries his quest for gold as the ramblings of a madman. Yet when Legrand’s conviction fails to waiver, they set off on a bizarre journey, accompanied by Jupiter, Legrand’s loyal and equally skeptical servant. What follows is a strange tale of coded messages, hidden treasure, and uncanny prophecy that will both enthrall and baffle even the most perceptive readers.Part horror story, part detective fiction, The Gold Bug is an ingenious tale bearing all the hallmarks of Poe’s extraordinary narrative skill.

What did I think?:

Welcome to the first story in a new collection in my Short Stories Challenge after I completed a previous collection. I’ve always been curious about the work of Edgar Allan Poe, especially after reading his story The Tell Tale Heart many years ago and loving it. It actually forms part of this collection so I will be reviewing it once I’ve read it again and am excited to discover what I think of it as an adult. Unfortunately, The Gold-Bug was a slightly disappointing story for me and I sincerely hope that doesn’t set the tone for the rest of the collection. There were some good bits sure, but at times it felt quite long-winded and unnecessary, which I’ll get into a bit later.

We are told the story from the point of view of an unnamed however seemingly reliable narrator who is quite concerned about a reclusive friend of his, Will Legrand. When he goes to visit him, Will has become obsessed with a golden bug that he and his black servant, Jupiter found when out one day. Our narrator seems to think he has gone quite mad, especially when Jupiter confirms his suspicions and says he is quite worried for his master. Well, as it turns out, Will has found a bit of parchment from a previous shipwreck that leads him to the location of some buried treasure on the island. However, he must crack the code before he can hope to find where the treasure lies.

Okay so at first I have to admit I was intrigued. Yet I thought a lot more would be made of the gold-bug than what actually happened which was slightly disappointing. That wasn’t what irked me about this book however. The first was the outrageous racist attitude towards Jupiter and the way he was written as a character. The language he uses is awful, the way he is presented is shameful and the way he is treated is deplorable! Yes, I know, this story was written an age ago when attitudes were different (unfortunately) but I can’t help the way I feel about that sort of thing and sadly, it will affect my enjoyment of a story.

Secondly, I was expecting a bit more out of the ending. Edgar Allan Poe’s character Legrand, rabbits on for far too many pages about how he manages to crack the code on the parchment and while some people may find it interesting, I just found it dull and had to force myself to finish. What would have made it interesting is how the men chose to divide the treasure amongst themselves (if that did indeed happen – maybe something could have gone horrifically wrong, maybe someone could have been murdered?). I believe that would have made a more interesting story and a better ending as a result. This story is a great piece of detective fiction if that’s what you were expecting but as it was classed as part “horror” story I have to admit to wanting a bit more.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: Gallowberries by Angela Slatter from the collection Sourdough And Other Stories

 

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Birds by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Birds And Other Stories

Published April 25, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Birds all about?:

The Birds, immortalised by Alfred Hitchcock’s infamous film tells the story of a family who are trying to protect their house from a nationwide epidemic of aggressive birds that seek to maim/kill all humans at different points in the tides.

What did I think?:

I don’t think I even need to mention again how big a fan I am of Daphne du Maurier’s work – oops, just did! I have previously reviewed all her short stories in the fantastic collection The Breaking Point previously in my Short Stories Challenge (for reviews on these please see my archive) and I immediately knew I wanted to pick another short story collection from the author as I have a few on my Kindle all ready for my eager little eyes to peruse. I’ve been familiar with the story of The Birds for a little while, like others having seen the famous Hitchcock film but I wasn’t actually aware that the film is a little different to the original story, although still an excellent piece of work.

The story follows a family – Nat, his wife and their two children, Johnny and Jill. It starts out like any other night until at some point during the evening, the weather turns all of a sudden to the most bitter winter our characters have ever experienced. Coinciding with this turn in the weather, Nat and his wife are disturbed by a consistent tapping on the window that turns out to be a bird, immediately attacking Nat when he goes to the window. A little while later, they hear screams from the children’s room and a whole host of birds (about fifty) are in there, maliciously going for the children until Nat manages to subdue i.e. mostly kill all of them, hurting himself in the process.

The rest of the story follows the family as it turns out that the problem of the birds seems to be a nationwide epidemic and all individuals are being urged to stay indoors and strongly board up and protect their houses from the winged onslaught. The epidemic becomes so terrifying that the radio stops transmitting the news and government planes crash and burn as they try to deal with the millions of birds determined to wreak utter havoc. And yes, once again, Daphne du Maurier writes a classic tale of fear and tension, from that very first tap on the window to the suicidal instincts of the birds in order to gain entry to properties and the sheer determination to be aggressive and cause as much damage as possible.

I loved every moment of it and was utterly gripped by the horror of the situation that our family found themselves in, especially when during a respite from the birds, as the tides ebb, they visit a neighbouring farm for supplies and see the full extent of the birds reign of terror. This is a story from an author who is at the peak of her writing abilities and it had such a dramatic effect on me. I have to laugh, I live in a beautiful area in the countryside and can often hear birds chirping just outside my library where I blog. While I was reading this story however, I couldn’t help but turn to look out the window and worry a little bit….who would have known a tiny little sparrow could seem so malevolent?!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Gold-Bug by Edgar Allan Poe from the collection The Best Short Stories Of Edgar Allan Poe

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Reader by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

Published April 16, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Reader all about?:

The Reader tells of an ageing author on the publicity circuit promoting his new book and revealing how life has changed for him.

What did I think?:

The penultimate story in this collection was a bit disappointing for me I have to say but I’m not sure if I was missing the whole point of the narrative. Nathan Englander is an obviously talented author and I have enjoyed a few stories in this collection so far, namely the title story, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank and Camp Sundown which was also written beautifully. Then we come to The Reader (*sigh*).  Initially, I was quietly hopeful for a brilliant tale, I love reading books about books and it started out quite promising and indeed, very intriguing but didn’t really seem to go anywhere which was a shame as I could see it had potential to be something quite special.

It’s about an author who is going on a book tour around the country to several bookshops where he is giving a reading. He is hugely disappointed to discover that his star seems to have dimmed somewhat since he was last on the circuit as not a single person seems to have turned up to hear him read or get their book signed. All apart from one, that is. His only person that emerges from the shadows of the first bookshop is an elderly gentleman who demands that the Author should read as of course that is what he has come to hear. The Author is touched and proceeds to fulfil his request then carries on to another city, another bookshop. Lo and behold, the same old man follows him to every bookshop and insists that he reads in every one, while he remains a captive audience of one.

That’s pretty much it really. There’s no huge revealing moment where the old man pulls his mask off like an episode of Scooby Doo and is in fact, someone else entirely. Not that I’m saying this story needed this. However, I feel like it did need something – a sort of direction, an ending that would make me appreciate the story as a whole. I ended up finishing it, not hating it exactly but not having any feelings towards it in the slightest, to be perfectly honest. I did like how the old man refers to the author not by name but purely as “Author!” or “Writer!” when he was addressing him, maybe there was something to be found in this? I’m not sure and if there was I didn’t really get it which was a shame as I think a lot more could have been done with this short story.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Birds by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Birds And Other Stories.

 

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 2017 – Fleeing Complexity by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Published April 12, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Fleeing Complexity all about?:

Fleeing Complexity is the shortest story in this collection comprising of one sentence only:

“The fire spread quicker than the little bastard was expecting.”

What did I think?:

I made a promise to myself when I started my Short Stories Challenge all that time ago that I would faithfully review every single story in a collection that I read, no matter what I though of them, even if I find them tough to finish (which has been the case for one in particular that springs to mind!). Then I came across Jon McGregor, who I have been a quiet fan of ever since reading his novel Even The Dogs. The stories in this collection so far have been nothing short of remarkable and vary in length considerably. There are ones that are a page long, others that are more regular length you expect from short stories and then there’s this one. One short little sentence.

When I first glanced through this collection, this one caught my eye, obviously because of its brevity and I have to admit, my heart sank. Not because I was disappointed, no, not at all! It was because I thought, quite frankly: “How the hell am I going to review THAT?” Now it’s come to the time when I have to review it, I’m feeling a lot more optimistic about the process. Jon McGregor has chosen every word he uses extremely carefully. I found this to be the case in all of his other stories but it is especially apparent with Fleeing Complexity.

Read it then read it again. There’s so many questions that could spring to mind and opportunities for the reader to use their own imagination in deciding what is going on. First of all, where has the fire been set? Is it a house? Is it woods? You see what I mean? It could be anywhere! Then, what are the repercussions of this fire going to be? There could be lives lost, property destroyed, consequences or indeed no consequences for the perpetrator, that is, if he/she is ever caught. Then I got to thinking why did this person start the fire? What were the reasons behind it? It could have been revenge, boredom, a teenage prank (assuming it is a teenager?!), a curiosity about fire gone wrong… there are so many options to explore. Next, the unknown narrator refers to our perp as “the little bastard.” Who is the narrator? What is their relationship with the fire-starter? Why do they refer to him/her in those derogatory terms? Finally, I really get the feeling that the spread of the fire was accidental – perhaps not the original starting of the fire but how fast it spread after being lit. Why else would our narrator say that it spread quicker than they were expecting?

So apologies if this post has brought up more questions and speculation than answers and feelings about the short story but it’s just one of those sentences that I think has deliberately been crafted to make you think and wonder about things in that way. Jon McGregor is a fantastic author and can’t do much wrong in my eyes and I love his inventiveness and the beautiful way he has with words and connecting with the reader. I’d love to know if you have any further thoughts about Fleeing Complexity. What do you think it’s all about? Can you think of something I may have missed?

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Reader by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

 

 

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Passenger by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky

Published April 7, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Passenger all about?:

The Passenger follows a man who has spent his whole life on an airplane in a strange, dystopian world where a whole civilisation are born, fall in love, reproduce and die all on the plane.

What did I think?:

You know how short story collections are sometimes a bit hit and miss? There’s those stories that you absolutely love and you could wax on for ages about how talented the author is? Then there’s those stories that make you hang your head, shake it a little and wonder if somehow you might be missing something? Well, The Passenger falls somewhere in between for me. I would never compare it to The Jesus Stories, (which I might have disliked a little bit!) but at the same time, there’s better stories in this collection, for example The Ceiling, which was a magnificent piece of writing.

So where do I start? Okay, there are lots of positive things about this story, especially the premise. We are inside the mind of one male passenger on an airplane and he is talking about his mother’s death and how her body was dealt with after she died (by dropping it out of the plane of course!). I was completely confused and it wasn’t until a couple of pages in that I realised that this story was about a strange new world where all the passengers of this particular plane live out their whole lives on that plane. They don’t land, pick up new passengers etc so any new life has to be initiated by passengers currently on the plane getting it on.

Absolutely fascinating premise and there was so much potential for this story to do amazing things….however….it just ended up as a bit of a damp squib for me. Our male protagonist mentions an encounter with the woman in the seat in front of him that leads to a sexual experience and his belief that she is currently carrying his child, even if she has not spoke to him or even deigned to make eye contact since the experience occurred. What irked me about the story was that it didn’t seem to go anywhere. There were bucket-loads of questions that I wanted answered and I left it feeling so unsatisfied and disappointed. For example, how did they end up in this situation? Was there an incident on land that led to flying in a plane being the safest option? Is this incident still going on and they are doomed to fly for all eternity? How on earth do they manage to fly around without refuelling? And what about food/water supplies?

Questions like these may not matter to some people and they might be able to enjoy the wonder and mystery of it all but I really needed a reason to keep reading. I was interested for sure but then cursed myself for being so interested as I never got the answers to what I needed to know! The beauty of Kevin Brockmeier’s writing is undeniable and it was a brilliant idea for a story BUT… am I missing something? I’d love to know if you’ve read this short story and got something out of it that I didn’t. I was slightly tempted to read it again to see if I’d missed a trick somewhere but to be honest, I didn’t want to get cross with it all again! I must urge that the author is a fantastic writer – maybe this story was just too much for me.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

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