Short stories

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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Adventure Of The Beryl Coronet by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

Published December 8, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Adventure Of The Beryl Coronet all about?:

The Adventure Of The Beryl Coronet follows a man who comes to Holmes and Watson for help when a precious beryl coronet he is tasked with looking after is damaged and some of the jewels are stolen.

What did I think?:

As I’ve made my way through the short stories in The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has regularly managed to stump me over what exactly is going on in his mysteries. So I was quite delighted (but at the same time strangely disappointed) when I could instantly identify our perpetrator in The Adventure Of The Beryl Coronet. Mind you, he still managed to stun me with the more intricate details of the crime i.e. the reasons behind it and for that reason, it was again a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. I don’t think anyone has managed to write a detective as intriguing and as famous as Mr Holmes and I’m sure his stories will continue to entertain for many years to come.

This story follows a banker called Alexander Holder who is given an incredibly valuable and very well known beryl coronet to hold as security when he gives a client a loan of £50,000. Not trusting the safe at his office he keeps the item at home, believing his family and staff trustworthy despite the current disappointment he has in the character of his son, Arthur. Of course, you might have seen it coming, the coronet is damaged one night and some of the jewels are nowhere to be found. Even worse, when Alexander hears the disruption at night, he comes to the room where the coronet is stored to find it in the hands of his son, Arthur who he presumes to have been involved in the crime and calls for him to be arrested. He is now begging Holmes and Watson to discover what really happened that night so he can come to terms with his son being guilty or innocent.

This is a great little mystery to get your teeth into and although I had guessed what had happened and who was responsible, I loved all the minute details that went into how Holmes deduced exactly what had occurred. There’s not that much interaction between Holmes and Watson in this story sadly but I still enjoyed him as a background presence and the narrator of our tale. Holmes is his usual genius self divulging to the reader all the random, tiny little things that you might never pick up on but turn out to be a crucial piece of evidence in solving the mystery – ah, imagine if our police detectives today had his skills?! The next story in this collection is actually the last one I believe and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed discovering Sherlock Holmes for the very first time.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: Freaks: A Rizzoli & Isles Short Story by Tess Gerritsen (stand-alone).


Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Seeing Double by Sara Maitland from the collection The New Uncanny: Tales Of Unease edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page.

Published December 4, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Seeing Double all about?:

Seeing Double is the story of a young boy who lives with his father and is looked after by a nanny. He seldom sees anyone else and there is a terrible reason why he is being kept away from other people.

What did I think?:

Although I’ve never read any of Sara Maitland’s work before, I’m very familiar with her name and have her non-fiction book, Gossip From The Forest as a priority read on my Kindle that now I’ve finally read some of her fiction, I simply must make time for in the New Year. For this short story, all I can say is wow. This little tale really floored me, it was so powerful in its nature and the clever reveals throughout which led up to an explosive ending were simply stunning. I’ve heard that Sara Maitland has a bit of a talent for short story writing (that’s putting it lightly!) but I wasn’t prepared at all for how marvellous her writing actually was and I’m delighted to finally have discovered her.

Now, the only annoying thing about Seeing Double is that I’m going to have to be incredibly careful what I tell you about it! I really don’t want to ruin anything and if I reveal the “big secret,” that our young male protagonist has, I’ll be doing exactly that. Let’s just say that we have a young boy born whose mother sadly dies when she gives birth to him. The midwife who assisted at the birth ends up being employed by the boy’s father as a permanent nanny to look after him and they are ensconced in a large house in the country with his father who becomes increasingly distant as he indulges his passion for nature, although they do have some tender moments playing together with a train set. Our protagonist doesn’t see anyone else apart from Nanny and his father, this includes the various servants that help out in the house until one day a maid enters his room. Both her and the boy find out the reason why he has been secluded and because of this, his life is changed forever:

“Grown-ups, he learned far too suddenly, spoke with double voices, cunningly, so that true and not true weren’t like white and black, like either-or, like plus and minus, they were like the bogs on the hill side, shifty, invisible and dangerous.”

As you can tell from the above quote, the writing is absolutely glorious and I felt just the utmost happiness when I was reading this dark little tale, purely for the gorgeous lyrical style and the way that the author uses her words to beautiful effect. Yes, this story has murky depths and goes to some strange and fascinating places so if you’re not into twisted tales, this might not be the story for you BUT I urge you to give it a chance because I’m now desperate to talk to anyone who has read this before and hear all their thoughts on it. I immediately felt so sorry for our protagonist when we learn what he has to deal with but I certainly wasn’t expecting the direction in which Sara Maitland took it in one of the most dramatic conclusions I think I’ve ever read in a short story. Have I convinced you yet? I’ve undeniably convinced myself that I need to read something else by this author ASAP.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):




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

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Man From Mars by Margaret Atwood from the collection The Story: Love, Loss & The Lives Of Women.

Published November 28, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Man From Mars all about?:

The Man From Mars follows a female college student as she deals with the unexpected attention she receives from an insistent male admirer.

What did I think?:

Firstly, I want to let it be known how much respect and love I have for Margaret Atwood as an author, if I haven’t mentioned her already. I have tended to prefer her novels to her shorter fiction (that I’ve read so far) but this isn’t saying much as the only shorter pieces I’ve read from her is the Positron series which, although brilliant on some levels, was incredibly odd in others. The Man From Mars is another example of Margaret Atwood at her best and I loved the way my emotions about this story waxed and waned in different directions and made me think about certain things in a whole new light. However, I have to confess finding myself slightly disappointed about the ending – perhaps I expected more?

Our main female protagonist is Christine, who loves tennis and is described as “big boned,” or athletic. Her parents don’t have too many hopes for her romantically or socially and luckily (for them!) she has two beautiful sisters that have married and had children very successfully. Christine is used to the relationships she has with men. They see her as “one of the guys,” friendly enough and fun to be with but not remotely like a girl they would normally be attracted to. This all changes for Christine one day when she is approached by a foreign male student looking for directions on campus and she stops to assist him. Unfortunately, he takes this opportunity a little too far and becomes obsessed with Christine – following her everywhere, calling her and merely breathing down the phone and even getting himself invited round to tea, insisting that he is her friend. Christine meanwhile is in quite the quandary. She is not remotely drawn to this young man and in fact, finds him quite repulsive with his worn down clothes and incredibly bitten nails. On the other hand though, she has never in her life had this much attention before and she secretly quite likes it, making it quite difficult when the attention is eventually taken away.

This short story elicited so many varied feelings for me! Margaret Atwood is an absolute master at creating an atmosphere within a narrative and in The Man From Mars I shifted constantly from being supremely uncomfortable (and a bit terrified, I have to say!) to feeling slightly scornful of Christine and the way she was dealing with the situation to finally feeling hugely sympathetic towards both parties in their odd little relationship. I think the author was making some very clever statements about how we might view someone or stereotype someone from a different culture and how we shouldn’t be so quick to pass judgement purely based on someone’s behaviour or appearance as there might be quite a valid reason for it being that way that we are unaware of. Sadly, I’m sure I’ve been guilty of this myself in the past, even if it was subconscious and I’ve definitely been the victim of it myself with people who are obviously ignorant and don’t know any better. For these reasons, I really did enjoy this story and the way that I was made to assess my own thoughts and emotions. It was just a bit of a shame that the ending wasn’t quite to my liking, it all felt a bit too abrupt and it would have been nice to get a definitive resolution for both our characters.

Would I recommend it?:


Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: Seeing Double by Sara Maitland from the collection The New Uncanny: Tales Of Unease edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page.

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Wisht by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

Published November 23, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Wisht all about?:

Wisht follows our young female protagonist as she accompanies her father on a walk through the moor one night, fearful of the legend of the Wisht Hounds.

What did I think?:

Now that I’ve read the penultimate story in this collection, I’m starting to think back on all the stories and gather my thoughts on the collection as a whole. There’s no denying that it’s a gorgeous piece of fiction, especially for a debut work and obviously, I loved that Lucy Wood used the setting of Cornwall and Cornish folklore to bring an extra mythical or otherworldly edge to her tales. As with many short story collections that I’ve read, unfortunately there are some stories that just don’t grab my attention as much as others and I’m sorry to say Wisht was one of those. There are many positive things to be taken from it which I’ll talk about later but generally, I found this story to be slightly forgettable and I think generally speaking there’s better stories that showcase the author’s talent much more effectively.

Wisht is about a young girl who seems to live alone with her father (her mother is never mentioned in the narrative which I found slightly odd). Her father tends to go out at night on long walks over the moor and although he checks she is asleep before he leaves, she is pretending and watches out of the window until she sees the light of the torch as he returns. She is incredibly protective of him and worries about the amount of weight he has lost – perhaps this is down to bereavement and the loss of his wife? Who knows? We are never told. One evening however, he wakes his daughter up and asks her to accompany him on his nightly walk where they have a tender moment right at the very end of the narrative.

That’s it, basically. Nothing much happens, even on the walk. Oh, her father falls over once and tells his daughter to be careful lest she fall over herself. Also she keeps hearing howling which she is certain is the legendary Wisht Hounds that roam the moors at night, looking for human subjects to devour. However, we don’t really get much more about the Wisht Hounds apart from that which was a bit of a shame as I found them to be quite an interesting part of the story. I did love the relationship between father and daughter, even finding myself a bit envious of the unconditional love they obviously have for each other and I adored how protective she was of her father, worrying for him as he went into the Hounds territory but savvy enough to not let him see how concerned she was about him. Personally, this was just a “meh” story for me. The writing is undeniably beautiful, like all of Lucy Wood’s writing in this collection and, as I mentioned, I thought the Wisht Hounds mystery was quite exciting but sadly never developed as fully as I would have hoped. Nevertheless, I am still looking forward to the final story in this collection as I do enjoy the way the author uses stunning prose and magical folklore to tell a contemporary story.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Man From Mars by Margaret Atwood from the collection The Story: Love, Loss & The Lives Of Women.


What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky – Lesley Nneka Arimah

Published November 21, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A stunning collection of short stories from Caine-Prize shortlisted and Commonwealth Writer’s Prize winner Lesley Nneka Arimah, WHAT IT MEANS WHEN A MAN FALLS FROM THE SKY is a debut with all the imagination of Helen Oyeyemi’s The Icarus Girl and the toughness of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels.

‘When Enebeli Okwara sent his girl out in the world, he did not know what the world did to daughters’. The daughters, wives and mothers in Lesley Nneka Arimah’s remarkable debut collection find themselves in extraordinary situations: a woman whose mother’s ghost appears to have stepped out of a family snapshot, another who, exhausted by childlessness, resorts to fashioning a charmed infant out of human hair, a ‘grief worker’ with a miraculous ability to remove emotional pain – at a price. What unites them is the toughness of the world they inhabit, a world where the future is uncertain, opportunities are scant, and fortunes change quicker than the flick of a switch. Characterised by their vividness, immediacy and the author’s seemingly endless ability to conjure worlds at once familiar and unsettlingly different, this collection showcases the work of an extraordinarily talented writer at the start of a brilliant career.

What did I think?:

First of all, thank you so much to the wonderful Tinder Press for approving my request to read this absorbing and captivating short story collection on NetGalley, it has within it some of the best short stories I’ve read this year. I had seen the buzz about this book on Twitter, loved the sound of it and although I could have put it as the next book to read in my Short Stories Challenge, I honestly couldn’t wait that long to read it. As it is, I devoured the entire twelve stories within twenty-four hours and am already considering reading them again shortly, that’s how much of an impact they had on me.

I’m not going to talk about all of the stories in this collection, merely the ones that had the desired effect but, to be honest, I’m really going to have to whittle them down even further as this collection is so fantastic that there was only one tale that I didn’t believe was as fantastic as the rest and as someone who has had quite a lot of experience with short stories now, that is a rare thing indeed! The first story, The Future Looks Good (described more than adequately in the synopsis) hit me like a ton of bricks. From the very first line: “Ezinma fumbles the keys against the lock and doesn’t see what came behind her:,” to the startling, literally jaw-dropping ending, I knew I had fallen head over heels in love with this author, her writing and this collection. It takes quite a lot to make me gasp out loud when I’m reading and the reaction I had to this first story even had my boyfriend slightly worried!

Right away, I knew I was reading something special. However, now the bar was set extraordinarily high for the rest of the book and I always feel slightly nervous when this kind of thing happens, rare though it is. The rest of the stories didn’t have exactly the same effect I have to say, but that does not mean they were in any way inferior, just clever and more subtle. Windfalls is about a mother who deliberately places her daughter in harm’s way, hoping that she gets injured so that she can sue and claim money is one of the darkest, most warped pieces of fiction I’ve ever read but it was utterly compelling, even as I felt sickened by this so-called “mother.”

Then there is Who Will Greet You At Home, a fantastical story about a woman who makes babies out of a range of materials for “Mama” to breathe life into them in exchange for some of her emotions, namely joy. Making babies like this is a regular practice for girls in this world but they are advised never to make a baby out of human hair. So can you then guess what our protagonist does? Say no more. Then there is the emotional Second Chances, where we follow a young woman struggling with the grief for her dead mother, especially when her mother’s ghost makes a return to the house as if nothing had ever happened. The only story in this collection that I didn’t connect with is What Is A Volcano which reads almost like a fairy-tale (so you’d think I would love it, right?) about a war between the God of Ants and the Goddess of Rivers. As with the others, it was beautifully written with such stunning imagery but for some reason I didn’t gel with it as much as I did with the other eleven tales in this book.

One of the things that I adore so much about this collection is that these stories cross the boundaries between a variety of genres. We have family drama – including relationships between parents and children and the heart-break that can follow estrangement, dystopia and the imaginings of a future world where mathematicians can cure grief, magical realism where childlessness is solved by making a baby out of whatever materials you can find around the house and finally, the historical past of a country. Each of our protagonists is engaging and interesting and you really do want to learn about their lives, even if by reading it stirs up such a hornets nest of emotions that it makes you quite dizzy (yet strangely hungry for more) which was certainly the case here. I also loved that the stories were either set in Nigeria (past, present or future) or in America about the Nigerian immigrant experience which, personally speaking, made each tale so much more fascinating.

As I’ve written this review, I’ve actually changed my rating on Goodreads. I originally awarded it four (more like four and a half) purely because of the story I didn’t quite get on with. However, just writing this review has made me realise that I need to give this collection five stars – indeed, I’d give it six if I could. Lesley Nneka Arimah is such a talented and exhilirating new writer that I’m almost bursting with desperation for her to write something else just so I can indulge myself in her writing for the first time once more.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Unplugged by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears

Published November 19, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Unplugged all about?:

With references to The Wizard Of Oz, Unplugged follows a young woman who hears voices in her head which leads to dramatic consequences as she chooses to listen.

What did I think?:

It’s purely coincidence that this story rolled around as part of my Short Stories Challenge quite soon after I had posted a review of a novel also compared to The Wizard Of Oz, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead by Charlie Laidlaw. As a previously bona fide fangirl of The Wizard Of Oz I was delighted to read another piece of contemporary fiction with nods to this classic and brilliant story. Having read a few of the tales in this collection now, I knew to expect the unexpected with Dianne Gray and what I got was yet another powerful piece of writing that remains firmly etched in my memory, for all the best reasons.

Unplugged follows our female protagonist, who was adopted at four years of age and had her name changed from Elmira Gulch to Dorothy Gale. Anyone remember who Elmira Gulch was in The Wizard Of Oz? Go to the top of the class if you said The Wicked Witch Of The West. Dorothy has been struggling her whole life with the voice of a witch in her head telling her incredible things about the world and causing her to lose her job at Toto Cut Price Deli. For example, God doesn’t exist and humans were created by viruses and germs purely as a means of transport. She also tells her that cameras are everywhere, watching her every move, making her paranoid and frustrated. Things only get worse when Hickory at the second hand shop refuses to sell her a pair of ruby slippers that the witch in her brain assures her she has to have if she has a chance of returning home to her birth parents:

“I decided it was time for the truth and told Hickory that my real name was Dorothy. I had a witch flying around in my head, I had been adopted at four years of age and I needed the slippers to find my way home. He told me he was the Tin Man and called the police.”

The rest of the story follows Dorothy as she struggles, in vain with the things the witch is telling her to to leading to a run in with the local police and a life-changing incident. It is filled with the most beautiful, poetical language that at times, took my breath away. For example, she talks about the time she visited her Grandpa Gale in hospital:

“He was a big man who had wasted away to a leaf. Death was building a birdcage out of his ribs.”

Simply gorgeous and so evocative! However, this is nothing compared to the poignancy of the ending. Now I’ve mentioned that I know what to expect from Dianne Gray, so you would think I’d be prepared for the way she tends to end her stories? No. Each time I’m astounded by the way she manages to turn things and pull on your emotions so that you see things from a whole new light and this particular ending was horrid, bitter-sweet and unforgettable. Manslaughter And Other Tears is fast becoming one of my favourite short story collections for sure. There’s only been one story so far that I haven’t found quite as fantastic as the others – that was Still Life (although the bar for her work has been set extraordinarily high I have to say!). The author’s use of fairy-tale imagery and the atmosphere she creates when setting her scenes is second to none and I cannot praise her work highly enough.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: Wisht by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles.

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Published November 14, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands all about?:

The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands follows a group of friends who gather to hear spooky tales. The tale for this evening involves a man whom as the title may suggest does not under any circumstance shake hands… but why?

What did I think?:

You must all be bored of me professing my love for Stephen King by now surely? If you haven’t been here before or haven’t heard me gushing on about him before I’ll just say he is without a doubt my all time favourite author. However, I have come to realise over all the years that I’ve read him that at times, I do need to take those rose-tinted glasses off. I don’t love absolutely everything he has ever written and sometimes, I haven’t been as enamoured with one of his short stories as I would have liked but damn, Skeleton Crew has to be one of his finest collections so far.

It opens to a group of friends who are meeting to tell each other frightening stories. One of the men, George Gregson is particularly adept at holding his friends in utter rapture with his tales and that evening, he begins to tell a true story of a man that he professes to have been murdered in the exact same room that they find themselves in just over sixty years prior to this evening. This story involves George and a group of his friends who want to play a hand or two of cards but are lacking another man to make up the numbers. Enter Henry Brower, a friendly enough stranger to the group but with a strange tendency to shy away from anyone shaking his hand or in fact, coming near to touching him at all. We soon find out why exactly Henry fears the touch of anyone else when after a bit of drink, one of George’s friends takes his hand mistakenly to congratulate him on winning a hand. Henry’s reaction is extreme to say the least but it is only when George follows him outside when he flees that he begins to understand Henry’s reasons for keeping away from human touch.

Of course I’m not going to give anything away except to say I really didn’t realise where this story was going, even though it was hinted at merely a few pages in. The reason for Henry Brower’s complete terror of touch comes from an event in his past that continues to haunt his future and gives him little rest, making him almost an outcast from society and completely miserable to boot. To be honest, when the group were playing cards, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit disappointed. It was dull, I didn’t find it interesting and I couldn’t tell where Stephen King was taking the story. If like me, you decide to read this and feel the same, I beg you to please, please read on because as soon as Henry receives that well intentioned touch of a hand, the story explodes and becomes something entirely more horrific and wonderfully compelling. Stephen King often gets a bit of a reputation as a horror writer because of a few novels he has written (not necessarily because of the vast majority of his work) but when he chooses to write something a bit frightening, think there’s very few people in the world that can do it better.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: Unplugged by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears.