Short stories

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Short Stories Challenge 2016 – A Convalescent Ego by Richard Yates from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Published January 15, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s A Convalescent Ego all about?:

A Convalescent Ego is about a man who has been quite ill, was hospitalised and is recovering from surgery at home. This story explores his mindset as he has a little accident in the house and pictures multiple scenarios of how his wife will react when she gets home.

What did I think?:

As I mentioned with previous posts regarding this collection, the stories within it are beautifully grouped into separate sections. This story falls into the category of Stories To Read When It’s All Going Wrong and was a wonderful surprise to me as I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. The author, Richard Yates is famous for his critically acclaimed novel Revolutionary Road (which is languishing on my shelves at the moment but I do intend to get to it someday!). Unfortunately he passed away in 1992 but if this story is any testament to the way he usually writes I’m determined to get to more of his work sooner rather than later.

The story focuses on a couple, Bill and Jean although we mainly hear from the perspective of Bill. He has been ill recently and is recovering from surgery. He is not expected to recover for at least another month and we get the feeling that both himself and his wife are becoming slightly frustrated with his lack of activity, especially as they have a young child to look after, although Jean is fully aware it is through no fault of his own. Jean takes their son out for a short time and whilst she is away she asks Bill if he would mind rinsing out some teacups for her that she is quite fond of. Poor Bill cannot even do this right, he ends up breaking one of the precious cups while washing it. Easy done, you might say but Bill feels terribly guilty about it all and begins to procrastinate through several scenarios in his head about how his wife will react when she discovers what she has done.

The wonderful thing about this story is how detailed Bill’s possible scenarios become, with full conversations between the two, facial expressions, different endings etc, all which involve him going back to work early, replacing her cup and returning with champagne as a surprise for her which he feels might soften the blow but all scenarios he thinks off, end badly for him. He even goes as far as to start to get ready to go to work, suited and booted, puffing and panting – obviously not ready in the slightest to return to work at all! Throughout this, as images of the many different ways their conversation could go run through his head, I got a incredibly warm feeling towards Bill as a character. I found myself feeling so sorry for him, so admiring of his tenacity in trying to make things better after an incident that was clearly an accident that could have happened to anyone.

Bill builds it up in his mind so much as to be something huge when it was really so trivial and a little ridiculous but his love and respect for Jean is clear. Then….the ending. The way it went in the end when Jean finally did get home was absolutely perfect and gave me a little fuzzy feeling of happiness. It made me realise how connected I had become to the characters and their situation, the sign of a masterful author for sure.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Raft by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

 

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Part One

Published January 7, 2017 by bibliobeth

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Its a new year and time for some more short stories. I usually do short stories in three month blocks however I’ve been struggling to keep up with this so instead of calling this post January to March I shall call it Part One and see how I get on! This is what I’ll be reading in the first half of 2017:

The Raft by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

The Butcher Of Meena Creek by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears

The Wishing Tree by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

Faithful Lovers by Margaret Drabble from the collection The Story: Love Loss & The Lives Of Women

Double Room by Ramsey Campbell from the collection The New Uncanny: Tales Of Unease edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page

The Adventure Of The Engineer’s Thumb by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

Erase Me: Positron, Episode Three – Margaret Atwood (stand-alone)

On The Banks Of Table River: (Planet Lucina, Andromeda Galaxy, AD 2319) by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner: Love Stories

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

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

Short Stories Challenge – What We Save by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Published January 6, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s What We Save all about?:

The penultimate story in Julie Orringer’s marvellous short story collection focuses on two sisters who visit Disneyland in Florida with their mother who is suffering from cancer.

What did I think?:

I’ve really fallen in love with some of the characters and the stories in this collection. Hard-hitting, poignant, heart-breaking and often about difficult subjects, a lot of the stories are not exactly what I would call cheery reading but they definitely touch something inside of you as you read them. What We Save is another classic example of a family in turmoil, trying to make each day count as they spend a day out in the land of make believe, Disneyland, Orlando.

We are instantly placed into the perspective of a young girl of 14, Helena who also has a younger sister, Margot. They are on their way to Disneyland to meet up with their mother’s old high school sweetheart and his family to spend a magical day. All Helena can worry about is her mother, Nancy though and how she is feeling. We guess pretty early on that Nancy is seriously unwell, probably cancer when she is described as wearing a wig but it is confirmed fairly swiftly. We also get a sense of how strongly the mother feels about her old flame, Brian and how important today is for her, especially as she seems to have something she wants to hand over, something she has saved for many years.

This idea of her mother handing over something so treasured to her devastates Helena as she worries that this may be a sign that her mother is finally giving up and letting cancer win. However, this is not her only worry of the day. During one of the rides (Space Mountain for Disney fans), something happens to Helena that robs her of all her childhood innocence and suggests that she may finally have entered the scary, sometimes tragic world of being an adult.

This story was so touching and you can probably guess, quite hard to read at times. I’m lucky enough not to have had any of my close family succumb to cancer at this time but there’s been a scare both with myself and another person. I remember how terrifying even the thought of the deadly “C” felt so I can’t imagine how people who have actually lost their loved ones would feel reading this. However, I did also like that it was not just about cancer, it was about Helena and what she goes through at Disneyland. In a way, she loses something forever that can’t be returned and I believe this connects with fearing the potential loss of her mother which makes the experience all the more scary. I’m a bit sad that there is only one more story to go in this brilliant awe-inspiring collection, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and, for a debut collection, it’s truly an amazing piece of work.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

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

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

Published December 19, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s Hogmanay Homicide all about?:

Set in the early 1900’s, Hogmanay Homicide tells the story of friends at a New Year’s Eve house party where one of them is brutally murdered. The question is, which one of the friends did the deed?

What did I think?:

I’m loving my short stories challenge as it continues especially with collections like these where I find so many new to me authors that I’ve never heard of before. Edward Marston is a pseudonym for the British author Keith Miles who has written a number of different novels in a variety of genres from historical fiction and mystery to children’s books. This collection so far has featured a number of contemporary crime narratives so I found it quite refreshing to read something based much earlier in time that had a very classic, Edwardian feel to it.

Our main character in Hogmanay Homicide is Hawley Crippen, married to Cora for a number of years yet exhibiting quite a strained relationship with his wife who is prominent in the theatre world, singing opera for a living. They decide to host a New Year’s Eve party, something he is dreading as he thinks very little of some of the invited guests. They consist of Cora’s good friend Mabel, a magician and his assistant, a brash Scotsman called Angus and a Frenchman called Landru, whom Huxley is particularly suspicious of.

So, we’ve all been at one of those parties where too much of the old drink is taken and the inebriated individual becomes loud, opinionated and incredibly irritating. This is what happens at this particular party with one guest which leads to horrific consequences when the drunkard ends up at the bottom of the cellar stairs, head smashed in with a large piece of coal. Not the best start to a New Year you might say! Hawley is determined that no-one will leave the house until he figures out who the villain is and what reason they had to murder the guest.

As I mentioned earlier, I did enjoy that this story was set in the 1900’s in comparison to more contemporary crime I’ve read recently. For a while at least, I did also enjoy the writing style although I never particularly warmed to any of the characters. The magician was bland, his female assistant more so, Angus was just a caricature of a typical Scotsman – which I have to admit annoyed me slightly and I didn’t feel either Hawley or his wife Cora had any real redeeming features at all which would make me interested in them. The only slightly intriguing character for me was the Frenchman, Landru and that was mainly because of the air of mystery that surrounded him and the reasons why he was in the country. There were parts I really enjoyed about this little story despite my misgivings however and I wouldn’t mind trying something else by this author.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: What We Save by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

 

 

Short Stories Challenge – The Haunter Of The Dark by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Published November 20, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s The Haunter Of The Dark all about?:

The Haunter Of The Dark follows a male protagonist as he becomes obsessed with an old church which he can see from his own lodgings not far away. Of course, in typical Lovecraftian style, there is something evil within the church that leads our main character to a bit of a sticky ending.

What did I think?:

I think it’s fair to say that the Lovecraft stories I have read in this collection have been a bit hit and miss for me. Sometimes I can see the excellence in the writing, sometimes the stories are a bit eerie and give me a few shivers, then… there are other times that I find myself irritated by the over-flowery vocabulary and too many similarities between the stories. With The Haunter Of The Dark, I’m afraid I found myself of the latter opinion and didn’t really enjoy this tale too much.

The Haunter Of The Dark is famous for being the last-written of the author’s known works and is part of the Cthulhu Mythos (which I guess explains the similarities between other stories?). This is a shared fictional universe of Lovecraft’s where other authors have contributed work that can stand alone but may also fit into the development of the plot, characters or general world. I am in no way, shape or form an expert on this world from the few stories I have read that describe the creature Cthulhu or its genesis/development and must confess to feeling slightly confused over the whole thing – if any Lovecraft experts would like to explain, I’d be very grateful for some explanations!

As with many of Lovecraft’s stories, we focus on a male protagonist – Robert Blake, a writer and painter with an interest in the occult. He becomes intrigued and then rather consumed by an ancient church that he can see from his rooms in Providence, Rhode Island. Determined to investigate the old building, despite warnings from the superstitious locals he ends up releasing a primeval being and discovering the sinister history of the church, connected to a cult known as the Church Of Starry Wisdom. The being is kept constrained within the building by the lights of the town and can only work its mischief when there is complete darkness. So, of course the town undergoes a power cut during a thunderstorm, releasing the demon with severe consequences for our male lead.

Okay, so positive things about this story. The thought of an ancient (and evil) being that can only carry out its dastardly deeds under the cover of darkness is very creepy I grant you. It plays on on your old childhood fears of the dark, what might be under your bed or that panicky moment when the lights go out if you’re not expecting it. Apart from this, I have to admit I struggled with The Haunter Of The Dark. The story seemed so formulaic, there was nothing special or different about Robert as a character and, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have finished it if I didn’t have to write this review. We know it doesn’t end well when the beginning of the story opens with our main character’s death (which was probably the most exciting few sentences of the entire narrative). Hugely disappointing, I’m very much hoping that the next H.P. Lovecraft story I read will be a pleasant surprise!

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

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

 

Short Stories Challenge – Getting It Wrong by Ramsey Campbell from the collection A Book Of Horrors

Published October 18, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s Getting It Wrong all about?:

Getting It Wrong takes a radio quiz show and the actions of “phoning a friend,” to horrifying new extremes.

What did I think?:

Ramsey Campbell is a name I’ve often heard in various circles as a master of the horror genre who has been churning out his work for the past fifty years, influenced and compared to H.P. Lovecraft by many. Even though he seems to have woefully passed me by, I was really excited to read some of his work and I’m happy to announce that his short story, Getting It Wrong, did not disappoint. It is obvious to me that the fluidity of the writing and chilling finale of this story comes from years of experience and he’s certainly mastered his craft.

This short story follows a few days in the life of Eric Edgeworth, who lives solely for films and the joy they bring him. None of this new rubbish you understand, but the classics, like Hitchcock and great actors like James Dean and Cary Grant. He works at the local cinema complex but sadly, doesn’t seem to have many friends, perhaps due to the age difference between them (usually a few decades) but he also seems to be somewhat of a loner. That is, until one night at midnight when he gets a strange telephone call to ask if he will be the expert friend on a quiz show for a lady he barely speaks to at work but is aware of, Mary Barton.

At first, Eric believes this to be some sort of joke that his colleagues are playing on him although he notices that Mary is becoming increasingly more terrified as he answers a question about a particular film wrong three times – unfortunately the maximum amount that is allowed. When he sees Mary at work the next day, he notices she has a rather large, bandaged finger but thinks nothing of it until once again that night, he is called to answer another film-based question for Mary of which she is desperate for him to get right. This is a radio show, there’s reasons for that and we begin to understand why it cannot/should not be broadcast on television. When Mary doesn’t turn up for work the next day and Eric has one final chance to help her, the tables begin to turn – NOT in Eric’s favour and this turns out to be the most deadly quiz show in history.

I really loved the way the author set this short story out, his brilliance in ramping up the tension, ever so slowly is undeniable and certain little lines, placed perfectly at certain points in the narrative gave me chills:

“It’s not a show for children, Mr Edgeworth.”

I had so many unanswered questions about both the characters and the narrative. Just why was Mary Barton doing this quiz show in the first place? Why didn’t Eric grab a moment to speak to her when he saw her at work after the first phone call? However, if these questions were answered for me, I don’t think it would have made the story as thrilling as it ended up being. Although I didn’t feel the characters were developed very far, it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story-telling and I appreciated it for what it was, an exciting read with an ending that I’m still thinking about and wondering… just what happens next??

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Haunter Of The Dark by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft.

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

Published October 10, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s Red Letter Day all about?:

Red Letter Day tells the story of a grief-stricken mother who decides to go on a special journey to try and find peace.

What did I think?:

There are a few things I am really enjoying about this short story collection by Kate Mosse. The first one is the author notes she pops in after each story which lets the reader know what inspired her to write it, where the idea for the story first came from and why she chose to set it where she did. Occasionally I do like my stories to have a bit of mystique and decide things about it for myself but for some reason with this collection, the author notes really work and didn’t spoil the magic by any means.

Red Letter Day is quite a sad little tale, focusing on a grieving young mother who lost her young son three years ago when he was a baby and has never recovered from the tragedy, despite the usual cliches she is being subjected to by well-meaning friends i.e. “time is a great healer.” She feels a great connection to a village near the Pyrenees in France which has a horrific history that involved a lot of violence and bloodshed in medieval times. The decision for her is an easy one. She resolves to go to the castle where many years ago, hundreds of men and women walked into a fire rather than renounce their faith. After considering it for a while, and coming upon the knowledge that she had an ancestor there at that particular time, she is certain that this is the only way she will find peace. I think we can perhaps guess what she is planning to do?

I quite enjoyed this story for the most part and although I felt terribly sorry for our lead female character, I didn’t feel like I connected with her as much as I would have liked. Perhaps finding out more of her back story would have helped but I felt a strange detachment to her and what she was planning to do. What about her family – parents, husband/partner, friends? Were they even a factor in her deciding to take this path? I did however love the historical fiction part of the story and it reminded me very much of the author’s novels Labyrinth and Citadel, told with as much passion and knowledge as I have come to expect from the writings of Kate Mosse. She is also a wonder at setting a scene and although this story isn’t super-creepy in any way, there is something vastly unsettling and tragic about it, especially when you consider the subject matter and I certainly wanted to know what was going to happen at the end, even if it was slightly predictable.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: Getting It Wrong by Ramsey Campbell from the collection A Book Of Horrors