Short stories

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Manipulated Lives – H.A. Leuschel

Published September 8, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Five stories – Five Lives.
Have you ever felt confused or at a loss for words in front of a spouse, colleague or parent, to the extent that you have felt inadequate or, worse, a failure? Do you ever wonder why someone close to you seems to endure humiliation without resistance?
Manipulators are everywhere. At first these devious and calculating people can be hard to spot, because that is their way. They are often masters of disguise: witty, disarming, even charming in public – tricks to snare their prey – but then they revert to their true self of being controlling and angry in private. Their main aim: to dominate and use others to satisfy their needs, with a complete lack of compassion and empathy for their victim.
In this collection of short novellas, you meet people like you and me, intent on living happy lives, yet each of them, in one way or another, is caught up and damaged by a manipulative individual. First you meet a manipulator himself, trying to make sense of his irreversible incarceration. Next, there is Tess, whose past is haunted by a wrong decision, then young, successful and well balanced Sophie, who is drawn into the life of a little boy and his troubled father. Next, there is teenage Holly, who is intent on making a better life for herself and finally Lisa, who has to face a parent’s biggest regret. All stories highlight to what extent abusive manipulation can distort lives and threaten our very feeling of self-worth.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to the author Helene Leuschel for providing me with a copy of her series of novellas, Manipulated Lives in exchange for an honest review. I have read some fantastic reviews of this collection around the blogosphere and was really excited to discover the stories for myself. I was slightly concerned that the subject matter would be too difficult for me to read about (having been a victim of emotional manipulation in the past) but in fact, it was quite a cathartic reading experience and I appreciated the way in which the author presented all the possible guises of a narcissistic/manipulative personality.

Manipulated Lives is a collection of five different novellas, all involving a character that has been manipulated in some manner. Covering both sexes, differing sexual preferences and across a broad age range this versatile collection of stories includes an old woman called Tess who almost lost her family because of the manipulation of her lover, a coming of age story about a teenage girl called Holly who is falling in love for the first time with entirely the wrong sort of boy, a woman called Lisa who realises (perhaps, too late?) the type of son that she has raised and the story of Sophie who begins a relationship with a man and his son only for things to become incredibly intense very quickly. My favourite story in the collection has to be The Narcissist where we get a fascinating insight into the personality of an expert manipulator as we learn more about his life and how he ended up in the hospital bed where he now finds himself, confused and completely alone.

Normally when you read a short story/novella collection, there are those stories that you don’t necessarily warm to that much but I can definitely say, hand on heart, this wasn’t the case with Helene’s collection. I may have liked some of the tales slightly more than others but there wasn’t one story in the bunch that I disliked, a rare thing indeed and proof of the author’s wonderful ability for story-telling. Some of the things she wrote, especially when she was describing the personality of a manipulative individual were so spot on I found myself nodding along, instantly transported back to the past when I had the misfortune to be involved with such a person but the good luck to find a way out of it. I loved the variety of characters and situations that were explored and found it so easy to read this collection in one sitting, instantly compelled to read “just one more story,” until the collection was complete. If you’re looking for a gripping read with a psychological edge that can be enjoyed bit by bit or all in one go, I highly recommend Helene Leuschel’s writing.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Murders In The Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe from the collection The Best Short Stories Of Edgar Allan Poe.

Published September 6, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Murders In The Rue Morgue all about?:

C. Auguste Dupin is a man in Paris who solves the mysterious brutal murder of two women. Numerous witnesses heard a suspect, though no one agrees on what language was spoken. At the murder scene, Dupin finds a hair that does not appear to be human.

What did I think?:

I approached this short story with slight trepidation – I’m afraid I didn’t have a brilliant experience with the first story in this collection, The Gold-Bug and I have actually read The Murders In The Rue Morgue before, many years ago and don’t have particularly fond memories of it either. On reading it for the second time I’ve found that I can appreciate some aspects of Poe’s writing and I can agree that the entire mystery behind the murders and unmasking of the murderer is intriguing enough but I can’t seem to get past some parts of the narrative which really annoy me. I find it far too detailed (and hence, dull) for my liking and think in some instances, certain parts of it are wholly unnecessary.

The story involves two men – Dupin and his unnamed friend whom in the main part of the story, are investigating two brutal murders that happened on the Rue Morgue in Paris and are completely foxing the authorities. The two women killed are mother and daughter and there appears to be no apparent motive for the crime. In fact, 4000 francs of the women’s money has been left behind in the room where they were killed so robbery is highly unlikely. There are a few other strange occurrences in this investigation – namely the sheer violence that the perpetrator used to commit the crime. The daughter’s body appears to have been throttled to death and then pushed up a chimney with immense force and the mother’s body has been viciously mutilated and practically decapitated. The Paris police are stumped and although they have arrested a man in connection with the murders, Dupin proves them wrong when a curious clump of hair is found in the hands of Madame L’Espanaye’s corpse.

I’ll start with the negative aspects of this story because I was pleased to discover on my second reading that there were some positive points to be taken! First of all, at the beginning of the story, our narrator goes on and on about the analytical mind and describes a walk he takes with his friend Dupin which surprises him when Dupin manages to figure out exactly what he has been thinking. Although this might set up the story and describe how Dupin unravels the mystery of the Rue Morgue murders I really did think it was unnecessary and rather tedious. If it hadn’t been for knowing how the story was going to pan out having read it years ago, this may have been the point where I gave up and just put the book down. However, the plot does get a lot better when Dupin takes us through what happened the night of the murders and then eventually, the identity of the true murderer which is a bit unique to say the least! Again, I did find things were analysed in much more detail than was necessary….is an entire page about a nail really that important to the plot for example? However, I am giving it a higher rating than I might normally purely because I found the mystery incredibly interesting in itself (although I have to say, it’s no Sherlock Holmes!) and Poe certainly doesn’t shy away from the more grisly components of a story.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: Little Radish by Angela Slatter from the collection Sourdough And Other Stories.

 

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

Published September 1, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Monte Verità all about?:

The second story in Daphne du Maurier’s collection focuses on a mysterious mountain cult who are promised immortality but there is a price to pay.

What did I think?:

Oh my goodness, that was a slog and a half. Let’s get this straight, Daphne du Maurier is one of my all time favourite authors but with Monte Verità, she might have just proved to me that you’re not necessarily going to love everything that your favourite author writes! The second story in this collection is more like a novella, it’s about sixty pages long and, to be honest, I could feel every single one of those pages dragging along. It started off promisingly enough and I was quite excited to see where the author was going to take it but I was sorely disappointed by the end. It felt more like an epic saga of a story – which, I would normally be well up for but something just didn’t sit right with me. Perhaps it was the length, perhaps it was a bit too airy-fairy for me who can say? All I do know is that I was quite relieved when I (eventually) came to the end.

There is a lot going on in this story, a huge amount and I don’t want to go into the plot too much for fear of my review turning into as much of an rigmarole as the story itself! Basically, it involves a strange mountain in Europe (we are not told exactly where) called Monte Verità that hosts on its very summit, a perplexing cult that the surrounding villages are terrified of. This is because once their daughters hit the age of thirteen they have the potential to be “called” to the mountain where they are never seen again.

The narrative follows our unnamed narrator, his friend Victor and his new wife Anna and their dealings with the mountain. Anna has always seemed to have a certain kind of stillness, serenity and restlessness, almost like she is continually looking for something. Well, when she deigns to climb Monte Verità with her keen mountaineer husband Victor, she finds out exactly what she is looking for and that is to join the cult at the summit. The story follows our narrator as he listens to what has happened from Victor whom in the middle of a nervous breakdown and then our narrator attempts to ascend the mountain and get some answers for himself.

Sounds brilliant right? Just the sort of intriguing premise to pull you in? Not for me, unfortunately. I was fascinated at the start mind you, and was thoroughly enjoying it until Anna went up the mountain. After that, everything just fell slightly flat for me. I don’t think we found out enough about the people who lived at the summit i.e. how they lived, what they believed in and the secret of their apparent immortality and the story-line in general from this point just got slightly wishy-washy and vague which irritated me to no end! I’m not sure what I was expecting when I first starting reading the story but I certainly didn’t get it and am quite surprised about this as I think it had the potential to be taken in a more darker direction which may have swayed my opinion to a more positive review. I’m sure there’s people out there that would still love this story, this is simply my personal opinion but Daphne, it wasn’t one of your best!

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

 

 

 

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Murders In The Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe from the collection The Best Short Stories Of Edgar Allan Poe.

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Free Fruit For Young Widows by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

Published August 29, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Free Fruit For Young Widows all about?:

In Free Fruit For Young Widows, a father is telling his son the reasons why he is able to forgive a former colleague’s murderous rampage during the war.

What did I think?:

I’m not going to lie, some of the stories in this collection have been very up and down for me. The title story – What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank  was wonderful and I had high hopes for the collection then a couple of the others were just “okay.” However, Nathan Englander has chosen to end this collection with a powerful, hugely emotional short story that has made me look at his writing in a whole different way. Although fairly short, it packs an almighty punch and for me, made for some very uncomfortable reading moments, mainly because of the subject matter which greatly affected me being a pacifist and vehemently against war. However, anyone who knows me well will understand that I love fiction that challenges my own views as a reader and evokes an emotion within me, whether negative or positive and I adore when an author is able to do that to me.

Free Fruits for Young Widows is about a father and son – Shimmy and Etgar who own a fruit and vegetable stand in Jerusalem. Shimmy often gives free fruit to war widows as a matter of respect and honour but he also does the same for an old soldier colleague of his, Professor Tendler. After finding out more about Tendler, Shimmy’s son Etgar is aghast that his father would give him free fruit at all. You see, while his father was at war, Tendler brutally and without hesitation killed four soldiers while they were sitting having their lunch. Shimmy asks why he would do such a thing – why not just take them prisoner? In return, Tendler beats Shimmy violently, permanently altering the shape of his face. Etgar cannot help but despise Tendler for what he did to his father but then Shimmy proceeds to explain why exactly Tendler has his forgiveness and why he continues to give him free fruit on a regular basis. It’s some story, let me tell you!

Of course I’m not going to go into the reasons why Tendler is given a reprieve for his previously horrific behaviour during the war but if you’re at all intrigued I would definitely urge you to seek this little story out. Although it did not change my opinions about killing or war in the slightest it opened my eyes onto what young men were exposed to during the atrocities of battle. In fact, it might have even solidified my opinions about war and about how evil I find it to be. I may not have necessarily agreed with Tendler’s ways of dealing with a situation, especially at one point in the narrative (which was truly gut-wrenching) but I certainly sympathised with the things that he must have seen while serving in the army during a period of history I often wish could be completely erased and have never happened at all.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

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

 

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Vessel by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Published August 26, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Vessel all about?:

Vessel is the story of a widow who receives an unexpected visitor one day in the shape of an old friend who brings her flowers.

What did I think?:

I really, really love Jon McGregor’s writing. Seriously, if I could bottle his talent and then release it into the world, this is the sort of style that I absolutely adore reading and with every story in this collection, I’m always anticipating something quite special. Vessel was another one of these, although I have to admit I had to read this two times to really appreciate what he was trying to say (which wasn’t a problem as it was not only delicious to read but also incredibly short at less than ten pages). Once I had reached the end a second time however and enjoyed that last gorgeous line, something clicked into place and although there was still so much that was unsaid in the narrative, I thoroughly enjoyed every word.

Vessel follows our main female character Mary who has just been treated to an unnamed male guest turning up at her door bearing tulips that it is obvious she has not seen for a while. She is a widow and her husband James is obviously still very present in her thoughts, especially when she begins comparing the two men, for reasons we do not know. It’s clear that she does have some feelings towards her mysterious visitor but is harbouring intense guilt for these feelings and constantly keeps having to remind herself about James. The visitor in turn seems to have strong feelings for Mary and is attempting to bridge the gap between them by suggesting that they could get closer. The end result is that Mary ends up seeing him a lot differently because of his behaviour and actions towards her.

Is this a good thing or bad thing for Mary? We’ll never know (although I have a sneaking suspicion!) as Jon McGregor ends the story with a lot of things “up in the air.” It is left to the reader to interpret things that possibly went on in Mary’s past and what could potentially happen in the future. Sometimes I feel frustrated when stories end like this but funnily enough, I’ve never had that reaction with this author. I don’t know why but his style of writing and wrapping up a story is always more tantalising and intriguing than irritating – perhaps that’s one of the reasons I love him so much. There’s a bucket-load of things that are hinted at in this story or just purely passed over. For example, our visitor has found it quite hard to get flowers, Mary hasn’t seen any for a while and in return, our visitor is quite surprised that Mary has milk, two things that appear to be a rare commodity. We are never told why this is and I so wanted to know! Is there war? Has there been an apocalypse? I’ll never find out and part of me feels a bit sad about that but mostly I just really enjoy letting my imagination run riot.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Free Fruit For Young Widows by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank.

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Part Four

Published August 26, 2017 by bibliobeth

Image from: https://thereadersroom.org/2015/08/07/book-worms-life-in-books-short-stories/

Hello everyone and welcome to the fourth part of my Short Stories Challenge 2017. I’ve had quick a rocky road in Part Three – there were quite a few short stories that I was disappointed in, namely Possum by Matthew Holness and An Anxious Man by James Lasdun. However I did read Word Processor Of The Gods by Stephen King which was fantastic (the King hardly ever disappoints!). Onwards and upwards and hoping for better things in Part Four.

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

Free Fruit For Young Widows by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank.

Monte Verità by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Birds And Other Stories.

The Murders In The Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe from the collection The Best Short Stories Of Edgar Allan Poe.

Little Radish by Angela Slatter from the collection Sourdough And Other Stories.

Go Deep by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone).

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

The Man In The Ditch by Lisa Tuttle from the collection A Book Of Horrors.

The Shadow Out Of Time by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft.

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

Talking About Cartes Postales From Greece by Victoria Hislop with Chrissi Reads

Published August 24, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER

Cartes Postales from Greece is an extraordinary new book from Victoria Hislop, the Sunday Times Number One bestselling author of The Island, The Return, The Thread, and The Sunrise. It is fiction in full colour – magical and unique.

‘Hislop’s passionate love of the country breathes from every page’ Daily Mail

Week after week, the postcards arrive, addressed to a name Ellie does not know, with no return address, each signed with an initial: A.

With their bright skies, blue seas and alluring images of Greece, these cartes postales brighten her life. After six months, to her disappointment, they cease. But the montage she has created on the wall of her flat has cast a spell. She must see this country for herself.

On the morning Ellie leaves for Athens, a notebook arrives. Its pages tell the story of a man’s odyssey through Greece. Moving, surprising and sometimes dark, A‘s tale unfolds with the discovery not only of a culture but also of a desire to live life to the full once more.

Beloved, bestselling author Victoria Hislop’s Cartes Postales from Greece is fiction illustrated with photographs that make this journey around Greece, already alive in the imagination, linger forever in the mind.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: Discuss the structure that Victoria Hislop uses to tell her story.

BETH: I loved the way in which this story was structured. First of all, the author uses photographs of places/people in Greece to illustrate a particular point in the narrative (and I always enjoy seeing something a bit different in a book – illustrations/photographs/emails/letters always welcome!). Not only this but as our male character A is travelling through Greece he comes across a host of different people along the way, all of whom tell him a little story as he passes through. Each of these stories is reproduced like a short story through the novel. This was a great reading experience as you could read it as a whole or read it in little portions i.e. one short story at a time.

BETH: Do you think the inclusion of photographs in a work of fiction changes your reading experience?

CHRISSI: I think the inclusion of photographs does change your reading experience. Having a photograph or a picture of some sort gives you an exact picture of what the author is portraying. Without photographs, it’s left to your imagination which can be very different. Photographs are specific and allow the author to show the reader what they really want them to see.

CHRISSI: How do we learn about A’s character through the notebook?

BETH: To be honest, I don’t think we got to learn a huge amount about A’s character through the novel. We do see the growth he goes through as a person after experiencing heart-break but I think we learn more about Greece as a country and the people that live there rather than about A directly. That was just my personal opinion of it and I felt a bit detached from him as a character because of this.

BETH: How do you think Ellie changed as a person through reading A’s postcards/journal?

CHRISSI: I think Ellie really changed as a person throughout her experience of A’s postcards/journal. She is inspired by his postcards to travel to Greece on her own. The postcards encouraged Ellie to travel and become independent. I believe they changed the direction her life was going and gave her confidence to change her path in life!

CHRISSI: You enjoy reading short stories. What did you make of Victoria Hislop’s inclusion of short stories within this book?

BETH: I certainly do and I loved the addition of short stories in this novel. It made it something quite unique and enjoyable and I loved how each short story stood on its own. Some were a little darker than others, some had a moral tale to tell but I thought it gave a beautiful picture of what Greece was like and it really made me want to visit!

BETH: Which short story stood out the most for you in this novel and why?

CHRISSI: I can’t say one in particular stood out for me. I liked how all of the stories had a message they brought with them. I read them as individual stories and appreciated them for what they were. I’m not the biggest fan of short stories, but I enjoyed these because I felt they let me get to know Greece a little bit more as someone who has never visited (but wants to!) I enjoyed reading about Greek culture, religion and lots more besides through the stories.

CHRISSI: We’ve both read a few of Victoria Hislop’s books now. Was this book what you expected from Victoria?

BETH: Yes, I think so! If I had to compare it with one of my favourite books of hers, The Thread (which I read in my pre blogging days) I have to say I think I prefer The Thread but I still think that its a quick and enjoyable read. I’m still thinking about a couple of the short stories today so they must have had an effect on me! My only criticism is that I don’t think the characters were as well developed as I would have liked. Saying this though, the short stories were brilliant and they made up for any flaws or lack of connection I felt with the characters

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I would. I enjoy Victoria Hislop’s writing when I read it but sometimes I find her books a little heavy going.

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Yes!

BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

CHRISSI’s Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art