Short stories

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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):

four-stars_0

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):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

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

 

 

Short Stories Challenge – The Unremarkable Heart by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Published October 4, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

The Unremarkable Heart is the story of June, a school principal who is given a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer and is thinking back over the trauma in her past at the moment of her death.

What did I think?:

It’s probably no secret to anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis that I’m a big Karin Slaughter fan. There was a time before I expanded my reading horizons slightly that I read this genre pretty much exclusively and along with Tess Gerritsen, Karin Slaughter is one of my “must-buy” authors whenever she releases a new book. I’ve recently been thoroughly enjoying her short stories and The Unremarkable Heart is, I have to say, a complete blinder. The author is becoming hugely expert in writing short fiction that grips the reader immediately from the gripping first line:  “June Connor knew that she was going to die today,” to the final, jaw-dropping ending that I have to admit, did give me a rather embarrassing moment in public as I gasped aloud on a busy train!

June Connor has been given a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer and about five months to live – six if she’s lucky. Unlike other people who rush to do something they have always dreamed of or take a no expenses spared holiday, June carries on working as a principal at the local school. She stays until she can physically and mentally no longer do the job any longer then informs the staff through email of her death sentence. She is being looked after at home by her husband, Richard and as her life-force begins to drain away, she finds herself revisiting two particularly traumatic and life-changing episodes in her past that involve her husband and her daughter, Grace.

Things get a whole lot murkier when June recounts for the reader what she has been through and how it has affected her relationship with her husband. The hatred between the couple is intense but, as we read on, perfectly understandable. As June has been with Richard for so long however, they have both become accustomed to each other and she is terrified of dying alone. So Richard looks after her and sometimes, appears to be a changed person in caring for his wife. Or has he an ulterior motive?

Loved this story. Loved, loved, loved it. At first, I wasn’t sure about the character of June at all. The author portrays her as such a stoic, almost cold individual but then as the narrative continues the reader begins to understand exactly why she is this way. Once more, as with a lot of her short stories, Karin Slaughter has knocked it out of the park with an intense plot and shocking revelations that will stay with you long after you’ve finished. In parts, it’s also incredibly sad and quite moving especially when June is clearly suffering. I definitely felt like I went through almost the entire range of human emotions when reading this! The author has a canny way of grabbing your attention and refusing to let you go until the bitter end. And this ending is very bitter…believe me.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: Red Letter Day by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales

Short Stories Challenge – The Shadow Tree by Angela Slatter from the collection Sourdough And Other Stories

Published September 27, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s The Shadow Tree all about?:

The Shadow Tree introduces us to Ella, a servant working in a royal household who tells stories to two spoiled children with an ulterior motive of her own.

What did I think?:

I’ve managed to finish a couple of collections since I began my Short Stories Challenge a couple of years ago and when I was recommended Sourdough And Other Stories by a blogger I admire – FictionFan, I knew I had to include it in the challenge, instantly intrigued when she mentioned something along the lines of “dark fairy tales for grown ups.” Now that I’ve read the first story, The Shadow Tree, I want to thank her so much for recommending it, this is a collection I’m sure I’m going to love, exciting both my dark side and my secretly childish one. 🙂

Our main character is Ella, a fascinating woman with a secret past that works as a servant for royalty with no clearly defined role. She uses her skills as a herbalist to concoct potions for both noble men and women and for the Queen herself, when she needs a break from her husbands amorous advances. Although, to be fair, Ella helps her out in that regard by warming the King’s bed herself. This puts her in quite a privileged and protected position in the court and allows her access to the couples children, two of whom, Brunhilde and her brother Baldur are malicious little deviants that enjoy torturing animals and to a lesser extent, their weary mother who cannot understand where their horrible behaviour has come from. Ella is well aware of the characters of the two older children and in fact, there is a reason why she remains so close to them, telling them elaborate myths and legends for their bedtime stories as cover for a rather different plan that she hopes will lead her back to her former life.

I was bowled over by just about everything to do with this story. The style of writing was so beautiful that I instantly felt that I was reading a fairy tale that I had previously never read but at the same time felt startlingly familiar. All classic fairy tales from the past have that little bit of darkness or a twist within that gives you a little shock to your system and The Shadow Tree was a great example of that delicious fright you get when an author pulls you in so far just to take the rug out from under your feet at the end. Step up Angela Slatter – my new favourite author. I’m really excited to read the rest of the stories in this collection!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Unremarkable Heart by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone).

Short Stories Challenge – Tiger Moth by Graham Joyce from the collection Tales For A Dark Evening

Published September 13, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s Tiger Moth all about?:

The final story in this collection introduces us to Lenny, a thirty-five year old man who is fed up with his job and fed up with his personal situation, living at home with his mother and afraid to finally “cut the apron strings,” dreading her reaction.

What did I think?:

I think I’ve mentioned before that the stories in this collection by Graham Joyce have been a bit hit and miss for me. Some of them, like the excellent Leningrad Nights have completely bowled me over whilst others like Candia, I’ve been slightly less enamoured with. I am pleased to report however, that Tiger Moth is a return to the writing style that I love from the author and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Lenny, a lovely character whose life seems yet to begin after being closeted away by an over-protective and emotionally challenging mother.

Lenny is working as a divorce solicitor and has become greatly disillusioned with his profession, the huge amount of cases he is expected to undertake and his useless secretary who lets him know at every available opportunity how “very stressed,” she is (whilst hiding a gardening magazine she has been reading on her lap). Things at home are difficult for Lenny too – his mother coddles him as if he were still a child, making his dinner each night, washing and ironing his clothes and making all his big decisions for him (even frightening away potential girlfriends we can imagine!).

Determined to escape his mother’s clutches, Lenny decides to go for an interview in Nottingham where he is offered a very tempting deal and re-location package but is at war with himself whether he will be able to have the strength to leave his mother. Their relationship has always been quite fraught, ever since the day his father died and they moved away from the house they had lived in as a family. On the way back from the interview however, he comes across two small boys that reminds him of a time when he met two remarkably similar boys on the day they moved house. He realises that he is being given a second chance to change his life and stand up to his mother once and for all.

I really enjoyed everything about this story. I felt so sorry for the loveable and downtrodden Lenny and was rooting for him until the end hoping that he would have the strength to break the cycle he had got himself into with his mother, who used him at all times as an emotional crutch and was hugely manipulative. I also appreciated the slice of humour that Graham Joyce brought to the story, especially at the beginning where Lenny is trying to deal with a particularly difficult client with a hilarious outcome. This was a really satisfying end to a short story collection that has had both highs and lows for me personally and I look forward to reading more from Graham Joyce.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Shadow Tree by Angela Slatter from the collection Sourdough And Other Stories

 

Short Stories Challenge – The Lordly Ones by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Breaking Point

Published September 5, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s The Lordly Ones all about?:

The final story in this collection tells the tale of a young, mute boy who appears to finally get the love and family he so desperately craves.

What did I think?:

I’ve absolutely loved exploring this short story collection by Daphne du Maurier and reading her short fiction has just cemented her forever as one of my favourite authors. There have been only a couple of stories in The Breaking Point that I haven’t been too sure about but in general, I have found this to be a fantastic read that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. The Lordly Ones ended things on a complete high and is just as dark and unsettling as the other stories in the collection, even more so perhaps as it involves a child starved of adequate love from his parents and who appears to be at least emotionally abused (occasionally physically) on a daily basis.

The boy in question is mute and although we are not sure of his age, we know that he is old enough where he should have started communicating. His parents seem to resent the fact that Ben is not like other children and punish him at the drop of a hat which involves locking him in a dark cupboard or smacking him. Their reaction is often in response to a terrible sound that comes from the boy’s mouth when he becomes distressed and is one that he is unable to control. Instead of comforting him, the parents take out their frustration on him emotionally and physically which only leads to him feeling more confused and isolated.

Then the family go through a bit of an upheaval and move house into the countryside by some beautiful moors. The process is quite bewildering for Ben because of his communication difficulties and because his parents make little effort to let him know what is going on. He is somewhat comforted when they arrive at their new house by the gorgeous surroundings and a nice woman who meets them at the property who offers him biscuits and confides in him about some strange visitors that often come at night to try and steal food from the house larder.

Ben is intrigued by the moor visitors but cannot bear to think of them as thieves so kind-heartedly, he takes the remaining food from the larder and leaves it on the green outside the house as a gift for the night callers. However, when his parents discover the missing food, he is beaten until he can hardly move by a rather over-enthusiastic father trying to teach his son a lesson. During the night, he manages to catch a glimpse of the visitors in the garden – a strange, wild family group that have clear mother, father and child relationships and have a strong, loving bond. Overwhelmed by the connection between them all he decides to escape with them into the night where he is instantly accepted, fed and taken care of. The visitors are not all they seem however and the reader gets quite a surprise when their identities are announced leading to an abrupt and rather haunting ending.

One of my favourite things about the stories in this collection is how they all involve characters who seem to be at “the breaking point,” and often explores quite dark and uncomfortable themes. This made some of the stories difficult to read at times, especially The Lordly Ones where child abuse/neglect is the prominent theme but it was undeniably hard to put down. I hated the parents in this story so much and felt so sorry for poor Ben so it tugged on my emotions in a number of ways! Yet again, the author has proved her absolute brilliance in story-telling and I’ll be returning to re-read The Breaking Point in the future for sure.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Tiger Moth by Graham Joyce from the collection Tales For A Dark Evening

Short Stories Challenge – If It Keeps On Raining by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Published September 1, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s If It Keeps On Raining all about?:

If It Keeps On Raining is the story of a troubled man who is preparing for a flood by building a tree-house and a raft.

What did I think?:

With every story I read in this beautiful collection by British author Jon McGregor, I become more and more certain that he’s one of the literary lights of modern times. His imagination, vision, storytelling and wordplay are exquisite and ever so clever and If It Keeps On Raining is another example of his writing genius. As with many of the other stories in this collection, the author tells us so much but with a lot of subtlety and gentle hints, so in fact, the reader is kind of guessing what he might be implying about a certain character or situation.

From the very beginning of this short story we are introduced to a man who appears to be quite troubled. He wants an unnamed someone in his life to know how he now begins his days. We guess that he is now divorced (the clues are all there but it’s never mentioned explicitly) as he is proud enough to announce that the house he lives in now belongs to him and him alone. How he begins his days though is quite strange, although consistent. Like clockwork, every morning he opens his door and empties his bladder onto the stony path from his front door leading down to the river. He finds a great amount of peace and satisfaction from this act – perhaps in a way, it’s a two-fingered salute to his ex in that he can do whatever he wants now? Including having a pee on his own pathway?!

As he urinates, his head is chock a block of many things that often go round and round his head in a circle. He looks at the river, the boats and the people on it and imagines disastrous scenarios that may occur if say, one man from a regular boat that goes past were to fall in the river and drown. He compares the river on several occasions to a surging crowd, perhaps one at a football match being crushed and pushed against a fence. It is also implied that our character may have been a police officer, possibly at a traumatic event such as Hillsborough which has caused him such mental anguish that he has had to quit his job and now fills his days with ruminating on the outside world and the terrible things that can happen.

He’s a source of amusement for the men at the yacht club, which he rarely goes to as they seem to find the fact that he is building a tree-house and a raft highly entertaining. He finds some comfort in the fact that at least when the flood that he knows is coming arrives, he will be prepared and they will be washed away by the high river water. Our main character is obviously a man with a darkness in his past but seems to be perfectly happy in his own company and preparing for the disaster he believes is inevitable.

This was a beautiful little story and one of the longer ones in the collection which I was pleased about as I think you needed a bit of length to get to grips with this man’s state of mind and his suffering. As I mentioned before, I loved how we weren’t given the evidence of what had happened to him in cold, hard facts – everything was just suggested and depends on the readers own imagination and interpretation to try and figure out what exactly is going on. Hey, I could be completely wrong but I really enjoyed making up my own mind about our character’s personality and tortured past! Wonderfully clever and definitely worth a read.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Lordly Ones by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Breaking Point