Short stories

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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Hot Dog Stand by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears.

Published July 26, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Hot Dog Stand all about?:

Hot Dog Stand is about a woman whom after witnessing a horrific accident earlier in the day ends up precipitating her own worst possible day ever.

What did I think?:

I came to this story with HUGE expectations after reading and adoring the previous story in the collection, The Butcher Of Meena Creek. Hot Dog Stand is still a great read and a very quick little story to devour but it didn’t quite grab my attention as much as Butcher Of Meena Creek did. However, it’s still a damn fine piece of fiction and I can definitely appreciate the talent of Dianne Gray as a short story writer and, like before, can clearly see why these stories are described as “award winning.” They certainly have something extra to recommend them and you can really see the difference from when you read another short story that is sadly lacking this extra little bite.

Okay, so our protagonist is an unnamed woman who witnesses a terrible hit and run where a stranger is killed by a maniacal driver in a blue van. The poor man happens to be holding a hot dog at the time and it appears to be the only thing our narrator can focus on. She was propelled into a shop window and suffered a bleeding nose but she was standing right next to the victim when it happened and it could have quite easily been her. The accident traumatises her considerably and she is looking forward to getting home and getting some much needed sympathy from her husband Phil.

Unfortunately, Phil is not a good egg at all. Our narrator realises that she should have listened to her mother when she tried to warn her about men like Phil and isn’t it always the case that our mum is always right about things like that? Our narrator is about to find out the hard way that Phil doesn’t care for her, her feelings or indeed anyone else in the way he should but it is the way she reacts that is very surprising. Maybe it is the accident that morning that has messed with her head, perhaps it is because she has suspected something is not quite right for a while now – who knows? Absolute bedlam ensues in the most chaotic and crazy way you could never imagine and was certainly an unexpected turn in the narrative for me personally. And the ending? Well, I just had to smile.

This is one of those short stories where you really can’t give too much away so I’m hoping I’ve been annoyingly vague enough! From where it first started, as a witness to a fatal car accident to where it ends up…. the turn of events in just a few pages was amazing and thoroughly enjoyable and thrilling. You really feel for our slightly naive narrator who has had possibly one of the worst days ever that it’s possible for a person to have but it’s the way she reacts to her situation that completely blows your mind. Loving this collection so far!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

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

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Word Processor Of The Gods by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew.

Published July 22, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Word Processor Of The Gods all about?:

Richard Hagstrom receives a birthday present from his recently deceased nephew of a word processor that Jon has built himself from scratch. This isn’t an ordinary piece of machinery however – it has the potential to change Richard’s life.

What did I think?:

Ah, Stephen King. How I do love you! The master does it again with this phenomenal short story all about a rogue word processor with magical but deadly properties. This is one of King’s relatively shorter stories in the collection but it packs as much of a punch as his longer ones, particularly when you get to the end which I’m not going to spoil, don’t worry! Of course, no writer is perfect and I have found myself slightly disappointed with a couple of the author’s short stories in this collection but on reflection of the ones I’ve read so far (as I find myself pretty much halfway through) the majority of them I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and are so haunting and original that they have stayed in my thoughts.

Word Processor Of the Gods is another excellent example of the genius that is Stephen King. It’s about a man called Richard Hagstrom, husband to a disaffected wife, Lina and a disgruntled, ungrateful teenage boy called Seth. When we first meet Richard, he is installing a word processor in his study which was a gift from his nephew, Jon. Richard often feels that Jon is the son that he should have had and the fact that he built this machine himself, using multiple scraps and various different electrical components warms his heart. Sadly, Richard’s brother Roger, his wife and Jon were killed in a horrific car accident (his brother had been driving drunk) so the gift is even more bitter-sweet and tinged with grief and regret.

Of course, if you’re reading a Stephen King story and thinking this is just an ordinary word processor, you’d be very wrong. Richard is shocked to discover that the machine made out of so many different bits and bobs, whilst emitting a strange sound and smoking ever so slightly actually works – but perhaps it works a bit too literally. When Richard types a particular command onto the screen and presses either the EXECUTE or the DELETE button, things actually happen…..or disappear. How would you deal with this kind of power? What would you change if given half a chance? What would be the consequences if you had the opportunity to permanently alter your life?

I have to admit, this story started of kind of slow and considering it was fairly short, I was slightly concerned that I wasn’t going to enjoy it as much as I had hoped. However, after Richard turns on the word processor for the first time, all doubts I had were immediately blown away by how action packed the narrative ending up becoming. I loved the idea, became fascinated by the characters and their motives and was completely floored by that ending. If you’ve never read any Stephen King before, I recommend this story as a fantastic place to start. It shows off his unique style perfectly and will certainly have you wondering what you would do if you found yourself in similar circumstances.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Hot Dog Stand by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears.

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – An Anxious Man by James Lasdun from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night.

Published July 15, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s An Anxious Man all about?:

An Anxious Man follows our main character as he deals with financial difficulties on a family holiday.

What did I think?:

I’m always quite excited when this book rolls around in my Short Stories Challenge and it’s time to read a new story from it. I love how it’s packaged and how it’s compartmentalised i.e. divided into different sections with the headings “Stories To Read When…” An Anxious Man falls into the category “Stories To Read When It’s All Going Wrong,” which I have to laugh about – sounds slightly like my life right now! I was especially looking forward to seeing what it was all about as it won the National Short Story Award back in 2006 so I was gleefully anticipating great things. Unfortunately, I have to admit to being slightly disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, the author can write for sure, and knows how to spin a good yarn but I was left wanting more.

Our main character Joseph is on a family holiday with his wife Elise and their young daughter Darcy and is attempting to enjoy himself but he has a lot of things on his mind, namely money problems. He and his wife decided to invest an inheritance that she received and they thought they were making a wise decision but fairly recently, the markets have completely crashed and every day they seem to be losing more and more money. Joseph is beginning to feel very anxious at their predicament and makes superstitious bets with the world to prevent anything else going wrong in his life. It is only on meeting another couple on holiday that he begins to relax slightly when the husband of the two suggests that the markets might still pick up and they could recover their losses. However, the anxiety, obsessive thinking and worry are always there, affecting his life, his relationship with his wife and daughter and the way he views other people.

I was expecting so much more from this short story than I felt that I got from it. I don’t mind at all reading a story where very little happens, in fact I occasionally prefer an intimate character study over a thrilling plot if it is done correctly but I don’t really feel like I got enough of that in this narrative. I didn’t really care for Joseph, Elise or the other holidaying couple – in fact, the most interesting thing in the story might have to be a fight over a couple of lobsters and even then, I didn’t really feel as excited about that as I perhaps should have. I don’t think it was the financial aspects of the story that put me off, nothing too intricate or complicated in that way was discussed (which was a relief!). I’m trying to pin down exactly what it was and perhaps it was simply not being bothered about the characters? Who knows! The writing is obviously great, definitely award-worthy and one scene in particular when Joseph is swimming across a lake was especially beautiful but generally speaking, I just don’t think this story was my cup of tea.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: Word Processor Of The Gods by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew.

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Part Three

Published July 8, 2017 by bibliobeth

Image from https://www.standoutbooks.com/how-publish-short-story/

Hello everyone and welcome to Part Three of my Short Stories Challenge this year. Part Two was again, very interesting with some really memorable stories read, namely The Birds by Daphne du Maurier and Gallowberries by Angela Slatter which were both fantastic and HIGHLY recommended. Here’s to finding some more great short stories and authors in Part Three!

An Anxious Man by James Lasdun from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night.

Word Processor Of The Gods by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew.

Hot Dog Stand by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears.

Blue Moon by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles.

Master by Angela Carter from the collection The Story: Love, Loss & The Lives of Women.

Possum by Matthew Holness from the collection The New Uncanny: Tales Of Unease edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page.

The Adventure Of The Noble Bachelor by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes.

The Heart Goes Last: Positron, Episode Four by Margaret Atwood (stand-alone).

The White Doe by Rosy Thornton from the collection Sandlands.

The Light Through The Window by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky.

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Stations Of The Cross by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Published July 7, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Stations Of The Cross all about?:

Stations Of The Cross is a coming of age story about two young girls from different religions and how peer pressure affects their friendship.

What did I think?:

I was quite sad when I realised that Stations Of The Cross was the final story in this collection by Julie Orringer. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed her work and will definitely be checking out more things by her in the future. If I think back over the entire collection, I believe my favourite story would have to be Note To Sixth-Grade Self as it was a story that really affected me personally but honest to God, there are no complete bloopers to be found at all. Yes, there were some stories I’ve appreciated more than others but unlike a few other collections in my Short Stories Challenge, I found it difficult to find a story here that I really disliked.

Anyway, back to Stations Of The Cross which is, as any practising/lapsed Catholic might have guessed is firmly rooted in religion, namely Catholicism. Our main character Lila however is Jewish and is absolutely fascinated by her best friend Carney’s Catholic faith. Lila and her mother have uprooted themselves from easy, breezy, inclusive New Orleans to a very different part of America – South Louisiana which they’ve found (in some cases) to have completely different ideals from the ones they are used to. For example, Carney is getting ready to celebrate her First Communion and is in uproar about the fact that her “bastard” cousin Dale is going to be invited. She has never met him before, his mother, Carney’s Aunt Marian caused shame to the family when she was determined to have the baby out of wedlock and to top it all off the baby’s father was black.

Lila can’t understand what all the fuss is about but then New Orleans appeared to welcome everyone regardless of colour or creed and it is only when her family has moved to South Louisiana that she realises the depth of hidden feelings unleashed to anyone who is “a bit different,” even herself and her mother are treated as outsiders for their Jewish faith. Aunt Marian and Dale arrive and things appear to be mellow enough (apart from the hideous whisperings from the family gathered in the back garden) but things soon escalate into places that Lila cannot believe she ever allowed herself to be taken to. It’s a great little story about growing up, how peer pressure is so damned and frustratingly effective and how dangerous and cruel some children can be when left to their own devices.

Julie Orringer chose to end How To Breathe Underwater with a real blinder of a story. I was raised Catholic myself although have not been to church for many, many years and do not practice the religion at all. In that way, it was quite nostalgic as I still have quite happy memories of my own First Communion (let me just hurriedly state it was NOTHING like this one though!). Additionally, I also enjoyed that the author chose to bring two characters together with very different beliefs/religions and explore their friendship, which can often be so tenuous and traumatic at that age, especially if one child is more of a “ringleader” than the other. Some may say that it goes to extremes, especially at the end but I think I have to disagree. I have personal experience with peer pressure in my past and can completely understand how controlling and devastating outcomes can be if people get a little too carried away. Of course I don’t condone the behaviour of the children in this short story in any way, shape or form and wanted to shake them all for being so stupid and heartless but it just shows that this narrative really got under my skin and that’s the best kind of short story in my eyes.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: An Anxious Man by James Lasdun from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night.

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Fruits by Steve Mosby from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Volume 7

Published June 28, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Fruits all about?:

Fruits follows a man locked in a cell reminiscing about the frightening events that caused him to be placed there.

What did I think?:

Steve Mosby is another new to me author which is one of the reasons why I’m loving my Short Stories Challenge so much. I get to read so many different authors that I’ve never heard of before, especially in collections such as these where you get a variety of styles under the same genre – crime fiction. He is the author of novels such as The Murder Code and The Nightmare Place which have been translated into nine different languages and rocketed to the top ten on bestseller lists in countries such as France, Germany and Holland. Now after reading Steve’s work, this is definitely an author I need to read more from. Fruits is shorter than your average short story but his lyrical style of writing and carefully chosen words really pack a punch.

Our narrator for the story is John who is writing to his partner, Caroline knowing that she may never receive his letters. He is being held captive in a tiny cell with a dirty mattress and a hole for a toilet whilst outside he can see beautiful countryside and a prominent apple tree, the fruits of which make it to his plate every morning on a tray that his captor pushes inside every morning without John noticing. His jailer has also started putting a scrap of paper on the tray alongside his food and it is this that John is using to write to Caroline, to set some things straight, to apologise and to try and redeem himself.

John is a writer by trade and recently he wrote a rather controversial book that focused on the murder of a woman called Jane Ellis, whose body and murderer has never been found or brought to justice. John used the fact that a rose was sent to Jane’s husband one year after his disappearance with a note saying that “she lives forever,” as a way to tell her story and certainly not to “exploit her,” as some individuals accused him of. Now John has ended up in a very tricky situation, held in a cell with no hope of release, eating apples from the tree outside but certain he is being poisoned in other ways and hearing/seeing other things outside his cell that makes him understand how Jane Ellis and victims like her could potentially be living forever.

I really admire the author of this short story for putting so much detail into such a short space of time. It is written beautifully and with such finesse that I immediately went back to the beginning and started again to try and pick up on little things that I may have missed first time around. It leaves you with so many questions in the end – about John and his relationship with his captor and about the captor himself and his past, present and potential future. I’d almost love another companion story from the captor’s eyes just to try and understand exactly what has been going on. I don’t really want to say too much more about the plot or the ending for fear of spoiling things but on the strength of this little story alone I’ll certainly be looking out for more work by Steve Mosby.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Stations Of The Cross by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater.

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Published June 20, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth all about?:

The Shadow Over Innsmouth is one of those classic H.P. Lovecraft stories where there are strange goings on in a small town being investigated by a unnamed narrator who becomes horrified with what he discovers.

What did I think?:

It’s no lie that the H.P. Lovecraft stories I’ve read so far for my Short Stories Challenge have been decidedly hit or miss. It’s got to the point now where I approach the next story extremely tentatively as I’m never sure exactly what I’m going to get! In some ways, the author is completely predictable. Take the synopsis for instance, so many of his short stories (or the ones I’ve read so far) seem to be based in small towns that have other-worldly happenings/inhabitants. In this way, The Shadow Over Innsmouth is exactly what I expected from H.P. Lovecraft. However, I did enjoy the small twist in the tale at the end which was slightly less predictable and therefore much more appreciated.

The town of the moment is called Innsmouth and, as usual, we have an unnamed narrator fascinated with the history of the town, the reasons why so many people avoid it if they possibly can, the hostility of the native townspeople and, most importantly, the odd events that have been occurring for many years now that have resulted in the local populace having a very strange “look.” Our narrator decides to visit the town, curious to be face to face with the surroundings and the peculiar people that live there. He even meets up with one of the local drunks and after loosening his tongue with some whiskey, begins to find out many things that may make him wish he had never asked in the first place. Rumours of alien, sea creatures that demand human sacrifices, strange jewellery that both disgusts and intrigues him in equal measures and the consequences of man’s greed when they make deals with malign, evil creatures.

Of course (perhaps predictably) the bus that is supposed to take our narrator out of the town that evening breaks down and he is forced to stay in the local hotel. You can probably guess at what happens. He hears, sees and witnesses a number of crazy and frightening things that leads to him running quite literally for his life in desperation to escape the town and its alien inhabitants. It’s true we always know he’s going to escape successfully otherwise how would he be telling us the story? Yet, there was something right at the end that did surprise me and that I wasn’t expecting which made me look back on the story with perhaps different eyes than I would have done. Obviously, the narrative is flowing with Lovecraft’s flowery, explosive and over-descriptive vocabulary which is always quite fun to mull over but for me, the creepiness of the creatures never really worked. They are described as frog-fish beings (and at one stage while chasing our narrator they HOP) which I’m sorry to say just had me in hysterics rather than having the effect I’m sure was intended. Oops! However, I do rate this story higher than others in the collection for the idea behind it and the unexpected ending.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: Fruits by Steve Mosby from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Volume 7