Short stories

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Short Stories Challenge 2018 – The Balloon Hoax by Edgar Allan Poe from the collection The Best Short Stories Of Edgar Allan Poe.

Published January 27, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s The Balloon Hoax all about?:

The Balloon Hoax is a story about four men who attempt to cross the Atlantic for the first time in a balloon.

What did I think?:

Oh dear. I am honestly beginning to wonder if it’s “just me,” with this particular short story collection. I haven’t had the best of luck with the stories I’ve read so far and I was kind of dreading reading this, my expectations being well and truly quashed. Did it live up to my expectations. Yes, well my expectations were low so I suppose it did! I’m glad to discover however, that I’m not the only person to feel this way. The story on its own has some of the lowest ratings on Goodreads that I’ve ever seen for a book which was kind of surprising but not so much if you read the story, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. Saying that, I always like to do a bit of research into the author or their short story before I write my review and I really enjoyed reading the history behind this short tale. It’s just a shame that’s the only thing that I enjoyed.

The story now known as The Balloon Hoax first appeared in The Sun newspaper in New York, April 1844. It follows our main character, Monck Mason and a number of other gentlemen as they attempt to fly a balloon first across the British Channel and then, when they are blown off course, eventually manage to get across the Atlantic Ocean in a mere three days. The story goes into incredible details about the mechanics of building the balloon – the vanes, the fuel, the propeller etc and as it references real people such as William Harrison Ainsworth which many people thought gave Poe’s story some authenticity. Poe himself was astounded at the reception his story received once published in the paper, indeed there were claims that the newspaper office was “besieged” by people wanting to get their hands on copies of the paper. The paper itself ended up having to print a retraction a couple of days later:

BALLOON – The mails from the South last Saturday night not having brought a confirmation of the arrival of the Balloon from England, the particulars of which from our correspondent we detailed in our Extra, we are inclined to believe that the intelligence is erroneous. The description of the Balloon and the voyage was written with a minuteness and scientific ability calculated to obtain credit everywhere, and was read with great pleasure and satisfaction. We by no means think such a project impossible.

As to more of a synopsis of what happens in this story, I’m afraid I can’t help very much in that regard. About half of the story describes the mechanics of the balloon in question, the other half are journal entries from the main voyagers describing what they see or do on a particular day of the quest. Perhaps the most exciting part of the narrative is when the men get blown off course by a strong current and decide to change their journey and tackle the Atlantic instead of the British Channel (obviously a mammoth undertaking when you compare the size of the two areas of water!).

Apart from that, they see some ships, they comment on the sky and the scenery below them….however they really lost me when they starting talking about the perpendicular of a right-angled triangle and the hypotenuse in relation to the balloon. Nope, mathematics is not my strong suit. My main issue however, and I think I might have mentioned this in my other Poe reviews is the amount of detail he obviously feels obliged to go into. I find it really unnecessary and terribly dull to read and I could almost feel my eyes glazing over as every minute detail of the propeller and screws of the balloon was described. Yawn. When I’m writing a perhaps more critical/negative review like this, I do feel the need to find something positive to say about what I’ve read. Yet with The Balloon Hoax I have to admit, I’m struggling. The journal entries were kind of interesting I guess, and I appreciated the change in narrative structure after paragraphs upon paragraphs of intricate information about vanes and coal versus hydrogen gas. Nevertheless, this won’t be a story I’ll be returning to or recommending to my nearest and dearest.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):


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


Short Stories Challenge 2018 – The Apple Tree by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Birds And Other Stories

Published January 23, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s The Apple Tree all about?:

This is the story of a neglected wife who haunts her husband in the form of an apple tree.

What did I think?:

I’m always excited when my Daphne du Maurier short story collection rolls around but I was especially looking forward to it after one of my favourite bloggers, Fiction Fan commented on my Short Stories Challenge 2018 Part One post saying how much she loved The Apple Tree and it was, in her eyes, even better than The Birds. Now I adored The Birds when I read it and gave it five stars so what would I think of The Apple Tree? I have to be honest, when I started reading it I thought it was sheer brilliance of course but probably worth about four stars? However, as I carried on reading and the atmosphere continued to grow I immediately cemented Daphne du Maurier firmly in my mind as a writer back to her usual excellent standards (after my bitter disappointment with Monte Verità ). I think you might be able to guess which star rating I have awarded it in the end?

The Apple Tree is about Buzz and Midge, husband and wife, married for about twenty-five years and established in a rather unhappy and monotonous relationship, particularly from the point of view of Buzz. Not long after our story begins, Midge contracts pneumonia and sadly passes away but you’ve never seen a man so relieved or happy to be rid of his wife as Buzz was! He tells the reader how irritated she made him feel, sometimes merely with her presence which tended to be rather melancholy, anxious and fed up. He recalls how she lived her life as a complete martyr, constantly working around the house, even if he thought it unnecessary and even though she never outwardly reproached him for not helping, there would be a wayward glance, a sigh or a yawn which only served to make him feel more guilty and annoyed.

Now Midge is gone, he is free to live his life exactly how he chooses, although of course he still has a maid to clean, cook his dinner etc so he can smoke, read and drink in his study in the peaceful way that pleases him so much. All things considered, he’s the happiest he’s ever been until one day he notices two apple trees on his land. One is youthful, vibrant and produces a high quality of fruit and the other is bent, rather decrepit, ominous looking and reminds him quite strangely of his wife. Once he notices this, he begins to form quite a vendetta against this particular apple tree and, it seems, the tree also forms a similar dispute with him. He cannot burn any of the wood as not only will it not catch light but the smell when it does burn makes him sick. This is also the case with the small, wizened apples that it produces which taste foul and rotten to him. Is it possible that the spirit of his wife has come back to haunt him in this way as some form of payback? Or is it psychological guilt for the treatment of Midge that is torturing Buzz’s soul?

I cannot recommend this short story enough. It was fairly long, probably about similar size to Monte Verità but unlike that story, I never felt like reading this was a chore. In fact, I was quite disappointed when it ended! Oh my goodness though, WHAT an ending. Daphne du Maurier is a true master of her craft and I think of her almost like a wizard in the way she concocts an atmosphere that builds and builds and gives the reader such a sense of unease and dread, you are almost afraid to turn over the page, worried about what you might find. I also loved that Buzz was such a deplorable character and as the narrative went on, you felt more and more dislike towards him and, I hate to say, I was quite keen for him to get some form of comeuppance. Once again, when writing like this, I think there’s not many people who could beat Daphne du Maurier for execution of a fascinating plot and it’s stories like these that make me so excited that I still have a wealth of books to read from her.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: The Balloon Hoax by Edgar Allan Poe from the collection The Best Short Stories Of Edgar Allan Poe.

Short Stories Challenge 2018 – Books And Roses by Helen Oyeyemi from the collection What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours.

Published January 19, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s Books And Roses all about?:

In Books and Roses, one special key opens a library, a garden and clues to at least two lovers’ fates.

What did I think?:

Helen Oyeyemi’s short story collection, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is a new addition to my collection after completing a collection by a different author last year. This collection was actually recommended to me by the wonderful booksellers at Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights and I was immediately intrigued, both by the gorgeous cover art, the fact that it was quite whimsical and that characters from some of the stories were promised to appear in other stories in the collection. From what I can gather so far, each story involves a key of some sort and the protagonist searching for something, be that family, an object, their own identity etc. I finished this story with a lot of admiration for Helen Oyeyemi as a writer and clear master of words however I have to be honest, I also finished the story a little bit confused.

Books And Roses is the first story in this collection and quite a lengthy one relatively speaking at just over forty pages long. When it started, I was immediately intrigued. A baby has been abandoned in a monastery with a note, imploring the baby when she is older to “Wait For Me,” and enclosed is a mysterious key which the child, named Montserrat (Montse) wears around her neck. The unknown mother suggests that this was the best place for her to leave her baby as the baby is black and the monks have a statue of Black Madonna in their premises so she was certain she was leaving her in a good place. Then we follow our female protagonist quite quickly as she grows up, gets work as a laundress and meets another young woman who not only also possesses a strange key but is also waiting for someone and we hear a bit of her story. In quite a convoluted narrative, we eventually learn the secret behind the two keys and the way in which both women’s stories are inter-connected.

I’m wondering whether I should go back and read this story all over again as I’m worried I may have lost some of the meaning amongst the vast amount of information we are given by the author. I absolutely adored the beginning, it felt very fairy-tale like and some of the passages she writes are truly beautiful, especially ones set within the gorgeous library:

“A library at night is full of sounds: The unread books can’t stand it any longer and announce their contents, some boasting, some shy, some devious.”

However, I do think that because the author completely flooded the narrative with the back stories of both Montse, Lucy and another young woman Safiye, I perhaps got a little overwhelmed about where one story started and the other finished and how that information pertained to each character. I don’t blame the author at all for that, that’s merely my own inability to separate what we are told as a reader and then see it all as a whole which I sadly failed to do. Maybe it’s also getting used to a different writers style, especially when this is the first thing I’ve read by Helen Oyeyemi. For now, I’ll note that she’s a gorgeous writer and perhaps I need to concentrate a bit more when reading her fiction.

Would I recommend it?:


Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

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


Short Stories Challenge 2018 – Which Reminded Her, Later by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You.

Published January 14, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s Which Reminded Her, Later all about?:

Which Reminded Her, Later is about the relationship between a vicar and his wife when an uninvited guest comes to stay at their vicarage.

What did I think?:

Make no bones about it, I am a huge fan of Jon McGregor’s writing and when I realised this short story was one of the longer ones in this collection, I was delighted. Don’t get me wrong, I love the shorter narratives too, he’s a master wordsmith and manages to do in one page what some authors struggle to do with twenty but that’s the reason why I always want just a little bit more. It turns out this story isn’t one of my favourites in the collection but that in no way means it’s a bad story at all, in fact quite the opposite. It’s just that it hasn’t stayed with me or had such a powerful effect compared to some of the rest of the stories in this book so far.

The story is told from the point of view of Catherine, an English lecturer at a university and the wife of a vicar, Michael. In the main crux of the narrative, Catherine is quite fed up and we sense becoming rather disillusioned with her marriage and with her husband as a person. She has become quite used to his “little ways,” and tendencies to help all the waifs and strays that he comes across, as indeed you might think a vicar should. However his latest antic, by taking in a complete stranger into the house (whose attitude to Michael’s kindness begins to ruffle Catherine’s feathers considerably!) has really started to irk her. She begins to remember other times and other instances when Michael annoyed her in this way, she mourns the loss of her old life and career when she was known for much more than being merely “the vicar’s wife,” and by the end of the story, the reader begins to feel that the departure of the American stranger may be just the start of the couples troubles.

Once again, Jon McGregor knocked me sideways with the power of his writing and his characterisation. Not only does he draw such a perfect female character but he builds up his tale in such a slow, methodical fashion that the reader is immediately captivated and fully immersed on the ride until the very end. If I hadn’t read any other stories by Jon McGregor I would be singing this ones praises to the hills, his finesse with language is just extraordinary but to be perfectly honest, I think there are more wonderful stories in this collection that touched me more. It’s still a fantastic piece of writing however that shows off all his talent beautifully and if you enjoy a slow, literary narrative I don’t think you’ll be disappointed if this is the first story that you read by him.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: Books And Roses by Helen Oyeyemi from the collection What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours.

Short Stories Challenge 2018 – The House At The End Of The World by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky.

Published January 10, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s The House At The End Of The World all about?:

The House At The End Of The World follows a father and daughter who are surviving in the wilderness after the end of civilisation.

What did I think?:

For those of you who have read my previous reviews of the stories in this collection you might appreciate I had mixed feelings on reading and finishing the final story in Things That Fall From The Sky. Generally, I’ve had quite varied thoughts about the stories within – sometimes, they have been excellent and I cannot fault them, sometimes I’ve just shrugged and not thought very much of the story either way and others, well….one in particular was one of the worst short stories I’ve ever read. As a result, I came to The House At The End Of The World with quite an open mind, thinking I could either love it, hate it or be completely indifferent. I did end up enjoying it BUT the story-line reminded me very much of one of my favourite novels and I couldn’t treat it as a narrative in its own right because of this unfortunately.

The story follows Holly, four years old when we first meet her and describes her life with her father as they live out in the forest in a house made completely by her father’s hands, hunt and forage for food and even grow their own vegetables in a make-shift garden near to their home. We are not told what has happened to the rest of civilisation but we get the impression that Holly and her father are two of the very few people left in the world and, as a result, must survive accordingly. This story follows their beautiful relationship, daily life and also their struggles when Holly’s father manages to break his arm and Holly is forced to learn more about their way of life and do much more for herself and her father in order to pull them both through.

I don’t really want to say too much more as there is an event that happens that could be described as being quite unexpected and perhaps an alternative direction from where the reader thought the narrative may be leading. For me, I didn’t exactly expect it but as soon as it happened I was instantly reminded of one of my favourite novels as I mentioned earlier. However, I’m very hesitant to even mention the name of that novel because just by saying it, if you have read it, gives away a considerable spoiler about parts of this story and I wouldn’t want to spoil anything for anyone. “The event” was the major sticking point for me with this tale. Although I loved it in the novel, I didn’t particularly want to read about it again in a different story by a different author. That’s not the fault of the author, both of them just happened to come up with similar ideas and wrote a narrative around them. Personally, it just didn’t feel fresh enough for me because I felt like I had read it before.

Saying all this, if I put that novel to one side and had never read it, I would say this story is completely beautiful, in the language the author uses and in the execution of the plot. I loved the relationship between Holly and her father and the descriptions of the environment around them were simply stunning – you could almost believe they were the only two people on the Earth and I found myself as a reader really rooting for them.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: Which Reminded Her, Later by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You.

Short Stories Challenge 2018 – Part One

Published January 8, 2018 by bibliobeth

Image from:

Hello everyone and welcome to the first part of my Short Stories Challenge for 2018. In part five of my challenge in 2017, like many of the other parts, I had some absolutely fantastic finds like Seeing Double by Sara Maitland, Unplugged by Dianne Gray and The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands by Stephen King. However, I also had some that I wasn’t particularly fussed about, like The Man From Mars by Margaret Atwood and Freaks by Tess Gerritsen, both of which were huge disappointments. Here’s what I’ve got lined up for the first few months of 2018:

The House At The End Of The World by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky.

Which Reminded Her, Later by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You.

Books And Roses by Helen Oyeyemi from the collection What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours.

The Apple Tree by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Birds And Other Stories.

The Balloon Hoax by Edgar Allan Poe from the collection The Best Short Stories Of Edgar Allan Poe.

Dibblespin by Angela Slatter from the collection Sourdough And Other Stories.

Remmy Rothstein Toes The Line by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone).

Why The Yew Tree Lives So Long by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales.

A Child’s Problem by Reggie Oliver from the collection A Book Of Horrors.

At The Mountain Of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft.


Short Stories Challenge 2017 – High House by Rosy Thornton from the collection Sandlands.

Published December 30, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s High House all about?:

High House follows our female narrator who becomes particularly friendly with a man she cleans for. He ends up teaching her many things about the world, especially the dangers of climate change.

What did I think?:

This is the second story in Rosy Thornton’s short story collection, Sandlands. When I first started it, I have to admit I immediately thought: “Oh, this isn’t going to be as good as the first story, The White Doe.” However, by the end I was completely charmed by the entire narrative and especially its two main protagonists. It’s a beautiful little tale that feels starkly poignant, especially with the natural disasters that have been plaguing our world in the past few years or so, and with the ever looming threat of climate change having the potential to disrupt our lives and our children’s lives forever.

It’s hard to describe what this story is about but I’ll do my best. Set in the small village of Blaxhall in Suffolk, it begins with our unnamed female narrator who is describing the environment, the tranquillity of her surroundings and her obvious love for where she is living. She works as a cleaner/housekeeper for various residences around the village, but treasures the time she spends with a Mr Napish who lives in High House, a property high above the village and who treats our narrator with courtesy, consideration and respect, being one of the very few who will deign to make a cup of tea for her as she works (ah, a wonderful man indeed!). He talks to her about many things, especially climate change and possesses a map of how the country might look if the sea levels continue to rise in the manner the scientists are suspecting. Unfortunately, the village then suffers its own spate of floods and our narrator and Mr Napish gallantly step in to try and save some of the animal population in some of the sweetest scenes I’ve had the pleasure to read.

One of the things that most attracted me to Sandlands as a short story collection was the promise of stories about animals. I have been delighted to discover this in both stories so far but was surprised to discover the richness and beauty of Rosy Thornton’s story-telling as an additional bonus. She describes the British landscape so eloquently you can almost visualise the area she is talking about and smell those wonderful, natural scents. This story was particularly beautiful as it felt so timely with the recent floods, earthquakes, tsunami’s etc, many attributed to climate change that have taken/ruined many lives irrevocably. It certainly made me stop to think and worry slightly about what might happen in our future. On a happier note, the ending, which I definitely shall not spoil, came as a huge surprise as we get a slight hint about some of the reasons why Mr Napish may be doing what he’s doing (if I’ve interpreted it correctly!) and it gave me such a difference of feelings – terror and the warm fuzzies, an interesting mixture!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):