Short Stories Challenge

All posts tagged Short Stories Challenge

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Adventure Of The Beryl Coronet by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

Published December 8, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Adventure Of The Beryl Coronet all about?:

The Adventure Of The Beryl Coronet follows a man who comes to Holmes and Watson for help when a precious beryl coronet he is tasked with looking after is damaged and some of the jewels are stolen.

What did I think?:

As I’ve made my way through the short stories in The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has regularly managed to stump me over what exactly is going on in his mysteries. So I was quite delighted (but at the same time strangely disappointed) when I could instantly identify our perpetrator in The Adventure Of The Beryl Coronet. Mind you, he still managed to stun me with the more intricate details of the crime i.e. the reasons behind it and for that reason, it was again a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. I don’t think anyone has managed to write a detective as intriguing and as famous as Mr Holmes and I’m sure his stories will continue to entertain for many years to come.

This story follows a banker called Alexander Holder who is given an incredibly valuable and very well known beryl coronet to hold as security when he gives a client a loan of £50,000. Not trusting the safe at his office he keeps the item at home, believing his family and staff trustworthy despite the current disappointment he has in the character of his son, Arthur. Of course, you might have seen it coming, the coronet is damaged one night and some of the jewels are nowhere to be found. Even worse, when Alexander hears the disruption at night, he comes to the room where the coronet is stored to find it in the hands of his son, Arthur who he presumes to have been involved in the crime and calls for him to be arrested. He is now begging Holmes and Watson to discover what really happened that night so he can come to terms with his son being guilty or innocent.

This is a great little mystery to get your teeth into and although I had guessed what had happened and who was responsible, I loved all the minute details that went into how Holmes deduced exactly what had occurred. There’s not that much interaction between Holmes and Watson in this story sadly but I still enjoyed him as a background presence and the narrator of our tale. Holmes is his usual genius self divulging to the reader all the random, tiny little things that you might never pick up on but turn out to be a crucial piece of evidence in solving the mystery – ah, imagine if our police detectives today had his skills?! The next story in this collection is actually the last one I believe and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed discovering Sherlock Holmes for the very first time.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: Freaks: A Rizzoli & Isles Short Story by Tess Gerritsen (stand-alone).

Advertisements

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Seeing Double by Sara Maitland from the collection The New Uncanny: Tales Of Unease edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page.

Published December 4, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Seeing Double all about?:

Seeing Double is the story of a young boy who lives with his father and is looked after by a nanny. He seldom sees anyone else and there is a terrible reason why he is being kept away from other people.

What did I think?:

Although I’ve never read any of Sara Maitland’s work before, I’m very familiar with her name and have her non-fiction book, Gossip From The Forest as a priority read on my Kindle that now I’ve finally read some of her fiction, I simply must make time for in the New Year. For this short story, all I can say is wow. This little tale really floored me, it was so powerful in its nature and the clever reveals throughout which led up to an explosive ending were simply stunning. I’ve heard that Sara Maitland has a bit of a talent for short story writing (that’s putting it lightly!) but I wasn’t prepared at all for how marvellous her writing actually was and I’m delighted to finally have discovered her.

Now, the only annoying thing about Seeing Double is that I’m going to have to be incredibly careful what I tell you about it! I really don’t want to ruin anything and if I reveal the “big secret,” that our young male protagonist has, I’ll be doing exactly that. Let’s just say that we have a young boy born whose mother sadly dies when she gives birth to him. The midwife who assisted at the birth ends up being employed by the boy’s father as a permanent nanny to look after him and they are ensconced in a large house in the country with his father who becomes increasingly distant as he indulges his passion for nature, although they do have some tender moments playing together with a train set. Our protagonist doesn’t see anyone else apart from Nanny and his father, this includes the various servants that help out in the house until one day a maid enters his room. Both her and the boy find out the reason why he has been secluded and because of this, his life is changed forever:

“Grown-ups, he learned far too suddenly, spoke with double voices, cunningly, so that true and not true weren’t like white and black, like either-or, like plus and minus, they were like the bogs on the hill side, shifty, invisible and dangerous.”

As you can tell from the above quote, the writing is absolutely glorious and I felt just the utmost happiness when I was reading this dark little tale, purely for the gorgeous lyrical style and the way that the author uses her words to beautiful effect. Yes, this story has murky depths and goes to some strange and fascinating places so if you’re not into twisted tales, this might not be the story for you BUT I urge you to give it a chance because I’m now desperate to talk to anyone who has read this before and hear all their thoughts on it. I immediately felt so sorry for our protagonist when we learn what he has to deal with but I certainly wasn’t expecting the direction in which Sara Maitland took it in one of the most dramatic conclusions I think I’ve ever read in a short story. Have I convinced you yet? I’ve undeniably convinced myself that I need to read something else by this author ASAP.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

 

 

 

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Adventure Of The Beryl Coronet by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes.

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Man From Mars by Margaret Atwood from the collection The Story: Love, Loss & The Lives Of Women.

Published November 28, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Man From Mars all about?:

The Man From Mars follows a female college student as she deals with the unexpected attention she receives from an insistent male admirer.

What did I think?:

Firstly, I want to let it be known how much respect and love I have for Margaret Atwood as an author, if I haven’t mentioned her already. I have tended to prefer her novels to her shorter fiction (that I’ve read so far) but this isn’t saying much as the only shorter pieces I’ve read from her is the Positron series which, although brilliant on some levels, was incredibly odd in others. The Man From Mars is another example of Margaret Atwood at her best and I loved the way my emotions about this story waxed and waned in different directions and made me think about certain things in a whole new light. However, I have to confess finding myself slightly disappointed about the ending – perhaps I expected more?

Our main female protagonist is Christine, who loves tennis and is described as “big boned,” or athletic. Her parents don’t have too many hopes for her romantically or socially and luckily (for them!) she has two beautiful sisters that have married and had children very successfully. Christine is used to the relationships she has with men. They see her as “one of the guys,” friendly enough and fun to be with but not remotely like a girl they would normally be attracted to. This all changes for Christine one day when she is approached by a foreign male student looking for directions on campus and she stops to assist him. Unfortunately, he takes this opportunity a little too far and becomes obsessed with Christine – following her everywhere, calling her and merely breathing down the phone and even getting himself invited round to tea, insisting that he is her friend. Christine meanwhile is in quite the quandary. She is not remotely drawn to this young man and in fact, finds him quite repulsive with his worn down clothes and incredibly bitten nails. On the other hand though, she has never in her life had this much attention before and she secretly quite likes it, making it quite difficult when the attention is eventually taken away.

This short story elicited so many varied feelings for me! Margaret Atwood is an absolute master at creating an atmosphere within a narrative and in The Man From Mars I shifted constantly from being supremely uncomfortable (and a bit terrified, I have to say!) to feeling slightly scornful of Christine and the way she was dealing with the situation to finally feeling hugely sympathetic towards both parties in their odd little relationship. I think the author was making some very clever statements about how we might view someone or stereotype someone from a different culture and how we shouldn’t be so quick to pass judgement purely based on someone’s behaviour or appearance as there might be quite a valid reason for it being that way that we are unaware of. Sadly, I’m sure I’ve been guilty of this myself in the past, even if it was subconscious and I’ve definitely been the victim of it myself with people who are obviously ignorant and don’t know any better. For these reasons, I really did enjoy this story and the way that I was made to assess my own thoughts and emotions. It was just a bit of a shame that the ending wasn’t quite to my liking, it all felt a bit too abrupt and it would have been nice to get a definitive resolution for both our characters.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: Seeing Double by Sara Maitland from the collection The New Uncanny: Tales Of Unease edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page.

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Wisht by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

Published November 23, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Wisht all about?:

Wisht follows our young female protagonist as she accompanies her father on a walk through the moor one night, fearful of the legend of the Wisht Hounds.

What did I think?:

Now that I’ve read the penultimate story in this collection, I’m starting to think back on all the stories and gather my thoughts on the collection as a whole. There’s no denying that it’s a gorgeous piece of fiction, especially for a debut work and obviously, I loved that Lucy Wood used the setting of Cornwall and Cornish folklore to bring an extra mythical or otherworldly edge to her tales. As with many short story collections that I’ve read, unfortunately there are some stories that just don’t grab my attention as much as others and I’m sorry to say Wisht was one of those. There are many positive things to be taken from it which I’ll talk about later but generally, I found this story to be slightly forgettable and I think generally speaking there’s better stories that showcase the author’s talent much more effectively.

Wisht is about a young girl who seems to live alone with her father (her mother is never mentioned in the narrative which I found slightly odd). Her father tends to go out at night on long walks over the moor and although he checks she is asleep before he leaves, she is pretending and watches out of the window until she sees the light of the torch as he returns. She is incredibly protective of him and worries about the amount of weight he has lost – perhaps this is down to bereavement and the loss of his wife? Who knows? We are never told. One evening however, he wakes his daughter up and asks her to accompany him on his nightly walk where they have a tender moment right at the very end of the narrative.

That’s it, basically. Nothing much happens, even on the walk. Oh, her father falls over once and tells his daughter to be careful lest she fall over herself. Also she keeps hearing howling which she is certain is the legendary Wisht Hounds that roam the moors at night, looking for human subjects to devour. However, we don’t really get much more about the Wisht Hounds apart from that which was a bit of a shame as I found them to be quite an interesting part of the story. I did love the relationship between father and daughter, even finding myself a bit envious of the unconditional love they obviously have for each other and I adored how protective she was of her father, worrying for him as he went into the Hounds territory but savvy enough to not let him see how concerned she was about him. Personally, this was just a “meh” story for me. The writing is undeniably beautiful, like all of Lucy Wood’s writing in this collection and, as I mentioned, I thought the Wisht Hounds mystery was quite exciting but sadly never developed as fully as I would have hoped. Nevertheless, I am still looking forward to the final story in this collection as I do enjoy the way the author uses stunning prose and magical folklore to tell a contemporary story.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Man From Mars by Margaret Atwood from the collection The Story: Love, Loss & The Lives Of Women.

 

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Unplugged by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears

Published November 19, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Unplugged all about?:

With references to The Wizard Of Oz, Unplugged follows a young woman who hears voices in her head which leads to dramatic consequences as she chooses to listen.

What did I think?:

It’s purely coincidence that this story rolled around as part of my Short Stories Challenge quite soon after I had posted a review of a novel also compared to The Wizard Of Oz, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead by Charlie Laidlaw. As a previously bona fide fangirl of The Wizard Of Oz I was delighted to read another piece of contemporary fiction with nods to this classic and brilliant story. Having read a few of the tales in this collection now, I knew to expect the unexpected with Dianne Gray and what I got was yet another powerful piece of writing that remains firmly etched in my memory, for all the best reasons.

Unplugged follows our female protagonist, who was adopted at four years of age and had her name changed from Elmira Gulch to Dorothy Gale. Anyone remember who Elmira Gulch was in The Wizard Of Oz? Go to the top of the class if you said The Wicked Witch Of The West. Dorothy has been struggling her whole life with the voice of a witch in her head telling her incredible things about the world and causing her to lose her job at Toto Cut Price Deli. For example, God doesn’t exist and humans were created by viruses and germs purely as a means of transport. She also tells her that cameras are everywhere, watching her every move, making her paranoid and frustrated. Things only get worse when Hickory at the second hand shop refuses to sell her a pair of ruby slippers that the witch in her brain assures her she has to have if she has a chance of returning home to her birth parents:

“I decided it was time for the truth and told Hickory that my real name was Dorothy. I had a witch flying around in my head, I had been adopted at four years of age and I needed the slippers to find my way home. He told me he was the Tin Man and called the police.”

The rest of the story follows Dorothy as she struggles, in vain with the things the witch is telling her to to leading to a run in with the local police and a life-changing incident. It is filled with the most beautiful, poetical language that at times, took my breath away. For example, she talks about the time she visited her Grandpa Gale in hospital:

“He was a big man who had wasted away to a leaf. Death was building a birdcage out of his ribs.”

Simply gorgeous and so evocative! However, this is nothing compared to the poignancy of the ending. Now I’ve mentioned that I know what to expect from Dianne Gray, so you would think I’d be prepared for the way she tends to end her stories? No. Each time I’m astounded by the way she manages to turn things and pull on your emotions so that you see things from a whole new light and this particular ending was horrid, bitter-sweet and unforgettable. Manslaughter And Other Tears is fast becoming one of my favourite short story collections for sure. There’s only been one story so far that I haven’t found quite as fantastic as the others – that was Still Life (although the bar for her work has been set extraordinarily high I have to say!). The author’s use of fairy-tale imagery and the atmosphere she creates when setting her scenes is second to none and I cannot praise her work highly enough.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

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

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Published November 14, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands all about?:

The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands follows a group of friends who gather to hear spooky tales. The tale for this evening involves a man whom as the title may suggest does not under any circumstance shake hands… but why?

What did I think?:

You must all be bored of me professing my love for Stephen King by now surely? If you haven’t been here before or haven’t heard me gushing on about him before I’ll just say he is without a doubt my all time favourite author. However, I have come to realise over all the years that I’ve read him that at times, I do need to take those rose-tinted glasses off. I don’t love absolutely everything he has ever written and sometimes, I haven’t been as enamoured with one of his short stories as I would have liked but damn, Skeleton Crew has to be one of his finest collections so far.

It opens to a group of friends who are meeting to tell each other frightening stories. One of the men, George Gregson is particularly adept at holding his friends in utter rapture with his tales and that evening, he begins to tell a true story of a man that he professes to have been murdered in the exact same room that they find themselves in just over sixty years prior to this evening. This story involves George and a group of his friends who want to play a hand or two of cards but are lacking another man to make up the numbers. Enter Henry Brower, a friendly enough stranger to the group but with a strange tendency to shy away from anyone shaking his hand or in fact, coming near to touching him at all. We soon find out why exactly Henry fears the touch of anyone else when after a bit of drink, one of George’s friends takes his hand mistakenly to congratulate him on winning a hand. Henry’s reaction is extreme to say the least but it is only when George follows him outside when he flees that he begins to understand Henry’s reasons for keeping away from human touch.

Of course I’m not going to give anything away except to say I really didn’t realise where this story was going, even though it was hinted at merely a few pages in. The reason for Henry Brower’s complete terror of touch comes from an event in his past that continues to haunt his future and gives him little rest, making him almost an outcast from society and completely miserable to boot. To be honest, when the group were playing cards, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit disappointed. It was dull, I didn’t find it interesting and I couldn’t tell where Stephen King was taking the story. If like me, you decide to read this and feel the same, I beg you to please, please read on because as soon as Henry receives that well intentioned touch of a hand, the story explodes and becomes something entirely more horrific and wonderfully compelling. Stephen King often gets a bit of a reputation as a horror writer because of a few novels he has written (not necessarily because of the vast majority of his work) but when he chooses to write something a bit frightening, think there’s very few people in the world that can do it better.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Unplugged by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears.

 

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Moons Of Jupiter by Alice Munro from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Published November 9, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Moons Of Jupiter all about?:

The Moons Of Jupiter follows our protagonist Janet as she visits her father in hospital and comes to terms with the probability of losing him.

What did I think?:

I’m fairly familiar with Alice Munro’s work having read and enjoyed her short story collection, Too Much Happiness a few years ago. However, I often find that a book of short stories by one author has peaks and troughs and there always seem to be some stories that you favour whilst others seem to lack that extra something. It’s perfectly obvious (even to the non-analytical short story reader like myself) that Alice Munro is a talented author and a master of her craft and The Moons Of Jupiter is quite a clever little tale with multiple hidden meanings all revolving around the importance of family and how we re-analyse our own close relationships during times of crisis.

In this short story, our narrator is Janet and she is visiting her father in Toronto General Hospital after he has been told he has a very serious heart condition. The surgeons are willing to operate but make it quite clear to them both that his life expectancy is very much reduced. As well as (or maybe because of) all of this, Janet begins to look deeper into the relationships with her own children, Nichola and Judith which haven’t been plain sailing for one reason or another. After a trip to the planetarium and a heart-to-heart with her father before his operation, Janet begins to put things into perspective and feel grateful for the small moments in life and the love she has for her family.

If you haven’t read any Alice Munro before and you’re looking for something that is quite fast-paced beware, this probably isn’t for you. However, if you enjoy the intricacy of family relationships then this is an enjoyable little read. Personally, I have mixed feelings. I love the sentiment expressed in the story and the writing is obviously that of an author at the top of her game but….(and this is probably going to come out all wrong!), I appreciate a short story that I can get my teeth into, that plays on my mind and I have to think about, and with The Moons Of Jupiter it felt like I had to think too hard to discover what the author was trying to say. I fully admit that after finishing I had to google the story just to make sure I had got the right end of the stick and I had, thank goodness but for a little while, I felt a little bit stupid. I don’t tend to like stories where I have to analyse too much and with this one, it almost felt a little too clever for me and I hate feeling that way! On reflection though, when I had confirmed what the story was trying to say, it did make me look at it in a more positive light and I appreciated all the nuances the author used.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew.