Short Stories Challenge

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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):

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

 

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Alice Through The Plastic Sheet by Robert Shearman from the collection A Book Of Horrors

Published June 15, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Alice Through The Plastic Sheet all about?:

Alan and Alice have problem neighbours – they play the music too loud, they leave rubbish in the garden, they’re plastic and inhuman.

What did I think?:

Sigh. You know when you have high hopes for a story and go in feeling all excited just to feel bitterly disappointed at the end? This was the case with Alice Through The Plastic Sheet for me. From an author that I haven’t come across before with such a plethora of awards to his name (The World Fantasy Award, The British Fantasy Award, The Shirley Jackson Award…) I was expecting great things and was, unfortunately completely let down.

It’s the story of Alan and Alice, a married couple with a young son that when the story opens, seem to have a sedate, peaceful sort of life with seemingly perfect neighbours, Barbara and Eric living alongside them. Then after her husband’s death, Barbara puts the house up for sale and leaves the area, leaving Alan and Alice rather concerned about what neighbours they may be getting as replacements. They are right to feel tentative as when the new neighbours eventually move in their lives become hell on earth. Loud Christmas music is played at random points during the day and night, their dog barks constantly and viciously but when Alan attempts to go round and address the situation, he finds that their new neighbours aren’t at all what he expected. After this, their lives start spiralling out of control. Alan has troubles at work, their son becomes obnoxious and rude, their dog becomes sick with the stress of it all and his relationship with Alice starts to crumble. Are the new neighbours responsible for everything that is occurring? Or were the shaky foundations that their family is based on always fragile and liable to collapse?

Okay, positive things about this story (Yes, there are some!). I found that I absolutely had to read to the end. It was intriguing and I really couldn’t figure out what was going on so I was determined to finish it. You might know that I love a story with a bit of a quirky edge and this certainly has quirkiness – in bucket loads but I wonder was it too peculiar even for the likes of me? I think I understand what the author was trying to do by exploring relationships on the brink, the thin line between insanity and sanity and how easily you can be toppled into madness and also the aspect of the unknown, the things that make you feel uneasy but you can’t put your finger on exactly why they do. The creepiness of the neighbours unnerved me perhaps at one particular point in the narrative but I have to admit otherwise I was left pretty ambivalent about the whole thing. I didn’t have any strong feelings towards Alan or Alice as characters which left me feeling generally quite apathetic about what happened to them by the end of the story and, to be perfectly honest, just led to more confusion than resolution in the end.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Drowned Village by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales

Published June 10, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Drowned Village all about?:

This is the story of a young boy called Gaston whom after tragic circumstances in his own life becomes embroiled in a strange ceremony to celebrate the ghostly inhabitants of a village under the sea.

What did I think?:

I love anything with a bit of a ghostly feel, a thrill, something that chills me and makes my heart beat a little faster and when it happens to be a bit fairy-tale inspired also, you can pretty much guarantee I’m going to be a happy little bookworm. I’m not quite sure if The Drowned Village delivered on all of these counts. There were parts of it that were absolutely beautiful and certainly made me (almost) shiver but it didn’t seem to hit the spot in exactly the right way I was hoping.

As Kate Mosse tells the reader in the Author’s Note which she writes after each story (which I love by the way!) this story is based on an old Breton folk tale which of course, with my love of the mythical and other-worldly I was very intrigued by. It is a very fascinating concept, one of tides entirely reclaiming a village and its final stubborn inhabitants who refused to move. However, on certain nights you can still hear the villagers moaning under the water and a dim light under the waves can still be seen if you look very closely.

However, before all of this, we meet our main character, a lad called Gaston who is receiving a very coveted scholarship at school to go and study at a boarding school many miles away. We get the sense Gaston has already suffered too much in his young life from his worn clothes, demeanour and difficult relationship with his parents, who also seem to be a clear target for other children to make fun of. When tragedy strikes, Gaston who has no other relatives is sent to live temporarily with a school friend who tells him all about the drowned village and how annually, a festival is held by the believers of the village where the ghostly sea people return to the land for a brief period of time. At first, I wondered how Gaston and this other thread of the story were going to be connected but it does end up merging together near the end when he becomes involved unintentionally in the ceremony.

So there were quite a lot of things in this story that I enjoyed. I really liked the character of Gaston, his vulnerability but also incredible internal strength under adversity and as mentioned earlier, I did appreciate the folk tale aspect of the ghostly village people. There are some quite potentially frightening moments during the annual ceremony at the festival but I can’t help but feeling like they could have been executed slightly better – perhaps with a cliffhanger of an ending that kind of almost happened but didn’t in the end. I think if it had ended in the way I was expecting I would have been left with a better overall feeling of this story and don’t get me wrong, I definitely enjoyed it, just maybe not as much as I was hoping to. That’s not to say that others won’t feel the complete opposite though!

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: Alice Through The Plastic Sheet by Robert Shearman from the collection A Book Of Horrors

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Thorn In My Side by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Published May 23, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Thorn In My Side all about?:

It could have been just any night, and they could have just been any two brothers — but it wasn’t, and they weren’t. The scene is an Atlanta bar. The music is loud and the dance floor is packed. The good-looking brother picks up a girl. But when dark deeds ensue out in the parking lot, what happens next can only be described in two words: vintage Slaughter.

What did I think?:

Okay, so I think regular visitors to my blog are aware that Karin Slaughter can’t do much wrong in my eyes and I always get a little bit excited when one of her short stories rolls around on my Short Stories Challenge. As the synopsis suggests, “vintage Slaughter,” is perfect terminology to use as what happens during this story is shocking, compelling and disturbing, everything I’ve come to expect from the author and yet she still manages to surprise me, every single time.

This very dark, twisted little tale involves two brothers who have a very interesting relationship with each other and a are a bit different from the norm. I do want to veer away from spoilers as I really enjoyed the surprise myself when the reader finds out what makes them special but it might make writing this review quite tough, apologies for any vagueness! The brothers are called Kirk and Wayne and are as different as chalk and cheese. Kirk is the more confident, wise-cracking, brash brother that has a bit of an eye for the ladies and Wayne is the softer, more unassuming, shy brother of the two which causes its own problems for Kirk for reasons I simply cannot divulge. However, one night they pay a prostitute to ahem… service Kirk in the back of their van at a club and things go very badly. This is the tale of the relationship between a very unique set of brothers that has been simmering just below boiling point for so long, but one catastrophic set of events tips things right over the edge and changes both brothers lives forever.

Doesn’t sound too very shocking in the grand scheme of things? Think again. There’s a lot of things I’m not able to say in this review for fear of ruining the shock factor that I myself felt when I realised the direction Slaughter was taking the narrative. She has a fantastic way of writing the most loathsome characters, like Kirk, the self-assured yet incredibly dangerous brother who I loved reading about but made my skin crawl with his actions and the decisions he makes. The author describes it herself on GoodReads as a bit of a departure story for her from what she usually writes and there are a couple of lower starred reviews that may reflect this. For me however, I thought it was a disturbing yet intriguing read with many of her classic trademarks that I appreciated. Maybe it’s not a story for everyone sure, especially the more sensitive or easily offended but personally, I think she’s knocked it out of the park once again.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Drowned Village by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Gallowberries by Angela Slatter from the collection Sourdough And Other Stories

Published May 16, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Gallowberries all about?:

Gallowberries is about a young woman who has recently lost her mother. Both women are witches and this story focuses on how the daughter manages to take care of herself as she learns more about her own powers.

What did I think?:

I can already tell that this short story collection has the potential to be the most fantastic one I’ve ever read and I’m only two stories in. The first story, The Shadow Tree had me falling completely under the author’s spell and Gallowberries was much the same. It encompasses everything I love in a story – a bit of fantasy, a lot of fairy tale, beautiful lyrical writing and the edge of darkness to make something that is so wonderful to read that you are sorry when you reach the final page as you just want it to go on forever. A huge thank you again to the lovely Fiction Fan for recommending this author and this particular collection, I’m one hundred percent bowled over by it.

Gallowberries is almost like a novella in itself. Not length wise, as it’s regular short story length but the amount of time and events it covers is epic in scale and you almost feel you are seeing a large portion of someone’s life, written in Angela Slatter’s inimitable style that gives me such a warm fuzzy feeling inside. The story involves a young woman called Patience whom when we meet her is admiring the apples growing on a tree that are managing to flourish with a little help from her magical powers. It is while she is looking at the fruit that she happens to notice a handsome man who speaks to her causing her to fall. This is Gideon Cotton who she ends up getting to know romantically (although sadly for her he is never planning to introduce her to his family or indeed marry her….he has a more “suitable” wife-to-be all lined up!).

However, little does Gideon know but Patience is already very familiar with him and his family. He is desperately seeking a witch that murdered some of his family, poisoned others through the wells, cursed cows to be barren and ensured that fields propagated dead crops. Patience is well aware of this as she is the witch he is seeking. In her mind, she had good reasons for revenge. Her mother was due to be hanged for witchcraft by his family and at the last minute she escaped by using the magical properties of gallowberries. This does mean that Patience is unable to see her anymore as she has passed over to another world where Patience cannot follow. With the help of her new friend, Dowsabel who takes Patience in when she is destitute and has nowhere else to go, Patience begins to use her magic for good and see hope and happiness in her life again. Nevertheless, this is an Angela Slatter fairy tale….a happy ending is not guaranteed and with the threat of Gideon finding out who she really is always a concern, Patience may have to call on her dark powers again to ensure her survival.

Loved, loved, loved this story. As I mentioned before, it is a truly epic narrative with so much content, action, heartbreak and sorrow jammed into a relatively short space of time but the brilliant thing is, it never feels rushed or “too much.” The fairy tale-esque nature of Angela Slatter’s writing is always a bonus but she always chooses such strong and interesting female characters like Patience herself and her friend Dowsabel whom I found fascinating to read about and indeed, ended up fully championing despite the questionable things that Patience had done in the name of revenge. Also, the darkness. Oh, it’s incredibly dark! Some of the things that occur might make you cringe, may make you squirm but it’s such amazing storytelling that you simply cannot look away before you find out how it all ends. So far, the two stories in this collection I’ve read have been incredibly strong and if this is an indicator of how the collection is going to continue, I’ve got many more treats in store. Is Angela Slatter a new favourite author? You’re goddamn right she is!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: Thorn In My Side by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Gold-Bug by Edgar Allan Poe from the collection The Best Short Stories Of Edgar Allan Poe

Published May 2, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Gold-Bug all about?:

Believing William Legrand to have gone insane following an insect bite, his friend initially decries his quest for gold as the ramblings of a madman. Yet when Legrand’s conviction fails to waiver, they set off on a bizarre journey, accompanied by Jupiter, Legrand’s loyal and equally skeptical servant. What follows is a strange tale of coded messages, hidden treasure, and uncanny prophecy that will both enthrall and baffle even the most perceptive readers.Part horror story, part detective fiction, The Gold Bug is an ingenious tale bearing all the hallmarks of Poe’s extraordinary narrative skill.

What did I think?:

Welcome to the first story in a new collection in my Short Stories Challenge after I completed a previous collection. I’ve always been curious about the work of Edgar Allan Poe, especially after reading his story The Tell Tale Heart many years ago and loving it. It actually forms part of this collection so I will be reviewing it once I’ve read it again and am excited to discover what I think of it as an adult. Unfortunately, The Gold-Bug was a slightly disappointing story for me and I sincerely hope that doesn’t set the tone for the rest of the collection. There were some good bits sure, but at times it felt quite long-winded and unnecessary, which I’ll get into a bit later.

We are told the story from the point of view of an unnamed however seemingly reliable narrator who is quite concerned about a reclusive friend of his, Will Legrand. When he goes to visit him, Will has become obsessed with a golden bug that he and his black servant, Jupiter found when out one day. Our narrator seems to think he has gone quite mad, especially when Jupiter confirms his suspicions and says he is quite worried for his master. Well, as it turns out, Will has found a bit of parchment from a previous shipwreck that leads him to the location of some buried treasure on the island. However, he must crack the code before he can hope to find where the treasure lies.

Okay so at first I have to admit I was intrigued. Yet I thought a lot more would be made of the gold-bug than what actually happened which was slightly disappointing. That wasn’t what irked me about this book however. The first was the outrageous racist attitude towards Jupiter and the way he was written as a character. The language he uses is awful, the way he is presented is shameful and the way he is treated is deplorable! Yes, I know, this story was written an age ago when attitudes were different (unfortunately) but I can’t help the way I feel about that sort of thing and sadly, it will affect my enjoyment of a story.

Secondly, I was expecting a bit more out of the ending. Edgar Allan Poe’s character Legrand, rabbits on for far too many pages about how he manages to crack the code on the parchment and while some people may find it interesting, I just found it dull and had to force myself to finish. What would have made it interesting is how the men chose to divide the treasure amongst themselves (if that did indeed happen – maybe something could have gone horrifically wrong, maybe someone could have been murdered?). I believe that would have made a more interesting story and a better ending as a result. This story is a great piece of detective fiction if that’s what you were expecting but as it was classed as part “horror” story I have to admit to wanting a bit more.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

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

 

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

Published April 25, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Birds all about?:

The Birds, immortalised by Alfred Hitchcock’s infamous film tells the story of a family who are trying to protect their house from a nationwide epidemic of aggressive birds that seek to maim/kill all humans at different points in the tides.

What did I think?:

I don’t think I even need to mention again how big a fan I am of Daphne du Maurier’s work – oops, just did! I have previously reviewed all her short stories in the fantastic collection The Breaking Point previously in my Short Stories Challenge (for reviews on these please see my archive) and I immediately knew I wanted to pick another short story collection from the author as I have a few on my Kindle all ready for my eager little eyes to peruse. I’ve been familiar with the story of The Birds for a little while, like others having seen the famous Hitchcock film but I wasn’t actually aware that the film is a little different to the original story, although still an excellent piece of work.

The story follows a family – Nat, his wife and their two children, Johnny and Jill. It starts out like any other night until at some point during the evening, the weather turns all of a sudden to the most bitter winter our characters have ever experienced. Coinciding with this turn in the weather, Nat and his wife are disturbed by a consistent tapping on the window that turns out to be a bird, immediately attacking Nat when he goes to the window. A little while later, they hear screams from the children’s room and a whole host of birds (about fifty) are in there, maliciously going for the children until Nat manages to subdue i.e. mostly kill all of them, hurting himself in the process.

The rest of the story follows the family as it turns out that the problem of the birds seems to be a nationwide epidemic and all individuals are being urged to stay indoors and strongly board up and protect their houses from the winged onslaught. The epidemic becomes so terrifying that the radio stops transmitting the news and government planes crash and burn as they try to deal with the millions of birds determined to wreak utter havoc. And yes, once again, Daphne du Maurier writes a classic tale of fear and tension, from that very first tap on the window to the suicidal instincts of the birds in order to gain entry to properties and the sheer determination to be aggressive and cause as much damage as possible.

I loved every moment of it and was utterly gripped by the horror of the situation that our family found themselves in, especially when during a respite from the birds, as the tides ebb, they visit a neighbouring farm for supplies and see the full extent of the birds reign of terror. This is a story from an author who is at the peak of her writing abilities and it had such a dramatic effect on me. I have to laugh, I live in a beautiful area in the countryside and can often hear birds chirping just outside my library where I blog. While I was reading this story however, I couldn’t help but turn to look out the window and worry a little bit….who would have known a tiny little sparrow could seem so malevolent?!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Gold-Bug by Edgar Allan Poe from the collection The Best Short Stories Of Edgar Allan Poe