Short Stories Challenge

All posts tagged Short Stories Challenge

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Shadow Out Of Time by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft.

Published October 3, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Shadow Out Of Time all about?:

The Shadow Out Of Time follows our male protagonist as he struggles with what happened to his mind and body during a five year period of amnesia and hallucinations.

What did I think?:

I always approach the next H.P. Lovecraft story in my Short Stories Challenge with slight trepidation. It’s no secret that I haven’t been a big fan of some of the tales in this collection whilst others I’ve really enjoyed. The Shadow Out Of Time sits quite comfortably somewhere in the middle in that respect. One thing I might never understand though is the lengths H.P. Lovecraft goes to when telling a story. By lengths, I mean literally the sheer length of the story which could almost be an entire novel by itself and is almost epic in its content. Sometimes I feel as if he could have got a much more effective narrative by just trimming things down slightly and then I might not have felt as bored, wondering when exactly it was going to end.

The Shadow Out Of Time (as with many of his short stories) follows a male protagonist as he describes a horrendous and often fantastical event that he has been a part of and that has affected his life enormously. Our narrator for the journey is Professor Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee and he is describing a terrifying period of his recent history in the early 1900’s that he is intending to pass on to his son and other academics, hoping that they might make some sense of it. The period in question is when he was teaching one day and, all of a sudden was subjected to the most horrific headache and hallucinations that led to him losing consciousness for about sixteen hours. When he awakens, he is a completely different person, describing it as a “second personality,” that leads him to undertake long journeys for unknown reasons and to seek out strange and mysterious ancient texts where he scribbles weird hieroglyphics within the pages. He cannot look at himself in mirrors developing an odd loathing of his form and eventually, his wife divorces him taking two of their three children into her custody, adamant that he is a different man. This second person remains with Nathaniel for a period of five years until his true personality appears to return. However, he has almost complete amnesia about that time of his life although he is beginning to have erratic dreams and small flashes of memory that are terrifying him to his core.

Eventually (I say eventually as this story is absurdly and overly long) we find out the reason for Nathaniel’s amnesia and strange dreams and, as expected from a story by H.P. Lovecraft, it’s nothing short of bizarrely imaginative. There are supremely intelligent alien, cone-shaped creatures that are ten feet tall and ten feet across, journeys through billions of years of time and space and other, frightening species that although it’s difficult to picture them, appear very sinister indeed. I’ve got to give a nod to the author for the amazing detail that he puts into his stories, The Shadow Out Of Time is another prime example of a narrative that has been meticulously planned but at times I did feel like it was overly descriptive and, as I mentioned before, way too long to hold my interest. I may have given this a lower star rating purely because my attention wandered quite a while before the end if it were not for the ending. It was almost worth the long slog to the finish line just to read that final paragraph.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: A Place For Violence by Kevin Wignall from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Volume 7

 

Advertisements

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Man In The Ditch by Lisa Tuttle from the collection A Book Of Horrors.

Published September 27, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Man In The Ditch all about?:

The Man In The Ditch tells the story of a shaky relationship between a husband and wife and how their relationship becomes even more fragile when the wife sees what she thinks is a body in a ditch.

What did I think?:

I went into this short story with little or no expectations at all. I hadn’t heard of the author, Lisa Tuttle before now although after a little research, I understand she is quite a prolific science fiction, fantasy and horror writer with more than a dozen novels, seven short story collections, some non-fiction and a reference book on feminism to her name. Well, after the unsettling short story that I have just read from her, I’ll certainly be checking out more of her work. The Man In The Ditch was slow to start but gradually built up the tension in such an accomplished way until the hideous climax of the tale which still continues to haunt me hours after reading it.

The Man In The Ditch is primarily the story of a relationship – between Linzi and her husband Jay /J.D. They are in the middle of moving out into the countryside, building their own property and trying to have a baby together. On the first drive to their new house, Linzi spots what she thinks is a corpse in a ditch near to their property. Her husband doesn’t seem to be concerned at all and dismisses her fears as being “all in her head.” However, when they eventually move into the house, Linzi is unable to settle. She becomes convinced that she is being watched with malicious intent by someone (or something) and is terrified to be left on her own. Linzi and J.D. already have a tenuous relationship due to an incident which happened in the past that J.D. still appears to hold over his wife’s head and we just know as a reader from the atmospheric scenes that Lisa Tuttle creates that things could end very badly for this damaged couple.

When I first started this story, I definitely wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I did and this is, in part, because of the way the author structures the narrative, revealing certain aspects of the couples lives ever so slowly and carefully and then making us feel like we’ve been hit with a rather blunt object as she presents the “final reveal,” in a matter of just a few paragraphs at the end. I finished this short story feeling quite breathless, a little bit scared and disturbed but one hundred percent thrilled and satisfied by the direction that she had chosen to take it. Not only was this a supreme example of great horror writing, I also felt like it was a terrific character study and by the end, I felt like I knew Linzi, J.D. and the secrets of their relationship but was incredibly hungry to know and understand more about them. In this way, it could almost have worked as a novel as they were such fascinating characters and I also thought Linzi’s mother had a hell of a lot more to say that I would have been intrigued to hear. Fantastic writing style and THAT ending means this will be an author I’ll be coming back to again in the near future.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: That Shadow Out Of Time by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft.

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The House On The Hill by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales.

Published September 16, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The House On The Hill all about?:

Set in the 1920’s, this is the story of a young woman who goes to visit her cousin in the countryside and her experiences with a house on the estate that has a strange light burning in one of its windows.

What did I think?:

When I first got my hands on this short story collection I was quite excited. Kate Mosse is a great British author and I have enjoyed her novels in the past but what I love most about her writing is when she turns things a little bit darker, eerie and Gothic. The name of this collection perfectly describes the stories within: “haunting tales,” that are all a little mysterious and unsettling in their execution. I’ve enjoyed the ones I’ve read so far but haven’t been overly blown away – until now. The House On The Hill was a wonderful short story and a perfect example of Kate Mosse’s writing at its absolute finest. It reminded me a lot of Daphne du Maurier and was the ideal story to curl up with when the weather is turning a little bit colder as we head into Autumn.

Our female protagonist is actually called Daphne (strange coincidence?) and when it begins, she is staying for a weekend with her cousin Teddy, at a house he has leased for a party called Dean Hall. We get the sense that Daphne is a little fragile, she mentions a husband called Douglas who has recently left her but we don’t learn too much about the circumstances of this until much later on in the narrative. Daphne is instantly attracted both to a large dolls house in the property that is exquisite in its detail, down to the intricate furniture and folded letter in the study and to another much larger actual house on the estate. She notices the house on her first night when she seems to see a light in one of the windows which is extinguished almost as soon as she begins watching. It is not until after the party that night when she is woken up suddenly by a strange light in the sky and when she looks outside, the house on the hill appears to be burning. It is now that the story really ramps up a gear and we learn much more about the mysterious house, its connection with the dolls house in Dean Hall and about Daphne herself and what she has had to suffer in her past.

Kate Mosse has really outdone herself with this story. I love being pleasantly surprised, especially by a short story as there really isn’t that much time to engage with the reader in comparison with a longer novel. The author has pulled it off flawlessly and the unexpected nature of what happens in the second half of the tale was not only delightful to read but utterly compelling and brilliant. I always appreciate a darker, more ghostly edge to a story and the atmosphere that was created in The House On The Hill was almost magical and definitely transported me to a different time and place. This is easily my favourite story in the collection so far and I’m now highly anticipating the ones to come – although they’ve got quite a lot to live up to now!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Man In The Ditch by Lisa Tuttle from the collection A Book Of Horrors.

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Go Deep by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Published September 13, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Go Deep all about?:

A hallucinatory noir short story from the No.1 bestselling author of the Will Trent novels. (‘Go Deep’ is also available as part of a bundle with ‘Remmy Rothstein Toes the Line’ and ‘Necessary Women’)

Growing up dirt poor, Charlie Lam worked his ass off to make something of himself, no thanks to his deadbeat father or his long-suffering mother. And now a lot of people depend on Charlie: by his last count, sixty-eight employees at his Atlanta auto dealership, eleven shiftless brothers and sisters, an ungrateful wife, a spoiled daughter, a shameless girlfriend. Who could really blame him for wanting a little extra?

The arrangement is simple: Charlie picks up a suit from the dry cleaner’s. In the suit pocket is the name of a very important man. The next day, that man walks into the dealership, drives out in a new car, and Charlie gets a fat envelope full of cash. Everyone’s happy. No one gets hurt. So long as Charlie doesn’t cross his business partner. But with one twist of a knife, the unthinkable happens. And suddenly Charlie is in deeper trouble than he could have possibly imagined.

What did I think?:

Just when I thought Karin Slaughter couldn’t get any more warped and twisted, Go Deep comes along. Ahem, well…I think the name of the novella speaks for itself doesn’t it? Do I really have to go into full, gory detail? I’ll try and keep it relatively clean. Being one of my all time favourite authors, I have high expectations when I come to read Karin’s work, whether it is a novella or one of her full length novels and am rarely disappointed. So why am I still processing how I feel about this particular story? It’s not that it wasn’t compelling, it certainly was and the author definitely has the gift of the shock factor and making you feel slightly uncomfortable but for some reason, I just can’t rate it as high as I have her previous novellas. It wasn’t that it was sexually explicit, it wasn’t the characters – I can’t explain it, something just felt a bit too strange for me personally and I usually love a story with a bit of an edge.

Our protagonist is a middle-aged man called Charlie Lam who hasn’t had the best start in life with a troubled family originating from a very impoverished background. He has managed to change his life around and now owns a successful car company and looks after all his siblings (even though they try to take advantage of him emotionally and financially on a number of occasions). You’d think a character like this sounds all kinds of lovely, right? Wrong. Charlie is a bit of a wrong ‘un. He associates with mob bosses, does dodgy deals and worse of all is a disgusting misogynistic pig. He has both a wife, daughter and girlfriend all of whom he treats with equal derision and takes pleasure in embarrassing women he meets through work on a daily basis. However, when Charlie has a run in (quite literally, using his car) with a homeless man, his life is turned upside down and he may never be the same man again.

Ugh, Charlie as a character really was hideous. I did love to hate him at points and Karin Slaughter did a marvellous job of creating such an unlikeable, despicable individual. Yet (as with many of the authors works) there are multiple twists in the tale that you will not see coming and by the end, you might even end up sympathising with Charlie as he ends up in quite a horrific situation. I can only applaud the author for making me feel this way, seriously, I really did hate this guy at the beginning of the novella! There are strange, almost mystical things going on that give Charlie a taste of his own medicine and whilst you may think that he deserves it, the situations he is placed in are pretty brutal and quite graphic – again, perhaps not one for the easily offended. Once again, she does pull a blinder of an ending and despite my misgivings about the story in general, I have to admit to being desperate to know what would happen next. Hmm, maybe I did enjoy this novella more than I let on?!

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: The House On The Hill by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales.

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

Published September 10, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Little Radish all about?:

Little Radish is Angela Slatter’s take on the classic fairy tale Rapunzel – with a bit of a twist!

What did I think?:

If you’re a regular visitor to my blog (and by the way thank you, you’re amazing if you are!), you might remember that I tend to bang on about how much I love a story with a bit of a fairy-tale/magical realism slant. So far, the stories in Sourdough And Other Stories have absolutely blown me away. They are a beautiful blend of fantasy, darkness and escapism and have that undeniable quality that only the best fairy-tales have. I’m thinking of the Brothers Grimm stories here which possess that element of the dark side that is so delicious yet eerie to experience as a reader. Little Radish is another fantastic example of a tale with a bit of bite where good things don’t necessarily happen to our protagonist but they go on such a journey through their trials and tribulations.

Angela Slatter has taken the well-loved story of Rapunzel and given it a whole new lease of life. In Little Radish, our heroine is obsessed with finding a tower that she dreams of constantly. In comparison to the original tale where she is imprisoned against her will, Rapunzel is desperate to escape the noise and chaos of her family life, find her dream tower and live in utter silence and tranquillity. She happens upon a wise woman in the woods one day who tells her of such a tower that can be made invisible to the human eye if the resident of the tower is aware of the correct spell to use. Rapunzel is overjoyed and immediately sets off to find the tower and make her dream come true. There is a prince as well in this story that finds Rapunzel in her tower and begins a relationship with her. However, the nature of their relationship and what results from their liaisons is a lot more complicated and brutal than expected.

I have to admit, I wasn’t sure when I first started this story that I was going to like it. As always, the writing is gorgeous and I adore the magical element, as I was anticipating, but I wasn’t very sure about the direction in which the author was taking it. This feeling did not last for long however when I discovered exactly where it was going and now believe it to be one of the most memorable interpretations of the classic fairy tale that I’ve ever come across. I loved how Angela Slatter made her Rapunzel a lot more independent, strong-willed, inevitably flawed and hence more human than any other fairy tale princess we might read about. That ending as well – just wow. It broke my heart and put it together again.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Go Deep by Karin Slaughter (stand alone).

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Murders In The Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe from the collection The Best Short Stories Of Edgar Allan Poe.

Published September 6, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Murders In The Rue Morgue all about?:

C. Auguste Dupin is a man in Paris who solves the mysterious brutal murder of two women. Numerous witnesses heard a suspect, though no one agrees on what language was spoken. At the murder scene, Dupin finds a hair that does not appear to be human.

What did I think?:

I approached this short story with slight trepidation – I’m afraid I didn’t have a brilliant experience with the first story in this collection, The Gold-Bug and I have actually read The Murders In The Rue Morgue before, many years ago and don’t have particularly fond memories of it either. On reading it for the second time I’ve found that I can appreciate some aspects of Poe’s writing and I can agree that the entire mystery behind the murders and unmasking of the murderer is intriguing enough but I can’t seem to get past some parts of the narrative which really annoy me. I find it far too detailed (and hence, dull) for my liking and think in some instances, certain parts of it are wholly unnecessary.

The story involves two men – Dupin and his unnamed friend whom in the main part of the story, are investigating two brutal murders that happened on the Rue Morgue in Paris and are completely foxing the authorities. The two women killed are mother and daughter and there appears to be no apparent motive for the crime. In fact, 4000 francs of the women’s money has been left behind in the room where they were killed so robbery is highly unlikely. There are a few other strange occurrences in this investigation – namely the sheer violence that the perpetrator used to commit the crime. The daughter’s body appears to have been throttled to death and then pushed up a chimney with immense force and the mother’s body has been viciously mutilated and practically decapitated. The Paris police are stumped and although they have arrested a man in connection with the murders, Dupin proves them wrong when a curious clump of hair is found in the hands of Madame L’Espanaye’s corpse.

I’ll start with the negative aspects of this story because I was pleased to discover on my second reading that there were some positive points to be taken! First of all, at the beginning of the story, our narrator goes on and on about the analytical mind and describes a walk he takes with his friend Dupin which surprises him when Dupin manages to figure out exactly what he has been thinking. Although this might set up the story and describe how Dupin unravels the mystery of the Rue Morgue murders I really did think it was unnecessary and rather tedious. If it hadn’t been for knowing how the story was going to pan out having read it years ago, this may have been the point where I gave up and just put the book down. However, the plot does get a lot better when Dupin takes us through what happened the night of the murders and then eventually, the identity of the true murderer which is a bit unique to say the least! Again, I did find things were analysed in much more detail than was necessary….is an entire page about a nail really that important to the plot for example? However, I am giving it a higher rating than I might normally purely because I found the mystery incredibly interesting in itself (although I have to say, it’s no Sherlock Holmes!) and Poe certainly doesn’t shy away from the more grisly components of a story.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

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

 

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

Published September 1, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Monte Verità all about?:

The second story in Daphne du Maurier’s collection focuses on a mysterious mountain cult who are promised immortality but there is a price to pay.

What did I think?:

Oh my goodness, that was a slog and a half. Let’s get this straight, Daphne du Maurier is one of my all time favourite authors but with Monte Verità, she might have just proved to me that you’re not necessarily going to love everything that your favourite author writes! The second story in this collection is more like a novella, it’s about sixty pages long and, to be honest, I could feel every single one of those pages dragging along. It started off promisingly enough and I was quite excited to see where the author was going to take it but I was sorely disappointed by the end. It felt more like an epic saga of a story – which, I would normally be well up for but something just didn’t sit right with me. Perhaps it was the length, perhaps it was a bit too airy-fairy for me who can say? All I do know is that I was quite relieved when I (eventually) came to the end.

There is a lot going on in this story, a huge amount and I don’t want to go into the plot too much for fear of my review turning into as much of an rigmarole as the story itself! Basically, it involves a strange mountain in Europe (we are not told exactly where) called Monte Verità that hosts on its very summit, a perplexing cult that the surrounding villages are terrified of. This is because once their daughters hit the age of thirteen they have the potential to be “called” to the mountain where they are never seen again.

The narrative follows our unnamed narrator, his friend Victor and his new wife Anna and their dealings with the mountain. Anna has always seemed to have a certain kind of stillness, serenity and restlessness, almost like she is continually looking for something. Well, when she deigns to climb Monte Verità with her keen mountaineer husband Victor, she finds out exactly what she is looking for and that is to join the cult at the summit. The story follows our narrator as he listens to what has happened from Victor whom in the middle of a nervous breakdown and then our narrator attempts to ascend the mountain and get some answers for himself.

Sounds brilliant right? Just the sort of intriguing premise to pull you in? Not for me, unfortunately. I was fascinated at the start mind you, and was thoroughly enjoying it until Anna went up the mountain. After that, everything just fell slightly flat for me. I don’t think we found out enough about the people who lived at the summit i.e. how they lived, what they believed in and the secret of their apparent immortality and the story-line in general from this point just got slightly wishy-washy and vague which irritated me to no end! I’m not sure what I was expecting when I first starting reading the story but I certainly didn’t get it and am quite surprised about this as I think it had the potential to be taken in a more darker direction which may have swayed my opinion to a more positive review. I’m sure there’s people out there that would still love this story, this is simply my personal opinion but Daphne, it wasn’t one of your best!

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

 

 

 

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Murders In The Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe from the collection The Best Short Stories Of Edgar Allan Poe.