Short Stories Challenge

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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The White Doe by Rosy Thornton from the collection Sandlands.

Published August 18, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The White Doe all about?:

The White Doe is the story of Fran who has recently lost her mother and has been seeing a rare white doe in the countryside near to her home.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to the author Rosy Thornton for sending me a copy of her first short story collection, Sandlands in exchange for an honest review. On reading the synopsis, which promises magic entwined with the beauty of nature I was certainly sold and thought it would be a great addition to my Short Stories Challenge. The first story is The White Doe and even though my expectations were slightly raised (due to the promise of animals I have to say, I’m a sucker for anything involving them!) I wasn’t disappointed. It was written beautifully and the surrounding environment of Suffolk was incorporated so expertly that the narrative just seemed to flow like water.

Our main character in the story is Fran who lost her mother whom she was incredibly close to, six months ago. She hasn’t really had a good opportunity to grieve for her loss and finds looking through any of her mother’s belongings terribly difficult so is pushing it to one side for now. It is obvious her mother is continually present in her thoughts – she mentions her constantly in the story and it is obvious her feelings about her death are still very raw. Recently however, she has been seeing a white doe amongst a group of other deer and wondering what it can possibly mean.

Fran is aware of an old folk tale about a white doe (who was actually a woman that transformed into the animal) and how it ended very badly when her brother mistakenly killed her whilst out hunting, believing her to be in fact a doe and not his sister. This story is also connected with the horrific migraines that Fran has been suffering. She has always had a bit of a predisposition for headaches that were normally soothed for her as a child by her mother but since her mother’s death they appear to be getting worse. The visitation of the deer, Fran’s memories of her mother and her migraines are all connected and all assist Fran in confronting her grief when the time is right.

I actually read this story two times so that I could fully appreciate it. The descriptive nature of Rosy Thornton’s writing is as magical as the folk tale/legends that she recounts in the narrative and whilst reading, I felt like I was immersed in another world that I didn’t want to leave. Being British, I also loved the connection to the Suffolk countryside and as an animal nut, the references to the deer in their appearance and their behaviour. This isn’t a story just about a special deer however, it’s got so many different levels, namely regarding grief and how it is experienced and effectively managed and the importance of motherhood. Personally, I thought it was a stunning short story and am eagerly anticipating the rest of the collection.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

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

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Heart Goes Last (Positron, Episode Four) by Margaret Atwood (stand-alone)

Published August 15, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The internationally bestselling diva of dystopias is back with a new installment of Positron, her darkly comic Byliner Serial about life in a Big Brother America of the near future.

In the seemingly well-adjusted world of Consilience, it’s dawning on the residents that they’ve thrown away the keys to more than their ragged former lives outside the high walls of their gated community. When they volunteered for this new social experiment, they also gave away the keys to their destinies, even their hearts.

Ask Charmaine and she’ll tell you her husband is a dead man. Sure, marriage can be murder, but when Charmaine plunged a deadly hypodermic needle into Stan, because it was part of her job–dispatching undesirables in Positron Prison–Stan survived. His former jailer, a libidinous security chief named Jocelyn, had switched out the death drugs for knockout drugs and drafted him into a plot to undo the increasingly sinister social scheme. In so doing, she promoted him from her sexual plaything to full-blown subversive. The underground is housed in a manufacturing plant of one of Consilience’s most successful products: sexbots, made to order.

Love, however, is not made to order, and despite a Darwinian labyrinth of betrayal after betrayal, including wild extramarital encounters and, yes, murder, Stan can’t stop thinking about Charmaine. Not only because someone has requested a sexbot replica of her but because, well, she’s home in a world without homes. In The Heart Goes Last, one of Atwood’s darkest and most deviously entertaining inventions yet, the human heart proves more resilient and true than any mail-order machine.

What did I think?:

Hopefully this isn’t going to be too difficult to explain…Margaret Atwood’s Positron series is now available as a complete novel called The Heart Goes Last, however the series originally appeared as a number of “episodes,” each available separately as an e-book. This is the way I first came across them although now I do feel slightly cheated as the fifth (and I think final?) episode has been taken off the Amazon UK website and I will now only know the ending to the story if I choose to purchase the full length novel which also goes under the name The Heart Goes Last. Did that make any sense? If you haven’t read this series before, this shortened episode is definitely not the best place to start, you’re probably better off buying the entire novel and reading from the start. Also, I did find myself quite disappointed with this section of the story and feel there’s better parts of it I’ve already reviewed that I can recommend. (Please see my previous posts I’m Starved For You, Choke Collar and Erase Me).

Margaret Atwood chooses to set this story in a strange, dystopian world in a new society known as Positron. Briefly, it involves couples signing up and being fully committed to the programme, given free housing and employment but every alternate month they have to enter the prison system and work for the good of society as an alternate couple pairing takes their places in their house. Sounds good, right? Well, of course, as you might have expected from an Atwood narrative, this society is a hell of a lot darker than first made out. Although you are guaranteed a job and security for life, there are a lot murkier things going on in this world and our main characters, Charmaine and Stan become embroiled in this underworld when they are manipulated into a situation they are not prepared for.

I don’t want to say too much more about the plot for fear of spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t come across this work before. I do want to say that it’s not for the easily offended. It’s one of the most sexual things that I’ve seen Margaret Atwood write and she definitely doesn’t hold back with the seedier side of Positron including in this episode, specialised “sexbots” for the pleasure of both men and women. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t as impressed with this episode compared to the others in the series. I loved the snide humour throughout and didn’t mind some of the more shocking moments but, by this point in the narrative, I didn’t feel like she had enough to say that compelled me in the way I usually feel when reading her novels. If it wasn’t for the fact that I am incredibly intrigued to see how it all ends, I might not even bother to finish the story. As it is, I don’t think I’ll be rushing to complete it, especially if it involves reading an entire novels worth just to get to the same point in the story that I am at the moment.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: The White Doe by Rosy Thornton from the collection Sandlands.

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Adventure Of The Noble Bachelor by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes.

Published August 12, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Adventure Of The Noble Bachelor all about?:

The Noble Bachelor sees Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson looking into the mysterious disappearance of a wife shortly after she was married.

What did I think?:

Sherlock Holmes is always a joy and I always look forward to the stories coming up in this collection as I read it for the very first time. There haven’t been very many that I’ve disliked which is a relief after expecting such great things from the lauded Arthur Conan Doyle and his most beloved and famous British detective. The Adventure Of The Noble Bachelor was another fantastic example of a convoluted mystery with a satisfying conclusion, obviously herded along by the amazing powers of deduction possessed by Mr Sherlock Holmes!

The Noble Bachelor in our story is Lord Robert St. Simon, a wealthy man undergoing some financial difficulties but has been thrown a lifeline in the form of wife-to-be Hatty Doran, a very rich American heiress. That is, he was relieved to think his money worries were going to be over until Hatty does a disappearing act shortly after the wedding at the family house. St. Simon has no idea where she has gone and why and enlists the help of Holmes and Watson in order to solve the mystery and perhaps find out exactly what happened to his errant wife. As with all of the Sherlock mysteries, there is always something much deeper and more complex going on below the surface. So by picking up on the subtlest of clues, Holmes is able to solve the case within the same day and even though what he finds might not necessarily bring happiness to all partners concerned, at least they’ll all have a clearer idea of what their future may hold.

This story is one of the slightly shorter narratives in the collection but this did not affect my enjoyment of it in the slightest. In fact it was admirably and neatly wrapped up and I left it feeling quite content with my lot and once again, astounded with the sheer brilliance of the author’s imagination in devising all these different cases and the tiny little clues that lead to a big reveal or a conclusion. I don’t think it’s as difficult as some of the other mysteries to solve as a reader, I had guessed part of it before the great unveiling but there were still many things I hadn’t picked up on which I hugely enjoyed. Always a pleasure and never a chore – I’m loving my experience of reading all the Sherlock Holmes stories and will feel quite bereft when I’ve finished everything there is to read….until I read them all again of course!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

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

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Possum by Matthew Holness from the collection The New Uncanny: Tales Of Unease edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page.

Published August 7, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Possum all about?:

Possum follows a disgraced puppeteer as he is forced to return home and confront certain things from his past.

What did I think?:

Oh my goodness, what on earth did I just read?! The short story Possum is from an author I had never come across before, Matthew Holness who is actually a well respected comedian and actor here in the UK. This is why I feel so bad about writing this review – this story was unequivocally not for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love a story with a bit of an edge, horror is definitely my bag and anything that leaves me in the slightest bit uneasy I will usually praise to the heavens. However, not this story. I left it feeling disgusted, a bit dirty (and a little bit nauseous if I’m completely honest). I was a bit surprised to be feeling this way, I’m not easily shocked or grossed out by fiction and pride myself on my strong and (I thought!) immovable stomach. Well, it turns out that there is a limit to what I can take and I’m afraid Matthew Holness just found that level and took it to dizzying heights.

Our narrator is returning home we think, in disgrace after an incident at one of his puppet shows. His favourite puppet called Possum is an absolute monstrosity. Most of it is quite canine in appearance – the body, long protruding tongue, bull terrier eyes but the head is undeniably human. It is made of wax and possesses a startling resemblance to our narrator when he was younger, acne scars and all. The tongue is coated with flypaper and over the years has amassed a number of bluebottles, now dried up and tending to fall out whenever the tongue escapes the mouth of the puppet. We don’t really learn too much about our narrator’s past, a lot of things are merely implied or suggested but we understand that he has been through some terrible experiences that are still affecting him as an adult. He takes out all his emotions about his past on Possum the puppet, attempting to drown it, bury it alive tear it apart, burn it etc yet it still returns each time to haunt him making him believe that he will never be able to confront the ghosts of his past and indeed present situation in life.

So, positive things about this story. The whole idea of it (whilst being completely warped) was hugely imaginative and intriguing and although I personally didn’t get on with the narrative, I was completely gripped to finish the story and see how it all panned out for our main character. Beware however, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, a strong stomach is definitely required if you want to read this story. Some parts are so hideous and so nauseating that I actually groaned out loud. It takes a lot to repulse me (or so I thought!) and this piece of fiction certainly takes the ick factor to brand new levels that I never anticipated. If the object of the story was to make you feel as uneasy and as disgusted as possible, (which I have to say does seem to be the point when you consider the title of this particular collection) the author has one hundred percent succeeded in his objective so all kudos to him. I just never ever want to read this again!

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

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

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Master by Angela Carter from the collection The Story: Love, Loss & The Lives of Women.

Published August 4, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Master all about?:

In Master, a hunter comes to the Amazon rainforest and purchases a female slave to accompany him on his travels and who he can abuse at will.

What did I think?:

I’m really glad that I purchased The Story: Love, Loss and The Lives Of Women for my Kindle. It’s the sort of collection where I’m finding so many fantastic female authors that I’ve either heard of and been meaning to check out or I’ve never come across them before and I’m getting the most insightful experience into their work. It is obvious that Victoria Hislop has chosen each of these authors and stories very carefully and so far, each short work has had something about it that has made me think, made me laugh and (almost!) made me cry. Obviously, Angela Carter is a huge name in women’s fiction, particularly feminist fiction. I’ve already read Nights At The Circus by her in my pre-blogging days and The Bloody Chamber and I was anticipating something whimsical, strong and special from Master which was exactly what I ending up getting.

Master is the story of one of the most despicable young men in literature I’ve had the displeasure to come across. We don’t really learn too much about his early life, apart from some stories of bullying younger students at school and references to his voracious appetite for violence. As an adult though, he discovers a real passion for hunting – not for love of sport but for the glory of the killing, you understand. (Let me just state that I don’t agree with hunting animals on any level so this story was always going to disgust me!). He decides to travel to the Amazon rainforest in search of bigger and better prey being particularly interested in the big cats, namely jaguars. While there he meets a local tribe and purchases one of their female members to be his personal slave as he continues his killing spree travelling through the forest. He treats her abominably with both physical and sexual abuse until she becomes a shadow of what she once was and has the appearance of something else entirely. Well, let me just say, it wouldn’t be an Angela Carter story if the man won at the end of the day, would it?

If you’ve never read any Angela Carter before and enjoy lyrical language, magical narrative properties and nonsensical events you’re in for a treat. This was quite an odd story but I wouldn’t expect anything less from this author. Along with its quirkiness and at times, shocking moments, comes a story filled with intense power and ferocity that kept me on tenterhooks throughout. I have to be honest and say that I don’t think Angela Carter is for everyone but if you’ve never read her before and you’re curious, I would really recommend one of her short stories so that you can get an idea of her inimitable style and flair which is certainly one of a kind. I have Angela Carter’s Book Of Fairy Tales on my shelves and this story has only served to remind me that it simply has to be a future addition to my Short Stories Challenge!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

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

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Blue Moon by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles.

Published August 1, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Blue Moon all about?:

Blue Moon follows our narrator who works in a very unique nursing home where its residents have magical abilities.

What did I think?:

Generally speaking, I’ve been hugely impressed with the quality of writing and the fairy-tale nature of Lucy Wood’s beautiful collection, Diving Belles. There have been a couple of stories that I’ve felt have ended too abruptly but the vast majority of them have been wonderful and means I would definitely recommend this collection for any fans of magical realism or anything other-worldly. Lucy Wood expertly weaves Cornish folklore into this collection in a way that makes each story feel like a fantasy but at the same time very real, a tough task to accomplish I’m sure but she does it with ease. Blue Moon is another fantastic example of the surreal, lyrical nature that has characterised this whole collection and the beauty of the language just washed over me and made reading this story an absolute pleasure.

When we first start reading, our narrator, who works at Blue Moon nursing home is attempting to calm down a very anxious hare in a bedroom. Within a few lines and by the narrator addressing the hare as Mrs Tivoli, we soon realise that Mrs Tivoli is a witch and a shape-shifter, normally taking human form but she has recently had a visitor and something has happened that has frightened or upset her so badly that she has transformed herself into a hare and seems to have lost control of her senses. Our narrator soon takes us back in time, explaining what has precipitated these events and it’s a magical tale of a very odd nursing home that takes in residents with magical powers. Dealing with these residents is not easy as our narrator is well aware but Mrs Tivoli has taken a particular shine to her and opens up to her about her life, her losses and her regrets which she keeps in a series of bottles. The smaller regrets are in larger bottles, her biggest regrets are in smaller sized bottles – the biggest regret of all is in a nail varnish bottle and it is this bottle that Mrs Tivoli opens one day just before her visitor arrives to show our narrator that precipitates her frantic transformation.

It’s only as I’m writing this review up now that I’m starting to appreciate how brilliant this story actually is. Imagine keeping all your regrets in your life in bottles within a drawer by your bedside. Any time you want you can open one of these bottles, view a memory and re-live those feelings you felt when a particular thing happened to you that you feel remorse for. It doesn’t bear thinking about! I adored the magical elements of this story, in particular Mrs Tivoli and her opinionated pet catfish Maria but as I mentioned, the most beautiful thing about this story is the writing which flows like water and is so descriptive. It’s like the author thought long and hard about each word she chose before writing it and her consideration over what she chose is obvious as each word is perfect. Lucy Wood does have a habit of ending each story quite abruptly, leaving the reader feeling like there is unfinished business but I have to be honest. In this story, it really worked. I would have loved to know what happened next to Mrs Tivoli and her mysterious visitor but, in the end, it just makes it more poignant that we don’t know and have to guess for ourselves.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

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

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

Published July 26, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Hot Dog Stand all about?:

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

What did I think?:

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

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

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

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

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

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