Short Stories Challenge

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Short Stories Challenge 2018 – At The Mountain Of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft.

Published March 22, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s At The Mountain Of Madness all about?:

The Mountain Of Madness follows our male character as he embarks upon an expedition to the Antarctic, initially in search of fossils but ends up finding something much more unexpected and incredibly dangerous.

What did I think?:

Sigh. I think I’ll always be grateful to this short story as it’s only when I dragged myself through this (almost literally kicking and screaming at some points) that I realised that Lovecraft and I are not a match made in heaven. I’ve been worrying about our compatibility for some time now after I’ve read a number of stories in this collection but have always persevered, thinking perhaps there’s something about him I’m just not getting. To be fair to him, there has been the occasional story where I’ve thought: “That was alright, sort of enjoyable,” but generally, I’m finding reading some of his work the most mammoth task. This was definitely the case with The Mountain Of Madness. For starters, it was just so incredibly LONG and, full disclosure here, I found myself skimming whole parts of the narrative just to get to the end that little bit quicker.

Funny story – when I was reading it (and heartily complaining to my boyfriend all the way through), I had been quiet for a little while and he took one look at my face and then told me to give up the story, it looked like it was causing me physical pain! Well, by that time I was so close to the end that I thought I might as well finish it. Now I’m thinking that it’s a shame I’m never going to get that time back again, which was an HOUR by the way and that was with skimming as well. God knows how long it would have taken me if I had bothered to read every word diligently!

So, as a quick explanation of this story, it started out promisingly enough with a group of men, all with different skills i.e. biologist, physicist, geologist who embark on a once in a lifetime trip to the Antarctic to try and get a better idea of the area’s history, primarily by sampling some of the rock formations, which is where our main guy comes in as a geologist. It is not long however, before the men find something else entirely, something terrifying, hideous, other-worldly (hey, what else did you expect, it’s Lovecraft right?) and puts them all in very grave danger.

Where do I even begin? I always like to try and find some positives and if you’re a die hard Lovecraftian, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, he’s definitely adept with his vocabulary, long descriptive sequences where nothing much happens at all and the build up, cooling down and further build up of a scene. This however, is becoming exactly my problem with him. I can deal with the beautiful wording, although at time it does get a bit too much and some of the creatures he creates are incredibly imaginative however it just all feels like more of the same old thing and to be honest, I’m getting bored.

I do understand that most of his stories have connections to the wider world of the Cthulhu Mythos and the book of Necronomicon of course, but just for once I’d like to read a story that doesn’t feel like it’s going in the exact same direction as the last. For example, male character goes searching for alien/ancient beings, male character finds strange city that makes him feel a bit weird, male character finds evidence that creatures are highly intelligent, male character sees creature and is terrified, male character (or friend of male character) has nervous breakdown and fears no-one is ever going to believe him. You see what I mean? It’s getting a bit tedious and although I can see why people rate Lovecraft so much as an author, I fear I’m not going to change my mind about him. This is now the eleventh story I’ve read in this collection and with fifty-six left to go, I’m sad to say I’m going to have to remove this collection from my Short Stories Challenge from here on in. I’ve really tried to give him a chance and I just can’t do it anymore!

I’d love to hear your opinions on Lovecraft if you’ve read him. Do you feel the same as me? Or is there something I’m clearly missing?

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: Four Hundred Rabbits by Simon Levack from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Vol 7.


Short Stories Challenge 2018 – A Child’s Problem by Reggie Oliver from the collection A Book Of Horrors.

Published March 14, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s A Child’s Problem all about?:

A Child’s Problem focuses on a precocious young boy who is forced to go and live with his rich uncle and undergoes a rather haunting experience in his efforts to try and get to know his uncle a little better.

What did I think?:

Reggie Oliver is a well-respected British playwright, biographer and writer of ghost stories and has received numerous nominations for World Fantasy, British Fantasy, Stoker, International Horror Guild and the Shirley Jackson awards. Due to these numerous accolades, I found myself quite excited to discover his work, having never come across him in the past so a short story seemed the perfect place to begin. Now I’ve finished it and had some time to mull over it, I find myself in two minds about the story itself. On the one hand, it’s obvious the author can write and he’s excellent at creating an atmospheric narrative that makes you want to keep on reading but for some reason, this story just didn’t have enough bite for me. There was plenty of potential of course, but the direction it ended up taking just left me feeling slightly deflated.

A Child’s Problem follows a young boy, George who at nine years old is told that he must now live with his wealthy Uncle Augustus whilst his parents decamp to India for a while for his father’s work. At first, this seems like a big adventure for George, the house and grounds are large and there is plenty of opportunity for exploring however his Uncle is a difficult, rather sullen character who seems to have regretted agreeing to take George under his wing. On the interactions that they do have, he tries to get rid of him as soon as possible by giving him various quests around the property and puzzles to solve so that he can have a bit of peace. The puzzles that Augustus gives him however are a lot more sinister than first meets the eye and point to a dreadful history that leads George very quickly to be in terrible danger himself. As well as this, George is starting to see strange, shadowy figures under an old oak tree at the front of the house and he starts to wonder about the secrets that his Uncle Augustus believes he will keep hidden.

Interesting premise right? I was certainly intrigued and the writing was assured and captivating to read throughout the narrative. I was quite surprised that it was a bit longer than I was expecting and perhaps it suffered a bit for this length as about two-thirds of the way into it, unfortunately I began to lose interest. There are a host of unlikeable characters to get to grips with, which I always enjoy in a story but for some reason, even when some are in mortal danger, I still didn’t connect with them as much as I would have liked. Reggie Oliver certainly has a gift for writing eerie settings and some of the scenes, in particular when George finds the family tombs are quite chilling but sadly, by the end of the story, I just didn’t feel like I understood properly what it was all about and why exactly everything played out the way it did. This is just my personal opinion, however and I’m sure other readers would love it for the quality of the writing alone.

Would I recommend it?:


Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: At The Mountain Of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft.


Short Stories Challenge 2018 – Why The Yew Tree Lives So Long by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales.

Published March 1, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s Why The Yew Tree Lives So Long all about?:

This is a story about a particular group of yew trees including what they have seen through history and how they bemoan the folly of men.

What did I think?:

Well, this was an interesting little piece! I believe I’ve mentioned before, what I really enjoy about this collection is that after each story, Kate Mosse puts in a little afterword to explain what inspired her to write it which gives you a very fresh perspective, straight from the horse’s mouth so as to speak, and a great insight into the mind of the author whilst she was writing. This tale is remarkably short compared to the others and couldn’t be more different to what I’ve read in this collection so far. The author mentions that this particular tale was actually commissioned for The Woodlands Trust in order to protect certain trees from being destroyed and focuses on a particular group of yew trees in Kingley Vale which have been suggested to have been present since the time of the Vikings.

The yew trees at Kingley Vale, amongst the oldest living things in England.

The yew trees in this story describe their beautiful surroundings and appear to be peaceful and contented until the invasion of the Vikings is the beginning of many wars on their land. As they decay into the ground, they once again rise up and live on and grow to see more wars and horrific fighting between men. They are not only dumbstruck by why men would fight amongst themselves but are also saddened that blood is being spilled for no good reason. The story doesn’t really have a definitive sort of ending, we just feel bad for the trees as the reader when they continue to witness acts of violence. As a story promoting nature and the importance of these “immortal” trees, I think it’s a fantastic piece of writing and I loved that it took on a historical, mythological stand as we see events through the eyes of these ancient, knowledgeable trees. Personally, I would have loved a bit more length and perhaps a bit more detail about what the trees saw but rest assured, I think it does its job splendidly of illustrating how important these trees are.

Would I recommend it?:


Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: A Child’s Problem by Reggie Oliver from the collection A Book Of Horrors.

Short Stories Challenge 2018 – Remmy Rothstein Toes The Line by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone).

Published February 15, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

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

As an intrepid adjudicator of World Records, Mindy Patel has met lots of strange people in lots of strange places. But they’re no match for the Swampers of the Georgia bayou. Mindy has braved the oppressive August heat in search of Remmy Rothstein, who they call ‘The Cajun Jew’. If the photos are indeed accurate, she might be about to certify Remmy as the World Record Holder for Longest Tongue in the World . . . and maybe even the Widest!

First Mindy meets Remmy’s half-brother, Buell Rabinowitz, surely the world’s only one-legged, albino, Jewish African American. Then she makes the acquaintance of Remmy’s mother, a foul-mouthed old woman with an impressive beard. None of which prepares her for an eyeful of Remmy: a man who measures up to his singular reputation in ways that will change the course of Mindy’s life.

What did I think?:

This short story is going to be ever so hard to review but I’m going to try my best! First of all, as you might already know if you’re a regular visitor to my blog, I’m a big fan of Karin Slaughter. I love her writing style, her dark humour and the way she’s not afraid to go to places other authors might shy away from. I couldn’t respect her more as an author or a woman yet I’m afraid I found myself not really loving Remmy Rothstein. It had a lot of interesting stylistic quirks, which I really enjoyed but somehow by the end, I was left feeling a little unsure. I could have gone right back to the start and re-read it but unfortunately, I wasn’t even bothered enough to do this.

The story is told from the point of view of Mindy Patel, an adjudicator for the World Records and she is writing back to her boss in the form of emails as she flits about the country, witnessing some very odd world record attempts. The main crux of the narrative follows her journey to the swamps of the Deep South and an intriguing man called Remmy Rothstein who claims to have either the longest (or the widest) tongue in the world. She of course must verify his claim so she heads off with her trusty measuring tape in tow to see if Remmy can claim a new world record. However, she doesn’t expect to meet a man and his strange family who have quite a different  and lasting effect on her than she could have believed – and it’s nothing to do with the tongue.

I hope I’ve described this little story accurately, of course with Karin Slaughter you are going to get a few surprises and twists in the tale and I always enjoy seeing what she’s going to surprise me with next. Sadly, there weren’t as many “Oh My God” moments as I’ve found with her previous stories/novels and this is perhaps why I’m a little disappointed with the tale as a whole. I’m also wondering if maybe I just didn’t get it? I left the story feeling quite confused and racking my brain to try and figure it all out, unfortunately this means that it has had an effect on the rating I’ve chosen to give. As always, Karin’s characteristic humour is evident throughout the story but for some reason, I felt she was trying a little too hard with this one and it didn’t come off as entirely natural which was a shame. Ending on a positive note, I did love the structure of this narrative, especially with the little footnotes about previous world records told by Mindy that you could read at the end of each chapter. I felt it added something a bit unusual to the story in general and a few really did make me smile. Again, if you’ve read this short story and have the same opinion or a different opinion as me I’d love to hear from you – especially if you can shed more light on the ending for me?

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

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

Short Stories Challenge 2018 – Dibblespin by Angela Slatter from the collection Sourdough And Other Stories.

Published February 3, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s Dibblespin all about?:

Dibblespin follows the relationship of two very different sisters with themes of jealousy, revenge and betrayal.

What did I think?:

Sourdough And Other Stories couldn’t be a more “me” short story collection even if it tried. Rooted in fairy tales with quite a modern twist, I’ve enjoyed every single story I’ve read so far and that’s hugely surprising as generally in a collection, there’s a couple of stories that perhaps don’t speak to you as much as others. Dibblespin is another corker and like the previous tales, has a cracker of an ending that will make you want to go right back to the beginning and start all over again. When I’m reading Sourdough And Other Stories, I feel like I’ve slipped into a deliciously different world, filled with fairy-tale creatures, magical moments and as always, with the best fairy-tales, a snicker of darkness.

This story follows Dibblespin and her half-sister Ingrid who have a close relationship despite coming from quite a fractured family situation and being very different physically speaking. Ingrid is your archetypal beautiful little girl, beloved and used to getting everything she wants purely because of the way she looks. Dibblespin is, well…she is a magical creature who is not blessed with conventional beauty but boasts a sunny personality and a kind-hearted nature, dotes on her sister and enjoys spending time with her. Ingrid is no stranger to heartache and has lost all the parental figures in her life, although they sort of stick around in animal form near the house to keep an eye on her. This is particularly true of her mother, Olwen who spends most of her time in wolf form and has reared a human/wolf pack all of her own in the wild. Olwen is furious about the relationship between her daughter and Dibblespin, mainly because Dibblespin is the daughter forged from her husband’s betrayal and is determined that Ingrid should make a choice about where her loyalties really lie.

Dibblespin was a wonderful little story and like the others in this collection, the author has written the fantastical element just wonderfully. I adored the independent, yet soft nature of Dibblespin and felt she really came into her own as the narrative continued, particularly at the spectacular ending. Of course, the “evil stepmother,” addition is always welcome in any fairy tale and Olwen was a wickedly brilliant character to whisper theatrical boo’s at from the comfort of your sofa! I’m also now starting to see connections between the other stories in Sourdough and when I researched a bit deeper on the web, I learned that Ingrid and Dibblespin’s father has created quite a few children in this collection (what a philanderer!) and Olwen is actually the baby Patience Sykes rescues in the story Gallowberries. I don’t think I’ve ever read a collection like this, where there are links to other stories in each individual story and I find it thoroughly fascinating. I’m really excited to get to the next story in the collection and see if I can spot any more subtle connections!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: Remmy Rothstein Toes The Line by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone).

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

Published January 27, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s The Balloon Hoax all about?:

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

What did I think?:

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

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

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

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

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

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):


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

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

Published January 23, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s The Apple Tree all about?:

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

What did I think?:

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

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

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

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

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


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