Vampires in the Lemon Grove

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Short Stories Challenge – The Graveless Doll Of Eric Mutis by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove

Published July 24, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis all about?:

The final story in Karen Russell’s excellent short story collection focuses on a group of school friends who come across a scarecrow tied to a tree in a park that bears a striking resemblance to a young boy that they used to bully.

What did I think?:

There has been some real corkers of stories (and very few damp squibs!) in Vampires In The Lemon Grove, which was the first thing I’ve read from the author, Karen Russell. Looking back on the collection now I’ve completed it, stand out favourites for me have to include Reeling For The Empire, The Barn At The End Of Our Term and Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules for Antarctic Tailgating so I have to admit, I was expecting great things for the final story. To be honest, I was left feeling slightly disappointed by the ending as I felt the story had SO much more potential and things sort of… well, fizzled out by the end, with no clear indications of what was going to happen.

Generally, this story had a strong sense of Stephen King about it. (If you didn’t know, I’m a huge SK fan and that’s therefore a massive compliment!). The main protagonist is a young boy, part of a gang of friends known locally as Camp Dark – don’t judge them on the name, they designed it when they were much younger. One day in their local hang-out they see something that shocks them to their very core. It’s a scarecrow, tied to a tree. However, this is no ordinary scarecrow, it looks frighteningly familiar and then they figure out that the wax face attached to the scarecrow resembles a young boy that used to attend their school, Eric Mutis whom they nicknamed “Mutant” due to him looking a bit different and suffering from epilepsy. They used to bully this boy mercilessly whilst he was at the school, fists and all, but he’s recently disappeared, never to be seen again – until now.

The scarecrow freaks them all out, especially our main protagonist who seems to be dogged with guilt about the way he treated Eric whilst he was at school with them. Then strangely enough, pieces of the scarecrow start to go missing. At first, the other boys think our protagonist is to blame and he is playing a trick on them but this certainly is not the case. Bit by bit, the scarecrow continues to lose his appendages until just his head is left and each day as this happens, our boy feels more and more scared and regretful of his past actions.

This story had such an interesting premise and I was hooked most of the way through, intrigued to find out exactly what was happening and if the scarecrow had a darker message behind it. It was fast paced and more than a little creepy as the author plays on the reader’s emotions, the mystery of the situation and the darker secret that our protagonist holds that the rest of the gang was completely unaware of. I was however, very disappointed by the ending and did feel it had the potential to finish on a “bang,” rather than fizzle out the way I felt it did. Please don’t let my opinion put you off though – the build up on this story is very intense and what I may have disliked, many other readers may love.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Adventure Of The Speckled Band by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

 

Short Stories Challenge 2016 – January to March

Published January 9, 2016 by bibliobeth

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Image from http://quotes.lifehack.org/quote/ali-smith/short-stories-consume-you-faster-theyre-connected/

Hooray for a new year and more short stories! This is what I’ll be reading for the first three months of 2016.

Week beginning 4th January 2016

Duet by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales

Week beginning 11th January 2016

The Music of Bengt Karlsson, Murderer by John Ajvide Lindqvist from the collection A Book Of Horrors

Week beginning 18th January 2016

Dreams In The Witch-House by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Week beginning 25th January 2016

Enough Of This Shit Already by Tony Black from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Volume 7

Week beginning 1st February 2016

Stars Of Motown Shining Bright by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Week beginning 8th February 2016

Charm For A Friend With A Lump by Helen Simpson from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Week beginning 15th February 2016

Paranoid: A Chant by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Week beginning 22nd February 2016

Still Life by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears

Week beginning 29th February 2016

Notes From The House Spirits by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

Week beginning 7th March 2016

How I Finally Lost My Heart by Doris Lessing from the collection The Story: Love, Loss And The Lives Of Women

Week beginning 14th March 2016

The Graveless Doll Of Eric Mutis by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove

Week beginning 21st March 2016

The Adventure Of The Speckled Band by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

Week beginning 28th March 2016

Choke Collar: Positron, Episode Two by Margaret Atwood (stand-alone)

Short Stories Challenge – The New Veterans by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove

Published December 3, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s The New Veterans all about?:

In, The New Veterans a massage therapist discovers she has the power to heal by manipulating the tattoos on a war veteran’s lower torso.

What did I think?:

With Karen Russell’s collection, Vampires In The Lemon Grove, every time this rolls round in my Short Stories Challenge I am never quite certain what I am going to get. The penultimate tale in this strangely satisfying book is The New Veterans, told from the point of view of a masseuse called Beverley who has a very peculiar experience with her latest client, Derek Zeiger who is an Iraqi war veteran and, under the US government new regulations, is entitled to ten free massage sessions as one means of rewarding soldiers returning from war with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The first thing Beverley notices about her patient is the astounding tattoo taking up most of his back and it has a very interesting story behind it. The picture shows an Iraqi village, complete with a river, several huts, cattle, birds, several soldiers and a fire which appears to be the main focus of the tattoo. Derek explains that the tattoo represents the death of his friend Arlo Mackey who was killed during one of their missions in Iraq – Arlo is actually the “fire,” within the picture. Arlo’s mother loaned Derek and another three men in their platoon five hundred dollars each to get the artwork on their backs as a lasting tribute to her son.

“Plenty of guys in my unit got tattoos like this, you know. It’s how the dead live, and the dead walk, see? We have to honor his sacrifice.”

We now come to the point in the story where some serious X-Files type behaviour starts occurring. As Beverley is massaging her patient and listening to his story (which is having a clear therapeutic benefit in itself), something odd starts to happen to Beverley herself which neither she or the reader is expecting. With each additional massage session that Derek attends, the same thing occurs but seems to be getting stronger. It is as if his memories are being manipulated and re-moulded and Derek begins to feel increasingly better, not only from his original complaint of lower back pain but from his stressful and traumatic experience which led to the death of his friend.

The New Veterans was definitely one of the “goodies” of this collection. I enjoyed many things, from the beautiful imagery of the tattoo to the shocking reality of war and I admired how the author combined the two polar extremes to create a story that was entirely fantastical but at the same time felt very real. Beverley herself has not had the easiest of lives but in meeting Derek and being able to lift some of the burden from his shoulders she is the happiest that she can remember being in a long time. As well as being incredibly thought-provoking, I thought this was a very original idea for a story and actually felt disappointed at the end for I’m quite intrigued to know what became of Derek and Beverley as we follow the potential blossoming of a strong relationship. When an author makes you root for her main characters to such an extent, you know the story has got under your skin.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Adventure Of the Blue Carbuncle by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

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Image courtesy of http://www.forbes.com/sites/toddessig/2015/12/02/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd-is-more-than-a-bad-story/

Short Stories Challenge 2015 – October to December

Published October 2, 2015 by bibliobeth

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Image from http://www.slideshare.net/ernella32/teaching-the-short-story

It’s nearly the end of the year and here’s what I’ll be reading short story wise to see out 2015!

Week beginning 5th October

Corrugated Dreaming by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears

Week beginning 12th October

Beachcombing by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

Week beginning 19th October

A Man And Two Women by Doris Lessing from the collection The Story: Love, Loss And The Lives of Women edited by Victoria Hislop

Week beginning 26th October

The New Veterans by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove

Week beginning 2nd November

The Adventure Of the Blue Carbuncle by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

Week beginning 9th November

Vuotjärvi by Sarah Hall from the collection The Beautiful Indifference

Week beginning 16th November

Bibhutibhushan Malik’s Final Storyboard by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner: Love Stories

Week beginning 23rd November

The Jesus Stories by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky

Week beginning 30th November

We Were Just Driving Around by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Week beginning 7th December

The Chamois by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Breaking Point

Week beginning 14th December

Under The Pylon by Graham Joyce from the collection Tales For A Dark Evening

Week beginning 21st December

A Mighty Horde Of Women In Very Big Hats, Advancing by Michel Faber from the collection The Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories

Week beginning 28th December

The Mean Time by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Short Stories Challenge – Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules For Antarctic Tailgating by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove

Published July 28, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules For Antarctic Tailgating all about?:

Our narrator Dougbert Shackleton provides the reader with his eleven essential rules for an Antarctic showdown between various teams of creatures in the Food Chain Games bloodbath.

What did I think?:

I’m almost finished with this particular short story collection and I’ve come to expect that I never know what to expect when I begin a new Karen Russell short story! This one was no exception. When I first started it I have to admit to feeling quite confused but that soon passed and I learned to appreciate her wry sense of humour with unusual events. Our narrator is probably the best advertising agent for what he calls the Food Chain Games and Antarctic Tailgating. He compares it to the relatively new business of “tailgating” in America which translates as a social gathering with food from parked vehicles usually at a football game. Antarctic tailgating is a little bit different however. In that your vehicle is a boat, your meals may resemble war rations, there’s a real danger of frostbite oh yes and it’s in Antarctica!

Dougbert seems to have a real passion for the “sport,” and always supports the underdog that is, Team Krill. They may have lost to their arch nemesis Team Whale in past years and don’t really have so much of a defence strategy but they have a strong attack i.e. there being a great number of them. Some people even go the whole hog and get costumed up for the match – Dougbert himself recommends the plastic Krill eyes on sticks to show his support:

“Science hasn’t proven the efficacy of tailgating in costume (yet) but we believe that the visible support we provide to Team Krill by dressing up and moving our antennae and plastic krill thoraxes in the characteristic undulant motion of a school of krill is vital to their eventual victory against Team Whale.”

The krill are encouraged by their cheering, honest!

Dougbert tells us that he has seventeen seasons of experience with Antarctic tailgating and is therefore the most reliable person to offer us, the reader, some genuine tips and tricks for joining in the fun. This varies from Rule One: Make friends with your death to the more practical Rule Five: Wear Team Krill colors – but insulate. This is very important when you’re in those freezing temperatures I’m certain. And the actual match may only last about twenty seconds and take eight months of planning for but Dougbert seems to feel a real sense of being alive and part of something much larger and brighter than his regular life, where his wife has left him for a “millionaire motel-chain-owning douchebag fan of Team Whale.” So who are we to judge?

After my initial confusion when I started this story, I really ended up thoroughly enjoying it. The style of listing the eleven rules was quirky and the idea itself so unique and fun to read about that I immersed myself in this strange little world where our food chain is broken down into teams of animals that fight against each other to survive. The humour was brilliant, just the thought of groups of men dressed up with googly Krill eyes on their heads is definitely worth a chuckle or three in my opinion. Karen Russell is so inventive and precise with detail when she creates these fantasy worlds that you could almost believe in their existence. For me, it’s Team Krill all the way!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Man With The Twisted Lip by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

 

Short Stories Challenge 2015 – April to June

Published April 3, 2015 by bibliobeth

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Image from http://www.msauret.com/have-short-stories-become-irrelevant/

I’m so glad I started this challenge, I’ve discovered some real gems of stories and brilliant new authors. I never thought of myself as a short story fan but now I can say that I know what all the fuss is about. Here’s what I’m going to be reading from April to June this year.

Week beginning 6th April 

Roots And All by Brian Hodge from the collection A Book of Horrors

Week beginning 13th April 

The Dunwich Horror by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Week beginning 20th April 

Bloodsport by Tom Cain from the collection The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 7

Week beginning 27th April 

The Smoothest Way Is Full Of Stones by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Week beginning 4th May 

Kew Gardens by Virginia Woolf from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Week beginning 11th May 

The Jaunt by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Week beginning 18th May 

Camp Sundown by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

Week beginning 25th May 

The Giant’s Boneyard by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

Week beginning 1st June 

A Telephone Call by Dorothy Parker from the collection The Story: Love, Loss and The Lives of Women, 100 Great Stories

Week beginning 8th June 

Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules For Antarctic Tailgating by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove

Week beginning 15th June 

The Man With The Twisted Lip by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Week beginning 22nd June 

The Nightlong River by Sarah Hall from the collection The Beautiful Indifference

Week beginning 29th June 

Narrative of Agent 97-4702 by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner

Short Stories Challenge – The Barn At The End Of Our Term by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove

Published February 24, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s The Barn At The End Of Our Term all about?:

The Barn At The End Of Our Term tells the story of eleven dead former presidents of the United States who find they have been reincarnated as horses in a barn on a small farm.

What did I think?:

This story was absolute brilliancy. Not since I read Reeling For The Empire have I been so excited for a short story from this collection, showing an author who is clearly at the top of her game and ever so unique. The tale begins with a young girl who is feeding a horse fruit, quite unremarkable you might think, until we are shunted into the perspective of the horse who licks the girl’s palm as a sort of code to alert her to the fact that he is Rutherford Birchard Hayes, the nineteenth president of the United States and that the relevant authorities should be informed. Rutherford, our main character in the story, tells the reader how he came to awaken in his new horse body, getting quite a shock when the “donging” noise he hears isn’t in fact a clock but the beating of his large new equine heart. As for the man who whips him and shoves him back in his stall, is he in fact the Devil and Rutherford is in Hell? Yet why does he come to him afterwards crooning with a lump of sugar? Is he then, God?:

“The man seemed a little on the short side to be God. His fly was down, his polka-dotted underclothes exposed. Surely God would not have faded crimson dots on his underclothes? Surely God would wear a belt?”

His confusion only intensifies when he realises he is tethered in stables with ten other former presidents, including Eisenhower, James Garfield and Woodrow Wilson. Conversations with the other presidents leave Rutherford no further forward in deducing whether they are in Heaven, what year they are in (the farmer’s tractor terrifies him enormously) and indeed why they are here. Eisenhower believes that they were put there in order to lead the country again but for that to happen they must escape. James Garfield manages to make it over the awe-inspiring “Fence” to freedom, but as for the rest, they must endure the thought of a new horse coming in – will he also be a president? and hastily arranged meetings behind the bunny barrows to determine what their future should be.

As for Rutherford, all he can focus on is the whereabouts of his wife, Lucy Webb Hayes, who was the first president’s wife to be referred to as a First Lady. At first, he thinks she may be one of the ducks passing by, but settles on a solitary ewe as he feels he sees recognition in her eyes. Unfortunately (and hilariously), Woodrow Wilson informs him, these are cataracts. Rutherford still feels he is right however and trains the sheep to follow him with tid-bits of food until she remains nestled in the same stall as him, eating all his food which leads to him losing weight and becoming dangerously thin. Meanwhile, the other horses talk about their triumphant return to Washington, practising speeches and making notes in the dirt with their hooves. Some of the letters prove terribly tricky, like “S,” and a question mark “?” may cause them to break a leg but they are determined – until the farmer drives over the marks with his tractor, erasing everything one of the president’s has written. Doh!

I’m not going to give away anything else about the story or what happens to Rutherford but I found the whole tale to be intensely satisfying and utterly hilarious. I’m quite notorious in my group of friends in that I rarely read anything that makes me laugh out loud but I’m pleased to announce that time has finally come. Whether it was comparing the farmer and his niece to God and The Angel of Mercy, or poor Rutherford harassing a sheep whom he thought was his wife, I was in stitches almost all the way through. Every story in this collection I’ve read so far has been so different from the last one and I think this just proves what a talented and versatile writer Karen Russell is. Shamefully, I don’t know too much about the former presidents of the States but this didn’t stop me thoroughly enjoying this and lapping up every word. I couldn’t also help thinking what Obama would be like as a horse? Anyway, I can’t recommend this story highly enough – read it for yourself and please tell me if you agree!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Five Orange Pips by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

Short Stories Challenge 2015 – January to March

Published January 9, 2015 by bibliobeth

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Another year over, and a new year of short stories begins! Here’s what I’m going to be reading each week until the end of March.

Week beginning 5th January

Magpies by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

Week beginning 12th January

A Married Man’s Story by Katherine Mansfield from the collection The Story, Love, Loss & The Lives of Women 100 Great Short Stories chosen by Victoria Hislop

Week beginning 19th January

The Barn At The End Of Our Term by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove

Week beginning 26th January

The Five Orange Pips by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

Week beginning 1st February

She Murdered Mortal He by Sarah Hall from the collection The Beautiful Indifference

Week beginning 8th February

Demons by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner

Week beginning 15th February

The Ceiling by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky

Week beginning 22nd February

Keeping Watch Over The Sheep by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Week beginning 1st March

The Archduchess by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Breaking Point

Week beginning 8th March

The Oversoul by Graham Joyce from the collection Tales For A Dark Evening

Week beginning 15th March

The Apple by Michel Faber from the collection The Apple: Crimson Petal Stories

Week beginning 22nd March

Martin Misunderstood by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Week beginning 29th March

Cellists by Kazuo Ishiguro from the collection Nocturnes: Five Stories Of Music and Nightfall

Short Stories Challenge – Proving Up by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove

Published September 16, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s Proving Up all about?:

In a family’s disastrous quest for land in the American West, the monster is the human hunger for acquisition, and the victim is all we hold dear.

What did I think?:

So far in this collection, Reeling For The Empire has been my favourite of the short stories, but it now may have a serious competitor in this little tale, Proving Up. Basically the story focuses on the Zegner family, who used to live in a comfortable house with all luxuries and amenities they could wish for, then they changed their whole lives by colonising some land out in the American West. The move was pre-empted by a political motion known as The Homestead Act which offered many acres of land to families to do with as they pleased. They build a one-roomed mud hut with soil and grass – known collectively as a “sod,” keep their own animals and grow their own crops. The years have not been kind to them however in terms of weather and they have had to experience severe drought and famine and they have tragically also lost three female children in childbirth. Our narrator (the youngest son of the family, Miles) notes that his mother ribs are protruding and “she has not been fat for two years,” which gives the reader a mental image of how she may have looked in the past and the effect starvation has had on her body.

As with everything in life apparently there is a clause in the contract on the land. Each home owner must “prove up” to an Inspector on his rounds after five years of living in their home. There are certain objects that they must have or stipulations that they must demonstrate to the Inspector, and one of these is a glass window. In return, they will receive an official document that proves that they are the rightful owners of their particular piece of land. When we begin the story, the father of the family is incredibly excited as he has heard rumours that the Inspector is on his rounds again and he wishes to help his nearest neighbours by lending them the Zegner’s glass window so they can “prove up,” themselves before the Zegner inspection. Due to the type of land they inhabit, there is very little glass around, and sharing the window between neighbours seems to be a foolproof plan to help all families receive that crucial document. Miles, being a fast rider, is chosen by his father (much to his mother’s dismay) to ride to their neighbours, lend them the glass window and then ride back with it ready for their own inspection.

Miles’ journey on his faithful horse Nero is more difficult and dangerous than he or his family could have imagined, although it is clear that his mother desperately doesn’t want him to go, dismissing tales of the Inspector as “smoke” as she does not believe he exists. But the thought of actually owning his own land after five years of hardship and tragedy is too precious for his father to lose, so off Miles trots (or Nero trots…Miles just rides)! This is when the story started becoming incredibly eerie and it’s hard to describe without giving too much away. All I can assure you is that my heart was in my mouth the entire time, and I became stupidly sensitive and jumpy for example, at the slamming of a door. I found myself becoming so engrossed in the story that I actually had to look away for a few minutes to process everything that was going on. This is another amazing story from Karen Russell about the greed of man and his thirst for something bigger and better no matter what it costs.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY – The Boscombe Valley Mystery by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Challenge: Short Stories July to September

Published July 7, 2014 by bibliobeth

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I’ve really been enjoying my Short Stories Challenge so far, if you want to see what I’ve been reading so far, search for Short Stories Challenge on my main page and you should get a few (ahem!) entries. And here’s my batch of short stories for the next three months!

 Week beginning 7th July

The Colour Out Of Space by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Week beginning 14th July

The Blood Pearl by Barry Maitland from the collection The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime Volume 7

Week beginning 21st July

The Isabel Fish by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Week beginning 28th July

The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Week beginning 4th August

Cain Rose Up by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Week beginning 11th August

Peep Show by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

Week beginning 18th August

Lights In Other Peoples Houses by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

Week beginning 25th August

Child of Light by Randy Taguchi from the collection Fujisan

Week beginning 1st September

Proving Up by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove

Week beginning 8th September

The Boscombe Valley Mystery by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Week beginning 15th September

The Agency by Sarah Hall from the collection The Beautiful Indifference

Week beginning 22nd September

I Am An Executioner by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner

Week beginning 29th September

A Day In The Life Of Half Of Rumpelstiltskin by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky