Category Archives: Short story

War- Roald Dahl


Synopsis

War is a set of short stories for adults written about war. Based on Dahl’s own experiences in the RAF and of wartime in general.

Review

I’ve ever read any of Dahl’s adult stories before, it’s one of these things that I always thought I’d do at some point and never got around to. I loved his stories as a child, so I was both excited and a bit apprehensive about reading the adult stories. I chose this particular collection because of my love of war stories.

The first, and longest, story was ‘Going Solo’ and it was an account of Dahl’s own experiences in the RAF. Now I read his book ‘Going Solo’ when I was a child, which I only vaguely remember. I’m sure that this version (the one in ‘War’) is more adult, it doesn’t read like a children’s book anyway, but as both are autobiographies I imagine that a lot of the stories are of the same incidents.

Going Solo was the story in the collection which I enjoyed the most. The others though really held something which said that Dahl knew war, and the aftermath. What I liked was how things like loosing a child, or shellshock, or even just generally recovering from the experience of war were talked about but not explicitly. Most of the other short stories felt like they were a story which showed how these things felt, without actually saying how they felt- a sort of metaphor if you will.

The other stories did tend towards the weird, which I think is part of why I didn’t like them so much in the moment. They weren’t weird in an entertaining way, just strange.

I’m not sure if my experience means I will read more of Dahl’s adult stories or not. When I bought this one I also considered Madness and Innocence so I still may read them.

3/5

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Paperback (£6.55)

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Filed under Biography, Contempory, Fiction review, Historical, History, Memoir, non-fiction review, Short story

Larger Than Life- Jodi Picoult


Synopsis (from amazon)

Alice is a researcher studying memory in elephants, and is fascinated by the bonds between mother and calf – the mother’s powerful protective instincts and her newborn’s unwavering loyalty. Living on a game reserve in Botswana, Alice is able to view the animals in their natural habitat, as long as she obeys one important rule: she must only observe and never interfere.

Then she finds an orphaned young elephant in the bush and cannot bear to leave the helpless baby behind. Alice will risk her career to care for the calf. Yet what she comes to understand is the depth of a parent’s love.

Review

Larger Than Life is another one of Jodi Picoult’s Kindle Singles. This time it is based around a character her up and coming novel Leaving Time.

It’s probably the best of her kindle singles which I have read (I have also read The Color War, and Where There’s Smoke). I think it stands quite well as it’s own story, and fits ok as a short story. I still wanted more (as I tend to with short stories) but it was good whilst it lasted, and I didn’t really feel like there needed to be more.

It was a cute little story. The main focus was the baby elephant, and that was really all it needed, it was sweet to imagine and I enjoyed Alice’s interactions and thoughts around the elephant.

There was also a romance element, which I had anticipated early on, and which was nice, but maybe unneeded.

4/5

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Kindle (£1.49)

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The Color War- Jodi Picoult


Synopsis (from amazon)

All Raymond wants to do is hang out with his best friend, Monroe, but life has other plans. This summer, his mother has decided to send him to Bible camp for inner-city kids. On the bus there, he dreams of the best night of his life, when he and Monroe slipped away from home and jumped the turnstiles to ride the subway to downtown Boston on New Year’s Eve. The elaborate ice sculptures on display thrilled them, especially an angel with outstretched wings that glowed ghostly in the night. Raymond wakes on the bus to what he takes for another angel: Melody, a camp counselor and lifeguard. Like all the staff, she’s white. Pretty, blond, and friendly, she’s the person Raymond most wants to impress during the Color War, the camp’s sports competition, and to whom he confesses his most painful secret, a loss that has made him grow up far too fast and left him wise beyond his mere nine years.

Review

I’ve read a few of Picoult’s kindle singles now. Apparently I didn’t bother reviewing Where There’s Smoke, and I have Larger Than Life on the list waiting for review.

I can’t remember why I decided not to review Where There’s Smoke, maybe I was waiting for the book it was based on to come out?

Either way The Color War  is probably the one I liked the least of the three. It had good areas, or I suppose interesting areas. It didn’t really work for me in terms of a short story however. Too many big issues which needed a ‘proper’ book. Maybe not a long one, but more than the few pages you get with a kindle single (according to goodreads The Color War has 34 pages). If it had to be a shorter story then there should have been less in it. Have the major event, or something to do with Raymond’s emotions after. As it was it was too sketchy.

Plus unlike both of Picoult’s other kindle singles which I’ve read The Color War is stand alone, so you can’t hope to get more from reading the book which it is connected to.

2/5

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Kindle (£1.81)

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A Possible Life- Sebastian Faulks.


Disclaimer: This book was given to me free of charge by the publishers in exchange for an honest review

Synopsis (from amazon)

Terrified, a young prisoner in the Second World War closes his eyes and pictures himself going out to bat on a sunlit cricket ground in Hampshire.

Across the courtyard in a Victorian workhouse, a father too ashamed to acknowledge his son.

A skinny girl steps out of a Chevy with a guitar; her voice sends shivers through the skull.

Soldiers and lovers, parents and children, scientists and musicians risk their bodies and hearts in search of connection – some key to understanding what makes us the people we become.

Provocative and profound, Sebastian Faulks’s dazzling novel journeys across continents and time to explore the chaos created by love, separation and missed opportunities. From the pain and drama of these highly particular lives emerges a mysterious consolation: the chance to feel your heart beat in someone else’s life.

Review

Despite being rather disappointed with the last book I read from Sebastian Faulks I would still happily describe myself as a fan. Birdsong is one of my favourite books, although Engleby shows a greater writing skill. So when I was contacted about reviewing A Possible Life I was very eager. A small part of me worried that it would be in a similar vein to A Week in December, but you can’t expect to love every book by an author so I tried to approach A Possible Life without any reference to Faulks’ back-catalogue.

There was something strange about this novel in that it wasn’t really one. It was actually a collection of short stories. It was advertised as being a novel made up of stories with a link. Well there maybe was a link, if you insisted on finding it, but only because of something which featured in the last story, it wasn’t a link you would see if you weren’t looking for it, and I’m not really happy with calling it a list.

In some ways I think A Possible Life might be a good place to start with Faulks. It’s almost like a showcase. Different styles of writing, different themes. I think everyone is bound to enjoy one of the stories, however it might be a fight to get to the story you like.

For me the best stories were the first and the last.

The first had certain echoes of Birdsong, not just because it was a story of war but also because it had a certain level of insight to that experience. My problem with this story however was that it felt like it was stripped down. All the stories ran over a period of decades, which was good in a way because it showed the progress of a character, but also meant you didn’t feel you were getting enough detail.

The last story was the story of a gifted music artist. It’s the story which has stuck with me the most. Faulks’ descriptions of Anya’s music make me want to hear her sing- but seeing as she isn’t real I can’t do that! There was also an almost beautiful fragility to Anya which made me really care about her- or maybe that’s just what the narrator felt for her. Even if it is the second then it shows that Faulks’ first person narrative is realistic and evocative. I could have read a whole book about Anya, and it may have been able to make into a whole book, but only if it was either told by Anya herself, or without using the first person narrative, either of which I feel would have taken something away from the story.

Thinking about it all of the stories did have an element I liked, but (except for the possible exception of the last story) those moments seemed to be over all too quickly and were surrounded by moments which I didn’t care so much about.

I’m not really sure how I want to rate this book. The stand out parts are close to 5 stars, but other bits only really deserve 3. So (for now at least) I’m going to skip the rating on this one.

Buy it:

Kindle (£9.49)

Hardback (£12.00)

Paperback: pre-order (£7.19)

Other Reviews:

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The Complication of Sisters- Katherine Mariaca-Sullivan


Disclaimer: I was given this book free of charge by the author in exchange for an honest review

Synopsis (from amazon)

An argument with her older sister led author/artist Katherine Mariaca-Sullivan to examine what it means to be a sister. What she discovered is that, even as young sisters grow into women, some of the rivalries and frustrations that marked their early years do not necessarily grow up. With humor and wit, Katherine reveals some of the sisterly baggage that she has been carrying for decades, as well as her conclusion that no matter how complicated the relationship between sisters, there is really no stronger bond. This book, expressed in stories and illustrations, is perfect for any woman who is a sister. It is sure to spark memories, recover early bonds, and to heal old hurts.

Review.

This is an extremely short book (less than 100 pages) and I finished it in the space of one 15 minute bus journey.

It wasn’t really what I expected either, it was more a series of musings than of short stories. Sometimes the musings spoke of a specific event, but each one was no longer than a page. Each ‘story’ had a picture to go along with it which was a nice addition.

I certainly felt I gained a sense of Mariaca-Sullivan’s relationship with her sister, but the majority of the time I didn’t feel that it described my relationships with my sisters.

I can see this making a nice gift book for your sister (if it speaks to you), and it would be nice to share and talk about together.

3/5

Buy it:

Kindle (£3.83)

Paperback- Colour (£8.87)

Paperback- Black and White (£7.21)

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Grimm Tales: For Young and Old- Philip Pullman


Disclaimer: This book was given to me free of charge via netgally in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis (from Amazon)

In this beautiful book of classic fairy tales, award-winning author Philip Pullman has chosen his fifty favourite stories from the Brothers Grimm and presents them in a ‘clear as water’ retelling, in his unique and brilliant voice.

From the quests and romance of classics such as ‘Rapunzel’, ‘Snow White’ and ‘Cinderella’ to the dangerand wit of such lesser-known tales as ‘The Three Snake Leaves’, ‘Hans-my-Hedgehog’ and ‘Godfather Death’, Pullman brings the heart of each timeless tale to the fore, following with a brief but fascinating commentary on the story’s background and history. In his introduction, he discusses how these stories have lasted so long, and become part of our collective storytelling imagination.

These new versions show the adventures at their most lucid and engaging yet. Pullman’s Grimm Tales of wicked wives, brave children and villainous kings will have you reading, reading aloud and rereading them for many years to come.

Review

I’ve read a version of The Brother’s Grimm fairytales before, for The Rory List. The collection (as with most) was not complete and I really saw what it was lacking from reading Pullman’s collection. Grimm Tales does not contain all of the fairy tales told by The Brother’s Grimm however it does highlight a number of stranger and/or less well known tales. I particularly liked the story of the bird, the sausage and the mouse, just for how absurd it was, although in terms of strangeness of story it probably wasn’t the strangest of all, more it just had the most unlikely characters.

Pullman tried to keep the tales as close as he could to how they had originally been recorded by The Brother’s Grimm but he did change a few things for clarity and flow and I found them easier to read than the former version I had read. Pullman also added little commentaries on each text where he talked about the stories, how they linked to other stories in folklore, things which had been said about the stories, and about how the Brother’s Grimm had already come across them. I felt this really added something to the stories and I found the commentary interesting to read.

I wouldn’t really recommend reading Grimm Tales in the way that I did, i.e. as a book rather than as individual stories. It’s probably better to dip in and out. At first (as you could probably tell from my twitter feed) I was really into it and commenting on pretty much every story. However after a while things began to get a bit samey and I started to loose interest.

In a way though reading all the stories together did help me see parallels which was quite interesting, and also helped the different end of tales information join together nicely when Pullman refereed to previous or future tales.

I would recommend this book but maybe wait for the paperback, or at least don’t try to read it all at once.

3.5/5

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Brooklyn Bites: A Pickle & Carrot Cake- Scott Stabile


Image from Amazon

Synopsis (from Amazon)

Brooklyn Bites is a collection of short stories that centers around the compelling people, diverse relationships and simply remarkable food in Brooklyn, New York. A Pickle & Carrot Cake are the fifth and sixth stories in the compilation.

In A Pickle, two close friends—a man and a woman—enjoy some deli sandwiches and new dill pickles while they discuss the frustrations of dating in New York City. As the woman pressures the man to reveal more about himself, she finds herself incapable of digesting what he ultimately reveals.

Carrot Cake is set in Mary’s kitchen, as she prepares a Lebanese feast for her family. When her son arrives with his fiancee, the ordinary meal takes an unexpected and uncomfortable turn, one that leaves Mary having to explain a lot more than her hummus recipe.

Review.
A Pickle & Carrot Cake is the third volume of Scott Stabile’s Brooklyn Bites story collections (read my reviews of volumes 1 & 2). I really think these stories are beautifully written especially when it comes to the descriptions of food. This volume probably has been my least favourite, however. I did enjoy the first story a lot. I didn’t really get much of a sense of the food (a pickle) as I had previously when reading the Brooklyn Bites stories. I did however really get a sense of the relationship between the two friends, and I enjoyed the different style of writing in the story, it read like a conversation and this really helped to make it seem like you were there listening to the two friends talk. That’s the link between the two stories, relationships, one the relationship between two friends, the other (Carrot Cake) about the relationship between a mother and her family. While with the first story you got a sense of how the relationship worked with the second I liked how well there was a sense of how the mother felt for her family. The second story was much more descriptive when it came to food, and sometimes I could almost taste the flavours, although there were so many dishes described that sometimes the descriptions were a little brief to really give a sense of the food.
These are still amongst some of the best stories I have read this year, but this volume doesn’t rank quite as high as the other 2.
4.5/5
Buy it for the Kindle:
This Volume (£0.77)
Volume 1 (£0.77)
Volume 2 (£0.77)

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Brooklyn Bites: Meatball Sandwich & Cream Crumb- Scott Stabile


Image from Amazon

Synopsis (from Amazon)

Brooklyn Bites is a collection of shorts stories that centers around the compelling people, diverse relationships and simply remarkable food in Brooklyn, New York. Meatball Sandwich and Cream Crumb are the third and fourth stories in the compilation.

In Meatball Sandwich, Jeremy sits on the Brooklyn Heights promenade, miserable from having been dumped by text the night before. When some stranger named Maggie sits down next to him against his wishes, Jeremy imagines a giant fish leaping out of the East River and swallowing her whole. That is, until she offers him a homemade meatball sandwich and a night on the promenade he never expected.

Cream Crumb follows Josh into Peter Pan’s Donut Shop, where he is about to have his last meal before jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge. Josh orders a cream crumb donut for the first time and is so overwhelmed by its taste that his life changes in completely unexpected ways even before he finishes the last bite.

Review
Meatball Sandwich & Cream Crumb is the second volume of Scott Stabile’s Brooklyn Bites stories. Each volume contains 2 short stories focused around food, and around Brooklyn. I read the first volume (Truffle Fries and a Little Taste of Chocolate) as a review book earlier this year and fell in love. This second volume really keeps up the standard. The descriptions of food are so intense you can almost taste the food, I’m not a big meatball person but Sabile’s descriptions of the meatball sandwich had me  craving one, and after finishing Cream Crumb I wished I was in walking distance of Krispy Kreme! In some ways I actually prefered this volume. I didn’t think either story was stronger than the other, as I had with the first volume. I thought they linked together a bit better. They were both about hope, which is a lovely thing to read about in itself.
I had really wondered how a donut could really change someone’s life. As I started to find out I was a little skeptical but Stabile made a strange idea sound realistic, which is a real feat.
Seriously guys you have to read this series.
5/5
Buy it:
Kindle (£0.77)

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Brooklyn Bites: Truffle Fries and a Little Taste of Chocolate- Scott Stabile


Image from Amazon

Disclaimer: I was sent this book free of charge in exchange for an honest review

Synopsis (from Amazon)

Brooklyn Bites is a collection of short stories that centers around the compelling people, diverse relationships and simply remarkable food in Brooklyn, New York. Truffle Fries and A Little Taste of Chocolate are the first two stories in the compilation.

In Truffle Fries, a steaming plate of truffle fries sits between a woman and the boyfriend she has loved for two years, the same man she now wants to punch in the eye or push off a cliff, or both. She lets the deliciousness of the pungent fries carry her away to far away lands of truffled decadence, where her boyfriend is no where to be found. Until he is.

A Little Taste of Chocolate opens with Rick and Shelly, a couple very much in love, as they awake, hungover, to the barks of the cute and irritating bulldog across the street. As Shelly dreads yet another tough day in the harsh economy, Rick cuddles her – the love of his life – and feeds her whispers of hope, his pure adoration, and a little taste of chocolate.

Review

Calling this book is a a bit rich. It’s two short stories really and it took me less than an hour to read both. However the two stories were beautifully crafted. In the first story (Truffle Fries) in particular you could really sense the tastes of the truffle fries, and you could almost feel the emotions that the main character was feeling. I found the way the two stories sat with each other was very clever too. After reading the second story it put a different twist on the first, and I don’t really want to say more than that for fear of giving things away. It’s only 77p so hardly breaks the bank. I would certainly recommend it.

When it comes down to it I would rather have a short story of this quality that a long one of middling quality.

5/5

Buy it:

Kindle (£0.77)

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Grimm’s Fairy Stories- Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm


Image from Amazon

This book was read as part of the Rory List

Synopsis (from Amazon)

The Brothers Grimm rediscovered a host of fairy tales. Together with their well-known tales of “Rapunzel”, “The Goose Girl”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “Hansel and Gretel” there are darker tales which deserve to be better known. This is a collection of their tales.

 

Review

This was the first book I read on my lovely new Kindle. Oh the excitement!

I suppose though my method of reading them was not the best. I read them all one after the other and that did make them all seem to blend together a little, and made the similar ones so much more obviously similar. There was a certain strangeness about it.

A lot of the stories of course I knew, but I was surprised by some of the differences, and that there were so many I didn’t know. I especially enjoyed The Six Swans and although there were aspects I recognised it was not a story I really knew which made me wonder why it is not more well known.

The stories were simple and easy to read, perfect bedtime reading

4/5

You can get this book on Kindle Free from Amazon

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5 Reasons to Leave a Lover- Carolyn Moncel


Image from Amazon

I was given a copy of 5 Reasons to Leave a Lover free of charge in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis (from Amazon)

In 5 Reasons to Leave a Lover, author Carolyn Moncel offers up a fresh batch of stories based on love and loss. As singer/songwriter, Paul Simon so eloquently suggested in a famous song from the 1970s, there are many ways to leave a lover. However, Moncel’s characters demonstrate that the reasons for leaving in the first place are quite finite. Encounters in Paris` Ellery and Julien Roulet return, picking up their lives where the short story, “Pandora`s Box Revisited,” ends. This time the Roulets are involved in a love triangle, and along with two other couples, must explore how love relationships are affected and splinter due to abuse, ambivalence, deception, cheating and death. This bittersweet collection of tales proves that some breakups are necessary; while others are voluntary; and still others are simply destined and beyond anyone’s control.

Review

I am not usually a reader of short stories, I think I have only ever reviewed one other here before. I thought this one sounded interesting though. I’m not sure interesting is still the word I would use but it is entertaining. I wouldn’t exactly call it chick-lit but it is pretty close. It’s an easy read (took me less that a day) and about romance which are features stereotypically found in chick-lit, but it is less happy than chick-lit normally is. I did have the same problem I have with most short stories, it felt like it ended to soon…or at least I found that I wanted to be able to keep reading it, when it came to the first story anyway. I must say the main story was well enough written that I felt for the characters, and I could see different sides of the story. I did feel the other two stories were unnecessary though, they just seemed like padding and weren’t long enough for me to get any real feeling about them.

I would be interested in reading a longer novel by Moncel though.

3/5

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The In-Between Woman- Rabindranath Tagore


Rabindranath Tagore won the Nobel prize for li...

Image via Wikipedia

The In-Between Woman is a short story taken from The Essential Tagore, it has been reproduced legally and free of charge at the Guernica magazine website.

Synopsis (written by me)

The In-Between Woman is the story of the two wives of one man. When wife number one becomes ill she insists that her husband takes a second wife. She raises the 8 year old girl but as the second wife grows up things begin to become strained.

Review

I read a review of The In-Between Woman on The Reading Life and although I usually don’t even consider reading short stories this one sounded interesting enough to give a go, plus it was free! I suppose one good thing about short stories is that they are very quick to read, I managed to read the whole of this one on my i-pod while drinking coffee in Starbucks. There’s something quite satisfying about being able to read a whole story in one sitting like that.

I did find the story very interesting, the idea of a woman raising another woman to be her husband’s new wife seemed so alien to me. I liked the way the relationship between the two women progressed from a sort of mother-daughter relationship to a more competitive relationship. I didn’t find the change that authentic, but that was partly because it felt like a very abrupt change. I think in a longer story it could have been stretched out more so the reader could see how things gradually changed. I didn’t feel that much for the characters either for the same reason, I did quite like the first wife (who was the narrator) but didn’t feel like I really knew her, I mainly just felt pity, especially after she had opened her home to this woman.

I found the language was quite beautiful, and very descriptive. I can imagine a full length story by Tagore being the type I would describe as beautiful but I did feel description was needed in other sections, even if it didn’t give the reader such a vivid picture.

Still worth a read if you have a little time to spare.

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