Fiction Review: The Lottery And Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

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THE LOTTERY AND OTHER STORIES BY SHIRLEY JACKSON
PENGUIN (KINDLE), 2009, FIRST PUBLISHED 1949
320 PAGES

AUTHOR WEBSITE

AMAZON.UK

AMAZON.COM

WHAT’S IT’S ABOUT

In these stories an excellent host finds himself turned out of home by his own guests; a woman spends her wedding day frantically searching for her husband-to-be; and in Shirley Jackson’s best-known story, a small farming village comes together for a terrible annual ritual. The creeping unease of lives squandered and the bloody glee of lives lost is chillingly captured in these tales of wasted potential and casual cruelty by a master of the short story.

EXTRACT

He was just tight enough and just familiar enough with the house to be able to go out to the kitchen alone, apparently to get ice, but actually do sober up a little; he was not quite enough a friend of the family to pass out on the living room couch.

THE INTOXICATED

WHAT I THOUGHT

The Lottery and Other Stories is a very enjoyable collection of stories from a writer I’ve been very impressed by. I’ve only read a very small selection of Shirley Jackson’s work but have been very impressed by what I have read. This collection of stories is no exception. For the most part the stories are all excellent or very good and just a few are simply okay. Overall the quality is very high. The stories are quite a mixed bag and are all odd and a bit unsettling. The Lottery is hands down one of the best stories I’ve ever read. Creepy and unsettling as hell with possibly the best closing sentence ever written they fell on her. My spine curls back inside my body just thinking about it. I also loved The Villager, My Life With R.H Macy, The Intoxicated, The Daemon Lover, Like Mother Used To Make and Trial by Combat. I enjoyed all of the other stories but these stood out a bit more. I plan to read everything Shirley Jackson’s written.

Stories included:

  • The Intoxicated
  • The Daemon Lover
  • Like Mother Used To Make
  • Trial By Combat
  • The Villager
  • My Life With R.H. Macy
  • The Witch
  • The Renegade
  • After You, My Dear Alphonse:
  • Charles
  • Afternoon In Linen
  • Flower Garden
  • Dorothy And My Grandmother And The Sailors
  • Colloquy
  • Elizabeth
  • A Fine Old Firm
  • The Dummy
  • Seven Types Of Ambiguity
  • Come Dance With Me In Ireland
  • Of Course
  • Pillar Of Salt
  • Men With Their Big Shoes
  • The Tooth
  • Got A Letter From Jimmy
  • The Lottery

RATING

4 STAR RATING

Fiction Review: The Taste Of Ash by Christine Hammacott

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THE TASTE OF ASH BY CHRISTINE HAMMACOTT
PENTANGLE PRESS (KINDLE), 2015
314 PAGES

GOOD READS AUTHOR PAGE

AMAZON.UK

AMAZON.COM

I was given a free copy of the book by the author in exchange for an honest review.

WHAT’S IT’S ABOUT

What is it like to be a victim? How do you move on from losing everything? How do you cope when someone is watching your every move and you have no idea who it is – or what they are going to do next?

When Zoë Graham’s flat burns down in an arson attack she loses everything. But the man in the flat downstairs comes off much worse and a murder investigation is launched. Who started the fire and why? And who was the intended victim? Soon Zoë has reason to wonder if it was her. Feeling like a refugee, all she wants is to get back to some sort of normality and move on with her life – but someone is determined that isn’t going to happen. An unknown stalker sends Zoë’s life spiralling out of control and she doesn’t know which way to turn, or who she can trust.

OPENING

The shrill blare of an alarm wrenched me from sleep. I pulled the duvet up over my head. Just five more minutes. Blindly I reached an arm out and groped or the alarm clock, bashing wildly. I was sure I’d hit the snooze button, but the wailing didn’t stop. I rolled over to do it properly and saw that it was 2:16 – the middle of the night. That couldn’t be right. And the noise wasn’t coming from the bedside.

WHAT I THOUGHT

The Taste of Ash is Christine Hammacott’s debut.

The Taste of Ash is a well-written, hugely enjoyable thriller. I loved the opening; it really grabs you by the throat, compelling you to read on. I felt I was right there with Zoë, trying to escape the fire. I loved the pacing of the novel. A lot of thrillers are very fast paced, giving you very little time to pause for breath while rushing you from one dramatic event to the next. The Taste of Ash has perfect pacing. There were some tense, fast-paced moments but there was enough slowly building tension to let you pause for breath and take in what was happening. I loved the way events unfolded. I liked the characters. Zoë is a great protagonist. I found her hugely likable and very sympathetic especially when the police did very little to deal with her stalker. The stalking sections were well-written and very unsettling and Zoë’s fear of what would happen next and frustration at the compliancy of the police was excellent. I loved the ending. I wasn’t completely surprised when the stalker’s identity is revealed because some of the character’s actions had caused me to be suspicious. However, I was completely taken for surprise when the reason for the stalking is revealed. I never saw that one coming! The ending is the perfect balance of tension and drama and I loved it.

I’d highly recommend The Taste of Ash and look forward to reading more from this author.

RATING

5 STAR RATING

Fiction Review: The Museum Of Literary Souls by John Connolly

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THE MUSEUM OF LITERARY SOULS BY JOHN CONNOLLY
STORYFRONT (KINDLE), 2013
68 PAGES

AUTHOR WEBSITE

AMAZON.UK

AMAZON.COM

WHAT IT’S ABOUT

Mr. Berger has spent thirty-four years keeping his life as empty as possible. His job title as a closed accounts registrar doesn’t spark much interest, and his cautious flirtation with a woman at his company was cut short upon her engagement to another man. This doesn’t bother him, however, as he much prefers the company of books to that of people. When a series of fortuitous events leads to an early retirement in the English countryside, Mr. Berger is content to spend the remainder of his years nestled comfortably between the pages of a book. But fate has other plans.

His serene life turns strange when he witnesses a tragedy chillingly reminiscent of Anna Karenina as a woman flings herself before a train. When he rushes to the scene, she has vanished, leaving no body on the tracks. Berger’s investigation into this event leads him to Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository, where the line between fiction and reality becomes blurred beyond comprehension.

OPENING

Let us begin with this: to those looking at his life from without, it would have seemed that Mr. Berger led dull existence.

WHAT I THOUGHT

John Connolly is one of my favourite writers so I tend to be biased when it comes to his work. I absolutely loved this short story. There is a weirdness to the story which I adored. I was sort of jealous of Mr. Berger and wanted to be living his life. I love stories and books about books and weird libraries and such things. They’re a book lover’s dream. I knew I was going to fall for the story hard when Mr. Berger sees the woman throwing herself in front of the train but no body or trace of her is found. I thought this is going to be a cracker and I was right. I adored the concept of this story. What book lover wouldn’t cut their right arm off for a chance to spend some time at a place like Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository? I loved the odd things that happen, the sense of wonder Mr. Berger feels and even liked it when he breaks the rules. I loved the way the story ended as well. This is a great little story.

RATING

4 STAR RATING

 

Fiction Review: Kook by Chris Vick

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KOOK BY CHRIS VICK
HARPERCOLLINS CHILDREN’S BOOKS (KINDLE), 2016
400 PAGES

BOOK PAGE (PUBLISHER’S WEBSITE)

AMAZON.UK

AMAZON.COM

NETI got a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT

Fifteen-year old Sam has moved from the big city to the coast – stuck there with his mum and sister on the edge of nowhere.

Then he meets beautiful but damaged surfer-girl Jade. Soon he’s in love with her, and with surfing itself. But Jade is driven by an obsession: finding and riding a legendary huge wave no one has ever ridden.

As the weeks wear on, their relationship barrels forward with the force of a deep-water wave – into a storm, to danger … and to heartbreak.

OPENING

JADE GOT ME in trouble from day one.

WHAT I THOUGHT

Kook is probably the only proper YA novel I’ve read. My usual YA fare either involves vampire or werewolf boyfriends (Twilight saga), the apocalypse or books that are genre-defying (aka Patrick Ness). I wasn’t sure what to expect from Kook but I was in the mood for something different. I thought the book would be slushy and full of doe-eyed teenagers batting their eyelids at one another. I stand humbled and corrected. Kook is really good. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The romance stuff didn’t make me squirm. I liked Jade. She’s exactly the sort of girl I had crushes on when I was a teenager and still figuring out the whole gay thing. She’s sort of bad but really beautiful and has a magnetic personality. Who can blame Sam for getting all in a tizz? Kook is a light easy read for the most part. I enjoyed reading about Sam and Jade’s budding romance, Sam having his delinquent teenager moments, making friends and learning to surf. Things take unexpected turns and start to get a little dark. I never saw the darker moments coming and that’s when I feel hard for this book. The ending stunned me, like a punch in the gut. A good punch if there can be such a thing. The author surprised and shocked the hell out of me. Nice one!

RATING

4 STAR RATING

Poetry Review: Clear Light by Alan Spence

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CLEAR LIGHT BY ALAN SPENCE
CANONGATE BOOKS (KOBO), 2012
160 PAGES

POET’S WEBSITE

AMAZON.UK

WHAT IT’S ABOUT

Clear Light contains 150 haiku bursting with Alan Spence’s characteristic verve and wit.
Mythic and mesmerising, inspiring and hilarious, these poems shed clear light on the delights, hardships, breakthroughs and frustrations of the world of the momentary.
Simple in form, these haiku request a fresh look at the familiar and leave us reeling at how much in the world, from the exotic to the everyday, we have yet to observe.

EXTRACT

As if I’ve never
Seen it before –
The new moon…..

WHAT I THOUGHT

Clear Light is a lovely collection of Haiku’s. I didn’t enjoy these as much as Spence’s other collection Glasgow Zen which was amazing but I enjoyed it all the same. Spence does something with Haiku’s that I really like. Haiku’s are one of my favourite forms of poetry and can be a pleasure to read when done really well. Clear Light contains some lovely Haiku’s. The Haiku’s in Glasgow Zen had titles for the most part and played with structure. Clear Light contains very traditional, untitled haiku’s. They are very simple and beautiful.

RATING

4 STAR RATING

REVIEW: Contemplations by Lisa M. Gott

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CONTEMPLATIONS BY LISA M. GOTT
BOOKTROPE (KINDLE), 2015
80 PAGES

AUTHOR WEBSITE

AMAZON.UK

AMAZON.COM

WHAT IT’S ABOUT

A bride forever buries a dark secret on her wedding day. A woman faces the hardest goodbye of her life. A homeless man leaves an unforgettable mark on a town. And a hat brings two lost souls together. These, along with many other tales and poems, paint a vivid portrait of the human condition.

Lisa M. Gott found her voice by crafting a variety of short stories, poems, and flash fiction. Comprised of the very first words she uttered as a writer, this updated edition also features two new short stories, How to Say Goodbye and Arthur. From dark to light, Contemplations is a collection of tales and prose about life that are sure to touch each reader in one way or another.

EXTRACT

Broken

You once loved me
Cherished me
More than I deserved…

WHAT I THOUGHT

This is my first time reading Lisa M. Gott.

Contemplations is a great little collection of poems and stories. There is more fiction than poetry in the collection. I thought the stories were excellent but I did prefer the poems. I could happily have read dozens more poems. Gott writes the sort of poems I love to read. Every poem was striking and memorable. I was very impressed by the quality of the stories as well. They were beautiful, disturbing and haunting. My jaw hit the floor page after page. My favourite poems and stories are Broken, The Things You Keep to Yourself, Beautiful Monster, Skipping Stones, A Performance To Remember and Scarred. Contemplations is packed with great stuff from a great writer. Highly recommended. I need to read more of this woman’s work.

RATING

4 STAR RATING

Non-Fiction Review: A Widow’s Story (A Memoir) by Joyce Carol Oates

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A WIDOW’S STORY: A MEMOIR BY JOYCE CAROL OATES
FOURTH EASTATE (KINDLE), 2011
437 PAGES

AUTHOR’S HOMEPAGE

AMAZON.UK

AMAZON.COM

I read a non-fiction choice every month. This is my choice for April.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT

“My husband died, my life collapsed.”

On a February morning, Joyce Carol Oates drove her ailing husband, Raymond Smith, to the Princeton Medical Centre where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. In less than a week, Ray was dead and Joyce was faced – totally unprepared – with the reality of widowhood.

In this beautiful and heart-breaking account, Joyce takes us through what it is to become a widow: the derangement of denial, the anguish of loss, the disorientation of the survivor and the solace of friendship. Acutely perceptive and intensely moving, A Widow’s Story is at once a truly personal account and an extraordinary and universal story of life and death, love and grief.

OPENING

February 15, 2008. Returning to our car that has been haphazardly parked – by me – on a narrow side street near the Princeton Medical Centre – I see, thrust beneath a windshield wiper, what appears to be a sheet of stiff paper. At once my heart clenches in dismay, guilty apprehension – a ticket? A parking ticket? At such a time? Earlier that afternoon I’d parked here on my way – hurried, harried – a jangle of admonitions running through my head like shrieking cicadas – if you’d happened to see me you might have thought pityingly That woman is in a desperate hurry – as if that will do any good – to visit my husband in the Telemetry Unit of the medical centre where he’d been admitted several days previously for pneumonia;  now I need to return home for a few hours preparatory to returning to the medical centre in the early evening – anxious; dry-mouthed and head-aching yet in an aroused state that might be called hopeful – for since his admission into the medical centre Ray has been steadily improving, he has looked and felt better, and his oxygen intake, measured by numerals that fluctuate with literally each breath – 90, 81, 91, 85, 89, 92 – is steadily gaining, arrangements are being made for his discharge into a rehab clinic close by the medical centre – (hopeful is our solace in the face of morality); and now, in the late afternoon of another of those interminable and exhausting hospital-days – can it be that our car has been ticketed? – In my distraction I’d parked illegally? – The time limit for parking on this street is two hours, I’ve been in the medical centre for longer than two hours, and see with embarrassment that our 2007 Honda Accord – eerily glaring-white in February dusk like some strange phosphorescent creature in the depths of the sea – is inexpertly, still more inelegantly parked, at a slant to the curb, left rear tire over the white line in the street by several inches, front bumper nearly touching the SUV in the space ahead. But now – if this is a parking ticket – at once the thought comes to me I won’t tell Ray, I will pay the fine in secret.

WHAT I THOUGHT

A Widow’s Story is very sad and touching. JCO’s portrayal of grief, sorrow and confusion following her husband’s sudden and unexpected death is very real and very harrowing. In the week’s following Ray’s death JCO seems to exist on auto-pilot. There are various tasks she needs to do so doesn’t have time to accept her own grief. She needs to make numerous copies of the death certificate, probate the will, pay the bills, deal with the flood of sympathy cards and gifts, makes her first public appearance and trying decide whether to keep the Ontario Review, her husband’s magazine and the small press going. These moments are written with a brutal, almost painful honesty. One of the saddest parts of the memoir is how alone JCO is despite her many friends. She didn’t have any children with Ray to comfort her. There is no reference to close family members. Friends try to support her but they don’t know what she needs and she’s too grief-stricken to convey what she needs. JCO is very much alone for most of A Widow’s Story and contemplates suicide. I felt she could have reached out to friends a bit more. Towards the end of the book, JCO reads Black Mass, the novel Ray never finished and learns some dark secrets from his past including his strict upbringing by a devout Irish Roman Catholic family and his rebellious sister being lobotomised and institutionalized when he was a child. I found it very sad – and odd – that JCO never knew this even though she was married to Ray for 47 years. I also found it odd that she never shared her fiction writing with Ray and vice versa. A Widow’s Story is incredibly sad and unbearably real at times.

RATING

5 STAR RATING