‘Stunning and undefined from start to finish.’ @deBieJennifer reviews #shortstories The Shivering Ground And Other Stories by Sara Barkat

Today’s team review is from Jenni. She blogs here https://jenniferdebie.com/

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Jenni has been reading The Shivering Ground And Other Stories by Sara Barkat

The Shivering Ground & Other Stories by [Sara Barkat]

Reviewing an anthology is always a tricky thing; because what is there to say that will accurately encompass almost a dozen, wildly different stories? Do you talk about the atmosphere? The characters? The creeping sense of dread? The killing hope? The gothic allusions? The shattering poignancy? The author herself and the incredible fact that this is only her first collection?

Yes, all of it.

Because that is exactly what Barkat’s debut collection, The Shivering Ground and Other Stories, is— all of these and so much more.

Written from such wildly different perspectives as a child in her garden, a nameless guard in a post-apocalyptic prison, and an ageless entity tasked with watching and cataloging the earths’ avian population, this collection covers a vast landscape of narrative possibilities. Beautiful in detail and haunting in execution, this is a collection made stronger for its defiance of categorization or genre. Whether crossing the twisted wasteland of an ending world, or the vastness of a photographer’s studio, Barkat lends weight to all her characters and their journeys, giving texture and color to their fears, hopes, and heartbreaks.

Across the depth and breadth of her collection, Barkat keeps an eye to the climate crisis of today, even as she dabbles with timelessness and universes removed from our own by a few heartbeats and a fingernail. Barkat is a young author with something to say about the mess of a world her generation (my generation too, if that matters) have inherited, but where other authors, poets, and activists howl, Barkat whispers. She edges around the corners of story and consciousness, never blatant but always present.

Always haunting.

The entirety of The Shivering Ground and Other Stories will follow readers for days, if not weeks, but particular standouts for me included the titular “The Shivering Ground”, the hauntingly-Frankensteinian “Conditions”, and the heartache of inevitability in “Noticing”.

Stunning and undefined from start to finish, Barkat is a fierce new voice with a lot to say and a long future ahead of her.


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The Shivering Ground blends future and past, earth and otherworldliness, in a magnetic collection that shimmers with art, philosophy, dance, film, and music at its heart.

A haunting medieval song in the mouth of a guard, an 1800s greatcoat on the shoulders of a playwright experiencing a quantum love affair, alien worlds both elsewhere and in the ruined water at our feet: these stories startle us with the richness and emptiness of what we absolutely know and simultaneously cannot pin into place.

In the tender emotions, hidden ecological or relational choices, and the sheer weight of a compelling voice, readers “hear” each story, endlessly together and apart.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS (Due to be published on Dec 1st)

The Shivering Ground & Other Stories by [Sara Barkat]

Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #ShortStories PENNY PINCHING TIPS FOR THE MORALLY BANKRUPT by @LibraryMarshall

Today’s team review is from Aidan. He blogs here https://ricketttsblog.wordpress.com/

#RBRT Review Team

Aidan has been reading Penny Pinching Tips For The Morally Bankrupt by Libby Marshall

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This is probably the first collection of short stories I’ve ever read, and I had such a good experience that I will definitely be doing it again in the future. Libby Marshall has a seriously twisted sense of humour, and I loved it. The stories themselves were very short, with the longest being maybe twenty pages, and the majority being about five.

I couldn’t possibly cover all the stories in this review, but some of my favourite were: Act Of God, where a recently homeless woman has a morbid, yet uplifting conversation with a Sears employee about buying a fridge; Signs, in which a woman has become dependant on a sign that tells her what her current emotion is; 90 Day Fiance: Dracula (the title really speaks for itself). 

One of the key draws of this collection was its black humour. Its ironic, sarcastic and sometimes snide nature lined up well with the type of book I enjoy reading. I felt that it would probably be best enjoyed by a young, liberal audience.

The nature of reading short stories means that you will inevitably enjoy some of them more than others, and it was no different for me. There were a handful of the 43 stories that I didn’t like very much, and a number that I thought were mediocre or didn’t fully grasp. However, that’s the beauty of an anthology: the next one is a fresh start. Moreover, the extremely varied nature of the stories means that there is a significant chance you will find ones that you enjoy.

The stories themselves were very imaginative and out there. On multiple occasions I was astounded by just how strange the premise of one was. However, there were also plenty that were beautifully simplistic, although no less poignant. They covered a wide range of themes, with jokes on almost every topic relevant to the current social climate.

Due to just how short the stories were, the characters were often quite archetypal, although in some ways that was good. Playing into such stereotypes allowed the humour to be punchier and sharper, I thought. The dialogue was excellently constructed to give a sense of the character in the shortest space possible. However, a few of the characters were a bit deeper in some of the longer stories, which again was nice for the sake of variety.

Overall, I’d give the collection a 5.5 out of 7. There were plenty of stories that I liked and a few that I loved. The experimental ones that didn’t quite work for me were easily overlooked. If you haven’t read a short story anthology, this is a really easy place to start.

Book description

Penny Pinching Tips for the Morally Bankrupt is a fantastically funny, wonderfully weird, and surprisingly sincere collection of short stories, humor pieces, and miscellaneous bits.

Debra, an unhappy billionaire’s wife, decides to resurrect the 18th-century trend of hiring a man to live on their property as an ornamental garden hermit. An elderly serial killer, bored by her dull nursing home existence, finds a deadly new purpose when her high school nemesis ends up living down the hall. In 1953 a young couple drives to Makeout Point where instead of an evening of heavy petting, they find mountain lions, a man with no gaps in his teeth, and the opportunity to kill Henry Kissinger. Within these pages, a man tries to date after losing his wife to The Salem Witch Trials, a Wi-Fi router gains sentience, a series of cardboard boxes oozing with smoky-sweet baked beans mysteriously appear at a woman’s front door, and a Chuck E. Cheese is haunted by the spirit of Princess Diana.

Boldly strange, deliciously satirical, and laugh-out-loud hilarious, Penny Pinching Tips for the Morally Bankrupt swings from the grim and ghastly to the exquisite and lovely. This one-of-a-kind book takes the reader on a surreal journey through the compulsory despair of daily life and concludes that the only sensible reaction to that much pain is laughter.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT #Anthology Writedown: Lockdown in the Galloway Glens at the Time of Covid by Margaret Elphinstone et al @marysmithwriter

Today’s team review is from Alex.

#RBRT Review Team

Alex has been reading Writedown: Lockdown in the Galloway Glens at the Time of Covid by Margaret Elphinstone et al

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This is a remarkable venture.  Twenty-two writers in the Galloway region of Scotland wrote first hand of their feelings and experiences of the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

These personal accounts cover the twelve weeks of the first national lockdown in the UK: March 23rd until June 15th – with many referencing the weeks beforehand where the situation rapidly morphed from a vague interest to shock.

Most of the authors are, like me, retired and perhaps that is why I identify so readily with the sentiments expressed here through quite remarkable prose and poetry. Many of the contributors speak of the contradictions they feel initially during lockdown as they appreciate the rural landscape and wildlife whilst so much suffering is evident elsewhere.

There’s anger, resentment, love, friendship and a desperate boredom. 

Reading this book kindled memories that had already begin to tarnish with time. It’s a remarkable account of the day-to-day lives of people at the start of the pandemic and it’s such a comfort to know that others had felt exactly as I had. It’s a book I’ll reference in the future to recall the way things really were for us.  It’s a keepsake.

The individual voices come through clearly and the writing is varied but always powerful, moving, reflective and (frequently) laced with humour.

Above all, it’s a very good read.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #Anthology Writedown: Lockdown in the Galloway Glens at the Time of Covid by Margaret Elphinstone et al @marysmithwriter

Today’s team review is from Robbie, she blogs here https://robbiesinspiration.wordpress.com/

#RBRT Review Team

Robbie has been reading Writedown: Lockdown in the Galloway Glens at the Time of Covid by Margaret Elphinstone et al

Last year, my family visited Scotland for a holiday. I remember Scotland as being beautiful, peaceful, and fairly sparsely populated compared to England. I also remembered that it rained a good deal. It was a wonderful experience. When I saw this book about a group of 22 writers living in the Galloway Glens during lockdown, I was curious to read how life had changed in Scotland as a result of Covid-19 and the accompanying lockdown. Living in South Africa during our lockdown period from 27 March to approximately the end of August, I was also interested to know how life in Scotland during lockdown differed from life here in South Africa.

The diary posts of all of the contributors were fascinating, they told tales of active and busy lives disrupted by the lockdown. Mixed feelings of relief at getting a welcome, but unexpected, reprieve from our ‘hamster in a ball’ style lives and frustration at the loss of freedom. I was quite surprised to read just how busy the majority of the contributors are in the daily lives compared to my elderly parents who are retired and live life at quite a slow and relaxed pace.

There is a great sense of loneliness expressed in the words of those who were living alone during this time, very different from my own experience where everyone in my family was schooling and working from home and I felt like I never got a minute to myself. On reflection, I was a bit ungrateful for the companionship and fellowship my family offered. One of the most compelling messages in this book for me were the following words shared by Lynne: “”Language … has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.” I craved solitude, but never experienced loneliness. Loneliness can be soul destroying.

There are also many expressions of anxiety conveyed in these diary entries. Anxiety about many things including the writers own health and that of their families, as well as the health of friends and other members of the community, including front-line workers in the medical profession. There were also expressions of anxiety about the economic implications of the pandemic as well as concern about the future and how long the pandemic would last.

The strongest message for me, in reading this book, is the difference between in a lockdown in a third world country, where jobs and money are scarce at the best of times, and lockdown in a first world country where people have more financial security.

In South Africa, economic concerns generally outweighed concerns about health. The lock down resulted in millions of people being put on unpaid leave in the hospitality, tourism and entertainment sectors. These sectors have still not recovered and a significant number of people have lost their jobs. There are less benefits available here and only select people received government aid. The poverty we are seeing in the aftermath of the lockdown is overwhelming and frightening. People are going hungry and are begging for food on the streets. Our crimes rates have also rocketed.

The major impacts of the lockdown in the UK revolve around the psychological effects of isolation, loneliness and depression. In other words, mental health effects rather than the physical effects I see on a daily basis. Having read this book, I am of the view that the mental health issues are just as significant and concerning as the physical effects, and could potentially receive less recognition because they are less visible.

I found this book to be incredibly thought provoking and relevant, and I believe that would be the case for all readers regardless of their personal lockdown experience.

Book description

Writedown provides a unique record of life in Galloway, south west Scotland during lockdown through the work of 22 writers in a collection of lyrical poetry, desperate rants, humour and quiet endurance. They tell the story of a community encountering unprecedented times.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #Anthology Writedown: Lockdown in the Galloway Glens at the Time of Covid by Margaret Elphinstone et al @marysmithwriter #TuesdayBookBlog

Today’s team review is from Barb, she blogs here https://barbtaub.com/

#RBRT Review Team

Barb has been reviewing Writedown: Lockdown in the Galloway Glens at the Time of Covid by Margaret Elphinstone et al

Writedown: Lockdown in the Galloway Glens at the Time of Covid by [Margaret Elphinstone et al]

My Review: 5 out of 5 stars

We hear so much about covid fatigue—and we all get it. It’s been the hardest year most of us can remember. One of my personal casualties is reading. It’s just been incredibly difficult to pick up books I know I would have loved a year ago. Instead I’ve been spending time catching up with old friends, religiously keeping virtual dates for group video chats, craving human and especially physical contact, and hoarding time spent (virtually of course) with loved ones.

So Writedown is more than a book. It’s a corona bridge—the contact we craved during the first lockdown, and fear losing during the current one. Imagine the chance to chat with a funny, serious, insightful, and above all real group of people. Their experiences are your own, they feel the fears and joys you feel. They tell your life.

There’s the shock of realizing you’re one of the ‘vulnerable’. As Rose says, “The natural order is reversed.” We hear of friends and family who get sick. Some of them die. We have to pay attention. “It’s official. I’m ‘social distancing’.”

I remember the shocked realization that somehow instead of being the one who steps in to make everything okay, I’m now supposed to need protection. As Cath says, “The tables have turned. I’ve always been the nurturing Mother figure, the wise one (or so I liked to think) to whom everyone came for shelter and sustenance. Now the younger generation are protecting us.” 

Our new reality settles in. Family and friends bring supplies but never touch, and Mags realizes, “I need a hug more than I need the groceries.”

One way or another, each of the 22 journal writers is making a journey. And it’s my journey too, to our new here and now. As Margaret points out, the answer is to live completely in the present, “…so I’m being where I am with a vengeance.” 

At first it’s odd. We have these two worlds, the one full of calendars and too little time, the other of freedom and a surfeit of time. Mary realizes “…a surprising sense of lightness at having nothing I need to do, no one I need to meet.” Mike tracks the progress of his busy calendar—booked with exciting trips, family visits, shared celebrations with friends—now all cancelled. “And so we live our parallel lives. ‘Today we would have been…,’ we muse, looking at the cancelled world on our wall. ‘Tonight we would have been going to…’” 

But there’s also a sense that somehow the universe is misbehaving. June notes, “Time becomes strange. A week feels long. Yet each day rushes past.” Rose says, “My diary now works in reverse—I put something in after it has happened. I note down if I have a phone call or unexpected encounter… I need a record of what’s happened, to keep hold of the pieces of the jigsaw.”

We lament the loss of social structures that have sustained us. Weddings are cancelled, people die separated from loved ones, and are buried alone. We have to bear our joy and our sorrow like our isolation—alone. Cath mourns for a lady who died at 109, but whose extended and loving family can’t grieve together.

“No shared sorrow and social communication of memories and stories from all those years. No chance of a rare family gathering which such occasions usually generate. No reminiscences, appreciation and comfort given and received. This is the way of it now.”

There are huge gains from this. I was fortunate, as so many point out, to spend my lockdown in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Did we really have an exceptionally lovely spring and summer, or did we just take the time to appreciate it? Christine celebrates simple gifts. “I could hear the birdsong this morning. I took pleasure from standing there with Jack, and listening.” June marvels at her bird neighbors as she spends time in her garden. “Since lockdown I’ve realised different species take their turn to start singing. Song thrushes were among the earliest, then robins, blackbirds, tits chuntering away in the background. Then suddenly dunnocks. Chiffchaffs arrived, mighty wrens started, now greenfinches.”

As Mary points out, it’s a balancing act. “I feel my life is divided between weight and lightness.” Lockdown time so unexpectedly handed to us is freedom from commitments, duties, “have-to-dos.” But it also bears the weight of guilt while others are dying, performing risky jobs, volunteering, plus the anger at mismanagement by those who should have been stepping up to the national challenges facing our health, economy, and welfare.

I realize I’m not actually reviewing Writedown. That’s because it’s not really a book as much as it is a chat with 22 friends going through the same things I am. Some I like more than others, some of their stories are heartbreaking, some are as completely riveting as the one of the young mother and daughter rescuing Crispy, the baby lamb, and then learning the hard lessons of country life. It’s the story of lockdown in Scotland and it’s the story of me.

Writedown is beautiful and annoying and comforting and sad and funny. It’s all the things that time spent with friends should be except with possibly less alcohol and lockdown haircuts. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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A YEAR OF LIGHT AND SHADOWS by @HelenaFairfax #Anthology #SundayBlogShare


A Year of Light and Shadows by Helena Fairfax
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Four Point Five Stars.

A Year Of Light and Shadows is a three book anthology, the stories all connecting and following on.

Book 1: Palace Of Deception. Set in the fictional southern Europe principality of Montverrier, this is the tale of Scottish actress Elizabeth Smith, who has been offered a summer job impersonating a missing Princess. She must take the place of Princess Charlotte at a royal investiture ceremony. For five weeks Elizabeth is housebound at the castle learning her character role. Full time bodyguard Léon, rarely leaves her side and they become good friends.

Book 2: The Scottish Diamond. Elizabeth and Léon return to her home town of Edinburgh, Elizabeth to her drama school where they rehearse for Macbeth and tries to find a job. An exhibition at the castle of the famous “Scottish Diamond” offers Léon work, until once again they find themselves embroiled in the plans of the Royal family of Montverrier.

Part 3 is a short story. A Question by Torchlight. Hogmonay celebrations in Scotland and Elizabeth fears she will lose Léon. Can the Italian ever settle in dreary Scotland?

This is a captivating and well written set of stories and is a quick read at just 179 pages in total.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Book Description

Three spell-binding romantic mysteries in one romance boxed set 
Book One: Palace of Deception 
From the heat of the Mediterranean…. 
When the Princess of Montverrier goes missing, Lizzie Smith takes on the acting job of her life. Alone and surrounded by intrigue in the Royal Palace, she relies on her quiet bodyguard, Léon. But who is he really protecting? Lizzie…or the Princess? 

Book Two: The Scottish Diamond 
To the heart of Scotland… 
Home in Scotland, Lizzie begins rehearsals for Macbeth and finds danger stalking her through the streets of Edinburgh. She turns to her former bodyguard, Léon, for help…and discovers a secret he’d do anything not to reveal. 

Epilogue: A Question by Torchlight (A Short Story) 
A story of mystery and romance… 
The approach of Hogmanay in Edinburgh means a new year and new resolutions. Lizzie and Léon have put their year of danger behind them. But something is still troubling Léon, and Lizzie fears the worst…

About the author

Helena Fairfax

Helena Fairfax writes engaging contemporary romances with sympathetic heroines and heroes she’s secretly in love with. Her novels have been shortlisted for several awards, including the Exeter Novel Prize, the Global eBook Awards, and the I Heart Indie Awards. Her first novel was a contender for the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme Award.
Helena is a British author who was born in Uganda and came to England as a child. She’s grown used to the cold now, and these days she lives in an old Victorian mill town in the north of England, right next door to the windswept Yorkshire moors. She walks this romantic landscape every day with her rescue dog, finding it the perfect place to dream up her heroes and her happy endings.
You can find out more about Helena by subscribing to her newsletter at http://eepurl.com/bRQtsT All new subscribers receive a FREE copy of her novella Palace of Deception

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DARKNESS ECHOES anthology of YA #Hallowween stories @del_connor #Bookreview #wwwblogs

Darkness EchoesDarkness Echoes by L.A. Starkey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Darkness Echoes is an anthology if six YA short Halloween style stories.

Till Death Do Us Part by L.A Starkey involves Jennifer, cheer leader and troubled child after the death of her Grandmother. She has a school project to do and because she loves all things horror, she’d like to do it on the local haunted mansion. Friend Zack has been absent all summer and she persuades him to go with her to the mansion, where she gets more than one surprise.

Witch Moth by Kelly Hall. A teenage love triangle between Kitty and best friend Jenn over a boy called Colt, ends on the night they visit a haunted house. Kitty meets brother and sister duo Dahlia and Dominic Dane at the house and falls for Dominic’s good looks and manners. But there is something more to this pair and danger lurks for all the teenagers.

The Coming Of The Skin Walker by D.E.L. Connor can be read as a prequel to her Spirit Warrior series. Walking Bear and Nine Fingers are early native American hunters. They spot a young girl being chased by a figure who turns into a wolf before their eyes. They rescue the girl who tells them of a powerful medicine man called a Skin Walker who wants her dead.

Darkness Echoes by Chess Desalls is about a strange glowing lantern in the garden of Tori’s grandmother. She discovers that inside is a young man named Jared who was once a disabled apprentice to a clever man. Tori must find a way to help Jared escape from the lantern.

Cloak of Echoes by CK Dawn is the story of Emma. She is an empathy and can feel emotions of those around her. Mattox Daniels the new boy in school has eyes only for her. But he is more than just an ordinary boy, sent to protect Emma from the Netherwalkers he has come from Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table.

Hallowed Eve by DB Neilsen introduces us to Evee Hale, a troubled child who can see ghosts. Told to run by her dead father, Evee heads to the house of Dr Crane. Evee learns she has been chosen as a Soul Guardian and must face the real evil which surrounds the story of The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow.

A good mix of spooky tales for the YA market.

This review is abased on a free copy of the book given to me by the authors.

Find a copy here from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

View all my reviews on Goodreads