📚Quick Reads. @SueBavey Reviews Fast Fiction: 101 Stories, 101 Words Each by @ScottyCornfield for Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Today’s team review is from Sue.

Sue blogs here https://suelbavey.wordpress.com/

Orange rose and Rosie's Book Review Team
Rosie’s Book Review Team

Sue has been reading Fast Fiction by Scotty Cornfield

Fast Fiction intrigued me due to its challenging premise. It is an anthology of 101 stories, each
with only 101 words. Keeping to such a strict exact word count is incredibly difficult and my
interest was piqued. The idea originated with a daily prompt given by the Monterey County
Weekly, which the author has been undertaking for years now. He writes the prompt at the end
of each story so you can see what inspired each one, which was a nice touch.

Naturally some of the stories are better than others. Some have clever puns and unexpected
twists in the final few words. These were the ones I enjoyed the most. My favourite was Close
Encounter with a Celebrity which had a fabulous twist. I also really liked Surgically Removed,
where a medical scene was not what it first appeared to be, They Think They Know Us So Well,
which is written from a dog’s perspective discussing humans with his pals and Lessons From a
Grim Reaper, where one of the harbingers of death decides to rebrand himself. As you can
see, the stories are very varied in their content.

These stories are so short a few can be read while having a tea break. They do not require
much brain power, which was ideal, since I read them while sick with COVID when my attention
span was not its best! What they are is fun and cleverly thought through. If you can think up a
prompt of your own the author states he will happily include it in a future volume and credit you.

Orange rose book description
Book description

In FAST FICTION, you’ll enter a cafe where the menu is loaded with nothing but literary appetizers, designed to be quickly consumed and easily digested. You’ll meet people with secrets and others who wished they knew how to keep them; characters looking to exact revenge and others getting their just desserts when karma calls. Fans of the combo platter will see it all here, from the dark to the darkly comical; the laugh-out-loud funny to the thought-provoking; offering more twists and turns than a pretzel—more ups and downs than a soufflé.
Like the world of improv, each tale has been inspired by a prompt (a single word or a phrase) provided by readers. From those simple suggestions, the stories evolve. You’ll meet people from all walks of life, but they’ll all have at least one thing in common: Your brief encounter with them will be over in less than a minute. Welcome to FAST FICTION,where you’ll find 101 stories of exactly 101 words each. How’s that for symmetry?

AmazonUK AmazonUS

📚Festive #ShortStories. @GeorgiaRoseBook Reviews A Christmas Wish by @rogersonsm, for Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Today’s team review is from Georgia.

Georgia blogs here https://www.georgiarosebooks.com

Orange rose and Rosie's Book Review Team
Rosie’s Book Review Team

Georgia has been reading A Christmas Wish by Suzanne Rogerson.

For probably the first time ever I actually managed to read Christmas stories at Christmas and these turned out to be a great choice. They are billed on Amazon as being a collection of heart-warming and festive short stories and this is a perfect description.

I enjoyed all the stories but my favourites were Santa Paws DeliveryChance Encounters (although it did concern me for a good part of it) and One Good Deed. If you are looking for some well-written, feel-good fiction then I recommend this short read.

Orange rose book description
Book description

A heart-warming collection of feel-good stories showing snippets of family life and friendship during the festive period.

Santa Paws Delivery
Blaze delivers Christmas cheer to a care home.

Christmas Wish – Part One
During the office Christmas party Cassie is forced to re-evaluate her life priorities.

For the Holidays
A stepdaughter’s not just for Christmas.

Chance Encounters
Two brothers must unite to do the right thing when faced with a life-threatening choice.

Christmas Wish – Part Two
As Lynn contemplates another lonely Christmas, can Harry provide a welcome distraction?

The Icing on the Cake
Preparing for a big family Christmas, will the day go as Jess plans?

Not Just For Christmas (extended version)
The Shelton family welcome a new addition to the family, but could it spell disaster for Christmas?

One Good Deed
Struggling with life after University, Sam is stuck in a rut until he meets a homeless man with an unexpected gift.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

📚#ShortStory Collection. Terry Reviews Love, Loss And Life In Between by @rogersonsm for Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Today’s team review is from Terry.

Terry blogs here https://terrytylerbookreviews.blogspot.com/

Orange rose and Rosie's Book Review Team
Rosie’s Book Review Team

Terry has been reading Love, Loss And Life In Between by Suzanne Rogerson

Book cover for short stories, Love, Loss And In Between by Suzanne Rogerson. Set against a free photo of a book from Pixabay.
Love, Loss And In Between by Suzanne Rogerson

3.5 out of 5 stars

Ten short stories from fantasy author Suzanne Rogerson, snapshots of lives, some with happy endings, others bittersweet.

My favourite was the first one, Spirit Song, about an old lady called Cecilia and her lute. Short, so atmospheric; I loved it. I also liked Goodbye Forever, in which an abused wife makes her escape. This was most exciting and fast-paced, and I whipped through it. Another favourite was Garden Therapy, with its unexpected plot that unfolded so gradually, and I liked Catalyst, too.

As with many short story collections there were some that appealed more than other; I preferred those with a little glimpse of ‘outside this world’, rather than the straightforward love stories. I would say Ms Rogerson’s talent is in writing the benign paranormal, for sure!

Orange rose book description
Book description

This collection of short stories gives a glimpse into life, love, loss, and the inexplicable in between.

Including themes of grief, finding hope and second chances, facing the consequences of your actions and getting help from the unlikeliest of places.

• As Cecilia helps the dying, she questions what happens to their spirits. But is she ready to find out?
• Can a mother’s race through the New Forest save her son?
• Will visiting a medium bring Christina the closure she needs to move on?
• Can an intruder help an old lady with her loneliness?
• Will the start of another wet and miserable Monday morning end with Maeve’s happy ever after?

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

📚’Well-Told Short Stories’. @GeorgiaRoseBook Reviews Love, Loss and Life in Between by @rogersonsm for Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Today’s team review is from Georgia.

Georgia blogs here https://www.georgiarosebooks.com

Orange rose and Rosie's Book Review Team
Rosie’s Book Review Team

Georgia has been reading Love, Loss and Life in Between Suzanne Rogerson

Book cover for short stories, Love, Loss And In Between by Suzanne Rogerson. Set against a free photo of a book from Pixabay.
Love, Loss And In Between by Suzanne Rogerson

Love, Loss and Life in Between is a short book made up of around ten short stories. I read it over one day.

Spirit Song is thoughtful with a lovely ending. Goodbye Forever a suspenseful telling of a woman and her son trying to escape an abusive partner. Garden Therapy tells the story of a woman trying to work her way through her guilt and has a nice twist in it. Starting Over shows us a woman revisiting the past and an opportunity missed. A Cat-Shaped Hole is a super story of a lonely woman finding a new friend. The Phone Call was a bit creepy. First a reluctant meeting with a medium, then they phone calls… Knocked Off Her Feet shows how fate can change everything. And Catalyst has such an intriguing opening and a terrifically brutal outcome. Not Just for Christmas a heart-warming tale for all dog lovers out there. A Mermaid’s Tail is a sad read and offers a glimpse into past events that have shaped characters’ lives in The Mermaid Hotel Romance Series. The last piece is an excerpt of a fantasy short story – The Guardian – and is continued in a fantasy short story collection.

Rogerson writes very well and these tales are concise yet descriptive. I liked the fact they were a mix of genre so interesting and each one very different.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and highly recommend to everyone who enjoys well-told short stories.

Orange rose book description
Book description

This collection of short stories gives a glimpse into life, love, loss, and the inexplicable in between.

Including themes of grief, finding hope and second chances, facing the consequences of your actions and getting help from the unlikeliest of places.

• As Cecilia helps the dying, she questions what happens to their spirits. But is she ready to find out?
• Can a mother’s race through the New Forest save her son?
• Will visiting a medium bring Christina the closure she needs to move on?
• Can an intruder help an old lady with her loneliness?
• Will the start of another wet and miserable Monday morning end with Maeve’s happy ever after?

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

‘The hilarity flows so well’. @SueBavey reviews #comedy #shortystory collection Why Odin Drinks by @bjornlarssen #TuesdayBookBlog

Today’s team review is from Sue. She blogs here https://suelbavey.wordpress.com/

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Sue has been reading Why Odin Drinks by Bjørn Larssen

Why Odin Drinks is a collection of four comedic fantasy retellings of the Norse myths. The stories are peppered with familiar names from the Norse myths and stories which have been told many times in Norse fantasy, but never before with such snarky and irreverent humour. Larssen’s take on the myths is truly original and well worth reading.

In the first story, Creation, which was previously published as a standalone, we see Odin and his lesser known brothers Vili and Ve on a creation spree with wide eyed abandon.

Odin philosophizes about what makes a thing alive and whether it is OK to eat such things. Vili continues making pretty things and Ve makes things that cause pain and destruction.

When humans are added to the mix the author includes some social commentary.

Chaos ensues until a tragedy occurs and gives the gods pause. Then Odin turns introspective while considering that actions have consequences – even those of the gods…

Creation’s tongue in cheek humour is refreshing and makes for many laugh out loud moments.

The second story is Loki Runes Everything, in which Odin is continuing to haphazardly create things without any kind of order or planning – until he comes to the conclusion that he needs both a plan and someone to organise him – he needs a wife!  I’m sure many people will be able to relate to this feeling. And wouldn’t it be perfect if his wife could see the future and help decide which order to create things in? Enter Frigg. Now everything will be perfect, right?  It isn’t long before the reality of living with said wife and trying to satisfy her every whim kicks in.

Frigg sees everything in the future all at once which is highly overwhelming – particularly since she doesn’t have any coffee, pillows, Manolos or concealer yet!! What has Odin been playing at?!

In this story Larssen includes the myth where Odin hangs from the World Tree, Yggdrasil with a spear in his side in order to procure the power of runes, Loki having trussed him up and stuck the spear in him as per Odin’s request. Up to this point, his main advisor has been Madam A (Angrboda from the myths), whose propensity for bondage has given him ideas suggesting being hanged from a tree might be enjoyable at some level.

When Odin meets the three Norns, they have an interesting lesson in verb tenses for Odin, which must have been extremely difficult to write and/or edit, with each sister speaking in their own tense the whole time, with Odin getting more and more confused:

““So I am sitting here with time?” Odin asked, paying less attention to Skuld’s words than he will think he should. Had. Would have will.”

Story 3 is Fashionteller and features Frigg as a future-telling fashion victim goddess. I enjoyed Frigg’s description of her visions as “future burps” and her unhealthy obsession with a future tv show called Blabbing with Bjarnisdóttirs. There are so many things she has seen and wants to own now, but her voracious appetite will not be slaked if she cannot describe the things properly to Odin, their creator.

When Freya and Freyr show up from Vanaheim, Freya’s condescension towards frumpy Frigg reminded me of Alexis Rose from Schitt’s Creek.

Frigg’s constant disappearing into visions of the future are annoying Skuld since the things Frigg sees will now have to happen and that complicates the Norns’ tapestry of Time.

I really enjoyed Frigg’s characterisation. No wonder she is cranky when she can’t yet have all of the lovely future things she sees and is constantly being mansplained to by people who don’t know anywhere near as much as she does and can’t take their eyes off her chest.

Larssen has an engaging way of addressing the reader without actually doing so directly:

“The list kept expanding anyway in a slightly deluded way, not unlike what would be called TBR piles in the future. Unfortunately, similar to all owners of TBR piles, Frigg didn’t know which of her expectations were unrealistic.”

The final story is The Well of Wise-Dom which has a number of insightful and somewhat prophetic comments to make about war. Sir Daddy Mímir is the leather-clad Wise-Dom who tries to stop Odin from seeking all knowledge by drinking from his well. But Odin being Odin is stubborn  and determined to do whatever he wants. He gains insight into how to win wars – by having the best, strongest and hardest warriors:

“The only way to stop a great army is to have an even greater army.”

“…What I’m saying is that there is no such thing as inevitable when you have control.” Bjørn Larssen is a very talented comedic writer. His timing is perfect and the hilarity flows so well that you can read each of these novellas in one sitting. However, there is always an intelligent social commentary to be found not too far beneath the surface satire of his stories. If you are a fan of absurd humour with a point of view, you will love this book as much as I did!

5 stars.

Desc 1

Ever woken up being a God, but not knowing how to God properly?

Poor Odin must restrain his brothers, who create offensive weapons such as mosquitoes and celery; placate his future-telling wife, Frigg, who demands sweatpants with pockets; listen to Loki’s Helpful Questions; hang himself from Yggdrasil for nine days with a spear through his side (as you do); teach everyone about nutritional values of kale (but NOT celery); meet a Wise Dom, Sir Daddy Mímir, in order to outwit those who outwit him; and, most importantly, prove he is The All-Father, while his brothers are, at best, Those-Uncles-We-Don’t-Talk-About.

This nearly (except in Vanaheim) universally acclaimed retelling of the Gods’ first millennium answers way too many questions, including ones on Freyr’s entendre, horse designing… and why Odin drinks. 

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

Final Thoughts On Shorts. We have been helping students at University College Cork @UCC #CorkReviews @tspoetry

The final review from our shared short story project with review team member Jenni and her first year English students at University College Cork. You can catch up with the first two posts about this here and here.

Three authors kindly offered their short story collections to the students to help with this project. The books were:

The Shivering Ground And Other Stories by Sara Barkat

The Dead Boxes Archive by John F Leonard

Patient Zero by Terry Tyler

59079201. sy475

The Shivering Ground is a collection of 11 independent short stories by author Sara Barkat. Reading the collection feels like drinking a nice cup of hot chocolate in front of the fireplace, while the heavy rain of a winter night is rapping against the window. Throughout every one of the short stories, Barkat dissects complex human feelings such as the part of childhood when imagination meshes with reality, the intricate relationship between siblings, and never-to-be lovers. The stories follow varied settings: from a little girl exploring her house to post-war prison filled with uneasiness and tragedy. Conditions takes the reader to the house of a scientist who revives animals by electric shocks of energy, The Mannequin is set in a dystopic society where pain can be nullified by surgery.  Noticing is set in a place where time and space do not matter anymore and mysterious entities named “the watchers” take notes of every invention ever made by humankind.

The Shivering Ground is simply splendidly written and reflects through metaphors on the condition of being human and the conflicts in life, and the meaning of feeling and being alive in any society. Reading The Shivering Ground can transport you to a different cosmos, meeting incredible, memorable characters. Barkat’s writing is like combining prose and poetry; she’s a strong new provocative voice and has the power, through this collection of short stories, to make you think and reflect.  The collection is a must-read.

4 STARS. by Zoe M

More Thoughts On Shorts. We have been helping students at University College Cork @UCC #CorkReviews @tspoetry @TerryTyler4

Yesterday I introduced a short story project which we have been helping with. You can read the first post here, which review team member Jenni and her English students at University College Cork have been completing.

Three authors kindly offered their short story collections to the students to help with this project. The books were:

The Shivering Ground And Other Stories by Sara Barkat

The Dead Boxes Archive by John F Leonard

Patient Zero by Terry Tyler

59079201. sy475

‘The Shivering Ground and Other Stories’ was a hypnotic read. A step away from existential horror, it veers into an otherworldly realm far away from whimsical fantasy. These stories span historical to futuristic, the points of view of a child to a mad scientist, first person to second person to third person. Sara Barkat has a multiplicity of writing instruments at her disposal, and she commits to use them all. Her ability to do so as artfully as she does is an impressive feat for a debut collection.

These stories first and foremost focus on people. Barkat uses myriad characters to voice her stories. Her skill in bringing life and purpose to such contrasting characters is impressive. In each story these characters and their relationships stay central, yet we see the edges of the elaborate worldbuilding Barkat has constructed. The hinting at the world surrounding these stories rather than lengthy exposition was something I particularly enjoyed about this collection. Barkat only brings in information when it is relevant and natural to do so. She manages to create a holistic experience where these sometimes implausible, worlds seem as real as the one we are living in. Throughout the collection there is an apocalyptic sense of doom woven into each world. This eerie sense of inevitability echoes hauntingly in each story. It is impossible to escape it no matter which of the wide variety of stories you jump into. The halting, off-kilter rhythm forces the reader to face the horror right in front of them, yet even with the pessimistic outcome of the world around them, these characters continue to exist, and their stories continue to be told. Barkat places importance on the strength and continuity of humanity. She picks up the threads of humanity and shows the reader how true empathy can remain even in violent and desolate landscapes.

The titular story, ‘The Shivering Ground,’ is exemplar of what to expect from Barkat’s other work. It is set in a fantastical universe devastated by war and violence. The focus is on a character weighed down by loneliness and the meaninglessness of their life. Differences between characters are overcome by an inherent human preference for empathy. Even in hopeless situations, human connection forms.

This collection is quiet in its writing. Everything is subdued, but not to the point of disappearing. Each story had a mysterious element, designed to provoke a perhaps unanswerable question. The vast majority of this collection delivers on that. However, in the occasional story, there was a point where the mystery faded into fogginess, where the fog became more disorientating than thought-provoking. Nonetheless, Sara Barkat’s descriptions are immersive to a point past vividness. The descriptions almost evoke synaesthesia at some points. Each sentence was a joy to read in its elaborate and artful construction. Overall, this collection was a delightful and eye-opening read.

I recommend this collection for those who want to experience a deep dive into otherworldly narratives focused on human nature. I can say for definite that I have not been able to stop thinking about this collection. Its haunting nature is one that sticks with you long after you close the book.

Rating: 4/5 By Grace K.

36570988. sx318

One of the flat out coolest short story collections I’ve read in a long time, Terry Tyler’s Patient Zero lives somewhere in the cracks between novels, and yet doesn’t feel reliant on them. I’ve read short story one-offs, epilogues, and continuations of novels before, and more frequently than not, those stories are entirely reliant on the parent work. You cannot read those shorter forays into whichever world they live in without also being intimately familiar with the novels they surround, otherwise the reader ends up lost entirely.

Not so with Patient Zero. In a six sentence Introduction, Tyler sets up everything a reader needs to know about her Project Renova series, and then sends them forth to read Patient Zero’s short stories, unfettered by the weight of the novels. And it’s great!

Would the experience be heightened by actually reading the Project Renova novels? Probably. But is it necessary to understand and enjoy the stories of Patient Zero? Nope, not at all. An unstoppable virus is killing people by the truckload and here is a selection of people from all over England and all walks of life, and how they dealt with said virus – get on board and enjoy the ride.

Occasionally triumphant, sometimes ironic, always written with a voice entirely unique to the character narrating that particular story, Tyler’s Patient Zero spans the breadth of human experience in a desperate situation. From the moral dilemma of one of the lucky few vaccinated, to a woman’s search for redemption following a painful confession to a child’s take of apocalypse and a doomsday prepper’s vindication, it’s all here in sharp, fast little bites of stories.

Evocative throughout, though maybe a little closer to home than some people really want in the Year of Our Lord 2021, look out especially for the opening story “Jared: The Spare Vial”, the wit of “Aaron: #NewWorldProblems”, and the distinct, if drifting, voice of “Meg: The Prison Guard’s Wife”.

5/5 (By JDB)

Thoughts On Shorts. We have been helping students at University College Cork @UCC #CorkReviews @tspoetry @john_f_leonard

Here on Rosie Amber’s book blog, I like to encourage reading and reviewing, so when review team member Jenni approached me about a short story project for her first year English students at University College Cork, I was eager to help.

Jenni’s students were asked to put together a mock-up of a new short story literary magazine, and then “pitch” their magazine to a panel of judges. One of the sections that they could include was a review of a collection of short stories.

Three authors kindly offered their short story collections to the students to help with this project. The books were:

The Shivering Ground And Other Stories by Sara Barkat

The Dead Boxes Archive by John F Leonard

Patient Zero by Terry Tyler

Over the next three days I will post the reviews.

59079201. sy475

Sara Barkat’s whirlwind of magnetic short stories in her latest collection The Shivering Ground & Other Stories introduces the reader to tales of past and future, unearthly events, and abnormalities. Written in a short-story format, Barkat intertwines alienated aspects of a futuristic world with reality, awakening feelings of hope and hopelessness, gloom, and purity. The independent short stories pose questions of what can or could be done, the majority poised at the edge of the end of the world.

Each short story is set apart, different from the other, they all meet in the centre of complex human relationships and emotions. The tales are not as straightforward, and one would often be met with confusion and questions at the end. Often the stories are quite melancholic, mind-bending, and nostalgic, which associates nicely with the surreal feel of the collection. Barkat builds unique worlds and situations in which the characters find themselves in. Aspects which seem fictitious to us in today’s world, such as hearts kept safe in a mannequin or aliens evading earth, are brought to life in this collection. Though disturbing, Barkat inserts human emotions into her tales and links the two worlds together. The contrasting settings mix with varying narratives unite the reader with the characters of the stories, whether it be by putting them in the shoes of the character, or shoes of their own.

Brianna is one of the eleven stories of the collection: it follows a sleeping maiden and her prince, Peter. However, Brianna is entrapped by roses and its thorns, and no prince has been able to cross the enchantments that protect her. There is a sense of danger and gloom that surrounds the sleeping maiden, and yet the prince of our story refuses to wander away from his supposed love. He gives her a kiss on the lips, and she wakes. The same sense of gloom continues as the now awaken maiden desperately apologises to the prince, assuring him that he would soon regret that he had woken her up in the first place. His parents try dragging him away from Brianna, claiming that it is not safe to be around her. Just like the other stories in the collection, Barkat encourages the reader the think of the possible messages and morals of the tale. Brianna can be compared to The Sleeping Beauty in some sense, but with a darker perspective. One may also compare it to hopeless relationships, where one person is overtaken by depression, and yet the love interest is convinced that they can take the person out of the pitch-black pit, unaware of the dangers that it might bring to them.

If you wish to analyse these short stories on your own, I encourage you to do so! This is only one example of Sara Barkat’s new short story collection, The Shivering Ground & Other Stories, and there is plenty more that she has to offer! (4/5 stars)

Written by: Nika K

56211306. sy475

Words dissemble

Words be quick

Words resemble walking sticks

Plant them they will grow

Watch them waver so

I’ll always be a word man

Better than a bird man

–              Jim Morrison, “Curses, Invocations”

Per his end of collection “Author’s Note” Leonard “believe[s] a story, even a short one, deserves some sort of prelude. Something to ease the reader into what will hopefully be a memorable and enjoyable experience.” Taking my lead from him, this review (short as it is) gets a snippet of Morrison, a personal favourite when it comes to poetry and performance, and a soul that might just be twisted enough to mesh with Leonard’s personal brand of irony and horror. Of course, the above-mentioned author’s note is itself just the prelude to one final entry into The Dead Boxes Archive, one last story about deals struck, promises made, and promises kept in the most perverse ways possible.

                I have a feeling Morrison might have appreciated that too, but let’s not make this a complete digression into dead rockers and the hauntings they left behind.

                John Leonard’s The Dead Boxes Archive is a series of loosely connected stories, most centring on a “dead box”, objects of eldritch power that give and takes with a set of unbalanced scales. Whether the box is stadium shaped, a township that sits just off kilter from our dimension, or a pen that is indeed mightier than the sword, Leonard’s boxes haunt both the owners who hold them and the readers who watch this unfold. Each story is a realm unto itself, but those looking for connective tissue beyond the general theme of cursed objects acting like cursed objects, will find a deeper plot echoing across the background of Leonard’s tormented landscape. Are the end times nigh? Haunted cults and beings from another realm afoot? Or merely a presence from the past lingering well into the here and now? Bate your breath and batten down the hatches, a phone with no guts is ringing and a pen with no ink is writing this story— The Dead Boxes Archive awaits you.

5/5 (Reviewed by JDB)

‘Reading is always a subjective and personal experience’. @OlgaNM7 reviews #ShortStory collection The Shivering Ground And Other Stories by Sara Barkat @tspoetry

Today’s team review is from Olga. She blogs here https://www.authortranslatorolga.com

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

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

I enjoy short stories, but I rarely read anthologies or collections of them, other than those of authors I already know and whose writing I love. However, although I had never read this author’s work before, there was something compelling and utterly different about this book, and the cover and the title added to the appeal.

Although I’m not sure what I was expecting to read, the stories were surprising and extremely varied. Some seemed to be set in the present (or an alternative version of the present), some in the past (or a possible past), some in a dystopian future, some in parallel universes, and the characters varied from very young children to adults, and from human beings to a variety of “Others”. Some of the stories are very brief, some are long enough to be novellas (or almost), and they are written from all possible points of view: first person, third person (in some cases identified as “they”), and even second person. I usually would try to give an overview of themes and subjects making an appearance in the stories, but that is notably difficult here. The description accompanying the book gives a good indication of what to expect, and if I had to highlight some commonalities between the stories, I would mention, perhaps, the desire and need to connect and communicate with others, in whatever form possible, and to create and express one’s feelings and thoughts, through any medium (music, painting, writing, sewing…),

These short stories are not what many readers have come to expect from the form: a fully developed narrative, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, although usually providing fewer details and not so much character development as we would find in a novel, and often with a surprising twist at the end that can make us reconsider all we have read up to that point. Barkat’s stories are not like that. They rarely have a conventional ending (even when they do, it is open to readers’ interpretations), sometimes there are descriptive passages that we aren’t used to seeing in short narratives, and the plot isn’t always the most important part of the story (if at all). The way the story is told, the style and beauty of the writing, and the impressions and feelings they cause on the reader make them akin to artworks. If reading is always a subjective and personal experience, this is, even more, the case here, and no description can do full justice to this creation.

Despite that, I decided to try to share a few thoughts on each one of the stories, in case it might encourage or help other readers make their own minds up. I’d usually add here that I’ve tried to avoid spoilers, but these are not that kind of stories either.

1. The Door at the End of the Path. A wonderful story full of vivid descriptions of a young girl’s imagination, her internal life, and a reflection of the heavy toll the difficult relationship of the parents can have on their children.

2. Conditions. A glimpse into the relationship between a brother and a sister, where the best intentions can have the worst results, set in a world that is half-dystopia, half an alternative present, with more than a slight touch of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

3. The Eternal In-Between. A dystopia set during a pandemic, with plenty of steampunk-like fancies, and an ode to the power of imagination.

4. The Mannequin. A dystopian world epitomized by the willingness of its subjects to undergo quite an extreme and symbolic procedure to keep the status quo in place.

5. Brianna. A very special retelling of a fairy-tale story that digs dip into the psychological aspects and the effects such events would have over real people, especially if it was a fate repeated generation after generation. One of my favourites.

6. Noticing. A story with a strong ecological theme, a generous dose of fantasy, some beautiful illustrations and eerie pictures, an endorsement of the power of stories, and a strong warning we should heed. Both terrifying and breathtakingly beautiful. Another favourite.

7. Entanglement. A short but compelling story/metaphor of a love affair, and/or the possibility of one.

8. The Day Before Tomorrow. Although set in a very strange and dystopic society, it is a Young Adult story of sorts, and the relationship between the two main characters feels totally natural and everyday, despite the extremely unusual surroundings. Perhaps our stories never change, no matter what might be happening around us. A hopeful story I really enjoyed.

9. It’s Already Too Late. Very brief, very compelling vignette with a very strong ecological message. A call to forget about our excuses and the reasons to carry on doing nothing.

10. The Shivering Ground. A sci-fiction/fantasy/dystopian story that might seem utterly sad and pessimistic, but it is also moving and (I think) hopeful.

11. A Universe Akilter. A wonderful story that kept wrong-footing me, as if the ground the story was set on kept shifting. A Universe Akilter indeed! It starts as the story of the breakup of a romance, seemingly because the man has been caught up cheating, set some time in the past (many of the details and the way the characters behave sound Victorian, but there are small incongruous details that pop up every so often and others that seem to shift), but as the story progresses, it becomes the story of a (possible?) love affair in parallel universes (the universe of our dreams, perhaps), that influences and changes the life of the protagonist, making him discover things about himself and his creativity he would never have considered otherwise. This is the longest story in the book and one that might especially appeal to readers of dual-time or time-travel stories (although it is not that at all).

As usual, I recommend those thinking about reading this collection check a sample of it. The stories are quite different from each other, but it should suffice to provide future readers with a good feel for the writing style.

I could not help but share a few paragraphs from the book, although as I have read an ARC copy, there might be some small changes to the final version.

All the wreckage, all the ruin, and the ground was brilliant red. Every morning, he would wake to more of the world ending, and the earth laid out a scarlet cloak as though waiting for an emperor to arrive.

He wishes, desperately, that he could remember the sound of her voice hen she still knew innocence; that he had thought to fold it in his pocket with the mementos of another life.

Perhaps being a mis-turned wheel in a spinning globe is only as it should be after all, when in the spring, the scent of mint and apple blossoms fills the acres behind you.

But, surely, I wondered, interpretability only goes so far. To go further would be to strike out onto one’s own adventure, breaking the mass of the art’s finished illusion.

I wouldn’t say I “understood” all the stories, or I got the meaning the author intended (if she had a specific design for each one of her stories), but I don’t think that is what this collection is about. Like in an exhibition of artworks, the important thing is what each one of them makes us feel, what thoughts and reflections they set in motion, and how much of an impression they leave on us.

I don’t recommend this book to readers looking for traditionally told short stories, with a clear beginning and end, and a satisfying conclusion. On the other hand, readers seeking for something outside the norm and happy to: explore new worlds, try new experiences, ponder about meanings and possibilities, and get lost in the beauty of the writing and the magic of the words, should read this collection. It’s too beautiful to miss.

Desc 1

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

Guess the historical figures or famous people from the clues. @OlgaNM7 reviews Backstories by @SimonVdVwriter

Today’s team review is from Olga. She blogs here https://www.authortranslatorolga.com

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Olga has been reading Backstories by Simon Van der Velde

56577614. sy475

I enjoy short stories, but recently I have not read as many as I used to, preferring to read novels that build up more slowly and give you the opportunity to get to know the characters and see how they evolve over time. So this was a bit of an unusual choice for me, but I kept reading intriguing reviews of this book, and after checking it out, I had to read the whole thing. And it was worth it.

I had never read anything by the author, although he has been writing for a while and his short-stories have earned him a variety of awards and accolades, but I suspect this won’t be the last of his books I read, and he is already preparing a second volume of Backstories for publication.

It is a bit difficult to talk about this book in any detail without giving too much away. The author explains his goals and what the book is about quite clearly in his description, so I won’t go over it again. I am not sure that I would describe it as a collection of short-stories. Some are biographical vignettes, moments in somebody’s life (or their backstories, if we like), where something momentous happened, or is about to happen (in some cases), while others fit in more easily with the standard understanding of a short story containing a full narrative. In some ways, I guess it is the reader’s job to complete the story, by guessing who the protagonist is and understanding how that snippet fits in with the rest of the person’s life, how significant or important it might be, and how much it reveals of what we know happened next to the person.

In some cases, we see a famous person (some are musicians, some important historical figures, some sports personalities, some less-than-savoury characters…) as children or very young adults, and the author cleverly creates a picture of who they were and how that relates to who they will become. Sometimes, we see somebody on the verge of doing something that would change things forever, and at others, we get an inkling of what things might have been like if something hadn’t happened or circumstances had been different. One of the stories illustrated perfectly a quandary I’ve had for years about a historical figure, as if the author had read my mind, but I’ll keep my peace about it as well.

There are 14 stories, tightly written, some in the first and some in the third person, and they move quickly, the style of writing easy but at the same time adapted to the personality, the era, and the location of the individual portrayed by each. Most of them are told from the point of view of the famous person, although there are some in which we see them reflected through somebody else’s eyes. It is very difficult to stop reading the stories, especially if you enjoy guessing games or quizzes, as one gets gripped by what is happening at the time and also hooked on trying to find who the person is. If you want to know how well I got on, yes, I guessed all of them (although in one of the cases I had only a passing acquaintance with the character, and I ended up checking to make sure), and some had me scratching my head until the very end or changing my mind several times as I read, while others I suspected from early on.

I enjoyed them all, in different ways (some because I felt the build up of the situation, others because the story itself was moving and/or inspiring, some because I loved the protagonists, and some because they chilled me to the bone), and I think most readers will find some that work better for them than others, particularly if they admire some of the protagonists, but there isn’t a bad one in the lot. These are not sanitized and clean stories, and readers must be warned that they will find all kinds of violence, abuse, prejudice… depicted in its pages. The author has explained his reasoning behind his choices, and a percentage of the book’s earnings will go to good causes, so this is more than justified, in my opinion. I recommend this highly enjoyable collection to anybody who loves quizzes, who has ever wondered what happened before historical figures or famous people became who they are, and particularly to those who prefer their reading short, crisp, and based on facts rather than fancy. And, if you like the formula, don’t forget that there is a second book coming your way soon.

Desc 1

These are the stories of people you know. The settings are mostly 60s and 70s UK and USA, the driving themes are inclusion and social justice – but the real key to these stories is that I withhold the protagonists’ identities. This means that your job is to find them – leading to that Eureka moment when you realise who’s mind you’ve been inhabiting for the last twenty minutes.

I should also add that this is a book that operates on two levels. Yes, there’s the game of identifying the mystery activist or actor, singer or murderer, but there is then the more serious business of trying to understand them. This in turn leads to the challenge of overlaying what you now know about these famous people onto what you thought you knew – not to mention the inherent challenge to your moral compass.

These are people you know, but not as you know them. Peel back the mask and see.

AmazonUk | AmazonUS

56577614. sy475