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

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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

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‘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.

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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.

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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

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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)