Showing posts with label short stories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label short stories. Show all posts

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Book Review: Oxford Marmalade by Lesley Hayes


Synopsis: From the author - Oxford: A place where liaisons are made and hearts are broken. There's Dinah and her second husband Piers, happily married for 15 years, or are they? Then there's Dinah's son Kit, involved with Poppy, whose husband only realizes he loves her when it's too late...

Review: After reading a number of longish stories, it was nice to get back to a short story style, and in the case of Oxford Marmalade, we have several short stories to sample on.

From the cover, it's virtually impossible to tell what is contained within its pages, but from page one, we can understand the author's extremely creative approach to writing. The beauty of this book is that it's possible to read one story, feel you have completed something and understood it, before going about your usual routine. 

However, in many cases the stories are linked through the characters and it is here that I think Oxford Marmalade elevates itself from a potential nice and okay set of stories, to something far greater.

There are eight tales in all, good value for a short collection of stories, and predictably opens up with the title story. Focussing on a rather strange marriage (not that there are many normal marriages!) where husband and wife have grown apart after fifteen years together, instead of strengthening the bond that living together, winning and losing battles together, looking out for each other, should duly involve.

Piers is a man with certain standards, likes things 'just so' and his wife Dinah needs to go along with it. Not that Piers is a control freak - he just appears like someone best not to mess with his order of the universe.

He seems the polar opposite of Dinah's first husband, an American she was with for seven glorious and wild years. Seven wild years that produced one son, called Kit.

The marriage with oh-so-British Piers seems to have become a bit too sedate for Dinah. He would begin by saying things like (paraphrased) 'pass the marmalade, old thing...'

Truly, I can see where Dinah's coming from. I may be older than some people, but certainly younger than others. Once Piers refers to his wife like this, he's saying 'Oh, you're comfortable for me...I can say things like this to you and they really are terms of endearment. You're not really an old thing. Now pass me my super special marmalade.'

How about drowning Saville Row suit-wearing Piers in the stuff?

His snobbish ways are the opposite of Kit's slow drawled father. Perhaps Dinah was missing him, and we are perhaps all guilty on occasion of thinking of our former loves, no matter how well our current relationship is going.

Dinah's problem with Piers, if it could be confined to just one, was that he was a throwback to another time, perhaps one that exists in his mind only.  He would be pleasant without being exciting, promoting a facade of decency rather than being true to himself.

That said, I could understand Piers' revulsion when Dinah would speak with ex-husband Hubbard. It seemed that time - or the predictable marriage in which she now found herself had tempered her feelings somewhat. During phone conversations, the Dinah that Piers expected her to be was rather different with her ex.

The battle that became a war of two losers, ultimately became resolved by time and other factors. Could I see Piers and Dinah - post THIS marriage, acting in this way? I'm not sure I could.

There's all sorts of fascinating angles at play here. Normally, marriage stories would be a no-no for me. Coronation Street, EastEnders and so on are a permanent non-fixture in my home, because there is only so many times you can recycle a story. You know where it's going before it has ended. There is no surprise, no wonder, one dimensional characters that you basically would not care to have living anywhere near you.

Kit is a reminder of what Dinah once had, and Piers naturally has a rocky relationship with him because of it. 

Through later stories, we understand Kit's seething hatred for Piers, but 'good old chap' Piers doesn't bite the bait, even in one of my favourite scenes in the entire book. 

So why should you read this book? Well, Oxford Marmalade is a collection of stories that are cleverly written, often with a prose that made me feel a lot more educated as a result. Sometimes I read books and feel like I have lost brain cells in the battle to care about the characters the author created to light up the page.

Oxford Marmalade has an impressive cast of characters that all have their own motivations. The reveals are something you will see coming, or you won't. That's the author's power - Miss Hayes gives you a set of believable circumstances  (especially in the collection's second tale, Under the Circumstances), that makes you believe everything is other words, just so.

It's hard for me to categorise this book. Suffice to say, this is a different, engaging, brilliantly written tale (or tales, but you will see the link between them all) of people at different stages of their lives. Different stages, wants, desires, ambitions, and needs.

Some of the lines, depending on where you are in your life, really do hit home with amazing clarity. It's so great when an author can do this, but as I said, her ability is obvious from page one.

"You don't like Americans on've never forgiven them because one got to screw my mother before you, and turned her into a package deal that included me."

"The beast with two backs." (I've kept that very short...if you know what it means, great...if not, you really do need to read this collection!).

"He turned from prince to frog and croaked his slimy way back through the forest into the bloodied heart of the dying sunset."

Poetic, written with authority, and always engaging, Oxford Marmalade should not just be on your to-read list, it should be on your to-read-TODAY- list.


Sunday, 26 April 2015

Book Review: The Revenge of the Pumpkins by Lacey Lane

The Revenge of the Pumpkins
Who says short stories cannot pack a punch? I listen to a lot of Radio horror serials, some short, some long, some too long - and in general, I enjoy them all. With Revenge of the Pumpkins by Lacey Lane, I was not sure what I would discover amongst its pages, but readers of this tale will read a delightfully concocted tale that happens over just one night of Halloween. 

Who would have thought pumpkins could feel something, but in this tale, you'll feel every cut! I was grinning and grimacing as the tale reached its conclusion. I'm all for reading highly detailed and crafted horror anthologies, but Revenge of the Pumpkins, in its few pages, hit harder than many I have read. 

Lacey Lane is a talented author with a Tarantino type style of wickedness in her storytelling. But you'll smile and enjoy every word as I did.

Probably not for kids, it is too gruesome. But later teens to adults will love it.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Book Review: Predator or Prey by J New


Have you ever listened to those late night radio serials? You know the ones...they last for an hour, half an hour, or sometimes, just fifteen minutes.

Often it is the shortest serials that have the biggest shocks. InPredator or Prey (a brilliant title, I have to say), author J. New introduces us to a dark and macabre world.

What is so remarkable is that I believe the author must be aStephen King fan - as are many of us - but she has that rare thing, as he does - the art of turning something normal, into something abnormal, unsettling, and very very disturbing.

Predator or Prey is a collection of wicked and purposely short tales that literally will have you scared to read the last few sentences. It is as if the author enjoys spinning us a story, only to bludgeon us to bits (in a good way!) at each stories conclusion.

There are ten tales in all, and for me, the stand out ones wereApp For Life, (Wo) Man's Best Friend, and A Blessing in Disguise?

I admit to have felt rather disturbed and unclean after reading some of these tales - that is the power of a truly great author.

Keep an eye or two on this talented author. J New is going to be around for a long while, scaring the hell out of us!

If you want a collection of spine-chilling tales, look no further. Predator or Prey is IT.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Currently Reading: Screamscapes by Evans Light


How fantastic is it when you come across really gripping horror yarns? In the first two stories, which I have completed, Crawlspace and What Ever Possessed You? are picture perfect horror tales, and I seriously loved them both.

Evans Light is clearly an excellent writer and understands his genre well. What I particularly like from these first two stories is how the gore is kept to a relative minimum, but the creep factor is high throughout.

I suppose comparisons to Stephen King are obvious, in that perhaps all horror writers wish to emulate him. But I suspect readers of Evans Lights will find he has his own distinct voice - and it will be heard!

The first two stories are great, and I hope the remainder are too. I'm very impressed!