Archives

CWA Anthology of Short Stories – Mystery Tour – Edited by Martin Edwards (Orenda Books)

I don’t read a lot of short stories. Not because I don’t like them, more that I enjoy immersing myself in a longer narrative that will give me hours of reading pleasure. However, I have read two lots of short story anthologies recently and I have enjoyed them both immensely. The first was Reader, I Married Him, a collection of short stories with some connection (some barely recognisable) to the Charlotte Bronte classic, Jane Eyre. The most recent anthology was the the CWA Anthology of Short Stories – Mystery Tour. What struck me about both collections is the diversity of stories that have emerged by the various authors when given the same theme. This review is for the latter collection. The authors of the CWA Anthology of Short Stories – Mystery Tour were given the theme of travel to write a short crime/mystery story.

There wasn’t a single story I didn’t enjoy in this anthology, which is testament to whoever selected the stories to put in it. All the stories are very different but each is intriguing and engaging, with different angles on the theme of the collection. Of course, the authors are all members of the Crime Writers Association, so there is an expectation that the writing will be quality crime fiction, but there are no disappointments at all in this collection, each story individual but with a shared sense of trepidation for the reader as each story commences and surprise at the conclusion  (or lack thereof).

Although I enjoyed all of the stories, I had a few favourites in the collection. The Queen of Mystery by Ann Cleeves gets the anthology off to a brilliant start with an unusual turn of events. Her first person narrative gives off no clues as to how the story will pan out. Return to the Lake by Anna Mazzola is heart-rending, as is You’ll Be Dead By Dawn by C.L.Taylor, a wonderful achievement for such short narratives.

The Last Supper by Carol Ann Davis made me smile, a gem of a crime story with the ability to amuse. Similarly, Ed James’s contribution Travel Is Dangerous with his wonderful DS Scott Cullen character, a character I have come to know and love from James’s series, also provides some comedy in the dynamic between Cullen and his nemesis and former boss DS Brian Bain, alongside a great mystery story.

I liked the sense of vindication in High Flyer by Chris Simms, Wife on Tour by Julia Crouch and The Repentance Wood by Martin Edwards, highlighting the lengths people might go to when they have felt diminished by those around them.

Three On A Trail by Michael Stanley adds a little extra to the standard mystery (though I’m not going to say what that is). Having loved the recent Dectective Kubu novels released by Orenda Books, I’m already a fan of the writing duo that it was no surprise to enjoy this gripping short story. I also enjoyed the short, but sweet contribution by another Orenda stalwart, Ragnar Jonasson, whose letter from a traveller to his mother combines intrigue and the beautiful Icelandic landscape to  provide a chilling mystery.

If I had to pick one favourite, however, it would have to be No Way Back from J.M.Hewitt. This story was particularly memorable and hard-hitting, shocking and beautifully written, to fully encompass the theme of travel with a frighteningly murderous plot. There’s not a lot I can say about it without giving too much away, other than to say it is a fantastic short story. I have J.M. Hewitt’s novel, Exclusion Zone, on my kindle and will definitely be boosting it up my extensive TBR list, having enjoyed this story so much.

Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this collection of stories which provides the reader with myriad stories that gives short, sharp bursts of mystery-filled tales. Whilst I enjoy a more lengthy, character-building, plot-twisting narrative, what these authors have managed to achieve in such a short amount of words is nothing short of genius. What I have also found is that it will give you a taster by authors who you may not have previously read to entice you into reading their longer works. The compilation of the stories is perfectly balanced between totally shocking stories, amusing mysteries, and good old-fashioned detective tales. I look forward to reading more short story anthologies in the future.

 

A Gathering of Butterflies by Sean C. Wright Blog Tour Excerpt

Welcome to my tour stop for “A Gathering of Butterflies” by Sean C. Wright.  The tour runs from October 26-30 and the full tour schedule can be found here.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Tales of steely but vulnerable women of color will melt your heart while lifting your spirits… A fierce grandmother keeps her grandson from the clutches of Old Scratch in Devil Does Dallas. An alien abduction transforms a large, miserable woman in Hazel Hogan. A country girl meets a city girl on her birthday, and struggles to decide if the girl’s heart is dark or light in Bubble Bath Twelve. And methodical Genie forms an unlikely relationship in Heaven’s Halfway House while in a coma.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sean C. Wright is native to Dallas, TX, and earned a degree in English from University of North Texas. She is the author of the short story collection A Gathering of Butterflies, the novella Honey Riley. Actress Jessica Biel directed a short film based on her winning essay in 2010: Sodales (18 minutes). For more information about her writing skills and how she can assist you with yours–for business or consumer needs–visit http://www.iwrightaway.com/.

EXCERPT

Devil Does Dallas
One, two, three
The devil’s after me.
Four, five, six
He started throwing sticks.
Seven, eight, nine
He missed me every time.
Hallelujah, hallelujah.  Amen!
— Children’s song
             “It’s time again,” Lucifer said aloud, “to remind them that I’m still here. “
Pay It Forward with Kindness, Oprah’s Angel Network, Feed the Hungry, Save a Tree, Adopt a Child from a Third World Country, Live Greener.  And the Debauchery Report was pitiful.  Murder was down fifteen percent, lying twenty-five.  Adultery numbers plummeted a whopping forty percent.
Lucifer’s cloven feet clopped on the hot, stone floor as he strolled to the cages that held his three pet snakes — Slither, Hiss and Fangs.   
“Daddy’s going away for a little while, babies.  You be. . .bad.”
 Saddam Hussein caught sight of Lucifer walking out of Hell. 
“Where are you going, Boss?” 
“Up there to recruit,” Lucifer told him, “Keep the fires burning until I get back.”
Lucifer liked Saddam.  He reminded Lucifer of himself when he was expelled from Heaven.   Whenever Lucifer’s internal fires dimmed, he recalled the incident.  It helped him keep his venom.  
God frowned when Lucifer rolled around Heaven on roller skates.
God shook his head when Lucifer tie-dyed his white frock. 
God scowled when Lucifer got the rebel angels together and played what would later be labeled The Devil’s Music – Rock ‘n Roll and jazz.    Not everybody wanted to hear harps’ incessant plink, plink, plink.
“Lucifer,” God had said, pursing his lips, when he got called into the office, “It’s just not working out.”
“What?” he had asked.
“Souls are here for peace and serenity.  You and the other angels you associate with are disruptive.”
“But, God, not all people lived their earthly lives the same, so why should everyone live the afterlife the same?
“Son, please give me your wings,” God retorted, his voice keeping its even cadence.  His voice hadn’t wavered, but Lucifer saw God’s face had That Look.  It was the look He had when someone begged Him to help, but He couldn’t because the person’s prayers weren’t destiny.  Then God’s sad face became His omniscient one. 
“You think I’m trouble,” Lucifer had growled.
“I didn’t say that—“
“You didn’t have to, God.  I’ve known you an eternity!” 
And with that, he had removed his wings from his back, thrown them in God’s face, and stormed out of Heaven.  Lucifer had even scared himself with the sudden display of temper, but he felt happier and freer than he had ever felt in his afterlife.  But Lucifer hadn’t wanted to steal God’s glory.  He only wanted fun.
Lucifer treaded the murk to Earth’s portals, his scaly lips curling in annoyance.  Recruiting would be so much easier if it weren’t for the rules.  He could only stay on Earth each time in terms of 6 – 6 years, 6 months, and 6 days; 6 months, 6 days, and six hours, and so on.  Lucifer could not make anyone do anything.  He could only tempt, that is, dangle the bait and collect those souls that bit.   Once a person realized who he was, he had to leave Earth – even if his term of sixes had not been finished.
His anger had pushed aside his focus.  Where was Lucifer going on Earth?  Did it really matter?  Potential sinners were everywhere.  Here was as good a place as any.  Lucifer rose from the earth, taking gentle care to brush off the grub worms and beetles that clung to him; he had a soft spot for creepy, crawly things in decaying matter.  He scanned the sable of night until he found the pot of bubbling decadence.  A city.   Pin points of candy-colored lights, tall buildings, and the faint roar of car motors.   
He was so excited that he did not even take note of the sign:  WELCOME TO DALLAS.
Lucifer stood under a lamp post in the thick of downtown.  Sometimes a small child or a dog spotted him, but there was no chance of that here.    
Lucifer zeroed in on a Latina, waiting for the bus.   Esperanza.  She was twenty-eight.  Esperanza was the oldest of six children.  Growing up, her mother had given her slaps and ugly words when her younger siblings got into mischief or she burned the food.  A hole.  She had lost her father at seventeen.   The hole widened.  After her father’s death, Esperanza spent her adult life helping her thankless mother, who never learned to speak English.  When the lack of love and validation yielded self-loathing, she swallowed a whole bottle of pills at twenty-one.  Esperanza spent four months in a mental hospital.   When her mother had died of a stroke two years ago, she had thought, “Madre, may you eat a burnt dinner with el diablo every night.” She was single and worked as a maid cleaning warehouses in downtown Dallas. Esperanza did nothing more exciting than eat Hot Pockets and watch American Idol and Spanish soap operas at home. 
Lucifer could hardly wait to see what came next.   But just before he could get more information, Esperanza reached into the neck of her blouse, pulled out a rope of beads.   She fingered the charm on the end of the necklace absentmindedly.  Let it dangle, exposed.  Lucifer recoiled.  A crucifix.  Damn, Esperanza’s name meant hope and she had the faith! 
Her bus came.  Esperanza climbed on and it pulled away.  Lucifer looked after her, his beady eyes glazed with disgust. 
But the night was yet a baby. 

A Gathering of Butterflies by Sean C Wright

I don’t generally read short stories, preferring to read a longer, slowly built up narrative that explores characters, plots and settings in intricate detail. However, I made an exception for A Gathering of Butterflies by Sean C. Wright. This is a lovely collection of stories, all different in the essence of their plots but all with a thread of strong female characters who either inspire or are inspired in a situation whereby they are struggling to survive.

The first story is “Devil Does Dallas”. This story is a witty take on the ups and downs of being the devil. As with all the stories, this is a really well written narrative with amusing overtones, which is surprisingly refreshing, given the subject matter. This was my favourite story of the collection as she paints a scene of an overworked Devil who has to keep returning to Earth to find souls to take back to Hell. I particularly liked that Saddam Hussein was the Devil’s lackey and that the downfall of the Devil’s visit to earth comes in the form of a Granny. It’s tough being the Devil!

“Hazel Hogan” addresses the lasting stigma of cruel words and the effect they can have. Hazel Hogan’s life is filled with sadness a she cannot shake the cruel words of her adversaries from childhood. Having lived a somewhat unfulfilled life, Hazel is feeling depressed when she is suddenly abducted by aliens. Wright uses the eyes of the aliens, to highlight the unproductive emotions and actions of the human race, as they use Hazel to learn more about what it is to be human.  I saw traces of one of my favourite short stories, “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, as Hazel feels mocked by imagined faces in the wallpaper and the personification of her furniture exacerbates this feeling of animosity that Hazel feels from everything and everyone around her, with the exception of her three friends.

“Bubble Bath Twelve” is a quaint little story that tells of a young girl’s birthday celebrations during a time where money was scarce and life was tough. Fan has kept all the memories of this special day in a box, and the box is found when she dies. Fan is a good girl who helps her mum, she’s a treasured friend, sister and daughter. The items in the box numbered ’12’ are possessions that were appreciated and loved and this lovely story tells of how Fan came to obtain them.

“Heaven’s Halfway House” gives a glimpse as to what it might be like at the edge of death. This story considers how inspiration can be found in the most unlikely of sources. It also highlights the importance of childhood influences over the rest of someone’s life, a theme that resonates with the plot in “Hazel Hogan”.

I really enjoyed these short stories. Wright engages the reader well and encourages the reader to put themselves in the shoes of the main protagonists of each story. The third person narrative works really well to help the reader to imagine what it must be like for these people to be in these scenarios. Each story considers the influence of others on the characters to make decisions that ultimately guide them through life, or death.  These stories didn’t take long to read and are well worth the time it takes to read them. They also make you think about the effects that the things that you do and say have on others, particularly if they are easily influenced.

Old School (Diary of a Wimpy Kid book 10)

Jeff Kinney Release Date: 3 Nov. 2015 Buy new: £12.99 £6.49

Grandpa's Great Escape

David Walliams Grandpa's Great Escape 72 days in the top 100 Grandpa's Great Escape (107) Buy new: £12.99 £5.00 40 used & new from £3.69

Fallout 4 Vault Dweller's Survival Guide (Prima Official Game Guides)

David Hodgson , Nick Von Esmarch Publication Date: 10 Nov. 2015 Buy new: £14.99 £10.49

Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike Book 3)

Robert Galbraith Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike Book 3) 19 days in the top 100 Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike Book 3) (47) Download: £9.99

Four Waifs on our Doorstep

Trisha Merry Four Waifs on our Doorstep 20 days in the top 100 Four Waifs on our Doorstep (178) Download: £0.99

The Runaway Family

Diney Costeloe The Runaway Family 21 days in the top 100 The Runaway Family (129) Download: £0.99

The Cherry Tree Cafe

Heidi Swain The Cherry Tree Cafe 21 days in the top 100 The Cherry Tree Cafe (77) Download: £0.99

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

Stephen King Release Date: 3 Nov. 2015 Buy new: £20.00 £10.00