Sunday 10 January 2021

Two books of short stories

So... from being someone who bought lots of books of short stories but hardly ever read any (I know) I've become someone who likes to have a volume on the go most of the time. They're fun, and fill a half hour of free time, and also you get to discover new authors, or possibly decide you don't like someone's writing after all...

My last book for 2020 was a book of tales from the British Library's collection, Weird Woods: Tales from the Haunted Forests of Britain edited by John Miller.

This collection is pretty much what it says in the title, macabre stories that involve trees, woods and forests. I had several favourites.

Man-size in Marble by Edith Nesbit (author of the 'Five Children and It' series for children) involves a couple buying a cottage near Romney Marsh in the SE of England. All is well until Halloween when their excellent housekeeper won't stay in the house because of a local story of something that 'walks' on that night. Very atmospheric.

Ancient Lights by Algernon Blackwood, one of my favourite ghost story authors, well known for setting stories in the northern forests of Canada. This one tells of a surveyor's clerk visiting a client in the South Downs in Sussex. Said client wants to do alterations to an ancient wood, so on the way the clerk decides to walk through the wood. Wrong choice.

A Neighbour's Landmark by M.R. James involves some woods on a hill that are no more but something has been left behind. Wonderfully creepy as you would expect from James. 

N by Arthur Machen. Three men are in an inn recalling all their walks around London. The subject of the area around Stoke Newington comes up, people who have been there but can't recall what they did or where they went, or even if they went at all. Does  Cannon's Park exist or doesn't it? Naturally someone has to go and look for himself. 

An Old Thorn Tree by W.H. Hudson was my favourite of the collection. It's set on the Wiltshire Downs, which is one of those mysterious areas of England, lot of standing stones, barrows, more crop circles and UFO sightings than anywhere else, that sort of thing. It's easy to sense a weirdness when you're there and this story of a solitary, ancient thorn tree on the top of a hill plays on that atmosphere. The narrator feels drawn to the tree and sits in a pub listening to stories about the tree and it's effect on local people's lives. Brilliant.

These collections vary a bit, some I like a lot, the 'sea' collection for instance, and some are a bit average. This 'trees' anthology was very good, terrific sense of place in most of the stories, and there were only a couple I thought were a bit daft or confusing. The rest were all excellent.

Next up, Death's Detective by Charlotte E. English, my first book for 2021 and one I saw reviewed here on Pat's blog, Here, There and Everywhere.

Konrad Savast is a wealthy 'man about town' in the city of Ekamet. But there's a lot about him that people don't know. He is in fact the Malykant, a servant of the God of death, Malykt. It's his job to find out the whys and the wherefores when there's a suspicious death and dish out punishment if required. He's aided and abetted in this by Irinanda, a sort of pharmacist, but she has secrets of her own that Konrad is not party to. Konrad also has the help of two ghosts who come in the form of snakes, they add a touch of comedy. This book consists of four long short stories, novellas you might call them, and each deals with a different investigation, one was based around a circus for instance, another has the theme of a missing diamond. From the first story to the end of the fourth I definitely became a lot more involved. Secrets are revealed, there's character progression, and I really liked the world building of this horror/fantasy crime based series. The names are all Russian but this is an invented world with a very Victorian bent. The mysterious Bone Forest outside the city intrigued me and the idea of people living underground there or building in the trees was fascinating. This is not heavy reading, it's a fun series, but the writing is very comptetent and nothing in it annoyed me (believe me that counts for a lot). I think I'll be reading more in this series as I suspect the author has already hit her stride and I want to know more.

I hope everyone else has had a good reading start to 2021? I see lots of people signing up for challenges and it's fun to see what they're doing. I've just signed up for one for now, Marg's Historical Fiction 2021. Whether I'll end up doing more I'm not sure at the moment. We'll see.  


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Although I'm not sure that these 2 collections are for me, I am enjoying short stories more and more these days. My eyes are often tired from too much reading or computer time so a good short story often works out perfectly.

Lark said...

Short stories can be fun to dip into, and I do like haunting tales, but I find I just don't read a lot of short stories. It's like poetry. I like it, but I hardly ever read it for some reason. Are you liking Into the Planet? That one's on my TBR list, too. :)

DesLily said...

I sent for the other two books to the Death Detective . I am surprise "I" liked it and glad you did too!

TracyK said...

Death's Detective sounds very intriguing. I like the idea of four linked novellas. I will look into getting copy.

Cath said...

Diane: LOL, yes I freely admit that these two books are on the weird side and not for everyone! And I agree about short stories and I do think they suit ghost fiction very well.

Lark: I used to feel exactly the same about short stories. Plus, I found them hard to review but I solved that by making a quick note of each story.

I've just finished Into the Planet and I thought it was excellent. Very scary some of the things the author did. I think you would like it.

Pat: I don't blame you for sending for two more books. I'm very intrigued by Konrad and interesting to discover what Nanda is. I thought the stories got better as the book progressed.

Tracy: I actually rather liked Death's Detective, it was a different kind of crime story and I felt its weirdness worked very well.

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Cath,

I must admit that I don't turn my nose up at the prospect of short story collections, or reading the odd novella or two, like I used to. However I am still quite picky about my choices in those genres and I'm not really into ghost stories, I would rather a full blown horror story, or a good mystery.

I really wanted to like the 'Death Detective' and got all excited given my last comment about horror / mystery stories. However, when we started talking 'ghost snakes' my excitement turned to disappointment.

Hopefully you will have some more collections in your reading pile for 2021, so I'll keep my eye open for any posts.

Thanks for sharing and I hope that all is well with you :)

Cath said...

Yvonne: Yes, I must admit I used to avoid short story collections and novellas a bit too. I feel a bit silly now as some of the murder mystery collections are excellent.

The Death Detective would not be for everyone and snakes might put people off I agree. Although they're used as a comedy tool in these books and to be honest I didn't really picture them as snakes at all.

Yes thanks, all's well with us. Just - you know - endless lockdown. Thank goodness for books and vaccinations on the horizon.