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    Top Ten Tuesday: Favourite Short Stories

    (This is part of a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl)

     

    I am such a big, big fan of short stories. It takes a very special kind of genius to be able to craft a story in such a limited amount of space, and do it well. Like poetry, every word, sentence and paragraph is important. There’s no room for filler. Everything needs to hold meaning and be vital to the story as a whole.

    I’ve listed my ten absolute favourites below, a number of which I studied at Uni or used in my dissertation about Poe/Hawthorne and others are just ones I’ve read out of curiosity/love of the author’s work. For a list of the short stories I’ve read this year, feel free to check out the ‘Deal Me In’ Short Story Challenge I’m taking part in.

    1. The Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
    The first short story I ever read by Poe and ultimately the one that pushed this man to the very top of my favourite authors list. Relayed by an unnamed narrator who endeavors to convince the reader of his sanity while simultaneously describing a murder he committed. Another short story worth a mention that is quite similar to this is Poe’s The Black Cat. Both rife with the gothic, murder, doubles, the uncanny and so on…

    2. The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe
    I am absolutely fascinated (and you could say obsessed) with this one. It’s probably my favourite Poe story I’ve read thus far. The Fall of the House of Usher recounts the terrible events that befall the last remaining members of the once-illustrious Usher clan before it is rend asunder. Poe believed in “totality” wherein every element and detail is related and relevant. Everything from the setting, to the tone, to the characters, to the dialogue is important and relevant. Everything tells a story and is a symbol of something much larger. This story has often been analysed as a description of the human psyche.

    3. Kino by Haruki Murakami
    This was the type of story that made me fall in love with Murakami’s writing to begin with. The true meat of the story exists between the lines, and is one about the discovery of one’s self and understanding that only you can change your life. Delicately tinged with the supernatural, Murakami never fails to weave an interesting tale that leaves you wanting more.

    4. The Minister’s Black Veil by Nathaniel Hawthorne
    I slaved away over Hawthorne (and Poe’s) short stories for my dissertation and this beaut was one of them. The Minister’s Black Veil is a moral parable of sin and guilt in 18th Century Puritan New England. The story is simple: Reverend Hooper arrives for Sunday services one day wearing a black veil across his face, and from that day on until the day he dies he is never seen without that veil. Opposing the ideals and beliefs of the Transcendentalism movement, Hawthorne emphasises human fallibility and the proneness to sin and self-destruction.

    5. The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne
    A tale of a great scientist who wonders whether the birthmark on the cheek of his beautiful wife can be removed. Hawthorne explores the theme of perfection, an exclusive province of heaven that can’t be found on earth, and the devastating effects Alymer’s quest for perfection has when it is found.

    6. Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl
    Dahl didn’t just write for children, he wrote for adults too. I absolutely love this man’s brain. Taken from the short story collection Someone Like You, Lamb to the Slaughter is essentially the story about the perfect crime. But what was the crime? And how did Mary Maloney cover it up? No spoilers. You need to read it. Only four pages long and is as close to perfection as perfection can be.

    7. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
    The Queen of Horror. The story describes a fictional small town which observes an annual ritual known as “the lottery”, which results in the killing of one individual in the town. I went into this short story blind (so that summary may be a bit of a spoiler) but I was shocked and unsettled, and after deeper analysis there’s so much depth to this story. It’s been described as one of the most famous short stories in the history of American literature so if that doesn’t tell you that you should read it then I don’t know what will.

    8. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
    I need to read a whole heap more of Angela Carter because I absolutely loved this one. The Bloody Chamber is based on the French folktale of Bluebeard, a wealthy violent man in the habit of murdering his wives. This along with the other stories in the collection challenge the way women are represented in fairy tales, contrasting traditional elements of Gothic fiction – which usually depicted female characters as weak and helpless.

    9. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
    This is a short story that has stuck with me for many, many years, and is often considered an important early work of American feminist literature – illustrating the 19th century attitudes towards women’s physical and mental health. The story is a collection of journal entries written by a woman whose physician husband (John) has rented an old mansion for the summer. She is forbidden from working, and is encouraged to eat well and get plenty of exercise and air, so she can recuperate from what he calls a “temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency”. Written as a cautionary tale of the “rest cure” it is often perceived as gothic horror.

    10. Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway
    This list would be incomplete without even the briefest of mentions of Hemingway. The man is the master of the short story. This story focuses on a conversation between an American man and a woman at a Spanish train station while waiting for a train to Madrid. Hemingway provides very little context or background to these characters leaving the reader to infer their own conclusion from the dialogue. Hemingway was a very minimalist writer, getting the most out of a story by writing the least – omitting important things or events. He called this the ‘Iceberg’ theory.


    What are some of the best short stories you’ve read?
    Dying to read any of the above? Have any on your list that you think I’d be interested in? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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    Book Review: ARC of a Scythe (Books 1 and 2) by Neal Shusterman

    Book Review: ARC of a Scythe (Books 1 and 2) by Neal ShustermanScythe by Neal Shusterman
    Series: Arc of a Scythe #1
    Published by Simon & Schuster on November 22nd 2016
    Genres: Dystopia, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult
    Pages: 435
    Format: eBook
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    Thou shalt kill.

    A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

    Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

     

    “Hope in the shadow of fear is the world’s most powerful motivator.”

     
    I have been in the biggest of book slumps until I stumbled across this book and quite literally got sucked in until I found myself finishing the second book demanding more. I wish I’d found this series sooner. It featured all of my favourite things: a smart and unique plot, murder, a battle of morals and did I mention, murder?

    • This is a world that is so completely unnatural that it feels like reality. In 1,000 years who is to say that we won’t live in a world similar to that of Shusterman’s creation. That is the beauty of it. It all seems perfectly plausible no matter how far fetched it appears at points. He has taken the roots of reality, twisting and bending and breaking it until we have this new form of Utopia where war, disease, misery, hunger etc. no longer exists. Not once does it feel unnatural because the roots of humanity remain – particularly among the Scythe who are not ruled by the Thunderhead. They think for themselves, they abide by their own form of ethics and morals as they go about the hard task of killing (“gleaning”) another human being. They feel remorse. They cry. They feel hatred and prejudice. They’re still human.
    • Citra and Rowan are such precious little cinnamon rolls. The story is split between them as they’re both reluctant apprentices to Scythe Faraday in order to secure their future as a Scythe. Citra is your typically ambitious go-getter Slytherin with a little splash of Ravenclaw running through her veins. Meanwhile, Rowan is a self-confessed “lettuce” – unimportant and forgettable. Their journey through this book isn’t easy, each in their own very different way. They both reach a turning point that seperates and defines their journeys indefinitely.

    Other things I enjoyed:

    • It didn’t center itself around a romantic plotline. There were the barest hints of one but Shusterman didn’t let it detract from the story as a whole which I’m sooooo glad about.
    • Can I shout anymore about the concept? Legal murder. I am fascinated (in the most non-creepy of ways).
    • Scythe Faraday. That is all.
    • You can’t die (unless you’re gleaned of course) but anytime you’re made ‘deadish’ by either an accident or on purpose (like throwing yourself off a building) your body is taken to a revival unit to be brought back to life
    • When the characters are evil, they’re evil. But it’s an evil that you can relate to. It’s an evil that you can see exist in the world around you. It’s not world domination. It’s lack of empathy, lack of remorse, decadence, narcissism…
    • Book Review: ARC of a Scythe (Books 1 and 2) by Neal ShustermanThunderhead by Neal Shusterman
      Series: Arc of a Scythe #2
      Published by Simon & Schuster on January 9th 2018
      Genres: Dystopia, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult
      Pages: 504
      Format: eBook
      Add to Goodreads
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      Rowan and Citra take opposite stances on the morality of the Scythedom, putting them at odds, in the second novel of the chilling New York Times bestselling series from Neal Shusterman, author of the Unwind dystology.

      Rowan has gone rogue, and has taken it upon himself to put the Scythedom through a trial by fire. Literally. In the year since Winter Conclave, he has gone off-grid, and has been striking out against corrupt scythes—not only in MidMerica, but across the entire continent. He is a dark folk hero now—“Scythe Lucifer”—a vigilante taking down corrupt scythes in flames.

      Citra, now a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, sees the corruption and wants to help change it from the inside out, but is thwarted at every turn, and threatened by the “new order” scythes. Realizing she cannot do this alone—or even with the help of Scythe Curie and Faraday, she does the unthinkable, and risks being “deadish” so she can communicate with the Thunderhead—the only being on earth wise enough to solve the dire problems of a perfect world. But will it help solve those problems, or simply watch as perfection goes into decline?

       

      “Death must exist for life to have meaning.”

       
      Are there enough words in the English language to describe how amazing and wonderful this book is? I don’t think so. Two books in and I am still blown away by the originality and the concept of this series. You’ve got your stabby murder, political intrigue, plot twists on top of plot twists, an (almost) utopia, and your all-knowing, all-seeing, ruler of (almost) all humanity. Shusterman asks a lot of questions about humanity, about morals, and about the sanctity of life without ever asking a single question.

      • The plot for Thunderhead was a lot slower this time round with the additional heap of chess pieces littering the board of MidMerica making things a lot more interesting. There are bigger problems at bay with the rivalry between the Old and the New-Order Scythes htting an all-time high, and Scythe Lucifer out there like the true Angle of Death he is hunting down and murdering the Scythes he believes to be unworthy of the job.
      • The introduction of Greyson Tolliver as a central character still has me feeling a little “meh” but I am definitely intrigued, even more so after the ending. I was less fond of his character than his actual storyline (which has me yearning to find out why he, Greyson Tolliver, is so important. Why him?). He was just a little too bland for my liking.
      • More worldbuilding! Just when you thought this world couldn’t get any bigger or more amazing, it does! We get to explore more of the Mericas in particular a certain charter region modeled after The Wild West which has no laws and no authority. More interestingly, we get to visit Endura, a small city built on water that is not monitored or governed by the Thunderhead. It is home to the World’s Scythe Counsel of Grandslayers but also serves as a historical attraction for tourists and a refuge for Scythes’ families. ~Spoilery~ things happen there and I just have too many feels about it.
      • The ennnnnnnnding, you guys! The ending. It was bold, it was unexpected and quite simply, phenomenal. When the Thunderhead screamed. I felt that. I’m still shook and absolutely heartbroken, and I can’t believe I have to wait an entire year until I get to find out what happens next.

      Other things I enjoyed:

      • The general existence of Scythe Marie Curie, the great Grandame of Death. I absolutely love her character and how protective she is of Citra. She is a precious cinnamon roll and should have been protected at all costs.
      • The explosive return of a certain someone
      • Scythe Constantine, what a pure and wonderful cinnamon roll. I have a feeling he’ll have an even more central role in book #3.
      • Did I mention the Thunderhead screamed
      • Speaking of the Thunderhead, I am absolutely fascinated by his mindset and thought process. Especially when he discovered a particular thing towards the end…
      • The Thunderhead has f e e l i n g s
      • Watching Citra blossom and grow into her role as a Scythe. My girl is growing up! She is going to be one woman y’all don’t want to mess with in the next book. I feel that.
      • Even though Citra and Rowan were very much apart for the majority of this book they were still so intimately intertwined, and their feelings for each other are sooooooooo cute.
      • The beautiful relationship between Citra and Scythe Curie. No one touch me. I love it too much. They are each others number one fans. They are a family aND THEN SHUSTERMAN DID THE THING. NOPE.
      • Rowan’s general attitude about getting the absolute shit kicked out of him and not giving a single damn
      • Did I mention the e n d i n g!
      • Have you read Scythe and Thunderhead?
        Let me know what you thought in the comments below.
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    Top Ten Tuesday: Best books I’ve read in 2018 so far

    (This is part of a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl)

     

    This one is going to be very short and sweet because I’ve been in such an awful book slump this year, I’ve had to scrape myself through some of the books I’ve read so far. Things I would usually enjoy have been lackluster and dissatisfying (A Court of Frost and Starlight, Spiders in the Grove, Hero at the Fall, Children of Ambition etc.) but there have been a very small number of titles that have pulled through and made me enjoy reading again. These are those stories….

     

    1. Scythe by Neal Shusterman, released November 2016.
    I could not put this down. I absolutely loved it – from the concept to the characters to the plot. Everything. It was just so good and I cannot rave about it enough. A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery – two teenagers must master the “art” of a taking a life and becoming part of the Scythedom.

    2. The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn, released January 2018.
    This book has been on my reading list for forever and I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it. Anna Fox hasn’t left her house in 10 months and now spends most of her time spying on her neighbours, when one evening Anna witnesses something she shouldn’t. Can she uncover the truth? Can she trust herself? I found myself glued to this book, and just when you think this might be your standard-wannabe-Gone-Girl thriller the final 10% hits you square in the face.

    3. Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig, released March 2015.
    I’ve heard a lot said about this book since its publication in 2015 but never bothered to pick it up because non-fiction books about mental health aren’t my thing. I read to escape from my own mental health, not be reminded of it. And boy was I wrong. This book changed me. My mental health took a significant dip this year after I finally thought I’d “fixed” myself. It wasn’t until I stumbled across a quote from this book did I realise Haig was describing things that I had been feeling for months. This book made me feel seen. This made me feel understood. This book made me feel less alone. This book is accessible, moving, funny, and life-changing. If you find yourself struggling, this book is a must-read.

    4. Pet Sematary by Stephen King, released November 1983.
    I’ve been meaning to read a King novel for years and have only found myself dabbling in his short stories from time to time. That was until my boyfriend gifted me with this beaut of a book. When Louis Creed and his family move to the town of Ludlow, Maine, Creed begins to realise that all is not as it seems when he discovers the ancient Indian burial ground situated deep in the woods. King calls Pet Sematary his scariest book and I can understand why. Explaining such would give away too many spoilers so this is one you’ll definitely have to read and find out the answer for yourself.


    What are the best books you’ve read so far this year?
    Dying to read any of the above? Have any on your list that you think I’d be interested in? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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    Book Review: A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas

    Book Review: A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. MaasA Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas
    Published by Bloomsbury YA on May 1st 2018
    Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
    Pages: 272
    Format: Paperback
    Source: Amazon
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    Feyre, Rhys, and their close-knit circle of friends are still busy rebuilding the Night Court and the vastly-changed world beyond. But Winter Solstice is finally near, and with it, a hard-earned reprieve. Yet even the festive atmosphere can't keep the shadows of the past from looming. As Feyre navigates her first Winter Solstice as High Lady, she finds that those dearest to her have more wounds than she anticipated--scars that will have far-reaching impact on the future of their Court.

     
    I really wanted to love this because I am such a big fan of Sarah J. Maas but I’ve got a lot of mixed feelings. I’ve never been a big fan of novellas slotted in between books in a series. More often than not, they’re pointless and nothing exciting happens because it’s just a cute little side idea that the author had. Other times they’re crucial and very much needed. ACOFAS was a little of both.
     
    Maas very obviously wanted to bridge the gap between the old and the new, but at the same time, I was bored. So so bored. A lot of it was just so unnecessary. I’ve read more smut scenes between Feyre and Rhysand than I ever really needed (no matter how much I love them).
     
    But let me bullet point my feels because what are real paragraphs?:

    • Nesta! I was more interested in her chapters than everyone else’s. I am so on board for her character arc and I’m dying to know how it unfolds.
    • Is Elain ever going to get over that douche of a human? I mean, come on, I think it’s time.
    • My feelings for Tamlin are complicated. On one hand he is the biggest of douche canoes and I honestly hate his existence but at the same time I pity him endlessly.
    • I now roll my eyes every time Feyre says “Illyrian babies”
    • What did Mor see at the edge of the forest? What is coming? Answers! I need them.
    • The dynamic between Azriel and Elain is too damn cute. Why couldn’t he be her mate instead?
    • Is Lucien ever going to find out who his baby daddy is?

    Have you read A Court of Frost and Starlight?
    Let me know what you thought in the comments below.
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