Fiction in 50 May Challenge!

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Fiction in 50 NEW BUTTON

Welcome to the Fiction in 50 challenge for May.  The point of the challenge is to create a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words, based on a monthly prompt.  If you’d like to know more about the challenge, just click here.  This month our prompt is…

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I’ve gone a bit outside the square with this one and have titled my contribution…

Passing The Torch

The opportunity to enliven the evening presented itself and Barbara sidled nonchalantly towards her replacement.

“Peta, daaah-ling!”

“It’s Petra”.

“George seems so happy lately!  Perhaps it’s that new secretary.  She does seem attentive, don’t you think?  I hear she’s due a raise….”

Being the old wife certainly had its moments.


I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone else has come up with!  If you’d like to play along just pop a link to your contribution in the comments.  For those who like to be prepared, our prompt for June is…

a change in the weather

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

The Furthest Station: A DC Peter Grant Mini-Mystery…

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Long time readers of the blog will be aware of we Shelf Dwellers’ love of Ben Aaronovitch’s DC Peter Grant urban fantasy/police procedural series of novels.  Happily, instead of making fans wait ages for the next book in the series to come out, Aaronovitch has cleverly taken to including short stories, graphic novels and exclusive audiobooks to sate the appetites of his fans.   The Furthest Station is one of these stories and it is set between books five and six of the series (that’s Foxglove Summer and The Hanging Tree, for those interested).  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

There have been ghosts on the London Underground, sad, harmless spectres whose presence does little more than give a frisson to travelling and boost tourism. But now there’s a rash of sightings on the Metropolitan Line and these ghosts are frightening, aggressive and seem to be looking for something.

Enter PC Peter Grant junior member of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Assessment unit a.k.a. The Folly a.k.a. the only police officers whose official duties include ghost hunting. Together with Jaget Kumar, his counterpart at the British Transport Police, he must brave the terrifying the crush of London’s rush hour to find the source of the ghosts.

Joined by Peter’s wannabe wizard cousin, a preschool river god and Toby the ghost hunting dog their investigation takes a darker tone as they realise that a real person’s life might just be on the line.

And time is running out to save them.

More than just enjoying the story presented here, I absolutely adored the shorter format.  If you have been following my reviews of this series, you’ll know that my high expectations garnered from reading the first three books led to some disappointment with some of the later books in the series.  One of my main complaints in these reviews was directed at the filler material and slow pacing that seemed to plague the stories and the shorter format of The Furthest Station rectified that problem beautifully.

Even though the tale is short, it misses none of the humour, action and unexpected twists of the novels.  The story starts off as a ghost hunt; reports of apparitions on the Chesham train line are compounded in weirdness when the victims doing the reporting apparently forget all about their complaint within a few hours of making it.  Then a chance encounter with a roving spirit on a train leads to a tip off as to the whereabouts of a possible missing woman.

There is enough in the way of mystery here to keep readers guessing and while  the magical booms and bangs are kept to a minimum there are more cerebral problems for readers to engage with.  The inclusion of Abigail, Peter’s younger magically endowed cousin, adds variety to the story as well as raising the question about how to address Abigail’s magical abilities with her parents. A new river god also makes an appearance, which, given his tender age, could make things interesting in later stories.

Having enjoyed this reading experience, I will definitely be making a point to scout out the extra material that has been included in this series, hopefully beginning with the graphic novels.  If you’re a fan of the series already, you should definitely add these short stories to your TBR and if you haven’t got started with DC Grant yet – what are you waiting for?

Until next time,

Bruce

Fiction in 50 April Challenge 2017 #Fi50

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Welcome to our March challenge for Fiction in 50!  If you’d like to join in, simply create a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words inspired by our monthly prompt, then link your effort to the comments of this post.  For more information, click on the image at the top of the post.

Our prompt for this month is…

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I have titled my contribution…

Between the Cracks

The workers chatted amiably as they checked the tanks before closing.  One shuddered as they passed a large octopus in the final tank.

“Gives me the quivers!” he shuddered, pulling the heavy door to. 

The cephalapodic form flattened, legs probing for a gap in the tank. 

Tonight was for exploring.


It’s been a busy month for me so I only pulled this one out of the bag at the last moment.  I look forward to seeing how everyone else has interpreted this month’s prompt.

For those who like to be prepared, the prompt for May will be…

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Until next time,

Bruce

Fiction in 50 January 2017 Challenge

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Welcome to our first Fiction in 50 micro-narrative writing challenge for 2017!  If you’d like to join in, simply create a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words inspired by our monthly prompt, then link your effort to the comments of this post.  For more information, click on the image at the top of the post!

Our prompt for this month is…

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…and I have titled my contribution:

New-Age Man

All around Kenneth, revellers kissed and threw streamers. 

1992.

The world had changed and Kenneth knew that he must change too lest this exciting new world pass him by.

Resolutely, he decided on his first act as a new, more forward-thinking man: the purchase of an up-to-date globe.


 

With two words to spare!  I can’t wait to see what everyone else has come up with.  Don’t forget to share this challenge around if you know anyone who might want to have a go.

Until next time,

Bruce

Fiction in 50 December Challenge!

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It’s Fiction in 50 time for the final time in 2016 and our challenge prompt this month is….

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To play along, just create a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words, post it, then pop a link to your post in the comments.  For more detailed information, just click on that attractive button at the top of this post.

As it’s the last challenge for the year, I’ve thrown caution to the wind and restraint out the window, and I haven’t bothered to keep to the word count.  Avant garde, I know.  Anyway, here’s my epic contribution, which I have titled (ironically)…

Quality Control

CreatorBeing sat beside his latest crafted soul.  It was his custom to do so before each soul was given physical form, as both a way of checking the quality of his creation and a way to pass some of the infinite store of time allotted to him, as CreatorBeing.

As CreatorBeing completed the final test, he whispered in the soul’s ear.

“Shall I tell you a secret about humanity?”

The soul looked up, wide-eyed.  

“Why yes, CreatorBeing! I would be honoured!”

CreatorBeing smiled benignly and began.  

“Above all things, humans are my most favoured creation.  Do you know why?”

The soul responded eagerly.

“Because we are made in your image, CreatorBeing?” 

CreatorBeing laughed.  

“Not just that, pure one!  It is because above all else, humans are to be counted on to behave in predictable ways.  Each and every generation of humans believes, with all its collective heart, that it alone has learned from the mistakes of the past, has harnessed the power of nature, has made the world the best it can possibly be.”

The soul nodded earnestly as CreatorBeing continued.

“Every single generation believes this is so.  Yet history continues to repeat itself, the earth is ever more abused and age-old problems continue to persist.”

The soul furrowed its brow and then, with a deep breath, turned proudly to CreatorBeing.

“I promise you, O Great One, that I will be different.  I will find the way to peace and prosperity and encourage others to do the same.  I will learn from the past and help create a better future.”

CreatorBeing nodded slowly, before exerting his will and sending the soul upon its earthly journey.  He allowed himself an indulgent chuckle.

Whatever else may be said about humanity, they remained his most consistent creation.  


I’d love to see what you have all come up with for this month’s prompt.  Prompts for the first half of 2017 are up already and you can view them here.  For January 2017 our prompt will be…

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Until next time,

Bruce

Mondays are for Murder: The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding

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It’s our final Monday Murder for the year, so I thought I’d go a bit festive and bring you Agatha Christie’s The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, a collection of six short stories with all but one featuring Poirot.  The odd one out features Miss Marple in a remarkably brief appearance.  The book also has a foreword by Agatha Christie, which I found delightful, recounting, as it does, Christie’s memories of Christmas time as a youngster.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Agatha Christie’s seasonal Poirot and Marple short story collection.

First came a sinister warning to Poirot not to eat any plum pudding… then the discovery of a corpse in a chest… next, an overheard quarrel that led to murder… the strange case of the dead man who altered his eating habits… and the puzzle of the victim who dreamt his own suicide.

What links these five baffling cases? The little grey cells of Monsieur Hercule Poirot!

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Plot Summary:

The six stories contained herein are the titular Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, The Mystery of the Spanish Chest, The Under Dog, Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds, The Dream and Greenshaw’s Folly (which features Miss Marple).  All but the first feature murders being solved ingeniously by either Poirot or Marple.  The first story, however, is about the theft of a priceless jewel.  

The Usual Suspects:

As there are so many different stories here, I can’t really go into detail about the suspects, but you can rest assured that the stories include all the old favourites, from long lost brothers returned from the African continent, to people pretending to be someone else, to people in disguise, to people hoping to inherit the murdered person’s worldly goods.  

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

Once again, specific details vary, but for the Poirot stories, our favourite Belgian is generally called in by the police or an interested party, does his questioning bit, and then casually reveals the killer before the story abruptly finishes.  Similarly, in Greenshaw’s Folly, Miss Marple only experiences proceedings second-hand, yet still manages to pick motive, method and murderer, having never laid eyes on the scene or the players.

 

Overall Rating:

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Four poison bottles for the cheery thought of a traditional Christmas party peopled by thieves and murderers.

It’s been a while since I read a Christie mystery so it was jolly good fun to jump back in with Poirot and Miss Marple and kick around some theories about who done it.  I really enjoyed the fact that these were short stories too, because I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed with end of year busyness just now and the short tales meant that I didn’t have to remember names and roles across a whole novel.  I did get close to the answers in a number of the stories, guessing part, if not the whole solution, which is always satisfying and cause for a smug internal smile.  I also found it interesting that the TV adaption of Greenshaw’s Folly that I saw earlier this year (or it could have even been last year) was much more in depth than the story here.  It’s put me in just the right frame of mind to gear up for the The Murder of Roger Ackroyd that gets shown on telly here every Christmas Eve (or maybe the day before Christmas Eve).  I’d definitely recommend this if you’re looking for a mildly festive foray into murder in short, easily-digestible chunks.

Finishing this book is especially satisfying because I pulled it from my TBR shelf and so….that’s another chink from Mt TBR!

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Until next time,

Bruce

Fiction in 50 November Challenge!

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Fiction in 50 NEW BUTTON

Welcome to the Fiction in 50 challenge for November.  The point of the challenge is to create a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words, based on a monthly prompt.  If you’d like to know more about the challenge, just click here.  This month our prompt is…

an-offer-you-cant-refuse

I’m one word over (again) this month, and I have titled my contribution…

Occupational Hazards

A straightforward hit, $500 000 on completion, was bread and butter for his line of work.

The mother had been easy, but the child…

He recalled the client’s incredulity, “That much? It’s such a little thing I ask!”

He took in a wisp of hair, cherubic features.

Such a little thing.


Only one more challenge for the year and our prompt for December will be…

recipe-for-success-button

And while we’re on the topic … are people still interested in me running the Fiction in 50 challenge in 2017?  We’ve had a marked drop-off in participants this year, but if people are happy to keep playing (and reading!) I can keep providing prompts.  Let me know what you think.

Until next time,

Bruce

Fiction in 50 Reminder!

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It’s that time again – get out your pencil, keyboard or tablet-poking finger and get writing – Fiction in 50 is nearly upon us!

This month our prompt will be….

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To participate, all you need do is create a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer  than 51 words, post it somewhere, then come back here on Monday and add your post link to the comments of my Fi50 post.  For more information and for upcoming prompts, just click on the attractive button at the top of this post.  New players are always welcome!

Until next time,

Bruce

Some Spooky Shorts for your Halloween: The Travelling Bag and Other Ghostly Stories…

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The Travelling Bag and Other Ghostly Stories by Susan Hill. Published by Allen & Unwin, October 26, 2016. RRP: $24.99

Any self-respecting fan of contemporary ghost story writing will immediately notice the vintage creepy charm of a cover design style that is synonymous with Susan Hill.  Having read and enjoyed The Small Hand a number of years ago, I decided to put Hill’s work on my radar and so was happy to receive a copy of The Travelling Bag and Other Ghostly Stories from Allen & Unwin for review, just in time for Halloween.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

From the foggy streets of Victorian London to the eerie perfection of 1950s suburbia, the everyday is invaded by the evil otherworldly in this unforgettable collection of new ghost stories from the author of The Woman in Black.

In the title story, on a murky evening in a warmly lit club off St James, a bishop listens closely as a paranormal detective recounts his most memorable case, one whose horrifying denouement took place in that very building.

In ‘The Front Room’, a devoutly Christian mother tries to protect her children from the evil influence of their grandmother, both when she is alive and when she is dead.

A lonely boy finds a friend in ‘Boy Number 21’, but years later he is forced to question the nature of that friendship, and to ask whether ghosts can perish in fires.

This is Susan Hill at her best, telling characteristically flesh-creeping and startling tales of thwarted ambition, terrifying revenge and supernatural stirrings that will leave readers wide-awake long into the night.

If this was the first Susan Hill book I had encountered and I read this collection in the traditional fashion (that is, from front to back), I might be forgiven for discarding this book halfway through as sub-par in quality.  As this is not my first Susan Hill book, I persevered and am very glad I did so because oddly enough, the final two stories of the four far outshine the first two in psychological creepiness and general paranormal entertainment.  But let us address each of the stories in turn, in the traditional fashion; that is to say, from front to back.

The collection opens with The Travelling Bag, a  story of professional betrayal and revenge told from a third person’s perspective and set in Victorian times.  This one certainly felt like it was going to be a spine-tingling paranormal winner, with a mystery immediately set up and the listener (as well as the reader) left in suspense for a spell.  The actual reveal felt a bit light for me though and I didn’t contract any of the sense of fear that the main character was supposedly feeling.  Overall, this story had a strong build-up, but petered off at the end.

Next up is Boy Twenty-One, which I thought I might enjoy the most, but ended up completely forgetting about as soon as I’d read it.  The story is set in a boarding school and centres around the friendship of two lonely boys.  This one felt as if it was either unplanned or unfinished – as if the author had a number of options with how to link the threads of the story together, but couldn’t decide which would be best and so ended up finishing the story abruptly with no real answers and no particular sense of mystery.  I literally did find this story so forgettable that I couldn’t remember anything about it before writing this review even though I’d only just finished the book a day or two ago and I had to go back and flick through it again.

Happily, the third story, Alice Baker, finally employs some good old-fashioned creep-factor with a ghostly, mind-twisty traditional sort of tale about the workers in a women’s typing pool (or similar).  This story has more of what you would expect from the term “ghost story” with obvious clues left about for clever readers, a slow build and the inevitable abrupt shock and reveal.  The ending probably won’t be much of a surprise to anyone who has ever read (or heard) a ghost story before, but there is something deliciously delightful about being drawn along with a character on a path toward certain fright.

The final story, The Front Room, was far and away the best of the lot in my opinion, employing psychological twists, and playing on familial and religious themes in all the right places to evoke the shiver-down-the-spine effect.  In this story, an ordinary family are inspired, after hearing their pastor’s weekly sermon about charity, to invite the husband’s elderly step-mother to live with them.  The tale takes the stereotypical “evil stepmother” trope to a whole new level, ending with a surprise and a lingering feeling of ickiness that will have you reconsidering inviting anyone to your place ever again.

On the whole, the final two stories of the collection really saved this one for me and with the first being passable, I’d have to say that this is another enjoyably scary offering from Susan Hill.  Others may have different opinions about Boy Twenty-One (and I’d love to hear your take on it if you’ve read it!), but if that story had been left out or replaced, this is definitely a book I would rave about.  As it stands, if you are looking for a suitably quick and frightening story to get you in the mood for Halloween, you should find what you are looking for in The Travelling Bag and Other Ghostly Stories.

Until next time,

Bruce

Tomes from the Olden Times: Encyclopedia Brown…

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I have come to the conclusion that I am lagging so far behind on my review schedule that I might as well throw in the towel and bring you a Tomes from the Olden Times post instead.  Time seems to be getting away from me this month, and although I’ve read a bunch of the books I need to read, I don’t seem to be getting the time to post.  I will do my best to rectify this as soon as is gargoylely possible.

Some months ago now, someone, on some blog, somewhere, mentioned the Encyclopedia Brown books and I just knew I had to revisit them in a TftOT post.  (Actually, I’ve just had a search and it was a post on Sunlit Pages that brought these books to my renewed attention).  As far as I know, Encyclopedia Brown wasn’t a big thing in Australia and I can’t remember how I originally stumbled across the books as a youngster…probably the library had something to do with it…and I think I only read two of the fifteen plus titles in the series, but when the post from Sunlit Pages reminded me of the interesting formatting of the stories, I just knew I had to hunt the books down and see what memories surfaced.

I managed to order the first in the series, Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective by Donald J. Sobol from the Book Depository and promptly let it sit on the TBR shelf until I noticed how thin it was and decided I could knock it over in half an hour or so.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Leroy Brown, aka Encyclopedia Brown, is Idaville neighborhood’s ten-year-old star detective. With an uncanny knack for trivia, he solves mysteries for the neighborhood kids through his own detective agency. But his dad also happens to be the chief of the Idaville police department, and every night around the dinner table, Encyclopedia helps him solve his most baffling crimes. And with ten confounding mysteries in each book, not only does Encyclopedia have a chance to solve them, but the reader is given all the clues as well. Interactive and chock full of interesting bits of information—it’s classic Encyclopedia Brown!

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In case you haven’t come across these books before, they are set out like a book of short stories – the case of the missing this, the case of the mysterious that – but with one fun twist.  Each story ends on a cliffhanger, with Encyclopedia claiming he has solved the case…but leaving the reader to figure out the solution for themselves!  The solutions for each case are provided at the back of the book and I distinctly remember spending most of my time flicking through to the back to figure out the answer, back in the day.  Happily, this time around I was able to solve all but one of the mysteries on my own (take THAT, mystery book for children!!), but I can certainly see why I found this book frustrating as a young reader.

For a start, the book is constrained by its now-historical (1960s) setting as well as the fact that it is set in America and at least one of the mysteries requires a little bit of American history knowledge (although admittedly, the mystery can be solved without that tidbit of information).  Also, some of the cases involve knowledge and life experience that kids just might not have, but were blindingly obvious to me as an adult (or perhaps my subconscious just remembered the answers from when I read it the first time around!).  The Case of the Happy Nephew, for instance, requires a bit of knowledge about cars, while The Case of the Champion Egg Spinner requires knowledge about cooking – both of which may have been perfectly common pieces of information in the ’60s, but might not be so common to child readers of the 20teens.

I quite enjoyed the fact that it felt like Idaville was a hot-bed of crime, with Encyclopedia’s services in demand around every corner.  There was something charming and endearing about revisiting a character and series that hasn’t been updated for modern readers and sits as a perfect snapshot of kids of the time period, with not a screen or online message in sight.  I think today’s young readers would get a definite kick out of Encyclopedia’s escapades, because they really require the reader to think and observe and watch out for those hidden clues.  Then again, there’s always the fun of skipping ahead to the solutions and then proclaiming, “That’s what I thought.  I knew that.”

Until next time,

Bruce