Another of my Welsh Wednesday Writing reviews of Welsh authors, this time a collection of short stories by Welsh author, Stuart Kear, a life-long resident of the Rhondda Valley. I first discovered Stuart’s stories via the Tonypandy Writer’s Group’s multi-author collection of short stories and poetry, which featured two of Stuart’s stories. Having been impressed with both contributions I checked to see if the author had anything published elsewhere, and so discovered this awesome collection of short stories here …
Click on book cover thumbnail below for Amazon purchase link …
Short, Long And Tall Stories
All the stories here have a Welsh theme, and in most cases specific to the Welsh valleys; now when I say a ‘Welsh theme,’ I don’t just mean that the author simply mentions Wales in passing or has perhaps given each story a Welsh character – in most cases, the Welsh setting, being Welsh, or having grown up in the valleys is an integral part of the meaning of each story.
This is quite a substantial body of varied stories, thirteen in total. Among the stories, the author tackles a variety of topics including bereavement and how close relatives deal with loss in their own very different ways, tragedy in the coal mining pits, plots of murder mixed up with irony and poetic justice, and even an incredulously funny flash fiction piece in ‘The Letter,’ – as simple a premise as you could imagine but a guaranteed ear to ear smile for the reader.
Some of the stories are more a reflection of the human condition and are simply satisfying to read for their own sake without the need for any clever or surprise conclusions. Others though are quite definitely of the ‘twist in the tale’ type, often blended with a deliciously wicked element of humour, and I have to say, Stuart Kear has demonstrated a real talent for that type of story.
My favourite story? – I’m torn between ‘The Look, ‘ a brutal tale of murder and poetic justice with a little touch of black humour, and ‘The Departure,’ another relatively simple story but having the impact of being hit right between the eyes with a claw hammer! Others that also caught my particular attention – ‘The Accident’ and the ‘The dig at the Station Hotel.’
If I had but two tiny criticisms it would be that I would have preferred a more ‘Wales’ orientated cover as the one here puts me more in mind of a major city than the Welsh Valleys. Secondly, given how many people like to read on their Kindles, tablets, and phones etc it would be nice if this collection were more widely available as an eBook too as these stories really do merit the widest possible readership! Apart from that, an absolutely superb clever and entertaining collection of stories. No hesitation in rating it a thoroughly well-deserved 5 stars!
About the author …
Born in 1945, Stuart Kear, was born and raised in the Welsh Valleys, having also lived and worked there all his life. With three children and two grandchildren, Stuart Kear was recently widowed and it is to the memory of his late wife of 47 years he dedicated the above short story collection.
In addition to his love of books and language, Stuart Kear’s other interests are photography, walking, quizzes, snooker, and of course, writing.
A truly lovely short story collection from the pen of C.L. Lopez, with three guest stories from Tom Benson, both authors from our very own IASD stable of indie authors, writers, and bloggers. I only discovered this writer by way of reading one of her short stories in Tom Benson’s own short story collections and was sufficiently impressed to seek out others by her. The moral of the story – get your writing featured in as many places as possible!
Amazon blurb: A collection of short stories of various genre, including suspense, thriller, sci-fi, mysteries, and paranormal. These are stories about the resilience of humanity. They are stories of people and their strengths and weaknesses. Stories of life.
I first came across this author when I read one of her short stories as a ‘guest’ story/author in another short story collection, and was impressed enough to see if she had any collections of her own published, hence my finding this one.
Having already read one of C.l. Lopez’s stories in Tom Benson’s anthology of science fiction short stories, even though the description mentions different genres I had slightly been expecting more of these stories to lean towards the sci-fi genre, but no, the stories are spread across a multitude of genres. Despite the variety of genres, the stories here actually have a lot more in common than their differences, more so than many a single-themed collection, each story providing real impact in its telling, using some dramatic scenario to both entertain and portray some aspect of human determination and resilience, what I would call real ‘people’ stories. Some are quite dark but still hinting at hope for the future such as in ‘Alone’ and ‘Cold Case,’ the latter being a story reminiscent of several what I would call typical True Crime stories. Others have a certain ‘feel good factor’ to them i.e. ‘Sulley’ and ‘Moving On.’
This super collection of seven short stories, along with three bonus ones from guest author, Tom Benson, were a truly unexpected delight to read, exceeding all expectations.
If I had to pick out one single story as my favourite it would have to be ‘Moving On’ for its combination of not only its feel-good factor but also a clever and ‘poetic justice’ type ending, and even though the general direction of the story was clear early on, it was still a refreshing twist.
And of Tom Benson’s guest stories here, I particularly liked ‘Bewitched,’ a love story but again with a bit of twist and moral dilemma about it, and the one of the three here that best complemented the other stories in this collection.
Both C.L. Lopez and Tom Benson write across several different genres but in this particular collection they have stuck to writing stories with poignancy and dramatic impact rather than relying on clever endings and/or ‘twist in the tail’ type formats in most cases (though not all).
Any complaints about this book? Only that I was disappointed when I ran out of further stories to read at the end of it so hopefully C.L. Lopez is working on further stories for the future! A very easy and hugely deserved five stars for this one, not a rating I usually find easy for short stories given that it’s rare to read a short story collection where not a single one even slightly disappoints!
Matthew Williams’ The Final Box is the third anthology of short stories I’ve read and reviewed from this author.
Such was my admiration for his short stories, I was delighted to be allowed to include two of them as guest contributions in my own debut anthology of short stories… Not What You Thought? and other surprises
Matthew Williams is a new and aspiring young writer who has been writing ever since he can remember. Like myself, he is a great fan of ‘twist in the tale’ stories, and tries to include them in his own writing. In his spare time he is working on a number new writing projects, including a new children’s book, and a Young Adult (YA) novel.
Further links to Matthew Williams and his writing can be found at:
The Final Box
By Matthew williams
(Available from Amazon Kindle)
This is the third of this author’s short story anthologies I’ve read and reviewed, and once again I’ve not been disappointed in my expectations. Not every story worked for me in quite the same way as in the two previous anthologies but having said that, one of the things that impressed me here was seeing the way the author has taken his stories in different directions rather than relying on a tried and trusted formula in serving more of the same; whereas all of the author’s previous stories were humorously light-hearted with a definite twist at the end, some of the ones here are more abstract and open ended. A couple of the stories did leave me wondering at the end, but never was I failed to be entertained. As always though, I found I had finished the book all too quickly, and especially given the more abstract tone here, felt a longer collection would have been in order. Having said that, every story was well written and equally well crafted, and anyone who has read the author’s previous works will I think see a certain maturing in his writing, and a willingness to venture into new territory. Matthew Williams is a writer who is equally adept at making the reader laugh as he is at pulling the heart strings, and as I’ve seen here, getting the reader thinking, and I enjoyed the new direction he has taken in this latest anthology.
Another very entertaining collection, and one I would highly recommend to flash fiction fans as well as those of the more traditional short story.
Matthew Williams’ previous short story anthologies – click on thumbnails for details:
* Two stories by Matthew Williams also featured in my own debut anthology:
This is a book that came to my attention via my IndieAuthorReviewExchange Fb group. The author, Katerina Sestakova Novotna, was born and raised in the Czech Republic. She lived in New York where she went to college. Currently she is living in Hawaii. She holds a Masters in Philosophy; her specialties are ethics and comparative philosophy. She has written numerous essays on those subjects. Her first collection of short stories “Hawaiian Lei of Shrunken Heads” is the subject of the following book review.
Hawaiian Lei of Shrunken Heads, by Katerina Sestakova Novotna
(Available from Amazon in eBook format)
This debut collection of short stories is the absolute epitome of originality and dark imagination; although there are only five stories here, it’s important to note that they are somewhat longer than the average short story, placing them almost in the mini novella category. Set on the island of Hawaii each story gives the reader an insight into the mythology and traditions of the indigenous population there, mixing it up with all the darker elements of psychology, comparative religion, and vengeful gods, along with the all too human traits and motivations of its modern day characters.
Among these stories there are tales of human and animal sacrifice, the bigotry and bitterness of an old war veteran, the untimely end of foreign prostitute, and the equally strange and horrific conclusion to another foreigner’s stay in Hawaii. Some of the stories are written as a narrative, cleverly imparting information about Hawaiian folklore whilst still driving each story forward. Although each of these stories might well be described as dark with a touch of psychological and mythical horror about them, each one is unique in its presentation and theme, but with the common thread of Hawaiian culture and folklore as the vehicle for each tale. There is some mention in one of the early stories of there being no written text of Hawaiian beliefs as there is for Christianity or Judaism, but rather an oral tradition of such beliefs being passed down from generation to generation; the narrative style is in each case perfectly in keeping with this oral tradition, reading very much as you might imagine a tribal elder telling of the ancient stories and myths to an eager young audience, and in this respect the narrative style works extremely well. In others though, the author switches to very convincing and well written and sometimes explicit dialogue to advance the story, and amid the esoteric names and language associated with Hawaiian culture, the author maintains an authentic credibility with her use of some modern terminology and reference to some of the darker sides of modern culture..
These five stories were highly original and imaginative in the way they used island folklore as the framework for them, yet cleverly interwoven into present day themes and settings, they achieved a real believability that is sometimes missing in similarly themed stories. I would have liked a more definitive ending to some though as I did think in a couple of the stories, the endings were a little too open ended, leaving a tad too many unanswered questions, but overall these were five extremely entertaining and well written stories, well researched, and due to their longer lengths than the average short story, were able to really engage me in a way that that I find quite rare with short story collections. Highly recommended!
This is a four book collection of short stories by John M. W. Smith, a writer who has had many stories published in the women’s weekly magazines and literary journals. The author originally contacted me after reading one of my previous reviews offering to send me a preview copy of Volume One of his Whacky Stories series in return for an honest review. Having looked at the freebie pages of a couple of his books on Amazon, I was sufficiently impressed to actually buy the first book in this particular series, and after having enjoyed the first one was more than happy to buy, read, and review the other three in this series.
I think any aspiring writer who writes or would like to write short stories with surprise endings would do well to take a look that at the style and technique of John M. W. Smith.
His website is: http://jmwsmith.webeden.co.uk/
Whacky Stories with Twist Endings – Volumes 1 to 4
(Available in eBook format via Amazon Kindle)
This is a short collection of eight humorous short stories, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed. The ‘twist at the end’ in the first four stories are more the sort to make you smile and chuckle rather than gasp in amazement, but every scenario and ending are entirely believable and just the sort of situation that any reader might readily identify with. In the latter stories the twist ending tend to have a bit more ‘punch’ to them, and the stories steadily become a little more intricate.
The author keeps the number of characters to a minimum in each case, and within the obvious confines of a short story, the characters are well developed with convincing and natural dialogue. Each story is written in an easy to read and follow style, yet despite their apparent simplicity, all are actually very clever and well crafted.
By the author’s own admission, the stories are primarily aimed at a female readership, but the quality of writing and story-telling does I believe give them a much broader appeal. I shall certainly be reading and reviewing the other three volumes in this series.
Another short collection of eight short stories; as in the previous volume of this collection, every story is well crafted and wholly believable. Again, not one of these stories will fail to bring a smile and a chuckle to the face of the reader, but unlike the previous volume, the stories here are a little more involved, with a slightly more adult and mischievous flavour to them.
For such short stories, some of them are quite complex, dealing with issues of romance, family, and work issues. Again the characters are convincing and well developed. The increased complexity of the stories, as compared to volume one, does require a slightly greater degree of concentration from the reader, but the rewards are more than worth it.
Overall, another great volume of well written and light-hearted stories which fans of the short story genre and women in particular, will really enjoy.
Well, this is the third volume of stories I’ve reviewed in this series and once again, I’ve not been disappointed.
Without reiterating too much of what I’ve said in my previous reviews, each of these delightful short stories has an unexpected, and in this volume more so than in previous ones, a quite often rather `naughty’ and punchier twist in the ending – never more so was the term `naughty but nice’ quite so appropriate. Compared to previous volumes, I think the stories here are, whilst still quite charming, are tending towards slightly more adult orientated themes. Again the reader never really sees what’s coming, and the author is an adept at leading the reader up the garden path so to speak before firmly tugging them back to a really effective punchline and conclusion.
What I’ve also noticed and enjoyed in this third volume is the way author very quickly settles the reader into feeling comfortable and familiar in what they’re reading; although each story is different and unique in its own way, there are often striking similarities in names, places, and the domestic settings in which they occur that you could almost feel that you’re reading another chapter in the lives of the characters in a previous story, much like that sense of familiarity you might encounter in reading the sequel to a novel. By employing such technique, many of the characters appear much more developed and rounded than they might otherwise, given the limitations of the short and flash fiction genres.
I would agree with the author’s own admission that his stories are indeed aimed at a primarily female readership, and this volume perhaps more than in previous ones, but as your typical Neanderthal male, I too enjoyed them immensely and as such would contend that they still have a much broader appeal that that of their intended market. Another great collection, and again, highly recommended…
This is the fourth and last volume of the ‘whacky stories’ series. Like the previous ones, all the stories are well written, and mostly with a deliciously naughty twist in them.
One of the dangers of anthologies such as this is that there can be a tendency for the stories to become repetitive, but here we have a refreshing diversity. Just when you think you’ve got the stories figured out, the author throws in a couple that are as delightfully sentimental and smile inducing as you can imagine; the first story has quite an adult theme to it, treating the reader to a really sharp and almost shocking twist, whereas in another of the stories, the author leads the reader in a very definite direction, only to delight with a more gentle shock, and of the most touching confirmations of enduring love as I’ve read in a long time.
Yes, the stories are aimed at a female readership, but I think their appeal extends much further. I will certainly be reading some of the author’s differently themed anthologies in the near future. All in all, a great series that I would heartily recommend not only a female readership, but anyone who enjoys cleverly written stories of the ‘twist in the tale genre’…
This is the second book of Tom Benson’s that I have a reviewed (see my review of Beyond the Law), and the second time I have been thoroughly impressed, though for very different reasons in this case. To reiterate my previous preface of Tom Benson, he is a prolific writer whose works include a number of novels, short stories, flash fiction, and several poetry anthologies. For further information on Tom Benson, please see his blog at:
Military Matters, by Tom Benson (available as an e-book on Amazon Kindle)
This is a substantial anthology of poetry by author Tom Benson. The poems themselves follow a broadly traditional style and format, covering the life and times of the British soldier during times of modern warfare and terrorism. Set amidst the backdrop of Northern Ireland, the Middle East, and Afghanistan, every poem tells a story, each one unique in its own way. The subject matter covers everything from frontline battle operations to the pride and dedication of those who serve, saddening tales of heroism, love, and its loss, and of loyalty and courage. You’ll not find the glorification of death and war as epitomised by Brooke or indeed the flowing prose of Owen in his vivid accounts of its horror. What the reader will find here are the hard, often tragic and brutal, but always true and honest observations of a man whose marched and trudged in the very same boots and in the same wars as the men and events he portrays in his poems. In comparison to these past writers, I would say Military Matters bears more relation to Owen than to Brooke, perhaps on account of, Like Owen, Tom Benson did indeed live and experience the things he writes about, whereas Brooke’s sonnets were borne more from the hopeful idealism with which Britain entered the first world war.
Tom Benson neither glorifies nor condemns, but with acute poignancy relates the thoughts, feelings, and accounts of a soldier’s life and the job he does. Whilst the author assures the reader that people and events in the poems are largely fictitious, there can be no doubt amongst the lines and verses there are real memories and experiences upon which some of them are based. I doubt if any serving or ex-serviceman or woman could help but be moved, and pause for thought whilst reading through this anthology. Military Matters also presents a unique and heart felt glimpse to the non-military reader of a different world, and one that helps protect and maintain the peaceful one in which we all hope to live and enjoy our lives.
Those readers who have read and enjoyed the works of Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke might well appreciate these up-dated, modern day accounts of war and the military and how they compare.
For further biographical information on Tom Benson and links to his previous and current writing projects see also:
Apart from my love of short stories, one of the reasons I chose to review this book is because the author, Maurice Northmore, had chosen to publish this, and several other books, via Smashwords as opposed to the more widely used Kindle, thus providing me an opportune moment to look into one of the viable alternatives to Kindle, and what it may have to offer…
Twilight, by Maurice Northmore, (ebook available from Samashwords in all file formats for all devices).
This anthology is aptly named; the stories tread a fine line between the mainstream and the surreal. The variety of settings and scenarios never fail to hold the reader’s attention and take them somewhere new with each story, whether it be during a storm aboard a transport ship or the cells of a Bangkok jail. In each story the author skillfully manages to set the scene and atmosphere to such an extent the reader really does feel like a fly on the wall of what’s happening, which is quite apt as in one of the stories, a very clever and original idea, the narrator is indeed, ‘a fly on the wall.’
At nearly sixty thousand words, this is no throw-away effort of slightly elongated flash fiction, but a real collection of well written and thoughtfully developed stories that keep the reader thoroughly entertained, effortlessly combining elements of the adventure genre with that of the thriller and suspense.
Some of the stories follow the tried and trusted short story format of providing the reader with a clever and unexpected ending, whilst in others they simply draw to a logical and satisfying conclusion, thus keeping the reader guessing and intrigued right to the end.
I would definitely recommend this to fans of the short story and novella genre, and indeed anyone who enjoys reading well written stories of any length.
Twist In The Tale, by Mathew Williams (available on Amazon kindle)
A great little collection of short stories, each with an unexpected ending that surprises or makes you smile, or both. There’s a nice variety of stories here, from the heart-warming to the slightly dark, so the reader is never quite sure what they’ll be getting next, but is never disappointed. One particular story, ‘Only Make Believe’ was as gentle and heart-warming as is hard to imagine, and, without giving anything away, the final line brought as wide a smile to my face as I can remember.
If I had to make one tiny criticism, and it’s nothing to do with my enjoyment, it would be that I would have preferred a slightly more informative description in the amazon blurb as there really isn’t enough grab the ‘potential’ reader’s attention. And on a purely selfish note, I would have liked a few more stories to make for a longer read. Well worth reading…
Ebook & Self-Publishing? Some personal thoughts on the matter…
Despite its success, the whole ebook and amazon kindle phenomenon has not been without its critics, and concerns about its effects on the more traditional publishing industry. It’s true that the advent of the internet and the rapid expansion of free or relatively inexpensive self-publishing via Amazon, Smashwords, blogging, and a host of others has resulted in a lot of, shall we say, ‘less than professional’ writing to be made available.
Proponents of traditional publishing might well argue that with a traditional and well known publisher, the reader is assured of the quality of the writing in advance? I don’t know about your experiences but for myself, I’ve read some pretty awful stuff in traditional print too, long before Amazon was little more than a barely known webpage.
In answer to the last point though, if a title and cover grab your interest, then both Amazon and Smashwords provide the facility to browse through free samples of whatever you’re considering buying. And since many of the books, including most of the classics on both Amazon and Smashwords are either free or in many cases, less than a few pounds, such arenas have made reading a lot more accessible and affordable for a lot of people. I know my own reading has doubled, if not trebled, in both quantity and variety since I got my Kindle.
Much of the early criticism of self-publishing was by way of comparison to ‘vanity publishing’, where hopeful writers might be lured into parting with thousands of pounds following exaggerated praise of their work and promises of best-selling success. But today? Self-publishing is completely free with little more than a few basic internet skills, and even without those skills, it can still be achieved with for little more than a hundred pounds or so. Yet still there is criticism that any amount of money aspiring writers might spend promoting their work is at best, optimistic, and at worst, delusional. But why? Not every amateur writer has aspirations of becoming the next Zadie Smith or Harold Robbins. For many, it’s just an enjoyable hobby, so why shouldn’t they spend whatever they like on it if it brings them satisfaction? Apart from writing, other hobbies of mine include cycling, outdoor pursuits, keep fit, sports, all of which I’ve spent money on over the years; if it’s acceptable for golfing and motor cycling enthusiasts to spend hundreds, if not thousands on their hobby, without the slightest hope or intention of profiting from it, why not writers too? Even bloggers, for whom their writing platform is the simplest and freest of all, might well spend a small amount for a premium theme to improve the look of their work.
The evolvement of the self-publishing arena can in many ways be compared to that of the music industry. In the past ten or fifteen years we’ve seen the virtual disappearing of all the traditional mediums of music. Vinal and cassette tape are now largely collectors items; even the CD is losing ground to the ipod and digital downloads. Many of today’s biggest recording stars started their careers building their audiences on the likes of Youtube and Myspace. And even the traditional method of ‘gigging’, is that so very different from blogging?
Whatever one might think of ebooks, the Kindle, Amazon, Smashwords, blogging, and many other forms of self-publishing, they’re all here to stay in one form or another. Let’s embarace and make the very most of them….
A to Z Stories of Life and Death, by D. Biswas (available on Kindle and via Smashwords.com)
This anthology of flash fiction / short stories is one I discovered while blogging, and certainly glad I did. For any aspiring writer who enjoys both reading and writing in the flash fiction / short story genre, this is well worth reading, not just for its enjoyment value, but as a lesson in literary writing.
As delightful and thought provoking an anthology as I’ve read in a long time. The stories themselves fall largely into the flash fiction genre and occasionally the vignette, though to pigeon-hole them this way hardly does them justice. The settings span the globe but are set mostly in the Asian sub-continent and the far east. The topics and social issues they deal with are both difficult and provocative: domestic abuse, poverty, sexuality, and exploitation to name but a few.
As a European reader, I was captivated by the author’s accounts of life in other cultures, many of which are saddening and hard to comprehend; our (European) notions of poverty and deprivation are quickly turned on their heads by the honest and sensitive way in which they form the backdrop to the stories. Elements of the storyline in each case often deliberately remain unwritten, i.e. implied or hinted at, forcing the reader to use their imagination and interpret each story in their own way and really think about what they are reading. Some of the stories conclude with a glimmer of hope for the future set against the harrowing circumstances of what’s gone before; others do not, which for me really gives them added authenticity – life isn’t all about happy endings.
If all the reader is looking for is light entertainment then this book probably isn’t it, but for stories that really engage the reader, gets them thinking, challenging their own perspectives and thinking, then these twenty six literary jewels would be hard to surpass.