‘You Have a Friend in 10A’ – Maggie Shipstead

Picked up a couple of times, but needed to wait until I was in the right mood…and I’m glad I did. Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this, and while not every one caught my eye there were definitely more than a couple of great stories.

All very different, but I found a sense of wistfulness in all. The characters are often flawed, sometimes deeply so, and I couldn’t help but feel on a number of occasions that I was reading something intensely personal.

The one-night stand featuring the gymnast was unsettling in its honesty, and I found myself intrigued by the title story about the actress escaping a cult.
It has certainly made me more determined to get on with reading The Great Circle.


‘Blackout’ – Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk and Nicola Yoon

Blackout is a collection of short stories from some fantastic contemporary writers. The premise is straightforward – New York City experiences a blackout and, in the time it takes for light to be restored, we are given an insight into some of the lives of those caught up in the experience.
The six writers involved in this collaboration talk about being keen to show the lives of black teens and to try to ensure a fairer representation for readers. It is clear they are a tight-knit group of writers/friends, and it does seem to have been an interesting collaboration since there are strands running throughout the stories.
The afterword stresses that this book began as a project doing the unsettling first period of adjusting to life in Covid-affected times. Drawing on a common experience, and showing how just one moment can impact on the lives of many is clearly at the fore of the stories. They all explore love – in some form – and the stories/experiences are varied (just as you would expect in life).
Naturally, some of the stories are more engaging than others. I’d hazard a guess that every reader will find a favourite set of characters/story, and it might not necessarily be the one written by the author that you would predict. The story by Tiffany Jackson acts as a framing device for all the stories, and though we spend more time with them these two characters still felt as if there could be more to come from their story.
For me, each story focused on a moment and captured a reaction/thought/idea. They were all cautiously optimistic and offered readers the opportunity to draw a little closer. This might not be the kind of story collection I’d return to time and time again, but I’d certainly recommend it to readers looking for something a little different from writers they are familiar with.


‘If It Bleeds’ – Stephen King

A collection of stories that have echoes of other of King’s works, showing an obvious fascination with the supernatural and unexplained. Each has its charm, though I have my definite favourite.

In Mr Harrigan’s phone we focus on good guy Craig, a young lad who earns pocket money by reading to the elderly Mr Harrigan. Over time they became almost friends, and Mr Harrigan definitely plays a part in the developing personality of this young man. Four times a year Craig is sent a scratch card and one of them ends up earning him three thousand dollars. He is grateful to Mr Harrigan (who brushes of this event) and buys him an iPhone. Mr Harrigan was dismissive of the gift, but then comes to see how useful it could be. Entertaining to see a character at such an early stage in media use, but when Mr Harrigan dies and still seems able to help Craig out we wonder just how much power these objects actually have.

The second story, the Life of Chuck, was one of the least engaging for me. The story begins with what looks like the end of the world (though we never know what’s going on) and then works backwards in time to explore the character of Charles Krantz and his life. The latter parts of the story were more interesting, so it ended more strongly than it began (with the opening of the narrative).

Though I enjoyed the second story it was always going to be hard to stand up against If It Bleeds, a longer story focusing on the lovely Holly Gibney and a very unusual case. The story begins with an awful attack on a middle school and then we go into what I think of as typical King territory. Holly becomes aware that there is another outsider, passing through time and feeding off the misery of mankind. This time round, it’s actually engineering the horror and a Holly is determined that it will not succeed.

The final story I confess to almost leaving out – anything called Rat immediately puts the proverbial fear of god into me. The story had echoes of The Shining, focusing on a writer who has never managed to complete more than short stories. A failed attempt at a novel had him almost burning down his house, so his wife’s concern when he plans to visit his remote family cabin to write his novel is understandable. Tucked away, things are going okay. Then he comes down with a serious flu, and is cut off by a serious storm. Thinking he’s going mad, our writer ends up making a deal with a rat. The extent to which this was imagined is never clear, and yet it works.


‘Different Seasons’ – Stephen King

There’s something reassuring about King and though, on occasion, he veers into something off-putting this was a sublime collection of novellas that hooked me from the start.

The Shawshank Redemption immediately had me recalling the movie, which really is so well done. The voice of the narrator draws you in. We’re shown some awful things but you are unlikely to ever feel anything other than admiration for these figures. The gradual revelation of what Andy did to escape prison defies belief…but there was a definite part of me that really admired him for this. Such a small thing, but the optimistic ending about him finding his key to freedom in a hayfield near Buxton always makes me smile (more now I’m living in Hayfield, only a few miles from Buxton). Coincidence? I like to think not.

Apt Pupil begins with a seemingly clearcut American hero. Yet behind Todd’s golden boy facade lies a darkness that is utterly terrifying. This young boy ingratiated himself into the life of an old man…but the man is not quite what he seems. The old man in this story is a former Nazi camp officer who has evaded justice. Todd wants stories. What drives someone to do such horrific things? We’re never sure, but this goes to awful places. Very uncomfortable reading, but fascinating.

The Body is perhaps best known for the child stars that acted in the movie adaptation of the story. When they learn that the body of a missing child has been left on nearby train tracks the group decide to set out on a journey to see it for themselves. A story truly evoking a bygone era. The sense of children crossing into maturity is carefully presented here.

The last story focuses on a bizarre gentleman’s club that few are invited to. They meet regularly and are entertained by a regular telling of stories. We follow our main character through his first experience at the club, and then come to a most unusual story…that of a young woman who, disregarding social convention, is determined to give birth no matter what her personal circumstances.


‘Treats’ – Lara Williams



Due for publication in March 2016 this collection of literary short stories, published by Manchester-based writer Williams, really is something of a treat.

The stories share common themes of loss and acceptance, and show people trying to find their way in life. ‘Both Boys’ made me laugh out loud, but many of the stories were unsettling and touched a nerve.

This is not the kind of thing I’d normally go for, so thanks NetGalley for broadening my reading horizons. Definitely a collection to recommend.