Today’s book review of a short story collection is brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey. If you’d like your book reviewed or to send me a book review of another author’s book, see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.
The Lucky Penny & Other Stories by Tim Jeffreys
Synopsis: Alfie is given a shot at fame and fortune, but finds that luck comes at a cost. Martha dreams about bringing her dead son back to life. Jez and Stig watch the sex robots being shepherded into the rich man’s hotel, and talk about stealing one. Christopher finds a key that opens every lock, and cannot help himself. Will wakes up after a drunken night out and finds himself a stranger in a strange land. Twenty-seven stories, twenty-seven scenarios that will almost certainly come to an unexpected end. Within these pages are haunting tales of ghosts, accidental deaths that are anything but, cursed objects, magic, mayhem and apocalyptic events. Once read, they will be difficult to forget.
This collection is available via http://www.amazon.com/The-Lucky-Penny-Other-Stories/dp/1291351698 and http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Lucky-Penny-Other-Stories/dp/1291351698 and other outlets.
As the synopsis tells us, there are twenty-seven stories in this collection and I have given feedback on the first forteen of them (it’s a long collection!). I shall be reviewing the rest of the collection in a few weeks’ time.
After the delightful dedication (‘For Maria, who came along and inspired me to write the collection of strange tales and kindly napped to that I could.’) we have…
- Three Winters: features sixteen-year-old Isaac who yearns to be a man, and his neighbour and an incident in the woods test his resolve. The story – the longest of the collection – is told, as the title implies, over three winters as we learn of the fate of these two families.
- Last Christmas: Is an eerie tale with some clues as to what’s to come. It made me think about an ordinary celebration in an extraordinary situation.
- The Lucky Penny: I can see why this is the title story of the collection. It’s my favourite (by far) and there would have to be an even better plot than this one to lose its crown. Roald Dahl would be proud.
- Blackspot: is another clever story with more than one twist (I guessed the first but not the second) although I found the ending disappointing.
- Heart of Winter: a dark tale, very Edgar Allen Poe-esque about a woman returning to her childhood home with her unsympathetic boyfriend.
- Nightfeeds: Written in first person present tense – the previous stories were third person past tense – this is another dark story whose title hints at its content. Although I guessed the ending, it wasn’t a disappointment.
- A False Spring: takes us back to the neighbours from the first story, Three Winters, this time from the wife’s point of view. We find out more about her history and can’t help feel sorry for her, although this lacked the pace of the previous five pieces. Either that or I’m just a flash fiction rather than short story fan.
- The Cellar: introduced us to married couple Rose and Peter and an unwanted guest. And we find out that the ‘burglar’ is not the only one unwanted in the house.
- The Mirror: Curiously featured a Rosie (I assume nothing to do with the previous story’s Rose) and up to now the names had been distinctive (there’s also a Richard here – I’d always recommend avoiding having characters with the same first initial, especially in the same story). Earlier, I said that The Lucky Penny was my favourite story – this one was quite possibly joined it at the top spot.
- The Thought She Blurted Out: Going back to first person, the narrator tells us about a gifted teenager called Sally Webb TV star (whose name reminded me of Coronation Street’s character Sally Webster) but we learn by the end of this short piece that gifts can be curses.
- The Resurrection Spell: even from the beginning, reminded me of Stephen King’s ‘Pet Semetary’. This story features a Martha and an Arthur which on the page are distinctive enough but I was listening to the collection courtesy of my Kindle’s text-to-speech function (ditto ‘lived some days in a kind of daze’) so they stood out although they weren’t used together very often so it wasn’t a problem – just something for us authors to think about when our books are audiobooked. 🙂
- The Sexbot: is a very funny (and clever) tale with hormonal teenagers one of whom gets what he deserves.
- The Key to Everything: In this story, we have the main character eleven-year-old Christopher (and one of his best friends also begins with a C; Carl) finding a key with interesting consequences. Chris’ other best friend is Joey who I thought was the character from ‘Three Winters’ but I went back and found it to be Joel. There’s also a Cate in this story, as well as a Rhona (not too dissimilar to Rose). You see why we have to keep track of our names? It’s a great story though; very much a ‘careful what you wish for’ tale.
- The Foreigner: We’re back in first-person viewpoint with the narrator following ‘the foreigner’… or rather stalks him with a dagger! – that grabbed my attention. 🙂 We learn why the narrator is doing what he’s doing… or so we think. I was expecting a twist but not the one we got. I was intrigued by the description of him being American or North European but of ‘foreign’ appearance but then twigged that he would be foreign to the Spanish characters. Another great twist ending.
And now for writers…
- There are some great ‘active’ verbs e.g. padded, clutched (rather than walked, held).
- There was a repetition that stood out: ‘…telling him it was around He glanced around…’. The word ‘gaze’ (or ‘gazed’) also felt repetitive so I did a search and Mrs Kindle told me there were thirty-four of them.
- Speaking of repetition, regular readers of my reviews will know that I’m not a fan of ‘well’ as a pause in dialogue (e.g. ‘Well,’…), especially at the beginning of sentences, and there are fifty-three in this collection which I feel is far too many. And in case you’re wondering, I didn’t sit there counting them all but did a search function on my Kindle and discounted other ‘well’s.
- There were also a couple of pursing of lips (within a few pages of each others) and a biting of lips, but all in all, not too many to stand out.
- I also point out unnecessary ‘began to’ (or begun) and ‘started to’s where the action isn’t interrupted, e.g. he began to take off his jacket. In this instance, as an example, the character (Isaac) does actually take of his jacket and give it to another character. In the whole collection, there are eleven ‘begun’s, eighty-seven ‘began’s and thirty-two ‘started’.
- There was an occasional clarification of character needed, e.g. ‘the company administrator tried to avoid getting his feet wet in the snow. He had thought that coming home would brighten his spirits…’ where the ‘He’ of the second sentence referred to the main character, Isaac, not the administrator.
- The writing itself is excellent and there are few surplus adverbs (I wasn’t keen on ‘glinting wetly’). Likewise clichés (I noticed a ‘stood stock still’, ‘chill him to the bone’, ‘his heart sank’, ‘stopped the thought in its tracks’, ‘heart leap up’ – I would certainly lose the ‘up’ (ditto ‘sprung up’), ‘halting in her tracks’, and ‘rooted to the spot’ (at least two of those)). I would have chopped the ‘moved quickly forward and’ from ‘…the intruder moved quickly forward and lunged at him’ because the ‘lunged’ is sufficient. So much so that the ‘moved quickly forward and’ detracts from the action.
Very well-written stories with a great mixture of intrigue, sadness and more twists than a spiral staircase.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a prolific blogger, podcaster, editor / critiquer, Chair of NWG (which runs the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition), Head Judge for the NLG Flash Fiction Competition and creative writing tutor for her local county council. She is also a freelance author of numerous ‘dark and light’ short stories, novels, articles, and very occasional dabbler of poetry. Like her, her blog, https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, is consumed by all things literary. She is also active on Twitter, Facebook along with many others (listed on her blog’s Contact page). She also recently created five online writing groups and an interview-only blog.
Her debut novel is the chick lit eBook The Serial Dater’s Shopping List ($0.99 / £0.77) and she has six others (mostly crime) in the works. She also has eight collections of short stories available (also $0.99 / £0.77 each) – detailed on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-mine/short-stories.
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If you would like to send me a book review of another author’s books or like your book reviewed (short stories, contemporary crime / women’s novels or writing guides), see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog. And I post writing exercises every weekday on four online writing groups.