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Morgen’s story review no.171 – OxCrimes 27: Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Black Sky

Today’s book review of a single short story (the final story in the 27-story charity crime anthology OxCrimes collection) is brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey.

I rarely read ‘proper’ books (paperbacks / hardbacks) and I’d wanted to read this collection for a while so bought it as a paperback so I could sit and read at least one short story a day. (I’m also writing short stories for competitions and submissions too and have sent three off in the last week!).

If you’d like your short story or writing guide 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.

Being a writer and editor, I read and review books with both hats. If you’re a writer reading this review and found it useful, do let me know.

The OxCrimes Collection

OxCrimesFor 2014, Oxfam and Profile Books have turned to crime in order to raise a further £200,000 for Oxfam’s work. OxCrimes is introduced by Ian Rankin and has been curated by Peter Florence, director of Hay Festival, where it will be launched in May. The stellar cast of contributors will include Mark Billingham, Alexander McCall Smith, Anthony Horowitz, Val McDermid, Peter James, Adrian McKinty, Denise Mina, Louise Welsh and a host of other compelling suspects. Profile Books have raised more than a quarter of a million pounds for Oxfam by publishing OxTales (2009) and OxTravels (9781846684968) (2011).

This collection is available via http://www.amazon.co.uk/OxCrimes-Introduced-Ian-Rankin-Ox-Tales-ebook/dp/B00IJKJTXW and http://www.amazon.com/OxCrimes-Introduced-Ian-Rankin-Ox-Tales-ebook/dp/B00IJKJTXW.

Review of Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Black Sky

This is a relatively short story (23 standard book pages) so a relatively short review…

I love short hooks (opening sentences should be hooks) and the especially liked the fourth line: ‘The piteous voice sounded almost rusty, as if the radio waves had gathered dust on their long journey.’ There then followed a lot of background / set-up information which was so detailed it was more in keeping with a novel, so much so that it slowed the pace too much and distracted me from the excellent beginning hook.

Where we are is drip-fed but that adds to the mystery, and on page four there is ‘down on earth’ so we know we’re in space. On the next page we learn that the characters are on a space station, then on page six that they’re on the moon.

What then follows is a mixture of interesting – albeit in places not overly relevant to the plot – description (which I skim read) before we learned the relevance of the piteous voices.

And now for writers…

  • When writing a past tense story, any time period in narration will be in the past so two examples from this story are ‘years ago’ and ‘three months ago’ whereas they should be ‘years before’ and ‘three months before’. Dialogue is different as it is present tense so had the characters said either phrase then it / they would have been correct.
  • I thought I had spotted a typo where the main character, Dixie, ‘swallows a small pile’ rather than ‘a small pill’. The confusion lies where the narrator has only mentioned ‘medication’, not ‘pills’ specifically. This is where beta (test) readers come in so useful to point out anything that could be misconstrued (and / or hiring me as their / your editor!).
  • There was just one dialogue pause ‘well’. If anyone wants to go back through these OxCrime reviews and let me know how many dialogue pause ‘well’s there are and which stories don’t have any, I’ll reward you with a free online course of your choice.:)
  • Another regular feature of these reviews is using names with different first letters (as it’s how we remember the characters best) and in this story the two main characters are Dixie and David. Although they look different on the page and are different genders, they are of similar lengths. I like the name Dixie, and David seemed a bit ordinary in comparison but then he is a rather bland character (no offence any David’s reading this!) so perhaps suited.
  • Be careful when using repetition. In this story there was ‘David ran his hand over the various switches. He tried two before he found the correct one and the two of them used their combined strength to nudge it into an open position.’ Because switches are objects, the ‘them’ could be easily construed as referring to the switches rather than David and Dixie, especially as the number in both cases is two.

Conclusion

This is the final story in the collection. Endings of any story, regardless of length, should provoke an emotion, e.g. “wow” or “oh, OK”. And while this one was somewhere in between, I’m not a science fiction fan (although I enjoyed watching The Martian, which this reminded me of), for me it was the wrong story to have last. That said, the way it ended was fitting and well described so I can see why it was chosen.

And the book as a whole…

While reading this collection has been overall a very enjoyable experience, the (dare I say ‘poor’?) editing of many stories has spoilt some of my enjoyment, to the point of frustration. Many readers wouldn’t notice or care, and I am, after all, reading this for review so I will be harsher than most, but with two people editing this collection, I would have thought that both of them would have gone over each story – as two of us are doing with a Crime and Publishment anthology we are putting together from over a dozen writers who have attended the four years it has been running – then they would be less room for error, most of which could have easily been picked up Buy one or other editor.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

That’s the end of my reviews of this collection but I will be back next Tuesday with my review of Cat Call, a short story by Cynthia Leitich Smith.

*

Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a freelance editor, online tutor, prolific blogger, 2015 Head Judge for the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition, Head Judge for the NLG Flash Fiction CompetitionRONE 2015 Judge.

As well as a teacher of creative writing (and writing-related I.T.) for her local county council and online, Morgen will be one of five tutors at the 2017 Crime & Publishment alongside crime authors Lin Anderson and Martina Cole!

Morgen’s first love is writing and she is 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 TwitterFacebook along with many others (listed on her blog’s Contact page) and has created five online writing groups. She also runs a free monthly 100-word writing competition where you can win her online creative writing courses!

Her debut novel is the chick lit eBook The Serial Dater’s Shopping List ($0.99 / £0.77) and she has nine 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.

She also helps other authors with an inexpensive freelance editing and critiquing service (free 1,000-word sample), and welcomes, and actively helps to promote, guest authors on her blog – see opportunities.

***

If you would like to send me a book review, see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.

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Morgen’s story review no.170 – OxCrimes 26: John Connolly’s The Children of Dr Lyall

Today’s book review of a single short story (the twenty-sixth in the 27-story charity crime anthology OxCrimes collection) is brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey.

I rarely read ‘proper’ books (paperbacks / hardbacks) and I’d wanted to read this collection for a while so bought it as a paperback so I could sit and read at least one short story a day. (I’m also writing short stories for competitions and submissions too and have sent three off in the last week!).

If you’d like your short story or writing guide 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.

Being a writer and editor, I read and review books with both hats. If you’re a writer reading this review and found it useful, do let me know.

The OxCrimes Collection

OxCrimesFor 2014, Oxfam and Profile Books have turned to crime in order to raise a further £200,000 for Oxfam’s work. OxCrimes is introduced by Ian Rankin and has been curated by Peter Florence, director of Hay Festival, where it will be launched in May. The stellar cast of contributors will include Mark Billingham, Alexander McCall Smith, Anthony Horowitz, Val McDermid, Peter James, Adrian McKinty, Denise Mina, Louise Welsh and a host of other compelling suspects. Profile Books have raised more than a quarter of a million pounds for Oxfam by publishing OxTales (2009) and OxTravels (9781846684968) (2011).

This collection is available via http://www.amazon.co.uk/OxCrimes-Introduced-Ian-Rankin-Ox-Tales-ebook/dp/B00IJKJTXW and http://www.amazon.com/OxCrimes-Introduced-Ian-Rankin-Ox-Tales-ebook/dp/B00IJKJTXW.

Review of John Connolly’s The Children of Dr Lyall

This is a relatively short story (25 standard book pages) so a relatively short review…

The beginnings of stories should either introduce us to the characters, set the time, or give us a sense of place. Here we have all three where we are in World War II, have a character Felder amid bombed streets, and soon learn that he is the criminal.

The next few pages are a lot of detail about his gang and a rival gang – the World War II version of the Krays but without any twins – and, for me, page six is where the story really starts and the rest – which I’m sure would have been enjoyed by fans of historical novels and detail – could have been done in a page.

One of the more violent stories – a collection to suit all tastes – and although I would have liked more dialogue, the description is really good and I especially liked the following phrases:

  • ‘which Felder discerned the breaking of fragile bones, like a quail being consumed behind closed lips.’
  • ‘even though the woman weighed little more than the clothing she wore…’
  • ‘Felder, Greaves and Knight: they sounded like a firm of solicitors, but they were just bottom-feeders.’
  • ‘fall to the floor and crumble slowly like the desiccated form of an insect sucked dry by a spider’ (wow!). The issue of crumble / crumple came up recently in one of my client’s novels (John uses crumble correctly) and I pointed my client to http://www.marksouza.com/2011/10/a-small-pet-peeve-crumble-vs-crumple.

And now for writers…

  • As we have handful of the other stories, we have ‘any more’ (quantity) where there should have been ‘anymore’ (time). I think I also spotted an error when we have one character hearing himself (both names the same) elsewhere and although I’m not convinced due to the supernatural element, I think it is incorrect.
  • I’ve also previously remarked on the lack of section breaks, mostly where time has passed, but here they are correctly used for changing from one criminal’s point of view (still from the narrator but we switch main character from Felder to Knight).
  • Using distinctive names is also something that comes up from time to time in my reviews and here we have Billy Hill and Blackie Harper. I have a Microsoft Word table that I use with my client editing, and my own work, to ensure that repeated first initials are limited. If any of you reading this would like it, let me know. My email address is morgen@morgenbailey.com.
  • I’ve also mentioned before my bugbear for ‘started to’ / ‘began to’ when it’s used to indicate some action that isn’t then interrupted, and in this story we had, ‘The door began to open…’ It’s not interrupted so ‘The door opened’ would have been fine. There’s also ‘he began to tremble’, ‘the wall before him began to crack’ and ‘began to bleed’.
  • Speaking of bugbears, on the ‘well’ count-o-meter, there was just one in this story. (see previous reviews for an explanation).
  • I would have also chopped the firmly from ‘the knife still clutched firmly in his right hand’ where clutching indicates a firm hold.

Conclusion

A creepy story. Being the longest story in this collection, it was inevitable that they would be more detail (although in this case would have been suited more to a novel), but I would’ve liked the action – the meat of the story – to have come sooner. There was a lot to like though in the description and with a more thorough editing (especially chopping), it would have been all the more enjoyable.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I shall be back tomorrow with my review of Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Black Sky, the twenty-seventh story in this collection.

*

Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a freelance editor, online tutor, prolific blogger, 2015 Head Judge for the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition, Head Judge for the NLG Flash Fiction CompetitionRONE 2015 Judge.

As well as a teacher of creative writing (and writing-related I.T.) for her local county council and online, Morgen will be one of five tutors at the 2017 Crime & Publishment alongside crime authors Lin Anderson and Martina Cole!

Morgen’s first love is writing and she is 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 TwitterFacebook along with many others (listed on her blog’s Contact page) and has created five online writing groups. She also runs a free monthly 100-word writing competition where you can win her online creative writing courses!

Her debut novel is the chick lit eBook The Serial Dater’s Shopping List ($0.99 / £0.77) and she has nine 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.

She also helps other authors with an inexpensive freelance editing and critiquing service (free 1,000-word sample), and welcomes, and actively helps to promote, guest authors on her blog – see opportunities.

***

If you would like to send me a book review, see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.

Related articles:

 

 
 

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Morgen’s story review no.169 – OxCrimes 25: Mark Billingham’s Under the Mistletoe Last Night

Today’s book review of a single short story (the twenty-fifth in the 27-story charity crime anthology OxCrimes collection) is brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey.

I rarely read ‘proper’ books (paperbacks / hardbacks) and I’d wanted to read this collection for a while so bought it as a paperback so I could sit and read at least one short story a day. (I’m also writing short stories for competitions and submissions too and have sent three off in the last week!).

If you’d like your short story or writing guide 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.

Being a writer and editor, I read and review books with both hats. If you’re a writer reading this review and found it useful, do let me know.

The OxCrimes Collection

OxCrimesFor 2014, Oxfam and Profile Books have turned to crime in order to raise a further £200,000 for Oxfam’s work. OxCrimes is introduced by Ian Rankin and has been curated by Peter Florence, director of Hay Festival, where it will be launched in May. The stellar cast of contributors will include Mark Billingham, Alexander McCall Smith, Anthony Horowitz, Val McDermid, Peter James, Adrian McKinty, Denise Mina, Louise Welsh and a host of other compelling suspects. Profile Books have raised more than a quarter of a million pounds for Oxfam by publishing OxTales (2009) and OxTravels (9781846684968) (2011).

This collection is available via http://www.amazon.co.uk/OxCrimes-Introduced-Ian-Rankin-Ox-Tales-ebook/dp/B00IJKJTXW and http://www.amazon.com/OxCrimes-Introduced-Ian-Rankin-Ox-Tales-ebook/dp/B00IJKJTXW.

Review of Mark Billingham’s Under the Mistletoe Last Night

This is a short short story (13 standard book pages) so a short review…

As with all good crime stories, we have a dead body in the opening scene. It is then left to Tom Thorne – Mark’s usual detective – to work out what happened and find the criminal, and I love his blasé attitude: ‘Christmas Day was as good or bad a day to die as any other.’

Tom is a very dry individual, and I enjoyed the banter between him and the pathologist.

And now for writers…

  • Stephen King is notorious for his hatred of adverbs and one that could have been chopped in this story was ‘crept slowly’ because creeping is slow.
  • The only other pick I had are that we have two surname starting with the same letter (Thorne and Turnbull) and there were two ‘well’s as dialogue pauses. Readers of my previous reviews will know these are two of my bugbears.
  • I guessed the ending to the story because there were few characters to choose from. If you are going to write a crime story where you don’t want the reader to guess the ending, add enough red herrings e.g. actions, plot points, or other characters who could be suspicious but turn out to be innocent.

Conclusion

A very entertaining story that got to the point very quickly, saw the action through, and concluded without any unnecessary faff in between. It only loses a point as I guessed the ending.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I shall be back tomorrow with my review of John Connolly’s The Children of Dr Lyall, the twenty-sixth story in this collection.

*

Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a freelance editor, online tutor, prolific blogger, 2015 Head Judge for the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition, Head Judge for the NLG Flash Fiction CompetitionRONE 2015 Judge.

As well as a teacher of creative writing (and writing-related I.T.) for her local county council and online, Morgen will be one of five tutors at the 2017 Crime & Publishment alongside crime authors Lin Anderson and Martina Cole!

Morgen’s first love is writing and she is 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 TwitterFacebook along with many others (listed on her blog’s Contact page) and has created five online writing groups. She also runs a free monthly 100-word writing competition where you can win her online creative writing courses!

Her debut novel is the chick lit eBook The Serial Dater’s Shopping List ($0.99 / £0.77) and she has nine 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.

She also helps other authors with an inexpensive freelance editing and critiquing service (free 1,000-word sample), and welcomes, and actively helps to promote, guest authors on her blog – see opportunities.

***

If you would like to send me a book review, see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.

Related articles:

 

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2016 in critique, review, short stories, writing

 

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