Two for the Road (#3) by Ekta R. Garg

Published: 30th June 2015
Goodreads badgePublisher: Prairie Sky Publishing
Pages: 60
Format: ebook
Genre: Short stories
★   ★   ★  ★  – 4 Stars

Ah, summer. Long days full of warm sunshine and one of the most popular times to travel. But what happens when something throws your travel plans off course?

This June meet brand new characters in Two for the Road!

The First Story, “Excess Baggage”: Allison has just come home from a grueling business trip. All she wants to do is spend a quiet weekend at home parked in front of the TV or maybe curled up with a blanket. When a friend calls to ask her for a favor, though, all of Allison’s plans hit rough air.

The Second Story, “Wrong Way”: With one daughter married and another in college, Rachel and Jim should be enjoying their time as a couple again. But Jim’s worries about his widowed mother force Rachel into a spur-of-the-moment road trip to check on the old bat. When Jim catches Rachel complaining to a friend, tension will ride with them in the car. Can Rachel make an apology stick? 

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.

With these two new additions to the Stories in Pairs series it is clear Garg’s imagination and creativity isn’t waning anytime soon.  I love these paired stories, there is such a simple pleasure derived from two stories, connected by theme, characters, anything at all. I love Garg’s concept and execution and with this being the third set of stories I am just as delighted as I was the first time.

With Two For The Road the common theme is travel, more specifically travel plans gone awry. The first story is Excess Baggage and follows Allison, a woman who is planning to spend the weekend home relaxing after a business trip yet ends up playing host to friends of a friend who are heading out on a trip in the next couple of days.

From page one Garg captures Allison’s exhaustion and her frantic life, through Allison’s expression and actions you understand who she is and the kind of life she leads and you want her to have the relaxing weekend she longs for.

What is interesting in Garg’s approach is that it’s not Allison who is going on a trip, she is just coming home. But her involvement with others is what makes this story work so well. There are many twists and turns, if one can call them that. Changed plans, chaotic schedules, and the pressures of work and little sleep are all part of what makes this story so enjoyable.

The second story takes a more direct approach in the travel concept and has a different tone completely to the first. Wrong Way is a great expression of the issues that come up in marriage and the compromises and sacrifices that are made. The marriage between Jim and Rachel is played out on their car trip to visit Jim’s mother, during which their relationship is tested.

With Rachel as narrator only one perspective is given, but Garg uses thoughts, arguments, and debate between the pair to gain additional understanding and see Jim’s point of view. With every argument and comment that the pair throws at one another, a deeper understanding of both characters and their lives together is understood, highlighting the repeated arguments and frustration felt by both.

I like that while there are conclusions to these stories, there are no real resolutions provided. As readers we are allowed to work out what happened next while still being given an ending deserving of the story and one that is unexpected and suitable. Once again Garg has created two unique and enjoyable stories that retain the coupling concept she’s had since the first Stories in Pairs, and she has done so with the same creativity and style that made them so wonderful in the first place.

You can purchase Two For the Road via the following

Amazon

Amazon Aust

Also Known as Lard Butt by Ann Herrick

Published: 4th June 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Books We Love, Ltd.
Pages: 80
Format: ebook
Genre: Young Adult/short story
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Laura finds out that, Ricky, the boy who created her horrible nickname, “Lard Butt,” has moved back into town—and immediately schemes to keep him quiet. After all, she can’t let her new swim teammates, especially drool-worthy Noah, hear the horrible name! No way!

She’s determined to put a million years between grade school and junior high—even in the face of a father who drives an éclair, a would-be-movie-star mother who suddenly moves back home, and a past that comes back to haunt her with the dreaded nickname.

Although Laura’s embarrassed about how she looks in a swimsuit, she tries to stay true to her vow to take risks. She even lets Maria talk her into going to the school dance, where she braves negotiating a truce for a quarreling couple.

New friendships form, Laura’s mother starts getting too domesticated for Laura’s comfort, and hints of romance start to develop—or do they?

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.

The idea of this ‘Lard Butt’ is a bit strange, Laura isn’t overweight, she just has a large bottom. The way she talks about it is like it’s an abnormal growth but it seems to just be a bit bigger than most. Her thoughts about it switch from acceptance to being self conscious, her mother calls it a problem which wouldn’t help, and she was teased as a kid (hence the nickname), but she has learnt to try and deal with it.

Laura is shy and not confident, she has one friend she has known since elementary school, and she is starting at a new school with apprehension. But at the same time she is determined to make changes in her life and leave the old her behind. It’s sweet in a way, Laura doesn’t try and do a complete remodelling of herself or her personality, she just decides to take risks and do things that may be out of her comfort zone.

The ‘Lard Butt’ aspect isn’t a major focus, it plays a role but it acts more of a starting point to what else happens in the book. Laura’s history and own feelings about it are understandable, especially memories of being teased, but the constant references she makes to it can become tiring, especially when it isn’t really a crucial plot point.

Being young and a bit naive Laura has a good voice and story to tell. Seeing things from her perspective provides us with her thoughts and opinions, and it also shows us how clueless she can be as well. Understanding people and situations when Laura does not makes you read a lot more into the story than the one she gives, which makes it more rounded, but there remains a focus on Laura and her growing confidence than really delving into multiple character backgrounds.

The characters are quirky and sweet and varying versions of interesting and they are as deep as they need to be for the story. Some certainly more than others, but because we see things through Laura’s eyes many references or details are briefly addressed or skipped entirely. There are many secondary characters you grow attached to like Ricky, and even a teacher at times, sweet people around Laura that help fill her world and help change her way of thinking. Her relationship with her friends and family is strong and Herrick explores these different connections with varying degrees which work quite well meaning you get a great understanding of her relationship to each person.

There are both happily ever afters and not so happily ever afters which is a great balance, it reflects reality quite well, varying degrees of good and bad things happen, nothing too life changing or exciting, just daily life. The story is quite short which I think works to its advantage, there isn’t enough to sustain a longer story and I think Herrick has balanced everything out nicely, providing conclusions, hope and resigned you to the fact that life isn’t always perfect, but you can make the best of what you’ve got.

You can purchase Also Known as Lard Butt via the following

Amazon

Amazon Aust

 

More for the Heart (#2) by Ekta R. Garg

Published: 7th April 2015
Goodreads badgePublisher: Prairie Sky Publishing
Pages: 65
Format: ebook
Genre: Short stories/Romance
★   ★   ★  ★  – 4 Stars

Two more stories about the power of love. Two more stories about the characters you remember. Two more stories for the heart.

“Making The Proposal”: Readers learned in Two for the Heart about the end of Pooja and Akshay’s unique arrangement—get married and then prepare their divorce papers—but did you wonder how it began? Just how did Pooja and Akshay make this crazy deal in the first place? Find out in this first story in More for the Heart.

“Reminiscence”: In Two for the Heart, sisters Rose and Helen reconnect with great reluctance after an 11-year estrangement. These two women have spent more than a decade apart. What convinces Rose to stay this time around? Sit at the table with Rose and watch her internal transformation in the second story in More for the Heart.

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.

This second installment in Garg’s Stories in Pairs continues the stories from the first set but with a slightly different angle. In ‘Making the Proposal’ Garg rewinds the clock and offers a prequel of sorts to Pooja and Akshay’s story with additional information than what was provided originally. Once again getting involved in both these characters lives was wonderful and gaining more insight into their relationship and being given new information about their arranged courtship provides another level and depth to the story we already know. Pooja and Akshay are character you can’t help but love, they are great together and Garg demonstrates their new relationship and developing friendship naturally with banter, humour, and understandable uncertainty.

The second story, ‘Reminiscence’, does not continue the story on so much as offer an alternate perspective. With Helen’s sister Rose the new point of view it enables an insight into her character and through Rose’s reflections and self-evaluation a better understanding of her relationship with Helen is generated. While this does little to progress the story it does add to character development and builds on the sisters’ relationship with one another and highlights the hostility between them.

Garg is extremely clever in her construction of these stories, especially in these second installments that follow the first. The retelling of sorts with Pooja and Akshay, and the new perspective with Rose and Helen change how these stories are viewed but it also maintains the narrative and the feeling that has already been established. Once again I enjoyed Pooja and Akshay’s story a bit more than ‘Reminiscence’, though I couldn’t really tell you why. Both stories are clever and very skilfully told, but Pooja and Akshay have a relationship that you can’t help but fall in love with.

In terms of construction, Garg uses her words carefully and doesn’t waste them putting in things unnecessarily. Character opinions and intentions are made clear without needing long explanations and with such few pages to work with Garg manages to tell complete stories creatively and with style.

I would still love to see this collection as a novel, even with the alternating stories and character points of view, mainly because Garg’s stories are so sweet and despite the length of the stories they capture your attention and are quite interesting. Having said that I also love how Garg has approached telling these stories, I think it is clever and creative and I look forward to the next set of stories and seeing where Garg takes the series.

You can purchase More for the Heart via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Barnes and Noble | Smashwords

 

The Conviction: Enacting Vigilante Justice by John Mathews

Published: 25th January 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Self Published
Pages: 72
Format: Ebook
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Two criminals are responsible for an innocent man getting sentenced to life for murder. An inept defense attorney and a crooked prosecutor are the other players in this case of egregious American corruption.

The four of them have been lured into a trap in an abandoned warehouse. Someone wants vengeance. This is a story of vigilante justice for the wrongfully convicted. Marked doors lead to four locked rooms, one where each of them will have to pay a price for what they have done. What will they be required to do in order to survive?

This riveting crime thriller puts the American justice system in public view and will keep you guessing until the very last scene. A dark masked figure watches…waits…and wants revenge.

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.

This short story is an interesting take on the idea of vigilante justice with entrapment, mind games, and threats all playing a part. There is drama and suspense and a multitude of questions about who is behind the elaborate set up. There is mystery and unanswered questions that are hidden from the reader as well as the characters, but small clues and snippets of information make an already mysterious situation complex and even more curious.

Narrative wise the story flowed quite well and Matthews tells the story with care, keeping it interesting and engaging, while also holding back when needed. The dialogue didn’t have much life, and the conversation between character seemed stiff, not really connecting with one another, and yet at times Matthews captures the panic and desperation they feel quite well as their situation looks dire and the begin to turn on one another.

The characters themselves are terrible people in all honesty, but that is why they have found themselves in their current predicament. I didn’t really engage with who they were aside from casting casual judgements on them based on what they did, but not caring about them didn’t really bother me as I was more focused on the developing mystery and game play element than realising how one dimensional they were.

Away from the characters, and to Matthews’ credit, the story itself was clever and it never goes where you expect. From early on it intrigued me and this was maintained as the story progressed with a lot packed into such a short story. There are surprises and revelations that change what you though would happen and what you thought had happened.

I liked the idea of the vigilante justice and the mystery figure orchestrating the entire thing was great and led to all manner of creative theories on who he possibly was. When the man behind the curtain is finally revealed it was certainly unexpected and I can imagine it would split readers to either liking it or disliking it. Personally I wasn’t a fan of how Matthews chose to end it, one because I thought it was going in a totally different direction, and two it immediately seemed unbelievable which flattened the anticipation that had been building from the start. Having said that it was different, and creative in its own way, and it was completely unexpected.

You can purchase The Conviction via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

I Truly Lament by Mathias B. Freese

Published: 15th September 2014Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Wheatmark
Pages: 230
Format: Paperback
Genre: Short Stories/Historical fiction
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

I Truly Lament—Working Through the Holocaust is a varied collection of stories: inmates in death camps; survivors of these camps; disenchanted Golems complaining about their designated rounds; Holocaust deniers and their ravings; collectors of Hitler curiosa (only recently a few linens from Hitler’s bedroom suite went up for sale!); an imagined interview with Eva Braun during her last days in the Berlin bunker; a Nazi camp doctor subtly denying his complicity; and the love story of a Hungarian cantor, among others.

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book for review

The stories in this anthology are not real accounts or experiences, they are fictionalised stories, and yet Freese does manage to capture a small part about what life was like for those during the war. Stories about starving in camps, being dragged away from villages and mistreated by guards, as well as the tales and haunting memories by survivors are all expressed through numerous stories and Freese explores these emotions really well.

Freese does not take one side or viewpoint in his stories, instead he uses a variety of perspectives from prisoners, guards, adults and children, and uses settings and moments that take place before, during, and after the war. Each narrative voice is good at expressing the required level of emotion and feelings, suitable depending on the character and the circumstance, and despite somewhat restricted descriptions, a vivid image of the various environments is possible.

Even though the topic is quite intense, not every story is haunting or depressing; some are humorous and light-hearted, some are certainly strange, and even those from prisoner points of view are fairly philosophical and reflective, yet don’t distract from the serious topic at hand. There are stories that explore falling in love in the early days of the war, about life within the camps, and stories that change the tone completely with humour, absurdity, and intense philosophical and psychological evaluations. For those stories of a darker nature, the details about life in the camps and the abuse suffered at the hands of guards is realistic but have limited detail or gruesome accounts. Freese does not make light of the treatment or shy away from the facts, but he also does not spend time describing it in great detail. There is a great deal of authenticity in many of these stories but Freese is restraining on making it too brutal to read about.

Despite being fictional, there is a ring of truth and real emotion in many of these stories that expresses the despair and torment of living in the camps, the justification by the Nazis, and even demonstrating that coming out a survivor does not always mean total liberation from the memories or the suffering. I liked that Freese chose to have many points of view from all parts of the war and from both sides involved. It balanced out the collection and it added a wonderful range of views and experiences of the same situation.

Admittedly not every story was up to the same calibre with some of greater quality and more enjoyable than others. Some were emotive and insightful and were wonderful at evoking feelings and circumstance while others were a tad bland and seemed to be lacking something. Having said that I did find a lot of the stories fascinating, not in a morbid way, but as someone who cannot even fathom what it was truly like, for prisoners or guards. There is no real way to wrap your head around these experiences and no matter how much you read you can never truly capture what it was like. Freese has tried to get inside the minds of people who experienced all sides of the war and has managed to reflect the numerous and various experiences rather well.

There is no denying the topic is one that is haunting and possibly uncomfortable for many, but this is not an anthology filled totally with heavy stories about sorrow and despair. Freese mixes up the styles and the tones and with a mixture of humour and reflection and tells touching stories that try and explore what people went through as a result of World War II. Certainly not all stories will be to everyone’s taste, and some are more serious and respectful than others, but what Freese has done in trying to take new approaches in discussing the Holocaust is certainly commendable.

You can purchase I Truly Lament via the following

Amazon

Amazon Aust

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