The Girl in the Coffee Shop, by Caedem Marquez, is a short, surprising story about a chubby college student turned journalist.
I received this story as a review copy, via Smashwords. Having read the blurb, I must admit that I approached this story with a bit of trepidation. I am a plus sized woman, so the description of Gertrude as chubby followed quickly by a list of her snack of "strawberry muffins, scones, and three Frappaccinos" seemed to be playing to the stereotypes of fat chick who eats too much junk food. And, yes, there were several description references that made me squirm, but the author at least let the main character handle them with a sense of humor.
Gertrude is sitting in a coffee shop attempting to write her college thesis on "Expanding Christian News in a Modern Internet World." Her Christian sensibilities are shocked when she sees a couple who are obviously having an affair. Gertrude's reaction is believably sophomoric, and she spends perhaps too much time saying "gross," "yuck," and "eww," but she gradually convinces herself that this is her path to news-anchor fame. "I could follow them. I could write my first major news story, I could put it on the web and get a million hits on Youtube. The people at church would applaud me for stopping such evil."
I admit that I wasn't at all comfortable with where this was going, particularly in regard to the main character's religious presumptions, but there really are people out there like that. I kept reading.
Gertrude takes off after the couple. I enjoyed the description that started the chase. "The Moped wheels scream to life as they burn rubber. Okay, okay, they don't scream, rather they sputter and protest but I do smell burnt rubber. I can't tell if the scent stems from my over-worked tires or the tire burning factory.... I prefer the former as the cause of the smell, after all, this is my first real-life chase."
There were a few run-on sentences exacerbated by punctuation choices that left me mentally gasping for breath as I raced through them. Most readers probably won't notice as they get caught up in the author's descriptions. The pacing is good. I was actually almost starting to like Gertrude. I could see some hope for her to grow up a little through the story, and I liked where the plot was going. Then it ended.
I was not prepared for the abrupt conclusion. I was only 57 percent through the Kindle document (Location 266 of 556) when I reached the end of the story. I see now that the Kindle version lists the inclusion of an excerpt from Caedem's upcoming book, but there is no such note on the Smashwords version. I'm trying not to hold that against the The Girl in the Coffee Shop, but I'm still disappointed.
Would I recommend this story? Yes, I think that I would, though with the above-noted reservations. Sometimes it is good to be taken out of your comfort zone. This little nibble of a story was a fun way to pass part of my lunch break. The real reason I liked the story is in the resolution, but I won't spoil that for you. You'll have to read it yourself.
Field Trip, by Jody Wallace, is an entertaining story with all the cute annoyances of a group of children on a museum field trip.
I’ll admit it. I was drawn to this story by the cover. Though not exactly the same, the font reminds me of Star Trek: The Next Generation. (Yes, I’m one of those geeks.) I received a copy of the story through an offer on Jody Wallace's blog, Writer and Cat.
Miss James is a third grade teacher escorting her students to the Space Station Freedom Museum and Amusement Park. The trip is not going well. Handsome but inept, the Zhie tour guide, Sergeant Chamblin, “…was obviously not used to holding the attention of twenty Human and Zhie third graders from the Integrated Public School System of Earth on their annual field trip.” The kids are restless, and restless children, whether human or alien, are a recipe for disaster. Miss James uses all of her 12 years of teaching experience to maintain order as she mentally composes an email satisfaction survey complaining of Chamblin’s inept performance. A malfunction in the museum’s shabby shuttle simulator does not help matters.
The tour of the now defunct space station includes a backward look at antiquated technology—actually advanced by today’s standards—that gradually builds a picture of Zhie/Human first contact. The children’s antics are believable. “To make matters worse, [Chamblin] sometimes patted the kids on the shoulder, head or back when he didn’t know the answers to their questions.” This patronizing behavior, among other idiosyncrasies, registers with Miss James. She sometimes tries to give the guide pointers while continuing to compose her growing list of complaints.
Then their field trip takes an unusual turn. I recommend that you grab a copy to find out what happens. The world building is effortless and believable. The story is well told and edited, and the writing is excellent.
Field Trip perfectly illustrates why I prefer books over short stories. I want more, including development of some of the fascinating hints we get about Miss James and Sergeant Chamblin. Unfortunately, Jody Wallace does not have any other published works in this genre, let alone this universe. Jody, please write more
Not with a Bang, by A. Andrew Tantia, is funny, irreverent, and poignant.
Set in an ordinary extraordinary garden, the story is a short comedy featuring John Wayne (no relation) and Robin (who inexplicably has no last name). "This otherwise unremarkable patch of land had perhaps just one distinguishing characteristic: it was the last garden left from what had formerly been the planet Earth and was now instead the loose collection of rocks and debris Earth."
Faced with being the last men alive ("two Adams and no Eve"), they prepare their last words: "The world began with a garden. How appropriate that it should end in one." A thundering voice halts them as they are about to end it all. MAL, their self-aware space ship, offers an alternative, and a confession.
I will stop here at describing the plot. Rest assured, the fun continues all the way to the end.
At first, I paused often to pay picky attention to the over-done dialogue attributions (use of excessive synonyms for "said" is a pet peeve), but as the story progressed I was able to forgive the majority of these distractions.
I recommend this story with the above-noted reservation. This is a fun read for those who enjoy comedy science fiction with an end-of-the world bang.
Dead Men Don't Cry, by Nancy Fulda, is an eclectic collection of 10 science fiction short stories. I don't often read short story collections, but I enjoyed this one. I received it as a review copy via Smashwords. Some of the stories took me on adventures while others made me think, even as they made me cringe. Here's a brief rundown of the stories, without giving away too much.
Pastry Run - This was a fun romp of an adventure, all in the name of a fresh morning pastry. Forget Paris to New York and try Charles de Gaulle to the Sea of Tranquility. This story quickly pulled me into the collection.
Dead Men Don't Cry - Whodunit with a science fiction twist and a bang of an ending. It has been a while since I read a mystery, but this took it to the next level by introducing my beloved science fiction. I enjoyed the experience, even though I guessed the solution before the main protagonist.
Blue Ink - Six-year-old Jason doesn't like the funny smells, the scratchy hospital gown, or the idea of being cloned, but all the grown-ups say he's very fortunate. Nancy does a good job of addressing a complicated debate through the eyes of a child. I thought this story was fascinating.
Backlash - Eugene's much-anticipated daddy/daughter dinner becomes too exciting with the addition of an unwelcome boyfriend and a strange fortune. I loved the take on time travel in this story.
Monument - A traveler on the way home from Thanksgiving stops to stretch her legs and finds more than she bargained for. This one made me think, though it almost felt like the message was being shoved down my parched throat.
Tammi's Garden - Tamela lives in caverns that protect her from the bad air above, if you can call barely surviving living, but at least she has her mother. That is until she wakes in an almost idyllic garden. But which is the dream? Read this and let me know if you can answer the question.
All Praise to the Dreamer - A new mom's pleasant day turns deadly serious as she tries to save the life of her two-month-old baby. This one reminded me of The Twilight Zone, but I really disliked it. That might have something to do with the fact that I'm a fairly new mother myself.
The Breath of Heaven - Computers grapple with emerging sentience and how they should follow their directives to establish a human colony. Does the ideal human operator exist? Sacia is an AI with an interesting and surprisingly likable point of view. I loved this story.
Ghost Chimes - Ghost chimes ringing at 3AM make Alicia wish that she had unplugged the machine, even as she settles the glasses on her nose to answer her mother's call. Her mom can be a bit nosy sometimes, but that's not the half of it. I didn't like this story, though the concept was clever.
A New Kind of Sunrise - Young Mikki finds a dying stranger. Her clan chief agrees to take him in, little knowing the profound impact the man will have not only on Mikki but also on the entire clan. This story built a rich and believable world in relatively few pages. I loved it and look forward to reading more in future.
Even though I didn't like all of the stories, even those made me think. Dead Men Don't Cry is a highly enjoyable, well written collection. I look forward to reading more of Nancy's writing, particularly when she releases her upcoming novel.
Cage Life, by Karin Cox, is a surprising and beautifully written book comprised of two short stories; the first story takes you into the mind of a young mom who feels like a prisoner in her own home and the second centers around 80-something Basil and the results of his love for a younger woman. It only took me an hour to read the entire book, which I received as a review copy via Smashwords.
I'll admit that at first I didn't know if I would be able to finish the book. The subject matter was almost too adult and definitely too dark. The first story, Cage Life, reminded me of a very dark period in my own life, though the details are completely different. Karin's poetic use of words kept me reading. As I savored the vivid prose and admired the images that she so adeptly painted in my imagination, I was pulled into the story. As the main character grew from girl to young mom, I felt her angst, love, and pain. I still can't say that I liked the story—partly due to the fact that I'm a (not so young) new mom myself—but I do respect it for its portrayal of unintended consequences.
The second story, The Usurper, again challenged my morals. Basil wakes, knowing that "it had happened again." We discover the definition of "it" few pages later as Basil contemplates the fate of an octogenarian at the hands of a much younger mistress in a surprising view of elder abuse. I can't go into detail without giving too much away, but this was the story that made me love the book. The ending contains one of my favorite story elements: in a surprise "aha" moment, reality shifts and the reader suddenly views the story in a completely different way. I wanted to give a standing ovation.
Though I am more apt to read for either entertainment or learning, it is good to be challanged to step out of my comfort zone. I plan to look into Karin's Austrailian wildlife books for my son.