Five Fortunes by Barbara Venkataraman

Five Fortunes by Barbara Venkataraman
Publisher: Next Chapter
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Romance, LGBTQ, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When five fourteen-year-old girls get their fortunes from an arcade machine just for kicks, it turns their world upside-down and their close-knit group of friends starts to fall apart.

Misunderstandings abound as allegiances shift and outsiders start to come between them. The fortunes seem to be self-fulfilling prophecies – whether the girls believe in them or not.

Do our beliefs color our perception of the world? Do we ever see ourselves the way others see us, and why is change so hard?

Budding romance, angry bees, teenage fashion influencers, and parents who just don’t get it make Barbara Venkataraman’s ‘Five Fortunes’ a fun story you won’t soon forget.

Fourteen is such a confusing age.

This was exactly the emotional rollercoaster I was hoping it would be! Not only are young teenagers dealing with the many changes that puberty brings, they’re also learning how to have friendships that are closer to the mature and complex relationships adults have than the ones little kids tend to have. It takes a lot of trial and error to make this transition, and the author captured that perfectly. I nodded along as the characters worked on their emotional regulation and figured out how to have more nuanced reactions to friends who disappointed or angered them.

I loved this story and all five of the main characters. My only criticism of them is how little time each character had to shine. This would have been a five-star read for me if it had either focused on only one character or been expanded into a full-length novel that could devote more time to developing all five protagonists and diving more deeply into their personalities, interests, and character development. There were delightful references to all of these things in this novella, but they didn’t have the space to show the audience enough of themselves for me to feel comfortable giving a higher rating even though I yearned to.

One of the other things I thought Ms. Venkataraman captured beautifully is how contradictory the expectations of teachers and parents can be of girls this age. Some of the characters were expected to look after their siblings or take on other adult responsibilities without also being given the freedom that generally comes with all of that extra work for the average adult. I remember feeling frustrated by that sometimes when I was their age, so it was nice to see it acknowledged and explored here. The author had some sensible things to say about the balance between responsibility and autonomy that I think some parents and teachers should take note of just as much and maybe even a little more than young teens should.

Five Fortunes was heartwarming.

Duck For Cover & Other Tales: A Collection Of Short Stories by Barbara Venkataraman

Duck For Cover & Other Tales: A Collection Of Short Stories by Barbara Venkataraman
Publisher: Next Chapter
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

Fourteen short stories with a twist, Duck for Cover & Other Tales is filled with surprises.

The Yes Man is about a woman who looks after her elderly father with dementia, only to discover he still has life lessons to teach her. Living My Best Life tells the story of an aging rock star who finds his legacy lives on in a way he hadn’t imagined. Thicker Than Blood is about the dilemmas caused by modern technology when a trio of siblings is asked to make the hardest decision of their lives. The Devil’s Workshop is the story of a young man being scared straight from a life of delinquency by a clever probation officer and an ex-con.

Topical, relatable and just plain fun, these and many other stories in this collection deal with friendship, kinship and the complexities of the modern world, and are sure to leave you with a smile.

Even the most ordinary days can be filled with adventure if you know where to look.

Since the premise of “The Yes Man” was already shared in the blurb, I’ll jump straight into my thoughts about it. Dementia isn’t talked about enough in fiction in my experience, so I was excited to read a story about a family dealing with it here. Grief, love, and perseverance were soaked into every scene. What surprised me was how the author snuck in some humor, too. There is definitely something to be said for making the best of a tough situation, and I enjoyed seeing how that idea played out for these characters.

All of the tales in this collection were nearly short enough to be flash fiction. Some were only a couple of pages long, and most of the others were only a little longer than that. I’m sharing this so that others will understand just how impressive it was for Ms. Venkataraman to create those nuanced little worlds fourteen times in a row in such a small amount of space for each one. “From the Jaws of Victory” was a tale about a young woman named Lorelei who changed her name and appearance in order to get revenge for her father who lost his life savings in a business deal gone bad. I was immediately immersed in Lorelei’s painstaking plan to make things right again, and it took me until right before the final paragraph to figure out what sort of surprise might be coming her way.

“See You at the Movies” explored the warm, loving, but slightly mysterious relationship between Sean and his grandfather. Just like in several of the other sections, there was a mystery element to the plot that was subtle enough to feel like it could happen in real life to nearly anyone. It’s best if I allow other readers to discover for themselves why Sean was suddenly so sentimental about the many films they had watched together over the years, but I thought the bond between this grandfather and grandson was delightful.

Duck For Cover & Other Tales: A Collection Of Short Stories made me yearn for more and catapulted this author to my must-read list. It’s perfect just the way it is!