by Cathryn Conroy (Gaithersburg, Maryland): I read a lot of short story collections, and it’s rare that almost all the stories in the collection are excellent. This is one of those rare collections. Each of the 10 stories has a compelling plot, characters that seem real, and just the right amount of tension or conflict to keep the reader interested.

My favorites (and it was hard to choose!): • “Creature”: This is the story of a 14-year-old girl whose parents are in a messy divorce. She takes a two-week job as a mother’s helper for two children ages four and two while they visit their grandmother in a posh Massachusetts mansion. All is well until the grandmother’s married son appears, and then some confusing things happen to Carol. (The ending is perfect!)

• “Five Tuesdays in Winter”: This is a love story taking place in a bookstore between Mitchell, a curmudgeonly, taciturn divorced man in his 40s and Kate, a younger woman in her 30s. Mitchell’s extraverted 12-year-old daughter, Paula, is a wonderful foil between Mitchell and Kate. It’s brilliant.

• “When in Dordogne”: Ed and Grant, two college students spend the summer with a young teenage boy while his somewhat emotionally-detached parents travel to Dordogne, France in the hopes of alleviating his father’s clinical depression. It’s an eye-opening adventure for the boy, including a first kiss with a special girl.

Some of the stories are just delightful to read, while others are emotionally searing. Relationships are complicated. Love isn’t always easy. A few of the stories are dark and one is somewhat violent, but they all offer a greater meaning and important life lessons. Each one is a gem written in prose that demands to be savored.