by Cathryn Conroy (Gaithersburg, Maryland): This is an introspective, accomplished, and brilliantly observed collection of 10 short stories by Patricia Engel that all have one thing in common: There is another world—a faraway world—that the characters in each of the stories yearn for, remember, or are escaping. Today’s world can be gritty and grueling. But the faraway world? That is the place of hopes and dreams even if it doesn’t exist.

Unusually for short story collections, every single one is excellent. I can’t even choose my favorites to highlight below because each one was better than the one before. Each one has characters that are richly and deeply depicted. Each one has a plot that kept me turning the pages. And each one either filled me with joy or broke my heart—or both.

The setting for most of the stories is in Colombia or Cuba with a few in New York. (There is a lot of Spanish in the book, so I found the Kindle translate feature quite helpful.)

Here are four to highlight that shows the diversity of the stories, but I could have chosen all of them: • “Aida”: Aida and Salma are identical twins living with their often-bickering parents in a small town near New York City. They are very close. One day, Aida disappears…and no one can find her. Did she run away or was she abducted? How her family comes together and eventually falls apart during the time she is missing is heartbreaking.

• “The Book of Saints”: A young Colombian woman meets online a twice-divorced and much older American man, who convinces her to leave her impoverished life and become his wife. After the wedding in Colombia, she moves to New York, but her life is nothing like she imagined.

• “Ramiro”: Ramiro is just another slum kid from the worst part of Colombia, and after he commits several crimes, he is sentenced to work in a Roman Catholic church under the watchful eye of Padre Andrade. But Ramiro does something atrocious, and he is headed for big trouble until the priest does something that is very surprising.

• ” Libélula”: This is the story of two Colombian women living in New York. One is wealthy and privileged. The other is poor and is hired as the fulltime maid and eventual nanny. The husband works long hours and is bored with his wife, who is unable to get pregnant. And then one night, he comes into the maid’s bedroom…

This is an extraordinary and imaginative collection of short stories about the joys and brutality of life. I highly recommend it.