by Cathryn Conroy (Gaithersburg, Maryland): Elizabeth McCracken may very well be the queen of the short story, and this collection is why she deserves that crown. Each story is a little gem with a solid plot, interesting and fully developed characters, and an underlying theme, which is often about the bonds of family—the ones that tie us with love and the ones that break us with sorrow.

When I read this, I felt like someone who was granted a wish. The first story is titled “The Irish Wedding,” and it was such a wonderful little read with two characters, Jack and Sadie, I really enjoyed. I wished this were a novel, so I could spend more time with Jack and Sadie. Well, guess what? Four more of the dozen stories in this collection are about Jack and Sadie. Wish granted!

Some of my other favorites: “Robinson Crusoe at the Waterpark”: A gay couple, one of whom is much older than the other and fast on his way to becoming a grumpy old man, take their young son to a waterpark in Galveston where the older man has a revelation caused by intense fear that will forever change their lives for the better.

“It’s Not You”: A young woman decides to spend the night alone in a garish hotel to heal her broken heart. The plan is to drink, cry, and soak in the tub. At breakfast the next morning, she meets an older man who is a radio psychologist. The two go up to his room, and what happens next is most unexpected.

“Mistress Mickle All at Sea”: A 49-year-old woman who plays a villainess on a children’s TV show, visits her brother in Rotterdam for New Year’s Eve and returns home on a ferry where she encounters another children’s performer who is entertaining the young travelers, but this time she’s part of the audience.

Beautifully written with diverse settings and wide-ranging plots, this collection of short stories is simply wonderful.