To Hold Up the Sky by Cixin Liu

If you're in the mood for a hard sci-fi short story collection, To Hold Up the Sky by Cixin Liu (translated by Joel Martinsen, Adam Lanphier, John Chu, and Carmen Yiling Yan) certainly delivers. Liu's writing style often makes these stories feel very present-day even when they're obviously not, and his prose is beautiful. Many of these stories read like fables reminding us not to underestimate humanity, showing us the larger-scale impact of seemingly small gestures and our (compared to the universe) fleeting lives. "The Time Migration" reminded me of all the philosophical stuff I love about Star Trek: The Next Generation, Doctor Who, and The Little Prince, but 10x more in depth. "Ode to Joy" is where sci-fi meets…

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Father Guards the Sheep by Sari Rosenblatt

The Iowa Short Fiction Award consistently gives us wonderful short story collections like Sari Rosenblatt's Father Guards the Sheep. These are strong, character-driven stories focusing on different ways fathers watch over their families, from the perspectives of their children, in different ages and stages of their lives. Each story stands alone, but they're also loosely connected in a way that rounds out and finishes the collection well. Rosenblatt writes interesting, complex, and realistic characters. Pick up this book when you want to cozy up with some good people stories.

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Homesick by Nino Cipri

I love speculative, fabulist fiction, and Nino Cipri's short story collection Homesick delivered. The formats of some of these stories were so creative. "Which Super Little Dead Girl Are You" is written as a quiz. "Dead Air" is an epistolary short story, using recordings, and whoa was it ever creepy! In "Before We Disperse Likestar Stuff," speculative elements served as a backdrop to give us a taste of Cipri's talent for writing character-driven stories. Homesick put me in awe of the breadth of their imagination. I really enjoyed this collection, just as much as I loved their novel Finna.

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The Inexplicable Grey Space We Call Love by Chuck Augello

I love people stories, I love fabulist fiction, and Chuck Augello's collection The Inexplicable Grey Space We Call Love is an interesting mix of both. These stories explore the human condition, especially grief and fear, through a hint of bizarre. The way I was left hanging on "The Prerogatives of Magic" was infuriatingly satisfying. "In Two" ripped my heart out. I'd normally race through an under-200-pages book like this. But I found myself reading through it slowly, wanting to savor each story before moving on. Every story in this collection is a gem. Consider this a must-read.

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What Shines From It by Sara Rauch

There are 11 short stories in Sara Rauch's collection What Shines From It, and overall this was a solid "it was good, I liked it" read for me. The first five and the final stories really wowed me, but the ones in between didn't have the same impact. I found my mind wandering as I read. Sara Rauch has a knack for telling people stories, though, getting to the heart of what motivates and moves her characters and how they interact with each other. Her writing flows easily and is filled with warmth, even when exploring darker themes. If you love character-driven short stories, be sure to check out this book.

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Tender Cuts by Jayne Martin

Jayne Martin's Tender Cuts is one of my first encounters with flash fiction. We're talking very short stories: just a page, usually; sometimes only a handful of sentences. I was surprised at how much story and emotion could be packed into such a compact format. I was not a fan of the drawings at the end of each story. I felt like the words were powerful enough on their own, and the illustrations detracted from that impact. My favorite stories from this collection include: "Zero Tolerance" "Blue Boy" "Thanksgiving," "Morning Glory" "Pinky Swear" And of course, I couldn't help but feel for beauty pageant contestant Julie-Sue, who we see in different stages of life in her multiple appearances throughout the…

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Seven Sides of Self by Nancy Joie Wilkie

The way Nancy Joie Wilkie executed the overarching theme of Seven Sides of Self is one of the strongest I've read. Short story collections don't always have a sense of cohesiveness, but everything about this one, from how it generally fits together into a greater work, all the way down to the tiny threads that connect the stories to each other, was just superb. "Of the Green and Of the Gold" stood out most for me. I loved the use of color and an alien society to explore coded transphobia (and briefly, homophobia). I felt like it stripped away everything superfluous, so that all we are left with is a clear sense of how we should treat one another. "Perhaps…

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Ghosts of You by Cathy Ulrich

Each short chapter of Ghosts of You begins with the line: "The thing about being the murdered _____ is you set the plot in motion." Then the story describes, in second person, the aftermath of that loss, focusing on those left behind. Some chapters read more like the plot of a TV crime show, and others are heartbreakingly realistic. Each is a thoughtful look at the different ways people react to the news of a murder, whether they were close to the person or far removed. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and appreciated its unique premise and clever format.

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Masterworks by Simon Jacobs

For the first four stories in Masterworks, Jacobs' writing is fast-paced and to-the-point, yet vibrantly descriptive. Vibrant like when you dream in color and it's a little bit trippy; and he didn't need a ton of extra words to create that effect. How did he pack so much creativity and forward motion into such a short space? I couldn't put the book down. "Let Me Take You to Olive Garden" includes a cis guy who is friends with a trans girl. Even though they were friends before she came out, the author handled it without needing to deadname or misgender her. Thank you! I absolutely loved the unique, sometimes absurd settings in each scene of "Partners." They were the perfect…

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Escape! by the Writing Bloc Cooperative

Short story anthologies can be hit or miss, especially ones that dare to include a variety of genres, as Escape! from the Writing Bloc Cooperative does. 20 stories by 20 writers, ranging from political satire to speculate fiction and sci-fi to literary fiction (and everything in between), all on the theme of escapism. There were only two stories that I DNF'd in this collection, and one other story that I read but just didn't like. That can make it difficult to rate the collection as a whole, but the remaining 17 stories grabbed my attention so fully, I have no regrets. I found a number of new-to-me writers that I've been sure to follow on Twitter/Goodreads so I'm sure not…

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