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The 2020 Short-Story Reading Challenge

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Lakey

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Yep, I picked it up too! I look forward to the discussion when we get to them.

I was about to say "Well, great, now I have all kinds of FOMO to look forward to it when you two read them and talk about them and I don't." But then I thought I ought to check whether the sale was still on, and it is, so, uh...

I bought it too.

Oh, and last year's PEN America Best Debut Short Stories is on sale too. I'm too afraid to read that one -- it will make me feel severely inadequate, I'm sure.

:e2coffee:
 
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mrsmig

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Continuing with The Year's Best SFF 2019 anthology:

19. "The Buried Giant" by Lavie Tidhar. A child raised in a town full of robots leaves so he can discover what it is to be a "real boy." The similarities to Spielberg's AI (and of course, Pinocchio) are obvious. The writing is paced slowly and doesn't really come to any kind of satisfying conclusion, but the occasional lyrical passage kept me going.

20. "Jump" by Cadwell Turnbull. A young couple playfully decide to try to teleport - and against all odds, it happens. Once. The story is mostly about how the male half of the couple's obsession with making it happen again impacts the couple's relationship. It was only okay, but you can read it free at Lightspeed Magazine's website.

21. "Umbernight" by Carolyn Ives Gilman. A group of young planetary settlers, led by an older woman, set off to fetch a cargo shipment from Earth. Time is short because the planet is due for Umbernight, an "unshrouding" of a nearby "bad star." This was rock-solid SF, with a brooding tone that I really enjoyed. You can read it free at the Clarkesworld site.

22. "Today Is Today" by Rick Wilber. Musings on the "what-ifs" of a man's life. This story was surprising in that it really isn't SF or F - I would classify it as literary fiction. Still, it's beautifully written. Also available on the Lightspeed site.
 

Chris P

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72. "Drouth," by Wendell Berry

Young Andy Catlett recounts a drought (I can't bring myself to spell it the way Berry does! I just can't!) in the summer of 1944, and the reminiscences of the older generations on prior droughts in 1936, 1930, and 1908. The dry conditions continue among false signs of rain through the summer, leading up to The Big Day, a local celebration by the Black community in August. Andy notes, but doesn't explore, the racial divide allowing him and his adult Black friend Dick Watson to get excited about an event Andy would, by unspoken community history and agreement, not be welcome to attend. Then, the skies open, the rain comes down, and puts the past droughts into perspective as temporary events.

I'm confused, bordering on troubled, by this story. I'm convinced that Berry's Andy Catlett stories are autobiographical, or nearly so, and therefore I can't completely blame him for being a product of his time and place. I noted early on that people of color are notably absent in the Port William stories. My Kentucky experience (my first wife was from rural central Kentucky, but on the Tennessee side of things while Port William is on the Ohio border) allows me to believe that there wasn't much mixing of the races in Berry's formative 1940s. But almost absent completely? If the stories include PoCs, they are not often identified as such, which presents certain issues of its own. Anyway, I wonder if Berry meant for the sudden rainstorm so soon after the description of The Big Day to foreshadow the Civil Rights Movement to come, and the progress it would bring. Noble intention, but if so then presenting the racial divide as a temporary thing like a drought is very dismissive of the history. I myself at one time thought it was an enlightened position to ignore the racial past as a way to move forward, and now I see how privileged that attitude is. And what about the false signs of "rain"? What are we to make of those in the context of this story?

Of course, none of this is helped by Berry's recent lawsuit to block the removal of a 1930s mural on the U Kentucky campus with stereotypical depictions of Native Americans and slaves. The grounds are intellectual property rights (and Berry's wife is the niece of the original artist). Berry is a progressive in terms of local food systems, energy policy, and farm rights, so I'm disappointed if this is an excuse to perpetuate old stereotypes.


73. "Stand by me," by Wendell Berry

A synopsis of Berry's novel Nathan Coulter, as narrated by Nathan's uncle Burley, who raises Nathan and his brother Tom after their mother dies. Burley's narration brings a fresh, mature perspective to Nathan's narration of the novel, and focuses on grieving and the pain of letting go. Some beautiful and moving parts to this one.
 
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Chris P

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I started The Story Prize anthology we discussed upthread :)


74. "The Book of Miracles," by Edwidge Danticat

In a Haitian expat enclave in New York, a family attends Christmas Eve midnight Mass, only for the daughter to see a man she is convinced is Emmanuel Constant, the ring leader of an anti-Aristide Haitian death squad and who was, at the time the story is set, living quietly in New York [but who was deported to Haiti just three weeks ago]. There is lots going on in the story, themes of death (a drowned brother, an expressway through a cemetery), religion (syncretism between the Caribbean Catholicism and local pagan religions), and a family secret surrounding the family's father and his activities in Haiti. With so much going on, the story didn't quite come together for me, although its individual components were very well done. The story is part of a themed collection (The Dew Breaker), so perhaps if I'd read the rest of the book the pieces might come together.

There is a summary and analysis of the story here: https://www.litcharts.com/lit/the-dew-breaker/the-book-of-miracles

I look forward to your input and the discussion!
 

mrsmig

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Ooo, I'll have to step up my speed on the SFF anthology so I can read along with you, Chris P!

Speaking of:

23. "The Heart of Owl Abbas" by Kathleen Jennings. A poor composer in an unstable city-state finds his muse in a clockwork singer, and unwittingly sets a revolution in motion. This was a dense, difficult story - writing so elaborate that it was almost rococo, with many capitalized words and a deliberate pace that made for very slow going indeed. Still, some of it was quite beautiful, and the ending was wistful. But I doubt I'd read more by this author if this is her style. You can read it free at Tor.com.
 

Chris P

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Ooo, I'll have to step up my speed on the SFF anthology so I can read along with you, Chris P!

Take your time. The second story is 50 pages long, and . . . not moving real fast.
 

Animad345

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Hiya! I hope everyone is well? I love the whole concept of this thread. I tend to 'forget' about short stories as it were because I'm always focussing on novels, but whenever I stumble across them I nearly always love them. It takes such talent for a writer to convey so much in so few words. I particularly like the 'twist in the tale' stories of Roald Dahl and Jeffrey Archer.

I've been reading Helen Dunmore's book of short stories, Love of Fat Men.

1. Love of Fat Men. The titular story, and as weird as the title makes it sound. It's a very 'quiet' story which tends to be Dunmore's style, and something I very much enjoy. It centres around a young woman named Ulli and her friendship with a man by the name of Lucca, who happens to be on the larger size. It's a lovely character study.

2. Batteries. Gosh, this one. It's about motherhood for the most part, and quite difficult to read due to the darker elements. It's Christmas Day and all the batteries have run out, so one of the brattish kids complains they can't play on their GameBoy, etc, and it progresses from there in an unexpected fashion.
 
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Chris P

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Welcome to the thread, Animad! I look forward to seeing what you read. Yes, short stories can get overlooked. Sometimes you hear people say novelists should "practice" by writing short stories, when in fact they are quite different and require a different set of skills. There's lots they have in common, but many important differences as well.

Next segments of The Story Prize collection:


75. "The Postman's Cottage," by Patrick O'Keeffe

Young Eoin O'Rourke, the oldest son of a large local family, makes out well selling his livestock at the yearly fair, then some of his clothing and a mysterious and remorseful note signed by Eoin appear bundled up on a large stone near town. And Eoin? Vanished. Has he run off to America? Has he, in drunken celebration of his good fortune, wandered into the mucky canal or local pond and drowned? Or has he met a violent end by a party unknown?

Let me know when you guys get to this story. Either I missed something (probable) or there is a huge plot hole (less likely but possible). Also, I'm not familiar with Irish names; is "Eoin" pronounced similar to "Owen"? Or "Ewan"?


76. "My podiatrist tells me a story about a boy and a dog," by Mary Gordon

The narrator hears a story from her podiatrist about when, as a child, he befriended a stray dog while spending the summer in his family's rural campground. He persuades his father to let him take the dog back to the city, where they find the dog is not what they thought. I'm sure this story if filled with symbolism, especially regarding the ultimate fate of the dog, but it seemed shallow to me. In fact, I had already forgotten this story between the time I read it a couple days ago and writing this post.


77. "The Zero Meter Diving Team," by Jim Shepard

This is the strongest story in the collection so far. A family living near and working at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant carries on their usual, working-class Soviet life, when the explosion puts everything on its ear. A mixture of factual event-by-event chronology of what happened and the fictionalized family members' reactions gives the events a good human feel.
 

Lakey

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Welcome Animad! I’m so glad you’re here — the more, the merrier (and the more, the larger my backlog of stories I really want to read)!

I have a a few rereads in this update, so I am making a fairly arbitrary decision about which to count and which not. I already counted a reread of a story I read in last year’s challenge (“Bullet in the Brain”) and of a story I have read many times, most recently about two years ago (“The Lottery”). So this week I reread “St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves,” which I talked about in the challenge thread just a month or two ago, and it feels too recent to count it, so I won’t. (It was one of the stories in Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft; I was delighted to have the excuse to read it again. It’s a super story.)

Another Shirley Jackson reread this week which I will count (because I haven’t read the story in a couple of years):

51. “Afternoon in Linen,” Shirley Jackson, 1943
I heard this one in the New Yorker fiction podcast, in which writers read work of other writers and discuss it with the New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Triesman. This was an absolutely great listen — not just for the fantastic Shirley Jackson story, but also because of Triesman’s discussion with Kristen Roupenian (best known as author of “Cat Person,” a story published in the New Yorker a couple of years ago that got a lot of attention). It was exactly the kind of literary discussion I eat up with a spoon, a close reading of a rich, subtle story by people who really know how to read. I loved every second of it and I highly recommend you go and find this episode of the podcast. (There’s also a New Yorker Voice of the Writer podcast in which writers read their own work; there’s no lit-geeky discussion in that one.)

52. “The Shorn Lamb,” Jean Stafford, 1953
Also from the New Yorker fiction podcast, this time a discussion with Garth Greenwell, who is an author I do not know. I love Jean Stafford — she slots right into my passion for midcentury women writers and that New York scene that Jackson and so many others were a part of, and she’s also a deeply intellectual and in her own way an edgy writer, exposing (also like Jackson) some of the horrors and contradictions inherent in being a woman in that time and place. This story (like the Jackson story, by coincidence) is from the perspective of a child, who has been used as a pawn in a battle between her parents, whose marriage is falling apart. It’s heartbreaking and incisive and really terrific stuff. Right up my alley, anyway.

And a couple more from Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, from the chapter on setting.

53. “The Flowers,” Alice Walker, 1973
Extremely brief, extremely shocking story of a girl whose childhood ends when she comes across the decomposing, mutilated body of a lynched man.

54. “A Visit of Charity,” Eudora Welty, 1941
Putting the Gothic in Southern Gothic; a very creepy story about a girl trying to get Campfire Girl points by visiting old people in a nursing home.

54/100 read, 24/50 from the last five years.

:e2coffee:
 

mrsmig

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Welcome, Animad345! Nice to have another reader in our little group.

I finally finished The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2019 anthology. This collection was a VERY mixed bag - several of the stories were simply tedious, a couple felt like they didn't belong in an SFF anthology (although I enjoyed them), and overall there wasn't a real standout in the bunch. So let's recap the final few:

24. "The Spires" by Alec Nevala Lee. A bush pilot takes a mysterious couple into the wilds of Alaska, seeking the source of a strange fata morgana. This is one of those stories that just sort of drooled on and never came to any real point. Still not sure what the author was trying to say with it.

25. "Foxy & Tiggs" by Justina Robson. A pair of engineered security agents (one's fox-based, the other's a velociraptor) at a large, sentient resort must solve a crime. This was a diverting caper story with two entertaining main characters and some neat world-building, although it went on a little longer than I would have liked. It's clearly a teaser for a full series.

26. "Beautiful" by Juliet Marillier. A lonely princess awaits her marriage to a mysterious prince. One of my favorites because it's got a great main character and lots of surprises that unfold slowly. A bit of Shrek (minus the broad humor) mixed into a traditional fantasy tale, with a very satisfying ending.

27. "Dayenu" by James Sallis. I cannot even tell you what this one was about. There was a sort of criminal investigation, and changing identities, and maybe a revolution or even a war, but overall I found it way long and super confusing.

28. "Firelight" by Ursula K. Le Guin. A wistful final chapter to Le Guin's classic Earthsea books. It's been decades since I read them, and when I realized what the story was, I was fearful that I wouldn't remember enough details from the trilogy to fully appreciate the story. I needn't have worried; it all started coming back to me as I read, which is a testament to how memorable those books were.

I'm going to take a little break from short stories to read a novel (The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan - I think it's going to be a fast read), then I'll tackle The Story Prize anthology.
 
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Animad345

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Thank you so much for the warm welcome! So many amazing recommendations here! I'm carrying on with the anthology of short stories, Love of Fat Men, by Helen Dunmore.

3) Spring Wedding. About a very unequal relationship between two teenagers. A typical scenario where one could be perceived as too good for the other, but the lesser partner thinks the other one should be lucky to be with them.

4) Annina. Hands-down one of the strangest short stories I have ever read. It's about a child who has left home, but no ordinary child. She's almost otherworldly and this is from the POV of the mother, who of course wants her to come back.

5) Paivi. A pregnant woman with a really nasty partner, told by the perspective of her friend. That's it really, but written extremely well.

6) A Grand Day. Wow to this one. It's about an extremely personable Catholic priest who is coming to the point in his life where he's marrying off couples who he baptised back in the day. He is perfectly happy with his life, but something in the story challenges this, and makes him aware of his own loneliness.

What's interesting about Helen Dunmore is that very little happens in her short stories, but they still speak so loudly!
 

Chris P

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The stories in The Story Prize are getting stronger.


78. "Bullet in the brain," by Tobias Wolff

A dark comedic one. Anders goes to the bank, and while waiting masked robbers burst in, shouting all the hackneyed Hollywood cliches they can fling at the tellers and onlookers. The first half reads like a Tarantino movie, which the second half calls to mind the types of chain-of-event descriptions Vonnegut occasionally explored.


79. "Saleema," by Daniyal Mueenuddin

Saleema, the Indian daughter of Muslim refugees living in Pakistan, takes a job as a servant in the household of a wealthy local aristocrat. She navigates the complex world of the underclass in a class-driven society. A good and gritty, well-written story.
 

Lakey

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Chris I just reread “Bullet in the Brain” a week or two ago and commented on it above — I also read it in last year’s challenge. It’s quite a story isn’t it? It’s so brief but does remarkable things with characterization, with bending time around, with changes of scale.

I’ve read another story from Writing Fiction but I think I’ll wait until I’ve read the other ones from this chapter and then post about all of them at once.

:e2coffee:
 

mrsmig

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Finished my novel and moved right on to The Story Prize anthology. I'm not going to encapsulate each story since Chris P. has already done so.

29. "The Book of Miracles" by Edwidge Danticat. I felt the same as you did, Chris - it had a lovely, melancholy tone as the mother of the story muses about her losses and her fear that her husband's past could one day be exposed, but it just didn't come together for me.

30. "The Postman's Cottage" by Patrick O'Keeffe. This one was definitely a rough go. I think - think - the character of Eoin (which can be pronounced as either "Owen" or "Ian") was offed by a jealous rival, but as you said, it isn't entirely clear. I felt the whole story could have used some streamlining and clarification. The shifting POVs didn't help.
 
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The Second Moon

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Hey everyone. I know it is more than halfway through 2020, but I would like to share about the short story collections I've read in 2020. I'll do a separate post for each collection. (I'm pulling these reviews off my Instagram so if there are formatting issues, that's why.)

I finished Homesick by Nino Cipri. It's a short story collection including SF and fantasy stories.

My favorite story was Presque Vu. I loved the world building in this one. Basically it's about a man who coughs up keys because in this world everyone has a "haunting" like finding puzzle pieces in your shoes and so on. The story however revolved more around the man's love life then the setting.

My least favorite wasn't really a short story, but a little quiz to find out what dead little girl you are. I felt like it was out of place in a short story collection. Plus without knowing more about who the dead little girls I could be were, I didn't have much fun with it.

Overall, I was very much intrigued by this book. Four stars . Anyways, if you are an adult who can handle um...NSFW stuff and mature content...then get this book. (The NSFW stuff wasn't hard erotica, but stuff was mentioned). Homesick also featured a lot of gay relationships, which I thought was cool.
 

The Second Moon

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I finished "Familiarity" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

It is a linked short story collection about a wizard and his familiar. It takes place in the early 2000's. The wizard only has a little bit of magic so he needs help from his cat familiar. It was kind of funny and the characters felt real. Overall I'd give it a 4 out of 5.

EDIT: This is what got me hooked on familiars.
 

The Second Moon

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Finished "Shifting Worlds" by Darian Smith.

I loved how he included the how he got the idea for each story behind each tale.

I also adored the plot twists at the end of most of the stories.

That said, there was some suggestive stuff in this book, so read with caution.

My favorite story was "Recession" where a man and his wife are going to leave their young daughter while they go out. The daughter is scared of monsters. I loved the plot twist in this one.

My least favorite would be "A Suitor". It mentioned the most erotic material, which I am not a big fan of.

Overall 3 stars.
 

Chris P

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Great to see you here, The Second Moon! I appreciate your activity and engagement on the fora here.

30. "The Postman's Cottage" by Patrick O'Keeffe. This one was definitely a rough go. I think - think - the character of Eoin (which can be pronounced as either "Owen" or "Ian") was offed by a jealous rival, but as you said, it isn't entirely clear. I felt the whole story could have used some streamlining and clarification. The shifting POVs didn't help.

I thought the postman either killed Eoin in a brawl in the marsh, intentionally or accidentally, or Eoin wandered in and the postman tried to save him and couldn't. Since he remained silent the whole time I suspect it was the former.

But . . . but . . . The clothes? The letter? If my conclusion is correct, that doesn't explain the clothes or the letter.
 

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The Second Moon, I’m glad you’ve decided to join us. Looking forward to hearing more about the stories you read!

For me, the next chapter of Writing Fiction, which is about control and manipulation of narrative time.

55. “You’re Ugly, Too,” Lorrie Moore, 1988
I love this story, for the same reasons I love most Lorrie Moore stories; at its heart is a constrained young woman very close to the end of her rope. The story is full of quirky happenings and fresh turns of phrase, and the climax, when she finally reaches the end of that rope, is also delightfully quirky and sympathetic. The manipulation of time in this one is fairly straightforward, occurring in flashbacks off the main timeline of the story.

56. “The Fun House,” Sherman Alexie, 1993
A brief story about a woman who loses patience with the way her husband and (grown) son take her for granted. The manipulation of time occurs in a couple of flashback scenes to the beginning of each relationship, an early date with the husband, and the birth of the son. They seem to suggest that the woman has been put upon by these two from the inception.

57. “Currents,” Hannah Bottomy Voskuil, 2006
This story is told backwards; each paragraph begins “Before that,” and covers a time frame prior to the previous paragraph’s time frame — even only by a few minutes. The story is only about a page long — I can’t imagine this device working in a longer story. The story ends, of course, before the inciting event of the narrative, ends with “Before that, it was a simple summer day.” And as such, it reminds me a bit of the Alice Walker story I talked about in my previous post, which was about a shattering of innocence when a young girl comes across the corpse of a lynched man. There too, before that, it was a simple summer day.

57/100 read, 24/50 from the last five years.

:e2coffee:
 

Friendly Frog

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I finished "Familiarity" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. It is a linked short story collection about a wizard and his familiar. It takes place in the early 2000's. The wizard only has a little bit of magic so he needs help from his cat familiar. It was kind of funny and the characters felt real. Overall I'd give it a 4 out of 5. EDIT: This is what got me hooked on familiars.
I loved "Familiarity"! Hard to pick a favourite among them. Winston and Ruby are such great characters and Rush's world of familiars is such an interesting treat. I didn't include it in my own short story challenge this year because I wanted to focus on new writers but I feel like I must add my recommendation.
 

The Second Moon

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@ Friendly Frog - I actually got the suggestion for "Familiarity" from you. I made a thread around Christmas last year asking about linked short story collections and that was my favorite suggestion. I only got it this summer and now I'm kicking myself for not getting it sooner. Great book!

EDIT: Question for Friendly Frog - Are their more books by Rusch about familiars?
 
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Friendly Frog

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Hahaa! Hilarious! (damn, was that last year already? I have read it longer ago than I remembered. Thought it was this year.)

Rusch has at least one other Familiar story that I recall right away, but with other characters. The Poop Thief. It's in her Five Feline Fancies collection. Also a good collection that one, but they're more detective stories.

For sampling her other short stories, Rusch posts a short story of hers for free on her website https://kriswrites.com every Monday. And she has so. much. stories. I'm currently dipping into her sci-fi Diving series.
 

Chris P

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Hey all, not that we need more story compilations to read, but the Best American Short Story anthologies celebrated their 100th year in 2015, and "100 Years of the Best American Short Stories" is on sale for $2.99 at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and others for a limited time.

I usually pick up the yearly installments of this series. The quality of the stories depends on the individual editor for that year, but a century-spanning retrospective should be fully solid.
 
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mrsmig

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I thought the postman either killed Eoin in a brawl in the marsh, intentionally or accidentally, or Eoin wandered in and the postman tried to save him and couldn't. Since he remained silent the whole time I suspect it was the former.

But . . . but . . . The clothes? The letter? If my conclusion is correct, that doesn't explain the clothes or the letter.

I figured the clothes and letter were a plant. But even so - seems like that would have been a crime of passion, and the letter suggests malice aforethought. It was definitely a big plot hole.
 

Lakey

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Hey all, not that we need more story compilations to read, but the Best American Short Story anthologies celebrated their 100th year in 2015, and "100 Years of the Best American Short Stories" is on sale for $2.99 at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and others for a limited time.

I usually pick up the yearly installments of this series. The quality of the stories depends on the individual editor for that year, but a century-spanning retrospective should be fully solid.

Soooo after I sent Chris a rep message saying “oh no, however will I resist” .... guess who already has this book?

/points at self with thumbs

I must have bought it the last time it was on sale. I really need to, like, read some of this ridiculous backlog I’ve got.

:e2coffee:
 

Elizabeth George's book Write Away