May is Short Story Month. To celebrate, I’ve decided to take part in The Collection Giveaway Project being run by Fiction Writers Review. The basic idea is that I

(1) Post an entry on your blog recommending a recently published short story collection (or two, or three).

(2) Offer a copy of the book (or each book) as a giveaway to one lucky person who comments on your blog.

(3) Announce the winner(s) on May 31, 2011, and arrange to send out copies of any books you are giving away.

I am pleased to be able to offer two books, both of which I have enjoyed over the last twelve months. Read the reviews below, then leave a comment telling me which book you would like to receive and why. The winners will be plucked from my Gears of War beanie by my ever helpful four year old. And no, you can’t ask for both books, greedy guts.

From Dark Places by E.J. Newman

Emma Newman’s debut short fiction collection is, as the title suggests, a dark and often chilling set of stories, told in a wide variety of genres, styles and voices. There are epistolic stories, third person flights of dark fantasy, first person descents into dark minds. Indeed, judging by this debut, Newman is able to turn her hand to most types of fiction.

While darkness does pervade this generous helping of twenty-five tales there are also slices of tenderness and humour, this lighter side throwing the darkness into further, starker contrast. In fact Newman’s world seems to be one of contrasts. She is as at home writing about the mundane realities of rejected lovers, abandoned orphans and unfaithful spouses as she is is tales of demons, angels and even gods. It is her deftness with language that allows her to take in such disparate subjects while still imbuing the collection with a sense of unity.

The best thing about Newman’s work here though has to be her willingness to take risks. It is rare to come across a collection so broad in scope. It is true that some stories work better than others, but that is true of most other, less brave debuts. Many of the stories collected here were written as part of Newman’s Short Story Club, where she invites readers to join the mailing list and suggest ideas, themes or other starting points for stories which she then writes and emails to members. Like I said, brave and unafraid of challenging herself.

I recently hosted Emma Newman on this blog to share he Life in Short Fiction. During that interview she selected The Letter as one of the stories from the collection that best reflected her writing as a whole. Having read this collection I would have to agree that The Letter is a great example of what you will find huddled in these pages. To  paraphrase Emma Newman’s literary hero, the great Ray Bradbury: Something dark, something funny, and something emotional this way comes.

Not So Perfect by Nik Perring (originally reviewed as part of my Short Story Challenge)

‘Not so Perfect’ is a collection of 22 short short fictions presented in a beautifully small square volume. While the package and the stories are small in size, the same cannot be said of the content, each of the 22 stories packing in more character, charm and emotion than many authors manage in much longer works.

Absence is a key theme in many of the stories (Sobs, Say My Name, The Angel In The Car Park, Number 14 most notably) with characters yearning for some sort of connection (Watching/Listening, Bare and Naked in Siberia, My Heart’s in a Box, The Mechanical Woman) but these are not despairing tales of woe. Each story is garlanded with striking imagery and precise and often beautiful prose, creating something to be treasured in amongst the heartache, whether it’s the impermanent simplicity of a snow angel or the pure emotion that would drive someone to plaster a house in post-it notes.

The linking feature of all the stories for me has to be the heart each one displays. ‘Not So Perfect’ is full of memorable characters and revelatory moments that reach out beyond the bounds of the page, demanding the reader’s emotional attention. As I read my way through the collection a new favourite story would unfold before me, a new favourite moment, and now, having finished, selecting even a handful of favourites is a challenge, so much easier just to recommend you read them all.

‘Not So Perfect’ is a fantastic example of the power of flash fiction to provide a revelatory moment that resonates far longer than the story itself takes to read. Reading these stories is like getting punched in the heart over and over again. In a good way, a way that leaves you treasuring the bruises you feel as you empathise with their many charming characters and narrators.

There you go folks. Pick the book you most fancy reading and tell me why to be in with a chance of winning.