No theme here, nor any word count cleverness. Just five books I really liked and recommend heartily: Ian Sales' Adrift on the Sea of Rains, Mary Wilkins Freeman's Understudies, Johan Harstad's 172 Hours on the Moon, George Tomkyns' The Battle of Dorking and James M. Cain's The Cocktail Waitress.
Adrift on the Sea of Rains (2012) by Ian Sales. Mr. Sales and I don't have the same taste in science fiction. He likes rocket ships and space maths and detailed research - hard SF. I like tentacles, weirdness and angst. So when I read Adrift, I was prepared for - not disappointment, but dissonance. Boy, was I surprised.
This is a book about astronauts trapped on the moon, trying to get home. And, I'll be damned if he didn't crack the perfect balance between character and concept. Absolutely, Adrift is about angles and gravity and scientific whatnot that I'm sure is perfectly correct, but, more importantly, it is about isolation and despair and hope and belief. It is a balance between science and fiction, and, despite the brevity of the novella format, simply one of the best space operas I've ever read.
Understudies (1901) by Mary Wilkins. Mary Wilkins is the only author to appear in Lost Souls twice. That wasn't intentional. While going through the stacks and stacks of stories, we picked out one by "Mary Wilkins" and one by "Mary Freeman". When we realised that was the same woman... we stuck with it. In an anthology with Arthur Conan Doyle, Bret Harte, Mary Coleridge, Stephen Crane, etc - Ms. Wilkins/Freeman still deserves to be the one doubly represented. ("Amanda Todd" is the story which has become our de facto cover, thanks to Vincent Sammy's beautiful illustration.)
Her introduction in Lost Souls contains more about her unusual life - first a 'failed' writer of children's books, then an immediate success when she turned her hand to an older audience. She specialised in the fiction of small towns; lonely hearts and failed lives and small triumphs. Understudies is appropriately heart-breaking, a collection of short stories centred around animals: the doctor's horse, a lost dog, a squirrel... but actually about the people that rely on them. It isn't on Project Gutenberg, but it has been snaffled by Google Books. (Or you can read Lost Souls, naturally.)