“How to Love a Jamaican” by Alexia Arthurs

How To Love A Jamaican is a collection of eleven short stories by debut author Alexia Arthurs, all centered on the theme of Love. You might expect a collection of falling in love, and out of love, and happily ever afters, or not. That is not what this collection is. Arthurs’ has created eleven very unique stories to define the way love appears in our lives, from heterosexual romance to a son loving his mother and trying to please her. While probably not unique to Jamaicans, the context of these variations on love within Jamaican culture is wholly readable and fascinating.

Five standout, five-star stories in the collection are –

“Island” – a story of how lesbianism and female love in Jamaican culture and on the island itself, told through the eyes of a woman returning home to Jamaica for a wedding and feeling out of place amongst new American friends with male lovers and even more out of place on the island where she’s meant to get married and have babies.

“Mermaid River” – a story of the love and bond between a man and the grandmother who raised him, told through the passage of time when he gave up time with friends to help her and his adult reluctance to be pulled back into taking care of her in actual old age and then to mourning her when she is gone.

“On Shelf” – a story of the delicate balance between wanting to love and to be loved, and living the life we want to live, it is a tale of the desperation caused by society telling us that not only do we need to be loved, that we need to be loved to have value and worth.

“Shirley From A Small Place” – a story of a worldwide pop star who lives the life of a pop star but it’s an unfulfilled life, until she goes home to Jamaica where her mother makes her the food she grew up with and they bond over ignoring the changes that have come between them in favor of remembering the things that define them.

“Mash Up Love” – a story of twins, Esau & Jacob ‘Cobby’, and how their mother loved them as best she could, but differently, leaving Esau to wonder at just how a certain kind of love can maybe make a certain kind of person turn out a certain way.

(I received a copy of How to Love a Jamaican from NetGalley and Ballantine Books in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.)

Reviewed: “Mailbox: A Scattershot Novel…” by Nancy Freund

51.jpgBooks a best when read with friends, as I’m sure MAILBOX narrator Sandy Drue would agree, so when a friend said she got MAILBOX from the “Read Now” ARC shelf at NetGalley, I did too.

Nancy Freund’s “scattershot novel” is a collection of seventy-five super short stories, some not more than a paragraph or two, which are really the diary of Sandy Drue as she ages from eight to twelve or so. The appeal of this book, disjointed though it sometimes seemed, was that I identify with Sandy Drue. Freund places her in time about two decades before I was those ages but she gives Sandy the thoughts I had, Sandy writes things like what I wrote (or would have written if I’d been better at keeping a diary), and Sandy talks like I talked when faced with the changes of childhood to not yet adulthood.

All that being said, I think I would have liked the book more if it was a proper novel told from Sandy’s perspective, because I love Sandy. Less random essays and more story, that sort of thing.

And all that being said, MAILBOX is an excellent way to spend a few hours.

(I received a copy of MAILBOX through NetGalley and Gobreau Press LLC in exchange for an honest and original review.)

Reviewed: “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” by Sherman Alexie

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in HeavenI was lucky enough to receive a signed copy of the 20th anniversary edition of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie through a Grove Atlantic giveaway on Twitter.

I admit that I entered the contest because I had heard about the book, and other books by Sherman Alexie, but I hadn’t ever read one. It was just as good, better even, than I hoped it would be.

Sadly, my strong suit has never, ever been talking about or reviewing short stories. This is a book of short stories. Even in high school short stories always seem too… short to be reviewed on their own. And how to you review a book of short stories as a whole?

This is why chances are slim that I’ll ever write a short story.

But I digress.

The stories in this collection are about the Spokane Indians and as Mr. Alexie is a Spokane Indian, I have complete faith that these stories are true portrayals of life on that reservation.

Mr. Alexie says so himself in the introduction.

The introduction is actually the part of the book that sticks with me the most. The part where he says that when the book first came out he was criticized for giving in to the stereotype of the drunk, lazy Indian but argued that it is reality on the reservations was deep and strong.

Equally as important, and made clear throughout the stories, is the fact that while some Indians are content to be the drunk, lazy Indian there are some who aren’t. Education is valued, even though it’s often out of reach.

Family is important and although many families are broken, it seems like it’s sometimes because someone can’t live up to what they expect themselves to me.

Community is also hugely important, just as you’d probably expect, and that shows through even when middle aged men with beers in their hand speak sadly of the teenage stars on the basketball team who have started to drink.

The stories in this collection are fascinating, hopeful, and heartbreaking all at the same time. There are things to laugh about and things that make you want to cry.

The thing is… this is life. It’s life for a Spokane Indian and it’s life for everyone.

Sometimes it’s just nice to escape into someone else’s life and find out that unlike in romance novels or fantasy books, it’s not all that great there either.

This should be required reading for everyone.