**** I really liked it on February 26, 2020 by Kelly Miess
***** Wonderful Collection of Short Stories
**** Really liked it by Mary Beth, Goodreads on December 24, 2018
***** A Look into The Fish Tank by Paul – Amazon UK on November 2, 2018
One, I am a hard person to please when it comes to reading.
You see, I don’t much care for populist stories, they are all a bit same-old, same-old. They pander to the lowest common denominator in a sad and futile race for numbers.
I look for stories written from an interesting perspective, ones which touch the soul, stimulate the mind and provoke thought. Elements so often overlooked in favour of the mindless banality which tends to pass for entertainment.
Secondly, I rarely write reviews.
I think I have put pen to paper this way four times in as many years.
Therefore, it is not without reason I write this article, call it a review if you wish, about a book called The Fish Tank & other stories, written by Maria Elena Alonso-Sierra.
I first came across this book whilst editing ‘The List’, an annual recommended reading list published by CQ International. The cover, designed by Scott Carpenter grabbed my attention, exactly as a good cover should.
A little later, I was asked by an author friend if I would read an ARC. I did, hence this rambling account.
I was intrigued by the first tale, Jerry’s Gift, which sort of sets the feeling for the entire book. I say ‘sort of’ because the ambience of each unfolding story moodily fluctuates while continuing the ambience of haunting hope interwoven with a lingering sadness of passing.
The title tale, the Fish Tank, brings to life the stark reality of the author’s experience as a child leaving Castro’s Cuba for a life in exile.
After reading The Fish Tank, I understand Maria’s statement about writing these short stories, “I never suspected creating the short stories would tear at the scab protecting a deep wound I still harbour in my heart, one that will not quite properly heal.”
Each story is narrated beautifully; the well-paced revealing of the characters and their situations makes each tale a joy to read, easily flowing from start to the end.
Reading this book allowed me to glimpse into people’s personal and private lives, to live with them as they feared for what the next day, the next hour may bring and, I felt the subdued passion of hope, as the teasing dreams of a better future dangle tantalisingly a fingertip away.
As I said at the beginning, I am a hard person to please when it comes to reading, which is why I rarely write reviews.
*****Heart and Soul in Short Stories by Red48 on October 6, 2018
This is the first book I have read by Maria Elena Alonso-Sierra, but definitely not the last. You can easily see that she has put her heart and soul into every story. All are written in a different genre showing the versatility of this author. Maria Elena could have easily turned every one into a full blown novel. I can’t pick a favorite because they are all so well written. Each story comes alive on the first page. All have completely fleshed out characters and their worlds are complete. It feels like you are right there in the middle of the action. I highly recommend this book and others written by Maria Elena Alonso-Sierra.
*****A book to curl up with! By TM Brown on July 27, 2018
I recently met Maria and her sister at a book-signing event. Without question, she’s a very good writer. Just a few pages in and I’m committed.
*****Award Winning B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree By indieBRAG on June 24, 2018
We are proud to announce that FISH TANK: and Other Short Stories by Maria Elena Alonso-Sierra is a B.R.A.G.Medallion Honoree. This tells readers that this book is well worth their time and money!
This book is well written, with a variety of very interesting stories. The title and book cover focus only on one story in the book. Each story is very interesting and I really liked the variety. I liked the author style of writing and found the entire book very interesting and entertaining.
This was a very interesting read for me- I am not very informed on the Cuban situation. I found this enlightening and helpful in giving me a vivid picture of what it was like in revolutionary Cuba. I did find some of the stories a bit slow but overall they kept my attention. I definitely would read more by this author. Thank you.
*****Great Book By Fred Fanning on April 28, 2018
Great book filled with interesting and enjoyable stories. I enjoyed them all.
*****Great read By Dancer89 on March 16, 2018
I do not usually enjoy short stories, but I did really enjoy this book and look forward to reading more by this author.
***** Haunting and Intriguing…by Holly Connors at Feathered Quill on December 23, 2017
This wonderful collection of short stories begins with “Jerry’s Gift,” a fun tale of a recently divorced woman who gets a final, unexpected gift from her louse of an ex-husband. At just two and a half-pages in length, it’s hard to imagine getting sucked into the story, but that’s exactly what happened to this reviewer. Maureen is in her great-grandfather’s home, now her home, which she plans to renovate, thanks to Jerry’s gift. The author expertly sets the mood, complete with a porch and a glass of lemonade that will keep you wondering about that gift. When the truth is revealed, every divorced woman will likely expel a gleeful laugh. Sweet justice is fun.
From a gift to a crazy roller coaster ride that will get your heart pounding, the author next moves to her most personal section, several stories based in/about Cuba, her birthplace, but no longer her “home.” The title story, “The Fish Tank,” centers on a little girl, Matilde, and her mother, as they wait at the airport in Cuba. Matilde and her mother, along with several other Cubans, have been granted passage out of Cuba. But first, they must wait in a glassed-in room, where other travelers can look and gawk at them. Don’t fidget, Matilde tells herself, just as her mother warned. The last thing they want to do is draw attention to themselves. Matilde clings to her doll and listens silently to the whispers of the adults. Don’t twitch, don’t fidget, and don’t touch her skirt, she tells herself again. The tension is thick in the room as the passengers wait to see if they will indeed be granted a spot on the plane.
Three more stories about life in Cuba or Cubans who have escaped follow and again, each draws the reader into the lives of the various characters. Next it’s a complete change of pace with a museum that just might be haunted…or is it? Then it’s on to a fun “who-dun-it” story staring Detective Nick Larson. The murder he’s investigating seems pretty straightforward, particularly since it was caught on tape by the home’s security system. However, something in Nick’s gut is telling him it’s not right – sure, the couple was separated, heading for divorce, but still…
Within the first few paragraphs of the first story, I knew that the author had mastered the genre and that The Fish Tank was going to be a very good read. The author set the stage quickly in each story, wasting no words, but through her perfect descriptive language, drawing an image, or a plot, that jumped off the pages. In “The Fish Tank,” as the hopeful passengers wait, tension slowly rises and it’s easy to get a sense of what the characters must have felt. Even in a story as light-hearted as “Rites of Passage” where a mother is taking her son on a roller coaster ride, a ride she definitely does not want to go on, the slow build-up of nerves as they wait in line, the quickening of the mother’s heartbeat, her sweaty palms, everything in fact, builds it up perfectly and I had images of the last time I’d braved such a ride. Each and every story in this book was one I thoroughly enjoyed and the characters have lingered in my mind long after I closed the book.
Quill says: The Fish Tank is at times fun, exhilarating, haunting and intriguing. The author has done an excellent job of capturing the essence of the short
*****A Priceless Gift By Chickie on December 19, 2017
Maria Elena Alonso-Sierra’s The Fish Tank and Other Short Stories will capture your heart and imagination. Each short story transports you to a different time, a different place. From Section 3: (Stories from the Cuban Diaspora) , you are taken to a time where the wrong action, the wrong word could be life or death. In the short story Into the Light, you are in a paranormal story that has an anomaly that you don’t, (but you do!), want to know why lies beyond. In Jerry’s Gift and the Rite of Passage, each story edifies a strong woman finding her way.
Each story within The Fish Tank: and Other Short Stories is a wrapped gift. With each word written, Maria Elena opens the heart of the story that will find a place within your heart.
*****A jewel ***** By Gisela Hausmann on November 4, 2017
Maria Elena Alonso-Sierra’s short stories collection “The Fish Tank: And Other Short Stories” is a jewel.
Of the four sections, “For the Fun of Writing (Just Because), Soul Songs (Stories from the Cuban Diaspora), Prologues (prequel stories from upcoming novels), and The End,” Soul Songs impressed me the most. Having lived in the Florida Keys, home to many Cuban refugees, Alonso-Sierra’s stories reminded me of similar stories I have heard.
Alonso-Sierra’s gift for writing allows the readers to “see” her characters’ thinking, struggle with conflict, and the will to overcome whatever the obstacle.
Her book features a lot of strong women and I liked that.
In “Jerry’s Gift” it’s Maureen who got out of a non-working marriage. Though she supported her ex, Jerry, while he studied corporate law, he did not value her as a partner and his family did not treasure her. But Jerry isn’t as perfect as he thinks. Busy with philandering and trying to manipulate things so Maureen’d get as little money as possible, Jerry forgot that had hid her jewelry together with his late grandmother’s. And, since Jerry, not Maureen, took the jewelry out of the safety box nobody would ever be able to track it back to her.
But, having taken “the gift” Maureen doesn’t sit idle, she builds a new life for herself. And, she enjoys it.
“… Every afternoon, after she stopped the refurbishing, she made a pitcher of lemonade and sat facing the eighty-year-old maple trees at the edge of the property. Her ritual. Her space. Her world…”
In “Rites of Passage” it’s Kate who overcomes her disliking of roller coasters to support her son Bryan. Finally tall enough, Bryan wants to ride the highest, scariest roller coaster but his father won’t let him go alone or ride with him. Supporting Bryan is so empowering that Kate overcomes her own emotional restraints.
“… With a heartfelt sigh, I stand in line again.”
In “Bubbles Don’t Bring Smiles” it’s Abue Cachita (Abue, shortened from abuela, Spanish for grandmother) who keeps her cool as Castro’s soldiers are approaching, searching for American goods while the “… glorious Comandante (Castro) is at the front lines. He will not cower to the enemy that threatens to destroy our glorious revolution.”…”
Alonso-Sierra features not only clever women stores, there is also a detective Nick Larson Story, with a Alonso-Sierra’s third novel about his detective work forthcoming.
Maybe not surprising the story that moved me the most is The Fish Tank* (*2015 Finalist at Carried in Waves Contest from the University of Cork, Ireland), also depicted on the cover.
The opening of this story holds the clue.
“… (Matilda’s) back created a perfect parallel to the chair’s backrest barely two inches behind her, and the organza skirt she wore, a faded green, frothed around her legs, its color a pitiful contrast against the vivid white petticoat underneath. She tried not to move, unlike the other adults inside the room who shifted nervously in kaleidoscope patterns…”
Matilda is about to leave Cuba with her mother. They are going to join her Papi who escaped after the Playa Girón invasion. Matilda brings only one toy, “… a beautiful Snow White doll, crafted in Switzerland, with a smooth porcelain face, round innocent eyes, rosy cheeks, and a pout for a smile. A family heirloom, handed down from mother to daughter for four generations…”
As she waits with her mother in “the fish tank,” a holding room, suspense rises by the minute. People are still getting removed, they won’t make it to freedom. When Matilda and her mother are finally about to leave, one of the guards notices the doll… (no spoilers from this reviewer)
Remember, the clue was in the opening of the story! Things are never obvious.
It’s another “strong woman”-story, only this time is a girl.
LOVED this book. A must-read for Floridians, Cubans, women, history buffs, and lovers of good books.
Gisela Hausmann, author & blogger
*****A collection full of heart By pearls on August 19, 2017
A very quick read that flows deeper into the human condition, exposing the heart of the truth. From motherhood to émigrés, Alonso-Sierra is able to succinctly wrap up the human condition in an entertaining collection that will leave you feeling connected to the world around you.
*****Pure Magic By A. Cleaver on July 2, 2017
I picked up the paperback at a book signing in San Antonio and am just blown away! This is a series of short stories, each story with something unique to say. They range from funny to poignant to sad to whimsical. At the turn of every page, you want to see what Maria Elena is going to say next. Her writing has such a lyrical quality that it is almost like reading the lyrics to a song. Beautifully descriptive, you clearly see every character, every image as she describes it. She transports you to a roller coaster at theme park and a home in her native Cuba to a haunted house, and, with each story, you can’t help but be in her world. In the end, you are just thrilled that she invited you.
I loved her books The Coin and The Book of Hours but this is something very different. It feels completely personal, like we have stepped into her skin for a peek. I can’t say enough good things about it so just pick it up and get ready to get lost in her magic.
***** Thought-provoking and Memorable… by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers’ Favorite on May 19, 2017
An unexpected treasure handed over from an ex-spouse via the divorce lawyer; a classic mother-son bonding experience on a roller coaster ride; tragic tales of survival of ordinary Cuban citizens in the 1960s; a paranormal happening in the Museum of the Weird, the Sad, and the Wretched; and a complex murder mystery – all of these stories in one volume. The Fish Tank and Other Short Stories by Maria Elena Alonso-Sierra reveals life stories in the raw with a compassion for reality and the fantastical.
Maria Elena is a marvellous storyteller. She presents her narrative with overwhelming descriptive power and unexpected and surprising twists and turns. The plots are cleverly orchestrated with characters that come alive with compassion, both good and evil. Her protagonists are strong and endearing, particularly in her Cuban stories which depict an era of unspoken horrors and frightening scenarios. The suspense leading up to the climax pulls the reader along on a roller coaster ride filled with adventure to a climax that certainly doesn’t disappoint – it rather fills the reader with a sense of awe as the reader realizes the power behind the narrative and the unusual path that the author has followed. The resolution reaffirms the author’s intent: to provide the reader with a certain “wow” factor in the story itself. From suspense, to romance, to real-life stories from the author’s own past, the finely tuned craft of the short story is clearly evident in this collection. Each story is engaging, thought-provoking and memorable. This is clearly an author who writes with style and with class.
*****Five Stars By Dr. Agamemnon Gus Pantel, Ph.D. on March 8, 2017
Great short stories!!!! which reminded me of my own childhood leaving Cuba as our homeland.