The Best of 2021 in Books and Comics

Oh, 2021… it was, in many ways, quite similar to 2020, actually. We did a general summary of the year here, and now the time comes to sum up our reading/watching experiences. This year, we decided to combine our best and worst title is one place, one reason being it’s already mid-January…

Piotrek: and another, at least in my case, that I mostly made really good choices and there’s really not that much bad stuff to write about.

Ola: Oh, for me this reading year was more of a mixed bag, with some truly flabbergasting titles from NetGalley – and some truly amazing, too. It was generally a pretty good year, reading-wise. Lots of solid titles, not too many re-reads… I will also remember this year as my introduction to the marvellous metaverse of manga – and that journey will continue!

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Roy Plotnick, Explorers of Deep Time: Paleontologists and the History of Life (2022)

Author: Roy Plotnick

Title: Explorers of Deep Time: Paleontologists and the History of Life

Format: e-book

Pages: 312

Series: –

I’ll be very frank: Roy Plotnick’s book is a strange beast indeed; I have expected something along the lines of Dean R. Lomax’s Locked In Time, a pure palaeontology delight filled with descriptions of unique discoveries and fact-based interpretation of the traces of life long gone. What I got instead was an unusual mixture of a tiny bit of paleontological knowledge, a huge load of pages seemingly lifted from Who’s Who in US palaeontology, overflowing with personal information about various US palaeontologists in the last 50 years, complete with short biography boxes completely disrupting the flow of the book, and a fair amount of what looks like a memoir of Plotnick himself, with personal photographs. In short, if you want to become a palaeontologist in the modern United States, this book is for you. It’s filled with useful information about positions, institutions, big and small names in the field, the development of various palaeontology areas and subdivisions, and so on. But if you want to know a bit more about the contents of palaeontology itself – look somewhere else. I strongly suggest Lomax’s book, because it’s as illuminating as it is engaging. 

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K. Eason, Nightwatch on the Hinterlands (2021)

Author: K. Eason

Title: Nightwatch on the Hinterlands 

Format: e-book

Pages: 416

Series: The Weep #1

An opening to a new series set in the Rory Thorne universe, Nightwatch on the Hinterlands is a fast-paced SF noir mystery inspired by WH40K and D&D, featuring a duo of unlikely allies embroiled in a conflict that starts small but grows exponentially – and quite satisfyingly – throughout the book. 

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Aliya Whiteley, From the Neck Up and Other Stories (2021)

Author: Aliya Whiteley

Title: From the Neck Up and Other Stories

Format: e-book

Pages: 368

Series: –

Other: Short story collection

A collection of 16 short stories from the murky border of fantasy, horror and science fiction. Whiteley has a penchant for infusing the mundane with the strange and the uncanny, successfully punching holes in the surface of our perception of everyday life with her creepy little tales. She is a skillful writer, seemingly seamlessly combining lightness of style and a wide range of topics with socio-philosophical observation. As usual with collections of short stories, the quality is uneven – but I did find a few gems here, and I’m quite happy I gave this anthology a chance.

As usual, I will review and rate each story separately and in conclusion I will give a general rating which may, or may not, be a simple average of the stories’ scores.

Brushwork 8.5/10 stars

A cli-fi novella, almost 80 pages long, about a world roughly resembling that from Snowpiercer: the Gulf Stream stopped, the land started becoming colder and colder, the vegetation died off under heavy snow and frost, and only corporate farms offer a possibility of a secure live – for the price of freedom. There is a lot going on in this novella: reflections on aging and the division between young and old; meditation on living with one’s past regrets and difficult choices; inequality and terrorism, slavery and trust. It’s one of the strongest stories in the collection, and I enjoyed it quite a lot.

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Liese Sherwood-Fabre, The Adventure of the Deceased Scholar (2021)

Author: Liese Sherwood-Fabre

Title: The Adventure of the Deceased Scholar

Format: e-book

Pages: 314

Series: The Early Case Files of Sherlock Holmes #3

I confess I have a soft spot for almost everything Sherlockian. Or Holmesian? 😉 Obviously, Doyle’s original work is in my book incomparable to anything written later on that topic in tribute/pastiche/inspiration/parody/retelling (oh, retelling, gah!) etc. – but I still quite enjoy a new spin on the unique character of Sherlock Holmes and his unsurpassed powers of deduction. And there’s a LOT to pick from, believe me. Some of them are even endorsed by Doyle’s estate, some become a matter for loud lawsuits, and there are even Sherlockian scholars sacrificing most of the waking hours of their life to Doyle’s creation. I don’t pretend to be a Sherlockian pro, far from it. But I’ve read my share of Sherlock Holmes pastiches, and among them two managed to get reviews on this blog. Gaiman’s and Albuquerque’s A Study in Emerald turned out to be a delightful romp through Lovecraftian-inspired Victorian London, and Lovegrove’s version of the Christmas adventure of Holmes and Watson was warm and cozy and very much in the Holmesian spirit. Sherwood-Fabre offers something slightly different: adventures of a teenage Sherlock Holmes, at 14 still quite impressionable and surrounded by a loving family. 

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