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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Un-su Kim, The Cabinet (2021)

Author: Un-su Kim

Title: The Cabinet

Format: E-book

Pages: 400

Series:-

Among my recent reads this novel turned out to be the strangest one; for me, it resembles mostly an early attempt at a Frankenstein’s monster: sewn together from disparate parts it ends up having three arms, one leg, and an off-color head tacked on back to front. The first 60% were highly enjoyable, but afterwards, an inexorable downward spiral got me in the end to a disheartening feeling of “wtf did I just read?”

It’s a pity, really, because the premise of Kim’s novel is quite promising, with a lot of potential: the life in modern cities became so unbearable for humans that their evolution accelerated rapidly, creating first cases of a post-homo sapiens species. The mutations don’t seem to be adaptive, at the moment, but as evolution works through trial and error, we might see some that would become highly effective.

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Christopher Martin, Chasing Alexander: A Marine’s Journey Across Iraq and Afghanistan (2021)

Author: Christopher Martin

Title: Chasing Alexander: A Marine’s Journey Across Iraq and Afghanistan

Format: E-book

Pages: 310

Series: –

Christopher Martin is a US Marine veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan during the War on Terror, between 2007 and 2011. His war memoir, Chasing Alexander, is both like and unlike other War on Terror non fiction I’ve read, and I’ve read a lot; the similarities are obvious, and heartbreaking, while the disparities are what makes this book unique.

Firstly, there is a matter of style. I’m pretty sure Martin did his required reading, as his book bears more than a passing resemblance to Hasford’s The Short Timers and yet still retains a bit of the wide-eyed American idealism of West’s The Snake Eaters. It’s clear Martin wanted to write his own book – and in this, he succeeded. The style of Chasing Alexander is simple and direct, and reads very much like a student’s report: an honest, open account of how it was – or, more precisely, how Martin thought it was. And I mean it as a compliment. Many of these new war memoirs are becoming masks; tools, if you will, tailored for the author’s purposes. A common trajectory for modern veterans is to go into business and management after the time in the military; a book doesn’t hurt your chances at an executive position.

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T.J. Klune, Under the Whispering Door (2021)

Author: T.J. Klune

Title: Under the Whispering Door

Format: e-book

Pages: 384

Series: –

I’ve heard a lot of good things about T.J. Klune’s books; when I saw this one on NG, I jumped at the opportunity to finally get acquainted with his writing. Alas, while the writing was smooth enough and well-meaning enough, Under the Whispering Door turned out to be a book not for me. I’m sure there are people who’ll enjoy this – not just more than I did, which is no big feat, but generally, in absolute terms, as a feel-good, “wholesome” novel.

I could probably finish my review here; then, words like “infantile” and “cloyingly sweet” wouldn’t have to be written. And I’m a bit tempted to do just that, because I don’t have a beef with this book; no uncontrollable growing and gnashing teeth while reading, no torn out hair – my reactions tended toward bafflement and growing dissatisfaction. Alas, I think I owe an explanation for this somewhat dismal rating. So, here it is.

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