Overall Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“At heart, this anthology is a sideways collection of small, strange stories where nothing is really what it seems upon first glance, or even second glance.”
I am completely and utterly in love with this collection of short stories! I don’t even know how to introduce this review, but I’ll give it a good go. The author begins by telling us of their aim for this book – the attempt to give it a feel of a multi-author anthology. If I hadn’t read the author’s words before the stories began in this book, I would have certainly thought that was the case! I’m shocked by how beautifully crafted each individual story is in this book, as well as how humourous it was, and this is certainly one of the finest written collections I’ve read to date. I’m so pleased to be sharing my review of this book and I’ll certainly be recommending it far and wide.
Something In The Middle by A.I. Wand offers us a paranormal/extranormal reprieve of sorts from the Big Serious Issues of Our Day — at least for a few hours. It is a contemporary fiction anthology designed to surprise and delight. It pays gleeful tribute to legions of its Science Fiction, Horror, Satire, Parody, and Romantic forebears from the last century.
Now this part of the book was an experience in itself! The reader is given an introduction to this collection of small stories, written in what I thought was quite an engaging and humourous way. Think of a screen play, but crank up the entertainment factor and imagine you’ve gone around the entire cast beforehand, shaken each of their hands and had a brief conversation. I just can’t explain how brilliant it was and just how much I was dying to read on!
The tone the author uses here is everything I love in a more humourous story, and it really sets us up for what’s to come. Even though a particularly unusual way to introduce a book, I felt this first “small story” gave the book character, and gives a reader an idea of what they can expect from a far from ordinary book. Just magnificent!
We follow the author’s many identities and try to make sense of each and every one, and even though it may have taken me a while, I enjoyed the chaos! It was here where I realised that these stories would be nothing like the stories I already know and love, but rather more eccentric in an immensely enjoyable way, with unpredictable routes from beginning to end.
Seeing exactly how the author sees the structure of this book and how they liken it to the stages of pregnancy was particularly interesting, and it literally seemed as though the author could tackle anything that came their way. It felt as though this part of the book was a story telling the readers a story about a story that they were about to read. Crazy, right?! If that doesn’t make sense right now, I urge you to read the first section of this book – all will become clear, even if my description doesn’t do it justice!
First Trimester – Strange Cravings
Yes, this may seem like a book about pregnancy as you read the titles of all the sections in the book, but I assure you it’s not! I was keen to see the author’s story writing in a different light after that immense introduction, and straight away, I was very impressed. We’re greeted with many very short stories, some which very quickly have a fantastic twist right at the end that catches you off guard, the styles and tone changing dramatically from one story to the next.
The stories in this section were weird yet wonderful, and mix genres of paranormal, horror, romance, humour and even sci-fi, to create a selection to satisfy any taste. To me, a lover of most genres, this was such a welcome surprise and I honestly wished this section could have lasted for many more pages! I was already wondering how the author would approach a full sized novel, something which would create even more opportunity to explore one of their many incredible ideas in more depth. A really positive start for this collection!
Just as we think the stories in this collection couldn’t get any more diverse, the author just blows all your thoughts out the water and impresses time and time again. From the longer stories to the shorter ones, this part of the book amazed me once again, almost like the stories get better the deeper we get into it! The author tackles humour absolutely perfectly, and while it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it certainly was exactly what I love to read.
In this collection, I particularly enjoyed reading Slow-Acting Smart Pills, purely because of just how much the author seemed to have experimented in this story in so many ways, and how it just works. Again, seemingly effortless, entertaining writing seems to be the norm here, and the author continues to explore a range of genres in a way that thoroughly entertains and makes you think. I loved each character and especially the way dialogue is written in each story. So unique and immensely enjoyable once again.
Second Trimester – Wild Mood Swings
The way the author combines the seemingly ‘paranormal’ with their clever approach to humour sort of created a whole new genre to me, something that worked well and gave me yet another entertaining experience. As the name of this section suggests, I felt this group of stories were perhaps a little ‘wilder’ than the rest, some even stranger than the previous! However, in this collection I saw a hint of what the author may have meant by “mood swings”. We go from the bizarre to the hilarious to the emotional at the drop of a hat, from one story to the next, proving once again this author is talented in any genre and any style.
The one thing that did seem consistent in all these stories was the author’s ability to keep you invested, no matter how short these stories were or how much there is to focus on. It was always a joy to start a brand new one and witness exactly what the author has created in that head of theirs. (Watch out for Zygote, my favourite in this section!)
(Welcome To The Middle Of SITM, We’re Glad You’re Here!)
It’s not just weird and wonderful plots and characters that make up this book, but also strange situations. The character in one particular section of this book finds themselves in a very odd place, both physically and mentally. I liked the way the author played around with this character’s life as if they were a puppet on a string, creating scenarios where anything was possible, making you think hard about what’s going on and what could happen next.
Another story, Terrestris, brings the reader right into the story, addressing them as though this was a normal occurrence and making them feel so deeply involved in the journey. Well, it worked for me anyway! This was one of my favourites in the book – it was written in such a clever way, with talent just pouring out of each paragraph, and yet another brilliant twist.
The first story in this collection is written as a collection of emails and was nothing short of another masterpiece. The humour combined with yet another fabulous twist amazed me yet again, and it was at this point in the book where I thought I would never get bored of hearing this author’s work! Further in the collection, we see more references to the author(s) of the book, incorporated so effortlessly into the story that I’m certain it’d make some budding authors pretty jealous!
The final story in this section, Acorns, took me a while to get into I must admit, but the further I got and the more I took in the very strange details about the characters and their personalities and traits, I really appreciated it more than I initially thought. If you’re not quite sure about a story reading this, definitely give them a chance and finish them to the end – you mind find some of your favourites this way!
Third Trimester – Nesting Behaviors
The rollercoaster of emotions was particularly apparent in the first story in this section. A contrast to the many other stories, this one gave me a lump in my throat and provided food for thought. We also see a story in this section, Sauce, that will guarantee to turn your stomach, with some horrendous description of cannibalism. (The description was great, what was being described was actually pretty damn grim!) The author also has a wonderful skill of getting a reader involved in certain stories, such as in the story, Lilac, getting us to think more about what is being asked of us, and encouraging us to think about the bigger picture.
In most of these stories, I began to get very curious at the start and in many instances, this continued until that brilliant twist, or the finding out of information that we’d been waiting for from those first few paragraphs. Again, there was just a brilliant contrast on genres in this collection which simply made the book even more ‘unputdownable’. Some make you cringe, some make you giggle like crazy, and others break your heart. I don’t think I’ll ever find another collection as diverse as this one! The book definitely has the re-readability factor, and even at this point there were a few stories I wouldn’t mind reading over again and again!
Certain parts of this final section of stories reminded me a lot of the first ‘Conception’ section, almost like we were reaching a round up of events from the author(s). I felt like we could see a lot of the author in this section, almost like they’d saved up certain stories until the end to make that finale as memorable as possible. Even though I did prefer the other works of fiction to the stories/adventures about the author(s), I appreciated just how much talent and effort had gone into really taking that leap straight out of any author’s comfort zone and seeing where it took them. The effect has really been extraordinary from start to finish.
There is so much in the final few pages of the book, and even when we think the stories have ended, we’re surprised with more and more! I sometimes felt this book was like a literary version of Narnia or Mary Poppins’ large, bottomless bag. The goodness just kept on coming! In true Wand (or Not-Wand) style, the ending of this collection was as eccentric, as mesmerising and as memorable as the opening. I’m very keen to read more of this author’s work in the future and will most definitely be rereading this collection in times of needing inspiration or a good old laugh!
This book was as refreshing as it was odd, as enjoyable as it was unique. It was an unforgettable journey, as well as a reading experience like no other. The author is incredibly talented in changing writing style and tone, and writes as effortlessly as one would go about their daily routine. The experimentation we see in this book combined with the end result has created something that can only be described as a literary masterpiece.
This book deserves much more recognition, not only for the enjoyable collection of stories that I have sat and devoured one after another, but also for sharing immense talent and enthusiasm for words and language in general with readers. If you’re looking for something different (which a lot of readers are) then I think I’ve found the perfect solution in the form of this collection!
A huge thanks to the author, A. I. Wand, for this fantastic reading experience, one that certainly won’t be forgotten in a hurry! You can purchase your own copy of Something In The Middle over on Amazon, available on Kindle and in paperback.