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Healthline Zine's December Reads

Featuring Suite As Sugar by Camille Hernández-Ramdwar, Nothing But The Rain by Naomi Salman, and Deceit by Yuri Felsen.

Suite As Sugar | Camille Hernández-Ramdwar, Dundurn Press (23 May, 2023)


Suite as Sugar is a testimony to the unseen forces, always vigilant, ever ready, imbuing the characters in this collection with both resilience and trauma. Read the complete description here.

In every seemingly nice story, there is a twist.

For example, in stories such as Yellow Dog Blues, an innocent dog, seen going through a typical, coming-of-age and homely domesticated life, goes through another path. A much stormier, more painful death-like stupor of a life. And not only in this story, if you expect a sugary holiday read for Christmas, the very first story, It’s Lit, tells otherwise. Contrary to its title, ‘lit’ in this context is more akin to burning and war rather than the nicer, more modern meaning of ‘lit’.

Overall, Suite as Sugar is a dark read for people who want a taste of the flip side of the coin of human nature. Rather than Christmas carols and new year resolutions, what about the regrets you make in the new year, the resolutions that were never resolved? Suite as Sugar gives that type of sadness. Its haunting, one-of-a-kind bundle of withered flowers and pages is bound to leave a special hole in your heart.

However, Hernádez-Ramdwar does make a bittersweet turnover for those who do want something warmer. There is a bittersweet tang to Yellow Dog Blues in which justice is made at the end of the story despite the countless tragedies the dog faces. Its unnamed protagonist gets what it earns, dignity, even if it is too late. This offers closure and happiness, however much sorrow there is in the book. This shows how even in darkness, there is light and vice versa. For the aspiring poets and storytellers, this book, which tells the truth of humankind, both good and bad, is the one for you. However, I suggest looking up the trigger warners before delving into this story because there are some gory scenes in certain short stories.

Suite as Sugar is not recommended for children under the age of 10 because they might not be old enough to appreciate this lively depiction of the gruesome beauty of mankind. Nonetheless, teenagers are welcome to crack open this gold mine of bittersweet stories however they want to. In the short span of a few hundred pages, Hernádez-Ramdwar has definitely captivated the essence of dark academia and reality in the conjoined limbo of a book spine and her ideas.

In a nutshell, in spite of Suite as Sugar’s often gruesome and depressing aspects about human nature and how it corrupts innocence, there is a light, a soft ring to remind us that there is light in the darkness. This is what is so special about Suite as Sugar. Instead of characters being dealt with constant trauma or a one-dimensional Disney fairy tale, this book tells both sides of the story. For adults, poets and many writers who desperately want something to inspire them to write beautiful yet bittersweet stories, Suite and Sugar is your go-to book. It may not be the happiest and purest carol to sing, but the lyrics do mean so much more.

Review by Angie - Staff Writer.

Nothing But The Rain | Naomi Salman, Tor Publishing Group (14 March, 2023)


A sleepy little town discovers its memories have become part of the water cycle in Naomi Salman's debut novella, Nothing But The Rain. Read the complete description here.

Nothing but the Rain is a speculative fiction novella, by Naomi Salman, that takes place within the unassuming (and near-ghost town) of Aloisville, plagued out of the blue with incessant bouts of rain and lost memories.

This wary narrative is patched together with sage confessional journal entries, idiomatic epistolary, and ultimately, the misanthropic firsthand account of Laverne Gordon. Reminiscent of Bradbury’s approach to speculative fiction and Lowry’s ambivalent wonder towards dystopia, Salman pairs her stream of consciousness style with a cynical voice that begs for an answer to the mysteries entrapped in the rain. Laverne is a sixty-three year old divorced doctor who lives alone in the bland house that she has lived in all of her adult life. Sharp-tongued, headstrong, and with her ex-husband long gone, she delves deeper down the rabbit hole of conspiracy and suspicions about the neverending rain. From the government and military-sanctioned procedures to aliens and anomaly, she is left to have conversations with herself through forgotten thoughts and anxious reminders inscribed in the aging wallpaper.

That is until she finds a notebook where this story begins in media res, in this notebook she expresses her thoughts and peculiar experiences. Convinced that both the rain and tap water is tainted, she spends much of her time theorizing explanations and solutions to reduce the effects that the persistent rains outside have had on the human psyche beyond wearing down the dwindling population of Aloisville. Katie Rathbone and her young daughter, Zoe, become the only company to Laverne as part of an unspoken “buddy system,” Katie’s company especially proves to be in sleuthful nature as ulterior motivations are eventually revealed to the audience. Their dystopian alliance rapidly evolves from friendly biweekly visits to joining a revolt with a small group of individuals against the “black rubber[ed]” guards that are upholding a mass blockade. No access to technology and poor strategy won't save these people, Laverne's only plan is to save herself.

This slow burn novella becomes thriller-esque by the halfway point when emotions soar and paranoid-stricken fears plunge Laverne into back-to-back panic attacks until her power is cut one fateful night. Forced to wander onto the outskirts of “plastic streets” and Baistach Hill, this self-proclaimed selfish old woman learns that her survival isn't the only one at play. The conclusion had me reeling from the whiplash of betrayal, potential-occult secrets, and sacrifices. I was mesmerized by the consistent water and rain imagery and impulsive atmosphere surrounding this world. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Salman's depiction of a mildly disheartening tale which wavers against estranged truths and false perceptions of what's beyond our familiarity. I give Nothing but the Rain four out of five stars. While it deserves the badge of being an immersive, engaging piece of Speculative fiction, an extensive focus on reimagining tropes unfortunately becomes an anchor that weighs down the scattered pieces of the storyline, preventing a tight, cohesive storyline that can appeal and resonate with readers outside of the Dystopian and Sci-Fi genres.

Review by Nicole Verbitsky - Staff Poet.

Deceit | Yuri Felsen, Astra House (7 Feb, 2023)


Once considered the 'Russian Proust', Yuri Felsen tells the story of an obsessive love affair set in interwar Europe in Deceit, an experimental novel in the form of a diary that is an as-yet-undiscovered landmark of Russian émigré literature. Read the complete description here.

Deceit by Yuri Felsen would not be an easy read—I knew that much from the first page. Everything from the distinctively complex prose to the mildly distasteful thoughts that flowed line by line built it up to be a patient and focused read. Thus, I had hope that all this would weave together a work as masterfully impactful as the praise surrounding it claimed. At the end of the 256 pages, I can simply say that it was…serviceable.

Our unnamed narrator, whose thoughts and feelings we get submerged in for the entirety of the book, meets the perfectly lovely Lyolya, and launches into an eager friendship that rapidly moves towards what the narrator would believe to be a romance, and even love. As readers, we can be entirely sure that the situation is anything but. From the very first thoughts of our narrator as he regards Lyolya and her effect on him, and all the way to the last journal entry, the narrator’s shameless deceit in wooing Lyolya, his vulgar commentary on the women that he encounters, and his delusions of himself all combine to form a bold, truthful look into limerence and what it makes of people.

All the same, this thorough look at a man falling through such obsession simply didn’t quite land with me. While I appreciate the honesty of Felsen—who, as far as I can tell, did not in the least bother with including anything a reader could genuinely like—I remain unmoved by the thoughts presented in this novel. They’re not unfounded, by any means, nor are they particularly irrelevant either. After all, it would not be entirely outrageous to point out similar tendencies in our current society’s idea of romance and relationships. I suspect, rather, that my apathy towards the exploration of the novel comes from its presentation.

This is my preference, of course: others can and certainly have found it excellent and striking in its own right. I, however, simply cannot terribly appreciate a novel that I couldn’t find my personal connection to. Felsen’s prose potentially got in the way of my empathizing with the narrator here, which in turn, left our protagonist as nothing but an unlikeable, stumbling character in my mind. At the end of 256 pages of emotional turmoil alongside the obsessed narrator, all I can do is shrug.

That is not to say that the prose didn’t have its highlights, though. Quotes such as “the doggish devotion to the hand that pushes it away; the benediction of a tormentress who cares nothing for us; the confession (even if fictitious) of a criminal before a judge who is just and “understands all”; the facelessness of first-rate soldiers, who blend, as it were, into their commanding officer-cum-father; the faith schoolboys hold in the wisdom of a favorite teacher…” captured Felsen’s ability to deliver deeply personal experiences poignantly and poetically. Nonetheless, the prose on the whole was not a great fit for me.

While I didn’t quite appreciate this novel, I didn’t dislike it either.

Review by Janelle Yapp - Publication Dir.

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