Recommendation: Sweetlings by Lucy Taylor

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In Sweetlings, the author depicts a world of survivors struggling to find some semblance of normal within their deplorable reality. Mir has recently lost her mother and younger brother, and is dealing with her increasingly unstable father who has an unsettling fascination with the creatures emerging from the depths of the ocean. Set in a post-apocalyptic world in which nearly half of the world was submerged by oceans, Mir spends her days in her seaside home waiting for the next supply truck to roll around.

An excerpt from Tor.com,

The night before my mother walked into the New Sea carrying my six-week-old brother, I heard her and Papi arguing. Even with the wind screaming past our tiny squatter’s house on the cliff, the rage in her voice slashed through the thin wall.

“It’s not right! I’d rather smother the boy in his sleep than do this!”

“But you must,” Papi said. His voice was firm and deliberate, the way he sounded telling me to take a dose of foxglove to ward off Blister Rot or refusing Mama’s entreaties to leave this lonely, wind-battered place and take our chances inland. Kind, but unyielding. “The child is suffering. See how he struggles to breathe. I’d carry him into the water myself, but my legs are too weak…and I won’t ask Mir to do it.”

“Then don’t ask it of me!”

“It’s not in our hands, don’t you see? We’ve got to accept what this new world is becoming, not torment ourselves with what we’d like it to be.”

She battles against the desire to leave her home and her family – to move inward, away from the sea – but her sense of duty to her father binds her. Things come to a head when the expected supply truck does not arrive and Mir goes off in search of it with her friend Jersey, which leads to a series of events that reveal her long-hidden secret.

This story depicts a bleak reality; with an arresting protagonist and the world-building, it is a recommended read for fans of horror and post-apoctalyptic narratives.

 

 

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Recommendation: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

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Excerpt: From July of his sophomore year in college until the following January, all Tsukuru Tazaki could think about was dying. He turned twenty during this time, but this special watershed — becoming an adult — meant nothing. Taking his own life seemed the most natural solution, and even now he couldn’t say why he hadn’t taken this final step. Crossing that threshold between life and death would have been easier than swallowing down a slick, raw egg.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is a quietly wondrous exploration of self-actualization and social acceptance in our quizzically-structured human world. The protagonist is a mellow, “colorless” being as the title suggests, who transforms into an individual who cements his center and who he believes he is. As a reader, you may find that you cannot help but empathize with him, for there is a quality of self-doubt about him that speaks familiarly to the human psyche.

The author’s writing is a gentle rapture as always, with deceptively simple language that belies a deeper philosophy worth ruminating. Although the plot does not tie all of its loose ends, it manages to sufficiently quench any broader disparities and come full circle. A definite read for fans of the author and his style, but do pick up for the transcendental ethos and vividly unforgettable characters.


Submitted by Kari H.

Recommendation: eyes I dare not meet in dreams by Sunny Moraine

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illustrated by Yuki Shimizu

eyes i dare not meet in dreams is a short piece of fiction that takes its time in establishing the world it is set in, where dead girls emerge from their not-so-final resting places and make their way to civilised society. Understandably, not everyone has a positive reaction to the phenomenon.

An excerpt from Tor.com,

The dead girls climbed into the light in junkyards, in vacant lots, in the jumble of shit behind ancient disreputable institutions one might kindly call antique stores. The dead girls climbed out in ravines and ditches and on lonely beaches and in dry riverbeds. Wet riverbeds. The dead girls climbed out into feet and fathoms of water. The dead girls climbed into the air but they also clawed their way out of long-deposited sediment and new mud, like zombies and vampires tearing their way out of graves. The dead girls swam, swam as far as they needed to, and broke the surface like broken doll mermaids.

This is how the story goes. But the story also goes that no one was present at the time, in the first days, so no one is entirely sure how the story got to be there at all. Or at least how it got to be something everyone accepts as truth, which they do.

Moraine clinches the unsettling feeling that builds with each subsequent descriptor of the dead girls and their relentless, unyielding efforts to get to their intended destination. At one point, the author showcases an attempt by the media to interview them but ultimately unable to procure a response from any of the dead girls.

A closer analysis of this piece proposes that the author drew inspiration from the trope of female characters being ‘refrigerated’ or killed in order to advance the character development of a male protagonist; one of the dead girls is also referenced as emerging from a refrigerator. It is quite an interesting theory as the sheer throng of dead girls could be interpreted as possibly reflecting the actual number of actual female figures killed off.

Recommendation: Come See the Living Dryad by Theodora Goss

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illustrated by Allen Williams

Set in the present-day and supplemented by reconstructions of the past, a woman investigates the unsolved murder of an ancestor in the nineteenth century. The author of this short story unravels the story in a seamless way that builds the character’s development as she uncovers new information that potentially sheds light onto the circumstances of the death of her great-great grandmother, who was afflicted with a disease that led to physical deformities when untreated.

An excerpt from Tor.com,

I can hear them whispering.

I cannot see them, not yet. And when the curtain is pulled back, what will I see? Faces, pale and almost indistinguishable in the gaslight. My shows are only at night, for that, he tells me, makes them more impressive.

But I know my audience. Clerks heading home from their offices, tired after a day of crouching over a ledger, wanting to see a miracle. Serious young ladies who would never condescend to the spectacles of Battersea Park, but this is different—a scientific lecture. A tutor shushing his charges, boys who will one day go to university—until they see me, and then they shush of their own accord. They recognize me from their lessons in the classics and wonder, how is it possible? Gentlemen in top hats, headed afterward to more risqué entertainments. An old woman in black who peers at me through her pince-nez, disbelieving. She must have seen an advertisement and become curious—is it real? Or a hoax, like the Genuine Mermaid?

I am improbable, am I not?

Almost, but not quite, impossible.

And when the curtain is pulled back and they see me, sitting on my pedestal, arms raised, branches swaying, they will gasp. As they always do.

As Daphne, the protagonist, digs deeper into her great-great grandmother’s history, she gains a deeper insight into life as a person inflicted with their shared disease in the past. History represents different things to each person, but in the context of Daphne in relation to her great-great grandmother, it represents a way of gaining closure and accepting the past.

This story is recommended for readers who enjoy introspective narration and light murder mysteries.

Recommendation: Sanctuary by Allen Steele

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illustrated by Gregory Manchess

Written in the form of logbook extracts, the story follows the experiences of the passengers onboard the Exodus Project Starship (EPSS) Lindbergh as colonists on a new world. The author utilises the perspectives of different crew members of the starship, primarily the Commanding Officer (CO), the Chief Engineer, a senior scientist, and a shuttle pilot. Through each subsequent entry, the author balances the initial triumph experienced by the crew and the increasing uneasiness when they encounter a mysterious phenomenon of which they are entirely unfamiliar with and unprepared for.

An excerpt from Tor.com,

10.26.2266 rel/0929 ST/le894/G. [Giovanni] Patini, shuttle pilot

Second survey mission to TC-e scrubbed. Orville control systems not responding to preflight checks. Mechanical difficulty of unknown nature.

Santos-Dumont has scrubbed its second sortie as well. Same reason: Wilbur unable to launch. Spoke to Jake [Moore, Wilbur shuttle pilot]; says the same thing happened to him during preflight checks. Cockpit comp screens went dark, manual controls refused to budge.

Weird.

[Log entries 895–911 lost.]

                                                                       

10.27.2266 rel/1136 ST/le912/Y. Greer, CO

Tonya and Aaron [Willig, Lindbergh astrobiologist] inform me that TC-e’s native civilization may be more advanced than previously believed. This could spell trouble.

Until now, it’s been thought that the inhabitants are at a pretechnological stage of development, with perhaps no more than an agrarian culture. This was the opinion of our science team after studying the coastal settlements on TC-e’s major continents while waiting for technicians on both ships to ascertain the causes for the shuttle breakdowns and effect repairs (ref. Doc. LR2713). However, further telescopic observations confirm the existence of large ocean-going sailcraft, with some appearing to be two- or three-mast catamarans. This is evidence that the “Cetans” (as Tonya calls them) have learned to harness wind power and build seafaring vessels. It is therefore possible that the Cetans may be engaged in fishing and trade, perhaps even at global distances.

The presence of a native civilisation also poses a potential threat to the passengers of the Lindbergh. Their initial assumptions were dismissive but upon stumbling onto the phenomenon that threatens their lives, they realise that their early assumptions may be unfounded.

This short story is highly recommended for fans of the sci-fi genre, and films such as Prometheus or The Martian.

Recommendation: Emperor – The Gods of War by Conn Iggulden

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Are you a fan of Ancient Rome? Do you enjoy reading about the astonishing achievements of one of the greatest Roman figures in history? Then here’s a read for you that will grip your attention through sheer literacy.

Emperor: The Gods of War is the fourth novel in the Emperor series written by Conn Iggulden. It tells the story of Julius Caesar as he marches on his beloved country, Rome from Gaul in pursuit of Pompey the Great, who has assumed dictatorial powers and a mandate to destroy whom he calls ‘The Traitor of Rome’. The story continues with his adventures in Egypt and ends with his assassination.

Featuring an epic tale of courage, battlefield tactics, comradeship and more, this book will engross you to no end. You will be able to see how Julius Caesar, the most powerful man in Rome, achieve remarkable success both on the battlefield and in politics, but was betrayed by his closest friend on the Ides of March.


Submitted by Ryan Lim

Recommendation: A Cup of Salt Tears by Isabel Yap

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illustrated by Victo Ngai

An excerpt from Tor.com,

She hears a soft splash and opens her eyes. Someone has entered the tub, and seems to be approaching her. She sinks deeper, letting the water cover her upper lip. As the figure nears, she sees its features through the mist: the green flesh, the webbed hands, the sara—the little bowl that forms the top of its head—filled with water that wobbles as it moves. It does not smell of rotting fish at all. Instead, it smells like a river, wet and earthy. Alive. Some things are different: it is more man-sized than child-sized, it has flesh over its ribs; but otherwise it looks just as she always imagined.

“Good evening,” the kappa says. The words spill out of its beak, smoothly liquid.

Makino does not scream. She does not move. Instead she looks at the closest edge of the bath, measuring how long her backside will be exposed if she runs. She won’t make it. She presses against the cold tile and thinks, Tetsuya needs me, thinks, no, that’s a lie, I can’t even help him. Her fear dissipates, replaced by helplessness, a brittle calm.

In A Cup of Salt Tears, the author effectively captures the extent of the grief and helplessness of the protagonist, Makino, that threatens to overwhelm her at the most crucial moment of her life. Her husband, Tetsuya, is hospitalised and although she visits as much as she can, she can sense his growing detachment and worries about the underlying implications. She internalises her fears and seeks solace in a public bath, losing herself in her internal reflections. And when the kappa appears to her in her grief, she recalls the traumatic incident of almost being drowned as a child.

From there, Makino’s psyche is further explored as she reconciles the information the kappa offers and the warnings of her childhood. She struggles with herself when she entertains the possibility of saving Tetsuya – but at what cost? A Cup of Salt Tears flows and ebbs like the course of a river, at times immersing the reader in quiet, contemplative moments and other times, depicting the danger of dealing with unpredictable forces. It excels in the melancholy and is a understated character study of a woman in the throes of grief.

Recommendation: Fabulous Beasts by Priya Sharma

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illustrated by Jeffery Alan Love

Fabulous Beasts weaves an intricate and haunting tale of a strange woman, a herpetologist by profession, and her lover, a photographer, who live in luxury together but share a dark, intertwined past. Eliza, as she presents herself to the world, recalls her true identity as a girl named Lola, whose childhood was mired with a troubled single mother and their dysfunctional dynamic with their extended family.

An excerpt from Tor.com,

“Eliza, tell me your secret.”

Sometimes I’m cornered at parties by someone who’s been watching me from across the room as they drain their glass. They think I don’t know what’s been said about me.

Eliza’s odd looking but she has something, don’t you think? Une jolie laide. A French term meaning ugly-beautiful. Only the intelligentsia can insult you with panache.

I always know when they’re about to come over. It’s in the pause before they walk, as though they’re ordering their thoughts. Then they stride over, purposeful, through the throng of actors, journalists, and politicians, ignoring anyone who tries to engage them for fear of losing their nerve.

“Eliza, tell me your secret.”

“I’m a princess.”

Such a ridiculous thing to say and I surprise myself by using Kenny’s term for us, even though I am now forty-something and Kenny was twenty-four years ago. I edge past, scanning the crowd for Georgia, so I can tell her that I’ve had enough and am going home. Maybe she’ll come with me.

My interrogator doesn’t look convinced. Nor should they be. I’m not even called Eliza. My real name is Lola and I’m no princess. I’m a monster.

Growing up, Lola’s relationship with her mother, whom she refers to as Kath, is strained and distant; her only true comfort is her cousin Tallulah, with whom she shares a close relationship akin to being sisters. Tallulah’s mother, Ami, is fixated on her and Kath’s brother Kenny, who is in prison for most of the girls’ childhoods. She eagerly awaits his return, as even from behind prison bars, Kenny wields an ominous influence in their small town.

For the most part, Lola and Tallulah’s childhoods remain relatively quiet until the day Lola bites a bully in order to protect Tallulah from an imminent physical assault. However, when Kath and the mother of the bully meet, it is the latter who proffers apologies and forgiveness over her daughter’s bullying towards “Kenny’s princesses”. Kath is deeply unhappy, unleashing her anger at Lola, which leads to the incident that causes her to discover the true nature of herself.

Upon being ambushed by Kenny’s release from prison, Lola finds herself re-evaluating her mother’s motives and behaviour towards her as she grows to learn more about her uncle and the circumstances of his incarceration. Unable to stop the chain of events that  would irrevocably alter the course of her life, she is forced to reconnect with the other side of herself under dire circumstances.

An elegantly blended genre of horror and slice of life, Fabulous Beasts succeeds in gripping, and keeping, the reader’s attention. The author has crafted a strange, thrilling, if highly disturbing, atmosphere as each twist reveals more of an established character’s motivations and darkness. Lola’s story may be fiction, but her circumstances may all too well exist in the real world.

Recommendation: The Last Ship by William Brinkley

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The Last Ship by William Brinkley

What happens when nuclear war breaks out? Will mankind survive? Some people theorized that the people most likely to survive are the men and women of the naval fleet, best of the best. This is their story.

Set in the present, the reader is treated to a scenario where nuclear warfare ravaged the earth, causing the near-destruction of mankind. Landmasses were polluted with radiation, and open waters are the remaining havens on Earth. We follow the story of a ship captain and his crew as they try to survive in the desolate wasteland they had a hand in creating.

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Recommendation: Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath

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Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath is easily one of her most recognizable poems, published posthumously in the collection Ariel. As is the nature of her poetry, one cannot feel the tempestuous emotion in her work without knowing of her life; this particular poem is an exploration of oppression and the aching need to cease existence, sure to ring true with the melancholy in us all.


Dying
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.

Lady Lazarus is a work that is characteristically Plath, with vivid, accusatory imagery and the underlying theme of death that blankets her writing. Those who can relate to Plath’s psycho-emotional turmoil may find that they are sucker-punched by the vicious, trembling resolve to die; nevertheless, do not be deterred by the unrelenting, looming angst of the poem — you will find that there is appreciation to be given to its artful construction and untameable female presence.
– Posted by Kari H., active contributor of the TBC blog