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Reading wrap-up - April 2022

The month of April has been exceptional reading-wise! Not only did I read a lot, as I've been doing for a few months, but I read to discover new favourites, those books that will swell my heart and that I'll carry with me for a while. Last April, I discovered not just one or two, but three! Two of them were highly anticipated, and the third landed a little randomly into my To Be Read pile (or mountain).

Un livre pour faire la différence, Elodie-Aude Arnolin · 2022

After years of suffering from a lack of representation in the media she consumed, Elodie-Aude Arnolin has decided to tackle the problem of representation headfirst. On social media, under the pseudonym of @labooktillaise, she catalogs, promotes, defends books putting at the forefront non-white characters and pushes forward diversity as a whole. In her manifesto, she takes her readers through her journey and her fights, painting a contemporary landscape of French publishing (which isn't glorious) and, most of all, offering solutions at each step of the publishing process, from writing to book reviews, including, of course, publishing. And that's why I find this book especially important: of course we have to realise all that's wrong, and sadly there are many factors, but for the situation to get better we have to find directions and give ourselves the means to follow them.

Thank you @labooktillaise for this necessary little book that should be put in the hands of everyone in the book industry!

a white hand holds a copy of the book in front of a bookshelf.

The Golden Fool, Robin Hobb · 2002

Telling you anything about the plot would spoil you most of the first volume in the Tawny Man trilogy, so I won't. But the book is rich enough that you can still discuss quite a bit without referring to the plot. Among other topic, it discusses power - who wields it, who should it be entrusted to, who can decide where to distribute it. Of course, there is no yes/no answer, and our protagonist, Fitz, keeps making mistake over mistake because his magic is both one of his strengths and his biggest weakness. I think that is a really interesting idea to develop in a fantasy novel. In addition to that, while Fitz's entourage keeps demanding he takes action and helps those he is sworn to, he is held back by a string of prejudices that are sometimes very uncomfortable to read, especially when it feels like a step back from his attitude in previous books. I don't see that as a flaw in the writing, simply as a proof that Fitz is very much real, his opinions aren't fixed and he keeps evolving not always in a pleasant direction because that's life. But to make up for it, Hobb gifts us with passages such as:

"You seek a false comfort when you demand that I define myself for you with words. Words do not contain or define any person. A heart can, if it is willing."


Rep : just like the author said, it's difficult to label clearly the characters' identity. In this book, Fitz appears to lean towards polyamour. There is certainly a non-binary important secondary character.

CW: grief, homophobia, prejudices, murder, animal death (described), sexual assault (suggested).

a white hand holds a copy of the book in front of a stone wall with a dark wooden door.

The Magic Fish, Trung Lê Nguyễn · 2020

This is a beautiful, sensitive, gentle and raw tale of belonging, growing up and coming out. Tiến was born in the USA from a Vietnamese mother, and he's always switched between the different languages, coming up with a personal mixture of both when talking with his mother. When the time comes to come out to her, he wishes he knew the word for gay in Vietnamese, and so he turns to the book of fairy tales they've been reading together.

This graphic novel blends beautifully the American and Vietnamese visual identities, gracing characters from The Little Mermaid with traditional clothing, or Cinderella with haute-couture-inspired gowns. The limited colour palette, working in monochromes of red, blue and yellow, ties together each of the interweaving storylines effortlessly. Seeing Tiến interact with his classmates was especially endearing as they're very mindful and loving.

CW : homophobia, grief, murder, religious bigotry, brief scene of cannibalism.

the book is set on a pile of fairy tale collections, over an ochre cloth.

Swordspoint, Ellen Kushner · 1987

In a nameless city, Richard Saint-Vière struts with panache from duel to duel, alongside his lover Alec. They navigate the murky waters of city politics, dodging allegiances and countering trickery.

I was recommended this book several times and I have no trouble understanding the affection surrounding it. It's a very well-written claok-and-dagger adventure with endearing, well-rounded characters, and the added bonus of LGBTQ+ rep and a total absence of sexism - which, for a book written in the 1980s, isn't a given. I never really lost myself in the political intrigues that make up the largest part of the story, and I found the secondary characters a little interchangeable, but the lush style and the Saint-Vière-Alec duo held me to the end.

CW: homophobia, animal death, murder.

the book stands on an old chair in front of grey patterned curtains.

In Defense of Witches, Mona Chollet · 2018 (2022)

Is there a genre of books you've been exploring in particular this year? I've started reading essays, which until now I only did for my PhD. But I've felt the need to feed my many questionings with the insight of thinkers (mostly women). And thanks to the library, I can discover Mona Chollet's bibliography, of which each title sounds fascinating.

In Defense of Witches explores, as the title suggests, the image of the witch, not only at the time when they were being hunted, but also today, via themes of independence, the non-desire for children, agism and the relationship between the notions of nature and femininity. It's a fascinating book, quite accessible, at the same time researched, full of references, and sincere. Given the subjects touched on, some passages can be hard to read. I personnally found the last chapter, on medical violence, especially harrowing, but so necessary. This is a book I heartily recommend, and which encourages me to keep reading feminist essays.

CW : discussions of sexism, sexual assault, child death / murder, rape, medical trauma.

a white hand rests on a copy of the book laid on a piece of fabric with a floral white and brown pattern.

Neko to Jii-chan (The old man and his cat), Nekomaki · 2015

After In Defense of Witches, I was craving a cute and comforting read. Neko to Jii-chan proved to be absolutely perfect. This manga is absolute softness. It celebrates slow living, small daily pleasures and respect. A real pick-me-up!

CW : grief, death of a relative. Brief mention of cancer.

the book stands on a bed covered in a white bedspread. In the background, Sencha, a black and white tabby cat, is resting.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold, Toshikazu Kawaguchi · 2015

I regularly try to get on with Japanese literature. Theoretically, I should love its delicacy, subtlety and the themes touched on by the books I pick. Yet, there's always something undescribable that puts me off in the writing style. I don't know if it's a matter of translation but I often find that the prose doesn't flow, that the sentences are a little stiff. As for the narration, I really don't enjoy the detachment that I often find in Japanese books, which doesn't mean I don't enjoy the characters.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold was one of my most anticipated books of the year. I love the setting, I love the idea at the heart of this short novel - a café in which, if you abide by the very strict rules, you can go back in time. We discover the journeys of four women, each one with a regret, each one looking for peace in this process. In reality, I say novel but it's more a collection of four short stories with a similar setting, given how separate the chapters are from each other, which wasn't a problem for me.

Unfortunately, the charm wasn't here for me. While I was reading, I wondered what I would have thought of the English translation, if the style is more fluid there and the sentences a little more elegant. However, I did enjoy how the different stories were prettily tied together in the last one, and for a moment I didn't think about the writing style and I just enjoyed the lovely vibes.

CW: Alzheimer disease, death of parent.

the book is set on a dark wooden side table next to a Japanese cup.

Loveless, Alice Oseman · 2020

What a gift this book is!

It's another of those ones I wish I'd read sooner so that I could have figured things out earlier, but it's bringing me so much joy I know I'll still treasure it for a long long time.

Loveless is about Georgia, who is finally ready to admit her feelings to her crush at the highschool end-of-year party. Except that instead of the magical experience involving butterflies, a shower of stars and, eventually, a first kiss, disaster happens. Georgia isn't attracted to this very attractive boy she's been pining for for the past seven years. Was it all a lie? Has she ever felt attraction? Who even is she?

I haven't had the same experiences as Georgia, but our journeys were so similar that I kept cringing and awwww-ing and nodding all the way through this fabulous book. It's so queer and inclusive and tender that it made my heart very full. Just the pick-me-up I needed, with the added bonus that it was gifted to me by one of my favourite humans on the planet.

Rep : aro/ace MC, Latina lesbian SC, Indian non-binary SC.

CW : homophobia, aphobia, alcohol.

a white hand holds the book in front of dark-leaved, white-flowered bushes.

Le Sang de la Cité, Guillaume Chamanadjian · 2021

Do you pay attention to the prizes a book receives? I heard this one had won the big prize of the Imaginales just after I finished it (it had already received other prizes before).

This fantasy novel is first ambitious in scope: it's the first tome of a trilogy, Capitale du Sud, written in parallel with the trilogy Capitale du Nord by Claire Duvivier. I have to say the prospect of reading 6 volumes (only 3 being out at the moment) was a little daunting, but a few friends chose their words well, and I had the pleasure of attending an event with the publisher, so I was convinced I needed to try this. And I did well, because it's a delightful book!

Behind its appearance as a classic coming-of-age novel, this one offers chiselled prose, an Italian city vibe I'd been craving recently, and a hero between "evil chosen one" (he's discovered in an underground passage with his sister, no one knows where they come from) and commoner - Nox works at Saint-Vivant's, a delicatessen whose owner is as picky with the products as with the clientele. As he delivers orders, Nox roams the city of Gemina in all directions, including directions inhabitants don't know about, which leads to some excellent running-on-the-rooftops sequences. It's Nox's very identity that attracts adventure to him. Between some shady alliances and his unspoken secrets, he slithers through the nets of power until one day he can't flee anymore.

I really enjoyed following Nox who's an endearing hero, and not because half the time he's delivering delicacies to the local bourgeoisie. Guillaume Chamanadjian's prose is very charming and kept me wanting to read just a few more pages, with its mysteries, a dash of poetry and a hint of magic.

CW : murder, blood.

the book stands on an old chair in front of grey patterned curtains.

Drowned Country, Emily Tesh · 2020

Is there a book you've put off reading for a long time, for whatever reason?

Drowned Country is the sequel to Silver in the Wood, one of my favourite books of all time. It came out 2 years ago, I secured a copy last year and I still hadn't read it. You know the comforting feeling of knowing there's a book you're sure to love waiting for you? That was the one for me. I also wasn't in a hurry to read it because there's no volume 3 planned and I didn't want to be finished with these characters. But on my birthday I treated myself to it, and I'm glad to report that the book lived up to my expectations. As in Silver in the Wood, the cast of characters is very small, but let me tell you I loved the new one with all my heart. She was so unexpected and quirky and endearing that I kept smiling the whole time.

To give you a bit of context, Silver in the Wood & Drowned Country are two novellas following Tobias Finch and Henry Silver in Victorian England. One researches the presence of folklore creatures in real life, and the other is sort of the embodiment of the same folklore. Their banter made much of the first volume's appeal to me (though I also loved everything else about it). In Drowned Country, the setting expands a bit as the two are asked to investigate what appears to be a case of vampirism... Except of course reality is stranger than fiction.

Having read and re-read Silver in the Wood, I've become quite familiar with its writing style, and I thought Emily Tesh had even stepped up in Drowned Country. The turns of phrases made me swoon. It's really gorgeously written and I can't wait for the author's first novel. It's announced as found-family sci-fi, which is a favourite sub-genre of mine.

Rep: gay MCs.

a white hand holds a copy of the book over a burgundy cloth.


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What did you read in April?

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