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Reading wrap-up - April 2023

In April, as well as celebrating my birthday, I started another edition of my #LetsReadThatTBR challenge on Instagram, with new prompts. This challenge is supposed to cover both April and May. I happen to have finished it in one month. There you go. Yes, I'm probably going to double up in May.

the very dark picture of a pile of books, edges forward, on which is written in white the title of the challenge and the different prompts.

The Raven King, Maggie Stiefvater · 2016

At this point in the series, I entirely trusted the author for delivering a perfect ending, and I got it with The Raven King. It's not often that I read a series until the end. Usually I stop after volume 1. But when I first read The Raven Boys, I knew I was onto something special and so I found second-hand copies of volumes 2 to 4 and waited patiently for the right time to read them a few years later. 2023 was that time.

Even in volume 4 Maggie Stiefvater weaves the now-familiar with the unexpected. I won't spoil you, but there are snippets of horror in there that creeped me out. And yet they were so perfect for the story. I'm really happy with this last volume in this weird, hard-to-grasp series with such endearing and human characters. I'll be revisiting Cabeswater in the future, that's certain.

Rep: gay character, bisexual character.

CW: if you've managed so far you'll be fine with this tome.

he book on a dark background is framed by two feet in William-Morris-inspired-patterned socks.

Upstream, Mary Oliver · 2016

This collection of essays, which I bought half for the author and half for the cover let's be honest, stems from Mary Oliver's deep-rooted love for the natural world. She casts a wonder-filled gaze around here and notices the minutiae of animal & vegetal life with a delight that is quite communicative, and interlaces her observations with thoughts on creativity in general and poetry in particular. Some essays are dedicated to writers she admires (Emerson, Poe, Wordsworth, Whitman), blending the factual with her personal reading of their works. I think Mary Oliver could write about almost anything and make it an enjoyable experience, but I did have a hard time with her descriptions of animal pain & death and her reverence for a writer who married his 13-year-old cousin (spoiler: it's Poe).

CW: animal cruelty & death (a whole essay on fishing and preparing said fish), mention of child marriage.

a white hand holds the book, whose cover features a photo of a forest and thin white lettering, in front of a bush with dark leaves and white flowers.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers · 1940

1939, a small town in the South of the USA. A handful of characters lend us their perspectives - a bar owner, a young teenager, a black doctor, a newcomer with an alcohol issue, and the mute employee of a jewellery store. Together, they draw a complete portrait of this average town in all its intricacies and daily struggles, while each one battles their own demons and nurtures their own longing for something more.

I have to admit it took me a long, long time to get into this book, so much so that I kept wondering if I was right to keep reading for the first 150 pages. Something in the language made it hard for me to read with any fluidity, although there weren't particularly complex words or idioms specific to the time this book was written. Then, without my noticing it, I got attached to these very flawed characters and started to care. They are very different from each other but the author does a spectacular job of giving each one a voice. I can't speak to the disability representation. I'm honestly not sure how well that is done, especially in the first pages where it intersects with fat representation.

On the whole, though the story and characters are rooted in their times, this book has a timeless quality to it given the number of themes that are still sadly relevant today (see the content warnings). There are some really harrowing passages, but they all are quite short and the changes in points of view makes it easier to bear. All in all it wasn't an easy book to read for several reasons, but I'm glad I did. Definitely not a favourite, but one I can tick off my classics' list.

CW: racism, alcoholism, fatphobia, gun violence involving children, suicide, off-page domestic violence, child abuse & racist police violence.

the book peeks from the pocket of a black-and-white flower-patterned dress.

The Breathing of the Hyena, The Other Vol. 1, Pierre Bottero · 2006

The writer I love to hate is back on my TBR list! I'm joking. Or am I? I haven't had much luck with Bottero's books in the past, but it was mostly a personal taste. I'm sure his devoted readers will be perfectly happy with this other trilogy, so far unrelated to the story of Ewilan's Quest. Here's some of the similar things you'll find in both trilogies:

* a duo of teenagers, one rich, one poor, with extraordinary powers

* at least one of the two protagonists is an orphan

* fast-paced action

* another world just one step away from ours

* insta-love with the girl holding back.

To this, The Breathing of the Hyena adds a world-wide conspiracy and a sort of magical house that appears limitless (I loved that part). This is the kind of book that demands very little brain space, which is wonderful to have on hand. You don't always need characters you can't imagine your life without or stakes that keep you awake at night. I'm still a bit mad at his male gaze, but his books are great to keep up to date with your reading goals.

CW : death of parent, violence.

the book is set on a beige and pink patterned carpet.

Into the Forest, Jean Hegland · 1996

Two sisters, Eva and Nell, grow up in a forest with their parents. Up until their adolescence, the world is going on willy-nilly, but it ends up crashing, beyond the border created by the woods. Faced with the dangers and crises threatening the sisters' solitude, Eva and Nell send their roots ever deeper into the ground and hold on. But for how long?

I thought this book was mesmerizing. I'd heard about it and it had tickled my fancy when the French translation was published in 2017, but I didn't take the step to read it. It may have been a good thing for me to wait and enjoy even more the sensitive, fluide prose whose tendrils reach out from the heart of its protagonists to the reader's heart. The author refuses to widen her perspective and tell us exactly what is happening outside, the better to make us feel each second spent with Eva and Nell. Far from being claustrophobic, though, the narrative ebbs and flows following the days, weeks, and seasons. The chronology is at first a bit confusing, but ends up drawing the line between a past in which episodes melt into one another and a present when everything matters and the intimate and the natural are one. There are harrowing scenes and themes, but I thought they were brought up with a lot of consideration and treated beautifully. A wonderful reading experience.

CW: terminal illness, death of parent, grief, off-page sexual assault, suicidal thoughts, injury detail, hunt scene.

an ebook showing the illustrated cover of the book in golden tones is laying on a bed of dead leaves.

A Conspiracy of Truths, Alexandra Rowland · 2018

Chant is in prison. Does he deserve it? He is adamant he's not, but important people are quite sure he is, and in this town he's just set foot in, it's hard to navigate the ins and outs of justice. Especially when it involves so much paperwork. But Chant has a trick or two up his sleeve — he's a storyteller. An excellent one. Let's hope it can save his life.

This book was delightful, even though it wasn't what I'd expected. Reading the back after finishing it I don't exactly know how I could have been misled, because it's well written, but sometimes we just read what we want to read. So instead of the moody and atmospheric book I'd expected (partly thanks to the exquisite cover which was 75% of the reason why I bought it), I got a very well written trial fantasy (not something I'd expected to read one day) with perhaps a few too many names for my liking, but excellent narrative voice from Chant, which kept me highly entertained in the short time it took me to read this book. Because it's funny. Chant is a very funny character in a sarcastic way, and that was a pleasant surprise. And the way he weaves tales within his own story is really enchanting.

One unexpected effect the interlaced stories had on me was to make me want to re-read The Starless Sea. I hadn't been enchanted by that one upon first reading it, but I could absolutely feel its potential and I could see myself enjoying it more the second time round.

Rep: a cast of black & brown queer characters in a mostly queer-friendly world.

the book is set on a dark blanket next to a dried eucalyptus branch.

Meute, Karine Rennberg · 2022

How can a book be so violent while being so cute?

Nathanaël, Val, Calame. Three men, more or less (very) lost, surviving somehow in a world where the main means of communication is violence. In his own way, each one tries to reach out to the others, to grasp the humanity pulsing beneath the skin, no matter how deep that humanity might be buried, since some of them are werewolves and their life is punctuated by the moon.

I'm not familiar with werewolf books, but this one struck me with its originaly and its raw power. It is a violent book that isn't tender towards its characters and in which everything is ruled by a masculine aggressiveness. And yet this masculinity isn't toxic, somehow. Yes, it's often solved by violence, but it never forgets to treat others with a modicum of respect. And most of all, it still leaves room for vibrant relationships and bright moments of softness.

The second-person narration took me a few chapters to get used to, but then it placed me right alongside the characters whom it seems we are addressing like friends. I sometimes wanted to comfort or shake them, but they did leave their mark.

Rep: diverse and queer characters (including one gay man and one black aro/ace man).

Here's a summary of the author's own content warnings: food and eating disorder, hunt, physical violence, blood, injury details, murder, grief, PTSD, mention of medical experiments, of pregnancy, of miscarriage and of classism.

a white hand holds an e-reader showing the cover of the book in front of a bush with dark leaves and barely-opened pinkish buds.

Dans la forêt, Lomig · 2019

Knowing I was going to meet the author, I hurried to read this graphic novel adaptation of Jean Hegland's enchanting novel. I didn't have any specific expectation because what I'd love most about the original work was the prose and I knew that would be the first thing to disappear in visual format. And indeed, the graphic novel covers the main events in a rather quick rhythm which didn't leave me time to immerse myself as deeply as I'd done with the novel. That being said, I loved how the artist drew the landscapes : his views of forests are really superb, and if I enjoyed character design a little less it's because I'm very picky when it comes to illustration.

On the whole, even though this adaptation didn't move me as the novel had done, I'm impressed by the work it must have demanded and I appreciate the writer-illustrator's efforts.

CW: terminal illness, death of parent, grief, off-page sexual assault, injury detail.

the book is set against a dark background next to dried eucalyptus leaves.

A Phoenix First Must Burn, edited by Patrice Caldwell · 2020

This collection of short stories is subtitled "Stories of black girl magic, resistance and hope" and it's exactly that, which makes it a real pleasure to read. There is a whole host of genres represented here from science-fiction to myth-inspired fantasy to urban fantasy, with the common theme being young black women taking charge of their destiny. It felt really good to read hopeful stories so deeply rooted in black experiences, and I can imagine how even more wonderful this collection feels to black readers.

Collections like this one are great to discover new-to-you writers or enjoy short fiction from beloved voices.

In here are stories by Elizabeth Acevedo, Amerie, Patrice Caldwell, Dhonielle Clayton, J. Marcelle Corrie, Somaiya Daud, Charlotte Davis, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Justina Ireland, Danny Lore, L.L. McKinney, Danielle Paige, Rebecca Roanhorse, Karen Strong, Ashley Woodfolk, and Ibi Zoboi.

Rep : the cast is exclusively led by black young women around 17, and many of them are queer (mostly lesbian & bi).

CW : I'm not sure how helpful it would be to list content warnings when the stories are so different. On the whole, it deals heavily with racism, some stories with slavery, some with sexism, etc. There is one mention of HP.

the book, whose cover features a black girl emerging from a pink flower, is set on a wooden table next to a sprig of dried roses. There is a warm-toned, patterned cloth in the background.

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy, Becky Chambers · 2022

I have this tradition to re-read a favourite book on my birthday. Last year was Emily Tesh's Drowned Country, and this year is the second volume in Dex and Mosscap's adventures. Super wholesome and queer, of course I highly recommend.

An e-reader showing the cover of the book leans against a pile of books edges-forward. A dried branch of eucalyptus is laid in front of the composition.


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What did you read in April ?

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