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Reading wrap-up - August 2023

August marked the end of my To-Be-Read-Pile reading challenge, episode 3! I'm delighted to have made a dent in my TBR, even though I bought a few more in the meantime. In July, I'd stocked up on ebooks because of unashamed sales from publishers, so I put my e-reader to good use this month, hence the group picture that feels a little empty where physical books are concerned.

Sororité, collection edited by Chloé Delaume · 20212021

Sorority. A soft-sounding word for a reality built out of necessity against that of fraternity chiselled onto every town hall of France. The concept is explored here by 15 French-speaking women through non-fiction, a few poems and a dialogue. It is defined, questioned, upheld, claimed, in all its forms and by all the diversity of people gathered in its umbrella. It would be hard to summarise contributions as varied as those in this collection, but they paint the portrait of a movement made of pride and joy.

The book is open at the title page, featuring the names of all authors. A sprig of dried roses is laid on the page, and there is a warm-toned, patterned cloth in the background.

Meliora, Talli L. Morgan · 2022

Are you in for a super cute cozy fantasy romance? I didn’t think I was, at least for the romance part, but this book was such a delight.

Winter, that’s our main protagonist, is starting a new job as a baker in the Summer Palace, residence of the royal family. On his first night, he finds himself helping a stranger bleeding to death on his doorstep - who turns out to be Prince Arturo himself. Soon the two of them develop a friendship bridging their social classes. When Arturo takes Winter on a trip to find help for Winter’s sister, they come up with a wild scenario… but is it so wild for the two of them to develop feelings for one another?

I was struggling with stress when I started this book and let me tell you I retreated into the world of Winter & Arturo as if I was reaching for air. Their story is so cute and touching, a bit outrageous, sure, but it doesn’t shun the uncomfortable conversations on, for instance, privilege, given that half of the duo is royalty. The story is very queer but it’s never a big deal and I loved how seamlessly everything went. Sure, the blend of a pre-industrial revolution world and very modern situations and language felt a little strange at times, but it was also so comforting to be taken to a universe where you could chat about coffee and gender and also magic. The low stakes soothed my stress-riddled heart. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m pretty sure Meliora would appeal to fans of Legends & Lattes.

Rep: non-binary MC with anxiety, trans character, sapphic characters.

CW : anxiety and panic attacks, mentions of alcoholism and gender dysphoria.

A white hand holds an e-reader with the cover of the book in front of a bush with dark leaves and pink flowers. The cover features two characters lying on their back in a meadow, with the title superimposed in white.

Mosses from an Old Manse, and other stories, Nathaniel Hawthorne · 1846

This is a collection of stories, most of them fantastical, with a few verging on philosophy or comedy. I was recommended it so long ago, I can't remember the person or the reason they directed me toward it, but I was glad to discover in the contents the short story "Rapaccini's Daughter", which I was intrigued by.

The first fantastical stories deal heavily with the theme of beauty in Gothic atmospheres. Despite the fact that they often feature women dying, which made me want to roll my eyes, I did appreciate the unique concepts that united them. It had been a long time since I'd read 19th-century literature so I needed a few dozen pages to get the rhythm of the sentences, but after that I was fine. A couple of stories went far above my head because they required knowledge of works I was not familiar with, but most of them were completely accessible and enjoyable. My favourite was one featuring an old witch and her scarecrow, which I'm ready to bet inspired Diana Wynne Jones's Howl's Moving Castle. If you're ready to overlook 19th-centuries outdated values, I'd recommend this collection as a fine example of fantastical short stories.

CW : instances of sexism and racism, death.

An e-reader showing the cover from an old edition of the book rests against a pile of books with their spines facing back.

Butterflies in November, Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir · 2004

It’s November in Iceland, not far from the shortest day of the year. The narrator is ready to break up with her lover, but he’s the one dumping her first, before her husband does the same. She was no longer in love with him anyway, so it doesn’t hurt as much. That’s when she consecutively wins two lotteries and finds herself with a cabin and a lot of money. When her best friend is kept in the hospital and entrusts the narrator with her four-year-old son, the latter decides to go on a road trip around the island with him. Who knows? Maybe the answer to all her questions - and the child’s questions - is waiting for them on the other side.

This is the third novel by this author I read. Her prose is really charming, full of tenderness and a mixture of the extraordinary and the banal. She does wonders with making the smallest moments special. This time, however, I wasn’t as charmed as with her other books. I may not have been in the best headspace, or it may have been the stronger insistence on the heroin’s sexual life and the leitmotiv of dead animals that prevented me from fully relaxing into the story and enjoy the ride. I would first recommend The Greenhouse and Miss Iceland, but Butterflies in November is certainly not a bad novel.

CW: animal death, infidelity.

Marie, a white person with short dark hair and glasses, is holding the book in front of her face. The cover features a dark pinkish red geometrical motif.

The Tea Dragon Festival, Kay O’Neill · 2021

The tea dragons are back for another heart-warming volume! In this sequel to The Tea Dragon Society, actually set in the past, we follow Rinn, who is a gatherer for their village. One day, Rinn stumbles on an abandoned building in the forest and awakens a dragon, but not the tea variety.

This comic book is oh-so-cute and charming. It’s the perfect escape to find solace in a stressful day. The colours are soft and enchanting, just like the story. This one did not focus on the tea dragons as much as volume one did, but it dealt with themes of belonging, home, and letting go that were so touching. Kay O’Neill has crafted a perfectly inclusive and diverse narrative with so much heart! I don’t know what to say more, except that these books are gems and if I could live in another world, I’d probably pick that one.

Rep : characters aren’t gendered. They are diverse, and one of them is deaf (prompting everyone to use both vocal and sign language).

CW: mild depiction of violence.

a white hand holds a copy of the book in front of dark bushes. The cover features a black person wearing a hat and a dragon gazing into each other’s eyes in a flowery meadow.

L’Affaire Circé, Adrien Tomas · 2023

(Book sent through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Police lieutenant Tia Morcese is enjoying a well-deserved rest after a trying case, when the world is shaken by a series of attacks against highly important magical locations. The Veil, this tenuous border between the magical and human worlds, is once more about to rip, and Tia’s family is once more thrown into the heart of the mess. Her little sister Mona is trying to go back to a normal, quiet high-schooler’s life, when the arrival of a new student triggers all sorts of troubles, some of which may have links to the situation keeping the Morcese family busy. In a Paris in which creatures are hiding in plain sight, the siblings are tried and tested. They may have to find allies in unlikely places.

This novel, which is the second volume in the Dossiers du Voile series, swept me off my feet in the first few pages, even though I hadn’t read volume one. The main events are summarized efficiently in the first chapters so that you can enjoy fully the tribulations of the Morcese sisters. The story is captivating, with witty dialogues and guest appearances by well-known figures of European, Slavic, and Asian folklores provide plenty of surprises in the familiar landscapes of Paris and Northern France. I had an excellent time with this novel, and I particularly enjoyed the queer touch. I probably missed a few Easter eggs, but the one I spotted made me laugh.

After reading Vaisseau d’Arcane, one of Adrien Tomas’s adult steampunk novels, I was happy to discover the author in a more YA register (verging on adult) and in the genre of urban fantasy.

L’Affaire Circé is out on September 15 and I recommend it!

CW: violence, kidnapping, fire injury, brief description of panic attack.

an e-reader showing the cover of the book, in ochre tones, is resting against a tree trunk in front of an ivy-covered wall.

Citadins de demain, Claire Duvivier · 2021

(Book sent through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

A flourishing trading port whose workers are on the verge of revolt, young nobles and their lower-class friend, negotiations and a few mysterious artefacts, here are the ingredients of the first volume in Claire Duvivier’s trilogy, Capital of the North. The author takes the readers through the streets of Dehaven, whose importance often overshadows that of the citizens whose (mis)adventures only partially interested me. I was much more keen to learn how they provided a mirror for the whole city. Dehaven, largely inspired by 18th-century Amsterdam, brings a great counterpoint to Gémina, the Southern capital described by Guillaume Chamanadjian in his parallel trilogy set in the same world. I enjoyed the links between the two narratives, even though I have to say I far preferred the latter. The winding and sun-drenched streets of Gémina, perfumed by the delicacies of Saint-Sauveur’s delicatessen, captivated me more than the colder story written by Claire Duvivier which reads like a good 19th-century novel up to the carefully-elaborated prose. The ending was much too jarring to convince me, and too abrupt, even though the fantastical touch unfolding in the second half of the novel had picked my interest. It made for a halftone reading experience, which did satisfy me because I’d been curious about this book since it came out. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it even if it wasn’t to my personal taste.

CW: classism, colonisation, brief episode of violence.

An e-reader showing the illustrated cover of the novel rests on a pile of old-looking books on a wooden table next to a bunch of dried roses, with a patterned cloth in the background.

Mindtouch, M.C.A. Hogarth · 2013

It’s the beginning of a new year at the intergalactic university, and students old and new prepare for a new term. Jahir is a freshman. His unusual looks attract attention, as he is the first of his species to set foot outside of his home planet for a long time. Things don’t start so well as his condition requires him to have a room by himself, which isn’t possible. Enters Vasiht'h, in his second year, whose roommate has just left. He invites Jahir in and the two of them form a timid but strong friendship. As the year unfolds, they find themselves sharing lots of activities from the lightest to the deepest, including visits at a local children’s hospital. Side by side they define the path of their studies until the day may come when those paths have to separate.

This cosy science-fantasy novel was quite charming. Despite a strange opening scene, the two protagonists are quite endearing with their kindness and deep respect for people around them. We alternate between each point of view, getting to know them both and witnessing the bond they share grow stronger. This book was a beautiful depiction of a queerplatonic relationship.

I wasn’t entirely at ease, though, while I was reading, because of a few details here and there that troubled me. For a universe in which there are so many different species, I found things to be quite binary and often considered from a human perspective when it didn’t make sense to me. Then, there was welcome aro/ace representation, but this characteristic was explained as having been engineered through a reduction of hormones and I felt it sad that aro/ace orientation would be explained again as a lack of something when it’s everything but. This type of discomfort would have been alleviated with diverse representation of queer characters, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. Admittedly, I was also a bit wary because I’d had a look at the author’s twitter account when she gifted her novel and I strongly disagreed with some of her statements, so I may not have been in the best headspace to read her book. However, it won’t be said that I failed my TBR-reading challenge, so I gave this book a try and will say it is mostly on the positive side, if you can deal with many scenes featuring children in hospitals.

Rep : aro/ace character.

CW: medical content, child death, mild xenophobia.

An e-reader showing the cover of the book, with the two characters under a decorative arch, lays on a beige carpet with red and blue patterns.

Brume, volume 1, Jérôme Pelissier and Carine Hinder · 2023

Brume is a little girl with a big attitude, who dreams to be a witch. She venerates the late Naïa, the local witch, until one day her father gives her a true grimoire. Adventures are only just starting!

This middle-grade comic book combines delightful drawings and very endearing and complementary characters. I loved every page of it, and even had a few good laughs at some well-thought lines. Special mention to Hubert, the pig who is a little too clever for his own good.

The book, whose cover features the little witch in front of a great blue dragon, lies on a beige carpet with blue and red patterns.

Say I Boo, Morgan Spellman · 2023

(Book sent by the author.)

Abby is a part-time magician, tricking her audience into believing in magic while she battles with ghosts from her past. When her best friend David asks for her help and they find themselves trapped in a mansion during a snow-storm, even though the setting screams for it, Abby isn’t ready for ghosts to become very real. But they have no choice but to believe and find out who’s trying to murder their host before David’s sister’s wedding or the ceremony might turn into a funeral.

This book was one of my first cosy mysteries and I had a great time! I loved the lively character writing, with nuanced personalities and the right amount of friendships and conflicts. One of my favourite tropes in books is when the house is almost a character, and this felt very true here as the setting added its own personality to the narrative. As the cast grappled with paranormal events, there was a great balance of humour and depth - grief being one of the main themes here.

I have to admit I can be wary with self-published books, but this one was perfectly crafted and edited. This book would be perfect on a winter afternoon with a hot cup of tea or chocolate at hand. Do make sure you have a salt water taffy as well and thank me later.

Cherry on the (wedding) cake, I love @Hollydunndesign’s cover ! I think it captures the atmosphere of the book perfectly.

Rep: lesbian Jewish MC, Black gay & bisexual secondary characters.

CW: fire, grief.

A white hand holds an e-reader in front of an ivy-covered wall. The cover features the characters against a background of holly.

Painting Time, Maylis de Kerangal · 2018 (2021)

Paula, Jonas and Kate meet at the Painting Institute in Brussels. There, they learn the subtle art of illusionist painting. Oak, marble, scales, … Under their brushes, surfaces merge and change. In a few months, Paula acquires techniques that will take her from Russia to Italy, as she perfects her art and fulfils commissions until the border between nature and creation starts to dissipate.

Maylis de Kerangal’s novels look like no other. In the first few lines, the endless sentences feel familiar, sprinkled with commas that can induce dizziness. The language is at the heart of the story, and even more so when, like here, it deals with art and illusion. In this tactile novel, surfaces are sometimes more telling than depths and it’s a pleasure to explore the successive layers of the characters as much as those of their creations.

The book is balanced on a bannister, in front of a wall covered in oil paintings.

Shadow Speaker, Nnedi Okorafor · 2007 (2023)

(Book sent through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Nigeria, the near future. A recent world war has led to unexpected consequences on both the earth and its inhabitants. Ejii is a child of this new world. She is a shadow speaker - she can feel and hear shadows around her. Because of this ability, she is considered a threat by those unchanged, including her cruel father. When he is killed by the renowned Jaa, on a visit to Ejii’s village, the girl believes her circumstances will improve, but the following years prove her wrong, until fate or another power gives us an opportunity for revenge.

When I saw a new book by Nnedi Okorafor on NetGalley, I was super excited. Okorafor’s Binti trilogy made me rediscover sci-fi and encouraged me to search for books I’d love in this genre I wasn’t best friends with. Actually, Shadow Speaker isn’t exactly a new release, since it was first published in 2007 and was Okorafor’s first YA novel, but it was out of print. The 2023 version is expanded and has a new introduction.

What I found the most fascinating about this book was how many of the elements that made Binti so enjoyable were already budding in this earlier novel. You’ve got fantastic world-building, in this africanfuturist Nigeria and potential other planets, a headstrong but caring female main character, themes of family, identity, uprootedness, discussions of politics and righteousness. I felt that Shadow Speaker wasn’t as gripping and exciting as Binti had been, but that may be a consequence of me having read the latter first. I do think this book would be a good introduction to Okorafor’s writing (especially for a YA audience), even though I still consider Binti a more accomplished book.

On a last note, it is also worth noticing that I read this book in a state of high stress, so I may not have been as focused on it as I would have liked.

Rep: Black Muslim MC.

CW: child slavery, animal death, mention of child death.

An e-reader showing the cover of the book featuring the portrait of the main character, is surrounded by dried autumn leaves.


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What did you read in August ?

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