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Reading wrap-up - December 2022

December was once more an excellent reading month, thanks to a general moody atmosphere which made me find refuge in books. I also took advantage of a gift card in a bookshop to get plenty of new, exciting books to read in 2023!


The Fall of Númenor, J.R.R. Tolkien edited by Brian Sibley and illustrated by Alan Lee · 2022


Looking for something to read after watching The Rings of Power? Look no further! Brian Sibley has gathered together all of Tolkien's manuscripts relating to the Second Age of Middle-earth in one beautiful volume. All the texts had been published here and there before, whether in The Silmarillion, some of the 12 volumes of The History of Middle-earth, J.R.R. Tolkien's letters or other sources, but they are here organised in chronological order of events to paint the most precise picture of Númenor's history possible.


If you are a Tolkien specialist and already have read everything on the subject, this book is still worth it because of the ton of drawings and the stunning watercolours Alan Lee provided. Since the book is cut into a myriad of chapters, the artist seized this opportunity to fill every blank space with pictures and the result really is gorgeous.


If you've just been introduced to Tolkien through the Rings of Power series, this might be as good place to start as The Lord of the Rings because you're on roughly familiar grounds, at least with the characters involved if not for their narrative arcs.


The book stands on a Tolkien-dedicated shelf, next to a big pinecone.

Fireside Magic, Kate MacRitchie · 2022


The second installment in Kate MacRitchie's Fireside Tales Treasury series, Fireside Magic teems with dark powers and witches who may or may not have good intentions. Its lyrical prose takes you in a heartbeat in the glens and forests of Scotland, ready to meet girls thwarted of their inheritance or aunts & grandmothers whose quirks may hide something dark... Or a hindered light.


These 5 stories are eery and beautiful. I think I enjoyed them even more than Fireside Fairy Tales, which conjured up creatures from folklore. Will you meet the witches from Fireside Magic? Thank you Kate for trusting me with an advanced reading copy of your collection. It's available now from the author's website, on Kobo and Amazon.


an e-reader showing the cover of the book rests on the stone step in front of a fireplace. There is a big copper pot on the hearth's grate.

Assassin's Fate, Robin Hobb · 2017


The cruellest way to write such a dark story as the Fitz and the Fool trilogy isn't to go deeper into the blackest despair, but to let light filter through. In the first half of Assassin's Fate, Robin Hobb lets her narrative shine with characters' encounters and occasions of joy, even for poor Fitz. So when the time comes for the hardest step of his journey, at the end of the book, it can only get more heart-wrenching.


The conclusion of a 16-novels-and-a-few-short-stories series can only be bitter-sweet. Despite my reader's sorrow, I do think it's perfect. All the pieces of the puzzle click into place, all the strands are knotted to form the tapestry of the Realms of the Elderlings universe. Reading one book a month for a year and a half has had its highs and lows, but I think this ending will always make me cry because it feels so right.


Rep : polyamorous MC, genderfluid SC.


CW [spoilers!] : all the warnings of the previous volumes, with the addition of: suicidal thoughts, terminal illness.


a white hand holds a copy of the book in front of a decorated Christmas tree.

The Old Man and His Cat, volume 5, Nekomaki · 2019


What better way to recover from a bookish heartbreak than with a cute & quiet manga? This series is everything when you need a literary hug. We follow Daikichi and his cat Tama season after season on their small Japanese island, where daily life is peaceful and any disturbance finds a solution.


the book is open at the page for winter on a small wooden table, with some dried flowers next to it and a patterned cloth in the background.


Vera, Elizabeth Von Arnim · 1921


After Jane Eyre and 20 years before Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, Elizabeth Von Arnim plays with the theme of the young & innocent woman falling in love with an older man, a widower. From the start, the character of Everard is intensely unlikeable and Lucy is portrayed as the young, passionate woman she is, who can't see beyond appearances yet and chooses to overlook some appearances for the sake of her love. The clash of their characters is described from their two points of view in addition to that of Lucy's aunt, a spinster in all her glory.


I enjoyed the psychological portrayal in the first quarter of the book but when it became repetitive and when it became clear that none of the characters was going to evolve, my reading started to drag. I felt horrified by Lucy's slow descent into the power of this hateful man. I valued the way the author stayed far away from any romanticization of their relationship - something that, I think, Daphne du Maurier achieved with more subtlety, though she uses a lot more tools than just the relationship of the 3 characters written by Elizabeth Von Arnim.


To me Vera is good classic, but I'm not surprised it didn't stand the test of time, at least not as much as The Enchanted April.


TW : suicide (quickly described), gaslighting, toxic relationship.


a white hand holds the book in front of a decorated Christmas tree.

The Book of Strange New Things, Michel Faber · 2014


At which point does an unlikeable character becomes a reason to abandon a book?


I've written a very long, very rambly review of this book but I think I'll spare you. Long story short(ish): this is a good sci-fi book written by a literary fiction author. I feel like the specificities of the genre could have been exploited a little bit more and there is a technological shortcut that doesn't quite satisfy me. I think readers who don't read a lot of sci-fi would enjoy this.


Think of this book as an homage to the chapters in His Dark Materials where Mary Malone meets the mulefas, but instead of a badass lady scientist the protagonist here is a middle-aged Catholic man who claims he's a Good Christian but is riddled with prejudices and is quite condescending.


I don't have anything to say about the book per se, as I said I think it's good. But I hated the main character with such a force that it blinded me to the rest. Some of it I'm sure is done on purpose, but being inside his head, his most outrageously sexist & racist thoughts (not that they are many but they are rough) aren't challenged and that made me uncomfortable.


My reading became a challenge I didn't want to lose, and I was also motivated by the idea that the end would flip things and make the character face his shortcomings but not really.


CW : sexual content, fatphobia, racism, intense animal cruelty & death (I skipped the 2 pages where it happens).


Rep : lesbian secondary character, asexual secondary character (and a rather nice paragraph about asexuality as well).


the book is set on a wooden table next to some dried orange slices and pinecones. There's a patterned cloth in the background.


Les Sœurs Hiver, Jolan C. Bertrand · 2022


What's the best way to ease towards the end of a reading year? With a new book crush!


This wintery tale, very queer and wonderfully illustrated, made my heart melt. We follow young Alfred and his uncle Ragnar, their encounter with Winter and non-binary trolls (you read that right). It's soft, tender and fresh, the illustrations are to die for and I'm seriously considering a new tradition of reading this book on every Christmas day like I've just done.


Rep: trans character, non-binary characters.


the book stands on the edge of a bookshelf, in front of a potted pilea plant.

Rocaille, Pauline Sidre · 2020


What a glorious sensation to be swept up by a book after just a couple of pages! The prologue of Rocaille is now up there in my short list of favourite prologues next to Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind.


After that, the story didn't disappoint. It has the markers of classic fantasy (pre-industrial society ruled by a monarchy, thieves and cutthroats, magic) but all these elements are exquisitely crafted and do not extend into endless world-building or an overly complicated plot, which I really appreciate.


One of our main character is Gésill, who has the slight disadvantage of being dead. As the King of Rocaille, he was just murdered and is being resurrected. After which he is whisked away and start plotting his return.


I loved the magic system in this book, partly because it's entirely tied to the land the characters live in and to the world-building in general. I also absolutely adored the writing style. Pauline Sidre has a knack for picking the right words and weaving beautiful, melodious sentences with them. All in all, only the absence of content warnings in the book prevented it from being a new favourite.


CW: toxic, incestual relationship, death, violence.


a white hand holds an e-reader showing the cover of the book in front of a Christmas tree.

 

For regular book reviews, I encourage you to visit my Instagram page (you don’t need an account): https://www.instagram.com/mariebreta/.


What did you read in December?

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