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Reading wrap-up - February 2023

I think I inadvertently applied inverted psychology to me reading. At the start of the year I'd told myself I'd read less to save time for writing and think a bit more about each book before rushing to the next. In January it hadn't started well, but February really was over the top: I read 11 books. Well, 7 of them were more novella-length, so if I'd stuck to denser formats that number would have been smaller, but still. Noticing that made me smile.

Les Mondes d'Ewilan, Tome 1 : La Forêt des Captifs, Pierre Bottero · 2004

This book opens Pierre Bottero's second trilogy following Ewilan... even though she's absent from the first chapters because she was kidnapped by a mysterious institution. Instead, we follow Salim in those first, very nervous chapters, in which danger is everywhere and hope very thin.

I can't say this book made me a fan of this author, but I'm ready to acknowledge his merit. After the huge success of his first trilogy, Ewilan's Quest, Bottero takes a very different direction here. We still meet the same characters but, without spoilers, most of the plot takes place in our world and the atmosphere is a lot darker. The author did not repeat the formula that had worked in his previous books, and I salute him for that.

Note: there's a short passage I still haven't digested, in which a man says: "We need someone to take care of these children, but don't worry, I'll call my wife!"

CW: mentions of child torture and PTSD.

a white hand holds an ereader showing the cover of the book in front of a dark bush with white, umbel-like flowers.

Freshwater, Akwaeke Emezi · 2018

Freshwater, Emezi's debut novel, isn't exactly as fresh and delightful as its title suggests. It's a raw, violent, disturbing book about identity - or rather, identities. I'm quite certain I didn't understand it fully, and I'm not sure it's a book to understand. It's an experience, the experience of a radically other way of being. I won't even try to write a review because that's not my place. I just appreciate this book for existing, and for opening my eyes to sheer possibility.

Rep : Black trans MC with multiple identities, and multiple facets of queerness.

CW: car accident, self-harm, rape, body dysphoria, mental illness, mentions of domestic violence and child abuse.

the book is set on a beige and pink carpet with geometrical motifs.

Amours croisées, Laura Nsafou and Camélia Blandeau · 2022

This plural titles encompasses a very subtle story about human relationships, identity and love. Love for others, but also self-love, and especially Black self-love. It's mostly about Yari and Hide, the attraction they feel towards each other but which they struggle to describe. And yet, as the author says in the postface, it's also the story of all those characters deemed secondary who gravitate around them and make this story a very modern tapestry in multiple colours. Metaphorical colours, but also very real thanks to the gorgeous colour palette in which the plates are painted. I particularly enjoyed the night scenes with their golden and purple tones, but you already have a good glimpse with the cover.

Rep: Black MC, Asian and polyamourous MC, diverse cast.

CW: racism, homophobia.

a white hand holds a copy of the book above a parquetted floor.

Creativity, a short and cheerful guide, John Cleese · 2020

If, as a creative or generally as a thinker, you're in need of a little pep talk covering the essentials, may I direct you to this book? It says nothing revolutionary, but is indeed short and cheerful, and will remind you of simple truths like the necessity to let your mind wander, or to take breaks. Plus there are friendly lemurs welcoming you at each chapter.

the book rests on a burgundy knit.

The Dream Thieves, Maggie Stiefvater · 2013

Fair warning: I have no idea how to write this review for the second volume of the Raven Cycle. Maggie Steifvater apparently has this knack of writing engrossing YA which is super readable but entirely impossible to summarize. It's not a question of complexity. I'd say it's more a matter of blurring the lines and switching genres from chapter to chapter so that there's a lot to enjoy. The first tome focused a lot on Adam, whereas this more is more about Ronan. All of the Raven Boys and Blue get their own character arc, but one is more in the limelight and this time it's Ronan, whom we discover has an ability no one had suspected but it's certainly making things more complex and thrilling. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and I'm glad I've got the last two waiting for me in my TBR!

Rep: gay MC. It was a hint in volume 1, now it's confirmed.

CW: drug use, gun violence, murder, violence.

a white hand holds the book in front of some bookshelves.

Les Mondes d'Ewilan, Tome 2 : L'Œil d'Otolep, Pierre Bottero · 2005

Here are Ewilan and Salim back to business for an adventure that is a little lighter-hearted than the previous volume. Without spoiling you, we are reunited with familiar faces and the quest theme, but the adventurers have still brought back a touch of darkness from the previous instalment in this tome.

I wonder if part of the frustration I feel when reading Pierre Bottero is due on the one hand to the fact that the story is more plot-based than character-based (which isn't a problem at all, just a personal preference), and on the other hand to the fact that I can feel the story's potential but I can't let go and let myself be swept away. So I keep reading, waiting to feel the spark.

There are two things Pierre Bottero writes marvelously: character relatinships and dialogue. On that side of things, these books are flawless.

PS: I'm still quite mad at him for how he treats some female characters and the very uneasy male gaze through which he describes them.

CW: fatphobia, sexism a few violent fights.

an e-reader showing the cover of the book rests on top of a pile of old-looking volumes, all of them on a wooden table newt to a bunch of dried roses. There's a patterned, warm-toned cloth in the background.

Fountain of Age, Nancy Kress · 2007

What would you be ready to sacrifice for the sake of a memory?

Max Felder is immensely rich, but as the saying goes money hasn't bought him happiness. He's lost in the memory of his one passionate love for Daria, so many years ago. But what if the woman he thought was lost was actually quite alive, although unapproachable?

I have to admit this book lost me. It's very well executed, but it took me half of the hundred pages to understand that there were not just one but two timelines and that was why I was swimming in confusion. So, my bad. If you're into political machinations and yearn to live forever, this book may be for you.

Rep: Jewish MC, Romani secondary characters.

CW: terminal illness.

the book stands on a wicker chair in front of grey patterned curtain.

Our Share of Night, Mariana Enriquez · 2019

This is one of those books I'm not sure a review can enable to grasp. It is huge in size & scope, and yet it doesn't feel that because you follow a small number of characters and it's mostly a family story. But it also touches on so, so many themes as well as a complex historical background (Argentinian history) that I knew nothing about.

The book opens with a father and son on the run from a cult. I was immediately put in mind of one of my favourite movies, Midnight Special by Jeff Nichols, and so I started on relative familiar ground, which helped a lot. Of course, the particulars of the two stories are very different. In the book, rather than the boy, it's the father who seems to have some sort of supernatural abilities. He is fleeing across Argentina in the early 1980s, in which monsters are both the political sort and the nightmare sort.

I was recommended this book by a librarian who said that I would be less taken aback by the fantastical elements given that I'm mostly a reader of fantasy & science-fiction, rather than contemporary literature. On the one hand I agree, I easily accept things unexplained, but the supernatural is very much on the nightmare side of things in this book and so I'm sure readers of more classical fiction can absolutely read it (especially readers of Gothic lit). That being said, it is a grim, creepy and deeply uneasy novel. At some point I was wondering if the author had a bingo chart of content warnings and was trying to put them all in. But that is due to the nightmare-like nature of the story, so although I did not enjoy it, it didn't feel gratuitous.

If you enjoyed it, you might enjoy The Bone People by Keri Hulme for the (loving but toxic) relationship between father and son, the importance of Indigenous communities, and the overall uneasiness & darkness of the book.

Rep: bisexual MC.

CW : all of them, as I said. Body horror, child abuse, torture, mutilation, terminal illness, death of a parent, murder, homophobia, the AIDS epidemic, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempt, mention of rape.

the book is open at the title page, with flowers casting their shadows over the lettering.

Kiffe ta race, Rokhaya Diallo & Grace Ly · 2021

This book should be handed out in a "citizenship kit" to everyone. It tackles the question of racism in France in a very direct, referenced and crystal-clear way, addressing both white and non-white people. In France it's easy to find books dealing with racism in the USA without looking at the situation on our doorstep. That's why I think this essay is so important. The authors ask the most frequent questions and answer in a really paedagogical manner, all the while developping the origins and forms of racism today in France, as well as intersectionality, its definition and applications. A necessary book.

a white hand holds a copy of the book above a patchwork of novels written by Black and / or Indigenous people from English-speaking countries.

Les Mondes d'Ewilan, Tome 3 : Les Tentacules du Mal, Pierre Bottero · 2005

And I'm done with this trilogy! I'm really not convinced by this ending which removes agency from the characters' hands and give it to a deus ex machina... Or two. It's a race towards the "always more" with villains being even more villainous and threatening creatures even more threatening, but the story is going so fast that except Ewilan and a little bit Salim we don't know what the other characters are feeling and I read them as empty shells. But I also think that one, it's okay not to enjoy a book you're not the right audience for, and two, it's good to read a meh book from time to time, one for which the hype isn't as huge. It creates balance, as well as making the TBR pile shorter.

an e-reader showing the cover of the book rests on a carpet with beige and pink geometric motifs.

Herland, Charlotte Perkins Gilman · 1915

This book was recommended (and lent) to me by friends, but if it had not I don't think I would have read it knowing the author's views on racism. And that's why I have trouble with raving blurbs speaking of Herland as a great feminist utopia. It's a utopia for white, cis, heterosexual women, right. But to me feminism can only exist if it's inclusive and Charlotte Perkins Gilman really is not. Herland is the kind of books where Indigenous people are called savages and where women living in total isolation for 2000 years have no idea what sexuality is. Yeah, sure.

The premice of Herland is that 3 male explorers stumble upon this region cut off from the rest of the world, inhabited only by women. And it really is interesting to have this exploration of a feminine society (hint : their clothes have a multitude of pockets). But there's really no way to overlook the author's unbridled racism and homophobia and so to me that's a strange definition of feminism.

CW : sexism (challenged), racism, homophobia (from the author).

a white hand holding a copy of the book in front of a dark-leaved, white-budded bush.


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What did you read in February?

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