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Reading wrap-up - July 2021

July started with the opening of a reading challenge - to read one book by Robin Hobb every month to plunge again into the Realms of the Elderlings for a year, beginning with the Farseer Trilogy, a huge favourite since I discovered it ten years ago (you can find my posts on Instagram with the hashtag #OneHobbAMonth). My other reads for the month also included several series, nice discoveries and a potential new favourite.


Assassin's Apprentice, by Robin Hobb · 1995


My history with this book started some ten years ago, when my favourite bookseller pushed it into my hands. He was already my favourite bookseller, but I didn't yet know how grateful I would be to him. Assassin's Apprentice became my favourite book of all time after I first read it (and the following two books in the trilogy, and Hobb's other books in the same universe).


There's something in this book I've never found again elsewhere, which makes each re-read like coming home. It's a home where not everything is perfect, some family members I'd rather stay away from, and sometimes I still get lost in some shadowy corridors, but at its heart are endearing, defiant characters I feel I've known for a long time, and places I know will always keep a warm spot for me. I first read the Farseer trilogy in French, proceeded to re-read them in English when I could get my hands on the covers illustrated by John Howe, and now I'm re-reading them with Magali Villeneuve's beautiful, smooth pictures. But it's not exactly my third time reading. Over the years, I've come back to Robin Hobb when I needed comfort, to read a page or a couple of my favourite chapters. A few lines were enough to wisk me back to that home, and although I couldn't place who was whom and what some people were doing there, I always found my warm spot to settle back in.


Something that astounds me is the amount of foreshadowing you can't possibly grasp the first time. But re-reading it when you seize those clues is doubly heart-breaking because you're already aware of the hardships waiting for the characters, you remember them before they even happen, and you can't do anything to prevent them. It may sound like a painful experience, but there's also much beauty and comfort to be found within those pages.


TW: abandonment, animal death, bullying, grief, mental illness, suicidal thoughts + small TW for alcohol, drug use, murder, toxic relationship, violence.


The book is set on an old, wooden chair in front of grey-blue curtains.

Rogue Protocol, by Martha Wells · 2018


Murderbot continues to explore the universe and their identity in the third installment of their diaries. This series is officially my new comfort read. Until recently I didn't know cosy Sci-fi was a thing, and when I first wrote a flash-fiction piece in this genre (see "Soupe intergalactique" in French on my blog) I thought it was a weird, one-off thing, partly inspired by what Becky Chambers made me feel (or rather, her book The Long way to a Small, Angry Planet). Then came The Mandalorian, and after that I discovered Murderbot and their adventures make my heart happy. What else can I say?


Are you also into a very, very niche genre?


The book is resting on a bookshelf filled with tomes stored backwards. A bunch of dried unidentified flowers is laid in the foreground.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire · 2017


This second volume in the Wayward Children series is quite different from the first one, which had been the definition of a whimsical, unexpected book. This one is much more consistent, and has the feel of a fairy tale. You can almost hear a voice-over as in the series Pushing Daisies or the movie Penelope, and although it can feel tedious, here I thought it was done really well and effectively.


Down Among the Sticks and Bones works as a prequel for Every Heart a Doorway. We follow two important but secondary characters from the first volume and learn more about them. I loved how the book encouraged defying expectations and making one's own path in life. Despite the voice-over feel, it still felt quite personal and engaging.


Rep: lesbian couple with a fat character.


TW: blood, confinement, death, toxic relationship + minor TW for child death (mentioned once), medical content, violence, murder.


An ebook showing the cover of the novella on a dark background. White flowers hang over it, partly out of the frame and out of focus.

Split Tooth, by Tanya Tagaq · 2018


This raw and poetic memoir follows a girl growing up in Nunavut in the 1970s and 1980s, weaving in magical realism elements, often verging on the fantastic & spiritual. It's a powerful text, dealing with sometimes really heavy topics (check the TW at the bottom of this post) in an extremely poetic language - half of the chapters are actually poems. In some regards, this book reminded me of Keri Hulme's The Bone People for its deep rooting in the land and its spirituality, its narrative around childhood, and the balance between prose and poetry.


It was an unsettling read, but done on purpose. As a white European woman, I can't know first-hand what Tanya Tagaq tells about in Split Tooth, but I can bear witness, learn and empathize. Some of the discomfort I felt was also due to the topics touched on, sometimes hammered in - see the trigger warnings.


Rep : Inuk queer woman.


TW: animal death, blood, body horror, child abuse, child death, murder, pedophilia, pregnancy, sexual content, suicide. 


A white hand holds a French copy of the book in front of a flowery wallpaper in faded tones of blue and ochre.


The Clockmaker's Daughter, by Kate Morton · 2018


... aka one of the books that almost felt longer than the whole Lord of the Rings. First of all, I want to say that there's nothing inherently wrong about this novel. Objectively it's quite good. The main (as objective as possible) faults I found with it were that some characters felt interchangeable (or even removable), some paragraphs felt like extracts from Wikipedia, and there was a general air of elitism (being rich is good, being poor is bad).


Other than that, it's a good mystery novel steeped into Victorian culture, with a large cast of characters spread out over different time periods, from the 19th century to the present. I loved the Pre-Raphaelite atmosphere and the slow revelations. Most of the male characters were quite patronising towards female characters, but the latter were well-rounded and defied gender expectations. I particularly appreciated how Lucy, a 19th-century teenager, learned to see people for who they were rather than how prejudice makes them look.


The main trouble I had with this book is very personal. I've realised over the past few months that with my PhD, my writing projects, the English lessons I give, etc, I don't really have the mental space for intricate plots and huge casts of characters, which this book has. I also couldn't care less about some of the character arcs and was constantly lost between the different names of one character (says the reader for whom it took 400 pages to understand that Petyr Baelish and Littlefinger were the same person). And finally the ending frustrated me deeply. Sigh.


TW : confinement, grief. Minor TW for abandonment, death including child death (not textually described but mentioned a couple of times) and death of parent (not described but discussed at length).


a white hand holds a copy of the book against a dark background.


The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield · 2006


When I decided to gift this book to a friend, I thought I might as well re-read it before parting with it. Sweet Eru, I had forgotten how dark it was! But it's also a very elegant book, for reasons I can't quite point to.


The story is that of Margaret, a antique book seller who dabbles in biography writing for unknown people of the 19th century. One day she receives a very special invitation in the post: Vida Winter, the most famous writer of her generation, asks her to write her biography after years of misleading journalists about her past. There ensues a story about the stories we tell ourselves, those that shape us and those that we hide. It's an extremely dark character study of two women shaped by trauma and grief for things they can't always identify. But it's also a fabulous hommage to the power of literature.


Beware the long list of TW!


TW: Abandonment, Child abuse, Child death, Confinement, Death of parent, Dementia, Fire/Fire injury, Grief, Incest, Mental illness, Rape, Self harm, Suicidal thoughts, Terminal illness, and Toxic relationship.


a copy of the book on a wooden stand in front of grey, patterned curtains.

Exit Strategy, by Martha Wells · 2018


This is the fourth book in the Murderbot Diaries and I certainly don't want that series to end. Just when I thought the beginning of this one was a little long and not as sassy as the others, bam, the author gifts us with a deep passage or a funny conversation and I'm back in love with these books. I'm quite happy not to rush through them. With two of them a month, I can read other stories in between while not forgetting absolutely everything about the plot since there is a strong continuity from book to book.


Rep: asexual, aromantic and a gender MC.


TW: gun violence. Mild TW for kidnapping, medical content, violence.


The book is resting on a bookshelf filled with tomes stored backwards. A bunch of dried unidentified flowers is laid in the foreground.


Écrire un roman (writing a novel), by Marie Vareille · 2017


This book is a handy checklist of things to keep in mind during every stage of novel writing: from the gathering of ideas to revising and publishing, you have recaps of important points, without fuss. For my personal use, I would have liked more details, but on the whole I can see this handbook being quite helpful to budding writers.


the book is open at the title page, on a dark background, next to a bunch of dried flowers. Other books about writing are laid out around.


This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone · 2019


Red and Blue chase each other through time and space, sowing letters and poetic yearning in their wake.


This book is bliss. It was everything I'd wanted it to be, as someone who loves time travel stories but not necessarily the ins and outs of it or the mind mazes it can create. In here, you'll find gorgeous prose, sometimes twisting the narration for the sake of beauty, a correspondence bursting with feelings and etched onto any surface available, and time agents with a purpose but also a heart.


TW: death (battlefield), animal death (hunt), medical content.


Sencha, a black and white tabby cat, is resting on a couch. An e-reader showing the cover of the book is propped against her.

Beneath the Sugar Sky, by Seanan McGuire · 2018


The Wayward Children are back for another adventure in the third tome of Seanan McGuire's series. This one follows the timeline of the first volume, after devoting the second tome to a flashback. I was really glad to be back with a team of characters, which I think McGuire writes really well. There's banter, a lot of respect and consideration for one another, and once more an array of representation that makes my heart happy. Giving the slightest clue about the plot would be spoilers for Every Heart a Doorway, so I'll just say that if you enjoyed that one, you'll also enjoy Beneath the Sugar Sky.


Rep: fat, disabled, trans, black and Asian characters.


TW: fatphobia, racism.


an e-reader showing the cover of the book is set on an old, wooden chair in front of grey-blue curtains.

 

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 July?

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