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Reading wrap-up - July 2022

July has been quite erratic un terms of reading. I read a lot in French because although I wasn't on holiday, I took my work with me during two stays with my family, and I can't read in English when I'm surrounded with fragments of conversations in French. Which has nothing to do with the quality of said books! It's just an unfortunate coincidence that all but one of my books in French disappointed me.

Dragon Haven, Robin Hobb · 2010

It's funny how memories of a book get distorted with time. I would have sworn the events happening towards the second volume of the Rain Wild Chronicles (no spoilers) happened in fact in book 3. And so, while I was getting a tiny bit tired of Robin Hobb's habit of repeating herself, and her entish ability to take a very long time to say things, I'm actually surprised to see the plot pick up pace in this volume. Well, towards the end at least.

I think the Rain Wild Chronicles is the most queer-friendly of all her series even though the world isn't queer-friendly, because it's all about becoming one's true self and taking back one's independence far from society's small boxes. It feels both invigorating and sadly necessary in our day and age.

Rep: gay characters.

CW: ableism, sexism, toxic relationship, animal pain & death, stillbirth, suicidal thoughts.

the book is set on a dark woodden table in front of grey patterned curtains.

Our Tragic Universe, Scarlett Thomas · 2010

This book is so meta it's delightful. It's a novel about writing and telling stories, mostly, but it also touches on so many different subjects including immortality and knitting.

The main character is Meg, a writer who barely making ends meet writing genre fiction under her pen name. Her ambition is to write her "real" novel, the one in which she'll break free from expectations, story structure and genre. In a way, some of what she thinks about really echoed in me. Well, in the first dozen pages I kept exclaiming mentally or out loud that I couldn't believe this book was real because there were just too many coincidences with my life. I'd just finished The Umbrella Academy in which, and this is not a spoiler, a team tries to fend off the end of the world. And on the first page of Our Tragic Universe, Meg is reading a book about surviving the end of the universe. Then of course there's the fact that she's a writer who overthinks her project so much she never actually writes it (touché), and then there are plenty of references including some to Tolkien.

There isn't really a plot here. This book feels more like a conversation with the reader, and I was kind of sorry to read it so fast because I didn't really take time to stop and consider the myriad fascinating writing questions it asked. But I absolutely see myself re-reading it, so it's not really an issue. Writers, this is a book for you! Bonus point if you buddy-read it.

Rep: the main character felt like she could be on the ace spectrum but it's never said. One secondary character has OCD.

CW : suicide, mild ableism, a couple of mentions of HP.

the book rests on a wooden table next to a dark vial holding a bunch of dried flowers.

Into the Deep, Sophie Griselle · 2022

Sophie and I met at university, where we both pursued a Master's degree in Art History. It took us a while to find out we were both writers, but once we did I made sure to keep an eye out for her books because I already knew she had a special spark.

Reading a book by someone I've met before tends to make it more difficult for me to lose myself in the story because I'm constantly looking for the person behind the words. But with Sophie's book, I was instantly hooked. The fluidity of the prose captivated me, and the unique atmosphere of the Mariana Islands she conjures soothed my need for fresh air.

Into the Deep is first a character study - that of Sam, an oceanographer who has a passion for the Mariana Trench. He's a champion of free diving haunted by his memories. It's also a wonderful fantastical novel in which our main character finds something in the Trench - something with the potential of overturning centuries of knowledge.

Rep: Tahitian main character.

CW: close spaces, animal pain, suicide & suicidal thoughts, death of parent, toxic relationship between a child and a parent. Mention of child death.

PS : despite what the title suggests, this book is written in French!

a white hand holds a ereader showing the cover of the book, in front of a tree with faded pink, fluffy flowers.

In an Absent Dream, Seanan McGuire · 2019

McGuire's Wayward Children series is to me the definition of whimsical fantasy. It goes in unexpected directions, and tells the story with a storyteller type of narrative, which highlights the fairy-tale aspect. It makes it charming, but doesn't prevent the author from touching on very dark themes.

This is the 4th volume in the series, and like the 2nd, it focuses on one character, telling her story before we meet her in the first tome. I won't tell you much about the contents, except that it follows Lundy and that it is heavily inspired by "Goblin Market", a poem by Christina Rossetti, but you don't need to have read it to enjoy the story (I hadn't).

McGuire's inventiveness really shines through in this series, and I highly recommend it!

Rep: there is no obvious rep , but the theme of belonging and finding a place to call home, both in one's body and in one's environment, feels rather queer to me. And McGuire's series is joyfully inclusive anyway.

CW: sexism (challenged), hint of child death.

an e-reader showing the cover of the book rests on a dark wooden table, under some ochre and pink flowers.

The Quest of Ewilan, Vol. 1: From One World to Another, Pierre Bottero · 2003

This is one of the books that cemented my love for fantasy as a child. Despite reading the series a couple of times I only had a blurry memory of it, so I decided to re-read it during a week when there was a little too much going on, to give my mind a rest.

This is the story of Camille, a bright teenager who prefers not to be noticed, especially by her adoptive parents. One day, as she crossed a street, she misses death closely and instead of being hit by a truck she ends up in a clearing where a knight in shining armour is fighting a horrible, lizard-like creature. Camille may not be as unremarkable as she wishes, as it turns out.

I remember the thick volumes I read as a child, but as an adult this was a very quick read. I'm sad to admit the magic didn't really operate, except that I was delighted to find so many black & brown characters in an otherwise very classic fantasy story. You've got your knights, your mentor, your cute animal and your apparently unbeatable, monstrous enemies, all wrapped up in a neat quest to save a kingdom and reunite the chosen-one-type heroine with her long-lost parents. I'm quite glad to have such poor memories, because that will keep the surprise for what happens next!

Rep : despite a white, blond heroin, there are plenty of Black important characters.

an e-reader showing the cover of the book is set on a wooden table, on top of an old-looking book, next to a branch of eucalyptus. There's a patterned cloth in the background.

Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir · 2021

Friends, I almost DNFd one of my most anticipated books of the year. After reading The Martian and Artemis last year, I was so ready for another fun Science-fiction adventure by Andy Weir. Except this one was way more science than fiction, and given that I know absolutely nothing about physics or biology or [insert scientific stuff], I didn't enjoy this book much.

I'm really frustrated because this title keeps cropping up in people's favourite books of the year. I just wish it had been like that for me.

The hero felt like a pale copy of The Martian's Mark Watney, like the rest of the book. A lot of the plot twists felt similar, which is regrettable when your opening scene already has a (white) man alone in space. Except that Ryland Grace, in Project Hail Mary, has the fate of the world in his hands, not just his own fate. I could see there was a great story unfolding, which I won't spoil you, but it didn't excite me or move me. Aaaargh. I'm frustrated.

Rep: it's never said, but the main character could very well be aro/ace.

CW: confinement, death.

the book sits on an old wooden chair, with slanting sunrays hitting the lens.

The Secret Commonwealth, Philip Pullman · 2019

What a bleak, bleak book.

Following La Belle Sauvage, this one takes place 8 years after the events in His Dark Materials. We are reunited with Lyra, now a young woman at university. Unfortunately, after what she and her dæmon went through, their relationship has never been the same. And it's truly heartbreaking. Yes, there is a whole story that is part spy thriller, part fantastical mystery, but what I felt most of all was Lyra and Pan's deep, deep sadness and loneliness.

If you enjoyed La Belle Sauvage, though, you'll probably enjoy this one as well! Sadly for me, the elements I hadn't enjoyed in La Belle Sauvage were back here. I kept reading because I wanted to know where the author was taking his world, given that he promised us more about Dust, but I felt rather frustrated at the end. Okay, His Dark Materials isn't a happy story, but there are many lights in the darkness, and I still love this series (even though no matter how many times I read it, I never understand the last volume). Here I thought it was mostly gloomy and hopeless, which didn't particularly cheer me up, go figure.

If you too didn't recover from the end of Kiki's Delivery Service (if you know, you know), stay away from this book.

CW : murder, suicide, sexual assault.

the book on a dark wooden table with a leather inlay. A white hand hides the lowest part of the cover.

The Quest of Ewilan, Vol. 2 : Les Frontières de Glace, Pierre Bottero · 2003

After 2 long and disheartening reads, I needed something short and most of all something *fun*, so I turned to the second volume in the Quest of Ewilan trilogy. Its makes up in lively dialogues what it lacks in originality. Clichés pile up, and adventures rush without time to breathe. Much too fast for my taste, which meant that I didn't really care for the characters, but at least it makes the series an ideal choice to empty your head.

Rep: Black characters.

an e-reader showing the cover of the book sits on a table, leaning against a cracked white wall, next to a vase filled with white peonies.

Washington Black, Esi Edugyan · 2018

George Washington Black's life was destined to be framed by the borders of the cane plantation in Barbados where he is enslaved. But a death and an unlikely friendship offer him an escape, and here is "Wash" carried away into the world. But can freedom be as simple as that for a Black man in the 1830s? His quest takes Washington further and further, guided by his passion for science and a talent for illustrating its marvels.

This really is a gorgeous book. It delivers some of those quiet sentences that silently break your heart, under the guise of a larger-than-life adventure. The relationship between Washington and his fellow traveler is complex and thoughtful, miles away from the white savior trope that is still too common in stories about Black people. I'd say this novel is as delicate and deep as its stunning cover.

Rep: Black MC with a disfigurement.

CW: slavery and all the horrors that go with it, violence, abandonment.

a white hand with dusty-pink-painted nails holds a copy of the book (with a white and gold cover) in front of dark bushes.

The Quest of Ewilan, Vol. 3 : L'Île du Destin, Pierre Bottero · 2003

I was quietly enjoying myself, still sighing because this YA trilogy is going way too fast for my liking, but appreciating the banter, when out of the blue the characters started being massively fatphobic. Why? People's weight is not a joke. In addition to the casual sexism and the insta-love, this trip down memory lane is getting a bit sour. I'm not so sure I want to read the author's next series. (But I will. A little bird told me it's better, or at least different.)

CW: brief but intense episode of fatphobia, death of an animal.

an e-reader showing the cover of the book peeks from a book sleeve in a beige and blue brocade, as well as a eucalpytus branch, against a dark wooden background.


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What did you read in July?

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