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Reading wrap-up - June 2021

June is known in the USA as Pride Month, and I wanted to honour this tradition fron France by devoting a large part of my TBR pile to books shining light on LGBTQIA+ identities. I discovered new authors to follow and series I keep exploring with a lot of pleasure.


An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon · 2017


When I picked this book in the library, I thought the blurb was quite strangely written. Now that I've read the novel, I understand that it's really hard to summarize An Unkindness Of Ghosts, because its plot (a young woman surviving in an immense space ship) is only one aspect of the whole. I thinks its main strength is in the characters' voice, especially Aster, the main character (she's not the only one telling the story). I must admit that it's the first time I read a book by an autistic author with an autistic character, so I'm really not in a position to judge the book. The author is also Black and non-binary, and questions of racism and identity are at the heart of the book. I appreciated the varied representations and the tension building throughout the narrative, but be warned, this is a harrowing book. Solomon draws from centuries of oppression by white people and does not shy away from the darker parts of this dark, shameful history. It's a book that reads like a scream while also celebrating the diversity of Black & queer voices, in a Sci-fi setting turned towards the past. 


Rep: Black autistic character, genderqueer character, aro/ace character. 


TW: rape, sexual assault, slavery, racism, medical content.


The book and Sencha, a black-and-white tabby cat, are resting on a white blanket, seen from above. Sencha is looking up.

Silver in the Wood, by Emily Tesh · 2019


If you've been here for a few months, you may have noticed this title in the painting of my favourite books I did in January. Yes, I'm reading it again. This fantasy novella inspired by folk tales of the Green Man is absolute perfection to my eyes. I sigh happy sighs every two sentences, the characters are sweet and proud at the same time, there's a cat (who survives) and an opinionated oldish lady. Perfection.


Rep: agender & aro / ace MC, gay characters.


TW: gun violence, kidnapping.


A white hand holds an e-reader showing the cover of the book under a maple tree seen from underneath.

All Systems Red, by Martha Wells · 2017


Is there a book you know you'll love so you're in no hurry to read it?


That happens quite often with all the books on my wishlist, and especially with Martha Wells's All Systems Red. As soon as I discovered its existence, I knew it would be a book for me. A socially anxious cyborg whose sole ambition is to finish work asap so that they can watch sitcoms on their own? Yes please. All Systems Red is both deliciously funny (and queer) and emotionnally deep, when it questions what makes us human and presents a character being considered a sentient being for the first time. A new favourite, for sure. Think The Mandalorian meets AI.


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

Résolution, by Li-Cam · 2019


Speculative fiction is rich in dystopias, but have you aver read a utopia?


Résolution, by Li-Cam, is presented as a eu-topia, from the Greek "topos" (a place) and the prefix eu- indicating the idea of something good (the same prefix Tolkien uses in "eucatastrophe"). Résolution is set in a near future in which the world hasn't escaped a collapse but a small community is bent on creating a utopian reality. This is a deeply original book on many aspects: its theme (utopia), its narration between retrospection, interior monologue and chats with an AI, but also its main character, Wen, a young autistic woman sharing her view of the world very openly whether she feels detached from it or tries to decypher its signals.


The utopia built by the author is organised around an Artificial Intelligence, Sun, whose presence permeates the novel even though most of the time she's not functioning. Sun was born from the observations and analyses led by Wen, who was sharing her thoughts on her blog while civilisation was crumbling around her. The reader is constantly torn between flashes from a past collapse that's not so hard to imagine, and a deeply kind community founded on ideas of fellowship and sharing. A book both unsettling and accessible, certainly providing food for thought.


Rep: autistic, aromantic, lesbian MC. Diverse secondary characters.


The book is resting on a dark wooden surface with a few dried roses hiding the library tag.


Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire · 2016


The Umbrella Academy meets The Starless Sea meets The OA in this improbable, dark fantasy that reads like YA with elements of horror.


Nancy is a teenage girl just back from a visit to the Underworld. Her parents don't understand what happened, and her only certainty is that home is no longer here, it's there. Then she gets sent to Eleanor West’s Home For Wayward Children, where she meets other students like her - who are only waiting for the day they can go back.


I had been warned that this book was strange, and it did not disappoint. It felt both familiar in the setting of a school for gifted students, but also highly weird and whimsical, thanks to the glimpses we get of the worlds waiting outside the doors. Then it got cute because the characters are mostly adorable, before dipping into murder mystery and that's where I stopped trying to define this book. The only thing I know is that I highly recommend it, and I'm ready for volume 2!


Rep: asexual MC, trans secondary character, Japanese secondary character.


TW: murder, gore, transphobia (challenged), toxic families, misgendering.


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


Artificial condition, by Martha Wells · 2018


It had taken half a page for the first volume of the Murderbot Diaries to become a favourite and a comfort read, so I dived into this one blissfully and trustfully. Artificial Condition starts where All Systems Red ended and follows Murderbot as they navigate both space and the sentient entities inhabiting it. Once again, it's fast-paced while taking time to explore our protagonist's emotions and constant questioning (or eye-raising), which is a delightful combination.


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

Fireside Fairy Tales, by Kate MacRitchie · 2021


Do you enjoy fairy tale retellings and folklore-inspired stories? Here's a book you may want to have a peek at. Kate MacRitchie's Fireside Fairy Tales is a collection of magical short stories drawing from Scottish folklore and folk tales with a feminist spin. These enchanting stories of mundane magic or legends brought to life, embodied by a cast of fierce women of all ages, are perfect to enjoy by a fireplace, in the embrace of a twisted tree, or by a bubbling stream.


I posted about this book a few weeks ago on Instagram when Kate sent me an Advance Reading Copy, but now the collection is out so you don't have to take my word for it! Head over to your favourite ebook-shop (if you visit Kobo you'll find my review there) to treat yourself.


an e-reader showing the cover of the book is balanced on a basket filled with logs.


La Messagère du Ciel, by Lionel Davoust · 2017


Here's my second DNF of the year so far! This book is well written, with interesting themes and characters, but it's simply not for me - too complicated, too much about religion, and the descriptions of mutations are far too graphic for my comfort.


I want to praise it though because although the fictional world is deeply sexist, the writing never is.


CW: animal cruelty, animal death, body horror, religious bigotry, sexism (challenged), violence + mentions of cannibalism and drug use.


the book is set on an old chair by a window framed with floral curtains.


The Birds, by Daphne du Maurier · 1952


Well, that is one unsettling story. I was looking for a short story to read with one of my English student after Roald Dalh's "Lamb to the Slaughter" (a great one) and remembered that Du Maurier's piece had inspired Hitchcock's movie (which I watched a long time ago). Her writing is to-the-point, which is nice for people who aren't perfectly fluent in English, but it has that eery atmosphere that makes the skin crawl. From what I remember, the movie is quite different in terms of characters and slower pacing. The short story starts really fast with horrifying images, but it manages to keep the tension until the end and I highly recommend it.


TW: animal death, human death, confinement.


a white hand holds an e-reader with the first page of the short story.


Comment écrire de la fiction ? (How to write fiction?) by Lionel Davoust · 2021


Behind this stunning cover is a compendium of the discoveries, conclusions and pieces of wisdom gathered by the author throughout his career. The tone is firmly balanced between the seriousness of the subject, its accessibility and the writer's humour (including some of the best parentheses and footnotes I've had the pleasure of reading). The contents haven't revolutionised my approach to writing since I'd reached most of the same conclusions through my own reading and experience, but this book has the huge advantage of putting clear and kind words on them. I highly recommend this one to budding writers willing to turn their passion into a career.


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


Three Daughters of Eve, by Elif Shafak · 2016


I first read this book last year, having been drawn to the diverse take on dark academia, and the first time round the book had come very close to being a favourite of the year. The good news is, it's just as engaging the second time round!


You have elements of mystery, a pinch of magical realism, nuanced characters, diverse representation (especially varied, young Muslim women), gorgeous prose and thought-provoking conversations.

This book very much feels like basking in the light of a very charismatic and very knowledgeable speaker, you  know the kind? These fascinating people you could spend hours listening to. That's close to what I felt reading this book, in a fiction format. I just wish the ending was a little less rushed, but that's probably because I would have happily read a couple more  books like that. It was great to buddy-read it with a friend!


Major TW: Islamophobia, religion, attempted sexual assault. Minor TW: fatphobia, suicide attempt (mentioned, not described), toxic relationship, child death, animal cruelty & death.


a white hand holds a copy of the book in front of a bookcase.

 

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 June?

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