Reading wrap-up - March 2022
In March, I consumed books as if my life depended on it. Books have always been a way out, an escape, and I clearly had too much on my mind in the first days of Spring so I went to hide between pages. I also took advantage of the fact that I participated in the gathering of reading recommendations for fantasy & fantastic literature in the library I'm working part-time.
A Man's Skin, Hubert & Zanzim · 2020
In a town inspired by Renaissance Italy, Bianca is a well-bred young woman destined to marry a man she's never met before. The women in her family all have advice or remarks, and in particular her godmother, who reveals a secret to her: a man's skin that Bianca can wear to experience the world as a man.
This deeply feminist and queer comic book is quick to read but stays for a while in your mind afterwards. Under the minimalistic drawings lie a host of feelings that Bianca experiences when discovering intimacy and appropriating her body(ies).
Rep : queer MC, gay secondary characters.
CW : sexual content, homophobia, sexism, bigotry.
House of Many Ways, Diana Wynne Jones · 2008
Charmaine is a young girl who asks for nothing more than time, quiet, and a good book. Which she should be able to get while house-sitting her great-uncle's home. Unfortunately, the old man is a wizard and is house, a little shabby on the outside, turns out to be rather magical.
This book, the third volume in Diana Wynne Jones' Moving Castle trilogy (of which Howl's Moving Castle is the first and Castle in the Air the second), is an absolutely charming, whimsical delight. Just as the house hides corridors leading in improbable direction, so does the plot weaves in and out, never losing you along the way but providing plenty of surprises. It starts quite like Howl's Moving Castle, and the two heroins share similarities, but they evolve in different directions. Though I wasn't as enchanted as with the first volume, House of Many Ways is perfectly escapist and light-hearted.
Fool's Errand, Robin Hobb · 2001
With this book, Robin Hobb opens the second trilogy following the adventures of Fitz and the Fool. Several years have passed since the previous instalment, Assassin's Quest, and Fitz has chosen an early retirement in a cabin with his wolf and an orphan he's taken in. But the world is not ready to let Fitzchivalry Farseer enjoy his hard-won peace, and it knocks on his door in the shape of a familiar figure.
The first chapters of this book are some of my favourite in all literature. Over the years, I've come back to them when in need of that peace and gentleness touched with a deep wistfulness. I can feel some lines in this book settling in my heart when I read them. They make me feel everything more acutely while wrapping me in so much tenderness it breaks my heart. I really can't describe what those pages do to me. It's one of those experiences that I can't put my finger on, but I'd love to make others feel with my own words, one day.
The rest of the book is really good as well, don't get me wrong. It's also immensely sad in a quiet way. In terms of action it very much paves the way for the next two volumes, but as character study goes, Fitz keeps evolving a lot as a character, which is a priviledge to witness.
CW: animal pain and death, toxic relationship, grief. The book also mentions kidnapping, murder and suicidal thoughts.
Rep: no on-page representation, but by then it's clear that one of the characters is non-binary. To me, the hero also sounds demisexual and biromantic, but that's a personal interpretation.
Winterhouse Hotel, Ben Guterson · 2018
Young Elizabeth doesn't seem to have much luck, living with her aunt and uncle who hate her for no reason she can imagine. On the first day of the winter holidays, she comes home to a note on the door with a train ticket, a small bag of clothes and instructions to spend the three-week vacation at Winterhouse Hotel. She arrives there expecting a run-down, nasty place where she is determined to find a quiet spot and disappear in a book, only to find out it's the grandest building she's ever set foot in, and the people there are mostly really nice to her. Still astounded that luck finally found her, she sets out to do two things: discover how on earth she was invited to this hotel that her aunt and uncle would never have the resources to send her to, and enjoy herself as much as possible.
This is a really sweet middle-grade book, with its wintery, frolicky adventures and cute illustrations. The perfect escapism! Plus the heroin is into word enigmas - she's a champion of word ladders - and the readers are encouraged to unravel the mystery alongside her. The light touch of magic was well incorporated, and the lovely friendship blossoming between Elizabeth and a young inventor was a pleasure to follow. Bonus points for a swoon-worthy library and full-page illustrations.
CW : death of parents (not described), toxic relationship.
Ninth House, Leigh Bardugo · 2019
Welcome to Yale, home to some of the brightest - and perhaps most unstable - minds of the country. Alex has been recruited as a member of the Lethe - a secret society overlooking the eight other secret societies, all of which deal with their own kind of magic. She is furiously keeping her head down and staying away from trouble - for a change - but when a woman is murdered and the ghosts keep bothering Alex, she has no choice but to get involved.
This dark academia book pays hommage to Donna Tartt's The Secret History while also offering its own original take on the subgenre. I'd been eyeing it since it came out because the blurb ticked all my favourite boxes, but the content warnings had convinced me to stay away from it. Well, let me just say I'm glad such a thing as content warnings exists, and I was even happier to find them on the first page of this French edition. Without them, I would clearly have had a rough time because some of the scenes are absolutely gruesome and chilling. But I also think they're not gratuitous and are dealt with really well - something Bardugo had already convinced me she could handle in Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom.
This book was dark and deep and twisted, and I flew through it. It was hard to put down. I loved how flawed the characters are, and the little thrill of finding out some of them may not be quite reliable is priceless.
Rep : Jewish latina bi (?) MC.
CW: vomit, blood, sexual assault, drugs, violence.
The House in the Cerulean Sea, T.J. Klune · 2020
All hail the most heart-warming book ever! T. J. Klune gifts the world with a modern tale of belonging, found family, and trust by the seaside.
Linus Baker is an agent of the Ministry. His job is to visit orphanages keeping magical children and make sure they're well taken care of. He knows how to keep his distances, how to avoid getting attached. But when he's sent to Arthur Parnassus' orphanage, he's absolutely unprepared for what he's going to find there.
This queer, inclusive novel was just a big bear hug. The characters are so sweet and trying to do their best. I thought it was quite interesting to have as a main character someone who is part of the oppressive system, who realises what's wrong and who tries to do better without necessarily bringing said system down in a revolution because he's just one person. There's a lot of Hobbit vibes and I'm here for it - not everyone can be a superhero and endanger one's life for the greater good. Sometimes you have to work with what you have and bring along a quiet revolution.
TW: residential schools
One thing has to be acknowledged when reading this book though, and that it the horrific events that have inspired it. The orphanages for magical children are directly inspired by Canadian residential schools in which Indigenous children were taken from their families and brought up, enduring unspeakable hardships there. You may have heard about the graves discovered in such locations. There has been an uproar in the First Nations communities of Northern America around this book which took a situation that still causes trauma for these people and turned it into a heart-warming story. Before picking this book, I listened to First Nation people's reactions. For many, it was another layer of trauma. For some, it was the opportunity to acknowledge the hurt but also sublimate it in a way, to imagine a world in which things hadn't gone so bad.
Further reading: Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq, This Accident of Being Lost by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson.
Rep: gay MC, queer secondary characters (they're not defined but it's pretty clear).
CW: fatphobia, child abuse (not sexual), homophobia.
Moi, Peter Pan, Michael Roch · 2017
This special little book isn't just a sequel to J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan. It's rather a monologue full of rage, the poetic shout of a Peter navigating between childhood and adulthood, between earth, sky and sea, between being the Lost Children's leader and being a Lost Child himself. He has the banter of a talkative kid and an adult's vocabulary brimming with idioms. It's a book that you breathe in more than you read it, as it's such a small thing : breathe in, breathe out and just like that, Peter's already disappeared. I really appreciate the literary stance and Michael Roch's imaginative language. No wonder he is being celebrated this year at the Imaginales festival.
Nos Jours brûlés, Laura Nsafou · 2021
This YA novel is one of the first representants of French afrofuturism. It was published in 2021. Instead of wishing this literary movement had started sooner, I want to celebrate this imperfect but highly important book. No, the scenario isn't particularly original. No, the writing style isn't particularly poetic. Instead it's efficient, as is the story of Elikia, a young Black women roaming the African continent with her mother in search of a legendary city hiding the secret of the sun's disappearance, in 2049.
Laura Nsafou writes an intelligent narrative that doesn't avoid soem tropes (expecially in the heroin / mentor relationship) but which feeds onto traditions and cults of Western and Central Africa. Several pages describe the worldbuilding at the end of the novel, celebrating the different cultures the author took inspiration from, so as to avoid any amalgam. Yes, I thought some twists and turns were a little awkard. But this book carries so much expectation on its shoulders that I'll keep recommending it and focusing on why it's good.
Rep: the entire cast is Black.
CW: death, death of a parent, self-harm.
Nous qui n'existons pas, Mélanie Fazi · 2018
It is an exercise of tightrope-walking to give an opinion on a book as personal as Mélanie Fazi's, describing her discovery and acceptance of her asexual and aromantic identities.
The first review I wrote quickly morphed into a story of my own coming out, or rather the many steps of my coming out. I felt just like Fitz in Robin Hobb's Assassin's Apprentice, who can't write a history of the Six Duchies without the big facts blending into his own life story. I cannot analyse a book as personal as Mélanie Fazi's, because I felt it in my bones. I'm so happy to have read it once my own journey had reached a place of serenity, but I would have been just as grateful to read it at the height of my questionings. Thank you, Mélanie, for the gift that is this precious little book.
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What did you read in March?