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Reading wrap-up - March 2023

With the end of my reading challenge in February, I simply went back to mood-reading, except for two books that were shortlisted for a prize at my local library. As a result, I've got a rather varied wrap-up, with one new favourite and only one disappointment.

King of Scars, Leigh Bardugo · 2019

In need of a fun read? Queen Bardugo has your back.

It's been almost three years since the event of Ruin & Rising (which I haven't read, more on that later) and most of Ravka and beyond is still reeling from the consequences. In the middle of it, King Nikolai battles enemies within and without, Nina is on a quest for solace that leads her to discover nefarious plans from Fjerda, and Zoya lets her armour crack.

I am in awe of Bardugo's writing. She manages to put so much heart and character quirks in an engaging narrative that kept me turning the pages. I have to admit that it took me a long, long time to really get into the book because even with careful information-dropping to fill me in on what had happened before, I could feel that I hadn't read the books in which some essential characters are introduced (mostly Nikolai and Zoya, in the Shadow & Bone trilogy).

Once I'd gathered enough info on them, however, I could completely relax into the story and let myself be carried away. I love Leigh Bardugo's writing style and character studies — it's banter and sass at their best and it's a joy to read.

Rep: fat, bisexual MC. Disabled author.

CW: drug use & addiction, sexism, forced pregnancy, stillbirth (mentioned), grief.

an e-reader showing the cover of the book is standing in front of a row of very old, tall books.

Comment écrire de la fiction?, Damon Knight · 2022

And here's another one for the writing manuals shelf! This translation follows Lionel Davoust's essay with the same title, but has a different subtitle. I think the order of publication of the two volumes is important: Lionel Davoust's guide is both more technical and more accessible, and it's the one I'd recommend first. Damon Knight's book (translated from different articles published in 1981 or before) is less to-the-point, but it manages to include some painful truths, the kind of truths that hurt because I was refusing to see them and Knight forces me to look my own shortcomings in the eye. His book is more a lengthy book about writing than a textbook like Davoust's, and personnally I preferred the latter for its precision, humour and relevance.

the books lays on a bookshelf in front of books stored backwards.

La Tour, Doan Bui · 2022

Paris, Olympiades neighbourhood, Melbourne Tower. Most families living there are Vietnamese immigrants fleeing the war and ending up belonging neither in Vietnam, where they're considered traitors, nor in France, where they're seen as immigrants rather than expatriates. The lives of several inhabitants intertwine along the 37 stories and the 4 elevators.

This book is mind-blowing in all it encompasses. It's a bubbling epic mixing the intimate with the political, and brimming over the space of the text to fill the bottom of the pages with explanatory footnotes. It's an uncompromising novel, which scrutinises the grandeur but also the decadence of each character, trapped in their prejudices and their regrets. You can feel that the author is a journalist in how she leaves no stone unturned and doesn't hesitate to appear herself in an unflattering light, partly distorted by the other characters' distrust.

I had a bit of a hard time with this book, as with most titles coming so close from historical reality, figuring out what was fiction and what was not. It's certainly not against the author, only a personal observation. That being said, I admired this painting of a whole society and its roots through the 296 windows of the Melbourne Tower. The result makes the reader face their contradictions and those of a country struggling with systemic racism.

CW : racism, sexual assault, suicide.

the book is open at the title page on which rests a dried rose. It's set on a wooden table and there's a patterned, warm-toned cloth in the background.

This is How You Lose the Time War, Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone · 2019

What do you do when faced with an overflowing TBR trolley? You start a re-read, of course. Time War is a huge favourite from 2020 (I think). It's just as enchanting to re-read, because it doesn't let itself be grasped and it harbours so many, many mind-bending details that fleet past your eyes that you can't possibly remember them all. Time War is like a long poem hidden in letters and snippets of narration, revolving around Blue and Red, two agents whose identities shift and breach the barrier of flesh, just like their relationship breaches all barriers. I really can't recommend this little gem of a book enough, especially when you need a break from everything, literary or not, and want to lose yourself into poetry and imagery.

an ebook showing the cover of the book rests on a dark wooden surface, surrounded with white peonies in flower and in bloom.

Franny and Zooey, J.D. Salinger · 1961

Do you read books recommended in other fictional works?

I remember wanting to read this one after watching the cute Christmas mini-series "Dash and Lily", for no other particular reason. But the thing is, I have a very low tolerance for very chatty people, they just tire me out. So you might imagine how I felt about Salinger's stories about people who talk *so* much. No, I was not amused. I barely finished the book, to be honest. I suppose it's really great dialogue and characterization, but I'm sorry, I won't enjoy a dialogue just for the sake of dialogue.

the book is open at the title page and placed on a dark burgundy knit.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue, Maggie Stiefvater · 2014

In the third volume of their adventures, I won't tell you what the Raven Boys and Blue are doing because that would be spoiler territory. I can however assure you that Maggie Stiefvater still nurtures that delightfully strange atmosphere, quite mysterious, with a touch of nostalgy. Contrary to the previous volume which was focused on Ronan, this one lets each character take the spotlights in their turn while they keep making progress in their modern-day quest. So far this series has an insubtantial feel, in that as soon as I finish a book I can't quite tell what I've read, except that I've really enjoyed myself. The author has a way of talking about things without talking about them which is quite delightful but make things impossible to paraphrase and summarize. Just read it, because it's absolutely worth reading, and judge for yourself.

a white hand holds a copy of the book in front of a dark bush with white flowers.

Le Goût du temps dans la bouche, Séverine Vidal · 2022

A rather classic but well-executed family novel, I read this one for a prize of the first novel organised by my local library. As for the other books in the selection (La Tour by Doan Bui and Les Nuits Bleues by Anne-Fleur Multon), I probably wouldn't have picked it by myself, and that's why I love this kind of opportunity.

Séverine Vidal's novel is particularly well executed. The prose is so fluid that I kept turning the pages, and the amount of commas only made the process faster. The characters are quite endearing in their helpless, sometimes obstinate humanity. I enjoyed the presence of LGBTQIA+ characters: a lesbian granny extremely fun (but as I'd written one myself I was bound to welcome her appearance) and a secondary (tertiary?) aromantic woman whose identity is clearly established without it being neither artificial nor a main character trait.

The narration is regularly interrupted by short chapters in italics letting the voice of a dead person be heard. Who is it? In which circumstances did they die? I enjoyed the narrative device but was quite frustrated when I quickly discovered who it was and how they had died. That being said, the mystery was important, yes, but not as much as the relationships between the cast of characters. There really lay the soul of this book. And there I had a little trouble, because I was confused by the sheer number of characters, some of them not described enough for me to identify them with any certainty when they appeared. I got a little lots in all the generations, so much so that I would have relished a family tree. In the time I spent figuring out who was whom, I only had one eye on the story. But that is only a very personal problem, and my mum, who read this book as well, had no trouble with it.

Rep: lesbian cold woman, secondary aromantic character.

CW: death (there is a talking corpse, after all), homophobia, pandemic, death of a loved one, grief, fire.

the book stands at the edge of a library shelf.

Catherine House, Elizabeth Thomas · 2020

The house is in the woods. You are in the house.

Welcome to Catherine House, an elite school that is completely free to the lucky ones selected to attend. In exchange for three years of intense studies and a lifetime of alumni emulation, you must leave your past behind you and get ready to start afresh. Three years, no contact with the outside world. That sounds perfect for Ines, who is on the run and could use a place to be forgotten. She doesn't really pay attention to the studying part when she gets accepted, but she soon discovers that the more-elite-than-elite program that made the reputation of Catherine might, you guessed it, cast an uncomfortable shadow.

I kind of wish I'd written this book. It's right up my alley with its secrets, fierce protagonist and eerie atmosphere, all done in the quietest manner. This is not a loud book moved forward by stunning revelations and huge tensions. It's one that crawls its way under your skin without you even completely realizing it. I love that the eeriness never falls into trigerring territory and that it keeps you wondering all the way to the end.

In an interview reproduced at the end of the book, the author describes it as a "Gothic literary suspense novel set at a cult-like college" and explains how she took inspiration from Bluebeard, which I hadn't realised but makes complete sense. I'll let a bit of time go by before I decide if this one is a new favourite, but I'm pretty sure it is.

CW: vomit, confinement, animal cruelty.

Rep: black, bisexual, aromantic main character, various queer & diverse secondary characters.

An e-reader showing the cover of the book leans against a pile of books edges forward. A branch of eucalyptus lies in the foreground.

Sorrowland, Rivers Solomon · 2021

What. A. Ride. This book is really intense, and had I known it was horror I might not have had the courage to read it, but I'm glad I did.

Vern is alone in the woods, but not for long. In the first line of the book, she gives birth to her twins while on the run from a cult-like community. It's a story of survival, of evolution, of finding one's worth beyond what one has always been told and snapping free from years of lies. Vern is young, yes, but she's determined and stronger than she looks or even feels. Weirdly stronger.

Rivers Solomon barely lets the readers breathe throughout this modern Gothic novel. When it's not an external threat, it's either the newness of finding / founding a new family or the experience of otherness coming from Vern's own body. Add in there disturbing hauntings, precious twins growing like the best weeds and lesbian love, and there you have a tremendous book.

Rep: Black lesbian albinos genderqueer MC with nystagmus (visual disability), queer Lakota secondary character.

CW as indicated by the author: racism, misogyny, self-harm, suicidality, homophobia, animal violence, explicit violence, off-page sexual violence. I'm adding body horror.

the book is set on a light wooden table next to a bunch of dried flowers, with a warm-toned, patterned cloth in the background.


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What did you read in March ?

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