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Reading wrap-up - November 2022

November was the last month of the Pumpkin Autumn Challenge (find my reading list here), and I seized this opportunity to read plenty of books I'd been looking forward to, several of which turned out to be new favourites.

Le Plongeur, Stéphane Larue · 2016

This book is far, far away from my comfort zone, but since it was personally recommended to me, I did not have second thoughts.

We are plunged in Montréal following a mostly unnamed protagonist surviving from one pay check to the next, paychecks he can't help but feed into the slot machines.

This book is a ride. It's loud and vibrant and mind-blowing. The prose grabbed me in a couple of sentences and didn't let go, which made the book easy to read although it's not an easy read in terms of themes. I very much enjoyed the Québec idioms, which I didn't always understand but which coloured the text immensely. I didn't particularly feel for any character, but I was absolutely hooked and kept reading with a sort of fascinated horror. If you're not afraid of dark books and are looking for some literary fiction, let me recommend this. Also, it's perfect for #NoHypeNovember because I'd literally never heard of it before it was recommended to me. Thank you Gersande!

CW : addiction, different kinds of violence.

the book rests on a wrinkled, purple fabric.

Plain Bad Heroines, Emily M. Danforth · 2020

Plain Bad Heroins came with a host of Instagram friends' recommendations, which made me wary because of the hype. But what a delight when, a few dozen pages in, I realised the hype was completely justified!

It follows two main timelines of sapphic women caught in the webs woven by a book and the deaths it seems to have inspired. In 1902 three girls are found dead at B's school for girls. The cause seems to be an attack of yellow jackets, but the girls' morbid obsession with Mary MacLane's diary throws a shade over this simple explanation. Today, between Hollywood and Rhode Island, writers and actresses become embroiled in a movie project with a twist.

This was a festival of sapphic extravaganza, mysteries, a touch of dark academia and a very sarcastic narrator. It is a true fantastical story, in that some supernatural happenings turn out to be tricks, whereas some remain unexplained. There are elements of horror which made my skin crawl, but as the scarediest of scaredy cats, I did just fine. I loved every page of Plain Bad Heroines and savoured the gorgeous edition I found second-hand, complete with illustrations. A new favourite!

Rep: lesbian and bi protagonists.

CW: all sorts of deaths (by bee stings, by suicide), grief, forced coming out, sexual violence, vomit.

a white hand holds open a copy of the book at the title page which is illustrated with lots of flowers. The book is set on a dark wooden surface and in the background is a pattern cloth.

L'éveil des sorcières, Cordelia · 2021

After the hefty volume Plain Bad Heroins was, I needed something quicker and somewhat cuter, so I pick this middle-grade urban fantasy which turned out to be both, but also deep.

The book opens when Nora, a teenager, triggers an earthquake in the hallway of her school. At least, she's pretty sure she did it. But it is even possible, for someone to make the earth shake? Well, if you're a witch, it is. But what must Nora do with her new-found powers? What if she used them to put an end to the awful game played by some of the boys at school, who think the world is theirs for the taking?

With a rather simple storyline, Cordélia wrote a novel that's efficient and entertaining, with endearing characters and a very educational message without it being preachy. To be put into every hands!

Rep : fat MC with 2 dads, one being Mexican-American. Deaf secondary character.

CW : bullying, sexism, fatphobia, mentions of Harry Potter.

a white hand holds a copy of the book open at the title page, on a dark background next to a bunch of dried flowers.

The Weight of the Stars, K. Ancrum · 2019

I picked up this novel because I'd seen so much potential in Ancrum's (free) short story The Legend of the Golden Raven. I read the blurb of The Weight of the Stars but somehow assumed it was Sci-fi when it's much more contemporary with a hint of Sci-fi. But what it is mainly is a book bursting with heart.

Ryann Bird is what you'd call a difficult student. Outwardly she doesn't really care about any of it, except for the group of misfits she's brought together and watches over fiercely. Then a new student walks in. Alexandria is the angriest person Ryann has ever met. So of course the latter agrees to keep an eye on the former. What she didn't expect was for Alexandria to reach to the stars with as much longing as Ryann does.

This book goes from dark to light and back to a darkness that's shot with so much light. You can't help but care deeply for this weird found family and hope they turn out OK. It's an extremely readable book because the chapters are so short you just keep reading one more, knowing your heart is more and more likely to be squeezed tight. Especially when the story starts to get Interstellar vibes (sorry for those of you who hated that movie, it makes me cry every time). And the emotion kept bubbling up until my eyes were very wet by the end, which is rare enough to note.

Rep: bi MC, black SC, non-speaking SC, and on the whole a bunch of diverse & queer characters.

CW: bullying, parent death (more specific CW are listed on the author's website here).

the book is set on a small dark table next to a bunch of dried flowers, in front of grey curtains.

Middle-Earth: Journeys in Myth and Legend, Donato Giancola · 2010

Donato Giancola may not be one of the Big Three (the three illustrators published by HarperCollins since the 1990s - Alan Lee, John Howe, Ted Nasmith), but his art is just as enchanting. His classical training gives his painting a historical feel: some of them might have been painted centuries ago, which is a compliment. But they always stand out because of an original point of view, or a character's poignant expression. His art book offers a range of paintings and drawings, all of the latter being pencil sketches on brown paper with white highlights, aka my favourite type of drawings because of the life and the dynamism it gives to the scene. Giancola really is a master and although the book is short on text, his pictures really do speak for themselves.

The book, resting on a dark background, is open at a page showing a painting on the left and a drawing on the right.

Fool's Quest, Robin Hobb · 2015

How much pain & heartbreak can someone endure? This is one of the darkest books in Robin Hobb's Realm of the Elderlings universe. Fool's Quest is the second volume in The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy, the last trilogy if you read all of them chronologically (see my reading guide here), and in this she ties together many, many strands weaved over the course of her other trilogies. I won't spoil you with the specifics of this novel. I will just tell you that when you think Fitz could not be worse, Hobb finds a way to hurt him a little bit more. But it's not about grand events or heroism. This is an aged man riddles with regrets and trying to repair the harm he may or may not have done. As with Hobb's other books it can be agonizingly slow, and yet it would be disrespectful to Fitz to hurry in the telling of his tale of woes.

Rep : gender fluid / non-binary secondary characters.

CW : ALL OF THEM, but especially animal pain & death, rape & sexual harassment, torture, gaslighting, drug use.

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

Elatsoe, Darcie Little Badger (illustrated by Rovina Cai) · 2020

This is such a sweet, sweet story. Not without its darkness, but filled with a lot of light and served by a gorgeous edition.

Elatsoe, known as Ellie, is a fierce advocate for life in all its forms. Her best friend Kirby is a ghost dog she can summon in a heartbeat. Her ties with the underworld had been limited to play time, but when one day Kirby howls with anguish and Ellie's cousin, Indigenous like her, is found dead on the other side of Texas, Ellie is determined to do everything in her power to bring justice to him.

This YA urban fantasy adventure is super lovely despite the dark themes it tackles. It came with a lot of hype for me, but its reputation was totally deserved and I loved following Ellie and Kirby on their quest. This edition has a cover and stunning chapter headings illustrated by Rovina Cai, and has deckled edges (if that's how you say it), which means that the paper is extra soft under your fingers.

Rep: brown, asexual and aromantic Lipan Apache MC

CW : animal death (very well dealt with), racism, murder, grief, death, colonisation.

a white hand holds the book in front of a bush of the pine family.


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What did you read in November?

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