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Reading wrap-up - October 2022

After a very intense month of October, I was looking forward to diving into my October pile. And it rewarded me with a new favourite!


The Anatomy of Story, John Truby · 2007


This is one of the most influential books about writing. It explores in detail how to structure a plot through the journey of the main character and how to build the world around them rather than the other way around. With books giving writing advise and exercices, I like to read them first in one go (over several days of course) and then go back more slowly as the need for each chapter arises, and see how I can use them in my own projects. So I haven't actually started to put this book to the test of my own writing process (that is to say, if I have one, which hasn't been confirmed so far).


Being a foundation for many writers, some elements of these books were familiar to me because I'd read about them second-hand, so to speak. But there was a lot to discover still, and especially how Truby rejects the three-act structure in favour of... 22 steps. Yes, as in twenty-two. I did have a little shrink back but do no fear, fellow writer, we are allowed to use only 7.


All in all, I'm interested to see how I can use this book to help me in the part of writing I struggle with a lot: plot. Team Gardener here.


One thing I would reproach the book with but it's actually not really its fault: I wish it didn't focus as much on the American way of writing a story, which is stupid because that's exactly the point of it.


CW: aphobia.


the book is standing at the front of a bookshelf, with rows of books in the background.

The City of Woven Streets / The Weaver, Emmi Itäranta · 2015 (2017)


First of all, many thanks to my friend Nina for making me discover this book by Finnish author Emmi Itäranta. I'd never heard about it even though it's quite recent.


Then, can we talk about how gorgeous this novel is please? It's one of those where the story starts very quiet to let you discover the world bit by bit and get used to the characters before the plot picks up. But what made me swoon was really the atmosphere and the language.


We find ourselves on an island, following the secluded life of a weaver, Elliana. All weavers live in a sort of citadel, cut off from the rest of the inhabitants, and rarely go outside. Our story starts when the outside comes in in the shape of a woman who arrives at the citadel after she was attacked in some way. On her hand is tattooed Elliana's name, although the two have never met. They are brought together by what looks like chance while in the streets of the town below the Tower's wall, a strange epidemic of nightmares causes unrest.


What follows is a gentle tale wrapped in mystery which swells as the chapters go by. The imagery of weaving permeates all the text without it being heavy. The author also pays close attention to light, which on this island is provided by glass bubbles in the shape of jellyfish filled with algae-rich water, emitting a blue glow. All of these contribute to bathing the narrative in a slightly eery, very picturesque atmosphere served by beautiful, flowing sentences.


Emmi Itäranta is a Finnish writer writing sometimes in Finnish, sometimes in English. The City of Woven Streets was translated from Finnish into French by Martin Carayol and I thought the translator did a fantastic job because not once did I remember this was a translation.


Rep: brown & black cast. Sapphic MC, intersex secondary character.


CW : blood, epidemic, claustrophobia (I am slightly claustrophobic but it wasn't a problem for me). Brief mentions of fire and slavery.


the book is set on a wooden table next to a branch of eucalyptus. There's a patterned cloth in the background.

The Women in Black, Madeleine St John · 1993 (2019)


This book is Jane Austen meets Emile Zola. It's 1959 in Sidney and we meet the ladies selling dresses in F. G. Goode's store. Points of view alternate in very short chapters that flow by. I enjoyed the incisive writing and character depiction, but I missed some distance from the prejudices of the time : women are described via their clothes size, and if they're neither married not mothers by the age of 30 they're doomed. In addition to that, we follow recently-immigrated characters, but most of them are well-off and I missed a more diverse perspective, even though I'm aware it would have gone beyond the ambitions of this comedy of manners.


It did make the reading experience a little sour, but the book is on the whole quite enjoyable, even though it won't leave me with a lasting memory.


CW: fatphobia and sexism.


the book is open on an old trunk, with a background of terracotta tiles.

Fool's Assassin, Robin Hobb · 2014


Robin Hobb is a perfect example that fantasy can be whatever you want. It doesn't have to be about strong, young people living exciting adventures. It can also be about a middle-aged, non-white man finally enjoying a time of peace and reflecting on his troubled past while his wife grows old faster than him. Reflecting on the price of magic, on friends lost and on settling in a place and a body that feel his own.


This book is the first volume in the Fitz and the Fool trilogy, and it's brimming with melancholy and uneasiness. We are reunited with our dear Fitz, trapped in a body younger than his real years and watching his loved ones age. We feel the passing of seasons and we glimpse strange things that don't seem like much at first but end up forming a tapestry the pattern of which is still blurry but which does not bode well.


After reading about Fitz for 6 long books, I'm still not tired of him and it makes this one all the more poignant. It is a sad book, but it also has rays of light and fantastic new characters, some I love and others I love to hate.


I have a list of the content warnings below but I want to warn you explicitly that the end of this book has the worst scene of animal cruelty I have ever read. I still haven't recovered from it more than 5 years after reading it, and this time I made sure to skip it. It is the worst, and though Robin Hobb has handled this topic very well in the past I do think she went too far here. The fact that I still love and recommend this book says a lot about its other qualities, but please be warned.


Rep : brown MC possibly polyamourous.


CW : severe injury, bullying & ableism, extreme animal cruelty and animal death, grief.


the book stands on an old chair in front of grey patterned curtains.


The Old Man and His Cat, volume 4, Nekomaki · 2018


Daikichi and Tama's adventures are still a pleasure to follow along the seasons on their small island. I found this volume even cosier than the previous ones, if possible, because the slightly darker or more nostalgic chapters dotted through volumes 1 to 3 are here much shorter and by nw we know things end well. Which is a spoiler I feel duty-bound to give you knowing how many stories featuring animals tend to end badly for them in other books (see my previous review).


CW : very brief mention of cancer & grief. Fishing scene and a cooking scene involving the gutting of a fish.


The book rests on a black cloth patterned in grey flowers.

All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders · 2016


What happens when you mix sci-fi and fantasy? You get this book which had kind of similar vibes to Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children and perhaps Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell if you squint a lot, but I haven't actually finished that one so I may be completely wrong. What a great way to start a review, don't you think?


All the Birds in the Sky opens with Patricia and Laurence, two solitary kids who embody two sides of what other people can't fathom: witchcraft for Patricia, sci-fi for Laurence. But just as Patricia's story was getting started as she discovered she might have magic powers, she loses them and her journey is forced to pause. As for Laurence, his path may seem a little more straight-forward, but that's without his parents endeavouring to make sure he goes back to being a "normal" child. And yet the two can't help but meet each other again and again over the years, as their abilities take them in very different directions and shape the world around them.


This was such a peculiar book. I'm not entirely sure I got it because it kept evading me and slipping from my grasp. It *is* quite charming, and I would heartily recommend it. But it's also messy and complicated on a surface level, which to me successfully mirrors how life gets messy and can look complicated when at the core it's sometimes not really. I didn't exactly know what to expect going into this book because I didn't pay a lot of attention to the blurb. I certainly wasn't expecting it to have so many different ingredients - sci-fi, magic, a sprinkle of dark academia, romance, found family, and an apocalypse thrown in for good measure. I'm not entirely sure it works, to be fair. But it is charming and it has a lot of heart.


Rep : bi MC, queer-friendly narrative.


CW : sexual content, toxic family relationship.


Cajou, an imposing brown tabby cat, is half-reclining half-upright on a bed, next to a copy of the book set vertically.


Baker Thief, Claudie Arseneault · 2018


This book had been tempting me for a very long time. As soon as I heard baker + ace rep, I was sold. But of course a book isn't a series of boxes to tick, and thankfully this one is so very charming. It's part mystery, part detective story, part romance (but very light), with witches and thieves, all in a fast-paced narrative wrapped in a very cozy atmosphere. It sounds a lot but it's actually not hard to follow. Despite numerous secondary characters, I was never lost and enjoyed myself immensely in this Québec-inspired city.


In Baker Thief, we meet Adèle, who has just been recruited as a police officer after being shooed from her last position because she was too nosy and too bent on unearthing corruption scandals. On the night before her first day, her appartment is broken into by a purple-haired thief with unnatural speed and way too much sass. Our other main character is Claude, the owner of the bakery where Adèle likes to pop by every morning for a cup of coffee and a croissant fresh from the oven. Little does she know the relation between her new favourite baker and the thief...


The author is very vocal about LGBTQIA+ identities in this book. Contrary to those stories in which us queer readers are left looking for scraps, here everyone is clearly and proudly labelled. At first I wasn't especially sure about this idea of putting everyone in a box, but after thinking about it, it's nice of the author to make a definite space for everyone in this book. It makes it especially comforting for queer readers, but also quite educational for cis-het readers.


Last but not least, the author includes a full list of trigger warnings at the beginning of the book, with all the chapters concerned by each trigger.


Rep: demisexual MC with a condition close to asthma, brown aromantic fat genderfluid MC. Most secondary characters are queer as well, including two using neo-pronouns (ne/nem and ol/ols).


A white hand holds a copy of the book in front of bushes with dark leaves and white flowers.

 

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What did you read in October?

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