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Reading wrap-up - September 2021

With a new job starting in September, I wasn't expecting to read as much as in the previous months. In addition to my now-traditional stop in the Realms of the Elderlings for the #OneHobbAMonth challenge, I introduced some shorter formats, including a manga and picture books, to make the best of my local library. Eventually I managed to squeeze in several novels, either books I'd been looking forward to reading, or complete surprises recommended by colleagues.

The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. and Christopher Tolkien · 1977

One does not simply do a quick re-read of The Silmarillion.

In preparation for my panel at Oxonmoot, I wanted to read through the book quickly and focus on the parts likely to be discussed - the Years of the Trees and Númenor. That ended up taking nearly a week, but it was worth it. I don't know why I have so much trouble committing The Silmarillion to memory. Is it because of the hundreds of characters and thousands of years of history? Who knows...

a stack of 3 editions of The Silmarillion topped with pinecones and a compass. Behind is a fourth edition opened at the endpapers to show a map, and in the background another map is tacked to the wall.

The Wandering Earth, by Liu Cixin · 2000

This novella tells about an extraordinary and yet rather simple future. Terrified by the prospect of the sun's explosion and its transformation into a red giant, humanity has decided to emigrate... Taking the planet with them. Liu Cixin composes here a few very efficient chapters, told rather coldly, to explore the human, environmental, and technological consequences of this decision. The distance taken from the story and characters would have bothered me in a longer narrative, but here I thought it was relevant.

Ps: since I wrote this review, a colleague warned me about the author's views on the treatment of Uighurs in China, so I'll stop here with my exploration of his bibliography.

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

Witch Hat Atelier V.1, by Kamome Shirahama · 2017

A super cute manga with an Apprentice witch, mysterious witches & wizards and beautiful drawings? Yes, please! This is a fun, slightly childish manga about a girl learning that everyone can do magic. So why don't everyone know about it? This series seems to be rather popular at my library, where I borrowed it, and I can see why!

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

Assassin's Quest, by Robin Hobb · 1997

What is a book that has grown with you?

I have loved the conclusion of The Farseer Trilogy from the first time I've read it (even though the ending has always feel rushed), but I'm not the same person I was some ten years ago when I first read it. Still, the book has grown with me, and my understanding and love for it has only deepened. I do think Robin Hobb mainly strings together an account of Fitz's brushes with death, but she does so with heart-wrenching prose and meaningful conversations that ring ever so true.

CW: sexual violence, torture, ptsd, stillbirth, addiction.

the book is set vertically on a bed, next to Sencha, a tabby cat with her paws extended towards the camera. She is blinking.

Juyonhiki no kabocha, by Kazuo Iwamura · 1997

When I was a child, I remember reading the adventures of these mice by the seaside, but I never read this one which is all about a pumpkin, so of course when I glimpsed it at the library I had to borrow it. Perfect to heal one's heart after finishing Assassin's Quest, this picture book shows a family of mice growing a pumpkin through all kinds of weather, watching it grow and cooking delicious food once it's ripe. It's about cycles and nurturing what's important (yes, pumpkins are important). Also, can we talk about these endpapers??

the book is presented in the same composition. Its cover shows a family of mice looking up towards the viewers. They are standing in the midst of some pumpkin leaves.
the book is opened to reveal endpapers patterned like the interior of a pumpkin, with orange flesh and white seeds.

Quitter les monts d'automne, by Emilie Querbalec · 2020

How do you rate a book that you think was objectively good but you didn't enjoy?

Quitter les monts d'automne has much to love. A Japanese-inspired world that has its roots in tradition but grows into sci-fi, an independent, queer heroin who finds her voice through her unique experiences, and a truly beautiful prose, very elegant and harmonious. A large part of what I didn't enjoy about it was that Kaori, the main character, is painfully passive for most of the plot. The story happens to her without her having any grasp on it, up til the very end. She appears to be some kind of Chosen One, but most choices are taken from her. I read an interview in which the author was fully conscious of this, so I store it as "an author's choice I didn't vibe with". Despite this, and as far as I can tell, I thought the author did a wonderful job with the Japanese culture running through all the story. One small detail I particularly enjoy was the different spelling of some names depending on who was speaking. It's such a small touch but as someone fascinated with languages, I appreciated it a lot.

All in all, I didn't enjoy the plot of this book and the fact that everyone except our main character seemed to have agency, but I loved the idea, the atmosphere and inspiration.

Rep : lesbian main character, bisexual secondary character.

CW : rape (I didn't think this was handle particularly well), sexual assault.

the book is standing on a dark woodden bedside table, in front of patterned grey curtains.

Vaisseau d'arcane, by Adrien Tomas · 2020

A nurse with a temper. An assassin with a conscience. A diplomat with a... fish bowl?

Adrien Tomas creates a panel of highly different characters, evolving in a complex and kaleidoscopic world full of unexpected magic, steampunk-like technologies and political intrigues. I was afraid it would be too much for me, and it almost was, but it was also so *fun* and the characters were so dashing that I flew through the book. 

Rep: passing mentions of queer characters made me think it was a queer-inclusive world, but it's not very present.

CW: blood, fire injury, gun violence, murder. Minor TW for torture, violence, war.

the book is set on a dark background under a bunch of azaleas.the book is set on a dark background under a bunch of azaleas.

Nevermoor, V. 1, by Jessica Townsend · 2017

This middle-grade book starts in a very dark place when we meet Morrigan Crow, a young girl destined to die on her 11th birthday. But just before the bell tolls, she is whisked off to Nevermoor where a series of trials await her. She must prove she has a right to be admitted to the elite Wundrous Society, but how can she show a talent she doesn't know she possesses? 

This was a fun adventure, fast-paced and heart-warming. It was a little bit too much for me, but I would heartily recommend it for imaginative readers of all ages.

the book is open at the title page on a wooden table, surrounded with a compass and some dried flowers.

Un thé à l'eau de parapluie (A tea with umbrella water), by Karen Hottois and Chloé Malard · 2020

This invitation to love autumn perfectly reflects the chilly sweetness and melancholy of my favourite season. Elmo the badger is feeling under the weather, so he's preparing tea and treats for his cats. He ends up inviting his friends too, a squirell and a weasel. Together, they discover the secrets of making tea with umbrella water...

the book is standing at the front of a bookcase, with a few dried leaves at its feet. The cover shows a table set out for tea with a badger and three cats, in warm colours.

La Nuit du Faune, by Romain Lucazeau · 2021

I'd like to give you my review of this book, but after finishing it I'm not entirely sure what I just read.

La Nuit du Faune (The Faun's Night) starts like a fairy tale in which a little girl meets a faun. It continues as a philosophical dialogue through which the two exchange thoughts about life and destiny. In between, the author threw into the mix an intergalactic journey, artificial intelligence, and metacivilisations blossoming and dying in the interstellar void. As well as an astronomical number of commas. I'm baffled.

Curiosity took me to the halfway point. After that the book fell flat for me, but I persevered. You can clearly feel the author's background in philosophy, and I feel this book would fit better shelved alongside Plato's dialogues than in sci-fi. I appreciated the very literary style for the first quarter of the volume, after which the accumulation of commas and stylistic flourishes started to annoy me. Fortunately, I enjoyed the ending, which circles back to the beginning and makes sure the readers and characters get their feet back on Earth after a journey through time and space. However, I wasn't particularly taken with the very repetitive format (they journey, they meet someone. They journey, they meet someone. And so on) and the constant emphasis (the entities they speak to are constantly more, more, more than the previous ones).

I think this book simply wasn't for me, but I'm rather confident it will find its audience.

The book is standing on a bed next to Sencha, a black-and-white tabby cat who's sleeping.


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What did you read in September?

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