Like April, May was off to a flying start with a huge new favourite book! This one made me forget my habit of not reading the second tome in a series right after the first one...
Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo · 2015
Finally! I finally read The Book. This started in 2019 with a month-long hesitation between this one and Shadow & Bone. I read Shadow & Bone, wasn't impressed, and thought I wouldn't bother with Six of Crows. Then the series was announced and tickled my fancy (LOVE that phrase). The reviews made me think perhaps I hadn't started with the right Bardugo book. And it was right! I was swept into Ketterdam alongside this troop of misfits and followed hungrily their wacky adventures. As the blurb says, it's Ocean's Eleven in a fantasy world, but in addition to that it's queernormative and diverse and amazing. One thing, though, is that I decided early on that I couldn't believe these kids were 17, so in my head they're more around 25 years old. It did make me look twice when their age was mentioned, but nothing terrible. I'm so glad the ebook I bought also has Crooked Kingdom.
There are quite a few trigger warnings, but most of them are in passing and / or challenged (except maybe torture). Nothing is taken for granted and I found that comforting.
TW: addiction, mild child abuse, violence, animal cruelty & death, confinement, torture, murder, kidnapping, gun violence, drug use, child death, blood.
The Summer Book (Sommarboken), by Tove Jansson · 1972
In a series of delightful vignettes, Tove Jansson tells about the summers a grandmother, father and daughter spend on an island off the coast of Finland. This had the feel of my favourite moments in Ghibli movies - no tension, day-to-day activities made magical by the careful attention devoted to them, and the colourful character of the grandmother, who has passed the age to worry about what people might think.
A perfect, light read between two more epic ones!
Un Reflet de lune, by Estelle Faye · 2021
Seven years and a few books after Un Éclat de Givre, Estelle Faye reunites us with Chet, her anti-hero singing and wandering aimlessly in a washed-out, baroque Paris, this time not in a stiffling heat but in an endless Spring rain. Chet still has no idea how to stay out of trouble, and besides attracting trouble, he now inspires it. He was spotted in such sordid place or at the Opera committing atrocities, when at that time he was doing a gig in a bar with his faithful pianist Damien.
Un Reflet de Lune (A Moon's Reflection) maintains the spell of the languid and decadent atmosphere of the first volume (which you don't need to have read to enjoy this one). One simply has to accept letting go and following the murky flow of the Seine to enjoy the supple, sometimes halted prose, narrating Chet's misadventures, who definitely always finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I only wish the cliché of the disfigured villain had been more subtle.
A big thank you to the friend who offered me this ebook!
TW: rape, violence, elements of body horror.
Fairy Tales, by Dazai Osamu 太宰 治 · 1945
The first thing that brought me to this book was its eye-catching cover. Which is lucky, because I wanted to discover other Japanese writers than the giants Kazuo Ishiguro and Haruki Murakami. This small book is a collection of folk tale retellings, whose narrative is embedded is that of a father telling his daughter bedtime stories while they hide from air raids in 1945. The narrator's voice often intrudes in the stories to comment, offer alternatives and interpretations, which personnally threw me off quite a lot, especially at a time when the narrator adds a misogynistic interpretation to cruelty towards an animal.
However, I really enjoyed this device in the first story: there, the narrator reads a children's book and fills the gaps between the lines with a story of his own making, which transforms the scope of the original piece without quite transforming it. I thought it was really clever! I would recommend this book to fairy tale enthusiasts, but I whole-heartedly wish the tales hadn't use animal cruelty as a plot device almost every time. That's something to keep in mind.
TW: animal cruelty, animal death.
Il est grand temps de rallumer les étoiles, by Virginie Grimaldi · 2018
I usually only gift books I've read, but I gifted this one to my mum because we'd both laughed out loud (and cried a bit) when reading the author's lockdown diary on Instagram. I let her read it first, and she did spoil a few of the jokes which left us both howling with laughter. Of course, it wasn't as funny to read this story of a mother taking her two daughters on a road-trip to Scandinavia, without the filter of my mum's enthusiasm, but I did have a good time. I won't remember much after a few weeks, though.
TW: domestic violence, animal murder, death of a parent, panic attacks, bullying.
The Book of Tea 茶の本, by Okakura Kazukô 岡倉天心 · 1906
This book of non-fiction was written by Okakura Kazukô in 1906 as an introduction to Asian culture, and specifically to the art of tea, for Western readers. In that respect, it's a very pedagogical and accessible little book which presents the fundamentals of Asian philosophies through the exploration of the cha-no-yu, the tea ceremony. The author doesn't claim to be a tea master, but perhaps that is why he is well-suited to speaking to his Western audience. I really enjoyed learning more about a whole culture through the story of a drink I enjoy on a daily basis. It's a book I had tried to read years ago but had abandoned because of its philosophical content I wasn't quite ready for at the time, but now I find it quite soothing.
Les Nuages de Magellan, by Estelle Faye · 2018
If reading this book twice in the same year isn't a sign of how much I love it, I don't know what is. It was a 5-star read in January, it still is today! Those queer pirates in space are giving me life. I can't think of any trigger warnings for this book, plus it has a Black lesbian MC, and lots of diversity.
Crooked Kingdom, by Leigh Bardugo · 2016
It's too bad I read this book when my focus was all over the place, but I thoroughly loved it anyway. After finishing Six of Crows I just couldn't wait to meet these characters again and they definitely have my heart now. Crooked Kingdom is the perfect continuation of volume one, pushing the stakes higher as Kaz's crew fight not only for their job but also for what they hold most dear. This book is action-packed, but it also knows how to slither into one's heart and break it. Yes, I shed a tear. Yes, it had been a long time.
Rep: different gay, bi and aspec characters, disabled character, Black and Asian characters.
CW: rape, torture, toxic father/son relationship (balanced by another fab father/son relationship).
Lady Audley's Secret, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon · 1862
When I asked for book recommendations in April for my birthday, @booksfromfangorn kindly suggested this classic. Yay for free books on e-readers! I'm often cautious when it comes to classics, as I find some of them dull and hard to read. This one held my attention, and I was really happy to have discovered it.
Lady Audley's Secret is a mystery novel with a hint of Gothic and feminism. It is steeped in the prejudices and discriminations of its time, but also offers a nuanced view that was quite welcome. For instance, it places female beauty on a pedestal, but questions the relation between beauty and moral values. It tells the story of wealthy people, but also includes a couple of poor characters (the treatment of which leaves to be desired, but deserves to be noted nevertheless).
At the heart of the story is the mysterious disappearance of a barrister's best friend shortly after he came back from Australia, and how this may or may not be related to the wedding of an old lord with a young a pretty governess (this part is sometimes very uncomfortable when the lord refers to his wife as his child, keep that in mind). The author finds a balance between the barrister's prejudice towards women and the point of view of the young lady, which represents half of the narration. The suspense may not last long for modern readers, but it's the kind of story where you are given some final clues at the very end, so that even if you can guess some elements, you really get the full picture at the time of the final reveal.
Overall, it may not be a new favourite, but it's a book I enjoyed and would recommend with the caveat stated above.