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41. Muchacho by Emmanuel Lepage
« L’éveil d’un jeune homme à sa révolte, ses désirs et son humanité, en pleine révolution nicaraguayenne, dans les années 1970.Largement salué par la critique comme par le public lors de sa sortie, Muchacho est un récit d’une rare intensité, magnifié par le dessin puissant et tout en vibrations d’Emmanuel Lepage. Jeune séminariste en rupture de ban dans un Nicaragua en pleine révolution, Gabriel de la Serna nous entraîne dans une aventure humaine et initiatique tout à la fois épique et romanesque. »

Reading this has left me with a deep physical ache in my heart. At first it was a strangely pleasant pain, and I sort of joyfully tortured myself by re-reading the most heart-rending parts, but now it just hurts. Pain, betrayal, sacrifice, fear…and love, which is actually the most haunting. It’s a beautiful, piercing masterpiece. The (water)colours, the settings, the bodies and faces, the perspectives, the brushstrokes, all are quite breath-taking. Each thread of every story is powerful. We start with the beginnings of a personal journey, which morphs into the journey of the entire country of Nicaragua, and even of all oppressed humanity, but as one journey changes, gathering scope and reaching an incredible crescendo, others move in the opposite direction, like endlessly overlapping waves. This shifting terrain is so life-like, happiness and sadness, hope and despair, triumph and defeat, ebbing and flowing. It is also a perfect demonstration of the point of the graphic novel, the blend of story and art, which can’t even really be seen as two separate elements when it would be impossible to take one away.

42. – 43. ノルウェイの森 上、下 by 村上春樹
「暗く重たい雨雲をくぐり抜け、飛行機がハンブルク空港に着陸すると、天井のスピーカーから小さな音でビートルズの『ノルウェイの森』が流れ出した。僕は一九六九年、もうすぐ二十歳になろうとする秋のできごとを思い出し、激しく混乱し、動揺していた。限りない喪失と再生を描き新境地を拓いた長編小説。」

First time reading Murakami in Japanese, and I thought that the book's atmosphere and rhythm were quite impressively similar to those of the English translations of his books that I've read in the past (1Q84; Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman; The Elephant Vanishes; Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage; and even What I Talk About When I Talk About Running), but I read a native Japanese-speaker's review of another book by Jay Rubin, suggesting that his translations tend to be lacking in the original's ambiance. I'll never know whether the fact that I read Murakami in English translation before reading him in Japanese means that my reading of the Japanese is coloured by the feeling of the English, or whether that reviewer and I just took different things from the same texts. Either way, I found 「ノルウェイの森」to have the spare, matter-of-fact tone that I associate with Murakami, with great emotional depths lurking stifled beneath that calm surface. His works disturb me with that roiling pain, anger, and confusion waiting to burst out, though here there were also quite beautiful moments of calm, where the small things seemed to make life worthwhile. The settings are very vividly described, as are the everyday details (something I love about his books), which gives an immersive picture of Watanabe's life, and of his emotions, in an interestingly indirect way. Murakami captured very well the slow-creeping horrors of depression and grief, the claustrophobia and unreality, the feeling of being sucked under by a powerful tide, losing control and being afraid of the strange things happening in your own mind. All of the characters illustrate the fact that we each live in our own versions of reality (and that some people's versions are far from the average), and the resulting frustrations, loneliness, and dangers. I hadn’t been expecting the sex theme, but it was interesting, occasionally annoying (I hope the book isn’t giving any clueless men who read it Watanabe’s idea that girls never masturbate… ô_Ó), often sad, sometimes creepily erotic.

44. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
“A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love.
Cath is a Simon Snow fan.
Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan...
But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.
Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.
Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.
Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words... And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.
For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?
Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?
And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?”

Reading this is like being give a huge hug as you're told that you can do it, you're great, life has so many interesting things in store for you ♥ I wish it'd been around for me to read at the age of 16/17/18, but even now I just feel better, encouraged, and excited about trying some new things (or going back to things that I haven't done for years) – writing, making jewellery, drawing, fanart, fanfic, exchanging creativity with other people. It's a book full of warmth, affection, and hope, even though it also deals with some difficult things, and recognises that those situations can't always be resolved. It's given me energy, creative energy. I'd love to write a book that does that for people, and this one has made me want to try! The set-up with sections of the Simon Snow books and excerpts of Cath's and Wren's fanfics interspersing the main story was so much fun, and highlighted the best parts of fandom (and specifically the Harry Potter fandom). The HP fandom will always have a special place in my heart; no other fandom that I've been in has rivalled the magic (har har) of those early days, the constant, huge wellspring of creativity and excitement and discovery. Perhaps it's because I was a mid-teenager at the time, or because using the internet as a fan hub was still somewhat new and shiny, or perhaps there truly was something special and unique about early-2000s HP fandom – there's certainly something special about HP, and those were the days when it was still coming out, when we didn't know what would happen, and ideas about the possibilities were limitless. God, where would I be without that beautiful experience? I really loved that fandom was never negatively portrayed in this book, it was just clear that Cath couldn't only live there, and that it would take bravery for her to emerge from that safe place, bravery that she could find thanks to it. There were loads of great dips into feminism, some of which I'd've liked to see further developed, but I can appreciate that this is part of Rowell’s style – she lightly touches on lots of things, rather than deeply analysing and working them through to a conclusion, and this is a big part of the book’s realism, because real life is not neat and comprehensible. At times, the romance was a bit too teenage for me, but most of the time I found it really endearing, and I was so happy that other relationships were also being explored – friendships, parent-child, sibling, and also Cath's way of thinking about herself. It was also often cackle-inducingly hilarious!

45. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
”Simon Snow is the worst chosen one who's ever been chosen
That's what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he's probably right.
Half the time Simon can't even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor's avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there's a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon's face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here - it's their last year at Watford School of Magicks, and Simon's infuriating nemesis didn't even bother to show up.
Carry On is a love letter to love stories and the power of words - to every 'chosen one' who ever had more on their mind than saving the world...”

Oh my fucking God, this was just as good as I thought it was going to be, or, no, better. I don’t even know how to describe how exciting it is to read something like this, where I know that the characters’ whose UST I’m flailing about are actually going to fucking get together. It’s set up so classically, mirroring so many UST-filled-yet-canonly-hetero relationships (and specifically Harry/Draco), but instead of having to do the mental legwork to imagine a world in which they get together, I could just read it actually happening. This filled me to the brim with glee; I never wanted it to end, yet I couldn’t stop myself tearing through it. I felt bereft when I’d turned the last page. I love how’s she’s played with so many staple elements of Harry/Draco: the handshake, the vampire thing (gahaha, I loooove it), the jeans (XDDD), the sarcasm, the reasons that they’re attracted to each other in the first place. Whatever she does with those beloved tropes, whether she’s affectionately and cheekily recreating them or turning them into something new, she adds her own zest to them. And I love her Harry Potter meta, the things she’s changed, the things she’s kept the same – how in this Wizarding World, the Mages use laptops and mobiles, and magic is constantly evolving, but there are still class, race, species, and sex tensions. I love that she pointedly includes not only gay, lesbian, and bi (probably) people, but also PoC and plenty of excellent female characters, and that a guy’s physical disability is just casually mentioned in passing. I love that Penny is half British Indian. (I just love Penny, she’s amazing, she’s wonderful.) The book is great HP commentary, and also just fantastic as a novel, which adds to the work of Fangirl in blurring the lines between fanfiction and non-fanfiction fiction. Fanfiction’s just a category of fiction, isn’t it? Why do people insist on seeing it as something inferior and deviant? I noticed that Rowell was using some classic fanfic manoeuvres, like building up the story from several POVs, waiting until you were wild with curiosity about what a character was really up to before introducing their POV. This is just a classic fiction manoeuvre though, really! The two (three?) central mysteries are serious page-turners, interesting and fun. The characterisation and dialogue are just fantastic. In common with HP, she explores the grey areas of humanity, the people who are both good and bad, and why, and there aren’t easy answers. Her characters are partially wonderful because their similarities with those of HP create tension, humour, and social commentary, and partially just because they’re so relatable, hilarious, and straight up lovable. Getting mildly SPOILERIFIC from this point! Simon and his determination and decency and cluelessness and self-sacrifice, Penny and her chubbiness and impetuousness and sharpness, Baz and his loyalty and self-loathing and cool façade hiding inner turmoil, Agatha and her frustrations and daydreams and rebellion. And Professor BAMF Bunce, ahhh I love her. And Ebb, and Fiona, and Natasha Grimm-Pitch. And now it’s going to be majorly spoilerific!! If you’re reading this and you’ve read the book, squee with me please!!! Other things I fucking loved: The lady’s not for turning, Simon’s amazing magic (the way that everyone’s magic worked was really interesting, but Simon’s godlike displays of power were damn cool), poor Lucy, Fiona asking if Baz met a bloke, Baz’s affection for salt and vinegar crisps, the pining asdfghjkl;, “I’m hopelessly in love with him” (I felt my heart lurch), Simon arguing with Baz that vampires are not dead and soulless, Simon basically trying to get Baz to stop hating himself, Baz and Penny both noticing that Simon’s too thin and worrying about it, Ebb being so powerful, Ebb missing Nicky, Penny and her mum both commenting on the pink gingerbread women, Simon wanting to rush over and check that it’s really Baz, Simon noticing that Baz looks ill and is limping, Simon not noticing that he’s obsessed with Baz, Penny wanting to run away with Simon, Simon hugging Penny, Baz watching the muscles in Simon’s back and knowing where he has moles and talking about his freckles and his tawny skin and generally being tortured by how much he wants Simon, that Baz calls being in the room with Simon “home”, “Is this how he looked this afternoon? Crowley.”, “You, who can’t walk away from half a sandwich.”, there is no way that Simon’s not going to get round to researching whether Baz can drink from him without Turning him asdfghjkl;, “Observation.”, “Two kisses”, Baz being a big brother, Baz not minding that his dad calls his stepmother his mother, Simon on all fours above Baz making him reach up for his mouth, Baz being taller, Simon being the one taking the initiative, “splendid morons”, “courageous fuck”, “absolute nightmare”, “Corking idea, Penelope”, “’Nobody’s seducing a vampire’” ahahahaha Simon YOU IDIOT, Baz being jealous when Simon leaves, “’Yeah… I guess so. Yes. Let’s do that, okay?’”, the ridiculousness of Simon, Penny, and Agatha’s previous adventures (stuck down a well?!), Simon running everywhere, “I like everything about Baz in this suit”, ”’I want to be your boyfriend. Your terrible boyfriend.’”, Baz completely misunderstanding Simon’s terrible boyfriend speech and getting all cold and staring at his knees and being temporarily broken-hearted, Baz sharing his food, Simon being fascinated by Baz’s teeth, Simon’s wings (aka THANK YOU Rainbow Rowell for including wing!fic in your trope bingo card), Baz going off to the numpties while Simon goes to the Mage because just because they’re boyfriends doesn’t mean they have the same priorities, that even in the midst of drama there are hilarious moments, Simon’s first fearful thought being that it’s Baz at the Mage’s feet, Baz howling as Simon falls, On love’s light wings, Fiona loving her sister and crying at Baz’s speech and generally being there for him even though she’s struggling herself and is also a partially terrible person, Baz secretly loving Simon’s tail, Simon worrying that Baz and Penny aren’t going to want anything to do with him now he’s lost his magic, Simon whinging about having to carry stuff (partially because this shows that he’s got or is getting his confidence back around them, that they really still want him there), Baz informing them that he’s going to be in their flat constantly, Penny and Simon getting a flat!!, if the magic might well come back to the dead spots does that mean that it might come back to Simon?, would that mean that there was a danger of the Humdrum coming back?, did him giving up all of his magic mean that his mum finally got to properly die?, Baz staying in London to be near Simon, Simon finally taking tentative first steps towards thinking about his future, Penny telling him to find the biscuits, Baz making horrendous and sappy puns and failing not to grin at them ♥ YES THERE ARE A LOT OF THINGS THAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS BOOK.

46. Uprooted by Naomi Novik
“Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life. Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood. The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows - everyone knows - that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn't, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her. But Agnieszka fears the wrong things.”

Aaaaaahhhh! THIS BOOK IS AMAZING. This run of amazing books that I’ve got going on is so wonderful ♥ I’m just a bit sad to know that I’ll have to come down from this high at some point; that the next book I’m going to read can’t possibly live up to Fangirl, Carry On, and Uprooted... It’s very, very page-turning – whenever I couldn’t be reading it, I’d be daydreaming about it, trying to work out what was going to happen, or just thinking about the characters. I thought the structure was really interesting: I visualised it as a series of stepping-stones, one plot point being resolved and then another appearing, connected only as the next logical progression, rather than as part of an overarching plotline. I think this realistic structure grounds the very dramatic events, the climax of centuries of build-up. The story is fantastic, a perfect mixture of traditional and surprising, so that you’re thinking with happy anticipation, ‘yes, I know how this goes, it’s going to be awesome,’ and then Novik suddenly switches it up with something even more excellent. The settings are beautifully done, so vividly and evocatively drawn that you share the characters’ emotional reactions to them, and the central role that they play is thoughtful and thought-provoking. The logic of the magic was intriguing and satisfying. And the characters are THE BEST. Agnieszka is SO AWESOME and I LOVE HER. Kasia is damn cool. And they’re interesting, real people, with complicated, contradictory emotions, reacting as they can to life’s twists and turns. It was so unbelievably refreshing to read about a female friendship treated like this: as important, deep, and life-changing. I was actually delighted to not really care about what happened with the Dragon (even though he too was an interesting, realistic, likable [/likably annoying] character). Reading about the development of these girls into women, and their relationship with one another, and how they found their places in the world, was joyous.

47. Politically Correct Bedtime Stories by James Finn Garner
“In a collection guaranteed to provoke both laughter and thought, 14 timeless fairy tales are revisited and reworked to become relevant fables for more modern times. These hilarious adaptations satirize and sanitize the sexist, racist, nationalist, ageist, sizeist, ethnocentrist, and phallocentrist biases of classic bedtime stories. Familiar exploits of beloved characters are related from a respectful, prejudice-free perspective: the Emperor is no longer naked in his new clothes but “is endorsing a clothing-optional lifestyle,” Snow White escapes to the cottage of “seven vertically-challenged men,” and Goldilocks is an ambitious scientist studying anthropomorphic bears. With a redesigned jacket and a previously unpublished story, this expanded edition is sure to appeal to readers of multiple generations who find political correctness is as topical as ever.”

I was given this as a Christmas present a year or two ago, and finally got round to zooming through it. I can’t quite tell if my reaction was the one anticipated. As a half-hour read, it was fun – it definitely made me smile, although this was less often because it was witty or silly than because I wholeheartedly supported many of the outcomes that I think were meant to be ridiculous “political correctness gone mad.” Though perhaps the outcomes were meant to show that we are moving in the right direction, despite the silliness of some PC ideas (like renaming ‘blackboards’ o.O). I do think this is a very interesting topic, which can be best summed up by a comic that I irritatingly can’t find now, which basically says: you’re completely free to say whatever shit you want, and we’re completely free to tell you to get lost.

48. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
“At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They're the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favour working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they're often labelled "quiet," it's to introverts like Gandhi, Einstein and Rosa Parks that we owe many of the great contributions to society. Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with stories of real people, Quiet shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. This extraordinary book has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how introverts see themselves.”

It's true, this book really did change how I see myself. All of the scientific explanation about how people end up as introverts (and how it looks as though it's based on our physiology) was enormously reassuring (and I hadn't even realised that I needed reassurance), as was reading about other introverts' experiences, particularly their difficulties in navigating the extrovert-centric cultures of America - the focus of the book - which definitely struck chords. Just having someone say, "it's ok to cross the road to avoid having to talk to someone," was quite a revelation. The cumulative effect was like wiping away the fog from a window, letting me see that this is just how I am, and that really is ok. I've vaguely known that I'm an introvert for a long time, but I hadn't really accepted that that means that various introvert characteristics, like needing a lot of people-less downtime or not enjoying big parties, are here to stay, and it's no use trying to cudgel my personality into fitting the more acceptable mould. On the other hand, the sections about introverts managing to participate in extrovert settings in ways that work for them has some really practical advice, ranging from how to acknowledge your boundaries and knowing when you need a break to keep functioning, to when pushing your limits can yield results. It's at least in part thanks to this book that I had such a great Christmas-time this year.

49.-51. Pug, l’apprenti ; Milamber, le mage ; Silverthorn by R. E. Feist, translated by Antoine Ribes
« Pug est un apprenti dans le château du Duc de Crydee dans le royaume de Krondor, sur Midkemia. Son maître est Kulgan le magicien de la cour. Mais si Pug est indéniablement doué pour la magie, aucune des formes que l'on donne à cet art en Krondor ne semble lui convenir. Il lui faudra changer de monde pour trouver sa voie et apprendre d'un magicien immortel que son destin est de sauver le monde d'une menace divine millénaire. De la rencontre de ces deux univers naîtra d'abord la guerre puis le chaos dans chacun des deux camps. Suivront alors la paix et la découverte mutuelle de deux cultures et sociétés radicalement opposées. »
« Le combat que se livrent peuples de Krondor et guerriers Tsurani fait rage. La guerre a séparé les amis d'autrefois... Pug, qui porte maintenant le nom de Milamber, va découvrir peu à peu le secret de son pouvoir de magicien. Tomas est devenu un guerrier aussi respecté que craint, car en lui se manifeste une présence dont les elfes savent qu'elle n'appartient plus au monde de Krondor. Le prince Arutha, quant à lui, doit déjouer à la cour les complots visant à déstabiliser le royaume. Bientôt, tous vont devoir s'unir contre un ennemi venu de la nuit des temps... »
« La guerre de la faille entre les mondes de Midkemia et Kelewan est terminée. Longue vie au roi Lyam et au prince de Krondor, Arutha, seigneur de l'ouest. Le royaume se prépare à vivre une ère de paix et de prospérité. Mais très loin au nord, une sombre puissance se lève, qui rassemble en ses ténèbres elfes noirs, trolls et gobelins, annonçant l'avènement d'un nouvel âge de chaos. Une terrible prophétie doit bientôt s'accomplir... Mais il faut pour cela qu'un obstacle disparaisse : Arutha doit périr. Une horde d'assassins et de guerriers maléfiques est donc lancée à ses trousses. Accompagne de Jimmy les mains vives et de Laurie le ménestrel, le prince va reprendre la route pour contrer ce péril... »

Argh, I thought this was a trilogy! I don’t know if L’institut français has the fourth book D: Surely they wouldn’t be so cruel…? I’ll find out when they reopen on the 4th of January O_O [They don’t have it DDD: Bizarrely enough, I found an ex-library copy on sale from Better World Books, shipping from Dunfermline… Will it turn out to be the institute’s copy?!] The third book has left me with so many questions that I want answered tout de suite! This series was recommended to me by a colleague, and then I randomly discovered it in the institute’s tiny little fantasy and sci-fi section. I’ve given each volume three stars on Goodreads – it’s a five-star plot with zero-star characters. Specifically, there are seven female characters (and that’s a stretch – I’m including women who only appear for about three pages or whose existence is simply mentioned a few times) as compared to over forty men; of the four that actually get page-time, two appear exclusively as lovers, wives, and mothers, and the other two spend their time mourning the loss (potential or actual) of their menfolk, being tragically wounded in order that men must go on quests, or being saved by various dudes. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME. THERE IS LITERALLY NOT A SINGLE ACTIVE WOMAN, AMONGST ELEVEN DIFFERENT RACES!! Couldn’t the Thun or the dwarves or the Valheru have been matriarchal or had warrior women? AND YET. The plot is so damn page-turning. The time-bending element is really, really interestingly done; the different types of magic and their uses are satisfying; all of the different cultures, religions, peoples, and landscapes make for a rich backdrop; and the mix of military and magical warfare and political intrigue gives some heft. I do really like Arutha and Pug, though at this point I think there are too many other characters for him to give all of them enough depth to be cared about. I thought things were getting a bit silly with Silverthorn, but in the end I quite liked the explanations for the necromancy (if not the monsters made of other creatures’ body parts).

52. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
“Connie Willis' Hugo and Nebula Award-winning Doomsday Book uses time travel for a serious look at how people connect with each other. In this Hugo-winning companion to that novel, she offers a completely different kind of time travel adventure: a delightful romantic comedy that pays hilarious homage to Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat.
When too many jumps back to 1940 leave 21st century Oxford history student Ned Henry exhausted, a relaxing trip to Victorian England seems the perfect solution. But complexities like recalcitrant rowboats, missing cats, and love at first sight make Ned's holiday anything but restful – to say nothing of the way hideous pieces of Victorian art can jeopardize the entire course of history.”

This was described to me as Agatha Christie meets Three Men in a Boat, with sci-fi, and it lives up to how much fun I was thus expecting it to be :D I really like that this interpretation of time travel overcomes the argument that, if time travel were possible, we'd already know about it, as someone would have travelled back or forward – here people are trained before travelling so that they can blend in with the contemporaries, keeping alive the dream! The fact that time travel is practised in this official way makes for interesting discussion of the theory, especially about whether or not it's possible to mess up history. Everything starts off with a changing of the past which should have been impossible, and the twists and turns the characters take in order to try to fix things are amusing, and also interesting. I didn't expect that last twist at all, and it was a really intriguing one! It was fun to have that serious pondering of time running alongside the ridiculous messes that everyone kept getting into. I laughed a lot, particularly when Ned was staggering around time-lagged. It’s also interesting to wonder whether you ever see him ‘normal’, seeing as he’s out of it when we first meet him – he thinks that he’s himself again, but then he didn’t notice his odes to noble canine brethren XD The mystery element was page-turning and fun. I dismissed early on one theory that turned out to be correct, so my ideas got wilder and wilder, which was great.

(53. I also randomly re-read HBP during the year for an intensely competitive pub quiz in a series of of quizzes with one per book. Our team of two came in third place – I was half grumpy about this and half proud, as we only dropped two points. I didn’t have time for a full 2016 HP Re-read, but I’m planning to start 2017 off right by getting straight to it :D)

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