I started February with a serious need for comfort reading, so I turned to books I'd already enjoyed, before carefully making my way to new horizons.
Serpentine, by Mélanie Fazy
Serpentine is a re-read but I didn't get to review at the time. Mélanie Fazy is a French author who doesn't shy away from difficult topics and weave them into unsettling short stories. My favourite may be "Mémoire des herbes aromatiques" in which we meet a woman called Circé, the modern-day owner of a Greek restaurant.
The Silver Witch, by Paula Brackston
I had a very busy and stressful start of February, so I needed a comforting and self-affirming read to accompany me for a few unsettling days. Instead of going straight for Robin Hobb, J.K. Rowling or Tolkien, though, I picked The Silver Witch, a book I first read exactly a year ago.
It tells about Tilda, a ceramic artist moving to Wales while in a heart-rending situation, who finds unexpected solace in her new home. The narrative alternates with that of Seren, a witch and seer who lived by the same lake centuries before and had to overcome hurdles of her own to gain respect from her community. Despite the hardships, the characters remain mostly optimistic, making this book quite uplifting. I took my time reading it and it proved just right for my mental state.
The Hobbit Sketchbook, by Alan Lee
More than fifteen years after the book that sparked my passion for Middle-earth (The Lord of the Rings Sketchbook), Alan Lee published last year its companion volume. Needless to say I was excited, and the content was exactly what I was hoping for: an in-depth look at the artist's creative process, both for his traditional illustrations and for his work on the movies.
Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, by Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austen
This was exactly what it said on the tin. I was in the mood for a fun and easy read and remembered I had saved this book from a neighbour's big clear-out.
Seth Grahame-Smith rewrites the classic many of us love with the addition of a zombie epidemic that has plagued Great Britain for decades before the story starts. The Bennet sisters are well trained in the arts of putting an end to the misery of their fellow citizens who are back from the grave, but it doesn't stop them from getting excited at the idea of meeting their new neighbour, a certain Mr Bingley.
The zombies did not transform the plot hugely, so that the beloved storyline is still the same, but there were a few clever changes that spiced this book up. It's definitely not a masterpiece, but I was expecting much worse so I consider myself happy (and still embarrassed at having read it, but I'm working on that).
Reply to a Letter from Helga, by Bergsveinn Birgisson
At the end of his life, a man decides to write a letter to the love of his life.
This short book was a fascinating insight into the life of an Icelander making do in the countryside. The prose is really beautiful, both simple and deep, with reflections on all manners of subjects. Sometimes it became quite poetic too, when the narrator described the wild and sometimes unforgiving landscapes he calls home. However, I found him very unsympathetic and had trouble not getting mad at him (does it happen to you too? Do you have conversations with fictional characters?). I was very uncomfortable when he went on and on about his desire for this woman, his neighbour, and described crudely all his feelings. He didn't make any room for what she may have been feeling and sometimes blamed her for his problems.
All in all, I was glad to read a book set in Iceland and found it well written, but it felt too personal and too masculine for my liking.
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What did you read in February?