Hello, strangelings!

If you’re a member of the Fantastic Strangelings Book Club (click here to join up if you aren’t) then you’ve already received this month’s book, Crossings by Alex Landragin and you should check your email because I’m doing a zoom with Alex next week and you’re invited. (And if you’re an honorary member or can’t make it we’ll post the video on the Nowhere youtube channel afterward.)

I’m opening up comments for discussion in case you prefer not to use the Fantastic Strangelings Facebook page but – as always – remember that there are no deadlines or rules so if you want to just lurk or come back in the future if you haven’t read it yet that is totally okay. The discussion posts stay open so you can pop in anytime you please.

AND…today I’m announcing September’s book, The Bone Shard Daughter, by Andrea Stewart.

A quick summary:

Introducing a major new voice in epic fantasy: in an empire controlled by bone shard magic, Lin, the former heir to the emperor, will fight to reclaim her magic and her place on the throne.

The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.

Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.

Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people.

Y’all, I read this whole book in one day and it is so good. I fell so in love with one character that I threatened to burn the whole house down if anything happened to them. (Victor was concerned but no more than normal, really.) It is the first book in a trilogy, and usually I don’t read those until the whole series is out because I’m too impatient for delayed gratification but this book totally stands alone with a very satisfying end.

And I alway offer a bonus book suggestion each month for those of you who need much more than one book a month so for September let me recommend Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh (of Hyperbole and a Half). She’s back! I laughed and cried. (Small content warning: if you have suicidal ideation – me too, friend – then just make sure you’re in a good place when you read it.)

Happy reading!

PS. As alway, thank you for supporting Nowhere Bookshop. You are literally keeping us in business and we are so grateful. We still don’t have our doors open the public because we want to keep you and our team safe but we do have curbside pick-up and we ship all over.

20 thoughts on “Hello, strangelings!

Read comments below or add one.

  1. Okay, here there be spoilers:

    This book was massive in scope and usually I can’t usually read books that have a ton of characters but I was totally willing to do the work for it this time because I’ve never seen historical fiction written in such an inventive way. The whole book was like a puzzle and I literally had to make my own flow-chart to keep up. Victor was like, “It can’t possibly have so many characters that you need a flow-chart” and I was like, “Three of the main people are eighteen people!” and he looked at me like I was crazy but if you’ve read this you know I’m right.I was going to share my flowchart here but another lady on Goodreads has done it much better. Click here if you need a walk-through of all the people: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3321098260?book_show_action=true (Although she has Koahu ending as Beattie Ellingham and I’m not sure if that’s accurate or if Beattie was just someone who knew too much?)

    Reading this felt like putting together the puzzle of genealogical research and I love doing genealogical research so it totally scratched that weird spot in my brain. I was constantly looking up the characters and places to find out what was real and what wasn’t. I loved the whole “found-footage” conceit of the bookbinder that starts the tale just piecing things together but I sort of wish that there was a more definitive end. Or maybe there is and I didn’t pick it up. I’m assuming that Mehevi is still out there if he’s gouging out eyeballs and I think that means that Alula is still out there, but honestly I sort of wanted all of them dead by the end.

    The characters were fascinating and I loved seeing their lives and learning about the time periods and art and places but at the same time, they were all kind of psychopaths, right? They had little empathy for the shells of people they left behind and they seemed to learn a little over time but basically they were vampires. But I’m not sure if I would have liked them more if they’d had more empathy or learned from other’s pain because I think once any of them understood what they were really doing they would have just stopped leaping into other people’s lives and gouging out eyeballs and then the story would have just stopped.

    This book really reminded me of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with the original Alula being Victor Frankenstien and the original Joubert being the monster. They’re both sort of psychopaths but they still befriend each other (in a way) instead of destroying each other when they have the opportunity but then when they’re apart all they can think of is destroying each other.

    In the end it left me wanting to know more about the real people in the book, which, I suppose, is the role of historical fiction. Now I wish there was a whole book about the real Jean DuVal. I found this piece which I thought was really interesting if you want real details on her life: https://www.messynessychic.com/2020/04/28/the-mystery-of-baudelaires-maddening-mistress/

  2. Wait, *is* there evidence for the Baronness being one of the crossers? Cuz I couldn’t figure out what her deal was!

    This was a fascinating book, and I think “scratched an itch in my brain” is a beautiful way to put it, Jenny! It was a fun puzzle to figure out.

    My biggest question, though, is for people who read it in the Baronness order. I read it straight through and then immediately tried to go back through in the Baronness order. I thought that it was going to be some clever alternative story where some of the chapters would read from a different person’s POV now or something…but it seemed like it was the same three stories, just interwoven this time instead of one at a time? Which seems even more hard to keep track of?? I only got a few chapters in before I decided maybe I just needed some time in between. Someone please let me know if it is worth going back to 🙂

    (I read the Baroness sequence too soon after reading the “normal” way and I couldn’t remember what I wasn’t already supposed to know. I think I need to give it a little time and then try again. 🙂 ~ Jenny)

  3. I gotta admit that the part that was difficult was keeping track of who was who because I have a head injury. I didn’t wanna look in the back, in case I found something I shouldn’t see (aka House of Leaves). When I saw the character list, I was like DAMMIT. Oh well. 😂

    When I read that Alex Landragin has worked as an Indigenous community worker, I was nervous to read the rest. I sincerely hope there’s no cultural appropriation in this book, or if there is, it’s his place to share or something. It was hard to read once I read his bio. The story was excellent. I truly hope it was entirely fictional. I’m from Canada, and there have been several authors, over the years, who have stolen from the Indigenous community when it wasn’t their place. I do plan on asking him this at the zoom.

    Maybe I’m having my antenna up a bit too high. Reconciliation is important to me though.

    (It’s a good question. The closest thing I can think of from the book is Oaeetee Island (which is imaginary, of course) and a moment when the main character lies that she was a missionary in New Caledonia, but so much happened that I might have missed it if there was something else. ~ Jenny)

  4. My main question is about Allulah and Mehivi. He knew it was her WHILE she was on the island for years and nothing happens but as soon as Lucien comes to get her (and tells mahivi the same thing she did) all of a sudden he’s hell bent on destroying her? I felt like I missed something.
    Also his practice of removing eyes of people after a crossing seemed odd, AND I’m really confused about why Lucien had his gouged out if that’s the case. I thought eye removal was only for crossing victims.
    I read both ways to see if I could get some answers to these questions but it only made me feel more like I missed something that’s right in front of me.

    (I was thinking that it was two reasons…one is a dominance thing and perhaps the second is to steal the memories of the person without losing himself. Like, maybe he looked into the eyes after they were gouged out so that he could have all their memories without transferring into their body? ~ Jenny)

  5. Just wanted to give Nowhere a heads up. You’re the ONLY independent bookstore the English department at our high school listed for our students (all 2915 of them) to order their books from this year. They are required to have a book in their hands all year, and it’s their choice what they read. I listed the link on Bookshop that ties into YOUR store. That’s how I much I love you.
    Boom. Mic dropped. (lol)

    (You’re the best! ~ Jenny)

  6. I completely enjoyed the book, but the ending left me wondering if I might have missed something. I plan to read it again straight through to see if that helps.
    I loved the format of this book. I’ve never read anything that you could read two ways and still get the same story.

  7. I’m reading the Baroness order first, and I’m about halfway through. Trying to keep the narrators straight has been interesting, and I almost feel like I should be taking notes. So far I’m enjoying this a lot.

  8. I too read the Baroness sequence too soon, but my take was that is was Koahu’s retelling of the story from the now, looking backward to the whole tale. I think that the only one gouging eyes was Joubert because he wanted to stop Alula from being able to skip to another body (and prevent her from being reunited with Koahu). The eye gouging was all about his vengeance. Mehevi (his body anyway) was left with the captain’s consciousness and stuck until death. Mehevi was gone after Joubert jumped from Alula’s body to Mehevi.

    I did blow through this book though. All your picks have been excellent reads Jenny! I am loving this book club and have recommended all of the books to other people.

  9. I am helping a friend who organizes a prison program for women here in Ohio. She is usually able to meet with her small groups and introduce them to an artist who shows their work and then encourages them to find their own artistic selves.

    Due to Covid my friend, Pat Wynn Brown, has not been able to meet with her groups, she is trying to keep them engaged on other ways. One of the is sending sheets to color. I wonder if you would give me permission to use your new book. I would like to send one page each month that would be copied and sent out by our prison system for women in many different locations throughout Ohio.

    Please let me know how you feel about this idea. I will be delighted if you will agree to spread your artistic talent to these women.

    Thank you so much.
    Marilyn Parker

    (This is lovely! I can’t give you permission to use stuff from the book because the publishers own that but you can totally send them the drawings I post here on my blog. 🙂 ~Jenny)

  10. “The Bone Shard Daughter, by Andrea Stewart”

    Dorothy Barker approves. :nods:

    I need to get my life back, so I can read again.

  11. So here is my problem with this book: it seems as though a lot of bad things would not have transpired if Alula had just agreed to cross back. Not necessarily on the island, but once she and Jaubert were both crossing all over Europe, how does her refusing to cross back with him stop him from doing anything bad? And why not do it, if, by so doing, she has the chance to restore the Law to equilibrium? By refusing to cross she literally avoids the possibility of doing good while definitely doing nothing to prevent evil. How does this make any sense? And even if she didn’t see this in the beginning, how did it escape her notice after all the killings that she was unable to stop? I liked this book well enough, but after reading it through once, and starting to look at the Baroness sequence, I was so done.

  12. I read the book in the Baroness sequence and I plan to go back and reread it in order in a year or so. I absolutely loved it. I think my favorite small detail was how in the frame story the bookbinder decides to use peau de chagrin to bind the three stories, rather than the elaborate binding the Baroness requested. ( I think he only gives the English translation of the term and the story only gives it in French, so if you didn’t take French I’m telling you the Easter egg.) That way this volume will match the volumes of Baudelaire’s work in the collection. That made me happy. It’s a silly detail to get excited about, I know. I agree that Alula and Joubert are both more or less vampires. I wonder whether Koana always forgets because he wasn’t sufficiently trained, so he suffers for his poor decisions forever. Excellent recommendation, Jenny!

  13. The flowchart you linked to is excellent, but I think there’s one error. Beattie Ellingham was Mehevi/Joubert, the bookbinder was Koahu, and the bookbinder’s wife was Alula. The person who killed Beattie/The Baroness was the same unnamed individual who dropped off the manuscript without removing their helmet, because it was Mehevi/Joubert in a new body. And so the dance continues…

    An excellent mind bending read. Thank you for this recommendation!

  14. I liked this book but was disappointed that nobody improved themselves. None of the reincarnations cared about others or had significant friendships or loves. To echo Anarchybean- I think they all suffer their poor decisions forever. I plan to re-read it in the timeline sequence and I may change my mind.

  15. Alula stated she had absorbed the memories of so many lives (seven) plus the hundreds, if not thousands, she crossed with and returned while treating their mental disorders. She said she did not want to continue … it was too overwhelming to hold all those memories. I believe the personalities and memories of all those people also affected her ability to make the best of decisions.

    Joubert/Mehevi gouged out eyes because he learned that was what the Sage did. He did not reserve that practice for just those he crossed with; he was not a true Sage. He and Alula had a wary relationship when either of them could have killed the other, but their relationship progressed to a strained friendship. It’s not unlike a dysfunctional marriage or a less than ideal boss and employee relationship. Sometimes you just ‘stay’ because leaving may be more dangerous or detrimental.

    Later, Joubert/Mehevi removed the eyes of innocent people as a way of sending Alula a strong message and to punish her. It was his MO – his ‘calling card’. She felt the guilt and responsibility of every victim he killed.

    Beattie was a known book collector and may have been lured by Joubert/Mehevi to purchase the manuscript written by Charles, as he had done in the past to try and trap Alula (who was probably deceased by then, as she had already stated she had no intention to cross again). Joubert/Mehevi had most likely already crossed again. I doubt that he was the person who delivered the three manuscripts to be bound together, because he would have continued his MO and killed the bookbinder. I think who Joubert/Mehevi crossed into is a mystery, intended to leave the feeling that he could be anyone or anywhere, and therefor more dangerous.

    One last intriguing thought. I personally believe Beattie was indeed Koahu. Koahu, in all his incarnations, had the manuscript he wrote as Walter, and the manuscript telling Aula’s story. As he took an overdose of morphine, he asked the doctor to look in his eyes. He crossed into the doctor. Further proof of that is back in the preface, because the bookbinder states that Walter’s traveling companions were inexplicitly released and were free to leave France. As the doctor, Koahu/Walter no longer needed to escape. While he always ‘forgets’, he finally has the two manuscripts to explain his story and who he is. It is not revealed (because it is up to the reader to draw conclusions), but Koahu/Walter/Doctor probably crosses into Beattie. Here is why I believe this is the case….

    As a book collector, Beattie desperately wanted the first manuscript he wrote as Charles. Beattie knows Alula has died and wants all three stories bound together as a tribute. Beattie’s instructions to the bookbinder included an inset of ivory with an etched eye, circled with SEVEN pearls (one pearl to honor each of the lives Alula had). It’s a memorial to her, the island girl he loved and lost. Joubert (in whichever body he now possesses), does not know Alula said she would not cross again and is still trying to lay traps with the manuscript written by Charles. Beattie purchased it and paid with her life, as so many others before her.

  16. Getting caught up on the book club reads. I read this straight through and really enjoyed it. Now reading the comments, I’m like, “Wait, the bookbinder and his wife were Alula and Koahu?” So maybe I need to reread at least the preface! But even if I missed some of the details, I still found the story absorbing. Very glad I read it.

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