Hello, strangelings!

If you’re a member of the Fantastic Strangelings Book Club you already know what wonderful book we’re going to send you this month because I sent you a bizarre email about it, but in case you missed it or are an honorary member, it’s Sister Song by Lucy Holland and it gave me strong Circe and The Witch’s Heart vibes. (And if you have not joined yet this is totally your sign to come be a Fantastic Strangeling.)

I don’t know what the actual cover looks like because there are two and my copy was digital but both covers are amazing so let’s just bask in the glory of both of them:

 This is a reworking of the Twa Sisters, a old murder ballad (Did you know there were such things as murder ballads?  Because I did not and now I want to listen to all of them).  Set in the dark ages of Britain, it blends historical fiction with magical realism/fantasy in an amazing way and explores feminism and identity and belief and betrayal and family with a fast-paced story and wonderful characters. 

Here’s a quick summary:

535 AD. In the ancient kingdom of Dumnonia, King Cador’s children inherit a fragmented land abandoned by the Romans. Riva, scarred in a terrible fire, fears she will never heal. Keyne battles to be seen as the king’s son, when born a daughter. And Sinne, the spoiled youngest girl, yearns for romance. All three fear a life of confinement within the walls of the hold – a last bastion of strength against the invading Saxons. But change comes on the day ash falls from the sky, bringing Myrddhin, meddler and magician, and Tristan, a warrior whose secrets will tear the siblings apart. Riva, Keyne and Sinne must take fate into their own hands, or risk being tangled in a story they could never have imagined; one of treachery, magic, love and ultimately, murder. It’s a story that will shape the destiny of Britain.

It’s one of those books that you see as a movie in your mind as you read it.  And if you have a fear of reading historical fiction because you are history illiterate please know that I am as well and other than looking up a paragraph in Wikipedia (“Siri, what is a Saxxon?”) the book gives you everything you need. I think you’ll love it.

And if you are like me and need more than one book to get you through the month then you are in luck because October has a shitload of great new books. Here are all the October books I read and loved: Under the Whispering Door (gorgeous tale about love and grief and death that is also somehow uplifting and lovely), Slewfoot (supernatural horror revenge tale you need to read immediately), Light from Uncommon Stars (weird as hell), Reprieve (a full-contact haunted house tale that dissects race, class, politics), The Last Graduate (this is the 2nd scholomance book to read after Deadly Education and it’s very good and now I want the next in the series), Cackle (a sweet sort of halloween read about friendship), The Death of Jane Lawrence (gothic horror ala Jane Eyre but with more math? I’m not describing it right.), Shelf Life (a memoir about the woman who opened the first modern bookstore in Cairo), A Spindle Splintered (a small fairy tale where the villains are not who you remember), When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky (death defying Cherokee horse diver uncovers a mystery that spans centuries. #ownvoices), Lore Olympus (graphic novel about Persephone that will SUCK. YOU. IN), Hyde (a reimagining of Jekyll and Hyde. Very Scottish) and Death at Greenway (a mystery set in the holiday home of Agatha Christie.)

Now no worries if you haven’t read last month’s book yet (The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraido Córdova) because there are no deadlines in book club but I know a lot of you have so I’m opening up the discussion thread on the Fantastic Strangelings Book Club facebook page in case you want to talk, and if you don’t do facebook you can always leave your thoughts here. I’ll leave mine in the comments below.

PS. In case you missed it, we’re doing a free fantastic strangelings zoom with horror master Grady Hendrix later this month so check your email to rsvp if you want to hear Grady and I talk all about fear and explore his latest book, The Final Girl Support Group. And follow Nowhere Bookshop on instagram because I might be doing another fun mystery October zoom with one of my favorite people that will be open to honorary members as well. 🙂

PPS. As a little bonus, here’s an author-suggested cocktail to try while settling down to read The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina. Dorothy Barker approves.

Happy reading!

17 thoughts on “Hello, strangelings!

Read comments below or add one.

  1. My thoughts on The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina are below. HERE THERE BE SPOILERS:

    This was such a strange and magical sort of book. When I first opened it and saw the giant family tree I was like, “NOPE” and put it back down because I get confused when there are a lot of characters but I kept coming back to the cover and after I glanced at the first chapter I was hopelessly in.

    For me this book has a very strong fairy tale quality to it. Like an Ecuadorian Grimm fairy tale that takes place in modern times and also has a fair amount of cursing and booze and ghosts and should be read at midnight around a camp fire. All of my favorite things.

    Some of my favorite parts:

    I loved that magic not only came with a price and that even magic had limits. Like, it’s an enchanted house but it still has to be cleaned. And the land is made lush by magic but they still have to start planting the crops and tilling the soil immediately. I love the idea that magic is a tool but not one that makes everything happen or that can necessarily bring happiness. In fact, it seems like magic (or at least the power associated with it) was a double-edged sword that caused as much sadness as anything else. Maybe because it was stolen. Maybe because no one should have that much power.

    I loved how the river monster was a sort of god and the living star was as well, but both of them shrunk or faded when not believed in or abused. And how Miramar sort of disappeared into herself when she didn’t believe in herself…but she saved Rey and Rhianna when they believed in her. It said a lot about the power of belief and also about how important support can be.

    I loved the idea of how pain and love and a million different things can be inherited. Like how Isabel’s mom treated her terribly but then later tried to make up for it. And then Isabel did the same to her daughter and later regretted treating her so poorly. Or how Orquidia’s pain made her take advantage of the star, which doomed her in so many ways because her pain caused his pain which cause other’s pain. And then Orquídea never really loved with full affection because of her fear and her silence and that was passed on to many of her children. But at the same time you saw Rhianna’s mom cherish her and give up her own life for her and how it made Rhianna the lovely fairy child she became, and that protection was something that Tatinelly learned from Orquídea, who always protected her family the only way she thought she could. Inheritances are so often invisible. We don’t always realize what we leave behind.

    I loved how all of the impossible things came together in the end to have the whole family battling for each other and the idea that Orquidea was born under a bad star but in the end created a whole new life by using an actual star, and then her granddaughter fixed the mess her grandmother made with her own literal star power.

    I love how the author used Guayaquil (the place where her family was from originally) in the story. I wonder if the Guayas river monster is based on a legend and if any of the other themes come from Ecuadorian myths and legends? The author mentions the legend of Guayas and Quil, an indigenous couple who were part of the chiefdom where Guayaquil now sits and I found several different interpretations of the legend. In one Chief Guayas and his wife are captured by the Spanish and he promises to lead their captors to treasure but instead Guayas kills his wife and himself. I guess you could read it as a fierce family choosing their own destiny or you could read it as some dude killing his wife because he didn’t want her to live without him and in a way both of those themes are reflected in the story. But I read another story that said the cities name actually come from the Aboriginal roots that mean “Our big house”, which would also fit.

    This book inspired me to go on a deep dive of Ecuadorian legends and there were lots of amazing ones but one of my favorites came from this website (https://www.lifepersona.com/the-7-legends-of-guayaquil-most-popular). In particular, Emilio Estrada and the pact with the Devil: A politician supposedly made a pact with the devil and then his mausoleum was constructed with copper to keep the devil away. From the site:
    “After his death, the devil enraged by the bullshit cursed the soul of Estrada.” And now I for real want a t-shirt that say “ENRAGED BY THE BULLSHIT” because I think we can all relate.
    Sorry, I went off on a tangent there.

    Have you finished the book? What did you think?

  2. Okay, so I haven’t read this book, but I’m intrigued. Your discussion reminds me of a combination of Night Circus and Ghost Bride. Thank you.

  3. Twa Sisters and variations thereof always made me wonder – why the fuck would you see a drowned body and think “I could totally make a harp out of that!”. I mean, what’s wrong with perfectly good wood? And given the way my guitarist’s strings keep breaking (and they are made of steel) I would think strings of “golden hair” would be really fragile and break a lot. Also, harp pins made of plastic are fiddly enough, so I can’t imagine ones made out of finger bones would be any easier to deal with….

    Also, if you hired a musician to play for your dinner party and he brings out a harp made out of fucking BONES AND HAIR for a little light entertainment, who says “Hey, that’s a great idea – go ahead! ” Wouldn’t it give everyone the creeping horrors?

    Why yes, I am a traditional musician, however did you guess? I think a lot about these things.
    Also, never fall in love with a guy name Johnny. They’re bad news

    (Ha! ~ Jenny)

  4. Murder ballads are something I discovered in high school when I found Celtic music and my life has never been the same. You’ve gotta love a haunting tale of blood and vengeance and wtfery! If you want to give a really rough, dark album of murder ballads, I suggest the accurately named Murder Ballads by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

  5. I loved this book. Absolutely loved it. My favorite line (paraphrased, because the book is in the other room): “Bruh, you can’t say Grandma is turning into a tree!” Something about the juxtaposition of the very modern, young family members within this family that feels ancient – the fact that the younger generation simply accepts the magic without questioning. The last few book choices were misses for me, but this one hit all the right notes. It’s way up at the top of my list of the books we’ve read as Strangelings thus far.

  6. I loved Under the Whispering Door! Also loved The House in the Cerulean Sea by the same author. Both wonderful reads.

  7. Celtic music introduced me to murder ballads – such as “The Two Sisters” and variants on that song. I have at least two recorded versions of it.

  8. Under murder ballads – add “Long Black Veil” as sung by Gillian Welch (although many others sang it, like Johnny Cash, and originally by Lefty Frizzel)

  9. Where does one get lavender syrup?? It sounds amazing! I am totally going to make this drink!

    (I had to look it up myself. You can order it at most of the larger liquor stores. I haven’t picked up any yet but maybe this weekend. 🙂 ~ Jenny)

  10. So I read Grady Hendrix The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires and rolls my local book club(it was my first time) it was a real palette cleanser. They had a good laugh over that. I want to read Final Girl. Might have to slip that in.

  11. Ooh, you should definitely give Ekova’s version of Two Sisters (Cruel Sister) a listen, it’s hauntingly delicious. https://youtu.be/Hk8G_gOnlfw

    And as someone else mentioned, Nick Cave’s album Murder Ballads is worth checking out if you really want to dive deep into the dark heart of the genre.

  12. Aussie group Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds did a whole album of murder ballads back in the ’90s.

    I can also recommend another, lesser known, Aussie group called Brillig who specialise in sea shanties, murder ballads and other ghost-story songs.

  13. If Jenny says a book is “weird as hell” then I am sold. Light from Uncommon Stars, here I come.

  14. F-ing instagram won’t let most of these play (at least for me – who does not have nor want an instagram account)
    [insert bad words directed at instagram]

  15. Murder ballads! I had some friends and their kids over for brunch and they suggested putting some music on, and the last thing I had been listening to was Oh Willie, Please by Vandaveer, an album of murder ballads, and I kind of froze and went with it and just hoped no one was listening closely. That said, Pretty Polly is a great song, check it out.

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