Hello, strangelings!

So usually I’m slightly less behind but I had a small mental breakdown that set me back a bit. BUT! I’m feeling a lot better and actually today I even feel great, which is freaking wonderful. So now I’m catching up on everything including opening up discussion for October’s Fantastic Strangelings book club pick, Sistersong by Lucy Holland.

I’ll open up a discussion thread on the FS facebook page but as always, I’m leaving my thoughts in the comments in case you don’t do Facebook. And no worries if you haven’t read it. There are no deadlines in book club.

Also, in case you missed it, this month’s book will be flying to your homes this week and I am so excited about it because it is one of my favorite books I’ve read all year and I already want to reread it:

It’s Still Life by Sarah Winman. It’s an amazing, character-driven historical fiction novel set in Tuscany and in London that follows a group of people from the 1940s to the 1970s and I fell so in love with all of the eccentric characters that it hurt my heart when it finished. Each chapter was like a new episode in my favorite, most comfortingly bingeable show and I immediately wanted to start it all over again, which is always the sign of a fabulous book. It’s a slow, bear hug/warm bath sort of a book…an ode to chosen families and the stories that we weave and to the wonderful and complicated people who fall into our lives, and I couldn’t think of a better book to share with you, an amazing community of people I adore.
And for those of you who (like me) need several books to get you through the month, here are some November releases I read and enjoyed that you might enjoy too:

Blue-Skinned Gods by S. J. Sindu (A novel about a Tamil boy born with blue skin attempting to be the 10th human incarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu. Complicated and profound.)
God of Mercy by Okezie Nwoka (A novel reimagining the nature of tradition and cultural heritage and establishing a folklore of the uncolonized. Plus, demons.)
Chouette by Claire Oshetsky (A woman gives birth to an owl. Sort of. It’s weird as hell but really good. Reminds me of Bunny)
Sex Cult Nun by Faith Jones (An absolutely insane memoir about a woman growing up in and breaking free from the Children of God cult)
Noor by Nnedi Okorafor (Sci-fi Afrofuturistic novel about biotech, destiny and humanity set in a near-future Nigeria)
Murder Book by Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell (A graphic novel memoir about true crime and why we’re all so obsessed with it. If I say “stay sexy” and you automatically respond “don’t get murdered” then you will love this book.)
You Feel it Just Below the Ribs by Jeffrey Cranor and Janina Matthewson (A dystopian novel about family, memory and grief set in the Within the Wires podcast universe)
These Silent Woods by Kimi Cunningham Grant (A darkly atmospheric and poignant novel of survival, sacrifice, and how far a father will go when faced with losing it all.)
The Collective by Alison Gaylin (a psychological thriller about revenge and justice)

PS. Did you know that some books have strange magic embedded into them and Sistersong is one of them? (Download the google app and then look at your book covers with google lens. There are more than you think, including last year’s Fantastic Strangelings pick, The Bone Shard Daughter.)

My thoughts on Sistersong are in the comments. Happy reading! ~Jenny

14 thoughts on “Hello, strangelings!

Read comments below or add one.

  1. This book was filled with complicated people and flawed motivations and such a strange combination of historical fiction, magic and fairy tale and honestly, I’m really interested in seeing if you guys liked it as much as I did because I suspect it could be a bit polarizing.

    Here are my thoughts:

    I’m sure I didn’t entirely understand all of the historical references because it wasn’t until I was almost done that I realized that these people were actually real. Like, there really was a priest named Gilgas who wrote terrible things about King Constantine (Keyne) who Gilgas referred to as “a tyrant whelp of the filthy lioness of Dumnonia”. And I suspect that Myrdhin/Mori was supposed to be Merlin since there are Arthurian legends blended into the old stories of that time, and then it was further blended with the murder ballad of the Twa Sisters which has been retold over so many centuries that it now has a million different stories depending on who is telling it. This story was the first time I’d ever heard it but I’ve gone to research it and there are so many iterations…much like fairy tales and myths.

    I think that’s the thing that stuck to me most…the idea of storytelling. The fact that the story is told in first person by each of the siblings, the fact that each of them has a different way of looking at what happened and how each of their motivations and flaws and gifts affected their stories, including the way they shaped their own lives for better or for worse.

    I loved the world-building here…the patterns of magic in the air, the ghost fence of worthy skulls of enemies keeping the boundaries safe.

    One thing that I didn’t like so much the first time I read the book is that I wanted to know more about the stories of Gilgas and Mori and Cedric and Os and the King and Queen, but I think that comes with the territory of only hearing from three perspectives and the danger of not listening to others more closely, so in a way the lack of their story shaped the story that we’re told.

    I really wanted to learn more about Gilgas. He’s a terrible person but so fantastically complicated. Blessed with magic but choosing Christianity. Using magic to dispel belief in magic in a both hypocritical but also vaguely noble (in his mind, at least) way was such a strange choice for me.

    I loved the idea of emotions showing up as physical magic. Like Sinne wearing her pain and anger as wildfire, which made her hard to save. And Riva wearing her pain and anger as force that could push people away, which contributed to Sinne’s death as well.

    Speaking of which, was that murder? Because I don’t think so. It wasn’t on purpose and clearly neither girl knew it was going to happen, but we so quickly jump to “it must be someone’s fault”. I think this is particularly clear when the mob who wants to execute Riva at Gilgas’ command immediately jumps to wanting to kill Gilgas after they realized he’s using magic and lying about it. The only time that everyone actually slowed down and stopped being murderous mobs was when the ghost of Sinne convinced them to stop for a second.
    WHAT THE FUCK WITH MAKING SOMEONE INTO A HARP THO? Like, I realize that’s a very dark fairy tale sort of thing and that’s what happens in the Twa Sisters Murder Ballad but like, that seems like a pretty good analogy for letting someone go after they die rather than…you know…making their hair into harp strings? Of course, the whole book goes back to the retelling of stories (of ancient Europe, of King Arthur, of fairy tales and ballads and I guess eventually you’re going to get some iterations where people are turned into musical instruments? Weird as hell, but definitely an image that stuck with me.

    I loved Constantine’s fight to be recognized for who he is and the love story between him and Gwen and I appreciated how Mori told him that he should be a king for as long as he wanted and then be something else…that idea that you’re never stuck forever in a story if you take hold of it. (And interestingly the real character of Constantine did stop being king when he was old and joined a monastery, from what I was able to research.) I was conflicted about the lack of a strong happy ending. In some ways people got what they wanted and there was peace but there wasn’t a clear resolution of good wins over evil but I suppose this is a more realistic ending. People fall in love with flawed people. Conflicts never really end. True stories don’t wrap up nicely. All you can really do is fight for your own story and your own path while learning and living with the regrets and joys of your past and hopes for your future.

    What did you think?

  2. I really liked this book! I just brought it to my daughter so she can enjoy it too.

  3. So I was pretty meh about the first 2/3 of this book and then it just took a really hard turn to the left with using a body to make a harp and then bringing her harp corpse to her family to indite her sister. Like, wHAt???
    I also did enjoy how everyone got what they wanted in like, the most painful way possible. I normally prefer happy endings myself, but the way it happened here felt right given the rest of the story.

  4. Next time just navigate to Settings>Control Center>Screen Recording to record “screen videos” of your iPhone (or iPad) – no need to use Hailey’s phone. Just note that it doesn’t include audio, so Victor’s swears will have to be added in post.

  5. I was taken by Riva. What a complicated situation. She obviously doesn’t feel comfortable or accepted by her own people and is that partly why she falls in love with Tristan? Who turns out to be Cynric, totally saw that coming. But, what a difficult choice she makes, leave her family, her land, her magic forever for some man that didn’t even really treat her that well. But, I guess if your people treat you even worse….and they did turn on her. And did she push Sinne? I don’t know. Maybe? She certainly had enough anger and resentment toward her, but enough to kill? I can’t decide on that. And Sinne turning into a harp?! Did not see that coming, but super intriguing, especially the whole moral dilemma for Myrdhin and Keyne and how they thought they were doing the right thing, but weren’t sure, but did it anyway, believing her story needed to be told, not recognizing the true ramifications of that, but isn’t that exactly how life is? Making decisions the best that you can at the time and hoping everything doesn’t all go to shit because of them. I loved the complexity of the characters, the twisting plot and the skilled writing. It was a great book!

  6. I really liked this book! The weaving of fables and magic and real was wonderfully done. I found that I did not care for “Constantine” when he was being forced to live a lie, but truly appreciated the metamorphosis he goes through to become a warrior and a king. The harp thing was definitely weird as hell. My only real criticism of the book was the plot line of the Tristan betrayal – you could see that coming a mile away…maybe that was deliberate?
    Overall though- great read!

  7. I wish I knew how to pronounce any of the 3 names. That bothered me because I’m wierd like that. I don’t usually like this type of book but I was totally into this story when my book disappeared! Only me and my autistic son live here and he said the ghost stole it. It turned up three days later without an explanation. Keyne (I decided to pronounce it Cane) was my favorite character throughout the story.

    I missed the discussion on Sunset Route but that book rocked! I felt like Carrot was my best friend and we were traveling together. She is a gifted writer.

  8. I smiled at the extra book titles… I used to work with a lovely little owl girl named Chouette. She liked to eat giant mealworms and would be right up at the front of her enclosure if she thought you had some. (She was an unreleasable owl that was part of a wild animal education program. I have always had a soft spot for owls.)

  9. I saw an ad for a Louise Erdrich’s new book about a haunted bookstore and thought of you. <3

  10. Love in Color: Mythical Tales from Around the World, Retold

    I think this ^^ is my next book. I’m digging the retelling of stories. The Witch’s Heart, Circe and Sistersong have me going down a very thorny path.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: