Hello, Strangelings!

A quick note before I get started to say that yes, I am doing the James Garfield Miracle again this year and I’ll probably do it later this week or early next week. It’ll be like last year, a stuffed animal sent to anyone struggling to buy a present for each kiddo until the funds run out. 🙂 Check back for details on how to help and how to ask for help.

But now, I totally want to discuss last month’s Fantastic Strangelings book club pick (Still Life by Sarah Winman) because it was one of my favorite books of the whole year and I need to talk about it. I’m going to open up the Fantastic Strangeling facebook page for discussion but my thoughts on the book are also in the comments here in case you don’t do facebook. (And as always, no worries if you’re behind…the threads stay open forever so just drop in or lurk whenever you want.)

And in case you missed it, this month’s book is A History of Wild Places, a novel by Shea Earnshaw, a hauntingly beautiful, hypnotic, and bewitching story about fairy tales, our fear of the dark, and losing yourself within the wilderness of your mind. Twisty-turny…I picked it up to read the first page and didn’t put it down until I was done. I think you’re gonna like it.

And if you’re like me and need more than one book to get you through the month, here are the other books I read that come out this month that I loved:

Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim (an epic, sprawling story of love, war and redemption set against the backdrop of the Korean independence movement, following the fates of a young girl sold to a courtesan school and a poor son of a hunter. Great historical fiction on a fascinating subject I’m embarrassed to say I knew nothing about before.)

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (Such a tiny book with such a powerful story. Again, historical fiction teaching me how dumb I am…this story is dedicated to the women and children who suffered time in Ireland’s Magdalen laundries, which I didn’t even know existed until I read this book. Both heartbreaking and optimistic. I only wish it was longer because I immediately wanted to know all of the stories that were lost to time.)

The Midnight Girls by Alicia Jasinska (Okay, ignore the cover which makes it look very 80s middle-school because the actual story is so very good. A Polish folklore sapphic fairy tale where rival witches make beautiful and complicated monsters? YES PLEASE.)

No Beauties or Monsters by Tara Goedjen (Twisty, turny YA novel that kept me guessing until the end.)

Lost & Found: A Memoir by Kathryn Schulz (I struggled a little with this one because it was quite sad, but a true book on grief probably should be. But also uplifting in a different sort of way? Death, gratitude and grief is always tough to mix but this book does it.)

Vivian Maier Developed: The Untold Story of the Photographer Nanny by Ann Marks (I loved the documentary about this amazing photographer whose work was famously only discovered in a Chicago storage locker after her death, but this book goes much deeper into who she probably was.)

And if you’ve been putting off joining the club, let me just say that a membership makes an excellent gift for yourself or for others and includes a Nowhere pin and lots of little surprises including bizarre emails from me and live zooms and Q&As with authors while supporting strange and wonderful books that might not get the attention that they deserve. And January’s book is DIVINE and uplifting and suspenseful and shines a light on people society often ignores and I can’t tell you any more because it’s a surprise but oh, I think you’ll love it. Click here to join.

25 thoughts on “Hello, Strangelings!

Read comments below or add one.


    Omg, I loved this book. I didn’t think that I would because honestly fiction without some bit of magic or horror or sci-fi sometimes makes me a little bored (because what book isn’t better with witches?) but this one immediately carried me away. The gorgeous prose, the magnificent turns of phrase (turn of phrases?) and the people. Jesus, these people. I fell in love with all of them.

    There are certain authors who write in a way that is a balm and Sarah Winman is one of those. Also, Ray Bradbury and Shirley Jackson. Something about the way they write that is so present and vivid but comforting and charming even when terrifying.

    At first I had a really hard time with the fact that Winman doesn’t use Quotation marks in her dialogue because if you’re a speed reader like me you really use those little signs to help you keep time, but with this book I was forced to read at a normal speed and actually I think that might be why I loved it so much. It forced me to slow down and be in the moment. To still life. Or perhaps…still, life. Either way I loved the beautiful eccentricities of people and the lovely way it explored the families we find and create…how we are all reaching out looking for people who reflect back at us. In fact, I think that might be why one of my favorite scenes was after the flood when the neighbors are calling out from their windows and balconies to say that they are still alive and when they others cry back, “I see you!” I literally cried. Such a metaphoric and literal way of showing how important it is to be seen. And how much a small light of compassion and kindness (even when brought by a candle-carrying Shakespearean parrot) can light up the darkness when you feel alone.

    I loved every character (although I struggled a little with Peggy) so much, but I think my favorites were Col (who is 100% Jaimie from Ted Lasso in my mind) and Cress with Claude. When Cress smuggled in Claude! And when Col chained himself to the cherry tree! And, and, and…honestly, I could say 100 things here but the thing that I love most is that it feels like each of these was a memory implanted in my head…like I was part of the gang in some way. And as soon as I read it I instantly thought of you guys because you are all my wonderful community of far-flung friends who came together to save a bookstore and the same way that this book made my heart swell is the same way I feel when I think about you.

    Sorry. Got a bit soggy there.

    I had a question though when I finished and maybe they’re dumb and obvious…was the elderly Contessa actually Livia? Because Livia loved to cook, and the Contessa kept giving pointers on the meal and the book sort of ends with the Contessa staring out the window at Evelyn while Claude’s ghost whirls around and it just sort of seems like maybe? I’m not sure if it’s incredibly obvious and I’m dumb for questioning it or incredibly wrong and I’m dumb for drawing a false conclusion but I like the idea that it is her and when Evelyn gets back from the cemetery, she recognizes her and they have a year together.

    But that’s just me.

    What did you think?

  2. Not reading your comment as I’m still reading the Book of the Month, and loving it, but life… it’s in the way of reading. I want someone to discuss the book Threats by Amelia Gray someday. I’ve given it to 2 readers to read and discuss and both let me down. Someone!

    (Adding it to my tbr pile…but I have about 100 books to get through so who knows when I’ll get there. 🙂 ~ Jenny)

  3. Me being a 43m, it’s difficult to say to some people…. I read, a lot. A lot, a lot. I am extremely hard of hearing and deal with numerous devils and vices. I look forward to some of these books. Especially anything history related, fiction or non.

    Thank you.

  4. Loved this book so much! I wish I had saved it for my end of year read because it made me so happy. Great pick!

  5. Jenny! This is Juhea Kim, author of Beasts of a Little Land. I saw your Goodreads review a while back and wanted to send you a hardcover copy! It really made my day to see it and my editor was so excited, too. Please let me know where I could send you! juheakim [at] gmail.com.

    (You just made my whole day! And I’ve already ordered a hard copy for my library. Thank you for writing such an excellent book! ~ Jenny)

  6. Hey! Quick question! I’m part of the club and had two books recently mailed to me: Sister Song and I’m not sure what the second one is right now. My husband is reading sister sing to me, because I don’t see great (brain cancer fucked me up!) and we haven’t finished it, but I’m kinda lost cause I didn’t get the two books until like mid-November and two?? I thought it was just one book! Not trying to make you adhere to any sort of schedule or call you out in any way, just confused over here! Thanks!

    (That is very weird because they’re only sent out once a month. Sister Song was mailed out October 10th (we mail all of them in one batch) so if you didn’t get it until November there was definitely an issue. The post office can be slow but that seems extreme. But Still Life was sent out on November 10th so that one makes sense to get mid November. And we’ll probably mail this one on December 10th so you’ll get it mid December. Did you maybe join in late November or early December and Sister Song was shipped out late because of that? Email us at orders@nowherebookshop.com if not and we’ll figure it out. 🙂 Sending you so much love! ~ Jenny)

  7. LOVED the book. So wish I could visit Florence. Looked up many of the artworks and found them astonishing. I found Claude unbelievable -?

  8. I had trouble getting into the book initially. I’m not a speed reader, but I also found the lack of parenthesis confusing. And some of the historical and art world references went over my head. But it made me want to learn more. About a third of the way through, I fell in love with the characters and with Florence. Such a beautiful book of faith that overcomes tragedy and pain.

  9. This post reminded me of The Chieftains Tears of Stone compilation where I first heard Joni Mitchell’s song The Magdalene Laundries—-the version from that collaboration still gives me shivers & makes me cry !

  10. May I suggest a book ? The Rook by Daniel O’Malley. One of my favs.

  11. I’m struggling with Still Life, but not in a bad way. Much like the first commenter I read really fast, so not having the quotation marks to show dialogue is driving me nuts and slowing me down which is frustrating. It makes me want to put the book down… but the story is soooo gods I HAVE to go back and see what is happening (I’m just at the flood right now, Uly just lost the giant globe. After reading for a week I should be done!).

    Very excited for next months book… it sounds delicious to my brain!

  12. Jenny, you don’t have an ebook version of the book club, do you? I’d love to support/be a member, but I don’t read a lot of paper books anymore, plus being overseas makes shipping and customs expensive and difficult.

    (No, but you can always be an honorary member and read along with us. I’m looking into a way to make it easier for digital readers to join but still working out the details. 🙂 ~ Jenny)

  13. Firstly, love you, your books, your blog. I’ve been helped several years by James Garfield. Literally saved our Christmas. Is there any way you can add an option or two for older kids? Maybe some books? My two kiddos aren’t into stuffies at all anymore 🙁 xoxo

  14. I would 100% support an e-club version as well. I know that part of the founding purpose of the club was to support indie booksellers, so I understand if that’s not possible! I have never managed to intercept the Zoho email from my Junk folder, so I’ve been lurking since the beginning <3 (already reached out to the orders email, so maybe this time!)

  15. Spoilers in the comments! Geez! Lol. I’m loving this book but haven’t got to the flood yet. Or Claude dying but I suppose that’s inevitable. I’m reading really slow because I never want my trip to Florence to visit my friends to end. Loving watching Alys grow up.

  16. To Jenny Fans, I have two brand new, signed copies of Broken (I somehow ordered three!) and will gladly give them away for free to anyone who would like it. I’ll even mail it. Unfortunately, becuz of the Shark Tank chapter, I can’t gift it to people Inormally would for the holidays. Oh well. Probably new readers will come in because of that chapter, so there’s that!!!!

  17. @J Wallace, I would absolutely LOVE a copy of Broken. I always spend on my kids and never myself and I adore Jenny’s books. I’d love to have my own 🙂

  18. @J Wallace, I would LOVE a copy! Can you email me for address? thisminnesotan at gmail dot com

  19. I am enjoying “Still Life” a lot; I like that it doesn’t have the magical/mystical side that recent books have had – they were good, but it’s nice to have something different. Unfortunately, I’m reading it in bits and pieces – haven’t had time to sit down and put a few solid hours into it. So I’ve reached the early 60s. Mostly good – my one complaint is that the 50s section made every one seem very snobby. Dottie and Evelyn look down on so many people, even supposed friends; and of course Tempe and Cress and all are just sooo cool in Italy; their stuff don’t stink. And why are they dissing Peg for marrying Ted and taking on the suburban life? Sure, it’s not as artsy as her singing days. But just because they wouldn’t do it is no reason to look down on her for doing it. (I do assume she will end up miserable and leave it, because that’s just how this book is, but many of us do enjoy the suburban life so… maybe I’m taking it too personally?)

    But the writing is beautiful; I know very little about Italy or the paintings referenced, but am enjoying the descriptions; the people are all interesting; it’s an easy book to dive into. Wish I had some solid blocks of time is all; right now I don’t.

  20. Lauren, I emailed you and as soon as I get your address your brand new autographed copy of Broken will be in the mail. Juiz, my email is jenniferjwal@gmail.com. I obviously don’t mind posting it. Email me your snail mail address and I’ll get you your book too.

  21. I finished “Still Life” last night and really enjoyed it. I, too, had a hard time at first getting into it – and getting all the characters straight in my head. However, it wasn’t long before the story swept me away. I also wondered if the Contessa was Livia. The thing with EM Forster at the end confused me, though. Maybe it wouldn’t have if I’d ever read “Room with a View,” which I obviously haven’t. It just seemed like an odd story to throw in at the very end like that.

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