Hello, strangelings.

I would like to now call to order year 3 of the Fantastic Strangelings bookclub. YEAR THREE, Y’ALL. We have traveled to distant lands, crossed time, explored ancient lore, listened to unique voices, laughed hysterically, stretched our minds, gotten comfortable being uncomfortable, fallen in love with characters, haunted gothic castles, explored race, sexuality, hate and love. And we’re just getting started, because already I have read so many books coming out this year that will take us to beautiful and terrible places and expand our minds and our outlook with new and amazing stories from fascinating writers who make us think and laugh and learn.

And the first book of the year is such a good one because it’s a quirky, cozy mystery but with stronger themes on invisibility that are so worth exploring. And if you’ve been waiting to join the Fantastic Strangelings this a perfect month to start with.

It’s The Maid, a novel by Nita Prose.

Dorothy Barker looks slightly nervous because some murder mysteries can be terrifying but this one is a refreshing sort of Agatha Christie-esque story and I loved it. Here’s a quick taste:

Molly Gray is not like everyone else. She struggles with social skills and misreads the intentions of others. Her gran used to interpret the world for her, codifying it into simple rules that Molly could live by.

Since Gran died a few months ago, twenty-five-year-old Molly has been navigating life’s complexities all by herself. No matter—she throws herself with gusto into her work as a hotel maid. Her unique character, along with her obsessive love of cleaning and proper etiquette, make her an ideal fit for the job. She delights in donning her crisp uniform each morning, stocking her cart with miniature soaps and bottles, and returning guest rooms at the Regency Grand Hotel to a state of perfection.

But Molly’s orderly life is upended the day she enters the suite of the infamous and wealthy Charles Black, only to find it in a state of disarray and Mr. Black himself dead in his bed. 

A Clue-like, locked-room mystery and a heartwarming journey of the spirit, The Maid explores what it means to be the same as everyone else and yet entirely different—and reveals that all mysteries can be solved through connection to the human heart.

I think you’re really going to like it.

And if you’re anything like me and need several books to get you through the month, here are some other books coming out in January that I recommend:

Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan (Book 1 in a gorgeous fantasy inspired by the legend of the Chinese moon goddess)

Anatomy: A Love Story by Dana Schwartz (A darkly gothic tale of grave-robbing, surgery and young romance in 19th century Scotland. Seems like a weird combo, but it totally works.)

Deserter by Junji Ito (the latest graphic novel story collection by Ito – master of bizarre body horror – does not disappoint)

My Annihilation by Fuminori Nakamura (I don’t even know how to classify this book. Psychological thriller, puzzle box sort of novel that implicates the reader in a crime? Very complex, but in a good way.)

How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu (Strange and haunting sci-fi. And Arctic Plague, a theme park for dying children, a talking pig, interstellar starships. There’s a lot going on here and all of it is fascinating.)

I’m opening up the discussion below and on the Fantastic Strangelings facebook page if you want to discuss last month’s book, A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw, but no worries if you haven’t read it yet. Discussions stay open forever so you can drop in whenever you want.

Happy reading and welcome to our new members!

16 thoughts on “Hello, strangelings.

Read comments below or add one.

  1. HERE THERE BE SPOILERS:

    So here are my thoughts on A History of Wild Places.

    This book, y’all. Like if M. Night Shyamalan and Mickey Spillane fell into Wonderland.

    I always read my FS choices several times and the first time I read it I was struck with the idea of power and how easy it can seem for one charismatic person with the power to manipulate people with groupthink and fear. Levi used hypnotism but throughout history we’ve seen groups of seemingly smart people moved to do bizarre, terrible or self-destructive things at the hands of someone who craves power and control above all else, and how it can all collapse when a few brave people start to question the things they see.

    One of the strongest and hardest parts was when Theo admits that he could help the two men who’ve been buried in the dirt…that any of them could cut down the ropes and pull them from the ground because it could just as easily be him in the ground, but he was too afraid of what would happen if he did it. It’s of course an extreme situation but it reminds me of how often we all walk away from what’s right because of fear.

    I loved the author explored how easy it is to not question and to fall for this mass-hypnosis…how contagious the groupthink was as the people continued to remind each other of lies, but also how contagious the literal awakening was as people started to point out the truth.

    Then the second time I read it I thought of it more as a metaphor for being in an abusive relationship. Not only being a puppet for the abusive person’s actions but also the way abuse can seem normal after a while. I loved how the author used Bee’s blindness because if you’ve ever been in an abusive relationship you know how easy it can be to try to not see what is happening to you, and how easy it is for the abuser to blind you from the fact that they are the problem and not you. One line that really struck me was Bee saying “The body heals quickly, an efficient machine, but the heart is worthless at such things. It burns long after the hurt has worn away.”

    I also loved how the story explored how secrets can be so destructive. Some were smaller but snowballed, like the mother’s secret that she’d had an affair and how that secret led to her daughter leaving and that same secret kept the mother from searching for her daughter in Pastoral because she was afraid she’d be found out. And the larger secret that Levi was controlling everyone with fear and mind-control. One of the best lines of this came from the conversation Bee had with Levi at the end.

    “You’ve made us prisoners.”

    “No,” he says. “I’ve created a place where nothing can harm you.”

    “Except you.”

    Fucking A, Bee. HIGH FIVE.
    I wonder though how Theo and Calla would rebuild their relationship once all the memories came back. Certainly, it would be a harder life for them now. Like waking up out of the Matrix almost. And it’s implied that they were falling for each other before Theo was hypnotized but I wonder if that’s enough to keep them together in the future. Would the shared trauma be a bond or tear them apart?

    And could Bee continue to run Pastoral and not fall into the same pitfalls of other leaders? Still seems a bit like a cult, but a nice cult? But do nice cults ever stay nice?

    Lots of questions but I liked how it stretched my mind.

    How about you?

  2. I really really want to join this year, but I am a bit of a tender spirit and tend to not handle anything in the horror category well (though I will make an exception for gothic horrors.) How “scary” do books tend to get? I can handle hard topics and dark themes, I guess it is more suspense I just don’t like. Thoughts? Can I still find a home among the Strangelings?

    (Ooh, good question. We definitely hit a fair amount of dark books but as far as true horror goes I’d say it’s mainly gothic. I’m looking at the 25 books we’ve done so far and it’s a mix of nonfiction, humor, sci-fi, fantasy, fairy tale, literary fiction, magical realism, memoir. The scariest ones of the 25 were Mexican Gothic, Catherine House and Mrs. March so if you liked those you’ll be okay. 🙂 ~ Jenny)

  3. Just started this book so I scrolled through really fast so I wouldn’t see the spoilers but I wanted to ask if you’re going to make a bookmark of the books in year 2. I really loved the year 1 bookmark and have done really well not losing it yet;) Looking forward to year 3!!!

    (I think so. 🙂 ~ Jenny)

  4. I’m going to cry! I just went to sign up and it won’t put anything in my cart for me! HELP! I didn’t know it until I read this but now I must have this so that I may run through the dark halls of my own gothic mansion with a lit candle and my nightgown billowing behind me!! (Someone reassure my poor husband that it’s okay if I’m running through the upstairs hall like this and he just needs to use his imagination with me because that flashlight is a candle and I look awesome no matter how crazy he thinks I am.)

    (Ha! Maybe try in another browser? If you can’t get it to work just email orders@nowherebookshop.com and we can help you. ~ Jenny)

  5. Adored History of Wild Places. Followed it up with The Witches Kind. Will read The Maid next!

  6. I really love to join, but I live in Italy ans shipping fees would be more than the book itsfelf 🙁 but no worries, I still read what you suggest and I’ve increased my TO READ list far beyond its limit. Love ya all <3

  7. Hi there – I am currently reading The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. It is wonderful and I highly recommend it, if you are looking for something to read. 🙂

  8. I really liked this book and was tearing through it, all the way up to the hypnosis part. It seemed a little cheap. Kind of like an unreliable narrator or “he was in the shower” for the whole season. I guess maybe I wasn’t drawn enough to Levi as a charismatic leader, or that piece wasn’t built up enough for me. It kind of felt like 90% of the book was building to a big reveal and then the reveal is that the least interesting character hypnotized them all, but now he’s drunk and it all falls apart. I didn’t realize this until right now, but I think I would have liked the ending much more if there had been a few “Levi” chapters that started to give you some insight into him, even just right at the end of the book. Instead of them coming to realize they’d been hypnotized, it would have been interesting to watch it crumble from his perspective.

    That being said, I found the OTHER characters extremely compelling. It was really interesting to think about what you believe without questioning, what it takes to start questioning it, and what the cost of that is to the community you’ve built. Even smaller characters, like the other guy who guards the booth whose name I can’t come up with right now for some reason. He didn’t have the same qualms. Didn’t struggle with whether or not to report things immediately to Levi. It was a good counterpart to the people trying to figure out how to do the right thing.

  9. Thank you for your quick reply and breakdown of previous reads. It was exactly what I needed to know. I’m in. It sounds like the perfect combination of things I love and things that will stretch my boundaries, which is one of the things I want to do with my reading anyway.

  10. I just finished Migrations and … oh my … you must read it. I’ve read who knows how many thousand books in my lifetime and this one book (that I almost didn’t read because it sounded too ‘sciency’) just jumped to the top of my top 10 list. It literally, quietly, took my breath away.

    In related (or not) news…I decided that for 2022, I’m treating myself with a Strangelings subscription! Can’t wait to read the January selection (your December selection in the form of a borrowed library book awaits me on the piano bench — as soon as I finish my current read)!

  11. Shame on me for leaving out the author in my previous post: Migrations, by Charlotte McConaghy — brilliant, heartbreaking, haunting … not to be missed.

  12. by Nita Prose… This seems like a pseudonym. Is this an odd pseudonym or am I reaching too far?

  13. Finished A History of Wild Places (I am, once again, behind), and I liked this one quite a bit! The twist about their identities didn’t surprise me – it actually made sense – but I enjoyed watching the pieces fall together.

  14. I’m really far behind in my book club reading. Oops. I tried to start “A History of Wild Places” at the end of January, but my brain was too broken. I never made it past page 32. It sat on the bottom shelf of my coffee table for 3.5 months staring up at me. I finally picked it up on Saturday, sat out on my porch, started over from the beginning, and finished it in 3 days! Maybe my brain is finally in a better place. I’m going to start “The Hacienda” (the May book) right away … while my brain is still in a good place. 😊

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