Let’s read, y’all.

I’m a bit behind, as always, but this post is about book club and as we know, the first rule of book club is that there are no rules and so I think that means that I’m not actually behind at all. YAY FOR NO RULES!

Today I’m opening up the discussion on the Fantastic Strangelings Book Club facebook page for last month’s book (The Maid by Nita Prose) and if you don’t do facebook you can feel free to leave your thoughts here. Or just lurk. Lurking is totally encouraged.

And announcing this month’s book, Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal.

Want a little taste?

1866. In a coastal village in southern England, Nell picks violets for a living. Set apart by her community who view the birthmarks that speckle her skin as a curse, Nell’s world is her beloved brother and devotion to the sea.

But when Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders arrives in the village, Nell is kidnapped. Her father has sold her, promising Jasper Jupiter his very own “leopard girl”. It is the greatest betrayal of Nell’s life, but as her fame grows, and she finds friendship with the other performers and Jasper’s gentle brother Toby, she begins to wonder if joining the show is the best thing that has ever happened to her.

In London, newspapers describe Nell as the eighth wonder of the world. Figurines are cast in her image, and crowds rush to watch her soar through the air. But who gets to tell Nell’s story? What happens when her fame threatens to eclipse that of the showman who bought her? 

Moving from the pleasure gardens of Victorian London to the battle-scarred plains of the Crimea, Circus of Wonders is an astonishing story about power and ownership, fame and the threat of invisibility.

It’s like a Dickensian sort of Geek Love.  Have you read Geek Love, by the way?  Because you should.  But first, Circus of Wonders…exploring power, celebrity, exploitation, redemption and agency.  I think you’re going to like it.

And if, like me, you sometimes need a giant fucking stack of books to get you through the month (because it’s scary out there without a book) here are my favorite ones coming out next month that you should check out:

Black Cake by Charmain Wilkerson  (Estranged siblings deal with their mother’s hidden past–a journey that takes them from the Caribbean to London to California.  Very good.)

The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont (heartbreak, revenge and murder in a fabulous reimagination of one of the strangest unsolved mysteries.  Fast read, twisty/turny/psychologic thriller)

Defenestrate by Renee Branum (Twins in Prague haunted by an ancestral falling curse)

Perpetual West by Mesha Maren (Lucha libre, Mexican punk rock, complicated relationships)

Violeta by Isabel Allende (sweeping historical fiction about a woman whose life spans one hundred years and bears witness to the greatest upheavals of the 20th century.  Lots of South American history here.)

What the Fireflies Knew by Kai Harris (coming-of-age novel about an 11-year-old and her sister trying to make sense of their new life with their estranged grandfather after the death of their father and disappearance of their mother.  Rough subject but so well-written.  Fell in love with these characters.)

Devil House by John Darnielle (Did you know the guy from Mountain Goats is a writer?  Me either.  Anyway, this looks like horror on the outside but it’s really experimental fiction, I think?  Good but when it was over I wanted someone to tell me what it was about.)

Mrs. Death Misses Death by Salem Godden (a stream-of-conscious sort of novel about a troubled young writer who meets death in person.  Very dark.  Poetic.  Makes you work for it.)

A River Enchanted by Rebecca Ross (adult fantasy.  But not “sexy adult”…just “grown up” adult.  Childhood enemies team up to discover why girls are going missing from their magical island.  Scottish folklore.)

And this actually came out last month but I only just finished it…Wahala by Nikki May (female friendship following three Anglo-Nigerian best friends and the lethally glamorous fourth woman who infiltrates their group. I thought it was one thing when it started but boy, there were twists.)

So our first book of the year was set in America and our second is in England and our third is going to be in Trinidad and I thought our next one was in Mexico but I mixed the publishing dates up so I’m still working on April and then in May we’re going to Mexico so it’s basically like we’re traveling the world without leaving our houses.  Also, all of this is subject to everything working out perfectly because it’s not uncommon for me to pick a book and then dates get changed and I have to start all over again. I actually found an AMAZING book set in India for April but it might publish too late in April.  But even when that happens it just means that I have to read more books to find the best, strange and unique stories to send to you and honestly that is exactly the kind of punishment that I live for.

We’ll be mailing Circus of Wonders to you all this week and if you’ve been thinking about joining us this is the perfect time to. It’s easy to sign up and the $25 a month is almost always less than the actual cover price of the books we choose so technically you are saving money every month all while supporting an indie bookshop, amazing authors and getting fantastic books. EVERYONE WINS! Click here to join.

Happy reading!

15 thoughts on “Let’s read, y’all.

Read comments below or add one.

  1. My thoughts on The Maid….

    HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

    Oh, I loved this book. Even with its dark themes it was still light and lovely and full of moments that made me remember that regardless of how bad people can be, they can be amazing as well.

    Such a complicated look at so many characters. I loved that even the best people were flawed and made mistakes or morally questionable decisions but still came out on top and found their way with help from their real or created family.

    The thing that struck me the most about this book is the invisibility of people. Not only how people can use their invisibility in good ways but more how often we ignore anyone who isn’t young, beautiful, wealthy, white, neurotypical, powerful, etc., and how often that it is to our detriment.

    “It’s easier than you’d ever think – existing in plain sight while remaining largely invisible. That’s what I learned from being a maid. You can be so important, so crucial to the fabric of things and yet be entirely overlooked. It’s a truth that applies to maids, and to others as well, so it seems. It’s a truth that cuts close to the bone.”

    And speaking of truth, I loved how the idea of truth is looked at in the book. When Molly purposely omits things but doesn’t actually lie, it’s a morally grey thing that I think you could condemn but personally I understand it. Especially since most of the time the omissions are about saving people from pain.

    “That’s the trouble with pain. It’s as contagious as a disease. It spreads from the person who first endured it to those who love them most. Truth isn’t always the highest ideal; sometimes it must be sanctified to stop the spread of pain to those you love. Even children know this intuitively.”

    And that brings us to how pain was contagious. Mr. Black hurt Rodney. Rodney hurt Juan. Juan could have in turn hurt someone else but instead he protected Molly and others. Stopping the chain of pain makes such a difference.

    I also loved that Molly was such a well-rounded character. She reminds me of a lot of some of my friends on the autism spectrum but I love that that isn’t openly said, because I think labels can minimize people in some ways and this way we can all see Molly as whoever we need to see her as…eccentric, odd, unique in both good and bad ways.

    One of my favorite moments comes at the end when Molly is uncomfortable with the way the “penguins” at the front desk are looking at her until Mr. Snow explains that they are looking at her with respect, and how Molly didn’t know how to recognize it because she’d never seen it before. Ow, y’all.

    So here’s where I go slightly off the rails because I have to admit that when Molly admits to us that she helped end her gran’s pain (no judgement here. I’m very pro assisted suicide at the end of life) with crushed up drugs and a pillow I immediately was like, “Fuck. Molly is totally a serial killer and this is her MO because that’s totally how Mr. Black died” and I was very impressed because I DID NOT SEE THAT COMING. I had noticed that she’s mentioned that she saw someone in the mirror and passed out and I was like, “So…split personality?” And then I felt very proud that I had solved the mystery before the end and then end happened and I was totally fucking wrong and not only do I have to hand it to the author for keeping me in the dark until the end but now I’m wondering if I’m the only person who thought Molly was a serial killer or if that was a red herring everyone thought of?

    But I loved that the real murderer was just as invisible…a greying middle-aged woman in loose clothes. It really tied the whole theme together. Although I could get behind a whole series of Molly the Maid as a serial killer to people who need to die, to be fair.

    Anyway, I really loved the whole thing. How about you?

  2. I have loved so many strange links recommendations and am grateful for them. For instance Mrs. March was one of my favorite books ever and I am now a huge Grady Hendrix fan thanks to these recommendations. But I have to say I disagree with many of the rave reviews here for the maid. It just drove me nuts. It was cutesy and Twee and I couldn’t get into it. Doesn’t mean I won’t look forward to trying circus of wonders!

  3. I really loved the way molly is not neurotypical, but it’s just presented as how she is rather than making it a “thing”. I dont think I’ve experienced that so well done in a book before. It made me curious about whether the author is on the soectrum

  4. The Maid felt fake to me: it felt like the author started the book with the kernel concept of a person so naive and straightforward as to mistake the signs of drug deals, and built the story from there. The narrative, the other characters, everything seemed so condescending towards the main character. I’m not confirmed to be on the autism spectrum, but I suspect the author definitely isn’t.

  5. This month’s book is the little push I needed to join the book club! Yay for Strangelings!!! I found my peeps!

  6. I need some tips for getting to reading. Self employed and keeper of nine cats and a husband, my nightstand books mock and tease me as I climb into bed each night. I used to read at that time, but all my attempts end in zzzz’s just two minutes in. Sigh.

  7. I loved this book. I liked that it was written from Molly’s perspective and that she was an unreliable narrator. I also had the thought that she was a serial killer and maybe the person she saw in the mirror was herself holding the pillow! I never suspected the real killer.

  8. I really enjoyed this one! I will admit that once we learned Molly’s involvement with her Gran’s death I thought I had it all figured out. I enjoyed that the ending was not what I expected.

  9. I was also on the Molly-is-a-serial-killer-and-she-saw-herself-in-the-mirror bandwagon. And I wouldn’t have been mad if the book ended that way. I think the connection between Mr. Preston and her grandmother could have been explained more clearly. I thought I had missed something, the story was so quick. Maybe more explaination throughout? I loved Molly. And kept wishing throughout the whole book that she had a true friend. Not a Giselle friend, but someone other than Gran who she could have confided in and who would have set her straight on some things. And not an older father figure, which she had, but a young person more her age who could have helped her navigate the world. But then, I guess, there wouldn’t have been much of a story. I really did like the book. Even though we knew from the beginning Rodney was using her and they were dealing drugs, there was so much more to learn, and I was so happy that Juan turned out to be a good guy.

  10. Chipmunk droppings are similar to those of squirrels. They tend to be about a quarter-inch long and dark brown or black in color. Droppings usually appear as small pellets, but can take on other shapes, depending on what the chipmunk has been eating. These pellets will appear near feeding areas, like holes in the ground or flower pots.

  11. I was not a huge fan of The Maid, for a lot of reasons, but especially because the “twist” at the end felt too pat. However, it was an easy fast read and got me one more notch for my Goodreads 2022 reading challenge, and now I’m going to donate my copy to the library where hopefully someone will enjoy it more than I did.

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