Summer’s coming. Books are too.

If you’re a member of the Fantastic Strangelings Book Club you’re already getting my bizarre emails and already know that this month we’re going to read the amazing book, Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel, but in case you’re an honorary member or haven’t joined yet (CLICK HERE TO MAKE IT SO) here’s a little taste of this month’s read that will be heading to you soon:

In a world were Gods and men dictate the shape of things to come…she will tell her own story.

If you liked Circe, Ariadne or The Witch’s Heart, you’ll love this stunning debut that reimagines the life of Kaikeyi, the vilified mythological queen from one of the most famous Indian epics, the Ramayana.

Kaikeyi is raised on tales about the might and benevolence of the gods: how they churned the vast ocean to obtain the nectar of immortality, how they vanquish evil and ensure the kingdom prospers, and how they offer powerful boons to the devout and the wise. Yet she watches as her father unceremoniously banishes her mother, listens as her own worth is reduced to how great a marriage alliance she can secure. And when she calls upon the gods for help, they never seem to hear.

Desperate for some measure of independence, she turns to the texts she once read with her mother and discovers a magic that is hers alone. With this power, Kaikeyi transforms herself from an overlooked princess into a warrior, diplomat, and most favored queen, determined to carve a better world for herself and the women around her.

But as the evil from her childhood stories threatens the cosmic order, the path she has forged clashes with the destiny the gods have chosen for her family. And Kaikeyi must decide if resistance is worth the destruction it will wreak—and what legacy she intends to leave behind.”

Fascinating, fast-paced, complicated characters, Indian mythology, a strong female protagonist…it explores religion, history, patriarchy, sexuality and tradition.   I literally picked it up to read the first page and ended up reading until 3am because I could not put it down until the end.  NO REGRETS!  And you don’t need to read the Ramayana to enjoy it.  (I read a few Wikipedia pages about the summary and that gave me enough background to see what parts were reimagined but you can go in blind if you like.) 

And if you, like me, need a shit-ton of books to get you through the month then you are in luck because this month has some of my favorite new books of the year.

True Biz by Sara Nović (“Partly a tender coming of age story, partly an electrifying tale of political awakening, partly a heartfelt love letter to Deaf culture, TRUE BIZ is a wholly a wonder.” ~ Celeste Ng)

Bomb Shelter by Mary Laura Philpott, a poignant and powerful memoir that tackles life, death and existential fear with humor and hope.

Ten Days in a Mad-House, a graphic adaptation by Brad Ricca  This is a beautifully rendered graphic novel retelling the true 19th century investigation of Blackwell Asylum by Nellie Bly.  If you’re looking for books for young adults who don’t necessarily love to read classics this is a great gateway.

Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. Inspired by true events that rocked the nation, a profoundly moving novel about a Black nurse in post-segregation Alabama who blows the whistle on a terrible wrong done to her patients.  Haunting, but important.

Easy Beauty by Chloé Cooper Jones, a gorgeously written memoir about disability, motherhood and finding yourself

Unlikely Animals by Annie Hartness, a quirky, tragicomic novel about ghosts, history, and drug addiction

Weird to Exist: Simple Comics for Complex Feelings by Alison Zai, a darkly funny comic collection about the absurdity and beauty of life

Little Foxes Took Up Matches by Katya Kazbek, a dark LGBTQ punk-rock coming-of-age story set in Russia

A Tiny Upward Shove: a Novel by Melissa Chadburn, Filipino folklore, gritty magical realism, dark revenge, true crime.

Fine: A Comic About Gender by Rhea Ewing, enlightening and educational graphic novel

Maria, Maria by Marytza K. Rubio, a collection of magical realism short stories

And check your email (you can email us at if you need help) because Ayanna Lloyd Banwo, who wrote last month’s book – When We Were Birds – is going to to do a live zoom bookclub meeting with us next week and I can’t wait to discuss all the details. In fact, I’m opening up discussion on the Fantastic Strangelings Book Club facebook page if you’re ready to discuss it, but no worries if you haven’t gotten to it yet. The discussions stay open forever. And just in case you don’t do facebook I’m leaving my thoughts on When We Were Birds in the comments below.

Thank you again for all of your support! You make an incredible difference to our indie bookshop and to the authors you support!

8 thoughts on “Summer’s coming. Books are too.

Read comments below or add one.


    I want to open with “OMG I LOVED THIS BOOK” but that’s how I open all of these and obviously I wouldn’t pick a book I didn’t love but this one was so unique and special and gorgeous.

    So many things I loved about When We Were Birds. It took me a few pages to find the rhythm of the dialect and hear it in my head but then I was blown away by the prose. I always mark lines that I love and this book is just littered with my personal notes and exclamation points.

    “Fair don’t always mean good. Exchange don’t always mean peace. Power don’t always mean free.”

    So many lines that made my chest ache.

    I love complicated characters and this book does that so well. So many characters making wonderful and terrible decisions, but each of them understandable. For example, Petronella and Darwin’s mother both make decisions that make me go, “Wait, what?” particularly when it comes to supporting their children, but you also see them as whole people with complicated pasts and I actually wanted to read another book about them immediately after. (Particularly about the twins…it felt like there was more to the story there than what first appeared.)

    I loved that this takes place in Trinidad but sort of in an alternative Trinidad, so the world-building is so realistic but so lush. And at first I was a little frustrated that some of the magical elements weren’t fleshed out more from the very beginning but it was really rewarding to put it together as I went along.

    I adored the love story of Darwin and Ayanna…how they saved each other. How they accepted a difficult road together but never doubted they should be together.

    The end of the book was my absolute favorite. When the dead came back to help. When they came for Errol and he got his due. And how when Yejide was warned of what was happening to Darwin the warning came from her ancestors telling her to come quickly. I’d like to think it was her mother as well calling her.

    I loved the stories of the women going all the way back to Maman, and how the house told the story of growth and change as well. I didn’t quite understand Yejide and Seema’s relationship though. I believe they were both descendants of the Africans enslaved at the property, but I felt like maybe they were closer. Like, maybe they were lovers? Or maybe closer than sisters because Seema shares in helping Yejide in her calling?

    I struggled at first with what the exact role was that the bird-women played…bringing people to death? Helping them understand that they were dead? Soothing the dead? But I think in the end it’s a mix of all of those. Someone to hear the restless dead and tell them they are still seen…that someone recognizes the violence and guilt and love and struggle, and that they are remembered, and by soothing those dead the bird-women protect the living and balance the world.

    I wonder if this bird-woman mythology is based on anything in particular? Like, there’s Thoth, the Ibis-headed God of the judgment of the dead, but that’s a guy. And there’s Modjaji, a South African Goddess of rain whose spirits live in the body of a young woman, but I don’t see anything about death. And then there’s Nephthys, the Egyptian Goddess of death, darkness and protector of souls…which feels bit more on the nose. Plus she’s sometimes represented by a hawk and her mythology is also about storms and flooding…but I suspect this is a new mythology invented by Banwo and I can’t wait to ask her about it.

    One of my favorite things about books is how they teach me new things and I loved how many times I had to put down the book and google, “What is a coconut bake and how can I try one?” or “What are the different types of Rastafari?” or “What is a corbeaux?” I think the author did an amazing job of adding context clues for people who were newer to Caribbean lit (like me) but also didn’t dumb it down and made me go off in search of my own rabbit holes of knowledge.

    Overall, this story gave me (a phrase I took from the book because it’s so good) a “full-cupboard feeling.” It somehow felt like a comforting fairy tale even when it’s filled with darkness. But then, most of the best fairy tales are filled with darkness, so I guess that makes sense.

    What did you think?

  2. Also enjoyed this book a lot! I always find it interesting to look at how others look at death and especially responsibility for the dead. (One of these days I’ll finally read From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty for a more global idea of funerary rights) the idea that the St. Bernard family has a job going back beyond their memory is something I find interesting. Like, they know Maman is the first of their line to take the responsibility in their family, but Granny Catherine said it goes back to a previous world, so I wonder what happened that Maman didnt pass that information down. Seema’s relationship with Yejide just made it more interesting because it’s not just the dead holding the family to their duties, it’s also the people in their lives that balieve in what they’re doing. Like, no matter how close They might be elsewhere, Seema’s family is there to support their calling and will hold them to it.
    Also, the language used in this book was incredibly interesting to me! Like, it gave the book such a clear sense of place, and while it made it a bit more challenging for me to read. Overall, a pick I really enjoyed.

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