Let’s talk about books, baby

I’ve been a bit behind but I’m about to open up the facebook discussion page for The Fantastic Strangelings Book Club to discuss Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel. (And if you haven’t read it yet I suggest you move it to the top of your TBR list because I found it a strangely encouraging read during all this Roe V. Wade bullshit, and maybe you will too.) If you don’t do facebook I’ll leave my thoughts in the comments below.

(And check your email because we’re going to do a live zoom book discussion with Vaishnavi Patel next Tuesday!)

And this month’s book? The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas.

Mexican Gothic meets Rebecca in this debut supernatural suspense novel, set in the aftermath of the Mexican War of Independence, about a remote house, a sinister haunting, and the woman pulled into their clutches. Suspenseful, fast-paced, interesting 19th century Mexican history, fascinating folklore, a strong female protagonist…it explores religion, colorism, class, and haunted haciendas.   So good. And it’s not too late to get your copy if you want to join the club this month. Click here for details.

We do also have a limited time Fantastic Strangelings shirt on offer at Bonfire (celebrating Dorothy Barker and all the books we read last year) and that campaign ends after this weekend, so don’t miss it. 🙂

And if you’re anything like me and you need more than one book to get you through the month you are in luck because May was one of those months where there were a lot of good choices.

Some of my favorites:

You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi – A complicated but entertaining romantic novel about finding love (and lust) after loss.

The Children on the Hill by Jennifer McMahon – A novel inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein that explores the eerie mysteries of childhood and the monsters among us.

The Premonitions Bureau by Sam Knight – an enthralling true story of science and the supernatural as a psychiatrist investigates whether premonitions can prevent disasters…including the premonition that he was about to die.

Siren Queen by Nghi Vo – A lush historical fantasy set in the glittering world of old Hollywood, where stardom sometimes comes with dark bargains and literal soul sacrifices.

The High Desert: Black. Punk. Nowhere. – by James Spooner – A formative coming-of-age graphic memoir by the creator of Afro-punk.  Set in the late 80s.  SO MUCH NOSTALGIA.

Magic Season by Wade Rouse – a poignant, funny and heartbreaking memoir about caring for a complicated (and sometimes toxic) parent

The Cherry Robbers by Sarai Walker – Like if The Virgin Suicides and the Winchester house had a baby.

Happy reading! ~ Jenny

17 thoughts on “Let’s talk about books, baby

Read comments below or add one.

  1. Y’all, I have a lot to say about Kaikeyi, so get ready. HERE THERE BE SPOILERS:

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    Man, I loved this book. The first time I read it I was enthralled by the writing and the relationships of the characters, and the second time I read it was this week while dealing with all the Roe V. Wade bullshit and it was exactly the sort of thing I needed to read. Heartening even during dark times.

    So many things to discuss I don’t even know where to start. I wasn’t familiar with the Ramayana before so I just did a little Wikipedia dive to see the basics of the origin story. (That Kaikeyi was either evil or just stupid and was manipulated by her servant, Manthara, who is portrayed as a plotting, horrible hunchback woman who convinced Kaikeyi to banish Rama, who was pretty much perfect.) There are so many different iterations of the story but I think this may be the first one to reimagine the Kaikeyi story and I just loved it.

    My favorite parts:

    The whole idea of men making decisions for women struck very close to home when reading it now. The idea that women couldn’t be trusted to make decisions for themselves or have power or autonomy and how religion/morality could be used as an excuse for power…just ow. I know we all read into things based on what we bring to the book, but it was both frustrating and heartening to see that the struggle continues, but that we continue to move forward toward equality even during times when it seems we are backsliding. Watching the strong women of this book move forward in whatever way they could, even if they couldn’t always see the end of the work, was a reminder to keep fighting.

    I think this may have been one of the best books I’ve read that has an asexual/aromantic main character and I thought it was such an interesting choice. And I also loved how she explored the idea of being a sister wife and how Kaikeyi thought of all of their children as hers even if she didn’t birth them. It reminds me of the idea that when you become a mother you become a mother to every child in your heart.

    Loved the idea of the binding plane, and how you could use it to manipulate, but that Kaikeyi found that it was easier to create and strengthen the bonds with honest, vulnerability and kindness rather than force and manipulation.

    I loved the exploration of Gods and religion, and the idea that people are controlled like chess pieces (shout-out to Ravana for inventing chess, btw?) by the Gods or by fear or by power or by love. In some ways it made the story more interesting because you could see that so many of the people were actually being played with by the Gods, but in some ways it was frustrating because it sort of felt like free-will wasn’t real. I wanted to be mad at the sages for saying that women’s rights caused spiritual poverty because I think they were just saying that out of fear and power but then it made it easy to blame the Gods for that. I liked that Kaikeyi later asked Nedri if that’s really what the God’s felt and Nedri said no. And I loved that Nedri told Kaikeyi that her role was finished but that she still kept fighting to try to save her family from themselves.

    I struggled a little with what the actual purpose was for the struggle. It seems like it was both the Gods and the Asuras banding together to try to defeat science and reason. Ravana seemed like a good guy generally (but it’s hard to tell exactly) and was all for women’s rights, education, science, advancement, the idea that knowledge should be shared…and had made such leaps in ways that made people so much less reliant on Gods, and it seems like this was their way of crushing that so that people didn’t fly too close to the sun (literally in a swan boat, in Ravana’s case). And I would say that they won based on the Ramayana, which shows Ravana as a 10 headed demon who kidnapped Sati and is killed.

    I loved that the book opened with the story of Ahayla being turned to stone by her husband and how that was obviously terrible, but how the sage who did it used the story that he twisted to teach Rama that it was the “right” thing to do. And how in the end Rama found the woman, unfroze her and learned her story. I loved the idea that all of us are learning…that all of us can be wrong or be mislead and how we have a chance to change and keep learning.

    I loved the relationships between so many of the people, including the sister wives…and how Kaikeyi had made it hard for herself at first because of her fear…so relatable. And I loved how even though I wanted to punch Rama a ton I could still feel for him…for the pressure that he had and how he didn’t know what to do with his power so it became toxic because of his own ideas of righteousness. Even when he put his mother and brother in danger he only thought it was necessary to show her “the frightening truth of this world”, while seemingly unaware that in using fear to persuade he’d become and avatar of the monsters that threatened them.

    So many themes here…the toxic power of self-righteousness, how power corrupts, the importance of women’s rights, forgiveness, destiny, free will, class, religion, bonds we make…I don’t even know which one was the one that affected me more.

    One question I had at the end though was…was Kaikeyi also a God born again (without being aware of it?) Because she had powers and the other Gods couldn’t control her and in the end when she’s standing in the river she speaks to someone (perhaps Sarasvati? Or perhaps she is Sarasvati?) and says “I suppose you are right. In the end, I have always been concerned with mortal affairs. But the fact that they were mortal did not make them small.” IT seems like something a God would say. I almost wonder if she and Sati both were Gods or Goddesses who decided to be born into those roles to try to protect mortals.

    My favorite part of the book was when Manthara takes Kaikeyi back to the marketplace again and she sees how things have changed for women…not just in that when the men went away to war the women stepped in and had so much more power (much like the whole Rosie the Riveter thing for us) but also because they were helping each other. You could see the ripples from what she and the women’s council had done in the past (including when the women in huts in the forest – probably considered witches by many – helped her and she assumed it was just because they hadn’t heard she was a traitor, but in fact they just knew who she was as a person and weren’t swayed by the bullshit. In some ways I wonder if that’s because the Gods thought so little about women that they didn’t think to yoke them as hard to their will or pay attention to them when focused on their war games. The world kept turning and moving forward, even in the dark times. It was a lovely message to focus on. We struggle, but not in vain.

    What did you think?

  2. I’ve been ina terrible reading slump after a highly anticipated book left me so disappointed. Then real life cut in, literally, and my personal demons decided to drop in for a tea party and leave the place wrecked. So I watched TV shows I was behind on.

    Anyways next months book looks right up my alley

  3. Hey Jenny~
    Love your suggestions & pics!
    Did u read The Impossible Girl~
    sooo good!!
    Ty

  4. I haven’t started The Children on the Hill but I automatically pre-order all of Jennifer McMahon’s books.

  5. I JUST heard an interview on NPR with the author and it made me think, huh I’ve been in a reading slump. This might pull me out. And there you are. What do you know that I don’t know?

  6. OK, please forgive this complaint, but it seems like our books are coming later and later in the month and I’m barely halfway through the current one. Sad face!

    (There are two issues at play here. One is that sometimes we pick a book like Kaikeyi that publishes later in the month so that can push things back. We got special permission to send it early so it wouldn’t be late but some people still didn’t receive it until a week or more after we mailed it. More often though it’s an issue with the mail. We send everything out usually within the same day or two but I see some people getting theirs a few days later and some a week or more after. I wish I had a good fix for this! If you’re in San Antonio you can come pick up your book same day. ~ Jenny)

  7. Another great read RN is Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, deals with reproductive & civil rights.

    (Yes! Loved that book. Have you read the real case it was based on? Such an important book. ~ Jenny)

  8. Dang it, that’s another book that I want to read. My “want to read” list just keeps getting longer, but my available time to read isn’t getting bigger in response! (I don’t actually want COVID or any other illness, but there is a part of me to would almost wish to fall ill for a week so that I could snuggle in bed or on the couch and just read!)

  9. I will definitely read The Hacienda. A few days ago I spent many hours reading Babble Books Let’s Talk by Stephanie Ciatti, which I bought from Amazon. I will suggest that parents read this book; this is really a great book for parents. I even bought some book mailers from Rush Custom Boxes, here is the link: https://www.rushcustomboxes.com/mailing-boxes/book-mailer/
    I decided to give my friends some books this month.

  10. Really enjoyed Kaikeyi – and disappointed that no one who has read the book seems to be posting here (other than Jenny, of course!). I don’t do FB, so I’m bummed.

  11. I thought this was a very compelling book. It did take me a while to get into it and I had to go back and refresh myself on who’s who. I didn’t know anything about the mythology behind it either but I looked at it after the fact. I don’t FB either but always ready Jenny’s comments here when I’m done.

  12. I like to read books, but it is difficult for me with my busy schedule. But sometimes, I manage my time spent at night reading the book with a cup of coffee. All these programs have affected my health since then. I get the best health advice from a Telehealth doctor. The online doctor suggests I take some time with myself, and now I have time to read the book for a few days.

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