Even Stranger by Marilyn Messik

“I thought I’d knocked him out, but in a flash he’d turned on to all fours and was crawling swiftly, spider-like, back towards us. He still held the knife, so I set fire to the handle. The wood flamed and he hissed in pain but didn’t let go. It was all turning rather awkward.”

Having first met Stella as a child in Relatively Strange we now encounter her once again as an adult in the early 70s in Even Stranger. She is trying hard not to stand out by keeping her powers hidden as much as possible. From book one we know she can fly (though it’s more difficult when you’re bigger), move objects and use her mind to read other people’s. Following a series of unremarkable and often unsuccessful jobs, she decides to start her own service business. Whatever you need doing Stella will do it – from typing and research to picking up children and house sitting dogs (more of the latter later).

It’s been six years since her debacle with a group of people with similar abilities including the Peacock sisters, Gloria, Ed and Hamlet (a giant dog) plus Sam who they rescued from a dangerous government research facility looking into children with psi powers. Stella is aided in her new venture by her eccentric 83 year old aunt Kitty and Brenda who is employed to help them. There is also a snooty Borzoi (whom she acquired from a recently deceased client). I said there would be another dog. In this book Stella pits her wits and powers against three different foes and puts herself in danger as a result. Oh yes and there’s a new romance!! And creepy dolls.

It’s yet again a fabulous roller-coaster ride. Please don’t try to rationalise her powers – this is psi-fi and you need accept them from day one or you’ll be disappointed. I love Stella and her family and can’t wait for book three.

Relatively Strange by Marilyn Messik

I really love this book. I love the way it is written from Stella’s point of view with her dry and often irreverent humour – there were many times when I laughed out loud. Stella has powers unlike anyone else she knows. She can fly, she can move things with her mind and she can read other people’s thoughts. Sometimes this can be helpful, sometimes it can be a shock to know what others really think of her and sometimes she can just pry and be a nuisance. She can cause havoc and be the instigator of hilarious and disastrous consequences at parties and she can also be dangerous if she isn’t careful with her powers. As Stella herself says in the opening line: “I was five when I discovered I could fly, sixteen when I killed a man. Both events were unsettling in their own way.”

Then part way through she meets a group of people with similar powers who call on her to help them in a dangerous situation. This part I was not so keen on and wondered if the book was actually YA. However, I was still fascinated and kept reading. The last part of the book is different again and I think is probably leading up to the next in the series, which I shall definitely look out for.

Because Stella is a child and teen in the 60s and 70s (and Jewish to boot) I could identify with so much of the background to her family life and the period itself. The prose is so well written and frequently hilarious while at other times dark and scary. A wonderful read. Many thanks to Netgalley for providing a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Happy Family by James Ellis

I absolutely loved this book. It’s quirky and original with some brilliant characters – all of whom are either eccentric, sad or totally bonkers. I admit that the gaming side was tiresome, at times silly – salamanders?? – and often unnecessary, but other than that it’s one of my favourite books that I have read with the Pigeonhole. Tom, artist and inventor of the computer game Happy Family, has never quite got over his mother’s death and goes to Spain to become a recluse. What’s the point in living, he muses, if you are just destined to die. Germaine, an art critic, has had a terrible childhood (I wish I knew more about it). Alta appears from nowhere with her dog Badger and moves in with Tom to take care of him even though she is 17 and he is in his 40s. Germaine has known Tom for ages and wants to write a book about him. Tom’s agent has been sacked by him but wants Germaine to go to Spain and ‘save’ him from himself. At times whimsical and introspective, towards the end it often drifts into farce as the batty new characters chase each other around the hotel and the mountains. You will either love it or hate, but for me it was an unforgettable foray into the surreal and absurd.
Many thanks to The Pigeonhole and the other Pigeons for making this such an enjoyable read.

Baby by Annaleese Jochems

I don’t really know where to start with Baby. It won some literary prize and in years to come will no doubt be regarded as a cult modern classic. That’s the only reason I’m giving it 3 stars instead of 2 in case I am missing something. It’s a book about two (one young and one slightly less young), self absorbed and stupid people. And there’s the rub. Had one of the protagonists been an intelligent, vicious and evil psychopath, there might have been either a fitting comeuppance or a redemption. But Cynthia in particular is too stupid for either. She is obsessed with gym instructor Anaheera – beautiful but also pretty dumb – so after a series of rather silly encounters they run away with Cynthia’s dog Snot-Head ‘in tow’ and buy a boat named Baby. Who the hell calls a dog Snot-Head?? SPOILER ALERT – then because Anaheera isn’t keen on the dog Cynthia leaves it somewhere for someone else to find. By now I loathe her even more. In fact I was so worried about the dog (hopefully rescued and renamed) that I nearly stopped reading. But the dog is never mentioned again except Cynthia occasionally saying she misses him. Then go back and find the dog you imbecile!! The two women live together on the boat eating beans and biscuits (I’m a Celebrity anyone?) until someone dies (not Cynthia unfortunately) and a man named Gordon arrives on the scene who has sex with Anaheera. Cynthia is mad with jealousy and so it goes on. The book is liberally peppered with bodily functions, which are not even remotely interesting and Cynthia does everything to draw attention back to herself. I’m not making this sound very good am I? If this is a reflection of young people today then God help us all. People die and no-one cares. Maybe that’s why we never hear about the dog again. Because no-one cares.
And as for the reviewer who says it’s ‘hilarious’. Show me one funny paragraph. Or even one sentence….
Many thanks to the Pigeonhole for giving me the opportunity to read Baby along with the other Pigeons.

A Diet of Werewolves – A Modern Fairy Tale

‘I’m not like other men,’ said Dan. ‘I’m not even like other werewolves.’

‘I don’t understand Mr Shaffer,’ the psychiatrist shuffled his papers and coughed. ‘…like other werewolves. There is no such thing as a werewolf or lycanthrope as it’s really called. It exists only in myths and legends. Please explain further.’

‘I can do better than that,’ Dan was slowly sipping a blended cappuccino laced with sugary hazelnut syrup. ‘I can show you.’

He licked some syrup off his designer stubble and bared his teeth. They seemed to be growing as he spoke. His voice was distinctly becoming lower, more like a growl. ‘It’s the sugar in the drinks.’ He was twitching as he spoke. Long black hairs began sprouting from his face and the backs of his hands. ‘No-one believes me you see. And that has a tendency to make me angry.’ He slipped off the couch and squatted on his haunches, still holding on to his coffee with his claws. He took another sip through his elongated fangs. ‘I wouldn’t mind so much if it was triggered by the full moon like in the stories. That at least would be predictable. Once a month and all that. But I have to be so careful. Checking the labels of everything I buy. Looking at the sugar content. Sucrose, fructose, it doesn’t matter. It all has the same effect.’

With which he leapt at the hapless psychiatrist, his teeth bared and jaws slavering.

‘I guess you believe me now,’ he said, leaping through the open window.

………………………………………………………………………

For Jan it was a night like any other. A nice dinner of roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, cauliflower cheese, peas and gravy. Followed by sticky toffee pudding and custard. All washed down with a large glass of cola. That was Dan’s version. For Jan it was a low fat sugar free yoghurt instead of the pudding and sparkling water instead of cola. She allowed herself only two tiny roast potatoes and passed on the cauliflower cheese even though it was her favourite. She had to stay in good shape for her job. She worked as a rep selling diet shakes and nutritional supplements and though she didn’t actually use the products, she needed to look as though she did.

Dan had popped out for a walk as he did every night after dinner. He was usually out for a good hour but she didn’t mind as it gave her time to do the washing up, watch EastEnders and get in some practice in front of her Pilates Weight Loss Workout DVD. She would have preferred to exercise on an empty stomach but Dan’s nightly absence gave her some privacy. And the opportunity to create a new menu that would subtly knock a few pounds off her portly partner. She set to work. It was time to start making a few changes. First of all, she would secretly replace the cola with a sugar free version. He wouldn’t notice so long as she poured it into a glass and threw away the can. Then she would start preparing low calorie desserts like fresh fruit with a single cream alternative or a sugar-free lemon sorbet. Just these two changes would make such a difference. Little did she know just what a difference it would really make.

………………………………………………………………………

 

There are three ways to become a werewolf. Be born a werewolf because your parents were both werewolves. Be bitten by one, or be ‘cursed’. So legend would have us believe. Dan on the other hand knew different. He was the exception to the rule. He never really believed that he was the only one but even though he had been told he would instantly recognise another ‘sugar-induced-werewolf’ as he jokingly called himself, he hadn’t so far. At least not in Bromley.

This new ‘shape-shifting’ syndrome he assumed, was the result of decades of sugar rush and over-indulgence in sweet foods and drinks from coffee chains. He was addicted. Cappuccino, latte macchiato, mocha and luxurious hot chocolate, all served with extra syrup and those cute little marshmallows on the top. For most people it resulted in being overweight (he knew he was too) but for him it had an added ‘curse’. Except he found it rather fun. He could induce it at will with little more than a large chocolate bar, but he could also be easily tricked. Hidden sugars in so many things. He had to take a packed lunch to work at Altered States Tailors in Bluewater. He didn’t dare to pop into his local peri peri chicken in case the BBQ sauce made him start howling at the moon-shaped overhead lights in the Build-a-Bear shop. That would frighten the little buggers! How hilarious that would be but he would instantly get the sack. There would be no verbal or written warning for spontaneous lycanthropy. It would be out on your furry butt sunshine or should I say moonshine.

So Dan waited till he got home. He was starving. Maybe it would be sausage and mash tonight or spag bol followed by chocolate pudding and raspberry ripple ice cream (his favourite). Then it was a pint of full-fat cola and out for a walk. The transformation wouldn’t take long if he had enough sweet stuff. He hadn’t decided yet where he would go. Somewhere he could freely howl and chase a few squirrels in the churchyard maybe, or perhaps he would aim a bit higher tonight. A night club was always fun. Most of them too pissed to acknowledge his existence.

Horror of horrors! Tonight’s dinner was a tuna salad (yuk!), light on the mayo and even worse there was no pudding. Only fruit and 0% fat free yoghurt and Jan had already replaced the cola with the sugar-free variety. That’s it, he thought, I’ll take a walk through the churchyard to the One Stop Shop and get myself a bar of chocolate or two. Because I’m hungry. The cola will trigger the ‘other thing’.

He’d been walking for a good 15 minutes before he begun to realise something was wrong. No hair on the back of his hands or all over his face. No elongated fangs. No growing fingernails. Something was up. This couldn’t be happening or not happening in this case. He was standing in the middle of the churchyard shivering. He hadn’t worn a coat because once he was covered in fur he wouldn’t need one. And that’s when he saw him. Another werewolf. Drinking a chocolate mocha cappuccino in a paper cup. He recognised it instantly. He could even see the marshmallows. Dan tried to howl but his throat dried up. He tried to growl and snarl but it came out like a whimper. Then he tried to run but wolves can outrun a human without even trying.

‘But I’m the only one in Bromley,’ he cried as he went down in a mass of teeth and hair and saliva.

………………………………………………………………………

When they found him the next day he was lying face down in the churchyard with his neck torn open. In his hand he was clutching an empty cup of chocolate mocha cappuccino. He had tried to grab it and take a swig but he never stood a chance. Jan had thought she was doing him a favour. Little did she know.