The Temple House Vanishing by Rachel Donohue

Twenty-five years ago, a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl and her charismatic teacher disappeared without trace…

In an elite Catholic girls’ boarding-school the pupils live under the repressive, watchful gaze of the nuns. Seeking to break from the cloistered atmosphere two of the students – Louisa and Victoria – quickly become infatuated with their young, bohemian art teacher, and act out passionately as a result. That is, until he and Louisa suddenly disappear.

Years later, a journalist uncovers the troubled past of the school and determines to resolve the mystery of the missing pair. The search for the truth will uncover a tragic, mercurial tale of suppressed desire and long-buried secrets. It will shatter lives and lay a lost soul to rest.

The Temple House Vanishing is a stunning, intensely atmospheric novel of unrequited longing, dark obsession and uneasy consequences.

Temple House

This was a very strange book. I attended a girls catholic convent in the late 1960s during which time the nuns changed slightly. I wouldn’t say the changes were dramatic but by 1967 we called them Sister instead of Madam and they shortened their habits to just above the ankle. I think they also showed about an inch or two of hair at the front (some orders shaved their hair under their veils – I don’t think ours did – at least not when I left in 1969). It would be a couple of decades before they started wearing ‘civvies’. They were still strict and unworldly and the boarders (I wasn’t one) had it worst. I couldn’t believe they were only allowed to bathe twice a week and wash their hair once a week. Whatever happened to cleanliness is next to Godliness. We used to smoke in the area behind the netball court and sometimes under the stage during choir practice (we weren’t in it at the time obviously). We NEVER had male teachers. It was unheard of.

But back to the story. Apart from the girls liking Morrisey, this could have been set in the 1960s (or even 50s as someone commented). Why anyone would want their girls to go there I cannot comprehend. However I loved this book. The story of Louisa’s obsession with Victoria and Victoria’s obsession with the art teacher Mr Lavelle is beautifully written and really rather sad. It starts with Victoria’s suicide and then goes back and forth, the story being told by the girls themselves and also a journalist who vaguely knew Louisa, trying to uncover the truth. Some of my fellow Pigeons found it rather slow as the story takes a long time to unfold, but I found it dark, sinister, mysterious and creepy but utterly mesmerising.

Many thanks to the Pigeonhole for giving me the opportunity to read along with my fellow Pigeons and the author.

The Sisters Grimm by Menna van Praag

“Once upon a time, a demon who desired earthly domination fathered an army of dark daughters to help him corrupt humanity . . .

“As children, Goldie, Liyana, Scarlet, and Bea dreamed of a strange otherworld: a nightscape of mists and fog, perpetually falling leaves and hungry ivy, lit by an unwavering moon. Here, in this shadowland of Everwhere, the four girls, half-sisters connected by blood and magic, began to nurture their elemental powers together. But at thirteen, the sisters were ripped from Everwhere and separated. Now, five years later, they search for one another and yearn to rediscover their unique and supernatural strengths.”

Everyone seems to have a favourite sister. I love Scarlet, but I am probably biased. My eldest granddaughter is called Scarlett (with an extra ‘t’) so it’s no doubt favouritism by association. She’s only five and a half, doesn’t have red hair and can’t shoot fire from her fingertips (yet) but I think of her when reading. No-one likes Bea much, which is a shame because she is misunderstood and misdirected and the only true-blood Grimm. Goldie should be my favourite but she isn’t only by default – see Scarlet above – and Liyana is up there with Goldie. But in reality, I love them all, including Leo.

I’m not sure why some people found the POVs confusing or the timelines. They are clearly marked in the headings and each character’s voice is unique, whether written in the first person (Goldie) or third. I know the jumping back and forth from when they are young to now is confusing in some books but the author has done it so well that I never forgot where we were. I almost gave it five stars as the writing is so beautiful and lyrical but I thought it was a bit overlong and the ending was not to my taste but that’s all I can say due to no spoilers. I have read four of the author’s other books but The House At The End of Hope Street is still my favourite. A fabulous read though and highly recommended for lovers of fantasy and magical realism.

Many thanks to The Pigeonhole and the other Pigeons for making this such an enjoyable read and to the author for popping in to ‘read’ with us.

The 24-Hour Cafe by Libby Page

The Lido was one of my favourite books of 2018 so I wanted to love this just as much. While I did love it, it didn’t resonate in quite the same way, but I think that says more about me than about the story. I love the premise of a cafe that never shuts and the people who come and go. They all have their stories (a bit like in Ruth Hogan’s The Keeper of Lost Things where each lost item has a personal story). My only issue was with the two main characters – Hannah who wants to make her living as a singer and Mona who is a dancer. They have both passed the grand old age of 30 and doubt that it will ever happen, but still they dream while working in Stella’s cafe, popping off to auditions in between. I did love Mona – though Hannah not quite as much as she could be quite irritating – but I couldn’t identify with either of them. I also didn’t find their lives that interesting but maybe that’s the point. I think perhaps this book is aimed more at the Millennial generation and not at me (a baby boomer). I would probably have loved it 30 years ago when Thirtysomething was my favourite TV programme. However, the characters are beautifully written and Libby’s powers of observation are unparalleled – she is my favourite ‘people-watcher’ of all time!

When I read The Lido I sobbed throughout most of the final part (in a good way) – this one took a lot longer, but I still needed the hankies near the end. A lovely, gentle read, that as someone already mentioned, you can dip in and out of. Highly recommended and I look forward to Libby’s next book.

Our Dark Secret by Jenny Quintana

Elizabeth Valentine is the school misfit. Unattractive, overweight, spotty, with limp hair, she is every bully’s dream victim. She is also clever but she hides that light under a bushel as it would only make things worse. Then she meets Rachel, her opposite in every way. Beautiful with flowing long hair and a way of lighting up the room every time she walks in. But Rachel is troubled and deeply unhappy. And Elizabeth is obsessed. They both have family issues which become entwined and Elizabeth and Rachel become friends out of need. Then two bodies are found over a period of 20 years but are they linked and how do they link to the girls?

I just loved this book. I hung on every word. In spite of two murders this is a slow burn that is so beautifully written you won’t want it to end. Elizabeth is a strange main protagonist. We see everything from her point of view but is she an unreliable narrator or is her take on things just skewed?

Please read this book. Many thanks to The Pigeonhole and my fellow Pigeons and also to Jenny for making this such a fantastic read.

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau

I just loved this book. It’s 1911 and Peggy Battenberg works in the Moonrise Bookstore in New York. But Peggy is no ordinary shop girl. She’s an heiress belonging to one of the countries richest Jewish families. Then one day, while making martinis for an eminent – if rather salacious author – and his agent, Peggy is dragged away by her Uncle David to spend the summer in New York’s illustrious and hedonistic Coney Island with her extended family. But this will be far from a jolly holiday. They will be accompanied by her younger sister Lydia’s betrothed – Henry Taul – and his mother so they can all ‘bond’. And so the mystery and murder begin. Peggy meets and falls for impoverished artist Stefan, who shows his Futurist paintings at a tiny Gallery inside Dreamland. Stefan is Serbian and therefore hated by everyone who believes him to be an anarchist and trouble-maker. Dreamland is one of three funfairs on Coney Island and probably the most famous. It really existed. Look it up. I read about it first in Alice Hoffman’s The Museum of Extraordinary Things. Peggy is the most wonderful hero. Naive to the point of simplicity, her eyes are opened during this ‘holiday’ to just how unfair life can be when you are not rich or entitled. Let alone an ‘alien’. I don’t think she realises that even though her family are fabulously wealthy that they will always be persona non grata amongst old money because they are Jewish. I enjoyed The Blue – my first book by Nancy Bilyeau – but this one was way more exciting and the character of Peggy will stay with me forever.
Many thanks to The Pigeonhole for giving me the opportunity to read along with my fellow Pigeons.

The Foundling by Stacey Halls

I loved this book more than I can say. If I could give it 10 stars I would. I was so engrossed in the story and couldn’t wait for the next stave to be delivered (I was reading through Pigeonhole). At one point I wanted to buy the book so I could read to the end only to discover it had not yet been published. In fact I am still so full of the tale of Bess, Alexandra and Clara/Charlotte that I am struggling to read another book yet. I cannot imagine what it must have been like having to place your new born baby in The Foundling hospital because you were too poor to look after her. But then to save for years to reclaim her only to find that she had already been claimed by someone pretending to be you. Poor Bess. Alexandra’s plight was different. Having myself been brought up by a mother who didn’t leave the house for over 35 years due to agoraphobia (though it was more complicated than just that) I sometimes got mad with Alexandra because I know how damaging it is to instil fear into your child. I understand she couldn’t go out but not to allow her ‘daughter’ to go to the park with Doctor Mead and Eliza and then normalise it isn’t fair. Anyway I could go on. The story is wonderful and the characters rich. Occasionally it was a teeny bit far fetched but hey this is fiction, not real life.
Many thanks to the Pigeonhole for giving me the opportunity to read alongside my fellow Pigeons and the author. We love you all.