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.

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

I had no idea this is YA and still don’t really know why – other than the main characters are all late teens/early twenties. I loved this book. In fact I loved it so much that I am struggling to read anything else now. The story is so real (of course much of it is based on fact apart from the individual stories). How little do we know about life in Spain under Franco. And yes I cried at the end. I cried for Miguel and Paco Lobo as much as for Ana and Daniel and Julia and especially for Puri. I know some people think it was sentimental and schmaltzy, but I thought it was moving and beautifully written.
Many thanks to The Pigeonhole and my fellow Pigeons for making this such an enjoyable read.

Deliciously gruesome Victorian Gothic horror

Read my review on Goodreads / Amazon of Paul Holbrook’s novel Domini Mortum here:

I was lucky enough to read this with my book club The Pigeonhole and the author Paul Holbrook ‘read’ along with us. Domini Mortum is like Dennis Wheatley meets Ripper Street – full of Gothic horror and surprising twists but brought up to date with the terrific writing. Murder, the supernatural and witchcraft – what more could you ask for. The only thing missing is Christopher Lee shining his car lights on the devil incarnate and reciting the last few lines of the Susamma Ritual while some poor soul is about to become a human sacrifice.

Domini Mortum takes place in Victorian England, from London to haunted rural Kent and back again. With strains of Jack the Ripper, but slightly tongue-in-cheek at times, this book is full of light and shade, with tremendous crescendos and cliff-hangers that leave you wanting more. Am now reading the prequel – Memento Mori – and waiting for the next instalment. Great stuff.

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.

 

 

The Bottom of the Well

Do you believe we have all been here before? The Bottom of the Well takes Emily back to a past life that will change her future forever. http://www.amazon.co.uk/…/B01…/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_eos_detail

Emily was happily ploughing her way through a new anthology of sonnets one damp afternoon in September when everything changed. She vaguely heard the bell over the door chime to introduce the arrival of an elderly man in need of a haircut and a new coat. He wore fingerless gloves and sported a grey-white goatee. He headed in Emily’s direction, greeting her as if she were an old friend. Then he handed her a crinkled manuscript. It was yellowed and bedraggled and was called simply A Ghost Story by Serena Sparks.

He said, ‘I believe you’ll enjoy this Emily my dear,’ and walked out, leaving the door to close slowly behind him. Emily watched him leave, wondering how he knew her name, looked briefly at the faded document, went into the kitchen, sat down and began to read.

“The girl awoke with a start. There was no-one in the room yet she knew she was not alone. Her teeth chattered with the cold and her breath could be seen like a white mist as it left her mouth. She hugged her arms around herself and wished she was at home in her own bed.

“It’s just a dream, she thought. If I lie down and go back to sleep it will all go away. But it didn’t. She got up to close the window where the cold must be coming through, but it wasn’t open. The curtains were moving, but there was no draught. The door was ajar but it wouldn’t let her pass….”

Serena’s past is buried so deep in her subconscious – in a place like a bottomless well – so deep that if you dropped a stone you couldn’t hear it when it hit the water beneath. Dominic Sparks must find the only woman who can help him to uncover it. But Serena is dead and Emily doesn’t yet have the power. After all she’s just a thirty-something mother of two who works in a bookshop in Totnes.

“You have great awareness and sensitivity and a talent for writing, just like my late wife, you just haven’t discovered it yet,” Mr Sparks had told her.

Now Emily must go on a journey to learn what her part is to be in all this, so that together she and Dominic can solve a mystery that has remained buried for almost 40 years.

The Bottom of the Well is my first novella.

THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL Cover Proof 1650_2500 15.03.206