New Animal piqued my interest as it had a mix of all the dark things I look for in a book. By the time I’d read the first few chapters, I knew that Ella Baxter has quite a way with words.
Set in Australia and Tasmania, a setting that I very much enjoy, I was instantly transported into the life of Amelia and felt I could relate to her in ways that surprised me.
She’s an intelligent woman who instead of dwelling on all the sadness and confusion her life throws at her, she decides to deal with her grief by leaving her job/home/family and crashes straight into the BDSM scene.
Death in the family? Deal with it by going to a fetish club. Why not?! Who says there’s a right or wrong way to do these things.
However, New Animal isn’t a story about the kinky sex life of a woman who’s going off the rails. It’s about coping and not coping. Sometimes it takes a trauma in life to set people off on a journey in order to get their head together.
I flew through this at quite a speed, the writing style had a grip on me more than the story itself. The descriptions were so vivid.
There are definitely scenes in this book that would be triggering for some. It’s crass, violent, and at times, brutal. One scene made me cringe and that is a rarity for me! I love to push the boundaries though, give me all the reading-feels, even the uncomfortable ones!
Overall, New Animal was a dark and very well written story. It won’t be for everyone, but Ella Baxter and her New Animal has given me something to think about.
Recommended for people who can appreciate that human nature can be an off-kilter thing and for those who don’t mind feeling just a tiny bit disgusted by stuff humans do to each other.
Out 17 February 2022
Ella Baxter is a writer and artist living in Melbourne, Australia.
‘One day, the mother was a mother but then, one night, she was quite suddenly something else…’
Nightbitch, that was her name. That is all she is. All she’s referred to. That was her something else.
Mothers, cast your minds back to when your babies’ body clocks were trying to get into a routine. Awake half the night, or all night. Those small hours when it felt like you and your tiny bundle were the only two people on the planet. The sleep deprivation holds strong. Your brain feels weird. Your body feels weird. Lack of sleep does stuff to you. Strange stuff. It’s a mad time looking after a new human.
If you’re lucky, you’ll have a good man at your side. He might be snoring his head off peacefully or away all week, working, bringing home the bacon. But when you’re loosing your mind because twenty minutes sleep a night for months on end doesn’t quite cut it, a woman’s grip on reality may become a little compromised.
‘At first she did nothing, waiting for her husband to wake, which he did not, because that was a thing he ever did. She waited longer than she usually did, waited and waited, the boy wailing while she lay as still as a corpse, patiently waiting for the day when her corpse self would miraculously be reanimated and taken into the Kingdom of the Chosen, where it would create an astonishing art installation composed of many aesthetically interesting beds’.
Nightbitch used to have a career, a life outside of four walls. A life beyond feeding and vomit and nappy changes and laundry. She was an artist, a creator. She and her husband had made the greatest creation of all, their baby son, and yet, it wasn’t enough. She had a gap in her life which couldn’t be filled with toddler play dates, meetings with other Moms, chatting baby this, baby that, all day long. No. It wasn’t her. Nightbitch was her. Small signs. Small urges. Slowly, terrifyingly, and at times, hilariously, she felt that she was simply turning into a dog.
‘Yes, vegetables were very civilised. Dogs wouldn’t buy vegetables. Listen to what you’re saying, she said to herself.’
As Nightbitch became more and more Nightbitch, so her parenting abilities changed, for the better? In some ways, I’d say yes. In others, absolutely hell no!! Her son adored their playtimes, the ‘let’s pretend’ at being doggies. Woof!
She was finally finding herself. At last. Even her husband reaped some benefits, on occasion.
As you can probably sense by the first part of my review, this is a story about motherhood and coping and not coping. The best way to describe it to someone would be –
‘It’s an alternative Mother and Baby Book’. Or…
‘It’s an alternative Marriage Counselling Book.’ Or…
‘It’s an alternative Spiritual Health and Well-being Book’.
I’m laughing now, because, really, it is none of those things at all. It’s a dark and deeply disturbing story where the reader can take from it whatever they see fit. There’s a speculative feel to it all the way through, and I love that in a book. There is no right or wrong way to how this book should make the reader feel.
Rachel Yoder’s writing style has such wickedness to it. Her characters are drawn on the pages so clearly, yet we know only just below the surface of most of them. Apart from Nightbitch. Around half way, we know her well. A little too well perhaps.
What I found unusual in Nightbitch was the way her two year old toddlers personality developed into such a big-part character as the story unfolded. We start to see the kind of child he is becoming. How family traits can go far back and then journey their way to the current time. For such a young character, his innocence and sheer glee was a pleasure to read. It was even heartwarming in places. Not too often though, let’s not get carried away from the darkness this book has in spades.
Nightbitch is a wild, wild ride and I think it would either entertain or horrify. I don’t think there’s middle ground here. It entertained me from beginning to end. I loved everything about it. After all, we are all animals at the end of the day, aren’t we?
Be more Nightbitch ladies, and control yourselves in the raw meat aisle at Tesco.
Thank you to Kate at Harvill Secker for sending me an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
It’s 1997 and Ben Carters Great Aunt Pearl has just died. Ben arrives with his Dad, Victor, and various Aunts and Uncles meet at the dilapidated old house in order to get cracking with the sorting out and organising of the funeral. Nothing unusual about that, where there’s life, there’s death. Where there’s families, there’s stress. Goes hand in hand.
However, no one can seem to find Aunt Pearls Will, which is a tad problematic. Patience is tested, the families true colours begin to emerge and relationships take a bit of a toxic turn. And then there’s the discovery of something called the ‘Church of The Holy Heavens’ which causes no end of questions and suspicions. Things begin to get as messy as the stale old house itself.
At first glance the title and cover hints that the story is going to be somewhat ‘out there’. Other planets, things that are not of this world, the suggestion of alternative life and beyond.
But the story within couldn’t be more grounded to planet earth and the people on it if it tried. I found myself becoming quickly absorbed and at one with the trials and tribulations of the Carter family.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 47 years of being on planet earth, it’s that humans can be pretty crap when it comes to familial stress. Moving house, new jobs, new schools, relationships, babies, doing the monthly ‘big shop’, health, money, death. It all plays a part in what we all become as we age and slide into that older generation category. (I’m not quite there, yet…!)
As we age, the more knowledgeable we become, yes? Well, actually, having just spent 266 pages with fourteen year old Ben and seeing his family unit through his young eyes has triggered a bit of a rethink actually.
Matt Cooks writing gave me a bit of a zap when I started reading. I knew from a very early point that this was going to be a thoughtful, relatable story, with nuggets of dark humour dropped in throughout.
So, this zap, let me explain. On starting a book, sometimes you read a paragraph, or one sentence in the first few chapters and you already know that you’ve got yourself some quality writing. That’s exciting. That’s the zap.
‘The refrigerator was a riot of mould and malfunction; ancient foodstuffs of unknowable content glistened and furred and hatched plans.’
I mean, who’d think to link crusty-labelled jars of the unknown with dodgy best before dates in the back of a cupboard with the ‘hatching of plans’? Matt did, and it made me laugh far too hard, I completely got it. I’ve rummaged through a similar cupboard or two myself!
That’s how Matt writes. His humour has a slightly dark, yet soft, spiritual side. He has a real understanding of the human psyche, which shines throughout the book. This is particularly prominent with his characters. He must of cast his mind back to his fourteen year old self numerous times.
Matt has created a heartfelt story that is full of life, even though the plot is predominantly about death. Humans are simply being human. Teenagers loitering on the sidelines, often invisible, yet brimming with ideas and carefully trying to work out their own lives. Adults in the thick of it, unknowingly (and probably knowingly) cocking things up.
Many of us have been there, lived it, seen it.
But have we properly seen it?
Fact: Matt has.
I think he’s a bit of a ‘people watcher’. He sees things from a different angle, this helped in creating his characters, the descriptions and situations.
‘I tried again to speak, to clear things up, but my voice was a chewy substance that fell straight out of my mouth on to the floor’.
Matt has a way with words, his story telling has a flow that is so immersive. Before I knew it I had read well over half the book, I’d only picked it up for a chapter or two. A sure sign of a great book is when you’re lost in those pages and don’t realise you have been until you stop, and jump back out into real life.
I would highly recommend Life on Other Planets to everyone. It’s the kind of book which would appeal to adults, teenagers, or a senior human being. It’s got an abundance of emotion, and what stood out most of all was it’s readability. It’s so readable, you don’t even feel yourself getting sucked in. I felt like I was hiding in a cupboard in Pearls hallway, earwigging and spying on the family.
So as you’ve probably gathered, I absolutely loved it and I’m looking forward to seeing what else Matt has up his sleeve. Marvellous stuff!
Thank you Matt for sending me a gifted copy, it’s found it’s comfy slot on my forever shelf.
After a few hours of blowing my cheeks out and pulling weird faces because this feels impossible to review, I’ll try my best at putting my thoughts into words that are remotely coherent.
Chrissie, an eight year old girl murdered a two year old boy by strangling him. That is no spoiler, we know this from the very first sentence.
‘I killed a little boy today. Held my hands around his throat, felt his blood pump hard against my thumbs’.
What follows is a dual narrative from Chrissie then and Chrissie now.
As an adult, she is Julia. She has a new identity and a daughter of her own, Molly. She is haunted by her terrible past, not only by her heinous crime, but by the truly horrific neglect from her Mam and useless excuse of a Da. She is scared for her own child, incase she has passed her ‘bad seed’ onto her own.
As a child, the unintentional humour from Chrissie is balanced with the horrors of her home life. The writing is styled to shock and then say ‘there there, it’s not that bad’ in a heartbeat.
‘There were lots of reasons I didn’t like Donna, apart from her being fat and a goody-goody, but the main one was that in the Christmas holidays she bit me on the arm just because I said she had a face like a potato (which was also true)’.
I felt the author wasn’t necessarily asking for sympathy for any of the characters. I think she wanted her readers to experience the buzzes and urges, the excuses and thought processes. I got right inside this story. Gut deep.
The First Day of Spring as a title gives nothing away to what’s between the covers. We see Springtime as new beginnings, fresh growth and hope for the future. We don’t associate it with despair and neglect and murder.
Although this sounds like a disturbing and saddening read, it was exceptionally entertaining throughout. The dialogue and descriptions were sublime, creating crystal clear imagery of characters and setting.
The First Day of Spring is an unforgettable debut, but it won’t be for everyone. It’s a difficult subject, I know a few were struggling with it on Pigeonhole, but me and my dark heart lapped it up. I consumed it and it consumed me.
Thank you to everyone at Pigeonhole for the opportunity to read such a compelling book.
A strange little yellow book full of strange scenarios that every single one of us can relate to in some way.
Ya Mum is short vignette style stories that give a sense of art and deeper thought to everyday occurrences that are always seen but often ignored.
From dumped shopping trolleys to a lonesome shoe. Social distancing in Morrisons to an unpleasant discovery in a pub toilet.
Armed with the perils of hangovers and dubiously stained mattresses, author Ben Tallon sees our world a little differently. He sees beyond the basics, he turns the arse-end of British life into something story-worthy.
I see this book as a ‘loo book’ or stocking filler. A book that you find yourself reading out of morbid curiosity, nodding in agreement and surprise at just how relevant it is.
It’s a strange little yellow book, and I recommend it for shits and giggles. It offers a perspective of this crappy world with its crappy people that’s nothing quite like yours.
About the author:
Ben Tallon is a writer, illustrator and host of Arrest All Mimics podcast. He grew up laughing at farts in Keighley, West Yorkshire and is fascinated by the dirty underbelly of British culture.
Thank you to author Ben Tallon for sending me a signed copy.