‘How to Kill Your Family’ – Bella Mackie

When we first meet Grace she tells us she is incarcerated for murder, but claims her innocence. However, she then expresses frustration about the fact she has been imprisoned for a crime she did not commit when she has actually been responsible for the murders of six of her family. From that statement, I was drawn in. What was this character, and what on earth were we going to learn?

What we quickly discover is that Grace is the product of an affair between a very wealthy English businessman and a young Frenchwoman. She has never met her father and when her mother dies, Grace is determined that the man who denied her existence will be made to pay for his rejection. So, she comes up with a plan to kill off each member of his immediate family and then reveal her identity before killing him.

While her logic might be more than a little skewed (ie. totally deranged), the black humour with which she sets about her task is mesmerising. I found myself repulsed by her behaviour while highly amused by her wry comments on society and the people she is targeting. I’m not sure what that says about me!

The book itself is structured rather repetitively as we learn about each of the murders. Grace, though in prison (which means this does not seem like the most sensible of moves), is writing her memoirs, determined that one day people will give her credit for her actions. This need for affirmation places her, for me, very firmly in the sociopath category…but she is thwarted by a mix of bad luck and other characters.

Her plan for the destruction of the family of Simon Artemis comes under threat when her best friend’s fiancé falls off a balcony and dies. Grace is charged with the murder, though she was in no way responsible. Eventually, Grace is released and is free to continue her plans. Unfortunately, while she is deciding on her next course of action her father dies. Grace has no part in this…or does she?

As we neared the end of the book I found myself wondering quite how events would be wrapped up. Would Grace finally admit her identity and get her inheritance? That was the plan. Her plans are thwarted, however, by a character that we learn about very late on – yet who is integral to events. While this made me a little more sympathetic to Grace, it also frustrated me.

How to Kill Your Family is definitely a book I’d recommend to others, and I loved the narrator for Grace in the audiobook version I was lucky enough to be granted access to via NetGalley.

‘A Lesson in Vengeance’ – Victoria Lee

A Lesson in Vengeance is a twisted story, which will probably warrant a reread to appreciate fully.

Set in the Dalloway School, a remote academic establishment mired in rumour and stories of witchcraft. None of the staff talk of these rumours, but the girls do. Secret societies devoted to spells and the study of the dark arts thought to be responsible for the death of five students of Godwin House abound, and they draw the attention of students such as Felicity Morrow, our narrator.

Felicity was present on the night her girlfriend, Alex, disappeared and has now returned to the school to complete her studies. Certainly emotionally vulnerable, Felicity has a record of erratic behaviour and her conduct gives cause for concern. She is convinced she is haunted by the spirit of her ex-girlfriend, and we watch as strange events occur.

This year sees the arrival of new girl Ellis Haley, a published writer, and a character very keen to learn more of the hidden past of the school. She befriends Felicity in an attempt, she says, to debunk the older girl’s belief in magic and witches. But it’s clear that Ellis has other ideas in mind.

Initially rather slow, I found myself intrigued by the school and its depiction while also feeling rather disassociated from events. As the story develops and we start to see more of Ellis in action I found myself quite gripped. The relationship between Ellis and Felicity felt like something from Donna Tartt herself, and as events built to their climax I could not quite get my head around exactly which character I disliked more. To make you like and hate a character in equal measure is quite something, and Lee certainly toys with our perception of the two leads. My main issue with this – and the only reason I didn’t award 5 stars – was the sense of remove I felt at the beginning and the sense of the secondary characters/school environment being rather underdeveloped.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this in advance of publication, and this is certainly one I’ll bookmark for a re-read at some point.

‘The Final Girl Support Group’ – Grady Hendrix

As someone who can’t watch horror movies or read horror unless it’s light outside, I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed this.
In The Final Girl Support Group we get to see a little of what happens after the bloodbath. We get to see how these final girls – the ones who survive indescribably horrific experiences – cope once normal life resumes. Having to live with the knowledge that you (probably) killed someone to survive and (usually) watched close family members and friends murdered in increasingly brutal ways is going to have an impact. I can’t imagine how you pick yourself up and carry on after this.
When we’re first introduced to the group – a disparate group of women whose only link is they are known by the ‘final girl’ moniker – we can see many of them are not able to let go. Our main narrator is Lynette, who clearly is struggling to feel safe in real life. When she learns that one of their group has been murdered we start to think she may have been right to express reservations about how they’re managing.
The book focuses on Lynette’s increasingly bizarre attempts to make the others think she’s right to be scared. They react badly, and things get very awkward. There’s some darkly amusing moments as Lynette and the other survivors attempt to get to the bottom of these attacks and take on – for one last time – their bogeyman.
Initially a little slow as we establish the characters and the setup. There was a section once things started kicking off where the water got very muddy as the characters got sidetracked by a manuscript telling their stories and I wondered how this would sustain my interest. Then Hendrix lets us a little deeper into these women, fleshes them out a little and has them barrelling towards the ultimate fight for survival. At this point I couldn’t wait to see who was behind things and how events would be resolved.
While it seems Hendrix is a huge fan of the slasher movie, and clearly knows the conventions, it feels a little dated and I’m not sure how you can move past this. The reliance on stock characters/moments lends a sense of familiarity, and we’re encouraged to see these characters as real people, but ultimately it’s more of the same misogyny. I concede there’s some challenging of these attitudes but the characters remain trapped by our expectations for the genre. As a result, it feels like more of the same. I’m sure that someone, somewhere, will express this more articulately than I have.


‘Act Your Age, Eve Brown’ – Talia Hibbert

Pure unadulterated gooey loveliness.

Eve Brown is the youngest of the Brown sisters and something of a pampered princess. After yet another ‘failed career’ move, her parents give her an ultimatum – she has to keep a job for a year in order to have her trust fund restarted.

Now that is so far removed from the experiences of most readers it would be easy to feel no sympathy for Eve. However, from her evident social awkwardness and the sheer gusto with which she tackles everything to not fall a little in love with her would be unfeasible.

While her response to this makes little sense, her storming out and driving means she finds herself at a lovely B&B just at the moment they’re interviewing for a new chef. Of course, Eve is not suited to the job in so many ways…but the way she interacts with the boss Jacob tells us from the off exactly where this will end up.

From their first meeting I really loved the interactions between these two. Both autistic – though in Eve’s case this is undiagnosed – there’s something inherently satisfying about the idea that you can always find someone who gets you. And if they don’t get you as you are, then they’re not your person.

Some wonderful comedic moments, the expected sexual tension and a genuinely feel good message. Now we’ve had an insight into the three Brown sisters I feel sad there might be no more to come.


‘The Hollows’ – Mark Edwards


Divorced dad takes teen daughter on annual holiday, and his choice of resort leaves something to be desired.

Though Hollow Falls is a beautiful area, it has a dark history. Nearly twenty years ago a couple were slaughtered in the woods and the Maine woodland seems to be harbouring secrets. Secrets that someone knows more about than they ought to.
Upon learning the unpleasant truth about their chosen holiday destination, Frankie and her father Tom are resolved to make the best of their choice.

Unfortunately the number of strange and unusual events rises…and it seems that the town remains a place to fear.

When we’re first introduced to the resort it felt rather generic in tone. There were unsettling descriptions of the environment and I fully expected one of our modern guests to get injured in some way. This likelihood is heightened when Frankie and Ryan (the boy from the cabin next to them) manage to offend two neighbourhood kids who have something of a reputation for causing trouble.

As the strange occurrences escalate in tone, there’s a shift in focus to the events in the area at the time of the original crime. These details created a much more unsettling feel, with it becoming increasingly obvious that more than one person in the present has details they want to keep hidden.

Before too long we’re caught up in a very unusual turn of events. The sense of danger grows, and it was increasingly obvious they were dealing with some seriously unhinged behaviour. By the time we got to the end we had answers, some of them rather different to those we expected, but the most terrifying element was the clear sense of threat being posed by our lone perpetrator as our story fades. I don’t know if there’ll be a continuation of the story, but just the hint of how it could develop has made me pleased I finished reading this during the day!

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read this before publication.

‘The Love Hypothesis’ – Ali Hazlewood

After something of a thriller glut, this romance was just what was needed.
The love story of Adam and Olive takes time to get going, but I loved their interactions and that sense of knowing where things were likely to end up even if they didn’t.

Set in the world of academia, which definitely seems more ruthless than you might expect, we first meet Olive when she’s trying to interview for a PHD program. Financial constraints lead to her wearing old contact lenses and a strange meeting in a bathroom…of course, we assume this meeting to be important though the story picks up years later.

As a post graduate student at Stamford Olivia is used to feeling uncertain of herself. Our whole story hinges on a bizarre incident where she asks to kiss a random man she finds in the corridor one night, in order to convince her best friend that it would be okay to go on a date with someone she once dated. Can think of so many other ways to deal with that issue, but where would the fun be in that?

Of course, the random man is none other than Dr Adam Carson…grade A asshole, the man everyone fears and who reduces everyone to tears. Bizarrely, Adam seems amused by Olivia’s request (naturally, he’s the man from the initial bathroom incident) and then they agree to a period of fake-dating to maintain this illusion.

From their initial awkward meetings it’s clear they have a cute way of interacting. Neither wants to admit their feelings for the other, and there’s more than one or two ‘close’ moments where we think we might get somewhere. For a romance this was surprisingly chaste in approach, but I found myself enjoying the way their relationship developed. There was a lack of detail about some things we take for granted, but with a feel-good vibe like this it was easy to overlook.


‘Death Spiral’ – Jane Codosh

Having raced through this in the course of one sitting, I have to say I’m surprised to have never heard of the book before now.

The main character, Faith Flores, is a truly terrifying sixteen year old. Living with her aunt after the death of her mother, Faith is something of a loner and desperate to keep people at a distance. Being known as a junkie’s daughter is enough to keep most people away, but there’s a vulnerability to Faith that you can’t help but warm to. Clearly smart, Faith is a victim of circumstance and it’s more than a little depressing that someone so bright and sparky would – in all probability – struggle through life due to the things she can’t access.

When Faith goes to visit her mother’s friend she’s given evidence to suggest that the details of her mother’s death are not quite what she’s been told. Her mother was involved in a clinical trial, and when her asking questions about the trial leads to threats and people linked to it dying it’s pretty obvious that Faith is onto something.

With the help of her friends – and a fair amount of luck – Faith digs into the scientists running the trial and learns some unpalatable truths. High-risk situations aplenty, this book is genuinely hard to put down.


‘I Know You’ – Claire McGowan

I Know You was one of those thrillers that had me second-guessing what, exactly, had happened and wondering what trick up the proverbial sleeve would be pulled out before the end. It is gripping, and while you know you’re not being told everything it’s not clear why this is until the very end.

Our main character is Rachel, a woman who stumbles across a dead body while walking her dog. Rather than call the police, she runs home and tries to ignore it. Suspicious? Certainly it seems so when we learn the body is that of her partner’s ex-wife. Less so when we learn that Rachel was, for five years, kept on Death Row for the murder of three of the family she acted as nanny to. She was cleared, but the fear of being accused of a crime you didn’t commit causes scars.

Of course, the details of each case are important. I found myself more intrigued by her past, and what led her to be in this situation. From start to finish, the pace is quite relentless. I was never sure of the extent to which we could trust Rachel, and the way the book was resolved felt quite unlikely. However, it was a great escape read.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this prior to publication.


‘The LightHouse’ – Fran Dorricott

The Lighthouse had the potential to be a humdinger of a book. A group of friends are travelling to a remote Scottish island to stay on an island for their reunion holiday. Unfortunately, it soon becomes apparent that things are not quite as they seem. From early on we’re waiting to see the creepy things we assume will happen, and yet I couldn’t help feeling things fell a little flat.

Our initial introduction to the characters hints at discord between them. The presence of a new partner will, we assume, be problematic and at least one of them shows signs of growing mental instability. Throw alcohol into the mix and we soon see that things between this group are far from rosy. As we get to see their interactions it’s hard to work out whether the problems are down to them, or if there is something supernatural happening.

After an intriguing start, I felt everything slowed down just a little too much. Seeds of upset are sown, but things took a long time to really develop and the reactions of some of the characters felt rather exaggerated. As we only see their reaction to events, and sometimes some time after the event, it became increasingly hard to feel concerned.

Once we start to get answers as to what’s going on, I found myself frustrated. I can’t imagine this scenario would have taken place, and gone uncovered, so it was difficult to understand how the group got to where they did. The resolution to their problem felt unnaturally quick, and I can’t honestly imagine anyone would experience such an event and be so willing to effectively ignore it.

While I didn’t find this quite as engaging as I’d hoped, I’d like to thank NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this before publication in exchange for my honest review.


‘The Herd’ – Emily Edwards

The Herd will, I’m fairly sure, find its way to many a book club and the ensuing discussion will no doubt be interesting. It’s a timely release, focusing on the issue of vaccination and to what extent our responsibility is personal or social.

The book opens with us knowing that a group of former friends are facing each other in court. Of course we want to know why and what chain of events led to this particular scenario.

Elizabeth and Bry are our primary focus. Two very different mothers, with different views on vaccination. With a daughter prone to febrile convulsions, Elizabeth is understandably nervous about people not vaccinating their children. Her best friend has lived for years with the understanding that her brother’s autism was caused by vaccination. She has opted not to.

What transpires is one of those horribly unlucky events. A measles outbreak occurs, many in the community are ill but Elizabeth’s daughter ends up blind. She wants revenge on the ones she blames-the parents who would not vaccinate their daughter.

The book took a while to get going but the establishment of the characters was engaging. By the time we got to the court scene it seemed that we’d be waiting for some kind of twist. When it came I found myself a little irritated because it seemed so at odds with what we’d been told throughout and made a mockery of the situation.