‘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.

‘Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl’ – Jeannie Vanasco

This was a fascinating, if depressing, book.
Jeannie is a creative writing lecturer who specialises in memoir writing. She recounts a number of students who tell her stories of rape. Some of those have ended badly. But all of them share the common experience of someone taking away an individual’s right to control what happens to them.
There’s no doubt this is a book that will strike a chord with many readers. Some will feel anger, others will empathise…but, I imagine all will feel a sense of amazement at the way this experience is recounted.
We follow Jeannie through a very unusual experience. She decides to write about the man who raped her fourteen years ago. At the time he was a good friend, but they’ve not really spoken since. He is not the only person to have assaulted Jeannie, and he wasn’t the first, but she gets in touch with him to try and talk to him about the experience.
The story itself was not one you’d expect to find pleasant reading, but I was absorbed to follow her process as she creates this book. Sometimes the narrative felt muddled, yet this reflected the subject/feelings with which she was struggling.
I’m still undecided how I feel about the perpetrator of this crime, or her decision to engage with him. However, reading about her experience and the way she/those close to her respond to this was compelling stuff. There’s no easy way to view such crimes when we see who might do such things/see how common it seems to be, but it certainly stops such things being swept under the carpet and blaming victims for their experience.
Thank you to NetGalley for granting me access to this prior to publication.


‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: and other lessons from the crematory’ – Caitlin Doughty

I think there comes a point in everyone’s life when they have to face the thorny issue of death. Until then, it’s one of those things that we know will happen to us but are happy to ignore until we have to. Daft really, considering it’s one of the things we can count on happening.

Having recently had our first close encounter with death as a family the issues of how to celebrate the life of a loved one at a time of immense grief was pertinent. I was intrigued to see what Doughty shared with us about her experiences.

The thing that struck me first was the way Doughty recounted the ins and outs of daily life in her profession. There was a fascinating amount of detail given about what happens to the body after death and the ‘tricks of the trade’. I loved the sense of discovery we went on with Doughty as she explored her own feelings about death, and the details about how other cultures respond to death was interesting. I also felt Doughty was genuinely open to getting us as a society to examine our attitudes to death/funerals and the customs we associate with this very natural event.

The nature of detail given means it will not appeal to everyone. For many, keeping the experience as sanitised as possible will be just fine but it made me question some of the assumptions we have about what will happen to our bodies after we die. It certainly provokes thought.

‘I Am Malala’ – Malala Yousafzai

i am malala


There can’t be many people who haven’t heard of Malala Yousafzai, the teenager who was shot by the Taliban for fighting for her right to be educated.

This book – now told in more of her own words – takes us back to the beginning of the story. We learn that Malala had written, under a pseudonym, a blog for the BBC about life in Pakistan and how daily experiences that many of us take for granted were affected by the changing political environment.

For teenage readers this is an interesting insight into a politically complex situation, telling us a story that you cannot help but be moved by.

As an adult I was amazed by the strength of character shown by Malala’s family as they come under pressure to shut down access to education for females. I admired the strength of will that was clearly shown by the whole family to try and ensure that everyone in their province would get access to what many of us see  as a fundamental right. I also admit to being more than a little humbled by the personality of such a young girl who, thanks to her family support, was determined to fight for what she believed to be right when it would have been all too easy to give up.

Though the novel is not well-polished, that isn’t important here. Malala’s voice shines through, and I felt it was important to get a sense of the girl behind the image. Her voice is engaging and honest. I enjoyed reading about how her family coped with the daily struggles of being uprooted from everything they knew, and I honestly believe that this is a book everyone ought to read.