Book Review: How to Kill Your Family by Bella Mackie

I have killed several people (some brutally, others calmly) and yet I currently languish in jail for a murder I did not commit.

Spoiler-Free Thoughts

If you like dark comedy, I think you’ll really enjoy this book. Mackie writes a really clever twist on the usual crime novel by making her narrator, Grace, fully transparent and unapologetic about her crimes. The premise is familiar; a confessional written from jail, a wrongful conviction, and the idea of vengeful killing in connection to a dysfunctional family. Yet, somehow, this novel feels really fresh and different from anything I’ve read before.

I think this book has the perfect balance between satirical comedy and deep social analysis. This definitely isn’t an easy task, and Mackie toes the line to create the perfect anti-hero. This book really had me questioning who I was rooting for, and to what extent my investment in the characters became morally problematic. We all love a complicated crime case that defies the evil, soulless villain stereotype and draws in a whole manner of issues that complicate our notions of human compassion and justice- this is exactly what How to Kill Your Family presents.

The plot is very well-written, and maintains momentum despite the series of murders on paper creating a fairly monotonous plot. I don’t think this book is overly gory or violent, but it does offer detailed descriptions of the process of murdering someone, so if you are particularly sensitive towards death I perhaps would avoid it. I listened to this as an audiobook and it never got too intense for me, but it’s definitely something to take into consideration.

Mackie doesn’t shy away from the darker sides and actions of Grace as a character, and yet the anti-hero still gained my sympathy due to her dysfunctional family. I think my opinion varied throughout the books and with each murder as to whether I could feel some measure of understanding for her motivation, but this never impacted my enjoyment of the book. All of the characters are unlikable to a certain extent, including Grace, who is arrogant and has a superiority complex that at times made me physically eye roll in response. However, I think this just made her and her crimes seem more realistic- you couldn’t have a likable narrator killing off her family.

Overall, without spoiling anything, this is a really great crime novel that is perfect for anyone who loves dark humour and is looking for their next read.

In-Depth Review (Spoilers!)

I liked the structure of the narrative, and how it followed Grace’s enactment of her plan with the present day dispersed throughout. At first the time jumps confused me, but I think that was just because I was listening to it as an audiobook and therefore not as tuned in as I would be reading it. I though the murder of her grandparents was a really interesting starting point, because it was the death that felt the most movie-like and outlandish (how many people have plotted to drive their grandparents off the side of the road in a foreign country?). Here, we get to see Grace in action before we have much investment in her character and story, and it established from the outset the problematic nature of any positive feelings towards her that develop later. I did worry at times that it would get a bit repetitive watching her murder each person one by one, but the extreme circumstances of their deaths stopped that from happening. Killing someone by remotely locking a sauna door and strangling them in a sex club can never be seen as boring.

I though Mackie struck the right balance between telling Grace’s tragic backstory and not overdoing it, and it felt like the sympathy I ended up feeling for her was organic rather than orchestrated by the author. I really began to doubt my judgement of people and morality by the end of this novel, and was very uncomfortable by the fact I was rooting for her crimes to go undiscovered and for her to be successful. I think that stands testament to the quality of Mackie’s storytelling and writing. It managed to be both funny and tackle deep social and moral issues, which I think is a really difficult task.

The only problem I had plot-wise was with the ending. It all just felt a bit too convenient to have an outside player swoop in last minute and steal her success away. I liked that Harry was peppered into the narrative the whole time, but it did feel like a way that Mackie could resolve the uncomfortable feeling of rooting for a murderer by delivering some wrong-doing to her at the end. It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate the twist, but it just felt a little too abrupt for my liking. Perhaps this was again down to me listening to the audiobook (having a male voice suddenly start talking was a little confusing!). I wish we could’ve seen Grace’s reaction to finding out that her plan had been intercepted, which I think would’ve tied the story together a little better.

In terms of characters, Mackie did a good job at not turning the family into caricatures of dysfunction. The Artemis family were awful and arrogant, but they felt like real people of the upper class that are too deep in their own privilege to care about social issues. The same goes for Grace: of course she was unlikable and judgmental, but without it her ability to murder would have seemed completely unmatched to her personality. She is completely savage about anyone or anything she doesn’t agree with, and yet she remains somewhat relatable. I think the strength in her character came from her killing the family members directly implicated in her difficult childhood. When she starts killing peripheral members of the family, it becomes harder to sympathise with her.

Overall Thoughts and Rating

This was a really enjoyable, unique book that is perfect for anyone who likes dark comedy and books that address deeper social issues. The plot and the characters invite the reader to invest and challenge their own morality, which makes for an effective and intense reading experience.

I’m giving How to Kill Your Family by Bella Mackie 4 stars.



Book Cover Opinions

Don’t judge a book by its cover. Everyone knows this idiom, but does anyone really follow it? I know I can definitely be swayed by a cover, positively or negatively. I thought it would be interesting to do a bit of a deep dive on this topic, and unpick what my opinions on this famous topic are.

A little disclaimer: these are just my opinions, and I mean absolutely no disrespect to anyone who likes these book covers, or perhaps has published books with these covers themselves. I appreciate there’s a lot that goes into covers that limit what can be created (money, access to resource or skilled creators etc.), and I would never want to foster more gate-keeping or elitism within literature.

What Book Covers Do You Like?

For me, there are two very distinctive categories of book covers that I’m particularly drawn to. Firstly, there are the stereotypically ‘pretty’ covers, often with pastels or shiny decoration that are more often than not illustrated rather than photographic. Here are some examples of the covers I own that fit into this category:

I just find my eye drawn to these books in stores, and therefore I’m more likely to pick them up and read the blurb. I do sometimes choose editions of books I already know I want to read based on the cover, because a minor price difference really isn’t enough incentive to look at an ugly book on my bookshelf for years to come.

The second category of covers that I’m particularly drawn to are the weird ones. These tend to be a little out of left field, and definitely play into my love of the absurd. These are still often illustrative rather than photographic, but that’s definitely less important than it is for ‘pretty’ book covers. Here are some examples:

Once again, I just find myself drawn to these covers, probably because they stand out so much. I like that these covers set the tone for the rest of the book, especially if that book requires you to let go of reality and accept the strange logic it presents you with. I also really enjoy reading books with strange covers around other people and just watching their confusion as they try to figure out what you could possibly be reading. Maybe that’s just me.

What Book Covers Don’t You Like?

Personally, I don’t love covers that include photos or realistic illustrations, particularly of people or when there’s a generic background photo with the title in large text over it. I just think it cheapens the look of the book, and often makes it blend in with the crowd. When I’m buying books in person, I don’t always go in with set titles in mind, so naturally I end up picking up the ones that are unique and stand out. Examples of these include:

This doesn’t mean that I’d avoid books with these covers if I was really set on reading them, it just means I’d be less likely to buy them randomly. I think these covers just sometimes feel like an afterthought or a literally translation of the content of the book, whereas illustrations (especially abstract ones) feel like a more subtle reflection.

Do you judge a book by its cover?

The ultimate question, and what this blog post was building up to. I think it’s very clear that I have preferences that definitely guide my selection of books when browsing in physical bookstores, but I don’t think these are decisive. There have been times when I’ve bought a book that I was interested in without even looking at the cover, and I really don’t worry all that much about the appearance of my books. I buy a lot of books for university that are required to be either Penguin or Oxford World Classics, so most of my books are fairly plain and (dare I say it) boring. I also buy most of my books online, so I really rarely do the cover-based browsing where my preferences take the reins.

I think if money was no object I might be a lot more selective about the editions of the books that I buy, but I could never see myself refusing to buy something because the cover wasn’t to my taste. Some of my favourite books have been purchased purely because I found the cover interesting though, so the superficial method has served me well.

I guess in my case the idiom still stands but with a small addition: don’t judge a book by its cover, but perhaps let it influence you.


Top 5 Popular Series That I’ve Never Read (and Probably Never Will)

I got this idea from the brilliant @ May’s Book Vault, so please check out her post after mine! I thought this was the perfect follow on from my childhood favourites series, because instead of hearing about the books I have read, you get to hear which ones I haven’t!

I’ve decided to just focus on popular series that I haven’t read, but I might do a similar post for stand-alone books in the future.

Without further ado, let’s begin looking at the big gaps in my reading of popular literature!

The Divergent Series

This series followed The Hunger Games (which I have read) to dominate popular culture when I was a teenager. I actually own all the books, but I just never got round to them. I was told not to watch the films until I’ve read the books, and subsequently I’ve completely missed the Divergent series.

I think it was purely just a timing problem, because I think I bought them at the same time as the Maze Runner series, which went on to being one of my favourites. I don’t really see why I would read these now, especially considering I remember hearing some more negative things about the later books. This was definitely a series I should’ve read in my teenage years.

The Mortal Instruments Series

This is one I am quite sad that I missed, and once again it is a simple matter of timing. I actually borrowed City of Bones from the library, but I was reading Pride and Prejudice at the time so I had to return it before I got the chance to start it. I’ve seen rave reviews about it, and everyone on BookTube was obsessed with these books years ago, so it really is on me.

The main reason that I wouldn’t read this series now is because I think I’ve outgrown them. It’s also a matter of buying books that aren’t my favourite genre just for the sake of it (I’m really trying to reduce my book buying). I’d never say never, but my never reading them is as close as possible.

The A Song of Ice and Fire Series

A.k.a The Game of Thrones series. What could be more popular in modern times that this TV show? Unfortunately, I never started watching it, and by the time I realised it was something I should watch it was far too big of a task to catch up. The same applies for the books; it’s not my favourite genre, and the books are all very long, so I’ve just never felt the urge to read them.

I know a lot of people read the books because of the TV show, so I think it’s quite logical that I would have not read them. I’m not too sad about missing out on this one, because I know they wouldn’t be my favourite. There are a lot more long books out there for me to tackle that would be more to my taste, so I think I’m fine with avoiding these!

The A Court of Thorns and Roses Series

I know, booktok is going to hate me for this one. I’ve heard a lot of people praising this series as being amazing, and I’ve had a lot of people urge me to read them, but I just can’t see it happening. I’m not really a series reader anymore, and honestly I don’t think I’d ever reach for them.

Fantasy is something I don’t read much of anymore, and if I do I like to stick to stand-alones. I think if this series had been popular in my early teens I would’ve read them for sure, but unfortunately I think that time has passed for me.

The His Dark Materials Series

Finally, we move onto the series I feel most guilty about not reading. I really don’t know what went wrong with this series, because I do own The Golden Compass. Maybe it was the film that didn’t click with me and put me off reading the book, or maybe it was starting with the second book in the series. Whatever it was, I begrudgingly have memories of being actively disinterested in this series when I was younger.

For similar reasons that I’ve mentioned above, I just don’t see myself ever reading this series. Now when I read literature aimed at younger age groups, it tends to be re-reads or by authors I know I like. I just don’t see where these books would fit into my tbr, and if they did I think they would just consistently be pushed to the bottom.

I hope you enjoyed reading about the series I’ve managed to skip over the years. I’m sorry if your favourite was listed- try and convince me otherwise in the comments!


Book Review: Wuthering Heights

If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger.

I had a lot of high hopes for this classic because it seems to be a lot of people’s favourites, and I’m a lover of 19th century Gothic writing. I’m not quite sure I would place this in my top spot.

Spoiler-Free Thoughts

My opening statement probably sounds quite disparaging, but I really do think this is a good classic. It feels particularly accessible because of the plot and writing style, so if you’re new to classics and you like spooky romances, this would probably be a good place to start.

That being said, I wasn’t blown away by Wuthering Heights. That might in part be because of my high expectations, but I was left feeling a bit disappointed.

The story itself was quite interesting, and I think if you go into it playing less attention to it as a romance you’ll get a lot more out of the book. There are a lot of different themes and ideas going on that get quite lost if all you focus on is the central characters and their relationship to one another.

I did really like the darkness of this book, and the fact it doesn’t shy away from the bad parts of life and human nature. Sometimes reading classics can feel like a very idealised version of life, but Brontë manages to capture negative experiences in a way that is realistic and yet intriguing.

The characters for me are where my disappointment largely lies. I wasn’t really invested in any of them, and so whilst I could pass judgement based on the morality of their actions i didn’t really care what happened to them. Not to say that they’re not well-written, but something just didn’t click for me.

I’m going to discuss the book in more specific detail, so if you don’t want to see any spoilers scroll to the bottom of this review to find my rating and concluding thoughts.

In-Depth Thoughts (Spoilers!)

As I said above, I really don’t want to be too down on this book, because it is popular for a reason. I enjoyed Bronte’s writing a lot, and I think this is a great example of classics addressing the same topics and classes of people whilst being accessible to a modern reader. Her descriptions of the landscape and spaces that the characters inhabit were very vivid and captured the Gothic feeling of the novel perfectly. I think the scene she creates helps to set the bleak and tumultuous tone that permeates the story, and reinforces the atmosphere of isolation.

In terms of the plot itself, I did find it slightly anti-climactic. I feel quite indifferent to the narrative choice of having Heathcliff and Catherine’s history being relayed to Lockwood by Nelly, and him recording it in his journal alongside his own narrative. I think it served its purpose of showing how interlinked the characters were and it did keep the mystery of what happened suspended for longer, but it did just seem like a convenient way to explain how the story was coming to be told. The main events of the novel are undeniably dramatic, covering everything from cross-generational child abuse, violence, romantic betrayal, impossible desires and insanity. For whatever reason, though, the full force of these never really connected with me. Maybe that’s because I’ve read books that cover similar topics that are far more extreme, or maybe I just never invested in the characters beyond a basic moral judgement.

Following the transition from Heathcliff being welcomed as an orphan into the Earnshaw’s home, to his suffering under Hindley due to jealousy that his late father came to prefer an orphan over him, to his running away after Catherine’s engagement definitely makes for an interesting but tragic character development. I definitely liked the fact that Bronte avoided creating a stereotypical villain who is evil for no reason, but rather explained a history of abuse and betrayal that corrupted him. I think what was missing for me from the characters of Wuthering Heights was a slither more of humanity and warmth. I know the focus on abuse and violence means that this coldness was appropriate, but I felt like there was a lack of a spectrum. Catherine was forced to make choices that went against her feelings, but she also felt unnecessarily cruel and cold throughout the novel. Her relationship with Heathcliff had far less high stakes because the passion they had for each other felt unrealistic considering their wider characters. That is probably just down to a personal preference, and I do think that after studying the book more I could change my perspective on this.

I did quite like how Linton and Young Catherine’s relationship mirrored their parents, but how the situation was reversed: whilst Catherine felt forced not to marry Heathcliff, Young Catherine is trapped and forced to marry Linton. I think this is one of my favourite aspects of the novel because of the clever aligning and reversing of each generation’s fates. Whilst Catherine was forced to leave Wuthering Heights, Young Catherine is forced to stay there with Heathcliff. In this sense, not only does Catherine haunt the space in which he lives in his mind and spectral visits, but also physical in Young Catherine’s DNA.

For me, Heathcliff’s decline into insanity and his death on the moors wasn’t the best end to the novel. I felt like Bronte didn’t want to full commit to a supernatural element to her story, and this ambiguity really diffused the tension that had been created. For such a prominent and emotional character, I would have expected a few more dramatics. I did like the way he died though, as it did reinforce their relationship for me.

Concluding Thoughts and Rating

Overall, I think this just wasn’t the book for me. It is partially my fault, because I went in with certain expectations that left me disappointed. I do think this is a great classic for people to read, especially if you enjoy Gothic-style narratives or if you want something that’s a bit more accessible in terms of writing style and language.

If anyone loves this book and has anything that might make me understand or connect with this book more, please do let me know in the comments! I really want to be proved wrong on this one.

I’m rating Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte as 3 stars.


The Dinner Guest by B.P. Walter

Four people walked into the dining room that night. One would never leave.

Matthew: the perfect husband

Titus: the perfect son

Charlie: the perfect illusion

Rachel: the perfect stranger

Charlie didn’t want her at the book club. Matthew wouldn’t listen.

And that’s how Charlie finds himself slumped beside his husband’s body, their son sitting silently at the dinner table, while Rachel calls 999, the bloody knife still gripped in her hand.

Spoiler-Free Review

Crime and murder mystery fiction is something I’ve read a decent amount of in the past year, so I feel in a good position to review a book like this.

I think Walter does a great job of misdirecting the reader’s attention and focus throughout this book, and I think there are enough elements that you’re unlikely to correctly guess the whole plot. The characters are all fairly unlikeable, and I think this really aids the misdirection; there’s no character you completely trust, and therefore nothing is out of the question

I really enjoyed the non-linear structure of the narrative, because it kept the mystery alive and fed details through in a way that at times became more confusing the more that was revealed. I’m a big fan of crime novels that manage to keep readers at the same level of understanding as the characters in the novel and yet feed them pieces of information that the characters are missing. This book definitely achieves that.

The only downside to this book comes from its genre: at times it does rely quite heavily on classic crime genre tropes. There’s only so much difference a murder mystery can have, and the idea of the looming dinner party does give it a unique twist, but there was nothing I haven’t read before in this book. Of course, there’s nothing necessarily bad about a book not being completely unique, but some of the events seemed far too theatrical for the realism of the plot because it follows crime tropes more fitting in less reality-based novels.

Overall, if you like crime and murder mystery fiction, definitely give this book a read. You won’t miss out on anything ground-breaking if you don’t read it, but you won’t regret it. I read this in one sitting, so it’s definitely captivating and a good mystery to explore.

In-Depth Review

I think the plot is very clever because as much as it uses tropes from the crime genre, it also alludes to and dismisses others. From the start, it becomes fairly clear that Rachel should be the main suspect. She stalks them to London, is found snooping around their house, and is the one holding the bloody knife. Walter alludes to the classic stalker murder story line, and then recovery’s your suspicions onto Titus. We’re shown his grandparents and Charlie convincing him to get his story straight and lie after the murder, he seems to be captivated by Rachel and is frustrated with his controlling father. Again, a son kills father narrative is alluded to, when finally Charlie is highlighted as the suspect. But the blame extends past his physical murder.

I thought it was clever to extend the mystery beyond the murder itself, and it becomes clear that the events themselves echo Charlie and Matthew’s relationship: perfect from the outside, messy and broken on the inside. Their model gay relationship is really a sexless and fading one, their perfect family is shrouded in the guilt of Matthew’s murder of Titus’ biological father, and their new book club member is determined to expose them for all their misdeeds.

I went down many wrong paths whilst reading this in an attempt to guess the plot. At first I thought Matthew was responsible for Rachel’s mother’s death (wrong family member but close!), then I thought she was in love with Titus (very glad I was wrong about that) and many more theories that were disproved. I guess that stands testament to Walter’s ability to write an effective mystery. I think that’s what makes this book really work, because you end up vaguely guessing the right events but getting the characters involved wrong, or vice versa. The events themselves (an affair, revenge for a family member, a stalker) aren’t exactly unique, so I think without this misdirection and Walter’s carefully planned release of information this book would be underwhelming.

In terms of the characters, Walter creates people that are unlikable, but still realistic. No-one is reduced to a stereotypical villain, and they all retain a crucial aspect of humanity that keeps the book firmly placed in reality. This is part of the reason why I found the ending a little problematic, because the theatricality of Rachel recording her conversation with Charlie and using it to blackmail him and Matthew’s mistress started to creep into the stereotype. I understand it sets up the potential for a sequel, and it did create a final sense of dread that undercut the resolution of the crime, but it just felt a bit odd considering the rest of the story felt like it could happen to anyone.

Concluding Thoughts

I think this is a really good example of a murder mystery that is firmly grounded in reality, and yet has all the twists and turns that make it theatrical in its own way. If you’re a huge fan of the crime genre it’s definitely worth a read, but I don’t think it would be anything new to you. For me, it’s a great murder mystery that demonstrates how stereotypes and tropes can be used without it feeling repetitive or already done.

I’m giving The Dinner Guest by B.P. Walter four stars.


The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ story lines intersect?

The Vanishing Half Blurb

Spoiler-Free Thoughts

Right off the bat, I’m going to contribute to the hype that this book has already received on the internet. If you’re put off by over-hyped books, then please skip this review and cut straight to reading this book.

The idea of this story is really simple and yet Bennett infuses it with complexity because of the themes and topics she addresses. I really liked how it shows the development of two twin sisters’ lives, both together and separately, and how their individual choices impact the family as a whole.

This book is very representative of a lot of different people, and the characters vary in race, sexuality, gender identity, class and relationships. I think Bennett creates a cast of characters who are not only widely diverse, but also are not simply stereotypes of the different groups they represent- we see a real spectrum of personalities within the society that she creates. No character is portrayed as perfect, and this book really shows how our flaws bring us together just as much as our merits.

The plot doesn’t take any major turns that you wouldn’t expect, but this book never feels predictable, and the characters’ actions always have consequences that ripple through the family and those around them. It’s an emotional story that will definitely tug on your heartstrings, and it takes you on the up-and-down journey that we all experience as we go through life. At the same time as it is utterly relatable, Bennett explores really important issues such as colourism, which for me was really eye-opening and educational about the nuances that can exist within this issue that I may not have been aware of due to cultural differences.

There are a lot of sensitive topics included in this book, including racial abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, death, colourism and racism. If you are particularly affected by any of these issues, you might want to consider whether or not this book is the right read for you.

All in all, this is an excellent read, and I don’t want to offer too many thoughts for fear of spoiling your first experience reading this. It is beautifully written, and a truly touching read.

Plot and Characters Review (Spoilers!)

The plot of this book is so cleverly crafted, and I personally really liked the jumps in time as we switched from the twins’ generation to their children’s. I think that by taking this approach, Bennett keeps the reader on the same journey as her characters as they discover how intertwined and yet separate their lives have become. By prolonging this process, the reader becomes more emotionally invested in the story, almost participating themselves in the efforts to retrace Stella’s steps and find out what happened to cause such a rift.

I really liked how the twins were distinguished from each other from the outset of the novel through their personalities, avoiding the stereotypical portrayal that equates identical looks with identical characters. The different motivations that the girls had to leave echoed this as well, but were cleverly similar; both were trying to escape trauma. I liked the fact that the subsequent lives the twins ended up living, with Stella married into a white family and Desiree returning home to Mallard to look after their mother, were the reverse of how each one had reacted to leaving their hometown. I think this shows how much we change as we grow up, and poses an interesting comment on the nature vs nurture debate in terms of showing how our experiences can change us.

In terms of the children, I have to confess that when I first started reading about Jude and Reece I really thought Reece was going to end up being the Stella’s son. Which was of course very disturbing, and I was very glad when I realised that this was not the case. Classic reading misunderstanding moment. I really liked that Jude seemed quite similar to Stella, being more practically minded and wanting to study medicine, and being quieter or more nervous. Then, when we meet Kennedy, she seems more similar to how Desiree is described as a teenager: more confident and outgoing. It was a really clever way to demonstrate how family ties remain regardless of distance and lifestyles. I did get that Kennedy was meant to be a bit spoiled, but the main part of her character to me was just how lost she was. It felt like she was the typical posh girl who was hiding behind an act of confidence how stuck she really was. Maybe that was just because I had built up a lot of sympathy for the characters in general, so I might have been too kind on her in my character assessment.

It was really sad to see how similarly tragic both Desiree and Stella’s lives were. They both felt semi-trapped after running to escape unpleasant situations, with Desiree running from her abusive husband back to her hometown and then staying there for years, and Stella running from her sexually abusive employer and getting stuck in a life pretending to be white. I did think there was going to be a big freeing moment when they reunited, and although I was surprised that this didn’t happen, I think it was better that way. It would’ve felt too false and engineered against how raw and natural the rest of the story felt. There were quite a few moments like that throughout the novel, where Bennett almost dangled the carrot of escape in front of them, whether it be Stella’s friendship with Loretta, when Jude finds Stella at the play, and the ending when Jude tells Kennedy their grandmother has died. They made the book even more beautifully painful.

I really liked the portrayal of relationships in this book. Stella and Blake represent the couple that look perfect on the outside, but are secretly unhappy and suppressing themselves to keep the relationship working. Desiree and Early are the childhood sweethearts, but are far less conventional than this trope tends to be, due to their not getting married and getting reunited under such dubious circumstances. Kennedy’s relationship with Frantz on the surface seems like a rebellious reaction to her mother’s refusal to admit her real identity, but I also think is a way for her to try and connect to her secret family and stop feeling so lost. Jude and Reece were just a refreshing couple, and it was nice to have trans representation in a novel without it being pushed to the centre; this didn’t feel performative in the slightest.

The setting of Mallard was really interesting, and it gave a different perspective of colourism than I’m used to reading. I think most of the literature I’ve consumed that confronts racism and colourism is more similar to the parts where the twins’ dad is killed by white men, or the racist abuse that the Walker family face when they move into Stella’s white neighbourhood. I thought that Bennett did a really good job of showing colourism as well as racism, particularly when Jude enters Mallard as a child and is treated as an object of disapproved spectacle. This is not something I feel particularly educated about, so I really appreciate the chance to understand this issue more.

I’ve seen some reviews that didn’t like how the ending left things unresolved between Stella and Desiree, but I personally thought it fit really well with the story. This book feels really intimate, and it is almost like looking into another family’s memories. For me, although I’d love to have seen more of how their lives unfurled, I felt like I had just reached the end of what I had a right to see. It felt like a natural point to finish the book, and I actually really like Bennett’s choice to do that.

Concluding Thoughts and Rating

This book is just amazing. I think it’s my favourite book that I’ve read this year. If you’re in doubt, read this. It’s beautifully written, emotional and completely captivating.

I’m rating The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett five stars.

Five Stars


The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde

‘There are 1.2 million human-sized rabbits living in the UK. They can walk, talk and drive cars, the result of an Inexplicable Anthropomorphising Event fifty-five years ago. 
And a family of rabbits is about to move into Much Hemlock, a cosy little village where life revolves around summer fetes, jam-making, gossipy corner stores, and the oh-so-important Best Kept Village awards. No sooner have the rabbits arrived than the villagers decide they must depart. But Mrs Constance Rabbit is made of sterner stuff, and her family are behind her. Unusually, so are their neighbours, long-time residents Peter Knox and his daughter Pippa, who soon find that you can be a friend to rabbits or humans, but not both. With a blossoming romance, acute cultural differences, enforced rehoming to a MegaWarren in Wales, and the full power of the ruling United Kingdom Anti Rabbit Party against them, Peter and Pippa are about to question everything they’d ever thought about their friends, their nation, and their species.’

The Constant Rabbit Blurb

Spoiler-Free Thoughts

I bought this book mainly because of the wacky cover, and even weirder subject matter. Dystopian isn’t my favourite genre, but I’m up for trying something new if it captures my interest.

For me, this book was definitely a very unique and clever way to make a wider point about traditional communities and resistance to the ‘other’ in the UK, but it was fairly transparent. Fforde draws very intelligent parallels between his world and our own, but in my opinion it was kept very close under the surface, alluding to this ‘hidden’ meaning in a very wink-wink-nudge-nudge kind of way. I think describing it as political satire is very fitting.

I really enjoyed the plot, because it didn’t feel too far from what could happen in our reality. Once you accept that there are anthropomorphised rabbits, all the other events feel way less outlandish, and I think that’s why I was able to enjoy this book so much despite my hesitance with the dystopian genre. A lot happens, and there’s a lot of action which helps prevent the pace of the story getting lost in Fforde’s attempts to explain his weird and wonderful rabbit world.

I definitely imagined the characters stylised like Bugs Bunny, and that definitely aided my enjoyment of the book and bought more into the satirical comedy side of this novel. Both the human and rabbit characters are well-written, and although Fforde does lean into certain stereotypes, I think this fits very well with the general tone of the book.

It’s hard to make much comment without ruining the book, and I think preserving the surprise of how events unfold really is essential in ensuring this doesn’t become a boring read, so I think I’ll leave it there. If you scroll to the bottom of my review, you’ll be able to read my concluding thoughts and rating without seeing any spoilers!

In-Depth Review (Spoilers!)

I really liked how the book opened by immediately placing us into the community and showing by example the virtues it holds dear: law and order, unity and insularity. Fforde’s use of past prime ministers as nicknames for the different library staff instantly tells you that this book is making a political message, and I appreciate that pre-warning before the proper satire began. Starting each chapter with a quote or definition and having footnotes throughout also added to this tone, and I think that whilst I wouldn’t necessarily like these choices in other cases, they worked really well with this novel.

The plot in general is very typical of the dystopian genre: a group of repressed people (or in this case, rabbits) rise up against the tyrannical power institution that is trying to control their existence. Of course, when you throw in a load of anthropomorphised rabbits, it spices it up a bit. Fforde’s plot clearly mirrors the idea of immigration or refugee camps, as the rabbits are encouraged to relocate into a MegaWarren, and are already restricted to colonies unless they have a special license. What I really enjoyed was having insight not only into the institution creating and enforcing these policies through Peter’s job as a Rabbit Spotter, but also the people encouraging them through Much Hemlock. I think this is where Fforde departs from conventional sci-fi, dystopian plots, because there is much more emphasis on how the actions of individuals spur on each side, rather than the actions of a big group as a whole.

I really enjoyed how the plot followed the development of Peter’s role as a double agent- through both his dinners with the rabbits and his operations at work, we gain more information along with him and more of this crazy world is revealed to us. I really liked that fact that Harvey was in the book from very early on, and everything seemed to tie together and have relevance. Most of the details mentioned gained greater significance or played a role later on, and I think that that shows just how good Fforde’s writing is. Most of the named characters went on to play a role that extended beyond how they were originally introduced, which really strengthened the world and made it feel a lot more real.

In terms of characters, I’ll deal with the humans first. Peter Knox, our not-so brave hero and narrator, is a likeable and relatable character. We all want to think that we would be the one leading the rebellion into battle against the evil power, but let’s be honest, most of us would settle for being a sympathetic part of a larger, malicious machine. I do appreciate the allusion to Peter Rabbit in his name (and Fforde does reference Beatrix Potter so I would suggest this is purposeful), and I thought his perspective on the events were realistic. His daughter, Pippa, is a classic strong teenage girl, who wants to do what she wants, love who she wants, and represent a moral cause. I was a bit confused why at first she was written as being reluctant to hang out with Bobby because she’s a rabbit, but I guess I would be reluctant if my dad signed me up to go shopping with a human-sized rabbit I’d never met. The Mallets are a classic chauvinistic duo, determined to banish the rabbits from Much Hemlock and reestablish the mundane traditional way of life. They are the archetype of men who support their conservative values with underhand violence and hatred, but I think considering the other villains are foxes and no-eared rabbits we can allow this.

The rabbits are driven by their movement to stop being a suppressed minority and be able to live normally in society. Constance Rabbit, Peter’s long-lost university friend/crush, is a ballsy, independent imagination of Jessica Rabbit if her surname was a more literal representation of her species. Her relationship with Doc, who is a hilarious take on the husband who hides his possessiveness over his wife under unconvincing jokes, is tumultuous and feels like a reflection of human relationships on steroids. Their children, Bobby (who is a member of the Underground rebellion group) and Kent who has a ‘burrowing’ problem), are stereotypical tear-away teens who get themselves into trouble and leave their parents to figure out where they are and what they’re up to. The rabbit family are essentially straight out of a British soap opera. Mr Ffoxe, Peter’s boss, is a great villain, largely because he holds both physical and institutional power. If it’s not enough that he threatens to eat people’s eyeballs if he believes their loyalty is fading, he probably has the power to make you and your family disappear, and never get a job again. I think this manifestation of human ‘big bosses’ is brilliant, and it definitely made me laugh.

One thing I never got comfortable with was the inter-species relationships. I got the idea that Constance was Peter’s crush at university, but the idea that they would actually be together was just a step too far into the weird for me. Harvey and Pippa’s relationship too was very fast and I really thought he was going to end up double-crossing her, because it seemed to come out of nowhere and serve little significance other than giving Fforde an excuse to raise the intensity and place Pippa in the colonies with the rabbit rebellion movement.

The ending also felt a little bit too neat of a solution to the problem. How do you solve a bunch of human-sized rabbits rebelling against their confinement by humans? Make them disappear just as magically as they apparently appeared. It just felt a bit flat to me to put so much effort into world building and establishing this weird reality just to give an ending like that. I also was baffled that Peter let Pippa turn into a rabbit and go off with Harvey. Firstly, how does that even work, and secondly, would you really let your only family member turn into a rabbit and leave you with little to no resistance to the idea? I wasn’t so convinced.

Concluding Thoughts and Rating

I think because I don’t usually like these kinds of books, my opinion might be slightly kinder than I normally would be. This book is very clever and funny, and if you enjoy political satire and weirdness this is definitely for you. Give it a try if you want something a bit different from the conventional.

I’m giving The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde four stars.

Four Stars


The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman (famous co-presenter of BBC’s Pointless) is set in a retirement home, where a group of 4 friends investigate unsolved cases to pass the time. When the murder happens on their doorstep, the group have to trade in their old case files for real investigative work. The novel follows their attempt to uncover the truth about the crime.

Spoiler-Free Review (Overall Thoughts)

This book definitely didn’t disappoint. When I started reading this I had just finished my degree, and to be honest I went in with a bit of academic snobbery. Is this just another celebrity book that probably wouldn’t have gotten published without their status? Safe to say, I was glad to be proven wrong.

I really liked the idea of setting this book in a retirement village for two reasons. Firstly, I think it puts an interesting twist on murder mystery novels, which has become fairly saturated due to its popularity. Secondly, I think it works to dissolve the idea that people in retirement villages are boring and no longer valuable to society.

Without going into too much depth, the characters were really well-written and really showcased the broad range of personalities that exist within the elderly population. Once again, there’s a strange misconception that when you reach a certain age you lose your personality, which Osman really works against. There are adventurous and shy characters, thriving and struggling characters, angry and happy characters- the novel features a varied and multi-dimensional cast.

Overall, if you want a well-written murder mystery read that has an interesting setting and characters, I’d recommend The Thursday Murder Club. It wasn’t the most shocking whodunit reveal at the end, but it definitely wasn’t too simple or obvious.

If you don’t want any spoilers, skip to the end of this review to see my rating!

In-Depth Thoughts About the Plot and Characters (Spoilers!)

I’ve read that some reviewers found the book had too many murders and suspects, which made for a confusing ending. I do agree that to get the most out of Osman’s story, it’s probably best to read the entire book in a short period of time, ideally in one to two sittings. For me, though, having multiple murders worked well because it cast suspicion on literally everyone, even Joyce and Elizabeth. Rather than having the characters involved in dodgy dealings being the main viable suspects, Osman cleverly shows that absolutely anyone could have been the killer- helping to dispel the idea that the elderly have little impact on society in a slightly more negative way.

There’s quite an unlikely band of killers: Penny, a now-dementia sufferer who used to work for the police, John, her husband, another resident of the retirement village, and Bogdan, a worker who befriends the central protagonists. Once you divert past the actual murders, you have a celebrity son with gang associations, a reverend whose secret affair with a nun ended up in her pregnancy and subsequent suicide, and a man who gave his dead wife’s family fake ashes to scatter abroad because he couldn’t part with them. I really liked how Osman captured the darkness that can hide within normal society, and the ways in which he infused each wrong-doing with complex shades of morality and humanity. There definitely were no straight forward crimes in this book.

The one critique I would make is that the start of the novel is a bit slow. It’s nothing I couldn’t push past, and I’ve seen far worse examples of a slow-opening, but nevertheless Osman doesn’t put as much animation into his scene-setting as the main action. The book really shone when the murder investigation was underway, rather than discussions about the retirement village.

The characters in general were well-written and multi-dimensional, and I especially enjoyed the group dynamics between the Thursday Murder Club and the detectives Chris and Donna. The ways in which the Club were able to use their knowledge and connections in order to make breakthroughs in the case was really interesting, and made a fresh change from detectives solving crimes in other works in the crime genre. It almost had a true crime feeling to me, and reminded me of cases where reddit users or podcast listeners have made progress with cases that previously had been left unsolved.

I also really liked how Elizabeth and Joyce’s characters complemented each other, with Elizabeth’s confidence and gumption aiding Joyce’s social awareness and perceptiveness. They felt like a real friendship duo, which made the plot seem even more authentic. I actually felt nervous when Stephen was playing chess with Bogdan at the end of the novel in case something happened to him, largely because of my investment in these two leading ladies. They also brought a real comedic aspect, especially in the moments where Elizabeth was pressing Chris and Donna for information. Their bribing of Chris with Joyce’s cakes that Joyce springs to mind as a very entertaining scene, and one of the lighter moments within the book.

Concluding Thoughts and Rating

Overall, I think The Thursday Murder Club is a crime book that everyone would enjoy, particularly readers who like the crime genre and are looking for something a little bit different. It’s an easy and entertaining read, whilst retaining enough of the mystery that makes crime literature so compelling. I thought the character writing was where Osman really shone here, and he creates a plot that is complex and multifaceted enough that it would be hard to guess all the different elements to complete accuracy.

I’m giving Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club five stars, and would highly recommend it!

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

When Amanda and Clay take their two children for a countryside getaway, they end up being more cut off than they bargained for. After arriving at their holiday home, they quickly realise a disaster has hit New York City when the homeowners, Ruth and G.H., turn up on their doorstep. Without service, internet or connection to the outside world, the families must work together to figure out how to stay safe from the world, and each other.

Overall Thoughts (Spoiler-Free)

Firstly, I think describing this book as a ‘literary thriller’ is misleading. This book works much more on suspense, the fear of the unknown and a suffocating yet terrifyingly detached atmosphere. If you go into this book expecting this rather than conventional ‘thriller’ tropes, I think you’d have a better experience.

Alam really masterfully underpins the normally comforting feeling of holiday isolation with something more sinister, and the characters’ worries and fears are passed onto you as a reader. This book is more of a slow burn, but I think that partially helps to build this atmosphere. You always feel like you’re there with the characters, waiting for something to happen, hoping it’s not as bad as your imagination suggests.

The characters are not particularly likeable, and although I think Alam does this on purpose to add to the suffocating atmosphere of his novel, I did end up getting tired of them by the end of the book. By the end of the book (which is less than 300 pages long) I didn’t really care what happened to the characters, which really killed my investment in the plot.

Overall, I was disappointed with this book. It didn’t really do anything for me personally, but I have seen a lot of positive reviews for it. If you like slow-burn, apocalyptic novels, then it might be worth trying Leave the World Behind.

Also, just a quick PSA, there is a lot of talk about sex and bodily fluids in this novel. It’s not written erotically, but characters do randomly talk about their genitalia and masturbation more often than I would’ve liked.

Id also probably give a content warning for this book. If you have health anxiety or emetophohia, this might not be the book for you.

If you don’t want to see any spoilers, skip to the end of this review to see my rating.

Plot and Characters Review (Spoilers!)

Was there really a plot to this book? Things happen, of course; a family go on holiday; some strangers turn up on the doorstep; they lose power, service and internet connection; Clay gets lost trying to get a newspaper and turns down a crying woman’s pleas for help; animals start to act strange; Archie gets sick; Rosie gets lost in the woods and finds another house. But they stay just like that, a list of things that are connected but never come together to offer a satisfying narrative.

Even considering this as an apocalypse novel, I wasn’t scared because none of the odd events had real consequences. The random deer herd appearing never had any impact, nor did the flamingo. The noise did seemingly cause Archie’s illness but we never get to see the result of that so it’s really diminished. Ruth and G.H. arriving didn’t give me a sense of danger, and they never seemed like a threat to the family. When the children are lost in the woods, we know they’ve gone exploring and so it doesn’t seem that shocking when they’re eventually found and are safe again.

I think my main problem is how little space Alam allocates to the family realising they’re in an apocalyptic situation. Yes, the service is out for most of the novel, but at first the characters aren’t really affected by this beyond an annoyance that they can’t watch. By the time Archie gets ill and all the characters go into panic mode, there is so few pages left that it almost seems like an afterthought. The noise isn’t really considered by the characters, so the suggestion that it somehow caused Archie’s decline feels really flat and a quick way to add more apocalyptic elements into the novel.

I think Amanda might be one of my least favourite characters ever written. I know this is on purpose, she’s an upward-reaching white woman who wants to be in full control of what her family are doing and yet falls apart under pressure. Clay is not much better, and seems more concerned with his genitals and toxic masculinity for most of the novel until the real danger comes and he realises he has none of the necessary skills or qualities to actually be of use in an apocalypse.

G.H. and Ruth at least make the couple tone done their weird sex and perfect family charade. Ruth is similar to Amanda but I think her being older and less brash helps her to be at least palatable. G.H. takes on the figure of a grandad and to be honest he is the only adult with much sense.

I didn’t have many issues with Archie and Rosie, which is maybe because the narrative wasn’t really focused on them or filtered through them. I liked the fact Rosie just went off on her own and tried to find some supplies to save her family at the end of the book, which was probably the most useful thing any of them did.

To be honest, I was just frustrated when I reached the end of this book and none of the building amounted to anything. For all the bad points, it wasn’t an awful read, and it was saved by the fact it was so short. I just wish Alam showed the after effects of the apocalypse.

Concluding Thoughts and Rating

Leave the World Behind wasn’t for me. I’m not the biggest fan of apocalypse novels, so it might be that this book just didn’t gel with my personal tastes. I definitely wouldn’t discourage someone from reading this if the concept made them really excited, but it was disappointing for me.

I’m giving Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam 2.5 stars.


2.5 Stars