Highlights in the Charts
By Jenna Tomlinson
How To Kill Your Family by Bella Mackie
A title likely to raise a few eyebrows if you read this in front of your relatives, Mackie’s How to Kill Your Family is the story of Grace Bernard: her life, her desire for revenge and her wrongful imprisonment. Wrongful, because she is in prison for the only murder she did not commit.
This is Mackie’s first foray into fiction, but not into writing overall. She is a freelance journalist and has previously written a non-fiction book Jog On. How to Kill Your Family has the dark humour and wry wit of a seasoned fiction writer, something that is not easy to achieve. Mackie’s protagonist, Grace, tells her story from a prison cell after being arrested for the one murder she did not commit. Her story is of how she was out to avenge her mother’s death (and previous mistreatment by Grace’s father, an ultra-wealthy businessman) and claim her paternal family’s wealth as her own by murdering each member of her father’s selfish and intolerable family. Plotting and conspiring, we learn how Grace committed murders both brutally and calmly (her own words) all whilst providing a scathing social commentary on everything from influencer culture to feminism and sexual kinks to the mistreatment of workers. She is calm, collected and determined but mostly she is pragmatic.
However, there is another side to Grace. A snobbish and selfish side – not unlike that of the family members she loathes. She comments negatively on people’s ‘wine from Tesco’, fat shames people at a sex party and looks down her nose on women with eating disorders. Terrible traits in any person, but ones that are made more terrible by the fact that she continually reminds the reader how different she is to her father’s awful family. This duality of Grace’s personality is where the cracks begin to show. I loved this book with its dark comedy and strong female protagonist, but it felt too familiar. Which it is, because Mackie’s story is a gender twist on Israel Rank by Roy Horniman, the basis for the film Kind Hearts and Coronets, meaning that if you are familiar with either, you will instantly see where Grace’s story is going. We see Grace reading Israel Rank in the book, in what is one of many very ‘meta’ moments.
Ultimately, Mackie has created a ‘marmite’ protagonist, but with a backstory that makes you want to root for her, even if what she is doing is morally unacceptable. If you enjoy dark humour, then this book is a great read – I just wish some of the twists had been better.
The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling
“Never mix witchcraft and vodka…” is a strapline that was always going to get my attention. In Sterling’s fun and spellbinding romantic fiction, Vivienne Jones has had her heart broken by the charmingly handsome Rhys Penhallow and so she deals with it as most young girls do: sad songs, bubble baths, vodka and cursing Rhys. Nothing out of the ordinary there, except that Vivienne is a witch and her curse actually works. Just not entirely in the way she wanted.
The Ex Hex follows Vivienne as she is abruptly reunited with Rhys – devastatingly handsome ex-boyfriend and fellow witch – some nine years later when he returns to her sleepy town to charge the town’s ley lines. Her hopes of avoiding Rhys are shattered when the town falls prey to a slew of magical torture such as violent wind-up toys, a vengeful ghost, potions that work too well and a talking cat. Vivienne soon realises that her harmless curse was anything but and the two must work together to find a way to break the curse and return things back to normal.
The two characters have clear chemistry and their (somewhat futile) attempts to keep things platonic whilst having to work so closely and clearly still having feelings for each other is not always an easy feat. They are awkward around each other, but the dialogue is not and Sterling manages to tread the fine line between showing the personality of the characters and their stumble to retain face around each other without delving into dramatised or contrived dialogue. The chapters alternate between Vivienne’s point of view and Rhys’, giving you an insight into both characters' feelings and thoughts. It makes the chapters snappy and you are eager to turn the page and find out more. Graves Glen is all decked out for Halloween in the book and so you get the cosy autumn feel of a night in front of an open fire in fluffy slippers with a hot chocolate. Think Practical Magic, Don’t Hex and Drive and Gilmore Girls and you are on the right lines.
The Ex Hex is a fun and charming fantasy romp – an easy-reading page turner with flirtatious banter and ‘meet cutes’ to boot. It is a short book that will leave you wanting more.