Book Review: How To Kill Your Family by Bella Mackie

I am lucky enough to be sent loads of advance review copies of books to read – often unsolicited from publishers. But when I heard that Bella Mackie had written her first fiction book, I actively sought out a copy on NetGalley! I love Bella’s writing style (and podcasting and Instagram styles) and so was keen to see what her foray into non non-fiction would be like.

Here’s the blurb:

I have killed several people (some brutally, others calmly) and yet I currently languish in jail for a murder I did not commit.
When I think about what I actually did, I feel somewhat sad that nobody will ever know about the complex operation that I undertook. Getting away with it is highly preferable, of course, but perhaps when I’m long gone, someone will open an old safe and find this confession. The public would reel. After all, almost nobody else in the world can possibly understand how someone, by the tender age of 28, can have calmly killed six members of her family. And then happily got on with the rest of her life, never to regret a thing.
A wickedly dark romp about class, family, love… and murder.
Outrageously funny, compulsive and subversive, perfect for fans of Killing Eve and My Sister, the Serial Killer.

I really enjoyed this book from the start. It’s dark and funny and brilliantly observed – just as I expected it to be based on Bella’s previous output.

It’s written from the point of view of Grace Bernard who is in prison for a murder she didn’t commit. However, there have been plenty of murders she did commit that she escaped justice for – and she decides to use the time in prison to write her memoir. The book flits between the present day in prison back to Grace’s childhood and then through the various murders. Grace is clearly a really dark character – capable of multiple murders – but despite that, you still really like her and are rooting for her! It did remind me of the TV series ‘Killing Eve’ and the film ‘Promising Young Woman’ in that way.

The descriptions of the murders are like mini films in their own right (perfect episodes of a TV series should any TV execs be reading this?!) and each setting is really well written and evokes the relevant atmosphere, be that the Costa del Sol / marshlands / Monaco / seedy sex clubs – it’s nothing if not varied. (I should point out I have no actual experience of seedy sex clubs when making this comment!)

Whilst I am no way claiming that Bella herself could be a serial killer – there are definitely elements of Grace that remind me of Bella, such as helping her mental health with running (although no mention of pausing her runs for window and door photos?) and a love of beautiful accessories.

The observations of different ‘types’ of people are spot on – be they the do gooder virtual signalling posh woman, to the business tycoon and his ‘new money’ family, to the petty criminal cell mate, to the braces wearing barrister – you will DEFINITELY recognise people you know (or have read about in celebrity magazines). It’s so clever and slick and sharp and bitchy – but in a fabulous way.

Now you know this book isn’t going to have a saccharine sweet fairy tale ending, with everyone living happily ever after – but I did not expect the massive twists of the last few chapters – it was brilliant and perfect for the book. I was actually really sad to finish the book – which is always the sign of a good read I guess.

‘How To Kill Your Family’ is out in July 2021 and I would highly recommend you pre order it now!

Thank you to NetGalley and Harper Fiction for my ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Murder of Graham Catton by Katie Lowe

I was lucky enough to be given an advance review copy of ‘The Murder of Graham Catton’ by the publisher – and I am so glad I was, as it’s BRILLIANT (and out now #drowninginbooks). Here’s the blurb:

Ten years ago, Hannah Catton’s husband was brutally murdered in their home.
The murderer was convicted. The case was closed.
But now a podcast called Conviction is investigating this horrific crime – and they have Hannah in their sights.
Someone knows more than they’re letting on, and listeners are about to become judge, jury and executioner as they undercover the truth about the murder of Graham Cat

The book follows two timelines – back in 2008 when Hannah’s husband Graham is murdered – and then in 2018 when a true crime podcast decides to investigate the crime, as the lad convicted for it has always protested his innocence. The book is very clever at showing the way now, in the age of social media, that something like a podcast can bring a ‘pile on’ to the people / victims / potential murderers that is a curse of our age. It’s frightening to see how that develops. It’s also disturbing (and I suspect true in real life) how many people are prepared to sell out a friend or family member for the sake of their 15 minutes of fame in a podcast.

During the book Hannah appears to be something of an unreliable narrator. She claims no memory of what happened a decade ago and is clearly ‘haunted’ by her dead husband. Hannah also works at a psychiatric facility for teenage girls with eating disorders – and her knowledge as a psychiatrist is evident in her own musings but also in her relationship with her family and friends – as she’s hyper aware of what they may be thinking of her and themselves. I do think that sometimes stops Hannah from opening up to people and admitting how she’s feeling as she doesn’t want to be judged. If she’d just talked to people it could have changed various outcomes.

The relationship between Hannah and her daughter Evie in both timelines is written really well. From the small innocent child when her father was murdered, to the slightly stroppy teenager when everything is brought up again 10 years later. I found this a really believable element of the book (being the mother of a teenage daughter – and with a pre teen called Evie!). I also loved the relationship between Hannah’s new partner Dan, and Evie – he was a great step Dad and clearly provided stability for Evie when her Mum was being a bit flaky.

Hawkwood House looms large – literally and figuratively – in the book. It’s an old psychiatric facility where Hannah’s Grandmother was incarcerated for murdering her husband and child. It has a magnetic hold over Hannah – and when she randomly bumps into an ex colleague who is hoping to refurbish it and start her own facility for women only, it really piques Hannah’s interest. The descriptions of the house and it’s decaying condition before the refurbishment starts is brilliantly described – and quite scary.

Throughout the book there are twists and turns, and you’re not sure who you should be suspicious of! I’d suspected loads of different people in both timelines and still didn’t get either right – which I think shows what a great book this is.

It is quite dark – and there are some pretty gruesome descriptions at times – but that just added to the content. It’s really well written and the characters really well constructed.

It’s pretty rare for me to give 5 stars on Net Galley – I have to be blown away to click on that 5th star – but this is a full house of stars from me. A really excellent crime / mystery / thriller read.

Book Review: Food Isn’t Medicine – Challenge Nutrib*llocks and Escape The Diet Trap by Dr Joshua Wolrich

I read this book a little while ago – but have been nervous about writing a review. Not because I didn’t like the book – I really did – but I was nervous about what people would say and think. Now I don’t mean random internet trolls – by ‘people’, I mean family and friends who would say ‘of course she wants to sack off diet culture, being so overweight’ and such like. Where many things are now deemed unacceptable – making comments about people’s perceived health based on their size is still rampant. But as that’s fairly fundamental to the book – I thought I should but on my big big girl pants (repetition intended!) and write a review!

Here’s the blurb:

Losing weight is not your life’s purpose.
Do carbs make you fat?
Could the keto diet cure mental health disorders?
Are eggs as bad for you as smoking?
No, no and absolutely not. It’s all what Dr Joshua Wolrich defines as ‘nutribollocks’ and he is on a mission to set the record straight.
As an NHS doctor with personal experience of how damaging diets can be, he believes every one of us deserves to have a happy, healthy relationship with food and with our bodies. His message is clear: we need to fight weight stigma, call out the lies of diet culture and give ourselves permission to eat all foods.
Food Isn’t Medicine wades through nutritional science (both good and bad) to demystify the common diet myths that many of us believe without questioning. If you have ever wondered whether you should stop eating sugar, try fasting, juicing or ‘alkaline water’, or struggled through diet after diet (none of which seem to work), this book will be a powerful wake-up call. Drawing on the latest research and delivered with a dose of humour, it not only liberates us from the destructive belief that weight defines health but also explains how to spot the misinformation we are bombarded with every day.
Dr Joshua Wolrich will empower you to escape the diet trap and call out the bad health advice for what it really is: complete nutribollocks.”

I’ve followed Dr Joshua Wolrich on social media for some time – so when I saw he had a book coming out I was keen to read it. After a failed attempt to download the audio book off NetGalley, I parted with hard cash for a hard copy. A couple of years ago I read ‘Just Eat It’ by Laura Thomas – and it was interesting that she, and intuitive eating, are mentioned early on by Dr Joshua – and I was glad to cover the topic again.

The various chapters include ‘Your Weight Does Not Define Your Health’, ‘Stop Demonising Carbs’, ‘Food Cannot Cure Cancer’ and ‘Improving Your Relationship With Food’ and cover a whole range of different topics surrounding the diet culture we live in and, as so eloquently put, nutrib*llocks!

Dr Wolrich starts by talking about ‘health at every size’ and how often people who do carry extra pounds are discriminated against – particularly when it comes to medical treatment. I witnessed this through a friend who had a number of chronic health conditions and was permanently being told that they would improve if she lost weight. Following bariatric surgery she lost a lot of weight – but unfortunately this has not been the magic switch to cure everything else.

He also talks about how diet culture has normalised ‘disordered eating’ – how many people have said ‘Oh I can’t eat that, I’m being good’? For most people disordered eating stays that – but in some instances it can lead to a full blown eating disorder. Throughout the book Dr Wolrich references specific documents – but also to organisations and resources that could provide help and support such as BEAT.

I know that for myself – being immersed in diet culture for most of my adult life has left me with disordered eating issues. Last year I went to see a nutritionist who ran various tests – and despite being classed as morbidly obese per my BMI (I was shocked to read in the book how BMI was originally set up – and the spuriously random way levels were set) my visceral fat was only just above the normal range. This is probably because I exercise regularly and eat a pretty varied and sensible diet. The nutritionist said that my excess poundage was therefore mostly aesthetic. When we looked at my diet I was significantly lacking in fibre – which I think harps back to a low carb phase I went through in the noughties (who didn’t?!). Reintroducing complex carbs properly into my diet has helped no end with my piles issues (never knowingly undershared!)

When our then 7 year old was diagnosed with CRMO (Chronic Recurrent Multifocal Osteomyelitis) a couple of years ago she was prescribed a high dosage of ibuprofen by the consultant rheumatologist. We asked if she should look at her diet – but their advice was no, as long as she was eating a sensible, varied diet. However, many friends and family made suggestions of what she should try – cut out dairy / cut out wheat / low carb / anti inflammatory diet etc. But when this was suggested to the small, grumpy girl who was struggling to walk because of painful bones – her response was ‘but if I cut out gluten and start taking the medicine at the same time, how will I know which of them is working if the pain stops?’ Pretty perceptive from the child. And thankfully the prescribed drugs HAVE worked and currently her CRMO is seemingly in remission. Yay to medical science! Anyway – I digress wittering on about me and my family – back to the book!

Dr Wolrich is not saying that everyone should stuff their faces every day with doughnuts and hang the consequences – but he is saying that food should not be used instead of medicine. He also points out that food consumption often depends on many different factors – including socio economic situations and education – and food inequity is a big issue even in the UK. He also states that in specific situations and with specific illnesses there are times when dietary interventions are sensible, to quote:

Can food be used alongside medicine? 100 per cent. Should we be encouraging the dietary interventions when possible? Of course Might this be important when someone can’t tolerate medicine due to side effects? I’d say so. Are they equivalent to medicine? Absolutely not.

There’s also some really interesting points about putting a disease (such as diabetes) into remission rather than curing it with food – and the alleged obesity / cancer link that Cancer Research UK put on recent adverts is also unpacked excellently.

I really enjoyed the fact that the book feels very well researched – with references aplenty, kind of like a medical journal in itself. So much ‘noise’ in the ‘wellness’ area is being peddled by people who will make a financial gain from what they’re selling – and, as with many areas of life, some of the most vocal exponents of specific fads have chosen only to find evidence to back up what they believe rather than look at the wider picture.

We eat FOOD we don’t eat individual nutrients – and food is definitely more than it’s constituent parts. He concludes with the following short guidelines:

– Eat more vegetables and fruits
– Eat more sources of fibre (grains, seeds, nuts, beans and legumes)
– Include oily fish, lean white meat, eggs and plant sources of protein (such as tofu)
– Include both olive and rapeseed oil (extra virgin if you can afford it)
– Include diary (yoghurt, milk and cheese)
– Eat less sugar, saturated fat, and red and processed meat

And to focus on inclusion. Including more nutritious food rather than trying to exclude less nutritious items is going to both improve your health and benefit your relationship with food. Win-win.

All of this sounds eminently sensible and achievable – definitely food for thought (shit pun definitely intended!)

Book Review: Waiting To Begin by Amanda Prowse

I’d had an advance review copy of this on my Kindle for months and never got round to reading it – but I’m so glad I finally did, and just before publication date which was 8 June 2021!

Here’s the blurb:

“1984. Bessie is a confident sixteen-year-old girl with the world at her feet, dreaming of what life will bring and what she’ll bring to this life. Then everything comes crashing down. Her bright and trusting smile is lost, banished by shame―and a secret she’ll carry with her for the rest of her life.
2021. The last thirty-seven years have not been easy for Bess. At fifty-three she is visibly weary, and her marriage to Mario is in tatters. Watching her son in newlywed bliss―the hope, the trust, the joy―Bess knows it is time to face her own demons, and try to save her relationship. But she’ll have to throw off the burden of shame if she is to honour that sixteen-year-old girl whose dreams lie frozen in time.
Can Bess face her past, finally come clean to Mario, and claim the love she has longed to fully experience all these years?”

The book is based on Bess’s birthdays and follows two timelines which alternate – her 16th birthday in 1984 and her 53rd birthday in 2021. I’m a little bit younger than Bess – but still close enough in age to totally empathise with the setting of both birthdays. Many a rugby club party where I embarrassed myself too (throwing up on the geography teacher’s shoes being one of the more repeatable ones!).

The two timelines are totally believable – although you’re not sure exactly what has happened to Bess in the intervening years. The relationship between Bess and her brother Philip and parents is written so well in both timelines – and whose retired parents don’t love a voucher for lunch out?!

I also liked the random fact that our favourite resort in Portugal, Vale do Lobo, where we used to have a house (must be a construction company thing – as the people who own a house there are skip company owners #newmoney) gets a mention. I could picture the beach top dog walk. (Please let us be able to go back there soon!!)

A number of times I wanted to shout at Bess to not do something – but obviously couldn’t!! Overall I enjoyed the book – and was keen to see how each timeline played out – and found the ending very satisfying.

It’s out now – so you can download it immediately if you like the sound of it. A huge thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my ARC.

Book Review: Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Like the rest of the world, I read Daisy Jones and The Six back in 2019. I really enjoyed it, and so when I saw Taylor Jenkins Reid had her next book out, I jumped onto NetGalley for an advance review copy. Here’s the blurb:

“From the New York Times bestselling author of Daisy Jones & The Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo . . . Four famous siblings throw an epic party to celebrate the end of the summer. But over the course of twenty-four hours, their lives will change forever.
Malibu: August 1983. It’s the day of Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas:
Nina, the talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer; and their adored baby sister, Kit. Together the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over—especially as the offspring of the legendary singer Mick Riva.
The only person not looking forward to the party of the year is Nina herself, who never wanted to be the center of attention, and who has also just been very publicly abandoned by her pro tennis player husband. Oh, and maybe Hud—because it is long past time for him to confess something to the brother from whom he’s been inseparable since birth. Jay, on the other hand, is counting the minutes until nightfall, when the girl he can’t stop thinking about promised she’ll be there. And Kit has a couple secrets of her own—including a guest she invited without consulting anyone. By midnight the party will be completely out of control. By morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames. But before that first spark in the early hours before dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play, and the loves and secrets that shaped this family’s generations will all come rising to the surface. Malibu Rising is a story about one unforgettable night in the life of a family: the night they each have to choose what they will keep from the people who made them . . . and what they will leave behind.”

The book flicks between two timelines. Firstly there are the 24 hours building up to and including the annual Rivas party – and then back to the 1950s when Mick and June Riva meet and have 4 children. The second timeline continues at pace through the children’s childhoods and all they go through. I enjoyed the different speeds of the timelines.

Much like ‘Daisy Jones and the Six’ it appears to intertwine real life people of the era with the characters in the book in a very clever way. Malibu itself and the amazing coastline is also a character in itself.

The eldest sister, Nina, has definitely put herself way down the pecking order over the years – looking after her siblings, and I felt sorry for her at times as she’d never put herself first. Equally the siblings all had secrets from each other that evolved during the hours leading up to and during the party.

The party itself is fairly horrific – and the trashing of the house awful – it made me feel quite sick the amount of destruction that happened.

One minor niggle was the book talked about Madeira being in Portugal. And whilst Madeira is a Portuguese territory, it is a totally separate island in the Atlantic and it wasn’t mentioned like this at all. (I realise this makes me sound like a total pedant – but hey ho!!) But I had never realised Madeira was a surfers haven – I think of it as a place where my parents and other retirees go for some winter sun!!

Overall it was an immersive read and I did enjoy it, and the twists and turns in both timelines were excellent. In fact I think I enjoyed it more than Daisy Jones and the Six. I also thought that the ending was really well done with lots of the individual story arcs being concluded.

Thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for my ARC. It was released last week, so if you like the sound of it you can buy it now!