Book Review : Dead Relatives by Lucie McKnight Hardy

Dead Relatives. Well where do I start?!? Maybe firstly with a thank you and an apology.

The Thank You going to Jordan at Dead Ink Books for sending me an copy of this stunner before publication day.

And the apology again to Jordan and author for Lucie McKnight Hardy for the delay in getting the review written. I know it’s so last year but blame Covid!

Dead Relatives is a collection of short stories with a deeply delicious and unsettling tone. From the title story, whose last paragraph made me throw the book in surprise (only to grab it straight back hungry for more) to the last tale, there is glorious sense of horror and unease.

Comparisons to Shirley Jackson are wholly justified, but there is no doubt that Lucie McKnight Hardy has a style completely of her own. These stories are all the more powerful for being rooted firmly in the every day. These tales hang themselves on the domestic, on family dynamics and deep seated emotion; elements that combine to develop an unstopped and unbearable tension that spills over in the macabre and delights in it’s power to both shock and delight.

It is also impossible to ignore and wonderful to celebrate the strong female characters within these stories. There is a sense of long held wrongs being righted, often in the most unexpected and darkest ways.

If I had to choose a favourite tale, if you really, really pushed me, I would plump for Dead Relatives but the gloriously dark Resting Bitch Face and The Pickling Jar are screaming at me from the sidelines!

If you want an October read to push the boundaries of darkness, malevolence and everything in between than Dead Relatives is just the book for you!

Rachel. X

Book Review: Cat Step by Alison Irvine

I have said it before and I will say it again, sometimes blogging and the book blogging community leads me to a book that I would never have stumbled upon otherwise. This very definitely the case with Alison Irvine’s recently published novel Cat Step. I am grateful to Jordon Taylor- Jones for my gifted copy. It arrived on Saturday and was read, cover to cover, by Sunday afternoon.

This is the story of Liz, a talented dancer who previously made her living and also found the love of her life working on cruise ships. Yet when we meet her that golden time seems long past. Recently arrived in Lennoxtown, Liz finds herself making a spilt second decision with far reaching consequences.

Her four year old daughter Emily is unwell, and has, after a fitful night, has fallen asleep in the car on the way to the local shops. Exhausted, harassed and unsupported, Liz decides to leave her daughter sleeping in the locked car while she runs into the shop. But when a thief tries to break in this decision comes to everyone’s attention and defines Liz’s arrival in the sleepy Scottish town.

Told from Liz’s perspective we see first hand the challenges a young and fragile mother faces as she tries to come to terms with a life she never expected and all the things she has lost. It is the absence of Emily’s father, Robbie that has brought Liz to this remote place, far from the support she has in her native London. And it is the pursuit of truths both in her own past and that of others that will either move her forwards or push her further under.

There is no doubt that Liz is struggling; struggling to connect with her young daughter, struggling to find direction in a life that hasn’t turned out the way she planned and struggling to find someone who she can trust to confine in and help her find a way through.

This is a novel that looks at the small choices we make every day, the choices that we make unwittingly, those actions we take at times of great change or under great pressure. This novel examines and highlights how those choices stack up and how they might appear to other people looking in. This novel focuses on how judgements attached to these choices can be life defining and life limiting and throw us onto a entirely different course.

Liz is a character who is entirely believable and familiar. Written with empathy and skill the author lays bare motivations which are easily identified. As a reader we follow the trajectory of Liz’s experiences and choices, sometimes with a sense of hope, sometimes with despair. The people she encounters in Lennoxtown give of themselves sparingly and only a piece at a time. At a time in her life when Liz needs, even if she can’t acknowledge it, a level of support and understanding the reader is left wondering is she will find the stability and answers she needs.

This is a simple story and yet at the same time one driven by complexity and confusion. This is the story of how life, experience and grief can blur all those red lines and make the unexpected and unthinkable a sudden and unlooked for reality.

Rachel x