Book Review – My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell Published by @4thEstateBooks #MyDark Vanessa #BookReview

“The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse” –Edmund Burke

Disturbing, compelling, and haunting are just a few words I’d use to describe My Dark Vanessa, which as the title suggests is a dark tale, concerning abuse. Set in and around Maine in the US, and recounted across two timelines, this is the story of 15-year-old Vanessa Wye’s love affair with her 42-year-old high school English teacher, Jacob Strane. At least, that’s how Vanessa prefers to remember it. What it really is, of course, is the complex story of a young girl who was targeted and groomed by an older man.

The opening chapter begins in 2017. Vanessa is in her early 30s and disillusioned with life and masks her disappointment by smoking too much pot and drinking too much alcohol. She discovers, via social media, that a former pupil from a private school she once attended has publicly accused her former English teacher of abuse, making Vanessa reconsider what she believes was the great love affair of her life. “When Strane and I met [she says], I was fifteen and he was forty-two. A near perfect thirty years between us. That’s how I described the difference back then––perfect.”

As the story unravels, we flit back and forth in time between Vanessa as she is now and Vanessa as she was before; a young, impressionable, lonely schoolgirl with a burgeoning crush on her charismatic teacher. Sadly though, Vanessa struggles to accept she was abused, convinced her relationship with Strane was “different”. However, the author uses Vanessa’s heightened sense of uniqueness to show the reader what it feels like to be groomed. How Strane uses Vanessa’s vulnerability to his advantage by telling her she’s “special” and how, like him, she is a “dark romantic”.

Brilliantly written, tragically sad, and emotively dark. My Dark Vanessa makes for an uneasy, troubling, but insightful and compulsive read.

Eva Jordan in conversation with award winning book blogger @annecater

Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of bringing you some great interviews with some amazing authors, however, this month I thought we’d take a look at one of the many unsung heroes of the book world, namely Book Blogger Anne Cater, whose award-winning Book Blog, Random Things Through My Letterbox, recently celebrated its 10th birthday. Among other things, Anne writes book reviews for the Daily Express, the Sunday Express Magazine, the Daily Mirror, and regularly organises blog tours for authors.

Hi Anne, thanks for chatting with me. Can you tell us all a bit about yourself?

Hi Eva, thanks so much for inviting me.  I’m 54 years old and live in a small market town in Lincolnshire, with my husband and our cat.
I spent most of my career working in the voluntary sector and the NHS but am now a full-time Blog Tour organiser. I work with big publishers, small independent publishers, PR agencies and directly with authors.

Have you always enjoyed reading books? When did you first become a book blogger?

My Mum taught me to read at an early age. She was a big reader, she loved romance, and sagas and I read all of her books after she had.

I am never without a book. The only time that I didn’t read for more than two days was when I was very ill in hospital, but other than that, I have read every single day since I was aged around 4.

I started my blog, Random Things Through My Letterbox in March 2011.

As such a prolific reader, have you ever considered writing a book yourself?

Lots of people ask that question!  People have told me to write a book, but honestly, I just don’t have a story to tell. I wish I did.

And finally, what advice would you offer anyone thinking of becoming a book blogger?

It’s hard work. Building a name takes time and dedication. It’s not just about ‘free books’, whilst it is an honour to receive so many books in the post, it can also be incredibly stressful.

Everyone wants you to read and review their book. You really have to pace yourself, only accept the books that you really want to read.

Do it your own way, there’s no right or wrong way at all, just don’t include spoilers in your reviews.

Join the bookish community on social media. Talk to other bloggers, to publishers, to authors online. Share your blog posts. Don’t just Tweet them once and then never mention them again. If you love a book, shout about it, and keep shouting.

Enjoy it. If it starts to become a chore, or feel like work, then stop. It’s supposed to be a fun hobby, something different from work. A release, a place to be happy.

Of course, if you wish to generate an income from blogging, then that’s fine too, but again, it will take a lot of work. Book Blogging is not something that will make you rich!

Thanks for being such a great guest, Anne xx

If you’d like to know more about Anne, I highly recommend a visit to her wonderful website and Blog Random Things Through My Letterbox

Eva Jordan in conversation with @SVaughanAuthor

This month I’m really honoured to be chatting to the lovely, and very talented Sarah Vaughan. Sarah is the author of four novels, including her current international bestseller, Little Disasters, which was released as a paperback on the 4th March and is also my book of choice for this month’s book review, which you can read here. Sarah’s critically acclaimed third novel, Anatomy of A Scandal (read my review here), is at present being filmed as a Netflix series with an all-star cast including Sienna Miller, Michelle Dockery, and Rupert Friend, which I for one can’t wait to see! Fingers crossed it does the book justice. If the cast is anything to go by, I’d say that’s highly probable.

Welcome Sarah, thanks for being my guest today. Can you tell us all a bit about yourself? I understand you used to be a news reporter and political correspondent on the Guardian?

I read English at university then did a regional newspaper journalism course and joined the Press Association as a trainee. After 20 months I was working on the Guardian, first as a news reporter, ultimately working on stories like the murder of Sarah Payne and the Soham murders, and then as a political correspondent – joining just as we went to war with Iraq under Tony Blair. I left the lobby after my first baby, and left the Guardian to freelance, in 2008, after my second was born. But I hated freelancing and the week that I turned 40 and my youngest started school I started my first novel, The Art of Baking Blind. It was bought in a pre-empt 13 months later.

Having read English at Oxford as a student, I assume you’ve always had an interest in writing? And if so, what writers have inspired you?

Absolutely. As a teen, I remember reading Jane Austen and DH Lawrence and trying to tease out what they were doing with language. I also devoured Agatha Christies and some Daphne du Maurier (I read Rebecca at 13 but, as with my reading Jane Eyre at nine! failed to understand the darkness of it all). As a writer, the list’s endless but I’m always interested in anything new by Kate Atkinson, Hilary Mantel, Elizabeth Strout, David Nicholls. I’ve also learned from writer peers writing clever psychological thrillers such as Lucy Atkins, Susie Steiner, Louise Candlish, Erin Kelly, Sabine Durrant, Eve Chase.

Although a difficult subject matter, I thought your fourth novel, Little Disasters, was brilliant, wonderfully written. However, for me, out of the two, Anatomy of A Scandal is probably my favourite. Not by much, I hasten to add, but at the time of reading it, with global movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp taking place, it felt, and still does, very socially and politically poignant. How do you feel about this story being turned into a Netflix series? The cast looks amazing. Have you had any input or say in the casting or the filming?  

There is absolutely no negative to having your novel filmed by Netflix and I have loved the process. I’m very lucky in that I’m an executive producer so have felt very in the loop re casting, though I’ve no creative control, and have been able to offer feedback on various drafts of the scripts. Filming started at the start of November and will continue into the spring, but because of covid I haven’t yet been on set. Beyond wanting it to be filmed in the UK, I haven’t had any input into that locations, but they are incredible. It’s being part produced by the team behind The Undoing and I think it will look equally visually stunning.

And finally, the question I love to ask all writers! For anyone thinking of becoming a writer, what advice would you offer?

It’s a real cliché but read. Read in your genre and out of it and read thoughtfully. What is Austen saying about Mrs Bennett there? How is she doing it? How is Mantel getting us inside Cromwell’s head? I’d also pick apart a novel in the genre you want to write. Where are the peaks and troughs, the cliff-hangers, the twists? How does the author make you want to read on? Are there plot holes? Are the characters consistent and psychologically credible? I’d also recommend John Yorke’s Into the Woods, which I read before writing Anatomy. Don’t show it to anyone too early – you don’t want your confidence crushed; be persistent; be diligent; keep going. And good luck!

Little Disasters is on sale in Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Asda, and all independent bookstores.

Book Review – Little Disasters by @SVaughanAuthor published by @simonschusterUK

“Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn’t know you had… and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed” –Linda Wooten

Having read and loved Sarah Vaughan’s 3rd novel, Anatomy of a Scandal, which is currently being filmed as a Netflix series with an all-star cast including Sienna Miller, Michelle Dockery and Rupert Friend, I couldn’t wait to read this, the author’s 4th novel.

I’m pleased to say it didn’t disappoint.

The author’s skilful and emotive storytelling immediately drew me in, reminding me of my own early days as a mother. How exhausting and overwhelming it can sometimes feel – “The cry builds. At first it is pitiful… Tentative, tremulous, just testing how it will be received… cranks up a gear as she draws the baby close… her eyes well[ing] with self-pity and frustration and an exhaustion so entrenched she is sometimes knocked off balance”.

The two main protagonists of this taut thriller are Jess, a mother of three, including her infant daughter Betsey, and her best friend Liz, also a mum and senior registrar of paediatrics at their local London hospital. From the outside looking in, Jess gives the impression of being the perfect stay at home mum. However, when she arrives at the hospital A&E department with Betsey, who appears to have suffered some sort of head trauma, Liz is both concerned and confused by her friend’s behaviour. Jess, who doesn’t seem particularly worried about her baby girl, is aloof, detached, which Liz knows is completely out of character for Jess. Liz wants to help her friend but when she questions Jess about what happened and Jess refuses to open up, Liz starts to fear the worst. She knows she has a duty of care towards Betsey, but she also knows that her next decision could have a huge impact on both on Jess and her family, and their friendship.  

Little Disasters is a tense, thought-provoking thriller that cleverly and considerately explores the complexities of early motherhood and post-natal anxiety. However, it is also a story about friendship. About the public facade we often hide behind, and how, wrapped up in our own lives and our perception of others, a cry for help can go unnoticed… sometimes with devastating consequences.

Little Disasters is on sale in Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Asda, and all independent bookstores.

 
It’s also available here at Waterstones and here at WH Smiths.

And click below to get your copy at Amazon.