Book Review: The Girl from Widow Hills by Megan Miranda

girlwidow

Everyone knows the story of “the girl from Widow Hills.”

Release Date: June 23, 2020

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Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Price: $18.89 (hardback)

Plot Summary:

Arden Maynor was just a child when she was swept away while sleepwalking during a terrifying rainstorm and went missing for days. Strangers and friends, neighbors and rescue workers, set up search parties and held vigils, praying for her safe return. Against all odds, she was found, alive, clinging to a storm drain. The girl from Widow Hills was a living miracle. Arden’s mother wrote a book. Fame followed. Fans and fan letters, creeps, and stalkers. And every year, the anniversary. It all became too much. As soon as she was old enough, Arden changed her name and disappeared from the public eye.

Now a young woman living hundreds of miles away, Arden goes by Olivia. She’s managed to stay off the radar for the last few years. But with the twentieth anniversary of her rescue approaching, the media will inevitably renew its interest in Arden. Where is she now? Soon Olivia feels like she’s being watched and begins sleepwalking again, like she did long ago, even waking outside her home. Until late one night she jolts awake in her yard. At her feet is the corpse of a man she knows—from her previous life, as Arden Maynor.

And now, the girl from Widow Hills is about to become the center of the story, once again, in this propulsive page-turner from suspense master Megan Miranda.

Grade: C

Review:

Let me preface this by stating that I really loved All The Missing Girls, but was sorely disappointed in The Last House Guest. But I was willing to give Miranda another chance and was thrilled when I was selected to review her latest novel.

My biggest issue with this book is that for a thriller, it’s very slow-moving. There’s no sense of urgency and there are a lot of repetitive phrases and rehashing of the same story over and over again, and I don’t know if that was to fill a certain page quota or what, but a lot of the flashback, news clippings, or 911-calls chapters didn’t really reveal anything new. There isn’t even a body until 30% in the book!

Another issue that I had with the book is that I just couldn’t get invested in any of the characters. All the side characters felt shady and the protagonist, Olivia was annoying beyond measure.

Now, there are two major twists, one that I saw coming a mile away and another that I didn’t really expect. Did these two major twists save the novel? Yes and no. It’s always nice when a thriller can throw a surprise ending, but for a novel that was at a snail’s pace with no sense of urgency or threat, it was a little too late.

If you’re more of a cozy mystery sort of reader, then you may enjoy this novel very much. But if you’re a reader who loves fast-paced thrillers, then you may want to pass on this one.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Coming Soon: Baby Teeth in Midnight in the Pentagram

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2020 has been both the best of times and the worst of times for me. Oddly enough, it’s been a most fortuitous year in regards to my writing. I signed two new contracts for short stories, have a short story coming out in June, and Strange Girls: Women in Horror Anthology had the best sales ever. The worst of times, of course, refers to all of us having to deal with a global pandemic and all the stress and worry that comes along with that.

Not to dismiss a serious topic aside, I do wish to focus on the positives. And one of the best thing that has happened this year so far is having my short story, Baby Teeth selected for the anthology Midnight in the Pentagram published by Silver Shamrock Publishing. These guys are total badasses when it comes to horror publications so I was over the moon at being selected.

Baby Teeth is the story of a young mother, Melissa, who begins to feel that there’s something seriously amiss with her new baby. I was slightly inspired by Rosemary’s Baby, but I was also fascinated with the notion of, what part is real and what part is merely Melissa suffering from post-partum depression?

It’s one hell of a twisted, scary treat and I’m looking forward to all of you getting a chance to read it soon. As of right now, I don’t have any official release dates, but I’m hoping for a Fall 2020 release as it seems the most appropriate.

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5 Paperbacks to Check Out This Summer

Summertime for many is when they love reading by a pool or at the beach. And since Kindles are basically useless under the sun, a paperback is the next best thing. Here are my top five paperbacks that I’ll be checking out this summer!

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Six Months by Natalie D. Richards

When Chloe fell asleep in study hall, it was the middle of May. But when she wakes up, snow is on the ground, and she can’t remember the last six months of her life.
Before, she’d been a mediocre student.
Now, she’s on track for valedictorian and being recruited by Ivy League schools.
Before, she never had a chance with sports star Blake.
Now he’s her boyfriend.
Before, she and Maggie were inseparable.
Now her best friend won’t speak to her.
What happened to her? Remembering the truth could be more dangerous than she’d ever imagined.

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Where She Fell by Kaitlin Ward

Watch your step.

Eliza knows the legends about the swamp near her house — that people have fallen into sinkholes, never to be seen again, maybe even falling to the center of the earth. As an aspiring geologist, she knows the last part is impossible. But when her best friends drag her onto the uneven ground anyway, Eliza knows to be worried.

And when the earth opens under her feet, there isn’t even time to say I told you so.
As she scrambles through one cave, which leads to another, and another, Eliza finds herself in an impossible world — where a small group of people survive underground, running from vicious creatures, eating giant bugs, and creating their own subterranean society. Eliza is grateful to be alive, but this isn’t home. Is she willing to risk everything to get back to the surface?

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Campfire by Shawn Sarles

While camping in a remote location, Maddie Davenport gathers around the fire with her friends and family to tell scary stories. Caleb, the handsome young guide, shares the local legend of the ferocious Mountain Men who hunt unsuspecting campers and leave their mark by carving grisly antlers into their victims’ foreheads.

The next day, the story comes true. Now Maddie and her family are lost in the deep woods — with no way out — being stalked by their worst nightmares. Because there were other, more horrifying stories told that night — and Maddie’s about to find out just how they end . . .

afterlife

The Afterlife of the Party by Marlene Perez

I didn’t even want to go to the party.

Seriously, I’d rather have stayed home with my librarian-witch grandmother and her mystical book club than go. But my best friend Skyler begged me. So I went.

And it was the worst party of my life. The last party of my life.

Not only was the band downright horrible, but the lead singer bit me afterward. And then stole Skyler.

Now I’m chasing down a band of angry vamps with my other best friend Vaughn in tow—and a buttload of feelings between us we can’t even begin to address. And worse, I’m changing into something else…

Let the afterlife begin.

heartwood

Heartwood Box by Ann Aguirre

When Araceli Flores Harper is sent to stay with her great-aunt Ottilie in her ramshackle Victorian home, the plan is simple. She’ll buckle down and get ready for college. Life won’t be exciting, but she’ll cope, right?

Wrong. From the start, things are very, very wrong. Her great-aunt still leaves food for the husband who went missing twenty years ago, and local businesses are plastered with MISSING posters. There are unexplained lights in the woods and a mysterious lab just beyond the city limits that the locals don’t talk about. Ever. When she starts receiving mysterious letters that seem to be coming from the past, she suspects someone of pranking her or trying to drive her out of her mind.

To solve these riddles and bring the lost home again, Araceli must delve into a truly diabolical conspiracy, but some secrets fight to stay buried…

What paperbacks are you looking forward to check out this summer?

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Book Review: Little Creeping Things by Chelsea Ichaso

creeping

What happens when your mortal enemy disappears and you’re to blame?

Release Date: June 2, 2020

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Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Price: $10.99 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

As a child, Cassidy Pratt accidentally started a fire that killed her neighbor. At least, that’s what she’s been told. She can’t remember anything from that day. She’s pretty sure she didn’t mean to do it. She’s a victim too. But her town’s bullies, particularly the cruel and beautiful Melody Davenport, have never let her live it down. In Melody’s eyes, Cassidy is a murderer and always will be.

When Cassidy overhears what sounded like an abduction and Melody goes missing, Cassidy knows she should go to the cops, but… She recently joked about how much she’d like to get rid of Melody. She even planned out the perfect way to do it. It’s up to Cassidy to figure out what really happened because if she comes forward without a suspect, she knows people will point fingers at her. Again. And she can’t let that happen.
But the truth behind Melody’s disappearance will set the whole town ablaze.

Grade: B-

Review:

This book started out strong. But somewhere along the halfway mark it started to sizzle. Somehow, the book went from being about a murder mystery to dwelling in teenage angst. I could forgive the angst if it were crucial to the plot, however, it felt more like filler. Cassidy is the sole survivor of a fire she started when she was little, ever since that day she has been tormented and bullied and dubbed Fire Girl by her peers. One of her biggest tormentors is Melody Davenport, a girl she’d love to see drop dead. And drop-dead she does right after Cass executes the most brilliant murder and shares her step by step guide with her brother’s best friend, Brandon. Now, the murderer knows of her desire to kill Melody and has proof (her notebook). The murderer threatens to spill everything if she doesn’t comply with his needs, mostly to not disclose this info with anyone else or grave consequences will follow.

My only issue is that there was minimal sleuthing being done for this being a murder mystery and even when Cass disclosed the whole truth to her best friend, there were no repercussions! So why was there even a threat made if nothing was going to come of it?

Now, none of the teenage angst would’ve annoyed me if I actually LIKED the protagonist. But Cassidy isn’t your usual unlikeable unreliable narrator, meaning that she’s not mean and charming, but rather just a big whiner and being bullied but then goes and spreads rumors about SOMEONE else and she pretty much treats anyone close to her like shit too. She really had no redeeming qualities nor was she witty or clever that I could overlook her not having any redeeming qualities. There’s a fine line between being Patrick Bateman charming and just falling into the terrible person with a blah personality box, and Cassidy falls into that.

So why did I continue to read despite all the negatives? Well, the author DID manage to keep me hooked on the premise of Who Killed Melody Davenport? I was curious to see if my hunch was right about a certain character or not (I was right).

I know this is a debut novel and there’s room for the author to grow, and I do think that the author has promise, so I won’t write this book off entirely. This book is for you if you like slow burn thrillers with a protagonist with a traumatic past.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power

burn

Keep a fire burning. A fire is what saves you – that’s what she always said. She tried and tried to tell me. This time I’m finally listening.

Release Date: July 7, 2020

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Publisher: Delacorte Press

Price: $18.99 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

Ever since Margot was born, it’s been just her and her mother. No answers to Margot’s questions about what came before. No history to hold on to. No relative to speak of. Just the two of them, stuck in their run-down apartment, struggling to get along.

But that’s not enough for Margot. She wants family. She wants a past. And she just found the key she needs to get it: A photograph, pointing her to a town called Phalene. Pointing her home. Only, when Margot gets there, it’s not what she bargained for.

Margot’s mother left for a reason. But was it to hide her past? Or was it to protect Margot from what’s still there?

The only thing Margot knows for sure is there’s poison in their family tree, and their roots are dug so deeply into Phalene that now that she’s there, she might never escape.

Grade: B+

Review:

This is Powers’ sophomore novel and although I enjoyed her debut very much, and there were elements I loved about this book, as a whole, I didn’t think it was as strong as Wilder Girls. The book is being marketed as Children of the Corn meets Sharp Objects. And maaaaybe there’s a slight similarity, but apart from the book being mostly set in cornfields, there’s not much to suggest that it has the creepy religious vibes that Children of the Corn had. And that’s okay, however, sometimes the way publishing houses promote novels leave you wondering if they have actually even read the book.

First of all, let me just state that Powers is a master class in prose. Her writing is beautiful and she does an awesome job at creating a feeling of disquiet terror in the reader. There’s something unsettling and you know that there’s something not quite right about Fairheaven when Margot reaches her destination, however, we don’t what it is. I know of figured out what was happening, and I did enjoy all the body horror elements of the story.

Where the novel fell short for me is the fact that it would’ve benefited if there has been more of a backstory and history of Phalene (the town where the story is set). Because I feel that the story would’ve been richer with more info about the town in the past (there were some details provided but they felt very scarce). Another place where the story fell short for me was that the side characters were barely there and we hardly got to know much about them. I would’ve liked a bit more scenes between Tess and Margot, or at least to see a deepening of their friendship/relationship.

The novel is paced much like a horror film, where events take place in a span of a week. I wish the pacing hadn’t been so rushed, because I wanted Margot to feel more conflicted about her relationship with her grandmother had she gotten to know her better over a period of time. Maybe the story should’ve spanned a month or so. I just feel like we spent so little time with the characters and I was enjoying the book and would’ve have minded a longer novel (maybe another 50-60 pages more, nothing crazy).

Margot’s mother also stresses the importance of burning a candle at ALL TIMES. And although fire comes into the picture once again in the novel during a pivotal scene, I feel like the meaning fo the candles and fire wasn’t fully explained as it could’ve been. There should’ve been an entire mythology built around why a candle should always be burning at all times.

Overall, I did enjoy the book very much and it did a good job at creating a creepy atmosphere as well as explore a highly dysfunctional mother/daughter relationship.

I recommend this book if you love rural horror combined with lush descriptions.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Delacorte Press for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick

zoe

What happened to Zoe won’t stay buried….

Release Date: June 30, 2020

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Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books

Price: $18.99 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

When Anna Cicconi arrives to the small Hamptons village of Herron Mills for a summer nanny gig, she has high hopes for a fresh start. What she finds instead is a community on edge after the disappearance of Zoe Spanos, a local girl who has been missing since New Year’s Eve. Anna bears an eerie resemblance to Zoe, and her mere presence in town stirs up still-raw feelings about the unsolved case. As Anna delves deeper into the mystery, stepping further and further into Zoe’s life, she becomes increasingly convinced that she and Zoe are connected—and that she knows what happened to her.

Two months later, Zoe’s body is found in a nearby lake, and Anna is charged with manslaughter. But Anna’s confession is riddled with holes, and Martina Green, teen host of the Missing Zoe podcast, isn’t satisfied. Did Anna really kill Zoe? And if not, can Martina’s podcast uncover the truth?

Grade: A

Review:

This novel has been receiving a lot of buzz in the past few months, and with good reason. Thrillers for me are always a hit or miss since some thrillers latch onto the systematic formula and then I’m capable of figuring out the killer 30% into the book. This book is different though. We know the narrator is unreliable, but at the same time, we also know that everyone else we meet is just as unreliable. Plus, we’re given memories that we’re unsure whether they’re true memories or merely false memories. Thing is, I could never truly tell what was going on in this novel and that’s a good thing! I like being puzzled and pretty much suspecting EVERYONE for murder rather than it being easy and having the one creepy person in the book be the killer.

I rather enjoyed the varied story-telling that was provided in the book. The past was told in the first person present tense by Anna, a girl who bears a striking resemblance to the dead girl in question, Zoe Spanos. While the present is told in the third person and we also get a podcast transcript. So the book has a lot of variety in story-telling.

The book is marketed as being a cross between Courtney Summer’s Sadie and the gothic novel Rebecca. This is what this book has in common with those two novels: Sadie: There’s a missing girl and the book is told in podcast transcript 50% of it. But that’s where the comparison ends. Rebecca: The protagonist loves to sketch, so does Anna. The protagonist is also a middle-class girl who marries a rich widower. Anna is a middle-class girl who is hired to be a nanny during the summer for a wealthy family in the Hamptons. The novel Rebecca is plagued by the memory of Rebecca and the maid who is obsessive about her. This novel is plagued by the memory of Zoe Spanos and her ex-boyfriend’s mother who is obsessed with her. Again, this is where the comparisons end.

I Killed Zoe Spanos is a taut thriller and has you second-guessing every character in the novel and for that I LOVE IT. This thriller is twisty and will leave you guessing, and like I said, NO ONE IS SAFE. Anyone could be the killer and trying to figure out what exactly happened to Zoe Spanos that fateful New Year’s Eve night will have you reading way past your bedtime.

Read this if you love twisty thrillers with unreliable characters.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Margaret K. McElderry Books for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Livingston Girls by Briana Morgan

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“I see something in you, Miss Abbott, something I recognize. The potential for greatness, for channeling magic. For bending the world to your will.”

Release Date: March 24, 2020

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Price: $12.84

Plot Summary:

After an affair with her teacher, Rose’s parents ship her off to Livingston Academy, a stuffy all-girls’ boarding school. Ashamed of her past and herself, sixteen-year-old Rose just wants to chill, pass her classes, and make friends. The last thing on her mind is becoming a witch…

Until the enigmatic headmistress gives her the chance to join a coven secret from the rest of the school. Desperate to prove herself and looking for a purpose, the headmistress’s offer seems too perfect to pass up.

Rose puts on her metaphorical pointy hat and becomes a Livingston witch. She quickly discovers that the other witches don’t want her in their group—especially because she’s filling their dead friend’s space—but if they can’t band together, the witch-hunting headmaster of the boys’ school will kill them.

Meanwhile, Rose struggles to understand her growing feelings for her roommate, who may or may not hate her guts.

You know, typical boarding school stuff.

Grade: B+

Review:

Confession: I love witches, especially when they’re more along the lines of the movie The Craft. This book ha everything I enjoy about witch novels: a boarding school, a terrible reason why the protagonist was sent to the boarding school in question, and witches! Oh yeah, and there is a lot of queer rep too, so that’s awesome.

Rose Abbott ends up going to boarding school because she had a relationship with her teacher. Now, she’s ready to start anew and willing to make new friends, even if her new friends happen to be part of a secret coven.

I wished the author would’ve delved more into the history of the coven, although seeing that this book is going to be part of a series, perhaps more will be revealed in book two and book one was more of a stepping stone.

I do appreciate that the author didn’t try to sell Rose’s relationship with her teacher as love, but rather, Rose’s friends helped her see that she actually had been taken advantage of and that helped her grow and move on. It’s important for teens reading books like these to realize what is happening if they’re ever in a similar situation, rather than to misguidedly sell the unbalanced relationship as impossible love, as often is the case in my experience reading other books in the past.

Pros: I loved the queer/bisexual rep, I loved the diverse characters, I loved how poetry was used as a means to cast spells, and I loved the strong female friendships in this novel.

Cons: More fantasy-based than horror (meaning this is more like Harry Potter than The Craft).

This book will be your cup of tea if you ever wondered what a Dead Poet’s Society/Harry Potter mashup would ever look like.

*Thank you so much to the author for the hard copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: The Vinyl Underground by Rob Rufus

vinyl

“Be whatever you have to be to get to the edge of the cliff. It doesn’t matter how you get there, what matters is you jump.”

Release Date: March 10, 2020

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Publisher: North Star Editions

Price: $11.99 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

During the tumultuous year of 1968, four teens are drawn together: Ronnie Bingham, who is grieving his brother’s death in Vietnam; Milo, Ronnie’s bookish best friend; Ramrod, a star athlete who is secretly avoiding the draft; and Hana, the new girl, a half-Japanese badass rock-n-roller whose presence doesn’t sit well with their segregated high school. The four outcasts find sanctuary in The Vinyl Underground, a record club where they spin music, joke, debate, and escape the stifling norms of their small Southern town. But Ronnie’s 18th birthday is looming. Together, they hatch a plan to keep Ronnie from being drafted. But when a horrific act of racially charged violence rocks the gang to their core, they decide it’s time for an epic act of rebellion.

Grade: A

Review:

I can’t even begin to explain how much I LOVED this book to pieces! The protagonist, Ronnie is still reeling from the death of his older, charismatic brother Bruce, who passed away while fighting in Vietnam. Not only is he dealing with that tremendous loss, he’s also having to deal with the very real possibility that he too will be drafted for the same war. Truth is, Ronnie doesn’t believe in this war and wants nothing more than to be able to finish senior year and figure himself out. Because ever since his brother passed away, Ronnie doesn’t have a clear idea of what he should do with his life. Before he envisioned himself in California with Bruce who dreamed about becoming a radio DJ and Ronnie would be the sidekick. But how much is a dream worth without the original dreamer? Ronnie tries to answer that question throughout the whole novel. He wants to honor his brother’s memory, although he also is trying to figure out what he wants from life and his future.

In the midst of all this, he begins a club with three of his friends called The Vinyl Underground, where they share music. For Ronnie, it’s a way to also share parts of Bruce with his friends since all the vinyls he owns used to belong to his late brother.

What I LOVED about this book were the strong bonds of friendship and how loyal the group was to one another. And although the book did use the trope started by Stephen King in Carrie (where something MAJOR happens during prom or school dance), I really, really loved how devoted the characters were to their cause. And yes, a lot of their actions would make several parents flip out, but I think the novel beautifully depicted teenagers and their will to rebel against injustice.

It takes a lot for a book or movie to move me to tears, and this book did the trick! So if you’re someone who easily tears up, keep tissues on hand! There’s much to love in this book, from the era, the music, the friendships, and one kick-ass female protagonist that will make you wish that someone would turn this book into a movie stat!

Read this book if you’re a fan of coming of age, strong friendships, and rock music.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and North Star Editions for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Behind Every Lie by Christina McDonald

lie

If you can’t remember it, how do you prove you didn’t do it?

Release Date: February 4, 2020

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Publisher: Gallery Books

Price: $10.99 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

Eva Hansen wakes in the hospital after being struck by lightning and discovers her mother, Kat, has been murdered. Eva was found unconscious down the street. She can’t remember what happened but the police are highly suspicious of her.

Determined to clear her name, Eva heads from Seattle to London—Kat’s former home—for answers. But as she unravels her mother’s carefully held secrets, Eva soon realizes that someone doesn’t want her to know the truth. And with violent memories beginning to emerge, Eva doesn’t know who to trust. Least of all herself.

Told in alternating perspectives from Eva’s search for answers and Kat’s mysterious past, Christina McDonald has crafted another “complex, emotionally intense” (Publishers Weekly) domestic thriller. Perfect for fans of Lisa Jewell’s I Found You and Karin Slaughter’s Pieces of Her, Behind Every Lie explores the complicated nature of mother-daughter relationships, family trauma, and the danger behind long-held secrets.

Grade: C-

Review:

I read this author’s debut novel last year, The Night Olivia Fell and I really enjoyed that novel. This novel, although it had a very strong premise of having an unreliable narrator (which I’m a sucker for) really didn’t hit its mark for me. My biggest issue with the novel was that for being a thriller, it seemed to fall under the formula of Lifetime movie thrillers. The so-called “bad guy” is clear from the get-go and any twist reveals aren’t very surprising either as I had figured out the whole novel by the 35% mark.

I don’t fault authors for writing about the same location as a previous novel (hell King has made a career out of setting the majority of his works in Maine), but this novel is also set in Washington state, just as her debut. Again, this novel has the same premise as the author’s debut where a low-middle class character has a relationship with an extremely wealthy man. Apart from the novel being highly predictable (for me), the thing that really irked me the most was the fact that the British characters were so stereotypical of how an American believes a British person acts or speaks. I’ve been to England multiple times and have a lot of British friends and have never heard anyone use “Blimey!” as an expression every two seconds as one of the British characters continuously does in this novel.

Not to mention that the protagonist so conveniently discovered things without any hard work. And honestly, how credible is it for someone to be able to travel TO LONDON from SEATTLE right after being struck by LIGHTENING. I am more likely to believe impossible things in a supernatural novel than a novel set in a fictitious reality of the real world.

Unfortunately, this book didn’t quite work out for me, nor did it offer that much entertainment. I honestly couldn’t wait for it to be done. However, if you’re the type of reader who loves cozy mysteries and Lifetime inspired thrillers, then you may enjoy this book very much. It’s not a terrible book and the writing flows easily. The author excels in descriptions about setting but still is incapable of writing compelling dialogue.

If you’re in the mood for a light read, you can give this book a go.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Gallery Books for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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My Dark Vanessa: What happens when Lolita doesn’t die?

vanessa

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“I think we’re very similar, Nessa,” he whispers. “From the way you write, I can tell you’re a dark romantic like me. You like dark things.”

This book has been on the most-anticipated lists since 2018 and ever since it was known that the author received a seven-figure advance, there have been some controversies that have arisen. Sometime around January, the author Wendy C. Ortiz of the memoir, Excavation, accused Kate Elizabeth Russell of plagiarism solely on the account of their books sharing a similar theme of a teacher and student embarking on a clandestine relationship together. I can understand Ortiz’s rage against the publishing world who didn’t seem keen on her manuscript when she was shopping it around, and that she had to settle for an indie publisher with no seven-figure advance.

However, to purposely call out a debut author’s work as plagiarizing your own when you haven’t even read the book in question? That seems mean-spirited. After all the backlash that Oprah’s Book Club received with their choice of American Dirt, Oprah was done with controversies and hence, decided to part ways with Russell’s book because of the issue with Ortiz, and it no longer was a choice for her bookclub in March. Despite all of this, the book still became a national bestseller.

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Now, is Russell’s book the same Ortiz’s? For someone who has read both, I can state, simply put, no. Sure, they both share the theme of a student falling in love with her English teacher and the teacher taking advantage of the crush for his personal gain and pleasure. But the differences between Vanessa Wye and Wendy Ortiz are many and so ultimately do not tell the same story no matter how similar the themes may be.

Was My Dark Vanessa worthy of all the hype? Yes and no. The first half of the book is compelling and there are moments when you wish the book were a love story, but ultimately it’s very glaring that Jacob Strane was grooming Vanessa and that he took advantage of her (their first sexual encounter is downright cringey and screams rape, not simply because of the age difference but because of the actions from Strane).

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The second half of the novel, particularly the portion that takes place during Vanessa’s college years really dragged. Especially since it doesn’t offer much in terms of progressing the plot. Rather, we see Vanessa falling in love with yet another English teacher who is married to a woman that is the school counselor where Strane still works. These chapters were far more laborious to get through and honestly, could have even been cut from the book entirely as they didn’t provide newer insight into Vanessa or Strane.

The ending was as expected, especially since it was obvious that Vanessa was never going to view herself as a victim and for the longest time denied the fact that Strane was a pedo, mostly because it would mean that his interest in her wasn’t because she was special, but more because she fit the nymphet package.

My Dark Vanessa could’ve been a love story if Strane wasn’t so glaringly predatory. His interest in her was most intense when she was underage. He never treated her with the same fascination once she was an adult, and instead seemed to only call her when he needed her to back up his lies. The most heartbreaking lesson you’ll learn from this novel is that trauma can truly define your life, and in this case it defined Vanessa’s relationships, career, and sexuality.

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At only 32, Vanessa felt old and could only pain sexual gratification through imagining herself as 15 and reliving sex scenes with Strange over the phone. Vanessa glamorizes the novel, Lolita so much that she doesn’t see Lolita for what it truly is. A novel about a predatory man who only remains obsessed with Lolita because she dies. Vanessa didn’t die so by that logic Strane was no longer obsessed with her. My Dark Vanessa capitalizes on what would’ve been Lolita’s destiny had she survived. I can bet that her adult life would’ve mimicked Vanessa’s very much.

When Lolita doesn’t die, she can only become a survivor.

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