My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

I’ve recently read My Dark Vanessa and it is lingering around. I would advise caution as it contains disturbing content. Though its a very compelling book, it’s also a disturbing piece of psychological fiction. The book is told through past and present day Vanessa Wye as she explores her relationship with her former English teacher Jacob Strane, who began abusing her when she was fifteen and he was forty two. In the present day and now thirty two, and still in contact with Strane, Vanessa is forced to reevaluate their “relationship” as Strane is accused by other girls of abuse as part of the growing me-too movement.

I’d like to add that until I was over halfway through this book, I wasn’t aware of the controversy surrounding the alleged plagiarism (relating to Wendy Oritz’s Excavation). The below article from Slate highlights it here; I believe there is still work to be done about amplifying other voices in publishing, and the fact My Dark Vanessa is a work of fiction receiving a seven figure book deal and huge publicity doesn’t sit that rightly with me.

So, on to the story. There is no other word for it. Strane is most certainly a pedophile and this is not a love story, even though Vanessa herself says she needs it to be. At times, Vanessa is both a frustrating and unreliable narrator, she is blinded by the abuse from Strane and he really does a number on her. By the middle of the book, Vanessa in her early twenties reads the same as present day Vanessa, which I believe might be intentional as she just can’t move on or let herself get past Strane. It’s upsetting because you can tell she does not want this, but it’s as if she craves or needs the attention. And it’s all very messed up and disturbing in how the characters tend to romanticise this abuse. The book does romanticise Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita a little too much. It includes a number of references throughout. I have read some of Lolita a long time ago, but other readers may not have, and one shouldn’t have to have read one book to get a full insight of another.

I disagree with some reviews I have read that say the book is too long, as I felt the length was ok. The ending may have felt slightly rushed, but there is no real ending, and I guess that’s the point – recovery has no time scale.

Whilst it was a welcome change of pace and style from my most recent reads, it’s quite graphic in places, and overall, I guess just really sad. I wouldn’t use the word recommend or enjoyable, but if you can handle this kind of content, then it’s not a bad read.

Content Warning: So much… but includes; Pedophilia, Sexual Abuse, Child Abuse, Grooming, Gaslighting, Drugs

Support and further info;

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The Deepest Breath by Meg Grehan

the deepest reath book by Meg Grehan cover

Last year I read a beautiful novel in verse by Meg Grehan called The Space Between which was about a girl who has anxiety and couldn’t go outside, and how she ended up meeting a girl and her dog and a relationship formed between them. I could really relate to what was being said and a lot of the thoughts and feelings and themes.

Last weekend, I read a book from NetGalley which is another novel in verse by Meg, but this time about a younger character and more aimed towards younger readers. The Deepest Breath is a good book for middle grade or to read with someone else, as some scenes could maybe be a little scary for young ones (because of the character’s nightmares) .

So The Deepest Breath follows Stevie, an eleven year old who wants to consume knowledge and feels the need to know everything. Her latest obsession is the sea and the ocean, so there is a lot about sea creatures and marine life in the book which will appeal to kids and readers who have an interest in that. Stevie feels the more informed she is, the more she can protect those around her. It also explores how she feels about her growing feelings towards her friend Chloe, as she may be experiencing her first “crush”.

Once again, I could relate to feelings of anxiety and uncertainty, and I also really felt for Stevie’s feelings of worry about her parent. This felt personal to me and emotional. These types of feelings are expressed well through the choice of verse. I think that the choice of writing style for The Deepest Breath means the book is not an overly long story, and can be read in one or two sittings, or multiple times if necessary. Other themes I felt ran strong through the book included friendship, trust, and curiosity. It felt sad in parts but mostly positive, sensitive, and it wraps up with a nice warm ending.

This is a book that could open up a dialogue with young people about mental health and feelings and same sex relationships which can only be a positive thing. People today need to see themselves represented in the books they read and if that is having a special interest or hobby, an inquiring, active mind, confusing thoughts, worry, and same sex crushes – then that can be found in The Deepest Breath.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Cinderella is Dead was the January pick by The Queer Book Crew. The book has always been “on my radar” so to speak but this was the push I needed to pick it up and read it.

I’d read mixed reviews but I think different things work for different people, so if you go into the book knowing what you are getting, then I think you will enjoy it. For me, I found it to be an imaginative, creepy, maybe slightly uncomfortable take on the classic fairy tale. It was fast paced, and the first person writing style worked well. Plus its QUEER. Girls loving girls, and a bit of yearning. I’ll take that!

Synopsis from Goodreads;

It’s 200 years since Cinderella found her prince, but the fairytale is over.
Sophia knows the story though, off by heart. Because every girl has to recite it daily, from when she’s tiny until the night she’s sent to the royal ball for choosing. And every girl knows that she has only one chance. For the lives of those not chosen by a man at the ball . are forfeit.
But Sophia doesn’t want to be chosen – she’s in love with her best friend, Erin, and hates the idea of being traded like cattle. And when Sophia’s night at the ball goes horribly wrong, she must run for her life. Alone and terrified, she finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s tomb. And there she meets someone who will show her that she has the power to remake her world

I’m not big on world building and fantasy so I enjoyed the setting in Cinderella is Dead. It felt like you were left to figure bits out and fed little bits of information which made it more fun than just being dumped with a load of backstory. You are rewarded with more information and explanations as you read through the story.

There were some things I had a bit of an issue with, just parts of the plot that seemed questionable, and I’d say these are kind of spoilery, even if it is just me picking holes! I’ll list them below, so scroll past if you haven’t read this book yet!


  • Luke. I liked his character and wished he was used more, as he disappears then returns at the end. I guess including him wouldn’t fit the overall narrative of strong girls trying to smash the patriarchy though, so I can sort of see why he was left out and then left to be rescued at the end.
  • Cinderella’s name. Cinderella is supposed to come from how she is dirty and covered in Cinders from being mistreated and overworked and sleeping on the floor, but if the real story is that she wasn’t abused by a wicked step-mother, then why is she still know as Cinder-ella?
  • I get that a YA novel can only be so many words, but I found the book slightly unrealistic in that parts of Sophia’s adventure were just too easy. Cinderella is supposed to be a worshiped, sacred figure yet Sophia manages to easily break into her tomb not once, but TWICE!

Overall though, I found the story interesting and enjoyed the writing style, so I’d be interested to see what Kalynn Bayron writes next.

Who I Was With Her by Nita Tyndall

who i was with her book cover

How would it feel to lose someone you love and grieve for them without anyone knowing what you’re going through? Can you imagine missing someone and not being able to share that burden? To not truly explain how much someone meant to you? This is what seventeen year old Corrine Parker finds herself after going through after Maggie – the girlfriend she kept secret, tragically dies following a car accident.

Who I Was With Her is the debut novel from Nita Tyndall and is a moving and beautiful coming of age piece that explores the journey of grief, along with identity, love, and friendship. It can be sad in parts as it navigates the understandably upsetting subject matter, but it also manages to become that little bit empowering in an uplifting way as we follow Corrine’s journey to live life on her own terms.

“I have stopped counting how long it’s been since she died. She deserves to be remembered, not measured by the days of my grief or how long it’s been since she left. She deserves to be remembered for who she was.”

Corrine has kept her sexuality and her relationship with Maggie hidden from her friends and family for some time, and now she finds herself dealing with her grief alone. The only person who knew about the relationship was Maggie’s brother Dylan. Through Dylan she meets Elissa, an ex-girlfriend of Maggie’s. It’s messy and not an ideal set up, but she may be the only person who Corrine can confide in and relate to as Elissa knew Maggie too. Having kept so much from people, Corrine has been isolating herself and having a stranger to talk to becomes a crutch. As well as exploring the relationship between them, the story follows Corrine trying to make it through school, repair her strained friendship with her best friend Julia, navigate living between her separated parents, and make decisions about college. Running is quite prominent in the novel. Cross Country Running is the sport that brought Corrine and Maggie together and it’s what Corrine’s father hopes will be her ticket out of the town and towards a better future. Corrine needs to examine her own attitude towards running, why she runs, and what she really wants out of it.

The story is told in a back and forth format, the reader follows present-day Corrine and there are shorter chapters that are a flashback to her time with Maggie. I liked this way of storytelling as we get to see what their relationship was like, which helps make Maggie’s loss have more of an impact. It adds another layer of depth as we can see how her death changes Corrine. It also increases Maggie’s presence throughout the book and allows us to gather our own impression of her too.

I was pleased with the bisexual representation in this story. I liked that the word was used often and that Corrine took the time to be comfortable with applying the label to herself. There was plenty I could resonate with which helped me connect to Corrine more and I think it’s why the book left a big impression on me. I found that overall the book had a sex-positive message as it mentions the importance of waiting until you are ready, but also shows casual sex and how it does not have to be seen as a negative thing.

I would recommend Who I Was With Her in particular to teenagers and those approaching the end of school or college who are unsure of their next direction. A lot of young people feel pressure because of expectations from their parents and I think this book would help them feel that they are not alone. People process grief differently and this book may be upsetting for anyone who has recently suffered a loss of a loved one, but on the other hand, some readers may find it comforting if there is something they can relate to. I’d also recommend it to anyone in the LGBTQ+ community that might not yet be out for whatever reason, in the hope that they can resonate with the questions and feelings surrounding Corrine and her identity. With all good books though, I can honestly say I would recommend this to anyone regardless of age. I’m 29 and it was one of my favourite books of last year. I really wish more sapphic books and positive bisexual representation was around when I was younger.

“This is my coming out. One person at a time. No big statement, no grand gesture. Only people I want to tell. Why should I come out the way everyone else wants me to?”

Content warning: Death/ Grief, Homophobia, Parent with Alcoholism, Slut-Shaming, Sex

Review for Who I Was With Her is also published on The Nerd Daily.

January Wrap Up & February TBR

January wrap up book stack paperback book spines

Well that’s January. Christmas feels like a long time ago although January doesn’t feel that long for once! We’re still in lockdown in the UK, working from home if possible, and most shops shut, along with everywhere else. Nothing to do but read I guess, so I’ve read 7 books this month! I’ve also been re watching The Office so that’s taken up some of my time 🙂 I managed to read everything I set out to read for January so that’s a win!

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games) Suzanne Collins
the hunger games anniversary covers

First up was finishing up my Hunger Games re read so I finished Mockingjay just after Christmas and re watched all of The Hunger Games movies. Still love them. Still so dark, and I think they stand the test of time.

Cute Mutants by SJ Whitby
cute mutants kindle cover

I read Cute Mutants for a December group read, then I read volumes 2 and 3 this month. Some books suffer from “second book syndrome” where they are not as good or seem like filler, but not this one. The second book was really fun and so much happened and brought a lot of stuff together. The third book was also good even if the plot felt a little bit similar to the previous book, but the X-Men references are starting to get a bit tedious but I guess that’s only because I’ve never read or watched any X-Men! I love the characters in the book, the imagination behind the superhero powers, and the silly humour, would definitely recommend.

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
daisy jones and the six cover

This one was so disappointing for me. I’ve previously read another of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s books and it’s one of my favourites but I couldn’t say the same for Daisy Jones at all. I should have liked it, I like character based books, ADORE music, and after reading reviews thought I might like this. However I just didn’t care about any of the characters, none of them felt really likeable, some of them were forgettable, there was barely any plot, the ending had no impact on me, and the weird choice of format (like an interview transcript) became tiring after a while. Maybe it would have worked better for me in a novel format. Perhaps it will work better in the upcoming TV show where you can actually hear the music as well. I’ve read books about fictional bands before and they got it right whereas I really wasn’t feeling this one.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
ten thousand doors of January book cover

I was conflicted how to rate this, because it is a good, creative premise, is beautifully written and it was enjoyable. In short, it follows a girl who can discover other worlds, and two stories weave into one. However I could pick holes in the plot all day, and it did take me a while to get fully immersed into the world, and then it was over. I think I had issues with how it wrapped up, and how long it took me to really get into the story stops me from rating it 5 stars. You can check out my review here. I would definitely love to read something else by this author though.

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
Cinderella is dead uk paperback cover

I read Cinderella is Dead for a group read for January, and I’m glad I did. I’ll put a review up in a couple of weeks, but I really enjoyed this one as it was so easy to read but I also couldn’t wait to see what happens so I read it quite quickly. I didn’t want to put it down. It was a good piece of YA and a standalone, so you could just try and enjoy the story and not worry about wading through loads of world building which was what made it easier to read. A very odd re imagining of the Cinderella tale, but it’s QUEER so that’s always a plus. Another great pick from The Queer Book Crew.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
good omens tv show book cover

The TV show for Good Omens was excellent and so uplifting for me, loved David Tenant and Michael Sheen in their roles, and I missed them in this book. My favourite chapters were the ones about them for sure. I think I would have liked this book more if I’d read it first before seeing the show, because I already knew what happened and a lot of the book seemed a bit like waffle. I think if you were not already familiar with Gaiman or Pratchett’s style then you might find this a bit too meandering and confusing. It’s a great story though and again, the show is awesome, I think there is only 6 episodes so if you haven’t watched it, then go do so 🙂

February TBR

For February I plan to read;

The Lost Coast by A.R Capetta for a group read – it’s queer magic in the woods, what more could I want!?

Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston because it was on offer on kindle and people keep tellling me to read it!

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig because I had the paperback copy of pre order for months so it should arrive this month

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

the ten thousand doors of january and avid readers club sweatshirt

Books about books. Some of my favourite things. Back in October I finished reading The Starless Sea and was overcome with emotion and a sense of just how great words and stories are, and in awe of those that can write these stories and create other worlds. I searched on trusty Google for “books like The Starless Sea” and I recognised that The Ten Thousand Doors of January kept popping up. So I bought it and fast forward to January and here we are.

Synopsis from Goodreads;

In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

It’s an excellent idea for a story and full of imagination, and drills home the meaning of the importance of intention and belief in magic. The writing style is a nice descriptive prose, but at times I felt like the tenses and voice of the narrator were switching and I was having to re read parts to double check. I wasn’t sure in parts if the narrator was reaching out and speaking to the reader or to the character. The book sort of follows two stories in one, switching chapters and font style to go between the two. Its sort of like a book within a book. Personally, I was a bit slow to get the hang of this, but enjoyed it once I settled into it.

“That afternoon, sitting in that lonely field beside the Door that didn’t lead anywhere, I wanted to write a different kind of story. A true kind of story, something I could crawl into if only I believed it hard enough.”

The book weaves through a complex set of events, and there are a few good twists and surprises throughout. Maybe the reason I wasn’t expecting the twists was because I was confused as to what was going on at times. The world seemed to get bigger and bigger and I did get a bit puzzled here and there.

I can see why this has received many great reviews, I think the only reason it isn’t a five star book for me is because I would struggle to explain the plot and keep up with the story (although I had no problem with The Starless Sea…) so that’s just on me. I enjoyed the writing style and you can tell it was written with passion and a love for language and story telling.

“True love is not stagnant; it is in fact a door, through which all kinds of miraculous and dangerous things may enter.”

Content warning – violence towards an animal, self harm as part of magic, racism

You Have A Match By Emma Lord

At the start of 2020 Emma Lord released the witty Tweet Cute, a Twitter rivals-to-lovers romcom, and now she is back with another book, You Have A Match. This is a modern take on The Parent Trap movie, and where Tweet Cute used Twitter, Instagram is the social media platform of choice this time. You Have A Match follows budding photographer Abby, who discovers she has an Instagram influencer sister that her parents have kept secret, and the two sisters plot to head to summer camp together to work things out. You can also expect a friends-to-lovers “will they, won’t they?” subplot, plus a handful of silly pranks and schemes, and of course, that big family secret.

I think Emma Lord really gets social media and writes about it well. A bit of knowledge about Instagram would give readers an advantage, but for those not familiar with the platform, it shouldn’t make the book less enjoyable. It does explore how using the app affects people, and I think the message around responsible use of these types of social media platforms is a good one for teenage readers. It’s not preachy, but I feel like there is a lesson to be learnt.

Funny, sweet, and touching, I enjoyed this and the author is one to watch! I gave You Have A Match a 7/10 🙂 You can read the rest of my review over on The Nerd Daily where I talk about the themes, the writing, and what I thought of the story.

Thanks to the publisher for an ARC to review!

Cute Mutants Volume 1 – Mutant Pride By SJ Whitby

I feel like anyone can find something in Cute Mutants to like! I wouldn’t have heard about this if it wasn’t a pick for the December read on the Queer Book Crew server. But I’m so glad I got to read the weird, queer, teenage superhero book I didn’t know I wanted!

You can expect the following wonderful things;

Found family
Squad goals
Chaotic pansexuals
Hacking and tech
Pillow that talks
Odd but pretty cool superpowers
X-Men references
Nicknames and group chats
Queer Shipping

You read from the point of view of Dylan, and you grow to like her and it’s cool watching her grow in confidence and change through the story, you really get to route for her. I enjoyed watching the friendships form, along with each character getting some development throughout the book so you got to know them better. There is a variety of diverse representation from LGBTQ+ identities which can only be a good thing in my book!

I thought it was pretty good as a standalone, and I’ve only read the first (volume one), but the next few look pretty good and I’m looking forward to reading them.

Only slightly jealous that this crew are not my friends irl!

Content warning; Profanity, Transphobia, Homophobia, Sexual Assault (off page) Bullying, References to self harm.

January TBR and December Wrap up

Happy New Year to everyone! I had a good reading month in December and have some books to get to in Janurary, then I can start buying more right?

In December I read 5 books, one for a group read, one ARC for The Nerd Daily, one of my choice, and of course I started my Christmas re-read of The Hunger Games Series which has become a thing for me over the last few years and I don’t know why but there we go.

you have a match book cover

You Have A Match By Emma Lord

A voice to watch in YA and one to watch out for. This is the second book I have read by this author (she also wrote Tweet Cute) and she does funny, witty, and heart warming stories and both times I have come away all warm and fuzzy. You Have A Match is a little bit like The Parent Trap involving a long lost sister and a summer camp. I will share my review when it’s published later in the month.

cute mutants

Cute Mutants by SJ Whitby

Were do I start with this one? This was a group read with The Queer Book Crew and I really enjoyed it. It follows Dylan, who obtains superpowers after kissing a girl at a party and finds others with different abilities like her too. They team up to take down bad guys! I loved the mix of characters in this book and the creative ideas surrounding their powers and abilities. I really loved Dylan and watching the group and the friendships grow and I’m looking forward to see what happens in the next one.

Who I was With Her by Nita Tyndall

I read this book on a dreary, miserable day and it became one of my favourites of the year. It is about a bisexual girl who’s girlfriend dies in a car accident but she feels like she cannot grieve as she kept their relationship secret and never came out. It covers grief, bereavement, family, coming out, and making choices. It was a sad book, but something I wish was available when I was a teenager. Check out my review here.

the hunger games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Everybody appreciate my gorgeous Hunger Games book covers yes? I’ve been re reading and re watching the films over the Christmas break and each time remember how dark and bleak it is. I did a sort of rocky / dystopian playlist for it a while ago which you can find here

Janurary TBR

Here are my January books that I hope to get to once I’ve finished my re read of Hunger Games / Mockingjay.

  • The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E Harrow
  • Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
  • Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Cinderella is Dead I’ll be reading for a group read 😊 and of course it would be wrong to read Ten Thousand Doors of January in any other month but January right!?

Sarah’s Top Reads of 2020

Yes, it’s another one of “those” posts to end the year. I tried not to think about it too much, and here are some of my top reads of this year. I read 48 books 🙂 because most of the time when I’m not working I’ve had to stay at home as my country still can’t control this pandemic!

I’ve included links to where I talk about them in more detail…. but here are six, just six of my favourite reads of 2020;

Bear Town by Fredrik Backman — 5/5 (Fiction, Adult, Multiple POV, Sports)

Great use of multiple POV and weaving different people’s experiences together. Tough and in your face. Impossible to shy away from. A mix of brutal and tender moments. A writer with a beautiful way with words and a look at the way people work.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – 5/5 (Fiction, Memoir, Romance, Bisexual)

Just excellent, I’ve read it twice already. I know people who have read it this year and loved it and wondered why they waited so long, and I felt the same! So moving!

The Starless Sea by Ein Morgenstern – 5/5 (Fantasy, Stories within Stories)

Whyyyyy did I take this long to read this. 5 star reading experience, amazing writing style, pace, feel, themes, and overall plot. Fantastic storytelling and incredibly put together.

Felix Ever After – 4/5 (YA, Romance, LGBTQ+)

I don’t read enough YA but I love a good scheme, and a bit of romance, and I liked the way this all ended up.

Who I Was With Her by Nita Tyndall- 4/5 (YA, Coming of Age, Sapphic, Bereavement, Romance)

I rarely complete a book in a day but I did with this one so that says something. No review yet as I haven’t gotten around to it, but I will! I wish this book was available when I was younger, easy to read writing style, but handles what can be difficult themes delicately. I am going to keep my eye on this author!

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo – 4/5 (Dark Acadamia, Fantasy, Adult)

Ninth House Signed Copy Review

It had way more fantasy and magic elements than I thought, but enough other stuff to hold it down. It also had you missing and intrigued about a character that was very present but not actually always there.

Special mentions go to How to Make A Wish and The Space Between (which moved me so much I still haven’t managed to put it into words a write a review aha)

And also a mention must go to how much I enjoyed my re read of Call Down The Hawk! It was definitely a year for re reads, as I also read The Foxhole Court / All For The Game trilogy again, as well as The Hunger Games!