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    Book Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

    Book Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth RussellMy Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
    Published by 4th Estate on March 10th 2020
    Genres: Contemporary, Adult
    Pages: 384
    Format: Audiobook
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    Exploring the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher, a brilliant, all-consuming read that marks the explosive debut of an extraordinary new writer.

    2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

    2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?

    Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.

    This book was raw, unsettling, frustrating, saddening, horrific, dark, compelling. 

    My Dark Vanessa will undoubtedly go down as one of the best books I’ve read this year, and certainly lives up to the hype. 

    I’m actually in awe of the fact that this is Russell’s debut novel. It is written in such a way that it sucks you in, roots itself deep in your brain, and won’t let you rest until you reach that last page. 

    I’m still trying to wrap my head around what took place in this book. I feel haunted. I feel angry. But mostly, I feel sad. I’m sad for the life Vanessa Wye could have lived had she never met Jacob Strane. I’m sad for the girls that came after and weren’t protected. I’m sad for Vanessa’s defiant mentality that what she and Strane had was love and not abuse. And that last part angers me. It angers me that a man in a position of power can impose his will on a young, malleable teenager to the point where she can’t see fiction from reality anymore. Even 20 years after the fact.  

    There is no easy way to talk about this novel and its complexity, especially in the backdrop of the #MeToo movement. This is a book that is going to cause a lot of discussion and a lot of discomfort – as it should!  It is not a read that should be taken lightly. 

    Trigger warnings: rape, abuse, alcohol abuse, drug abuse

    Will you be reading My Dark Vanessa?

    Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

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    Criers War: Review + Favourite Quotes

    Criers War: Review + Favourite QuotesCrier's War by Nina Varela
    Published by HarperTeen on October 1st 2019
    Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
    Pages: 448
    Format: eARC
    Source: Publisher
    Purchase from: Amazon
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    After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will.

    Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier.

    Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.

    Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.

    If you’re looking for an F/F fantasy then look no further because I have the book for you! Packed with revenge, betrayal and socio-politics, Crier’s War is an alternate future where alchemists have crafted Automaes, a species of mechanical beings who rise to power and enslave humanity.

    Crier is an Automade and the daughter of Hesod, the sovereign. Built to carry his powerful legacy, she’s betrothed to a man who promises to help hone that power for the both of them. However, a possible flaw in her design alters her disposition towards humans.

    Ayla is a human girl who’s had everything taken from her by the Automades. Obsessed with getting her revenge against the tyrant Hesod, Ayla works as a servant at the House of Sovereign, bidding her time until she can kill Crier.

    Things start to get interesting when instead of killing Crier, Ayla saves her life. Crier offers her an opportunity of a lifetime: to become her handmaiden, a position of high honour for humans. And what comes after is the slowest, most angst-filled enemies to lovers story between two women of colour! Are you buzzing yet? Because you should be. (The handmaiden / lady dynamic seems to be the trend for sapphic romances at the moment or maybe I just haven’t read enough of them yet).

    Though a little hard to get into a first, the worldbuilding is on another level. When you consider that this is a debut… that level grows ever bigger. Varela poses the question of what it means to be human, what it means to be alive, and what it means to have free will.

    All in all, this is a truly excellent debut and I am already itching to get my hands on its sequel.

    Trigger warning: war themes, abandonment, blood, animal death/gore, violence, loss of loved ones

    Representation: lesbian MC’s, f/f romance, #ownvoices author

    Favourite Quotes

    “It was never really a choice, was it? Wanting her. Killing her.”

    “A thought came to her: a story of its own, one that only just began writing itself in her mind: a story of two women, one human, one Made.”

    “Like she was more than a human girl. Like she was a summer storm made of flesh.”

    “Crier was beautiful. Created to be beautiful, but it was more than that. […] It was the way her eyes lit up with interest, the way her fingers were always so careful, almost reverent, as she flipped the pages of a book.”

    “A drop of water gleamed on Ayla’s lower lip. Strangely, it made Crier want to–drink.”

    Meet the Author

    Nina Varela is a nationally awarded writer of screenplays and short fiction. She was born in New Orleans and raised on a hippie commune in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent most of her childhood playing in the Eno River, building faerie houses from moss and bark, and running barefoot through the woods. These days, Nina lives in Los Angeles with her writing partner and their tiny, ill-behaved dog. She tends to write stories about hard-won love and young people toppling the monarchy/patriarchy/whatever-archy. On a related note, she’s queer. On a less related note, she has strong feelings about hushpuppies and loves a good jambalaya. CRIER’S WAR is her first novel. 

    You can find Nina at any given coffee shop in the greater Los Angeles area, or at

    Goodreads + Website + Twitter + Instagram

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    Kingdom of Souls blog tour: Review + Favourite Quotes + Giveaway

    Kingdom of Souls blog tour: Review + Favourite Quotes + GiveawayKingdom of Souls by Rena Barron
    Series: Kingdom of Souls #1
    Published by HarperTeen on September 3rd 2019
    Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
    Pages: 496
    Format: eARC
    Source: Publisher
    Add to Goodreads

    Magic has a price—if you’re willing to pay.

    Born into a family of powerful witchdoctors, Arrah yearns for magic of her own. But each year she fails to call forth her ancestral powers, while her ambitious mother watches with growing disapproval.

    There’s only one thing Arrah hasn’t tried, a deadly last resort: trading years of her own life for scraps of magic. Until the Kingdom’s children begin to disappear, and Arrah is desperate to find the culprit.

    She uncovers something worse. The long-imprisoned Demon King is stirring. And if he rises, his hunger for souls will bring the world to its knees… unless Arrah pays the price for the magic to stop him.

    This is the West-African inspired fantasy we all deserved!

    Deeply complex and rich with magic and deception, Kingdom of Souls is a deliciously dark take on African mythology. Born into a family of powerful witchdoctors, Arrah is desperate to come into her powers and perform magic. But after years of failure, Arrah is willing to try one last thing to get what she wants: trade years of her life for magic. Naturally, all is not what it seems. When children start disappearing, Arrah is transported on a dangreous journey where she must discover who and what she is.

    You’re intrigued, right? Strangely enough, this book reminded me of Northern Lights by Philip Pullman until things took a very dark and interesting turn when who and what had the children was revealed. That was when I felt truly hooked on this book. It opened a very interesting dynamic between Arrah and another character (who I shall not name for fear of spoilers), and opened one hell of a shit storm that would be the second half of this book. At this point, I was rubbing my hands together thinking, ‘at last! Some real excitement!’

    My main issue with Kingdom of Souls was the pacing (and the ending). There was a lot happening in this book that dragged when it shouldn’t have. There were demons, blood sacrifices and evil creeping at every corner but it lacked conviction in places – particularly the middle. And then there was the end… what a lacklustre and confusing mess that was. After all the grand reveals were made, it had felt like we’d met a natural conclusion a number of chapters before the end. Everything after that felt like an attempt to stretch this book into a series.

    With changes to the ending, Kingdom of Souls could easily have been a (much improved) standalone. I’m not sure how keen I am to see where the next book goes because I didn’t care much for this particular villain… but it’s likely that I’ll read it all the same.

    All in all, Kingdom of Souls was an exceptionally fleshed out and dark tale of sacrifice, magic and relationships. Although it takes time to feel invested, it’s definitely worth it! The twists and turns will leave you wanting to turn the pages for more.

    Triger Warning: blood sacrifice, parental abuse, death of a child, deception used to have sex

    Favourite Quotes

    Picking my ‘favourite’ quotes from this book was a hard task because this book wasn’t written in a way that was particularly beautiful or quote worthy. There was no poetic purple prose. It used its basic functions to tell the story in the least descriptive way possible and that was that. Having said that, there were the odd bits here and there that I could pick out (mostly towards the second half of the book)….

    “I’m falling, falling, falling through stars.”

    “I am nowhere and everywhere at once. I am no one and everyone.”

    “The ground shakes beneath my feet, and I descend upon my sister like a raging firestorm.”

    “Fire tears through me and awakens the voices. They whisper of thunder and lightning. They whisper of firestorms. They whisper of murder.”

    “Before the Orishas, it created order and chaos. From order came time, and from chaos came life and death. The whispers in my head are so feverish that they make me feel like I’m falling into the Supreme Cataclysm too.”

    Meet the Author

    Rena Barron grew up in small-town Alabama where stories of magic and adventure sparked her imagination. After penning her first awful poem in middle school, she graduated to writing short stories and novels by high school. Rena loves all things science fiction, ghosts, and superheroes. She’s a self-proclaimed space nerd. When she’s not writing, she can be found reading or brushing up on her French. Follow her at @renathedreamer and  She is represented by Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc.

    Goodreads + Website + Twitter + Instagram


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    Poet, Diplomat, Politician: Pablo Neruda and I

    This piece was first published on Proofed, a Boydell and Brewer blog.

    Poetry arrived in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where it came from, from winter or a river. I don’t know how or when, no, they were not voices, they were not words, nor silence, but from a street I was summoned […] there I was without a face and it touched me.”
    – Pablo Neruda, Poetry.

    There is a beauty in poetry that is not often found in books. Wild, explosive and untamed, poetry is like a painting made of words. It allows us to see the world in varying technicolour, rich with imagery and feelings of belonging or alienation, love or loneliness, fear or happiness. Language almost becomes magical.

    I have spent many years at high school, university and beyond reading and loving poetry. Trying to read as widely and voraciously as possible. I have adored many poets in my short lifetime: Lord Alfred Tennyson, W.B. Yeats, Edgar Allan Poe, John Keats to name a few but Pablo Neruda has always been amongst my favourites.

    Regarded as the greatest poet of the 20th century, Pablo Neruda is a complicated man with a complicated history. Born Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, Neruda’s literary career began early, at the age of 13, with contributions to local publications and journals. His father’s disapproval of literature and poetry (believing poets to be ‘cissies’) drove the young Basoalto to write under the pseudonym of Pablo Neruda, which he officially adopted in 1946 after his father’s death.

    Selling his belongings to publish his first book, Crepuscularia, in 1923,Neruda would go on to publish what would become his most popular collection at the age of 20, Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada (Twenty Love Poems and Song of Despair). Euphoric and sorrowful, this collection mixed adolescent thoughts of love and sex with descriptions of the Chilean wilderness. Despite its critical acclaim, it faced years of censorship for its eroticism. Today it remains one of the best-selling Spanish poetry books almost 100 years after its initial publication.

    Neruda’s body of poetry is so rich and varied that is defies easy summary. He explored themes of love, time, destruction and loneliness in all its varieties. His poetry filled with both harmony and anguish, also raged with political energy, ideas of social decay, isolation, alienation, communism and oppression. The Uruguayan critic and poet Eduardo Milan believed that “Neruda is, at the least, two: the author of Residencia en la tierra and the author of the rest of his work”.

    Neruda at his core is a Romantic, however, his experiences as a diplomat and affiliation with the Communist party greatly influenced his later works. He came to believe “that the work of art and the statement of thought—when these are responsible human actions, rooted in human need—are inseparable from historical and political context,” and began to use his work to advocate for social change. This was most evident in Canto general, a Whitmanesque attempt at reinterpreting the past and present of Latin America, detailing man’s struggle for justice in the New World.

    In celebration of Pablo Neruda’s 115th birthday, I share a few of my favourite poems:


     “My words rained over you, stroking you.
    A long time I have loved the sunned mother-of-pearl of your body.
    Until I even believe that you own the universe.
    I will bring you happy flowers from the mountains, bluebells, dark hazels and rustic baskets of kisses.
    I want
    to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.”

    I’d accidentally stumbled across this poem or more accurately, the last sentence whilst I was browsing through quotes on Pinterest a few years ago. There was a purpose to it, I assure you. The line in question was: “I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees” and it remains the one singular line of Neruda’s poetry that I remember word for word and my favourite. I love the sentiment it conveys, this idea of helping your significant other blossom into something exquisite.

    Who would have thought that one session on Pinterest would have led to me reading as much Neruda as possible? Not me.

    Want to read a full version of the poem? Every day you play… can be found online here.

    One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII

    “I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,   
    I love you directly without problems or pride:
    I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love,
    except in this form in which I am not nor are you,
    so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,
    so close that your eyes close with my dreams.”

    I have yet to read Neruda’s full collection of sonnets (even though I’ve been itching to) but Sonnet 17 is one that has always stuck with me. Quiet and intense, uncomplicated and overwhelming, this poem is naked in its honesty. It’s a poem about a love forged so deep, the lovers cease to be two separate beings but one.

    Want to read a full version of the poem? Sonnet XVII can be found online here.

    Walking Around

    “It happens that I am tired of being a man. 
    It happens that I go into the tailor’s shops and the movies
    all shrivelled up, impenetrable, like a felt swan
    navigating on a water of origin and ash.”

    I was surprised when I first read this, as with many others included in my copy of Selected Poems, published by Vintage Classics. It’s easy to forget that Pablo Neruda wrote more than just love poetry if you didn’t know any better.

    Originally published as part of Residencia en la tierra (1935), Walking Around dramatizes the conflict between man and society. The poet is tired of entering urban spaces transformed by technological advancements leaving him detached from nature and the physical world.

    Want to read a full version of the poem? Walking Around can be found online here.

    Tonight I can write…

    “Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
    To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.

    To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.
    And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.”

    There is something inexplicably beautiful about sad love poems. Perhaps it’s simply the process of taking one’s pain and crafting something precious and heart-wrenching out of it that makes it so appealing. Simple yet exuberant in its melancholy, Tonight I Can Write… explores the theme of yearning and the narrator’s eventual acceptance of his lover’s absence.

    Want to read a full version of the poem? Tonight I can write… can be found online here.

    Do you have a favourite poem by Pablo Neruda?

    Let me know your favourites in the comments below.

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    Spin the Dawn Blog Tour: A Review

    Spin the Dawn Blog Tour: A ReviewSpin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim
    Series: The Blood of Stars #1
    Published by Knopf on July 9th 2019
    Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
    Pages: 400
    Format: eARC
    Source: Publisher
    Purchase from: AmazonBook Depository
    Add to Goodreads

    Project Runway meets Mulan in this sweeping YA fantasy about a young girl who poses as a boy to compete for the role of imperial tailor and embarks on an impossible journey to sew three magic dresses, from the sun, the moon, and the stars.

    Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she'll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There's just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.

    Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia's task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.

    And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor's reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.

    Steeped in Chinese culture, sizzling with forbidden romance, and shimmering with magic, this young adult fantasy is pitch-perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas or Renée Ahdieh.

    I received this book from the publisher for free in exchange for an honest review and forms part of the ‘Spin the Tour’ blog tour hosted by The Fantastic Flying Book Club.

    Spin the Dawn caught me by surprise. It’s Mulan meets Project Runway which meant two things: excitement over what essentially is a Mulan retelling and a loss of that excitement when I realised the central theme would be clothing. If there is ever a ‘type’ of Young Adult book I avoid like the plague, it’s the ones where clothing becomes a core part of the storyline. But like I said, Spin the Dawn caught me by surprise. This book was so much more than clothes. It was a book about magic, love, family, quests, freedom, compassion.

    In this sweeping fantasy, Maia Tamarin has a dream of becoming the Imperial Taylor of A’landi but her gender works against her. The Imperial Taylor must be a man. In the aftermath of war, Maia’s father, a renowned tailor in his own right, is summoned by the royal court to compete for the title of Imperial Taylor and clothe the Emporer’s new bride. Sick and decrepit, Maia’s father is unable to make the journey leaving one solution: Maia decides to pose as her brother to protect her father, save the Tamarin name and save her family from poverty.

    What starts as a Mulan retelling quickly becomes something more, something other. Mulan’s world is reimagined into something completely new in this brilliantly vibrant and well executed world woven expertly throughout the narrative. You can feel the magic being brought to life on the page.

    Readers will fall in love with a certain enchanter, and his mysterious and sassy ways. He was definitely the highlight of this book and made things a lot more interesting. I’m intrigued to see how his story-arc pans out in the next book… (just please don’t kill him).

    All-in-all, it was a fun and fast-paced read and the romance will leave you a puddle of emotion. If you love Renée Ahdieh, then you’ll love this!

    About the Author

    Elizabeth Lim grew up on a hearty staple of fairy tales, myths, and songs. Her passion for storytelling began around age 10, when she started writing fanfics for Sailor Moon, Sweet Valley, and Star Wars, and posted them online to discover, “Wow, people actually read my stuff. And that’s kinda cool!” But after one of her teachers told her she had “too much voice” in her essays, Elizabeth took a break from creative writing to focus on not flunking English. 

    Over the years, Elizabeth became a film and video game composer, and even went so far as to get a doctorate in music composition. But she always missed writing, and turned to penning stories when she needed a breather from grad school. One day, she decided to write and finish a novel — for kicks, at first, then things became serious — and she hasn’t looked back since. 

    Elizabeth loves classic film scores, books with a good romance, food (she currently has a soft spot for arepas and Ethiopian food), the color turquoise, overcast skies, English muffins, cycling, and baking. She lives in New York City with her husband.


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