My Dark Vanessa



When Vanessa Wye hears the news that her former teacher Jacob Strane has been accused of sexual abuse, she is forced to confront what she considered the first and great love story of her life. Because Vanessa was just fifteen years old when she first had sex with her English teacher. As the #MeToo movement gains more and more momentum, Vanessa finds herself questioning if what she considered love was not love at all, but actually rape?

My Dark Vanessa is an unflinching story of sexual abuse and grooming that is compelling and powerful. The novel highlights how an abuser manipulates and grooms their victims and exploits their vulnerabilities for their own gain. The book raises the issue of consent and also challenges many people’s preconceptions of a stereotypical victim and forms of abuse, while examining the long lasting impact and psychological damage of sexual abuse. The devastating consequences of sexual abuse are explored in the novel as Vanessa struggles to grasp the reality of what she has experienced, as well as cope with adult life. As the narrative weaves between the present and the past, the story reveals graphic scenes, which often makes for uncomfortable reading. However, these scenes are essential to the story in order to truly give an accurate depiction of such serious subject matter.

For me, My Dark Vanessa is an absorbing read that is difficult to forget. A lack of clear cut resolutions in the story adds to the realistic tone of the novel and the depiction of central character Vanessa feels authentic. My only minor critiques are that the story felt slightly stretched out in parts and the contrast between teenage Vanessa and adult Vanessa wasn’t always that distinct. Vanessa is described as a talented writer during her teenage years, but the narrative sometimes feels just beyond the voice of a teenage girl. Overall though, My Dark Vanessa is a fantastic debut novel that is published today. I hope it receives the success it deserves, despite these challenging times for new book releases and author events.

What debut novel has captured your attention in recent years?

Line of Duty Finale

Line of Duty TV Review


[Contains spoilers!]

With over nine million viewers watching, last night’s Line of Duty finale was the most watched show in the U.K. this year. The incredible figure is expected to rise once catch up numbers are added up, with the total amount of viewers believed to be up to fourteen million. The biggest question on everyone’s lips was the identity of ‘H’, the mysterious figure believed to be the mastermind behind organised crime and corruption within the police force. Answers led to even more questions as Senior Legal Counsel Gill Biggeloe was proved to be the bent copper, with further examination of ‘Dot’ Cottan’s dying confession revealing that there are in fact four corrupt officers, which sets the scene for the next series.

To no surprise, Supt Ted “Mother Of God” Hastings was in fact framed, with previous scenes of his shady behaviour being heavily handed red herrings. After the opening episode’s twist, it wasn’t difficult to spot writer Jed Mercurio’s style again, yet it was still excellent drama as Adrian Dunbar put in an emotional performance in the tense interview scenes. Line of Duty’s signature interview scenes are always fantastic and much of the episode was played out in the interview room, yet was never short of thrills. Once the truth was revealed, the action ramped up a notch with DI Kate Fleming and DS Steve Arnott reacting quickly before Gill had an opportunity to escape and then almost be murdered herself. The scenes were gripping, although the show becomes at risk of bordering on the ridiculous.

Despite all the implausibilities, Line of Duty was BBC drama at its best. Its three leading characters of Ted, Steve and Kate are the heart and moral compass of the show, with their flaws making them more compelling and realistic characters. As the show came to a close last night, many loose ends were tied up, but many more questions and theories began. Who is the other H? Was DS John Corbett actually Ted’s son? Who ordered the hit on Gill? And will no one really not see through Corbett’s killer and new police recruit Ryan?!

So were you one of the nine million plus watching Line of Duty last night?What are your thoughts and theories?

Line of Duty S5:E01 Review

Line of Duty Series 5 Trailer

[Contains spoilers]


“There’s only one thing that’s worse than a bent copper and that’s a bent copper who pretends she isn’t.”

Line of Duty returned with a bang last night with a thrilling opening sequence that saw the return of the Balaclava Men in a dangerous heist involving the hijacking of a police consignment of drugs. The dramatic scenes involved the death of three police officers and PC Jane Cafferty’s life being spared by gang member Lisa McQueen, which ensured that AC-12 were quickly assigned to investigate the incident. Soon, it became apparent that a member of the OCG (Organised Crime Gang) was an undercover officer, but who? With all signs pointing to Lisa, the big twist was revealed in the final scenes and the UCO was actually gang leader John Corbett (played by Stephen Graham). The show also stayed true to its form of killing off cast members with the shock murder of corrupt PC Maneet Bindra.

In between all the dramatic events, the episode revealed how life had moved on for the AC-12 squad since Series 4. Superintendent Ted Hastings appears to be going through a divorce and staying in a hotel, where he is behind on paying his bill. DS Steve Arnott is slowly recovering from his accident in the previous series, but remains in physical pain. DI Kate Fleming appears to have reconciled with her family and yes, in a surprise twist, she is the officer who has been promoted to DI. With Steve having emerged as the likely candidate in Season 4, has the rise of the #metoo movement affected writer Jed Mercurio’s plans for Season 5? Or is it simply that Steve’s accident has derailed his career opportunities?

The unfolding of events throughout the episode raised a whole host of new questions. With no contact for months between the police and John Corbett, is the UCO really deep undercover or has he now gone rogue? Could Lisa McQueen still be another UCO? Could Ted Hastings really be a likely contender for the mysterious H? Who was he calling at the exact same time that Lisa McQueen’s phone rang? So many unanswered questions!

Last night’s episode has now become the most watched show of 2019, with 7.8 million viewers watching it live. Were you one of those viewers? What are your theories?

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again



Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again Trailer

After the incredible success of the film adaptation of musical Mamma Mia!, the story continues in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again five years after the events of the original film. Two parallel timelines unfold during the film as the present day sees Sophie preparing for the grand reopening of the Hotel Bella Donna, which alternates between flashbacks of a young Donna and her adventures after graduating from Oxford University, which may include a certain three young men of significance…

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is a fun romp that retains much of the formula of its predecessor, yet fails to serve any significance. Lily James gives a gusto performance as a young Meryl Streep, which is no easy task, yet because of the original film’s existence, the flashback scenes offer nothing new to the story and are ultimately redundant. With much of ABBA’s back catalogue of hits used in the first film, the film is forced to rely on lesser known songs this time around with the addition of a number of repetitions from the original film. The musical numbers are still a riot, with the cast gamely demonstrating their enthusiasm, despite a lack of singing prowess from some of the cast members.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again sees all the cast from the original movie return, yet one cast member is glaringly absent for much of the film, which sadly suffers as a result. It is evident that the cast are having the time of their lives on screen, but the lack of a story and number of plot holes result in a film that almost feels pointless.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is out on DVD today and although it has a number of issues, the film is still a fun form of escapism, especially now that the dark gloomy wintery evenings have arrived. For me, I had a more personal interest in the film as my sister’s boyfriend worked for a few days on the film during the Oxford scenes, so that was quite exciting and actually how I first found out that the sequel was being made!

Have you see Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again? Are you a fan of musicals and sequels?

My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante

Rating: 3/5

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante was another recent book club read and was suggested by the owner of the bookshop that hosts our book club. Apparently, it had been well received at another book club. Unfortunately, our book group was not so kind, I’m afraid. The book generally did not go down very well at all!

One of the most interesting facts regarding this novel and its author is that Elena Ferrante is actually a pseudonym. The true author wishes to remain anonymous, despite rumours surrounding certain names that are believed to be the real novelist.

My Brilliant Friend is the first book of a four part series described as the Neapolitan Novels. The story originates in Naples, Italy and despite the owner’s anonymity, the series has been a worldwide success. I found this incredible, particularly when we consider society today and its social media obsessed culture.

The story revolves around the friendship between Elena and Lila, which is revealed to the reader through flashbacks from the narrative perspective of Elena. Book One introduces an elderly Elena, who receives a call from Lila’s son to say that she has disappeared. The story then returns to the past when the girls are six years old and continues until their teens.

This was an interesting one for me. While I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed it particularly, I found myself intrigued by the girls’ friendship and I was compelled to keep reading. Although it was an easy read, it was clumsily translated, a point that brought about much discussion at book club. The bad translation often took me out of the story and so it became quite a distraction. Perhaps reading in its native language would have been a better experience. If only I knew more Italian and not just a few basic phrases!

The style of writing irritated many in my book group and the question came up regarding how the book managed to receive so much critical praise. Its success and critical acclaim surprised us all. Is there something that we are missing?

Another source of contention in the book group was the vast number of characters in the novel. The book even provides a directory at the beginning of the novel to inform the reader of all the various families and the nicknames used for certain characters, some of whom have two or three different names. In addition to this, some character names sounded so alike that it became confusing trying to remember who was who, for example, Antonio and Alfonso. Is this merely our ignorance of a different culture or is it simply a case of too many characters?

However, I did mention that I was drawn in by the central friendship, which was quite a toxic affair. Themes of jealousy, loyalty and education were demonstrated through the girls’ competitiveness. At times, it became frustrating the way that Elena was influenced by Lila, who had quite a nasty streak. Elena herself wasn’t exactly a likeable character either and this was evident in her resentment of Lila and her satisfaction whenever she was more successful than her supposed best friend. The way this carried on throughout the novel almost felt excessive and exaggerated at times and I constantly willed one of them to break the cycle. There were moments of independence which brought a welcome change to the pace of the narration, but ultimately the characters are drawn back to old habits.

The novel does raise many questions about friendship. Can you ever break free from your best friend if you really want to? Do you ever wonder why you are (or still are) friends with someone? Do you have a healthy relationship with your best friend?

The novel definitely brought back memories of primary and secondary school. One day you’re best friends with someone and then the next day they decide they want to be best friends with someone else and there’s no room for you anymore. Another scenario is when a new friend is brought into the mix, which often changes the friendship dynamic.

This led me to question adult friendships. We change so much throughout our lifetime that the idea of remaining best friends with your childhood friend is almost a quaint notion these days, especially when people travel and move around so much now. I can actually consider myself really lucky to still be close friends with someone since we’ve been babies, which almost feels like quite a remarkable feat after over three decades! While we’ve often been separated by oceans, continents and time, our friendship has never faltered and we always pick up right where we left off as if we’ve never been a day apart. I can’t help thinking of other friendships that have been lost, not out of malice, but through a lack of contact or location and although it makes me sad, sometimes that’s just the way life happens.

I do look at certain friendships around me and I find myself wondering why some people are still friends when they make each other unhappy, but female friendship can be a complex affair. If only it could be as simple as a relationship breakup, which in itself isn’t even that simple. Can you really break up with your best friend? Perhaps the direct and honest approach used in our childhood could be adapted to our adult lives? Are we capable of moving on and letting go so easily?

These are just some of the questions that were raised for me when reading this novel. I was disappointed not to get more of a sense of place when reading the book, considering it was set in such a beautiful country as Italy. I did get a strong indication of the violence in Naples, though.

The novel certainly explores an interesting subject, although our book group was surprised to hear that the book was being sought out by men to study female friendships. It definitely isn’t the best example to be studying! There are much more positive and inspiring books to read on the relationships between women, such as The Help, for example.

There were also a couple of neat twists in the novel, which I won’t ruin. The annoying part is that it’s not a complete story and I’m not so sure that I would rush to read the other three books!

Have you read all of the Neopolitan Novels collection? Have you managed to get through My Brilliant Friend? I’d love to know if the rest of the series is worth reading, so please do get in touch.

Black-Eyed Susans – Julia Heaberlin

Rating: 4/5

Tessa is a survivor. Having being captured and left with three other girls in a grave surrounded by Black-eyed Susans, her testimony sends her captor to await death row.

Sixteen years later, he is awaiting execution and Tessa begins to wonder if maybe she sent an innocent man to jail. Someone is planting Black-eyed Susans outside her window and a lawyer insists that the wrong man has been convicted. Realising that the real killer could still be out there, Tessa is forced to confront her past to unlock the mystery of who really captured her all those years ago.

“I am the star of screaming headlines and campfire ghost stories.

I am one of the four Black-Eyed Susans.

The lucky one.”

Black-Eyed Susans is a gripping thriller that I read in days. The novel unfolds in two parts – the present day Tessa and her teenage self Tessie just after surviving her attack. I don’t want to give anything away but it was interesting trying to piece the puzzle together and seeing how the two timelines connected. I kept looking for clues that may or may not have been there and I was sort of in the right direction when it came to guessing the mystery, but I still didn’t figure it all out. In fact, I purposefully tried not to think about it too much as sometimes I think it ruins the enjoyment of a story. As much as I loved Gone Girl, it was slightly disappointing to have guessed the twist so easily. Oh and not that anybody believes me, but five minutes into The Sixth Sense I saw the twist coming a mile away!

Black-Eyed Susans is the latest in a long line of thrillers that have dominated the charts, a trend that seems to have started with the aforementioned Gone Girl. A review on the blurb of the book describes it as Grip Lit, highlighting the genre’s current influence. The term almost seems dismissive though, in a way that is similar to how Chick Lit is used to describe commercial women’s fiction, almost like it’s a dirty word. I’m a fan of most genres and I hate snobbish attitudes towards books, which often happens once something is a success. Perhaps it’s a case of just plain old jealousy?

Black-Eyed Susans is an enjoyable original thriller and for once there’s no girl in the title! The novel makes quite a statement on race and the death penalty. It is disturbing the amount of innocent men who have been unlawfully convicted because of the colour of their skin. The novel didn’t shy away from these injustices and highlights the flaws in the American justice system. It’s hard to know where to stand on the issue. Is an eye for an eye acceptable or do two wrongs simply not make a right?

The novel also explores the advances of science and DNA. These progressive measures are crucial in ensuring the correct person is convicted of a crime and it was a revelation to discover just how much information can be gleaned from a body’s bones and teeth. Teeth enamel absorbs dust and the type of dust can indicate where the deceased grew up. Residue from gases can cling to soil and soak into bones. Specifically, rib bones can show a person’s residency for the last eight to ten years of life as ribs are constantly growing and absorbing the environment. Information like this is always exciting to learn and I always enjoy discovering something new, especially when it comes to crime investigations. Often a book can provide us with knowledge that we may never have discovered.

Overall, I enjoyed Black-Eyed Susans. Tessa was a strong independent character, despite everything she had been through. I loved her relationship with her daughter Charlie and I enjoyed seeing what began to develop between Tessa and the lawyer Bill. I do find myself wondering if this will be the latest novel to be turned into a film. I guess time will tell.

Have you read Black-Eyed Susans? Did you enjoy it? Or is the crime genre too grim for you? Let me know what you think!