Full Pour Review: You Had Me at Hola

RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

Okay, you guys… I am convinced that You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria is going to be the next favorite rom-com on Bookstagram after the Beach Read craze. This book was everything I expected it to be and more, and I can’t wait for everyone to read this!

After a humiliating public breakup that ended up all over the tabloids, Jasmine Lin Rodriguez is thrilled to be flying back home to NY where she can have a fresh start. In NY, she will be starring as the leading role in a new romantic comedy television series called “Carmen In Charge” alongside Ashton Suarez, an incredibly sexy, well-known telenovela star. Both Jasmine and Ashton are looking forward to “Carmen In Charge” being the show they need to really launch their careers, and are committed to making this show and their on-screen chemistry irresistible. After a mortifying first encounter with one another, Jasmine and Ashton agree that running their lines together in privacy would help them feel more comfortable with one another. However, the off-screen attraction between Jasmine and Ashton is undeniable and their private rehearsals turn into a steamy romance behind the scenes. While this helps improve their on-screen performance together, they soon find themselves under the media spotlight which threatens to expose Ashton’s most private secret and destroy Jasmine’s newly repaired image.

First off, the intense chemistry between Ashton and Jasmine is completely swoon-worthy and steamy and I could not get enough of their love story. Alexis Daria did an amazing job with the character development of Jasmine and Ashton throughout the book. Their characters were real, relatable and hard not to fall in love with. Jasmine and Ashton are both incredibly strong characters that overcome a lot of personal struggles with self doubt, trust, communication and love. I loved that the story was written from both of their point of views in such a way that allowed me to feel completely immersed in their worlds.

Second, I enjoyed the glimpse into the glamorous and dramatic world of telenovelas as well as the latinx culture presented in the book. I liked how the story was written where some chapters were about Ashton and Jasmine’s off-camera love story, and other chapters were episodes from the telenovela show that they were filming together, “Carmen In Charge.”

If you are looking for a fun, lighthearted, witty and STEAMY rom-com (and if you were a fan of Beach Read!), I highly recommend checking out You Had Me at Hola, releasing on August 4th. Thank you so much NetGalley and HarperCollins for gifting me this eARC in exchange for my honest review 💛


BEER RECOMMENDATION: You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria is best paired with Double Blend by Downeast Cider House. This delicious unfiltered cider is a variation their original cider, but a little less sweet and higher in ABV 🍻

Full Pour Review: The Safe Place

RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

Whew! – Anna Downes took me on a ride with this one. The Safe Place was not at all what I was expecting, and I thoroughly enjoyed this story and how much it kept me guessing.

Emily Proudman lost her temp job at Proem Partners, her apartment, and her acting agent all in one day. Distracted and sobbing after leaving the meeting with her agent, she almost gets hit by a bus and is rescued none other than Scott Denny, the CEO of Proem Partners. During this encounter, Scott learns of Emily being fired from Proem and offers her another employment opportunity to work as a personal assistant for him and his family at their estate in France. Despite feeling hesitant about this offer that feels way too good to be true, Emily is desperate for an opportunity to start fresh and agrees to Scott’s offer. Life at the estate feels like heaven, and Emily has never been happier- she’s getting along well with his beautiful wife Nina and eccentric daughter Aurelia, and is beginning to feel like a French local. However, some things really are too good to be true and Emily soon begins to realize that things aren’t as they seem and that the Denny family is hiding a huge secret- one that could get Emily killed if she doesn’t go along with it…

I enjoyed the slow, brilliant burn with this book. Until I was about 75% into the story, I truly had no idea where the story line was going and the mystery and character development throughout the book kept me on the edge of my seat.

The story was written primarily from the POV’s of Emily and Scott, but Nina’s POV made random appearances during Emily’s and Scott’s respective chapters. Anna Downes did a great job with the character development of Emily Proudman. I really enjoyed getting to know her character and see her grow and mature by the end of the book. Scott and Nina’s characters were very intriguing and mysterious, and while I enjoyed being able to get inside Scott’s head during his chapters, I feel that we could’ve gotten a little more out of their characters. Personally, I would’ve loved if the book included chapters that were primarily written in Nina’s POV, as I feel like there is so much history to uncover about who Nina is and what she has suffered from. Without giving anything away, both Nina’s and Scott’s characters left me with a lot of questions at the end of the story based on things that occurred throughout the book that I would’ve loved to get answers for. That being said, the ending of the story was still very satisfying and I was so proud of Emily and her strength.

If you’re looking for a good vacation thriller, I definitely recommend checking out The Safe Place, releasing on July 14th 💛 thank you so much NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for this gifted eARC in exchange for my honest review!


BEER RECOMMENDATION: The Safe Place by Anna Downes is best paired with White by Downeast Cider House. This delicious take on an *almost* classic unfiltered Belgian style is brewed with orange peel, lemon peel, and cracked coriander 🍻

Full Pour Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

Holy shit, you guys. I absolutely adored this book. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid was on my list for several months and the only thing I regret about this book is that it took me so damn long to get around to it. The hype behind this book is very real- and it surpassed every expectation I had.

At 79 years old, reclusive Hollywood movie starlet Evelyn Hugo is ready to share the story behind her glamorous, scandalous life in the form of a tell-all book. Evelyn doesn’t just want anyone though to share her story with and provide this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She specifically wants Monique Grant to write her story. Nobody is more surprised to hear this than Monique- she is not exactly the most well known or established writer in her field. In fact, her professional life is going nowhere. Thrilled by the promise that this opportunity would jumpstart her career in a major way, she agrees to write Evelyn’s story.

Evelyn is infamous for her seven husbands and everyone wants to know her side of the story- did Evelyn ever truly love these men? What did they mean to her? Who was the love of her life? Inside Evelyn’s luxury apartment home, Monique is fascinated by the details of Evelyn’s story: leaving New York for a life in Los Angeles in the 1950s, deciding to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. During this time with Evelyn, Monique begins to feel a genuine connection form with her and almost as quickly as this connection was established, it is threatened to be destroyed once she discovers the truth behind why Evelyn chose her to tell her story.

“Sometimes reality comes crashing down on you. Other times reality simply waits, patiently, for you to run out of the energy it takes to deny it.”

Evelyn Hugo

First, I need to mention how BRILLIANT the characters were. I am *obsessed* with Evelyn Hugo and completely blown away and in awe of her character. Evelyn is an incredibly strong woman who is fierce, loyal, honest, unapologetic, driven, wonderfully flawed, unconventional and I loved absolutely everything about her. While her character could easily be viewed by some as unlikable after learning some of her secrets, I found her to be very real, relatable, and admirable. Her life story was beautiful and messy and flawed and just down right perfect. Taylor Jenkins Reid did an absolutely amazing job with her character development throughout the story, as well as Monique’s. I admired Moniques tenacity and strength throughout the story as well, and applauded her grace at the end of the story.

Second, the old Hollywood glamour throughout this book is addictive, swoon worthy and mesmerizing. Taylor Jenkins Reid is truly a brilliant writer that knows exactly how to immerse her reader into the story. I was hooked from the very beginning of the book and did not want to put it down.

Finally, I couldn’t get enough of all of the unexpected turns and touching messages about heartbreak, betrayal, love, sexuality, loyalty, authenticity, race and so much more.

Without a doubt, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is one of my favorite books of 2020 and I highly recommend checking it out if you have not already. It is a heartbreaking, beautiful and mesmerizing literary work of art that will stay with me for a long time.


BEER RECOMMENDATION: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is best paired with Bomb! by Prairie Artisan Ales. This flavor intense and slightly spicy imperial stout is aged on Nordaggio’s espresso beans, ancho chili peppers, chocolate and vanilla beans 🍻

Full Pour Review: The Prettiest Star

RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

Fuck… I am at a loss for words with this one. The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels is without a doubt one of the best books I’ve read, and will read, this entire year. This story overflowed with so much raw emotion and is easily one of the most beautifully written and heartbreaking stories I’ve ever read in my life.

At the age of 18, Brian Jackson moves to New York City in search of acceptance and freedom. Just six years into his new life, AIDS has claimed the life of his boyfriend, several of his friends, and now his own future. Now only 24, alone, and desperate to get out of New York and away from the constant reminders of death, Brian decides to go back home and be with his family. At home, Brian’s family struggles to adapt to his return. Terrified by Brian’s disease and sexual identity, and desperate to keep these details secret from everyone in town, his family has no idea how to talk to him, support him or care for him. Seemingly, the only person happy to see him return home is his grandmother. The Prettiest Star is told in multiple POV’s: Brian’s mother Sharon; his younger sister, Jess, as she grapples with her brother’s mysterious return; and the video diaries that Brian records to document his final summer and the horrors that him and his friends have faced from AIDS.

This book had me hooked from the very beginning and gave me all 👏🏻 the 👏🏻 feels 👏🏻. I feel like I have so much to say, yet don’t really know where to start. Carter Sickels is a literary genius and does such an amazing job at developing the characters in this story. I was blown away by how deep and intense the anger, frustration and hurt that I felt towards Brian’s mother, father, sister and other townspeople was as a result of their actions throughout the story. And Brian’s character…. everything about him felt so authentic and real. Every ounce of me wished that I could somehow step in to the story and protect him. Throughout the entire book, I was so thankful that he had his grandmother and best friend Annie as loving allies.

The way that Carter Sickels describes the struggles and prejudice experienced by the LGBTQ+ community is so powerful, heartbreaking and mind blowing. My heart hurts so bad from reading what is only a small sliver of cruelty that members of this community have suffered, and continue to suffer from. When it comes to equality and justice, we still have so far to go…

The Prettiest Star is a MUST READ. This story is so important, and I want everyone to be able to experience what I felt while reading this. Thank you so much, Carter Sickels, for writing this incredible story. This one will stick with me for a very long time 💛


BEER RECOMMENDATION: The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels is best paired with Sour Me Three’s Company by DuClaw Brewing Company. This delicious and highly enjoyable fruited sour is brewed with pomegranate, passion fruit and plum in collaboration with Whitey’s Liquors, located in MD, as well as Britt and Cassie from @SlightlySour 🍻

Full Pour Review: Here For It

RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

Okay, this is officially the best memoir I’ve read so far this year 👏🏻 Within the first few pages, Here For It by R. Eric Thomas had me smiling and cracking up, and I continued to smile and laugh throughout the entire story. To be perfectly honest, I knew I was going to be hooked on this book by like page 3 of the prologue 😂

Here For It is a collection of essays where R. Eric Thomas examines his personal experiences on what it was like to be an “other,” his struggle with reconciling his sexual and religious identities, finding his way during and after college, poor dating decisions, accidentally getting famous on the internet (a few times!), and stumbling upon his career with Elle. R. Eric Thomas ultimately takes all of these lessons learned along the way and uses them to answer the questions we’re all trying to figure out ourselves: is the future worth it? Do things really get better? How do we power through when things only seem to be getting worse?

“You’re exactly who you need to be. Each of you. It may not feel like it; it may seem like it would be much easier being anyone else. You may look back at the person you were at one point and wish that you could instead be the person you are now at that far distant, unreachable point in the past. But you had to be who you were to get to who you are. Every page in the story is successive; they’re all numbered and bound like a book.”

R. Eric Thomas, referring to the various versions of oneself at different ages

You guys, I didn’t want this book to end. I honestly couldn’t get enough of R. Eric Thomas’s quirky and witty remarks, pop-culture references and beautiful candor. Please stop whatever you’re doing and buy this book- not just because of how joyful, entertaining and deeply moving it is (and because you will want him to be your new BFF), but because this book is exactly what 2020 needs and I promise that there is something within it that will surely resonate with everyone 💛


BEER RECOMMENDATION: Here For It by R. Eric Thomas is best paired with Guns ‘n’ Rosé by Oskar Blues Brewery. Guns ‘n’ Rosé is a fruit ale brewed with hibiscus and prickly pear, playing off of the dry, tart or fruity flavors and pinkish color of rosé wines 🍻

Full Pour Review: Beach Read

RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

Beach Read by Emily Henry was an adorable, witty and entertaining rom-com that truly is the perfect beach read. I was engrossed in the story from the very beginning and couldn’t put it down because I kept needing to know what was happening next.

Augustus Everett and January Andrews are both bestselling authors- Augustus in literary fiction and January in romance. Not only are these two complete opposites of one another in their writing styles and genres, but also in the way that they view the world. Augustus is more of a realist (sometimes pessimist) while January has always been an optimistic hopeless romantic. January and Augustus met in college and were not exactly friends (January even considers him her writing arch nemesis!). Needless to say, they have not seen or spoke to one another in years.

Due to some personal events happening in January’s life, she finds herself living in her deceased fathers beachfront house on Lake Michigan and it turns out that her next door neighbor is none other then Augustus Everett. For the next three months, the only thing that these two have in common is that they live on the same street, are broke and suffering from severe writers block.

One evening, Augustus and January decide to make a deal with one another as an attempt to get them out of their creative ruts- Augustus will attempt to write a feel-good love story while January attempts to write something serious and dark. Every week, January will take Augustus on field trips that are meant to inspire swoon-worthy meet cutes while Augustus takes January on interviews with people who’ve survived a backwoods death cult.

There’s no way that these two will both manage to write their next successful book without somehow falling in love, right? 😉🙄

I absolutely adored the relationship and witty banter between Augustus and January, as well as their character development throughout the story. Their stories were raw and real and their individual growth through out the story was admirable- I felt like I was navigating through their struggles alongside them. Their personalities were endearing and rich- Emily Henry truly did a fantastic job at planning out these characters.

Beach Read is a feel good, comical story about forgiveness, second chances, betrayal, failure, creative struggle and learning how to love again. If you’re looking for a quick, entertaining read with an exciting plot that will tug at your heart strings and a satisfying ending, this book is for you!


BEER RECOMMENDATION: Beach Read by Emily Henry is best paired with Apple by Bold Rock Cider. This crisp, sweet and refreshing cider is highly enjoyable and perfect for the beach 🍻

Full Pour Review: Conjure Women

RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫/5

Conjure Women was my first buddy read with my amazing bookish girl gang on Bookstagram and I’m so glad that we selected this as our first book because there was a lot to digest and discuss afterwards, hence the reason I delayed writing this review as long as I did.

Conjure Women is set in the South and spans over the course of multiple generations before and after the Civil War. Moving back and forth in time among the characters, this story focuses on three women- a healing woman named May Belle, her daughter Rue, and their master’s daughter, Varina. The secrets and deep-rooted bonds that these three women share come to a head when the Civil War begins and upon the birth of a child that is believed to be cursed. The birth of this child, Bean, brings forth a lot of fear and superstition among the townspeople that they worry will threaten their newfound freedom.

I’m gonna be totally honest with you guys. I really wanted to love this book but I struggled with it and it just didn’t do much for me. I don’t know if it’s because it was hard to focus due to everything going on right now, or if it was the writing style and story plot itself that just didn’t pique my interest like I expected it to, or if it just simply is not the book for me. I found myself re-reading a lot of parts and felt like the plot fell flat, struggling to identify where the story was going and was left with a lot of questions at the end. The first 150 pages were hard to get through and while things slowly started to pick up a little after that, I felt like a lot of the surprise twists were randomly snuck into the story and not as strong as they could’ve been due to how slow the story was and not being totally sure what was happening and why. It’s very possible that because I was struggling to focus, I could have missed out on some key pieces of information that would have helped me better understand some things.

I think that it’s worth revisiting when things are back to normal to see if I feel any different. I absolutely can’t give it anything less than a rating of 3.5 because the story overall was very rich and beautifully written with complex characters. It is very clear how much research and passion went into writing this story. Please don’t let my opinion discourage you from reading this book because there are so many glowing reviews and there is so much potential with this story. If you’ve already read this book, I would love to know your thoughts on it and continue to discuss it!


BEER PAIRING: Conjure Women by Afia Atakora is best paired with Bamburana by Oskar Blues Brewery and Cigar City Brewing. This boozy beer is an imperial stout double barrel-aged in whiskey and brandy barrels with amburana wood spirals, dates and figs. The wood produces a warm, gingerbread spice flavor as well as hints of vanilla 🍻

Full Pour Review: Godshot

RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

Godshot by Chelsea Bieker was truly a remarkable read that took me on a roller coaster ride of so many different thoughts and emotions. This unnerving debut novel paints a tragic, yet gripping picture of girlhood, mother loss, cults, religious extremities, resilience, trauma, sexual violence, desperation, belonging, alcoholism, and much more, leaving the reader with so much to chew on.

Godshot is based in the drought-stricken town of Peaches, California, where its citizens have turned to a cult leader named Pastor Vern for guidance and assurance that their raisin farms will return to the agricultural paradise that they used to be. According to Vern, the answers to their prayers lie within the special, secret assignments that are carried out by a select chosen few. Lacey May has seen Pastor Vern bring rain to the town before, so she has no reason not to trust his intentions this time around. That is, until her entire world is quickly turned upside down. At fourteen years old, Lacey May is so excited to finally get her first period, indicating that she is now ready for her special assignment. Shortly after, her mother is banished from the church for her sins and abandons Lacey May by running off with a man she hardly knows. Now under the guardianship of her grandmother, Lacey May begins to piece together the horrifying details of Pastor Vern’s plan and decides to go search for her mom and bring her home with the help of a woman who may know her whereabouts.

“I imagined her floating above our beloved town of Peaches, dropping God glitter over us like an angel, summoning the rain to cure our droughted fields. I imagined all these things with a burn of jealousy, for I had not received my woman’s blessing yet, the rush of blood between my legs that would signify me as useful. I’d just turned fourteen but was still a board-chested child in the eyes of God and Pastor Vern, and so I prayed day and night for the blood to come to me in a river, to flood the bed I shared with my mother. Then I would be ready. I could have an assignment too.”

Lacey May, Godshot

Godshot is full of many larger-than-life characters that you’ll either love or hate for all the right reasons. Lacey May is incredibly strong, brave, heroic, loyal, forgiving, naive and good hearted. I loved being able to watch how much her character grew up over the course of the story and was amazed at how forgiving and loving she remained despite everything she went through with her mom, Vern, Lyle and Cherry. Lacey May’s mom is a very complex character who suffers from alcoholism and incredibly low self esteem, continuously dating terrible men that verbally and physically abuse her and her daughter. This abusive cycle eventually leads Lacey May’s mom to be banished from Vern’s church, abandoning her daughter in the process. The majority of the book is centered around Lacey May trying to find her mom and bring her “home”, and the aching loss that she feels as she slowly comes to terms that her mom may never be a part of her life again. One of my favorite characters in the book was Daisy, a single mother to Florin who ran a small business as a phone sex operator. She became an amazing mother-figure to Lacey May, taking her under her wing and giving her the type of love, protection and guidance that she had so desperately craved to receive from her own mother.

Bieker’s storytelling is impeccable, fully immersing the reader inside Lacey May’s world and providing a glimpse into a seemingly dystopian society that reminded me a lot of Gilead and The Handmaid’s Tale. I personally have a lot of mixed feelings about religion and tend to feel uncomfortable by the subject matter, so while this book was difficult at times for me to read, I loved Bieker’s ability to take such a jarring subject matter and make it comical, frustrating, heart wrenching and even exciting.

“Vern breezed to the front, an impatient energy about him. He wrung his hands and kept glancing toward the main door. “Girls! Your stomachs are growing and growing! Praise be to the one who created us. In your wombs are church babies, of course. Future leaders of our army. Miracles in human form, the greatest offering we can turn over to God. Only then he will bless us with…” “Rain,” we all said together.”

Godshot

There is SO much that can be discussed about this book, which honestly made this a challenging review for me to write because I absolutely don’t want to give too much away. Overall, this book was beautifully written with many great messages to take away from it. If you are a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale, I would be willing to bet that you will love this book too.

BEER RECOMMENDATION: Godshot is best paired with Even More Jesus by Evil Twin Brewing and Two Roads Brewing Company. Even More Jesus is an imperial stout, clocking in at 12% ABV. This sweet, thick and boozy fudge-like stout is pitch black in color with a mocha brown head and boasts with notes of chocolate, coffee, dark fruits and burnt brown sugar 🍻

Full Pour Review: Darling Rose Gold

RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

So. Many. Feels. You guys!! I was so impressed with “Darling Rose Gold” by Stephanie Wrobel. This book was a serious page turner from the beginning and worth the exhaustion from very little sleep the past two days 😅 It had a pleasantly surprising twist to it that I was not anticipating, giving me some serious “Gone Girl” vibes that I absolutely loved!

Throughout the first 18 years of her life, Rose Gold was convinced that she was terminally ill. Among many other things, she was dehydrated, allergic to everything, couldn’t keep any food down, suffered from various gastrointestinal issues, had trouble breathing, and used a wheelchair. Despite spending most of her life in and out of hospitals and doctors offices, nobody could figure out what was wrong with her. That is until we figure out that Rose Gold’s mom, Patty, is just an incredible liar who suffers from Münchausen Syndrome by Proxy and has been poisoning Rose Gold this entire time. Patty is ultimately arrested for child abuse and after Rose Gold testifies against her in court, she is sentenced to 5 years in prison. When Patty is finally released from prison, the community is stunned to discover that after everything she’s been through, Rose Gold has allowed her mom to move in with her. However, what her mom and the community don’t realize is that Rose Gold is no longer the same weak and naive child that she used to be. She knows better than to trust her moms alleged forgiveness and sees right through her act of wanting to amend their relationship and move on from the past. She has been planning for this day a long time…

“When Ursula was about to destroy Ariel, Prince Eric didn’t make a peace offering. He didn’t divvy up sides of the ocean, settle for living amicably with a sea witch. He drove a ship’s mast straight into her gut and killed her. I’m my own Prince Eric. I saved myself.”

– Rose Gold, Darling Rose Gold

Stephanie Wrobel is a fantastic storyteller. She captivates your attention from the very beginning but still manages to take her time building up the story, alternating between past and present and the perspectives of both Rose Gold and Patty, before the story takes an abrupt change of course. The character development in this story was excellent as well. I loved being able to see how much Rose Gold’s character grew into herself through out the book as well as the opportunity to witness the relationship dynamics between Rose Gold and various characters. I was also very intrigued by the startling glimpse into the mind of someone like Patty, who thrived off of the attention she received from her community and medical professionals by intentionally destroying her daughters health.

I can’t recommend this book enough. If you enjoy psychological thrillers and are a fan of Gone Girl, I think it’s safe to say that you will enjoy this book too.


BEER RECOMMENDATION: Darling Rose Gold is best paired with Christmas Bomb by Prairie Artisan Ales. Christmas Bomb is an imperial stout that is brewed with cinnamon, using their original Bomb! stout as it’s base. This delicious beer has notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, chocolate, coffee, vanilla, ginger and ancho chili peppers, giving it the perfect amount of heat. If you’ve already read Darling Rose Gold, you will understand why Christmas Bomb is the perfect pairing 😉🍻

Full Pour Review: My Dark Vanessa

RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

“My Dark Vanessa” is the incredibly dark and emotional story of 15-year old high school sophomore Vanessa Wye and the love affair that begins with her 42-year old English teacher, Jacob Strane, during the fall of 2000. In 2017, a former Browick student accuses Strane of sexual abuse and urges Vanessa to come forward about her relationship with him. Now 32, Vanessa becomes faced with an impossible decision: to betray her first love who has remained a constant presence in her life, or completely redefine who she is by reconsidering her long held beliefs of what exactly happened between them. The story alternates between past and present, going in to great depth about Vanessa’s past and how it has continued to impact her over time.

Kate Elizabeth Russell’s character development throughout this book is phenomenal. I loved how complex, strong and relatable Vanessa’s character was. I felt like I was planted inside her mind, easily seeing things through her eyes in an alarming, yet fascinating way. I found myself truly amazed by her and the inner battle she constantly fought with herself when it came to deciphering her thoughts and feelings about her relationship with Strane; was what she experienced with him abuse or a tragic love story? If this was abuse, why did she remain complicit for so many years afterward? was Strane a pedophile or just unlucky to fall in love with a teenager, forever being branded as a deviant? How different could her life have been had this relationship not occurred? The exploration of these questions throughout the book was both intriguing and heart-wrenching to read because Vanessa is so firm in her belief that she is not a victim of abuse and was willing to engage in the sexual relationship with Strane; that he worshipped her, genuinely loved her, and was nothing but careful and kind with her.

“I see him so clearly now, understand how lonely it must be for him, wanting the wrong thing, the bad thing, while living in a world that would surely villainize him if it knew.”

Vanessa Wye, My Dark Vanessa

• • •

“I just feel…” I press the heals of my hands into my thighs. “I can’t lose the thing I’ve held on to for so long. You know?” My face twists up from the pain of pushing it out. “I just really need it to be a love story. You know? I really, really need it to be that.”

“I know,” she says.

“Because if it isn’t a love story, then what is it?” I look to her glassy eyes, her face of wide-open empathy.

“It’s my life,” I say. “This has been my whole life.”

Vanessa Wye to Ruby, My Dark Vanessa

With Strane, I was constantly infuriated by his character and despised his behavior throughout the book. I could not stand how manipulative he was with Vanessa, the Browick staff, and his other victims. However, I found it fascinating to get glimpses of his mind and see how he would justify certain behaviors; the lies he would say in order to assure himself, or be assured of by Vanessa, that he was not a monster and prevent himself from feeling guilty for his actions. Strane was really good at giving Vanessa a false sense of control in their relationship, claiming that she held all the power between them when that definitely was not the case.

“It’s important that you never feel coerced. That’s the only way I’ll be able to live with myself…you’re in charge here, Vanessa. You decide what we do.”

Jacob Strane, My Dark Vanessa

Watching him groom Vanessa and displace his weaknesses and fears on to her was really uncomfortable to experience because she was so young and naive, an “easy target” for someone like Strane to take advantage of due to her strong desire for love and attention. The deep hold on her that he managed to maintain was truly frightening, and the negative affect it had on her ability to have both romantic and friendly relationships with others was deeply upsetting.

“It wasn’t about how young I was, not for him. Above everything else, he loved my mind. He said I had genius-level emotional intelligence and that I wrote like a prodigy, that he could talk to me, confide in me. Lurking deep within me, he said, was a dark romanticism, the same kind he saw within himself. No one had ever understood that dark part of him until I came along. “It’s just my luck,” he said, “that when I finally find my soulmate, she’s fifteen years old.”

Vanessa Wye, My Dark Vanessa

Despite the story’s unsettling subject matter and being difficult to read at times, I was blown away by this powerful, thought-provoking and incredibly well written debut novel. It serves as an accurate portrayal of how the system has failed women when it comes to sexual assault, bringing to light examples of mistakes we can learn from and how we can improve. With the continued rise of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, this book could not have arrived at a more perfect time; opening up an uncomfortable but necessary dialogue about consent, abuse, grooming, manipulation, and the horrifying psychological consequences it can produce. “My Dark Vanessa” is a compelling read that will be tough to put down and leave the reader with so much to reflect on long after they’ve finished reading it.


BEER RECOMMENDATION: “My Dark Vanessa” is best paired with Triple Barrel GBS by Hardywood Brewing. Triple Barrel GBS is an imperial/double milk stout that was created by aging their traditional gingerbread stout in brandy barrels for 11 months, then aging again for 4 more months- half in Caribbean rum barrels and the other half in A. Smith Bowman bourbon barrels. Nearly black in color, this highly enjoyable, boozy beer has notes of white ginger, honey, maple, cinnamon, vanilla, bourbon, brandy and rum.