Book Club: My Dark Vanessa

I was a totally book nerd this month and read 4 books! That’s a lot for one month for me.  I usually do good to get through one and maybe halfway through a second with my crazy schedule, so I am pretty proud of myself. It really boiled down to interest.  As you all know, I really love historical fiction, and I got stuck on a historical fiction series that I was really enjoying.  I wanted to finish all three books in the series before I started my book club pick for this month.  It was a series by Pam Jenoff, who also wrote The Orphan’s Tale, which was my book club pick last September.  I really enjoyed that book, so when I saw she had a series; I knew I had to read it.  It was initially a 2-book series, but then she released a prequel book to the series making it 3 books total.  I was uncertain whether or not to start with the prequel or start with book 1 as she wrote them.  I decided to go with the order in which she wrote them and read the prequel last, which I think was the right decision for me.  The books are entitled The Kommandant’s Girl (Book 1), The Diplomat’s Wife (Book 2), and The Ambassador’s Daughter (Book 0.5). If you are a fan of historical fiction, particularly books that take place during World War I and II, this is a great series.  I love that each book could also be a stand-alone title too.  While some characters overlap, each book has different main characters.  Anyway, I highly recommend this series as I really enjoyed all three books.

Now onto my actual pick for August, My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell.  This was Russell’s debut novel, and it became an instant New York Times Best Seller.  I knew from the beginning that this pick might be a little controversial or at least make some people uncomfortable.  It is a sensitive topic.  Although not based on a true story, this novel seems like it has been ripped right from the news headlines of the past few years as part of the “Me Too” Movement.   I will admit that it was a little more graphic than I was comfortable with at times and hard to read at some points. I understand the need for it, though, to get the full scope of what was going on and a better understanding of the psychological aspect of it. The book should definitely come with a warning as the topic could trigger some very negative feelings for anyone that may have experienced something similar.  Having daughters near the ages of the main character at the time her abuse began really sent my mind into some dark places as fears about them began to creep in.  Just be aware of the sensitive and graphic nature of this book before you jump into it. 

This story rotates back and forth between the past and the present as a way to show how the events of the main character’s childhood trauma occurred and the impact that trauma left on her for years and years to come. As a self-conscious, naïve, 15-year-old student away at a boarding school, Vanessa had become a loaner after a fallout with her best friend and former roommate the previous year. This left her vulnerable to the eyes of her 42-year-old English teacher, Jacob Strane.  He prayed on her vulnerability, her curiosity, and her need to feel desired and wanted by another human being.  This was a classic case of grooming as he used her vulnerabilities and insecurities to make her feel like what they were doing was totally normal.  He played on her interests in poetry and literature by initially complimenting her on her writing and giving her provocative books to read that glorified adult/child intimate relationships.  He made her desire him in ways that never should occur at that age. He singled her out and made her feel special and desired.  Vanessa as an adult said, “to be groomed is to be loved and handled like a precious, delicate thing,” and that is exactly how he treated her.  He manipulated her into thinking it was all her fault that he was the way he was with her.  SHE was the one that chased after him.  SHE was the one that was willing.  SHE made it hard for him to resist. He told her, “I never would have done it if you weren’t so willing.” He also made it very clear to her what the consequences would be if she ever told anyone what they did together. He told her he would be ruined.  He said he would be fired, and she would get kicked out of school.  He told her he would end up in jail and she would end up in foster care.  He even told her she would never graduate or go to college.  Her response was always, “I’d die before I tell,” and she really meant it. The way he manipulated her psychologically was beyond comprehension for me.  It sickens me to think that things like this happen all the time in real life and that these men can get away with what they are doing to these children.  The ways in which he continued to manipulate her far into her adulthood was just incredible, and the hold he had on her was unreal.  It left her totally broken and damaged.  She was so messed up that she moved from job to job as an adult doing menial administrative work that had nothing to do with her degree or interests.  She coped by abusing drugs and alcohol and lived a life of misery with a skewed view of what a relationship should look like. It truly was a sad situation.

I do think this was a very well written story that really showed how easily children can be manipulated and taken advantage of.  The psychological aspect of it was truly fascinating to me and so well done by Russell.  I could really visualize how everything that Strane did and said to Vanessa affected her every thought and action.  He knew exactly what he was doing and every single thing he did was calculated.  It is an extremely hard topic and, as I said, could be very difficult for some people to read. It is hard for me to say that I would recommend this story to anyone because I do think there are people that likely shouldn’t read it.  I guess I would say that I recommend it with conditions.  You have to be well aware of what the story is about going into and be prepared for the graphic nature of some of it.  It is a very dark story.  I am glad that I read it, and I think that it gave me a lot to think about, especially when it comes to talking with my own daughters about sensitive things like this topic.  If you feel like you can handle this topic, I think it is a very well written story that truly captures what it is like for so many children who are taken advantage of and abused both physically and mentally. Just know that I warned you before you jump into it.

My next pick is, hopefully, a much lighter read.  For September, my choice is The New Wilderness by Diane Cook.  It is a story about a young girl who is slowly dying from the pollution of an over-populated city life.  Her mother is willing to do whatever it takes to save her and agrees to move to the Wilderness State, the only untouched, protected land where no one was allowed to inhabit until now. It is to be a sort of an experiment to see if they can survive in nature without destroying it.  Here is what Publishers Weekly had to say about this novel.

“In this wry, speculative debut novel (after the collection Man v. Nature), Cook envisions a crowded and polluted near future in which only one natural area remains, the Wilderness State. Twenty people volunteer for a government experiment in how humans fare in the wilderness. It’s been so long since anyone tried that no one remembers. Among the volunteers are Glen, ‘an important person’ at the university; his wife Bea; and Bea’s daughter, Agnes, and they, along with the others, collectively called “The Community,” learn to eke out a precarious existence hunting with bows and arrows, tanning animal hides, and negotiating dangerous terrain. As the years pass unmarked other than with Bea noticing a fourth annual appearance of violet blossoms, the volunteers gradually abandon their communities to the study, though they remain expected to obey rules enforced by Rangers, never stay in one place longer than seven days, never leave a trace as members die off. More waitlisted refugees, called Newcomers, arrive from the city, and Bea perseveres, driven by hope for Agnes’s future. Cook powerfully describes the Community members’ transformation from city folk to primal beings, as they become fierce, cunning, and relentless in their struggle for survival and freedom, such as when Bea faces off with a mother coyote. Cook’s unsettling, darkly humorous take explores maternal love and man’s disdain for nature with impressive results.”

Will you come along and read with me?

Anchored,

*This post contains commissioned links. Should you choose to purchase items using these links, I may earn an small commission.

Book Club: The Orphan’s Tale

It is Book Club Friday today, and I am excited to share my review of this month’s book, The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff.  I really liked this book a lot.  It certainly held my attention, and I was very attached to the characters.  I actually finished it early in the month, which is unusual with my crazy schedule, but I couldn’t stop reading at night and stayed up way later than normal to keep reading.  It was a great historical fiction tale, which is probably my favorite genre.  The story takes place during World War II and revolved around 2 women who became an unlikely pair.  One was a young teen, Noa, who had become pregnant by a Nazi soldier and then was cast out by her parents as a result.  She was sent to a center where she delivered her a baby boy and was forced to give him up against her will.  She was living and working at a train station when she came across a train car full of Jewish infants, some of which had already frozen to death.  Reminding her of the baby she lost, she snatched one little boy and fled on foot in the snow to escape being discovered by Nazi soldiers. The second woman, Astrid, was the daughter of a Jewish family that ran a circus in Germany and around Europe for many years. She had left home and the circus life to marry a German Soldier.  When the war got worse, her husband was forced to cast her out for fear of his own life.  Her family was nowhere to be found and thought to have been killed, so she found refuge with a nearby German circus that used to be her family’s rival.  The head of that circus knew her and her family and gladly brought her in to give her safety as the circus’s lead aerialist.  It was understood that all circus performers were like family no matter what circus you came from. When Noa was discovered passed out in the snow with the baby near the circus by one of its top performers one night, they took her and the baby in.  While Astrid was forced to teach Noa how to be an aerialist in order to also provide them with refuge, their relationship, strained at first, eventually became one of survival and sacrifice.

As I said, I was very wrapped up in the characters and loved seeing how the two women’s relationship went from rivals to a tender, caring and protective relationship.  Their struggles for survival and strong urge to protect the baby and each other at all cost brought the two of them together in a way that neither of them ever dreamed was possible.  The horrors that the Jewish people faced as a result of the war was depicted in a way that made you feel deep emotions for the characters and what they faced during that time.  It truly gives you a glimpse of what life was like during that time period and what a family the circus performers are to each other.  The descriptive language allowed me to visualize what it was like under the big top of that circus as they all feared for their lives and tried to maintain their composure during each performance.  If you like historical fiction, you will really enjoy this book. It is filled with extreme sadness, heartbreak, and loss; but it is also filled with love and triumph.  I highly recommend The Orphan’s Tale as one you should read.

My pick for October is a new release by the best selling author, William Kent Krueger, entitled This Tender Land.  This book became an instant New York Times Best Seller just after its release earlier this month.  It is another historical fiction novel that will take us on the journey of 4 Native American children in Minnesota in summer of 1932 during the Great Depression. These 4 children became orphans when they were forcibly removed from their parents and were sent to be educated.  It is said that fans of Where the Crawdads Sing and Before We Were Yours will love this book. I really enjoyed both of those novels, so I am hoping this one will not disappoint. Will you come along and read with me?

Anchored in a Good Book,

*This post contains commissioned links. Should you choose to purchase items through these links, I may earn a small commission.

Book Club: The Silent Patient

I was unable to give my review of my August Book Club pick last week, so here it is today.  Better late than never, right? Anyway, last month I chose The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides as my August pick.  It had great reviews and I even had a few friends tell me that they loved it.  Unfortunately, I cannot say the same.  I won’t say that it was awful because it wasn’t.  It was suspenseful and had an unexpected twist to it.  However, it didn’t really hold my attention.  I found myself distracted while reading it and having to reread paragraphs multiple times because I had not been paying attention.  I can’t quite put my finger on what I didn’t like about it other than it just didn’t grab and hold my attention. I love books that I just can’t put down until I finish it, and this book certainly didn’t do that for me.  I felt like I had to force myself to finish it. I know that this will be an unpopular opinion as so many seem to love this book, but I promised to always be honest with you all.  It was ok, but I didn’t love it. 

This book is about an accomplished artist, Alice Benson, who was accused and convicted of murdering her husband.  She was not sentenced to jail because they found her guilty by reason of insanity. She was instead admitted to a mental institute for the criminally insane. From the moment her husband was murdered and she was found next to him covered in his blood with the murder weapon nearby, she had gone mute.  She refused to speak at all.  Her one bit of communication was a painting she did immediately after the murder.  It was a self-portrait entitled, Alcestis.  People always took to painting as an admission of her guilt.  Theo Faber, a psychotherapist with his own troubled past, became obsessed with Alice’s case and treatment.  He managed to earn a position at the facility where Alice was being treated.  He quickly set his sights on treating her and eventually became her doctor.  He was convinced that he could help her and get her to speak again.  The story chronicles his attempts to reach her with multiple twists and turns along the way.  This story is told both from Theo’s point of view as well as Alice’s point of view.  It was a suspenseful story that had an unexpected ending. I did not dislike this story per say.  I just didn’t love it.  I won’t say that I don’t recommend this book because there are obviously a lot of people that liked it.  I just wasn’t one of them.  

I decided to go back a couple of years and choose a book that is a little older for my September pick. It was published in 2017 and was a New York Times Best Seller.  My pick for September is The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff.  It from the historical fiction genre and is set during World War II. It involves some of the individuals who protected Jews during the Holocaust.  Here is what the publisher had to say about this novel.

“A powerful novel of friendship set in a traveling circus during World War II, The Orphan’s Tale introduces two extraordinary women and their harrowing stories of sacrifice and survival.”

Will you come along and read with me? Let’s dive into this book together! Happy Reading!

Anchored in a Good Book,

*This post contains commissioned links. Should you choose to purchase items through these links, I may earn a small commission.