Friday, March 16, 2018

"Orphan Monster Spy"

“Orphan Monster Spy”
Written by Matt Killeen
Review written by Diana Iozzia, at Bookworm Banter, @bookwormbanter

Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen

“Orphan Monster Spy” is my favorite read of 2018 so far. This book is engrossing, adventurous, and so vivid I can imagine every second of it as a film in front of my eyes. I do not often visualize books as I read in depth the way that I did while reading this book.

For a debut novel from the author, Matt Killeen, I was deeply impressed. The book hits me in all of the best emotion, intrigue, suspicion, fear, adventure, action, breath-stopping, and it can be a bit violent. All of this is completely justified in the pages that unfold. This book reminds me of many different novels and books. I feel reminiscent of “The Book Thief”, “The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo”, “Schindler’s List”, “Never Let Me Go”, “The Golden Compass”, and “Cabaret”. For some reason, I pictured the relationship between Lyra and Lord Asriel and pictured the characters in my mind being played by both actors. The best way I feel to relate this book would be “The Book Thief” at a boarding school with a kickass young girl. The note from the executive editor at Viking Books had actually compared the book to “Inglorious Bastards” for teens, and I can definitely see the similarities, but I hadn’t drawn the conclusions to that myself, nor the ‘“Mean Girls” for Nazis’ from the note as well.

We follow Sarah and her companion, the Captain. They rescue each other on a ferry in Nazi Germany. Sarah is young, but fierce and independent at fifteen. Not often do you read characters who are supposed to be strong, intelligent, and savvy at a young age without them seeming over the top, but I do not feel that way about Sarah. She hits all of the emotional sides that a fifteen-year-old would, but she’s also smart enough to survive an adventurous book as this. Sarah becomes a spy at the Rothenstadt Academy, a boarding school that teaches and trains the sons and daughters of the elite National Socialist Party members. Sarah pretends to be Ursula Haller, as the Captain pretends to be her uncle. As Ursula, she is instructed to spy on and find intel on a young classmate of hers whose father is possibly creating a bomb. I personally love books that take place at certain, slightly unnerving locations, like colleges, private schools, and boarding schools. The narration and the plot lines at the boarding school hit the nail on the head and definitely left me fulfilled with what I was hoping for.

We have a saga, an epic of events that unfold through this book. As Sarah survives the cut-throat, ruthless boarding school, she proves herself to be worthy of the terrible, controlling, and violent classmates. She also befriends a girl everyone calls Mouse, because she’s afraid, but secretly Mouse is spying for her parents. Then, at Christmas time, we find Sarah spying on her classmate’s family and father, and we continue the intrigue. Without giving away any spoilers, the last third of the book, in which Sarah is away for Christmas is incredibly gripping and fascinating.

I’d like to go over some of aspects I enjoyed most about this novel. This book is intriguing. We read through Sarah’s perspective which is riddled with strange narrative devices. We hear her mother’s imaginary voice, we read Sarah’s terrible nightmares from the events leading to and the night of Kristallnacht. In addition, we also have letters, journals, all of the chapter title pages look like old fashioned newspapers or war documents. However, sometimes, her narration can be a bit much. Like an ordinary teen, she repeats certain words or phrases to herself, which can be a bit repetitive, but it didn’t detract from the novel. To continue, I liked the dynamic between Sarah and the Captain. They’re cute and funny and he can be a wonderful father figure to her as he protects her. I appreciated how this was written, although the amount of times she refers to herself as a “dumb slut” can make me gnaw my teeth a little.

As I mentioned earlier, Sarah is extremely clever and intelligent for her young age. We see her navigate many encounters with National Socialists who could easily kill her or arrest her for treason. She can tell from hundreds of feet away from danger how she will make her next move.  We have an incredible race sequence where to prove her trust and loyalty to this clique she joins, she must compete in a race through the woods. It’s thrilling and fascinating, and it’s so beautifully visualized. I can just see every breath she takes as she moves, every branch that she runs past. This would be an incredible film. Sarah can pick locks and find hidden objects, even better than James Bond could. This book can be so intriguing for young readers, perhaps we can have a renaissance of young readers interested in espionage. I like that this book was published by a children’s book company, for young adults, but this book does not feel it’s only for young adults. Lately, I’ve fallen out with young adult books, because they often have too many troubles with relationships or romance or things that I just don’t care to read about anymore at 22. This book could be incredible for all ages.

There’s a fascinating section, in chapter twenty-six that used an amazing level of juxtaposition. Sarah and Elsa, who Sarah is spying on, are riding in the car taking them to Elsa’s home for Christmas time. We have Sarah notice many uncomfortable things, juxtaposed by wonderful luxuries. This is reminiscent of “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe”. Think, Lucy meeting Mr. Tumnus, Edmund being spoiled by the White Witch. Sarah smells the wonderful car, how clean, how cozy with all of the nice warm blankets, but the driver is wearing an SS uniform. Elsa has wonderful sour, delicious sweets that she shares with Sarah. Then, we notice a machine gun sitting on the passenger’s seat. Beautiful books sitting in the back of the car, with wonderful adventure stories. Then, Sarah notices a book that was about warning children of all of the dangers of Jews. This was one of the most memorable scenes, and I think it really stuck with me.

I have a bit of a spoiler section I’d like to include, but I won’t give too many details. I have to mention that in many young adult storylines, there can be plots including sexual assault or harassment. There was a certain section of the plot including this. All too frequently in books lately, I feel very uncomfortable and disheartened when a writer decides to include this in female-driven young adult books, because it feels a cheap way to have a plot be driven, but I’m glad it resolved itself the way it did. Another aspect I need to mention here, I do often also notice that young girls in young adult fiction novels are a little sexualized. This can make me completely distant and start disliking a book, but this only popped up after the racing chapter where Sarah’s “armpits and nipples were rubbed raw”. Not necessary for the narrative at all, but I’m still glad there wasn’t more of this.

Also, I swear this is my last spoiler, but I find in books relating to children and violence, that these books in the action / adventure genres do not have the children feeling sad or disheartened about the negative choice they have to make. For example, when I read the Chronicles of Narnia series as a child, the characters, who were all children (until Peter and Susan grew older), were involved in battles and sadly had to kill. I never felt they regretted or felt sad afterwards about their first kill. This happens all too often in material digested by children and teenagers. In other examples, “The Vampire Diaries”, “Twilight”, “Harry Potter”, quite a few Disney movies, and more. We have a bit of a near death / near kill experience in “Orphan Monster Spy” and I really appreciated Sarah’s response to this.

I think this book would make for a fantastic film as I mentioned earlier. However, I think the best thing in the world would be to have a sequel. I’m so curious to read on to see Sarah’s next move and where she will go after this. We see her make her decision, who she would like to protect.

I received an advanced reader’s copy of “Orphan Monster Spy” to participate in Viking Books’ and Penguin Random House’s book blogger tour! Thank you very much for inviting me to participate. Please consider following me on Instagram, @bookwormbanter   for photographs of books and my beloved doggy, Luna! Thanks for reading!

Friday, March 2, 2018

"Lies You Never Told Me"

“Lies You Never Told Me”
Written by Jennifer Donaldson

“Lies You Never Told Me” is a complex book. We meet four titular characters, Elyse, Gabe, Catherine, and Sasha. Sasha and Gabe are breaking up, and Sasha is hell bent on preventing that from happening. Gabe meets Catherine and starts to fall in love with her. In a separate perspective, Elyse begins to fall in love with her drama teacher, Aiden.
After this begins, I don’t really understand where it goes. This is a book for teens, but it does incorporate very adult themes. They include: drug addiction, sexual harassment, incest, gun violence, and inappropriate relationships.
Lies You Never Told Me by Jennifer Donaldson

I have a few things that I extremely dislike about this book. Teacher-student relationships are disgusting and it only turns sour about 10 percent before the book finishes. Not good, I worry that too many teens will read this and not realize the manipulation behind this. I worry, because I used to enjoy the television show, “Pretty Little Liars”, which completely glorified an inappropriate teacher relationship. In this book, we receive a more negative result, but it’s still relatively glorified.

I also find the language and vocabulary to be immature. I understand that teens may use some of the slang and the social media that is incorporated into this book. It severely ages the book and makes it cringe-worthy. “Throwing shade”. Sending threats over Snapchat. This may very well be a normal thing for teens, and I understand I am reading a teen fiction. However, it would be nice if other ages could enjoy this too, not only sixteen-year-olds.

A lot of the language feels strange through a first-person narrative. It sometimes reads like fan fiction. When Sasha rubs her chest against Gabe’s in her bikini top. It just sounds like a narc is speaking to teens, rather than a teen actually speaking. I feel that a lot of the narrative over-explains. There’s a portion I had annotated where Gabe introduces his six-year-old sister with Downs Syndrome. “Oh, but she’s not stupid. Her development is just delayed”. Yes, because the reader is going to need that further explanation, thanks.

Certain aspects of the story line aren’t interesting to me at all. I understand that because Elyse receives little to no attention from her drug-addicted mother, she seeks asylum in her perverted teacher. Is that really necessary? This feels like Degrassi. Oh, there isn’t any drug addiction? Well, it can’t be a book for teens without drug addiction, sexual harassment, cyberbullying, affairs with teachers, or guns??!?

Unfortunately, a lot of this is makes for a slightly unlikeable book. However, it wasn’t unreadable. I finished it. The last quarter of it was very climatic and intriguing. I just wish the reveal / spoiler / twist wasn’t what it turned out to be. It confused me, and I’m not entirely sure if it’s fleshed out enough for my liking. I understand I’m reading an ARC, but it’s not going to be changed dramatically before final printing. I think the twist is a bit “WOW HEY LOOK. I want it to be CRAZY and TWISTED and COMPLEX. Look at me!!!” It’s confusing and took me about 10 minutes of talking out loud to understand it. It wasn’t a “Sixth Sense” reveal, where it doesn’t make sense, and then you breathe it in, and you’re shocked by the brilliance. This was just wow, okay, that’s confusing. I get it, but why was most of that necessary? Not to give away the twist, but if the story was told in a different narrative without the big secret twist, I might have liked the story more.

I definitely recommend this book, if you like young adult dramas, like “Riverdale”, “Pretty Little Liars”, “Degrassi”, and maybe a couple others. I think I’m too old to enjoy this anymore. I had initially thought that about “One of Us is Lying”, but I was completely wrong. I think that although I’m twenty-two now, I can still enjoy teen fiction, but perhaps more selectively than I used to enjoy.

I received a complimentary copy through Razorbill Books for reviewing purposes. Thank you.


Written by Abby N. Lewis
Reticent by Abby N. Lewis

“Reticent” is a fantastic collection of poetry separated into four parts, titled with the roman numerals, I, II, III, and IV. I love the cover design, I think it’s absolutely beautiful. There are illustrations inside that are cute and sweet, and I think they’re probably drawn by Abby herself.

There are really natural and sweet poems in this collection. Some of them are sadder, some happier. They’re mostly in form of little short stories, perhaps a paragraph to two paragraphs long. Some of the poems are a little uncomfortable. For example, we have one about a slaughterhouse and one where a fish almost dies, but prematurely lays eggs that will die.

Abby’s poetry deserves a nice cup of tea, a seat on a bench by a beautiful lake, and a nice sun in the sky. I could imagine reading this on vacation in the mountains or by the beach. I plan to keep this in my car to read on road trips or on lunch breaks when I just need to clear my head.

I thoroughly enjoyed most of the poems in this collection, but the ones I enjoy the most are:

1. Circumspect *
2. A Regulated Man
3. Nocturnal Auras
4. The Proust Phenomenon **
5. Memories Ablaze **
6. Springboro, Ohio
7. The Essence of Lounging
8. Withering Willows
9. Waiting for The Dead ***
10.  Waning *
11. Golden Droplet *** (This is my favorite).
12. Desert Lake
13. Downpour of Youth
14. Uprooted

I plan to keep this book in my collection for many years.

I sincerely thank Abby N. Lewis for providing me a complimentary copy for reading and reviewing purposes.

"A Piece of Me"

"A Piece of Me"
Written by Sarah Wilson
A Piece of Me by Sarah Wilson

"A Piece of Me" is interesting poetry to me, and I like most of it. The cover is beautiful and I like the design inside. Sarah's poetry is romantic, melodic, and also occasionally erotic. I personally am very uncomfortable by erotica and talk of sex, so some of these poems made me very uncomfortable. For example, "Jungle Love" made me so uncomfortable I had to put the book down for a couple of minutes and regroup. That's fine, because there are some poems that I did enjoy. 

Many of these poems remind me of wedding vows. Sarah speaks about how she wants to promise things for the person she's writing about. Many of these poems are written in second person, so it's very "I promise this to you", "I want to do this with you". They sound like vows, in a nice way.

I liked these poems best:
1. Monday
2. Impossible
3. The Darkness in My Room
4. A Unique Gentleman **

This was a very short novel and I hope to read more of Sarah's poems in the future.

I received a complimentary copy for reviewing purposes.


Target by Kate  Evans“Target”
Written by Kate Evans

“Target” is an interesting and unique reading experience. “Target” is a collection of poems, separated into the years that Kate has written them. We see Kate early on, optimistic and happy in life. Then, over the years, Kate becomes a bit sad, melancholy, perhaps she’s had some experience with mental illness. We see her grow as a person through her writing, so this feels reminiscent of a memoir. In addition to “Target”, Kate also sent me a copy of her actual memoir, “Call It Wonder”.

Not only does Kate’s experience change in the years the poems were written, we also see different writing styles, some more writing techniques, and different voices in her different years. Kate has a fascinating use of juxtaposition through her book. She also uses metaphors, personification, and unique similes. 

The poems I enjoyed most were:

1. First
2. Bed
3. Two Women on a Summer Morning
4. Housesitters
5. The Trip of a Lifetime
6. Valentine
7. Collison
8. Regeneration
9. A Life of Yes

* I received a complimentary copy for reviewing purposes. *


Written by Natania Patterson

'Imagination" is poetry meant to be inspiring, to help people through heartache, through lost love, through trials in their lives. Natania does create poetry that makes you feel at ease while reading. 

On the left pages of the book, we have the explanation of the poem, why it was written, and what it's to mean. Naturally, on the right, we have the poem. This adds to the unique reading experience, because we feel more involved in her poetry. I liked this.

The poems I enjoyed most are: "At Night", "Crash", and "Sweet Sayings".

I received a complimentary copy from Natania for reviewing purposes. I plan to pass this on to a beloved family member of mine who would enjoy these poems as well.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Let's Not Live On Earth

“Let’s Not Live On Earth”
Written by Sarah Blake
Let's Not Live on Earth by Sarah  Blake

          Sarah Blake’s poetry is intriguing. I was particularly intrigued by the cover of her book. Sarah’s poetry is very feministic, full of women empowering poetry and positivity. This is not usually the poetry that I pick up, but I was curious to see what this would be like.

          I like it. I do, but because liking a book on Goodreads equals to 3 stars, I feel strange giving these poems 3 stars out of five. I hope you read my review and consider a 3.5 review, because I’m definitely somewhere in the middle.

          Sarah’s poetry is in no way my style, but I definitely find it interesting. It can be sad, but it’s very serious poetry, with about half of it being in prose. She mentions important topics like gun violence, domestic abuse, anxiety, and early motherhood. There’s a poem about a gynecological check up that made me lose my appetite, but it’s important because she spoke about sexual health and awareness, which is a really interesting topic to me.

          Her poetry’s style is a little distracting, but I think it adds to the vibe of the poetry. It reminds me of spoken word, a beatnik poetry night, but this isn’t a bad thing. Romantic poetry is meant to be melodic. This kind of poetry is supposed to make you feel a little on edge and uncomfortable. I think a few of the poems are a little too full of shock factor, but I admire her willingness to write about what feels honest to her. I also really enjoyed her novella, "Star Ship".

*I thank Sarah Blake and her publisher for sending a complementary copy of the book to me for reviewing purposes”.