Monday, January 21, 2019

"No Exit"

“No Exit”
Written by Taylor Adams
Review written by Diana Iozzia

No Exit by Taylor  Adams

“No Exit” was a surprising thriller for me. I have not read a thriller in a while in which I felt my heart pounding and my eyes wanting to shut to hide from the horror. Let’s begin.

Darby Thorne is a young woman driving home to see her mother who is very ill in the hospital. A major, dangerous snowstorm forces her to pull over, into a quiet rest stop, in which four other people are holed up: Susie, Ed, Lars, and Ashley. She feels apprehensive to all the people in the rest stop, but she tries to ignore her niggling suspicion. Outside in the parking lot, she notices that one of the trucks has a little girl kidnapped in the back. Darby kicks into super hero, action speed and decides she will fight to save this little girl, Jay.

Once Darby discovers who the kidnappers are out of those in the rest stop, she begins to fight for her life and Jay’s. In many fantastic and cinematic action sequences, we see Darby protect herself and the others, while kicking some butt. She’s tough physically, but she is also very clever. Now, she is a new role model for young adult women. Be like Darby.

I have to say, there are some gruesome, grotesque parts. Although this is an action-packed thriller, do not be surprised by the horrific parts. This book reminded me a bit of Stephen King’s writing style, the loud and vivid and gross imagery. Do we need to know what everyone’s breath smelled like? No. Do we find out? Yes. I read this all in one night. It was pretty dang good. I could imagine this as a fun suspense film, certainly helped by the great dialogue and vivid descriptions. I have to say, I would have hoped for more of a psychological thriller type mystery, but this action payoff was a breath of fresh air.

We are absolutely rooting for Darby and Jay at all costs. I have to say, I’d love to see more of Miss Darby Thorne. Cool gal.

I received this book as a complimentary advanced review copy for honest reviewing purposes. Thank you to William Morrow and Harper Collins.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

"Necessary People"

“Necessary People”
Written by Anna Pitoniak
Review written by Diana Iozzia

Necessary People by Anna Pitoniak

Ambition is a powerful thing. So powerful that it can become consuming, but it also can manifest in ways that we do not typically expect. This psychological thriller is first and foremost about ambition and jealousy, but not in the way that we usually find in this genre. This book is eviscerating; it consumes everything you could possibly imagine and the fire just keeps spreading.

We meet Violet, our ruthless protagonist and antagonist. She is tired of being eclipsed by her beautiful, outrageous, exciting best friend, Stella. Violet is becoming successful in her position at a popular newsroom. We see almost a relationship similar to Nick Caraway and Jay Gatsby: that loving admiration hiding a secret jealousy and judgment. We see cracks form early on, especially through memories and secrets that the characters taunt each other with. Violet is extremely likeable. We feel for her. We encourage her as she continues to stand up for herself. She receives better promotions, makes more money, builds new and healthy relationships, while Stella has remained the same immature woman she always was. Stella holds money and power over Violet’s head. Dangling like a mobile. We hate her for Violet, as if we want to protect Violet from Stella’s malevolent friendship.

The story builds as each character fights to be more successful. We reach an absolute fever pitch when one of them makes a decision they can finally not take back. How we see our characters continue afterwards changes how we think of ourselves, in fact. We excuse a heinous crime, because we would do the same. We are manipulated in this story, to excuse something so horrible. We do not feel guilt, as the character feels happier after. We do not want a consequence; we want the character to be free. This was a twist that floored me, halfway through.

My favorite part of this thriller was the characters. We enjoy the side characters. They’re fun. We support them. We hate them. We wish they were out of the picture. But we also are sympathetic in the worst ways. Have you ever read a book where you should not want someone to win? That we like them so much we excuse their horrific acts? We understand them, because we have thought the same way.

I really cannot reveal anymore information. This is a thriller unlike anything I have read in a very long time. We not only have a character study, but we have ambition at its peak, in the high-speed, cutthroat setting of a newsroom. This book is so much more than I expected. I will be waiting with bells until Anna Pitoniak writes her next book. I cannot praise this book anymore than I already have.

I received a complimentary reader’s edition for reviewing purposes.

"In Paris With You"

“In Paris With You”
Written by Clémentine Beauvais
Reviewed by Diana Iozzia

In Paris With You by Clémentine Beauvais
“I hear two tambourines pounding faster, shaking and vibrating inside their chests”.

“In Paris With You” is a modern romance told in a poetic, airy style. We are treated to a funny, charming, mysterious, sad, and bittersweet story. This romance is reminiscent of many other more realistic romances that I have enjoyed, like “Once”, “The Last Five Years”, “Where She Went”, “The Light We Lost”, and “Bridges of Madison County”. I have always held a candle for romances in which characters find each other after some time has passed. The “one that got away” theme is prevalent through many of the love stories I have enjoyed. I am also a fan of limited time romances. The chance encounter in which characters only have so little time to reconnect and fall back in love again. For example, in “Where She Went” by Gayle Forman was special for me, because we meet the characters and see their love lost, over the span of twenty-four hours.

When we meet our characters in Clémentine Beauvais’s love story, we are introduced to them by an omniscient first-person narrative. Now, this narrative was an interesting experience for me. It felt a bit strange, in the sense where I felt that we should have eventually found out who this narrator was. Is it Paris personified? Is it just for stylistic purposes? The unseen narrator reminds me of the narration from “Matilda”, by Danny DeVito. Half of the book I read in Danny DeVito’s voice.

Now, there were parts of this book I absolutely fell for. Then, there were parts that were so uncomfortable and disagreeable that I just could not let go of. I absolutely love our character, Tatiana. She is beautiful, kind, interesting, and all around a lovely character. I was interested in her art thesis and fell in love with the artist she is writing her thesis about. She is passionate, but she is ambitious about her career. She does not seem to want this reconnection and romance again. She was only fourteen when she had developed her crush on him. They only crushed on each other as young teens; this was not a crazy, beautiful, epic love story that went wrong. Eugene had kissed her sister at a party and then like teenagers, it ruined everything. As adults, surely you would not think passion and love and epic romance would surface out of the dregs of their young teenager years.

Eugene is another story. At first, I like him, because he’s honest and sad and a bit mixed up currently. But then we constantly experience his lust and craving for Tatiana’s body and her attention. He is so much more interested in her again, and she is just more focused on her career. So much of his side of the story is just lamenting that she could be sleeping with her professor and that she focuses too much on things that are not him. I was so disappointed in his character. I can understand that his feelings may remerge for her, but it is so quick and sweeping and at times, unsettling.

I did love the narrative style, even if the narrator was a bit hokey at times with parentheses, asides, and jokes about the characters. I would not have minded if the narrator did not exist. However, I absolutely love the lyrical prose. There are so many gorgeous lines that sound that they belong in soft ballads.

Personally, I love how this story ended. The ambiguous “perhaps, someday” ending absolutely felt right for this story, although it was bittersweet. This is the type of story that I will look back on and read again, wondering how these characters would eventually live their lives.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

"Friday Black"

“Friday Black”
Written by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Review written by Diana Iozzia

I am absolutely struggling to decide how I’d like to rate this book. My favorite stories from this collection are absolutely fantastic. I was enthralled by them. Entranced. Bewildered and horrified. This book is compared often to “Black Mirror”, and I can understand why. This collection of short stories centers around modern and past struggles that black Americans face often, mixed and twisted with false presents and futures, allowing a very fitting “Twilight Zone” meets “Get Out” collection. I feel that most of his stories are very uncomfortable, eerie, but also very captivating. We receive an objective perspective, in the sense where our writer asks us our own morals in each story, showing us that humans can truly be monsters. To further review this book, I feel like a separate explanation and my thoughts on each specific story would be the best method.

“The Finkelstein Five” is a devasting look into the mob mindset, of someone who sat on the fence but is pulled into the insidious side of justice. The themes of justice and honesty gone too far are prevalent through this short story collection. Our main character explains a trial in which a white man is acquitted after brutally killing five children with a chain saw, claiming self-defense. Black teens and adults begin killing white people, shouting the names of the five children. This present action is also wrapped around the dialogue of the trial. This was easily my favorite story of this collection. It was utterly jarring, but most of all; it was absolutely petrifying to watch a young man become entangled in the group of killers.

“Things My Mother Said” does not make any sense to me at all. I will have to look into further explanations of this.

“The Era” follows our main character in a society where parents choose certain genetic qualities for their future children. This allows certain people to be intelligent in ways that we deem but also renders people without these additions to be stupid and useless. We also see his character become more acquainted with a friend whose parents run a house they call “The Era” in which it is kept to the similar society style that we know today. It was also interesting in this story to learn a bit about the history between the life we know and when this story takes place. We learn about wars based on truth and honesty, which provide science fictional satire and dystopia but allow the reader to inquire further by not providing enough information. This was my second favorite story.

“Lark Street” personifies unborn children as animate fetuses as they slowly die outside women’s bodies. They interact with their mother and father as they decay quickly into dust. I can understand the political and satirical stances that provide backing for this story, but I personally just did not find it interesting or entertaining.

“The Hospital Where” is a strange story. Strange and bizarre. We read through the mind of a mentally unstable man who sacrifices his soul and tongue to a demon who creates cures for those who enter a specific hospital. I can imagine the intent: a man who would sacrifice everything to save his father; however, this comes off as confusing and completely passable.

“Zimmer Land” is brilliant. We are thrown into the mix of an employee of an amusement park themed around justice. There are interactive sections where people are able to engage in a George Zimmerman type scenario, in which people approach a black teen in a hoodie with a weapon. The patrons of the park choose to engage the black teen, an employee, in the manner they wish to execute justice, sometimes killing him. Sometimes, there are repeat patrons who pay just to simulate killing the teen. The impetus of the character arises when his bosses decide to create a new amusement in the park which asks young patrons to find a bomb in a school simulation. This was my second favorite story.

“Friday Black” is a gruesome tale of horror set in a society in which murder is excused in order to find the best sale during Black Friday. This provides no further detail about what society would excuse this. I personally did not enjoy this story, because it felt too unrealistic.

“The Lion and the Spider” confused me as well. I believe it is a sort of fairy tale or fable connected to the life of a man working in a hardware store. That’s all I understood.

“Light Spitter” features two characters, a boy and a girl. The boy kills her in a school shooting type scenario and then himself. They meet in an afterlife, in which she is an angel setting out to save another teen from completing a school shooting.

“How to Sell a Jacket as Told by IceKing” was really boring to me. Basically, imagine how to sell a jacket, told by an eager employee. This seems to take place in a similar society or the same one as “Friday Black” does.

“Through the Flash” is one of the more interesting but barely explained stories in this collection. We have our narrator who experiences the same day over and over again. However, she and others have noticed glitches or anomalies that are occurring that would lead us to believe that the day experience repeatedly is for a greater purpose, not just a scientific cataclysm.

In conclusion, I absolutely loved the stories I enjoyed. The stories I did not like were just not my type of writing. I feel that with short story collections, I understand if I do not enjoy every one of them, as long as I connect and love a few of them. I enjoyed the satire, the short spurts of dystopia, and the grim horrors. I felt though as this is branded as a collection that talks about black experiences in America, there was also a certain element of how those who want to fix those experiences could turn the tide in a different way. I felt a certain equilibrium between the political spectrum and the racism elements. This is a well-created and balanced book.

Thank you to Quercus Books for the advance reader’s copy, which was provided in exchange for an honest review.

"The Hunting Party"

"The Hunting Party"
Written by Lucy Foley
Review written by Diana Iozzia

The Hunting Party

Please do not get me wrong. I absolutely love an isolated, claustrophobic, cabin-in-the-woods type story but absolutely do not give me that many plot twists. So many plot twists that only a few short days later, I can barely remember them all.

To begin, "The Hunting Party" has a few different perspectives. We have quiet, awkward Katie. There's loud, slightly immature, and wild Miranda. We have reserved and unsure Emma. We read through their perspectives, as well as the gamekeeper Doug's perspective as we build up to the climax. We also have the perspective of Heather, the director of the lodge resort.

In this story, we have a group of friends and their spouses all on a Scottish highland trip for New Year's. We all know the holidays can be stressful, but my God, this is one to remember. In a vein of classic Agatha Christie meets the modern Ruth Ware, we unfold the mystery. Who is the dead body in the snow? Who could have killed them? Is the killer planning to kill again? As we read through the perspectives leading up to New Year's Eve, we do not really have any irksome red herrings. We become suspicious of certain characters, but the motives are sort of thrown in there as secrets unfold. Personally, I would prefer a slow build with red herrings and clues, rather than opening Pandora's box and unleashing all of them in one fellow swoop. I personally like reading a mystery, in which I sort of figure out who could possibly be the killer or victim. This did not give me the option. It was more like a volcano erupting.

I enjoyed the twists as they came, but I found myself reading back certain sections. We have unreliable narrators, we soon learn, as details and clues manifest themselves late in the story, rather than when it would have made sense early on. Surely, if we are told the story in a sane-minded perspective before the secrets are revealed, we would understand certain details that characters would not have been hiding in their own minds. Does this make sense? Perhaps not to a person who has not read it yet. Please sign off once you have.

In all, I do rate it four out of five stars. It was a fun, exhilarating ride. Am I wrong to now want to go on a little wintry cottage trip like this? Hopefully it would not end in an icy body... but we'll see.

Oh, I also received an advanced reader's edition for reviewing purposes! Thank you to William Morrow!

"My Sister, The Serial Killer"

My Sister, the Serial Killer
“My Sister, The Serial Killer”
Written by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Reviewed by Diana Iozzia

“My Sister, The Serial Killer” sheds a comedic but dark light on the side of serial killing we do not often see depicted: the effect on the family. This fun but unsettling thriller is an enjoyable read. I read this during the holiday season, days after moving into my first home in a different country. So, perhaps I read this at the optimal time.

This is not a detailed story, with descriptions that are enthralling. This is short book, with a small plot. Our main character, Korede, has to repeatedly clean up after her sister’s killing. Her sister, Ayoola, is an immature serial dater, whose boyfriends mysteriously die. To others. To Korede, she knows everything her sister is doing and is the best woman for the job to clean up the blood.

This book encompasses all of the amusing and not-so-serious parts of “American Psycho”, “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, and reminds me a lot of “Jennifer’s Body”. We have a childlike curiosity to see how the story will progress. I enjoyed this, because I did not have to look for plot holes, poor dialogue, red herrings, dramatic choices, and more. This book took all of the grave and solemn parts out of a mystery and thriller, by making it entertaining in other ways. I really enjoyed this, and I hope that it will be made into a film.

Also, I have to mention that I enjoyed the location of Lagos, Nigeria. I do not personally know all that much about Nigeria, so it was interesting to learn about the food, the dialect, the police investigations, and the culture. I hope to read more of this author in the future. 

Friday, January 18, 2019

"The Last Thing She Told Me"

“The Last Thing She Told Me”
Written by Linda Green
Reviewed by Diana Iozzia

The Last Thing She Told Me

“The Last Thing She Told Me” was absolutely wild. We have two different perspectives: current time Nicola and past William in letters. This is a thriller that would be very effective in forcing you to question your family and the secrets they could hide.

We meet Nicola, who is told by her dying grandmother that she must protect her babies in the garden. Nicola's mind is consumed by questions; who are the babies? Are they just the angel statues in the backyard? Her determination unlocks horrific family secrets.

I was intrigued by this premise, but I was surprised in unexpected ways. I had figured that certain characters were untrustworthy, certain were strange, and certain characters were hiding a secret. The secrets that were hidden were much more surprising to me. We have a very uncomfortable tale, with molestation and sexual abuse, told side by side by young lovers separated by the war. It’s a horrifying juxtaposition as we rack our brains to figure out who could have committed the Lolita-like crimes. Was it William, and we are misinterpreting the letters? Or was it someone else, but we are meant to think it is William?

This is a very sad thriller with little resolution, but it is written wonderfully. The characters are fleshed out and relatable, using dialogue that sounds absolutely reminiscent of how real people speak. You’d be surprised by the thrillers I read and their lack of decent dialogue.

Without revealing any of the big spoilers, I hope you read this. If sexual abuse and pedophilia are topics that you cannot handle, please avoid this. This book is very sickening and uncomfortable to read, even to someone who normally can read strong and unflinching books.

I received a complimentary reader’s edition for reviewing purposes.