Friday, September 29, 2017

"The Swallow"

"The Swallow"
Written by Charis Cotter
Review written by Diana Iozzia

The Swallow by Charis Cotter

"The Swallow" was the second book that I had read by the middle-grade author, Charis Cotter. I was very eager to begin this novel after reading her "The Painting". Both premises of each book intrigued me as a twenty-one year old, because these were eerie and creepy stories that I would have loved as a middle-grade reader if they were around when I was that young. I was explaining to someone yesterday that, of course I still love middle-grade fiction, because I loved it years ago.

"The Swallow" follows (ha, rhyme) Polly and Rose, who become friends as they sit in their neighboring attics, only connected by a secret passageway. Polly has the uncomfortable and worrying fear that Rose is dead and is a ghost, while Rose is absolutely fed up with seeing ghosts all of the time. She knows she's alive, but why does she see them at breakfast, at school, everywhere she goes?

A few fascinating and heartbreaking twists and turns occur, and we leave Rose understanding her true purpose as a girl who can see ghosts, that she is to help them move on. This is a very sad, very beautiful book. This novel is more about friendship, while "The Painting" is more about family, but they are both very relative to middle-grade readers. I sincerely enjoyed "The Swallow" more than "The Painting", but these are both excellent novels that I've had the pleasure to receive and review. The dialogue is believable, the sadness is easily felt and sympathetic, the love is palpable between Polly and Rose. I thoroughly recommend this.

Naturally, every book does come without faults. Who would I be as a reviewer if I didn't mention the not so wonderful aspects? To be honest, there really weren't that many. I think that the plot twists were excellent and very fitting for the story, but they were a bit WOW RIGHT NOW IN YOUR FACE AHHH HERE YOU ARE BE SAD NOW. I wish they unfolded a little more naturally rather than the last third of the book. I felt I needed a little more time to recover than I received. I usually am not a fan of excessive resolution, but I would have liked a little bit more in the last two chapters or so. After a massive plot twist as it was, I needed a little time to nurse the booboos.

Additionally, perhaps the plot twist could have been a little predictable? I in no way predicted it, but it was a very distracting day with my lunatic dog, so I could have been reading this more intently than I was. So maybe some of you could predict, but not me! Lastly, the only last thing I dislike was that there were a few moments of confusion where I had to re-read passages, because the way the sentences were worded. This is definitely one of those books where each chapter ends dramatically like "And then, I found a hidden door." "Then, I saw a shadow behind me." It's a bit cliffhanger-y, and that kind of confuses me occasionally as to what I read rriiiiight before the cliffhanger. I think if you end up reading this, you'll understand what I mean when we reach the point where the girls find a secret box.

In conclusion, I absolutely loved this. Charis Cotter is a fantastic middle-grade writer, and I cannot wait to continue to read her books. 

*I received this book as a complementary review copy*.

P.S. I mentioned this in my review of "The Painting", but my goodness, I absolutely love the cover art. Beautiful selections as always.

"One Dark Throne"

"One Dark Throne"
Written by Kendare Blake
Review written by Diana Iozzia
One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake

"One Dark Throne" is the excellent and exciting second book, following "Three Dark Crowns" by Kendare Blake. Please do not continue reading this review if you have not yet read "Three Dark Crowns", because it might be confusing and full of spoilers.

The second book in every series always has the worry of falling into a sophomore slump. Although this was not as exciting and thrilling as the first, it's very good and very appealing still. I do think this book can be a bit confusing at times, because there are so many characters. But thank goodness, there is a list of characters and their details at the beginning of the book. (And it's necessary, I had forgotten a couple of characters along the way. And I read both books in a week, I can't imagine someone who had waited more than a month in between).

There is a lot of "this person is dead OH WAIT no they're really not". "Is this person going to die? Of course not" stupidity that I cannot stand behind. Both books are extremely over-explained. By the second half of the second book, I had better understand who all of the characters are, their journey so far, and their powers. Even if I didn't know, it's over-explained! Ugh.

One of my favorite things about the sequel is the absolute transformation of Katharine from a weak, spiny, little deer in the head lights to oh, my god, the girl that would slaughter a deer in the headlights, three times over. She's terrifying and a great "evil queen" stereotype.

Speaking of stereotypes, there are again the bad boys that the girls are interested in. Also, my favorite guy disappears halfway into the book. Hello? Hi, where are you again? Did you die? I cannot at all remember the last time he was mentioned. Even Arsinoe's bear receives a better conclusion! Again, the willingness and the hatred exhibited by the women in this book still bothers me. But I absolutely love that Mirabella and Arsinoe actually start to care about each other and work together. Finally.

To avoid any more details being spoiled, I did enjoy this book. It felt a little harder to read through than the first, but I seriously enjoyed both. I'll be looking forward to the next in the series.

*I received a finished copy through the publisher.*

Friday, September 22, 2017

"Three Dark Crowns"

“Three Dark Crowns”
Written by Kendare Blake
Review written by Diana Iozzia

          I recently received an ARC of Kendare’s new book, the second in this series, “One Dark Throne”, so of course I needed to read the first. I was excited at the premise, three sisters must fight to see who can be the queen of their island of Fennbrin. The sisters are Arsinoe, Katherine, and Mirabella. Arisnoe is a naturalist, which means she can bond with and train her pet to protect her. Katherine is a poisoner, which means she can consume poison and learn to poison others. Mirabella is an elemental, which means she has powers that can control the elements.

          This is a very ambitious novel and it shows, but I still really enjoyed this novel. I have many gripes about it, but I don’t often read young adult / teen fiction, so I could imagine I may pick it apart. This review is spoiler free, but if you feel you may be spoiled in any way, please do not read on, because I will speak about characters, plot lines, and the world building.

          To start, I absolutely love the island / kingdom. I have always longed to write a YA fantasy and world-build, so I always pay attention to the details. There’s a map in the beginning of the book, so it helps, but I think you can still understand where everything goes. When a chapter begins, it reminds you where the characters are from. This does happen with many of the details, that you are constantly reminded who is kind, who is mean, who does this, who betrays who, what powers everyone has. This is a very vivid book, so I do appreciate the details.

          Arsinoe is by far my favorite out of the princesses, but I think the hidden gem of this book is not any of the princesses. Jules is Arsinoe’s best friend, and by God, I love them. They have a “we grew up together, we’re straight, we like men, WE REALLY LIKE MEN, dynamic, but I could have imagined a love story between them. Jules is a great friend and a fantastic ally to have with her mountain lion familiar and her strong will. But of course, she falls in love with the character who is equally as wonderful as he is repulsive?!?

          This starts me on another tangent, does everyone have to have a possible love interest? Honestly, it’s so hard to keep up with all of the men. I liked Joseph, but he’s a terrible person later on! Luke is the true M.V.P. though. He has done no harm to any of the characters, and is a very beloved character in Arsinoe’s story. Arsinoe is very badass, and you can tell she doesn’t take any prisoners. However, she becomes very invested in the lives of others, to her downfall.

          The story is told in third person PRESENT tense. I cannot stand when stories are written in present tense. It’s like an episode of The Office. Mirabella walks this way. Oh, my, here comes Luca this way. Also, Luca is a female, an old female, I understand this may be a little non-PC, but any other name would have been fine. I don’t understand why there are so many characters. Some of them could have easily been combined to save me the confusion.

          My next issue with this book is the pure acceptance of killing yourself, killing someone else, or nearly killing someone. I understood the idea of three queens fighting for the throne, but two are to die, so one can rule. Three sisters trying to kill each other, and some of the citizens try to “help them”. I don’t like that it’s just accepted, and it only seems that there are two characters that question this. Another yucky thing is that we don’t even see who wins? There isn’t the actual competition or killing or fighting? This is completely reserved for the second book, I guess. Also, the poisoners actually ingest poison for sport, entertainment, and culinary taste? What? Why? How is this appealing? (Poor Elizabeth, am I right? You know if you’ve read this). I mean, these queens are literally raised to kill their sisters some day.

          My last issue is time. How old is everyone? We know Luke is 27, but he really loves Arsinoe who is 16. Weird. I wasn’t sure until the third or fourth chapter that Natalia is old. What time period are we even in? They have sweet shops and a grocery store. I really would love to know exactly how old every character is.

          I do have to mention that I like the religion aspect, that the people in the kingdom believe in The Goddess. The priestesses love Mirabella and they believe that she is the chosen one, picked by The Goddess. I like that there is the discussion how people who believe in a loving god are not always caring and loving people.

          Another huge gripe I have is the horrible injustices and unkindness towards women in this kingdom. I understand that the hidden message must be to overcome your family, overcome your friends, and be a good person. Rise from the ashes, blah blah blah. It just seems so unjust to women, as if the writer wasn’t even a woman herself. Love potions, girls who fall madly in love with bad men? This is a teen’s novel for cripes sake, why couldn’t it actually be a little pro-feminism? I don’t even consider myself a feminist, and I’d love the women to actually resemble real women. “She kisses him deeply. It is exactly what she wants. It is all she has ever wanted.” Not to have her best friend and almost sister not murdered? I mean, that’s probably what she should have always wanted. Mirabella is half dead after nearly drowning and all she wants to do is kiss her savior? No, I’d want warm clothes, oxygen, and dinner. Stop.

          There are some things I don’t understand, but I do wonder if this is because this book will have a sequel and possibly be part of a series. So, I really hope the second book answers my questions and improves the whole “I’m a strong woman and I don’t need a man to live my life happily” vibe. So many YA fantasy novels need to adapt to this idea.

          In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It may not seem so, because I did point out lots of little issues I had with the book. Even though they exist, I still really enjoyed it. Read it in about four hours, 3 last night, 1 today.

          P.S. I absolutely love the cover. I think the entire book jacket is beautiful.
          P.P.S. The Quickening Ceremony? Beltane? Gave Noir? WHAT ARE THESE. I read the entire book, and I still don’t have a clear understanding of the differences between these.
          P.P.P.S. Jules – “I could never hate you, but if you do not leave now, my cat will tear your throat out”. Hell yes, Jules. Proud of you, girl. Also, is her love triangle with Mirabella and Joseph going to continue into the book? If so, I have matches.


Monday, September 18, 2017

"The Land that Time Forgot"

The Land that Time Forgot: The Land that Time Forgot, The People that Time Forgot, Out of Time's Abyss"The Land That Time Forgot"
Review written by Diana Iozzia

I hadn’t known much about this trilogy before I had picked up a copy at Barnes and Noble (a year ago). I decided to read it this past week, because I absolutely love science fiction, but I don’t read it often enough. I was much more impressed with this than I thought. With this being a series of three stories from the 1910s decade, I expected verbose, beautiful imagery and descriptive narratives. I did not realize I would be able to read such a wonderfully written trilogy, with many perspectives, characters, and a terrifying and interesting lost island. To speak about the series, I will write about each book in the series. Near the end of the full review, you will read the notes I took and opinions I formed, as marked by post-it note page tag as I read through the book. They will be written in the order of the book’s progression, so if you feel they may spoil you in any way, please don’t read the notes section. Thank you and please continue on.

“The Land That Time Forgot” (LTF)

“LTF” begins the series, kicking off with a fascinating series of events involving its first main character, Bowen Tyler and his dog, Nobs, as they encounter German u-bombs and rival ships in the Great War. The two must battle for survival in the water, mutiny on the ship, and deception. Bowen is starting to fall in love with a woman, Lys, he rescues in the water. To be honest, he’s really quite creepy towards her in the beginning. It’s very “why doesn’t she love me? I’m so interesting and intelligent. Oh, and I’m not great with social cues, blah.” Tyler, Nobs, Lys, the Englishmen, and the Germans land on the island of Caprona, which is called Caspak by the ape-people who live on the island.

In LTF, we learn about the interesting evolutionary patterns of the ape-people who live on the island. From my understanding, it seems to follow the ape evolution chart, that image we’ve all seen of monkeys progressing into the human. LTF sets up the island, introducing us to the dangerous dinosaurs, the pterodactyls, and the much larger and more dangerous predator animals (lions, bears, tigers, lizards, etc.). 

As I mentioned, we learn a little of the ape dynamic, not actually seeing typical apes that we know in our lifetime. The ape-people progress in the evolutionary pattern. The lesser apes use primitive tools, higher ones use spears, ropes, and more. 

“The People That Time Forgot”

“PTF” is much more of an interesting novel in the trilogy. It is set up to describe Tom Billings and his crew that he brings to the island to find Bowen Tyler and Lys. Tom Billings meets a Galu, named Ajor, who is of the breed that is closest to humans. She also is very fearful of Wieroos. They are almost God-like, but we learn much more about them in the third novel. Ajor was the daughter of a Galu, Jor, who was hidden from birth. Wieroos take Galu females to capture them, make them into wives, and sacrifice them to the god, Luata. 

Tom teaches Ajor his language, and she teaches hers, which is a wonderful scene by a campfire, with (guess who?!) Nobs laying and sleeping beside them. I really like this coupling. Tom and Ajor are sweet and loving and protective of each other, in comparison to the other couples in the trilogy, in which the man seems to be more obsessed than loving.

I think the most interesting aspects of PTF is not the rescue story, but the learning of the Luata / Wieroo religion, the language, and the evolutionary patterns of the ape-men on the island. Ajor, Tom, and Nobs fight many different tribes, make some friends and enemies, and continue on. I don’t want to spoil the end of their story, but it iiiiss a rescue story.

“Out of Time’s Abyss”

“OTA” follows Bradley and his team as they try to find Tom Billings, Bowen Tyler, and Lys. They were the team that had originally came with Tom, but they were separated at the beginning of PTF. Bradley is a tough, no-nonsense survivalist, who has a very hot temper. He kills anything in his way and hardly tries to learn about the island. He meets (of course) a Galu named Co-Tan, but throughout the book, he views it more as a protective relationship than romantic (until the end). Bradley has unfortunately found his way into the city of Ooh-Oh, which is where the Wieroos live, worshipping Luata. Their leader is He/Him Who Speaks for Luata. Bradley meets Co-Tan’s brother in their prison, and eventually sets him free. Bradley attempts to find his way back to Fort Dinosaur, which seemed to be the meeting place where Bowen Tyler and crew had set up a small fort of houses. I think the Wieroos are very interesting, the cult-like dynamic of these winged humans. (Yes, humans!) They are the true closest relatives of the human characters we follow. However, they are the cruelest. 

Now, I will be listing my notes and possible spoilers, so please do not read on if you worry you may be spoiled by anything.

“The Land that Time Forgot”

• The humor in this trilogy is pretty good, but Bowen Tyler himself can be over the top, seeming to think that he is very funny. 
• As I mentioned before, Bowen is very creepy and “friend-zone”-y to Lys. He tries to dissuade Lys from being interested in any of the crewmen, but of course this is justified because the crewmen betray him. Bowen Tyler has the fantastic ability to do exactly what will work out in the end. Ugh. Many of these male characters have this ability as well. Sorry, but I think a hero should have at least a small struggle, that he’s not completely skilled and successful in every attempt.
• The first time they see the island. Just all of the initial descriptions are beautiful and so realistic. I’m very reminiscent of Jurassic Park and King Kong during these opening chapters.
• The creatures of the island. It’s interesting to see how our main characters interact with not-so-extinct-anymore creatures. I just really like dinosaurs and prehistoric animals so…
• There are too many close calls where it seems Nobs will die. 
• I understand that hunting animals for survival is necessary, and I’m really glad the moments are not gratuitous and too detailed. I think I’d be disheartened to read graphic hunting scenes.
• There are some great moments in LTF where our characters walk into a precarious position, rather than the action occurring once they arrive. I like these types of scenes, because they seem realistic. (pg. 68)
• I’m not a fan of lines that describe what will happen in the future, if the narrative is written in past tense. For example, if a character says that something bad will happen at the end of the chapter. I have a big rant about that in my review of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita” on Goodreads, if you’re interested in a further explanation.
• Cheesy dialogue: “Tell me in words how much you love me.” “I love you beyond all conception”.
• YES. We understand that it’s strange we don’t often see young children or older ape people. It doesn’t have to mention this confusion every chapter. Clearly, if it’s going to be explained in the future, there is no need to continue on about it.
• So many moments of deux ex machina throughout the books.

“The People That Time Forgot”

• The endings of LTF and PTF confused me. It took me a couple of times reading the pages to understand how Bowen’s manuscript arrived and that Tom Billings and team were coming to rescue.
• Why send so many people if you know the first time splitting up went poorly?
• Also, whoever is narrating the first chapter of PTF is clearly unknown. I looked it up on Wikipedia, and people surmised it’s a cameo from the author.
• I think it’s very interesting how each main character (Bowen Tyler, Tom Billings, and Bradley) all describe the same things on the island differently. All of the characters are very different and well-written even if I only care for Tom Billings.
• As I mentioned earlier, the dynamic between Tom Billings and his beloved Ajor is really great. It’s not creepy or uncomfortable. You can tell that Tom Billings really respects her, and she trusts him so deeply.
• Edgar Rice Burroughs clearly put so much thought into the evolutionary patterns of the apes, how certain apes would need certain weapons, and their evolved bodies. For example, Alus are beaded, Bo-Lu women don’t have beards, and Stolu-men have stubble, and Band-Lu do not have hair.
• Naturally, this trilogy can be a little sexist in places, but I like that Tom encourages Ajor to learn how to defend herself. Also, I like that she doesn’t always listen to his instructions to stay in one place, or to stay quiet. She’s a great character.
“Out of Time’s Abyss”
• Honestly, this is my least favorite of the books, but I still really enjoy them all. I just think that I enjoyed the second so much, I think I was just a little let down.
• Bradley is the epitome of the character who does whatever he can to survive: stealing weapons, murder, escaping prison, killing ape-people without a second thought. I understand the mentality, but he comes off as cruel and cold. He’d be a good Arnold Schwarzenegger character.
• The Wieroos’ city is creepy and eerie. It’s a great “villain’s den” / “badlands” / Hell landscape.
• Bradley has hardly any difficulty understanding the Galus and Wieroos, so where did those groups originally learn the English language? Hmmm.
• An-Tak’s sendoff was sad, but it showed heart in Bradley that seemed to be nonexistent.
• I’m glad the last show-down in the book where the Englishmen re-met the Germans happened the way it did. I sort of forgot about the Germans, so I’m glad it was addressed well with a good conclusion.
• This note is for all of the books. My copy has a great glossary of all the terms, language, places, and characters. There’s a nice map that Edgar Rice Burroughs had drawn. It’s hard to read, but it’s much cooler than a computer generated map.

Honestly, I haven’t read a book in a very long time, at least six months, where I had realized that the book would become a new favorite book. It was great reading through and realizing how much I liked it. It’s very rare that one of the books I read receives a 5 star review. A 5 star review is usually reserved for one of my favorite books that I will keep in my collection and read in the future. I’m so glad I took the time to read this. I also own “Tarzan of the Apes” and “Hollow Earth” by Edgar Rice Burroughs, so I plan to read them as well soon.

Thank you for reading my review! 

*I purchased my own copy of this book.*

"The Painting"

“The Painting”
Written by Charis Cotter
Review written by Diana Iozzia
The Painting

“The Painting” by Charis Cotter is a wonderful book for children to young adults. The book is about a girl named Annie who finds herself in a painting. Annie’s mother was recently in a car accident and lays in a hospital bed, in a coma. Annie finds herself in the painting’s lighthouse in Newfoundland, Canada, where she meets a girl, Claire, who thinks Annie is the ghost of her little sister.

This book becomes a gigantic mystery, who is Claire? Why was Annie able to be transported into the book? Who is Ms. Silver, the mysterious librarian that Annie speaks to? When we find out who Annie and Claire really are (in the first half), we’re unsure how the rest of the book will proceed. There are about a thousand things I can spoil, so this review will be quite vanilla in comparison to my other, more descriptive reviews.

This book reminds me of many books from my childhood. The author alludes to many similarities between “Alice in Wonderland”, by having a quote from “Through the Looking Glass” preceding every chapter. I also found this similar to “Matilda”, “Goosebumps”, “The Twilight Zone”, and “Coraline”. One of my biggest gripes about children characters is not at all present in this book. All too often, young children are portrayed inaccurately in books. This can include poor language, precocious language, too adult behaviors, or childish actions. Annie, eleven years old, and Claire, twelve years old, are portrayed very accurately as their ages. The best examples I can mention is the descriptions of the five senses that Claire and Annie use. Their metaphors and similes are exactly what you’d expect an almost ‘tween’ to use. Their characters are very realistic.

I do take issue with the dual perspectives. I usually don’t mind a couple of different perspectives in a book, as long as it is obvious which character is speaking when. Constantly, I found myself confused for a page or two as to whose perspective I am reading. A good trick is the different font, but even so, I was still confused when I didn’t notice the switch. This is easily one of my favorite novels for children, and I’ve just read it all in two days, maybe no more than four hours to five hours consuming this. I was honestly surprised how much I would like this, and how it’s instantly moved up into my favorite’s list for children’s literature. I am eager to read books in the future by Charis Cotter. Also, can I just mention how beautiful the cover and back art are for this book? Even though I received an ARC, this is beautiful. I’ll be tempted to pick up a finished copy at Barnes and Noble, because I can imagine a hard cover of this nifty little book would look great on my bookshelf.

*I received this as an advanced reader’s copy.*

Sunday, September 3, 2017

"A Short History of the Girl Next Door"

“A Short History of the Girl Next Door”
Written by Jared Reck
A Short History of the Girl Next Door by Jared ReckReview written by Diana Iozzia

            “A Short History of the Girl Next Door” was a beautiful and heartbreaking and nostalgic read that I absolutely absorbed in a span of two and a half hours during a nice comfortable night in bed. Our main character, Matt, grew up with Tabby, the girl next door. Tabby’s father is a workaholic, so she was almost raised by Matt’s parents as well. We meet our characters on the first day of freshmen year in high school. Tabby jumps into the back of the car of the popular senior boy, Liam. Instantly, you wonder who all of these characters are, and if they will fit into the stereotypical high school teenagers. I was so happily surprised by these characters and how they fit the mold of the archetypal characters, but they were still worthy and well-written characters.

            The novel follows Matt in his love for Tabby, but only occasionally does it become “bitter boy said that the girl he loves does not love him in return”. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of stories with unrequited love, because it always seems a little creepy and uncomfortable. A large sequence and my favorite portion of the novel is dedicated to Halloween. Matt agrees to dress up as a bald eagle to match with his little brother, Murray. After deciding against a popular kid Halloween party, Tabby shows up and they have a lovely time. We also see a really nice Thanksgiving with Tabby.
            There is a very big event that causes the second half of the book to change dramatically and tragically. I’d rather not use spoilers in my review, but it does say on the book cover that there is a tragic accident that causes Matt to spiral out of control emotionally.

            In all of my reviews, I list off details I have bookmarked and pages I have tagged to mention in my review, so I’ll be doing that now. These are aspects I liked and disliked about the book. Please avoid this list if you feel you may be spoiled in any way:


1. There are some cringe-worthy scenes, but I think most of these bits are cringe-worthy because I am reading a book about teenagers, and I am currently twenty-one. The dialogue is usually on par for the teenagers, but Matt’s brother and his mom are a bit lost. Also, the online mean comments Tabby receives would probably never be written and sound like something a parent would assume kids say to bully each other.

2. So. Much. Basketball. I. Don’t. Care.

3. The titles of the chapters are very childish. Honestly, the book is about fifteen-year-olds, but there are many times this book has bits that would cater to younger children.

4. Tabby’s dad is regarded as cool for wearing a costume on Halloween, but he’s regarded negatively for working very hard to support his daughter???

5.  He’s bitter towards the love interest of Tabby, which creeps into the annoying “nice guy” complex. He needs to understand that Tabby is not going to be interested in him in that way and move on.
6. There is the age-old trope of the teacher who is too forgiving and too interested in his students’ lives. Think “Dead Poets Society”. However, I do relatively like Mr. Ellis. He’s smart, funny, and a good friend during the tragedy healing.

7. There is absolutely terrible poetry in this. I don’t really like poetry. And I especially don’t like high school freshmen poetry that’s meant to be unique, smart, and funny, when it isn’t.

8. Matt can be a sweetheart when he’s not complaining about being in the friend zone, i.e. his gift to Tabby for Christmas.

9. I like the parent dynamic in this book. I don’t often find YA fiction novels where the parents and the children have a strong, healthy relationship.

10. In chapter two, we read the heart-crushing tragedy. I don’t often feel sympathetic towards characters in books, but I felt broken.   
            I think I’ll cut off my review here, because I wouldn’t like to further reveal anymore, due to possible spoilers. Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy the story as much as I did.

*I received this book as a complimentary copy for review from the publisher.*