Sunday, October 29, 2017

"The Furies"

"The Furies"
Written by Natalie Haynes
Review written by Diana Iozzia

The Furies by Natalie Haynes"The Furies" begins with our main character, Alex, who begins a new job at a remedial school in Edinburgh, Scotland. She has five unruly students that are fifteen years old: Jono, Ricky, Annika, Mel, and Carly. This starts out like a warm afternoon special or a new rendition of "To Sir With Love". Soon, it becomes all too obvious that this is not a happy special, and it begins to slowly turn into a well-paced psychological thriller. It's not as creepy as many other psychological thrillers, but you do have the "oh, goodness, where is this obsession going next?"

"The Furies" is written in Alex's present narrative and through diary entries and letters written by her unhinged student, Mel. It's so well-written and interesting to see the story slowly progress into a creepy obsession story, with the student, Mel, being the creepy. As I've mentioned, the progress into a psychological obsession is unexpected and certainly alarming. The story progresses with a pace that it unfolds naturally, rather than all too slowly or all too quickly.

You do have the cliched question of "Are the plays read in the class too relatable to these students?" It always just so happens that books and movies that take place in school have the class read something that relates to the characters' plot. For example, Bella Swan reads "Wuthering Heights" in "Twilight". In the Mara Dyer series, Mara's favorite book is "Lolita". This question is raised in "The Furies", but you soon find out that Mel's obsession with Alex is practically triggered by the Greek plays. Also, for a "student obsessed with teacher" book, I'm glad it's a female student obsessed with a female student, with no romantic or sexual reason for the obsession. All too often, one of the variables creates a crime of passion with their obsession, and I'm glad this is not the case.

In addition, you have very relatable characters. You have a great (one of my favorite) cities as the landscape for this tale. In addition, Alex's fiance, Luke, had died before the book began. The story of this unfolds very naturally rather than super intense exposition, that tells you where, why, how, and when he died in the first chapter.

This isn't the best book I've ever read, but I certainly enjoyed it. It seems a little less different than the book was described to be on the front cover. "Who becomes responsible when these students take the tragedies to heart, and begin inter-weaving their darker lessons into real life with terrible and irrevocable fury?" is written on the book jacket. I completely agree that this is a great description and it's certainly enticing, but it just isn't that accurate. Like I mentioned, liked the book enough, but I won't be reading it again. I'd be happily passing this one on.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

"Only Child"

"Only Child" 
Written by Rhiannon Navin
Review written by Diana Iozzia

Only Child by Rhiannon Navin

"Only Child" follows the lives that continue on after being affected by a gunman who enters an elementary school. Zach Taylor is a quiet and kindhearted first grader who survives the shooting, in which his brother, Andy, and 18 other people were killed. Zach's family is destroyed by this, but soon you learn that it was breaking down before the tragedy. After the shooting, Zach begins having meltdowns and terrible nightmares. He also starts having accidents. His father goes back to work, while his mother spends her time interviewing for news stations. Zach makes a comfortable hideaway in Andy's closet, where he feels close to his brother. He feels an incredible amount of emotions for his brother, sadness, regret, embarrassment, loss, anger. Zach also reads "The Magic Treehouse" stories to Andy.

This is one of the sadddest books I've ever read. It's a beautiful story of love juxtaposed with the tragedy no family should ever endure. Zach's perspective as a first grader is so real and honest with his language and narrative. I can guarantee this will be a very important book. I thought this was absolutely wonderful, but you really do need a form of catharsis after reading this. It leaves a whole in your chest.

* I received a complementary review copy through the publisher. *

Monday, October 23, 2017

"How Will I Know You"

How Will I Know You?: A Novel“How Will I Know You?”
Written by Jessica Treadway
Review written by Diana Iozzia

“How Will I Know You?” is a murder mystery fiction novel that surrounds the strangulation and eventual abandonment of the body of a high school senior named Joy. The story is told in four, sort of five, perspectives. Susanna tells her story of her affair with another character, and her devastation as a result of her daughter’s murder. Martin, her lover, is also the prime suspect. Tom, a renaissance man in the town, feels guilty that when diving for her body, his leg was grabbed, or caught. He worries it was Joy, still alive, but the autopsy later absolves his guilt. His wife is an alcoholic. And pregnant after years of heartbreaking miscarriages. We also hear the story through the perspective of Harper, Joy’s once best friend. This book has a great concept, but the execution of the plot is absolutely disappointing. Two out of four perspectives are just boring. I felt very apathetic towards Susanna, even though her daughter is dead and her mother is dying and has Alzheimer’s. Her character does not regret her affair and absolutely persecutes her husband for little reason. Martin is the totem “black guy wrongly accused of killing a young white girl”. This is very “To Kill a Mockingbird”, and with a character named Harper, you could see where the author was going with this.

Nowhere is this book ever mentioned to be similar to “Mockingbird”. It’s branded with buzz words such as “suspenseful”, “quiet, small town”, “web of deceit”, “fatal consequences”, “poignant conclusion”. WHERE? The only label that rings true is the “quiet, small town”. This book is “To Kill a Mockingbird” with the quirky, unusual fleshed out characters of “Fargo”. This isn’t funny, or sad, or scary. I found myself bored, practically skimming through the narratives of most of the characters. The funeral isn’t sad. The murder isn’t sad. Tom’s narrative with his wife is very sad, but that’s not even related to the murder! He’s mainly involved as the noisy son-in-law of the police chief, and he’s the most interesting character (Out of a bad bunch, the most interesting character, take this with a grain of salt). There are some red herrings, one good one, the rest are bad eggs. I continued to read the book, desperate to see it improve, but my goodness gracious, it probably went to a “I could actually set this book on fire” to “I see where the book was going, and it was just a sad fail”. So, page 220 or so out of 391, I finally got to a point where the book wasn’t completely painless. I really wanted it to be an underdog. I’ve read books where they’ve started out strange, but became amazing after the BIG TWIST. The big twist of “How Will I Know You” comes in the last five pages. 

I really think that the author found herself with a plot that wasn’t planned enough for, so she had to include things to bulk up the book. Joy’s grandmother’s dementia wasn’t great. It wasn’t interesting. Like I said before, I felt very apathetic. You’d think for a book with four perspectives, that there would be enough to say. Martin’s life history of his beloved (but annoying) grandmother, Grandee was not at all necessary. If I ever see the word Grandee again, I will be nauseated. It’s like Beetlejuice, it keeps getting said, and her history keeps popping up. I don’t care at all about Martin. I did like the unexpected plot line of Tom and his wife, but I think this had to be originally planned. I don’t think it was bulk, but hey, yeah, something I actually could bear in the book.

As I mentioned before, the “To Kill a Mockingbird” parallels are almost painful. I like Harper Lee’s book, but in no way, did I want to read a reimagining like this. I was hoping for a creepy psychological murder book, but I received nothing of the sort. “Mockingbird” was creepier than this! You have young Harper, the character, being a spitting example of Scout, the curious, inquisitive girl trying to solve the murder. Tom is similar to Boo Radley, a weird member of the community who people don’t really like. Of course, you have the wrongly persecuted man, Martin, who is similar to Tom Robinson of “Mockingbird”. Okay, I had to look up his character’s name, but ANOTHER TOM. WOW. WHAT A SIMILARITY. Such a coincidence. Okay, looking at the IMDB page, Dill / Delaney? There's a character named Violet in both books. Can we make that connection? I dunno. I might be grasping at straws now, but I don't think I am...

I finished the book last night and absolutely raged after reading who finally killed Joy. This book was in no way worth the time I spent reading this. I don’t like to have to completely annihilate a book like this, but well, yeah. Done.

I received a complementary review copy from the publisher.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

"The Devils You Know"

"The Devils You Know"
Written by M.C. Atwood
Review written by Diana Iozzia

The Devils You Know by M.C. Atwood"The Devils You Know" by M.C. Atwood combines elements of "The Breakfast Club", "House of a Thousand Corpses" and "Heathers" to create "A Night at the Museum" turned murderous. However, an amalgamation of many popular and beloved films does not amount to a unique, interesting, and bone-chilling horror novel. This book tries to overachieve and be the newest indie horror, but it completely falls flat due to its numerous flaws. I highly disliked this book, but it is still a well-created book. It has a beginning, middle, and end. It has an interesting premise, an interesting backstory, and satisfying horror elements. But having the bare bones of a horror novel does not make it a fantastic addition to the genre.

We meet Violet, a very normal, awkward, boy-crazy girl who sounded to me that she would be the final girl. Gretchen and Dylan are the punk-rock, emo, tough characters. They are clones of each other, as if the author just didn't want to completely rip off "The Breakfast Club"s characters. Ashley is the slutty, popular, annoying girl who overly speaks of her bisexuality, but never calls herself bisexual. This always is disliked by members of the LGBT community, so I mean, that can annoy you, but you do have an LGBT character representation (if that matters to you, me not so much). At least half of Paul's external and internal dialogue is told in Shakespearean quotations. (WHY?!?! JESUS.) He's pretty damn creepy otherwise (in the "Wow, her boobs looked so great, I nearly got a boner, because I bumped into one" way).

That brings me along to my least favorite point of the book: the dialogue. Because we are *treated* to reading every character's perspective in first person, we are *treated* to their internal and external dialogue. Nearly every character sans Violet and sometimes Gretchen are unbearable. Honestly, the characters sound if they are aliens trying to blend in with humankind, using weird profanity and expressions that no real human would ever say. For example:

1. Douchecanoe is written at least 6 times. Asstroll. Dickmunch. Douchemunch.
2. Her voice sounded like smelling salts.
For these, I just turned to random pages (because I stupidly took out all of my post-it notes before finishing my review.
3. "Hopefully I don't get digested by a monster? I'm totally suing this place when I get out. After I disown my parents."
4. F***-a-doodle doo occurs at least 5 times. Jesus. Who on Earth would actually say this? Alieeens.
5. Ashley Garrett is pure D bitchitude.

Continuing on. My last gripe is the unrealistic set up of the story. A museum of creepy murder-y things collected by some weird hermit in the mountain. The museum comes to life. Cat and mouse game of who will live and escape. But, the students come here on a school field trip. One that exempts senior students from taking final exams if they go on the trip. Can anyone tell me what school would actually send their students to a museum similar to something that Ed Gein or Jeffrey Dahmer would have created? It just sounds like a liability for a lawsuit. This would have been a much more realistic story if it was just kids that went here on the weekends out of morbid curiosity.

I realize that my review makes the book sound like the worst horror fiction ever created. It's not far off, but it had potential. The idea of a group of teenagers going to a creepy serial killer-ish museum that comes to life sounds great! However, if it was written in any other way than it was, I'd probably enjoy it a thousand times over. It's not creepier than other high school fiction. I feel that R.L. Stine's horror fiction is significantly creepier. I haven't read many teenager horror fiction books lately, but there have to be better ones than this. I'm sure someone I know will enjoy this book, if they can get past the terrible dialogue. I could imagine this turning out into a good movie, as long as they hire a screenwriter to write the screenplay. This needs so many changes to be a film I'd like to see. Like I mentioned before, the creepy crawlies definitely frightening enough to spread fear.

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

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

"Anatomy of a Scandal"

“Anatomy of a Scandal”
Written by Sarah Vaughan
Review written by Diana Iozzia
Anatomy of a Scandal: A Novel

            “Anatomy of a Scandal” follows the multiple perspectives of the people involved in a high-profile rape case in London, England. This is a fictional story, but it feels very familiar to real life criminal court case proceedings. We meet Kate, the barrister / lawyer, James, the possible rapist, Olivia, the possible victim, Sophie, James’s wife, and a past perspective of Holly, who later turns out to be Kate as a college aged rape victim of James.

            This is a whirlwind novel with many twists, turns, scandals, and interesting information looking into law and the British legal justice system. I enjoyed this book, but not nearly as much as I had hoped I would. I can still give it a three out of five stars, but it’s just mediocre enough for me to like it. I had many problems with this book, but I did have some praises, so please continue on. If you feel you may be spoiled in any way, please do not proceed reading.

            Best friend to the prime minister and an MP himself, James Whitehouse is accused of raping the woman he’s having an affair with, but she only claims that it was rape after the news story breaks. This is automatically problematic to people who would be offended by sexual assault and rape, so I imagine this book could be quite triggering. I have never personally been a victim of any form of sexual violence, so I do not find this book problematic or triggering. I find it educational, providing an insight into English law.

            I found the multiple perspectives to be a bit over the top and quite repetitive. Yes, Kate is determined (her perspective is by far my least favorite perspective). Sophie is betrayed. James is terrible. Holly was a sad college student. Uh oh, Kate’s really determined now. Sophie is betrayed again. It feels like you’re in this constant loop of Dante’s inferno. Sophie’s perspective is interesting, because we see her go from denial her husband is involved to by the end of the trial, being heartbroken, and then being completely removed from the scenario. There’s an interesting scene in her perspective between her and James’s mother. Also, I thoroughly enjoyed Holly’s perspective, and I think it was the most interesting narratives, even though it eventually links up to Kate.

            A major issue I found with the book was the intense, over-explained dialogue and descriptions. Honestly, some of the descriptions of places and people just seem to fill the pages, rather be full of useful substance. There’s a very long description of how libraries smell better than book stores, because book store customers eat tuna fish sandwiches and touch the books? Oh, yes, and the beer infused burp that they let out, after just drinking a pint at the pub. I don’t understand how this is interesting storytelling. I’m all for a description that seems almost perfectly realistic, but this is a stretch. I have to mention the all too familiar example of the mousy, awkward female who doesn’t regard themselves as beautiful and never has received a single look of male attention. Surely, she wouldn’t get raped. Did we really have to read this? It just belabors the point.

            Lastly, the conclusion leading up to Holly / Young Kate’s rape during college was complicated, and it seemed to be added into the end as an afterthought. It seemed unnecessary for the plot, and it didn’t make me care about the before. Surely, I felt sympathetic after the rape, but the drunken / drug / death plot beforehand was unrealistic. I know college can be a terrible place for some people, but Jesus, it seemed that every bad stereotype had to be thrown in for posterity.

            In conclusion, the book was mediocre at best. The 400 pages of this over-descriptive, tiresome novel could have been adapted into a 45-minute Law and Order episode. I really wanted to enjoy this novel, but I think I had assumed by the description that it would play out differently. This does happen to me sometimes, where I find that a book’s blurb or description isn’t all that fitting. It seemed more intense, more gripping, more thrilling than it unfortunately turned out to be.


Thursday, October 5, 2017

"The Last Mrs. Parrish"

“The Last Mrs. Parrish”
Written by Liv (Valerie and Lynne) Constantine
Review written by Diana Iozzia

The Last Mrs. Parrish

            I have heard many people compare “The Last Mrs. Parrish” to “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. Often, when I hear this comparison, I think that the book cannot be that good. It cannot be worthy of the comparison. I think this bias has come from reading many books that were compared to “GG” and fell completely flat. “The Last Mrs. Parrish” should receive that comparison, because this is worthy of becoming a best-selling psychological thriller.
            I like to think of myself as a very critical writer. I’m very particular about what I enjoy reading, and once a book goes too far, it’s completely ruined for me. All too often, I find myself reaching that point, but this book does a great job of pulling you back from that breaking point. In “Gone Girl”, we read two different perspectives, and we find out that one perspective was completely manufactured and manipulated. This book review of “The Last Mrs. Parrish” is going to go into depth, but avoid the review if you feel you may be spoiled.
            “The Last Mrs. Parrish” very similar to “GG” in the dual perspective, where in the second perspective, you realize the story is completely different than you expected. You completely take the first perspective at face value. I had many questions and concerns throughout the first, but as soon as the second kicks in, it completely makes sense, similar to “GG”. Okay, that’s the last “GG” comparison.  I promise.
            This book begins with us learning of a woman named Amber Patterson, who has become obsessed with a very wealthy and elegant East Coast couple, the Parrishes. Jackson and Daphne Parrish are very lucky and very beautiful, living out their lives as a banker and the leader of a Cystic Fibrosis foundation respectively. Through Amber’s 3rd person narrative, we read as she worms her way into the Parrish family, eventually seducing Jackson and betraying Daphne. This is all after Amber creates a false reality of her being a homely, sad woman without any career prospects.
            Then, the second narrative begins with Daphne’s second person, present tense narrative, as she speaks directly to the audience. Daphne explains Jackson’s true, evil nature. She also explains the truth, that she had made Jackson seem wonderfully appealing and herself unattractive and uncaring. She allowed for Amber to worm her way in, to escape from the Mr. Hyde-like husband she is abused by.
            This is a fantastic tale, slightly also reminiscent of a female version of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” by Patricia Highsmith. Naturally, no book comes without flaws, but I honestly cannot remember many. My disdain for Amber and my disrespect for Daphne’s naivety comes full circle as Daphne exacts her ‘revenge’, which is more about her finding an escape for her and her daughters. I thought to myself, “How can Daphne not be suspicious of Amber”? Well. Naturally, she had planned it all along.
            With most of my reviews, I like annotating the sections or pages that I had used a Post-It-Note to tag and mark for my review. (Usually, this is a section full of complaints and issues I had with the books I read, but like I said, I absolutely loved the book).
            1. The first chapter and introduction to Amber and Daphne is very mysterious and creepy. Yep, a great hook into a brand-new book.
            2. The gradual unfolding of information about Amber’s real life and past is great, because it doesn’t hit you over the head with yes, she is a terrible person! Okay. She’s bad. Yep. Evil. Absolutely horrible.
            3. YMB was a phrase written on the gun found in the Parrish home. It took me forever to understand, but I guess it was a satisfying reveal? Meh. However, the gun found reminds me of Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense theory. Let the audience know there is a bomb under the table. Let one character know the bomb is there. Create the suspense until the audience is desperate to see when the bomb explodes.
            4. The locations are very descriptive and pleasant to read. The Parrish beach house, boat, real house, museums. Yee.
            5. This book is teasingly and irritatingly “convenient”. Oh, of course Daphne’s children are sick the one night Amber and Jackson can be alone. Until the second perspective reveal, it sounds like bad storytelling.
            6. My sympathy is so earnest and true for Daphne and her children.
            7. Jackson and Amber deserve everything that’s coming to them.
            8. For a psychological thriller, I’m very glad that it was more about manipulation and betrayal than murder and violence (Think “Girl on the Train”).
            9. The manipulation and planning from both women is excellent, even if you’re only rooting for one of them.

            In conclusion, this is a rare time that I enjoyed a book as much as I did. This is definitely receiving five stars in my review, but for a person who mainly gives three stars, please realize that a five-star review really holds meaning. I received an advanced review copy of this book in paperback form. Then, I was sent a final hardcover print copy of the book, and I was absolutely thrilled. This means that I can keep the finished copy in perfect form in my collection, and also lend my ARC copy to everyone I know, so they can enjoy this book too. Thank you for reading, and as always, please let me know what you think of the book, and if we share any opinions!