Thursday, December 13, 2018

"Twilight and Homecoming"

"Twilight and Homecoming"
Written by Uzoechi Nwagbara
Review written by Diana Iozzia

"Twilight and Homecoming" is a book of poetry, which is very opinionated and political, but in a way that many people can appreciate. This book is very honest, but very in your face about the struggles that many people from Nwagbara's culture have experienced and are still currently experiencing. This book is a call to arms, a call to attention of issues that many people might not know about. There are warnings about war, globalism, and corrupt politics. There is also a lovely underlying sentiment of hope.

Nwagbara's poetry is very eloquent, similar to the writing styles of a modern Edgar Allan Poe. There are many interesting similes, metaphors, and allusions. His poems are a bit exclamatory, and most sentences end with exclamation points. Sometimes, I cannot tell if it's a grammatical error or editing error, but some words are randomly capitalized and differently font formatted.

The poems I enjoyed most are:
"No Matter What"
"Summer of Rain" *
"I See A New Day" *
"Cultural Converters" *
"Fatal Beauty" *
"The Other Side of Silence" 
"Full Moon" *

I received a complimentary copy for reading and reviewing purposes.

"It's Autumn Time and Other Poems"

"It's Autumn and Other Poems"
Written by Nazia Mustafa
Review written by Diana Iozzia

It's Autumn Time and Other Poems by Nazia Mustafa

I feel very saddened to write such a negative review about a person's poetry, because poetry is very personal and often speaks of someone's experience. However, I was thoroughly disappointed when I read "It's Autumn Time and Other Poems". At first glance, I believe this book was not edited, to capture the authentic words and voice of the author. Unfortunately, it comes off as strangely difficult to read and understand. Many sentences do not make sense. Many sentences are repeated but have different endings just by one word. Nazia's poetry is very jumbled and childlike, which is not poetry I would like to read. It's not similar to the more frantic styles of poetry by E.E. Cummings. No, this poetry is a very confusing mess of words and ideas. Some poems are just plain nonsensical. Is this a poor translation error, or just a lack of necessary editing?

The cover, the title page, and the poem are all written differently. The title page inside and another page inside read "It's Autumn Time and Other Poems", but the book cover doesn't mention "Time". Also, the poem that the book is about is just called "It's Autumns Time".

I usually mention my favorite poems, or even just poems that I like, but I could not find a single poem I enjoyed reading. The author's little "About the Author" sounds like a job interview, with her mentioning "Since young age, I love to read books. People tell me often that I am very friendly and have a lovely smile. They also tell me I am very good with young children; my interpersonal and social skills are excellent. I seem to bond quickly, therefore I should be a teacher".

Different snippets of poems I had to point out for the strange sentence and grammar structure are:
"It's time for autumn to come back. It's time for a welcome back. It's time for the trees and the leaves to come back... It's time for autumn to go back. It's time for a goodbye. It's time for the trees and leaves to die back. And then to never come back".

Many of the poems are similar to read. Common idioms and phrases are told in broken English. Please understand that I do not mind a book with jargon or colloquial dialect, but grammatically incorrect English is too hard to ignore.

"There shouldn't be clouds covering us. However. Let he green branches be tanning us."
"I seek a glance at the sun. However. The sun pesters me from the light."

The poem that threw me most was "The Special Girl". This poem is about a pretty girl that the narrator of the poem envies. There's a vague reference to Cinderella. "Take control, making me sweat man run that show, It's us, prince, prince, prince, you just can't say no, hey girl I think we got a problem, Some girls are freaky, some are sweet". There's also a line about girls you meet at parties and on the streets. "Lookin' like a disabled turkey and always stalking me".

I'm not quite sure Olympia Publishing decided to publish this poetry collection. I do not recommend this book, but I highly recommend other books that OP has published. Thank you to them, nonetheless for the opportunity to read and review this.


Written by Mary Briggs
Reviewed by Diana Iozzia

"Care" is a wonderfully crafted book of poetry, written about the loss and grief Mary Briggs endured when her young son passed away from a battle with cancer and health complications. Our hearts break with Mary Briggs as we read poems about before he was sick, while he was sick, and we also hear her son's last words. This is an incredible work, and it should be praised, similarly to books by Joan Didion and Joyce Maynard.

There are many great poems in this collection, so I will mention the ones I like. If there is an asterisk next to a poem's name, it signifies a favorite:

"Tomorrow" *
"Winds" *
"Elusive Happiness" *
"The Sun Shines on the Outside"
"I Am a Bench"
"I Am a Child / Was"
"Past Resurrection"
"I Know"
"A Great Wall"
"New Year" *
"Come Home"
"Grief and Your Blazer" *
"Quiet Morning" *
"So I Stood on the Hill"
"Stop 7:30 a.m. Silence"
"13 Diaries"
"God's Soul Primaries"
"Could I Have Captured?"
"Breathing, Trapped in a Submarine"
"Packing A Life" *
"Grief Blazes Red" *

In the end of the book, we have a list of lovely but saddening memories of Mary and her son. This was reminiscent of the final portion of "Mortality" by Christopher Hitchens, told by his wife.

Unfortunately, I have to point out quite a few grammatical errors. Also, one of the poems is printed twice, which is quite confusing.

Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed this book of poetry. I received a complimentary copy for reading and reviewing purposes from Olympia Publishing.

"Sticks and Stones Falling From the Sky"

"Sticks and Stones Falling From the Sky"
Written by Andrew Daniels
Review written by Diana Iozzia 
Sticks and Stones Falling From the Sky by Andrew     Daniels

"Sticks and Stones Falling From the Sky" is a very romantic but mystical book of poetry. When beginning to read this book, I instantly felt connected on a fantasy level, with elements of knights, kings, queens, elves, mythical creatures, vikings, dwarves, giants, different type periods, samurai, and more. I read this book not long after finally watching all of the Lord of the Rings films, so I felt a bit of fantasy connection there. 

Andrew Daniels creates great personification, metaphors, and similes to create his poetry. There is a dream-like quality to his poems, and it's greatly appreciated by me. The cover of this book is beautiful, and the font and layout inside the book are great as well. 

I had many favorite poems in this collection. Here are the poems I enjoyed most:

"Autumn" *
"Waves from a Mermaid Violin" *
"Steel Love and Steel Faith"
"Gardens of Honor and Respect"
"Gift of the Silver Tongue"
"Spring, Summer, Winter"
"The Sunshine Here and the Sunshine There"
"The Sun Dances with the Moon"
"Playing Hardball with God"
"A Ladder to the Moon"
"Dancing to Italy"

I fully recommend this book of poetry. It was a wonderful read for me. I received this book of poetry in partnership to read and review it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

”Into the Water”

“Into the Water”
Written by Paula Hawkins
Review written by Diana Iozzia
Read from Mid-November to December 9th 

Into the Water

“Into the Water” by Paula Hawkins appealed to me, because I generally enjoyed her first book, “The Girl on the Train”. It was not my favorite thriller I have ever read, but I still enjoyed the multiple perspectives, the plot, and the unreliable narration. Hawkins has a fantastic ability to write unreliable and unlikeable characters. We do not like them, but we still wonder what may happen and usually hope they stay alive.

While reading “Into the Water”, I was drawn into the small English town life in Beckford, a town with many tales of  local folklore surrounding the large body of water. I do not remember it ever being fully identified, but I view it as a massive pond with a massive cliff.

We meet Jules, whose sister Nel has committed suicide. Or so everyone thinks. We meet Erin,, a scrappy detective who is very suspicious of everyone. The detective, Sean, is a bit untrustworthy, as well as his wife, Helen, and his father, Patrick. Jules takes in Nel’s daughter, Lena, who is a very scruffy, rude teen, who of course has a hard exterior to hide her personal demons. We also hear from Louise, whose daughter, Katie was found dead in the water months previously. Katie was friends with Lena and Sean’s son, Josh. We also have a strange perspective of a girl who was drowned in the water years ago, accused of being a witch.

I started to listen to this on audiobook, which is why I cannot quite remember when I first started. I believe this book is significantly better to read by listening in that format. There are fantastic voice actors. Once I stopped listening and reading in paperback form, I felt the magic was lost. However, I do think the book just slowly got less interesting, but in the worst time. As we begin deciding who seems suspicious, we are revealed some more secrets. As the story unfolds and becomes more climactic, I just was not interested. I did not like the possible suspects and find them to be interesting suspects. The motives seemed off to me and the climax was very slow and serious, rather than heart pounding and exciting.

I do not know if we are supposed to be able to predict this ending. I think Paula Hawkins writes her books to be predictable, but we are supposed to enjoy the clues and the buildup to see if we’re right, but it’s a bit like a game of Clue. Once you’ve figured it out, oh. Okay. It’s over. It does not feel exciting to wonder what will come next.

I would read another book by Paula Hawkins eventually, but there are so many great psychological thriller writers to choose instead. I think this book would be best suited for someone who would like to read in this genre, but they do not know whose books to start with.

"The Island"

"The Island"
Written by M.A. Bennett
Review written by Diana Iozzia

The IslandAfter reading "S.T.A.G.S." by M.A. Bennett, I was thoroughly excited to read her newest release, "The Island". This book is branded as a mix of a boarding school mystery and "Lord of The Flies". I was intrigued by both counterparts, because one of my favorite genres is dark academia, and I also enjoy readings survival stories. 

Link is our eccentric, self-branded nerd. We learn about him, his hobbies, his interests, and many of his dislikes. I am not a fan of link. I understand the author consulted her teen children and then wrote a perspective based on these thoughts and ideas, but the character feels very manufactured, as in he's an alien or a robot, only spouting out references to video games and current pop culture icons. These references date the book in an uncomfortable way. 

After growing tired of his bullies, Link wants an escape from the school where he doesn't fit in. His parents are flabbergasted, surprised how horribly he was treated, even though from the absolute start, they knew he was terribly bullied. His parents make a deal, that if he can spend two weeks at a summer camp, they will let him withdraw from the school and find one he likes more. He gets on a plane, with the only characters we've known from his school so far. Suspiciously only these characters. His bullies, the girls he likes. The plane crashes on a strange island, but none of the characters can remember the crash. 

We have a large portion of the book where Link establishes power over the group, by first teaching them to hunt, cook, and make shelters. He starts to manipulate those around him, threatening that if they do not obey, they will not eat. 

We eventually find out the major point of the crash, the whole explanation why the story has taken place. It is one of the worst reveals I have read in a book. I understand that this book is for teens and young adults, but as a twenty-two year old, I don't think I'm reading too far out of my age group. My younger brother is eighteen, and he never acted in any way that these teens do. I personally rarely encountered these types of teens. So, I do understand the ending, that this might appeal to teens, but I was exasperatedly unimpressed. 

I do not recommend this book, but I highly recommend "S.T.A.G.S", the first book by this author.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

"The Suicide"

“The Suicide”
Written by Amy Tollyfield
Review written by Diana Iozzia

The Suicide by Amy Tollyfield
            Poetry is always a fickle read for me. At this point in my reading experience, I have concluded that sadder, angrier, and darker poetry can be a fantastic read for me, or something I would like to avoid like the plague. Sometimes, I draw a line straight down the middle.

            With “The Suicide” I found poems I enjoyed, but I also found poems that were just not the right style for me. Some of Tollyfield’s poems are similar to Silvia Plath, whose poems and prose I have always enjoyed. Quite a few of the poems also reminded me of the book, “Girl, Interrupted” as well as Plath’s “The Bell Jar”.

            Amy Tollyfield’s poetry is full of similes, metaphors, and allusions. I do like a great allusion, but some of the mentions seemed necessary only to complete the rhyme couplet, as the typical style is 1212 or 12 32. For example, I thought rhyming “Pocahontas” with “orthodontist” was a bit of a stretch. I remember my younger adolescent years when I used a rhyming dictionary and came up with similar rhymes. To continue, I also enjoyed Tollyfield’s use of different colors to describe actions, emotions, and more.

            I personally felt that the majority of the poems in this collection were not for me. I enjoyed reading the collection, but I do think poetry is very subjective. The poems I enjoyed most are:

“Big Sea”

Courtesy of Olympia Publishing, I received a complimentary copy of this book for reading and reviewing purposes.

“You, Me, The Sun, and the Stars”

“You, Me, The Sun, and the Stars”
Written by G.P. Loehr
Review written by Diana Iozzia

You and the Moon, the Sun and the Stars by G P Loehr

            “You, Me, The Sun, and the Stars” is a poetry collection, with many poems centering around love, heartbreak, and faith. This book grants a cute, Southern American charm, if that was intended or not. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, through the perspective of the author. Loehr speaks of many emotions in a very natural and believable way. The reader can imagine the emotional experience he has been through and sympathize, relating in their own ways to their own loves. For instance, I related to quite a few of his poems surrounding long-distance love, because I myself am in a long-distance engagement. I felt very at peace reading Loehr’s books. I can imagine reading this on a nice, wooden porch with a glass of something cold and sweet.

            To continue, I enjoyed that many of Loehr’s poems have similar themes. Certain colors, days, times, and themes of nature are present throughout the book. The most noticeable recurring theme is the one of nature: the sun, the moon, the stars, the universe, day, night. I understand why he has titled the book after these. I often enjoy a theme in a poetry book’s organization. They feel more cohesive and as if you are experiencing the journey with the poet.

            I enjoyed many poems of his. I would like to share the titles with you:

“Tomorrow, We’ll Be Together”                           “These Summer Nights”
“The Foxtrot”                                                           “A Dream That You Inspired”
“Sunburst”                                                                “Shooting Stars”
“Atlas”                                                                       “Lullabies”
“Cycles”                                                                     “The Summer Rains”

            “Foxtrot” was my absolute favorite.

Courtesy of Olympia Publishing, I received a complimentary copy of this book for reading and reviewing purposes.

"I Wrote"

“I Wrote”
Written by Alice Bogen
Review written by Diana Iozzia

I Wrote by Alice Bogen

 The experience of reading “I Wrote” was absolutely wonderful. “I Wrote” was written by a seventeen-year-old poet. Jeez. Way to make the rest of us look unaccomplished! Alice Bogen’s poetry reflects a certain wisdom she has learned so far. Her writing also reflects a deep maturity and understand of her experience in the world. Her poetry is a large mix of different emotions, tales, and times in her life.

Her poems can be a bit sad or startling, but they have a genuine hope to them, which I find refreshing. There are many beautiful metaphors to nature, but they come across very realistic. Often, we find metaphors that just have sprinkles of random things thrown in. People are turtles, in the slow movements they make. He was the ocean after a storm. It can be a bit like Mad Libs, sometimes. However, Alice’s metaphors, similes, and other comparisons are very simplistic and believable.

To continue, an interesting technique that Bogen has implemented into her book is using general abstract themes or emotions like bravery, fame, happiness, youth, beauty and more. She creates original poems that are more than just their titles with a spin.

I enjoyed a multitude of poems in this book. They are:

 “I Wrote”                              “Happiness”                          “They”           
“Last May”                           “Youth”                                  “Beauty”
“Bravery”                              “Last Huge Breath”            “Life Shall Be Lived”
“Sacrifice”                             “Seen”                                    “The World is Not Enough”
“To Her”                                “Wings”                                 “To Leo”
“Acceptance”                        “Ears Don’t Lie”                  “Lion”
“Brother”                               “To M 2”                                “Goodbye”
“Consequences”                   “Sinners”                               “The Devil”

Courtesy of Olympia Publishing, I received a complimentary copy of this book for reading and reviewing purposes.

"The Life and Death of Sophie Stark"

“The Life and Death of Sophie Stark”
Written by Anna North
Review written by Diana Iozzia
The Life and Death of Sophie Stark

            “The Life and Death of Sophie Stark” was a very surprising book in the best possible way. When beginning this book, I soon realized the premise had sent me off in the wrong direction. I was expecting a book that was “thriller-paced, with mysteries revealed at every turn”. This is not quite a mystery, but perhaps a story about a mysterious person. This was the scope of a woman’s career, from awkward college age to awkward late 20s. Sophie Stark was / is an enigma. We read through the perspectives of six different characters that knew her, as she grew to obscure fame, but fame all the less. We also wonder as the years pass by how she will eventually die. That’s not a spoiler, it’s in the title, you see.

            Sophie Stark was a filmmaker. We see her through the eyes of others, as she starts out, just a young girl with a camera. This book is very reminiscent of many stories I’ve read before. It has the childlike and nostalgic but bittersweet atmosphere of books like “Lolita” and “The Virgin Suicides”. All three books have a young female characters who are mature and understand more about the world than we give most adolescents and teens credit for. Also, we occasionally have very fun scenes but interspersed with darker ones. Sophie behaves in a manner that most adults would consider wise, but her emotions often reflect a child trapped in an adult’s body. This creates a strange, puzzling character for us.

            We read about her through the words of:
Allison, her friend and actress
Robbie, Sophie’s brother,
Ben, a film critic,
Jacob, an actor, then her husband
Daniel, her first boyfriend
George, a producer

            Each character unwinds a time they spent with Sophie, sometimes interweaving with other characters’ stories as well. It’s a great reading experience to see the impact on others’ lives. Sophie was a bit of a messy tornado, fortunately and unfortunately affecting others on her path. She was obscure, but enchanting and peculiarly relatable. We readers want to know her, want to be around her. She seems like an incredible friend, but one who may ruin everything for you.

            I enjoy Anna North’s writing. Sophie’s speech is blunt, precise. She should not be a likable character, but we want to befriend or love her. The voice and the tone of the story in general is fantastic and ethereal. The author tells her story in a very realistic fashion, hardly ever implementing similes or metaphors. Each character describes Sophie in a different way: how she smells, how her voice sounds, how maddeningly enthralling she is. We often find characters like this in films like “500 Days of Summer”, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”, “Definitely, Maybe”, and “Once”. We have stranger female characters who boys fall crazily for, creating a stereotype known as the “manic pixie dream girl”. Sophie has all the elements of being one of these characters, but where other stories go wrong, Anna North diverges. Anna North breathes life into this seemingly unrealistic character.

            This is a book I had never heard about, but this book deserves more. Anna North created an indelicate but delicate character who feels real but also imaginary. If you just blinked, Sophie would vanish. I think this gem of a book should be known about, but maybe isn’t that the point of this story? Perhaps if something is not understood or known by all, the result is a great marvel.

"Dirty Little Secrets"

Dirty Little Secrets by Jo Spain“Dirty Little Secrets”
Written by Jo Spain
Review written by Diana Iozzia

“Dirty Little Secrets” was a majestic thriller and mystery. We begin the book to understand that there are seven houses on a small street in Ireland. In one of the houses, a neighbor, Olive Collins, has been dead for three months. How has this occurred? Why have her neighbors not looked in on her, checked up on her? Who could have done this?

We meet Olive, telling her story in an after-death perspective, as she explains to the reader how she was distrusted and how she was betrayed by her neighbors. We also start to meet each character and start to learn their secrets.

House 1: George, a mysterious, quiet man with a perverted obsession.
House 2: Lily and David, a couple whose young son grew too close to Olive.
House 3: Allison and Holly, a mother and daughter on the run.
House 4: Olive.
House 5: Chrissy and Matt, husband and wife on the rocks due to an affair.
House 6: Amelia and Ed, who have a very strong disdain for Olive.
House 7: Ron, the lady’s man, who has a trip to many into beds that aren’t his.

We also meet the detectives, Frank and Emma. They are differently aged, but both wise in their own way. I like their dynamic, because it doesn’t feel typical “scrappy young female detective, doesn’t understand older male detective and his wise ways”. It feels like a strong friendship, with a slight paternal vibe. Frank and Emma are smart and determined to figure out what happened to Olive.

There is so much detail in this book, but no detail seems superfluous. Every description allows just enough to make the reader continue on. I never thought to myself that the book dragged or had lulling moments. Once I began reading, I did not want to stop. I have not often found a thriller so intriguing. There are quite a few red herrings that progress the story, but every character has a motive, so we readers do not exactly know where this is going. 

The only, and I mean only, bit I did not like about this book is the ending. I predicted it, because I have seen two different books go that route. There is even a small reference to one of those books in it, so I assume the author is self-aware of the similarity. This is a spoiler-free review, so I will not mention it, but I’d be happy to have a conversation with those who have read the book already.

I fully recommend this book, and I would give it a five star review out of five stars. The e-book will be officially published December 27, 2018. The hardcover version will be for sale January 24, 2019. I received a complimentary, advanced reader’s edition of this book for reviewing purposes. Thank you to Quercus Books.

Monday, November 26, 2018

"The Versions of Us"

"The Versions of Us"
Written by Laura Barnett
Review written by Diana Iozzia

The Versions of Us by Laura  Barnett

"The Versions of Us" is a carefully created romance novel. There are three narratives that are influenced by one moment: A woman, Eva, rides her bicycle down a busy street, where Jim stands. In the first narrative, Jim and Eva meet and fall instantly in love. In the second narrative, Jim and Eva meet eyes and say a few words, but they do not continue on. Jim pines for her for many years, as they both continue in their career. In the third narrative, Jim and Eva fall in love, but she is pregnant by her ex-boyfriend, David. We watch as these three versions of Jim and Eva grow up and live their lives.

I love the premise of this book. I think telling three different versions of the same characters is absolutely fantastic and a great idea. I think the way that the stories proceeded let me down. First, I have to explain that I am of the mind that someone who cheats and is unfaithful to the person they are committed to is reprehensible. In all narratives, we have glimpses and actions that fall under the umbrella that I believe to be cheating. This made me dislike certain versions of the characters. However, I do think if you choose to push past that and enjoy the other aspects of the story, you will love this book.

There are only a few other issues I had with this book. Because there are three different narratives, we have a very large amount of characters. Most characters intertwine throughout each narrative, like certain friends and family members. I found myself thinking, "Oh, I love Jim best in version one. Wait. No." My mind kept switching back and forth with every decision a character made.

This book has a brilliant message and thought behind it. When two people meet, are they destined to find one another? Will they fall in love the same way, if they truly connect at different points in their lives? Should they, despite their decisions, find their way back to each other? This was a very interesting book to read. I highly recommend it (if you can struggle through the infidelity parts).

This book has a very sad conclusion, in all three sections, but it makes sense. The stories come to an end with a bittersweet ending, that I think everyone can relate to in their own way. This book made my thoughts relate to my own fiance in certain ways. I like a book that makes me think.

"The Well"

"The Well"
Written by Catherine Chanter
Review written by Diana Iozzia

The Well by Catherine Chanter

"The Well" by Catherine Chanter was a book I found myself drawn to. The description and reviews of the book piqued my interest. The buzzwords that intrigued me were: Big Brother, religious cult, dystopian, surveillance. We basically received none of these, sadly.

The book details the life of Ruth, who had just been released from prison. She was convicted for the murder of a child and causing a fire. We see her in the present, putting back the pieces of her life and seemingly trying to atone for her mistakes. This section of the story seemed unnecessary, as we see her interact with her guards. She's on house arrest. There is no sympathy for her. There is no Big Brother / surveillance plot here. This story does not have any dystopian elements. I was hoping for a thriller consisting of a religious cult and a mad 1984-like government. I was sorely mistaken.

We have elements of law that are not like ours. "Subjustice", "Rapid Processing Regulations". They are not exciting. They are nothing comparing to other great dystopian novels. The only difference of this world and our world is that there was a massive drought, however, Ruth's farm stayed in tact and lush. A group of women flock to the farm to try to live there and manipulate Ruth into letting them stay. Ruth lives with her husband, Mark, and occasionally her daughter and grandson.

All in all, I could not like this book. The elements I came for were not what I expected. I think as readers we're allowed to have expectations for a book. If we are promised a book by its description, we should receive what we're hoping for. I do not recommend reading this book.

Monday, November 19, 2018

"The Wife Between Us"

"The Wife Between Us"
By Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
Review written by Diana Iozzia of Bookworm Banter

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks

"The Wife Between Us" is a very puzzling book. I'll be keeping this review spoiler-free, because I realize that this book is absolutely full of different plot twists, secrets, and big reveals. I will be later creating a larger, spoiler friendly review.

To begin, "The Wife Between Us" is told in two different perspectives. We read through Vanessa's perspective, which is a cold, saddened depressing perspective, as Vanessa comes to grips that her husband, Richard, has left her for another woman. Nellie is excited and full of life, thrilled to be marrying Richard. She's vivacious and full of life, a very fun perspective to read from. As you read on through each perspective, we see how the two perspectives connect and details from each weave together, like different events and characters.

To continue, this book is a blast. There are so many gigantic plot twists and turns that you will not expect. I do admit there was a little thought I had that I thought could eventually lead to a plot twist, but I didn't think much of it. I think one of the twists could be a bit predictable, but it's not in a bad way.

Sarah and Greer worked together to create a fantastic book, with lots of brilliant prose and dialogue.

I think this book could have been a bit better if it wasn't a bit predictable. I wasn't surprised with the main antagonist and who that was. But with the antagonist being who it was, I'm glad that one of the predictable endings with similar antagonists did not occur. (I know this all seems a bit confusing, but like I mentioned, I will be writing a spoiler friendly review soon).

Hope you enjoy reading it!

Monday, November 12, 2018

"Behind Closed Doors"

“Behind Closed Doors”
Written by B.A. Paris
Review written by Diana Iozzia 
Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

Spoiler Free

“Behind Closed Doors” is a psychological thriller, but I often struggle to read through B.A. Paris’s books. I find her books to be very soap-opera like, similar to Lifetime Movies. The husband is often the villain, which is quite predictable as you read along. Her books also have very typical plot solves as well, as if by magic, the protagonist survives and only slightly is in the wrong.

In this story, we meet Grace and Adam, “the perfect couple”. Of course, nothing is perfect about their relationship. Adam is abusing Grace, by locking her in a secret bedroom and basement, threatening to hurt or kill Grace’s sister, and mentally manipulating everyone they know.

Grace is not a likeable character, because people who have not been in abusive relationships do not understand. We do not understand why she just won’t go to the police and ask for help. Yes, Adam is scary, but she has ample time to escape and save herself, every time they are out in public. Yes, he follows her to the bathroom, but all Grace would have to do is tell her already suspicious friend that Adam is hurting her. Adam could not think of an excuse that quickly and convince suspicious Esther.

Adam is not a unique abusive husband. He ticks every box. He hurts in most ways. His main goal is to insight fear.

I will not explain the ending: but it culminates in a typical ending of a B.A. Paris novel. The endings are not usually plot twists. However, they are just surprising. I personally did not feel satisfied with the ending. I think the book is well-written in style and description. The dialogue feels natural. I just had far higher expectations. I do not know if this is due to my having read Paris’s later two books, before reading this, her debut. I was disappointed.

"Do Not Become Alarmed"

“Do Not Become Alarmed”
Written by Maile Meloy
Review written by Diana Iozzia

Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy

Spoiler Friendly

“Do Not Become Alarmed” was an impulse purchase. It had all the makings for a great book: two couples go on a cruise. Their children go missing. Well, I thought this would be a great thriller, but I was sorely disappointed. I give the author credit, because she created very vivid detail with very natural dialogue. However, there were too many elements in this book that I did not enjoy.

The cruise part of the story is nice to hear about the fun they’re all having. The wives, plus the wife of a couple they met while traveling, decide to go on a mountain adventure excursion. The truck breaks down, so the tour guide, the wives, and the children head to the beach. While one mother sunbathes, the other goes off and has a sexual encounter with the tour guide, cheating on her husband. When they awaken, all of the children are missing.

We read through a third person perspective as the children are navigating their way in the woods. One child, the son of the Argentinian couple the families met while traveling, decides to travel back to the beach, via river, to get help from their parents. The other children are ‘rescued’ by a drug dealing family, because the drug dealers suspect the children spotted a body. They are taken to a small little forest hut and are given specific clothes to wear and are watched by a maid and the brother of the head drug dealer.

During this kidnapping, the head drug dealer brutally rapes one of the children, who is fourteen. Now, this is not sugar-coated; this is severely vivid and disgusting. I honestly cannot believe a writer would sit down and think, “Yes, this is something that is vital to my story. An extreme rape scene of a child.” This truly ruined the book for me, because it was completely gratuitous. There was absolutely no need for the detail that was written. I understand that the villain would need to be established, but it shouldn’t have been written that way.

The couples struggle to locate their children, attracting local news. I did not enjoy reading the end of the story, all of the characters that try to save the children, or seem like they are planning to rescue the children. Unfortunately, the child who swam down the river was not recovered, but everyone else in the story who was important survives. There was a man who tried to help the children, who accidentally died, but by this point, I felt no sympathy to every character. I would not recommend this book to anyone sensitive to rape, sexual assault, or violence. The rape scene was on par with a snuff film.

Friday, November 9, 2018

"If We Were Villains"

“If We Were Villains”
Written by M.L. Rio
Review written by Diana Iozzia
If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio 

To write a review of a newly favorite book is a daunting task. To read a book and decide that it is a new favorite is equally as daunting. How do you push hundreds of other books to the side, in favor of this? Will this always be your favorite, or will something new be published and usurp the throne?

I read “If We Were Villains” during a very stormy and cold October week. I did not know much about this book, before I had borrowed it from the library and dug in. I had recorded it down while shopping, because I knew I had to read it. Sadly, I did not realize how much I would have liked it, or I would have bought it then on the spot.
As you begin reading “If We Were Villains”, you start reading through our narrator, Oliver’s perspective. Oliver is a meek, mild, and quiet young man. He is a student at a prestigious arts college, trying to keep up with the rigorous academia he and his fellow students have to endure. We see him as a man as well, released from prison for a crime he might not have committed. Knowing this allows us to feel suspense until the very moment of the murder.

This book draws very similar comparisons to books in this genre. Book reader communities as of late have created the genre name “dark academia”. The dark academia genre mainly incorporates darker, thriller-like stories, taking place at boarding schools and colleges. Similar titles among this genre are “Dead Poet’s Society”, “S.T.A.G.S.”, “A Secret History”, “Black Chalk”, “Long Black Veil”, and more. This genre is a personal favorite of mine.

The narratives in this book are half-prose, half-poetry. The narrative also takes place over five acts. The characters study art and drama program, which surrounds the work of William Shakespeare. The influence of the Shakespearean tragedy and drama heavily affects the themes, the narrative, and the characters of the story. When I first looked at the description of the book, I was sold on the idea of these characters at a drama school beginning to act more like their characters onstage. This was what I expected, but I received more than just that. The students take place in many plays and scenes from William Shakespeare. They participate in a cut-throat production of “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar”, “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”, “Macbeth”, “King Lear”, and “Romeo and Juliet”. Watching the characters as they prepare for each performance, as they complete each performance, is like reading a play, but imagining it flawlessly in your mind. It’s absolutely incredible to read through this story, if you are a fan of theatre.

To continue, I also found myself enjoying every scene. Like a fantastically well-written book, there are no scenes that seem superfluous. There are no scenes where the only point is a character making breakfast. We have characters in seemingly minor scenes, but the conversations and motives are mysterious and secretive, like a Shakespearean play. I have to admit, if you’re not familiar with the plays, it may help to do a refresh before beginning this book. The symbolism of the Shakespeare, reflected in the characters’ actions is well-implemented and may not be appreciated in the same light, if you do not know much about the plays.

This is not a spoiler-free review. Please do not continue on, if you fear any spoiled plot points.

To begin, we are launched back into time, as Oliver navigates through a tough regime of practicing, strict teachers, and an intriguing friend group. I began reading, not liking Oliver as a character. Something struck me as his character being similar to Nick Caraway’s from “The Great Gatsby”. Oliver seemed conceited and judgmental, as he watched from the sidelines. I believe I misinterpreted this. I quickly stopped disliking Oliver. I was right in thinking he is not the center of attention, but this does not make him an unlikeable character.

To continue, the book has an intensity that is absolutely gripping and draws you in, like quicksand. The characters are well-developed, but they fall into a stereotype which feels natural. I understand these stereotypes, because our characters begin to act like their fictional counterparts. The characters are:
Oliver, the quiet observer
Wren, the quiet, mousy but mysterious character
Richard, the cruel, boisterous bully
James, the sensitive, caring anti-hero
Alexander, the flirty, fun friend, with a drug problem
Filippa, the sweet, caring, mothering friend
Meredith, the seductress

An early surprise is that in conversation with the police officer who arrested Oliver years ago, we read “he” in reference to the murder victim, indicating that Oliver could have killed either Richard, James, or Alexander. Early on, I predicted that James and Richard, two cutthroat rivals, would be involved in the murder. I also correctly predicted that James, the anti-hero, would kill Richard. Out of secret (but not subtle) love for James, Oliver would take responsibility for the crime. James has an accidental violent streak at first, but we seem to watch him build towards a more aggressive but protective hero. The rivalry between James and Richard kick-starts, as James is cast as Macbeth, a surprise.

To be honest, one of my favorite scenes is the Halloween performance of Macbeth. Without a shred of doubt, my mind was transported to this lake, with wooden logs as seats, as our characters perform some of the most vital scenes of the play. It’s intense and uncomfortable, as we start to worry more and more when the murder will occur. Act One eerily culminates in a game of chicken, in which Richard and James fight, Richard holding’s James’s head under the water for too long.
In Act Two, we see Filippa picking up Oliver from prison, after his release. She informs him that Alexander and Meredith are doing well, eliminating Alexander from our list of possible murder victims. This does not dismiss him as a possible murderer, however.
We launch back into the past, to read of the horrific lead-up to “Julius Caesar”. We are absolutely on the edge of our seats, as we see the rivalry between Richard and the other characters continue. Richard seems more abusive towards Meredith, his girlfriend. Richard injures Oliver and James, as they practice the assassination scene from “Julius Caesar”. The play performance of this is absolutely incredible, the reader fearing that there will be an accident on stage, killing Caesar, not just figuratively.

During a cast party to celebrate the finished run of “JC”, the characters get wildly out of hand. Meredith and James become drunk and too flirty. Richard and Wren, who are cousins, had fought. James and Richard begin to argue. Alexander is nowhere to be found. Filippa is all over the place, like always. Act Two concludes with our characters, watching Richard, lethally injured, floating in the lake. His neck appears to be broken, and his face was smashed in.

Act Three has us wonder if Richard can be saved. Alexander convinces the rest of them to let Richard die. They arrange their stories for the police investigation, that they had all come to the lakeside, and found him floating. I was quite surprised that the book did not take a turn, where the characters buried the body and tried to hide the evidence. The characters’ reaction does not often occur in thrillers.
It appears very clear that James has killed Richard, but our narrator, Oliver is not sure. He is secretly in love with James, and there might be some love requited. However, Oliver is grasping at straws to believe that James is innocent. I absolutely love James, so it hurts me as a reader to imagine that this poor young man could have killed Richard. Like most Shakespearean plays, it does beg the question: is justice served, if the murdered was quite evil? Often, William Shakespeare poses this question. Tybalt, in “Romeo and Juliet”, is ruthless and driven by rivalry, but does that excuse Romeo for killing him? We do not want to empathize, when we suspect James, but we can’t help it. Tell me, would you kill someone who could very likely kill the person you love? I don’t know that I wouldn’t.

We continue reading to see Richard’s memorial. For a moment or two, I was suspicious that Wren could have killed Richard. We receive little red herrings, like her dry eyes, her “tragic” laugh. I soon shook that thought out of my mind, because it wouldn’t make sense for her to kill her cousin, even if he was a terrible bully. Later in act three, we also see some foreshadowing or red herrings for Wren. There is significant mention of “Hamlet”, with a dead sparrow reference. Wren / sparrow / bird. Birds are foreboding messengers of death; this is a red herring done correctly. Her last name is also Stirling, which is close to the bird breed, Starling.

I have to mention that the way the characters are portrayed. As I mentioned, we have our stereotypes. Alexander is gay and a drug addict. However, he is not over the top in any sense. He seems very natural and realistic. If he didn’t speak about seeing the character, Colin, you wouldn’t think he’d be gay at all. This is refreshing, because all too often, we have gay characters that are outrageous and offensively stereotypical. To continue, Filippa is a kind, mothering character. We see her carefully take care of Wren and soothe her as she mourns her cousin.

Act Three concludes as we see the characters perform in the Christmas ball, a fantastic set of scenes. The performance is “Romeo and Juliet”, but it is performed in the audience as well. During the major scene of the ball at the Capulet house, where Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time, characters dance with audience members and interact on the ballroom floor. I imagine this scene in my mind, and it looks incredible. This entire book would be executed phenomenally, in film form. I would even encourage a dark mini-series.

Act Four begins. We really see the insanity inside James now. He accidentally breaks Oliver’s nose, during a failed combat scene for the killing scene in “King Lear”.  Alexander overdoses, from the stress of the murder and his cocaine addiction. Oliver’s jealousy and equal love for James is completely consuming him.

Act Five shows James absolutely insane. This is a true Shakespearean hero turned villain. He fights with characters, practically drags Wren to bed with him. Oliver discovers a rusted, bloodied boat hook under James’s mattress. Oliver realizes that this weapon could be the weapon that was used for killing Richard. Out of devotion to James and fear for James’s livelihood, Oliver admits to the crime.

Sadly, we find out from Filippa years later, that James had killed himself six years prior to Oliver’s release. However, his body was never found…


As I mentioned earlier, this has become my new favorite book. This book is utterly incredible. I have never read anything that I have liked as much. I can understand why readers of this book can be a bit divided. Like “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar”, we readers question our own morals. Would we kill out of protection and fear? Would we protect those who we love? How do we protect them? We start sympathizing with the villains in this book, based on our own moral codes. I think that is one of the most fear-inducing elements of this story.