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.