Friday, May 24, 2019

"A Nearly Normal Family"

“A Nearly Normal Family”
Written by M.T. Edvardsson
Review written by Diana Iozzia 

A Nearly Normal Family
“A Nearly Normal Family” was a very enigmatic and intriguing thriller, offering a refreshing perspective from the father of a girl who has been accused of murder. Edvardsson creates very realistic, average characters but makes them captivating by manipulating their thoughts and actions, which in turn manipulate the readers’ thoughts and reactions.

Stella is accused of murdering a man much older than herself, although she is only eighteen, a decent student, and an innocent young girl. However, as our story develops, we start to realize that she wasn’t so innocent and she wasn’t such a great daughter. Her father, a pastor, and her mother, a defense attorney, risk everything to prove their daughter innocent: even though they are not sure of her innocence.

This thriller is considered to be a legal thriller, which would be a useful way to describe this genre. In my opinion, I think it has a great premise, but the characters are much more of a focus, than the legal proceedings. I felt this was much less of a legal thriller and more like a very complex domestic thriller.

In part 1, we read through Adam’s perspective. As Stella’s father, he speaks all about how he and his wife raised her. He speaks about all of the problems they faced disciplining her, which gives a great insight into her personality. In part 2, we hear from Stella in her jail cell, as she awaits her trial. She tells us all of her sides of things, which are not too different from Adam’s. Interestingly enough, although the whole family’s side of the story, this does not feel redundant or boring. It’s intriguing to see who believes what and which lies they are telling, almost like playing game of Clue or deducing like Sherlock Holmes. In part three, we hear from Stella’s mother and Adam’s wife, Ulrika. Her side of the story is much more intense and certainly the most shocking one.

The court procession builds to a trial with Stella and her best friend. Both girls could have murdered Christopher, a possibly pedophilic and abusive man. But who was really there? Was it either of them?

Let’s talk about the ending without giving it away at all. Although I thought it have might have went in a different direction, I still felt satisfied how it played out. This is just one of those stories that requires a skeleton-like review, hardly enough details, because you really just have to read it for yourself. I think this story offers a lot of poignant and effective questions for this genre: What is guilt? What is innocence? How far would you go to protect the ones you love?

I received this book in exchange for reading and reviewing purposes. Thank you to Celadon Books for the opportunity.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

"Wooing Cadie McCaffrey"

“Wooing Cadie McCaffrey”
Written by Bethany Turner
Review written by Diana Iozzia

Wooing Cadie McCaffrey

It has been an incredibly long journey to find a favorite romantic comedy in book form. There have been many terrible tropes I’ve read through, manipulative characters, and tiring pop culture references that make the characters seem funny. While “Wooing Cadie McCaffrey” has some of those misery-inducing tropes, this book flips them and shows how romantic comedies can be sweet and hilarious, without boomboxes, hundreds of flowers, and chasing down romantic conquests in New York City. This was easily the most enduring romantic comedy written as a book, that I have ever read. This is instantly a new favorite for me, and I plan to read it many times in my life.

When I first was offered the chance to read this book, I was hesitant, as I had noticed it was from one of the Christian publishing imprints from Harper Collins. As an atheist, I was expecting something from Nicholas Sparks’s caliber. However, don’t let the publishing imprint scare you off. There’s a little bit of praying and there are characters discussing their abstinence and chastity beliefs. Other than that, the main focus was elsewhere: on one of the sweetest and most honest relationships I’ve seen in years.

This romantic comedy has all of the wonderful aspects that I look for in this type of book or movie. The characters should be good people. I am tired of a love interest being awkward and creepy in their conquests, hunting women down and beating up other men to win the heart. I have been tired of women or men lying about themselves or manipulating to win the person over. Nora Ephron’s films have always been a favorite, but there’s always a small element of deceit. There’s no deceit here. Every character truly cares about each other. Our main characters, Cadie and Will, are so genuine and so hilarious! Man, the meet-cute is easily the best part of the book and frankly had me laughing out loud, which is something that very rarely happens when I read.

Let’s speak about the premise. The alternating time jumps and the perspectives allow for an interesting narration technique. We jump back and forth in time of Cadie’s and Will’s relationship. Cadie explains to us that she absolutely loves Will, but she feels he will never be ready to reach the next step of their relationship: marriage. After losing their virginities to each other, four years into their relationship, Cadie and Will are devastated, as they wanted to wait until marriage. Cadie loses sight and love for Will, so she decides to break up with him. Will seeks out help from their friends (who are GREAT side characters) to win and woo Cadie back. This occurs in an endearing way, not in a psycho “why don’t you love me? I’m going to make you love me” way.

This book is so refreshing and so sweet. I felt it was heartwarming, honest, cute, and exhilarating. I loved watching Cadie and Will miss each other and find ways to catch up with each other, knowing that they would find their way back to each other.

I personally believe this is a new favorite. I cannot explain any more how much this book amazes me. I would love to see this as a film. I feel like every favorite aspect of romantic comedies is mixed in here. Even some of the cheesier tropes, like the big, crazy Hail Mary of an apology. I’m also begging for a sequel and to read every book by Bethany Turner.

P.S. What an amazing epilogue.
P.P.S. I love all the baseball and sports stuff! It’s so great to see well-fleshed out career settings in a rom com.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for reading and reviewing purposes.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019


Written by Minnie Darke
Review written by Diana Iozzia

“Star-Crossed” is a zany, romantic comedy, inspired by zodiac astrology. Our main characters, Justine and Nick, are meant for each other. Well, if the universe needs to be meddled with a little bit, why not try? Justine works for a popular Australian magazine. When she bumps into an old friend and first crush, Nick, her world is set on a completely different tilt. She does not share his favorite interest, reading horoscopes and interpreting how they relate to his life. Justine begins rewriting the Aquarius horoscope, in hopes that he’ll come to his sense and realize that she’s the one for him. What could possibly go wrong?

This is a silly, wild ride with a lot of heart, drawing upon the cute and fun tropes that are in my favorite romantic comedies. I’ve always loved the zany woman, the dog that brings everyone together, the oddball coworkers, and of course, the true loves that find their way to each other, no matter the odds.

Justine and Nick are absolutely adorable characters. I feel like depending on your personality, you could easily fall in love with one or the other. They are charming, kind, and loving.

Lastly, there’s a lot of cool Shakespeare moments and references, as Nick is playing Romeo in “Romeo and Juliet”!

This is one of those super fun romantic comedies that we absolutely have to share with the world. There are a lot of completely unrealistic moments full of serendipity. You'll definitely have to suspend your disbelief often. This isn't a very deep book. I don't think you'll understand the meaning of life or the secrets of the universe, but it was a nice, pleasant read. I think my enjoyment of this would have been severely improved if I knew more about zodiacs and horoscopes, but I feel Minnie Darke gave enough information, so I didn't feel lost. I think this would be a lovely and cute movie, similar to the ones created by Nora Ephron or starred in by Julia Roberts. I hope you have a chance to read it and I hope you love it!

I received a copy in exchange for reading and reviewing purposes.

Friday, May 10, 2019


Written by J.A. Handville
Review written by Diana Iozzia
Internalize by J.A. Handville

“Internalize” is a collection of poetry by the self-published poet, Joshua Handville, a.k.a. J.A. Handville. His poetry collection is separated into two “hemispheres”, which equates to one half of the book dedicated to his past and the other hemisphere about hope.

Joshua Handville’s poetry is about mental health, heartbreak, self-worth, and how we treat others. Typically, this is not the type of poetry I am drawn to, but I agreed to read his collection and tell you my thoughts about it. To be honest, I’m not really a fan. This type of poetry is not my type, so I personally did not enjoy it that much. However, if you flock to his certain genres of poetry, I am sure you’d enjoy them.

To me, the poetry seems a bit flashy and a bit forced. Common idioms and expressions are thrown into the pages, but I would hope for a little more than that. I often hope for poetry to be a bit more imaginative, including metaphors, similes, and personification. Showing can be more effective than telling. There are a few illustrations throughout the book, but I was under the initial impression that this would be much more influenced by pictures than it was. Let me tell you which poems I enjoyed most. One interesting element about J.A. Handville’s poetry is that it had a dark, eloquent nature to it, similar to Edgar Allan Poe and the Rod Serling introductions of “The Twilight Zone”.

“Inkwell of Heartache”
“This Hard Place of Weakness and Silence”
“Torn Between Her and I”
“A World Away”
“Darkness and Light”
“Internal War”
“Perspective Change”
“Dying Embers”
“Breathe New Life”

In conclusion, I enjoyed the poetry on a base level. This poetry just wasn’t for me, but I can appreciate the time and effort.

Thank you to the writer for sending me a copy to read and review.

"My Best Friend's Exorcism"

“My Best Friend’s Exorcism”
Written by Grady Hendrix
Review written by Diana Iozzia
My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

Every few years, I find a new coming-of-age story about friendship that is worth every admiration. Never did I think that I would find it in a book about teenager girls, one of which has been possessed by a demon. However, this book was absolutely spectacular, and you won’t be able to avoid my recommendations of it, until the end of time. Grady Hendrix was a new author to me, but he’s always been in the periphery, writing notable horror or about it, such as “We Sold Our Souls”, “Horrorst√∂r”, and “Paperbacks from Hell”. I had spotted “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” on the audiobook app I use, Hoopla, and decided to give it a try.

“My Best Friend’s Exorcism” follows our main character, Abby, through a third person perspective that felt very intuitive but refreshing. I have been a bit tired lately of first person, especially for young adult fiction. We meet Abby quickly in a flash forward, talking about the exorcist. Then, we jump back to young Abby in the younger years, meeting Gretchen for the first time, when only Gretchen arrives at Abby’s roller rink birthday party. We see the girls become fast friends, in a fashion that screams 80s nostalgia. Then, we continue through the story until the ultimate moment that Abby’s and Gretchen’s lives are changed forever.

There are so many incredible marvels within this book. The setting, location, time, and atmosphere provide for a very nostalgic childhood, even though I wasn’t a child during this era. I feel that the 80s time periods allow for fun references, old jokes, catchphrases, and iconic objects from the time period, including music, TV, clothing, and films. Abby’s favorite film is “E.T.” I find this movie to be inspirational for this book, especially the true friendship between a boy and his odd friend. Abby, Gretchen, and their friends go to a Catholic school, which gives an interesting look back into the ideals and morals at the time. The preachers talk about the influence of drugs, sex, and sins, which can be a bit overbearing at times, but it allows for a well-represented school experience. The portrayal of middle and high school is so real and authentic, which hardly comes across in teen fiction. I felt that this book had a perfect balance of serious life difficulties, mental health representation, laugh out loud comedy, friendship, and fantastic horror elements. In addition, I do not feel in teen fiction that the parents are well-written. These parents were very fleshed out, cared about the children, and had an important presence.

For a book so grounded in reality, this book does go to some wicked places, and boy, is it jaw-dropping once we arrive there. Naturally, a book about an exorcism has certain tropes it needs to include. We usually read about the catalyst, the moment the demon is unleashed. There are characters introduced that are the caring loved ones, who want the demon out of the inhabitant. Also, as exorcisms are often Catholic-based, we need a priest. All of these elements are created in a way that allowed this book to feel more than just an exorcism story. I compared this tale to many different films and books, and it impressed more than all of them. I felt that Grady Hendrix drew from all of the great exorcism films and the great horror friendship novels and created a beautiful Frankenstein’s monster.

As far as the actual horrific elements included in this story, I was very surprised by the depths the story would go. There were types of creepy actions and creatures that are not often portrayed in horror, so it was refreshing. The most intense scene in this story for me will obviously not be spoiled by me. If you’ve read the book, just think of the pelican. The horrific imagery was supremely enhanced by the audiobook narrator. In listening to the audiobook, I found that my enjoyment of the story would have been far different. Naturally, an audiobook is often narrated faster than the average person would take to read the story, or myself at least. However, the actual quality of the narration was fantastic. We often get snippets of eerie music. The narrator uses great inflection and narrates each character in a slightly different way. During the actual exorcism, I was a bit speechless.

The conclusion of this story was absolutely wonderful, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any differently.

An aspect that I wished would have been explored more is the actual origin of the demon that inhabits Gretchen. We receive detail about when and how this occurs but not enough detail about why the demon was set free. In addition, I would have liked to know a bit more about the running motif through the story, which was anatomy. It felt a bit underwhelming, to be so sprinkled through. Another slightly odd thing about this story was the age appropriateness. I felt that this book would be more appropriate for older teens, perhaps 16 – 18, due to sexual content, cursing, and some disturbing language. I wouldn’t shy away from it if you dislike that in books as an adult, but I would just warn it for the teens.

I have a great belief that you’ll enjoy this book if you enjoy: “Jennifer’s Body”, “The Exorcist” (duh), “The Birds”, “IT” (the remake), “Stand by Me”, “Stranger Things”, “E.T.”, “The Omen”, “Rosemary’s Baby”. and R.L. Stine’s books.

In conclusion, I will be recommending this book forever. This was one of those random books I decided to take a chance on, and I will be forever looking for more books like this. This was an incredible ride, and I hope you give it a chance. Try listening to the audiobook; I really believe my enjoyment of the book was extremely enhanced. That’s it. I could go on for another five pages if I let myself.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

"The Passengers"

“The Passengers”
Written by John Marrs
Review written by Diana Iozzia

The Passengers
Pitched as a dystopian, sci-fi thriller, this book succeeds as a thriller that takes place in a dystopian England instead. After the implementation of completely self-driven cars, the citizens of the United Kingdom find themselves a bit torn, since they dislike the lack of control or override. A hacker hijacks these self-driven cars with a cast of characters inside, prompting a small judicial group and the world through social media to decide who lives and dies.

This felt very reminiscent of a tech-based dystopian film or television show. I’ve seen many people relate it to the ultra-popular “Black Mirror”, which reflects how the world would react in certain scenarios based on a downfall caused by modern technology. I would agree this book follows this sort of premise well. I feel that all too common after the popularization of “Black Mirror”, authors and TV / film writers capitalize upon this premise. In one way, I’m a big fan of the genre, but I lose interest in the medium once it becomes to unrealistic. I find that the dystopian element of the story has to be slightly realistic, as if it makes sense that our society could get to this point. In “The Passengers”, a hacker hijacking self-driven cars seems possible to me. I do not feel this is all too imaginary and implausible.

Although the book has many positive points, such as the interesting technological elements, the book falls short for me. I enjoyed learning about how this society exists in different ways compared to the real society in today’s world. For example, to charge these self-driven cars, there are chargers implanted in the roads of roundabouts, drive-throughs, parking spaces, at stop lights, and more. In addition, there were some places such as the Princess Charlotte Hospital that would realistically come to fruition. However, the plausible dystopian elements also mirrored the impossible ones that I felt were just too much for this story. The book would have been just fine without DNA testing for security clearance in public buildings. There are mentions of tech contact lenses. I felt that we didn’t need these many elements to scream “FUTURE” at us. We understood.

Another downfall of this book was the actual hijacking plot. It was entertaining to learn the secrets of these seemingly innocent citizens who are placed in peril. It was exciting wondering who would make it out alive. However, without giving full spoilers, the actual payoff of the hijacking event was utterly disappointing. I had hoped for a much better climax and explanation who the hacker was and their motivations. It fell very flat for me. In addition, Libby, the seemingly random jury member who the book focused on heavily, was just too much. It felt very repetitive.

My favorite element of this book was the chapter beginnings. Most chapters had a phone related or social media reaction to the events unfolding. We saw news headlines, small articles, trending hashtags, fake Reddit forum postings, GPS locations, ‘tweets’, the car instructional manual, polls, music playlists, online quizzes, fake Wikipedia pages, and more. This added so much to the story, giving us easy exposition in creative ways. It also kept us updated with time and the reactions of the world. Basically, we only had two main locations: in the cars with the victims and the jury office, so it allowed us to jump back into the social media without feeling too detached from the characters. This ‘real time’ social media buzz felt realistic and what I would imagine could occur in a similar scenario to this.

Lastly, I recommend this book heavily. Although the ending was a bit passive for me and I had expected more, I think this is a very successful book. I would hope for more from this author and could enjoy this book as a Netflix original movie. I think if you’re looking for sci-fi dystopian similar to “Black Mirror”, this is a good place. I’m very picky about this genre, and I approve of this. I also think that once this book is fully published, it could be a very interesting audiobook.

I received a complementary advanced reader’s edition of the book in exchange for reviewing purposes. Thank you to my beloved Berkley Publishing. You rock.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

"The Silent Wife"

“The Silent Wife”
Written by A.S.A. Harrison
Review written by Diana Iozzia

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison

“The Silent Wife” was utterly disappointing. We begin this tale, knowing off the bat that the main character, Jodi, has a hand in her husband’s death. Then, we begin to read what happened prior to his death, that led her into wanting her husband dead. What a tiresome rabbit hole to go down.

Pitched as better than “Gone Girl”, I don’t think this could come close. Any book compared to “Gone Girl” will possibly pale in comparison. Well, figure this. Any popular thriller that has ever been written that stands the test of time or was a landmark in its genre will always have books compared to it. In this circumstance, the wife and husband despise each other. He’s cheating. She’s upset. How many more thrillers like this do we need? This book barely offered anything new to the table, except perhaps the method of death and the conclusion.

This felt like a drama, more than a domestic thriller. There was hardly any action that led to violence or blood spilled. I felt that marking this as a psychological thriller is hard to do, because it just felt like a marriage on the rocks. Yes, Todd is despicable. He was a terrible husband and a terrible husband-to-be for the woman he left his wife for. This book reminded me a lot of the BBC drama, “Dr. Foster”, if any of you are familiar. I felt just disappointed, more than anything.

I felt the author had a great writing style. I am also falling out of love with first person narrators in thrillers, because they are always unreliable. I liked that we had an omniscient narrator inside both Todd’s and Jodi’s heads separately, rather than hearing them and wanting to shut up the peanut gallery. I also liked the dialogue, the descriptions of location, setting, and the eventual conclusion. It felt refreshing.

In conclusion, I felt that as much as I had wanted to be blown away by this book, I just wasn’t. Perhaps we need to stop comparing books to the landmarks in their genre. Does every book about a creepy man in his forties need to be compared to “Psycho”? Does every mad scientist need to relate to Dr. Frankenstein or Dr. Henry Jekyll? I think in comparing books to landmarks, we set up the book to disengage viewers. If we long for a book to be so similar to something else, it may never turn out that way.

"Kill the Boy Band"

“Kill the Boy Band”
Written by Goldy Moldavsky
Review written by Diana Iozzia

Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky

What a wild, wild ride. This teen thriller / comedy was an absolute romp. “Kill the Boy Band” allows its readers to live vicariously through Beatle Mania, One Direction pandemonium, and murder in a delicious fashion. In the vein of “Heathers”, “The Craft”, and “Jennifer’s Body”, we are absolutely treated to an exciting and superbly comedic tale.

The satirical voice is strong with this one. “Kill the Boy Band” follows four teen girls who are purely obsessed with a boy band, The Ruperts. The singers of the band are all appropriately named Rupert. Our story begins in the middle of the story in one of my favorite styles: in media res. In media res is a fun film and book technique that drops you right into the action, with flashbacks and exposition that allows readers to fill in the details. The girls have kidnapped a Rupert. We beg the answer of “Why?”

This book has a lot of fun twists and turns, with a very comedic cast of characters. Goldy Moldavsky creates likeable and certainly murderable characters that feel very real but also surreal. They throw strange pop culture references in, use terrible dialogue. I believe that this is the new “Heathers”. I personally really enjoyed this realization, while also listening to the audiobook reading of this story, narrated by the original Veronica in “Heathers: The Musical”: Barrett Wilbert Weed. She’s also playing Janice Ian in “Mean Girls: The Musical”, another teen comedy. Her narration was comedic and extremely entertaining, with the bad English accents and exaggerated dialogue.

I think that one should go into reading this book, realizing that this is not going to be the best book ever written. The pacing is a bit strange and a bit slow at times. The dialogue, at times, is funny but mostly just irritating. Although this book is satirical, it still includes all of the annoying teen tropes. I think adding murder into the mix made this book much more entertaining, than if it was just teen girls stalking hot boys. I would have really enjoyed this as a teen. I think if you go into this book too critically, the magic is lost. Enjoy it for what it is.

"Tin Man"

“Tin Man”
Written by Sarah Winman
Review written by Diana Iozzia
Tin Man 
“Tin Man” is one of those fragile, complicated, and beautiful books that you only come across maybe every five years. It’s hard to read in some devastating parts, but so simple and carefree in others. In many English fiction books, characters are told in both perspectives equally. We see them at their strongest and their most vulnerable. The juxtaposition of true happiness and true emptiness plays out like a pianist’s symphony.

“Tin Man” is about Ellis Judd, a man who has loved and lost: his first love and his second love. His first love was Michael. Ellis’s difficult relationship with his father led to an impossible relationship for Ellis and Michael. It simply couldn’t flourish, with Ellis’s father pulling him into a more masculine and tougher narrative, leaving Michael behind. Ellis eventually marries their friend Annie, causing the three to be in a strange friendship.

The metaphor of a Tin Man is lost on me. I think perhaps it’s meant to signify a person who can love but hides their love away, as if they have no heart at all. Perhaps it is represented by Ellis’s tough, false exterior he has to portray, a straight, happy man.

We are told the story of Ellis, Michael, and Annie in small flashbacks, nearly vignettes. We see the before, the during, and the after of all their dynamics. There are so many parts of this book that left me absolutely speechless, my heart torn into pieces.

Without giving too much away about this story, I think this is one that everyone should read. It gives important insight into the LGBT community, especially in the era of the HIV / AIDS crisis. Sarah Winman’s writing is just enchanting.

I received an advance reader’s edition of this book in exchange that I read and write an honest review.

Friday, April 26, 2019

"After I Do"

“After I Do”
Written by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Review written by Diana Iozzia

After I Do

“After I Do” is a romantic contemporary fiction with a wonderful depiction on marriage. And marriage falling apart. This book follows two spouses, lead character, Lauren and her husband, Ryan. Lauren and Ryan have hit the point in their marriage that after years of being together, they have fallen out of love for each other. They decide after many emotional fights and long nights to separate for one year.

We meet a fantastic cast of characters. I listened to this book as an audiobook. As much as I loved the narrator, her ‘boy voice’ was silly and definitely detracted from the story. Her narration for the females was great, giving little characteristics to each. Lauren has a close family of her mother, her brother Charlie, her sister Rachel, and her grandmother. We also meet some new characters to everyone’s lives: Charlie’s pregnant fiance√©, Natalie, the mother’s boyfriend, Lauren’s coworker and friend, Mila, and David, Lauren’s second love interest.

I felt that although I have never been through a marriage difficulty such as separation and possible divorce, this felt like a very natural read. There are many wonderful scenes of heartbreak, happiness, love, longing, and more. I felt that this was a perfect book. At no point did I wish something were to be written differently. I loved the dialogue, the characters, the detail, the story. I could go on for pages upon pages about the dialogue, but I won’t. This was the first audiobook that I truly enjoyed and would give five stars to. I cannot wait to read another book by this author.

I also enjoyed that Ryan’s perspective wasn’t told in first person narration, but we read e-mails from him, which was a nice story telling technique that I didn’t expect.

Oh, actually, I can definitely name something that I wished wasn’t included. God, is it awkward to listen to sex scenes being read out by a narrator? Especially the first one which was full of Lauren screaming. I shudder thinking about it now.

In conclusion, I fully recommend this book. It made me feel so deeply for the characters. I swear, don’t listen to an audiobook in public, because this one was very funny, and I probably looked strange laughing to myself. This reminded me very much so of “The Last Five Years”, which is a favorite musical about the dissolution of a marriage. However, “After I Do” was a much lighter and fluffier version. This is a nice, relaxing read for vacations or tired days after work.

"Girl in the Rearview Mirror"

“Girl in the Rearview Mirror”
Written by Kelsey Rae Dimberg
Review written by Diana Iozzia

Girl in the Rearview Mirror by Kelsey Rae Dimberg

“Girl in the Rearview Mirror” was a very divisive thriller for me. I think that my interest level in this book was high when I first began, but I grew less and less interested as I continued to read. The book follows the story of Finn (female), who becomes entangled with many mysteries surrounding the political family she works for. Finn is shady, all on her own, from the secrets she hides and the stories she tells the readers. However, I felt that the intrigue paid off to almost non-existent suspense and insignificant plot reveals. I give credit where credit’s due. This is a good first debut novel, but it just did not blow me out of the water.

There are so many different reveals and plot twists, that it will be hard to review this book without giving much away. To do so, I will list what I liked and disliked about this book, because I’d rather not spoil any details.

1. The dialogue was fantastic. It was very realistic and natural. The characters had their own distinct style of speaking.
2. There is a fantastic twist halfway through about the granddaughter of the Senator, the child of the two main characters, Philip and Marina. Goodness gracious, I didn’t see that coming. That certainly knocked my socks off in the best way.
3. I’ve always liked an unsettling final chapter.

1. The rearview mirror motif was ever-present and extremely overdone.
2. I really disliked the writing style, because there was too much detail. I enjoyed mostly all of the scenes; however, the dialogue was very omniscient. Finn spoke about how characters felt and how they experienced moments that she was not there for. There was one scene where she spoke about the past political campaigns and knew far too much detail, that made her all-knowing rather than the typical first-person narrative. It didn’t make sense to me.
3. The final reveals of all the characters motivations felt very limiting and could have been explored further. The ending felt very rushed. The climax was just plain anticlimactic.
4. Sadly, this book just did not grip me, the way we hope for with suspense thrillers. I did not feel I was on the edge of my seat. I was not desperate to pick the book back up again.

In conclusion, I do recommend this book. This wasn’t a favorite of mine, but the writer has great chops. I feel that she will be a great writer, but I just wasn’t that intrigued by the plot and the characters of this one. I fully plan to read books by her in the future. This book reminded me of “The Last Mrs. Parrish” and “The Other Mother”.

I received this book in exchange for reading and reviewing purposes. Thank you to William Morrow.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

"The Cellar"

“The Cellar”
Written by Natasha Preston
Review written by Diana Iozzia

The Cellar by Natasha Preston
“The Cellar” is a young adult thriller that centers around Summer, an eighteen-year-old girl who is kidnapped by a man who calls himself Clover. Clover kidnaps up to four girls at a time and calls them his Flowers, naming them Rose, Lily, Violet, or Poppy. He chooses to kill those girls who try to fight back or become too much of a problem, when transitioning into his ‘happy family’. He also brings prostitutes and females who he considers to be whores into the basement in his house and kills them, leaving the body to be cleaned up by his kidnapped victims.

Summer, called Lily, is kidnapped and refuses to adjust into the ‘happy family’. She refuses to let Clover take the power away from her, but she also is trying to survive. Many girls and women are killed in front of her, she is raped, and she is abused physically. Summer knows she must survive at all costs. We also see through Clover’s perspective as well as Lewis’s, who is Summer’s boyfriend.

This book was a difficult read for me. The author became famous on Wattpad, which is a site that non-professional writers upload short stories and chapters of their own writing. Natasha Preston became famous and was offered book deals. However, I think her writing just isn’t up to par, in comparison to professional writers that I have read through. The dialogue is often cheesy. I find the characters hard to relate to, feel sympathy for, and honestly just tell apart from each other. Many of the chapters feel redundant, without giving much more information about each character.

My main issue with this book is that it does not stand out. There aren’t any moments or scenes that I felt to be jaw-dropping. I did not feel especially disgusted or horrified when characters were injured and even murdered. This felt very juvenile and base level for a thriller. I was thoroughly disappointed with most of this book.

I did enjoy some aspects of this story:

1. I felt the Flower idea was interesting. Clover attempts to keep the girls very clean and pure, which allows the girls to educate themselves, shower twice a day, eat healthily, and enjoy books and films. They also knit and make clothing. I felt this was refreshing in comparison to many other kidnapping themed thrillers that just have characters tied to bedposts. I felt the way that Clover was portrayed reminded me of “10 Cloverfield Lane”, in which the kidnapper tries to protect his victims, rather than extremely brutalize them. Yes, the sexual assault still exists in this book, but it was not graphic or as crude as other books portray it.
2. I also liked some of the girls. Especially the Violet and Poppy.
3. This felt like a Lifetime movie, in the sense that we don’t read too much graphic violence and gore. I feel this would be better for more sensitive readers.
4. The resolution after the climax was very jarring and effective, similar to the resolution in “Room” by Emma Donahue.

In conclusion, I would not really recommend this book for adult readers, like myself. It’s good for a teen reader’s perspective, but I think I like reading from an older character’s perspective. Also, I feel like this could be enjoyed for readers who are just starting to enjoy the thriller genre, because elements of this book are present in better thrillers. I imagine it would be good to test the waters with.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

"We Love Anderson Cooper"

“We Love Anderson Cooper”
Written by R.L. Maizes
Review written by Diana Iozzia

We Love Anderson Cooper by R.L. Maizes
“We Love Anderson Cooper” is an oddball and extremely eccentric collection of short stories. This book has been described as short stories with characters who are treated differently based on their race, sexuality, appearance, gender, and more. However, I felt that this short story collection was just based on people. It did not feel like this empowering, freeing collection with these themes. The reasons why these characters were treated differently are expressed in maybe the first three paragraphs of each story and then hardly influence the plot. This writer creates many different types of characters who all feel realistic, but they are in eccentric scenarios. This collection felt very easy going and natural to read yet realistic, similar to a Jason Robert Brown play (especially with all of the Jewish references). I felt that I liked some of the stories but was disappointed with most. I do not plan to keep this collection or read it again.

The first story in this collection was “We Love Anderson Cooper”. The plot follows a teen named Markus, as he prepares his bar mitzvah. For an aspect of this plot, I researched bar mitzvahs and they often occur when a Jewish boy reaches 13 years old. Markus comes out as gay while reading his speech for the ceremony, also outing his boyfriend. This puzzled me. Then, the story concludes in graphic, underage oral sex. This was just an awful and uncomfortable story to read. Yuck.

“Collections” follows the story of Maya, whose partner of 14 years has passed away, not leaving her anything in his will. Maya starts over and collects debt in exchange for cheaper housework done by a contractor.

“Tattoo” is about a man named Trey who becomes a tattoo artist and begins to obsess with his work. This was one of the best out of the bunch, but I still do not think it was phenomenal.

“The Infidelity of Judah Maccabee” was a funny little tale about a man whose cat starts turning his affection to his girlfriend instead. This was my favorite. It was cute and light-hearted with some fun, Jewish humor.

“No Shortage of Birds” was absolutely infuriating. I hated this story with a fervor like that of an angry volcano. A young woman whose father passes away is gifted a parakeet. She doesn’t give it fresh water, keep it well-fed, lets it overheat in 95-degree heat without air conditioning, which of course kills it. As a bird lover and owner of two lutino cockatiels, I wanted to set the book on fire. And buy six more lutinos to keep them safe from harm.

“L’Chaim” is a poignant vignette about a woman who stands in the venue where she called off her wedding, surrounded by the chairs, chuppah, and flowers. I enjoyed this one as well, because although it was short, it certainly painted a strong picture.

“A Cat Called Grievous” follows a man and wife who struggle to conceive. After taking in a skittish but feisty stray cat, they start to notice the destructive hold the cat has on them. This was another strange but witty story.

“Better Homes and Gardens” was completely forgettable. A man who is so unhappy in his marriage takes up pizza delivering, becoming friends with a customer and her child. The grass is always greener, I guess.

“Couch” was a story about a female therapist who becomes obsessed with a couch. That’s it.

“Yiddish Lessons” followed a young teen, possibly transitioning into a different gender. There was also an interesting arranged marriage plot line as well. However, I thought this story was just okay.

“Ghost Dogs” was yet another sad animal story. There’s far too many here. A woman moves on after both her pets have passed away, hearing thumping by the dog door, reminding her of walks.

In conclusion, I recommend the stories I liked, but I would not recommend this book as a whole. I did not enjoy it very much, even though I really enjoy short story collections. This reminded me a lot of “No One Belongs Here More Than You” by Miranda July, which was another short story collection that I couldn’t stand.

Thank you to Celadon Books for sending me an advanced reader copy. This was not in exchange for a review, but I wanted to review it anyway.

"The Death of Mrs. Westaway"

“The Death of Mrs. Westaway”
Written by Ruth Ware
Review written by Diana Iozzia

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
“The Death of Mrs. Westaway” was an entertaining, soapy thriller. Enhanced by dramatic scenes and a creepy location, there was still an interesting mystery afoot. I’ve read every book by Ruth Ware so far, so I was eager to read her newest. However, I feel that Ruth Ware writes a book that stands out, then her next is just washed out, and then the pattern continues. “Mrs. Westaway” is a tamer thriller to me, rather than action scene after another. As always, Ware creates a story that begs you to think more about the characters than what meets the eye.

Before explaining the synopsis, I have to mention the successful writing patterns that stand through in each of her stories. Ruth Ware creates very atmospheric and vivid locations and her stories just billow out and build around them, similar to an early railroad town. Her settings are absolutely majestic, whether they are a regal cruise liner or a dingy, crumbling pier. We breathe the air the characters do. In addition, Ware’s introductions always engross me. I find myself catapulted into her stories ala Alice plummeting into Wonderland.

“Mrs. Westaway” is a very simplistic plot with very simplistic characters. Congruent to many other psychological thrillers, we have a death in a very tightly knit family which is far from connected on the inside. To be a fly on the wall in this house. We also have outsider Hal (female) who has mistakenly been included in the inheritance. She makes herself to one of my favorite areas in England (Penzance, Cornwall) and meets the family who she will be pretending to be a part of. This makes for an interesting plot. I often enjoy books that have characters return to their hometown or first home full of secrets. For example, this book reminded me of "The Haunting of Hill House", the "Flowers in the Attic" series, "Roanoke Girls", "Sharp Objects", and "The Missing Years".

However, proceeding Hal’s journey to Cornwall, we are introduced to her pathetic job as a tarot card reader on a pier in Brighton. Hal is struggling for money in every sense of poverty. We are shown how she tricks the customers into believing their fortune, but Hal claims she is not doing it maliciously. She just really needs the money. The full introduction before we arrive in Cornwall is 80 pages! 80 pages of Hal getting harassed by debt collectors, eating soggy fish and chips, fooling innocent people, complaining about her family past, and just being plain miserable. This is easily the worst aspect of the book. I understand to create a character who would commit fraud, you need to create reasons why she would want to. However, this was too slow and too unnecessary. I felt that a majority of this could have been cut down. We would have understood her plight within 30 pages. Desperation is not difficult to comprehend.

After Hal arrives at the Trespassen House (was that name really the only thing Ware could come up with?), she begins to melt into the family. We see in her mixed batch of ‘relatives’ how the family is more gilded than golden. Her eccentric ‘relatives’ and the unsettling housekeeper leave Hal feeling more trapped than excited. She also begins to unravel the mystery of why she was mistaken for a relative and who she really is.

The conclusion of this story was not unpredictable. I’m sure that some readers may figure out the mystery ahead of time, but I did not find myself deducing and sleuthing my way through the story. There weren’t many red herrings, but I was certainly curious to see how the mystery would unpack. I felt very satisfied with the ending, especially with the true villain revealed. I thought this character was a good choice, and I felt made sense for the mystery. In addition, the actual climax was very creepy and delicious. I could also imagine that some readers might think this book was a tad unrealistic in certain areas, but I enjoyed the ride. I fully recommend this book, but please try to get past the 81st page. I think it’s worth it.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

"Beautiful Bad"

“Beautiful Bad”
Written by Annie Ward
Review written by Diana Iozzia

Beautiful Bad by Annie  Ward
“Beautiful Bad” was a very invigorating and unique edition to the psychological thriller genre. To begin, this novel is told in a few different perspectives: Maddie throughout the years building up to the “Day of Killing”, the actual “Day of Killing”, a third person perspective of Ian, letters and emails, and Maddie in the weeks prior to the killing.

I have to admit, that I was highly skeptical of this story, when I had read the premise. In already knowing that all of the events build up to a murder, the book is already polarizing. Some readers may think that knowing this adds suspense. However, readers like me believe that knowing this takes all of the dramatic tension out the window, because we know when the murder will take place; at the end of the book, most likely the climax. As little as I like to say this, I was absolutely wrong. I have been experiencing a period of reading psychological thrillers that I haven’t been too impressed by. Nonetheless, this book really opened up into a fantastically layered story.

The main gist follows the beginning of Maddie and Ian’s relationship; hot and cold, suspicious, manipulative, and charming. Maddie and her friend, Johanna, are working in the Middle East, when they meet Ian and his buddies. Ian is enigmatic, intriguing, and also hiding lots of secrets. We wonder throughout the entire book, “Why on earth would either of you have fallen for each other?” They both aren’t prizes. We like them and dislike them at the same time. They make each other swoon and make each other miserable all in a few sentences in a conversation. We also flash back and forth to the “Day of Killing”, seeing detective Diane as she uncovers the aftermath of the murder. Naturally, we know bits and pieces of the night as the book progresses, only to find out the horrific truths in the conclusion.

I liked how well this book was layered. We have normal and then intense conversations and events. We have a really great political setting in the Middle East, as Ian is a soldier, while the women work in less dangerous scenarios. This is very reminiscent of “Homeland” but without Carrie Mathison, thank heavens. I felt that for a very large portion of the book, this did not feel like a thriller. However, the manipulative and abusive sides of the characters created and built depth to the story. We are absolutely fascinated to see what will happen next. In this type of book where we know a lot about the ending as we read, it can be very easy to predict outcomes. So, although I was able to understand where this was going, it was still a very, very great reveal. There were more details and aspects than I thought encompassed in the dramatic climax and conclusion, but I felt it wrapped up the story very well. I feel this thriller took inspiration from many other thrillers like it but improved upon the others’ shortcomings. I’m very pleased with this book. I look forward to reading more books by Annie Ward in the future.

I do believe unfortunately that the endless chapters about Maddie at the therapist felt difficult to endure. I understand that in the conclusion of the story, we understand why they’re so important. However, my God. It’s tiring.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book by the publisher, in exchange for reading and reviewing purposes. Thank you to Park Row Books and Harper Collins.

"Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter"

“Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter”
Written by Seth Grahame-Smith
Review written by Diana Iozzia

Abraham Lincoln by Seth Grahame-Smith

As much as I mocked the idea of this novel for years before reading it, I have found a new favorite within “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter”. I have recently been branching out into books within the “alternate history / science fiction” genre. I started falling in love with this sort of genre when I read “Dread Nation” by Justina Ireland, which follows main characters Jane and Katherine, two black teens in post-Civil War Baltimore, in a world where the fallen soldiers have begun to rise from the dead as ‘shamblers’, similar to zombies. So, as I came across “ALVH” again, I thought to myself that I might enjoy the story, since it incorporates the Civil War and a beloved literary monster. As a large fan of most vampire folklore, I picked it up and fell in love.

“ALVH” is told in many different types of format. First, we are told of a young teenage Seth Grahame-Smith, the author who has portrayed himself, who has been approached by a mysterious vampire, Henry. Henry has lent Seth the diaries of Abraham Lincoln, so he may write a book about when Abe was a vampire hunter and most of his life before and after. Then, we are launched into a sort of biography about Abraham Lincoln, peppered by the entries from the diary, letters, and altered photographs and art.

I believe that the best thing about this book is that it doesn’t feel like a big fantasy vampire story. It has such amazing depth to it. We love Abe, as we meet him as a young child, to see the heartache and death he endures, as he rises to become an important politician. Then, we have the weavings of a vampire history, telling us all about the interesting aspects of these vampires, the friends and enemies Abe makes, and the gruesome horror, all creating this fantastic epic. Abe is a hero, in the ways that real Americans know and as a vampire killer. The novel is told in three ages of Abe, as a child / teen, as a young adult, and after he rises to political power.

There are so many amazing aspects of this story that have to be recognized. As well as it is horrifically bloody and stomach churning, this is a great piece of horror. The vampires are absolutely terrifying. The world that Grahame-Smith has taken and made his own with his great alterations is so encompassing and interesting. It’s absolutely fascinating to learn about the true historical aspects of Abraham Lincoln’s life and see it explained as if vampires had existed in this world. The novel is so thoroughly researched and explanatory, that you feel that this is a real biography, that this really could have happened. A funny aspect that I was not a fan of at first but grew to like is the footnotes. Grahame-Smith adds in footnotes, explaining small details and giving his thoughts. An important one to note was his making a point how Abe’s language changes as he grows older and more haunted. This was really interesting to read through and notice how he reacted in certain situations and the words he would use.

Now, I have to mention one of my favorite parts of this story. We have a wonderful chapter explaining how Abe met Mary Todd and courted her. This felt like a romantic scene come to life. If you’re a fan of “Hamilton”, think the two scenes that incorporate “Helpless” and “Satisfied”, when Eliza and Angelica meet Alexander for the first time. Actually, a lot of this book reminded me of “Hamilton” in a way.

An element of this book that threw me at first was the incorporation of other famous historical people and events that I would not have expected. In this journey, we see historical representations of Marie Laveau’s house, Edgar Allan Poe, John White from Roanoke, and more. We also have a very interesting explanation behind John Wilkes Booth. Also, in the absolute conclusion of the book, we see a familiar character from this story encounter another very interesting historical figure. Won’t spoil that.

In conclusion, I firmly believe this is a new favorite book for me. I enjoyed this so much more than I really thought I would. This is a fantastic edition into the ‘alternate history’ / fantasy / science fiction genre, and I cannot wait to read the other books by this author. Read this as soon as possible. By candlelight, at midnight. But have a wooden stake next to you, just in case...

"A Good Enough Mother"

“A Good Enough Mother”
Written by Bev Thomas
Review written by Diana Iozzia

A Good Enough Mother by Bev Thomas

“A Good Enough Mother” is one of those cautionary tale type thrillers. We have a main character who becomes quickly wrapped up in a dangerous scenario, that they could have easily prevented, while the villain is enjoying this manipulative, cat-and-mouse game, seeing how far they can push boundaries before the final culmination of the story.

This book is the first that I have read by Beverly Thomas, and I thoroughly enjoyed maybe 50 percent of it. Beverly Thomas has a great way of writing a dramatic narrative, but perhaps the actual plot became a bit too muddled for me. Her main character, who is absolutely a protagonist and an antagonist in one, Ruth, is a director in a mental health ward of an English hospital. Ruth was troubled, by her son disappearing in his early twenties, and now is disturbed by a new patient of hers that is very similar to her son.

Now, we are introduced into further depths of the mental health facility, providing sharp insight into the shortcomings of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (the NHS). The most interesting aspects of this novel are Ruth’s communications with patients, her work colleagues, and about the NHS in general. We are provided interesting fictional accounts and patients that Ruth has tried to help, with certain patients being failed by her. She is a very sympathetic character, but she makes incredibly unethical choices. She does not call the police, does not contact any emergency room doctors, and leaves herself in highly precarious positions with him alone. Every part of us is screaming, “My God, woman, just stop doing what you’re doing and call for more help!” As she becomes more unraveled by this patient, Dan, the stakes become higher and higher. Ruth connects with her son’s child and the child’s mother, her job is at risk, and we are safe to assume that her life could be at risk by this mentally unstable patient.

I think that creating a narrative that includes a mental unstable patient as the villain could set a negative precedent. Yes, they exist. Yes, they have been used in thriller storylines since the beginning of hospitalization in literature. Some of the great classic thrillers include this premise, but it always feels a little off. Is this a negative portrayal of the mental illnesses described?

To continue, I’d like to touch on the writing style and mechanics of the book, rather than just the plot. When reading this novel, I felt myself engaged in it about half the time. There would be some interesting chapters sprinkled in, but then there would be endless portions to read through. I personally found Beverly Thomas’s writing wasted on this “psychological thriller”. However, I believe she could create fantastic hospital drama fiction, like “Grey’s Anatomy” instead. I felt this story to be very predictable in a sense, without any engaging red herrings or twists. There is a shocking aspect to the climax, but I was sorely disappointed with it.  I felt that this book had a very unsatisfying end, due to a main aspect of the conclusion, but I did not feel myself asking for more. Well, move on to the next book.

In conclusion, this book was a mixed bag for me. I liked the medical aspects of it, but the psychological thriller and villain aspects of it wore me down. I found myself struggling through the book, rather than engaged and not wanting to put it down. I do recommend this author, because of her writing style and the NHS commentary. I would like to read more by her.

I received a free advance proof of this book from Faber & Faber for reviewing purposes. Thank you to the publisher for the opportunity.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

"Cemetery Girl"

“Cemetery Girl”
Written by David Bell
Review written by Diana Iozzia

Cemetery Girl

“Cemetery Girl” is one of the many books that David Bell has written about young female teens returning home after a tragic event. In this circumstance, father and mother, Tom and Abby, have become ships passing in the night, after their young daughter disappeared four years ago. Tom and Abby still hold out hope that she will return, but they are taking actions to move on. They hold a memorial service and adopt out her childhood pet, in hopes that moving on will be swift.

Tom keeps in contact with a lawyer, who gives him advice on how to hold out hope that Caitlin will return. She calls him, saying that she knows someone who believes she has seen Caitlin. Hot on this trail, Tom stops at nothing to find Caitlin. After she is found, all those around Caitlin notice a change. Abby becomes suspicious that Tom’s brother, a strange bird, who was one suspected of hurting Caitlin, could still be the perpetrator. We eventually learn all about who took Caitlin, why, and how she reacts to returning home.

I was not impressed with this thriller. It seemed very cut and dry, very stereotypical of this type of thriller. The overprotecting father who is unhinged, who will make unethical choices to protect his daughter. David Bell has written these characters time and time again, but they do not feel refreshing. I felt that this book was not very exciting, and I felt I had to push myself to read it.

Furthermore, I did enjoy the ending. We have a very unsettling, yet interesting choice for the characters. I felt that this ending was not satisfying, in the sense that the characters are at peace. It’s dark and foreboding, and I enjoyed that unexpected ‘resolution’. Other than that, I really would not recommend this. I would just advise to skip it and read his other book, “Bring Her Home” instead. It has a very similar plot, and I enjoyed that one more.

Monday, April 8, 2019

"Final Girls"

"Final Girls"
Written by Riley Sager
Review written by Diana Iozzia

Final Girls by Riley Sager

"Final Girls" is a unique thriller, telling the perspective of a ‘final girl’, the teen / young adult who survives the end of a massacre. In cheesier horror movies like “Scream”, “Nightmare on Elm Street”, “I Know What You Did Last Summer”, “Halloween”, the female survivor who defeats the mass murdering male villain is praised for enduring and making it to the end of the film. Often, films like this are parts of franchises, in which the ‘final girl’ continues to survive, throughout at least two or three films. Riley Sager offers us our main character, Quincy, who has survived a group murder at a cabin in the woods.

The story takes place in two separate time periods. As each chapter alternates, the first perspective shows Quincy and her friends at the cabin, as we bite our nails waiting for the killing to start. The second perspective is about ten years later. Quincy was the sole survivor, so she is a neurotic and morally ambiguous woman. She works as a dessert blogger, which was pretty interesting. I enjoy when characters in psychological thrillers have hobbies, so we can relax and read a little about that, instead of chasing back and forth through action sequences.

However, Quincy’s life in the present isn’t just peachy. In the media coverage after the Pine Cottage murders that she survived, the newscasters named her a ‘Final Girl’, also covered with two other girls who have lived through similar events. In the present, Quincy is met by one of the girls, Samantha Boyd, who now goes by Sam. In addition, it has also been released that the other girl of the three has committed suicide, but the police are possibly investigating it further.

Under the influence of Sam, Quincy morphs into a “Mr. Hyde”-like personality. She is reckless and dangerous, injuring herself and others. She makes crazy decisions and becomes unhinged. Sam is clearly unhinged as well, leading us to question her morals and why she decided to seek out Quincy. As the plot progresses, we start to doubt everyone and everything, finding it difficult to trust any word or thought of each character. We also wonder, is Quincy still in danger?

Another aspect of the book that I really enjoyed is the links between each chapter. They are often small and subtle but great to notice if you can. Each “past” perspective has a parallel in the “present” in a clever way. For example, Quincy’s ‘blood-drenched arms’ during the killings links to “her hands covered in frosting” in the present.

To be honest, I was not the biggest fan of the two twists. One I saw coming from the first meeting of one character. The second twist was niggling in the back of my mind, but I hoped that I was not right. However, I still think that I truly loved this book, and the read is certainly worth it. Although I was not hoping for the second twist, I think it was done especially well. It makes complete sense, offering no plot holes, and was really jaw-dropping. I said to myself, “I can’t believe that just happened”. The climax is also incredible, giving a new meaning to ‘final girl’.

In conclusion, READ THIS BOOK. This was my first experience reading Riley Sager, and I cannot wait to read his next books. This became a new favorite.