Interview with Nicolas DiDomizio, Author of ‘Burn It All Down’

Synopsis: Eighteen-year-old aspiring comic Joey Rossi just found out his boyfriend has been cheating on him for the past ten months. But what did he expect? Joey was born with an addiction to toxic jerks—something he inherited from his lovably messy, wisecracking, Italian-American spitfire of a mom (and best friend): 34-year-old Gia Rossi.
 
When Gia’s latest non-relationship goes up in flames only a day later, the pair’s Bayonne, New Jersey apartment can barely contain their rage. In a misguided attempt at revenge, Joey and Gia inadvertently commit a series of crimes and flee the state, running to the only good man either of them has ever known—Gia’s ex, Marco. As they hide out from the law at Marco’s secluded lake house, Joey and Gia must confront all the bad habits and mistakes they’ve made that have led them to this moment—and find a way to take responsibility for what they’ve done.

Read my review here.

Nicolas DiDomizio holds a bachelor’s degree from Western Connecticut State University and a master’s degree from NYU. Prior to his career in fiction, he wrote for the internet for several years while also working in corporate roles at Condé Nast, MTV, and more. He lives in upstate New York with his partner Graig and their adorably grumpy bulldog, Tank. Burn It All Down is his debut novel.
 
Follow him on Twitter at @ctnicolas and Instagram at @nicdidomiziobooks.

Have you ever exacted revenge upon someone who broke your heart, like your characters did? If you haven’t, how do you cope with a broken heart?

My college and grad school years did involve an embarrassing amount of throwing drinks in faces, flipping tables, and so on (basically I was a Real Housewife, lol) — but thankfully I never let myself get as out of control as the characters in my novel do. As I got further into my twenties, I learned how to process heartbreak/anger in a much healthier way. And eventually I stopped going for the types of guys who lie/cheat/manipulate in the first place. It was a journey (which I tried to capture via the story of Joey and Gia)!

Do you and a family member share the same type of relationship as Joey and Gia Rossi, who look more like friends than mother and son?

Joey and Gia were loosely based on my experience growing up with a single mom, as we have always been very close and do have shared histories with toxic men. That said, as I got further into writing the book, the relationship between Joey and Gia became its own entirely unique thing — with more codependency and less boundaries than any real-life family relationship I’ve ever had!

What would you say is the best thing about Joey and his mother Gia’s relationship?

The unconditional love, for sure. It’s a “ride or die” type of situation, and their closeness in age really allows them to understand each other — and grow up together — in a way that most parent/child duos don’t experience.

What would Gia and Joey’s ‘‘trip’’ have been like if Joey’s grandmother had come along?

Nonna would have shut their craziness down real fast! Which was why I knew Joey and Gia had to leave Nonna at home so they could learn their lessons on their own.

Which secondary character do you think deserved more attention in the novel?

I LOVED writing Nonna — the sassy Italian grandmother who won’t hesitate to slap a bitch if needed — and would have had so much fun writing several more scenes with her. I also really enjoyed writing the character of Marco, who was an example of the type of “nice guy” Joey and Gia had rejected in the past in favor of stereotypical bad boys, and would have loved to show more of his perspective. But ultimately both of these characters were indeed secondary to the primary heart of the story, which revolved around Joey and Gia specifically.

Finally, are we going to see these characters again?

I don’t have any immediate plans to revisit them, but you never know! I’d definitely have so much fun writing a sequel if there was ever strong interest in one.

Did you enjoy the interview?

Are you interested in the novel?

Black Widow – Leslie Gray Streeter

I’m starting to really enjoy reading books—oftentimes memoirs—written by journalists or reporters or magazine contributors. That’s probably because, not only are they well-written, but also because I, myself, have started writing for my university’s main magazine and am loving the experience. The process is hard—a lot of editing and researching to be done—but it makes me feel like I’m actually learning to write better and, of course, has made me develop more respect and admiration for professional writers.

Leslie Gray Streeter is such a writer. She writes a column, à la Carrie Bradshaw, fun and quirky, but not really since she is not having sex until marriage. She’s had a couple of bad relationships, so in the love department there is usually little meaningful development. That is, until she reunites with Scott, a former classmate whom she marries and who eventually dies from a heart attack. This is more than a story about grief, though that is, quite certainly, a main aspect. It’s also a love story, as James Patterson so rightly states in his blurb of the book. It’s also about building a modern family and struggling to keep said family. Grit. Determination. Support. Not many older women would want their mothers around, but Leslie knows when she needs help and she’s learning to ask for it and accept it.

Though I have never lost a husband or someone who I had an intimate relationship with, I related tremendously with Leslie’s motherhood experience. Not because I have a kid myself—not yet—but because my father passed away when I was a baby, as is the case for Brooks, Scott and Leslie’s baby. I was very touched by how worried Leslie was about Brooks—how he might grow up feeling a certain way about not having a father—and how she tried to do her best being strong for the both of them. I don’t know how Brooks will feel when he will be old enough to understand what loneliness is and wonder about what his life would have been like if he had had a father to care for him, but I think that with a mother like Leslie he will be just fine.

Beautiful.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for a copy in exchange for a review.

Just Pretend – Tori Sharp

Writing three reviews in a row is something that I rarely get to do, since I rarely accumulate so many read books at once, but it’s a lot of fun because I am on a roll.

Just Pretend is a graphic memoir and already when I realized that, I was a little in love. I love memoirs, I love graphic novels, so a graphic memoir, to me, is like a special butterfly that landed on my hand instead of that beautiful flower that was next to me. It chose me. It recognized MY beauty.

I probably should not place my self-worth on whether a butterfly lands on me or a flower, but all that say that whenever I do get to hold a graphic memoir in my hands, I feel hella special. I am worthy of this human creation. (Also, if my writing seems a little tangled right now, it’s possibly because I just reviewed Little Weirds by Jenny Slate and that’s just a normal after-effect.)

So Tori Sharp’s graphic memoir explores her middle school friendships and family dynamics. Her parents are separated, and luckily so since they cannot stand each other. Her father is more detached: she’s not very close to him and she’s about to be even less close. She’s good friends with this one girl at her school, and they like to write stories together, then act them out, but her friend is having issues of her own and there are many ups and downs happening in Tori’s life.

This book reminded me of Shannon Hale’s Real Friends, since Shannon and Tori have similar personalities—they are both shy, quiet, love to read and write and struggle sometimes in the friendship department (welcome to the club, sista). But if I was to compare—which of course I will and do—I would say that this truly does not hold a candle to Shannon Hale’s graphic memoir. It is well-enough-executed and I did find the themes the author explored to be meaningful, but it’s very conflict-centered. The author herself even said at the end of the book that she believes stories to be that way, and so she decided to forgo too many happy memories in favour of those tense-filled ones that really affected her the most and added, I guess, the most to the storyline.

Here I have to disagree. I don’t think that stories NEED to revolve around conflict or that they always do. That would be sad, really. What about people who meet and have a wonderful relationship from the get-go? Do they not have a ‘‘story’’ because their moments are filled with joy more than aggression and sadness and tension? I do admit that some conflicts are more internal, so not as obvious, and yes we’re all dealing with our own respective stuff, but I think this memoir would have really benefitted from more beauty and happiness to balance things out.

Overall, it’s a good book, with cute illustrations and a main character we slowly get to know and care about, but it is similar to Shannon Hale’s Real Friends in many ways and if I was to choose between the two, well, you know which one that would be.

(On another note, I think I will refrain from writing three reviews in a row next time as it does jumble my thought process a little – LOT.)

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review, as always.

Little Weirds – Jenny Slate

This book is weird. I’m sure you saw that coming a little—what with that title and all—but it’s good to repeat because it truly is Weird with a capital w. Not just because Jenny Slate’s writing is uncharacterizable. Something between poetry and prose, making me wonder if this was a memoir or collection of poetry. Or both? But also because of the highly sexual and tremendously unexpected imagery. The kind that makes you wonder if a human being wrote this or a half-human, half-giraffe with an addiction for chocolate poutine and a need to externalize every single one of their half-human, half-giraffe thoughts.

If your instinct tells you—shit, this review is getting really weird and I don’t think I have the stomach for it—please do exit on your left. But if you are intrigued, please proceed, continue, go ahead, have fun, enjoy your moments of imaginary bliss and disconnection from human life, in favour of papery disillusion and a not-drug-induced cheeseburger atmosphere.

You might, at some point, actually wonder what the hell I’m talking about. Who the hell is this Jenny Slate whose writing seems to have completely taken over my brain and destroyed my coherent cells and turned me into an ice cream cone collecting food from the sky. Well, you would be very right in wondering that, and certainly at times I did ask myself the same thing about Jenny Slate herself. But then my infected brain realized that to understand the incomprehensible, one must become incomprehensible in return and let our minds be attacked by the crazy.

In all seriousness, I seriously enjoyed this. It is an experiencefirst and foremost. BUT, and here’s the thing that surprised me the most, Jenny Slate had some actually meaningful and insightful things to say through the vacuum of weird thoughts. And the good thing is that, because they were so unexpected, most of them stood out like a naked Barbie doll on the cover of a book in a room full of horny teenagers (that did happen, everyone was staring, it was a real social experiment). Here is one such quote for you to admire and ponder:

I jumped out of their hands and into their mouths and I yelled EAT ME way before they even had a chance to get horny and notice me and lift me up. – page 41

You might reconsider your subscription to my blog after reading that. Really, that’s what she considers worth admiring and pondering? Okay, chill, I can’t write down the entire mind-shattering context, but really think about it before jumping off your horse. When I read that, I immediately thought of how hard I try in friendships. How desperate I am to have a meaningful connection that I don’t let anyone really miss me or want me, maybe because I’m scared that if I give them too much space, I’m also giving them too much opportunity to completely forget about me. But that’s something I’ll be discussing with my therapist.

Cheers.

(Oh, yes, and please read this book because I loved it.)

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for allowing me to experience Jenny Slate in exchange for what you probably wished was more comprehensible of a review, but I hope you will forgive me.

Negative Review: Chasing Wonder – Ginger Stache

Sometimes I know I have matured through the books that I pick up and enjoy. For instance, two years ago, I started reading a lot of memoirs, and though I would read them before—here and there—I would choose them very carefully and they were mostly from celebrities that I was familiar with. Now, I pretty much crave them, along with fiction novels. I have also started reading more adult fiction, which is a genre I typically stayed away from in favour of Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction.

Chasing Wonder: Small Steps Toward a Life of Big Adventures is not a book I would have held in my hands three years ago. Adventure, who needs adventure? I have a college degree to attend to, and a job on campus, and a hobby that steals my time (not that I mind). It’s easy for me to remember what my life was like three years ago, because nothing really happened, so remembering one specific day was like remembering the entire year.

So I am happy with myself for doing steps toward, yes, chasing wonder so to speak, and one of them includes reading this book. Now, although I think the world does need books like this one, I don’t think this one particular book was needed. That’s harsh, I know, I don’t typically tell readers that a book’s existence has little importance, especially not when I start my reviews in such a positive manner, but that is how I feel right now. Though the author has good intentions—she certainly wants us to enjoy life and face our fears and all that stuff—her execution can only be characterized as superficial.

This book actually reminded me a lot of Admiral William H. McRaven’s latest nonfiction The Hero Code, in the sense that the author discusses one theme and shows some examples to illustrate that. I found great meaning in Admiral McRaven’s publication, but in Stache’s I only found rushing. Though she does give examples from her own personal life that show us she’s overcome obstacles, those examples are typically super short and, sometimes, are simply enumerated, as though an afterthought. Not only that, but the way she speaks about fear-related topics is quite… and here I want to say immature but that’s a strange word to use for a book that means so well so I’ll default to superficial, once again. Predictable, too.

Here is a random quote that illustrates what I’m trying to say. It’s random because there are quite a lot of these. Warning: she uses a LOT of adjectives throughout the book.

I am certainly nothing special, but I remember always believing that God had something wonderful and very specific planned just for me. But here is what you may not know—He has all these things for you too. You weren’t born just to fade into the background. God loves you just as much. And he has amazing adventures for YOU. – page 13

Ugh. I mean thank you for saying those things, that’s very nice, but that’s not very convincing, and throughout the book I felt like there was more telling of obvious, everyone-knows-that things and little actual showing (again, because of the short examples that lacked depth). Overall, this is a self-help that lacks edge or grit or whatever gives something authority and prevents you from cringing. And my reaction is certainly not due to all the God talk. In fact, I adored Bamboozled by Jesus. That shit convinced me and there were lots of Bible references. It had spunk, something this book could have used a lot more of.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

Define ”Normal” – Julie Anne Peters

I wish I had read this book when it came out. Except, when it came out, in 2000, I was four years old. I’m holding in my hands what I believe to be the fourth edition, which shows just how relevant the story still is today. Actually, I think it’s more relevant now than ever. When it came out, it was probably one of a kind. A YA contemporary story that discusses mental illness, parental neglect, peer counselling and what ‘‘normal’’ means. Nowadays, we can find more stories exploring those themes—thank goodness—and a few ones that go even more into depth, but it was interesting to see how those topics were handled 21 years ago.

There is much less shame now regarding counselling, therapy and the overall idea of needing help figuring things out, controlling our temper, opening ourselves up to others and letting ourselves act our age. But for Antonia and Jazz, peer counselling is foreign, awkward and stilted. They don’t know what it means to be in a ‘‘safe space’’ and how to open up about what they feel on the inside. It’s very difficult in the beginning, since Antonia and Jazz don’t trust one another, but they slowly develop a bond that grows beyond their peer counselling sessions.

I’m writing this review not only because that’s what I do—I’m a book blogger, hey!—and because I genuinely enjoy sharing my thoughts on the stories I read, but also because I want to set the record straight regarding this title. This author is known for writing LGBTQIA+ characters, and I saw this one being shelves as ‘‘LGBT’’ quite a few times on Goodreads, but sexual orientation is not discussed. The main focus is the growing friendship between the two teen girls and how counselling helps them face their own respective issues. There is no romance, and though it’s a meaningful story, it is not a ‘‘fun’’ one. Hopefully, you get into it with better expectations, but by all means do go into it.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for an honest review.

Someone Else’s Summer – Rachel Bateman

Annie’s sister—the authentic and fearless Storm—dies in a car accident, leaving behind a devastated family… and a list of things to accomplish. Wanting to honour her sister’s memory and get out of her comfort zone, Annie embarks on a road trip with her childhood friend Cameron in the hopes of checking off every item on the list.

The list is actually the least memorable aspect of this story. What I loved most was seeing Annie and Cameron’s relationship unfold. Because Annie’s parents are grieving and absent, she has quite a lot of freedom to basically do whatever she wishes… as long as Cameron is also okay with it. He is the wisest of the two of them, so she is in good hands and unlikely to get away with too much.

I found Rachel Bateman’s writing very engaging and the storyline to move along nicely without being too predictable. In an interview with the author at the end of this novel, she actually mentions that she is a dedicated story outliner and I could certainly tell. A less than perfect aspect in this novel is the openness and niceness of the people Annie and Cameron meet. It’s not realistic.

Everyone treats them like they’re friends or family: worthy of attention, patience and care and that’s just not realistic. Someone vouches for them at the hotel; strangers hug Annie and show concern. I understand that her sister died and Cameron probably told a lot of people what their circumstances are, but she’s not the only one with a dead family member so I found the amount of love thrown their way to be idealistic.

Other than that, there is a lot of growing up being done and grieving as well. I’m really glad Annie had Cameron to help her; she especially did not deserve to be alone after her parents started physically and emotionally withdrawing from her. Truth is grief messes people up, it does, but it can heal over time, and Bateman captured that well enough.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

The Silver Arrow – Lev Grossman

If I had a daughter or son or non-binary child, I would immediately find a perfect warm moment to read this book with them. And I mean ‘‘with them.’’ I would totally make them read a couple of passages and I’d pause on all the images, which are quite heart-warming and beautifully done.

This is the kind of story that feels like a classic. You’ve never read it before, and it doesn’t feel like you have necessarily when you do, but it does feel right. Like this was a story that was meant to be written and told and that belongs in the world of children’s literature. Certainly some aspects have been explored before, and of course talking animals are quite popular in kids’ stories, but there is still a lot about it that is different and surprising. It made me think that trains should be more present in these books, as they can surprisingly be very enchanting.

This is the kind of writing style that is completely engaging. There’s actually something I really like about it and simultaneously dislike: It seems so casual, as though the narrator is telling a story that is coming to their mind, in a very natural way. On the other hand, it seems so natural that it doesn’t feel edited at times. Charlotte’s Web is, I think, one of the best edited children’s books of all times, and it still reads ‘‘natural’’ and works for its audience, engages it. So yes, at times I did wish it had felt less ‘‘casual’’ and more, well, professional. But the story is so interesting and the characters so memorable that, in most cases, it’s easy to overlook and just go with it.

I want to congratulate the author, who is best known for his adult bestselling books, for giving children literature a try, and doing a pretty fantastic job at it, too. I am already looking forward to the sequel, supposedly coming out in May 2022.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the title in exchange for a review.

The Defining Decade (Updated Edition) – Meg Jay

This is my second time reading Meg Jay’s book written for twenty-year-olds, but my first time trying the updated edition. The first time I read it – over a year ago – was around the beginning of the lockdown and my future was more uncertain than ever. I really needed this book. Life has not necessarily gone to ‘‘normal’’ yet: in-person learning has not started yet, the mask is still a must, 2 m distance a necessity and social events have not all been translated to in person. But I am in a better place with regards to how I feel about my future. I’m still uncertain about it – and I do wish I could change that since I’m graduating soon – but I am feeling more hopeful about the choices that I will have to make and feel more ready to make them.

This book helped me feel more confident about where I am and validated my feelings of not knowing where I belong, where I’m meant to go and with whom I’m meant to connect. A lot of twentysomethings, as Dr. Jay states, are confused. Not only that, but she says that confusion is pretty normal at this state of our lives, when our brains are not even fully developed yet and possibly won’t be until we turn thirty. That is a scary thing to hear but also liberating in a way. It means that chances are I’m going to remain confused for quite a bit about various things. But the good thing about it is that there is so much I, and every other twenty-four-year-old, can learn in this period. According to Meg Jay, this is the it period where if we want to change something about ourselves – our personalities – we just might and it doesn’t have to take everything from us to do that.

Initially, when I read the unedited edition, I felt like the twenties were the worst period to be in. Possibly because I’m mentally healthier and more positive about the present and future, I feel differently about my twenties. When I read it the first time, I focused on everything I didn’t have – hadn’t graduated yet, hadn’t started my master’s, didn’t feel hopeful about dating, was still friends with people I should have moved on from a long time ago, felt a lot of anxiety about the day-to-day life and was working somewhere that brought me little to no happiness anymore. I was a mess, truly. I’m cleaning myself up, and guess what, I can do that because my brain is receptive to change. I’m finishing my master’s in less than a year, planning to move out of my mom’s place and hoping to get involved in clubs and associations to make more social memories before getting my diploma. I’m in a period of transition – like a lot of twenty-year-olds are, and although that’s super scary, it’s completely normal and I’m ready to face my fears.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Seven Day Switch – Kelly Harms

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler was fantastic, so of course I had to read this book. Who could resist an adult Freaky Friday retelling, with two moms swiping bodies? Wendy and Celeste lead very different lives. One is a full time worker, the head of the household, whereas the other is a full time stay-at-home mom who fully depends on her (luckily devoted) husband for financial support. They each make assumptions about one another, and judge each other’s actions mercilessly, until they experience firsthand what the other is feeling and just how wrong they might be about each other. Not always, but by switching bodies, which proves to be super awkward at first, they find themselves learning from one another and growing into better, stronger, more fulfilled women.

I had fun with this story and these two women. Kelly Harms writes with energy, detail, realism and humor. At times, there was too much description to my liking. I don’t, as a reader, necessarily need to know every single back-story or detail, so I could have done with less of that. The best part is the growing relationship between the two women. They have their ups and downs, their confusions and moments of revelation, their anxieties and bursts of happiness—overall, they slowly realize that maybe this ‘‘experience’’ is happening for a reason. I do believe this story could have benefitted from even more nuance. Of course, Wendy and Celeste are learning that things are not always as they seem and that some people struggle in silence, but there are still many clichés about these two women’s motherhood and wifehood experiences that made me want to roll my eyes at times. Working all the time vs. being a stay-at-home mom? Both come with pros and cons, but neither felt balanced and balance is something that they both need more of us and are not done learning.

In the end, though it wasn’t as fun as Freaky Friday, I really enjoyed the friendship featured and all the learning that occurred. Though it’s shelves as ‘‘magical realism’’ on Goodreads, aside from the body swap it felt believable and the kind of life experience I wouldn’t mind going through. Come on, universe, make this happen!

Thank you Amazon Publishing for the copy in exchange for a review.