Interview with Carmen Rodrigues, Author of 34 Pieces of You

Carmen Rodrigues is the author of 34 Pieces of You, an emotionally powerful read that focuses on the aftermath of a popular high school girl’s death.  I could not put this book down, and I was thrilled when Carmen agreed to answer a few of my questions.

[Manga Maniac Café] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for 34 Pieces of You?

[Carmen Rodrigues] 34 PIECES OF YOU actually started as a what if writing prompt. To create the prompt, I let my mind wander for an hour, thinking about all the different situations teens encounter. During that wandering, I remembered a few news stories I read in the late eighties/early nineties about teenagers who made and carried out suicide pacts. I wondered what would happen if two teenagers did make this pact but one of them survived. What kind of guilt would that teen have? Where would life go from there?

This led me to writing about a girl (Sarah) who wakes up in a hospital bed to learn that her best friend (Ellie) has died from an overdose, which she has survived. As I began to discover more about the characters that inhabited this world, I asked myself other questions:

Did Ellie commit suicide or was it an accident?

If suicide, did Sarah also attempt to kill herself?

Regardless of accidental or intentional overdoses, how did these girls get here? What were their communities and families like?

How do toxic friendships, particularly those that develop out of proximity like the relationship between Ellie and Sarah, affect the other kids on that block?

Answering these questions led to a complex story that spanned five years. Around fifty pages in, I realized that the story was inhibited by Sarah’s limited perspective. That’s when I began to write from two additional POVs–Sarah’s younger sister, Jessie, and Ellie’s older brother, Jake. Ellie’s pieces—as they are now–came much later.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Sarah?

[Carmen Rodrigues] Sarah is seventeen years old. She’s doing her best to navigate the broken world she inherited. The three words that describe her are young, confused, and disconnected.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are three things Jess would never have in her bedroom?

[Carmen Rodrigues] Jess is simple. She has a good heart–one that’s inclined to take care of others. In this novel, she loses the last of her childlike innocence. To me, that’s what makes her story so tragic. She would never have a hair straightener, cigarettes, or high heels in her bedroom. 

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If Jake had a theme song, what would it be?

[Carmen Rodrigues] Break on Through (To The Other Side) by The Doors. Jake loosely references this song in the novel. If you check out the lyrics, you’ll see that it accurately sums up many of his struggles. Here is the opening stanza:

You know the day destroys the night 
Night divides the day 
Tried to run 
Tried to hide 
Break on through to the other side 
Break on through to the other side 
Break on through to the other side, yeah

At the end of the novel, though, The Winner Is by Michael Danna and Devotchka conveys the silent hope that is present in Jake’s recovery.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Carmen Rodrigues] I’ve read a lot of wonderful young adult novels this year–Fingerprints of You by Kristen-Paige Madonia (gorgeously written); Unbreak My Heart by Melissa Walker (sweet and heartfelt); The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler (smart, funny, relevant)—but the last book to knock my socks off was The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. It’s a nonfiction book about authenticity, courage, and wholehearted living. The research is compelling. The writing is humorous and sincere. I’ll probably read this book once a year. I recommend it to everyone.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Carmen Rodrigues] The best place to find me is at my web site: www.carmenrodrigues.com.

From there, you can access my Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook profiles. Plus, you can read the first 36 pages of 34 PIECES OF YOU.  For a visual/interactive experience of 34 PIECES OF YOU, visit www.pinterest.com/34piecesofyou.

[Manga Maniac Café]  Thank you!

34 Pieces of You is available now.  You can purchase it from your favorite bookseller or by clicking the widget below. Available in print and digital.

Review: 34 Pieces of You by Carmen Rodrigues

 

Title: 34 pieces of You

Author:  Carmen Rodrigues

Publisher:  Simon Pulse

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

A dark and moving novel—reminiscent of Thirteen Reasons Why—about the mystery surrounding a teenage girl’s fatal overdose.

There was something about Ellie…Something dangerous. Charismatic. Broken. Jake looked out for her. Sarah followed her lead. And Jess kept her distance—and kept watch.

     Now Ellie’s dead, and Jake, Sarah, and Jess are left to pick up the pieces. All they have are thirty-four clues she left behind. Thirty-four strips of paper hidden in a box beneath her bed. Thirty-four secrets of a brief and painful life.

     Jake, Sarah, and Jess all feel responsible for what happened to Ellie, and all three have secrets of their own. As they confront the past, they will discover not only the darkest truths about themselves, but also what Ellie herself had been hiding all along….

Review:

If I hadn’t received a review copy of 34 Pieces of You from the publisher, I never would have read this book, and that would have been a shame, because it is a moving and compelling read.  The subject matter didn’t appeal to me prior to receiving the ARC, and the thought of reading about a girl who overdoses, leaving her friends to grapple with their confusion and hurt, just seemed too depressing for me.  Which makes me wonder why I did pick it up, the same day it arrived in the mailbox.  Why did I start reading this, and why couldn’t I put it down?  What I found between the covers kept me turning the pages; there are so many flawed characters packed into this story, and there were so many opportunities for things to happen differently, but they didn’t.  Everyone is so caught up in themselves, that they all ignored the signals that Ellie was so clearly broadcasting.  Then again, in retrospect, everything is crystal clear, isn’t it?

I don’t want to give away any of the plot twists, so instead, let’s talk about the damaged protagonists in 34 Pieces of You.  It seems that everyone in this book is crying out for help or attention, and even when they get it, they stubbornly dig in their heels and refuse to accept it.  Ellie is so emotionally ravaged, unable to trust anyone, after she is the victim of abuse when she is a young girl. Her mother deals with this betrayal with alcohol.  Emotionally distant from her children, her coping method turns out to be one of avoidance.  Just don’t talk about it, and everything bad will go away.  Just ignore the bad things, and everything will be fine.  Ugh.  I found myself so angry and irritated with her mother.    By pretending not to see how self-destructive Ellie’s behavior was, she added to Ellie’s feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness. Even her own mother didn’t care enough to acknowledge that things weren’t right with her family.  It’s the realization that if only someone had done something, paid the slightest bit of attention to Ellie’s behavior, that makes this story, and the cascading repercussions, so tragic.  Ellie may have ultimately found some peace, but her friends and family were left reeling in the wake of her death, and ouch, not one of them emerged unscathed or unchanged.

Jake, Ellie’s older brother, is left with the most guilt, I think.  After being the rock for his mother and sister in the wake of his mother’s string of failed relationships, he finally is able to experience the enticing sense of freedom that comes with going off to college.  No longer the man of the family, he can finally do what he wants, when he wants, without all of the drama and pressure that he’s constantly under at home.  When Ellie calls him, begging him to come home to her, he is resentful.  Why can’t he just go to school and be left alone?  Why does he have to get sucked back into all of the drama? A moment of selfishness will haunt him for the rest of his life, and of all of lives affected by Ellie’s carelessness, Jake’s is the most compelling.  He can’t hide from his guilt, and like Ellie, he doesn’t have much of a support network to help him cope.  I wish Jake’s chapters had been longer and more in-depth.  I liked Jake, and felt that his POV was complex and multi-layered, because he was under so much pressure to be strong for everyone else. 

Sisters Sarah and Jessie also had complex relationships with Ellie, and each other, and as the story unfolds, they are both forced to realize that neither of them knew Ellie half as much as they thought they had.  All of the characters in this book are flawed, and at first, hard to like.  I couldn’t relate to any of them, but as one painful secret after another is revealed, I began to feel sympathy for each of them.  Events were so out of control, it was like everyone was riding a rollercoaster with broken brakes.  The more you fight against the impact at the end of the ride, the more you tense up and the more it’s going to hurt.  Despite all of the pain, the ending manages to capture a sense of hopefulness, and the realization that some how, some way, things might just turn out okay.  But only for the characters willing to set aside their fears to embrace the uncertain future waiting ahead of them.

Grade:  B+

In stores Sept 2012

Review copy provided by publisher

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Review: A Beautiful Evil by Kelly Keaton

 

Title: A Beautiful Evil

Author: Kelly Keaton

Publisher: Simon Pulse

ISBN: 978-1442409279

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Myth and mayhem inhabit a richly reimagined New Orleans in this sequel to Darkness Becomes Her.

After the epic graveyard battle at the end of Darkness Becomes Her, Ari and her friends know what they’re up against: Ari is facing the Medusa curse and is haunted by the image of what she will become. To make matters worse, the heinous goddess Athena has kidnapped young Violet and is threatening to destroy Ari.

Ari, along with the superhot Sebastian, is doing everything she can to learn more about Athena and to get Violet back. But the battle of good and evil is bigger than she realizes, and she’s about to be pulled into a world more horrific than she could ever imagine….

Review:

I was disappointed with this installment of the Gods and Monsters series, but, in all honesty, Darkness Becomes Her was a tough act to follow.  I loved that book, and had built up so many expectations for this sequel, expectations that fell flat.  I enjoyed A Beautiful Evil when the fists and swords were flying, but Ari acted in so many frustratingly foolish ways that she almost earned the brand Too Stupid To Live.  What saved her from that?  Even though she lacks any common sense, she is still a bad ass gorgon in training.  When she gets herself together enough to actually use her powers, she is one pretty cool character.

I love the world-building.  Every nasty supernatural creature that you can think of has taken up residence in and around New Orleans.  Vampires, shifters, witches.  All cohabitating in relative peace, but it’s clear that some of the leaders in the Novem are lobbying for more power than they currently have.  To make things even more tenuous, there are Greek gods and goddesses stirring up trouble, demi-gods on the loose, and blood-thirsty creatures roving around the Ruins.  Not a safe place to call home, but it sure is never boring.

Ari is training to learn to tap into her powers, but because they scare the crap out of her, she isn’t learning much.  She fights against them, terrified of turning into the gorgon.  I do agree that having snakes for hair would qualify for everyone’s idea of a bad hair day, but think about how awesome it would be to turn your enemies to stone.  Maybe not quite so cool to turn your friends and family into marble sculptures, but sometimes you have to take the good with the bad.  Or not, and just lock those frightening powers up inside and never learn to use them.  Unfortunately for Ari, that is not a practical solution.

Things fell apart for me when Ari kept trying to take the fight directly to Athena.  After getting her butt handed to her on a platter, inside the goddess’s own temple, Ari didn’t learn a lesson.  She didn’t learn that it is good to back off, train, become stronger, and then go back to fight again.  No, she, Sebastian, and Henri march right back into Athena’s clutches, giving the immortal psychopath another opportunity to torture, maim, and humiliate all of them.  It made no sense to me.  Not only are you going to put yourself in harm’s way by starting a fight that you have no hope of winning, you are going to put two more of the people you care about in the direct path of danger, too.  While I guess I could buy into her desperation, given enough belief suspension, what irritated me was Ari promptly passing the buck.  Does she blame herself for this?  No, she blames Athena. 

Caution: Possible Spoiler

In less than twenty-four hours one of my greatest fears had come true.  Athena had struck again, hurting someone I cared about.  Two someones.  Sebastian was hurt and Henri was…gone.

Really, Ari?! It’s your impulsiveness that created the situation you are currently wallowing in, not any fault of Athena’s.  I thought that Ari was smarter than that, and this headlong flight into danger, with nary a plan, did not sit well with me.

The battle at the end redeemed the book enough that I will read Book Three.  I do want to see how Ari resolves her conflict with Athena, and how she untangles the curse that will turn her into a gruesome monster in just a few years’ time.  Maybe, if my expectations are not Mount Olympus sized, I will enjoy the next book in the series more than this one.

Grade: C+

Review copy provided by publisher

 

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Review: Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez

 

Title: Virtuosity

Author: Jessica Martinez

Publisher: Simon Pulse

ISBN: 978-1442420526

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Now is not the time for Carmen to fall in love. And Jeremy is hands-down the wrong guy for her to fall for. He is infuriating, arrogant, and the only person who can stand in the way of Carmen getting the one thing she wants most: to win the prestigious Guarneri competition. Carmen’s whole life is violin, and until she met Jeremy, her whole focus was winning. But what if Jeremy isn’t just hot…what if Jeremy is better?

Carmen knows that kissing Jeremy can’t end well, but she just can’t stay away. Nobody else understands her—and riles her up—like he does. Still, she can’t trust him with her biggest secret: She is so desperate to win she takes antianxiety drugs to perform, and what started as an easy fix has become a hungry addiction. Carmen is sick of not feeling anything on stage and even more sick of always doing what she’s told, doing what’s expected.

Sometimes, being on top just means you have a long way to fall….

Review:

Virtuosity is a book I would have skipped if I hadn’t received a review copy.  The cover does nothing for me, and it left me with an incorrect impression of what the book was about.  I am so glad that I did receive a copy and was coerced into reading it, because this is one of the best reads of the year. 

Carmen is a violinist.  She lives and breathes violin.  She has played in the most prestigious venues in classical music long before she was old enough to drive, and her entire life revolves around music.  Even though she is having serious anxiety issues.  Even though she is kept in a sheltered bubble of lessons, performances, and competitions.  The violin is all she has ever known, and the thought of it no longer being a part of her is incomprehensible. 

Enter Jeremy, her gifted rival in the Guarneri competition.  Enter a dangerous, self-destructive attraction for the person who makes her see that there just could be other things in life more important than her violin.  As Carmen grapples with a riot of new emotions and rebels against her strictly ordered life, she is forced to make painful decisions about her music, her relationship with her mother, and herself. 

I really loved this book.  Carmen is so miserable at the beginning of Virtuosity, but she doesn’t even realize it.  Every single thing she does is for her music, and her structured days are planned by her mother, Diana, all to further Carmen’s musical career. Carmen’s relationship with her mother is an interesting one, based almost strictly on music.  Diana is the volatile force behind Carmen’s career, and she is a harsh taskmaster.  She expects instant obedience.  Music is all about dedication and sacrifice, and personal wants are to be set aside for the pursuit of the perfect performance. 

At the start of the book, Carmen and Diana seem to have an ideal relationship.  They are working towards the same goal, they are both behind success, and together, it seems that they can accomplish anything.  Then the tiny cracks in their relationship begin to show, and as Carmen is drawn to Jeremy again and again, despite her mother’s warnings, these cracks become fissures.  As long as Carmen is the obedient puppet, she and her mother are in harmony.  Once Carmen begins to question what she wants in life, there is a discordant screech where the harmony used to be.

While I didn’t care for Carmen at first, I quickly found her a relatable character.  She doesn’t have many of the social graces that the rest of us take for granted, and she doesn’t know how to communicate with her peers.  Her entire life has been lived in musical circles, with only her tutor, an older girl, for a companion.  Jessica can discuss music with anyone, but when it comes to normal teenage things, she is hopelessly out of  her depth.  They are beyond her, as she strives to become the greatest violinist in the world. I couldn’t help but want her and Jeremy to somehow work out their awkward relationship, so the socially inept Carmen could at least feel like she’s a normal girl.

If you enjoy tense, emotional contemporary novels, this is the book for you.  I could not put it down, and it’s a promising start to Jessica Martinez’s writing career.  I can hardly wait to see what she comes up with next!

Grade: A-

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Darkness Becomes Her by Kelly Keaton

 

 

Title: Darkness Becomes Her

Author: Kelly Keaton

Publisher: Simon Pulse

ISBN: 978-1442409248

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Ari can’t help feeling lost and alone. With teal eyes and freakish silver hair that can’t be changed or destroyed, Ari has always stood out. And after growing up in foster care, she longs for some understanding of where she came from and who she is.

Her search for answers uncovers just one message from her long dead mother: Run. Ari can sense that someone, or something, is getting closer than they should. But it’s impossible to protect herself when she doesn’t know what she’s running from or why she is being pursued.

She knows only one thing: she must return to her birthplace of New 2, the lush rebuilt city of New Orleans. Upon arriving, she discovers that New 2 is very…different. Here, Ari is seemingly normal. But every creature she encounters, no matter how deadly or horrifying, is afraid of her.

Ari won’t stop until she knows why. But some truths are too haunting, too terrifying, to ever be revealed.

Review:

Darkness Becomes Her is a fantastic read with the kind of heroine I love; Ari is impulsive, gets herself into so much trouble by acting and not thinking, and she always managing to find a way to keep herself alive.  She is tough and it takes a lot to spook her, and when she is terrified, she still manages to keep thinking.  I loved that about her!  I would have curled up into a little ball of misery and given up.  Ari does anything but.

This is the second book I’ve read this month that is set in New Orleans, and I have to say, it’s fast becoming one of my favorite cities.  I want to go there!  With its long history and the voodoo influences steeped in the traditions of New Orleans, it is the perfect setting for paranormal novels.  It’s creepy, mysterious, and even dangerous.  It is like a place set apart from the rest of the country, and that makes it a compelling, realistic venue for the things that go bump in the night. 

Ari is desperate to learn about her mother and her own past, and an impulsive decision sends her past The Rim, back to her birthplace in New Orleans.  She encounters weird and magical moments every time she turns around, and one thing stands out before all others.  Everyone seems to be afraid of her, and nobody is willing to help her remove the curse she is convinced she carries. 

The mix of Greek mythology and paranormal elements hooked me.  I also loved the re-imagined post-Katrina New Orleans.  The characters are convincing, and I grew to really like Ari’s new friends, especially Violet.  She is a cool character who sees the world in a different way, and she takes Ari and her curse in stride.  When everyone else turns on Ari, Violet is there to comfort her and just be there for her.  I hope she gets more page time in the next book, because she deserves it.  I am so curious about her backstory, and will be disappointed if we don’t get more of it in book 2!

Fun read, great setting, awesome characters – you can’t ask for much more, other than – where’s the next book?!

Grade: A-

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Pucker Up by Rhonda Stapleton

 

Title: Pucker Up

Author: Rhonda Stapleton

Publisher: Simon Pulse

ISBN: 978-1416974666

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

In this irresistibly romantic trilogy, Felicity discovers that she’s no ordinary teen matchmaker…she’s a cupid!

Felicity can’t believe her luck. Her longtime crush is now officially her boyfriend, and just in time for prom. Felicity isn’t just smitten with Derek, she’s head-over-heels in love. So when she learns that her boss at Cupid’s Hollow used cupid magic to make Derek fall for her, Felicity is devastated. What will happen when the magic wears off?

Felicity has only two weeks to win Derek’s heart for real–no matter what it takes!

Review:

When I received this for review, I was a little apprehensive to dive into the book without having read the other Stupid Cupid novels.  That fear was unfounded, and I was immediately caught up in Felicity’s struggles to be the best cupid she can be, and to be a supportive girlfriend to Derek.  Derek also works as a cupid at Cupid’s Hollow, and Felicity is amazed at the success rate of his matches.  She is also a bit embarrassed at her own impulsive matching efforts.  Where Derek puts a lot of thought into and even refers to the cupid handbook before sending his matchmaking emails, Felicity has a more off her hip approach to her job.  When it blows up in her face, she begins questioning everything about her relationship with both her friends and with Derek.  To make matters worse, she is devastated to learn that her boss matched her up with Derek!  What will happen when the spell wears off?

I thought this was a very cute read.  Felicity is not the hardest working cupid out there, and her lackadaisical approach to her job is causing her all kinds of grief.  She had me cracking up because she over-analyzes everything.  Everything!  She is so consumed with doubts about both her job and her relationship with Derek that she starts lashing out at everyone.  I can certainly understand her apprehension!  Derek is, like, the perfect guy!  It’s almost irritating how wonderful he is!  He works hard at everything he does, and it shows in his performance.  For someone like Felicity, who is easily distracted and who looks for the easy way to do everything, Derek’s successes must have grated on her very last nerve.

Even though I haven’t read the other books in the series, I was able to understand the plot without any problems.  I liked both Felicity and the irritatingly perfect Derek, as well as Felicity’s group of friends.  I felt that I got to know Felicity very well through her rapid fire narrative, and I found her commentary amusing.  This was just the book I was in the mood for, and I enjoyed the humorous situations and Felicity’s quirks and her faults.  For a quick, light read, Pucker Up will keep you both entertained and amused.

Grade:  B

Review copy provided by publisher

Claire de Lune by Christine Johnson YA Novel Review

 

Title: Claire de Lune

Author: Christine Jonson

Publisher:  Simon Pulse

ISBN: 9781416991823

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Torn between two destinies?

Claire is having the perfect sixteenth birthday. Her pool party is a big success, and gorgeous Matthew keeps chatting and flirting with her as if she’s the only girl there. But that night, she discovers something that takes away all sense of normalcy: she’s a werewolf.

As Claire is initiated into the pack of female werewolves, she must deal not only with her changing identity, but also with a rogue werewolf who is putting everyone she knows in danger. Claire’s new life threatens her blossoming romance with Matthew, whose father is leading the werewolf hunt. Now burdened with a dark secret and pushing the boundaries of forbidden love, Claire is struggling to feel comfortable in either skin. With her lupine loyalty at odds with her human heart, she will make a choice that will change her forever?

Claire de Lune is a paranormal romance with my favorite slobbering beasties, werewolves.  I was really hyped to get into this book, but ultimately, it left me disappointed.  I love the premise and the setting, but the stilted, unconvincing dialog quickly grew wearying.  But I’m getting a little ahead myself, so let me back up a little here.

The story starts as Claire, a shy and quiet young woman, is celebrating her 16th birthday.  Everything is going perfectly, and she even gets her secret wish when Matthew, her handsome classmate, flirts with her, ignoring all of the other girls at her party.  When the news of a brutal werewolf attack brings her party to an abrupt end, Claire’s euphoric mood is hardly disturbed.  Matthew came to her party, and he even promised to call her later.  Score!

Claire’s happy mood quickly comes crashing down when she learns the awful truth her mother has been hiding from her.  Claire is a werewolf, and now that she’s attained the ripe old age of 16, she is going to transform into one of the furry critters.  Suddenly, the irritating and itchy rash that has been driving her crazy for the past few days is the least of her problems.  She’s soon going to be sprouting hair everywhere, and that is going to make hanging out at the beach with a boyfriend very, very embarrassing.  Not to mention that learning you aren’t human will really, really wreak your day.

I love the premise of Claire de Lune, and enjoyed Christine Johnson’s take on werewolf lore.  She adds some unique twists to the mythos, and ratchets up the tension by creating a very real sense of danger that is spiraling out of control.  There is a rogue werewolf preying on humans, and Matthew’s father is a scientist intent on ridding the world of the werewolf threat.  Claire and Matthew encounter one roadblock after another, and each new obstacle challenges their blossoming romance.

So, what didn’t I like?  The character interactions were very stiff and awkward, and the dialog didn’t feel real to me.  The tension between Claire and her mother felt especially flat, and it didn’t draw me in to the conflict between them.  The dialog didn’t move the story forward, and instead bogged it down.  It rendered Claire and her cast mates bland and dreary imitations of what should have been vibrant and fiery characters.

While Claire de Lune didn’t knock my socks off, it does offer up an interesting take on the werewolf mythos, and Claire is a refreshing heroine who learns to accept herself for who, and what, is she really is.

Grade: C+

Review copy provided by publisher