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….


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….


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….


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