Interview with Phillippe Diederich and Giveaway

fireToday we welcome Phillippe Diederich as he shares his newest book Playing for the Devil’s Fire which we reviewed here.

 

Thirteen-year-old Boli and his friends are deep in the middle of a game of marbles. An older boy named Mosca has won the prized Devil’s Fire marble. His pals are jealous and want to win it away from him. This is Izayoc, the place of tears, a small pueblo in a tiny valley west of Mexico City where nothing much happens. It’s a typical hot Sunday morning except that on the way to church someone discovers the severed head of Enrique Quintanilla propped on the ledge of one of the cement planters in the plaza and everything changes. Not apocalyptic changes, like phalanxes of men riding on horses with stingers for tails, but subtle ones: poor neighbors turning up with brand-new SUVs, pimpled teens with fancy girls hanging off them. Boli’s parents leave for Toluca and don’t arrive at their destination. No one will talk about it. A washed out masked wrestler turns up one day, a man only interested in finding his next meal. Boli hopes to inspire the luchador to set out with him to find his parents.


What would you like us to know about Playing for the Devil’s Fire?

I was attempting to write an entertaining story that also showed the problems rural Mexican’s are experiencing with the violence of the narcos and the corruption of officials. The one thing I didn’t want to do was preach to anyone. My hope is that the book is an engrossing read for young and old alike.

Your first novel Sofrito was for adults. What led you to writing for a younger audience? Were there major differences in your writing experience with a younger main character?

Sofrito was my first novel. The first draft was completed many years ago. That story was born of a nostalgia for Cuba where I have been spending a lot of time back inn the 1990s. Playing for the Devil’s Fire was born out of a similar nostalgia, but this time it was for Mexico, where I grew up. I was not really approaching the book as a young adult book. I was just writing a coming of age story in this violent and difficult scenario. One of the issues with a young main character, especially one that is the ‘voice’ of the novel, is that you have to temper your literary impulses. By this I mean that a 12 or 13 year old boy is not going to speak like a 40 something writer. You have to be absolutely faithful to your character and let him narrate the way he would narrate. In other words. I didn’t  write the book Boli, the main character of my story, did. I prepared for this by writing a number of coming of age stories before attempting the novel.

Your main character, Boli, is a reminder that children are resilient. I appreciated his ability to maintain hope in spite of the many horrors happening in his community and family. How did this character come about for you?

Like I said, I had written a number of short stories where I had sensitive and resilient characters in a world that does not appreciate that personality type. I also drew heavily on my own experiences, growing up in the outskirts of Mexico City with a band of boys running wild and without supervision. We were between ages 8 and 15. There are a lot of dynamics in a group like that. But Boli is his own self. As I developed the story he came alive and led the way. I always try and listen to my characters. Boli told me what to do.

Are there reflections of your own childhood hidden within the pages of the book?

As I mentioned above, some of the main character and the dynamics of the young people in the novel are rooted in part in my experiences growing up in Mexico. Just like the scene in the ravine and they find the wreck of an old car, I experienced that with my friends while exploring the ravines around our neighborhood. The fair, the poor neighborhoods, the dynamics of the Devil’s Fire marble, it all comes from something I experienced in my youth.

Are you still a lucha libre fan? Do you have an all-time favorite wrestler?

I am not longer a huge fan. But I like lucha. I don’t follow it. I like the small affairs in Mexico or even here in the states, when the luchadores are not big names and the ring is set up in a street fair or a small auditorium. It’s more intimate. I grew up with the lucha movies. And the scene where Lucio tells Boli that he met Mil Mascaras happened to me when I was on a tour of Churubusco studios with my father. It was pretty cool.

Did your life as a photographer help to prepare you as a writer?

I think it did. First of all I am told I write visually. And no doubt that comes from my experience as a photographer. Also, being a photojournalist allowed me to travel extensively and to meet people I would have otherwise not met. I was a very shy kid and even as a young photographer, I was petrified of approaching people I didn’t know, but I also believed in facing my fears. My work as a photojournalist allowed me to break that. It gave me license to walk up to people on a street corner and start talking to them, ask questions, learn what their situation was.

Which writers have inspired you?

I think John Steinbeck is my biggest inspiration. I find his work very humanistic. His empathy toward his characters is amazing. I think he inspires my stories and my characters. I also admire the work of Earnest Hemingway because of his style and he was probably the writer whose work brought me into reading a lot. I think that without For Whom The Bell Tolls, I would not be a writer because that book started me back on reading obsessively. There are a lot of other writers like Cormac McCarthy and Junot Diaz. I am very eclectic. I like good stories and writing that allows me to forget that I am reading a book.

Have you read any young adult books lately that you would recommend?

I read Gabi: A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quinetro at the recommendation of my editor at Cinco Puntos Press. I think it’s a great book. Drown by Junot Diaz is not a young adult book, but it has a young protagonist in most of the stories and I think it is the kind of book young Latinos would enjoy. Anything by Sherman Alexie and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. I read those with my son and we were both very entertained.

 


phillippe
Phillippe Diederich was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Mexico City and Miami. His parents were forced out of Haiti by the dictatorship of Papa Doc Duvalier in 1963. As a photojournalist, Diederich has traveled extensively through Mexico and witnessed the terrible tragedies of the Drug Wars.

To learn more, visit other stops on the blog tour:

Sept 1: The Pirate Tree review & interview

Sept 4: Guest Post for Clear Eyes, Full Shelves

Sept 5: Review, The Brain Lair

Sept 6: Rich in Color author interview (http://richincolor.com)

September 7: Edi Campbell CrazyquiltEdi review (https://campbele.wordpress.com)

September 8: Anastasia Suen, #KidLitBookoftheday (asuen.com)

September 9: Reading Through Life author highlight plus links to blog tour  (http://readingtl.blogspot.com)

Sept 9: Guest Post, The Brain Lair (http://www.thebrainlair.com)

Sept. 12: Linda Washington (https://lmarie7b.wordpress.com/)

Sept. 13: Excerpt, review and guest post at Mom Read It (https://momreadit.wordpress.com/)


If you are interested in reading the book, you have an opportunity to win a copy. Only those with a U.S. mailing address are eligible for this drawing.

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Book Review: The Smaller Evil

evilTitle: The Smaller Evil
Author: Stephanie Kuehn
Genres:  Contemporary, Mystery
Pages: 256
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: ARC from Stephanie herself. Thank You!
Availability: Available Aug. 2nd

Summary: Sometimes the greater good requires the smaller evil.

17-year-old Arman Dukoff is struggling with severe anxiety and a history of self-loathing when he arrives at an expensive self-help retreat in the remote hills of Big Sur. He’s taken a huge risk—and two-thousand dollars from his meth-head stepfather—for a chance to “evolve,” as Beau, the retreat leader, says.

Beau is complicated. A father figure? A cult leader? A con man? Arman’s not sure, but more than anyone he’s ever met, Beau makes Arman feel something other than what he usually feels—worthless.

The retreat compound is secluded in coastal California mountains among towering redwoods, and when the iron gates close behind him, Arman believes for a moment that he can get better. But the program is a blur of jargon, bizarre rituals, and incomprehensible encounters with a beautiful girl. Arman is certain he’s failing everything. But Beau disagrees; he thinks Arman has a bright future—though he never says at what.

And then, in an instant Arman can’t believe or totally recall, Beau is gone. Suicide? Or murder? Arman was the only witness and now the compound is getting tense. And maybe dangerous.

As the mysteries and paradoxes multiply and the hints become accusations, Arman must rely on the person he’s always trusted the least: himself.

Review: One of the reasons I love Stephanie Keuhn’s books is because they not only are they thrilling mysteries, but they also explore the very mystery of how our mind works in all it’s complicated beauty. The characters in her books are all struggling with living with mental illness, both diagnosed and undiagnosed, in their daily lives and struggling with all the usual angst that being a teenager brings. And, in Keuhn’s books, things are always never what they seem. And in her 4th novel, the reader is taken on an journey that has them just as confused as the main character Arman, which isn’t a bad thing, it just means the mystery was so well plotted that there is no way the reader can figure it out until the reveal. And I love that in a book.

As I mentioned, all of the protagonists in Keuhn’s books struggle with mental illness, Arman is her most touching yet. Arman suffers from severe anxiety, almost crippling at times, and feels that the Evolve retreat is what will heal him. He is on medication to help him with his anxiety, but it doesn’t really help him at all. The self-doubt, the self-loathing, the depression that he feels is so strong that he truly believes he does not have any worth to society, and this completely broke my heart for him. Having the novel be so close inside Arman’s head truly give a glimpse of what someone with severe anxiety and depression goes through, how their own thoughts hamper them from truly functioning sometimes. Arman would often try to pump himself up, but then his self-doubt, which was much stronger than his self-love, would take over and he would not trust any progress he made while at the retreat center. Compounding his low self-worth is that when Beau disappears, no one initially believes him which doesn’t help Arman’s state of mind in the slightest. However, this is also where Arman shows great strength and grows as a character. It is for his admiration of Beau that Arman doesn’t allow himself to let his self-doubt and anxiety take control. Arman knows, desires, to figure out what happened to Beau so he constantly fights with his own brain, his low self-esteem, and really fights to have his voice heard. His purpose drives him, and while it cannot cure him from his mental illness, it does allow to find a way to work with his illness.

As for the mystery surrounding Beau’s disappearance, as well as what is exactly going on at the retreat center, I can’t exactly say without giving spoilers, but I can say that at no point did I even come close to figuring it out. There were moments where I felt Arman’s frustration with being so left in the dark without any clues as to what was really going on in the story. Well, I take that back. There was tension between Beau and other leaders of the retreat center and I saw what that place was in danger of becoming, which added an extra level of concern for Arman because his spirit is in such a vulnerable position, that certain member of the retreat center could exploit if they wanted. Luckily, Beau and Arman’s mutual appreciation of each other was well known, so Arman was never in real danger.

Overall, I’m kind of in the middle with my thoughts on “The Smaller Evil”. It is a slow paced, quiet book that feels different from Keuhn’s previous books that had a lot of movement to it. This novel takes place primarily at the retreat center, and Keuhn does a great job of giving the reader a sense of place with her descriptions, but I feel that because the setting is in one place, the story just moves a bit too slowly. Also, my heart totally broke for Arman so I struggled with reading because I just wanted Arman to get the true help he needed and the retreat center was so not the place. It changes him, as all experiences do, but I wonder how much damage it did as well. This novel grabs your heart for Arman and doesn’t let go. It is a hard read at times because Keuhn does a great job with Arman’s neurosis and you truly, truly feel his pain. Because after all, that is what Keuhn excels at.

Recommendation: Get it soon.

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Review: Secrets, Lies & Scandals

Secrets Lies and ScandalsTitle: Secrets, Lies, & Scandals
Author: Amanda K. Morgan
Genres: Contemporary, Thriller
Pages: 352
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Review Copy: ARC received from publisher
Availability: Available July 5

Summary: In the tradition of I Know What You Did Last Summer and How to Get Away with Murder, five teens must overcome their paranoia in order to keep their teacher’s death a secret in this fast-paced suspense thriller.

Nothing ruins summer vacation like a secret…especially when it involves a dead teacher.

Ivy used to be on top of the social ladder, until her ex made that all go away. She has a chance to be Queen Bee again, but only if the rest of the group can keep quiet.

Tyler has always been a bad boy, but lately he’s been running low on second chances. There’s no way he’s going to lose everything because someone couldn’t keep their mouth shut.

Kinley wouldn’t describe herself as perfect, though everyone else would. But perfection comes at a price, and there is nothing she wouldn’t do to keep her perfect record—one that doesn’t include murder charges.

Mattie is only in town for the summer. He wasn’t looking to make friends, and he definitely wasn’t looking to be involved in a murder. He’s also not looking to be riddled with guilt for the rest of his life…but to prevent that he’ll have to turn them all in.

Cade couldn’t care less about the body, or about the pact to keep the secret. The only way to be innocent is for someone else to be found guilty. Now he just has to decide who that someone will be.

With the police hot on the case, they don’t have much time to figure out how to trust each other. But in order to take the lead, you have to be first in line…and that’s the quickest way to get stabbed in the back.

Review: I wanted to like Secrets, Lies, & Scandals more than I did, especially since I’m sure there will be many people who love it. A lot of my disappointment stems from specific-to-me pet peeves; other disappointments are less subjective.

Amanda K. Morgan did an admirable job of giving the five students distinct voices and points of view in the alternating, sometimes fragmented story. Only Kinley and Cade are people of color, but they are allowed a proportionate amount of chapters. The strict adherence to the established chapter order (Ivy, Mattie, Kinley, Tyler, Cade) felt like a misstep on occasion, but the short chapters enhanced the overall pace of the book, as did the short timeline. Roughly three weeks pass between the death of their teacher and the end of the book, so there is little time to linger on anything—or really feel like characters or relationships are allowed to develop properly.

Perhaps it is just my aro/ace self talking, but I just did not understand how two (two!) couples could (pseudo-)form under the stress of killing a teacher, disposing of the body, trying not to get caught, and contemplating throwing everyone else under the bus, but it happens in Secrets. (One of the characters does lampshade the fact that they’re making out approximately twenty feet from their teacher’s not-yet-cold corpse, but that just made me want to throw the book. Can we maybe put romance and hormones on hold for a couple hours? Please? There are actually more important things to be done and to worry about right now, I promise.) I wish both developing romances had been excised entirely in order to give more space for each character’s secrets/lies/scandals, because those were far more interesting, and some were woefully underdeveloped. The ending (and epilogue with a new narrator) is an exercise in frustration, where things are resolved too easily and then tanked at the last second (as a sequel hook?).

I also had several representation issues I had with the book. Stratford, the evil teacher, is repeatedly referred to as having an uneven gait and smile, and while those are both plot relevant (barely), it pinged pretty high for me on the “doesn’t-conform-to-societal-beauty-standards = evil” trope. I wasn’t that thrilled when a character lied about having a disability, either, in order to try to cover up some other wrongdoing. Another thing that frustrated me was the discovery that a character was bisexual—which was almost immediately followed up by the revelation that the character had cheated on their prior partner. To top all that off, another character’s secret is about severe mental illness in their family, and how rage, insanity, and murder are now part of their “family’s legacy.”

Recommendation: Just skip it. While there are some good things about the premise and the writing, they were overshadowed by a number of pet peeves and representation issues.

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New Releases

Here are two new releases for this week:

Summer of SloaneSummer of Sloane by Erin L. Schneider
Disney-Hyperion

Warm Hawaiian sun. Lazy beach days. Flirty texts with her boyfriend back in Seattle.

These are the things seventeen-year-old Sloane McIntyre pictured when she imagined the summer she’d be spending at her mom’s home in Hawaii with her twin brother, Penn. Instead, after learning an unthinkable secret about her boyfriend, Tyler, and best friend, Mick, all she has is a fractured hand and a completely shattered heart.

Once she arrives in Honolulu, though, Sloane hopes that Hawaii might just be the escape she needs. With beach bonfires, old friends, exotic food, and the wonders of a waterproof cast, there’s no reason Sloane shouldn’t enjoy her summer. And when she meets Finn McAllister, the handsome son of a hotel magnate who doesn’t always play by the rules, she knows he’s the perfect distraction from everything that’s so wrong back home.

But it turns out a measly ocean isn’t nearly enough to stop all the emails, texts, and voicemails from her ex-boyfriend and ex-best friend, desperate to explain away their betrayal. And as her casual connection with Finn grows deeper, Sloane’s carefree summer might not be as easy to find as she’d hoped. Weighing years of history with Mick and Tyler against their deception, and the delicate possibility of new love, Sloane must decide when to forgive, and when to live for herself.

Genius the GameGenius: The Game by Leopoldo Gout
Feiwel & Friends

Trust no one. Every camera is an eye. Every microphone an ear. Find me and we can stop him together.

The Game: Get ready for Zero Hour as 200 geniuses from around the world go head to head in a competition hand-devised by India’s youngest CEO and visionary.

The Players:
Rex- One of the best programmers/hackers in the world, this 16-year-old Mexican-American is determined to find his missing brother.

Tunde-This14-year-old self-taught engineering genius has drawn the attention of a ruthless military warlord by single-handedly bringing electricity and internet to his small Nigerian village.

Painted Wolf-One of China’s most respected activist bloggers, this mysterious 16-year-old is being pulled into the spotlight by her father’s new deal with a corrupt Chinese official.

The Stakes: Are higher than you can imagine. Like life and death. Welcome to the revolution. And get ready to run.

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Review: Future Shock

futureTitle: Future Shock
Author: Elizabeth Briggs
Genres: Science fiction, thriller
Pages: 272
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Review Copy: Received an e-ARC from the publisher via Netgalley
Availability: Available now

Summary: Elena Martinez has hidden her eidetic memory all her life–or so she thinks. When powerful tech giant Aether Corporation selects her for a top-secret project, she can’t say no. All she has to do is participate in a trip to the future to bring back data, and she’ll be set for life.

Elena joins a team of four other teens with special skills, including Adam, a science prodigy with his own reason for being there. But when the time travelers arrive in the future, something goes wrong and they break the only rule they were given: do not look into their own fates.

Now they have twenty-four hours to get back to the present and find a way to stop a seemingly inevitable future from unfolding. With time running out and deadly secrets uncovered, Elena must use her eidetic memory, street smarts, and a growing trust in Adam to save her new friends and herself.

Review: I wish I liked this book more than I did. There are some points in Future Shock’s favor, but several significant stumbling points (or, perhaps, personal pet peeves) kept the book from fulfilling its potential.

I’ve seen several people praise Future Shock for its diverse cast, but there were a few not-insignificant moments where I felt that representation was misguided or problematic. Chris’s introduction, for instance, involves him menacing Adam, the love interest, in his first line, and the text mentions Chris’s size three times (“the biggest guy in the room gets right up in [Adam’s] face,” “the first guy has to be double [Adam’s] size,” and “‘I know your type,’ the big guy says”) before describing his race. And if you happened to guess those things meant Chris was black, you probably would have sighed as much as I did when that was confirmed (right before a fourth mention of his size—“large, muscular arms”—and all before revealing Chris’s name). While Chris does gain more depth beyond the Scary Black Man stereotype, this introduction casts a long, sour shadow over his character, particularly every time he gets into a fight with another character. And anyone who has been following LGBTQIA representation in television in the last month or so won’t be surprised at all by Zoe’s fate.

While I think short timelines are wonderful for thrillers as they can help keep a story focused, the romance between Elena and Adam suffered greatly for it. I simply could not believe that these two fell for each other within, roughly, two days. The romance was distracting—I was far more interested in the deadly mysteries the present and the future had for them than whether or not the two of them were going to get together. I honestly wish that the time spent on the romance had been spent on developing Chris, Zoe, and Trent’s relationships with Elena instead, especially since those four were the ones at risk.

Elena was an engaging narrator whose initial “real-world” hurdles easily paved the way for her science-fiction adventure. As her fears about the future transitioned from ageing out of foster care to staying alive when her death was around the corner, I empathized with her fear, frustration, and desperation. While I didn’t find the ultimate mystery that difficult to solve as a reader, I did understand why Elena and the rest of her group would have struggled with it.

Recommendation: Just skip it. While the premise and the heroine are engaging, Future Shock falls short of what it could have been and features some questionable representation choices.

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Book Review: Endangered

newbirdTitle: Endangered
Author: Lamar Giles
Genres:  Contemporary, Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 280
Publisher: Harper Teen
Review Copy: ARC from Publisher
Availability: Available now

Summary: The one secret she cares about keeping—her identity—is about to be exposed. Unless Lauren “Panda” Daniels—an anonymous photoblogger who specializes in busting classmates and teachers in compromising positions—plays along with her blackmailer’s little game of Dare or . . . Dare.

But when the game turns deadly, Panda doesn’t know what to do. And she may need to step out of the shadows to save herself . . . and everyone else on the Admirer’s hit list.

Review: I had heard only great things about Lamar Gile’s latest book so I had high expectations and they were surely met. Endangered is a fun summer read that I picked up at just the right time. The novel moved at a quick pace as Panda tried to discover who the Admirer is, while her life spins out of control due to her own actions. I am often a bit wary of mysteries because I try, like most readers, to figure out “who done it” before the main character, and with Endangered, I didn’t figure it out who the Admirer was until Panda uncovered the clues. I love mysteries such as Endangered where the reader is consistently second guessing everything and being wrong. Once the Admirer was revealed, I thought back to the little clues that Giles left and marveled how the answers were there all along, but he masterly misdirected the clues keeping Panda, and the reader, guessing.

One of the many aspects of Endangered that I loved was the YA tropes that Giles subverts throughout the story. The first is Panda’s relationship with her parents. Both of her parents are involved, to a certain extent, in her life. Like any modern teen, Panda does have her secrets but when she realizes she needs their help, she doesn’t hesitate to share her knowledge with them. She confesses her double identity and her “game” with the Admirer and how it relates to the murder to a student. This creates tension between her and her parents throughout the rest of the book, but I greatly enjoyed that the parent/child relationship was realistic and present in the novel. Another trope that was inverted was the “romance” angle, if you could even call it that. Panda’s ex-boyfriend Taylor Durham, whom she clearly hates, re-enters the picture and ends up helping her sort out the mystery. While her feelings towards him change through the story, from animosity to friendship, he clearly still has feelings for her. She does recognize her old feelings for him, but the hurt he caused her keeps her guarded around him, initially. Through the events of the story, they slowly rebuild their friendship by forgiving each other and becoming honest with each other. It’s a very mature relationship and also very realistic. I guess, based on these two aspects alone, that I loved that fact people actually communicated with each other in the novel. One of the YA tropes, or rather literary tropes, that bug me is that in order for much of a novel to make sense, people don’t communicate their knowledge with each other creating misunderstandings to drive the story forward. Giles throws that trope out the window effectively showing us that a story can be exciting and entertaining even when folks are honest and communicate.

I loved the characters, Panda, especially. She is fiercely smart girl who believes she is handing out justice, while not realizing she’s doing the very same thing she accuses the bullies of. The reader completely understands Panda’s position and emotionally connects with why Panda exposes the dirt on her classmates, as some of them are truly despicable people. When her life starts to fall apart because her identity is exposed, Panda’s heartbreak and her desire to repair the hurt of others, specifically her friends, is really what makes Panda real. This line “We’re all something we don’t know we are” is repeated throughout the novel as Panda begins to recognize who she was and comes to learn who she really is. She learns to forgive those who hurt her, hurt others, and also learns to forgive herself.

Like I’ve stated many times before, Endangered is a very realistic novel in terms of how the characters relate to each other and the relationships, along with the mystery, is what makes this story so wonderful. I was drawn to not just Panda, but Taylor, and even the Admirer. In fact, once the Admirer is revealed, I actually felt sorrow for the character (and actually that reveal is a wonderful plot twist that I absolutely loved!). Giles wrote a novel that is thrilling and exciting on the surface, but so much deeper when you get to it’s heart.

Recommendation: If you love compelling mysteries with lots of twists and turns, get this soon!

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