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Book Review: Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst

“Don’t contact anyone from your past.  Don’t tell anyone about your past.  Forget the rules . . . and die.”

Eve remembers nothing of her past.  She is in witness protection.  They need her to remember and testify; she has escaped a serial killer that uses magic to kill his prey.  They say she knows something, but she isn’t sure what.  What if she doesn’t want to remember?  What if she knows more than she would like?

Sometimes she dreams.  There is a carnival tent.  Buttons being sewn onto her skin.  And she can do things, but she tries to keep this hidden.  What would people think if they found out what she could do?

While she is remembering, or at least trying to, Eve shelves books in the local library.  There she meets some others that see hints of who she is and what she can do.  And just like those that guard her in the witness protection program, their motives are sometimes questionable.  Do they want to help her – or exploit her: “This shouldn’t be a tough call. They plan to kill you, Eve. We don’t. Align yourself with us.” (p 157).

Conjured is a super freaky, updated take on Pinocchio.  It is a fascinating cross between haunting paranormal and serial killer thriller. If you, like me, like those kind of books, you will be gloriously satisfied with Conjured.  If you don’t, well, we’ll agree to disagree.  The magic is fascinating, and the storytelling has the slowly picking off a scab to reveal the bloody underneath quality to it.  The truth of who Eve is, where she came from, what she has seen and what she knows, is horrifically enthralling and a clever twist.  The ending has a breathless climax full of magic and confrontation.  And at the heart of it all is one of the most basic questions of the teenage years : who am I really?

“Lie. Lie to everyone until you know the truth.” 

4 out of 5 stars. Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst was published by Walker Books, an imprint of Bloomsbury, in September of 2013.  ISBN: 9780802734587.  Pair this with The Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby and books written by Neil Gaiman.

Decisions are Only the Beginning a guest post by Julie Anne Lindsey

I was originally going to blog about the lies people tell us “for our own good” and how infuriating that is because let’s face it, we’re all tougher than people think. Then, my daughter’s babysitter came over to play with her while I wrote and plans changed. Babysitter was clearly in a funk and with a little coaxing she emptied her soul. “How am I supposed to pick a college when I can’t even pick out a dress for next weekend?” This was the beginning of a long talk. 

The list of decisions she felt pressured to make without enough time to think them through was extensive. Her life was in upheaval and no one noticed. Too many decisions. Never enough time. Always multi-tasking. Pulled in every direction and expected to smile. She wasn’t smiling. We cashed an entire pizza and half a two liter on this topic. The girl in despair at my kitchen table is entering her junior year of high school, but she was as desperate and burnt out as a woman twice her age. AKA my age. I had no idea. She’d hidden it so well before that day. I came out of the conversation with two key realizations. I think these are things we all know, but forget over time. I thought I’d blog about them while they’re fresh on my heart and in my mind.

1.      Teen are under far more pressure today than adults give them credit. On top of social dramas (ie best friends, boyfriends, teachers and bullies) and extra-curricular commitments (sports teams, school clubs and committees, plus homework), teens manage a full time workload at school which takes their entire day, part time jobs in the afternoons or evening and weekends, and volunteer positions, helping with the house or siblings and they navigate a maze of very complicated, deeply personal things every single day that no one sees. That’s a whole heck of a lot of pressure.
2.      It’s not really about the decisions. It’s about the aftermath. Everyone makes tough decisions, many of them are made poorly, but how we deal with the choices is what matters. 

When I look at what I’m reading with these two points in mind, I see it clearly depicted in my favorite stories. It doesn’t matter if the YA is contemporary or paranormal. The heroine can discover she’s been lied to her whole life and a serial killer has come to kill her, like in my story, Deceived, or the heroine may turn sixteen and have to choose between factions in her dystopian world, like the Divergent series, or the heroine may discover she’s pregnant. She may even learn she’s actually a Shadow hunter. Whatever the decision she faces, in every single case, no matter the setting or circumstance, the real story begins after the decision. No one cares how or why things happen, they want to know what you’re going to do about it. Okay, they might wonder how and why at first, but those things fade fast and all that’s left is the way we move forward.
Decisions and situations are fleeting. Nothing last forever. Not the tough times and definitely never the amazing ones. What it comes down to is that we make decisions and move forward. The beauty is that many decisions can be changed, even the hard ones. 
Sometimes the decisions are less scary/dangerous and more overwhelming in a paperwork and relocation kind of way. Like college. Choosing a college is daunting work. There are so many things to consider, from tuition to housing to geography, availability of on campus jobs, public transportation and financial aid. That’s just a short list, and where you attend college will likely change the course of your life. It’s huge. As permanent as college seems, you can change that too. 
No matter which decision has its hands around your heart or throat, it will pass. A decision will be made and then we have to live with the outcome…or make another decision to change that, outcome. For every heart-warming, awe-inspiring story of a teen overcoming the odds, there are dozens of similar stories that end poorly. The difference in how we perceive their stories is their reaction to the decision, ie: the aftermath. Do we accept the mistakes we make, lift our chins and do great things in spite of our past errors in judgment or do we wallow in one mistake that seems to define us and make a dozen more just like it? Justifying the downward spiral with lame words and thoughts like, “What can I say? I’m a screw-up.” Well….knock it off.
Life hands out a myriad trials and tribulations. The circumstance play out in each life differently. What matters a year later isn’t that it happened. What matters is what happened next
 
I didn’t get to write the post I had in mind, but I did get to know one young lady better. She faced many tougher things than choosing a college, but sometimes it’s that final straw that tips us over the edge of self-control. Choosing a dress for a wedding she didn’t think she had time to attend was the straw for her. I had no idea the personal battles she underwent daily, but what happens next is all up to her. I have faith she’ll come through her struggles stronger for the experiences and will one day be a great help to another girl in her place. She has many big decisions to make, but the good news is decisions are just the beginning.
DECEIVED by Julie Anne Lindsey

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=imGynqj2CUU]
Ever since she could remember, Elle has had to hop from town to town to keep up with her dad’s demanding career as a corporate insurance agent. Each time, a reoccurring nightmare followed her wherever she went–until the day that the frightening figures haunting her at night became all too real. When news of a serial killer spreads throughout her new school, Elle worries that the Reaper has been leaving her his calling card in the form of cigarette butts on her doormat and an unusual ribbon in her locker. With the help of Brian, a boy she meets at a flea market, she discovers that this isn’t her first encounter with the murderer and that her father has been concealing her true identity for the past twelve years. But despite her father’s desperate attempts to protect her, Elle still comes face to face with the darkness she has been running from her whole life. Trapped in the woods and with help hundreds of miles away, will Elle be able to confront the Reaper and reclaim the life she lost?

Available September 18th on Amazon Barnes & Noble Book Depository and more.
About Julie:
Julie Anne Lindsey is a multi-genre author who writes the stories that keep her up at night. In 2013, Julie welcomes five new releases in three genres including her newest title, DECEIVED, a YA suspense from Merit Press, and her first cozy mystery, MURDER BY THE SEASIDE, book one in the Patience Price, Counselor at Large series from Carina Press (a digital imprint of Harlequin). 
Julie is a self-proclaimed word nerd who would rather read than almost anything else. She started writing to make people smile. Someday she plans to change the world. Most days you’ll find her online, amped up on caffeine and wielding a book.
Julie is a member of the International Thriller Writers (ITW), Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI), Sisters in Crime (SinC) and the Canton Writer’s Guild.
Find her online:
Tweeting her crazy @JulieALindsey
Soothing her book obsession on GoodReads
Pinning the pretty on Pinterest
Tumbling lamely on Tumblr
Blogging about books and writing at Musings from the Slush Pile

Thursday Throwdown: 80’s Movie Serial Killers

We’ve been talking about all sorts of horror and things lately (see My Horrific Life or I Eat Cereal But I Am Not A Serial Killer), and more will come throughout October.  I am a fan of the 80’s horror movies, back when you knew that the blood was fake and the killers were behind masks.  So I ask you, lovers of horror, if you put them in the ring, who would make it out to terrorize the rest of us?
Freddy Krueger, of Nightmare of Elm Street fame, created by Wes Craven, the serial killer who will get you while you are sleeping (and drowned a young Johnny Depp in a water bed)


OR

Jason Vorhees, from the Friday the 13th series, created by Victor Miller, driven by his rage over being near drowned as a child and the actions of his tormentors (best known for his hockey mask visage, although that doesn’t show up until the third film)

OR

Charles Lee Ray (a.k.a. Chucky), from the Child’s Play series, created by Don Mancini, the serial killer who sought to escape the police and death by placing his soul into a Good Guy doll, and trying to transfer himself into a human body (which was really creepy because my brother had a My Buddy doll)

OR

Michael Meyers, from the Halloween series, created by John Carpenter, who starts his killing spree by killing his older sister at the age of six, then goes on throughout the franchise to attack more teenagers and his youngest sister (known for his white, unpainted William Shatner mask)

Which do you think would win?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!

I eat cereal, but I am not a serial killer (Serial Killers in YA Lit)

This is a completely true story:  One day I was picking my 6 year-old daughter up from Vacation Bible School and when I asked her how it was she said, “It was good.  No one put duct tape on my mouth and locked me in the trunk.”  As you can imagine, this was not the answer I was expecting.  I was thinking she would say, “It was nice to see my friends” or “The snack was good” or “We learned that Jesus loved us”.  Where, you might ask, would a 6 year-old get such a bizarre answer?  Well, you see, I watch Criminal Minds and occasionally, she comes into my room late at night while I’m watching it.  I turn the channel as fast as I can, but yeah, she has seen some of it. (We’re totally not a normal family, are we?)

The appeal of shows like Criminal Minds isn’t necessarily the serial killer, but the comfort in knowing that the serial killer can be found and stopped.  We like to dip our toes into the darkness sometimes, but most of us want to know that at the end of the day (at the end of the book, movie or tv show), the light will shine again.  Lately, serial killers have been slaying in the pages of YA lit.  Who’s making a killing? Read on . . .

The first time I remember reading about a serial killer in YA lit came in the book Tenderness by Robert Cormier.  Tenderness is the story of a teenage serial killer and the young girl who falls in love with him.  I’m not really sure why people fall in love with serial killers, but it apparently happens A LOT.  Tenderness is obviously a very dark book – I mean hello, Robert Cormier wrote it – but it was also a really well written book.  Tenderness was an ALA Best Book for Young Adults.

Last year I had the joy of reading The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson.  The Name of the Star is an interesting twist on the Jack the Ripper tale.  And who isn’t fascinated by Jack the Ripper? (I know some smarty pants reading this is raising their hand and saying me, I’m not fascinated by Jack the Ripper.  Put your hand down and read on.)  When Rory arrives in London to attend school, a series of killings that mimic Jack the Ripper start happening.  The twists in this book are very cool.  I can’t tell you what they are because it will totally ruin the book for you, you’ll have to trust me. There is a sequel, The Madness Underneath, coming in March 2013.

I have previously reviewed I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga (read it here), but it is a very compelling look at what it is like to grow up as the son of one of the world’s most notorious serial killers.  Is Jazz destined to be a serial killer like his father? Think Dexter for teens, except Jazz has more heart than Dexter and I am seriously rooting for him.  Because you will want to read more about Jazz, there is a sequel called Game coming.


Velveteen by Daniel Marks is the story of Velveteen Monroe, who is now a ghost.  Velveteen slips in and out of purgatory to torment her serial killer and try and stop him form killing again.  The beginning of this book was so very good – seriously, the Bonesaw parts are amazing.  But when Velveteen slipped into purgatory for the first time there were a lot of characters and world building to sort out and it really slowed down the reading for me.  I’m not sure the concept worked as well as Marks wanted it to, but if you make it through the initial stages of purgatory (no pun intended – okay, maybe a little intended), then Velveteen becomes a satisfying read.


Acceleration by Graham McNamee is one of those sleeper books that just sneaks up on you.  It has never gotten the buzz of a lot of other titles, but it is a good, adrenaline filled read.  Duncan is working in the lost and found of the Toronto subway when he finds a leather journal.  Bored and curious, he begins to thumb through the pages and makes a disturbing discovery:  This journal belongs to a serial killer who is researching his next victims.  Can Duncan stop the serial killer, or will he become the next victim?

Can you guess who Ripper by Stefan Petrucha is about?  I love the tag line: You thought you knew him. You were dead wrong.  The young orphan Carver dreams of becoming a detective, in part so he can track down his biological father.  Soon, he finds himself a part of the Pinkerton Agency, and a part of the investigation of a deadly serial killer.  Loyalties will be tested.

“John Wayne Cleaver is dangerous and he knows it.” See, with a name like cleaver, he is destined to be a serial killer.  But in I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells, John is trying hard not to be one – which I totally support as a goal. When a body turns up at the local Wash-N-Dry, he knows something different is going on. There is a sequel, Mr. Monster.

What if you used your psychics gifts to travel back in time to solve the mystery of Jack the Ripper only to find out that he was part of the family?  That’s what happens in My Grandfather Jack the Ripper by Claudio Apone.

In Wish You Were Dead by Todd Strasser, Str-S-d writes the names of those he (or she) wishes were dead and then they die.  This is one blog you don’t want to show up on. I’ll begin with Lucy. She is definitely first on the list. You can’t believe how it feels to be in the cafeteria and turn around and there she is staring at me like I’m some disgusting bug or vermin. Does she really think I WANT to be this way? I hate you, Lucy. I really hate you. You are my #1 pick. I wish you were dead.

When I was in school, way back before there was color TV (I kid), we had earthquake and tornado drills instead of “what to do when a serial killer with a gun comes into your school and wants to relive Columbine” drills.  My daughter had her first one in Kindergarten (for the record, she is only in 4th grade now – I am not THAT old).  But you know, creating a Hate List of people you want to kill would in fact make you a serial killer – which is exactly what the very excellent Hate List by Jennifer Brown is all about.  In all seriousness (what? I can totally do serious) this is some seriously good contemporary fiction, read it.

Bonus: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver is not in any way, shape or form a young adult book.  But it is a seriously good book and older teens reading Stephen King and Dean Koontz can definitely handle this.  It is deep, moving, disturbing, worrying, questioning . . . especially if you are a mother.  This is hands down one of my favorite adult books. I have even lead book discussion groups about it.  But it is also a love it or hate it kind of book.  The central question is this: As a mother, what happens if you notice something is not quite right with your child?  And are you to blame?

Want more serial killers?  Check out this Tagmash on Library Thing or this Kirkus blog or, better yet, share your favorites with us in the comments and talk about the ones above.  Why do you think we are drawn to serial killers as readers? 

Please note: No cereal was harmed in the making of this post.  Well, I did have to eat the bowl of cereal pictured above.  You wouldn’t want it to go to waste.