Book Review of Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst: a Mind-Bending Read

I actually read four books this week, but I find myself capable of only reviewing one. I reviewed one of the four–Get Out of My Life–last week here, and I can’t review two of them here due to my policy of not reviewing books here if I can’t given them more than three stars out of ten, so I sent constructive, private, and detailed information to their publishers via the channel from which I obtained them. I’m excited to review the fourth book–Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst–because it provided a lot of material for both my imagination and analytical mind. It was truly a haunting, mind-bending read.

Conjured is the story of a girl named Eve who dreams of a tattered carnival tent, a machiavellian Magician, and a Storyteller who sews buttons into Eve’s skin. These dreams are the only clues she can provide about the serial killer who stalks her to the agents of the witness protection agency she’s protected by during the day. Those dreams cost her memories, so that she is constantly amnesic even as the agency pushes her to envision more clues to the identity of her stalker to prevent not only her death but the deaths of others. It is a plot that grips by virtue of its mystery, and Durst masterfully releases details in the form of dreams at just the right pace to keep the reader intrigued but not mystified. Like the bread crumbs of the Hansel and Gretel tale, they sate the reader just enough to read a few more pages until more are provided.

Those detail “crumbs” lead to a climax that is as mind-bending and macabre as the ending of Hansel and Gretel. At the risk of spoiling the ending, remember that the boy and girl in that tale find themselves entrapped in a house made of candy and sweets, the very things they feel so deprived of. The hag who owns the house and entraps them desires to eat them, but they are eventually able to use that desire against her to defeat her by the same means she was going to use to eat them. By that same token, Eve, in pursuit of the memory she wants so badly to return, finds her way to the Magician, with a boy by her side, and becomes entrapped by him.

If one reads this book with the idea in mind that this story is very much a modern re-telling of Hansel and Gretel, Conjured makes much more sense and seems much less…weird. If one takes it literally, as one is tempted to do by the narrative of Eve’s interactions with the agency (which is the first two-thirds of the book), one will be totally thrown off by the last third. But if the reader takes all of it literally–the narrative, the interactions, her dreams, all of it–one will take the ending in stride and remark at how they didn’t see the similarities between this book and the tale published more then two centuries ago until they’d finished it. They will also marvel, as did I, at the deftness with which Durst unravels such a twisted yet obvious plot; Eve’s story could not have ended in any other way than the way in which it did end, given the beginning.



Book Review: Ever the Hunted, a Compelling Read

So, if we’re friends on Goodreads, you’ll notice that I’m again reading a plethora of books: Taking Charge of ADHD by Russell A. Barkley, Phd; A Writer’s Guide to Persistence by Jordan Rosenfeld; Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal; and Get Out of my Life by Anthony Wolf. This week, I finished reading Ever the Hunted by Erin Summerill. It was a whirlwind read, one that made me forget all the other books I was reading, and life in general, while I sped through its pages. While there were a couple of plot points that didn’t make sense to me, fit in with the pace of the plot, or seem entirely plausible, it was overall a very compelling read.

The story follows Britta Flannery, an orphaned teenager in an unruly kingdom. While her father taught her well to defend and provide for herself before he was murdered, she is not prepared to find out that the person who killed him is none other than her only friend, her father’s apprentice, a boy she hasn’t seen in over a year. When she’s told she must find him and turn him in to be executed for the crime, on pain of her own life being forfeit, she feels she has no choice but to agree. She’s assigned three guards who push her relentlessly to find him, but when she does everything changes.

And it does, in more ways than one, but in order to tell you how they change and discuss those plot points that didn’t make sense to me, I’d have to spoil most of the story, and I don’t want to do that. I want you to read this book too, and then comment on this post, so that we can have a discussion about it. Maybe they’ll make sense to you. They concern Captain Omar, one of the three guards, the wandering they do, and Britta’s motives in the final scenes. They also concern the cliffhanger ending.

You’d think, with this being said, that I wouldn’t have liked the book, but I did, very much so. I can only give it .5 out of two stars for plot, but everything else–characters, setting, style, etc.–is wonderful. I think Summerill’s writing is what really makes this book stand apart. Her style is so original and intense, it’s like pure, cold mountain water.  It’s flowing, bracing, and invigorating. Take this line for example:

“We travel along the hills, hiding in the brush and patches of trees running parallel to the road. Clouds form in the west, gray beasts that slink away from the ocean, growling in an untamed approach.” It’s not hard to envision the setting she portrays, even though it’s imaginary and unlike modern day.

It’s even less difficult to relate to the roil of emotions Britta experiences in her journey to find her father’s murder and then reclaim her life and even those of her countrymen, even though very few readers of this book are orphaned teenagers seeking their father’s murderers. She seemed not only real and relatable, but worthy of my encouragement.

So, out of ten stars (the way I rate books), I give it 8.5. Read it too, and let me know what you think! Be forewarned that it’s part of a series, and the next book Ever the Brave doesn’t come out until December, but know also that the moment I finished Ever the Hunted, I pre-ordered Ever the Brave.

Happy reading!

Three Book Reviews in One: The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski

This week, I give you three book reviews in one: The Winner’s Curse, The Winner’s Crime, and The Winner’s Kiss, all part of the Winner’s trilogy by Marie Rutkoski. Altogether a rousing and emotional, if somewhat ponderous, speculative fantasy series about a young woman, Kestrel, who is the daughter of a general, the owner of a slave, and an unwilling lynchpin in an emperor’s plan for domination.


16069030The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can’t agree with this review more, left by Goodreads reviewer Kim: “I can’t speak to the hype, but I can speak to the quality of the book. This is a very, very good YA fantasy. Superb world-building without info-dumping. Well-rounded characters and a romance that allows for the hero and heroine to actually get to know one another. Clean, spare writing that at times, especially toward the end, rises to lyrical beauty. Intelligent—I can’t emphasize that enough—intelligent plotting and strategy (an essential but often sadly underdeveloped element of any book involving politics). Interesting, thought-provoking nuances of slavery, empires, war, and freedom. And an end that allows for the complexity of the book’s cultures and characters and, while setting up for a sequel, also works well as the finish to a standalone volume.”







20443207The Winner’s Crime
by Marie Rutkoski

This one got a bit more ponderous, but still packs quite an emotional punch.













20443235The Winner’s Kiss
by Marie Rutkoski
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I was absolutely enthralled with book one of this series, The Winner’s Curse, I was less so with book two, The Winner’s Crime, and even less so with the final book. This book delved too deeply into military strategy and the complexities of Kestrel’s relationships with her dad and with Arin for my taste. It bogged down the plot immensely, I thought, until it was so heavy it could only plod along. Still, it was worth reading the entire series.


Book Reviews: Willowkeep and Winner’s Curse

This week, I finished reading two books, got half-way through another good one, read two NetGalley ARCs that need more work before they are publishable, and wrote the first 4,000 words of my next book. It’s been a crazy week book-wise, and this was in addition to work, getting my kids back into the school/homework routine, helping my husband find a little bit of comfort while he’s dealing with calcific tendonitis, not getting picked for #PitchWars, finding out one of my cousins was almost killed by a semi-truck and that the father of one of my best friends died. So, I guess it was a crazy week life-wise too.  I’m always reading, but I seek that literary haven more the crazier life gets. So, forgive me if I review more than one book in this post.

First, let me tell you about the two books I finished: Willowkeep by Julie Daines and Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski.

Book Review: Willowkeep


Julie Daines is a friend of mine through our writers’ club. I was a beta reader for her book Eleanor and the Iron King, which I loved. I bought my copy of Willowkeep several months ago. It’s a Regency romance about a young woman, Charlotte Darby, who inherits a vast estate and is thus pulled out of the poverty that she and her little sister were raised in. It is also very much about the steward of the estate Charlotte inherits, a young man named Henry Morland, who comes to care for her as she transitions into her new role, and she for him, but they are restrained by their disparate situations, especially since his seems to be worse than hers was, and by those who plot to get Charlotte’s newfound fortune.

In some ways, it is very much a typical Regency romance, the development of the plot and of some of the minor characters dictated by the societal rules of the time and the roles they forced people into. And the names of some of the characters seemed already familiar, common in classic books of that era. But in more important ways, it is not typical. The setting, for instance, includes Charlotte’s hometown of Hull.  It is a harsh place, not only because of the trade upon which it is based (fishing), but because of the things that happened to Charlotte’s parents and siblings there. The depictions of those events give the setting and story more of a depth, even a darker element, than many other modern-published Regency books.

More importantly, though, the characters of Charlotte and Henry seemed particularly fresh to me. Charlotte never loses her cockney accent and never really tries to adopt the protocols of elite society. These omissions are not done out of any kind of spite; they just seem to be a natural effect of her general naivete and fierce love for her sister, who is developmentally disabled. Henry shows himself to be more than a proper steward when he develops a special knack for helping Charlotte’s sister, which ends up playing a crucial part in transitioning the plot from routine Regency to a sophisticated, emotion-driven saga. It is for that reason that I found this book to be a delight.

Winner’s Curse

Winner's Curse coverAfter Willowkeep, I immediately started and finished Winner’s Curse, and finished it within a couple of days. It was quite different from Willowkeep, but I loved it as well. It is a speculative fiction novel based on the purchase of a slave by the main character, Kestrel, and the development of an unexpected, ill-fated relationship between her and the slave. Though it “ended” with a total cliffhanger, it was beautifully-written, well-imagined, and intense. That’s one of my favorite words to use when describing books. I love for them to be intense.

If you’re thinking of reading this book, be warned: don’t buy or check it out without also checking out or buying its sequels Winner’s Crime and Winner’s Kiss because the story doesn’t end at the end of book one. And you’ll want to read this one all the way through, as I have.

Now, I’m reading Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal. It’s Regency magic. It’s Regency romance and magic–two elements that I’ve never seen combined in one book before! I’m enjoying it very much, and can’t wait to finish it and tell you about it.

My Book

While my first manuscript, Forced, is in the querying stage again, I’ve started writing another book. I feel like I shouldn’t be; it’s very, very hard to keep going when one is so busy and when one has faced so many rejections. But this story–which I hope will be a sort-of YA prequel to Inception, with a touch of Forty First Dates and Maze Runner–feels too exciting to not write, so I’ll give it a try. This is very much my way of being crazy.


What books have you been reading or writing this week? Tell me about them!