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Posted April 30, 2013
This book is so many things: atmospheric, tense, suspenseful, heartbreaking, but also, uplifting, pro-feminist, a dash steampunk, and just, overall, really really good.
What’s more, the book is set in 1918, a year full of things that, in hindsight, seemed dystopian, almost post-apocalyptic, which is terrifying when you remember that everything that Cat Winters describes actually was happening in 1918—World War I was raging on, the Spanish flu was killing the young people the war wasn’t, Spiritualism was sweeping the nation (and a lot of parts of Europe), science was doing it’s best to advance so as to help with the war effort, and a paranoid xenophobia gripped the majority of Americans. Winters does an incredible job of balancing all of these factors and peppers the story with enough of each that you really understand just how strange a year, and time, it was.
The main character, Mary Shelley is wonderfully odd—as a protagonist, she doesn’t really seem weird because everything is told from her point of view, but when she interacts with other characters, it becomes clear that this girl is definitely not normal for her time—she’s curious, smart, observant, determined, and brave. She’s in love with science and electricity and has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and truth. However, her story isn’t really a happy one. As mirrors the time, Mary Shelley’s life is full of tragedy, sorrow, and loss. In a way she’s conditioned to it, and though she’s learned from her losses to be strong, she still feels the weight of loss, which is evident when she realizes she’s being haunted by the ghost of her childhood crush.
Overall, In the Shadow of Blackbirds is a beautifully haunting story about a girl and a ghost, but also about a time and place in American history that is haunting in and of itself.
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Posted July 31, 2013
People always seem to speak of our current time in history as the worst the world has seen, but consider 1918. Not only was the world embroiled in a brutal war that was killing thousands, but lives were also being lost to the Spanish flu, an outbreak so huge and widespread it was labeled a pandemic. People wore gauze masks. They chewed cloves of garlic and hung them from their necks, and they died like flies anyway. The fear and grief that was spawned as a result, that must have hung in the air like a shroud, gave rise to a near frenzied interest in spiritualism, in ghosts, in ways to talk to the ones we love who have passed. It must have seemed that Armageddon had come. I felt that it had from the very first page of Cat Winter’s beautifully written, eerily atmospheric debut novel, IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS. The story is categorized variously as horror and paranormal, and the reading audience is YA. But that seems too limiting for this novel’s sweep. It has an almost “ripped from the headlines” kind of feel to it as if it could be happening now, and all of it were true. It’s a riveting read, and not just for kids, either. There’s so much wisdom in the words, in the story that’s developed on several levels. There’s a lot to ponder. One of the lessons that seems clear, at least to me, is how indomitable the human spirit is. It comes through the wonderfully drawn main character, Mary Shelley. This is a novel that teaches about a long ago time in history, that has lessons for today. And the photographs that are included with the story are compelling and chilling, like iced frosting on an already scrumptious cake.
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Posted January 18, 2014
Posted November 24, 2013
Posted October 7, 2013
This book had some great things going for it. First of all, it puts you right in the middle of the flu epidemic in the US during WWI. It's one of the most realistic portrayals of this time period I have ever read and I really could tangibly feel what it must have been like to wear the cumbersome masks and literally see death across the street. The supernatural bits of the story, while starting out strong, disappointed me in the end. There is a great twist in the story towards the end, and it does keep you guessing as to the true fate of one of the main characters, but the ending was very anti-climactic. People looking for a 'happily ever after' in their books will not find one here, and it left me feeling more than a bit unsatisfied at the end.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 5, 2013
Mary Shelley - can I just say who much I love her name? - is sent to live with her Aunt Eva after her father is sent to prison for crimes against the US. Reasoning behind this is that the weather in San Diego is warmer than Portland and therefore it is less likely she'll contract the Spanish Flu. Between that theory and that onions warded off the germs, I'm not sure which I find to be more ridiculous. Of course, they were scared and didn't know any better, so I can't fault them that. I do however like that Winters adds all these historical tidbits into her novel. It enhances the story and creates a realism and storyline outside of Mary Shelley being haunted.
These little details, along with the focus on Spiritualism, creates a foreboding tone to the novel. It's not just a story about a ghost, but a story of survival in a terrifying time period. The desperation people felt in needing to know that there was an afterlife, that death wasn't the end. Men, women, children, babies are all dying of an airborne flu that came from nowhere (and left just as quickly). Soldiers are dying over seas. Any minute could be your last.
Whoa, I just went to a scary place, didn't I? But that's the feeling you get from this book!
Mary Shelley has just lost the one boy she loved to this war and as she's trying to deal with her loss, his ghost shows up in her bedroom. Repeatedly. I did not get enough of Mary Shelley and pre-ghost Stephen. His death hurts me as I can envision these two really having a future together. (Part of me thinks I am more angrier over his death than Mary Shelley, but that sounds silly. Right?)
I found Mary Shelley to be a strong and likable character. Once she realized that Stephen is being hurt by something - or thinks he is - and cannot pass on, she is bound and determined to help him, despite not having any idea of how to do so. After a trip to the library to research war, life after death, among other things to help Stephen, she heads over to a Red Cross house to volunteer to help the wounded soldiers.
I found this scene to be incredibly moving. Winters powerful narration once again comes into play as she describes the scene. Solider with missing limbs, disfigured faces, some doped up on morphine, others staring into space, and one particular soldier who cannot stop crying over the horrors he has seen. I was extremely impressed with Mary Shelley's behavior while in the Red Cross building. My favorite part was when she starts reading Tom Sawyer to the soldiers as "the world's been getting the best of [her], too" (204) and she knows these men need something to distract their thoughts.
The narration was strong, the characters believable, the setting perfectly chosen. I was sucked into the novel and flew through the last 200-something pages because I could not put it down. I had to find out why Stephen wasn't passing on, why he was haunting Mary Shelley, and how everything was going to unfold. While this wasn't the horror novel I had been excepting, it in no way took away from my enjoyment. I wasn't up all night with the lights on, but I was definitely creeped out. There is something to be said for your dead boyfriend's ghost popping up in your bedroom in the middle of the night.
Posted September 18, 2013
Ive only read the first two chapters anf i LOVE this book already just something with wars slavary and other exciting historical topics get me overwhelmed that and mysteries:3Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 11, 2013
Having lived in San Diego, I was instantly swept up by Cat Winters' IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS—set in a sepia-toned San Diego shrouded in death and fear. Setting this ghost story during a war and the outbreak of Spanish influenza was genius—the creepiness lingers heavy over everything that occurs. Mary Shelley Black, the main character, is one of the smartest teenage characters I've read in a long time—calm, strong, and curious in the midst of absolute chaos. Winters also writes some great hot and heavy scenes between Mary and her childhood friend Stephen, and the attraction and agony between them is almost visceral as you try to unravel the mystery behind Stephen's death. I was completely absorbed in, and creeped out by, this novel—a beautiful and haunting debut.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 9, 2013
Posted July 8, 2013
Posted June 28, 2013
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Posted August 3, 2013
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