October 29, 2013

Haunted By Your Memory

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

Release Date: April 2, 2013
Publisher: Abrams Books | Amulet Books
Pages: 387 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Kindle ebook
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she's forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love - a boy who died in battle - returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?

Featuring haunting archival early-twentieth-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time.

Thoughts on In the Shadow of Blackbirds
I couldn't really think of anything for today's Top Ten Tuesday topic (Scariest Book Covers) because I absolutely hate reading anything scary. I stay far, far away from the horror section. I did, however, recently read In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters. It's gotta a pretty scary cover, if you ask me. I mean, hello, there's a creepy ghost floating behind the girl!

I love historical fiction, but I would never naturally gravitate toward this book. From the cover to the summary, it doesn't really appeal to my horror hating self. However, Alyssa from Books Take You Places spoke highly of both this book and The Caged Graves, and I decided to give both a shot. I knew I was definitely interested The Caged Graves, and my initial assessment was correct. I really, really enjoyed that story! I was more on the fence about buying this one, but the Goodreads page left me curious enough to give it a shot.

Mary Shelley Black has to go live with her aunt in San Diego after her father is arrested for treason in 1918. It's the place where she met her best friend and childhood sweetheart, Stephen, so it does hold good memories for her even if she's going there under less-than-pleasant circumstances now. Her father's imprisoned, her love is fighting at the front, and the city is fighting off the deadly Spanish influenza. Things aren't looking good for Mary Shelley! And then it gets worse. Mary Shelley learns that Stephen has died, and she starts being visited by his spirit. But why?

In the Shadow of Blackbirds had SO many things about it that I enjoyed. Winters' research was evident throughout the book, and I particularly loved her notes at the end about it. There was definitely an ominous, creepy tone pervading the book. There are two elements that contribute to this - the paranormal element (spirit photography, etc.) and the influenza. Both make the ominous atmosphere just drip off the page. I never felt scared while reading the book, but it's definitely got that haunting feel.

Mary Shelley was also my kind of heroine. She's capable of so much, and isn't afraid of a challenge. From her relationship with her aunt to her letters exchanged with Stephen, I just so loved her smart and sassy self. When she feels like something isn't right, she investigates until she learns the truth. She just can't give up until Stephen is at peace!

Despite being really well-written, filled with fascinating historical detail, and having a heroine that I loved, I probably should have trusted my gut on this one. This was definitely a case of "it's not you, it's me." I actively avoid books with spirits, ghosts, and this kind of element. It's not something that I like or care to read about, but I was hoping it might be incorporated differently into this book. With The Caged Graves, the mystery is explained realistically without relying on the supernatural. This book, however, does firmly rely on the existence of spirits in its resolution. Since I dislike those elements so completely, I couldn't really fall in love with this book in the end. It's like I was detached from the story because of my personal dislike for stories of this nature.

This is one of those rare reviews where I'd tell you that I would recommend this book if you like this type of story. Despite my lackluster rating, I did feel like this was a really strong novel. I wasn't the right reader for it, unfortunately, but I have no doubt that many readers will find much to love about the story Winters has written.

One random note: I bought this on my Kindle, but I saw the hard copy in stores and was shocked by its loveliness. There are SO many details that went into the creation of this book, and you'll miss out on all the thought and work that went into it if you don't see it in person. Just trust me! If you want to read this book, you need to buy a copy for your shelves instead of your e-reader.

So Quotable
"Don't ever worry what the boys who don't appreciate originality think of you. They're fools."

6 comments:

  1. This is one of the best "it's not you, it's me" reviews I've read in a while, Hannah! The use of spirituality/paranormal events in conjunction with historical fiction worked for me. And it 's not necessarily something I'd be bothered by. I do totally get your point of view after reading your review, however. Perhaps Winters' next historical fiction book will be more grounded in fact and you'll be able to enjoy her more? I do feel like she has the potential to become a YA historical fiction behemoth.
    As a side note, I am excited to read The Caged Graves myself. Hopefully I can get to that soon!

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    1. Thanks so much, Amanda. I think Winters is so talent, and like you, feel she has so much potential to become a YA historical fiction behemoth. Sometimes I hate when personal issues/preferences keep me from liking a book that has so much going for it, but I'm glad you felt like I did a good job of explaining my thoughts on it. Hope you read The Caged Graves soon! It's really good :)

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  2. I loved this book SO HARD and I feel terrible that I recommended it and you didn't love it! I totally see what you mean though, it was very supernatural...the love story was heartbreaking and beautiful but inside I was kind of like "wut rly?" a little bit. I had an ARC of this so I missed out on the photographs and other beauties that went into the finished copy, but I asked Santa for the hard copy so fingers crossed!!

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    1. OH MY GOODNESS, you should not feel bad AT ALL about recommending it to me! I really enjoyed Winters writing style, characters and all the historical detail. I know before starting that the supernatural element might turn me off, but I wanted to give it a shot anyway. I can totally see why you loved this one, and I really hope more people read it. Hope Santa brings you a finished copy of this one! It's a beauty :)

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  3. I'm still very hesitant about reading this book! Like you, I'm not one for the paranormal books with the ghosts and other supernatural creatures. And this cover seriously creeps me out. But I do love that there's a lot of historical research that went into this one -- that's always cool.

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    1. Yeah, the historical element was fascinating but I just couldn't get past the supernatural stuff. It was just a little too much for me! I know some other bloggers who've loved it, so it might have just been me. Keep me posted if you do read it!

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