Friday, March 22, 2013

Review: In the Shadow of Blackbirds


In the Shadow of BlackbirdsAuthor: Cat Winters
Release date: April 2nd 2013
Publisher: Abrams
Hardcover, 400 pages
Source: Publisher for review
Buy: The Book Depository



Some books should be sold with a companion novel, a cheerful, nonsensical one people would read immediately after  to lighten up their souls. If there was ever a book that left me in urgent need of some cheering up (and a cup of spicy hot chocolate), it’s this one. But would I change a single thing about it? Not in a million years!

There are some things most people would rather not think about. I dare say Spanish flu is one of them. It’s a nasty scar in human history, and October 1918 possibly the worst month humankind has ever endured. Not only was the world desperate and exhausted by the First World War, but far worse was the second wave of influenza that killed anywhere between 50 and 100 million people.

This is the month Cat Winters chose to write about, and she did so with the surety of a seasoned author (I still can’t believe that this is her debut) and a thorough research behind her. In the Shadow of Blackbirds is a story built on the contrast between a young, innocent love and the war that tried (and succeeded) to steal that innocence away. Everywhere Mary Shelley turned, she saw nothing but ugliness and death. In her world, human warmth and compassion disappeared behind fear and mistrust. The gauze masks people wore to protect themselves from the flu are very symbolic of the period, and of the terror and distance between people.

”Oh, you silly, naive men.” I shook my weary head and genuinely pitied their ignorance. “You’ve clearly never been a sixteen-year-old girl in the fall of 1918.”*


Through it all, Mary Shelley Black is practically alone. Her father is in prison, accused of being a traitor, her 26-year-old aunt is superstitious and unsupportive, and her young boyfriend Stephen died in a battlefield in France. As a very unconventional girl who enjoys taking things apart to see how they work, Shell is quite used to a lonely life, but at least before she always had Stephen to talk to. He was the only one who ever appreciated and even admired her eccentricities.

When Stephen's spirit starts showing up next to Mary Shelley in photographs taken by his opportunistic half-brother, Mary has to consider the possibility that he isn’t resting peacefully and investigate the circumstances of his death. In this book, the brutally realistic and the paranormal collide, and the reader is never quite sure how much of it is truth, and how much is the product of overactive imagination (actually, the words ‘group delusion’ and ‘mass hysteria’ come to mind).

I’ve never given much thought to the things people hold on to in difficult times to alleviate their fear, but the sudden (renewed) popularity of spiritualism during World War I makes perfect sense, as do the folk remedies people resorted to to protect themselves from the flu. It’s very easy for us to be judgmental and ridicule people who stuffed salt up their nose, but in October 1918, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have done the same.

I don’t need to be a clairvoyant to see the future that lies ahead of Cat Winters and her debut: awards, critical acclaim, translations to more languages than I can name (and I can name a lot of languages). If you squint at the cover, you can already see the shiny William C. Morris medal in the top left corner, possibly even a Printz. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

*Quote taken from an uncorrected proof.


35 comments:

  1. LOL! I feel that way about some books -- they're maddening, saddening and can even be depressing but you just can't put them down because they're so darned good. And then you need a pick-me-up afterwards.

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  2. Honestly, the cover creeps me out :/ But I've realised I don't get scared too easily these days sooo that's a comfort when I pick this book up :) I love anything on WW1 (or even WW2) and paranormal is an added bonus!! I really hope this is being published in Australia...I WANT TO READ THIS SO BADLY. I'm so thrilled you speak so highly of Cat, it makes me even more excited to dive into this book & her future projects<3333

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  3. This is another book I was unsure about at first, but after my current luck with books outside of my comfort zone, I think In the Shadow of Blackbirds will be a perfect book to pick up next. The concept does sound truly fascinating too and after your 5 star review, this is a book I can't miss out on! Gorgeous review hun! :)

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  4. Oh wow, this sounds like a really good read! That cover is kind of creepy!

    It sounds like this was an excellent debut for the author and you really enjoyed it. I might have to add this one to my TBR pile. I really don't know a lot about this time in history, at least not as much as I should. I think I would really like this one.

    Have a nice weekend!

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  5. "In this book, the brutally realistic and the paranormal collide, and the reader is never quite sure how much of it is truth, and how much is the product of overactive imagination"

    Ooooo this sounds good Maja! I love questioning what's real and what isn't:) I know just what you mean about wishing a book came with a happy-go-lucky companion to life your spirits after reading. There's been many a book I've picked up and felt an intense desire after finishing to sit and watch a Disney movie:) While I feel like I'll need to brace myself before reading this one, I know I can't pass it up. Your review is too beautiful and too convincing:)

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  6. Beautiful review, and seems that the book is that way too. I haven't heard of it, but seems very emotional!
    Brandi @ Blkosiner’s Book Blog

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  7. Creepy cover <3

    I haven't read a book about the Spanish flu epidemic before and I'm happy that the author did her research. That makes a book so much better! I like the sound of "realistic and paranormal collide"

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  8. I really loved Mary Shelley, because she's the kind of girl who would say things like that quote you included.

    All of the ways people tried to prevent the flu were entirely fascinating to me. I suspect I would have been the type to doubt that sort of thing (since I don't get my flu shot now), but who really knows?

    So excited to see those stickers on the cover and to read whatever else Winters writes!

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  9. I also loved this one, it was quite a pleasant surprise as I thought the beginning was a bit slow to start. Fantastic review, my dear. :)

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  10. This sounds fantastic! The spanish flu is kind of fascinating, so I'm looking forward to this now. Mary Shelley sounds like a really good character, which is awesome, and I totally giggled when you said "(actually, the words ‘group delusion’ and ‘mass hysteria’ come to mind)", LOL! Awesome review, Maja! (:

    Loves,
    Megan@The Book Babe

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  11. I know nothing about the Spanish Flu and I am eager to know more. I hate when I am woefully educated on something so important in history, like I found out the book I reviewed yesterday, I know nothing about tuberculosis. This sounds fantastic and I have a copy and I just scheduled a post with the author and she says it has a Portland Oregon tie in so I can't wait. So excited to see that Five stars up there. BTW>>> Going Vintage I thought was really good. I have it up on Monday.

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  12. I know exactly what you mean! I just read a book where I needed a good dose of happy afterword. So dark! This does sound good, but I know I wouldn't be reading it right away. Need that time with some light reads. :) Still, when I'm in the mood for a dark historical I do think I will pick it up. Oh and I don't know about looking down my nose at people who do those home remedies. Some work... some are just strange, but all are understandable when you are desperate. Yep, I'm interested. :)

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  13. I am so excited to read this one! Unfortunately, they took it off NG, but historical fiction done right is easily one of my all-time favorites. Not to mention dark themes and harsh realities in general. I'm so glad this has your seal of approval, Maja! I'll have to pre-order a copy at once! :)

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  14. So, to be honest, I kind of dismissed this book back when it was first announced. But then all the 5 star reviews started pouring in, and I think it’s time to readjust my expectations!

    But wow, this seems like something I REALLY need to get my hands on! I really do enjoy the historical/paranormal fiction crossover, and I’ve had success with it before. Plus, I’m already intrigued based on the time period that this book cover and the way the protagonist seems to be really unique and likable.

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  15. Gosh Maja you gave me goosebumps, this has so many elements I love in a good book..then you tell me she writes like a seasoned author and you see it winning award..oh yeah..adding to my list!

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  16. I've only heard good things about this one, and your review only makes me want to read it more! I love that Cat Winters has come up with such a unique and intriguing premise and, even more than that, has managed to pull it off so brilliantly. Fantastic review, Maja! :)

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  17. I am so looking forward to this book. I love how unique this story sounds and I can honestly say I have never heard of a book with this type of story! Also Spiritualism! Ahh sounds amazing! I cant wait.
    Great review :)

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  18. This sounds amazing, I am so looking forward to starting this. The fact that it doesn't read like a debut is very impressive, as is the amount of research backing it up. Fab review, Maja!

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  19. Oh wow, your review got me very curious, Maja! I always have soft spot for historical fiction, and combined with the solemn tone in this book, I think this book is clearly a winner for me! The cover is very eerie and it gave me goosebumps, really. The heroine seems very strong as well, and I always appreciate authors who have done a lot of researches for their books! x)

    Gorgeous review, hun! Can't wait to buy this when it comes out! :)

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  20. Honestly I'd never pick up this book as the cover looks scary. I though this was something scary. But it turns out it's interesting book. I'm so happy to see that you love it. There are few books that you wouldn't change anything about. I'm happy to see that that this one is one of them :) Great review Maja :)

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  21. Nice review! I want to read this book now :D Historical and paranormal combine. This book made me curious.

    -Dannielle

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  22. This is a book that I would have dismissed at first sight but yours is not the first very positive review I've seen for it. Maybe I was too hasty and need to reconsider. Lovely review Maja :)

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  23. Oh, this is definitely worthy of the Printz. I still can’t quite believe that this is Cat's debut book either! I loved how thoroughly researched it was, and was pleasantly surprised by the emotional response it drew from me. I sure as hell didn't think I would cry when I first picked this up! I'm so happy to see your 5 stars for this, Maja. Abrams really do know what they're doing, don't they? :)

    Really fantastic review!

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  24. Wow, 5 stars Maja?! I passed picking this up at the ALA because it scared me a little (spirits). I'm kicking myself now. I always marvel at the staggering amount of people that died from the Spanish Influenza. If we had that ratio to population die in our time there would be mass hysteria! It sounds like the author really made the time come alive. *shudders* Wonderful review :) Still kicking myself here. :(

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  25. Wow, it sounds like this one definitely blew you away! I don't see many five star reviews from you that often, Maja, so this one definitely makes me think that it's amazing. Historical books aren't exactly my thing, as I find it difficult to get into them. However, since you're convinced that this one is award-worthy, I might have to pick it up! Wonderful review, Maja! So glad you loved this one.

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  26. Wow, I'm SO exited to read this now!! I already really wanted to pick it up, and had read a few complimentary reviews before this, but after reading your review I'm bouncing up and down excited to get started. Five stars + "If you squint at the cover, you can already see the shiny William C. Morris medal in the top left corner, possibly even a Printz." = MUST READ IMMEDIATELY.

    I can totally relate to the desperation to try any remedy when you're sick; I'm pretty sure there isn't a single thing I wouldn't try when really sick—salt in the nose, seances, you name it. I might need to wait a few days to read this, I've just gotten over a nasty virus myself and am a bit squeamish about reading about sickness at the moment. If I could, I'd read that cheerful, nonsensical companion novel first, then begin this. :-)

    Brilliant review, Maja! I'm thrilled this book is in my TBR pile now. :-)

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  27. I can't wait to read this one, Maja. I love historical fiction so I'm glad that you thought this one was well-researched. Fabulous review, Maja!

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  28. i am so out of the loop these days ~ i'd never even heard of this and now i know i must get my hands on a copy...

    maja, you are so good at writing reviews!

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  29. What an awesome review!! I'm so glad you loved this as much as you did! I like that this is something really different!

    I'm actually reading this one next & I can't wait! I adore the cover!! :)

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  30. This was such a great book! Loved it!

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  31. I actually don't know much about the Spanish flu, but it does sound pretty horrible. I think infectious diseases that get widespread are freaky in any context, but it sounds kind of fascinating how it affected people after WWI, with them reverting to older traditions and medicines. As you mention, that does make a whole lot of sense. And it's just really interesting. I still don't feel like I have a super solid understanding of what the book is really about, which is all the more reason to go read it myself. If you think this is award-worthy, then I can tell this is one book I don't want to miss!

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  32. Wow. My first thought is that this one sounds unlike any other any other YA book I've ever read. My second thought is that I am so impressed that you thought so highly of it! It sounds pretty intense, due to its subject matter, but also interesting in a morbid kind of way. I will know now to keep a fun book at the ready upon my completion of this one! Great, great review, Maja!

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  33. Yes, wasn't this book amazing?! My review goes up this week and I really loved it as well. You're right, it has awards written all over it!

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  34. Dear Lord, Maja, HOW did you write a review that has me absolutely desperate to read something so utterly depressing?! Because I am, this sounds amazing. It was on my watch list, but one I really hadn't heard much about yet, I'm so happy to hear this debut was so successful, obviously I must track down a copy asap, especially since, as you said, it captures this terrible time in human history that really gets overlooked a lot for the two wars surrounding it.

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  35. The Spanish flu is sad and scary. Like the Outbreak movie, imagining something killing so much of the population scares me. This is an interesting and different setting and story.

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