Thursday, February 28, 2013

Joint Review Discussion + Giveaway: In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

I really enjoy doing these joint review discussions of dystopian reads, and this month I'm doing a couple with Christina of Reader of Fictions. These are more in-depth than my usual reviews and discuss plot points in a (mostly) non-spoilery way. Today we are discussing IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS.

Publisher's summary:

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.

Christina and I decided to discuss four topics: Atmosphere, Romance, History and Ghosts. The first two we discuss below, the second two we discuss over at Reader of Fictions.


A plague that kills a high percentage of people, dead, bloated bodies lying in the street, boys and men sent off to war, hucksters trying to make a quick buck off of desperate people, protesters arrested and jailed. Sounds like a typical post-apocalyptic novel right? But it’s not. It’s 1918 San Diego and Mary Shelley is staying with her aunt after her father’s imprisonment. She meets up with her childhood friend Stephen and his family - including an older brother who is a celebrated spirit photographer. And the deadly flu comes ever closer …

I just loved the spooky atmosphere of this novel.

Yes, the atmosphere is amazing. It’s very gothic and dark, full of shadowy corners and buzzing flies. Death is coming from every direction: the government, the woman coughing next to you, the cart of corpses down the street, the violent ghost inhabiting your body, the war... Mary Shelley, aptly named for a horror novel’s creator lives a life surrounded by horrors. I was so impressed by how well she managed everything. In this environment, I would be worthless.

Yes! Mary Shelley was so determined to set things right for Stephen - even if it cost her her life. I admire that kind of moxie and dedication. And that’s how Winters manages to up the stakes even more - Mary Shelley has to solve a whole mystery involving Stephen. This mystery was so well plotted, too. I totally didn’t see those reveals coming.

Moxie is the perfect descriptor for Mary Shelley. She has that in spades. I kowtow to Winters’ mystery-plotting, because she totally fooled me. I thought I knew what was up, but she threw me off the scent! One of those where you’re blindsided, but then look back and go “I should have seen that coming!” since it’s been so perfectly set up.

We should have seen it coming. But I love that we didn't.


One of the main reasons I fell so hard for this novel was the connection between Mary Shelley and Stephen. By the time the novel opens, Stephen has already been shipped off to fight in Europe - so we mostly see their relationship develop via his letters (swoon!) and a flashback of their first kiss (double swoon!). And man …. I felt sooo bad for both of them. I ached for them to be back together.

You’re going to call me hard-hearted, but I didn’t feel them as much as you did. I would have loved to see a few more scenes of them playing together as children, and to have read a few more letters. I do feel ever so badly for Stephen, though. That kid grew up with his abusive older brother and decided the best way to escape was the war. Bad plan, buddy. Bad plan. Their romance did have some of the best romantic lines, though. Ones that made me want to fistbump Cat Winters, like this one from one of Stephen’s letters: “Don't ever worry what the boys who don't appreciate originality think of you. They're fools.” Keep in mind, folks, that the quote is from the ARC, so it could change, but I hope it doesn’t.

I adore that line! And sometimes, a line like that goes a long way to winning me over. I mean, yeah - I would GLADLY take more Stephen/Mary Shelley interaction anyday, but I didn’t need more. I thought Winters packed so much emotion and longing into so little. It’s so hard to do, too.

I nearly gave this a Zombie Chicken Merit Badge for Romance, but in the end, I decided for the Writing badge.

Don't miss the rest of the discussion over at Reader of Fictions!


IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS doesn't come out until April 2nd, but luckily for my readers, the publisher has donated five advance copies for giveaway! Fill out this form by March 8, 2013 at 11:59 pm CST to enter. US only. Visit the author's website for more information about the book.

See index of all dystopian reviews at Presenting Lenore

FTC disclosure: NetGalley + I gave my ALA copy to Christina for the purpose of this discussion


Katie said...

Love this joint discussion. I am heading over to Christina's blog now to check out the rest but so far, I know I'm going to have to pick up my copy of this one very soon. I love the kind of romance you mentioned where it's not so front and center of the story. Also, sounds so freaking creepy. Love it!

Liviania said...

I loved this one so much. And I hated every terrible thing that happens to Stephen.

Becca said...

I am loving this discussion! This book sounds very engrossing!

Unknown said...

Ah, this is an awesome post format. I commented on Christina's blog but I wanted to let you know too, Lenore!

The spooky atmosphere is sure to have me flailing. I LOVE scary/Gothic stuff. I think we need A LOT more of it in YA!

Molli | Once Upon a Prologue

Kim (YA Asylum) said...

I love the discussion. I'm going to have to pick up this book. It sounds amazing. I adore spooky atmosphere and scary/gothic books. It's going to be hard to wait until April...

Kaye M. said...

I am looking forward to this story so much, because it sounds like a YA ghost story that might actually deliver. I have a pre-hold on it at the library, but it's making April seem so far away...