Monday, October 7, 2013

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters (Review + Guest Post + Giveaway)


Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Paranormal, Ghosts, Romance, Horror
Publication.Date:April 2, 2013
Published By:  Amulet Books
Website:Cat Winters 

In the Shadow of Blackbirds on Goodreads
My review copy:Personal Library

Where to get:

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.

His words tore into me with a bite a hundred times more vicious than the pain of the lightning bolt. My lips turned cold and sore with the realization that there would never, ever be another kiss. I'd never again feel the pressure of Stephen's hand against the small of my back. I'd never receive another letter from him.

His head is too damaged.

A sob shook my shoulders. I hung my head and bawled like I'd never cried in my life. 
Someone was with me.

I'd experienced that sensation before, in the dark, fresh out of a nightmare - the belief that something was staring at me from across the room in the shadows of my furniture. In the past, the stranger always ended up being a doll or a chair reflecting moonlight. But this time I was positive something would be there when I checked.
"I just buried a boy who meant the world to me, ma'am. I've seen corpses as blue as ripe huckleberries lying in front yards out there. There's no need to protect me from anything." I shifted my sagging bag into my other hand. "I'm tired of sitting around doing nothing."
"Don't be afraid of him," I said. "He doesn't seem to want to do any harm. He's just scared. I think between the war and the flu, no one's going to escape getting haunted. We live in a world so horrifying, it frightens even the dead."
"He said the only real monsters in the world are human beings." I licked my parched lips. "It was a frightening thing to learn, but it makes so much sense. We can be terrible to one another." I dug my cheek deeper into the pillow. "And do you know the oddest thing about murder and war and violence?"

"Oh, Mary Shelley, please stop talking about those types of things."

"The oddest thing is that they all go against the lessons that grown-ups teach children... Why do mothers and fathers bother spending so much time teaching children these lessons when grown-ups don't pay any attention to the words themselves?"

     Personally, I had no idea that there were so many issues floating around the good ol' US of A during 1918. Okay, I knew WWI was occurring and that there was the Spanish Influenza, but I never really thought about the fact that they were going on at the same time. Add the popularity of Spiritualism on top of everything else, and it's a rather interesting time to be alive. And by interesting I mean incredibly scary and heart wrenching.

     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.

Top 10 Favorite Ghost Songs
by Cat Winters

I’ve been intrigued by ghosts ever since I was a child, so it’s easy for me to compile lists of my top-favorite spooky books, movies, and haunted historical sites. Ghostly music also captured my interest from an early age, and eerie tunes inspire my writing to this day.

Here are my top 10 favorite ghost songs, listed in alphabetical order.

1. “Dead Man’s Party,” Oingo Boingo

In movie lovers’ minds, Danny Elfman and Halloween music pretty much go hand-in-hand, thanks to his collaboration with Tim Burton, but “Dead Man’s Party” is rock-star, early-years Elfman—trumpets, partying ghosts, and all.

2. "The Edison Museum," They Might Be Giants

A fabulous, spooky tune from No!, one of They Might Be Giants’ kiddie albums. The subject: Thomas Edison's creepy haunted laboratory. You can practically hear the doors creaking in the singer’s voice.

3. “The Ghost of John,” American folk tune

I clearly remember sitting in my first-grade classroom on Halloween, singing this song’s goose bump-inducing lyrics, “Wouldn’t it be chilly with no skin on?” Musician Kristen Lawrence (see “Mostly Ghostly,” below) has created an excellent revamped take on this Halloween classic.

4. "Ghost of Stephen Foster," Squirrel Nut Zippers

A late-1990s tune (that sounds like it’s from the 1920s or ‘30s) about meeting the ghost of 19th-century songwriter Stephen Foster. The song is potentially a subconscious reason why I named my IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS ghost Stephen.

5. "Ghost Town," The Specials

The lyrics actually involve poverty and hard times in Coventry, England, but the music is delightfully frightful. I always included this single on my Halloween radio shows when I was a DJ at my college's radio station.

6. “Grim Grinning Ghosts,” music by Buddy Baker, lyrics by X Atencio

I was raised in Orange County, California, just a short freeway drive away from Disneyland, so the Haunted Mansion ride strongly contributed to my early love of ghosts. Various incarnations of this spooky and sometimes rollicking theme song haunt you in every region of the attraction…in a good way.

7. “Little Talks,” Of Monsters and Men

The lyrics of this chart-topping 2012 hit—an exchange between a woman and a ghost—remind me of my sixteen-year-old protagonist, Mary Shelley Black, and the boy who haunts her. Is the woman just imagining the spirit of her beloved comforting her, or is he actually there with her?

8. “Mostly Ghostly,” Kristen Lawrence

I love all of Lawrence’s organ-infused Halloween Carols (, but this musical lament from a specter who still has its head is the epitome of creepy-good ghost music.

9. "Ouija Board, Ouija Board," Morrissey

An ode to a departed spirit, sung in legendary emo king Morrissey's trademark style of making dark subjects sound surprisingly cheery. The spelling of S-T-E-V-E-N on the titular Ouija board may also have subconsciously led me to naming my fictional ghost Stephen. 

10. “Walking with a Ghost,” Tegan and Sara

The lyrics are few and simple, but this is a catchy ghost song that’s guaranteed to get stuck in your head. But isn’t that the point of all good ghosts, musical or otherwise—to haunt you?

Happy Halloween!

Cat Winters’s critically acclaimed debut novel, IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS, is a nominee for YALSA’s 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults and was named one of Booklist’s Top Ten Horror Fiction for Youth for 2013. Her second novel, THE CURE FOR DREAMING, is coming Fall 2014 from Amulet Books. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two kids.

A hardcover of In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters to one lucky Bookish reader!

Enter via the Rafflecopter below
This giveaway is open to US and CANADA
Do not cheat as I will verify all entries. Nobody likes a cheater anyway.

Ends: Monday, October 21, 2013
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