Walden on Wheels

Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road From Debt to Freedom

by Ken Ilgunas

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In this memoir, Ken Ilgunas lays bare the existential terror of graduating from the University of Buffalo with $32,000 of student debt. Ilgunas set himself an ambitious mission: get out of debt as quickly as possible. Inspired by the frugality and philosophy of Henry David Thoreau, Ilgunas undertook a 3-year transcontinental journey, working in Alaska as a tour guide, garbage picker, and night cook to pay off his student loans before hitchhiking home to New York.

Debt-free, Ilgunas then enrolled in a master’s program at Duke University, determined not to borrow against his future again. He used the last of his savings to buy himself a used Econoline van and outfitted it as his new dorm. The van, stationed in a campus parking lot, would be more than an adventure—it would be his very own Walden on Wheels.

Freezing winters, near-discovery by campus police, and the constant challenge of living in a confined space would test Ilgunas’s limits and resolve in the two years that followed. What had begun as a simple mission would become an enlightening and life-changing social experiment.

I discovered Walden on Wheels by complete accident. It just flashed up on my Amazon when I was looking for something else. Honestly, I kinda felt it was a sign screaming ‘READ THIS BOOK NOW!’ Especially, when I realized the book was partially about getting out of school debt. I was definitely hooked when I learned the author managed to get through grad school debt free! I had to read it. (Side Note: I’m up to my eyeballs in student loan debt thanks to a Bachelors and Masters degree…neither of which I actually use at my job)

I have mixed feelings about Walden on Wheels. I’m going to do something different and start with my negative thoughts. (Stick with me folks cause I promise it ends on a happy note) First, Ilgunas and I have different political views. Now, I can totally respect that difference but there were a few times the overly idealized, judgy, and often conflicting comments by the author were a tad irritating. Nothing that made me want to throw the book down in anger, but elicited frustrated eyerolls at certain passages.

One of my biggest complaints with autobiographies is that they are rarely objective. They can’t be. And the majority of negative reviews of Walden on Wheels concerns the author’s opinions on the people around him: the drunks of Alaska, the uneducated fornicators of Alabama, his burned out wage slave parents, the mindless drones at school. At times his passages are exhaustingly judgmental. It seems like the author only focuses on the negative. Until, you realize he isn’t. That he make himself focus on the positive aspects of each person. Then you realize the author’s harsh focus on negative personality traits is a projection of the feared deficit of his own personality

I enjoyed the book. I felt Ilgunas was able to look at his journey in a constructive manner and focus on bettering himself. I found his accomplishments impressive!Ssure he may have used a jobless guy living in his van who dumps is piss bucket at stoplights as a roll model (seriously!?) but Ilgunas rose above continuing to work, feeding himself, and finding jobs where he could help people. Walden on Wheels is a story of a man coming to age. A kid watching the world around him, terrified of being trapped in a soul sucking existence with no adventure. And that is something in which I can relate.

I will admit to struggling through a couple of days of depression while reading Walden on Wheels. Why am I working a job just to pay bills? Why, oh why, did I take out all those student loans? Where can I buy a van? See, my husband and I have discussed the possibility of van camping a number of times, and I was ready for us to cash out and just go. But after multiple cups of coffee, and a reevaluation of my goals, I decided that I’m right were I need to be at the moment. Instead of quitting my job and hitting the road, I decided that it was time to just be better with my money. To count pennies as Ilgunas had. And I decided to focus on my hobbies, whether it be flying, hiking, or just reading a good book curled up on the couch. It was time I took more joy from the things that make me truly happy. It was time to go outside and reconnect with nature.

Give Walden on Wheels a read. It will make you think about your own life. No matter your political views or socio-economic opinions, personal evaluation is usually a good thing. And it will make you laugh!

I hope you’re enjoying your holiday reading. Let me know if you’ve read Walden on Wheels, or any of Ilgunas’ other work.

Lindsay

 

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A Christmas Beginning

A Christmas Beginning

by Anne Perry

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Whatever the season, a new novel by bestselling author Anne Perry is always a wonderful gift, but her holiday novels are particularly special treats, and A Christmas Beginning is a deeply felt story of passion and redemption.

Superintendent Runcorn of Scotland Yard is spending Christmas on the wild and beautiful island of Anglesey off the north coast of Wales. On one of his solitary strolls, the lonely bachelor stumbles upon a lifeless body in the village churchyard. The unfortunate victim is quickly identified as Olivia Costain, the local vicar’s younger sister.

In life, Olivia had been a free spirit, full of charm and grace. For Runcorn, she is a haunting reminder of Melisande Ewart, the one woman he’s never been able to forget. Everyone on Anglesey is quick to insist that only a stranger to the island could have committed the heinous crime. But the evidence proves otherwise, and the unpopular work of discovering who among Olivia’s friends and neighbors–and numerous eligible suitors–is a ruthless killer falls to Runcorn. A plebian outsider in the drawing rooms of the snobbish local gentry, Runcorn never dreams that the key that will unlock the secrets of Olivia’s life and death may also, miraculously, open the door to a new future for himself.

Last December I was struggling to find a historical fiction novel that had a good mystery and involved Christmas in some form. Goodreads kept recommending Anne Perry, and I picked up a few of her novels at the local library. Sadly, there was always something that had me putting the books down by the end of the first chapter. I just couldn’t embrace the characters, or the mystery didn’t intrigue me. I finally picked up the audio version of A Christmas Beginning and it satisfied my Christmas mystery needs.

I won’t provide a summary of the story as the synopsis above does a pretty good job, but I do want to start the review by saying that I wasn’t a huge fan of A Christmas Beginning. With that being said, I am going to state the positives first. I really liked Superintendent Runcorn. I found his gruff personality, subtle kindness, and struggles with self confidence endearing and I would probably love a tv show staring him. He wasn’t perfect, and that’s is what kept me reading. I also enjoyed the murder mystery. The brutality of Olivia Costain’s murder was shocking and stark for the setting, and it may seem morbid, but it was perfect. I was glued to the investigation because 1. I had to know why this murder happened the way it did and 2. I wanted Runcorn to succeed so badly.

Now, you may be asking why I wasn’t a huge fan of this novel after those last two points. It’s because of the writing style. There were times when the prose was tedious and repetitive, and I lost count of the number of times Runcorn was reminded of his social standing and the proper way of everything. Yes, I know it was a different time with different social rules and groups, but the reiteration of this point every few minutes was downright annoying. I also felt aspects of the investigation and reveal were too hurried, which in my opinion, diminished the brutal effect of Olivia’s murder. When I think back on the story months later my initial response is ‘eh.’

Will I be reading another Anne Perry Christmas story this December? Nope. But, I do want to hear from those who love this author and her stories as she is such a staple in the historical fiction community. Please let me know your recommendations, because I loved Runcorn enough to maybe give Perry another try.

What are you reading this Christmas?

Lindsay

Frozen in Time

Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II

by Mitchell Zuckoff

Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II

Frozen in Time is a gripping true story of survival, bravery, and honor in the vast Arctic wilderness during World War II, from the author of New York Times bestseller Lost in Shangri-La.

On November 5, 1942, a US cargo plane slammed into the Greenland Ice Cap. Four days later, the B-17 assigned to the search-and-rescue mission became lost in a blinding storm and also crashed. Miraculously, all nine men on board survived, and the US military launched a daring rescue operation. But after picking up one man, the Grumman Duck amphibious plane flew into a severe storm and vanished.

Frozen in Time tells the story of these crashes and the fate of the survivors, bringing vividly to life their battle to endure 148 days of the brutal Arctic winter, until an expedition headed by famed Arctic explorer Bernt Balchen brought them to safety. Mitchell Zuckoff takes the reader deep into the most hostile environment on earth, through hurricane-force winds, vicious blizzards, and subzero temperatures.

Moving forward to today, he recounts the efforts of the Coast Guard and North South Polar Inc. – led by indefatigable dreamer Lou Sapienza – who worked for years to solve the mystery of the Duck’s last flight and recover the remains of its crew.

A breathtaking blend of mystery and adventure Mitchell Zuckoff’s Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II is also a poignant reminder of the sacrifices of our military personnel and a tribute to the everyday heroism of the US Coast Guard.

Frozen in Time is a fantastic story of survival that everyone needs to read. There. I said it. Read this book now!

But I guess I should give you an actual review 😜. Zuckoff’s writing is descriptive and engaging. His words pulled me right into the story, making it difficult to turn off my audiobook when I had reached my destination. Zuckoff expertly shares details about each individual, leaving you feeling as if each is an old friend and desperately yearning to know their fate. Any aviation lover will adore this story as much of the book is also dedicated to the aircraft utilized by these men, specifically a B-17 Flying Fortress and a Grumman Duck. I’m not lying when I say I was almost as concern for the aircraft as I was for the men aboard.

The survival story of these men is so unbelievable that you will have to keep reminding yourself this is not fiction. This ACTUALLY happened. The retelling of physical and mental suffering, small acts of kindness, and unhesitating acts of self sacrifice left me in tears of awe on a number of occasions. Guys, I’m not ashamed to admit that i’m crying writing this review. These men were willing to do anything to save each other, and didn’t blink an eye at the danger of losing their own lives. It is a wonderful testament to the courageous actions of men of the Army, Army Aircorp, and Coast Guard!

My only negative thoughts concern the modern aspects of the story, where the author joins an exhibition team in search of locating the lost Grumman Duck. I have no complaints about the writing, which continued to be excellent, but instead found myself irritated by the people involved with the search. Spoilers folks! This part of the novel was fraught with petty squabbles, poor planning, and constant chaos. I spent a few years doing field work and these passages left my eye twitching on numerous occasions. I never doubted the commitment of all involved, but I felt that a better job should have been done on a trip of such importance. *grumble eye twitch grumble* Rant over!

READ IT! Buy Frozen in Time for your loved ones for Christmas! This is an amazing story of survival that needs to be shared! Let me know what you think.

Lindsay

Descent Into Darkness

Descent Into Darkness

Pearl Harbor 1941: A Navy Diver’s Memoir

by Edward C. Raymer

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A tribute to the audacious Navy divers who performed the almost super-human deeds that served to shorten the war.

I’m just going to go ahead and let you know that this is one of my favorite books of 2017! Ok, so let me tell you what it about. Descent Into Darkness is the memoir of Commander Edward C. Raymer where he describes his time as a Navy Salvage Diver assigned to help raise the battleships sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The story begins right before the attack, when Raymer signs up for diver training and follows the young sailor through the raising of the battleships and his experiences during the campaign in the Solomon Islands.

This story has been on my TBR for a long time. And by a long time, I mean 3 to 4 years. Descent Into Darkness is my husband’s favorite book and he has been asking me to read it since he first picked it up. Sadly, I was just burned out on nonfiction thanks to years of grad school, and despite being interested in the subject since I am a military history nerd and an experienced scuba diver, I just couldn’t pick it up. Thankfully, Mike decided we were going to listen to it on our way back from celebrating New Years in Texas, and I was hooked within the first thirty minutes!

The narrative style is fluid and leaves readers feeling as if they are sharing a beer with Raymer while he tells his war stories. The prose is detailed and the descriptions of diving operations are detailed enough to keep experienced divers enthralled but also presented in layman’s terms which make the procedures understandable and relatable for those with little to no knowledge diving or salvage operations. Descent Into Darkness also provides a detailed look at life on Hawaii in the wake of the attack as Raymer includes plenty of hilarious antics as he and his team members managed to find enjoyment in a dangerous job and survive an island in the throws of prohibition.

I do provide a warning for readers. First, this is a story about sailors in their early twenties stuck on an island where there were far more men than women, and Raymer shares the sexual antics of his team. Also, be prepared to read about the realities of war. Yes Raymer has a humorous and lighthearted writing style, but you must remember there were men on those ships when the harbor was attacked. The divers do encounter bodies of fallen comrades and Raymer does not dance around the realities of working in these conditions. I found his honest approach refreshing and educational, especially in a time where harsh truths are glossed over for the sake of peoples feelings and the demands of political correctness. This is a real account, with real stories, where young men willingly risk their lives to do a job. It is everything I love about a good nonfiction piece.

I recommend Descent Into Darkness to everyone, but especially to anyone interested in the development of dive salvage procedures, World War II history, the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the real experiences of those who ‘just went to work’ when the nation needed them most. Today marks 76 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor and I can’t think of a better way of honoring the greatest generation than by sharing this book with y’all.

Lindsay

Can She Do It?!

I set two reading goals for myself at the beginning of 2017. The first was to read five specific nonfiction novels. The second was to complete 40 books by the end of the year. I did read 2 of my 5 nonfiction picks (I’m quite happy with this) and I am currently sitting at 30 of my planned 40 books. Only 10 books left to hit my goal…

December 1st left me contemplating all my missed reading time. I wouldn’t say it was time wasted, but I knew I could totally knock out these last 10 books! I would read instead of watching meaningless tv, I’d let some chores wait, and I’d spend less time talking on the phone on my drive home. I would dedicate that extra time to reading, and listening, to books.

Will I actually be able to read 10 books in 27 days? Probably not, but I see nothing to lose by trying!

What is the most you’ve read in a month? What do you plan to read to get you through the holidays? Do you have any Christmas reads I should check out? Good luck with hitting your goals!

Lindsay

All The Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See

by Anthony Doerr

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A stunningly ambitious and beautiful novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, a stunningly ambitious and beautiful novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure’s agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.

In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.

Doerr’s gorgeous combination of soaring imagination with observation is electric. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, All the Light We Cannot See is his most ambitious and dazzling work.

I initially learned about All the Light We Cannot See from various Booktube reviewers. I was honestly hesitant to pick up the book because I wasn’t in the mood for a young adult story. I just figured it was YA because that is the predominant genre reviewed on Booktube. It turns out that All the Light We Cannot See is not YA (figured that out half way through the story) and that it was a fantastic book to take a chance on.

I loved how Doerr focused on sharing World War II from the point of view of two children. He did a fantastic job creating realistic, likable characters; each with their own fears, flaws, and strengths. Doerr masterfully weaves the stories of multiple characters through an intricate storyline, while still managing to provide realistic endings for all involved. All the Light We Cannot See touched on so many tough subjects, including love, sacrifice, personal conflict, intellectual passion, and the many small aspects of life during wartime. It is a story that makes a reader think, and even know, I still find myself contemplating the details of Werner’s role.

I felt the representations of the children were unique as Marie Lore is a young blind girl from a loving home in France and Werner a incredibly intelligent young man from a hard childhood existence in Germany. The way they processed the world around them, how they both struggled to survive, and the way their lives inexplicably come together like two trains on a head-on collision were just enthralling.

My only complaint would be the storyline involving the cursed stone. It wasn’t my favorite. I really can’t explain why because I loved the art history and natural science of the story, and I understand the stone could represent the desperate hope of those fighting to survive. Sadly, this plot line just didn’t draw me in as completely as the rest of the book.

With that said, All the Light We Cannot See is fantastically written. Doerr’s expert melding of different settings, characters, and times leaves you feeling as if you’re dancing through the story instead of bouncing from page to page. It is a wonderfully different story about the Second World War and great for readers of all ages!

Have you read All the Light We Cannot See? Let me know what you think! And Happy (belated) Thanksgiving!

Lindsay

The Green Mill Murder

The Green Mill Murder

by Kerry Greenwood

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Phryne Fisher is doing one of her favorite things—cutting the rug at the Green Mill, Melbourne’s premier dance hall. In a sparkling lobelia-colored georgette dress, dancing to the stylings of Tintagel Stone’s Jazzmakers, nothing can flap the unflappable flapper. Nothing except death, that is.

The dance competition is trailing into its final hours when suddenly, in the middle of “Bye Bye Blackbird,” one of her fellow contestants slumps to the ground. No shot was heard, and Phryne, conscious of how narrowly the missile must have missed her own bared shoulder, undertakes to investigate. This leads her into the dark and smokey jazz clubs of Fitzroy, the arms of eloquent strangers, and finally into the the sky, on the trail of a complicated family tragedy of the Great War and the damaged men who served at Gallipoli. In the Australian Alps, she meets a hermit with a dog called Lucky and a wombat living under his bunk… and risks her life on the love between brothers.

November always finds me reading (and watching) historic mysteries. I don’t know what it is about this time of year that has me longing for quirky mysteries and spunky detectives, but you can bet my mystery TBR pile has grown in the last two weeks! One of my go-to gumshoes is Phryne Fisher. The tv show (available on Netflix) is fantastic, and the books are equally enjoyable. I have previously reviewed the first four books in the series, and it’s time to add the fifth story, The Green Mill Murder. Phryne hits the town determined to listen to jazz and dance the night away when a crooked man falls dead at her feet. Phryne finds herself on the hunt for a murderer, dealing with a number of unsavory folk, and flying over mountains in search of a lost soldier. I have an announcement for fans of the show. There is a Green Mill Murder episode, but it is a tad different than the novel. The murder is the same for both, as are the exquisite settings of both the jazz scene and the mountains of the Australian wilderness. But, the relationships between characters are drastically different, which is both good and bad. Let’s start with why I loved The Green Mill Murder, the flying. Greenwood expertly describes the sensation of flying in an open cockpit plane. The feel of ice on the wind, the overwhelming sense of utter freedom, and the smells of the engine fuel and oil had me wanting to put the book down and take off in my little plane. I could feel the tug of mud on wheels upon landing, and the encompassing fear of a sudden fog. Phryne’s flight, and subsequent time in the mountains, is what saved this book AND instilled it as my current favorite in the series.

Honestly, I wasn’t enjoying the story until Phryne took off in her little Gypsy Moth bi-plane. I felt the tv episode had done everything better. I preferred Charlie as a likable character instead of the cruel brat in the book. I felt the tv show actually handled the then illegal same sex relationship shared by Charlie and his lover instead of rushing through it, as in the book. And Phryne’s indifference and impatience through the first half of the novel matched my own feelings. I was worried about continuing the story, but then Phryne went flying!

But flying wasn’t the story’s only saving grace. The Green Mill Murder allows readers a deeper look into the thought processes of our strong willed detective. We see Phryne struggle to tolerate tedious people. We see her trying to mingle with the jazz musicians, only to remain an outsider. And we watch her learn to embrace her need for the lights and sounds of the city while hiding out in the quiet wilderness. It’s a stark look at an intelligent woman who struggles to fit in the world around her, and it was nice to see this side of Phryne.

The Green Mill Murder also provides a blunt examination of shell shock and PTSD. We hear stories shared by Bert and Cec, and watch as Phryne slowly uncovers the events that changed Vic’s world. It is an enlightening aspect of the story which left me feeling hopeful even after the last page was turned.

I recommend reading The Green Mill Murder and then watching the episode. I feel both were good in their own ways. Let me know which Mis Fisher story is your favorite. And i enjoy these cold winter nights with a good cup of coffee and a fun murder mystery!

Lindsay

Nonfiction November

November is here, and I am back from an untended, but needed hiatus. The holidays are upon us; the weather is finally starting to cool off, packages containing Christmas gift are already arriving, and my obsession with coffee is in full force. November normally finds me craving period mystery novels, especially those with spunky female detectives. So I was all prepared to read some Phryne Fisher and Murder on the Orient Express (to celebrate the movie coming out!). Then I watched A Book Olive’s announcement of Nonfiction November, and realized I had only read ONE book out of the FIVE listed as my 2017 goals.

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Luckily three of my goal books fit well with this year’s Nonfiction November challenges (they are all listed below). My goal is to read and review these four nonfiction novels, plus four detective stories this November. Lofty goals but enjoyable none the less.

 

Home: Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II

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Substance: The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York

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Love: Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography

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Scholarship: A Man on the Moon

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Are you participating in #NonfictionNovember2017? Please let me know what books you plan on reading this month, and you can look forward to new reviews on History and Mystery! Happy November everyone!

Lindsay

The Most Dangerous Game

The Most Dangerous Game

by Richard Connell

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The Most Dangerous Game features a big-game hunter from New York who becomes shipwrecked on an isolated island in the Caribbean and is hunted by a Russian aristocrat.

When asked ‘what is your favorite short story?’ (because that happens often..) my immediate response is always The Most Dangerous Game. I have no idea how old I was when I first read it, though I am pretty sure it was per a school assignment. I do; however, vividly remember reading it for the first time. The emotions evoked by The Most Dangerous Game were intense, from the confusion at Rainsford’s predicament, through a shared sense of shock, to the wild fear coursing uncontrolled in my gut as I frantically turned through the pages. It was brilliant!

Rereading it as an adult will never be the same as that first time, but each reread stirs up that memory. That haunting and chilling memory still leaves goosebumps racing up my arms.

The story is simple, with a basic writing style that modern readers may find overly simplistic. And yet, Connell manages to connect to your primal emotions despite a writing style that lacks the detailed, showy language of modern literature. I think the simplistic style easily allows the reader to tap into their imagination, triggering a deeper emotional response. In my reread, I was also realized the historical aspects of the setting. Reading it for school meant discussing emotions and the moral complexities of big game sport hunting, but this time I recognized that the General and Rainsford both survived the Great War. I was able to acknowledge Zaroff’s Cossack heritage and the evolution of his life after the Russian Revolution. And of course, I was fascinated at this unique approach on how boredom affects a mind. There is just so much packed in those 20 pages.

I will always recommend The Most Dangerous Game. Always. It takes everything for me not to restart it each time I turn that last page. So, do yourself a favor, and pick this story up for a late October night read.

Is anyone else a fan? Let me know so that we can nerd out together!

Lindsay

In the Shadow of Blackbirds

In the Shadow of Blackbirds

by Cat Winters

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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.

I am not the type of person who typically buys a book because of the cover. Sure, I like pretty covers. Sure, I’ll pick one edition over another based on the cover. (I actually tend to prefer old used books that have that particular smell…anyways) But I do not buy books that I don’t find interesting, great cover or no. So, it may surprise you that I was drawn to In the Shadow of Blackbirds because of the cover. Thankfully, I was also intrigued by the paranormal historic mystery promised by the synopsis…but that cover! It is so beautifully haunting that I was going to read this book no matter what!

In the Shadow of Blackbirds tells the story of Mary Shelley Black, a bright young woman who must relocate to California after her father is arrested. But California in 1918 is a hard place for a 16 year old; surrounded by the devastating effects of Spanish Influenza, Mary Shelley learns upon arrival that something bad has happened to her childhood sweetheart who is serving in the Army in France. Surrounded by death, thanks to the flu epidemic and World War I, Mary Shelley must attempt to come to age while processing loss, dealing with frauds, and finding the truth in ghostly whispers.

Mary Shelley Black was a refreshing heroine!  The typical young adult female lead is drowned in teenage angst and plenty of insta-love, but Mary Shelley is a self aware, confident woman of science in an era where that behavior was socially frowned upon. She typically embraces her personality and quirks with little care of what others think. I adored how often she wore her aviator goggles, but loved even more that she wore them because she liked them….not to get a rise out of people, or to make a statement. Despite handling her situation in a stoic, mature fashion, Winters still manages to present a heroine who is both mature for her age but still a child. You don’t forget that Mary Shelley is only 16 years old, because she is still impulsive, as we see with the lightening storm and her decision to help wounded soldiers. She is a wonderful character; a girl who is willing to discover the truth, capable of following her gut instinct, but naïve enough to trust that people are inherently good despite all that she has been through.

I found the story fascinating, the paranormal aspects engaging, and was thrilled that Winters provided a brilliant standalone novel (instead of trying to force this story into a typical YA duology/trilogy), but I admit the most gripping aspect of In the Shadow of Blackbirds was the year, 1918. I need to read more historical fiction set during the Great War (World War I). Winters’ vivid descriptions of the affects of the Spanish Influenza outbreak, both in physical setting, such as when Mary Shelley comes across stacks of coffins and the constant wailing of ambulance sirens in the background, and in the mental toll on characters battling against an unseen killer, was to me more haunting than the actual haunting! (geez, sorry for the super long sentence guys) And I applaud Winters for her blunt, honest approach on shell shock. She deftly displays the period social reaction to shell shock, at the time a very misunderstood mental and physical reaction to trench warfare, without imparting modern judgement. Winters shows us young soldiers struggling to heal after the war. We hear stories of boys being left by love ones after they lost limbs. We are transported to the bloody mud of the trenches in France, feeling the concussion of artillery shake the ground. And the blackbirds…they may haunt my dreams as they did Stephen’s. Brilliant; her descriptions were absolutely immersive and plain brilliant!

I don’t really have any negative thoughts but will say the scenes involving the paranormal can be a tad jumpy and abrupt. I believe this is done intentionally to leave readers a tad unsettled; it works and it can make the book tough to read during long sessions. I also wasn’t a fan of Aunt Eva. She was just too frantic, and wasn’t as developed as Mary Shelley. The gritty details of her somewhat tragic life were there, but these points were overshadowed by her frantic and somewhat irrational response to events. I could tell there was so much more to her and would have loved to see that on the pages. Especially since deep-down Eva is a survivor. I can also see where some readers might complain about the lightening strike, writing it off as a fantastic and convenient plot tool It is but it was still well done, and I have no complaints.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds was fantastic, and the perfect read during the month of spooks! I dare say Winters’ may have restored my faith in young adult fiction…..no matter. I recommend it for those in need of a spooky read!

Do you have any other spooky young adult books I should check out? Have you read anything else by Cat Winters? Do you know where I can find a pair of vintage aviator goggles?!? Let me know, and happy spooky reading!

Lindsay