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

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OCTOBER!

My favorite month has finally arrived! The 1st of October signals the start of fall (despite Florida holding on to the 90s), the start of the holiday season, and an excuse to indulge in all things creepy! My Halloween decorations are up, my seasonal fall scents are out, and my corny Halloween movies are on!

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So what can you expect from History and Mystery this month? Reviews on gruesome murder mysteries, macabre paranormal historical fiction, and circus stories! I am so excited to be sharing my favorite month with y’all!

Go ahead and check out last year’s spooky reads:

What spooky books are on your TBR this month? Please feel free to share your favorite October reads, movies, TV shows…just know I fully plan on binging Stranger Things!

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Happy October!  Lindsay

 

Ghosts of Key West

Ghosts of Key West

by David L. Sloan

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Key West’s past comes alive with thirteen incredible stories of the southernmost ghosts. From Victorian era spirits returning to claim what is rightfully theirs, to haunted dolls that continue to send chills down their visitors’ spines, Ghosts of Key West beautifully captures the true spirit of Florida’s second oldest city. Ghosts of cigar makers, pirates, wreckers and voodoo practitioners all await you. While their ghostly journeys continue through time, yours is just about to begin. Ghosts of Key West author David L. Sloan founded Key West’s original ghost tour and is the leading authority on the island’s hauntings.

 I needed a spooky read to help get me extra excited about a tropically vacation, and luckily Ghosts of Key West was just sitting there on our shelves. It was just what I needed! 

Ghosts of Key West is a super short read, taking only an hour or so to get through, and is told in a ‘stories around the campfire’ format. There are tons of black and white pictures of historic key west homes and portraits of the people still haunting the island. The ghost stories are educational as they provide a decent amount of island history alongside the ghostly tales. Its broken up in to short chapters, each with their own ghost story, that i feel makes it a better read.

Sadly, it is very poorly written. The plot of each story is very jumpy and full of random first person encounters. These first person stories were annoying for someone who picked up the book for history. The writing issues could have probably been fixed with a good editing or two. 

Ghosts of Key West a good starter book if you’re planning on hitting the keys for a vacation. It’s a nice introduction to the ghostly history of the island, but I definitely recommend taking a tour if you visit. 

Anyone else love a good ghost story? Who else loves the Florida Keys?

Lindsay

Ghostwalk

Ghostwalk

by Rebecca Stott

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A Cambridge historian, Elizabeth Vogelsang, is found drowned, clutching a glass prism in her hand. The book she was writing about Isaac Newton’s involvement with alchemy — the culmination of her lifelong obsession with the seventeenth century — remains unfinished. When her son, Cameron, asks his former lover, Lydia Brooke, to ghostwrite the missing final chapters of his mother’s book, Lydia agrees and moves into Elizabeth’s house — a studio in an orchard where the light moves restlessly across the walls.

Soon Lydia discovers that the shadow of violence that has fallen across present-day Cambridge, which escalates to a series of murders, may have its origins in the troubling evidence that Elizabeth’s research has unearthed. As Lydia becomes ensnared in a dangerous conspiracy that reawakens ghosts of the past, the seventeenth century slowly seeps into the twenty-first, with the city of Cambridge the bridge between them.

Filled with evocative descriptions of Cambridge, past and present, Ghostwalk centers around a real historical mystery that Rebecca Stott has uncovered involving Newton’s alchemy. In it, time and relationships are entangled — the present with the seventeenth century, and figures from the past with the love-torn twenty-first-century woman who is trying to discover their secrets.

A stunningly original display of scholarship and imagination, and a gripping story of desire and obsession, Ghostwalk is a rare debut that will change the way most of us think about scientific innovation, the force of history, and time itself.

I picked up the audio version of Ghostwalk from my local library. My initial though was “hmmmm Newton…why not?” The good thing is that I learned a ton of interesting information about Newton’s studies at Cambridge, but unfortunately, I was not impressed by the modern fiction plot line.

I’m going to start with all the things I enjoyed about Ghostwalk. I love the information about Newton. I found his experiments with light fascinating and wish there had been more details on the early production of glass. I like how Stott wove together the intricate murder mysteries of the past, and these events alone have me wanting to do my own research. And I enjoy the focus on alchemy; Stott’s research was impressive. I enjoyed how Elizabeth teaches Lydia how to visualize the past through smells and stories. And I even like the journal style format.

And now for the bad…I had a hard time connecting with Lydia, which isn’t good as she is the main character. Basically, she chooses to be in a relationship with a married man and her constant focus on this relationship bogged down the story. We all know it’s going to end…badly! And I had a difficult time even caring for Cameron as everything he said and did felt overly manipulative and arrogant. Not my type of guy and his very few redeeming qualities only diminished as the novel progressed. But it wasn’t just the crap relationship that left me feeling ‘eh’ about Ghostwalk. The plot was bogged down by the rough melding of Lydia’s timeline, the animal research activists, and the ghostly resurgence of Newton’s past. It was hard to enjoy over my annoyance at Lydia and the jumpy plot.

Ghostwalk wasn’t a bad story but not one that I would ever read again. I was impressed by Stott’s research and presentation of historic information, but not by the plot development. It was interesting to learn about Newton and his experiments, and I wouldn’t mind learning more. Next time I may pick up a nonfiction instead of a historical fiction novel.

Do you enjoy learning about Newton and alchemy? Have you read Ghostwalk? Tell me what you think.

Lindsay

 

Halloween Decorations

[originally posted on LBoitnott]

I love Halloween! The ghost stories, witches, and monsters spark my imagination. We are drawn to haunted houses and horror movies so we can revel in surviving the scary. Halloween is just fun and my decorations come out every October 1st.

My mom also loves Halloween and I grew up with some pretty epic Halloween decorations. We lived on a cattle ranch and one year my mom decided to make a hay-bale spider. She spray painted a round bale black, added long black legs, and gruesome teeth. From that horrible mouth dangled a pair of torn jeans and dusty old cowboy boots. IT WAS AWESOME! And it will always be a favorite.

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I share my mom’s love of Halloween decorations and went nuts when we moved in to our house a few years ago. I had plans to transform our house into something out of a horror movie but I was a broke college student. Most of my decor was homemade. Thankfully, Pinterest has spurred on the DIY movement and provided plenty of inspiration. My house is covered in these homemade pieces and have become personal favorites of mine, and many of my friends.

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My sweet family contributes to my stash and eventually my home will look haunted! For now I enjoy my spooky decor and the ghoulish homes emerging throughout the neighborhood.

Please share your favorite Halloween decorations! Do you have any fond childhood Halloween decor stories?

Happy Halloween!

Lindsay

Calamity Jayne and the Haunted Homecoming

Calamity Jayne and the Haunted Homecoming

by Kathleen Bacus

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WHAT DO YOU CALL A BLONDE SKELETON IN THE CLOSET?

LAST YEAR’S HIDE ‘N’ SEEK CHAMP

It’s autumn in the heartland, when football rules and homecoming royalty reigns–and full moons don’t just mean a passing high school varsity bus. But this year, Tressa Jayne Turner can’t seem to get into the ‘spirit’ of the season. Our intrepid young reporter is trying to recover from a ten day run at the State Fair. After being stalked by a psycho dunk-tank clown, all she wants is a slower pace, some candy corn, popcorn balls, and caramel apples–and a serious story she can sniff out on her own.

And guess what. She’s in luck! Eccentric and reclusive bestselling writer Elizabeth Courtney Howard is coming to little ol’ Grandville to conduct some family business and finish her latest book. So, what’s stopping Tressa from getting the goods on the mysterious mystery author–besides a blackmailing six-foot-two-inch homecoming queen candidate with all the charm of Frankenstien in taffeta, a rival reporter out to scoop the competition, a seance-hosting roommate who happens to be her grandmother, and a Natural Resources Ranger-type who could make a nun reconsider her vows? Only the fact that the skeletons to uncover are all in a closet in Haunted Holloway Hall–a house only Norman Bates could love.

I found Ghouls Just Want to Have Fun for my Nook for super cheap a few years back. I didn’t get around to reading it, which is unfortunately an all too common occurrence, until this year. When looking at Bacus’ website I realized the story had been republished under a new name and with new cover art. I am not a fan of the current cover art because it leaves the novel feeling super low budget. But I do like the new name! Calamity Jayne and the Haunted Homecoming just fits.

I’m glad I finally read Calamity Jayne and the Haunted Homecoming because I absolutely loved the quirky characters. Tressa Jayne and I share a similar smart a#* sense of humor and love for all things snack food. I love the relationship she shares with her hellion of a grandma and the reluctant friendship she develops with the towering Shelby Lynn. The characters are well developed and the storyline is intriguing. Yes, I figured out what was happening with reclusive writer Elizabeth Courtney Howard early on but I’m ok with that when reading a cozy mystery. The characters, humor, and small town setting are what make this book worth the read!

Now the characters might be a miss for you because they are all pretty quirky. I definitely do no recommend Calamity Jayne and the Haunted Homecoming for those wanting a serious read. This is not the book for you. Each character can be a little over the top and most people will quickly tire of Tressa Jayne’s obsession with food. Plus, the alliterating nicknames can get old…Hellion Hannah, Jolting Joe, etc. I even got a little sick of it. My only real complaint is the novel needed one good last edit before being published. There were a number of sentences that were poorly structured and characters repeated themselves multiple times. Shelby Lynn threatening to take her story to the other newspaper every few pages was annoying. 

There were a number of grammatical and format errors. Words appeared twice or were sometimes missing all together. The formatting was all off. Of course this was just my copy, so hopefully the glitches have been fixed with the republication. I have a number of self published friends and I’ve heard how frustrating it is to format for ebook. So just know there may be formatting errors.

Calamity Jayne and the Haunted Homecoming made me laugh and that’s what I needed! It is book 3 in the series but you do not have to read the first two to enjoy this one. However, I’ll probably read the rest of the series because I loved the characters so much! Have you read anything by Kathleen Bacus? Share your thoughts!

Lindsay

If Walls Could Talk

If Walls Could Talk

by Juliet Blackwell

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Melanie Turner has made quite a name for herself remodeling historic houses in the San Francisco Bay Area. But now her reputation may be on the line.

At her newest project, a run-down Pacific Heights mansion, Mel is visited by the ghost of a colleague who recently met a bad end with power tools. Mel hopes that by nailing the killer, she can rid herself of the ghostly presence of the murdered man-and not end up a construction casualty herself…

If Walls Could Talk is the first in a different  cozy mystery series by Juliet Blackwell. The Haunted Home Renovation Mysteries follows ex-cultural anthropologist turned contractor, Mel, who loves restoring antique homes. Plus, it has a hunky crush, a few murders, and the ability to talk to ghosts. Not a bad cozy-mystery idea if you ask me.

If Walls Could Talk is right up my alley with my archaeology and historic preservation background but I’m not sure I’ll be picking up the next book in the series. This novel was not as well developed as the Witchcraft Mystery series. The best word to describe it is abrupt. Spoilers ahead folks.

Bam: Mel witnesses a murder. Bam: Mel runs in to her old crush that she hasn’t seen for ten years and immediately has an argument. Bam: Mel sees a ghost. Bam: Mel spends the night with a charming photographer she doesn’t trust. Bam: Mel learns that both she and her mom could talk to ghost so she’s now totally ok with it.

The plot and character relationships were well thought out but the prose just didn’t flow. It was a little off putting and it made it difficult to be become invested in the characters. The story is just rushed which left the relationships feeling two dimensional. Plus, no one would spend the entire time freaking out about seeing a ghost and then just be totally cool with it in the end.

I did like Mel and the relationship she has with her father and ex-stepson. I think the series has some potential because the characters are fun and the haunted antique house setting is interesting.

Have you read this cozy-mystery series? What do you think of the haunted home renovation idea?

Lindsay

Haunted on Bourbon Street

 

Haunted on Bourbon Street

by Deanna Chase

Haunted on Bourbon Street

From USA Today bestselling author, Deanna Chase, the first book in the Jade Calhoun series. HAUNTED ON BOURBON STREET Jade loves her new apartment–until a ghost joins her in the shower. When empath Jade Calhoun moves into an apartment above a strip bar on Bourbon Street, she expects life to get interesting. What she doesn’t count on is making friends with an exotic dancer, attracting a powerful spirit, and developing feelings for Kane, her sexy landlord. Being an empath has never been easy on Jade’s relationships. It’s no wonder she keeps her gift a secret. But when the ghost moves from spooking Jade to terrorizing Pyper, the dancer, it’s up to Jade to use her unique ability to save her. Except she’ll need Kane’s help–and he’s betrayed her with a secret of his own–to do it. Can she find a way to trust him and herself before Pyper is lost.

Yesterday was a ‘do nothing but read after work’ day.  It was just one of those days were I needed a short break from reality, and what better way than getting lost in a book?  I found Haunted on Bourbon Street on my Nook.  I guess I had picked it up at this time last year, and I decided to read it since it fit within my October theme.

It was fun but not great.  I liked the story idea: Jade is an empath living above a strip club on Bourbon Street when a ghost decides to be her roommate.  She is determined to hide her gift but must venture out of her comfort zone when her ghost starts hurting a close friend.  Its different but fun; I was even ok with the wholesome stripper idea despite its clichés.  The writing just did not back up the plot.

It felt unedited.  A character would be sitting on the couch one second and then be going through the fridge the next.  It read choppy and was hard to follow at times. The writing was repetitive.  I stopped counting the number of times that Jade marveled at how “he remembered my drink of choice” each time the hunky Kane brought her a beverage.  I now know her ‘drinks of choice’ by heart: Guinness, red wine, and chia lattes.  Haunted on Bourbon Street is just full of telling language instead of showing language and I felt that Chase was a first time author when she wrote this.  Blaring editing problems such as these, and the lack of showing descriptions left the characters reading flat enough that I did not rush out to purchase another book.

But don’t let that deter you.  The sexy aspects of the book were fun, and I did care about Jade’s relationship with Kane and her friendships with Pyper and Kat.  The plotline was actually rather unique and interesting and I enjoy the atmosphere of Bourbon Street and haunted New Orleans that Chase describes.  It is the perfect beach read on a warm fall day and I spent a few of my reading hours curled up in my chair outside enjoying the sun and story.

Haunted on Bourbon Street was just what I needed to escape the rough week.  🙂  Has anyone else read Deanna Chase’s novels?

Lindsay