In the Shadow of Blackbirds

In the Shadow of Blackbirds

by Cat Winters

13112915

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

Advertisements

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!

image

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!

Stranger Things season 1 hello bye wave GIF

Happy October!  Lindsay

 

Secondhand Spirits

Secondhand Spirits

by Juilet Blackwell

6456016

Lily Ivory is not your average witch. Her spell-casting powers tend to draw mischievous spirits while keeping normal humans at a distance. But now her vintage clothing store could give her a chance to make friends in San Francisco….

Lily hopes for a normal life when she opens Aunt Cora’s Closet. With her magical knack for vintage fashion -she can sense vibrations of the past from clothing and jewelry—her store becomes a big hit.

But when a client is murdered and children start disappearing from the Bay Area, Lily may be the only one who can unravel the crime. She tries to keep her identity a secret while investigating, but it’s not easy—especially under the spells of sexy “mythbuster” Max Carmichael and powerful witch Aidan Rhodes. Will Lily’s witchy ways be forced out of the closet?

I found Secondhand Spirits on audiobook in the local library a few years ago. It was October and I was in desperate need of a lighthearted paranormal mystery to get through my last fall semester. Secondhand Spirits fit the bill and I managed to read most of the series in the following months. I’ve been craving spooky cozy mysteries again and decided it was time to revisit and share Blackwell’s Witchcraft Mysteries.

I’m going to start off with all the reasons I enjoy this story. I like Lily Ivory. I enjoy her sweet southern ways and how she is kind to everyone she meets despite being a social outcast for most of her life. I like that she has somehow stumbled on such great, even if somewhat odd, friends in Bronwyn and Maya. I wish I could check out Aunt Cora’s Closet and the Haight-Ashbury district because Blackwell’s descriptions are tantalizing and I have no problem visualizing Lily’s world. I even like Lily’s sarcastic goblin/potbelly pig familiar, Oscar.

But, the one point that keeps me coming back to the story is the spirit Lily must battle, La Llorona. La Llorona has been one of my favorite ghost stories since I first heard it in a high school Spanish class. Don’t ask me why, because it’s kinda a depressing ghost story. La Llorona is doomed to haunt the water searching for her lost children. The children she drowned upon learning of their father’s infidelity. (Watch the pilot episode of Supernatural if you want another great take of La Llorona!) Blackwell’s mix of La Llorona, voodoo, and Lily’s earthy brewing had me hooked!

Now for my eh thoughts. I am not of a fan of the two lead men introduced in to Lily’s life. The story opens with Aidan Rhodes, male witch, barging in to her store, placing a charm on the occupants, and gifting Lily with Oscar. We learn that Aidan is an associate of Lily’s dark magic wielding father and isn’t to be trusted. And yet, Lily still takes in Oscar despite suspecting that he is a spy for Aidan. Wait…what?!? Plus, Lily seems to find, and fall for, the one man in the Bay Area who despises everything about witchcraft. I get that Max Carmichael is one sexy hunk but…WHY?!? Both Max and Aidan have their good qualities but were demanding and controlling overall. I was not vested in her relationship with either man.

I still enjoy Secondhand Spirits despite my dislike ofMax and Aidan. I definitely recommend if you are looking for something light and witchy. Lily is more like a regular human than she knows. She routinely makes spur of the moment and somewhat bad decisions but she does everything with kind intentions. I like her. Has anyone else stumbled up this series?

Lindsay

What to Expect – OCTOBER

OCTOBER

My favorite month of the year has arrived and you should see all the reviews that await you! MWAHAHAHA! (cue the creepy music…)

halloween animated GIF

So what can you expect this month? Lots and lots of paranormal cozy mysteries. What can I say? I love mysteries involving ghosts and witches.

I plan on reviewing Juliet Blackwell’s entire Withcraft Mystery series, which follows the adventures of sweet witch, Lily Ivory and her potbelly pig/goblin, Oscar.

scooby doo animated GIF

The third installment of Jackie Smith’s Cemetery Tours series comes out this month and you will see a review! I’m looking forward to After Death. Ghost hunting and a circus….oooooo!

Also, I will be reviewing one non paranormal novel this month: Jones Lee’s A Time to Live. This amazing friend has been beyond patient while waiting for this review and I’m excited to talk about the crazy adventures of snarky Carter Gabel!

So grad a pumpkin spice latte and your favorite candy because it is going to be a fun month!

Lindsay

Every Trick in the Book

Every Trick in the Book

by Lucy Arlington

Every Trick in the Book (Novel Idea, #2)

The national bestselling Novel Idea Mysteries return with Lila Wilkins, who has just been promoted to full-time literary agent. But great new writers aren’t the only people she’s trying to catch…

Lila Wilkins has it all: the home of her dreams in the charming town of Inspiration Valley, North Carolina; a perfect police officer boyfriend; and a new job she absolutely loves. At the Book and Author Festival, which is sponsored by the Novel Idea Literary Agency, Lila expects to discover some talented new authors, but what she finds instead is the body of an editor to whom she bears an eerie resemblance.

Trouble is, the editor’s death isn’t the only literary murder taking place. Soon a blossoming author is also killed, and Lila has a gut feeling that the two murders are linked. Now she must hunt down the dark figure who killed these women—and to her surprise, she just might find the clues hidden in a manuscript…

Every Trick in the Book is the second story in the Novel Idea Mystery series. I started last May with the first novel, Buried in a Book, and was pleased to jump start my May reading with book 2.

Lila has happily settled in to her new life as a literary agent at Novel Idea.  She has a budding relationship with cute cop Sean, a new dream house, and healthy relationships with both her mom and son.  Everything is going well until she discovers the body of a book editor during the costume party at the fall Book and Author Festival.  Soon the body count is racking up, and to make matters worse, her son is sure that something illegal is happening at the local co-op.

The best aspect of Every Trick in the Book is the setting. The detailed descriptions of crisp weather, colorful leaves, and fun Halloween decorations had me craving pumpkin spice cookies and a piping hot vanilla latte. Fall is my favorite season and the setting pulled me in to the story feet first.  Every Trick in the Book is filled with quirky, interesting characters and I enjoy reading the story from Lila’s point of view.  I have always wished to work in the literary/publishing industry and Lila has my dream position.  I highly doubt Every Trick in the Book provides a realistic portrayal of the industry but I am totally ok with that.  I like this version.  The Novel Idea Literary Agency setting is what keeps me coming back to this series.

Lila just left me frustrated though.  The mystery was cliché and not really a mystery, which honestly wasn’t disappointing for me because I wanted something light and cliché. I just wasn’t pleased with how Lila acted throughout the story. She consistently jumped to conclusions, despite Sean’s advice, and then became frantic each time she was wrong. She insisted on investigating but was constantly in over her head. I was left flabbergasted at her crazed belief that Kirk Mason was out to kill her and her flight through the Novel Idea offices.   It was hard to believe the same woman catches the fugitive co-op manager in the end. I was waiting for Lila to finally listen to the people who love her, Althea and Sean, but she really never got to that point.  I was also a tad surprised at the drastic change in the co-op.  It was good for a subplot but might have been more effective if the change occurred over a longer time period instead of the few short months indicated in the timeline.

A pet peeve of mine is proper law enforcement behavior in stories. I did not like that Sean’s immediate response when called out to a crime scene was to hold and kiss Lila before doing his job.  Lila, stop whining about how its hard to be in a relationship with a cop and instead stay out of trouble! I would be horrified if a killer got away because my man took the time to kiss me before arresting the suspect. In real life, Sean would look at Lila, visually make sure she was ok while running to secure the scene.  You can kiss once that killer is safety handcuffed in the backseat!

I still recommend Every Trick in the Book despite these few negative points.  I like the cast of characters and the setting.  It is a fun cozy mystery and it has me really looking forward to this October! Are you a fan of the Novel Idea mysteries?

Lindsay

OCTOBER!!

OCTOBER IS FINALLY HERE!!!  It is my favorite month of the year and I was so happy yesterday that I danced on my way to work.

October is the month of chilly nights, less humidity, and beautiful afternoons. It is the month of all things Halloween, which for me includes cheesy Halloween movies and fun decorations (I provided pictures of some of mine). My month will be spent going to festivals, sneaking through haunted houses, and officially working on my first novel! But, most importantly, I will be reading!

photo 3 photo 2 photo 1

I have always been a theme reader.  Cozy mysteries during the summer…Nero Wolfe Mysteries during November and December…Alaskan mysteries in January.  October is no different.  Expect reviews on ghost stories, haunted mysteries, creepy tales, and all things paranormal! Some will be serious and some will be gloriously cheesy! I hope you are as excited as I am and I suggest you read my Sandkings review to get in the mood.

photo1 photo

HAPPY OCTOBER!

Lindsay