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A Reader of Fictions: February 2013

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Joint Review Discussion: In the Shadow of Blackbirds

Lenore Appelhans did a joint review discussion of Beth Revis' Shades of Earth, and that was so much fun we had to do another. This one isn't dystopian, but we both loved it so much that we had to talk about it. We'll really dive into some of the main subjects. We endeavor to keep it at as non-spoilery as possible, but you might learn a few things. I gave In the Shadow of Blackbirds 4.5 stars.

Description from Goodreads:
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.

Lenore and I are discussing 4 topics: Atmosphere, Romance, History, and Ghosts. The first two are over at Presenting Lenore, so pop over there to check those out, if you haven't been there already. Just keep reading to hear our thoughts on the history in the novel and the ghosty business.


You may not know this, but I was actually a history major in undergrad. Though that was not my calling, I still get a serious author-crush on those who can do historical settings well, and I’ve got one on Cat Winters now. There are so many books set during WWI, but this isn’t like any of the ones I’ve read. Mary Shelley’s life is only peripherally affected by the war. Instead, she has to deal with the Spanish Flu, and all of the horrid superstitious attempts to cure the Spanish flu, like eating endless amounts of onion and burning sulphur. Yuck!

I knew that! Oh see, and I have a weird thing for historical plagues. Give me a book about an epidemic/pandemic and I’m all over it. However, I can’t really recall reading much fiction dealing with the Spanish Flu, so the onions were new to me.

How macabre of you! I haven’t read any spanish flu fiction, either. I think the closest I’ve come to that in fiction is Twilight. Wasn’t Edward dying of the Spanish flu when he was turned in 1917? It scares me that I remember that. Anyway, this is so much better. Winters made me want to go research the reactions to the Spanish flu, but I suspect I will be too lazy. Still, she’s inspiring me to want to be better. Props!

Confession time: I’ve never read Twilight, and though I did see the first movie (dubbed into German on TV here), I don’t remember the Spanish Flu. But I could see it. He is pale and sickly, haha.

In any case, the addition of the Spanish Flu here makes it a great read alike for other plague tales - my absolute favorite being Doomsday Book by Connie Willis.

The Ending

One thing I love about the paranormal elements of In the Shadow of Blackbirds is how un-paranormal they feel. It comes off more like they either just exist, so they’re realistic, rather than paranormal, or like Mary Shelley’s lost her mind, perhaps because of all the onions. Do you have any thoughts on this, Lenore? Do you think the ghosts really exist or that Mary Shelley’s brain broke at the loss of her boyfriend?

Oh good question! I guess I’m so used to reading paranormal these days that I took Mary Shelley’s visions at face value. But I’m intrigued by the idea that too many onions can cause madness ;)

One element that supports the ghosts really existing in the story is the fact that Mary Shelley died for a few minutes and she was changed afterward. Like the compass always pointed at her. That’s some serious freakiness!

Well, maybe it’s not the onions per se... Still, I love to consider whether things are actually happening or if the MC’s just going crazy. I enjoy reads that fuck with your mind, and, with something like this, the door is wide open for that.

True! I loved what she did with the compass, like it registered your amount of paranormalness. That’s a word now, by the way. I wonder if you could test Julius’s spirit-photographing abilities with the compass? There are some seriously freaky ghosty scenes in here. I hope they’re real, even if it would also be awesome for them to be all in her head...

I agree - it’s definitely open to interpretation. That makes great fodder for discussion. Recommend it to your next book club!

Remember, there's more discussion (and a GIVEAWAY) at Presenting Lenore!


In the Shadow of Blackbirds, Cat Winters' debut novel comes out April 2 from Amulet Books! This one's definitely worth a preorder, folks! You can see my standard format review on Goodreads

Check back tomorrow for a giveaway of In the Shadow of Blackbirds, which is going to be the Book of the Month.

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Cover Snark (46): You Can Always Tell If a Book's New Adult

Welcome to Cover Snark, where the people are snarky and the covers quiver in fear. Since I don't write many snarky book reviews here on A Reader of Fictions, Cover Snark is my outlet. If you click on the title of the book, where possible, I've linked to Goodreads. Clicking on the cover itself will show you the cover in a larger size, in most cases. Feel free to love covers I hate and vice versa. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Commenting pro tip: The easiest way to comment on such a long post is to open the post in two windows (really easy if you use Google Reader). Comment in one and scroll the covers in the other. That's actually how I comment on other people's reviews too. I can't remember all my comments by the time I get to the box!

Shiny and New:

1. Spirit (Elemental #5) - Shauna Granger
Thoughts: Well, this is better than the others in the series, so I'll give them that. The fonts are okay, too. The wings could be worse. Still, this is boring.

2. The Truth About Letting Go (The Truth #2) - Leigh T. Moore
Thoughts: The Truth about Hippies.

3. In Too Deep - Michelle Kemper Brownlow
Thoughts: Very good for an indie, though it reminds me of a lot of dark contemporary covers. I do really love the font.

4. Pretending He's Mine (Caught Up in Us #2) - Lauren Blakely
Thoughts: Sex in the Pepto Bismol City.

5. Time After Time (Time Between Us #2) - Tamara Ireland Stone
Thoughts: Am I the only one who thinks this looks like a weepy contemporary from the 90s.

6. Tied (Fire Born #1) - Laney McMann
Thoughts: I'm not a big fan of the gargoyle thing in the foreground, but the rest of this is awesome.

7. Imitation - Heather Hildebrand
Thoughts: Liar + Starters = Imitation.

8. The Trap (The Hunt #3) - Andrew Fukuda
Thoughts: I'm not a big fan of the redesign for these, but I think this is the best of the lot so far. Looks like they even pulled a photo from the shoot the original hardcover used.

9. The Activist (Theodore Boone #4) - John Grisham
Thoughts: SNORE. Unless those are zombies in the background, but I doubt that.

10. The Lives of Tao - Wesley Chu
Thoughts: Pretty cool cover. I'm not sure what's going on, but I'm definitely curious!

11. The Unbound (The Archived #2) - Victoria Schwab
Thoughts: The sequel to The Archived comes with prettier colors and the One Ring in silver. Nice.

12. Emancipating Andie - Priscilla Glenn
Thoughts: The first of the obviously new adult books. I'm guessing this will put the MAN in EMANCIPATING.

13. Beneath - Cambria Hebert
Thoughts: Holy crap, this is shitty. Look at those wings! And the butterflies! And 'Heven.' A world of no.

14. The Living - Matt de la Pena
Thoughts: Fun fact: images of hands reaching up to be saved from drowning always makes me think of the DuckTales episode where Scrooge McDuck is drowning in his money.

15. Sorrow's Knot - Erin Bow
Thoughts: Ooh, a POC. A bit weird that she's playing cat's cradle, but okay. Also, I'm super uncomfortable with this tiny, white hands going for her shoulders.

16. The Registry - Shannon Stoker
Thoughts: Curious about the fact that she's wearing a veil. The tagline passes muster. Otherwise, eh.

17. Wait for You - J. Lynn
Thoughts: I've said this before, and I'll probably keep saying it until it stops being a thing: what is the goddamn point of using a pseudonym if you put your other writing name on as well? And, in this case, the pseudonym is tacked on as an afterthought. Also, obviously new adult.

18. Gold (Bandia #2) - Talia Vance
Thoughts: The first in the series had a pretty cover at least. This looks a little too much like The Lion King for a paranormal romance. Her kingdom is probably everything the light touches.

19. It Was You - Anna Cruise
Thoughts: Their future's so bright, they have to wear shades.

20. Tumble & Fall - Alexandra Coutts
Thoughts: Someone told me this is just like a scene in Armageddon, which is hilarious, though I don't remember it. In other news, I love it. Shiny AND I want that dress.

21. Emma: Wild and Wanton Edition - Micah Persell
Thoughts: Oy. Yet another one. Apparently, Emma's going to sex Knightley in the sky. That's legit.

22. Where the Stars Still Shine - Trish Doller
Thoughts: This is pretty, but it looks like a Sarah Addison Allen cover, not so much a YA. That's not bad necessarily, but it is surprising.

23. A Cursed Embrace (Weird Girls #2) - Cecy Robinson
Thoughts: Seriously, what is up with putting a First Time in Print sticker on newly released books? It would make sense if it had been an ebook first, but I don't think that's the case. Also, does anyone really care whether a book has been in print before? Pretty good PNR cover, but that bothers me.

24. The Fiery Heart (Bloodlines #4) - Richelle Mead
Thoughts: The more fiery the heart, the more awkward the hair and expressions. I think I will keep my heart nice and icy.

25. Blood Roses (Blackthorn #2) - Lindsay J. Pryor
Thoughts: Okay, now that is a good tagline. The rose background is interesting too. However, I do not like the way she's wearing the series info like an outsized tiara.

26. Knotted Roots - Ruthi Kight 
Thoughts: The first surprise for Roxie will be how many kinds of poop she can get on her heels walking around the farm.

27. Escapement (The Neumarian Chronicles #1) - Ciara Knight
Thoughts: Self-pubs, this is what you should be aspiring to. This is BADASS. Nice work. I really love the font and the city. Less wild about the girl in chains, but she's decently photoshopped, so it's not a huge issue.

28. Fearless - Mike DeLosso
Thoughts: Fearless is exactly how I DON'T feel when I look at this cover. This has a very Firestarter sort of vibe.

29. One Week Girlfriend (Drew + Fable #1) - Monica Murphy
Thoughts: Ugh. I can just tell I would hate this. *shakes fist at New Adult*

30. Rebel Spring (Falling Kingdoms #2) - Morgan Rhodes
Thoughts: I want this to be a Little Red Riding Hood retelling, but I doubt that. Also, I'm not digging that font. The S looks really lame.

31. No Good Duke Goes Unpunished (The Rules of Scoundrels #3) - Sarah MacLean
Thoughts: I really hope the blurb won't really be running up the side. Also, I think there's way too much green happening here. I could better admire the fancy dress if the stairs and bannister weren't also green.

32. Zombies: Shambling Through the Ages - Steve Berman, ed.
Thoughts: Purple and orange is a bold color combination. The perky tagline is a bit out of place. One-eyed zombie is fittingly creepy.

33. Fire with Fire (Burn for Burn #2) - Jenny Han & Siobhan Vivian
Thoughts: A lot like Burn for Burn's cover. Their clothes are ... interesting.

34. Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl - David Barnett
 Thoughts: Oooh, steampunk train. Love it.

35. Cave of Wonders (Infinity Ring #5) - Matthew J. Kirby
Thoughts: So cheesy!

36. I'll Be Seeing You - Suzanne Hayes & Loretta Nyhan
 Thoughts: I had this pegged as Christian fiction, but apparently it's WWII fiction. Boring cover.

Cover Battles:

1. Dare You To (Pushing the Limits #2) - Katie McGarry
US vs. UK: Ummm, UK, what are you thinking with the red? That font is the worst. It's like the puffy paint the popular seniors decorate their cars with at graduation. Just no. Winner: US.

2. Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass #1) - Sarah J. Maas
Hardback vs. Paperback: Well, the good folks at Bloomsbury obviously figured out that the illustrated UK cover kicked their cover's butt. What's odd is that they made the background darker. I still prefer the UK cover, but the paperback is vastly better than the hardcover. Winner: Paperback.

3. Rising Darkness (Game of Shadows #1) - Thea Harrison
US vs. UK: Huh. Well, I really don't love either, but, though it looks crazier, I think the UK cover looks a bit more put together, like more work into it. Winner: UK.

4. Unchained (Nephilim Rising #1) - J. Lynn
Original vs. Redesign: Looks like they're going for more of a sexy vibe, and less of a cutesy one. Neither one really appeals to me. The new one's a bit cleaner, but I hate those wings. Winner: Neither.

WTF of the Week:  

1. Heart's Desire - Lindsey Edwards
Thoughts: Is their love strong enough to survive a shitty cover and a missing apostrophe in the title?

2. Exposure - Christina Mobley
 Thoughts: Lightning gives you 80s hair.

3. Tentacles - Ifo Oshun
Thoughts: There's totally a kink about this in Japan. Aren't you glad to know that?

Outstanding Cover of the Week:
Tumble & Fall by Alexandra Coutts

Learn More or Preorder:

Goodreads|Amazon|Barnes & Noble|The Book Depository


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Review: When We Wake

When We Wake
When We Wake, Book 1

Author: Karen Healey
Pages: 304
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 5, 2013
Source: Publisher

Description from Goodreads:
My name is Tegan Oglietti, and on the last day of my first lifetime, I was so, so happy. Sixteen-year-old Tegan is just like every other girl living in 2027--she's happiest when playing the guitar, she's falling in love for the first time, and she's joining her friends to protest the wrongs of the world: environmental collapse, social discrimination, and political injustice.

But on what should have been the best day of Tegan's life, she dies--and wakes up a hundred years in the future, locked in a government facility with no idea what happened. Tegan is the first government guinea pig to be cryonically frozen and successfully revived, which makes her an instant celebrity--even though all she wants to do is try to rebuild some semblance of a normal life. But the future isn't all she hoped it would be, and when appalling secrets come to light, Tegan must make a choice: Does she keep her head down and survive, or fight for a better future?

Award-winning author Karen Healey has created a haunting, cautionary tale of an inspiring protagonist living in a not-so-distant future that could easily be our own.

First Sentence: "My name is Tegan Oglietti."

Just yesterday, series information was added to Goodreads for When We Wake. I'm so glad that happened before I wrote up this review, because, honestly, the open-ended ending might have left me rather unsatisfied if I didn't know there was going to be more. Plus, I'm just excited there will be more, because When We Wake was a delight all the way through, populated with lovable characters, science-fictiony goodness, and references to The Beatles.

Before I get into the serious plot stuff, I have to talk about all of The Beatles love in this book. My parents raised me on music from the 60s and 70s, so, though I'm not a child of that age, I sure do know most of the music, and The Beatles have always been amongst my favorites, even if my favorite album changes through the years. Every chapter title is a Beatles song, but the references go much deeper than that, and you better believe I adore every single one. The songs do even serve a plot point, providing a link to her old life and a way to connect with the people of 2128 through music.

Tegan makes a wonderful heroine. Awakened over a hundred years after her last memory and informed of her death and revival, she is, understandably, freaked. However, after some time to mourn over her old life, she makes the best out of her new situation. She is helpful, hopeful, loving, determined, and sarcastic. Her voice thoughout When We Wake is a delight, and I connected to her immediately, not just because of her love of The Beatles.

Reviving Tegan a century later enables Healey to impart information to the reader in a logical way. Tegan really does not know anything about the world she's in and can ask questions and receive answers without it feeling like an infodump. Healey uses the device to the fullest and spaces out Tegan's education well. Healey does not feel the need to drop everything on the reader all at once, taking breaks for character development or to talk about less serious things like slang or toilets (in this future, people poo into compost buckets).

What makes this novel stand out from many others is that the society in which Tegan awakes really does seem to verge on utopian for quite a while. Sure, it's not completely perfect, but it seems largely better than the past. The world has warmed due to the depletion of the ozone layer, but mankind is now living in such a way as to diminish the negative effects on the environment. Homosexual love is now valued just as highly as heterosexual love, something our society really needs to learn to accept. The more Tegan learns, the more negatives appear in this future world, including continued racial tensions.

When We Wake, though not focused on romance, does have a couple of very sweet relationships. Tegan develops a crush on a Abdi, a musically-gifted, clever boy from Djibouti. Watching them slowly overcome the difficulties their situations (he's a thirdie - from the third world - and she's the Living Dead Girl) place on a relationship is adorable. I also really love Joph and Bethari, and I hope those girls can work out their issues and get back together.

The only thing missing from the novel for me were high enough stakes. There's some action and they are in danger, but, for whatever reason, they never felt especially imperilled. Perhaps this is due to the lack of death toll in the novel, or the narrative device whereby the entirety of the book is a broadcast being issued live by Tegan, since that means she survives to the end. In the sequel, I hope to see more from the dystopian government, so that I can really feel scared for Tegan and her friends.

Karen Healey was unknown to me prior to When We Wake, but I will definitely be reading more of her books, including the sequel to this novel. When We Wake is a must-read for Beatles fans and for those who enjoy dystopian stories that don't focus entirely on romance.

Rating: 4/5

Favorite Quote:
"'And then what?' she demanded.
     'Classified.' My whole body was buzzing with the memory.
     'Teeg, I will kill you and sink the corpse in the river.'
     I snorted. 'What river?' The Yarra ran through the city, but you couldn't hide a body in that shallow brown flow.
     'I will dig a river and fill it with my tears, because I will be weeping from the betrayal of my best friend not giving me every damn detail!'"

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