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A Reader of Fictions: Joint Review Discussion: In the Shadow of Blackbirds

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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Blogger Katie said...

Once again, fabulous discussion. I love historical fiction and I haven't read anything about the Spanish flu. Oh and Christina, you are totally right about Twilight. I remember that too now that you mention it. This really sounds unique and awesome. I will definitely be checking it out!

February 28, 2013 at 12:23 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

This one is a must-read if you love historicals. It's so delightfully creepy and the writing is absolutely beautiful.

Glad to know my Twilight knowledge is on point...I think. Haha.

February 28, 2013 at 12:32 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I really like the format of this review. It feels much more like a conversation - I've always wanted to do a post like this. You and Lenore both made some really interesting observations on this book. I've seen the synopsis, but this gives a bit more in-depth idea of what it's about, and has actually made me a little more psyched to read it.

Epidemics and such scare me, BUT they're also fascinating in a way to read about, because it's such a study in human behavior, seeing how people react to them in books/films.

I dig historical books. I just don't read enough of them! I also love when the MC is a bit unreliable and we as readers question what he/she is thinking and seeing!

Molli | Once Upon a Prologue

February 28, 2013 at 1:54 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

You should! I've had fun doing these with Lenore. I'd never done them before, but you can really delve into topics you might not have thought to mention on your own when discussing it with someone else. Plus, I love when we get a little off track. Haha.

Exactly. Epidemics are nature's way of culling the population, and it's scary to think about how that could happen again at any point. Also the fact that it's been so long since we had a plague makes me worry about how strong the next one will be.

Unreliable MCs are awesome!

February 28, 2013 at 2:14 PM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

This sounds really, really good! The only thing is when I read your discussion, I kept getting distracted by the name "Mary Shelley"...is it a deliberate reference to the author? I'm sure if it is I'd stop getting distracted once I got into the book.

February 28, 2013 at 3:05 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Yup. It's a deliberate reference. She was named after the author. Don't remember the specifics of which of her parents was obsessed with Shelley off the top of my head though.

February 28, 2013 at 4:04 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Well, this is the first time I hear of the book but it has intrigued me. I love books about ghosts and spanish flu. Yes, Edward did die from that in Twilight. I remember that, too
GREAT discussion, girls
Your reader,

March 1, 2013 at 6:35 AM  
Blogger erin said...

Thanks for the great post! This is the first I've heard of this book and I'm definitely interested. Gonna go check it out ;)

March 1, 2013 at 12:35 PM  
Blogger Kat said...

I adored this book - every single element was right up my street.

Great discussion ladies!

March 1, 2013 at 1:13 PM  
Blogger Jen said...

I really enjoyed this book -- reviewed it yesterday. I thought it was such a cool blend of historical fiction and the paranormal.
And LOL on the Twilight trivia. I did not remember that :)

Jen @ YA Romantics

April 2, 2013 at 12:17 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

I don't know if I should be proud or embarrassed that I remembered Twilight trivia the average reader did not.

April 2, 2013 at 3:35 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

YES! I thought it would be!

April 2, 2013 at 3:35 PM  

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