I have a riveting must read book for you today! I am so excited to host debut author Cat Winters. Her recently released book In The Shadow of Blackbirds is receiving high praise, and I can say it is a fascinating and haunting book that I recommend you check out. Cat is here to share a little about the Oregon tie ins, since she is a local Portland author! Yeah! First, let me introduce you to Cat Winters:
Cat Winters was born and raised in Southern California, near Disneyland, which may explain her love of haunted mansions, bygone eras, and fantasylands. She received degrees in drama and English from the University of California, Irvine, and formerly worked in publishing.
Her debut novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds—a YA ghost tale set during the World War I era—is now available from Amulet Books/ABRAMS. She currently lives outside of Portland, Oregon. Cat's online haunts: website, blog, Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.
Here is Cat:
Write WHERE You Know
By Cat Winters
“The book cover’s rich mahogany scent filled my nose, bringing me back to rain-soaked Oregon afternoons spent with Stephen.”
—IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS, Chapter 18
I’m thrilled to be here today at Oregon-based Rainy Day Ramblings. Not only am I an Oregon author who’s extremely familiar with rainy days (and rambling), but the protagonist of my debut novel, IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS, is a sixteen-year-old Portland girl. She ends up traveling down to my former home of San Diego for the majority of the novel, but her childhood days in the Pacific Northwest reemerge throughout the book in flashbacks and letters. Even the ghost in the book was once a Portland boy.
We writers are often told, “Write what you know,” meaning we should draw from our own life experiences to create the most authentic pieces of literature possible. I’ve never lived through World War I or endured the lethal 1918 Spanish influenza like my characters do, nor have I resided in houses lit by hazy gaslights or traveled through town in black Model Ts. I can dig inside my own past and pour my emotions into scenes, but as a historical fiction writer, I’m not able to completely write “what I know.”
I subscribe more to the idea of “Write WHERE you know.” In other words, I believe that fascinating, flavorful fiction tends to arise when authors use their own surroundings for their books’ settings. Think about the appeal of Southern U.S. fiction written by Southern U.S. writers. Natives to the region infuse their work with their own rhythms of speech and intricate knowledge of foods, customs, and out-of-the way places—places visiting writers might not ever discover on a research trip.
I’m certainly not saying authors should never branch out and set their stories outside their own backyards. Part of the joy of writing fiction is creating challenges for oneself, even if it means traveling halfway across the world to explore the setting for a novel…or breathing life into a unique fantasy world. However, I think there’s something magical, satisfying, and genuine when a writer invites me into his or her own geographical home and wholly immerses me into the local way of life.
“My room sweltered with a heat unthinkable for an Oregon girl in fall, so I wore my sleeveless summer nightgown made of batiste and embroidered lace.”
Although IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS invites you into my former San Diego surroundings more than my current Portland ones, I hope you’ll enjoy my nods to early-twentieth-century Oregon, from a ride in a crowded steam engine chugging out of Union Depot to downtown shops and photography studios, as well as the timeless view of “Mighty Mount Hood with its snow-capped triangle of a peak.” And the rain, of course. Even in 1918, Oregon had its share of rainy days.
Thank you so much, Cat! I thoroughly enjoyed your book. It was amazing! I am super excited to able to offer you a chance to win a copy of In the Shadow of Blackbirds courtesy of Amulet Books. To enter fill out the Rafflecopter. This is open to U.S. and Canadian residents only. Good luck!a Rafflecopter giveaway
Here is my review:
In The Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters
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. Hardcover, 400 pages Published April 2nd 2013 by Amulet Books
Four and a half stars: An amazing, well researched, haunting debut!
Mary Shelley Black boards the train. She is surrounded by a sea of frightened, masked passengers. They are leaving Portland, Oregon headed to San Diego in hopes of escaping the deathly Spanish Flu. The flu epidemic is sweeping the country and killing people in record numbers. Every sneeze or cough sets people on edge as it is viewed as a possible flu contamination. Mary Shelley, however, refuses to let the flu hold her back. At the train station, she is greeted by her Aunt Eva. A determined, recently widowed twenty six year old who now works in the ship yard. Now that she is in San Diego, Mary Shelley is anxious to visit the home of her sweetheart, Stephen, who is somewhere in Europe fighting in the bloody trenches. Julian, Stephen's brother, is running a successful spiritual photography business where he claims to photograph the spirits of the dead returning to comfort their loved ones. In a world of sickness and war, Mary Shelly discovers that there are even worse things and she is determined to uncover the truth!
What I Liked:
- I am a huge fan of historical books and lately I have read several books that take place during the World War I era. The more I read about this time period, the more grateful I am that I grew up well past it! This is a time period with a bloody and horrifying war fought in trenches, and also a time where the Spanish flu and tuberculosis ravaged and killed hundreds of thousands of people. You had to be made of tough stuff to survive during these years! I loved that this book was well researched and it brought forth the crippling fear of the Spanish Flu as it swept through and killed thousands of people in the fall of 1918. I have never studied this plague, and so I was thrilled to learn about this deadly strain of flu. Ms. Winters does a phenomenal job of depicting the fear and horror of those trying to go about their every day lives and avoid the flu. If you have not read anything from this time period, get this book!
- I was fascinated by the numerous home remedies that people used to try and ward of the flu. Everyone wore gauze masks daily. Others chewed garlic gum or ate a diet heavily laden with onions. There were pungent sachets worn around the neck and even sugar cubes soaked in kerosene! A true story told in the book tells of a woman in Portland, Oregon who buries her daughter onions and she survives! I am certain that Ms. Winters did an exorbitant amount of research to uncover all these supposed cures. Whether they worked or not, is hard to say, but no matter, it is interesting reading.
- Mary Shelley Black is one of those characters that you can't help but like. She is a courageous, determined, resourceful, smart and a scientific thinker. I loved her bravery and unwillingness to let the flu control her life. Mary Shelley refuses to stay cooped up in the house avoiding germs. Instead she sets out to get answers and even ends up volunteering at the Red Cross helping wounded war veterans. She is a survivor and a fighter and you can't help but cheer for a character with such an indomitable spirit.
- One of the story lines in this book focuses on Mary Shelley trying to get to the truth about Julian's photography. She doesn't believe for a minute that Julian is actually capturing the images of the departed. I enjoyed learning more about the fraudulent photography that was at its height from the Civil War era through the 1900's as the spiritualist movement grew. Unfortunately, there were many people who preyed on those who were crippled with grief as they manipulated photos to show supposed spirits, and it reality it was just darkroom trickery. Another popular scheme were seances and there is a scene in the book with a seance as well.
- I liked that this book took on an unexpected ghostly paranormal angle as Mary Shelley is haunted by a deceased spirit. It is a creepy good time!
- I thoroughly enjoyed the inclusion of the genuine photographs from this time period. They truly enriched the read for me, and I am sure they are even more stunning in the printed copy. (I read a digital ARC version). I only wished that there were more!
- Stephen was achingly beautiful and sweet. His love of photography and Mary Shelley shines through. He is a tender soul and certainly does not deserve his fate. My heart ached for him, especially once I learned what really happened!
- This is Ms. Winters debut novel and I was thoroughly impressed. Not only is it well detailed and researched but it is beautifully written and memorable. The story line is fantastic, the characters are well developed and the ending is stunning! This is a book that I won't soon forget. I can assure you that I will certainly be reading more of Ms. Winter's work in the future. If you are looking for a must read debut author book of 2013 this is one I highly recommend!
And The Not So Much:
- I was thoroughly intrigued by everything pertaining to the Spanish Flu since I have not really read or studied this disease at all. I had no idea that the casualties were so high and how quickly it stole lives. I only wished that there was just a tiny bit more detail on the illness. I would love to know more about the cause and the treatments and more of the symptoms. For instance, one of the symptoms was the feet turned black before people died, what caused this? Why was this flu so virulent? How is it different from the normal flu? I am one of those readers that wants to know all the details.
- I was disappointed that the story line with Mary Shelley's father didn't go anywhere. At the very beginning, he is arrested accused of war time treason, and it is mentioned a couple of times that he is to go on trial, but his story is never explored or finished. What happened with him?
- I loved Aunt Eva and I longed to know more about her past and I was curious about her work at the ship yard. I would love to know how she got into the industry and what her duties were. I am in awe and admiration of all the brave and resourceful women during the war years whether it be the Civil War, World War I or II. These women got out and stepped into the jobs vacated by men while they waited in agony wondering if they would receive news that someone they loved had perished. Eva is one of these women and I admired her and wished that I could have gotten a glimpse into her daily life at the shipyard.
- The ending felt a bit abrupt and open ended to me. It is not a cliffhanger or anything like that, but I just felt like there was more story to be told and I didn't want it to end. I wanted to know how Aunt Eva and Mary Shelley picked up and moved on, what happened to the two criminals? What happened with Mary Shelley's dad. I was hoping for an Epilogue down the road, but it doesn't happen. I don't know if Ms. Winters plans on a sequel or not, I certainly hope so because I feel there is a lot more to tell.
"The inability to see the truth about a person is a terrible thing."
"Please stay safe. It's not everyone who has the patience to photograph a butterfly."
"We understand each other, even when we astound each other."
"Let me leave his photographs hanging on my wall to remind me that something beautiful once happened in the middle of all the year's horrors."
"None of it seemed right. The kaisers, kings, and presidents should have had a good arm wrestle over their differences instead of bringing regular people into their mess."
"I think between the war and the flu, no one's going to escape getting haunted. We live in a world so horrifying, it frightens even the dead."
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and I was not compensated for this review.