Thursday, 23 October 2014

In the Shadows of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

Goodreads Synopsis:  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?

When I started reading this book I had absolutely no idea what it was about. The cover is what grabbed my attention. To tell you the truth I was hooked from page one. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelly Black is on a train to go live with her aunt in San Diego. The train is crowded with passengers wearing mask to prevent themselves from catching a killer flu. The train stinks of onions, a method people have deemed as a way of warding off the flu germs. Its the middle of World War One, and soldiers are dying in the battle fields and people are dying from this deadly disease that just appeared one day. Mary Shelly's father has been arrested for crimes against the USA, her mother had died giving birth to her.
She arrives in San Diego. The houses have black and white ribbons hanging on the doors for every member lost to the flu including children. Her Aunt Eva bathes her in onions (literally) and feeds her onion soup. She finds comfort in reading letters from her childhood sweetheart, her best friend, Stephen. Stephen's half brother Julius is a spirit photographer. People flock to his studio to get their photos taken just to find piece in having a photo taken where the spirit of dead relatives can be seen hovering around them.
Stephen dies in battle. He has left a package for Mary Shelly but to have it she must sit for Julius and let him photograph her. Stephen's spirit appears in the photograph and that is just the beginning of  all the weird things that start happening to Mary Shelly. Stephen soon starts to visit her. His spirit is still stuck somewhere between this world and the next and Mary Shelly must figure out a way to free his soul. He believes that something or someone is hurting him and he screams about blackbirds. Mary Shelly decides to help Stephen to pass on even though she has no idea how to do it or has no one to turn to for help.

Even though the story is about ghosts and spirits, the main darkness and gloom comes from the chaos surrounding the flu. People dropping like flies, the flu reaches the neighborhood, patients are without ambulances there are no beds left in hospitals. The narration is so strong and believable you can almost smell the onions! There is a scene where Mary Shelly volunteers at the Red Cross house to help the wounded. Soldiers with the missing limbs, the bandaged faces, some doped up on morphine, others screaming in their sleep from nightmares they just can't seem to wake up from, Cat winters describes the scenes so well that you can easily picture yourself in Mary Shelly's place and can see the soldiers all in their wounded bodies and can feel their pain. 

The characters were well done, the plot - excellent! I could not put this book down! I think it was more of the way the story was told rather than the actual story itself. I just had to find out what happened to Stephen when he was at war or what had happened to him afterwards. I wanted to know if Mary Shelly and Aunt Eva do escape from the flu or not, this book had me on the edge of my seat till the very end. A job well done Ms. Cat Winters, a job well done!

Happy Reading Everyone!!!

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