Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What I Read in October 2015 Part V/What I Read in November 2015 Part I

What I Read in October 2015 Part V ...

In the Shadow of BlackbirdsIn the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters-- Young Adult Paranormal Historical Fiction/Romance

Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black is fleeing her Portland home to live with her Aunt Eva in San Diego. San Diego - where the weather is warmer and she'll be safe from the deadly Spanish flu and San Diego - where no one knows her father is in jail for being a "traitor." San Diego- where Mary's childhood sweetheart, Stephen Embers lived before enlisting in the U.S. Army. San Diego - where Stephen's older brother Julius, a renowned "spirit photographer" has made Mary Shelley famous by using a photo of her with a so-called spirit in his ads. With the deadly flu raging everywhere, people are desperate for answers; desperate for a message from their lost loved ones. Mary Shelley hates being stuck in the house hiding from the flu. She hates that she must be separated from those she loves most- her father and Stephen. Aunt Eva works in the shipyard by day and by night she chases after Julius and his spiritualist friends. Mary Shelley is a scientist and she's skeptical about the so-called spirit photographs, especially since Stephen had told her how his brother cheats; but she's a scientist and research is her specialty. Then when the world seems bleakest and the unthinkable happens to Mary, she begins to see things differently - literally and figuratively. She believes the spirit of someone close to her is reaching out to her to find out how they died and solve the mystery of their horrid nightmares about blackbirds. Mary Shelley must summon all her will to survive and reject her long-held beliefs to solve the mystery.

This story is very dark. The Spanish Influenza pandemic was nothing like we've ever experienced in most of our lifetimes. Having grown up around modern medicine, the folk remedies used during WWI to ward of the deadly flu seem silly and unnecessary to me. It's hard to imagine the hysterical fear of this dreadful disease. The writer perfectly captures the horror, even among the educated. She obviously did a ton of research on the Spanish Influenza pandemic and you will really feel like you're there watching the drama unfold. The author really excels at researching, bringing in World War I trench warfare and PTSD. You will feel like donating to the Wounded Warrior Project by the time you finish this novel. It's dark and heartbreaking in many places. I didn't quite expect the supernatural element. It got a little too gothic and supernatural for my tastes. I didn't really understand how the supernatural element worked. It didn't make a lot of sense and I didn't care for some parts of it. I wasn't crazy about the romance plot either. It went a little too far for my taste and was too unusual. I did like the relationship though. At first I didn't get it but later on it was explained how the two characters met and connected and why they continued to be close despite their geographic distance. I really wanted everything to work out happily but thought the story might have a dramatic ending that I couldn't handle. It had enough crazy elements to please teenage readers and lovers of supernatural stories but enough realism for adult readers.

I liked Mary Shelley a lot. At first she seemed prickly but given the circumstances she has every right to be. I grew to like her because she's a scientist and interested in the way things work. I liked her because she's had a rough year and deserved some happiness. She makes some stupid choices and some good choices. She's old for her 16 years but still has some growing up to do. I liked how she turned her stubbornness to good use to fight for those she loves.

I wasn't crazy about Aunt Eva. Like Mary Shelley, I admired her for working in a shipyard but I didn't like how desperate she was for love from a man. She wanted marriage and family too badly and couldn't make rational judgments. In many ways her teenage niece was smarter. I also didn't like all the onions and garlic she used to ward off the flu. It seems a little weird that her sister was a doctor and yet she still believes in folk remedies. I didn't like how she reacted to Mary Shelley's supernatural experiences but I understand her fear.

The women in the book come off better than the men! Julius is a charming scoundrel. I didn't believe his sincerity but I couldn't figure out what his interest in Eva was. His friends and relations aren't much better. Stephen is a likable character once you get to know him. I certainly felt sorry for him and he reminded me a lot of my brother in many ways. Yet at first I didn't really get his obsession with Mary Shelley. It seemed a little creepy and stalkerish but once the story got going and I understood him better, I understood his need for her.

This is very much a teen book. I don't think many adults will enjoy this one but the history behind the story is fascinating.

What I Read in November 2015 Part I ...

Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights? (All the Wrong Questions, #4)Why Is This Night Different From All Other Nights? by Lemony Snicket-- Middle Grades Fantasy 

The final volume in Lemony Snicket's prequel series for his popular A Series of Unfortunate Events. Snicket knows that a train is leaving Stained-by-the-see tonight and he must be on that train to free his sister, meet his associates and deal with Hangfire once and for all. Of course with a chaperone like his, it won't be easy.

This book is filled with dramatic tension and a few surprises. I figured out who Hangfire was just before his identity was revealed but I don't really understand WHY. I was pleased with the way in ended. It was much more satisfactory than the ending of ASOUE. The characters begin to be more complex than previously realized and VFD is better explained. It sets the stage for ASOUE. I especially loved the literary references (some of which the target audience won't get) but I'm stumped by one: who is Brown?

Now I need to go read the entire series again plus his autobiography. I'm glad I saved them all. I may listen to more on audio.

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