IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS

Blackbirds CoverBook Review: IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS

Author: Cat Winters

Genre: YA Historical/Mystery with a Paranormal twist

Rating: Five out of Five stars

Back of book blurb:

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.

Review:

This is one of those books that is so beautifully written you want to go back and immediately reread it. Cat Winters did a spectacular job bringing the haunted feeling of walking around during the Spanish influenza to life. I could actually smell the onions people used to keep the flu away, and feel the gauze suffocating me. The details and historical accuracy really elevated this novel into something otherworldly. I don’t want to give too much away for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, but hands down this is one of the most breathtaking reads of the year. If you are in the market for something unlike anything else on the shelves this is the book for you.

Mary Shelley Black is a delightful character full of quirks and spunk. She is such a remarkable young woman who deals with everything that’s thrown at her with courage and bravery, and the mystery surrounding the death of her first love kept me turning the pages well into the early morning hours. I’m not a cryer when it comes to novels, I RARELY tear up, but there were two parts in this book that brought on full-blown ugly crying.

MY GOD YOU NEED TO READ THIS. There are so many things I want to chat about so please go buy a copy and make some tea.

Here’s a taste of the first page to whet your appetite:

Portland, Oregon–October 16, 1918

I stepped inside the railroad car, and three dozen pairs of eyes peered my way. Gauze masks concealed the passengers’ mouths and noses. The train smelled of my own mask’s cotton, boiling onions, and a whiff of something clammy and sour I took to be fear.

Keep moving, I told myself.

My legs shook and threatened to buckle, but I managed to clomp down the aisle in the brown Boy Scout boots I wore in case I ever needed to run at a moment’s notice. The heavy tread drew unwanted glances and at least one raised eyebrow, but nobody uttered a word.

Praise for IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS:

“Winters’s masterful debut novel is an impressively researched marriage of the tragedies of wartime, the 1918 flu epidemic, the contemporaneous Spiritualism craze, and a chilling love story and mystery…Deliciously creepy.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Unconventional and unflinching… More than anything, this is a story of the breaking point between sanity and madness, delivered in a straightforward and welcoming teen voice.”—Booklist, starred review

“Winters deftly combines mystery, ghost story, historical fiction, and romance…the story and setting are atmospheric and eerie.”—School Library Journal, starred review

“Winters strikes just the right balance between history and ghost story, neatly capturing the tenor of the times, as growing scientific inquiry collided with heightened spiritualist curiosity.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Cat Winters’s debut novel is creepy good… Mary Shelley, with her Boy Scout boots and penchant for aviatrix goggles, is just plain awesomely odd.” —The Boston Globe

“Words like ‘unputdownable’ and ‘irresistible’ are simply not enough for Cat Winters’s In the Shadow of Blackbirds. Days after finishing this story, it remains the first thought I have in the morning, and the thing that haunts me until I sleep.”—Lauren DeStefano New York Times bestselling author of The Chemical Garden trilogy

Keep up with Cat Winters on the interwebs:

Twitter

Official Website

Facebook

Goodreads

She’s also hosting an international giveaway on her blog RIGHT NOW through July 2nd, so you miiiiiiiight want to check it out.

Two New Year’s Releases I Adore

Two amazing things are happening on January 1st that I cannot WAIT to share with you guys. First, Justin Levinson is releasing an EP that’s crazy good. His previous album (with The Valcours) was in constant rotation while I was writing and revising my last book so you know it’s good good good. Justin is definitely a wordsmith worth checking out.

Secondly, A.G. Howard’s debut, SPLINTERED, is hitting shelves everywhere. I swear my heart is growing wings and flapping against my ribcage because it’s THAT excited about this novel.

Justin and Anita are so darn awesome both creatively (and personally) that I wanted to do a little review of each of their projects. That way when you’re looking at those holiday gift cards wondering what you should get, these items are already at the top of your list. If this is how the year is going to start, 2013 is going to be AMAZING. Just you wait.

Justin Levinson Take My Time EP CoverArtist: Justin Levinson

EP: Take My Time

Genre: Folk / Folk Rock

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

There are few things I love more than reading and writing. One of those things is baseball, the other is music. I especially have a soft spot in my heart for folk/folk rock, and Vermont based singer/songwriter Justin Levinson’s latest EP, Take My Time is an exceptionally delicious snack to sink your teeth into.

The three song EP consists of ‘Take My Time,’ ‘Give It One More Try,’ and ‘Bid The Rest Goodbye.’ The overall feeling is moody and atmospheric in the very best of ways. It’s full of lyrics with richly imagined themes of coping with life after love and picking up the pieces of a shattered heart and coming out stronger in the end. Exhibit A:

“Cos’ I will just take my time, go round and round on this ferris wheel ride with my stomach in knots like a mime in a box, I keep singing alone through the gloom.”

Justin writes in a universal language that allows listeners to really connect with the songs because at one point in time, we’ve all had our hearts broken. We’ve all dealt with the aftermath of a love gone wrong, we’ve all been confused about whether or not a relationship can be saved, and most importantly, we’ve all found the inner strength to move on and try again.

“It takes everything within, not to go back to where I’ve been. It’s takes everything within cause I get so lonesome, forget what’s right and the facts they get distorted and I think to myself we could give it one more try.”

The song that best shows this graduation from heartbreak to finding your way through the darkness is the title track, ‘Take My Time’. The lyrics are evocative of someone who is determined to make their dreams come true. Whether it’s love, career, or a personal journey, the person in the song is willing to push themselves — even if they’re afraid. That’s something everyone can aspire towards…being brave even when we don’t feel so sure anymore. It’s a pretty great message.

“I keep myself steady though I fear what’s ahead. I’m set in the moment it’s the best way to live.” 

The composition of these songs is SO good my meager words won’t do them justice. There are violins and acoustic guitars and MORE wonderful backing instruments, and Justin’s vocals are the perfect lighthouse to guide you through the storm. If you’re looking for music that’s got smart lyrics, infectious melodies, and atmosphere for days, this EP is so for you. I know I’m going to be listening to it over and over again.

Check out this video of ‘I Was So Wrong’ off his last album, This Side of Me, This Side of You for a hint of what Justin Levinson offers:

I Was So Wrong Official Music Video – Justin Levinson & The Valcours

Here’s where you can keep up with Justin Levinson online: 

Website: JustinLevinson.com

Twitter: @jxlevinson

Facebook: Justin Levinson Music

9781419704284_p0_v1_s260x420Author: A.G. Howard

Book: SPLINTERED

Genre: YA Fantasy

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads Book Blurb:

This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.

When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.

Praise for Splintered:

“Attention to costume and setting render this a visually rich read…”–Kirkus Reviews

“SPLINTERED is simply a delicious, disturbing, mad, wonderful read. I can’t recommend it highly enough.” –Melissa Marr, New York Times Bestselling author of the Wicked Lovely series.

I will *try* to contain myself and not openly gush like the inner fangirl inside of me is dying to do. A.G. Howard is very dear to my little heart for multiple reasons. (One of them being she was in the query trenches with me when we were both looking for literary representation.)

Over the summer I had the privilege of reading SPLINTERED and even if I didn’t know Ms. Howard, I’d be obsessed with this book. It’s unlike any retelling I’ve read because it’s not really a retelling as much as a re-imagining. Howard has completely transformed the Alice In Wonderland story you remember into something much much much darker. If you think you’re getting anywhere CLOSE to the Wonderland you knew, oh my oh my oh my, you are WRONG. So very, very wrong. This book comes alive with new characters. I ADORED the setting, fast-paced plot, and Howard’s beautiful writing style. SPLINTERED has got voice for miles, with unexpected plot twists and turns that will keep you turning pages, and a slew of crazy/mad/wonderful characters that you’ll immediately fall in love with.

This unique take on the sinister side of Wonderland is delightful and I can’t encourage you enough to run to the bookstore on January 1st and buy a copy. TRUST me, you won’t regret it. It’s got action, adventure, mystery, fantasy, and two swoon-worthy guys that you’ll have a tough time choosing between. I don’t want to say too much and spoil it, so I’ll leave you with a taste of A.G. Howard’s sweet prose to whet your appetite.

Reading the opening is all you need to get sucked down the rabbit hole:

“I’ve been collecting bugs since I was ten; it’s the only way I can stop their whispers. Sticking a pin through the gut of an insect shuts it up pretty quick.

Some of my victims line the walls in shadow boxes, while others get sorted into mason jars and placed on a bookshelf for later use. Crickets, beetles, spiders…bees and butterflies…” Oh, you want to read more? Oopsie. You’re going to have to grab a copy on January 1st!

Keep up with A.G. Howard online by visiting the following places:

Website: Author A.G. Howard

Twitter: @aghowardwrites

Blog: A Still and Quiet Madness

Facebook: Author AG Howard

Goodreads: A.G. Howard

Book Review: FEVER by Lauren DeStefano

Book Review: FEVER

Author: Lauren DeStefano

Genre: YA Science Fiction (Dystopia) 

Rating: 5 shiny stars out of 5 

Back of book blurb: Rhine and Gabriel have escaped the mansion, but danger is never far behind.

Running away brings Rhine and Gabriel right into a trap, in the form of a twisted carnival whose ringmistress keeps watch over a menagerie of girls. Just as Rhine uncovers what plans await her, her fortune turns again. With Gabriel at her side, Rhine travels through an environment as grim as the one she left a year ago – surroundings that mirror her own feelings of fear and hopelessness.

The two are determined to get to Manhattan, to relative safety with Rhine’s twin brother, Rowan. But the road there is long and perilous – and in a world where young women only live to age twenty and young men die at twenty-five, time is precious. Worse still, they can’t seem to elude Rhine’s father-in-law, Vaughn, who is determined to bring Rhine back to the mansion…by any means necessary.

In the sequel to Lauren DeStefano’s harrowing Wither, Rhine must decide if freedom is worth the price – now that she has more to lose than ever

Review: DeStefano’s Chemical Garden Trilogy keeps getting better and better. I adored the first in the series, WITHER and (like many readers) couldn’t WAIT to get my hands on the second installment. As I’ve mentioned before… sequels scare me – they are the ‘make or break’ part for me in a trilogy. That being said… HOLY MOTHER FEVER IS SO GOOD. Like I need to use all caps good and beg, beg, beg you to get a copy so we can talk about the heart pounding action, the page turning awesome, and OMG why is Vaughn so creepy and I hate his basement and the ending will leaving you screaming MOOOOOOOOOORE. PLEASE GOD WHY DO YOU HATE ME?!!!!! I WANT BOOK THREE RIGHT THIS SECOND.

So yeah, I really liked it. I got it yesterday and gobbled it down in one sitting. I even forgot to make tea it’s THAT good. If you like books that are full of atmosphere, creepy as all hell, and filled with a million wonderful things, then FEVER is so for you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be smashing things in the corner of the room waiting for the final book to come out…next year.

Book Review: ASHES by Ilsa J. Bick

Rating: 5 stars

Over the weekend I read Ilsa J. Bick’s post apocalyptic/thriller/horror mash-up, ASHES. I’m normally not the HUGEST fan of third person narratives, finding it hard to really get into the main character’s head, but Bick did it right. Her writing is the perfect balance of giving the reader a clear picture of setting/emotion/ without slamming them over the head with weighty details. It’s easy to get sucked into the story. REALLY EASY. I enjoyed the action/suspense and overall creep factor A LOT, A LOT.

I loves me some creepy things. LOVES LOVES LOVES. Ahem. Sorry.

The middle of the book did take a turn. I’m NOT saying for the worse, I’m just saying shiz gets weird. But still, as a reader, you can’t stop reading – if only for the simple fact of NEEDING to know where Bick is taking you. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, BAM! You’re wrong. The ending is not at all what I expected, which isn’t a bad thing, but it definitely left me unsatisfied…at first.

When I closed the book I sort of sat there all huh, WTF. While I’m never a huge fan of ending a book on a cliffhanger, in this instance (after throwing things and drinking things and smashing things..okay, not REALLY but I thought about doing those things) it worked. ASHES is book one in a trilogy and the second installment (currently called SHADOWS) is due out in the fall of 2012.

Overall I have to say the more I think about it, the more I REALLY enjoyed this crazy ride of a read. Will I be in line for the second book? YOU BET. I can’t wait to see what Bick has in store for the kick-butt heroine or any of the other characters you’ll come to know and love. If you enjoy stories that keep you guessing, make you swear like a sailor, cower under your sheets, sleep with the lights on, and keep turning the page, then this book is SO for you.

Here’s the blurb to whet your appetite:

“IT COULD HAPPEN TOMORROW….

An electromagnetic pulse flashes across the sky, destroying every electronic device, wiping out every computerized system, and killing billions.

Alex hiked into the woods to say good-bye to her dead parents and her personal demons. Now desperate to find out what happened after the pulse crushed her to the ground, Alex meets up with Tom–a young soldier–and Ellie, a girl whose grandfather was killed by the EMP.

For this improvised family and the others who are spared, it’s now a question of who can be trusted and who is no longer human.”

Go out and buy a copy IMMEDIATELY so we can gush together. Then we can break things and smash things and scream together about how far away fall of 2012 feels. BRING ON SHADOWS!!! Ahem. *puts patience cap on*

Read any good books lately? I’m open to some good suggestions. <3333

Book Review: AWAKEN by Katie Kacvinsky

Recently I picked up a copy of Katie Kacvinsky’s debut, AWAKEN. And holy BEJESUS I loved it. She created a world that really isn’t that different from how we live today. It’s chilling, and amazing.

My sister and I were discussing how strange it is to actually pick up the phone and call someone. Which made us incredibly SAD. When did texting, and g-chat, and IM, and email replace our basic human communications?

How did we not see it unraveling?

Our own mother was shocked to discover most of our communication is done via some electronic device. AND WE LIVE UNDER HER ROOF.

The digital times, they are a-changin’ and if you want to have your mind blown, I suggest adding AWAKEN to your reading pile. It’s an eye-opener. Here’s the blurb for good measure:

“Maddie lives in a world where everything is done on the computer. Whether going to school or on a date, no one ever leaves home. There’s really no need. And, for the most part, Maddie’s okay with the solitary, digital life–until she meets Justin.

Justin likes being with people. He likes physical closeness and face-to-face conversations. People aren’t meant to be alone, he tells her.

Maddie is beginning to believe him. Maybe there is a different, better way to live, and perhaps Justin will be the one to help her start living it.”

Overall I give it 4 out of 5 stars. The only thing that *almost* was overdone was Justin’s one-track preachy nature. BUT that’s kind of an accurate portrayal, since he’s been brainwashed into his own preferred (read: “programmed”) existence. Kacvinsky demonstrated holes in his belief system perfectly. (Even if they make you want to shake him sometimes!:))

I thoroughly enjoyed it, and can’t WAIT to read the second one when it comes out next year. The author created a world so real, it doesn’t feel dystopian at all.

Book Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Click image for Author's website

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

OKAY OKAY OKAY OKAY. I have no excuses, so I’ll just flat out admit it. I’m seriously late to the Divergent party, but I have one thing to say:  DAUNTLESS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Well, fine, maybe two things: FOUR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I promise to not yell anymore (Actually, I’m not sure I can keep that promise, and it’s more of a SQUEEE if we’re getting technical). But…if you haven’t picked up Veronica Roth’s AWESOME debut, stop everything you’re doing and go get it.

I’m. Not. Kidding. It’s THAT good. Holy cow, it’s so good I read it TWICE in one day. (Please note I’m a ninja when it comes to reading.) Each time I found new things I loved about it even more. *cough, Four, cough*

Here’s the blurb:

“In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue–Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is–she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are–and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves…or it might destroy her.”

There’s so much I want to say, but if you haven’t read it yet I don’t want to give too much away. I’ll just say this: it’s filled with page turning action scenes, and Roth has a really smooth writer’s voice that makes for a super easy read. Which, as Nathaniel Hawthorne has pointed out, is “damn hard writing.”

Go get a copy, then read it so we can gush together. <33333

Book Review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Book Review: Catching Fire

Author: Suzanne Collins

Genre: YA Science Fiction

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Press Photo

Back of book blurb: Sparks are igniting. Flames are spreading. And the Capitol wants revenge. Against all odds, Katniss has won the Hunger Games. She and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark are miraculously still alive. Katniss should be relieved, happy even. After all, she has returned to her family and her longtime friend, Gale. Yet nothing is the way Katniss wishes it to be. Gale holds her at an icy distance. Peeta has turned his back on her completely. And there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol — a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create.

Much to her shock, Katniss has fueled an unrest she’s afraid she cannot stop. And what scares her even more is that she’s not entirely convinced she should try. As time draws near for Katniss and Peeta to visit the districts on the Capitol’s cruel victory tour, the stakes are higher than ever. If they can’t prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are lost in their love for each other, the consequences will be horrifying.

Review: I might have come to the Hunger Games party fashionably late, but this book sealed the deal for me. After reading book one, I couldn’t wait to run out and grab my copy to see what would become of the star-crossed lovers in the much anticipated sequel. Would the Capitol kill them? Would Katniss finally fall for Peeta? And what about Gale? So much drama, so expertly crafted. So worth reading. Collins was able to pull off a fantastic continuation of Katniss Everdeen’s story. Dare I say, flawless even?

Collins masterfully combines suspense and science fiction with a touch of romance that leaves you wanting for more. I had doubts as to whether I’d be disappointed with the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy, but was pleasantly surprised with how it played out. It kept me up, turning the pages all night. In fact, I went ahead and bought book three, Mockingjay. Guess what? I loved that book too.

QOTD: So what do you think about the casting choices for Peeta & Katniss? Feel free to weigh in in the comments, or @reply me (@ScribeQuotes for any blog newbies). #thehungergames

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