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.


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.


“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:


Official Website



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

Literary Agents, a writer’s best friend or agents of the dark side?

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While the majority of writers appear to be genuinely grateful for agents, others seem less enthused. I’ve read blog posts where agents are put right up there as Satan’s right hand man or woman.

They sit back in their office on the 32nd floor of a Manhattan high-rise, grab a cup of coffee and then mull over a newspaper for an hour or so. The phone rings, but they surely won’t answer it since they’re too consumed with the happenings on Page Six. Emails ding away in their inbox, but they don’t bat an eye–they’re too busy setting fire to your query letter while toasting marshmallows in the conference room with their colleagues. They forward your email to other agents in their office and mock your storyline until it’s time to place the lunch order.

Silly scribes.

Literary Agents aren’t sitting back wasting the day away thinking of how to ruin your career before it begins. They don’t have time. They make money if your book sells. I imagine them to be more like the judges on American Idol, sifting through the hundreds of thousands of hopeful contestants until they find their top 12. It’s a tough job, but someone has to go home unhappy.

On the bright side of this analogy, the people who made it to the top 24 are great singers (writers), they just need some more polishing.

If you send out a query letter that doesn’t follow the format, how can they make a split second decision regarding whether or not your manuscript will follow the format? Is that a  chance they are willing to take while sorting through the other 300 query letters that came in this week? Probably not.

Most importantly don’t be discouraged. Keep improving your query letters and keep sending them out to agents who rep your genres. If you get a rejection, pick yourself up-brush yourself off and try it again. Don’t send a nasty follow up to the agent that rejected you either. It may feel satisfying for a second, but it’s just bad karma in the end. Send them happy thoughts and move on; you’ll feel better playing nice. Like my mother always says, you catch more flies with honey.

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I don’t know about you, but I’m going to think of my agent as my best friend or partner in book selling crime. The Huck Finn to my Tom Sawyer and not the Darth Vader to my Luke Skywalker. XO