I don't like post-20th century paranormal books because they are such trite renditions on what could be a truly terrifying genre.
I am prejudiced against first-person stories that remind me of the rise of Mary Sue/self-inserts a la Fanfiction.net, circa 1998.
An immediate lustful encounter with a lifelong childhood friend? Really?! I thought the protagonists were trying to reenact parts of Twilight, unfairly hating the antagonists purely because they exhibited some era-appropriate common sense.
Points for portraying some period-relevant horrors: the influenza pandemic, WWI, racism against and subsequent hiding of German-Americans within society, the popularity of spiritual photographs.
But the main character had a lot going against her. She's named after Mary Shelley, yes, that one, and while I thought it was cute that she loves books (kudos for name dropping the great classics + some pop lit of the time) and she had a natural talent with mechanics, it drove me mad that she always had to have the last word in a conversation. It reeked of Mary Suisms whenever she actually conversed with another character or tried to push her holier-than-thou attitude on situations around her which showed the writer's contemporary values dissonance.
Ending was weak, I actually got it half wrong what happened because I was expecting something more sinister but... alas, opportunity wasted.
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The Door in the Hedge - Robin McKinley - synopsis: " “The last mortal kingdom before the unmeasured sweep of Faerieland begins has at best held an uneasy truce with its unpredictable neighbor. There is nothing to show a boundary, at least on the mortal side of it; and if any ordinary human creature ever saw a faerie—or at any rate recognized one—it was never mentioned; but the existence of the boundary and of faeries beyond it is never in doubt either.” So begins “The Stolen Princess,” the first story of this collection, about the meeting between the human princess Linadel and the faerie prince Donathor. “The Princess and the Frog” concerns Rana and her unexpected alliance with a small, green, flipper-footed denizen of a pond in the palace gardens. “The Hunting of the Hind” tells of a princess who has bewitched her beloved brother, hoping to beg some magic of cure, for her brother is dying, and the last tale is a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses in which an old soldier discovers, with a little help from a lavender-eyed witch, the surprising truth about where the princesses dance their shoes to tatters every night."
In the Shadow of Blackbirds - Cat Winters - 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? 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 book put me through an emotional ringer.
I loved every bit of it.
I've be interested in the time period and the forgotten Pandemic of 1918 for sometime now, and curious in how Cat Winters would show this in her work. She nailed it. Down to the small details of how people reacted to those seemly healthy individuals dropping dead the next moment. Then you have soldiers coming from the trenches of the First World War, broken and soul-sick from the bloodshed. The dread, the helplessness and slowly creepiness just came from the pages in each amazing word after another.
People of this time needed something to hang onto when the world around them is falling apart. Here spiritualism took hold, with false sprint photography and fake séances ruled.
Here in this crazy world is Mary Shelley Black dealing with her father thrown into jail called a traitor, and an Aunt who doesn't understand her and is ruled by this new spiritualism. The only thing that seems solid in this crazy world is her friend, first love, maybe soulmate, Stephen, whose stuck in those dark trenches. Until one day, he is taken from her. Until one day his unrestful ghost appears to her asking for peace and help.
I really felt for Mary Shelly, living in a world that has gone upside down, she somehow keeps in together, slowly putting the puzzle pieces together about Stephen's last days. Yet, along with seeing her weak moments, she gets up time again to prove how strong in spirit she is, how she hates the flue masks she sees everywhere, the fear of of not being "too" patriotic American, she hates the fear she sees in everyone. Yet, her strength even in the face of death is brilliant and strong.
You get glimpses of this period of time through pictures that just add to the creepy and dread feeling that haunts this book. This book is haunting, and heartbreaking as all the puzzle pieces fall into place, not only shocked me, but broke my heart from the uselessness of it all..
Still there is hope, light through the darkness in the end if not bittersweet. This wasn't a easy book, it had a harsh beauty ringed with Cat Winters words that made it all worth it, in the end.