In the Shadow of Blackbirds VS Out of the Easy

Which one will be the winner? Both of these books were stories I had been looking forward to reading. I decided not to read the previous bracket reviews of both and just start with the basic knowledge I had of both stories. So, on with the fun!

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters is set during the influenza outbreak of 1918. Mary Shelley lives in a in the shadow of blackbirdsworld where everyone’s nerves are frayed and on edge. Between not trusting neighbors for fear they could be spies and the flu pandemic that is striking down healthy young men and women, the country is gripped by terror. Mary Shelley is on run to San Diego to live with her aunt after her father was arrested for being a traitor. One solace Mary Shelley has is thinking of her love Stephen, who is off in Europe fighting in the war. Soon word of Stephen’s death reaches her. Voices and mysterious happenings make Mary Shelley believe Stephen is reaching out from beyond the grave to tell her something. Is it real or is it fake? And if it is real—what does he want her to know?

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys is also a historical novel, this time set during 1950 in New Orleans. Josie has essentially raised herself since she was 12. She has a mom, but her mom doesn’t care at all for her. Josie works mornings at a brothel for Willie. Willie might be a madam but she’s also a savvy businesswoman, well-connected in the community, and Josie’s mom’s boss. Josie second job is as a shopgirl at a bookstore. Between these two jobs and taking care of Charlie (the owner of the shop who’s suffering from a brain injury), Josie dreams of a life away from New Orleans and away from the life she associates with her mom. She’s inspired to apply to Smith after meeting an out-of-town Smith student as well as a bookstore customer who mistakes her for a college student. When the customer dies mysteriously, Josie’s world starts to falter as her mother is suspected of murder.

The winner is Out of the Easy. I really enjoyed In the Shadows of Blackbirds’s atmosphere and the contrast between Mary Shelley’s scientific mind and what is happening to her. I felt on edge during the whole story—would anyone survive? However, Out of the Easy captured my heart from the beginning. Josie was an amazing character to spend time with. The people who made up Josie’s world were an eclectic mix and I liked the family that she had found in them. A mix of mystery, coming-of-age, romance, and historical fiction—I felt like I could feel the steamy air of New Orleans around me. The feelings of not fitting in and wanting more are so universal that I found myself hoping that Josie would win out over New Orleans.

Winner: Out of the Easy



The Dream Thieves Vs. The Tragedy Paper (Aka. Battle of the Boarding Schools)

tragedy paperThe Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban and The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater both involve boarding schools, and that’s pretty much where the similarities end. One is a standalone work of realistic fiction, while the other is a middle volume in a fantasy series.

How do I even write about The Dream Thieves, the second volume in Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle, without spoiling both it and the first volume? The Raven Boys ended on a huge plot twist, and that’s where the second volume takes off. I can say that (like The Raven Boys) The Dream Thieves is populated by a large cast of quirky characters and set in a small, quirky town. The meandering plot — a search for the grave of ancient Welsh King Glendower, who’s believed to be buried somewhere along the ley line that runs through Henrietta, Virgina — isn’t so much of a story as it is a world for the characters to inhabit. The Raven Cycle itself may as well be Stiefvater’s Cabeswater: the place where she goes to steal stories from her dreams. Two new characters, the enigmatic Gray Man and villainous Kavinsky, shake the loose plot even looser. At the center of the story is an intriguing heroine, Blue Sargeant, who is the only non-psychic member of a psychic family. Without her, the story would fall apart. I feel that The Raven Cycle would make a better television series than book series. The cleverly-barbed dialog has a screwball rhythm and sensibility to it that I would love to hear coming out of the characters’ mouths. I found Dream Thieves frustrating for much of the first 200 pages and then — just about halfway through — all the seemingly random events came together into a recognizable plot. The back half built steadily to a gripping climax that ends with … another plot twist.

I began reading The Tragedy Paper immediately after finishing Dream Thieves, and at first I really missed the rapid-fire dialog. Laban’s writing felt plain in comparison. However, her tightly-plotted story (which is a sort of mash-up of Looking For Alaska and 13 Reasons Why) pulled me in very quickly. In a dual narrative, high school senior Duncan Meade becomes the custodian of a series of recordings left behind by the former inhabitant of his dorm room, an outsider named Tim Macbeth. Tim’s recordings recount his time at the school, where he was instantly drawn to the seemingly unobtainable Vanessa (he’s albino, she’s beautiful, and her boyfriend is the most popular jock in school) who is, curiously, just as drawn to him. Soon I became as engrossed in unraveling Tim’s story as Duncan is. The tragedy that befell Tim and Vanessa during the previous school year unfolds gradually, teased and hinted at periodically by Duncan’s own painful memories. I didn’t want to put this book down, and it was a much faster read than The Dream Thieves.

When I had finished, I had no idea which book I liked better. I enjoyed both. Both had strengths and weaknesses. I had to sleep on it before deciding that the characters The Dream Thieves are more likely to stick with me. It might work better as a television series, but it would be a series that I would watch every week, even binge on, and perhaps obsess over between seasons.

Winner: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

dream thieves

Fangirl vs. In the Shadow of Blackbirds

I’m going to be brutally honest at the beginning of this review.  At this point, I have no idea which book I want to fangirlchoose.  I’m hoping as I write about them, the clear winner will reveal itself to me.  So fingers crossed…here I go!

If there were ever any two books that were on completely opposite ends of the spectrum, they would be Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters.

The first is a splendid, quirky romance that tugs at your heart strings, but adds enough geek culture to grab the attention of readers that normally might shy away from a romance.  Rowell includes humor and drama to create a story that will leave readers debating about how it is to be described.  Cath and her twin sister Wren begin the story at college, away from home for the first time.  It soon becomes obvious that Wren is more willing to succomb to the traditional representation of college life including several parties and a bit too much alcohol.  Cath’s college experiences are quite the opposite.  She would much rather stick to writing her fanfiction about Simon Snow, the main character from the super popular boy wizard book series.  Cath’s roommate, Reagan, is a nightmare and she always has a male visitor, who shows up whether Reagan is home or not.  Fangirl is a story full of truth.  Rowell skirts away from traditional teen romance cliches and encourages the readers to draw their own conclusions before she reveals the reality of situations.  While the Cath story is interesting enough to keep the reader’s attention, the excerpts from the Simon Snow books and Cath’s own interpretation found in sections of her fanfiction really make this book special.

The second title in this battle is In the Shadow of Blackbirds.  This book tells the story of Mary Shelley Black (yes, she was named after the author of Frankenstein).  Mary Shelley’s story takes place in San Diego in 1918.  Two life-changing events were happening simultaneously and both had a largely traumatic affect to Mary Shelley’s life.  The first was World War I.  Mary Shelley had to move to San Diego from Portland to live with her aunt after her father was arrested from treason for helping men avoid the draft.  Secondly, 1918 was the setting of the Spanish flu which killed millions of people.  While a straightly historical novel about the flu and the war would have been interesting, Winters decides to turn it up a notch and includes the growing fad of spirit photography.  With several friends and family dying quickly, spiritualism was on the rise amongst people hoping to communicate with their loved ones.  After a near-death experience, Mary Shelley begins to see and hear her recently-deceased friend and would-have-been lover.  In the Shadow of Blackbirds smoothly transforms from a historical novel into a light paranormal mystery.  In order to not spoil the shocking and unexpected plot points for you, I will not go much further into the story.  I was not expecting to like this novel as much as I did, which sets it apart from Fangirl.  I knew that Fangirl was going to be something that I would fall in love with quite quickly.  I did not expect the same results from In the Shadow of Blackbirds.  Also, as a sufferer of bird phobia, I must state that the title is not merely a metaphor.  There are birds in this story and they are not necessarily friendly.  You’ve been warned.

So, I finished the review and it did help me to make a decision.  I am going to go with In the Shadow of Blackbirds.  The plot is full of twists, the setting is fully realized, and the paranormal aspects are just enough to keep it feeling real without taking it too far.  Finally, In the Shadow of Blackbirds surprised me.  It was a bit of a sleeper hit to me, but it definitely woke me up.  Be sure to read this Morris Award Honor book soon!

Winner: In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

in the shadow of blackbirds

Santa Want Brains – Zombie Novels to Reanimate Your Holidays

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Undead by Don Borchert

A modern author takes Mark Twain’s coming-of-age classic and infuses it with a taste of the macabre, as the world of Tom Sawyer becomes overrun with zombies, chief among them being the Zombie Injun Joe.

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Inventor Leviticus Blue creates a machine that accidentally decimates Seattle’s banking district and uncovers a vein of Blight Gas that turns everyone who breathes it into the living dead. Sixteen years later Briar, Blue’s widow, lives in the poor neighborhood outside the wall that’s been built around the uninhabitable city. Life is tough with a ruined reputation, but she and her teenage son Ezekiel are surviving until Zeke impetuously decides that he must reclaim his father’s name from the clutches of history.

The Boy Who Couldn’t Die by William Sleator

When his best friend dies in a plane crash, sixteen-year-old Ken has a ritual performed that will make him invulnerable, but soon learns that he had good reason to be suspicious of the woman he paid to lock his soul away.

Brains for Lunch:  A Zombie Novel in Haiku?!? by K.A. Holt

At a middle school where zombies, blood-sucking chupacabras, and humans never mingle, “lifer” Siobhan and Loeb, a zombie who likes to write haiku, share an attraction. Story written entirely in haiku.

The Death Collector by Justin Richards

Three teens and a curator of unclassified artifacts at the British Museum match wits with a madman determined to use unorthodox methods to reanimate the dead, both humans and dinosaurs.

The Enemy by Charles Higson

In the wake of a devastating disease, everyone older than 16 is either dead or a decomposing, brainless creature with a ravenous appetite for flesh–teens have barricaded themselves in buildings throughout London and venture outside only when they need to scavenge for food; when a mysterious traveler offers them safe haven at Buckingham Palace, they begin a harrowing journey across London.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

When the fence that surrounds her village and protects its residents from the Forest of Hands and Teeth is breached, danger strikes the only home Mary has ever known and forces her to decide between saving everything she loves or pursuing the life she has always dreamed of having.

Generation Dead by Dan Waters

When dead teenagers who have come back to life start showing up at her high school, Phoebe, a goth girl, becomes interested in the phenomenon, and when she starts dating a “living impaired” boy, they encounter prejudice, fear, and hatred.

Gil’s All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez

Hired by the owner of an all-night diner to eliminate the zombie problem that is costing her customers, werewolf Duke and vampire Earl tackle an even stickier adversary who is out to take over the diner, in an adventure involving an amorous ghost, a jailbait sorceress, and a pig-latin occult.

How to be a Zombie: The Essential Guide for Anyone Who Craves Brains by Serena Valentino

Discusses various aspects of zombie lore from popular culture, covering how to identify what type of zombie one might be, how to blend in with the living, and more, with short graphic novels based on zombie themes.

I Kissed A Zombie, and I Liked It by Adam Selzer

Living in the post-human era when the undead are part of everyday life, high schooler Alley breaks her no-dating rule when Doug catches her eye, but classmate Will demands to turn her into a vampire and her zombie boyfriend may be unable to stop him.

Infinity:  The Chronicles of Nick by Sherrilyn Kenyon

A first novel in this new series introduces Nick Gautier as a teenager: at 14, Nick thinks he knows everything about the world around him, until the night his best friends try to kill him; saved by a mysterious warrior, Nick is sucked into the realm of immortal vampire slayers called the Dark-Hunters.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies : the classic Regency romance — now with ultraviolent zombie mayhem! by Seth Grahame-Smith

A mysterious plague has fallen upon the quiet English village of Meryton–and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to wipe out the zombie menace, but she’s soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy.

World War Z by Max Brooks

An account of the decade-long conflict between humankind and hordes of the predatory undead is told from the perspective of dozens of survivors–soldiers, politicians, civilians, and others–who describe in their own words the epic human battle for survival.

You Are So Undead To Me by Stacey Jay

Megan Berry, a Carol, Arkansas, high school student who can communicate with the Undead, must team up with her childhood friend Ethan to save homecoming from an army of flesh-hungry zombies.

Zombie Blondes by Brian James

Each time fifteen-year-old Hannah and her out-of-work father move she has some fears about making friends, but a classmate warns her that in Maplecrest, Vermont, the cheerleaders really are monsters.

Zombies Calling by Faith Erin Hicks

Joss’s life sucks. She’s in the middle of university exams, up to her neck in student loans, and when she’s attacked by zombies, her roommates have the nerve to think she’s making it up. But when the zombies turn out to be terrifyingly real, only Joss knows how to survive the undead invasion: by following the Rules of Zombie Movies.

The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead by Max Brooks

A guide to surviving an attack by hordes of the predatory undead explains zombie physiology and behavior, the most effective weaponry and defense strategies, how to outfit one’s home for a long siege, and how to survive in any terrain.

Zombies vs. Unicorns edited by Justine Larbalestier & Holly Black

Twelve short stories by a variety of authors seek to answer the question of whether zombies are better than unicorns.