In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

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?
shadow

After putting down three YA titles in a row, In the Shadows of Blackbirds rescued me from my reading slump! The cover, beautiful writing, and haunting photographs immediately drew me in and captured my interest. This historical fiction novel is set in 1918 during the Spanish Influenza and narrated by sixteen year old, Mary Shelley Black. Named after Frankenstein’s author, Mary Shelley is one brave, headstrong heroine- not even war or Death himself can stop her.

Throughout the novel, it is clear that Winters had done a fair amount of research into the time period.  The setting is described in detail and events historically accurate. Gauze masks, public health warnings, visible coffins and death in the streets are not overlooked. Not only was this an enjoyable read, but also an educational one.  I didn’t realize the extent of confusion and panic the flu created, and the many uses of onions! The inclusion of black and white pictures sprinkled throughout work as a dreary visual reminder of the damaging effects of war.  I now can understand the desperation of mourners seeking comfort from spirit photographers and séances.

The plot revolves around the haunting mystery of what happened to Mary Shelley’s ‘sweetheart’ Stephen.  Winters had me guessing along with Shelley, and I was surprised by the violent and brutal ending.  Despite this, a great cast of characters, historical details, romance , mystery and tragedy all amount to one fantastic recommended read!

If you liked the mystery and suspense of  In the Shadow of Blackbirds, check out The Diviners by Libba Bray.

The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd

 

In the darkest places, even love is deadly.

Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself in London—working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumors about her father’s gruesome experiments. But when she learns he is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations are true.

Accompanied by her father’s handsome young assistant, Montgomery, and an enigmatic castaway, Edward—both of whom she is deeply drawn to—Juliet travels to the island, only to discover the depths of her father’s madness: He has experimented on animals so that they resemble, speak, and behave as humans. And worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island’s inhabitants. Torn between horror and scientific curiosity, Juliet knows she must end her father’s dangerous experiments and escape her jungle prison before it’s too late. Yet as the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father’s genius—and madness—in her own blood.

 

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Although I’ve never read H.G Wells’ The Island of Dr.Moreau, the book jacket synopsis of a Gothic thriller appealed to me. With elements of suspense, action, mystery and romance, I was immediately immersed in the story. The atmosphere and setting of a remote jungle island only added to the creep factor. Juliet’s father, the mad scientist, Dr.Moreau, makes for a perfect villain. I found it super easy to hate him (especially for his misogynistic views). His disturbing creature creations were so vividly described, that I fear I will come across them again in nightmares.

In terms of pacing, the plot does have some slower periods in the middle, which consists of walking/running through the forest, but for the most part, it held my attention. However, I could have done without Juliet’s love triangle, and her back and forth indecisive thoughts between Montgomery and Edward. Shepherd included a couple of predictable twists, but the last one caught me completely off guard. The action ramped up in the end…. eventually leading to the ultimate betrayal.  Personally, I don’t see the need for a sequel, but there is one in the works (expected publication January 2014). Recommended to those that like dark, twisted, Gothic reads.

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

The city of Ludlow is gripped by the hottest July on record. The asphalt is melting, the birds are dying, petty crime is on the rise, and someone in Hannah Wagnor’s peaceful suburban community is killing girls.

For Hannah, the summer is a complicated one. Her best friend Lillian died six months ago, and Hannah just wants her life to go back to normal. But how can things be normal when Lillian’s ghost is haunting her bedroom, pushing her to investigate the mysterious string of murders? Hannah’s just trying to understand why her friend self-destructed, and where she fits now that Lillian isn’t there to save her a place among the social elite. And she must stop thinking about Finny Boone, the big, enigmatic delinquent whose main hobbies seem to include petty larceny and surprising acts of kindness.

With the entire city in a panic, Hannah soon finds herself drawn into a world of ghost girls and horrifying secrets. She realizes that only by confronting the Valentine Killer will she be able move on with her life—and it’s up to her to put together the pieces before he strikes again.

paper valentine

Yovanoff’s book covers always grab my attention. Paper Valentine is no exception.

A while back I read The Replacement, which is set around Halloween. By complete coincidence, I read Paper Valentine over Valentine’s Day. I found both books to have some similarities:

-Sibling relationships (Ariel is a big part of the story—Hannah is very protective of her younger sister)

-Underlying message— No one is perfect. We have to learn to be happy in our own skin and not care what others think.

-Stand alone title. Not a series!

-Genre-hard to classify. It includes a mix of different elements: romance, paranormal, mystery, thriller.

While the storyline centres on the murders, it is also a book about a girl coping with her best friend’s death. Although never referred to as ‘anorexia’, it is clear that Lillian died from the eating disorder. How Hannah describes the appearance of Lillian’s ghost and the smell of her breath is truly disturbing. Hannah’s guilt is prominent throughout, and only in the end can she finally let go.

I thought Hannah made an interesting main protagonist. She loves putting her own spin on her clothes and aims to stand out from the rest of the crowd.  Although she feels guilty for her role (or lack thereof) in Lillian’s death, she puts on a smile and pretends she’s happy. I liked how her love interest, Finny challenges her to be real and accept those emotions.

Although I didn’t see the end twist coming, I figured by the number of pages left that something was around the corner. However, I had big questions surrounding the killer’s motive. Why kill young girls? To demonstrate power? For a thrill? It’s a HUGE leap from shoplifting to murder. I didn’t get it. I also didn’t quite grasp the reason for all the dead birds and the constant mentioning of heat. I definitely thought it was so sort of eerie foreshadowing.

Overall, I think Yovanoff did a great job at weaving together an interesting murder mystery. The book tackled plenty of issues to keep readers hooked and guessing. The Ouija boards and séances really upped the creepy factor.

 

 

Unspoken (The Lynburn Legacy #1) by Sarah Rees Brennan

Kami Glass loves someone she’s never met…a boy she’s talked to in her head ever since she was born. She wasn’t silent about her imaginary friend during her childhood, and is thus a bit of an outsider in her sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Still, Kami hasn’t suffered too much from not fitting in. She has a best friend, runs the school newspaper, and is only occasionally caught talking to herself. Her life is in order, just the way she likes it, despite the voice in her head.

But all that changes when the Lynburns return.

The Lynburn family has owned the spectacular and sinister manor that overlooks Sorry-in-the-Vale for centuries. The mysterious twin sisters who abandoned their ancestral home a generation ago are back, along with their teenage sons, Jared and Ash, one of whom is eerily familiar to Kami. Kami is not one to shy away from the unknown—in fact, she’s determined to find answers for all the questions Sorry-in-the-Vale is suddenly posing. Who is responsible for the bloody deeds in the depths of the woods? What is her own mother hiding? And now that her imaginary friend has become a real boy, does she still love him? Does she hate him? Can she trust him?

unspoken

For some reason, I didn’t connect with this book.  There’s nothing that I disliked about it, it’s just nothing really stood out to me. I read it last week, and already it’s a little forgettable.  That being said, I know tons of readers that would completely disagree with me so I urge you to give it a shot!

Here’s what I did like:

-the character of Kami. She had all the personality traits that I like: smart, brave, vulnerable and strong.  For example, in reference to her relationships-“She did not want to drown in what was between them and lose control, or lose who she was (p.323)”

-pacing and plot- keeps readers guessing. Lots of action/suspense.

-dark atmosphere

-well developed secondary characters

-interesting silhouette cover art

-inclusion of girl friendships

-Book set up. I loved the table of contents at the beginning, highlighting the parts/chapters.  The novel is divided into six parts, and includes quotes by Robert Frost, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and others.  The quotes helped to set up the tone of the section.

Personally, I like my books to have some sort of resolution at the end. I think readers that were emotionally invested will be very unsatisfied and perhaps a little angry with the ending provided.  Readers will have to wait for the sequel ‘Untold’ to get the conclusion they crave.

Review: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

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I simply cannot begin this review without mentioning the beautiful cover.  It is one of my recent favourites. While I try not to choose my books by beautiful covers, I find myself visually swayed every time.  After the cover, I immediately read the synopsis. In this case, the synopsis didn’t give too much away (see below). However, I think it was just enough dark and creepy to persuade me to pick it up.

Synopsis:

Mara Dyer doesn’t think life can get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there.
It can.
She believes there must be more to the accident she can’t remember that killed her friends and left her mysteriously unharmed.
There is.
She doesn’t believe that after everything she’s been through, she can fall in love.
She’s wrong.

Oooohh creepy! It gets even more fantastic with the handwritten note by ‘Mara’ in which she refers to murders and the use of a pseudonym for protection.   The eerie darkness is continued throughout storyline and plot. The plot itself had A LOT going on, including kidnapping, murder(s), alligators, hallucinations, and a dog rescue.  I really enjoyed piecing the puzzle together along with Mara.  However, one aspect I didn’t enjoy was the romance piece.  I’m sure many readers were swooning over the bad boy Noah, but I just couldn’t like someone accused of ‘using and discarding girls like condoms’.   Yuck.

The ending had me as confused as Mara.  HUH? HOW?  This allowed Hodkin to end with a very huge cliff hanger moment and clearly readers will want to pick up book two ‘The Evolution of Mara Dyer ‘immediately.

 

BookIt Guest Review-Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony & Rodrigo Corral

I rarely have the pleasure of coming across a picture book for teens so I was thrilled to come across the uniquely told story of Chopsticks.

After her mother died, Glory retreated into herself and her music. Her single father raised her as a piano prodigy, with a rigid schedule and the goal of playing sold-out shows across the globe. Now, as a teenager, Glory has disappeared. As we flash back to the events leading up to her disappearance, we see a girl on the precipice of disaster. Brilliant and lonely, Glory is drawn to an artistic new boy, Frank, who moves in next door. The farther she falls, the deeper she spirals into madness. Before long, Glory is unable to play anything but the song “Chopsticks.” But nothing is what it seems, and Glory’s reality is not reality at all. In this stunningly moving novel told in photographs, pictures, and words, it’s up to the reader to decide what is real, what is imagined, and what has been madness all along.

Chopsticks is not just a regular picture book, it is a story told through a  mix of images from photographs, letters, television shots, cell phone messages,  CD lists, artwork, menus, and more.  As a reader I felt like I was going the personal scrapbook of Glory, uncovering the key moments of her life from losing her mother to losing her grasp on reality. I think that this book would be a great choice for those who enjoy expressing themselves artistically. I went through the book several times, loving the images, and even followed it up by listening to some of the songs they share with each other. I believe teens will be able to identify with elements of the story, and enjoy the alternative format.

I give it 4 out of 5

Happy reading,

Bookit

p.s. check out the YouTube version of Chopsticks

Bookit Review: Above by Leah Bobet

I saw this book and I thought the cover was beautiful and intriguing. I enjoy discovering new Canadian authors and the depiction of a woman with beautiful wings looking out at the Toronto cityscape at night prepared me for a read that would intertwine a fantastical world with a city I have visited often. If I wasn’t already excited, the cover also includes praise from the 2011 Evergreen winner Emma Donoghue (Room) who writes “Above pulls off that rare trick of being convincing and utterly magical at the same time.” Thus, I went into this read with high hopes….

From Goodreads:

An extraordinary debut urban fantasy about dangers outside and in.

Matthew has loved Ariel from the moment he found her in the tunnels, her bee’s wings falling away. They live in Safe, an underground refuge for those fleeing the city Above—like Whisper, who speaks to ghosts, and Jack Flash, who can shoot lightning from his fingers.

But one terrifying night, an old enemy invades Safe with an army of shadows, and only Matthew, Ariel, and a few friends escape Above. As Matthew unravels the mystery of Safe’s history and the shadows’ attack, he realizes he must find a way to remake his home—not just for himself, but for Ariel, who needs him more than ever before.

ABOVE is the debut of an amazing new voice.

 

I really wanted to like this novel. The story is told from the perspective of Matthew who describes himself as a monster or freak, with feet like lion claws and scales like fish. He was born underground in a Sanctuary called Safe and has the role of Teller for his community. He listens, memorizes and tells the stories about the members of Safe. Thus, we see the story through his perspective and after Safe is invaded by horrific creatures that try to destroy the only home he has known Matthew is forced to the world above. Leah Bobet does a great job of building character development through Matthews voice, similar to how Emma Donoghue told the story of Room through the perspective of 5 year-old Jack who knows the world only through the room he is born in. Matthew tells the stories of the various members of Safe and how they came together, including Ariel a girl with bee wings he found broken and abused in the sewers.

In Above Bobet combines a depressing and realistic look at what life might be like for those who are born or inflicted with abnormalities, such as those of the fantastical nature and even those that have been seen to threaten societal norms such as being mixed gender. How would society and scientists treat these people if they were discovered? History shows that we have not been kind, and Above includes these hard to read topics which made it sad to read at times.

Lastly, the mystery of the story takes an interesting spin as you discover who invaded Safe and why. The moral code of Matthew`s character is challenged throughout the story and in the end the story of Above sends out the message of the butterfly effect, where one action can completely change the course of events to come.

I give it 4 out of 5

Happy reading,

Bookit

 

 

Review: Dead To You by Lisa McMann

Ethan was abducted from his front yard when he was just seven years old. Now, at sixteen, he has returned to his family. It’s a miracle… at first. Then the tensions start to build. His reintroduction to his old life isn’t going smoothly, and his family is tearing apart all over again. If only Ethan could remember something, anything, about his life before, he’d be able to put the pieces back together. But there’s something that’s keeping his memory blocked. Something unspeakable…

Wow, I read this book at record-breaking speed. I could not put it down. I found myself reading faster and faster to get to the shocking ending.  As you read through this book, expect to feel a wide range of emotions as you follow the very lost and confused character of Ethan.  The story is told entirely from his perspective, so I found myself empathizing with his frustration at his lack of early childhood memories. At first, I was so shocked and angered at how Ethan’s younger brother Blake treated him, but as Blake aggressively continued, I too began to wonder—what if he’s right? It’s the character of Blake and Gracie (the ‘replacement child’)that help to hook the readers into the story. I really liked how Gracie eased the tension too.  The whole situation (parent’s worse nightmare come true) felt really authentic as they tried to adjust and put together their new life as a family. Without a doubt, it would be a messy difficult task, and I’m glad that McMann showed them obtaining professional help.  Overall, it is a darker themed book and will not appeal to all readers but I’m glad I picked it up.

*Just a warning note- since the story is told from Ethan’s unfiltered perspective, there are some sexual references, and explicit language.

Book Review- Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

 From Goodreads:

A mysterious island.

An abandoned orphanage.

A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

I picked up Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children for several reasons. First, the title alone is intriguing. Paired with vintage photos and an endorsement by one of my favourite YA authors, John Green, I had high expectations.

Well, I must admit that I was severely let down. I have about 20% left and I just can’t finish the book. For weeks, I carried it around with me and tried reading it whenever I could.  It started off amazing. It captured my attention and I thought the premise was very imaginative and clever. It follows 16-year-old Jacob as he sets out on a quest to better understand whether his deceased grandfather’s stories were fact or fiction. It also has the most intriguing creepy vintage photographs throughout. However, I think that Riggs laid all the photos out and tried to create a story based on the photos. In my opinion, it didn’t work because the photos came first and the story second. Sometimes the photos felt out of place and didn’t really add anything to the story.

Other aspects I didn’t like:

-although the book is classified as a Young Adult book, it definitely reads younger.

-super creepy romance between Jacob and Emma

-not enough information about the children’s peculiar abilities. Would have enjoyed to read more about them.

-predictable storyline. Although I didn’t finish the book, I quickly read reviews with spoilers and wasn’t surprised to find out the outcome of the highly predictable ‘mystery’.

It’s no secret that I haven’ t been super impressed with my picks lately. Any recommendations?

Book Review: Envy by Gregg Olsen

Two weeks ago, I attended the Whitehot’s Children’s Book Display at the Mississauga Library.  I was able to speak to publishing reps about upcoming new releases and get the scoop on the best reads.  I asked the rep from Sterling Children’s Books for his top pick of YA titles and he immediately picked up Envy by Gregg Olsen. The book cover itself is a high selling point, but at the same time scared me because it reminded me of the scariest movie ever- The Ring. Yes, I am still terrified of that film, and really haven’t watched a horror movie since.  Luckily, Envy isn’t so much a horror story as it is a suspenseful mystery.

Summary from Goodreads:

Envy, the series debut, involves the mysterious death of the twins’ old friend, Katelyn. Was it murder? Suicide? An accident? Hayley and Taylor are determined to find out–and as they investigate, they stumble upon a dark truth that is far more disturbing than they ever could have imagined.
 
Based on the shocking true crime about cyber-bullying,
Envy will take you to the edge–and push you right over.

I must admit, the story kept my interest. But I’m not sure it’s because of Olsen’s story or the fact that I knew the book was based on the true case of Megan Meier. If you aren’t aware of the case, Megan was 13 years old when she committed suicide after being cyberbullied by an unlikely individual. The case was highly publicized and shed light on the dangers of social media. 

Now for my critiques…

😦

–         This book had some of the worst cliffhanger lines ever. For example—When Katelyn is found dead in a bathtub with an expresso machine, Olsen writes: [someone in Port Gamble was] “loving the sad moment to the very drop”.  I also found that Olsen loved writing short empathetic sentences. For example, he ends a chapter with “…beginning of something that would change everything. Everything. Every. Single. Thing (p.16)”. The majority of chapter endings were so terrible that I was surprised there wasn’t a dramatic ‘duh duh duh’ written after them.

–         I think Olsen tried too hard to reference popular culture. From Twilight, to Smashbox makeup. Yes, it may be in ‘in’ thing now, but in a couple of years, these references will date the book.

–         Umm…did I miss something? Why exactly was the espresso coffee machine even near the bathtub in the first place?

–         SPOILER— I didn’t buy the ending. Once they found out Katelyn’s death was an accident, it was like ‘ohhhhh okay, no problem, it was an accident, end of story’.  The storyline of Katelyn was pretty much dropped there.  Then, the next chapter thrusts us back into Hay-Tay’s supernatural issues and the annoying reporter Moira. Yes, she was a little crazy stealing their dog and all, but did she really need to be murdered so that the twins could be ‘protected’? I really doubt being ploughed down by a car would look the same as falling down a rocky bank. To be ruled ‘accidental’ Port Gamble must have the worst policemen and coroners in the world.

🙂

 -I liked the supernatural ‘special’ powers between the twins and wish that it was a bigger part of the storyline. However, the ending of Envy does suggest that their powers will be more played out in the series. 

-I enjoyed reading a mystery and searching for the clues within the story to try to understand what really happened to Katelyn.

-I appreciated the fact that Olsen addressed the issue of online anonymity and the dangers of cyber bullying. Today kids are so tech savvy and cyber bullying is sadly becoming a more prevalent form of bullying.

 

Want more Envy?

Click to watch the Youtube book trailer

Or visit www.emptycoffinseries.com for more information on the book and cyberbulling. You can even take a ‘how mean are you?’ quiz!

 

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