Rummanah Aasi
  I know very little about the Spanish flu except that it killed millions of people and that it occurred during World War I. I also remember that the deadly disease killed the once human Edward Cullen and served as the climax for the second season of Downton Abbey. Cat Winter's great debut novel ties together the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, WWI shell shock, national prejudice, and spirit photography to show just how far people will believe and do almost anything in the time of desperationThis review is based on an advanced reader's copy of the book provided by the publishers and Netgalley. Thank you!

Description: 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?

Review: As soon as the book opens, we are immersed in a world cloaked with darkness and paranoia. Mary Shelly Black, named after the author of Frankenstein, is an extremely bright and likable young woman who is caught between science and spiritualism in her quest to make sense of a world overcome with war and disease in 1918 California.
  Mary Shelley's life has not been easy. She lost her mother as an infant and her father was recently arrested for alleged treason at their home in Portland, Ore. World War I is underway and those those who speak out against it, like her father, find themselves persecuted and arrested for high crimes. Mary Shelley flees to her Aunt Eva in San Diego to avoid possible fallout from the arrest and since it might be a better place to wait out the influenza epidemic that is sweeping the country. Her new home allows her to reconnect with the family of her first love, Stephen, now a soldier fighting in the war.
  I loved the relationship, though short-lived, between Mary Shelly and Stephen. Winters does a great job in showing how much they cared for one another in their brief moments together from exchanging letters, sweet memories, as well as the horror and anxiety when Stephen suddenly begins to haunt Mary Shelley.
 Winters' impeccable research is evidently shown from the popularity of spiritualism in which anxiety and fear increases as the toll from war and disease climb and sends families grasping at anything to alleviate their pain.    Some readers have commented that the plot of the book seems to mutate into different genres, but I disagree. Winters strikes just the right balance between history and ghost story, neatly capturing the period of the times, as growing scientific inquiry collided with heightened spiritualist curiosity. The pacing of the book moves quite nicely and I kept turning the pages because I had to find out why Stephen haunts Mary Shelly and whether or not he truly died under the usual circumstances. I'd definitely recommend this book to readers who enjoy historical fiction as well as a murder mystery with a hint of a romance.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, disturbing war images, and mentions of opium use. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey, Captivity by Deborah Noyes, We hear the dead by Dianne K. Salerni
9 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    I've heard nothing but good things about this book Rummanah! I'm so glad to see you really enjoyed it as well, and you've definitely got me curious about Stephen and the circumstances of his death and subsequent haunting. Can't wait to give this one a try, fantastic review:)


  2. I'm so glad you liked this one. It's on my list, but I've read mixed reviews. Sounds like something I would like. Thanks.


  3. I've never heard of this one. It sounds great. I read a nonfiction book a few years ago called Influenza - I think that was the title - all about the 1918 epidemic. It was fascinating.


  4. Sam Says:

    So Edward Cullen did die from the Spanish Flu! I was wondering about that, hah. ;)

    Brilliant review, Rummanah! I completely agree that Cat Winters got the balance between the historical aspects and paranormal aspects perfectly right. I never once thought this book was too ambitious, or that it didn't know which genre it wanted to be in. I actually really liked that it overlapped into so many different areas.


  5. I am so happy you liked this one as well. I loved learning about the flu and the war and all that. The detailed research really made this book for me! I think it is one of my best so far this year!


  6. "Winters strikes just the right balance between history and ghost story, neatly capturing the period of the times, as growing scientific inquiry collided with heightened spiritualist curiosity." Ok, I already REALLY wanted to read this based on the amazing reviews I've read so far, but this makes me even more excited to get started on this book. Wonderful, thoughtful review! Thanks for sharing :-)


  7. I am THRILLED that you liked this, I really am. I still haven't stopped thinking about this story and Mary Shelley and Stephen. Both are such sweet characters and all that tragedy isn't something I'm likely to forget.
    I agree both about the genre and the pacing.
    Beautiful review!


  8. I know Sam and Maja both loved this one too so I'm definitely hoping to get a copy of this one soon. I really like that there are photos in this one - something different - and the romance, though brief, sounds lovely.


  9. Candace Says:

    I'm glad you enjoyed this one too! I really enjoyed learning so much but still being entertained. I'm very interested in reading more about the time period and subject. Great review!


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