Monday, November 23, 2015

A Tale of Two Cat Winters Novels: The Cure for Dreaming + The Uninvited

After reading "In the Shadow of Blackbirds", Cat Winters' debut novel, I knew I had to keep an eye on what she came out with next. So far, her following two novels have quickly turned her into one of my favorite authors. She masterfully mixes history with fantasy, and adds a good dose of paranormal spookyness to round it all out. If you'll remember from my review of "In the Shadow of Blackbirds", certain passages actually managed to freak me out! (In a good way!) I'm a huge fan of ghost stories, so I was excited to read more from Ms. Winters:

"The Cure for Dreaming"

 This is a strictly YA novel: tame and actually not very spooky at all! It's not a ghost story, but rather a fantasy-fiction novel. Similar to "ISOBB", the book itself is sprinkled with old black and white photographs of the time period in which the story actually takes place: The setting is the start of the 1900's, when women across the U.S. were fighting for their rights not only to vote, but to be treated as equals. Our lead character, Olivia Mead, is a teenage aspiring Suffragette who gets tangled up in an unusual and "magical" situation when she is repeatedly hypnotized by the mysterious boy who calls himself Henri Reverie - an illusionist.

And that's when everything just kind of got a bit.. silly. Don't get me wrong, it's an interesting premise. And I suppose it's partly my fault, because I was expecting something dark and scary like "In the Shadow of Blackbirds", but instead I got Olivia seeing visions of the villainous people in her life as blood-sucking monsters and the nice people as glowing lamp-people who... float? It was a bit unexpected, is all. Henri Reverie essentially puts Olivia under a 'spell' of seeing the world for "what it really is", and in an effort to curb her 'rebellious'-pro-suffrage-leaning actions, her father pays Henri to hypnotize her even further, causing her to only be able to utter the phrase "All is Well" when confronted by situations in which she might speak up to defend herself or show anger.

Yikes. Honestly, I felt sorry for the poor girl.

Aside from the random visions, we never really get an explanation of Henri's powers of how he is able to genuinely hypnotize people, other than he was taught by an uncle. I was hoping for his back story to run a bit deeper than that, and for some actual magical explanations. So that's another aspect of where this fell short for me.

Overall, I did enjoy this novel, just not as much as "In the Shadow of Blackbirds". As I said, there were no ghosts or truly terrifying situations, just teenage drama and magicians. It was nice to have a feisty strong willed girl like Olivia for a lead character, though. That is one thing in which Cat Winters truly shines at: creating characters that feel relatable, even though they aren't from "modern" times. I give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

"The Uninvited"

It was back to atmospheric SPOOKYNESS for this story, and it did not disappoint in the slightest. The setting was actually quite similar to what we saw with "In the Shadow of Blackbirds": during the height of WWI and the Spanish Influenza epidemic, two catastrophic historical events that were wiping people out left and right. So of course there would be restless spirits involved. But completely unlike "In the Shadow of Blackbirds" or "The Cure for Dreaming", this novel is for a bit of an older crowd, due to the lead character being in her mid-twenties and involved in more 'adult' situations: some violent drama and stormy romances.

The Jazz Age was just starting to be birthed at this time, and Ivy Rowan, (our lead girl), gets swept up in the music and carefree culture of it to escape the stresses of her life.  Her family life is in turmoil after her brother dies in the war, all her friends are either dead from the flu, or living out of town in exile for being "German sympathizers", and she gets involved with a young German man herself, (named Daniel), after his brother was brutally murdered and wanted to help him out.

To make matters worse, Ivy keeps seeing ghosts. The women in her family have always had that ability, but it's especially scary for Ivy because these aren't ordinary ghosts: they are harbinger spirits. And when they appear, it means somebody else close to her will be next to die. So of course she's stressed. Of course she dives into an intense relationship with a boy she barely knows. Of course she is called to the speakeasy across the street that is open all night, every night, blaring hectic jazz tunes and filled with young people dancing with reckless abandon. Because what else can she do?

I can't go into too much more detail, because I don't want to spoil it, but trust me when I say I did NOT see all the twists and turns coming.

You'll just have to read it for yourself.

But I can't rave enough about how much I loved this story. It took me for a spin, and initially I did have reservations about certain things in the beginning, but I couldn't put the book down, and the story all fell into place beautifully.

Five out of five stars for this one.

So there you have it: two completely different stories by the same author. One a bit younger and more lighthearted, the other dark and tempestuous and jaw dropping. Historical fiction is Cat Winters' signature, and she does it expertly. You can tell that she really researches every detail for accuracy in her stories, and even gives you glimpses into this research by either the photographs, (like in "the Cure for Dreaming" or a list of all the actual jazz songs mentioned in "the Uninvited" that tie into Ivy and Daniel's love affair - it's brilliant!)

Get to reading!

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