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BOOK REVIEW – The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters

BOOK REVIEW – The Cure for Dreaming by Cat WintersThe Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters
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Synopsis:

Olivia Mead is a headstrong, independent girl—a suffragist—in an age that prefers its girls to be docile. It’s 1900 in Oregon, and Olivia’s father, concerned that she’s headed for trouble, convinces a stage mesmerist to try to hypnotize the rebellion out of her. But the hypnotist, an intriguing young man named Henri Reverie, gives her a terrible gift instead: she’s able to see people’s true natures, manifesting as visions of darkness and goodness, while also unable to speak her true thoughts out loud. These supernatural challenges only make Olivia more determined to speak her mind, and so she’s drawn into a dangerous relationship with the hypnotist and his mysterious motives, all while secretly fighting for the rights of women. Winters breathes new life into history once again with an atmospheric, vividly real story, including archival photos and art from the period throughout.


“As I’ve learned through my own ordeals, once you start viewing the world the way it truly is, it is impossible to ignore both its beauty and its ugliness. Look around you.
You can’t stop seeing it, can you?”

These sentences here? They’re worth 5 big shiny stars. Sadly, the book was not. If Cat Winters is without doubt a formidable storyteller and if I think the ideas she’s trying to convey are absolutely fabulous (with all my heart, thank you), I felt let down by several aspects of this book.

The Cure for Dreaming offers us a demeaning, thoughts-inducing trip back in time when women were fighting for their rights – to vote, and more generally to be treated as equals as men.

In 1900s Portland, while suffragists are trying to make themselves heard, Olivia nurtures the dreams to attend College and to get the chance to participate in her country’s future. Nothing wild, you think? It was without counting on her father’s dreams which are in glaring contradiction with hers : indeed his sole aim is to make her marry “well’ (think wealthy) and to perpetrate the way of life he always followed.

What I found fascinating is to see that the sexist situations Olivia is facing are the SAME as the ones that annoys me so much in romance novels nowadays. Cat Winters, on the contrary, presents these situations as they really are : controlling, demeaning, and so very sexist. Thank you. Let’s play a little matching game, okay?

Rule #1 : You shall not express your anger.

… or speak your mind, for that matter.

Rule #2 : You shall love having no choices.

Rule #3 : You shall find forced kiss exciting

I could go round and round in circles, my point wouldn’t be clearer : some of the sexist and infuriating stereotypes and behaviors Olivia denounces in 1900s women’s life are still pictured as appealing and sexy in many romance novels. I’m kind of depressed right now.

Despite this oppressive atmosphere, Olivia stays strong-minded and I really liked her. Little by little, she’s trying to make sense of her life and her relationships and I was happy to see her grow throughout the novel and finally start to publicly express her needs and thoughts. This is so very important. See, it took me time to realize that sometimes you HAD to speak up for yourself. People think you’re a bitch? So what. No, really. So what.

As for the paranormal aspect, I’ll let the mystery remain complete but I have to say that I found its introduction fabulous and unexpected. I LOVED IT. So imaginative and like nothing I read before.

Unfortunately, despite the atmospheric writing, the original and brilliant paranormal aspect and the oh-so-important issues tackled, my connection often wavered, letting me unable to trigger strong emotions : first because the dialogues sounded sometimes fake to me (issue I already had with The Steep and Thorny Way) but mostly because of the flat secondary characters, starting with Henry, the male lead. I mean, okay, he is sweet. Really. Yet he never triggered my aww button and even though I was rooting for them, he missed this little something more, this extra-layer that would have make my heart beat faster. As for her best friend, Tania – I think? GAH. I already forgot. See?? – I was pretty disappointed by the fact that she didn’t play a greater role in the story. Yes she makes appearances but not near enough for me to care about her.

Oh, boy. What did happen to the men? Look, I do realize that women rights weren’t popular among men at the time, and I do not have a problem with a rather unlikeable portrayal of men in that aspect. Yet I need nuances. As I said, aside from Olivia, the main character, the other characters are flat and pretty stereotypical (the father! GAH!), especially the villains. We’re not offered a real development of the secondary characters, and the way they talk often made me roll my eyes, especially when it comes to the dialogues with her father. I mean, are you kidding me? Who is this crazy dentist who’s talking with his daughter as if he killed puppies for a living?

Meet Olivia’s father.

Meet the men, except Henry and one or two exceptions.

Look, I’m not denying that Cat Winters addressed the fact that some men shared suffragists views, because she did, but it remains that the male characters she offers us don’t demonstrate critical thinking. They’re plain villains. Boo-hiss.

That ending, though? It was amazing. Tears of joy inducing. I adored it.

BOOK REVIEW – The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters

BOOK REVIEW – The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat WintersThe Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters
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Synopsis:

A thrilling reimagining of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Steep and Thorny Way tells the story of a murder most foul and the mighty power of love and acceptance in a state gone terribly rotten.

1920s Oregon is not a welcoming place for Hanalee Denney, the daughter of a white woman and an African-American man. She has almost no rights by law, and the Ku Klux Klan breeds fear and hatred in even Hanalee’s oldest friendships. Plus, her father, Hank Denney, died a year ago, hit by a drunk-driving teenager. Now her father’s killer is out of jail and back in town, and he claims that Hanalee’s father wasn’t killed by the accident at all but, instead, was poisoned by the doctor who looked after him—who happens to be Hanalee’s new stepfather.

The only way for Hanalee to get the answers she needs is to ask Hank himself, a “haint” wandering the roads at night.

This book won’t certainly appeal to everyone. It’s not free of flaws, and I wasn’t completely satisfied. And yet… As I said in my review of In the Shadow of Blackbirds, any book that tackles important and horrifying issues in such sensitive way, compelling the reader to do some researches about them deserves attention.

In this original retelling of the much beloved Hamlet, Cat Winters takes us into the xenophobic 1920s Oregon, where we follow Hanalee, a teenager whose father, African-American, died under strange circumstances. Eager to shed lights on this awful event, she soon realizes that each discovery proves to be more and more unsettling and excruciating.

Who is to be believed when the general atmosphere is one of distrust and rejection?

“Because we’re living in corrupt times, Hanalee. Even the best intentions can sound cruel when spoken aloud.”

First of all, Cat Winters shows again a real talent to convey an atmosphere and to write in a compelling and engrossing way. Indeed as it was the case with In the Shadow of Blackbirds, I was immersed in the world right away : the hopeless atmosphere is perfectly pictured, the desperation transpiring through every page, letting the reader feel all the anger, sadness and indignation Hanalee faces every day. It always appalls me to see such a racist world unfolded before my eyes (that’s why I never read comments under YouTube videos, otherwise my pessimism would know no limits) : in these times, to be half African-American was a fault in itself, and if people stay relatively “nice” to her (think : hypocrites), it remains that Hanalee suffers daily from different kinds of negative comments about her hair, her skin, her future.

Think peril. Life threatening peril. Fear.

What do you picture?

A dystopian apocalyptic world? Dictators? Serial killers? Creepy aliens? Clowns? (okay, “clowns” is on me)

Say, you see this little quiet town in the middle of nowhere/Oregon. Not frightening? Aww, you’re so sweet. We need some villains? Let’s take people. Regular people. You know, the selfish, indifferent and stupid widespread kind.

Why create an awful fantasy world when we can have history? When we can have our world?

Because, really, what can we say about a world where a teenager is in peril if she enters a restaurant? It’s so sneaky really – one second you’re scared to death for her and thinking no noo don’t go there! And suddenly you realize – but wait, it is a RESTAURANT. Why on earth should she be careful? Why on earth are you accepting it by thinking that she’s acting wildly and dangerously by coming there? It’s a RESTAURANT. Of course she can go. Oh, wait, no.

Again, welcome to 1920s Oregon, where biracial marriages are forbidden and eugenics laws allow authorities to castrate people because they’re homosexuals.

This book made me so, so angry. This book made me furious. For that, I’m grateful. I never want to feel indifferent. Not ever. We need such books to remind us that we are not so far from these dark days and that stereotypes and barbarism are to be fought on a daily basis.

Hate doesn’t even begin to describe what’s happening. (…) People in this state are controlling who can and can’t breed, Hanalee. They’re eradicating those of us who aren’t white, Protestant, American-born, or sexually normal in their eyes. They’re ‘purifying’ Oregon.”

Lost in Cat Winters‘ words, I couldn’t help but feel the hate and fear eating at them, this sickening atmosphere that can change a childhood sweetheart into an enemy. It was truly terrifying to see how peer pressure can morph someone into a completely different person. So, so sad.

Hanalee is a strong and likeable heroine whom I’m glad to have met here. One can argue that she takes some stupid or, let’s say, rushed decisions, especially in regards of who to trust but I understood her. She reacts. She is young. Who wouldn’t make mistakes now tell me?

Mostly the twists and turns managed to surprise me, even though I guess some parts, I have to admit. Yet in my opinion, it’s not even the point : I was hooked from the beginning in any case, and I really appreciated that the story didn’t fall into the stereotypical traps (there’s no romance, for example).

As a retelling of Hamlet, I expected some kind of ghost apparitions and indeed her father’s ghost has a critical role to play in the investigations of his death. Quite eerie, but I found the whole ghost giving answers a little too convenient… I didn’t care much for these parts, I have to admit : not that they didn’t convey emotion in me, because they did, but there was always an undercurrent of falsity that prevented me from completely buying it.

Unfortunately, I did find that, Hanalee excepted, the characterization could have shown more depth : indeed I never really got the sense that I knew any of them, including Joe, which does not mean that they weren’t interesting characters to read about, though. This being said, the mystery unraveling before our eyes must be taken into account : perhaps the fog mustn’t be lifted, after all. I’ll let you judge.

Moreover, as much as I love Cat Winters‘s beautiful writing, the dialogues were a little too formulaic for my taste : sometimes they sounded fake to me, especially during the highly tensed parts.

Finally, the ending felt a little rushed. Yet it’s hopeful, and it makes sense, as the journey we followed is coming to a end.

► Again, I feel the need to remind everyone that 3.5 stars isn’t a bad rating in the slightest. Give this book a chance. Give this author a chance. They deserve it.

“Hate is a powerful demon that worms its way into the hearts of fearful men”

I will never let hate win. Please don’t.

*arc kindly provided by Amulet Books. Thanks so much!*

BOOK REVIEW – In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

BOOK REVIEW – In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat WintersIn the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters
Purchase on: AmazoniBooks
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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.

What an original little gem : this brilliant tale, served by a beautiful writing and a haunting atmosphere, is like nothing I’ve read before.

From page one I felt connected to every one of these characters, first of all Mary Shelley, a strong and clever heroine I instantly loved (I wish there were more YA leads like her, to be honest). In my opinion Cat Winters perfectly nailed the characterization, making me care for characters even before meeting them : how is that even possible? Before I knew it my heart was in my throat, my belly in knots, afraid to follow Mary on her journey.

But what won me over was the unexpected quality of the plot (especially because I didn’t read the blurb, which gives away too much in my opinion). More than once did I find myself clasping my hand over my mouth, widening my eyes and giggling out of surprise : it was fabulous.

Do you believe in ghosts? Because I don’t. Not that it stops them from creeping the hell out of me. See, my mum used to tell everyone that I channeled spirits because of that time when I told her that someone was dead without nobody knowing it yet. I was 4. As far as I’m concerned, it was only a sad and creepy coincidence, but my mother never really saw it that way, and it became the story every one of my friends religiously heard her recall over the years. Since then I’ve been afraid of spirits, even knowing how irrational my fear is. All this because I once was a spoiled child who said something mean. Payback is a bitch.

That’s why I couldn’t shake off the impression that someone was watching me while I was reading, not to mention that the pictures freaked the hell out of me. Trust me, if someone told me that they could capture spirits’ soul in pictures, I would brush it off laughing and rolling my eyes, as Mary did. Yet some passages made my blood run cold, so much that I couldn’t breathe. Perhaps I’m a chicken. I don’t care. I. Was. Scared. Fucking bird. *shivers*

“Lives were being traded for other lives.
The line between right and wrong blurred into a haze.”

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been passionate about the darkest times my country lived : contrary to what some stupid people think, not being blind about France’s faults in History doesn’t mean that we don’t love our country, but actually the opposite. I strongly believe that historical knowledge is needed to stop making the same mistakes again : it’s far from enough, but that’s a start, isn’t it? Obviously I read a lot of books about both World Wars because literature is really prolific about them in France. Yet In the Shadow of Blackbirds is the only US insight I’ve come across since Dos Passos, and it’s been almost 10 years since I’ve read The 42nd Parallel. As we follow Mary’s story, we get to see how dark and dangerous this period was : if USA weren’t where fighting was taking place, it doesn’t mean that no battle were fought there. Between the flu and the prevailing paranoia, Mary’s world is shredded into pieces.

Mary’s father was taken into custody as a traitor because he proved himself to be against USA’s participation in that war. If my knowledge about the way US citizens dealt with WW1 is close to zero, here are some facts about the Great War (I do know that I simplify some of them, but it is neither the place nor the time to write an History paper. Yet this book, and the November 11th anniversary coming this week made me want to talk about it). There’s something to say about a book that makes you want to revisit your History. In my opinion anyway.

As that’s the case with most wars, every country involved spread hate and misinformation through propaganda. This poster, published in 1918 in France, chills the air around me so much it reminds me of those Mary sees everywhere : (view spoiler) As Mary and her aunt points it, WW1 started due to a deadly game of alliances combined with the ambition to be the most influent, powerful, wealthy European country, and not really out of threat. Look how good it worked, you stupid.

During Winter 1915, some French and German soldiers ‘celebrated’ Christmas together, many of them (on both sides) struggling to understand why the hell they were fighting to death in these awful conditions. Between 1914 and 1918, hundred, if not thousands French soldiers were sentenced to death by their hierarchy because they refused to carry on fighting. For those of you who speak French, I strongly recommend reading Paroles de Poilus: Lettres et carnets du front 1914-1918, a chilling collection of letters sent by French soldiers during WW1 : they’re as unsettling as though-provoking, and Stephen’s experience made way more sense knowing that.

The way Cat Winters captured the oppressive atmosphere during this year was brilliantly done, and added so much more depth to the story. Rarely struggles moved me as much as Mary’s and Stephen’s did.

“Oh, you silly, naive men.” I shook my weary head and genuinely pitied their ignorance. “You’ve clearly never been a sixteen-year-old girl in the fall of 1918.”

Moreover, I loved how Cat Winters tackled women’s emancipation issue : as it played out for Mary’s aunt, WW1 brought many French women to work in factories and other ‘men’ jobs for the first time, creating a growing awareness of the need to give more rights to women – Don’t hold your breath, though. In France the fight for women’s suffrage ended in 1944, and women earn the right to work without their father/husband’s permission in 1965 only. If France’s always been the country of humans rights, it takes its time to acknowledge that women deserved them too. All of that is to say that I really appreciated reading about how women were dealing with war overseas, especially through such strong yet realistic characters.

► All in all, a book that I won’t forget anytime soon. Strongly recommended.

I found the crow to make my pict here.

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