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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Genre: Historical Fiction
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 320
Rating: 4/5

Book Synopsis: For Bess Heath, 1915 is the year her life changes dramatically. Set against the backdrop of the dawning era of hydro-electricity and the First World War, Bess comes home from boarding school to discover that her father has lost his job and her sister has changed dramatically from the girl she had known only the year before.

The same night as she discovers all these changes, Bess meets Tom Cole, the fearless, and rough riverman. He has made a life for himself of being able to predict the behavior of the Niagara River and Falls. That ability has made him into a local hero and a threat to the power companies.

Bess finds herself drawn to the young man despite her family's disapproval, and over the course of the next year the two lives become more and more closely entwined.

Book Review: Cathy Marie Buchanan has woven a fascinating mix of history and fiction in this, her first novel. Everything about it shows that balance between what was real and what she chose to make up. The events described really do feel like they could have happened as she described them. That's because many of them really did happen. I can't say for sure if all of them did, but last month I was on a tour of Niagara Falls, and that's what inspired me to pick up this book. While on the tour, we saw the wreck of the grounded scow, which still sits on the riverbed today. We also saw photos of some of the daredevils and stuntpeople who ventured the falls and survived (or not). All of that really added to the atmosphere of The Day The Falls Stood Still for me. However, I really don't think you have to have seen the falls to see the grandeur and awe they inspire in this book.

The other thing that added to the mix of history and fiction combined in this book is the use of archival photos at the start of many of the chapters. There's the ice bridge, pictures of the stunts, the powerhouses, and the falls themselves (among many others).

Tom Cole is, according to the author's note, closely based on a historical figure called William "Red" Hill. I can't say anything about it, not knowing the local history, but Tom is an interesting character, as is Bess Heath, the protagonist and viewpoint character of the story.

The Day The Falls Stood Still is rich with details and imagery of the First World War years, all told from the point of view of a woman who stayed at home to support the children while her husband enlisted. It's interesting the way life in those years is portrayed in this book. Scrimping and saving on food, while still wearing individually tailored dresses in fancy materials with embroidery and beadwork.

By the end of the book I found that I really had gotten to like Bess, and she'd become a 'real' person to me with all her flaws and quirks. All of the characters filled out and became true individuals. However, I found the book a bit slow starting. That could have been just me though. Regardless of a slow start, it really took off at the start of the second part, and kept me up late.

The Day The Falls Stood Still is a book I'm glad to have read, and I'm definitely going to be keeping an eye out for anything else by Cathy Marie Buchanan in the future.

Lady in Waiting
Thanks to Elena @ All Booked Up for this fantastic guest review.


Sharon said...

This book sounds wonderful. I love your review.

Teddyree said...

Wonderful review, love historical fiction that's rich in detail and imagery so I think I'd enjoy this one.

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

Wonderful review. I really enjoyed this book as well and was amazed that she is a first time author.

fredamans said...

Great review!! I really want to read this story, since it was based on actual events.

Cathy Marie Buchanan said...

Thanks for this thoughtful review of my debut novel. So great that visiting Niagara inspried you to read the book.


Elena said...

Sharon, as far as I know, the book has to be one of the most interesting pieces of historical fiction I've read this year.

Teddyree, its definitely worth a read.

Nicole, Glad to see another person who liked it.

Fredamans, that's one of the things that made it so interesting, the "didn't I see something about that on the tour" moments that came up.

You're very welcome, Cathy.

Jenny Girl said...

This book sounds lovley, and now with the web you don't have to see the falls in person. I am adding this to Mt. TBR :)

Deanna/ibeeeg said...

I love historical fiction and American history is by far my favorite with the early years intriguing me the most. With that said, I have always liked learning the history based around WWI and WWII so this book will go on my list to read when I hit the mood to read about the early 1900's. Besides that, I am hoping to take the children to see the Falls within the next couple of years. So another intriguing aspect for me. *smile*

Thanks for the lovely review.

Elena said...

You're welcome Deanna.

Jenny Girl, I hope this isn't the one to cause the avalanche :).