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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Book Review: Fall of Poppies by Heather Webb, Hazel Gaynor, Beatriz Williams, Jennifer Robson, Jessica Brockmole, Kate Kerrigan, Evangeline Holland, Lauren Willig, and Marci Jefferson

fall of poppies

Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War
by Heather Webb, Hazel Gaynor, Beatriz Williams, Jennifer Robson, Jessica Brockmole, Kate Kerrigan, Evangeline Holland, Lauren Willig, and Marci Jefferson
ARC, e-book & paperback, 368 pages
William Morrow Paperback
March 1, 2016

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Genre: Historical Fiction, Short Stories, Anthology

Source: Received from the publisher for review via Edelweiss

November 11, 1918. After four long, dark years of fighting, the Great War ends at last, and the world is forever changed. For soldiers, loved ones, and survivors, the years ahead stretch with new promise, even as their hearts are marked by all those who have been lost.
As families come back together, lovers reunite, and strangers take solace in each other, everyone has a story to tell.

In this moving, unforgettable collection, nine top historical fiction authors share stories of love, strength, and renewal as hope takes root in a fall of poppies.

I have been loving the trend recently for historical fiction authors to come together in between their individual works and put together anthology collections. It’s excellent for the community and the themes that the projects have focused on have been different and compelling. So far, of these collections, I have read: Grand Central (revolving around a single day at Grand Central at the end of WWII), A Day of Fire (the day of the volcano eruption that destroyed Pompeii), and A Year of Ravens (they year of Boudica’s rebellion). This was my 4th foray into these anthologies and this one focused on different experiences in different places at the time of the end of WWI. I’m first going to comment a bit about the book itself and then break down each of the stories a little bit as you can buy the stories that interest you individually as well as part of the collection.

This collection is structured like a standard anthology that revolves around one point in time. The stories do not connect or relate to each other as A Day of Fire or A Year of Ravens do, rather each is a self-contained, stand-alone short story. One of the things that I loved about this collection is the breadth of experiences and locales that are featured. Of the settings we are treated to: Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, England, and America. We see experiences of those who fought in the trenches, those who flew airplanes, those who stayed at home, and those who tended to the injured. I felt that the stories very well represented a little bit for each element of the war. For me, there did not appear to obviously be any strategy to the organization of the book as far as which stories appeared in which order, but with a collection that is set at a specific point in time I don’t know that this would matter much. I was well versed with the works of Marci Jefferson, Heather Webb, and Kate Kerrigan, having read two novels each and was interested in seeing how they would tackle short stories. I had heard of (and even met) several of the other authors in this collection, but had yet to have time to read their solo works – hopefully that will change after having read these stories.

The Daughter of Belgium by Marci Jefferson

This was the story that I loved the setting of the story the most as I have never read any WWI story set in Belgium. So that element was refreshing. The Germans are falling back as the war is drawing to a close and we hear about and see the devastation that is being wrought during this time: loss of property, attacks on people/women, etc. This was a story of the drama beyond the front lines, the revolutionaries and the stirring up of the homefront. The story of Mistress Cavell, a nurse who was executed for revolutionary activity, had to have drawn some interest from the author’s own life experiences as a nurse. This story brought danger and drama at every turn and contained action packed, fast-paced scenes. A great story to kick off the collection as it had a little bit of everything in it and this remained one of my favorite stories throughout the whole collection.

The Record Set Straight by Lauren Willig

This was a sweeping, epic, family drama story about dealing with love, war injuries, and family conflict. You get a lot from this story; it felt like what you should get in a full length novel which made the short length feel more robust. Surprisingly, it didn’t feel rushed at all. I spent much of the first portion of this story trying to put the pieces together of just who everyone was, which I found to be a little confusing. I thought this story was overall very well-written and had a great reveal at the end.

All for the Love of You by Jennifer Robson

This story tackles another element that you do not see reflected very often, that of dealing with war injuries, particularly those that disfigured the face. I loved learning about how these face masks were made and how they were the forefront of technology to deal with disfigurement. It was also a sweet romance story about the connections that can be made over life changing experiences. However, I did struggle to get into this story a little bit. The beginning did not grab my attention right from the start and I would have liked a better hook. I actually put this book down at this point for a couple months because I just couldn’t get into it. I thought the story picked up once we hit the flashbacks and I honestly could have done without the more contemporary of the parts of the story. I’m glad this wasn’t the kick-off story as it might have colored my opinion for the whole collection.

After You’ve Gone by Evangeline Holland

This was the second story in a row that I struggled to connect to. This one takes place in Paris with a woman who has been left behind after the loss of her cohort to various war reasons. She is simply struggling to get through day-to-day until she runs into a group of American tourists who appear interested in helping her out. I had difficulty getting into any of the characters as I didn’t feel like I had enough descriptors to draw a solid mental picture of who they were. I thought the revelation at the end should have been a little more shocking but again I didn’t understand the characters enough to feel the impact.

Something Worth Landing For by Jessica Brockmole

This was one of my favorites among this collection. This is one of two stories within this collection that focused on pilots and both of the experiences were very different. Brockmole’s story was a bit more lighthearted that what we would later see from Beatriz Williams. The relationship that transpires in this novel didn’t feel the slightest bit contrived because relationships happened differently during times of war. I loved that there is an element of the epistolary style of Brockmole’s earlier novels and I enjoyed the revelation of character that can come through in a letter.

Hour of the Bells by Heather Webb

This story was another that I enjoyed, it was evocative of what it might be like to live with the ghosts of loss – those voids that exist when someone isn’t there and what it is like to be a survivor and try to continue on. That is stressful in a normal world and even more so in a world at war. Webb’s writing brings you right into the world that she is writing about. The feelings of retribution that Beatrix feels were believable and full of pain, but I couldn’t quite place myself in her shoes.

An American Airman in Paris by Beatriz Williams

Another one of my favorites in this collection and very different than the other airman story previously seen in Something Worth Landing For. It was darker, grittier, and dirtier in not only subject, tone, language, and writing style. This story was also a bit different in that you are within the head of the main male narrator and told in retrospect. It’s a story of bravery in the face of things that go wrong and what that does to a person. Loved every minute of this and look forward to jumping into one of Williams’ full length novels soon.

The Photograph by Kate Kerrigan

This was the most different and unique story in this collection and wasn’t exactly what I expected – maybe in a good way. This story draws on Kerrigan’s tales of Irish identity and the scope of this story is set during the Irish Revolution which ran concurrently with the Great War. It carried a different tone because WWI is just a idea at the back of the storyline that is occurring elsewhere, while the Revolution is in the forefront. While I thought that it was really unique to include that element because it was occurring at the same time and involved those British soldiers who were not sent to the front which built out the whole world, I waver as to whether it felt appropriate to be included in this collection. I loved the story being told though, both the contemporary framework and the historical story: a forbidden love based on ethnicity, family perceptions, the animosity between Irish and British. My perception of the story is about the same as how I have felt about Kerrigan’s novels, story is well told, but maybe not my cup of tea.

Hush by Hazel Gaynor

As I loved the first story in this collection, just the same I loved the story that concluded it. I loved how this story juxtaposed the lack of air and quiet on the battlefield with the same experience in the birthing room. The manner in which it is written and how it moves seamlessly back and forth between the two settings brings the home front and the battlefield closer. It also addressed the experiences of being a postman during this time (which is not something I would have wanted to do at the time) as well as those who remained at home due to dissenting from the war. An excellent inclusion in the collection.

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