Thursday, October 3, 2013

Guest Review - - In Falling Snow

In Falling Snow
By Mary-Rose MacColl
Publisher: Penguin
Release Date: August 27, 2013


  

Iris Crane is an old woman, a widow with a bad heart, a short-term memory that comes and goes, and a past filled with wonder, love, and loss that sometimes seems more vivid and real than the present. An invitation to attend a ceremony placing a plaque to commemorate les dames √©cossaises de Royaumont, the Scottish Women of Royaumont, sixty years after their service sends her back in memory to 1914 when she, an inexperienced twenty-one-year old nurse, left her home in Australia to find and bring home her fifteen-year-old brother, Tom. Iris, who has mothered Tom since their mother died at his birth, feels responsible that Tom ran away to fight the Germans, an opinion shared by her father. Since Tom’s last known location was near Amiens, Iris decides that volunteering with the Red Cross for service in France is her best chance of finding him. This decision is the first of Iris’s crossroads moments. The Iris who becomes part of the hospital staff at Royaumont is not the girl who grew up on her father’s farm. She will never be wholly that girl again--and the changes in the woman she is becoming are only beginning.

Royaumont was not Iris’s destination, but a train delay in Paris set her path crossing that of Frances Ivens, a doctor whose charm is exceeded only by her determination and sense of purpose. Frances, whom Iris thinks of as “like a character from Dickens,” is setting up a field hospital in an old abbey north of Paris. More than its location makes this hospital unusual however: it is a hospital solely staffed by women. Miss Ivens wants Iris to join her staff not because Iris is a nurse but because she speaks French fluently, thanks to her French stepmother, and as a farm girl she presumably knows about drains and things. Miss Ivens and the other women of Royaumont, a mix of nationalities, ages, and political views, take it for granted that Iris is joining them. And she does.  Her admiration for Frances Ivens and her friendship with Violet Heron are defining experiences for Iris. The work at Royaumont, the devastation of war, the prices exacted, and the gifts given each help to shape Iris’s long life as wife, mother, grandmother, and widow.

Interwoven with Iris’s story, mostly past, is the present of her granddaughter, Grace Hogan, an obstetrician married to another doctor and the mother of three children. Grace too lost her mother at birth. Iris and her doctor husband Al brought Grace up, nurturing her, encouraging her gift for medicine, and holding close their secrets. Grace worries about the aging Iris, just one of many concerns for a woman trying to balance her professional responsibilities with her responsibilities as wife and mother. Her life is complicated by a hospital inquiry following the death of a newborn, a heartbreaking diagnosis for her youngest child, and Iris’s plan to attend the ceremony at Royaumont. But it is only when Grace journeys to Royaumont herself that she discovers the woman Iris was, a woman far more complicated and generous than Grace ever knew. Grace discovers as well pieces of her own identity.

In Falling Snow is not a romance novel, although it includes several love stories. I’d classify it as general fiction or women’s fiction; but however it is tagged, it is a compelling, poignant story that lingers in the reader’s memory. Its scope is epic. It covers one woman’s life from the time she is twenty-one through the final years of her life sixty years later, with flashbacks to her childhood, but in a larger sense, it covers the Great War and the new age that followed it. Iris’s loss of innocence is both individual and representative. The juxtaposition of her point of view with Grace’s reveals the different worlds the two women inhabit and the gender biases that persist.

I fell in love with the character of Iris early in the novel when I read the following words:


Lately, I’ve got to wondering whether when you get to heaven you’ll be the age you die or some other age, a favourite perhaps. If I’m the age I die, I’ll be old and most of those I lost will be young. If I’m given a choice, indeed if heaven’s where I’m going, I’ll pick five so I can remember my mother, or twenty so my life is yet to be decided. And then I’ll do it all differently. Ah, regrets. Where do they take us? Not here, not to happiness.

My fascination with Iris increased as the story progressed, as did my affection for her.

Although the novel ends with secrets revealed and questions answered, it raises questions with which we must all struggle, questions about our definition of happiness, the conflicts between self-interest and the sacrifices love sometimes imposes, and the past that never dies however deeply we try to bury it. This is not an easy, comforting book; it challenges, chills, and changes the reader.  But if you cherish books that make you weep, make you remember, and make you think, I believe you will find In Falling Snow a rare and memorable reading experience. I highly recommend this book.

~Janga
http://justjanga.blogspot.com

One copy of In Falling Snow is up for grabs today. (U.S. only - no P.O. Boxes)  So tell me, do you enjoy stories that flash back over the span of a character's lifetime?  Have you read any that you would recommend?

28 comments:

  1. Thanks for the review, Janga. I can't wait to read this one!

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  2. It's on my Best of 2013 list, PJ.

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  3. Wow, Janga, I love the little excerpt you included. That, along with your review, really makes me want to read this one. I'll be picking it up on my next trip to B&N. Thanks for the wonderful review!

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    1. Thanks, Andrea. I hope you enjoy In Falling Snow as much as I did.

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  4. Books that are profound with stories that flash back over the plan of a character's lifetime are memorable and meaningful. I enjoy them greatly. One that was extraordinary was People of the Book.

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    1. Traveler, I agree that People of the Book is an extraordinary book.

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    2. Adding People of the Book to my reading list. Thanks, traveler!

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  5. Janga - your review was wonderful. It accomplished exactly what a good review should do - a great summary and most of all, in a glowing review, the desire to read the book immediately. Recently, I read Jojo Moyes book The Girl You Left Behind. It was a fantastic book and it used the going back in time device to tell the story. Interestingly enough the book is mostly set in France during WWII, so another fantastic book with characters effected by the horrors of war. Again, great review, thanks!

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Mary Beth. I'm a reader who is happy to see more books with WW I and WW II settings being published. I haven't read the Moyes book, but I loved both Carrie Lofty's his very Own Girl (WW II) and Beatriz Williams's Overseas (WW I).

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    2. Thanks for your comments, Mary Beth. Like Janga, I also enjoy stories set in these eras. Adding the Moyes book to my reading list also!

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  6. I enjoy books that have flashbacks since they are important to the storyline. A novel that resonated with me and had flashbacks and was unforgettable was The Forgotten Garden.

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    1. Petite, I just checked out The Forgotten Garden on Goodreads. It sounds great. I've added it to my list. Thanks for the recommendation.

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    2. And another book added to my list. I need more reading time!

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  7. I love stories that flash back through a character's life.

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    1. I agree, jcp. When flashbacks work well, they can be powerful.

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    2. I agree. If done well, they can be very powerful.

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  8. I enjoy a flashback in stories sometimes when you asked which books to recommend all I could think o f was Diana Gabaldon altho those are time travel or The Notebook...great review sounds like something I will like..

    Donna

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    1. Donna, I'm in the minority of romance readers here. I've never read Gabaldon, although I always blush to admit it.

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    2. No need to blush, Janga. I'm right there with you!

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  9. I enjoy stories like this and I know my aunt will enjoy it too.. This would make a great birthday gift for her.. Thanks for bringing this author and book to my attention...

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    1. Hope your aunt enjoys the book, Kathleen!

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  10. You pose a great question. Sometimes, books with flashbacks can be quite difficult and frustrating to keep up with. However, I recently was honored to read and review author Marguerite Kaye’s upcoming novel, “Rumors That Ruined a Lady.” It will be published on November 1, 2013. The characters, Sebastian and Caroline, have known one another for many years and their story centers around their long friendship. I truly enjoyed this novel and hope everyone will put it on their To Read List and grab a copy when it comes out. It’s a terrific novel.

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  11. eh... flashbacks aren't my fav... but I keep reading them b/c if they are done right, it's brilliant :) Thanks for the great review... this sounds very intriguing.

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  12. I know I have but I just am horrible at remembering titles. If the author doesn't confuse you, it's a wonderful way of telling a story. This one sounds like a great read!

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  13. I like the depth a flashback can bring to a story, though I can't think of one at the moment. I especially like the sound of this book because I'm also a nurse. Thanks for the great review, Janga.

    Marcy Shuler - who has not read Gabaldon ;)
    bmndshuler(at)hotmail(dot)com

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  14. YES, my favorites are the Midwife series by Jennifer Worth...and I love WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, which did both and great voices too.

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  15. Love stories with flashback scenes. This one looks great. One of my favorite with Flashback scenes was Mitch Albom's "The Five People You Meet in Heaven"

    christinebails at yahoo dot com

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  16. This sounds like such a wonderful book. If it is done well, a story which spans years can be very rewarding. It reveals not just the character development, but how the world and they have changed over time. Lives and relationships change and the characters are allowed reflection on what they have or have not done in/with their lives. I am going to put this one on my Amazon Wish List. Thanks for the review.

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