I loved this book. It was clunky in spots, a little sad, but filled with such wonderful romance and history that it captured my attention and I didn’t want to put it down. If you are looking for beach reading this summer, The Day the Falls Stood Still is perfect.
The book is set on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, in the period from 1915 – 1923. Right there I was hooked. How many historical fiction books have you read about Niagara Falls, and Canada? None? Right. That’s because most romance writers like the Regency period, or Victorian times, or ancient times.
Cathy Marie Buchanan really captures the location beautifully in her writing. I’ve been to Niagara Falls twice in my life and love it, although the touristy feel of the place is a little bit of a turnoff for me. On our last visit, my husband and I toured the Canadian side of the falls, and so I personally knew the places Buchanan described.
The story follows Bess, an upper middle class girl from the local Catholic girl’s academy, the Loretto Academy. Bess leads a sheltered existence with her striving middle class parents and her wild elder sister, Isobel. Her father works for the Niagara Power Company and the family lives in Glenview, a mansion set among the silver mining families on a big bluff overlooking the falls. It sounds like an idyllic existence, and it is, until Bess’ father loses his job.
After that, the family undergoes heartbreak after heartbreak. Bess’ father starts drinking. Her sister Isobel dies. I won’t tell you how or why, because that would spoil too much of the plot, but it is believable and although sad, not so sad that I didn’t want to keep reading the book.
Bess falls in love with Tom Cole, a local riverman and grandson of the legendary Fergus Cole. The rivermen rescue people and animals swept into the falls as well as fish out bodies from the river. Tom lives off the land and is definitely not in Bess’ social set, but Bess defies her parents and finds an ingenious way to communicate with and eventually meet her lover despite her parents’ objections.
The book winds through the horrors of World War I, with Tom away fighting in the war and Bess giving birth to Jesse, their oldest boy. Bess has to struggle to make ends meet, taking up dressmaking as her mother had done to earn money for the family. The story ends in 1923 with tragedy, but it is a gorgeous love story that feels true.
This is Buchanan’s first novel, and as with any first novel, there are bumpy bits and plot points I wish had been tighter. Tom returns from World War I with what we today would call post traumatic stress disorder, and no wonder – trench warfare and gas attacks are some of the most horrible warfare ever invented. He seems to recover from it rather easily. Bess’ protestations against his work on the river also seem forced. For someone who flaunted convention to marry beneath her class, she seems to strive for conventionality too much.
Still and all, it is a good book, a wonderful love story, and an entertaining tale. I recommend it if you are looking for an engrossing novel to escape with on vacation. I purchased my copy at a local store, but if you click the link above, you can buy it via my Amazon affiliate link. I earn a small commission on the sale but you aren’t charged anything extra.