Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Book Review: Fall of Poppies

Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War
By: Various Authors - Anthology
Published By: William Morrow
Publication Date: March 1, 2016
Page Count: 368
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via Edelweiss
Audience: Adult - Historical Fiction

I'm not always a huge fan of anthologies, but since I have enjoyed Hazel Gaynor and Lauren Willig's writing in the past, I decided to give this one a go. Also, my knowledge of WWI is limited compared to other conflicts, so I'm always on the lookout for fiction that can provide perspective into The Great War. On the surface, the war seems so tedious to me as the men are mired down in the muck of trench warfare, but often their experiences are more complex than I originally thought. I also enjoyed that this anthology largely focuses on those on the home-front and their reaction to their loved ones being in the thick of the conflict. At its core, this is an anthology about love, but the forms of love vary between stories. Some focus on romantic love, but there are also stories of plutonic love, unrequited love, and the deep and abiding love of a mother for her child. Love takes many forms and it was nice to see that reflected in this collection. I highly recommend this one to WWI fans and those who love well written historical fiction.

Story #1: "The Daughter of Belgium" by Maci Jefferson
Rating: 4

This story focuses on Amelie, a young woman living in Belgium during German occupation. Her story begins on a bleak note as it soon becomes clear that her parents have been killed at the hands of German soldiers and she has been raped. Amelie finds herself pregnant and alone, but finds comfort in working at a nearby medical clinic. At the beginning of the story, her daughter, Hope, is three. Amelie is plotting ways to find a better life for her and her child. When the rest of the clinic workers and patients are relocated, Amelie finds herself left in charge of caring for a recovering German soldier who never speaks. She soon learns that everything is not as it seems and affection can blossom in the most unlikely of places.

"At the start of this war, Germany swept into Belgium and stripped her of dignity. Belgium had been broken, but not defeated. Deep within still stirred the will to survive, and a hope for better days." ~ Kindle Location 268

Story #2: "The Record Set Right" by Lauren Willig
Rating: 5

This was one of my favorite stories in the anthology. It begins with Millie, an elderly woman living in Kenya in 1960. She has been summoned back to her former home in England that she fled soon after marrying her husband who was injured in WWI. They flocked to Africa to grow coffee and make a new life for themselves. Millie reminisces about her past in England and finds upon her return that some of her recollections are not completely accurate. This is certainly a story about the one who got away.

"There's something comforting about caging memory, encasing it in silver frames and setting it out to fade, as if, with that, all the dissensions and scandals, the mistrust and misuse might fade, too, blurring away until only the happy outlines remain." ~ Kindle Location 658

Story #3: "All For the Love of You" by Jennifer Robson
Rating: 5

Daisy is a young American woman living in Paris with her father during WWI. In the beginning of the story, Daisy's father passes away. As she is going through his things, she finds a strange letter from a soldier she held a deep affection for, but has not spoken to in years. Her father informed the soldier that she had died from the Spanish flu. Daisy cannot believe that her father would go to such links and she is angry that she cannot ask for his explanation.

Daisy launches herself into a hunt for her soldier when she returns to America. The story also includes flashbacks to show how the relationship began.

This was another favorite in the collection. I was fascinated by the masks that were made at Daisy's place of work. Masks were created to hide the facial wounds and scars of disfigured soldiers. I had never heard of them before, but I am now intrigued enough to do some research.

"People are shocked by anyone who is different, and very few are able to hide the shock. It's rather feeble of them, to be honest, but it won't be something you have to worry about for much longer."  ~ Kindle Location 1540

Story #4: "After You've Gone" by Evangeline Holland
Rating: 4

The main character of this one is Morven, a young woman of African descent who was born in Scotland. Morven moved to France to be a dancer at a young age and fell in love with her dance partner. The pair was married and blissfully happy until he joined up when the war broke out. Her husband decides he needs to step up and fight for his adopted country, but as is the case with so many young husbands, he never returns from battle. Morven is forced to find a way to survive in a war torn country. When the war ends, she hopes to go to Mississippi to live with her husband's family, but finds out that she is not welcome. A chance meeting with a handsome stranger changes her fate in an unexpected way.

I liked that this was a diverse cast of characters. It made this story stand out. It was also interesting to see the experience of the war play out for a main character with a different ethnicity than my own. While Europe was far more accepting of other races during this time period than the United States, people still faced persecution and discrimination.

"Future generations will look back and wonder what it was like to be alive in the last days of the war, of the moment when the earth churned beneath the armies of Allied forces and Central Powers heaved one last gasp of victorious violence before settling into a silence weighted with exhaustion and death." ~ Kindle Location 1800

Story #5: "Something Worth Landing For" by Jessica Brockmole
Rating: 4

This story is narrated by a male main character, John Wesley Ward, a young man who is unsure of himself and living in his  deceased brother's shadow as he prepares to be a pilot. When he arrives in Europe, he is put to work fixing aircraft until its time for him to take to the skies. After a medical checkup, he meets a beautiful, tear stained girl named Victorie, who has found herself in quite the pickle. She is with child and has no husband. Before Wes knows what he's truly doing, he offers to marry Victorie and help her raise the child. My heart swelled with true affection for Wes. He was such a genuine person and he truly wanted to be a great man. I loved watching the relationship between him and Victorie blossom through letters and mutual friendship.

"Married or not, we'd known each other for exactly twelve days. Stranger things happened in the movies, but in real life, people didn't fall in love so quickly." ~ Kindle Location 2887

Story #6: "Hour of the Bells" by Heather Webb
Rating: 5

This was another favorite in the collection. It focuses on a widow, Beatrix, whose husband died in the war. Her son, Adrien, is still fighting the good fight and his continual absence fills her heart with dread and worry. Beatrix also has to deal with the fact that she is a native German who has been living in France since she married the handsome clock maker. Many in the town do not think of her as German, but as the war rages on, she finds that keeping her birth country a secret is crucial as people's fear and anger drives their decisions more than reason.

One fateful day, Beatrix receives a letter from a good friend of her son who states that after a brutal battle, Adrien was killed. The grief that descends upon Beatrix is unbearable and she begins to plot her revenge on the German troops who took her boy. The story focuses on the lengths a mother will go to for her child and the courage that lurks in the heart of every woman who has lost someone she deeply loves.

"Time's passage never escaped her - not for a moment. The clocks made sure of it. There weren't enough minutes, enough hours, to erase her loss." ~ Kindle Location 3066

Story #7: "An American Airman in Paris" by Beatriz Williams
Rating: 3

This is Octavian's story. He is an American pilot in Paris at the end of the war. Through his eyes we can understand the tremendous amount of stress and grief that befell pilots during WWI. One thing that sets Octavian apart from his compatriots is his refusal to have random flings with women in France. He begins to regret this decision after the armistice and finds himself in the path of two very different women.

Overall, this was my least favorite story in the anthology. It's well written and has some compelling moments, but it was too crass for my tastes.

"Octavian lights another cigarette, gestures for another drink, and considers the array of bottles on the wall before him, for example. Plenty of choice there, right? Except there isn't. It's all an illusion. A fellow's got to drink something, or he'll die. You can choose what to drink, but you can't choose whether to drink." ~ Kindle Location 3601

Story #8: "The Photograph" by Kate Kerrigan
Rating: 5

Yet another favorite! (Yes, I had several in this lot.) This one begins in modern day Dublin on as a family begins to honor ancestors who fought bravely for Irish nationalism. Bridie has both of her children home for the event, but things are in a tizzy due to her daughter, Sharon, bringing along her English beau who also happens to be a soldier. Sharon's brother, Frank, is livid that she would consider bringing an English soldier to an event to honor those who participated in Irish uprisings. The siblings get into quite the row leaving their poor mother trapped in the middle. She ends up letting the two hammer it out while she goes upstairs for a bit of piece and quiet.

While avoiding the maelstrom downstairs, Bridie is taken by a photograph of her Aunt Eileen. Eileen had always been a tempest who fought for equality and spoke her mind. She had never married; Bridie just figured she wasn't the marrying type, but when she discovers a photograph hidden behind Eileen's from a sweetheart who happens to be a WWI British soldier, Bridie is beyond shocked. The story then shifts to a flashback to explain the connection between Eileen and Clive, the young man in the photograph.

I loved seeing how the past was mirroring the present. I also adored the Irish setting of this one. I am fascinated by Ireland's tumultuous history.

"In the trenches you mixed only with your own - you were altogether. Everyone was on the same side. Although it was hard, the enemy was across the field, bombing and shooting at you. It was honest warfare. In Ireland you were in another man's country and on another man's soil. You were living among them and yet you could never be quite certain who the enemy was." ~ Kindle Location 4314

Story #9: "Hush" by Hazel Gaynor
Rating: 5

While I loved several of these stories and enjoyed them all, this one might be my very favorite. There is something beautiful and poignant about the writing of Hazel Gaynor. Her characters always compel me to feel and experience the story alongside them. The novel begins as midwife, Annie Rawlins, is helping to assist at an early birth that has been riddled with difficult moments. As the narrative starts she is desperately trying to get the newly born infant to take a breath. Her fierce determination for the little one to live is symbolic of how her entire country feels as the days of the war continue to drag on and loved ones hope and pray that those dear to them will return from the front. Annie knows what it's like to lose a child as her eldest son died in the war. She does not want to have to tell the young mother before her that her child has passed. She continues to fight even when it seems the little one has no fight for life in him.

The story also provides the perspective of Annie's youngest son who is fighting on the western front, her husband who is waiting for her at home, and the father of the infant. All of these men are experiencing crucial moments as well. I loved watching all the strands of this story tie together in the end.

On another note, there is a slight magical realism or paranormal moment that was brilliantly written in which Annie connects with her son during a pivotal moment. That particular moment gave me the chills and again reinforced how powerful a mother's love for her son can be.

"Another son, lost. Another mother's heart, shattered. Moments that arrive in a sudden second and roar endlessly on, forever affecting the remaining fragments of a broken life." ~ Kindle Location 4788


One Last Gripe: I wanted some of the stories to be longer since I was enjoying them so much. 

Favorite Thing About This Book: I loved seeing the various forms of love play out across a historical background.

First Sentence: Sister Wilkins caught my eye from across the nurse's parlor of Institut Cavell.

Favorite Character: Annie from "Hush" by Hazel Gaynor

Least Favorite Character: Octavian from "An American Airman in Paris" by Beatriz Williams



On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month . . .

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.

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