Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Book Review: The Day the Falls Stood Still

Title: The Day the Falls Stood Still
Author: Cathy Marie Buchanan
ISBN: 978-1-4013-4097-1
Pages: 320
Release Date: August 25, 2009
Publisher: Voice/Hyperion.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary: Steeped in the intriguing history of Niagara Falls, The Day the Falls Stood Still is an epic love story as rich, spellbinding and majestic as the falls themselves.

1915. The dawn of the hydroelectric power era in Niagara Falls. Seventeen-year-old Bess Heath has led a sheltered existence as the youngest daughter of the director of the Niagara Power Company. After graduation day at her boarding school, she is impatient to return to her picturesque family home near Niagara Falls. But when she arrives, nothing is as she left it. Her father has lost his job at the power company, her mother is reduced to taking in sewing from the society ladies she once entertained, and Isabel, her vivacious older sister, is a shadow of her former self. She has shut herself in her bedroom, barely eating—and harboring a secret.

The night of her return Bess meets Tom Cole by chance on a trolley platform. She finds herself inexplicably drawn to him—against her family’s strong objections. He is not from their world. Rough-hewn and fearless, he lives off what the river provides and has an uncanny ability to predict the whims of the falls. His daring river rescues render him a local hero and cast him as a threat to the power companies that seek to harness the power of the falls for themselves. As their lives become more fully entwined, Bess is forced to make a painful choice between what she wants and what is best for her family and her future.

Set against the tumultuous backdrop of Niagara Falls, at a time when daredevils shot the river rapids in barrels and great industrial fortunes were made and lost as quickly as lives disappeared, The Day the Falls Stood Still is an intoxicating debut novel.

My thoughts: The Day the Falls Stood Still is a beautifully written, captivating story about the power of love, being true to yourself and the importance of relationships. Spirituality and nature are strong themes that run through the story. I read this book slowly and carefully because I was enjoying it so much. When I finished, I went back and read parts of it again. This book reaches out and draws you in. The story seems simple and straight-forward at first but as you read you will realize there is much more going on, all revolving around the character of Bess Heath, the main character and the narrator of the book.

It's taken me an embarrassingly long time to write this review. Having read many excellent reviews, I thought I would try to approach it from a different angle. Thinking about the characters, I kept coming back to Bess, easily my favorite. Feeling like I knew Bess and understood her, it is through her I wish to approach this. She is a strong and complex young woman, with a very practical side, not given to flights of fancy or fits of passion even though she believes in prayer and miracles. She endures two major life tragedies close together at the young age of seventeen. They seem to make her stronger and more focused, giving her a better understanding of herself and what she wants out of life. After learning that her father lost his job, Bess barely takes the time to consider the consequences before pitching in, symbolically at first, by helping her mother lug a trunk home on the trolley. The "real" pitching in comes later.

Bess' relationship with her mother is respectful but not all warm and cozy. They seem very similar in that they are both practical and unwilling to show emotion, keeping their feelings bottled up. They easily aggravate each other and though Bess is angry at her, she does as her mother asks as best she can, even when it pains her. There's a lot of responsibility on Bess's shoulders. She is expected to care for her older sister, Isabel, after she has taken to her bed following changes in social circumstance to her and her family. Isabel is the beautiful, popular sister, adored by the girls at school yet often full of self-doubt and confusion. Bess and Isabel are very close and it is hard for Bess to see her sister looking ill. Bess misses Isabel's fun-loving personality and the sound of her laughter. Bess also assists her mother with dressmaking, now the sole source of family income. Bess' life has changed dramatically in only a year, but aside from a few tears shed in private, she refuses to show any signs that she and her family are downcast.

The foremost male character in the story, Tom, is the major source of disagreement between Bess and her mother. Bess not caring that Tom is poor, considered "beneath them" (as Isabel says), while the family believes she can "do better" and wants her to help improve the family's situation. Bess is attracted to Tom from the moment she passes him on the road, describing his eyes as " the Niagara River: green, full of vigor, captivatingly so." The Niagara river is a source of strength for Bess, she gets her faith from the river and remembers well the stories her father told about the river when she was a young girl. The river sustains her and she feels that same strength and connection to Tom. In fact, it is in Tom that Bess sees the river. So Bess isn't surprised when she learns of Tom's ancestral connections and when he tells her that he understands the river. She considers it the same as the prayers she sees in the rising mist above the river. It's all the mystery and magic that is God for Bess.

However, a tragedy causes Bess to no longer believe in the magic, thinking of her father's words, that intuition can be explained. Tom tells her someday she'll know but she doesn't believe him. Still, being with him is the only thing that sustains her, and she doesn't care what other people think. Hard work doesn't scare her but being without the happiness he brings her does.

Life with Tom has its hardships so Bess needs to rely on her strength, practicality, creativity and intelligence. Their love for each other does not preclude them from having to make difficult choices at times but it will guide them. And they have the river. Whether to preserve it, leave it alone, or harness its power is an issue that they will struggle over. There will come a time when Bess will have to decide what's more important, her family's well-being or Tom's principles and she will always wonder if she made the right decision at the time.

The Day the Falls Stood Still is a love story in several different respects. It is filled with beautiful imagery, rich historical details and references to real events involving the Niagara River. Bess' inspiring and captivating story is connected to all of these things and illustrates how important it is to be true to yourself, to love your family and friends and to respect nature. Cathy Marie Buchanan has written a fantastic novel that should be read slowly, enjoyed completely and cherished for years to come.

To read some other reviews of The Day the Falls Stood Still, visit these fantastic blogs:
Book Chatter
Peeking Between the Pages
The Tome Traveller's Weblog
Booking Mama


  1. fantastic review. everyone seems to love this book, so I'll have to get my grubby paws on it too, methinks!

    -Aimee :)

  2. I love your review, very well-written.

  3. Great review! I have a feeling I'll want to visit Niagara Falls after I read this.

  4. I can tell you spent some time on this review, and I can tell how big of an impact it had on you! (Isn't it awfully hard to write these kinds of reviews???) I've not read one negative thing about this book. I don't think my life will be complete unless I get in on the action!

  5. My face to face book club is reading this in February but I'm not sure I can wait that long!

  6. Wow, your review really made me want to run out and get this book! It sounds fantastic.

    I've been interested in all things related to Niagara Falls for as long as I can remember. We had a wonderful vacation there about 12 years ago.

  7. I really enjoyed this book, although something kept me just slightly disconnected from it so that I didn't love it quite as much as you did.

    Fantastic review.

  8. Wow, Amy. Thanks for this GORGEOUS review of my novel.

    Lisa, lovely to see your book club is reading it in Feb. I am happy to call into book clubs. If you'd like me to see "contact me" on my website.


  9. I also really enjoyed the book, and I gave it to my mom who promptly agreed with my thoughts =) (Which she doesn't always!)
    A wonderful review for an equally wonderful book.

  10. Well done and very thoughtful review. I know what you mean when you have a review to write and a lot of people are writing about the same book! I always try and avoid reading anything by anyone else until I write my own review so I don't get overly influenced or unconsciously crib their thoughts!

  11. Aimee: I hope you like it when you read it. It's fantastic, my review barely tells how worthwhile a story it is to read. And it has its beginnings in real events to which is pretty cool! Thank you for visiting my blog!

    Kathy: Thank you! I know you have plenty of books you need to read now but when you have the chance I hope you'll read it. It's also a book Seashell might like!.

    bermudaonion: I do, I do! I was at Niagara Falls once years ago with my family. My husband and I periodically talk about going and now that I've read the book I feel like I have to go! I was interested before but now I'm fascinated. I hope you enjoy the book!

    Sandy: Thank you! You are great for my ego! lol I hope you'll like this book, I can't wait for you to read it and to hear your opinion. Many people in this community have read it and really enjoyed it.

    Lisa: Your book club plans far ahead! You should talk to Cathy Marie Buchanan and let her know your book club's plans. She's the nicest woman and very accessible.

  12. Willoughby: I think you would really enjoy this book. It's based partly on real events and the Niagara is very much a part of the story. I went to Niagara Falls with my family when I was 8 or 9 and I loved it. I have wanted to go back ever since and reading this book has increased my desire ten-fold. I've told my husband, we ARE going. Luckily he wants to as well!

    Jen- Thank you! I'm sorry you didn't quite connect with this book. The same has happened to me with books others rave about. Our different tastes and talking about them and sharing our thoughts is my favorite part of having a book blog. Thank you for coming by!

    Cathy Marie Buchana: Thank you for coming by! I really appreciate it! And my review was an honor to write! Thank you for writing this wonderful book.

    Marie: Thank you! I'm glad to hear your mom liked the book as well. I'm sure it's nice when you recommend something to your mom and she actually likes it (much better than when she doesn't I'm sure!) Thank you for visiting my blog.

    Jenners: you make a very good point! I'm going to be sure to write my review before reading any others the next time something similae happens. But I did like writing the review in a different way.

  13. I love the cover...and I totally love Niagara Falls...and I love the review, so maybe i need to add this to my TBR pile.

  14. I really like how you approached this review, Amy. I've been wanting to read this one for some time now, but you've definitely made me wish I had my copy in my hands now (a friend's sending me her copy).

    Bess and Tom sound like such interesting characters. I can't wait to get to know them.