The Day the Falls Stood Still

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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 had 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 ...

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The Day the Falls Stood Still

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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 had 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 he 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 novel.

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  • Tagged! Cathy Marie Buchanan
    Tagged! Cathy Marie Buchanan  

Editorial Reviews

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A Selection of Barnes & Noble Recommends
Tom Cole, the grandson of a legendary local hero, has inherited an uncanny knack for reading the Niagara River's whims and performing daring feats of rescue at the mighty falls. And like the tumultuous meeting of the cataract's waters with the rocks below, a chance encounter between Tom and 17-year-old Bess Heath has an explosive effect. When they first meet on a trolley platform, Bess immediately recognizes the chemistry between them, and the feeling is mutual.

But the hopes of young love are constrained by the 1915 conventions of Niagara Falls, Ontario. Tom's working-class pedigree doesn't suit Bess's family, despite their recent fall from grace. Sacked from his position at a hydroelectric power company, Bess's father has taken to drink, forcing her mother to take in sewing for the society women who were once her peers. Bess pitches in as she pines for Tom, but at her young age, she's unable to fully realize how drastically her world is about to change.

Set against the resounding backdrop of the falls, Cathy Marie Buchanan's carefully researched, capaciously imagined debut novel entwines the romantic trials of a young couple with the historical drama of the exploitation of the river's natural resources. The current of the river, like that of the human heart, is under threat: "Sometimes it seems like the river is being made into this measly thing," says Tom, bemoaning the shortsighted schemes of the power companies. "The river's been bound up with cables and concrete and steel, like a turkey at Christmastime."

Skillfully portraying individuals, families, a community, and an environment imperiled by progress and the devastations of the Great War, The Day the Falls Stood Still beautifully evokes the wild wonder of its setting, a wonder that always overcomes any attempt to tame it. But at the same time, Buchanan's tale never loses hold of the gripping emotions of Tom and Bess's intimate drama. The result is a transporting novel that captures both the majesty of nature and the mystery of love.

About the Author
Born and bred in Niagara Falls, Ontario, the setting of The Day the Falls Stood Still, Cathy Marie Buchanan grew up "awash in the lore of William 'Red' Hill, Niagara’s most famous riverman," as she explains in the Author's Note that concludes her book. Like her character Tom Cole and his grandfather Fergus before him, the historical Red Hill could read the river with preternatural apprehension, anticipating shifts in the weather and sensing when people would be trapped by winds and water. In all, Hill saved 29 people and countless animals from drowning. The Day the Falls Stood Still was inspired by two of Hill's heroic rescues, which Buchanan thrillingly recreates.

The author’s fascination with the lore and legends of the falls is complemented by her interest in the economic and industrial forces at work in the region at the dawn of the hydroelectric era. Also prevalent is Buchanan's meticulous research into the apparel, furnishings, and customs of the social milieu Bess Heath is forced -- by circumstance and for love -- to leave behind.

A recipient of grants from both the Toronto and the Ontario Arts Councils, Cathy Marie Buchanan is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers. She has published fiction in The Antigonish Review, The Dalhousie Review, The New Quarterly, Quarry, and Descant. She currently lives in Toronto with her husband and three sons. The Day the Falls Stood Still is her first novel.

From Our Booksellers

With Niagara Falls as the backdrop, this intelligent tale of a woman's strength, and the riverman whose bravery and passion sweep her away, is an unforgettable story of love and family, greed, and hardship. Not to be missed! --Margie Turkett, Annapolis, MD

Definitely the best book I've read this year! I could almost feel the mist wafting from Niagara Falls! --Suzzé Tiernan, Bloomfield Hills, MI

A wrenching chronicle of the harnessing and destruction of Niagara Falls that paints a poignant picture of a natural wonder we'll never know. Cathy Marie Buchanan has created a moving story linking the dramatic changes experienced by a young woman with the industrialization of the great Niagara Falls. --Debra Francis, Denver, CO

A compelling and beautiful story of a woman with pluck and a heart as big as the river itself. I loved it even as I cried!

--Amber Stubblefield, Ellicott City, MD
Publishers Weekly
Set against the backdrop of WWI and Niagara Falls, this debut tells the story of young Bess Heath and her struggle to navigate a quickly modernizing world. A child of privilege, Bess sees her fortunes change when her father loses his job. Cast into poverty, her family disgraced, Bess tries to hold things together while her sister slips into depression, her father drinks and her mother withdraws. After another tragedy strikes, Bess finds comfort in the love of Tom Cole, a river man with a mysterious connection to the falls. Overcoming the deep privation of the war and their own limited means, the two begin building a life together and renew their commitment to each other and their family. Based loosely on the history of Niagara river man William “Red” Hill, the book incorporates mock newspaper articles with limited success, but does integrate some detailed depictions of domestic life and fascinating natural history into an otherwise uneventful romance. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Buchanan's first novel illuminates the beginnings of hydroelectric power in Canada during World War I. Fortunes are made and lost on electricity supplied by Niagara Falls, and Bess's family suffers particularly—her father loses his job at the local electric powerhouse, and her sister Isabel loses both her rich fiancé and her life, drowning in the river. Bess and her mother turn to tailoring to make ends meet, and Bess continues with her work when her naturalist husband, Tom, goes off to fight. Returning from the war, Tom goes to work for the electric company to support the family, although he deplores the effect of the generators on the Niagara River. In the end, this conflict between the natural world and progress leads to tragedy. VERDICT Historical fiction readers will appreciate the excellent period detail, especially the depiction of the era's social mores, and the romance between Bess and Tom is also a high point.—Amy Ford, St. Mary's Cty. Lib., Lexington Park, MD
Kirkus Reviews
First novel offers a romantic take on Niagara Falls life in the early 20th century, complete with old photographs to buttress the nostalgic mood. In 1915, Bess Heath's father is fired as director of the Niagara Power Company and the family finances crumble. Her mother supports the family with dressmaking. Bess must leave her private school. Worst of all, Bess's sister Isabel is dumped by her fiance and sinks into a serious depression. Financial salvation seems at hand when Edward, the dull brother of Bess's best friend, comes courting. Isabel flirts outrageously, but Edward proposes to Bess. Under parental pressure she accepts, although she has already begun a shy romance with Tom. He is deemed inappropriate not only because he's working-class but because of the nature of his work; he's a river man who retrieves "floaters"-drowned bodies. Shortly before Bess's wedding, Isabel drowns herself. When Tom finds the body, he helps Bess hide Isabel's pregnancy. Propelled by grief and flaunting convention, Bess breaks off with Edward to marry Tom, who shortly thereafter goes off to World War I. These early scenes are the novel's most engrossing. Once Tom returns the book moves more quickly and shallowly. Tom recovers from his traumatic war experience by performing acts of bravery at the Falls. Although he takes a job at the Hydro-Electric Power Commission to support their growing family, he doesn't believe the progress electricity offers is worth the price to the environment and eventually quits to become an activist. Meanwhile, Bess and Tom's little boy Jesse is as drawn to the river as Tom. The spiritual connection Tom, Jesse and Bess feel to the river takes on mystical dimensions. Aftertragedy strikes, the uplifting ending has a decidedly religious tinge. Buchanan's prose is elegant, but sentimentality limits her achievement. Agent: Dorian Karchmar/William Morris Agency
From the Publisher
"As much a love story between author and river as between star-crossed central characters." —USA Today
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400164813
  • Publisher: Tantor Media, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/23/2009
  • Format: MP3 on CD
  • Edition description: MP3 - Unabridged CD
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Karen White is the author of eight previous books. She lives with her family near Atlanta, Georgia. Author website:

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Read an Excerpt

Then I notice the faint rumble of the Niagara River rumbling through the gorge, I move closer, to the front of our property, and listen to the Whirlpool Rapids far below. I stand with my eyes shut, imagining great waves of surging green crashing and toppling to masses of frothy white. When I open my eyes, the fellow who carried my trunk is passing along River Road, likely returning from his camp at the whirlpool. He tips his cap, and I quickly turn away, embarrassed at the thought of myself a moment earlier, listening to the river.

As I reach for the screen door, I look over my shoulder intending to wave but, too late, see only his back. Three fair-size fish hang from a line slung over his shoulder. His bedroll swings back and forth in time with his gait. When he is far enough away that I can no longer tell his collar from his cap, I see him look back toward Glenview. I wave, and it seems he nods, though I cannot say for sure.
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Reading Group Guide

Questions for Discussion
1. The novel is set against the backdrop of Niagara Falls. Is it accurate to say that this natural wonder is a character in the novel? Why or why not?

2. In early-20th-century Ontario, distinctions in social strata created insurmountable boundaries between different groups. Yet Bess, her mother, and several other characters act against the conventions of their time. What compelled them? Would they face the same challenges today?

3. Edward's proposal presents both a challenge and an opportunity to Bess and her family. What did you think of her decision? What would you have done in similar circumstances?

4. The title of the book invokes a rescue made by Fergus Cole, Tom's grandfather, shortly after he arrived at Niagara Falls. Did you find Buchanan's decision to post newspaper clippings of Fergus's heroism effective? Was the force of his legend felt throughout the novel?

5. Although Bess and her family are Methodists, she and her sister attend a Catholic school for girls. What role does religion or belief play in the book? As the novel unfolds, how does Bess evolve spiritually?

6. A secondary theme in the novel pits the idea of conserving natural resources against the quest to harness them for economic and industrial development. Informed by her father's work experience at the power company and by Tom's allegiance to the river, Bess begins to understand both sides of the argument. Did her vote on the ballot measure surprise you?

7. Why is Tom able to predict the whims of the Niagara River? What would Bess say about his mysterious abilities? Does her explanation change over the course of the book?

8. Bess is angry with Tom after the ice bridge rescue, and lashes out at him after the scow rescue. Is her anger warranted? Why or why not?

9. Before abandoning the rope tethered to Jesse and plunging into the waters, Tom says, "Believe in me, Bess." What does he mean by this? Does he know how the events of the day will unfold?

Further Reading:
City of Light by Lauren Belfer
The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates
Waterborne by Bruce Murkoff
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 258 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 258 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 24, 2009

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    I Also Recommend:

    Do Not Underestimate

    I admit upon receiving the Advance Read for "The Day the Falls Stood Still", I was not captured by the description of the book. I did not see how a story about life along Niagra Falls could be all that interesting. Having never visited the area, I had little knowledge of the history of the Falls, or what it's like to see. However, I was very pleasantly surprised by the lovely story Buchanan has composed on so many levels. She paints a vibrant picture of the Falls - it's grandeur, beauty, and danger. She also gracefully spells out how it impacts Bess's life, both directly & indirectly, over the years. Finally, Buchanan chronicles a beautiful love story between Bess & Tom Cole, that is surrounded by tragedy. Thoroughly enjoyable - don't underestimate it!

    28 out of 29 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 24, 2009

    A must read!!!

    Simply put: I loved this book. I laughed. I cried. I didn't want it to end. It is one of those rare literary finds that cannot be put down once started. Not since Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace have I felt so emotionally connected to the characters and enthralled by the story. Congratulations Ms. Buchanan on a stunning debut!

    17 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 28, 2009

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    When I started the book I thought it would be good, but I was disappointed. It ended up being dark and depressing. I wasn't able to finish the book because it just got worse with each chapter. I cared about the characters and the writing style was excellent.

    10 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 27, 2009

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    A Touching and Haunting Love Story

    I found this book to be a bit different from any I'd read as it was so rich in local color, history and folklore. While it is primarily a love story set in Niagara Falls, Ontario, during and following the end of World War I, it encompasses the local surroundings at its very core and weaves the story around the colorful area of the Niagara River region bordering the US and Canada.

    It is told from the first person perspective of the teenage and then young woman and wife named Bess Cole (nee Heath) who is one of the two central characters in the book. While still very young, Bess finds herself cast out of her former school academy due to her family's changed financial fortunes. While she is ending her stay at school, on the way home with her trunk on the trolley, she meets Tom Cole, grandson of the Niagara riverman Fergus Cole, who had become a legend because of his uncanny ability to understand the Niagara River and its awesome forces. Tom had been raised by his grandfather and learned the river and its nuances inside and out. Contrary to her family's wishes and former social status, Bess and Tom become involved and marry within a six month period, only to weather a three year separation until the end of the Great War. Bess has been employed as a very talented seamstress since prior to their marriage and she has used her growing expertise to keep Tom's family afloat while he has been gone. When Tom returns, his search to find himself and provide for his family and Bess' desire to balance who Tom is with the necessity of improving their standard of living is a delicate balance and conflict between the two personalities.

    Their first child had been born a few short months after Tom left to go to war. Upon his return, Bess soon found out she was pregnant with their second child. With her urging and with few employment opportunities available, Tom takes a foreman's job with the area hydroelectric plant, which is contrary to his upbringing and his beliefs as to how the river's force should be harnessed and used. He does well in the position and is well respected for his knowledge and abilities, but he is not happy because the harnessing of the river for power production has naturally caused the river to drop and he has painstakingly kept a personal record of the river diversion. Learning this, Bess works behind the scenes to help him start over. It is at this point that a cruel irony of fate intervenes and changes their lives forever.

    I decided to read this book because I had visited the region within the past two years and I thought it might be interesting reading. Even if you have not been to Niagara Falls, the descriptions and historical period photos included in the book should be of interest. I found myself immersed in the area and could easily picture the descriptions of life in the area almost a century ago. This book will stay in my memory for awhile and the memory is a pleasant one.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2013

    A sad story

    I was in the middle of another book and only meant to read the first page or two to decide if this would be the next book I would read. The first page turned into the first chapter and after that I couldn't put it down. It's a story of hardships, love and regrets. Beautifully written, but very sad.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2013


    Why would you put nothing else than its about the niagra falls?
    What about mystery, or maybe even a little excifement. These people are really stupid.

    3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 11, 2009

    Bring on the tea and biscuits!

    Loved this book from cover to cover. The writing was so real, I could smell the falls and picture exactly what the setting looked like. Bess was so real to me and I could almost feel her emotions.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 31, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Quick read,so good

    This story was an interesting, easy read. I really enjoyed the main character's story of struggle to find happiness. The writer's ability to weave Niagra Falls history within the story made the book even more exciting to me.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 12, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Simply Flawless

    As I read this book, I was taken away to the time of 1915 amid the chaos of war, love, and loss. Cathy M. Buchanan for a first time writer seamlessly tied together all of the details of the book. It's ebbing and flowing made me want to read more about Bess' life after all what had happened. Just a great book.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 23, 2009

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    Excellent debut!

    The Day The Falls Stood Still takes place in Niagara, Canada, circa WWI. Bess Heath comes from a well-to-do family, but all that changes when her father loses his position as Director of the Niagara Power Company. Bess is forced to leave school, while her mother works as a dressmaker to make ends meet. Bess's older sister, Isabel ,is left by her finance and stops eating, her father spends his days and nights drinking at the local tavern. The only bright spot in Bess's life is Tom Cole, a young man who makes his living selling fish and pulling dead bodies out of the Niagara River. Tom is the grandson of the legendary Fergus Cole, a renowned riverman who could foresee disaster at the Falls and was responsible for the rescue of many people that would have been lost. Tom is also deeply connected to the river, but Bess's family is urging her to marry Edward, the older brother of her childhood friend. Marrying wealthy Edward would insure the future of her family. But tragedy strikes and against the wishes of her family, Bess rebukes Edward in favor of Tom.
    Buchanan writes an interesting story that combines history of Niagara Falls with the trials of a young couples' marriage and the struggle between progress and the environment. Tom is a riverman but with two children to support, he goes to work for the same power company that he reviles for its destruction of the Niagara river and the beauty of the Falls.
    While this is a debut novel, Buchanan work seems that of an accomplished writer. Her prose is skilled, with the right amount of plot and dialogue balancing the descriptions and history of Niagara. Throughout the book are pictures of the falls and newspaper articles that originally referred to the real legendary riverman, William "Red" Hill, but is changed with the name of Fergus Cole, the fictional legendary riverman. This was a great work of historical fiction, which I enjoyed even more as I live about ninety minutes from the Falls and have visited there frequently. I highly recommend this novel.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 12, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Struggle for control of the Niagara Falls area combined with romance

    As a person that has made many trips to Niagara Falls during my years, I especially looked forward to reading this book. I was not disappointed. Cathy Buchanan has written a lovely love story combined with some of the many historical occurrences in the Niagara Falls area. While the main characters in the story are fictional their deeds are very closely aligned with true history. As I read I felt as though I could feel the mist from the falls, the rapids, the whirlpool, the islands above the falls as the thunderous currents flowed by, the gorges with their many marks from old water levels, and see the power of the falls, some of which, the power companies have diverted for mass electricity.

    The family of Bess Heath is not rich but they live as many others did in 1915, from week to week. Her father was one of the directors of the Niagara Power Company but his drinking was his undoing and he lost that job. He kept his secret for a while but the family had to eat and live. Bess had a sister, Isabel, who was not in the best of health so was unable to work. When the family finally discovered that the father had lost his job, Bess's mother, Margaret, went back to the only thing she knew, dressmaking. She even had Bess learning the craft so she could assist the family but with school, Bess did not have much time. Bess decided not to return to school and helped her mother with the sewing, learning as she went.

    Bess and Tom Cole met each other "accidentally on purpose" seeing each other on Tom's daily walks. Bess was currently engaged but she wasn't sure she wanted anyone but Tom! Tom was an expert on the entire falls area, a subject his father had taught him. Tom was so perturbed that the electric power companies were taking so much of the water to produce electricity. He wanted Niagara Falls to stay the way it always had been with a constant full flow above and below the falls and whirlpool. But this wasn't to be with the advancement of power in Canada and the United States. Tom was well known for his rescues of many that fell, jumped, or went over the falls or into the river by plan. He knew every rock and every situation that would cause unusual rockslides or changing of currents.

    The love story and the history of the area are wound into a delightful story by the author. She can spin a love story as not many can. There is too much in this story to give away the different plots so I will not go there. You must read this if you have any romance or adventure or any combination of each.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 12, 2010

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    A good story

    I bought this book in the bargain section at B&N... WITHOUT reading the reviews on it first, which is something I wouldn't normally do. But for four dollars I figured I didn't have much to lose. I was pleasantly surprised, it was a really good book overall. The beginning is a bit slow to pick up but once you get in about 50 pages, you want to keep reading. The main character Bess is so likeable, and strong for a woman at that time. She endures loss, and hardships, yet still is able to find the good in life, and make the best of things. Against the advice and demands of her family and friends she marries not for money, but for love. And so the touching love story between her and Tom unfolds. Not much unlike any relationship they have theirs good times and their bad, but mostly good. Their love for each other is uplifting. Although the end may not be what you were expecting or wanting, I saw the meaning in it. A good weekend read.... worth your time.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 14, 2010

    Interesting Historical Fiction

    The story starts with a young girl, Bess, leaving her high school for the year after her junior year, most likely not to return due to her family's changed financial circumstances. Her father recently lost his job at the power company and has taken up drinking at a hotel bar most of the day to fill his time. She is accompanied from school by her mother, and on their way home, using public transportation, they are helped by a young man, who carries her trunk for them. He is Tom Cole, and he and the girl start a romance soon after that, much to her mother's dismay. She does not view him as a suitable catch for her daughter. Bess's older sister is resolutely despondent having been recently dumped by her fiance. She is not eating much and spends most of her time in her room.
    Tom is the grandson of a legendary riverman, who knew the Niagara River like no one else and was famous for his rescues on the river. Tom picks up where he left off.
    The book is an entertaining enough read, but it is definitely much more of a woman's book. There was far too much detail on women's clothes and seamstressing activities for my taste. The book is written from the point of view of Bess. She is a likable enough character, but I would have enjoyed it if she had been given a little more depth.
    I did enjoy the way the history of the falls, the dare-devils, the rescues and its development, were integrated into the story. But, I would probably have more enjoyed reading a straight history book instead.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 13, 2010

    It was an enjoyable read. The book title drew me in first. I lived in NY, have visited the falls often. My sister lives there now. I always look for new authors being promoted by your website, and ordered this one right away.

    I enjoy stories that are based on happenings in the past. This takes place in the early 2oth century. The characters were very believable.
    I was rooting for Bess and Tom all through the book.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    All of the elements are here...a sweeping love story, the struggle for acceptance, the challenges that family dynamics present...all amid the raging backdrop of the Niagara Falls. Lush and full of life. Fans of historical fiction will enjoy this one.

    Every time I opened this book, I felt as if I were stepping off of the page, right into the Niagara. I could feel the mist upon my face, the powerful tug of the current and I could hear the roar of the water as it plunged over the falls. I love it when a novel can transport you to another time and place.

    In addition to its glorious setting, this novel also deals with class struggle, the environmental impact of hydroelectric power upon the falls, and the effects of war. This novel is unique, well paced and well thought out. I appreciate the tenderness of the characters, and by that I mean that they are strong, yet vulnerable and I find that I can easily relate to them at different points of the story. Overall, a very enjoyable read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 26, 2009

    Niagra Falls Love Story

    The story is mainly a love story about one woman's love for a man that is not of the same social status as she comes from. The first part of the book follows her family through tragedy and scandal. The second half of the book looks at Bess and Tom's married life. It was slow moving at times, but overall a good, well researched story.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2013

    Great book

    Lov it

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2013

    A must read

    I have been to the falls every year for the past 12 years, so i was excited to read this book. And i was not disppointed. Have put this book on my must read list for my sisters. We have a book club going .

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2013

    Amazing book

    I don't want to give anything away but it is a wonderful book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 1, 2013

    good book

    I enjoyed this book. It is a realistic book in that it portrays life honestly, not idealistically, yet is an uplifting story. Hard to put down.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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