In Falling Snow: A Novel

( 12 )


A bestselling writer’s American debut and a heart-wrenching novel of WWI—a tale of love, regret, and the powerful draw of the road not taken

Iris Crane’s tranquil life is shattered when a letter summons memories from her bittersweet past: her first love, her best friend, and the tragedy that changed everything. Iris, a young Australian nurse, travels to France during World War I to bring home her fifteen-year-old brother, who ran away to enlist. But in Paris she meets ...

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In Falling Snow: A Novel

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A bestselling writer’s American debut and a heart-wrenching novel of WWI—a tale of love, regret, and the powerful draw of the road not taken

Iris Crane’s tranquil life is shattered when a letter summons memories from her bittersweet past: her first love, her best friend, and the tragedy that changed everything. Iris, a young Australian nurse, travels to France during World War I to bring home her fifteen-year-old brother, who ran away to enlist. But in Paris she meets the charismatic Dr. Frances Ivens, who convinces Iris to help establish a field hospital in the old abbey at Royaumont, staffed entirely by women—a decision that will change her life. Seamlessly interwoven is the story of Grace, Iris’s granddaughter in 1970s Australia. Together their narratives paint a portrait of the changing role of women in medicine and the powerful legacy of love.


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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The well-crafted new novel from Australian author MacColl, her first to be published in America, traces an elderly woman’s reflections, avoiding the trappings of sentimentality while easily slipping through time. Iris Crane is comfortable in her Australian life when an invitation for a commemoration catapults her back 60 years to WWI and her stint as a nurse in a Parisian abbey. Iris remembers the past she has kept hidden from Grace, her obstetrician granddaughter whom she raised. Iris’s career as an attendant began in childhood when she began caring for her younger brother, Tom, after the untimely death of their mother, and it’s why she followed his trail after he enlisted as a young man. In 1978, Grace tends to her patients yet ignores potential evidence pointing to a health risk in her young son, Henry, while worrying about Iris’s health. The ceremony in France serves as a catalyst for Grace to learn more about her grandmother’s mysterious past and her own heritage. MacColl’s novel will appeal to a wide audience including those who enjoy historical fiction and medical drama. Agent: Daniel Lazar, Writers House. (Sept.)
Library Journal
In the midst of World War I, as Iris Crane sets off to France to find and bring home her underage brother, who has enlisted with the British Army, she never counts on diverging to Royaumont Abbey, an all-female-staffed field hospital established by Scottish doctors, or on feeling that she could serve a greater purpose there. At Royaumont, Iris becomes a nurse and fierce administrator and the right hand to the head of the hospital. In her daily life, she experiences the realities of war as she offers comfort to dying soldiers and is protector to her brother. She soon senses that she might be better suited to life as a doctor than as a wife. In 1970s Australia, Iris’s granddaughter Grace is a mother of three and a doctor who boldly stands up to her male counterparts, an embodiment of her grandmother’s unrealized life. Grace views Iris as a frail old woman whom she must constantly fret over, but when Iris is invited to a reunion at Royaumont, Grace realizes how little she knows about her heritage.

Verdict In this intricately woven tapestry, Australian author MacColl, making her U.S. debut, seamlessly fuses the distant past in Iris’s story with the more recent past in Grace’s tale. Both women exhibit bone-deep strength, and while their stories are richly detailed and can stand alone, readers will enjoy the way they play off each other.—Natasha Grant, New York
(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews
A chance discovery about a hospital established by women during World War I results in a well-crafted U.S. debut by Australian author MacColl. Iris Crane is a naïve girl in 1914 when she travels from her native Australia to France in search of her 15-year-old brother. Tom ran away to enlist in the war effort, and Iris intends to take her younger brother back home. But after she lands on French soil, Iris is co-opted into service by Dr. Frances Ivens and soon finds herself establishing a field hospital for the wounded and assuring her father that both she and her brother are safely removed from the fighting. Now, 60 years later, she's invited to a ceremony honoring the women who served at Royaumont. The invitation unleashes in Iris many long-buried memories that often blur the lines between past and present. Like the snow that blankets Royaumont in the winter, the story that unfolds is at once chilling yet strangely beautiful. The book touches on the contributions made by a group of pioneering women who succeed despite society's bias toward their gender; the strong friendships that develop, particularly between Iris and ambulance driver Violet Heron; Iris' increasing love for medicine and her involvement with a man she meets during the war; the men and boys whose lives are sacrificed for a cause many of them don't identify with or understand; and the far-reaching effects of the war on the generations that follow. While Iris' memories propel the narrative, her granddaughter's interwoven story adds another moving dimension. Grace Hogan, an OB-GYN with three children, is raised by Iris following her mother's death during childbirth. Struggling to cope with her grandmother's declining health, fears about her son's well-being and a colleague's complaint, she, like her grandmother before her, begins an incredible journey of love, sacrifice and, ultimately, understanding. MacColl's narrative is fortified by impeccable research and her innate ability to create a powerful bond between readers and characters. Well done.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143123927
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/27/2013
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 229,020
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary-Rose MacColl is the author of three previous novels and a nonfiction book about maternity care. She divides her time between Brisbane, Australia, and Banff, Canada, with her husband and son.

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Read an Excerpt

At first it was the summers I remembered, long warm days under the palest blue skies, the cornflowers and irises and forget-me-nots lining the road through the Lys forest, the buzz of insects going about their work, Violet telling me lies. He loves you, he loves you not, she’d recite, skipping along the road until all the petals were gone. She’d finish with “he loves you” no matter what the flower told her. I’d seen her cheat like that. Violet showed me an iris and told me what it was. Beautiful like you, she said. She couldn’t believe I’d never seen one. They’re common as weeds, she said. No offence. None taken.

But now in my mind’s eye, it’s winter, that first winter we arrived, Miss Ivens and me alighting from the train in Viarmes, the darkness descending, no one to meet us. And there’s Miss Ivens herself, charging ahead to walk, not a thought for our luggage, abandoned on the station platform when we’d failed to rouse the porter. “Where’s Monsieur Bousier?” Miss Ivens said, as if I might know. I shrugged but she’d already moved off down the hill at a cracking pace—even with my long stride I could barely match her—turning back to me every now and then, those large straight teeth somehow adding to my trepidation, all the better to eat you with going through my head. What was I doing? I’d boarded a train with a perfect stranger. I’d listened to her story for an hour from Paris and now I was following her to a place called Royaumont. “Better to walk at any rate,” Miss Ivens said. “Nothing like seeing it on foot,” turning back to smile, “the world, I mean,” and then she was off again.

“You should know that you and I and the rest are at the beginning of something momentous,” she’d said on the train, a curl of her dark hair slipped from its moorings and dangling between her eyes. “It’s going to be grand,” she insisted, reading something in my face that suggested I disagreed. I’d been assigned to the British Casualty Clearing Station in Soissons, close to Amiens where we thought Tom had gone. A Sergeant Fleming would be there to meet my train unless Matron had sent word, and no one sent word of anything in these strange days, not as far as I could tell. I’d signed up in London with the Red Cross and already, I’d had orders changed, waiting those three days in Paris, I assumed because of a change in the fighting. And then I’d happened upon Miss Ivens and everything changed again.

I was just what she needed, Miss Ivens said. She smiled so quickly I almost missed it. Her French wasn’t the best, she said, book-learned, she could write but no one understood her spoken word, and no one else at Royaumont had time. “You’ll be my shadow,” she said, “my voice. Just what I need. I can’t believe our good fortune. There’s a little work to be done at the abbey, of course,” dismissing it like a fly with a flick of her wrist. “The building’s not quite ready. It’s rather old,” making shapes with her hands, collapsing them into her lap. “I need someone who understands the language and can liaise with the tradesmen, someone with common sense. I believe that’s you.” If I was silent, she never noticed, just kept on talking, more to herself really, setting out on her fingers the work she wanted to do that night, the supplies they’d need to order before Christmas, the long list of people to meet the next day. I listened.

And then Viarmes itself, at the base of the hill, a main street, a few shops, already shut up tight although it was barely 4 p.m., a little stone square defined by the church and town hall, the smell of incense—benediction or death—and we soon saw which. There was a funeral procession ahead of us. A boy had died, we learned from some stragglers. His leg went under a plough and no one knew to stanch bleeding. Miss Ivens was furious at that. Knowledge was something the whole world had a right to and how could they not be told? We turned off the main road, watched the funeral at its slow march behind a black motor vehicle—Monsieur Bousier, our taxi driver, was also the undertaker—heading across a cold field towards the little cemetery in the nearby town of Asnières-sur-Oise. We took a narrow road out of town, more a path really, which was flanked on either side by pine trees. “Blanche de Castille rode her horses through here,” Miss Ivens said. Perhaps I looked perplexed. “Her son built the abbey, Royaumont. Louis IX, the saint.” She sniffed the air. “They were all white—the horses I mean. But Blanche was marvellous. Such an example to women. I’d love to have known her, just for an hour.”

We passed a grand house that at first I took for the abbey Miss Ivens had told me about. “No no,” Miss Ivens said, “that’s the palace, built by the last abbot. Absolute indulgence. Monsieur Gouin lives there now. Delightful fellow but completely impractical,” as if I should know who Monsieur Gouin was or why we might wish he were practical.

It began to snow. Miss Ivens took no notice, walked on ahead, asked me, without turning back, what I knew about drains. Drains were a problem. I must talk to Mrs. Berry. Berry knew something but not enough; we needed a plumber. I should go into Asnières tomorrow and arrange it. I should take Berry although she didn’t speak the language. “Berry is a brick, though, she’s good for me. Don’t know what I’d do without her.” And then forging ahead, failing at first to notice that I’d stopped, turning, seeing me, laughing, for I was looking straight up, my mouth wide open. “Snow,” she said matter-of-factly. I must have looked blankly at her. “You’ve never seen snow?”

“No,” I said. “Frost in the winter, but nothing like this.”

“Wonderful stuff. We’ll make angels tomorrow.”

By the time we turned into the abbey grounds, the day was almost gone. The pines of the long drive were newly dusted with the snow which also dotted our coats and Miss Ivens’s hair. She looked wild, a little mad even. She charged ahead once more, the gravel along the drive crunching with an alarming efficiency under her boots. Snow makes the world quieter and louder at the same time, she said quite loudly. Imagine never having seen snow, she said more softly, so softly I had to strain to hear. I’d stopped again and was standing still, for when you round that last bend and begin along that long drive, you see Royaumont Abbey for the first time, and you never forget it. You must stand still, or you’ll miss the chance. Even at the end of that cold amazing day, even with the wonder of my first snow at hand, the abbey took my breath away. And the feeling in my heart? That feeling surprised me, for it was joy, joy and fear in about equal measure.

Until three months before, I’d only ever travelled between Stanthorpe and Brisbane, less than two hundred miles, the towns at each end with their proud little post offices and hotels as their architectural achievements, the space between them mostly bush. Royaumont Abbey was some other order of place, a feat of engineering or evidence of God, depending on how you saw the world. To one side were the remains of the chapel, recollecting a structure that once nudged the spires of Paris’s Notre Dame in size but was now just one tall tower looking as if it might topple over. Next to the church tower were the monks’ buildings, menacing in the winter twilight. I could just make out the window recesses along the front wall.

I know I was exhausted. My life at home had been simple, divided between Risdon and the Mater nursing quarters, with the occasional train trip to St. Joseph’s to see one of Tom’s teachers about something he’d done or hadn’t done. I knew from one day to the next what lay in front of me and mostly it was much like what lay behind me. And now this, where every day was full of the strange. And through it all—the ship journey from Australia, the days in London, the Channel crossing, the days in Paris—in the back of my mind was that other thought that could creep up on me when I least expected, as it did now, the thought of my brother Tom, telling me of his plan to run away, me agreeing, letting him go when Daddy said I should have stopped him. Tom now, just fifteen years old, somewhere out there in this cold, fighting the wicked Germans.

As we drew closer, I made out two large wooden doors. Darkness would soon be with us but no light shone inside the abbey. I looked to Miss Ivens, her hair flecked with snow, her arms out to the sides, hands not touching anything, those enormous boots. It was so cold now my breath caught in my throat. The doors looked as if they hadn’t been opened for years. Miss Ivens knocked, waited, said, more to herself than to me, “Where the devil are they?” I still heard no sound nor saw a light within. A notion lodged in my brain that there was no one here but us. It took hold quickly, the cold feeding my imagination. Miss Ivens was mad. She’d led me here to the pixie twilight on a merry chase, and her talk of drains and equipments and hospitals was nothing but a product of her madness. Oh Iris, you fool, now look what you’ve done, acted impulsively, followed your most wrongheaded instincts, followed this mad Englishwoman, and here you are in the middle of a dark forest with no way back.

I was not given to hysterics, but the cold, exhaustion, the newness of it all, Miss Ivens herself so much larger than life, like a character from Dickens, made me less than logical. My excited mind worked quickly. What would we do? We had no lamp to walk by, and the road was rough in parts. There had been a light in the window of the last house, the Gouin residence; Miss Ivens had pointed it out. He might be impractical, he might be Mr. Ivens for all I knew, but if we could make it back we might be able to beg a room. There was sure to be a train to Paris in the morning. I could be in Soissons by nightfall. I could be back at what I was supposed to be doing. Daddy need never know. And Miss Ivens could . . . Miss Ivens rapped on the door a second time. Just as I was about to suggest that we go quickly to try to reach somewhere before dark, the door swung open with a whine.

My thoughts were interrupted by the telephone and at first it sounded exactly like the porter’s horn at Royaumont. How we came to dread that sound. Of course, the porter’s horn was nothing like a telephone but it took me a moment to come back to my senses and realise where I was, in my house in Paddington, not at Royaumont waiting for wounded. I got up slowly, felt a little dizzy in the bright sun. I stood there until it passed, using the railing to keep from falling. The phone was still ringing. I bent down and picked up my teacup and saucer and went inside. I walked carefully.

They say that our greatest sense for memory is the sense of smell, but it was the sound of that horn I couldn’t get out of my mind now. I can just imagine what Miss Ivens would say to me. “Oh for goodness’ sake, Iris, who cares a fig for a silly horn?” But I know she’d have remembered it too, after we left. That horn ruled our lives. You’d hear it in your sleep, over and over. The phone stopped before I reached the kitchen. Then it started again. I caught it this time. “Hello?” I felt like my voice was coming from somewhere else.

“Iris, is that you? Are you all right?”

“Grace. Yes, I’m fine. I was just out the front in the sun and I dozed off.” My lips wouldn’t work properly and I could still hear that porter’s horn, in the distance now, as if I were one of the patients approaching in the ambulance along the drive. I wonder did it reassure them that someone knew they were coming, that someone would help them now, ease their suffering?

“I just rang to say I’ll drop in on my way to work,” Grace said.

“You don’t need to do that. I’m fine really.”

“I’ve got time. David’s taking the girls to school and he said he’ll take Henry to day care. I’ll just pop in.”

Grace had started “popping in” a lot over recent months, ever since the appointment with the heart doctor. But I didn’t want to see her today. The invitation had unsettled me. Violet Heron. Violet Heron, after all these years. “The flower bird girls,” she called us, Iris Crane and Violet Heron, the flower bird girls. What young fools we were.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 12 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2013

    Excellent!!! Outstanding!!!!

    Just funished this book in paperback. It is outstanding. Characters are well developed and, readers, you will care deeply for them. Also, the setting and time period is engrossing. Another great book on the Nook is "The Partisan" by William Jarvis. Both book deserve A+++++

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 17, 2014

    I love historical fiction books such as this. It is one of those

    I love historical fiction books such as this. It is one of those books where, in every other chapter, it changes from present day (in this book present day is 1970s Australia) to past (WWI era France). It is also refreshing to read a book of this genre set during WWI. I am a big fan of memoirs, and historical fiction set during WWII, but I really enjoyed the glimpse of the first world war. As a history major, I always love how an author can convey the horrors of war so accurately through a historical fiction work. In this book, the main character is a nurse, and has to deal with issues that were very real during WWI: soldiers dying of infection due to the terrible conditions in the trenches, amputations, etc. I also loved the theme of women's rights, (and women's struggle for rights and recognition) in both the past and present settings of the book. Simply outstanding!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 7, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Iris and Tom Crane were brother and sister who were very close d

    Iris and Tom Crane were brother and sister who were very close due to their mother’s early death.  Iris was actually more of a mother to Tom and yet they totally enjoyed growing up together.  Then came the day when Iris actually encouraged Tom to run away and join the Army.  Their father demands that Iris follow him to France and bring him home, not realizing that Iris was about to become encouraged to be part of a group of women (of all nationalities) who are creating a hospital for wounded soldiers.  And this hospital, Fondation Royaumont or The Scottish Women’s Hospital at the French Abbey of Royaumont north of Paris would be run by only women, some who were early suffragettes (after all, this is 1914, WWI) and some who just wanted to care for those who were sacrificing comfort and even life to ensure that Germans did not take over France. The dedication of these women in the harshest imaginable conditions emanates from these amazing, talented, intelligent women who can do everything a man can and more!  Even the male French officers and those who are healed in this place come to deeply respect what these women accomplish.
    Iris is invited by the head of the hospital to help them and she literally becomes the right-hand assistant/nurse of Miss Iven.  She does find Tom but he won’t hear anything about returning to Australia with or without her.  For now he is working as a non-combatant, since he was only fifteen years old when he joined up.  Iris will fall in love gradually with a French officer and be offered a chance to have a totally different future by Miss Iven.  Her best friend Violet and Iris become inseparable and it is this moving friendship through thick and thin that enable both to survive this devastating war that keeps coming closer and closer to their hospital/home.  But Iris will make a phenomenal choice that happens so fast the reader is left reeling for quite a while!
    Years later, Iris is reminiscing about her time in the War when she receives an invitation for a reunion; her granddaughter Grace is initially against the trip for Iris is frail and failing.  But Grace’s husband supports Iris’ desire to travel even while Grace and he are dealing with a devastating discovery about their own son, Henry. Add to that, Grace, a doctor, has her own personal crisis at work regarding a protocol of treatment she should have followed but didn’t because of the animosity she experienced toward the patient, for a very personal and painful reason. From here on, the story keeps switching between Iris and Grace where the surprises and shocks are multiple and totally unexpected – phenomenal to say the least!
    In Falling Snow is a historical novel about relationships and bonding. It’s about support and treachery, sacrifices even beyond the medical work being done, about lost love and friendship, about jealousy and forgiveness, and so much more.  
    This is a stunning novel that is very well written, always interesting, idealistic yet practical, funny yet solemn at appropriate times, poignant without being morbid yet oh so very realistic and moving!  If you love a heart-warming story, a mystery, a tender romance, a riddle, this is your next read!!!! Top ratings for this literate historical novel that reads like a contemporary work of fiction!  Superb job, Ms. Mary-Rose MacColl

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 19, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    When Iris Crane receives an invitation to a ceremony honoring th

    When Iris Crane receives an invitation to a ceremony honoring the women who ran Royaumont, a field hospital in France during WWI, memories come flooding back. She remembers following her under-age younger brother to war in Europe, determined to bring him home, but instead remained in France to serve at Royaumont Abbey on the outskirts of Paris, staffed exclusively by women. Despite the horrors of war, Royaumont became home for Iris. She met a remarkable group of women including the spirited Violet Heron, discovered a talent for medicine and fell in love. Yet just three years later, Iris left Royaumont and never looked back.

    In the story, as Iris remembers times in the past and present the readers learn about the full life that she had; from living on a farm, to being a nurse in WWI and then, after this, becoming a wife, widow, mother and grandmother back in Australia.

    Iris’s granddaughter, Grace, is a doctor, living near Iris in Brisbane. Grace is a very busy women looking after her husband and three children and working as an obstetrician at a major hospital. She is trying to keep up with the demanding work that she chose and the family she and her husband are trying to raise. Grace is worried about her son’s health, and also, the fact that Iris's health is failing and she doesn’t think Iris should plan to attend the event in France. Grace does not know most of her grandmother’s past and is completely surprised by what she discovers when she takes Iris’s place at the event because Iris passed away before she could make the trip.

    The author does a fantastic job switching between the lives of the two women and leaving the reader with an understanding of the many changes in the way women were treated over the years. For example, the work of women in medicine as far as working as doctors instead of nurses; also the role in running a home and taking care of children while the man of the house went out and made a living.

    Quill says: In Falling Snow is based on the real Royaumont, a hospital completely run by women during WWI. The incredible women who served as doctors, nurses, orderlies and drivers in an all women hospital. A wonderful story!!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2013


    A great read

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2013


    "So I heard you want someone to keep you company."

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2013


    Im pierce. Im 5'0. Im 107 pounds. I am tan. I have blonde hair with black streaks. I have hazel eyes

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2013


    *looks over to Vladimir* Hello

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 30, 2013

    IN FALLING SNOW is a thoroughly enthralling fictional account of

    IN FALLING SNOW is a thoroughly enthralling fictional account of two women and their relationship to the true story of a WW1 women's run field hospital, created from an old Abby in Royaumont, France.  In 1914, Australia, young Iris' father sent her to France, to bring back her younger brother.  Tom was only 15 when he decided to go off and fight in the Great War.  Iris had essentially been Tom's caretaker since their mother died when Tom was a baby, and always felt responsible for his safety and happiness.  In France, Iris found her nursing skills is demand at the new hospital being created by all women---an unheard thing for those times.  Tom was serving as a "postie" in the service, so seemed fairly safe.  They both stayed in France as the needs of the hospital became the center of their lives.

    Sixty years later, back in Australia, Iris received an invitation to return to Royaumont for a reunion.  When Iris' granddaughter, Grace, hears about this potentially dangerous trip for her ailing grandmother, she wonders why this trip should be so important for Iris.  Grace has heard next to nothing about Iris' past in France.  Grace has lots of issues as her own now:  her medical practice, her husband and three children, and the growing feeling that something is very wrong with her young son.  She depends a great deal on Iris for emotional support since Grace raised Iris from infancy, as Iris' daughter died giving birth to Grace.

    Family relationships, love and loss, women's place in medicine, and hospital conditions during WW1 makes this an historical story well worth the read.  So much involving the real experiences at Royaumont hospital were fascinating and new to me, that reading about the beginnings and running of such a place was terrific in itself.  But,  MacColl's intertwining the story of these two women,  made this historical fiction into an epic read that I'll never forget.  Well worth the read for history buffs, and for lovers of such TV shows as MIDWIVES.  Rather than just a vehicle for history, the relationship between Iris, Grace and their counterparts,  was a surprising story line in itself.  A truly exceptional read!!

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    Posted September 4, 2014

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    Posted December 16, 2014

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    Posted August 29, 2014

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