Friday, September 2, 2016

Book Review - Fall of Poppies

Fall of Poppies by Jessica Brockmole, Hazel Gaynor, Evangeline Holland, Kate Kerrigan, Jennifer Robson, Marci Jefferson, Heather Webb, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig
Published by: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publication Date: March 1st, 2016
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

The cat stands, stretches, and meows to be let out. Simple, ordinary things that punctuate the hour, the day, a year, a life. - Hazel Gaynor, "Hush"

Life changed the day war was declared, but it changed again on November 11th, 1918, when the war stopped. The problem was in four years of fighting, of death, of destruction, the world could never go back to the way it was. Atrocities were perpetrated with lasting ramifications. Bodies forever disfigured from the brutality of battle. The earth and it's people, forever scarred. To survive women and men did things they want to leave in the shadows, in the dark garrets of Paris, and in the blood soaked trenches of France. With war over for the first time in a long time hope is once again possible. A future can be contemplated, planned, dreamed of. Children will have a future. Love will have a chance to take root. From a hospital in Belgium to an artists studio in Paris, from the coffee fields of Kenya to the riotous streets of Dublin, the war hasn't just changed the world, but forever shaped the course of these peoples stories told by these different authors. The armistice has come and their voices will now be heard.

I have many short story collections and anthologies just laying about neglected. I feel really bad about this because years ago when I read Nick Hornby's selection of monologues, Speaking with the Angel, I found some amazing new voices in fiction whose books I then read and loved. But since then I've been very bad. I keep buying these books because there's one author I love and just have to read their story, so I get the book, I read the story, and then the book is relegated to my neglected, deprived, and languishing shelf. And yes, I do have such a shelf, peopled by many short story anthologies that feature Charlaine Harris and a lot of Dickens. What compounds the problem is that if I've waited too long all the author's stories spread throughout all these books get republished in their own book, like Charlaine Harris's A Touch of Dead of Patricia Briggs's Shifting Shadows, which ironically is also on this shelf. Therefore I kind of felt it my duty that while I picked this book up for Lauren Willig, I knew the other authors names and felt that it was time to read something they'd written and actually finish a book by multiple authors.

While I feel somewhat biased saying Lauren's story, "The Record Set Right," was my favorite, I have a feeling this was more to do with the fact I'd read it out of context as a kindle release prior to reading it amongst the rest of the tales. Therefore it felt like I was revisiting an old friend. But there are quite a few authors I feel will be new friends, and a few I might be reluctant to read, but none I will outright avoid. In fact I think many of these stories will work better taken out of context, because read all together the sameness of some of the writing techniques used makes them blend together into a confusing jumble. Fall of Poppies is definitely a book I'd encourage to read leisurely, a story every few days, to not only get the full impact of the narrative, but to clear your palate of the previous story. Because otherwise the structure of how so many of the first person narratives are weighted to the front of the book combined with all the HEAs and female narrators, it makes them all blend together into a jumpling mass where they all feel like they're telling the same story with the same trite ending.

Now I'm not a hater of first person narration like some people I know, in fact some dear friends I know, but it's hard to get first person right. The key is a very strong voice for the character. "The Daughter of Belgium" had a very timid narrator, followed directly by Lauren's strong narrator, there was a weird disconnect. You've been living in one characters head and you've suddenly switched to another's and it's jarring. It's like you're seeing first hand what it would be like to live in someone's head who has a multiple personality disorder, and in this instance Lauren's character Camilla is the dominate personality, while Marci Jefferson's unnamed narrator, in the vein of Du Maurier's Rebecca, is the submissive personality. In fact, so submissive she has no name! While as the book progresses there is only one more story written in first person, Jessica Brockmole's "Something Worth Landing For." So why did this book feel the need to have two of these stories back-to-back? The book starts out on such a wrong footing that it takes awhile to recover and actually become enjoyable.

Then there's the gimmicky nature of every story having Armistice Day as it's focal point. Yes, the description of the book should have tipped me off with it's themes of "renewal" and "hope." But you can build your story before or after this event, yet SO MANY chose to have Armistice Day as THE DAY the story was set. It made any story with a little time before the bells pealing away at 11AM on the eleventh novel and far more interesting. Yes, to an extent it's interesting to see how nine different authors tackle the inclusion of Armistice Day in their story, but please, think outside the box. Make it a jumping off point. Not EVERYTHING has to happen on that day. True love doesn't have to magically be found in the last minutes of the war. As for love at first sight? Every time it happened I kept thinking, what happens when they get home? What happens when the scales fall from their eyes and they really get to know this person they picked at random for their HEA? Some of the stories seriously need that something more.

Which is why those with this "otherness" really stand out. Those that are set apart just jump off the page. When a male narrator shows up it's like manna from heaven! But the ones that stood out most where those that looked at the diversity of people fighting in the war and where they were fighting. The story that stood out head and shoulders above the rest for me was "The Photograph" by Kate Kerrigan. I mean, I can seriously see this as an independent Irish film starring Saoirse Ronan and Harry Lloyd. See, I've already cast it, just make it now! What makes this story so unique is that it's set in Ireland. What's more it's about soldiers who were sent to quell the Irish Rebellion and their fight for freedom. With the greater Great War, there was a clear villain with Germany, here it's Britain against Ireland and the justifications for fighting are murkier. The Irish deserve and eventually win their independence, but those English soilders fighting them are just doing their job. It's just dumb luck they weren't sent to France, like many Irish soldiers were. Also, when Armistace happens, it's not an end to the hostilities in Ireland, it's just the beginning. This one story brings all the rest into context. It's "otherness" shows all the stories in a clearer more brillant light and elevates the whole book. So when am I getting my movie adaptation?


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