Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Review: My Heart Belongs in Niagara Falls, New York

It's not often I get to read a book that's set in the area close to where I live (even if the story did take place almost 150 years ago and, technically, in a different country). I've been in the Niagara region for six years now and have worked right in Niagara Falls in the office of a souvenir shop for the past three. To me Niagara Falls means lots of tourists, high prices, and a job. But every once and awhile, say when I read a book set in Niagara Falls, I remember that I'm pretty lucky to live so close to such an amazing sight. Reading Amanda Barratt's novel My Heart Belongs in Niagara Falls, New York was a really enjoyable experience. I decided to read it because of the setting and I kept reading it because I was interested and invested in the characters' story.

Here's the synopsis:
Journey now to Niagara Falls, New York, of 1870 where...
She avoids danger at all costs. He makes his living by rushing headlong into it.
Outwardly, Adele Linley’s trip to visit her American cousins is nothing more than a summer vacation. In reality, she’s the daughter of an English aristocrat with barely a penny to her name seeking a rich American husband.
Having grown up in an overcrowded orphanage, Drew Dawson is determined to make a name for himself. He’ll take any honest job to provide for his sister—even crossing Niagara Falls by tightrope.
On a sightseeing trip to the Falls, Adele meets several eligible suitors. Incredibly wealthy and pompous, Franklin Conway takes an immediate fancy to her. But Adele would truly like to marry for love. When she encounters the mysterious Drew in the garden, Adele is confused by her feelings for someone who is everything she is NOT looking for. Will they both stay the course they have chosen for themselves?
Adele and Drew were both very interesting characters. I was drawn into their stories and desperately wanted the best for them. I thought Adele had a lot of growing up to do (even with all of her "my life hasn't been easy and I missed out on the end of my childhood" talk). Nowhere is that most evident than the scheme she comes up with to keep Drew from walking over the Falls again and to set her brother on a better path. I. Was. Furious. But that's all I'll say. (No spoilers here, baby.)

Even though Adele was a tad frustrating at times, I still liked her. And Drew. And Hope (his sister). It was fun to read as they flirted (Drew and Adele, obviously...him flirting with his sister would be weird, duh. But the siblings' relationship was the sweetest and so heartwarming) and got to know each other. They were both smart and fairly aware of their situation and limitations. You couldn't help but root for them. 

While I enjoyed reading about Drew and Adele, I really liked that it was set in Niagara Falls (even if it was Niagara Falls, New York, not Ontario, Canada where I am). As this book illustrates, there is a long, long tradition of tourists flocking to see the wonder. These days there's a very distinct difference between the attractions on Clifton Hill and the natural beauty of the falls themselves. I definitely giggled when I read the description of Drew and Adele's date to the falls. Keep in mind the book is set in the late 1800s as you read this passage:
The outing had been her idea and, he grimaced to think of it, her treat. An afternoon to renew their friendship and see a part of the Falls she hadn't yet viewed. Of course, Drew could never have afforded such a trip for the two of them - the fare for the public horse car service and the entrance fees at the Falls. A hundred years ago, the view before them would've cost no more than the effort required to get to it. Today, no sight of the Falls was free. There might as well have been dollar bills floating down the rapids instead of water.
Things have not changed much since 1870, let me tell you. Even though there's a fair number of cheesy destinations on the streets surrounding the Horseshoe Falls, Niagara Parks and various other organizations have done a pretty stellar job of keeping as much of the natural beauty intact as they can. I'd like to see more done because it's pretty jarring to be staring into the falls and a few minutes later end up in a loud, even more crowded spot. Of course, everyone has their own tastes and a lot of other people love that kind of stuff. I just want the natural wonder of Niagara Falls stay,  you know, natural.

Speaking of personal tastes, I have to mention that this novel would be classified as Christian fiction. I didn't realize that going in and even though I probably would have still read it had I known...there's a small part of me that would have considered, well, not reading it. It's not a bad thing, necessarily, it's just...a thing. And something I feel like I should bring up because everyone has their own reading tastes.

It's absolutely insane to think that people used to cross Niagara Falls by walking across on a rope. While I don't believe Drew was a real person, he had to have been based off some of the young men who braved the Falls. I read some articles on the history of "funambulists". There's one from the Smithsonian Magazine on Charles Blondin, probably the most famous tightrope walker. History also has a list of various daredevils - I had no idea people went over the Falls as late as 1995. And back in 2012, Nik Wallenda crossed the Horseshoe Falls (well, very close to it) and it was televised around the world (you can watch a video on YouTube that shows the last bit of his crossing). I'm not surprised that Barratt would have been inspired to write about a young daredevil.

Considering Niagara Falls is such a huge tourist attraction, there aren't an awful lot of books set here. In fact, I can only think of two, both are historical, and one is the book this review is about. The other is The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Buchanan which I really should get around to reading. And, actually, rereading the synopsis of that one makes me realize these two books are fairly similar. Interesting. My point is, I'm wondering why there aren't more books set in tourist destinations such as Niagara Falls. Maybe because it's not a place you would uproot your life and move to, not like places such as Paris or London or New York City. Am I just thinking too much about this? I might be. 

It still still sometimes shocks me that this is 20 minutes from my house.
My Heart Belongs in Niagara Falls, New York was a sweet, intriguing story. Amanda Barratt wove a story of history and romance that historical fiction lovers will really enjoy.

*A copy of this novel was provided by the author in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

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