I met Elinor Florence online through a mutual acquaintance months before her book was released by Dundurn this year – the same publisher that just put out my latest book. We hit it off and ended up doing two ‘War Birds’ events in Red Deer on Remembrance Day weekend, where we traded copies of our books. It’s been sitting on my to-read pile ever since, and I finally got to it this past week. As is often the case with books, it was perfect timing.
It seems like several key points of this sweeping, World War II-era novel take place around Christmas and New Year’s, and I certainly appreciated my family, friends and the peace and plenty that surrounds me as the book’s narrator and protagonist, Rose Joliffe, experiences the horrors and privations of war.
Florence, who has decades of journalism and editing work to her credit, really knows how to bring Rose’s story to life. Rose starts out in a small Saskatchewan town called Touchwood working for the local newspaper. She has just graduated from high school and is naïve, idealistic, but smart as a whip. She is determined to join up and so goes overseas to be part of the Royal Air Force and is quickly assigned to the photographic interpretation section where her skills and intuition prove invaluable. Unfortunately, her instincts fail her a bit when it comes to her dashing superior officer.
While I wanted to take her by the shoulders and give her a good shake sometimes, I really rooted for Rose, and by the end of the book she – like so many who lived through the war – is changed, in many ways for the better. She certainly doesn’t take anything for granted in life and love, and I think she, along with the reader, is reassured by humanity’s amazing resilience in the face of tragedy.
I was very moved by this heartwarming novel, and Florence is an excellent writer whose clear storytelling really pulls you along. I disappeared into the book for hours at a time and stayed up too late on more than one night reading it, but it was worth it.