Review: The Flight Girls by Noelle Salazar

 

Title: The Flight Girls

Author: Noelle Salazar

Published: July 2nd 2019, Mira Books

Status: June 2019, courtesy HarperCollins/Edelweiss

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Flight Girls by Noelle Salazar is a fascinating, fictionalised account of the role female pilots played on the home front during World War II.

With dreams of one day owning her own small airfield in her home town, Audrey Coltrane is one of a handful of female civilian flight instructors assisting in the training of airforce recruits in Hawaii as World War II rages in Europe. She’s content spending her days in the air, and her nights in the company of her roommates, determined to avoid any romantic entanglements which could jeopardise her future plans.

And then, on an ordinary day in December during a training flight with a new recruit, Audrey encounters a squadron of Japanese planes on their way to devastate Pearl Harbor. While Audrey narrowly escapes with her life, thousands, including a close friend and colleague, are not so lucky.

In the wake of the attack, Audrey returns home to Texas but soon grows restless and accepts an invitation to join the newly formed Women Airforce Service Pilots.

Audrey Coltrane is a well developed character, the story unfolds from her first person perspective and I found her to be relatable, admiring her passion, courage and strength. The character of Audrey seems to have been in part inspired by Cornelia Fort, Like Cornelia, Audrey comes from a well off family, and graduated from Sarah-Lawrence College. Fort was the first aviator to encounter a Japanese pilot during a training flight on the day of the Pearl Harbour attack, and was one of the first women to join the WASP program, though tragically, Fort was killed during a mission in 1943, attributable to another (male) pilot’s error.

I was fascinated by the activities of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) and Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD), which were later combined and became the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), though this isn’t the first time I’ve encountered it in fiction. Fannie Flagg’s The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion also tells the story of this group of female aviators. These women were incredible, coming from a variety of backgrounds, volunteering to serve their country. They risked their lives flying aircraft cross-country, testing both new and repaired aircraft, and towing targets for live artillery practice. They were required to complete intensive military training, but the government took little responsibility for their well-being. They did not qualify for any military benefits, and the women were required to pay for their own room and board, transportation, uniforms, and flight gear, and if they were killed (a total of 38 women died), all funeral expenses, including the return of their loved one, was at the family’s cost.

The women with whom Audrey served, and the bonds that formed between them, is definitely a strength of the novel. The supporting characters are well crafted with distinct personalities, and I think representative of the varied women who joined the WASP. Salazar creates a genuine sense of camaraderie between these women, who both live and work together. Their support of one another is heartwarming, and Audrey’s friendship with Carol Ann is particularly delightful.

There is a strong romantic storyline through the book. Though Audrey believes there is no room in her life for love, marriage or children if she is to achieve her dreams, her relationship with airman Lieutenant James Hart, whom she first meets in Hawaii, causes her to question her convictions. After the attack in Pearl Harbor, James is deployed to Europe and while the two write to each other, Audrey is unwilling to admit the depth of her feelings for him until she receives word that he is missing in action, presumed dead or captured by the Germans.

What dulled my enthusiasm for the story slightly was the imbalance between ‘showing and telling’, with a single first person perspective, at times the narrative dragged. In her enthusiasm, I also think Salazar occasionally got carried away with including too many details that didn’t necessarily advance the story, and glossed over more important issues. There is the odd anachronism too, but I think overall Salazar managed to accurately portray the sense of time and place.

The Flight Girls is entertaining, touching, and interesting. I think it tells an important story that recognises and appreciates the contribution these women made to the war effort.

++++++

Available from Mira Books or Harlequin

Or from your preferred retailer via Indiebound I Book Depository

Note: One of the reasons I requested The Flight Girls is because my grandmother served in the Women’s Australian Auxiliary Air Force (WAAAF) during World War II. Unfortunately there is no mention of women having any role during that period as a pilot in either a military or a civilian organisation in Australia that I’ve been able to find, though the woman instrumental in the establishment of the WAAAF, Mary Bell, did have a pilot’s licence. WAAAF recruits worked in technical positions such as flight mechanics, electricians, fitters, instrument makers, meteorologists, and as signal and radar operatives, as well as in roles in administration, and the medical field.

Review: The One by Kaneana May

 

Title: The One

Author: Kaneana May

Published: June 17th 2019, Mira AU

Status: Read June 2019 courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

I’ve met Kaneana May a few times at local library events, and I was excited to learn she had realised her dream to publish. Her debut, The One, is an engaging and emotional contemporary novel.

Using her experience in the television industry, May connects her characters by their participation in ‘The One’, a (fictional) reality television show in the style of the worldwide phenomenon, The Bachelor. To be honest, I abhor reality shows like The Bachelor/The Bachelorette, Married at First Sight, Love Island etc, so this aspect of the novel wasn’t particularly a draw for me, however I imagine fans of those shows will enjoy the idea of peeking behind the scenes of The One.

The One unfolds from multiple perspectives. Darcy is the ambitious producer who works long hours to ensure the success of the show, to the detriment of her decade long relationship with her high school sweetheart. Bonnie is a reluctant contestant, trying to put distance between herself and the man she believes to her ‘one’, who is about to marry someone else. Penelope is dealing with an unspecified heartbreak, of which ‘The One’ seems to be a painful reminder. And then there is Ty, the ‘bachelor’, a last minute replacement on the show, whose heart is not really in it.

Through her characters, May explores the the complexities of relationships. There is passion, anxiety, romance, regret, desire and heartbreak, as they all grapple with their questions about love. I had some empathy for Darcy and her situation, though honestly I would have preferred a different ‘ending’ for her. I was less sympathetic with regards to Bonnie and her relationship with Ollie.

Well written, combining drama, humour, pathos and romance, I really enjoyed The One, congratulations on a great debut Kaneana.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins AU

Or your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Those People by Louise Candlish

 

Title: Those People

Author: Louise Candlish

Published: June 27th 2019, Simon & Schuster UK

Status: Read May 2019, courtesy Simon & Schuster AU/Netgalley

+++++++

My Thoughts:

Lowland Way is a desirable suburban address in the south of London. The homes are well maintained, the gardens manicured, the school district is favoured, the street even closes to traffic on a Sunday to allow the children to play freely. So when Darren Booth, and his girlfriend Jodie, move into Number 1, the residents are shocked by the new neighbours disdain for the status quo. They are loud, uncouth, and crude, and everyone wants them gone, but is someone on Lowland Way willing to kill to accomplish it?

Taking place over a period of a few months, we learn immediately that someone is dead. The story moves back and forth between the events unfolding on the street, and statements taken by the police in the aftermath of the death. Curiosity should keep your attention through the first third of the novel, and though the pace lags a little in the middle, it picks up and wallops you with quite a twist when you least expect it.

What I most enjoyed about Those People was the way in which Candlish’s ‘respectable’ characters fall apart in the presence of this interloper. Their veneer of civility slips, bit by bit, as their frustration and outrage grows. Only a handful of neighbours are directly affected by Darren’s behaviour, and while they try to do the right thing to start with, lodging complaints with the police and council, bureaucracy moves slowly, too slowly for some.

Those People is a provocative psychosocial drama, which offers some interesting twists. I found it a quick and entertaining read.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster AU I Simon & Schuster UK I PenguinRandomHouse US

Or purchase from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound

 US Cover

Review: Devil’s Lair by Sarah Barrie

 

Title: Devil’s Lair

Author: Sarah Barrie

Published: June 17th 2019, HQ Fiction

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Harlequin Australia

+++++

My Thoughts:

Two years after Callie’s life is devastated by a shocking incident she flees relentless scrutiny to find sanctuary in a rural cottage in the Central Highlands of Tasmania. Changing her name, and her look, Callie hopes to make a fresh start, and when she is unexpectedly offered a job at nearby tourist retreat, Calico Lodge, she decides it’s an opportunity too good to pass up. Made to feel welcome by the owners, particularly Connor Atherton, and slowly winning over her gruff landlord at Waldron House, Callie begins to believe she can escape her past…until a psychotic killer revives a long held grudge.

Blurring gothic sensibilities with psychological suspense, The Devil’s Lair by Sarah Barrie is a gripping thriller that kept me compulsively turning the pages until the early hours of the morning. I experienced an almost visceral reaction to the sense of unease that builds as the story unfolds, finding myself startling at every unexpected noise outside my darkened window.

Barrie establishes the disquieting presence of Waldron House with descriptions of ‘shabby green walls and scarred wooden floors’, dim rooms crowded with boxes and dusty antique furniture, and the overgrown, wild gardens. Strange symbols are carved or drawn on door frames, the cellar door sports a large padlock, and chunks of black tormaline are placed on window sills. Add to that the odd noises and other strange occurrences that begin to plague Callie, as well as the disturbing rumours that persist regarding the property’s history, and the grandeur of Waldron House begins to lose its charm.

Callie is a sympathetic character, the tragedy that caused her to flee the Hunter Valley is horrifying to contemplate, and then, just as she begins to find her feet in Tasmania, members of the community are targeted by unspeakable violence, and Callie experiences a cascade of unsettling events that causes her to question not only her safety, but her sanity.

Contrivances were easy to dismiss as I got caught up in the story, and as the truth about the past and present unravels, Barrie stuns with plot twists that reveal shameful secrets, dangerous obsessions, and horrifying acts of revenge.

A compelling and darkly atmospheric tale, Devil’s Lair is a riveting thriller. I enjoyed it so much I’ve ordered Blood Tree River, also by Sarah Barrie, which shares the novel’s location and some of the characters though it is not directly related.

Read an Excerpt

++++++

Available from Harlequin/HarperCollins AU

Or purchase from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Weekend Cooking: Cake at Midnight by Jessie L. Star

 

Title: Cake at Midnight

Author: Jessie L. Star

Published: January 15th 2018, Simon & Schuster AU

Status: Read May 2019 courtesy Simon & Schuster

++++++

My Thoughts:

An engaging novel of contemporary romance, Cake at Midnight is a story of friendship and love from Australian author, Jessie L. Star.

Giovanna, Zoë and Declan – the baker, the beauty, and the brains- have been best friends since childhood. Now in their early twenties, they have celebrated one another’s successes, and commiserated with one another during times of heartbreak. For years Gio has nursed a crush on Declan who doesn’t mind taking advantage of her slavish devotion when it suits him, much to the growing disgust of Zoe. And after a disastrous not-a-date Gio realises she has let the situation get out of control, and in order to preserve their friendships, decides to cut Declan out of her life for 30 days. It’s not an easy step for Gio to take, not even cake is enough to dull the hurt, but her new neighbour, the enigmatic Theo, might just be exactly what she needs.

I enjoyed the romance in Cake at Midnight, it develops slowly from an odd sort of companionship, to a ‘friends with benefits’ situation, to the beginnings of a real relationship. Despite their very obvious differences, Gio and Theo complement each other well, though of course their path to true love has obstacles to overcome.

But romance is not all Cake at Midnight is about. It’s also about the friendship between Gio, Zoe and Declan and how it has changed over time as they have matured. There is a layer of emotional complexity relating to the family dynamics of Theo, and Declan. It’s also about being true to oneself.

The foodie element of the novel comes from Gio’s love of baking. She works at Pickle, Peach and Plum, an artisanal bakery, as an apprentice pastry chef.

“You’d perhaps think that, working at a bakery, the last thing I’d want to do upon returning home from a gruelling, every-last-swirl-of-ganache-critiqued, constantly-on-my-feet, nine-hour day, was more baking. You’d be wrong. It was like the difference between reading for school and reading for pleasure. I’d certainly always found during my years of education that the chance to chuck aside a textbook and pick up a recipe book had been a welcome one. That was what home baking was like for me.”

The first cake she bakes for Theo, to both apologise and thank him for rescuing her the night her not-a-date with Declan goes badly, is a Dark Chocolate and Rum Cake. She serves him a two-layer Lemon and Cardamom Cake the first time they kiss. The foodie references and metaphors added to the sweetness of Cake at Midnight.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster AU

or from your preferred retailer via Amazon AU I Amazon US 

 

Review: The Beekeeper’s Secret by Josephine Moon

 

Title: The Beekeepers Secret

Author: Josephine Moon

Published: April 1st 2019, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Beekeeper’s Secret is a thoughtful and engaging story of family, secrets, guilt and redemption.

“Now it seemed that what they said was true, that the past would indeed always catch up with you—especially if you had something to hide.”

Though Maria Lindsey has spent decades attempting to atone for her mistakes, first as a nun, and now as the manager, and beekeeper, of Honeybee Haven, whose activities support a Cambodian orphanage, she has always known that the time would come when she would have to confess her sins. She just didn’t expect that the daughter of her estranged sister, Tansy, would be the first to hear the whole sordid tale.

Maria’s decades old secret is a shocking one, related to a topical issue that the author deals with sensitively. It’s a confronting subject, involving misconduct within the Catholic Church, which may be a trigger for some readers, and though the reader may make a guess at Maria’s experience, the truth is likely to be a surprise.

Maria may be ready to break her silence, but there is someone who is determined that she not say a word.

Tansy Butterfield has always wondered what caused the estrangement between her mother, Enid, aunt Florrie, and their eldest sister. With her thirtieth birthday coming up, she’s tracked down Maria, delighted to learn she has been living barely an hours drive away in the Noosa Hinterland, hoping to arrange a surprise reunion.

It is through Tansy, and her relationship with her husband, and her family, that Moon thoughtfully explores the complicated dynamics that unites, and divide, families. While Tansy is getting to know her aunt, she keeps the secret of Maria from her family, something that her mother in particular, is deeply hurt by, when the truth comes out at a family gathering.

Another large part of this novel is devoted to Maria’s role as a beekeeper, and though I’m vaguely aware of the importance of bees to the health of our environment, I found the tidbits of information Moon shared about their habits and behaviour interesting.

A heartfelt contemporary fiction novel with surprising complexity, given the colourful cover, I liked The Beekeeper’s Secret. As the tagline suggests, this is a story with a sting in its tale.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko or Book Depository 

Also by Josephine Moon posted at Book’d Out 

 

Review: The Lubetkin Legacy by Marina Lewycka

 

Title: The Lubetkin Legacy

Author: Marina Lewycka

Published: May 16th 2016, FigTree

Status: Read May 2019- courtesy Penguin/Netgalley

+++++++

My Thoughts:

I can’t remember why I requested The Lubetkin Legacy for review, I have a feeling it was to satisfy a challenge. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I did, mostly.

The Lubetkin Legacy is a quirky, rather rambling novel which centres on two characters who live in a social housing block of flats in North London named Mandelay Court.

Berthold Sidebottom has lived in the top floor apartment with his mother, for most of his life. Named after the building’s architect, Berthold Lubetkin, with whom his mother claimed to have an affair, he is In his mid fifties, bald, divorced, and an unemployed actor. When his mother, Lily Lukashenko, dies unexpectedly, Berthold is worried that the council will repossess the flat, and so he invites the elderly Ukrainian widow who shared his mother’s hospital room to live with him and pretend to be his mother, until he can arrange for the transfer of possession.

Violet, Kenyan-born, but mostly raised in England, moves into the apartment next door to Berthold. Barely into her twenties, she is excited to start her first job in a city firm, having recently graduated university, but it quickly begins to lose its shine when she learns of her employers shady financial dealings.

The two characters are only loosely connected, Berthold spends a disturbing amount of time lusting after Violet, who is half his age and barely aware of his existence. In fact the connection is so limited, and Violet’s story so disparate, I don’t think it had a place in this novel at all. Berthold, and his mother substitute, Inna, would have been enough to carry the story.

Though to be honest I struggled with Berthold’s character. He is a bit of a sad sack, fairly useless with the practical, prone to randomly spouting Shakespeare, insulting George Clooney, and often behaves like a sex-starved creep. He is a pitiable figure of a man really, but does occasionally provoke some sympathy. I loved Inna though, her eccentric use of the English language (it’s her fourth, maybe fifth, language) is hilarious.

Despite the farcical presentation of this novel, the main themes of the novel are socio-political, taking aim at the UK’s policy of austerity, privatisation of social housing, the introduction of the bedroom tax, the consequences of the employment scheme, the disintegration of community, and on a larger scale, the misuse of tax havens, greed, exploitation, and corruption.

I liked this, mostly. Despite its many flaws, The Lubetkin Legacy is oddly entertaining, and has some important points to make about the failures of social policy.

++++++

Available from Penguin UK I Penguin AU I

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Review: A Daughter’s Tale by Armando Lucas Correa

 

Title: A Daughter’s Tale

Author: Armando Lucas Correa

Published: June 1st, Simon & Schuster AU

Status: Read May 2019- courtesy Simon & Schuster AU

++++++

My Thoughts:

A Daughter’s Tale is Correa’s second book of historical fiction, following the publication of The German Girl in 2016. In ‘A Letter to the Reader’ penned by the author he explains the story was inspired by a conversation with a holocaust survivor, and his desire to tell another forgotten story of WWII.

Despite the troubling unrest in the streets of Berlin, and then the forced purge and closure of her bookstore, Amanda and her cardiologist husband Julius, naively believe their family, which includes young daughters Viera and Lina, will come to no harm from their German compatriots. It’s not until Julius is forcibly dragged from his office to serve the Führer in 1939, that Amanda finally realises the danger she and her girls are in, and when the pogrom begins, she is forced to flee. One of Julius’s last acts was to secure passage for their daughters on a refugee ship destined for Cuba, but unable to abandon both her children to an unknown fate thousands of miles away from her, Amanda sends only Viera to her brother’s adopted homeland. With three year old Lina in tow, Amanda makes her way to a friend’s home in southern France, hoping to escape the persecution she and her daughter face as German Jews.

Correa’s tale is one of courage, hope, desperation, and tragedy, as Amanda and Lina fight to survive among those that hunt, and fear, them. I appreciated the way in which he shows how Amanda struggles with each decision she makes, never certain if her choices will save, or condemn them. A brief period of respite with her friend Claire and her daughter, Danielle, renews Amanda’s optimism for the future, and she writes loving letters to Viera on the few pages she rescued from her favourite book, a botanical encyclopaedia, hoping they will find her in safe in Cuba. But their situation worsens when France surrenders to the Nazi’s, and Amanda grows ever more determined that Lina will have a future, and eventually reunite with her sister, no matter the cost to herself.

The strength of A Daughter’s Tale is in the characterisation, Amanda and Lina in particular are fully realised and sympathetically rendered. I was especially affected by the guilt Amanda felt, and the sacrifices she made.

Where it suffered, I felt, was in the pacing. Though I liked the way in which the story was introduced, and ended with Elise in 2015, I think the tale in Germany perhaps began too early. Only a fraction of the story, barely a few pages in fact, actually features the horrific event in 1944, where the villagers of Oradour-Sur-Glane in the south of France, were brutally massacred by soldiers, though the tragedy becomes a pivotal moment for Lina. Such a heinous act is difficult to convey, and while I think Correa gave it the gravitas it deserved, I’m not sure the brevity had the impact within the story that the author hoped for.

A Daughter’s Tale is a moving novel, also exploring larger themes such as identity, home, family and faith, it’s impossible to be unaffected by the experiences portrayed by Correa.

Read or listen to an Excerpt

******

Available from Simon & Schuster AU

Or purchase from your preferred retailer via Booko I Indiebound

Review: A Lifetime of Impossible Days by Tabitha Bird

 

Title: A Lifetime of Impossible Days

Author: Tabitha Bird

Published: June 4th 2019, Viking

Status: Read May 2019, courtesy Penguin AU

++++++

My Thoughts:

A Lifetime of Impossible Days is an impossibly enchanting debut from Tabitha Bird.

Silver Willa is 93 when she insists that her carer takes her into town on the first of June 2050 to post two Very Important Boxes.

Middle Willa is 33 years old when she receives a collection slip from the post office that she has every intention of ignoring.

Super Gumboots Willa is 8 years old when she finds a battered box, inside is a jar of water, accompanied by a note that says: ‘One ocean: plant in the backyard.’, which she does, while wishing for the impossible.

“Here’s what I know about impossible things. We can’t command them, but we can allow space for them in our minds.”

When the impossible happens, Super Gumboot Willa hopes it is an opportunity to save herself, and her younger sister, Lottie. Middle Willa refuses to acknowledge that the impossible offers any chance of change. Silver Willa remembers only that the impossible is her only hope.

This is a compassionate, emotional journey of tragedy, trauma, loss, love, forgiveness, and hope. I was moved to tears more than once by A Lifetime of Impossible Days. Though sensitively handled, the pain of Willa’s experiences are at times overwhelming as Bird explores the experience of family violence and abuse, and it’s lasting repercussions. Yet those tears also came when the Willa’s achieved the seemingly impossible, for their courage, and strength.

“Because I know one thing, Willa. We are all the ages we have ever been. We carry around our trauma. And if we have unfinished business at one of those ages we can’t move on to have a healthy adult life.”

Beautifully crafted, the past, present and future are deftly woven together, a strand at a time, ensuring the impossible makes sense. It requires an extraordinary imagination to write such a complex story, though thankfully only an ordinary one to appreciate it.

“We’re all stories, Willa. How else do you tell a story if you don’t make it all up? Sometimes, when everything seems lost, you just have to keep making stuff up”

A whimsical, heart-rending, and insightful novel, i was captivated by Willa’s journey.

Amaze-a-loo, Tabitha Bird.

 

Read an Excerpt

++++++

Available from Penguin Au

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Review: The Lost Letters of William Woolf by Helen Cullen

 

Title: The Lost Letters of William Woolf

Author: Helen Cullen

Published: June 4th 2019, Graydon House

Status: Read May 2019 courtesy Graydon House/Edelweiss

++++++

My Thoughts:

William Woolf works in the Dead Letter Depot in East London. He, along with his colleagues, is tasked with reuniting letters and parcels undelivered, due to missing addresses, illegible handwriting, smudged ink and torn packaging, with their intended recipient.

“He now was convinced that some letters found him because only he, with his particular personal collection of experiences and insights, could crack their code. Other letters depended upon different detectives, of that he was sure, but some were searching specifically for him.”

While William generally finds his job eminently satisfying, it’s a point of contention between him and his wife, Clare. A couple since meeting at university, Clare and William were happy for many years, but for some time now their marriage has been faltering, and it’s this struggling relationship which is the focus of Cullen’s novel.

I had, to be honest, been expecting a lighthearted, whimsical novel from Cullen a la The Lost Letter Mysteries aired on the Hallmark channel, but The Lost Letters of William Woolf is a more thoughtful and sober story that questions if love is lost, can it be found again?

Cullen sensitively portrays the inner conflict of both William and Clare as they contemplate the state of their marriage, and wonder if it can be, or even should be, salvaged. The author explores issues faced by those in many long term relationships such as domestic drudgery, family planning, unmet expectations, and differing ambitions. The Dead Letter Office is in part a metaphor for the breakdown of communication, and connection, between William and Clare.

“Was it a million little incremental changes over a long period of time? Or something obvious he had missed? If their essential selves were still the same, couldn’t they find each other again?”

Though I found the pacing to perhaps be a little slow, it does befit the meditative tone of the novel. The writing is lovely, and there is a nostalgic quality that reaches beyond the ‘old fashioned’ charm of letter writing.

A poignant, ruminative novel The Lost Letters of William Woolf is an engaging debut from Helen Cullen.

Read a Free Preview

++++++

Available from Harlequin US

or purchase from your preferred retailer via Indiebound I Booko

Alternate covers UK/Australia

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