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

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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 Boy in the Photo by Nicole Trope

 

Title: The Boy in the Photo

Author: Nicole Trope

Published: June 18th 2019, Bookoutre

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Bookoutre/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

The premise of The Boy in the Photo, Nicole Trope’s ninth domestic thriller, is topical and heartbreaking.

As the school playground empties, Megan begins to wonder where her six year old son, Daniel, is. Learning he has been collected earlier by his father, her heart sinks, and it quickly becomes clear that in an act of extraordinary spite, her abusive ex-husband has taken Daniel and vanished.

Six years later, having recently married the Detective initially assigned to Daniel’s case, and given birth to a daughter, Megan receives the call she feared would never come. Her son has been found.

The Boy in the Photo unfolds from the perspectives of Megan and Daniel, revealing events that occurred during their period of separation, and the story of their reunion. It’s a heart wrenching situation, sensitively explored by the author. While Megan searches for her missing son, struggling with her enormous loss, Daniel is living an itinerant, isolated lifestyle with his father. His homecoming should be the happy ending they both deserve, but Daniel is not the loving, happy little boy Megan remembers, instead he is an angry, sullen teen, mourning his father, and contemptuous of Megan. The inevitable twist is somewhat predictable, but still thrilling.

Megan and Daniel immediately invite sympathy. Trope’s characterisation of an anguished mother yearning for her missing child, and a traumatised boy confused by his father’s unpredictable behaviour, is skilful and sensitive. I found Daniel’s attitudes and behaviours on his return to be believably rendered. I’m afraid I didn’t think the same of Megan’s however, which was a big sticking point for me. Every time Daniel acted out, and Megan was at a loss, I wondered why the two of them weren’t in intensive counselling. In no way would one hour a week with a therapist, whom Megan didn’t even trust, be responsible in these circumstances. To be fair, that probably would have been a difficult plotting obstacle for the author, but it bugged me, and honestly affected my response to the story.

Having read five of Nicole Trope’s backlist novels, all of which I’d enthusiastically recommend, I do think this story is slightly weaker. Nevertheless, I did find The Boy In the Photo to be an emotionally charged and affecting read.

++++++

Available in digital format from your preferred retailer

Amazon US I Amazon UK I Amazon AU

Also by Nicole Trope reviewed on Book’d Out

 

Review: While You Were Reading by Ali Berg & Michelle Kalus

 

Title: While You Were Reading

Author: Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus

Published: July 1st 2019, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Simon & Schuster/Netgalley

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

After accidentally ruining her lifelong best friend’s marriage, a mere hour or so after the wedding, Beatrix Babbage moves from Perth to Melbourne looking for a fresh start, but it’s more difficult than she envisioned. The only respite from her loneliness is provided by The Nook, where barista/slam poet Grover ‘Dino’ Dinopoli, scribbles book quotes on her coffee cup, and pastry chef, Sunday, occasionally lets her lick the spoon.

Until, one evening while exploring the city, Bea, a self confessed bibliophile, wonders into a bookstore where she discovers a second-hand book. While the blurb piques her interest, it’s the handwritten notations in it’s margins that captures her imagination, and Bea grows increasingly convinced that finding the ‘Mystery Writer’ will be the catalyst that will change her life.

While You Were Reading is a likeable, modern contemporary romance, the second book from co-writer’s Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus, who are also cofounders of the fabulous Books on the Rail project.

Instagram posts (complete with photo’s, follower comments and likes), texts, instant messages, email’s and notes (left for her cleaner) helps tell Bea’s story as her obsession with the ‘Mystery Writer’ leads her in surprising directions.

I mostly liked Bea, and had some sympathy for the awkward situations she found herself in. Her level of self esteem is awfully low though, and she makes some immature assumptions, and decisions. It takes her quite some time for her to find her feet, but I was glad she did.

I did enjoy the romantic plot developed by the authors. I like a friends to lovers trope, and though the obstacles were mostly predictable, there were some interesting elements, particularly surrounding the identity of the ‘Mystery Writer’. I also enjoyed the mini romance plot that played out through Bea’s Instagram comments.

Supporting characters, Ruth, with her pet ferret, and Bea’s sister, Ex-bachelorette star, with her Instagram obsession, add a touch of absurdity. I liked the odd start to Bea’s friendship with Martha, and the supportive relationships Bea formed with them.

I would love to attend a literary pub crawl like that which Bea attends, and the event she organises, Next Chapter: speed dating for books. There are dozens of references to classic and modern books, from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott to The Sunday Girl by Pip Drysdale, including a cheeky mention of the authors’ first novel The Book Ninja, throughout While You Were Reading. It’s a fun addition to the story for book lovers, and handily the authors provide a list of every title at the end of the book, which I appreciated (quite a few I’ve either read, or are on my TBR).

When You Were Reading is an engaging romance, particularly if you are a bibliophile. I do feel I need to add however, that despite Bea’s age (she turns 30 early on in the story), While You Were Reading, overall feels like it’s probably more suited to a younger barely ‘adulting’ demographic.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say)

In this part-manifesto, part-memoir, the revolutionary editor who infused social consciousness into the pages of Teen Vogue explores what it means to come into your own – on your own terms.

Elaine Welteroth has climbed the ranks of media and fashion, shattering ceilings along the way. In this riveting and timely memoir, the groundbreaking editor unpacks lessons on race, identity, and success through her own journey, from navigating her way as the unstoppable child of a unlikely interracial marriage in small-town California to finding herself on the frontlines of a modern movement for the next generation of change makers.

Welteroth moves beyond the headlines and highlight reels to share the profound lessons and struggles of being a barrier-breaker across so many intersections. As a young boss and the only black woman in the room, she’s had enough of the world telling her – and all women – they’re not enough. As she learns to rely on herself by looking both inward and upward, we’re ultimately reminded that we’re more than enough.

 

 

Elaine Welteroth is an award-winning writer, and judge on the new Project Runway. She was most recently editor-in-chief of Teen Voguewhere she in 2017 became the youngest person ever appointed editor-in-chief and in 2012 had been the first African American ever to hold the post of beauty and health director at a Condé Nast publication. Prior to Teen Vogue, she was the senior beauty editor at Glamourand the beauty and style editor at Ebony. She’s now a leading expert and advocate for the next generation of change-makers. She has written for the hit show Grown-ishand has appeared on-camera for a range of media outlets including ABC News and Netflix. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

++++++

Available from Penguin Australia

  • Published: 18 June 2019
  • ISBN: 9781529105438
  • Imprint: Ebury Press
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 336
  • RRP: $35.00

Review: Under the Cold Bright Lights by Garry Disher

 

Title: Under the Cold Bright Lights

Author: Garry Disher

Published: July 2nd 2019, Soho Crime

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Soho Crime/Edelweiss

++++++

My Thoughts:

Under the Bright Cold Lights is a stand-alone novel from Australian author Garry Disher, who is best known for his three crime fiction series’, Inspector Challis; Wyatt; and Paul Hirschhausen.

Five years after retirement, Acting Sergeant Alan Auhl has returned to the Victorian police force to work in the Cold Case and Missing Person Unit, where his experience, which includes a decade in homicide, fails to impress his younger colleagues who refer to him as ‘Retread’.

The latest case to cross Aulh’s desk concerns the discovery of a skeleton underneath a concrete pad on a rural property. The bones are that of a young man, who was shot in the chest, and buried under the concrete around five years previously. As Aulh, teamed with Detective Constable Claire Pascal, works to identify the ‘The Slab Man’ and whomever is responsible for his murder, he continues to reinvestigate the death of John Elphick at the behest of his daughters who believe he was murdered, is drawn into developments regarding a case he handled during his time in homicide, all while supporting a tenant/friend who is engaged in a contentious custody battle with her abusive husband.

Under the Cold Bright Lights is largely a police procedural, providing some insight into the way in which the police investigate cold cases. Auhl and his colleagues follow the slimmest of leads- a numberplate scrawled in a notebook, old rental agreements, and hotline tips, among others. There isn’t a lot of action in the novel, but the investigations are interesting, and cover a fair bit of ground.

I liked Auhl, who is an old-school type of cop, willing to put in the work to solve his cases. He isn’t bothered by the ribbing he receives from his younger colleagues, and he isn’t interested in office politics. It’s clear Alan has a big heart, evidenced by the ‘waif and strays’ he takes in at ‘Chateau Auhl’. It’s also evident early on that he is somewhat disillusioned with the justice system, and is prepared to exact his own when the system fails.

The writing is understated yet engaging, and I enjoyed Disher’s dry wit. I thought the story was well paced, and found it to be an easy read. The settings are evocative of the city, suburbs, and regional areas of Victoria, as are the minor characters.

Under the Cold Bright Lights is a well-crafted, absorbing mystery with strong characterisation, and a distinct Australian setting.

++++++

Available from Soho Press

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

Australian/UK Cover

 

Review: Conviction by Denise Mina

 

Title: Conviction

Author: Denise Mina

Published: June 25th 2019, Little, Brown & Co

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Mulholland Books/Netgalley

+++++++

My Thoughts:

Sharp, fast-paced, witty and vivid, Conviction by Denise Mina is a lively and engrossing thriller.

Reeling from learning that an old friend, Leon Parker, is assumed to be responsible for the murder-suicide of his two children during her morning coffee on her favourite true crime podcast, Anna McDonald is further devastated when her husband announces over breakfast that he is leaving her, for her pregnant best friend. As she lies on the floor in her hallway considering ending it all, Anna is interrupted by her best friend’s shattered husband, celebrity Fin Cohen and, in need of a distraction from the mornings events, she impulsively decides on a road trip, Fin in tow, with the idea of proving that the producer of ‘Death and the Dana’ has got it all wrong. It’s not the wisest of decisions, especially when a photo of her with Fin goes viral, and now Anna, who used to be someone else, is back on the radar of the woman she believes killed Leon and his family, the same woman who once wanted her dead.

I found Anna to be an utterly compelling narrator for reasons I can’t quite define. Anna is, at least initially, not very likeable, she is unpleasant, rude, and an admitted liar, but well, we meet her on what we assume is probably the worst day of her life. As the story unfolds the reliability of Anna’s narrative remains suspect, but somewhere along the line she earns sympathy, admiration, and eventually trust.

Conviction has more depth than one might expect, exploring themes such as privilege, corruption, mental illness, assault and identity. While the plausibility of the thriller plot may be stretched a bit thin, I found it easy to dismiss any inconsistencies and absurdities. I guessed where responsibility for The Dana’s fate lay fairly early on, but there were other surprises I didn’t see coming, and I was particularly stunned by the circumstances that forced Anna to hide her identity.

I really liked the way in which Mina grounds the novel so thoroughly within modern society and she does an excellent job of exploring the double edged power of social media. The true crime podcast ‘Death and The Dana’ frames the mystery, as Anna and Fin google, tweet, Instagram, and ‘cast as they race across Europe, in their pursuit, and escape, of the truth.

Conviction is a terrific read- entertaining, astute, and inventive. This is the first book I’ve read by Denise Mina, but on the strength of it I have every intention of hunting up her backlist.

++++++

Available from Hachette Book Group US

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

Alternate Cover

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: The Hurricane Lover by Joni Rodgers

 

Title: The Hurricane Lover

Author: Joni Rodgers

Published: December 10, 2013 Stella Link Books

Status: Read June 2019 courtesy Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

I was intrigued by the premise of The Hurricane Lover by Joni Rodgers, billed as a romantic thriller.

“During the record-smashing hurricane season of 2005, a deadly game of cat and mouse unfolds and a stormy love affair is complicated by polarized politics, high-strung Southern families, a full-on media circus and the worst disaster management goat screw in US history. As Hurricane Katrina howls toward the ill-prepared city of New Orleans, Dr. Corbin Thibodeaux, a Gulf Coast climatologist and storm risk specialist, preaches the gospel of evacuation, weighed down by the fresh public memory of a spectacularly false alarm a year earlier. Meanwhile, Shay Hoovestahl, a puff piece reporter for the local news, stumbles on the story of a con artist who uses storm-related chaos as cover for identity theft and murder. Laying a trap to expose the killer, Shay discovers that Corbin, her former lover, is unwittingly involved, and her plan goes horribly awry as the city’s infrastructure crumbles.”

The strength of The Hurricane Lover lies in the setting. Rodgers descriptions of the onset, duration, and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina are raw and affecting, particularly as Shay is caught in the flooding. Events are easily visualised given familiarity with the media coverage of the time. Chapters are headed by snippets from weather forecasts and warnings, press releases and emails from Michael Brown, who was the undersecretary of Emergency Preparedness and Response at the time, adding to the sense of realism as the story unfolds.

Unfortunately I felt the main characters were the weakest element of the story. Neither were particularly likeable, and I thought they were strangely one dimensional. Dr. Corbin Thibodeaux, paleoclimatologist and weather risk expert, is a roguish, though needfully intelligent, drunk, and Shay Hoovestahl, a morning show reporter comes, across as spoilt and selfish. Their relationship is messy and dysfunctional, and there was very little in the way of romance through the story, though plenty of lust.

The plot regarding the serial killer, who uses a website devoted to Hurricane tracking as a cover to lure, murder and rob victims, was unique and interesting. However it was slow to start, and overall I was expecting it to have a more central role in the story.

I did enjoy the Hurricane Lover, it just didn’t quite live up to its potential as either a romance or a thriller.

++++++

Available from Amazon or Kobo in your country

Review: Big Sky {Jackson Brodie #5} by Kate Atkinson

 

Title: Big Sky {Jackson Brodie #5}

Author: Kate Atkinson

Published: June 18th 2019, Doubleday

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Penguin AU

++++++

My Thoughts:

Big Sky is Kate Atkinson’s fifth book featuring ex soldier, ex policeman, turned private investigator, Jackson Brodie, and though it follows Case Studies, One Good Turn, When Will There Be Good News?, and Started Early, Took My Dog, Big Sky can be read as a stand-alone.

Having temporarily relocated to a seaside village in Yorkshire to spend time with his teenage son, Brodie’s current investigations, involving background checks, employment theft, cheating spouses and missing pets, don’t pose much of a challenge. When he is hired by a trophy wife who believes she is being followed, he expects the answer will be simple, but instead Brodie stumbles into a tangled web of exploitation, greed, and death.

Big Sky unfolds through multiple perspectives. The cast is large, though I wouldn’t say unwieldy, but it does take a surprising amount of time before the connections between the characters become apparent. Persevere, it’s well worth the reward.

Brodie’s role through most of the actual mystery is surprisingly low key, though he inadvertently becomes enmeshed on several fronts – through a missing teenager, his client – Crystal Holroyd, a suicidal Vincent Ives, an occasional employer, Stephen Mellors, and an old friend, DC Reggie Chase.

“Finding Jackson Brodie at the heart of this melee seemed par for the course somehow. He was a friend to anarchy.”

The ‘melee’, which takes time to coalesce, refers to a human trafficking and sex slavery ring that has been operating with impunity for decades and such a ‘business’ necessarily involves other crimes, notably money laundering, drugs, and violence. Atkinson skilfully weaves the threads together that unravel not only the cabal, but also a historic case involving a pedophile ring.

I admire Atkinson’s style of writing which is so well grounded and flows with such ease. I enjoyed the dry, sardonic humour (particularly those witty inner thoughts shared in parentheses) which contributes to the humanity that Atkinson infuses in her characters thoughts and behaviour.

A smart, entertaining, and absorbing novel, Big Sky is a terrific read, sure to satisfy fans who have been waiting eight years for this latest instalment, and hook new readers.

++++++

Available from Penguin AU

or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository 

Also by Kate Atkinson reviewed on Book’d Out

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

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