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

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: 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: 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

Review: Hunting Evil {Robert Hunter #10} by Chris Carter

 

Title: Hunting Evil {Robert Hunter #10}

Author: Chris Carter

Published: June 2nd 2019, Simon & Schuster UK

Status: Read May 2019 courtesy Simon & Schuster AU

++++++

My Thoughts:

In Chris Carter’s tenth instalment of his series featuring Robert Hunter, the head of LAPD’s Ultra Violent Crimes Unit, is once again pitted against his psychopathic nemesis, Lucien Folter. In An Evil Mind (Robert Hunter #6) Robert Hunter found himself in a battle of wits with his former college roommate, and the nation’s most prolific serial killer. Now, in Hunting Evil, after having spent three and a half years locked in solitary confinement, Lucien has escaped, and the only thing on his mind is vengeance.

Hunting Evil is action packed as Lucien initiates the most sadistic of games with Hunter in a bid to destroy him. With an intelligence that rivals Hunters’s, an ability to disguise every facet of himself, and having had years to plan, Lucien seemingly has the upper hand.

Sharp short chapters contribute to the quick pacing as Carter switches between the perspectives of Robert and Lucien. Hunter is struggling with this cat and mouse game, and Carter shows his increasing feelings of frustration and guilt. Lucien’s mind is an uncomfortable place to be in, a psychopath whose goal is to commit and document every variation of murder his inhumanity is chillingly portrayed by Carter.

Hunting Evil is a gripping psychological thriller, and though I thought there were some small flaws in the story, (for example, Hunter failing to provide protection to his love interest despite her obviously being at risk), I enjoyed it, much as I have others in the Robert Hunter series.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster AU I Simon & Schuster UK

Or purchase from your preferred retailer via Booko

 

Review: Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

 

Title: Ask Again, Yes

Author: Mary Beth Keane

Published: May 28th 2019, Scribner

Status: Read May – courtesy Scribner/Edelweiss

++++++

My Thoughts:

For a brief period during the summer of 1973, Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope were rookie partners on the force, several years later they are neighbours in the suburbs, married and raising young children. While the adults, Frankie and Lena, Brian and Anne, are never more than acquaintances, and barely that, their youngest children, Peter and Kate are the best of friends, until tragedy tears them apart.

Despite the enforced separation, Peter and Kate eventually find their way back to one another, determined to build a future together. Yet no one truly escapes their past.

Ask Again, Yes is a thoughtful and powerful exploration of family, marriage and relationships. A story of mental illness, addiction, loyalty, dysfunction, redemption and hope, told with nuance and realism. Keane examines the consequences of inaction, action and reaction, of decisions small and large, and the way in which they reverberate into the future.

The characters are complex and dynamic. The Stanhope’s grappling with dysfunction, matters of conscience, and regrets, the Gleeson’s with loss, forgiveness and acceptance. Peter, abandoned and aimless, and Kate never quite feeling whole, until they are reunited, both of them certain that together they have the strength to overcome all obstacles. A resolve that is tested as the past exerts it’s influence on the present.

A sensitive, poignant, and pensive novel, Ask Again, Yes inspires introspection, compassion and hope.

Read an Excerpt

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster US

Purchase from your preferred retailer via Indiebound or Booko

Also by May Beth Keane reviewed at Book’d Out

Review: The Policewomen’s Bureau by Edward Conlon

 

Title: The Policewomen’s Bureau

Author: Edward Conlon

Published: March 28th 2019, Arcade

Status: Read May 2019 courtesy Skyhorse Publishing/Netgalley

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

In his Author’s Note, Edward Conlon explains that The Policewomen’s Bureau is a lightly fictionalised account of the life of Marie Cirile-Spagnuolo, who began her career with the NYPD in 1957. A former officer himself, Conlon was fascinated by Marie’s experience as a married Italian woman in a male-dominated, predominantly Irish police department, and worked with her on this novel before her death in 2011.

Asked what is true, Conlon answers “Most of it, and the worst of it.”

In The Policewomen’s Bureau, Marie Carrara is a new recruit in the 44th Precinct. It’s 1957, and the majority of the NYPD believe the force is no place for a woman. Most serving female officers are tasked with matron duty, used to guard female prisoners, console victims, search dead female bodies, and, more often than not, fetch and carry for their male colleagues, never leaving the precinct. But there are a handful of women who are reluctantly called upon to assist in cases that require a woman’s touch. These women are under the command of Inspector Melchionne of the Policewomen’s Bureau, and Marie is excited to join them after six months on the job.

Despite her startling naivety, not unexpected for a young Catholic woman in the 1950’s, Marie quickly finds she enjoys, and has a talent for, the undercover work she is tasked with. I enjoyed Conlon’s descriptions of her activities which are interesting, and often amusing. Her first case requires her to apply for a job with a man who is sexually assaulting many of the young female applicants. While she is successful, it takes a few hits with her blackjack to cool his ardour, and while waiting for patrol officers to arrive she decides to tidy up, throwing out a canister of ‘spoiled’ sugar (which is later found to be cocaine), and incinerating a stack of dirty pictures.

I was disappointed to learn in an author interview that the only purely fictional part of Conlon’s novel is Marie’s later work with the detective squads. I don’t begrudge Conlon taking fictional licence, and these sections were well written and entertaining, however I can’t help but feel as if it somewhat negates the real Marie’s accomplishments as a pioneering policewoman.

Conlon also weaves the professional and personal together in The Policewomen’s Bureau to illustrate a woman who is intelligent, brave, and resourceful, yet still a product of her time and background.

In 1957, Marie is also one of four daughters of Italian Catholic parents, married unhappily to Sid, and mother of four year old Cindy. Sid, himself a police officer, is generally considered to be good looking and charming, but he is also emotionally and physically abusive, a serial cheater, and venal. It was many years before divorce would be an option for Marie, and while she slowly gained some measure of respect in her workplace, she never gained the respect of her husband.

The Policewomen’s Bureau is an interesting and engaging read, both as a work of fiction, and for the truth it shares about women’s early experiences as serving police officers in the NYPD.

++++++

Available to purchase from Arcade Publishing

or your preferred retailer via Indiebound or Booko

Review: When It All Went to Custard by Danielle Hawkins

 

Title: When It All Went to Custard

Author: Danielle Hawkins

Published: April 15th 2019, HarperCollins

Status: Read May 2019 courtesy HarperCollins AU

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

“…what’s yellow and very dangerous?….Shark-infested custard “

Having enjoyed Dinner at Roses and Chocolate Cake for Breakfast, I was delighted to have the opportunity to read Danielle Hawkins fourth novel, When It All Went to Custard.

Learning of her husband’s affair with their neighbours wife, Jenny Reynolds is surprised to realise that the end of her marriage will be a relief. In the wake of the separation her priorities are ensuring the happiness of her two young children, and figuring out how to keep the family farm she loves.

Between her ex-husband’s attempts at emotional blackmail, nonsensical knock knock jokes, a lazy farmhand, a lonely old man plying her with chokos, a demanding sister, a high-strung dog, her part time job as a building control officer, and an attractive, and now single, neighbour, Jenny tries to hold it all together and find her footing.

Hawkins has a talent for creating charming and relatable characters, her personal experience of the joys and hardships of farming provide authenticity to the setting, and her skill with genuine dialogue results in great pacing.

Laden with warmth, honesty and humour, When It All Went to Custard is an engaging contemporary story of family, farming and romance in rural New Zealand.

Read an Excerpt

++++++

Purchase from HarperCollins Australia or your preferred retailer via Booko

Also available via HarperCollins US

 

Also by Danielle Hawkins on Book’d Out 

 

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