The Flight Girls, by Noelle Salazar (Review)


The Flight Girls
by Noelle Salazar

Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII)

Length: 384 Pages

Release date: July 2, 2019

Publisher: MIRA

Synopsis: 

A stunning story about the Women Airforce Service Pilots whose courage during World War II turned ordinary women into extraordinary heroes

1941. Audrey Coltrane has always wanted to fly. It’s why she implored her father to teach her at the little airfield back home in Texas. It’s why she signed up to train military pilots in Hawaii when the war in Europe began. And it’s why she insists she is not interested in any dream-derailing romantic involvements, even with the disarming Lieutenant James Hart, who fast becomes a friend as treasured as the women she flies with. Then one fateful day, she gets caught in the air over Pearl Harbor just as the bombs begin to fall, and suddenly, nowhere feels safe.

To make everything she’s lost count for something, Audrey joins the Women Airforce Service Pilots program. The bonds she forms with her fellow pilots reignite a spark of hope in the face war, and—when James goes missing in action—give Audrey the strength to cross the front lines and fight not only for her country, but for the love she holds so dear.

Shining a light on a little-known piece of history, The Flight Girls is a sweeping portrayal of women’s fearlessness, love, and the power of friendship to make us soar.

ratingthree

My thanks to NetGalley and MIRA for sending me an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher. 

I’ll start this out by freely admitting that I seem to be in the minority opinion on this one. I read a lot of rave reviews and went in with super high hopes, ready for a WWII story with a lot of substance and a strong, interesting female protagonist. What I got felt more… fluffy romance set against a dark backdrop.

The book definitely plays lip service to the idea of a strong female lead, but it doesn’t really feel like it goes beyond that. Audrey is not like other girls because she likes to fly planes and doesn’t want to get married and have babies. The only reason she doesn’t want to get married and have babies, by the way, seems to be because it’d be nearly impossible to find a husband who would “allow” her to keep flying. I think this really gets at the heart of my issue with Audrey: that her love of flight really felt like her singular defining character trait. She never starting feeling like a person to me. I love that she had an unconventional passion for a woman of the time, but that’s not enough on its own to make her an interesting character.

Another reviewer on Goodreads also pointed out some anachronisms in the novel. This truly isn’t something that bothers me as a reader (barring something ridiculous like if Audrey were to suddenly pull out a flip phone) but for readers who are super into the accuracy of their history, it’s bound to ruffle some feathers.

The romance, while it took up a bigger part of the story than I would have liked, was fine. I liked that Audrey found someone who shared her passion and there seemed to be a huge amount of respect between the two of them, especially considering the normal power dynamics of a relationship in the time period. This felt healthy and sweet, if a bit predictable (although what romance isn’t?) My only real qualm with the romance aspect of the book was that I’m not a huge fan of the basic concept of the story, which was: “girl who adamantly never wants to get married discovers she just hasn’t met the right man yet!” I think The Flight Girls will appeal to romance fans far more than historical fiction fans, which seems odd given the premise and marketing of the book.

The Flight Girls is a story with a lot of potential that, while it missed the mark for me personally, seems to be a huge hit with a lot of readers. Pick this up if you’re in the mood a light read, but don’t expect hard-hitting historical fiction that makes you think. This is Noelle Salazar’s debut novel, and I do think she has tons of potential. I’m excited to see what she writes next!

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Recursion, by Blake Crouch (Review)

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Recursion
by Blake Crouch

Genre: Science Fiction

Length: 336 Pages

Release date: June 11, 2019

Publisher: Crown Publishing Group

Synopsis: 

Memory makes reality. That’s what New York City cop Barry Sutton is learning as he investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.

Neuroscientist Helena Smith already understands the power of memory. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious moments of our pasts. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent.

As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face-to-face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it.

But how can they make a stand when reality itself is shifting and crumbling all around them?

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My thanks to NetGalley and Crown Publishing Group for sending me an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher. 

Crouch’s last novel, Dark Matter, is very preoccupied with the road not taken. Recursion, despite all of its differences, continues in the same vein in that regard. What starts as an attempt to map and artificially store memories so that they may be experienced again turns into something quite different, with far-reaching consequences.

This is a difficult novel to review. I will keep this brief, because I think readers should ideally know very little about the story going into it. It’s a story best discovered organically, watching the plot unfold as the author intended. I will say that the story is very fast-paced, twisty, and intricate. You will want to pay close attention as the timeline jumps around.

Despite all of the action and food for thought, at the heart of this book is really a love story, which was very unexpected. This part of the book is thoroughly intertwined with the science fiction aspects of the book, making for a really interesting dynamic between the two characters at times.

“False Memory Syndrome” brings up lot of interesting question for the reader; what are we without our memories? If we cannot trust our own minds, how do we go on? The answer for many people in Crouch’s book seems to be simply “we don’t.” Part of the urgency surrounding FMS is that it brings with it a rash of suicides, as people wake up one day and suddenly remember a life lived with a spouse they’ve never met, raising children who don’t exist. The existential horror and loneliness are too much.

I enjoyed Dark Matter, and I think Recursion has proven to be somewhat of a step up. The science fiction aspect is a bit mind-bending, but not difficult to follow. The pacing is spot-on. The love story kept me emotionally invested in the outcome, perhaps more than the fate of the world at large did. While we never really get as much in-depth exploration of the mechanics of the sci-fi aspect as we do in Dark Matter, it’s hard to mind very much; the book is just so much fun.

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Thank you for reading! If you could store one memory so that you could experience it all over again, what would you choose?

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How We Disappeared, by Jing-Jing Lee (Review)

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How We Disappeared
by Jing-Jing Lee

Genre: Historical Fiction

Length: 352 Pages

Release date: May 7, 2019

Publisher: Hanover Square Press

Synopsis: 

Singapore, 1942. As Japanese troops sweep down Malaysia and into Singapore, a village is ransacked, leaving only two survivors and one tiny child.

In a neighboring village, seventeen-year-old Wang Di is strapped into the back of a troop carrier and shipped off to a Japanese military brothel where she is forced into sexual slavery as a “comfort woman.” After sixty years of silence, what she saw and experienced still haunts her.

In the year 2000, twelve-year-old Kevin is sitting beside his ailing grandmother when he overhears a mumbled confession. He sets out to discover the truth, wherever it might lead, setting in motion a chain of events he never could have foreseen.

Weaving together two time lines and two very big secrets, this stunning debut opens a window on a little-known period of history, revealing the strength and bravery shown by numerous women in the face of terrible cruelty. Drawing in part on her family’s experiences, Jing-Jing Lee has crafted a profoundly moving, unforgettable novel about human resilience, the bonds of family and the courage it takes to confront the past.

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My thanks to Hanover Square Press and NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher. 

How We Disappeared is a beautiful, heartbreaking historical fiction novel with an element of mystery. There are several different story lines woven together with different point-of-view characters, but the strongest part of the novel while, also perhaps being the most difficult to read, was Wang Di’s experience. Wang Di is taken from her family during WWII and forced into sexual slavery as an innocuously named “comfort woman.”

Jing-Jing Lee’s writing is beautiful and the character of Wang Di brings a personality to a very real tragedy that could otherwise feel quite distant and abstract in today’s day and age. Despite the plethora of WWII historical fiction, there seem to be comparatively few novels which acknowledge the horrific abuse which “comfort women” suffered, much less the lack of understanding these women would have received from their fellow countrymen after the war. Despite the reality that this was a situation of sexual slavery, Wang Di knows that she cannot expect sympathy, and people will treat her as if she consented and, in doing so, betrayed her country to the Japanese invaders. Lee has portrayed that heartbreak and internalization of shame flawlessly.

While Wang Di’s story was much more dramatic, 12-year-old Kevin definitely won me over as well. His grandmother’s deathbed confession turns his understanding of his family upside-down, and he is determined to solve the mystery without the aid of his father. While his story isn’t exactly lighthearted, it definitely provides a counter balance to Wang Di’s much darker storyline and feels like an adventure.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed How We Disappeared, and definitely recommend it to fans of historical fiction. I’ve seen it recommended to fans of Pachinko several times, and while I understand the comparison, I do think How We Disappeared has much better pacing (and it’s also about 150 pages shorter.) Jing-Jing Lee has brought an under-represented bit of history to life in this novel.

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Thank you for reading! Have you read How We Disappeared? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

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Review – The Psychology of Time Travel, by Kate Mascarenhas

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The Psychology of Time Travel
by Kate Mascarenhas

Genre: Science Fiction, Mystery

Length: 336 Pages

Release date: February 12, 2019

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Synopsis:

1967: Four young female scientists invent a time travel machine in their remote lab in Cumbria. They become known as the pioneers: the women who led the world to a future where no knowledge is unattainable.

2016: Ruby Rebello knows that her beloved grandmother was one of the pioneers, but she refuses to talk about her past. Ruby’s curiosity soon turns to fear however, when a newspaper clipping from four months in the future arrives in the post. The clipping reports the brutal murder of an unnamed elderly lady.

Could the woman be her Granny Bee?

rating

five

I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books for the review copy. All opinions are my own and not influenced by the publisher.

Mascarenhas’ debut novel is so delightfully fun! Reading the blurb, you’d expect the mystery to be the main thrust of this novel, and while it is certainly a major focal point, there’s so much else going on that the mystery ends up feeling like a bonus. The novel has several POV characters in several different timelines, but Mascarenhas has made it fairly easy for the reader to keep the various characters straight.

The story begins with Ruby’s “Granny Bee,” or Barbara, in the 1960’s as she and her colleagues are putting the finishing touches on their newly developed time travel technology. Barbara suffers a mental health crisis which seemed to have been triggered by time travel, and she is ousted from the group to prevent bad PR. If the public at large gets wind of a link between mental illness and time travel this early in the game, their careers will be over before they’ve truly begun. Barbara’s contributions are swept under the rug and her colleagues rush onward to fame and fortune without her.

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Fast forward to modern day, and the Conclave founded by Granny Bee’s former friends now operates on its own terms, outside the laws of the land. The logic for this is that laws change over the years and that a time travel organization necessarily needs a constant set of a rules. Sound logic, perhaps, but an organization policing itself is dicey at best. The Psychology of Time Travel is as much about the corrupt politics of the Conclave and the twisted mindsets of long-term time travelers as it is about the mystery.

Mascarenhas asks what death would mean to a seasoned time traveler and explores that in this novel. If your father dies, but you can hop into a time machine and go on visiting him anyway, does he seem dead to you? Why should he seem any more or less alive than any other person if you can travel hundreds of years into the future and then pop back to 1973 later on that day? What happens to you when the only death that truly feels final is your own? And what happens if you already know the date and circumstances of that death?

The Psychology of Time Travel is a science fiction story wrapped in a thought experiment and tied together with a murder mystery. It features multiple female scientists as prominent characters and gives great attention to diversity. The world building is phenomenal and the story is infinitely engaging. I look forward to seeing what Mascarenhas writes next!

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About the Author

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Kate Mascarenhas is a writer.

Born in 1980, she is of mixed heritage (white Irish father, brown British mother) and has family in Ireland and the Republic of Seychelles.

She studied English at Oxford and Applied Psychology at Derby. Her PhD, in literary studies and psychology, was completed at Worcester.

Since 2017 Kate has been a chartered psychologist. Previously she has been an advertising copywriter, bookbinder, and doll’s house maker. She lives in the English midlands with her partner.

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Review – How to Fracture a Fairy Tale, by Jane Yolen

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How to Fracture a Fairy Tale
by Jane Yolen

Genre: Short Stories, Retellings

Length: 240 Pages

Release date: November 5, 2018

Publisher: Tachyon Publications

Synopsis:

Fantasy legend Jane Yolen (The Emerald Circus, The Devil’s Arithmetic) delights with this effortlessly wide-ranging offering of fractured fairy tales. Yolen fractures the classics to reveal their crystalline secrets, holding them to the light and presenting them entirely transformed; where a spinner of straw into gold becomes a money-changer and the big bad wolf retires to a nursing home. Rediscover the fables you once knew, rewritten and refined for the world we now live in―or a much better version of it.

rating

three

My thanks to NetGalley and Tachyon Publications for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher.

I have mixed feelings about this anthology, making it difficult to give it an overall rating that feels accurate. There were a few stories that I really enjoyed, but a few too many that never sufficiently grabbed my interest. I love fractured fairy tales, and think I was looking for more drastic changes from the original source material in some cases. What’s the point of writing a retelling without turning the whole story upside-down and making us think about it in a totally new light?

One thing that I loved about this collection was the sheer variety of stories and cultures represented. This anthology includes dragons, princesses, a vampire, and even time travel; you will find stories that feel like they could have been plucked out of a Brothers Grimm book as well as much more modern tales. The Jewish themes seemed to be the most prominent throughout the anthology, but Yolen has reworked tales from Europe, Asia, and more.

Here is a small sampling of the sources of inspiration for some of Yolen’s stories:

  • The Bridge’s Complaint – Billy Goats Gruff, Norwegian
  • One Ox, Two Ox, Three Ox, and the Dragon King – Chinese dragon stories
  • Brother Hart – Brothers Grimm story (Little Brother Little Sister)
  • Sun/Flight – Icarus, Greek Mythology
  • The Foxwife – figure from Japanese folklore
  • The Faery Flag – Scottish folklore
  • One Old Man, With Seals – Greek mythology
  • The Undine – inspired by Little Mermaid and various French stories
  • Sister Death – Jewish myth
  • The Woman Who Loved a Bear – Native American myth

The stories vary quite a bit in tone; many of them use somewhat antiquated language, while the occasional tale reads like something a friend is telling you over coffee. These differences helped to break up the anthology and keep it from feeling overly uniform or repetitive. The variety assures that there will be something in this collection for just about everyone. Whether you’re looking for something totally re-imagined, something with a classical feel, something whimsical, or something dark, you’ll find it somewhere in these pages.

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Thank you for reading! What is your favorite retelling of a classic fairy tale? Discuss in the comments!

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Review – On Burning Mirrors, by Jamie Klinger-Krebs

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On Burning Mirrors 
by Jamie Klinger-Krebs

Genre: LGBTQ, Contemporary Fiction

Length: 450 Pages

Released: April 20, 2018

Blurb via GoodReads: 

Jules Kanter is a wife, a mother and a successful journalist; but she’s completely fallen for the subject of her latest story—a talented musician/bartender named Erin. While plagued with guilt over an affair that causes her to question her sexuality, coupled with the fear of hurting everyone she loves, Jules pours her emotions into her writing. But, she never imagined her words would be discovered when she wasn’t there to explain them.

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I want to preface this review by saying that I seem to be in a minority opinion when it comes to this book; it currently has a very respectable 4.26 average on GoodReads, but I’d personally place it in the 2.5-3 range. So, if the premise sounds interesting to you, take my somewhat critical review with a grain of salt. This may also have to be a bit vague, as some of the issues that took away from my enjoyment of the book had to do with plot points rather than writing style. I will aim for only being specific in terms of plot when it comes to things that happen very early in the narrative; you won’t be reading any plot twists here.

I was cautiously optimistic going into this book. Representation was cause for optimism, but one half of the lesbian couple being dead from the word “go” tempered my excitement a bit. (Bury Your Gays, anyone?) Jules dies in a car accident on the way home from visiting her lover, Erin. The manner of her death may seem incidental, but to anyone familiar with the BYG trope, it may have thrown up some red flags. While it was a matter of a chance accident, the timing of the accident means that Jules’ death was an indirect result of falling in love with Erin. Gay characters often die in fiction as a direct or indirect result of their relationships; it’s depressing at worst, and simply overdone at best.

Jules’ death turns Erin’s and Will’s worlds upside-down. In order to better understand the woman they’ve both loved and lost, they attempt to work past their differences and begin to form a hesitant bond. It was interesting to watch this play out, particularly in terms of how Will’s character evolved from (in my opinion) a rather intensely unlikable person to someone who was trying to practice empathy despite his own heartache.

Erin evolved throughout the story as well, and easily becomes the best developed character of the novel, with a detailed background and significant growth. There was one major narrative blip when it come to Erin towards the end of the novel, which I won’t spoil here, but I will say that it felt jarring and unnatural and didn’t add anything of value to the story.

On Burning Mirrors is a story of secrets, grief, and healing. Erin and Will both struggle to find a way to move past the loss of a woman that neither of them feels like they ever truly had to begin with. It is a story of finding closure in the face of unexpected loss.

I received a free review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and not influenced by the publisher. 

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