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Patty Smith Hall

REVIEW:  Hearts Rekindled by Patty Smith Hall

REVIEW: Hearts Rekindled by Patty Smith Hall


“I’m Here to See My Daughter.”

She never thought she’d see John Davenport again. Merrilee Daniels Davenport’s former husband has returned to their small Georgia town after fighting in the Pacific. And now the soldier is bearing a letter from the little girl he didn’t know he had. Merrilee wishes that she and her daughter could lean on John’s able shoulders, but her new assignment as a homeland informant won’t allow it.

Twelve years have only made Merrilee more beautiful in John’s eyes. Back then, he was the proud fool who walked away. Now all he wants is to prove he can be the husband she deserves, and the daddy his daughter needs.

Dear Ms. Smith Hall,

I wanted to read this book for two reasons. One is that I’d read and enjoyed “Hearts in Flight,”the first book in the series about the female aviator. The other is more personal. Back in the height of the depression, I had a relative who was left with two children when her husband up and walked out on them. When I saw that this was the set up of this novel, I wanted to see how the story would play out.

Considering how much I usually dislike the trope, I was surprised to find myself reading along with what is basically one huge Big Mis. Merrilee loves John and he loves her but her daddy stands in the way. When daddy couldn’t get their youthful marriage annulled, he did all he could to grind sand in the Vaseline of their happy life. In the end he succeeded. What struck me as odd is that Merrilee and John took so long to figure out the final result of 2 + 2.

But, still I kept reading because it was nice to see two people at such odds who finally take the time to reason out what might have caused their marriage to end. There are sparks, there is still resentment there but instead of digging in deeper like a Georgia mule, instead the two listen and watch and begin to see that the other might have had reasons for the way things turned out. On their own – well, maybe with the tiniest of pushes from others – they see the good in and begin to forgive the other.

I did like the little touches which add to the feel and realism of the setting and era. Merrilee signals her truck turns not with a blinker but her arm out the window. The heat is not just mentioned but we see John mopping his forehead with a handkerchief even in the early morning. Miss Aurora’s house still has a hand water pump in the kitchen and is lit by lanterns. Black out curtains and making do are the order of the day. Shoe leather is worn out and one of Claire’s dresses is short due to her growth spurt with few options, due to wartime rationing, to replace it.

But I was puzzled about a few things such as …why is there no mention of President Roosevelt’s death, especially since they’re in Georgia and the book continues past when the war ends in Germany. Merrilee and John want to take Claire to Warm Springs so shouldn’t this event – which rocked the rest of the nation – have garnered a mention here? And so much attention was paid to mentioning ration books, short supplies, black marketeering that I wondered how did Marilee get her (second) wedding dress which has a long train? No mention made of how she got it or got fabric since rationing was still on or was it over so quickly after the war which had barely done in Japan by the time of the epilogue?

As well, the whole black marketeering angle of the book got lost and then swept aside with no resolution. Who was it? Or will that be resolved in another book? What about getting Claire the therapy her mother wants her to have? Or teaching her to swim to strengthen her leg muscles? Merrilee seems remarkably unconcerned about whether or not her home, on the verge of being foreclosed on by the bank, actually will be. Again, these things were mentioned and then left dangling in the end.

The book is saturated with references to the characters’ faith and how it sustains them, guides them and lifts them over troubles. I didn’t feel that I was being preached at but do feel that anyone who is not ready for a huge, heaping helping of Protestant religion should think twice before reading it.

One of the subplots is about John’s foster mother, Miss Aurora who has taken in unwanted children for years. Many of these children have what is now called Down’s Syndrome. Though John and Merrilee are both loving and accepting of the children and John actually had a brother with Down’s Syndrome, many in the town (all of whom are negatively portrayed) are not and some words they call the children and attitudes towards them might be triggers for readers.

So my feelings about the book are rather mixed. I enjoyed seeing two basically kind people find their way back to the person they never stopped loving. The period feel was fairly good with a few exceptions that left me with questions. However some plot threads seemed to dangle with no resolution. With all this to consider, I’ll have to give the book an overall C+


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REVIEW: Hearts in Flight by Patty Smith Hall

REVIEW: Hearts in Flight by Patty Smith Hall

“Serving her country as one of the Women Airforce Service Pilots is Maggie Daniels’s dearest wish. But there are obstacles to overcome above and beyond the enemies in the Pacific, including her overprotective family, skeptical fellow pilots—and handsome, distant squadron leader Wesley Hicks. Whatever it takes, Maggie will prove herself to Wesley, until she succeeds in winning his admiration…and love.

Wesley can see that Maggie’s a first-class pilot. She’s also too fearless by half. The war has cost Wesley so much already. Can he let go of his guilt for a chance at happiness—and can he learn to trust in God…and Maggie…enough to believe in love for a lifetime?”

Dear Ms. Smith Hall,

Hearts in Flight  by Patty Smith HallSince WWII is such a pivotal time in world and US history, I find myself drawn to books about it. Here’s real conflict any way it’s looked at and also such a dramatic change in the viewpoint of what women could and should do. True after the war was over, women did tend to get herded back towards more traditional roles but I can’t help but think that their roles which helped win the war, bore fruit a generation later.

Maggie is used to working and being around men. She’s run with her five male cousins for years and taken their guff and teasing so she doesn’t fall to pieces when she gets a threatening note. The disparagement of her uncle might hurt her feelings but she doesn’t let it interfere with what she sees as not only her war duty but also something she loves. As such, her decision to keep the threat to herself makes sense given her background. She also wants to fit in with the squadron and not get any special consideration or breaks. When the situation finally goes beyond just threats, she does own up to Wesley about them and is level headed enough to realize and admit that she made a mistake about it.

Wesley first takes up for Maggie to put her obnoxious Uncle James in his place but Maggie soon proves her skills and worth as a pilot. Wesley then has to grapple with his pledge to Merrilee to keep Maggie safe as well as his own past issues with his sister and her death. It takes him a while to deal with all this in addition to his growing fear for Maggie once he learns of the threats to her. At first, when seen from Maggie’s POV, he does seem patronizing but later he puts it differently, and in a way I could more easily accept were I Maggie, when he says that men are prone to want to protect women in general and the women that they care about in particular which is seconded by the Bell engineer who feels iffy about putting women in risk of danger even if it’s to win the war. But Wesley eventually steps past those instincts and admits that Maggie is a good pilot and her skills are needed to help win the war.

I like that both Maggie and her pilot friend Donna don’t give up their dreams to fly in order to get married. Both women find men who are totally behind the dreams of the women they love. Neither of the women are given ultimatums or guilt inducing “if you love me” tests. Realistic for both of them to find this? Maybe not but I enjoyed it anyway. The scene where Maggie tells off the obnoxious flyer at the USO club is fantastic. Wesley backs her up but she’s the one who puts the man in his place. This also shows how Wesley’s opinion of female pilots has slowly changed over the course of the book. It’s not a dramatic “forehead slapping” moment but an accumulation of seeing Maggie and Donna’s flying abilities and realizing that they have the right to decide whether or not to risk themselves doing what they love.

I enjoyed reading the details sprinkled through the book: women wore hats – with hat pins – and gloves every day, childbirth was still a danger to the mother, stockings had seams, and it hadn’t been that long since women had the right to vote. Yet some things seem strange such as how easily Merrilee gets ten pound bags of sugar and how often Maggie can take Wesley’s plane flying regardless of gasoline rationing.

There is a real sense of the patriotism of this era and a more innocent time when they believed the government propaganda and actually feared enemy agents infiltrating areas like the bomber factory. It’s also a totally different time when people were ashamed to take handouts – unlike now when people seem to think they’re owed. How things have changed….

The religious aspects of the story don’t take over the book. No one gets preached at or to. No one needs “saving.” Maggie and Wesley are religious people and God is part of their daily lives. They think about praying about situations that arise and for help with problems that perplex them. It might be more than some readers want in a book but it’s less intrusive to the narrative then other inspie books I’ve read.

There’s a lot going on in this book: Maggie’s desire to fly vs the men in her platoon, Maggie and Wesley’s growing feelings for each other, the war effort, Maggie’s Aunt Merrilee’s issues with the inheritance of the family homestead and how Uncle James wants to go to court to get it, the tent families and the bootleg liquor. Some of these get tied up in the end but I don’t understand the semi-resolution of the Aunt’s failed marriage and the issue of who owns the house. What was the point? Merrilee is still divorced and her husband is gone and that subplot would have arranged itself if just allowed to play out so…why bother? Also, what’s the deal with Edie the secretary? Her role in the book eventually dwindles to nothing.

I love reading about this time when women stepped out of housebound duties and contributed so much to the war effort. As Maggie’s father says, the war was changing people’s views of women having careers. Maggie doesn’t just work as a riveter, she risks her life doing what she loves to do – fly. And the risks weren’t just those that any pilot faced but included the women facing the enmity of the male pilots and being used as guinea pigs with the risky Super Fortress plane. It chaps my hide about how little recognition they got until recently. I might wish that the slightly unfinished feel of two subplots had been better fleshed out but I enjoyed reading you take on this era. B-


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