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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-

~Jayne

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

24 Comments

  1. Moth
    Jul 12, 2011 @ 17:18:24

    This book really intrigues me but I’ve found myself turned off by other inspie books I’ve read in the past. Even if the religious element isn’t huge. Just not something I want in my pleasure reading, I guess. I wish publishers were putting out more traditional (ie, non-inspy) historical romances set during this time period. :(

    Just a side note but the inspy historicals seem to be getting all the really beautiful, atmospheric covers lately. I love this one.

    I guess because the inspy heroes and heroines get to keep their clothes on for their covers the art department finds other ways to make them pretty and eye-catching without the backless dresses and man-titty?

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  2. Jayne
    Jul 12, 2011 @ 17:48:24

    @Moth: Yes, I love a lot of the inspie coviers. I just wish more of the books worked for me to go along with those lovely covers.

    A recent comment here about the Harlequin Historicals being heavy on Regency era books got me to thinking that it’s this inspie line which has the most diversity. But I have thought of one title you might check into: “The Widowed Bride” by Elizabeth Lane. I did a review here a few months ago. It has a 1920s western prohibition plot.

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  3. John
    Jul 12, 2011 @ 18:22:54

    I need to pick up an inspy historical or two. I have the free download as well as one or two I picked up from the free Kindle deals. I just get wary because I’m not religious. I can deal with little mentions of prayer, but it’s when the characters act like super religiousosity is right for everyone that I have troubles.

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  4. sarah mayberry
    Jul 12, 2011 @ 18:27:55

    I’m curious to know where Maggie was flying and in what capacity. My understanding is that US women pilots were used to tow “dummy” gliders for the ground crews to practice firing at, as well as ferrying planes around in the US. They faced very real resentment and anger from the men – to the point where there was more than one instance of a plane being actively sabotaged by the ground crew, nearly leading to fatalities. This on American soil! 25 of them went to the UK to join the Air Transport Auxiliary, under the leadership of Jackie Cochrane, which put them very directly in the line of fire. The ATA had 126 women pilots, and the war was a very exciting time for them. When you consider that flying had only been accessible to the general public (ie men) for a few years at this point, for a woman to even have a pilot’s license was to have swum against the tide in a big way. There’s a terrific book on the Brit experience called Spitfire Girls, which details the experiences of the women in the ATA over in the UK. (I did some research on this subject for a film company a few years ago and it’s a subject very close to my heart, in case you couldn’t tell!) There are some amazing stories, including a female pilot who escaped from Nazi occupied Poland by stealing a plane at night and flying off, and another of a Scottish woman who was so desperate to fly that she stowed way in the nose cone of a bomber plane headed from the UK to Canada because she believed she had a better chance of flying to help the war effort in the US. She only survived because it was a foggy night and the pilot didn’t reach the altitudes he would normally.

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  5. Jayne
    Jul 12, 2011 @ 18:30:02

    @John: No, no super religiousity here. Both Wesley and Maggie hope to find someone who shares her/his faith in God but most of the inspie parts of the book are about their internal religiousity rather than trying to save anyone else.

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  6. sarah mayberry
    Jul 12, 2011 @ 18:30:34

    Sorry, the ATA has 223 women pilots, as well as a bunch of men who were considered unfit for war combat – men with one eye, one arm, too old, too unfit etc. They were a ragtag bunch, but they did an amazing job and many of them died serving England in her time of need.

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  7. LG
    Jul 12, 2011 @ 18:34:38

    @John: I have read a grand total of two, all by the same author, Deeanne Gist. I loved Maid to Match and wish I could find something like it (with as gorgeous a cover) in secular romance.

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  8. Jayne
    Jul 12, 2011 @ 18:39:29

    @sarah mayberry: Maggie was trained for air transport of planes and also to help test the B-29 – if a “woman!” could fly it, then it must be safe for the men.

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  9. sarah mayberry
    Jul 12, 2011 @ 18:45:43

    @Jayne. This is based on a real story – there were apparently rumours in the ranks that the B29 was unsafe, so they recruited two women pilots and had them fly base to base in it as a sort of promo thing to prove to the men that it was safe enough for women to fly. Ah, those were the days! There were lots of restrictions on what women were “supposed” to be able to fly in the ATA – some planes being designated “men only” – but by the time the war was over some women pilots and flown every type of plane except for the very, very heavy bombers. Sorry, need to stop rabbiting on, but I find this subject absolutely compelling!

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  10. Jayne
    Jul 12, 2011 @ 18:46:35

    @sarah mayberry: Sorry – forgot to add that she was flying in the US – specifically in Georgia though mention is made about flights to Florida and South Carolina.

    from Wikipedia:
    “The main productive activity that Bell Aircraft had during WW II was as a second or third producer of heavy bombers that had been designed and built by other aircraft companies. This happened at a government-built airplane factory that was constructed near Marietta, Georgia, just northwest of Atlanta. This factory was completed in mid-1943, and Bell Aircraft won contracts to build hundreds of Consolidated B-24 Liberators and Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers at this factory. Then, in mid-1944, the production of the B-24 was consolidated from several different companies (including some in Texas, also) to two large factories: the Consolidated Aircraft Company in San Diego and the Ford Motor Company’s huge factory in Willow Run, next to Detroit, Michigan, which had been specially designed for producing B-24s. Hence, for the rest of WW II, Bell Aircraft concentrated on producing B-29s in Marietta, Ga. The production of the B-29 ended in the fall of 1945.”

    In the book, damaged planes were brought to the factory for repairs then flown back to bases.

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  11. Jayne
    Jul 12, 2011 @ 18:58:25

    @sarah mayberry: Janine has done a review of “Flygirls” by Sherri L Smith while I’ve done “On the Wings of the Morning” by Marie Bostwick – both feature WASP characters.

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  12. Jayne
    Jul 12, 2011 @ 19:07:00

    @LG: I seem to recall that Wendy Superlibrarian has reviewed some Gist titles. I also recall seeing them in my local Waldenbooks before that store closed and agree with you about the Bethany House covers. Her blog says she writes “edgy inspirational fiction.”

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  13. sarah mayberry
    Jul 12, 2011 @ 19:07:22

    @Jayne. Oooh! Thanks. Will go look them up now.

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  14. elaine mueller
    Jul 12, 2011 @ 20:30:10

    i know this may seem really nitpicky, but the correct title for the women pilots was Women Airforce Service Pilots. http://waspmuseum.org/

    is there a reason it was changed for this book? we get enough longer-ago history messed up in the name of “romance,” but I can’t think of any reason why this much more recent history wouldn’t be correct.

    elaine

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  15. John
    Jul 12, 2011 @ 21:06:02

    @LG: I may need to pick that up. My local bargain outlet has a lot of Bethany House titles. I should read some of the historical ones. One of the ones on my desktop Kindle is Tailor-Made Bride, which I’ve heard good things about! My grandmother is a lover of inspy books and has segued into some regular romance (mostly Nora Roberts), and she seems to love Karen Kingsbury, who I think is more traditional. I think it’s a category with a lot of potential in historical romance (I don’t know if I could handle it in contemporary fiction), but it’s hard to find good direction for it.

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  16. Jayne
    Jul 13, 2011 @ 06:23:04

    @elaine mueller: I checked the book and in the text Maggie is described as being in the Women Airforce Service Pilots. I would guess this is just a blurb mistake but thanks for pointing it out.

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  17. elaine mueller
    Jul 13, 2011 @ 08:38:17

    @Jayne:

    thanks for checking. it’s a small thing to most but to some who have a connection to the history, it’s a big thing. these women and their contributions and sacrifices went unrecognized for a very long time; it’s nice to see that they aren’t totally forgotten. ;-)

    elaine

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  18. LizJ
    Jul 13, 2011 @ 12:55:50

    I don’t read a lot of inspy authors (most of the self-proclaimed Christian authors that I read are not romance) but Deeanne Gist is close to being an auto-buy for me. This book sounds interesting as well.

    I like an occasional inspy, I got turned off on them several years ago at the beginning of the Amish craze. It does seem like the inspy market is more open to different settings and time periods than the general romance market.

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  19. Emily
    Jul 13, 2011 @ 14:55:13

    I so want to read this book. It sounds awesome to me! I have really been liking Inspirationals by Deeanne Gist and Julie Klassen, both of whom I recommend.
    I don’t have extensive knowledge of WWII, but my grandma told me a few things which might help with the historical issues.
    Sugar was rationed but “canning” the process of preserving fruits and vegetables was incouraged pressumbly to best utilize food as resource and maybe even so that fruits and vegetables could be sent overseas. My great-grandmother canned lots of her garden and never had trouble getting enough sugar, according to grandma, who was old enough to remember.
    The same thing might apply to the gasoline for the plane. As an enlisted pilot, any use of flying skills might be seen as practicing their skills and contributing to the war effort. They might have no trouble getting gas.
    You are right that women were an interacle part of the allied forces in WWII. They did all kinds of work including work in factories, communication, and nursing.
    On the other hand, bootleg liquor prohibition was ended before WWII. Huh?
    That being said I wish you had left your political views out of it.
    “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….”
    This is a generation that lived to see social security, medicare and medicaid put into place, while some of them didn’t like those programs; probably some of them supported them.
    Like now this era followed the great depression where like now many people were out of work but not out of choice.During the Depression many people looked to the government to stimulate the economy, and were often forced to take out hands if that was what it took. During WWII the government provided jobs for those previously out of work. The government also asked a lot of people. Not everyone loved making those sacrifices and more probably had to live with the consequences. The government didn’t allow much choice in the matter; they issued a draft, rationing and propaganda. They also made of lots of requests for scrap metal, homemade socks, etc. We have not been forced and on the homefront even asked to make such sacrifices.

    If you like WWII historical fiction I recommend the Miss Winter series by Kathryn Miller Haines Starting with The War Against Miss Winter. Its a mystery and a lot of fun and there is a romantic element which runs through the four books.

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  20. Jennifer Estep
    Jul 13, 2011 @ 16:37:33

    This one sounds really interesting. I think it’s nice to see a historical in a different setting/time period, especially with what sounds like a really strong heroine.

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  21. Jayne
    Jul 13, 2011 @ 18:47:02

    @LizJ: Most of the inspies I read are from the Harlequin Love Inspired lines. I have read two Bethany House books and one Barbour House book with mixed results. Amish books don’t interest me as well as the newest craze of historical polygamy books.

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  22. Jayne
    Jul 13, 2011 @ 18:52:01

    @Emily: Your reasoning about the sugar and gasoline make sense. Since the book is set in the 1940s, obviously Prohibition had ended by this time and liquor could be bought legally but bootleg (illegal) production and sales were still against the law.

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  23. Patty Smith Hall
    Jul 15, 2011 @ 21:58:50

    Dear Jayne,
    I would like to thank you for your wonderful review of Heart in Flight, my debut novel with Love Inspired Historical. I know the time it takes to read and write each review, and certainly appreciate it.

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  24. Jayne
    Jul 16, 2011 @ 04:16:02

    @Patty Smith Hall: You’re welcome. I look forward to your future books.

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