REVIEW: The Spitfire Girl by Fenella Miller
It’s 1939 and the threat of war hangs over the country…
Flying instructor Ellie Simpson has grown up a tomboy. She’s never had an interest in the latest fashions or finding a husband, her only passion is flying her beloved Tiger Moth. But when war is declared, she is no longer be able to do what she loves most – fly.
When Ellie is offered the opportunity to join the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, she jumps at the chance to help keep the brave boys in the RAF safe. But when tragedy strikes close to home, Ellie realises that this war could tear both the country she loves – and her heart – apart…
Dear Ms. Miller,
I wanted to read this novel because World War II era settings are now all the rage but I wanted something different from the standard Land Girl or factory worker heroine. The promise of a tomboy pilot who wasn’t looking for love or marriage sounded enticing. I’m glad I knew going in that this is the first book of a trilogy as this book definitely doesn’t stand alone. It has a somewhat tepid romance though it’s more historical fiction than anything else.
Ellie Simpson loves to fly and works hard at the nearby airfield which is on land leased to it by her wealthy, farmer father. The rumors of war drift through the country, despite Neville Chamberlain’s signed agreement with Hitler. The school which operates out of the aero club is packed and Ellie delights in training the pilots who might soon be flying for King and country.
On the same day, she meets two men: Flight Lieutenant Greg Dunlop (posh) and Jack Reynolds (definitely not posh). Greg is all cut glass tones while Ellie’s initial encounters with Jack are – not good. In fact, for the first three or four scenes with Jack, I wanted to slap him. True Ellie does go for the throat before understanding why Jack was flying as he was but honestly, he was a boorish twit. Luckily everyone shapes up fairly quickly and they begin to work things out.
Before she knows it, Ellie is now working for Jack due to complicated circumstances which only get worse when they realize exactly what Jack’s crooked uncle has been up to and learn the incendiary information he’s kept hidden. Life at home is having its rough patches too as Ellie’s upper-class mother, who married beneath her and has regretted it ever since, decides to leave. Frankly, the family heave a sigh of relief at this but it does cement Ellie’s decision not to be in any hurry to get married. When she eventually does, she hopes to avoid the class mismatch that bedeviled her parent’s marriage.
Greg has decided that Ellie is the woman for him and gently presses his suit after assuring himself that Jack is merely like a brother to Ellie. To say that initially Ellie is lukewarm about the idea is an understatement. British reserve is one thing but Ellie’s constant thoughts of maybe she was beginning to feel a slight something for the handsome pilot who has made his intentions clear didn’t exactly set the pages on fire. Greg has to do some fancy talking to get her to finally agree to become engaged to a “toffee-nosed toff” as Jack calls him.
The view of life in rural England in the summer of 1939 is certainly well done but things dragged a bit as the end of August approached. Then finally there was war. Only it was the phony war and beyond watching Ellie help muck the animals and work on the farm, not much really happens. There are a few scenes at RAF bases but more time gets spent watching Ellie track down Christmas presents. Yes, it’s heartwarming scenes of home but I was looking for more action.
When this does eventually arrive, I perked up. All too quickly, real danger enters the lives of these characters along with heartbreak. Well, it is during wartime. I do like the depiction of everyday life in Suffolk and especially appreciated that these scenes are told without the characters conveying any advanced knowledge of what was to come – no “later Ellie would realize …”. On the other hand, there was a bit of “as you know Bob” clunky exposition. I’ll repeat that the story just ends with several plot threads going and a few things which happened in this book wrapped up a bit too easily. Perhaps some things will be revisited in the next book. I plan to poke around in it but probably not rush it to the top of my reading list. C+