JOINT REVIEW: Free Fall by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner
Houston, Texas, 1965
When an accident rocks the American Space Department, threatening the race to the moon, the agency is determined to eliminate distractions, including those in the bedroom.
Astronaut Dean Garland, on track to become the first man to walk in space, is fine with putting a temporary hold on his love life. Except the directive comes too late to prevent the biggest distraction of all: Vivian Muller… Garland. But now that he’s married, Dean is determined to follow the rules until he makes history with his spacewalk.
Vivy never expected to find herself pregnant or in a shotgun marriage, much less a sexless one. While her new husband might pretend to be perfectly happy sleeping alone, Vivy’s never believed in pretending or holding back. She’s determined to make her husband fall for her, even if it means bending—or breaking—the rules.
Dean’s resolve to keep marriage and work separate hits another serious snag: the suit he’s supposed to wear in the killer vacuum of space isn’t reliable, and his new father-in-law manufactured it. As Dean unravels the technical problem and Vivy tries to win her husband’s love, their hearts and his life hang in the balance.
When Kaetrin said she wanted to review this book, I jumped at the chance to join her. I’ve read all the books and novellas in the “Fly Me to the Moon” series but Kaetrin is starting with this one. ~ Jayne ~
Jayne: I’ll be honest and admit that the blurb made me hesitant about this one – I mean the age difference (10 years), the pregnancy and shotgun wedding didn’t give me the happy feels even though I had caught a hint of resolution while reading last fall’s novella “A Midnight Feast.” Still the pregnancy was a bit more believable to me in 1965 since the pill wasn’t widely available yet. And yay that Dean did use a condom even if this turned out to be one of the 2% failure rate. Super yay that almost 20 year old Vivy isn’t a virgin, seems to be in charge of her sexuality and does fully realize what she’s getting into when she goes with Dean to his house.
Kaetrin: Yes, I loved how Vivy was sexually confident and went after what she wanted. The narrative didn’t shame her for enjoying sex, notwithstanding that the premise is a shotgun wedding.
If they were discovered, it would be mildly embarrassing for him but potentially disastrous for her. She’d already skirted propriety; this would shatter it like bone china against a tile floor.
But she checked with her body, and it turned out she couldn’t find her good sense. She must have left it in her other handbag.
Jayne: Vivy might distance herself from acting like her mother but for various reasons, I think more of her mother has rubbed off on her than she realizes. Dean’s proposal scene in the lunch café at Neiman Marcus is a hoot and one Vivy likes even as her mother seems about to stroke out. But when the wedding gets moved up, Vivy does get dismayed that she won’t have her father there, bridal showers nor a bridal registry. Her first pass through Dean’s almost empty house stuns her. But this is how she was raised and fits the times.
Oi, the furniture and colors she and her sorority sisters pick to make the place transition from a house to a home. Let’s just say the decorating schemes from the 1960s/70s are best left in the past as far as I’m concerned.
Kaetrin: LOL yes! That said, I had a vivid mental picture of it all and it was spot on from 1960’s TV shows and Apollo 13 set dressing.
Jayne: It reminded me a bit of the set for “I Dream of Jeannie.” Thank God Parsons is still acting like Parsons. And he’s still driving the other engineers nuts as well as scaring the astronauts. Seriously, I hope the man doesn’t have a stroke.
I also loved the “not playing bridge” bridge game which introduces Vivy to several of the other astronauts’ wives and plugs Vivy into the source of information about ASD and Dean that she’s not getting from him. Margie is the one to go to if you want to know something.
Kaetrin: The “bridge” game was fabulous. The female friendships in the book were a bit plus actually.
Jayne: The wives definitely stick together for support and sources of information. As well, the “3 engineers with beer putting together a crib” scene is hysterical. Dean might think he knows what he’s getting into with fatherhood but the others set him straight that only one baby will indeed outnumber both him and Vivy. Dean and the other astronauts have a “us vs them” mentality with ASD and the engineers. Sure those guys are smart but it’s not their asses going out of the capsule in these suits and that truly isn’t a time when you want the helmet popping off.
Vivy might complain that Dean doesn’t say much but then that seemed to be a characteristic of the astronauts of the day according to Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean. They weren’t there to wax rhapsodically about the beauties of space or their feelings when they were walking on the moon. They were focused professionals doing their job and keeping a watch on what they were told and reporting what was required of them. Only later did they think back on non-mission critical thoughts.
Kaetrin: Dean’s reticence also felt in keeping with the time – or, at least, how I imagine things to have been then. He is very much the strong silent type – though a little tall to be an astronaut in the 60s I think? Back then most of the astronauts were on the shorter side because of limitations with the seat sizing (h/t Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars).
Jayne: Vivy is privileged – no doubt about it. Social consciousness was just raising its head in 1965. With her husband in the military/astronaut corps, Vivy is beginning to think more about her father’s business role of supplying planes and weapons to the US military and ASD. Vietnam is mentioned but again this is ’65 and things were just officially heating up then.
Kaetrin: I loved Vivy. She was so vibrant and open. I thought this story from her childhood summed her up perfectly.
Once, when she’d been a kid, she’d made a deal with Santa Claus: if he were real, he would bring her a big beautiful doll she’d seen in a circular in the paper. But Christmas rolled around, and the doll didn’t appear under the tree.
She’d cried and cried until her daddy had managed to pry her out from under the sofa and to get her to explain what was wrong.
“Now, there,” he’d said. “If you want something, honey, you gotta ask for it. Not secret in your heart but right out loud.”
A few days after Christmas, that doll had arrived, and Vivy hadn’t been one to keep her wishes to herself since then.
It seems so rare for heroines to be so frank about what they want and even in today’s society a woman coming out and asking for what they desire or need is frowned upon. She was a breath of fresh air so I could see why Dean was so bowled over by her.
Jayne: Yes, yes! Excellent points. And going back to the bridge scene, she comes right out and asks the other wives about the edict that Parsons has laid down rather than hinting and skirting around it with polite language. Her desire to continue with her education was also a fresh breeze as is Dean’s support. In fact he’s puzzled that anyone would question if Vivy’s going to continue with her classes.
Kaetrin: She was not without her vulnerabilities though. Her mother had measured her and found her lacking her whole life and while she brazens it out pretty well, she’s worried that Dean will want her to be someone else, not accepting her for who she is. Dean, for his part, never wants her to change. He’s supportive of what she wants and doesn’t try to get her to fit some kind of mold of the perfect 1960’s wife.
He pulled her atop him, his hands running over every inch of her, cupping her breasts. “You look like a goddess.”
Vivy felt like one, thrumming with life and power and desire. Dean was slim where she was curved, quiet where she was loud, but he never made her feel as if she were too big and loud for him. More like the space she took up was the exact right amount next to his.
Jayne: Their marriage has a lot of issues and conflicts not only because of how quickly it started between basically two strangers but also again because of the EVA suit. Dean isn’t sure where Vivy’s loyalty will lie between him or her love for her father. The no-sex rule Parsons dictates is done after a disastrous try out of the suit when ASD was under pressure to keep up with the Russians. Vivy initially doesn’t understand the reasons behind it and begins by trying to get her new husband to pay attention to her as a way to forge a stronger relationship and bid to keep her marriage alive.
Kaetrin: Her frank resentment of not getting any sex from her husband was both refreshing and funny. I loved it.
Vivy had always imagined her life would be glitzier, but they were all married to astronauts. That was pretty glamorous if you left out the part where this was the least sexed street in America.
Jayne: Unless we’re (shhhh) talking about Gregg and Betty! Vivy does some growing up. She’s been content to let her parents keep treating her like a child but not anymore. She’s not her mother and though she’ll always love her father, she puts Dean first now.
“She looked deeply into his eyes. “There’s a way of looking at this where we got stuck together, what with the baby, but I know that isn’t right. Every bit of me chooses every bit of you. You the man, not the astronaut. So with my parents, it will take some time and it won’t be easy, but…” She rubbed her hand over his beard, scratchy and soft all at once. “But I know that whatever happens with them, it will be okay. Because what really matters is that I love you. Very much. You’re all the parts of me I didn’t know were missing.”
“Vivy.” He grabbed her hand and pressed a kiss against her wrist, which made her heart flutter. “I know I don’t talk enough, but you have to know how I feel about you.” He swallowed hard. “Well, I can’t exactly say it, because I don’t know the words for it. But… it’s big. Bigger than me, it feels like.””
Jayne: Dean’s not a talker due to his childhood loss of his mother plus he’s also got that engineer/astronaut mindset. To expect him to suddenly become Mr. Loquacious is unrealistic. She and Dean are going to work on his talking but for now his letter to her before he blasts off on the mission lets her into his thinking and how much she means to him.
“When I saw you at the party, it warmed me from my toes on up. I was frozen. You’re like the sun, and you melt my numbness.”
Kaetrin: Oh yes, there’s no way Dean is ever going to be super-chatty. I thought the way he was beginning to open up by the end of the book felt realistic.
I was very much enjoying the story but I felt a bit of whiplash at the point Dean realised his love for his wife. The parts after that felt a bit rushed to me, with the pacing a little inconsistent. I also had some concerns about the timeline in terms of when Vivy’s pregnancy began to show, when she first felt the baby move and the timing of Dean’s mission – they seemed a little out of sync to me.
Jayne: Dean’s realization is a little fast but then I think he’d been (positively) comparing Vivy to his mother for a lot of the book so it wasn’t totally too much for me to believe.
Kaetrin:I have the other Fly Me To the Moon books on the TBR but alas I haven’t managed to read any of them yet. This story was very accessible though – it stands alone well. I thought I’d like a book set in the 1960s and based around the quest to get to the moon but I didn’t realise just how much the setting would work for me. Perhaps because the 1960s are so vividly full of bright orange and pink and green swirls, it’s a time that I can picture easily. At the same time, it still feels like a foreign land because I was born at the tail end of that decade and obviously can remember none of it for myself. I really must find time to read the rest of the books because the writing style, characterisations and the setting were just so good.
Jayne:I remember a bit more of it. Yes, my family drank Tang® (me now –> gaaah).
Kaetrin: Tang® arrived in Australia a little later than in the US and I remember it too! It was hideous. LOL
I’d have liked a little more time spent with Dean coming to know his wife for me to really get that he loved her because of that knowledge and not just because we’d reached the point in the book where that had to happen. I’d have liked a little more about Vivy’s relationship with her dad after her realisation about the EVA suit his company had supplied and her recognition her first loyalty lies with Dean and the family they’re making. Still, there was so much to enjoy about Free Fall, from the unique setting and the breath of fresh air that was Vivy. She may have only been 19 but she showed a level of maturity and commitment to Dean and her marriage right from the start which felt mature. I loved how even when she’s spitting mad at Dean for keeping secrets from her she tells him flat out she’s not leaving; she’s in this marriage for the long haul. That feels like something I haven’t read in romance in forever.
Jayne:All very good points. I was almost bowled over when she told Dean – nope not going anywhere, I’m in this to stay. I’ll mention one thing, and although I know that books should resolve their own issues, there is a degree of continuation to be found in this series and often past characters and issues will be revisited (though in ways pertinent to the current book) giving a little more insight. There’s also some overlapping timelines so what might not be totally resolved in one book could be in the next.
This story won me over despite my initial hesitations so I’m going with a B grade too. I’m also excited about the focus of the next story – Cosmonauts!