Before I Go to Sleep, S.J. Watson #50BookPledge

Oh. My. God. S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep is amazing. Read it, read it, read it. But first, and trust me on this one, make sure you have a few hours to spare. Sleep kept me awake till 2:30 am.

My tweets while reading:

May 18th, 4 pm: Engrossed in ARC of S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep. Out in June, watch for it. Incredible so far.

[I stopped reading for a few hours, then decided to read just a bit more when I went to bed around 11 pm…]

Midnight: OMG, the twists keep coming. S.J. Watson’s fault if I sleep super late tonight.

1 am: Literally gasped out loud while reading.

2 am: I knew it! I knew it!

2:05 am: Holy crap. I didn’t know anything after all. Chills.

That was when I realized I should just stop live tweeting my reading experience before I flooded my followers’ feeds with even more “Aha!” and “Oops.” moments.

How much do I love this book? And why do I love it so much? Check out my full review on Savvy Reader or read below.

S.J. Watson will be reading at Harbourfront Centre, Toronto, June 22nd.

Or check out this Vizme token to see an excerpt, a bit about the author and other cool stuff.

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Full Review

[I just noticed that my review has been archived on the Savvy Reader site, so I’m republishing it here.]

Before I Go to Sleep is pure psychological thriller. Christine wakes up in a strange bedroom beside a middle aged married man she doesn’t recognize. It is only when she goes to the bathroom and sees her hand that she realizes that her skin is wrinkled, and that she too is wearing a wedding ring. She sees photos of herself, twenty years older than she thought she was, taped to the bathroom mirror. She also sees photos of the man from the bed, labelled “Ben, your husband.”

Ben explains that an accident eighteen years ago has destroyed her memory. While she can usually remember things that happen during the day, she will have forgotten them by the time she wakes up the next morning. She sometimes gets flashes of memories about her childhood, but most of her life is a complete blank. When Ben leaves for work, he says, “I love you, Christine. Never forget that.”

I thought Sleep was going to be an emotional, heart breaking tragedy, and in many ways it is. What if you lose your memories every time you went to sleep? There are events and people I remember vividly — sometimes, the most random of things, like riding the spinning teacup when I was three. Then there are events I remember, but am not too clear on the details. Memories are notoriously unreliable, and I love the security of looking at photos and knowing that that moment, at least, was real. To lose even the most tenuous hold on memory, to look at photos and have them evoke no sense of recognition, to have lost the last two decades of your life — I don’t even want to imagine how that would be like. In one scene, Christine is angered by Ben’s seeming indifference to a past event. Then she realizes that, for Ben, the emotions have already scabbed over, years before. Yet for her, emotions will always be raw, because she will always, every day, be experiencing them for the first time. So Christine’s condition is tragic; the last sentence in the book almost made me cry.

But Sleep isn’t just a beautifully crafted drama. Christine receives a call from Dr. Nash, who tells her she’s been his patient for a while now. He returns to her a journal she’s written, from which Christine reads about her past, but as disconnected from it as if the journal were a work of fiction. How much can we trust this journal, when Christine herself can’t remember writing it? More importantly, why does she have snippets of memories that don’t agree with what Ben has told her about her past? Are these real memories, or has Christine created them herself? Is Ben lying to her, and if so, is it just because he wants to spare her pain? Who are these people she remembers, who seem so familiar and yet whom she can’t identify?

Watson takes us right into Christine’s mind, and I, at least, was just as confused as she was. I’d think I knew who to trust, and what the truth is, only to find out later that I was wrong. As readers, we have a bit of an advantage over Christine — unlike her, we don’t have to begin from scratch with every new day in her story. Yet, even with that advantage, I found myself frustrated, dying to know more, wishing I knew the truth. Watson depicts very vividly how much more frustrating it must be for Christine.

Before I Go to Sleep is a powerful, gripping, and yes, tragic, psychological thriller. I didn’t want to go to sleep when I was reading it; I just kept wanting to find out more. I also found myself getting caught up in Christine’s fear and paranoia; I certainly didn’t want to go to sleep with that kind of mindset.

More importantly, however, the title perfectly encapsulates Christine’s own, much more urgent, desire not to fall asleep yet. Each slumber is a kind of death. We expand our life by building on our memories; Christine must live as full a life as she can each day, because she starts completely from scratch again the next. And she must do this while dealing with potential half-truths and lies from people she has no choice but to trust.

Trust me: read this book.

Ten Thousand Saints, Eleanor Henderson #50BookPledge

Eleanor Henderson’s Ten Thousand Saints hooked me from the first line: “‘Is it dreamed?’ Jude asked Teddy. ‘Or dreamt?’” Not sure why I liked it so much, and I certainly don’t really care about the answer, but I do want to find out more about someone who would ask that question. I also love the way Henderson describes Teddy as wearing “opalescent, fat-tongued Air Jordans, both toes bandaged with duct tape” and Jude as “the one in Converse high-tops, the stars Magic Markered into pentagrams.” Character and time are established with such vivid, concrete detail, and there’s something endearing about the image of Magic Markered pentagrams and duct taped toes.

It’s no secret that Teddy’s about to die; the very first page situates the story “on the last morning of 1987 and the last morning of Teddy’s life.” By the second page, it probably isn’t much of a mystery either how he dies. Adopted by a pair of diehard hippies, Jude grew up taking drugs like other kids take pop, and the novel begins with Jude and Teddy  “celebrating Jude’s sixteenth birthday with the dregs from last night’s bowl.” So when Teddy dies of an overdose, how is a guilt-ridden Jude supposed to cope? He goes to live with his pot-dealing father in New York (he even names his bongs!), and that’s where the story really takes off.

Jude meets Teddy’s half-brother Johnny, who introduces him to straight edge, an underground youth culture that is vehemently against drugs, meat and sex. There’s quite a bit of irony in Jude’s parents shaking their heads and wondering where they’d gone wrong raising a son who now rejects drugs. There’s also quite a bit of wistfulness as Henderson explores the generational gap. Jude’s mother is a sweet, sympathetic character, whose decision at one point to be a part of the gang rather than a mother leads to hurt feelings. I also love how she wonders why her generation’s music about sex and drugs sounded so mellow and peaceful, while her son’s songs about morality and just saying no had to be so angry. Jude’s friend Eliza is such an intriguing character as well — she’s pregnant, and so is forced to grow up quickly (as are Jude and Johnny, who band with her and vow to help support the child), and at the same time, foreshadows a future generational gap that she will face with her own child. Her pregnancy both highlights the urgency of the trio figuring themselves and their lives out, and also expands the story of three teenagers into a bit of a family saga.

There is so much I can say about this book! It’s the kind of story that builds slowly, drawing you in closer and closer as you keep reading, until it ends and I, at least, was left with thinking, “Wow! What an ending.” I love the way Henderson develops her characters. I didn’t grow up in the 80s, and straight edge culture isn’t something I’m familiar with. But I was definitely drawn in by all these complex characters, who are all dealing in their own way with Teddy’s death and their potential role in it, and trying to figure out who they are and who they want to become. I just made the book sound incredibly cheesy, but it’s not; Henderson’s narration is subtle, humorous and heartfelt.

I love the way Henderson describes things: “he placed his finger under her chin and tilted her head slowly, slowly up until her eyes met his, the way a parent will prepare a child for a reprimand, or the way a man will prepare a woman for a kiss.” Tender, and what a spot-on image parallel! Or: “‘It’s a nice face,’ she said. Nice. It was so much more than nice, but she couldn’t think of a better word. You didn’t call a boy beautiful, not a boy who was your husband’s best friend, not a boy who didn’t like girls and who went around picking fights and who you really did think was beautiful.” Again: spot on, with the last phrase.

Saints goes beyond just wonderful characters and descriptions; it encapsulates an entire era — the reaction against the consequences of hippie lifestyles and the realization that, no matter how cool you may be, your children will always seek to differentiate themselves from you. Saints also deals with homosexuality and the advent of the AIDS crisis. I love the way Henderson reveals that a character is gay: “‘You want to know what it feels like? Bein’ with a girl?’ Rooster dropped his hand. ‘It feels like bein’ a fuckin’ coward.’” Bam.

Henderson’s characters feel very, very real, and so does their story. I don’t know if I’d call it a page-turner, but it does make you live in Jude, Eliza and Johnny’s world. To be honest, after the first page, I didn’t really get into it until Teddy died (which, because I glossed over that bit in the first page and didn’t bother to read the plot summary, came as a complete shock to me). But, like I said, it just kept building, and the ending is just wonderfully wistful. Beautiful, wonderful book. Highly recommended.

Hunger (Book 2 of Gone series), Michael Grant #50BookPledge

Michael Grant’s Gone series just keeps getting better. In the second installment, Hunger, the kids in the FAYZ have run out of food, some of the normal teens have drawn battle lines against the kids with powers, and the mysterious entity called the Darkness keeps sinking its claws even deeper into Lana and Caine. Sam and his crew have discovered fields with vegetables, but there are giant killer worms guarding their territory (sounds ridiculous, but they’re actually quite horrifying… and gross).

Worse, kids in the FAYZ don’t want to work. “I’m just a kid” becomes a common refrain, understandably frustrating Sam’s team, all of whom are kids themselves. My sister, who introduced me to this series in the first place, commented that she found it hard to believe that only Sam’s friends are stepping up, and the rest are content to whine about their hunger and play video games all day. She understood about the younger kids, but wouldn’t the tweens and teens at least band together and help organize something? My initial reaction had been that this situation seemed very realistic, but my sister raised a good point — is Michael Grant, and are readers like me, underestimating the potential for maturity in young adults?

Then again, it’s not just that it was only Sam’s friends stepping up; it was just that those who did step up naturally became part of Sam’s “government.” One of the characters also said something that struck me as logical: the kids have no incentive to do hard labour, because they know that even if they do nothing, Sam’s team will make sure they’re fed. One of my favourite secondary characters from Gone, Albert, comes up with what I consider a brilliant solution: he sets up a market economy, first a barter system, then eventually establishing a currency using McDonald’s Monopoly money. Astrid’s response to this disappoints me, considering how brilliant she is supposed to be: she tells Sam to shut Albert down, saying they now have the opportunity to establish a class-free society, where money doesn’t exist and therefore no one is richer than anyone else. Would socialism have worked in the FAYZ? Possibly, but only if established from the very beginning, before they ran out of supplies and most kids show no motivation to work “for the greater good.”

What I love most about Hunger is that we see the vulnerability in so many of these characters. Sam’s heading for a breakdown: “I’m not their parent,” he constantly tells Astrid, to which she reminds him, “They’re just kids,” who need parenting. Sam, of course, is a kid himself, and even adults would prefer to focus on the bigger issues like finding food or preparing for Caine’s next attack rather than have to deal with complaints of who pulled whose hair and who called whom stupid. Lana, as the Healer, feels a similar pressure. Kids come to her with everything from bloody noses to loose teeth to skinned knees. She’s like a celebrity hiding from paparazzi; everyone demands her attention, and all she wants is privacy. Astrid’s brilliance reveals its cracks. While Sam is the official leader, Astrid definitely holds the power, and a lot of her decisions (shutting down Albert’s enterprise, curtailing Quinn’s initiative in going fishing) reveal short-sightedness. I can understand why some of the kids in the FAYZ have grown resentful. I especially love the bigger role other characters play: Mary’s eating disorder grows much worse, Albert and Quinn reveal economic savvy, Edilio takes a much stronger leadership role, Brianna, Taylor and Dekka become essential to battle, and even Caine reveals his softer side.

Gone was thrilling and action-packed, with characters you grow to admire. Hunger is even more thrilling, and makes these characters even more real and tangible to us. Fantastic sequel, darker and more introspective than the first, Hunger takes the FAYZ kids from trying to survive a battle to taking the first steps in creating a long-term, sustainable society.

Big Girl Small, Rachel DeWoskin #50BookPledge

I read Rachel DeWoskin’s Big Girl Small mostly because of Shannon’s wonderful review of it in Savvy Reader. At 5’1”, I would never dare to imagine I can understand how a little person feels, but in other ways, I do know how it is to grow up feeling different. I imagine practically everyone has felt different in some way or another. High school is tough enough without being 3’9”, and DeWoskin’s protagonist, Judy Lohden, handles it with sarcasm and wit: “If you’re born saddled with a word like Achondroplasia, you learn to spell.”

In so many ways, the things Judy goes through are things practically every teenager experiences. She is the new kid at a performing arts high school, and worries about fitting in. She has a “teacher crush” on her inspirational AP English teacher and feels sympathetic for her dorky math teacher. She falls immediately for the handsome Kyle Malanack when she sees him at a party: “I think maybe the very not-realness of teenage love makes it the only real thing. […] what’s true about love isn’t a quantity thing — it’s a quality one. And the reason I know that is because I still feel like I’m actually going to die.”

We know from the first chapter that something big and bad is going to happen to her and cause her to run away. What happens to her isn’t much of a mystery for long (Judy drops a lot of hints along the way), but that didn’t impede my enjoyment of the book at all. It just made me feel utterly helpless, watching her moving towards her situation without being able to do anything to stop it: “If the first boy you dare love pulls the worst Stephen King Carrie prank in the history of dating, then you run and hide.” It is however the next part that really struck me as being absolutely true and heartfelt: “Because who can love you after that? Maybe your parents. But how can you face them, when you’ve all spent so much time convincing each other that you’re normal?”

In a way, her parents’ overcompensating for her dwarfism by pretending she’s normal makes things worse; Judy actually appreciates it when her friend Goth Sarah admits she admires Judy for having the guts to go to parties and face all the stares. Yet at times, when reading about Judy dressing up for a party or daydreaming about Kyle, even I forget she’s a little person. The advantage of reading her story is that I sometimes got so lost in the universality of her experiences (I had a crush like that too! I agonized over outfits like that too! I stressed over impressing a teacher too!) and only remembered Judy’s size when she makes a joke about it.

Judy jokes a lot about her size; she gets very defensive about it, yet in a way I can understand. It’s like how some comedians say they crack jokes about themselves because it’s better than having other people poke fun at them. Her jokes are actually also funny, designed to put the person she’s talking to at ease with her size so they can get on with an actual conversation. Her narration is often hilarious, her observations spot-on, and her descriptions vivid. Judy is an interesting, smart and relatable teenager.

She’s also lucky in so many ways. Unlike some other YA books, where the hero/heroine has to face obstacles alone, Judy has a very strong support system. Her parents, while completely clueless at times, clearly love her very much, and even Bill, a middle aged man Judy meets after she runs away, becomes a good friend, being her sounding board and recipient of her story. Judy’s friends Molly and Meghan are both wonderful, supportive friends, and Goth Sarah is simply a standout — quirky and loyal, the best friend a teenage girl could want. I winced whenever Judy would shun Goth Sarah in favour of the more popular Ginger, who while definitely nice and friendly, was clearly (to my twenty-eight year old brain anyway) nowhere near as interesting.

Big Girl Small is a wonderful story, with relatable characters. I would have loved to be as independent and confident as Molly or Goth Sarah when I was in high school. I was probably a lot like Judy — I knew I was good at some things (not singing, which is Judy’s big talent), I was shy and insecure about other things, and I too have had crushes where I thought I would never again feel that way about anything else. I can only hope that I’d handled it with as much wit and aplomb as Judy has.

One Day, David Nicholls #50BookPledge

I read One Day on the recommendation of a fellow bookworm who thought it was a good book but hated the ending. My boss at the bookstore loves this book, has recommended it a lot of times, and is looking forward to the movie with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. So it’s been on my TBR list for a while, and when my bookworm friend lent me her copy, I was excited to read it.

One Day follows the relationship between Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew over the course of twenty years, depicting snapshots of their lives on the same day (July 15th) each year. They meet in 1988, have sex, and set off to pursue different lives after graduation — Emma as an aspiring writer and Dexter as someone who wants to travel the world and become famous somehow. Their relationship shifts from romance to best friendship, and their lives turn out very different from how they’d imagined it in university. Taking a yearly snapshot is an interesting concept, allowing Nicholls to show gradual character development and long-lasting effects of decisions that characters make. Nicholls is a talented writer, and his characters are complex, interesting people you can imagine being friends with.

That being said, it took me a long time to get into One Day. I found myself bored for the first half of the book. Nothing to do with Nicholls’ writing, and I have to admit, the behaviour of characters and development of Emma and Dexter’s relationship felt realistic. It actually took me a while to figure out why I wasn’t enjoying the book, and I realized that while the yearly snapshot approach is an interesting idea, it made me find the story meandering. I just wanted something to happen already. While I acknowledged the Emma-Dexter chemistry, I found the single day narrative too abrupt — I’d just be getting invested in a plot thread when the day ends, I flip the page and I have to hear about the results through flashback. It didn’t help that I found the young, politically active Emma annoying. Dexter accuses her of being condescending and a know-it-all, and I had to agree. That made me a bit wary about the upcoming movie — I can imagine finding it more annoying on screen.

As Emma and Dexter grow older, however, and become a bit more settled in their respective lives, I found myself becoming more interested in the story. Secondary characters started to become more significant, and Emma and Dexter’s desire to be with each other (not just romantically, but also to connect more deeply as friends) becomes more urgent. That’s what I love most about Emma and Dexter’s relationship: it’s based on a deep friendship; they’re soul mates in a similar (though much less melodramatic) way as Cathy and Heathcliff. It’s a wonderful, touching love story, and Nicholls depicts their connection well.

Like my friend, I hated the ending. Without giving away any spoilers, I just have to say I found it unnecessary. Fortunately, Nicholls is a gifted writer and he handles it much better than I imagine others would have. I also think the one day snapshot format helped him pull off this ending well.

Would I recommend this book? Sure. I can see why so many readers like this book. Despite the movie poster image, One Day is more than just a romance. It’s a well-written look at how two individuals grow up, and, more importantly, grow up together.

Gone, Michael Grant #50BookPledge

I read Michael Grant’s Gone on my sister’s recommendation, and I’m so glad I did. It’s brilliant and exciting, Lord of the Flies meets X-Men in a contemporary small town setting.

I was hooked by the very first paragraph: “One minute, the teacher was talking about the Civil War. And the next minute he was gone.” I can imagine lots of kids wish their teachers would just disappear, especially during really boring classes, but what if it really happens? What if all the adults in the world disappear? “No ‘poof.’ No flash of light. No explosion.” Just disappear. I actually appreciate how non-climactic the disappearances are, such that the kids the remain at first think they must have imagined  it.

The premise of Gone reminds me of a Star Trek episode where all the adults in an alien planet have died from a disease and the kids have formed a Lost Boys type society, basically being complete brats and driving the Enterprise crew insane. Thankfully, the children in Gone are more mature. Everyone 15 and older has disappeared. Main character Sam is a natural, albeit reluctant, leader. As scared as the other children, the only advice 14-year-old Sam can offer when the adults disappear and younger children look to him for guidance is eat a cookie. There’s almost a Peanuts-type wisdom in that advice, now that I think about it, but mostly it just reflects the children’s helplessness.

The adults disappearing isn’t the first weird thing to happen to Sam however. Something else has happened to him, which I won’t reveal here because part of the fun is finding it out, but basically it makes Sam worry that he has caused the adults’ disappearance. Later on, he finds out that he actually isn’t the only, um, unusual resident of the area, and the unusual nature of certain children may hold the key to what has happened to the adults.

In a world without adults, who’s in charge? As Sam’s best friend Quinn tells him, adults are no longer around to keep the bullies from imposing their rules. How can children who don’t know how to drive and barely know how to cook fend for themselves and care for the really young children? Even more urgent, what happens when they themselves turn fifteen?

Gone has an exciting premise and likable characters. I love seeing Sam’s growth from scared kid to hero, from avoiding the leadership role to embracing it and working to improve their situation. Quinn is an interesting character as well, a free spirited surfer unable to handle the pressure of responsibility, and I look forward to seeing him develop even further in the next book. I love that Astrid is such a strong female character. Nicknamed Astrid the Genius, she spouts random facts when she’s nervous. Her character however is given added nuance because of Little Pete, her autistic younger brother. When the adults disappear, she has no idea where he is, so she sets off to find him, taking Sam and Quinn with her. Mary, who takes responsibility for the day care centre, is forced to become remarkably mature, caring for babies and toddlers all wanting their mothers, and I love how she has her own personal demons to battle as well. Perhaps the most endearing character is Albert, who takes over the local McDonald’s. He takes his role so seriously he actually studies the McDonald’s manual cover to cover.

The bad guys range from bullies to an actual psychopath. Their leader is charming, intelligent and powerful, more than a match for Sam and his friends. I’ve always believed that amazing bad guys help make heroes amazing as well, and Gone has a match up I love reading about. The ending of their ultimate confrontation in this book was a bit frustrating, as my sister warned me, but good news is, there are several more books in this series.

One thing that surprised me is how religious some of the main characters are. It’s not a bad thing, just unusual in contemporary fiction. It’s not preachy in any way, which is good, and the events these kids face certainly merit some appeal to a higher power.

The book answers a lot of the questions it poses, even as it leaves a lot of other questions hanging. Gone is exciting, action-packed young adult fiction. I’ll definitely be checking out the next book in this series.

Blog Tour: The Beauty Chorus, Kate Lord Brown #50BookPledge

Kate Lord Brown’s The Beauty Chorus covers a very important topic, in my opinion: the role of the female pilots, “esp. beautiful thrill-seeking debutantes,” of the Air Transport Auxiliary Unit in World War II. They were rather dismissively labelled “The Beauty Chorus” yet served an important, vital role in transporting planes to war-torn areas.  In one scene, a couple of the female ATA pilots are laughing at a Hollywood image of them as glamourous, when the reality is that they usually end up grimy from doing a lot of physical labour.

Beauty Chorus, then, ostensibly seeks to dispel those myths and show just how heroic the reality of these women are, and in some ways, the book succeeds. The italicized chapters, for example, from the perspective of ATA pilot Amy Johnson, who disappeared during a flight and was presumed dead, are touching and give us a taste of the risks these pilots take and the politics they face. The accounts of sabotage and general discrimination against female pilots also ring true, and help portray an important part of that history. And the final few chapters, where the story becomes a pure adventure-in-a-strange-land account, are enjoyable.

Unfortunately, I found Beauty Chorus so full of stock characters and melodramatic dialogue that it seemed more like the Hollywood movie the characters mocked than the reality they mentioned in passing. The main characters are adventurous debutante Evie, naive teenager Megan and young mother Stella, who left her baby with her in-laws. I found Evie mostly a standard “feisty beauty.” She gets into an altercation almost immediately with fighter pilot Beau who had immediately labelled her a spoiled brat, and as anyone who’s read a Harlequin novel can tell, that means other kinds of sparks are about to fly. In the book’s defence, Beau isn’t the stereotypical handsome brooding Alpha male. He is handsome, but scarred, literally, which adds a welcome sense of vulnerability. He is sharp, but not rude, which is good for his character, but also unfortunately makes Evie seem even pricklier.  There is the standard villanous male, who I almost expect to wear a black hat, smirk and twirl a moustache every time he appears. There is also the stereotypical ditzy, ultra-girly romantic rival, who mocks Evie’s job and clothing as being “too masculine.”

Evie has a doting father and an evil stepmother straight from a soap opera, who is after her father’s money and does everything to undermine Evie. They get into some major cat fights throughout the book, with the stepmother using baby talk on the father then demanding behind the father’s back that Evie hand over her mother’s diamonds. At times, I almost expected one of them to slap the other, though, thankfully, they show a bit more restraint than that.

Megan’s family owns land, which Megan and her brother have used to build an airstrip. With the brother dead and Megan off to war, her evil cousins are circling her father, pressuring him to sell them the land so they can use it to make money. This, on top of the Evie’s evil stepmother storyline, and the only good thing I can say is that the evil cousins don’t appear as often as the evil stepmother does.

Stella probably begins as the most interesting character: she’s a mother who has lost her husband and left her baby behind, and quite understandably suffers from depression until she meets a handsome curate who is a good listener… You can probably guess where that goes. And that’s really the main problem – with so many stereotypes and so many cookie cutter situations, a lot of the book becomes predictable.

Details about the ATA pilots being forced beyond their comfort zone are limited to characters laughing about the glamorization of Hollywood, Evie shrieking over a mouse in their cottage and characters mentioning that they have a heavy schedule for the day. Otherwise, there are scenes with Evie driving them into town to shop for their cottage, the women going to dates, and, of course, Evie shrieking invectives at the evil stepmother.

One scene that really irked me, and I’ll try not to give any spoilers away: a woman is about to have sex when she and her date run into another man. She promptly leaves her date, apologizes to the other man, and they have sex, all in the space of a couple of pages. That in itself is pretty skeevy (poor date!), but it could have worked, especially since Brown has established this woman’s naivete. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough set-up to make me believe in the love between the character and this man. The past few chapters had her gushing about the date, and this other man hadn’t been mentioned at all. So when they suddenly declare deep feelings for each other, I couldn’t believe them. Worse, I felt I could no longer believe any of this character’s emotions in the future, and not in a good way.

There are some moments in the book I loved, mostly because I found they revealed a lot about the character, and in a non-stereotypical way. When Stella (who was still producing milk) was asked to give milk to a starving baby, she balks, and it takes the other woman a while to convince her to make the sacrifice. I thought this was just such a powerful moment, where Stella, against all logic, wants to save her milk only for her baby, even though he is in a completely different country. In another scene, when Evie sees a man beating up a dog with a stick, she takes the stick from the man and beats him up instead. I found that scene hilarious, and thought it really showed Evie’s passion for protecting the helpless.

Finally, I found the last quarter or so of the book, after a certain plot twist, to be a vast improvement. The “bad guy” characters were less prominent, which allowed Evie and the other characters to interact much more naturally, and develop beyond the stereotypes. I only wish this had come earlier, and that the villains, especially, were given more depth.

I wanted to love this book. I think it’s important to tell the stories of groups who may not have gotten as much attention in history about their war efforts, and I appreciated the Author’s Note at the end, which gave me a bit more information on the ATA pilots. Unfortunately, I didn’t find this exciting enough to be a straight-up adventure/romance story nor layered enough to be a penetrating look at the reality behind the glamour.