Hi there! Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month. Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.
I’ve already begun reading and reviewing holiday-themed books, which has bolstered my spirits over the course of a frustrating and unpleasant November. I will admit to being extremely upset regarding our election, and the aftermath. What has kept me going is maintaining a good routine, and hunting down excellent books. This month, I went back to my girlish roots, picking up a newly published historical fiction novel about pioneering aviatrixes, CROSSING THE HORIZON, by Laurie Notaro.
About the book:
Soar back to the fearless 1920s with #1 New York Times bestselling writer Laurie Notaro—beloved author of The Idiot Girls’ Action Adventure Club—in a stunning historical novel that tells the true, little-known story of three aviatrixes in a race to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic.
Ten thousand feet in the sky, flipping and twirling through the air, aviatrixes from London to Paris to New York—fueled by determination and courage—have their eyes on the century’s biggest prize. The year is 1927, and Amelia Earhart has not yet made her record-breaking cross-Atlantic flight. Who will follow in Charles Lindbergh’s footsteps and make her own history?
Three women’s names are splashed daily across the front page: Elsie Mackay, daughter of an Earl, is the first Englishwoman to get her pilot’s license. Mabel Boll, a glamorous society darling and former cigar girl, is ardent to make the historic flight. Beauty pageant contestant Ruth Elder uses her winnings for flying lessons and becomes the preeminent American girl of the sky.
Inspired by true events and real people, Notaro vividly evokes this exciting time as her determined heroines vie for the record. Through striking photos, meticulous research, and atmospheric prose, Notaro brings Elsie, Mabel, and Ruth to life, pulling us back in time as the pilots collide, struggle, and literally crash in the chase for fame and a place in aviation history.
As a girl I was captivated by stories of Amelia Earhart, the first woman to cross the Atlantic in a plane. First as a passenger, then a pilot. At around this time in my life we were first having female astronauts, and I could envision a life where women did so much more than stayed home and raised children, or worked entry level jobs in secretarial-type roles. So, learning about daring women shaped me, as a youth, and helped me grow into a strong woman, willing to charge forward in male-dominated work roles. I was thrilled with CROSSING THE HORIZON for those same reasons.
This is a work of historical fiction, painstakingly researched and lovingly rendered. It surrounds the lives of three female flyers, Elsie Mackay, Ruth Elder and Mabel Boll. They are very unique women who each wanted to prove to the world they had more to offer than femininity.
Elsie was daughter of a powerful English Earl. She was the first licensed female English pilot, and served on many committees for pilots within the Royal Air command. She’d defied her father and eloped with a former patient she tended in WWI, an actor, who later abandoned her. She also worked for her father’s shipping line as chief designer of the luxurious staterooms for royal and wealthy travelers. Elsie was 35 years old when she recruited a team to fly the dangerous east-west route over the Atlantic.
At age 23, Ruth Elder was a twice-married Alabama girl with a pretty face and love for speed. She’d begun flying lessons after learning that planes went even faster than cars! She got recruited to fly the American Girl plane to follow her dream to fly to Paris, and she worked hard for it. Not only that, she wanted to survive the trip–and designed life-suits that would inflate and keep her and her co-pilot from drowning, as neither of them actually knew how to swim, in the event of a crash. Ruth’s backers knew that she’d make lots of money in endorsements if she was successful, but it wasn’t an easy choice, or an easy mission.
Mabel Boll, wealthy socialite and self-proclaimed Queen of Diamonds, wanted fame more than anything. She was garish in her desire to cross the Atlantic and become “Queen of the Air,” and every attempt she made to grasp this title turned on her in ways this calculating gal couldn’t comprehend.
The book switches point of view to peer alternately into their supposed lives as each woman plotted her course with destiny. It’s rocky and rough, especially as they learn that one or another is closer to traveling than they, or other women’ missions are lost-at-sea. The sexual politics of the day are also very much present, with reporter, and others, questioning why these woman would defy parents or husbands wishes to stay grounded. The book is a bit bittersweet, as some of these gals do not make it home. The others are forever changed by their attempts.
I dug the history here; it spoke to the striving girl still buried within me. I could have looked all this up for myself on the net, and saved myself the agony of loving some of these characters, only to lose them, but I relished the hope that built within me as I chased their dreams from this side of the page. It’s no surprise, I imagine, that none of these women were completely successful, because history has kept Earhart’s name in our consciousness, not that of Elsie, Ruth or Mabel. Still, I feel enriched learning of their footsteps on the journey to womens’ equality. I highly recommend it for history buffs, and fans of historical fiction or pioneering women.
Thanks for popping in, and be sure to check out the reviews of my fellow Coffeehouse readers. And, as always, keep reading my friends!