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Fly Like a Girl, Move Among the Stars & Ponder the Universe

#CardynBrooksReviews #books

Sky Girls by Gene Nora Jessen with Foreword by Eileen Collins
Aviation non-fiction history
Originally published March 1, 2002; Sourcebooks reprint edition August 18, 2018

Opening with a foreword from retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Eileen Collins who was a NASA astronaut and also the first female commander of a space shuttle, this 2018 reissue of 2002’s The Powder Puff Derby of 1929 starts with a brief overview of aviation from ballooning in the 1700s. Transitions between centuries, generations, and innovations jump a bit from point to point in the introduction, but smooth out in the main text where the daily log format including thumbnail biographical sketches of this cast of intriguing real-life characters establishes the narrative structure of an exciting and dangerous adventure being retold by the survivors to their heirs.

Gene Nora Jessen’s immense knowledge of aviation mechanics and lore combined with her direct access to a few of the actual participants in the first women’s cross-country air race steeps Sky Girls in the personally intimate tone of a family saga being passed down from one generation to the next with each younger group adding their own contributions to the historical record. Each day’s summary begins with a map plotting each segment of the race. Black and white photos and images of related documents deepen the feeling of the participants as unique individuals who were risking their lives in order to pursue their shared passion.

“… Racing opens my door to the world. Don’t cut me off
from the adventure men have been hoarding for themselves
in the guise of protecting me from danger.” For this nameless
spokeswoman and for the others, an airplane was obviously
the badge of emancipation. [pp. 70 – 71]

In telling the story of women in aviation Sky Girls tells the overall story of aviation. Industry icons Beech, Cessna, Lockheed and others along with enthusiastic advocates such as Will Rogers (who respectfully coined the phrase of Powder Puff Derby) and Howard Hughes are integral elements of this true tale of daring-do. Ninety-Niners, Whirly Girls, and Ida Van Smith are only some of the organizations and people who worked to expand access to aviation instruction and employment opportunities to women. “Finally, in 1973, Chief Pilot Johnny Myers… couldn’t think of any reason not to hire Howell Warner since she was so overqualified compared to the male pilots they were already hiring.” [pg. 324]

As for expanding the general public’s understanding of the science and art of flight and aviators, the epilogue, afterword, author’s note, acknowledgements, photo credits, index, reading group guide, and conversation with the author all contribute to a deeper comprehension of aviation as a professional discipline and as a personal mission.

Wish Upon a Bollywood Star
by Pamela Q. Fernandes
Inkspell Publishing 10 December 2018
contemporary romance

During what some in entertainment media are calling the Bollywood wedding season with the marriages of Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas, and upcoming nuptials for Kapil Sharma and Ginni Chatrath, the dramatic, mostly self-inflicted turmoil in Wish Upon a Bollywood Star is a timely tale. Soumya Ninan, a twenty-six-year-old Keralite woman, meets thirty-six-year-old Punjabi man Vir Seth at the public relations firm where she works as a junior agent-slash glorified gofer. Their best friends Kirti and Dhruva add to the melodramatic rendering of this Cinderella tale set in the 21st century.

Soumya’s impulsive short-sighted actions make her seem more like a spoiled brat than a college-educated professional who has earned a graduate degree. Overheard misogynistic remarks (sadly and recently echoed with the addition of racist overtones in real life about Priyanka Chopra) made by Vir regarding the “Shaadi Trap” lead Soumya to set a chain of events into motion that accelerates to steamroller pace. A fake relationship, misunderstandings, jealousy, and an attempted sexual assault by an envious associate are just a few of the familiar romance tropes included in this contemporary love story with retro attitudes from Barbara Cartland’s heyday used to examine the double standard of sexual virtue for women versus men in modern Indian society and most of the world, to varying degrees.

Initially, readers are asked to take a hug leap of faith in their suspension of disbelief with the premise that Soumya as a public relations professional is clueless about the potential for a variety of negative outcomes directly related to her prank. In her thoughts on pages 17 to 18, “She knew he was right. She hadn’t thought of the consequences when she had made that stupid move… Yes, that must be it: at twenty-six years of age, she was past the age of infatuation,” it’s clear that Soumya is deluding herself about her motives.

Wish Upon a Bollywood Star works as a satirical critique very loosely in the tone of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest of the impact of caste and class on present-day romantic relationships as academic and professional opportunities expand for women in India. Underlying themes about the heavy personal costs of fame and celebrity play out in a tangential storyline about Vir’s relationship with his co-star. Beyond geographical locations and cultural context, Pamela Q. Fernandes avoids a majority of the most popular distinctly Bollywood interpretations of romance tropes in favor of the more basic sources of conflict like age, economic, and career status disparities. Although challenging and updating Bollywood stories seems to be one of the author’s intentions, including a spontaneous group singing and dancing scene in this short beach read would have been totally incongruous and lots of fun, just like in the movies.    

The author’s other works are listed on her site:

These two articles about Bollywood tropes were interesting:

Love Looks Pretty on You
by Lang Leav
Andrews McMeel Publishing  January 29, 2019

The novelist struggles.
The poet suffers.
[pg. 105]

Love Looks Pretty on You tilts back and forth between themes of self-reflection and confessions and declarations with the above poem as the fulcrum of this beautifully balanced collection of notes to the author’s younger selves. “Too Young” on page 61 was written when Lang Leav was twelve years old, but the majority of the text ruminates on the whirlwind of experiences during young adulthood.

The introduction proclaims Love Looks Pretty on You as a celebration of the female spirit, which is more directly linked to the authorship of self on page 5 with, “All this time, I thought I was writing for the lovers, when I’ve been writing for the writers.” This seemingly unexpected realization connects the recurring themes of voice, personal back story, past loves, loss, and flowers with the feminine power of creation, regeneration, and resurgence. Ideas about actual and imagined selves or identities wrestle in the past, present, and future.

Lang Leav taps into a generational spectrum of the musical zeitgeist and transposes it into present-day chords with deep emotional reverberations that also incorporate religious and secular imagery. Love Looks Pretty on You, title and overarching themes about romantic relationships, harkens back to the wistful regrets in “You Look So Good in Love” by George Strait. “At Last” on page 6 evokes the yearning ache of the Etta James version of the tune by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon. “The Long Way” echoes the sense of bewilderment in 1979’s “Take the Long Way Home” by Supertramp. There’s a little of BeyoncĂ©’s “Lemonade” on page 77, and essential truths shared with “You Say” by Lauren Daigle, Hailee Steinfeld’s “Most Girls” and Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love” scattered throughout these intimate reveries.

Some pieces are titled and some are not. All of them capture a facet of being young and searching for one’s strongest, most authentic self.

Now that you have it all, do you ever wish you could go back to when you had it simple? [pg. 95]

Lang Leav throws down the gauntlet above and with “This Year: on page 19. It’s a challenge worth accepting.

The index is arranged alphabetically by title or by the first word for untitled pieces.


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