Monday, January 12, 2015

Fly Away Home by Rachel Heffington

I'm so delighted that I found Rachel Heffington's blog because she is such a delight to read! Her blog posts pop with Wodehousian wit. Anyone who can write so entertainingly (and well!) online, must have fabulous books, so I ordered Miss Heffington's first two novels, Fly Away Home and Anon, Sir, Anon and have not been disappointed! 
I recently finished Fly Away Home and here is my review, though first I must tell you a deep, dark secret. I buried it so deep that I only realized it recently. My secret is this:
I love a good romance novel.
NOT the kind that you see discarded at the thrift store with half-naked actors clinging to each other and stupid titles like "Moonlight Kisses by the Silent, Silver Pond" (*gag*) or the unreadable Fifty Shades of Gray. No, I enjoy the kind of romance novel where the romance is understated and you constantly wonder when and how the two characters will overcome all the obstacles in their way and just get together already! Then, at the end, they kiss or get married or something you let out your unconciously held breath, lean back in a satisfied way, and say "Finally! I knew that was going to happen!"
These kinds of books urge me to keep reading to find out what will happen next like no other type of books. Adventure, fantasy, mystery... you name it, and it won't hold my attention as much as a romance novel.
When my friend coerced me into reading Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, all I wanted to do was keep reading Twilight.
When I read Wuthering Heights the same thing happened.
When I re-read Pride and Prejudice all I want to do is cuddle under a blanket and read Pride and Prejudice. 
I read Austenland by Shannon Hale recently and my mind kept straying back to it.
When I read Fly Away Home my brain buzzed with questions and "what if?"s as I tried to bed down for the night.
I'm not too fond of this new side of myself, but I supposed I'd better admit it. Admitting you have a problem is the first step towards fixing it, right? Haha.
This is probably why I've watched The Decoy Bride about a million times (or maybe it's because of David Tennant? Yeah, David Tennant definitely has something to do with it).

Still, I don't think I could read a straight romance book. I need something else happening as well. With Wuthering Heights it was the drear atmosphere of the English moors and Heathcliff's atrociousness. While I read that book I spent my time wishing that Healthcliff and Catherine wouldn't end up together because they were so mean to each other. With Austenland it was the literature references (they mention Miss Havisham!) and the the blurred lines between reality and fantasy. With The Decoy Bride it was the charming island of Heg and the snippets of Katie's guide book.
Fly Away Home has its "extras" as well, despite being mostly romance. But you'll learn more about them in my review:

Summary: The year is 1952 and journalist Callie Harper is chosen to work with journalism's leading celebrity, Wade Barnett, on a new magazine. Before she knows it, the past she tried to drown is swimming back to the surface and the paper umbrella on top is that she's falling in love with Mr. Barnett. An angry ex-co-worker offers Callie an ultimatum: dish the dirt on Mr. Barnett or he'll dish Callie's past to the whole world. As is says on the back cover, "Self-preservation has never looked more tempting."

My rating: 8/10 stars.

The Bad/What You Should Know: A few grammar mistakes here and there.
The d*** word is used twice—or maybe thrice?— but it fit the circumstances and was not condoned.
Since this is a romance book there is kissing. Nothing is detailed. (Even if I do enjoy romance books, anything more detailed than "Then, they kissed" or "They held hands" has me wondering the same thing as the grandson in The Princess Bride movie:


Although the main storyline knotted quite nicely, I felt like a few lose ends were tied sloppily. For the most part, however, and for a first novel, and for someone who has admitted to being better at characterization than plot (I'm the opposite in my own writing), Miss Heffington did a fantastic job. I can't wait to read Anon, Sir, Anon and see how her writing and plotting has improved, as any writer must with a second book.

The Good: The characters! O, the characters! They were wonderful!
One thing that makes a character a person is the little everyday quirks. Such as the character who notices the crooked painting next to the elevator door not just once, but three times during a story—it's not a needed detail, but it's a character consistency.
Miss Heffington had many such consistencies and it made Fly Away Home all the better for it. Callie's consistencies included chocolate on the table and a cat to confide in. Jerry, the front-desk man of Callie's apartment building constantly cleaned his bell (when Callie was around, that is!).

Then, of course, there were all the references to books. Any book that mentions other books immediately scores higher in my mind (hence, my love for Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. It's a book about books with bad guys and a sarcastic old lady and Dustfinger. What's not to love [other than the bad guys]?).
And the references to old songs... One of Mr. Barnett's quirks is that he likes to sing "Somewhere Beyond the Sea" (I can barely contain myself from writing: Sommewheere... beyond the c! Sommmewhere... waitin' for me! —the "c" and "me" should be sung rather shortly and that's why I wrote "c" instead of "sea").

I felt like I was reading a Frank Sinatra movie, which is a hard mood to capture because, well, Frank Sinatra is one cool bird!

It takes a very special person to capture the suavity of that hat-tilt.

I've already mentioned Miss Heffington's wit and I shall mention it again. It is a delight to read her sentences. A well-crafted sentence goes straight to my head and makes me giddy. P.G. Wodehouse's books are full to the brim with them and Fly Away Home isn't far behind.

Something else that P.G. Wodehouse infiltrates his books with is allusion. Allusion is where you casually slip a globally-known story or idiom like The Bible or Shakespeare or Star Wars into a story or nonfiction piece. It grabs the reader's attention and says "Hey, look, something familiar!"
Here is my favorite allusion from a Wodehouse book, Joy in the Morning:

 We both took a long look at it. I shook my head. He shook his. Wee Nooke was burning lower now, but its interior was still something which only Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could have entered with any genuine enjoyment.

Character quirks consistently (but not over-persistently) portrayed and allusions are two tiny "extras" that can turn a book from mediocre to spectacular. Allusions are not expected, but when they do show up, they pull the reader in just a little more, because the reader can relate to the world of the character—and the reader can also relate to the writer. When an author adds an allusion into his (or her—if we're going to be gender inclusive here) work, it's like he shares an inside joke with his reader.
Rachel Heffington peppers Fly Away Home with allusions. Here is my favorite (from chapter 6):

I nodded at the illuminated doorway in front of us. A golden chain stretched across its opening and a grave, respectable man clad in black stood watch over it like Saint Peter guarding Heaven's gates.

Speaking of Heaven, the "religious" side of the book is very well-done. Part of the past that Callie has tried to forget includes God. Mr. Barnett, on the other hand, is a Christian.
Worse than a romance book is a Christian romance book, but even worse than a Christian romance book is a historical Christian romance book. 
Maybe I shouldn't say that, because I've never actually read one (before Fly Away Home), but, I'm sorry to say, the covers alone drive me away. They look exactly like the thrift store romances except the actors on the cover aren't half-naked (and, usually, they are on a farm, not in a bed).
As a historical Christian romance, Fly Away Home did not, in fact, send me flying towards home.
The historical part wasn't based around an event (like a war or an assassination) but, instead, was included with the clothes and glamor of the 1950s, which I think is a spiffy way to write historical fiction.
The romance part was... well, it was two people falling in love. What did you expect?
The Christian part didn't take over the novel and that's the way I like it. I think that a Christian author's worldview will shine through his or her writing without having  to turn the story into a conversion story or allegory and without having to include the "Christian talk." While Mr. Barnett did give Callie a "Christian talk," it was not like I was expecting, and I enjoyed it. It was well done.

Fly Away Home is not the kind of book I would typically read, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The characters behaved like humans and Rachel Heffington's allusions and word choice were a delight to read. I would definitely recommend this book, even to the most staunch anti-historical fiction reader out there.

Live long and prosper.


  1. A well-written review, Abbey! Book reviews can be so boring, you kept me reading yours. As for 'romance'... I enjoy a good story. If it includes romance, or even centers on romance, fine; as long as the story is good. Typically stories that focus ONLY on romance are not very good.

    1. I agree. Something else has to be happening in addition to the romance or else I'd probably get too embarrassed to keep reading.

  2. Yes, I agree, soppy and inappropriate romance books are terrible. (I read one once. Ew.) And yes, the covers on Christian romances are all the same!!! And they are so predictable!
    Fly Away Home, however, sounds good! Could I borrow it from you?

    1. Yes, definitely! You'd love it. I'll give it to you on Friday.

  3. Thank you for the darling review, Abbey! I am so glad you enjoyed Fly Away Home despite its faults and that you took the time to write such a detailed review. Readers like you are my favorite. Here's hoping you love Anon, Sir, Anon just as much if not more. :)

    1. Thanks for commenting on my review! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  4. A wonderful review for a wonderful book. :) As the cover designer, I am delighted that the cover drew you in instead of sending you running.

    I am sure you are going to love Rachel's Anon, Sir, Anon. It is even more of a delight. :)

    1. The cover is absolutely darling! I love it.
      (And The Decoy Bride is such a fun movie!)

  5. PS I love the Decoy Bride too. I discovered it this year and watched it three times already. :)