Just a few weeks ago, I found out that I won an Advanced Reader’s Edition of Her Last Flight by Beatriz Williams. This is the first physical book I’ve ever won from a giveaway on Goodreads – thank you, Goodreads, William Morrow, and HarperCollins!
I finished Beatriz Williams’s 2019 novel, The Golden Hour, right before beginning Her Last Flight. So far, these are the only two books I’ve read by her, but based on them, I’ll definitely be checking out more.
Her Last Flight is evenly split between two timelines, but they’re closely connected and paint a cohesive and complete story. The main plot follows Irene Foster, a young woman who likes surfing until she discovers a passion for flying in 1928. Famed pilot Sam Mallory teaches her, and they quickly embark on a historic flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia. (Also, they have a feline sidekick; how cute is that?!) Beyond their career alignment, they’re also emotionally compatible and fall in love. But it’s impossible: Sam is married and has a young daughter, and his unreliable wife won’t let him leave.
By 1937, Sam Mallory is presumed to have died in a plane crash in the Navarra province of northern Spain. That same year, Irene also goes missing, leaving behind her husband and business partner, George Morrow.
Fast forward another decade and we meet Eugenia “Janey” Everett, a photojournalist intent on writing a book about Sam Mallory. After tracking down his crashed plane and remains in Spain, she’s now found Irene living quietly in Hawaii. Irene is reluctant to talk at first, but bit by bit, Janey learns the fully story – and it’s more remarkable than she could have realized.
At once, I noticed a distinct voice here that was prominent in Beatriz’s 2019 novel. Like Lulu in The Golden Hour, Her Last Flight‘s Janey has a frank and conversational tone. Both often use phrases like “Listen up” and engage the reader like they’re telling you a story over a cup of coffee. It is a fun and light writing style, but, given their nearly identical voices, it’s also easy to see them as the same character. Indeed, they’re both straight-talking journalists (well, Janey is actually a photojournalist) in the 1940s working closely with a well-known woman of the time.
Likewise, the pasts in both novels highlight women who are calmer and more gracious. In Her Last Flight, Irene is a quiet and capable woman, fearless and cool under pressure, but also driven to achieve greatness. Her character is more incomparable, as is her whole story from 1928 through the 1940s. Irene develops as a character from each decade to the next, yet she also stays true to herself.
I’ll admit, before reading this, I knew and cared little about planes and early aviation. As such, I worried I wouldn’t connect with the characters and story. But Her Last Flight proved to be captivating, both in scenes centered on flying and in scenes set on solid ground. There’s enough description to feel like you’re in the plane yourself, soaring through the night sky or plummeting down to a fast-approaching crash. It’s illuminating, but it’s also filled with heart and soul, making it an absorbing story.
Given the nature of flying, it’s only natural that Her Last Flight takes readers around the globe. I love to armchair travel – now more than ever, given the pandemic keeping us all home – so it was fun to read about different settings. We have California and Hawaii, Australia and Howland Island (in the middle of the Pacific Ocean), and of course Spain. Each different settings brings a unique tone to the story.
Along with physical setting, the time setting also worked well. I’m a bit worn out of all the historical fiction set during WWII. Luckily, Her Last Flight primarily takes place before and after the war, giving readers a different glimpse of history. The main war present here is actually the Spanish Civil War that was under way in 1937. And unlike other novels I’ve read about that war, this one spent more time in action – by plane, of course.
The characterization of each figure is strong, but so are their connections. All of the relationships here feel believable and real, whether romantic or between parents and children (or between human and pet). Although Sam and Irene do ultimately have a love story, it’s refreshing to see it develop slowly and naturally, and for it to come out of a shared interest and compatibility as both friends and co-pilots. The marriage between Irene and George, if unconventional in some ways, also feels true to each of the characters. Janey’s interactions with others, similarly, follow a pattern that fits her sad and troubled backstory.
Speaking of backstory: There are several shocks planted later in the book. A few revelations in the latter half of Her Last Flight were genuinely surprising, and these twists and secret reveals truly enhanced my reading. They bumped the story up and made me enjoy the novel that much more.
Her Last Flight is a beautiful and engrossing novel. Although dual timelines can sometimes feel more disjointed, in this story, both plots are intimately connected and impact each other. Beatriz Williams has crafted strong and relatable characters, painted vivid imagery, and written a story that is intriguing and memorable. I only have one other Beatriz Williams novel to compare it to, but between the two, Her Last Flight is the stronger, easier, and more concise read.
I’m so happy to have received an Advanced Reader’s Edition of this book, and I encourage everyone to read Her Last Flight once it’s available on June 30th.
I’ve read only one other novel about flying: Circling the Sun by Paula McLain. That one is set a bit earlier in the 1900s – mostly in the 1920s – and takes place Kenya. It reimagines the life of real aviator, Beryl Markham.
Her Last Flight is partially set in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. I’ve read a few books set in this time – Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind (which I’ll be re-reading and reviewing soon!) and The Time in Between by Maria Dueñas – but have a whole collection of Spanish Civil War novels ready on my shelf. Look out for reviews of those later this year!