Sunday, 8 February 2015

Guest Book Review: Jessica Blair - Just One More Day

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

When Britain declares war on Germany in 1939, Carolyn Maddison is still a schoolgirl. Her elder brother Alastair wastes no time in joining the RAF as a flying officer, and Carolyn decides that when she is eighteen she will follow him into the service by joining the Women's Auxiliary Air Force.

While reporting to the Air Ministry in London she meets a good-looking, charismatic pilot, Charlie Wade, currently employed in propaganda work. He believes that with her calm demeanor and resilience, Carolyn should work as an Intelligence officer, and suggests she serve on an active bombing station. At her side throughout the courses and postings that follow is Lucy Gaston, naturally quick-witted and sparky, a perfect foil for her friend.

The young WAAFs both obtain prestigious postings in 5 Group Bomber Command, where they perform the vital tasks of briefing and debriefing aircrew returning from operations over Germany. Lucy, an incorrigible optimist, falls head over heels for a member of a Lancaster bomber crew while Carolyn resists her feelings for its dashing pilot. She decides it's not worth the risk of loving a man in wartime. . . only to wonder if she has done the right thing when a new WAAF on the station sets her cap at him.

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Just One More Day is the first book I have read by Jessica Blair and it started out well and promised to be an enjoyable read but by the end I was struggling to turn the pages to get it finished. I am a big fan of historical fiction and normally love family sagas set during WW1 or WW2. This is not a family saga but I did not let this put me off as it was centred around women who work for the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (W.A.A.F)  and their lives spent on an airbase as they help with intelligence for bomber crews as they risk life and limb to serve their country. Throughout the book I really couldn't quite pinpoint why this wasn't hitting the mark for me as it did have all the right ingredients for an interesting read. Only when I had finished reading did I discover that Jessica Blair is actually the pseudonym for Bill Spence and then alot became clear for me. I have no problem reading books written by men under a female name in fact one of my favourite Irish women's authors is actually a man but in the case of Just One More Day the author really couldn't get inside the head of a women and bring forth all the emotions experienced during the war of love and loss instead only the surface was scratched when there was so much more to explore and delve into.

Set just at the outbreak of WW2 Carolyn Maddison lives in the small town of Nunthorpe in Middlesborough. She has had a pleasant upbringing and wanted for nothing as her father Guy is a solicitor and mother Sally a housewife. Her brother Alastair volunteers for the R.A.F and when Carolynn finishes her studies at just 17 she volunteers for the W.A.A.F despite her parent's obvious hesitations. What struck me initially was that at such a young age Carolyn was very brave to volunteer and for something that was highly skilled and involved alot of training and sacrifice when she could have easily just joined the Land Girls and not been at the forefront of the action but yet helping out in some way. As she embarks upon her initial training she meets Lucy and would you believe almost as soon as they have met they are firm friends and get posted together. Lucy was a  nice character but it just seemed all that convenient that the two girls would bond so quickly and that their superiors would post them in the exact same place even after training.

Throughout the novel as the girls progress in their training until they are posted to Waddington we are introduced to so many characters, in fact way too many that it was hard to keep track of who was who and what their job was. At one point over the course of just several pages we are met with an influx of characters, where they came from, what they did and their titles. For me it was too much too soon and just utterly confusing keeping track. Carolyn meets a man on the train as she begins her journey, who we then presume will be her love interest but before we know it he has left the picture and Rick and his flight crew are on the scene. I know sometimes I have minor gripes about knowing way too early who the female character will end up with but in this case it's the exact opposite. There were too many men/romantic interests coming and going that we never got to know them before they had left the scene and the women had moved on to someone else. I wanted to get inside the women's heads and experience how they felt for these men and for the important job they were doing and this in all honesty was sadly lacking along with any real heartfelt emotion.

Something else which really bothered me was all the technical jargon used throughout the book in order to explain military aircraft. For a book that is aimed at the women's fiction market this was not really necessary and all too often I found myself glossing over these parts as they were far to in depth. Yes, I realise it is historical fiction but achieving the right balance between detail and emotion is essential in this genre and here it did not happen. Some of the terms I didn't understand and I think alot of readers would feel the same as you would need to have a special interest in this area.

Initially I liked Carolyn, she seemed brave and ambitious but at nearly halfway through I wanted to give her a good thump and tell her to toughen up as this was the life she had chosen. She knew what her job entailed and its consequences and she needed to just get on with it. Carolyn also seemed too picky and childish in her relationships, she let an incident at the beginning of the war affect everything and all the decisions she made. We never really got inside her head, she says she has been hurt and that's about it we never go beyond the surface of her emotions and feelings and I just wanted more from her. Whereas the main male character Rick came across as petty, jealous and selfish in his relationships but was master in the air and someone to whom his crew looked up to and admired but still I couldn't warm to him. 

Every character seemed to fall in and out of love so quickly and as they seemed to be on leave an awful lot there must have been plenty of time for romance. Would they really have gotten as much leave as mentioned in the book at a time when Britain was doing its best to defeat Hitler? By the end I just didn't care who ended up with who and yes the book did show the harsh reality of war as some bomber crews did fail to return from overnight missions but the overall it lacked any real emotional development and I'm sorry to say left me disenchanted with the whole story and its outcome.

Just One More Day was different from any other historical world war two fiction novel I had read before as it focused on just the flight bomber aspect instead of the overall picture but unfortunately it just wasn't quite for me. Aspects were just too impersonal (the characters relationships) and others way too technical for what was supposed to a wartime romance. There was far too much repetition of the day to day routines at the airbase and I know this was probably the case at the time but it didn't make for very enjoyable reading and in my case I won't be rushing to read another book by Jessica Blair although I'm sure the fans this author already has will not give up just yet and eagerly wait for the next release.

I received Just One More Day from Little Brown Book Group on NetGalley in return for an honest review.

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