Book Review for “When We Had Wings” by Ariel Lawhon, Kristina McMorris, and Susan Meissner.
Summary: The Philippines, 1941. When U.S. Navy nurse Eleanor Lindstrom, U.S. Army nurse Penny Franklin, and Filipina nurse Lita Capel forge a friendship at the Army Navy Club in Manila, they believe they’re living a paradise assignment. All three are seeking a way to escape their pasts, but soon the beauty and promise of their surroundings give way to the heavy mantle of war. Caught in the crosshairs of a fight between the U.S. military and the Imperial Japanese Army for control of the Philippine Islands, the nurses are forced to serve under combat conditions and, ultimately, endure captivity as the first female prisoners of the Second World War. As their resiliency is tested in the face of squalid living arrangements, food shortages, and the enemy’s blatant disregard for the articles of the Geneva Convention, the women strive to keep their hope— and their fellow inmates—alive, though not without great cost. In this sweeping story based on the true experiences of nurses dubbed “the Angels of Bataan,” three women shift in and out of each other’s lives through the darkest days of the war, buoyed by their unwavering friendship and distant dreams of liberation.
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Historical – WWII; Philippines; Other Categories: Novel, Collaboration, Romance.
Three authors writing together is not a new thing. In fact, I’ve read all of the “Team W” books by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White (The Forgotten Room, The Glass Ocean, and All the Ways We Said Goodbye). Now, I read their debut collaboration last, so I can tell you that the first collaborative work can have some growing pains. That said, I didn’t know any of the “Team W” authors before I read these three novels, which probably allowed me to not have expectations. I only later went on to read their solo works. To be totally honest, with “Team W” I found that Williams was the strongest of the three (her prose practically sparkles), closely followed by Willig (nicely balanced historical fiction without too much romance, with White being my least favorite (a bit too much romance for my taste). By their last work, it felt like they were in excellent sync with each other, and I’ll read more by them in the future.
As for this book, I’ve been a huge fan of Ariel Lawhon’s novels since her debut work, “The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress” which was the main reason I asked for this ARC, and why I had such high hopes for this book. Until now, I haven’t read anything by either McMorris or Meissner, so I was just hoping that Lawhon chose her co-authors wisely. While I’m sure they did all they could to try to make this novel feel like one cohesive hand, I found it less than convincing. In particular, I found that one of the characters seemed far too interested in trying to find romance for my taste, at least at the beginning of the book. Mind you, one can’t really think about stealing kisses all that much, when you’re trying to keep yourself and everyone around you alive. Sure, a possible romantic relationship can help give hope to someone in such trying times, but there were times when one character took this a touch too far for me. Also, I wasn’t sure I understood why one of the characters had such a horrible relationship with her parents back home, since their anger with her seemed totally unfounded – from what I could see, she didn’t do anything wrong.
I should mention that a few other reviewers have noted some anachronisms here which jarred me early on in the novel. These felt a bit lazy, since simple Google searches would have kept them out of the book. Thankfully, by the time I was just over half way through the book, these fizzled into the background and as conditions for these three women got increasingly difficult, I could concentrate on these stories instead of the petty mistakes. That said, I’m truly hoping that all of the capitalization mistakes in this book were fixed in the final version. Obviously, while these too were slightly annoying, I can’t lower my rating because of them (we are warned that our ARCs aren’t the final versions).
I think that this trio (should we call them LMM?) might have a good thing here, if they can pull back on the romance a touch, and double check their historical facts. Also, I think they’ve got a good handle on getting three separate characters into one cohesive story, and the fact that these three were separated so much during the war, did allow them to develop as individuals. That said, while their friendship seemed deep, their attachments to each other felt rushed, particularly since they were such different personalities, and especially because they split up so soon after getting to know each other. For all of this, I think that I can still recommend this book, because this is a very good first outing for these three. That’s why I’m giving it four out of five stars.
Harper Collins (Harper Muse) released “When We Had Wings” by Ariel Lawhon, Kristina McMorris, and Susan Meissner on October 17, 2022. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Blackwell‘s, Foyles, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (both with free worldwide delivery), Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Kobo US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley.