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Sara Ackerman

Author of Radar Girls

9+ Works 676 Members 63 Reviews 1 Favorited

Works by Sara Ackerman

Radar Girls (2021) 205 copies, 23 reviews
The Codebreaker's Secret (2022) 141 copies, 12 reviews
Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers (2018) 111 copies, 8 reviews
Red Sky Over Hawaii: A Novel (2020) 91 copies, 7 reviews
The Lieutenant's Nurse (2019) 86 copies, 8 reviews
Little White Lies (2016) 1 copy

Associated Works

RDSELP v223 The Recipe Box | The Lieutenant's Nurse (2021) — Author — 4 copies, 1 review
Reader's Digest Select Editions 2019 v05 #367 (2019) — Author — 4 copies


Common Knowledge

Hawaii, USA
Places of residence
Honolulu, Hawaii, USA



This is a this months selection for the work Book Club - and while not the worst book I ever read, its a fairly standard example of this genre- which is cozy-ish story set in a difficult situation where a young woman steps up, finds herself, and gets the leading man who is perfect. Nothing bad really happens, and if it is, its hinted at or the happens to a background character.

I was hoping for more information about what a WARD actually does, their day to day jobs, difficulties, but the author mostly skip over that outside of few paragraphs, here and there. Plotlines were dropped (Peg's sickness/Asthma), timelines not adequately explained (when was the horse found compared to the time the book ended?) and people acting in a way that didn't make sense.

The book ended on a good note, everybody is happy and has their man and their dream job. The end.

This is not a book I would have picked up to read on my own, and I am NOT the target reader for this genre. Its a cozy historical fiction and while it is based on a real group, I don't think its very realistic.
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TheDivineOomba | 22 other reviews | May 19, 2024 |
Author Sara Ackerman grew up on Oahu, but now resides on the Big Island, and holds the beautiful state responsible for her addiction to writing since the islands have such a rich history and so many untold stories waiting to be shared. She knows Hawai’i well and injects details that bring the setting to life and transport her readers there as they are reading.

Despite being born and raised in Hawai’i, Ackerman had never heard about the Dole Air Race until she was searching for inspiration for her next novel. She happened upon a book entitled The Saga of The Sandwich Islands in which the race was mentioned. Ackerman says she knew immediately that she wanted her story to be centered around the race. James Dole, the pineapple baron, sponsored the race to make the first crossing in a fixed-wing airplane from Oakland, California, to Oahu. It was 1927, shortly after Lindbergh’s famous flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Ackerman notes that the “real challenge” was traveling two thousand, four hundred miles in a “very rudimentary” craft to a “tiny speck in the ocean,” making it a “real feat of navigation.” Eight planes took off from the California coast but, unsurprisingly, not all of them landed safely in Hawai’i.

There was only one female participant in the race. Mildred Doran was a passenger in the Miss Doran, a plane named for her, even though “there were a lot of capable female pilots at that time. They just weren’t in the race.” In those days, female pilots were “not highly regarded.” Ackerman crafts strong fictional female characters, and places them into actual historical events. She recalls pondering “what it would have been like to be a female pilot in that race,” which is “how Olivia West was born.” Olivia represents “all the women who were pushing limits of their time but not celebrated or even recognized.”

The Uncharted Flight of Olivia West opens in San Diego in 1920, where sixteen-year-old Olivia West has spent months performing odd jobs at the Ryan Flying Company and School of Aviation, hoping for an opportunity to go up in a plane. But Mr. Ryan has been adamant. “A sixteen-year-old girl has no place in a cockpit.” Finally, one Sunday while her father is out fishing, the new pilot, Heath Hazeltine, finally agrees to take her up with him. It is a flight she will never forget on a day that she has no way of knowing will prove life-changing because Olivia finally gets her chance to pursue her dream. By 1927, she has logged four thousand seven hundred twenty-two hours in the air, and flying has become “her life.” Olivia’s first love, none other than Heath, is gone – he joined the Navy without even saying good-bye, breaking Olivia’s heart, and survived a failed attempt to fly to Honolulu. One day, Mr. Mahoney, the new owner of the airfield, relays news of the upcoming Race to Hawai’i to Olivia and the other pilots, but flatly refuses to sponsor her, despite her skills. Undeterred, Olivia determines to get to San Francisco and apply in person to serve as a navigator after her father spots an advertisement in the local newspaper. “I have to do this,” she tells her parents. In her response to the ad, she intentionally omits one salient detail, simply signing the telegram as “OM West.”

In a second third-person narrative, Ackerman introduces readers to Wren. It is 1987 and Wren is a talented artist – she crafts light fixtures from wood and glass, but has not been able to earn a living by selling her creations, so she toils as a waitress. Eighty-four days ago, Wren discovered that her boyfriend, Joe, had been unfaithful. Wren had surrendered her power to and become dependent on Joe, but moved out of his upscale cottage and now she is facing eviction from her tiny studio because she has not been able to pay the rent. For wren, “being homeless, jobless and manless had never been part of the plan. But maybe that was part of the problem. There had been no real plan.” She receives a surprising call from an attorney with shocking news: she has inherited the estate of her great-aunt Portia Kahawai, a woman she only met a couple of times when she was a child. She was her father’s aunt, but her father has not been in her life for some time. Although Portia did not leave Wren any money, she bequeathed her a property on the Big Island, near Ha’wi’, across the channel from Maui, along with a hand-written note explaining that the land has been passed to her because she is the last surviving woman in the family. “This is a special place and it’s been sitting idle too long. It is time to change that and make something of it.” Like Olivia so many years ago, Wren has no way of knowing that her life is about to be changed irrevocably and profoundly.

In alternating chapters, Ackerman details the two women’s adventures, decades apart. Olivia talks her way into the navigator role and preparations begin in earnest for the race. But challenges abound for all involved, not the least of which are the logistical considerations. Ackerman’s painstaking research into her subject matter is evident as she describes the various conundrums the explorers must overcome, prime among them the questions of how to carry enough fuel aboard the planes and how to refuel mid-flight. The role of the navigator is critical because if the pilot and navigator are unable to see Oahu and the runway there, the plane will run out of fuel and crash into the ocean or on a nearby island. (The route across the Pacific from California to Hawaii is the longest in the world offering no alternate place to land.) Some of the test flights do not go well and the weather fails to cooperate. Despite talk about postponing the race, Dole is determined to stick to the schedule, largely due to the massive amount of publicity it has generated and the funds that have already been expended. Olivia’s life is further complicated, and her resolve tested, when Heath shows up. He will be piloting one of the planes . . . and wants Olivia to give him a second chance. And the race becomes shrouded in mystery. Could someone be intent on sabotage? Ackerman's scenes depicting the flight are expertly drafted -- tense, suspenseful, and competely riveting -- as the pilots and navigtors struggle to overcome numerous potentially deadly hurdles.

Wren travels to the Big Island and discovers that the property she inherited is not just in a remote location. It is uninhabitable. But she has nowhere else to live and no money to procure better accommodations. She sets about renovating the dilapidated old barn, relying on her ingenuity and resolve. The barn is littered with old artifacts, some of which are quite intriguing, especially an old car – likely a 1940 Ford – and an airplane! She enlists a local, Pono Willard, to help her restore both, hoping to sell them. But she becomes interested in the origin and history of her inheritance, and begins searching for answers about not just Portia’s life, but also the lives of her other ancestors. She takes a job as an aide at a local nursing home, unaware that one resident there is the key to all the answers she seeks. Ackerman aptly characterizes Wren’s story as a “coming of age” tale. As the story progresses, the likable and empathetic young woman learns to stand on her own, becomes strong and decisive, and by learning about her past is able to carve out a future for herself.

Ackerman deftly employs Wren’s storyline to explore the mysteries surrounding the race, aspects of which are based on real occurrences. She says she wrote the entire narrative setting forth Olivia’s story first. “The hardest part is to figure out where to weave” the two narratives together without revealing too much too soon, she relates. The two stories advance and integrate seamlessly as Ackerman whisks readers back to 1927 just after revealing a salient portion of the story through Wren’s explorations, providing background details and clues to how her captivating and fully developed characters’ lives have intersected. When all the pieces fall into place, with Ackerman revealing her characters’ fates, the result is emotionally satisfying if, in some aspects, bittersweet.

Once again, Ackerman has penned a cohesive, compelling story featuring strong female characters who exhibit bravery, tenacity, and resilience. Olivia is a woman ahead of her time, insistent upon pursuing her love of flying and refusing to be limited or constrained by her gender. Despite her petite stature, she is powerful and stands strong, refusing to be denied opportunities that are routinely provided to men, demonstrating her prowess, and commanding respect. As Wren’s story opens, she is lost and floundering, and is acutely aware that she has arrived at a crossroads. She is also clever and recognizes that her inheritance constitutes a once-in-a-lifetime chance, even though she becomes discouraged and, at times, contemplates giving up. Ackerman surrounds the two characters with a fascinating and eclectic cast of supporting players, each of whom lends context and color to, and advances the story.

The Uncharted Flight of Olivia West is another mesmerizing and cleverly imagined work of historical fiction from Ackerman and a fitting homage to the brave aviators who risked everything to make transoceanic flight a reality.

Thanks to NetGalley for an Advance Reader's Copy of the book.
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JHSColloquium | 4 other reviews | Mar 13, 2024 |
From the publisher:
1927. Olivia ‘Livy’ Jones is a young and determined pilot with a love of adventure. She’s been bit by the flying bug and yearns to cross oceans and see the world, pioneering the way for other women pilots. When she learns of the Dole Air Race–organized immediately after Charles Lindbergh’s famous flight–a race to be the first to make the 2,400 mile Pacific crossing from the West coast to Hawaii, with a huge grand prize of $25,000–she sets her sights on qualifying. But it soon becomes clear that only men will make the cut. In a last ditch effort to take part, Livy manages to be picked as a navigator for one of the pilots, before setting out on a harrowing journey that will change her life forever.

1987. Wren Summers is down to her last dime when she learns she has inherited a remote piece of land on the Big Island with nothing on it but a dilapidated barn and an overgrown mac nut grove. She plans on selling it and using the money to live on, but she is drawn in by the mysterious objects kept in the barn by her late great-uncle—clues to a tragic piece of aviation history lost to time. Determined to find out what really happened all those years ago, Wren enlists the help of residents at a nearby retirement home to uncover Olivia’s story piece by piece. What she discovers is more earth-shattering, and closer to home, than she could have ever imagined.

My Thoughts:

Last week there was a news story about the possible discovery of a plane submerged in the Pacific Ocean and there was speculation that it was the plane of Amelia Earhart, who was lost at sea in 1937 during her attempt to be the first woman to fly around the world, so it's a great time to read Sara Ackerman's novel The Unchartered Flight of Olivia West.

Frequently in dual timeline novels, one storyline is stronger than the other, but in this one, I was equally invested in both stories and both women. Livy Jones is an intelligent young woman who figures out a way to make into the boys' club of aviation by working hard and taking advantage of every opportunity to be around pilots and eventually convincing one pilot to let her fly with him.

In the 1987 timeline, when Wren's life appears to be falling apart, she leaves her home and when she sees the dilapidated barn, pulls herself together and works to make a new home for herself. Ackerman paints such a vivid portrait of the barn, I felt like if I closed my eyes I could see it.

Both characters are well-drawn and I enjoyed following the progress that Livy made during her flight to Hawaii and Wren made restoring her great-uncle's plane. There's history, romance, some interesting Hawaiian culture, and a nice twist at the end that careful readers may be able to guess. I recommend it for fans of historical fiction featuring strong women.
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bookchickdi | 4 other reviews | Mar 11, 2024 |
Like Sara Ackerman's other books, the history of The Uncharted Flight of Olivia West is of Hawaii. This is the first I have read that is not centered around World War II. This book builds on 1920s history of the Dole Air Race. The pacing of the book is a little uneven, but ultimately it leaves the memory of a sweet story and a knowledge of a unique little snippet of history.

Read my complete review at rel="nofollow" target="_top">

Reviewed for NetGalley and a publisher’s blog tour.… (more)
njmom3 | 4 other reviews | Feb 20, 2024 |



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