Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Blog Tour: The Uncharted Flight of Olivia West + Excerpt

Today, I'm excited to share my stop for the HTP Books blog tour of The Uncharted Flight of Olivia West by Sara Ackerman! If you're someone who was always interested in Amelia Earhart or the early days of flying–especially the early days of women flying–then this is going to be a book you're going to want to be sure to check out. Of course, you'll also still probably enjoy the book if you just like well-written historical fiction with a wonderful protagonist and a compelling narrative.
Below you'll find some information about the book, the author, and some links where you can go pre-order the book and check out the author's website and socials, as well as an excerpt to get you hooked. :) Thanks for stopping by!

Author:  Sara Ackerman
Pub. Date: February 6th, 2024
Publisher: MIRA
Find it: Bookshop.org | Amazon | Harlequin | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million

"This extraordinary novel, inspired by real events, tells the story of a female aviator who defies the odds to embark on a daring air race across the Pacific.

1927. Olivia "Livy" West is a fearless young pilot with a love of adventure. She yearns to cross oceans and travel the skies. When she learns of the Dole Air Race—a high-stakes contest to be the first to make the 2,400 mile Pacific crossing from the West Coast to Hawai'i—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 some will not survive.

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."


San Diego, 1920

     Livy had been coming to the airfield for months now but still had yet to go up in an airplane. On weekends, when Pa was out fishing, she would offer to wash the planes or do whatever odd jobs she could for a penny, while watching planes go up. Always hoping to get a ride, but so far out of luck. Though not for a lack of trying. She had been pestering Mr. Ryan for months now. “Paying customers only,” was his standard response. “Or students.” But so far, all students were men. A sixteen-year-old girl had no business in a cockpit.
     Ryan Flying Company and School of Aviation was on the edge of the Dutch Flats alongside the San Diego Bay and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, a long Spanish-style building with a tall bell tower in the middle. Palm trees neatly lined up in front like green soldiers at attention. When the tide pulled out, you could smell salty brine and decaying sea life. The hangar was modern and clean, but it was plopped on a brown expanse of hard-packed mud that kicked up dust when dry. Of late, the place had become a magnet for all things aviation.
     Mr. Ryan had begun letting other people park their planes here free of charge, and customers flocked for the sightseeing tours.
     On a warm Sunday in March, after surviving a long sermon at church with her mother, Livy beelined it to the airfield. A new pilot had been hired for the tours and she was hoping he might be a softy, and maybe, just maybe, she could persuade him to take her up. Such a gloomy and gusty day, with dark clouds threatening rain, meant less people taking a tour. It also happened that Mr. Ryan was in Los Angeles for the week, and what he didn’t know couldn’t hurt him.
     Livy was hunched over, wiping down the wheels of Mr. Hall’s biplane, when she heard the incoming engine. She stood up to watch the wobbly machine approach. A storm was brewing to the south, you could taste it in the air, and that always made the pilots nervous. She watched the plane make a precarious drop before leveling off, and then come in for a hard landing. As soon as he came to a stop, the new pilot hopped out of the plane, waiting for his customer and holding a hand out when she finally disembarked. A red-haired woman in heels, face white as chalk.
     Livy walked over, wiping her hands on her overalls. “How was it up there today?”
     The woman staggered past Livy without even a glance. “Never again.”
     The pilot trailed behind his passenger and shrugged. “What can I say? Usually, they’re begging for more.”
      Once the woman left, zooming off in a shiny Model T, Livy moseyed over to the hangar and stood in the doorway. The pilot was at the counter drinking a Coke and studying a clipboard. With his goggles pulled up on his head, his thick blond hair stood out in all directions, as though he’d stuck his hand in an electric socket.
     Livy cleared her throat.
     He looked up. “Can I help you?” he asked.
     “I’m Olivia West. I work here.”
     More like volunteer and hope that people would pay her, but she could dream.
     “Oh, right. Mr. Ryan said you might be here. I’m Heath Hazeltine, new pilot.” He was staring oddly at her, and for a second she wondered if she might have grease on her face, like she often did while working here, but then he said with a shake of his head, “I was expecting something different.”
     “I come in on the weekends, wipe down planes and other odd jobs,” she said, for some reason feeling like she had to explain, then added, “I’m learning to fly.”
     That was a stretch, too, but she did always listen to the pilots talk, watch how they got the propellers spinning and closely observe the takeoffs and landings. She knew which part of the runway was more rutted with potholes, and which angle was best for approach.
     He cocked his head slightly. “That so?”
     “It is.”
     One side of his mouth turned up, just a hint. “I didn’t know women could fly airplanes, let alone teenage girls.”
     Livy felt her whole face go red. “I’ll be seventeen in four months. And I’ll bet I know more about airplanes and weather than you do, especially down here in San Diego.”
     All she really knew about him was that he’d come from Los Angeles and had flown in Hollywood some, doing stunts. No one had mentioned anything about him being so young. She had been picturing some old guy with a sun-beaten face and graying hair.
     “Feisty. I like it,” he said.
     She stood on her tippy toes and straightened up, all five feet three inches. Though her thick curls tucked under the hat added some extra height. “Take me up, and I’ll teach you a thing or two.”
     He laughed. “What can you teach me?”
     When he smiled, his whole face changed, making him seem even younger and a little less arrogant—and painfully handsome. Livy felt a swoosh in her stomach and her cheeks tingled. He couldn’t have been much older than twenty, and yet there was a certain worldliness about him. She found herself wanting to impress him.
     “Like I said, I know everything there is to know about this area. What have you got to lose?” she said.
     He looked at his watch. “My new job, for one. And I have another tour in twenty minutes, so even if I wanted to, I couldn’t. Want to help me patch that big pothole in the runway?”
     None of the other pilots ever offered to fill the potholes, they always figured someone else would do it. The mud stuck to everything and gave off a rank odor, and a lot of them saw it as beneath them.
     “How about I go fill those holes for you, and you take me up after your tour,” she said. She thought he was going to refuse her, like Mr. Ryan always did, but instead he nodded and said, “You’re on.”
     Disbelief flooded through her. “Really?”
     “Really. Now get out there before my next customer arrives.”
     But the passengers never showed up, most likely on account of the weather, and the books were empty after that. Heath helped Livy up onto the wing with a big, rough hand and a rock-solid arm. He moved like a man who was extremely comfortable in his own skin, as though the world rotated on his time. Livy decided that he was the perfect man for the job. You wanted your first time up to be memorable, but also to be survivable. Confidence was an asset.
     “Sure you want to do this? Those clouds look formidable,” he said.
Livy had noticed the band of charcoal clouds at sea, heralding the foul weather moving up from Mexico. A sudden chill came over her, and she tried to blot out the memory that always accompanied storms blowing in. The dark thing that would always be with her, always haunt the recesses of her mind. Blinding salt spray, cold waves smashing over the bow and washing everything from the deck, the sound of her name being stolen by the whipping wind. Olivia! The last moments of his chafed hand holding on to hers. Her heart began to squeeze in on itself, but she willed the thoughts away.
     This storm was likely to be a bad one, but hell if she was going to blow her only chance to fly. Timed right, they’d be able to outrun it.
     “Positive. From the looks of it, we have about thirty-seven minutes before that front hits here. Just head north along the coast and we should be back in time.”
     She climbed into her seat, and he leaned in and tightened the belt on her waist.
     “Thirty-seven, huh? Not thirty-six?” he said, close enough that she caught a whiff of mint and salt water.
     When he pulled away, their eyes met. Chocolate brown with flecks of fire. Her first instinct was to look away, but instead, she held his gaze. 
     "Nope, thirty-seven. Let’s go, we’re wasting time,” she said. “Oh, and you’ll probably want to come in from the east on your approach. The wind will swing around coming in off the ocean when it moves in.”
     When he stepped back, he almost fell off the wing, catching himself on the wire. They both laughed, breaking whatever strange thing it was that had just passed between them. Without another word, he hopped in and started up the engine. After a few sputters, it chugged to life. Livy slid her goggles on, and made sure her cap was strapped tight. The whole plane buzzed, sending vibrations from the tips of her toes to the crown of her head. As they bounced down the runway, gathering speed, she could hardly believe her luck. One, two, three. Liftoff.
     The shift from clunky and earthbound to weightlessness was unmistakable. Everything went light and buoyant and yet Livy was pinned to her seat as the plane went up. It was a steep climb and all she could see was sky in front of her. She let her head fall back and closed her eyes, imagining herself as an albatross soaring. The hum from the wires that held the wings together grew louder the faster they went. Heath let out a holler and Livy found herself half laughing, half crying. It was even more wonderful than she’d imagined.
     When they banked to the right and leveled out some, she saw that she had a bird’s eye view of San Diego Bay, Coronado Island and the city itself—white buildings, red roofs and palm trees. The wind from earlier had died down, leaving an eerie stillness in its wake. They flew toward the cliffs of Point Loma and beyond that, the blue Pacific. There were none of the usual bumps and drops that everyone talked about. It was smooth sailing and she was in awe.
     About six minutes out, the nose of the plane suddenly pointed skyward and they began climbing sharply. Pretty soon, they were nearly vertical. Livy knew all her specs of the Curtiss JN 4 “Jenny”—top speed was about eighty miles an hour, she dove well, but when climbing fast, she had a tendency to stall. So, what the heck was Heath doing?

Excerpted from The Uncharted Flight of Olivia West by Sara Ackerman. Copyright © 2024 by Sara Ackerman. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A., a division of HarperCollins


Sara Ackerman is the Hawai'i born, bestselling author of The Codebreaker's Secret, Radar Girls, Red Sky Over Hawaii, The Lieutenant’s Nurse, and Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers. Sara's books have been labeled “unforgettable” by Apple Books, “empowering & deliciously visceral” by Book Riot, and New York Times bestselling authors Kate Quinn and Madeline Martin have praised Sara’s novels as “fresh and delightful” and “brilliantly written.” Amazon chose Radar Girls as a best book of the month, and ALA Booklist gave The Codebreaker’s Secret a starred review. Find out more about Sara and her books at www.ackermanbooks.com and follow her on Instagram @saraackermanbooks and on FB @ackermanbooks.

Author photo by Tracy Wright-Corvo.

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