Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The Long Flight Home, by A. L. Hlad! I’m so pleased to have the chance to tell you more about this charming and very moving novel set during the Second World War. This book has everything I look for in historical fiction; Hlad’s interest in this time in history is apparent and infectious, and his attention to detail is meticulous. More than anything, this is also simply a wonderful story: a very readable tale of love, courage and sacrifice.
The story is centred around the fascinating role that homing pigeons and their owners played during the Second World War. It opens in September 1940, where in Britain the Blitz is raging and every night fighter planes loom in the sky. Susan Shepherd and her grandfather Bertie live in Epping Forest, where they raise homing pigeons and are battling on, in spite of the growing devastation and unease pervading Britain. Across the other side of the Atlantic, in Buxton Maine, is Ollie Evans – a young crop-duster pilot helping his parents run their farm. When a terrible tragedy changes Ollie’s life completely, he needs to seek a new future and he sets off across the ocean to join the Royal Air Force in Britain. It is here when Susan and Ollie’s paths cross, through a secret operation assigned to the National Pigeon Service.
The story unfolds through the alternating viewpoints of Susan and Ollie. This dual narration works perfectly, as although the characters must stoically bear their own hardships and can only imagine each others’ fates, we as readers hover over both worlds and get to see the full story. I find this sort of structure so compelling in a novel, because each chapter ends on a mini cliff hanger – you know you won’t return to this scene for a little while, until we shift to this character’s story!
There is a beautiful balance to this novel, which has some very heartwarming and charming moments, but also demonstrates the terrible realities of war and sacrifices made by both those living in Britain during the Blitz, and those living in German-occupied France. What comes through most strongly throughout, is the strength and kindness of humanity. There is a cast of fantastic characters, who, amongst the horrors of war, all face internal battles of their own: Susan is a fully-drawn and inspirational female protagonist; Ollie meets the challenges he’s dealt in life with sensitivity and humour; and readers will without a doubt fall in love with Bertie, who has the most caring and adorable nature.
Knowing very little about homing pigeons, or the role they played in the Second World War, I came to find them both extremely fascinating and also a comfort within the bleakness of war depicted in the pages. The connection Susan and Bertie have with the pigeons they have raised is so touching, particularly Susan’s beloved Duchess, who Susan nursed to life and raised very much as her pet. I found myself marvelling at both the intelligence of this animal and Hlad’s ability to draw out such an emotional connection with Duchess. Duchess really is one of the central characters in this novel, who I became very fond of.
The Long Flight Home published in the UK just a few days ago at the end of October. I definitely recommend this interesting and touching book to anyone who likes historical fiction and wants to find out more about the role the amazing homing pigeons played in the war.
Many thanks to Kate Keehan and Hodder & Stoughton for the opportunity to join in with this blog tour. Do be sure to check out the other stops on the tour!
Sophie @Sophie_Jo_Books 📚🐾