“Oh, you love to read? What’s your favorite book?”
I never know how to answer that one. It’s like a trick question, or worse yet, a particularly finicky short answer on a standardized exam.
Never ask a reader what his or her favorite book is. Don’t even ask about a “top five” or “top ten.” The process of attempting to condense a library’s-worth of beloved characters, twisty plots, and exceptional villains into a concise response comprehensible to the unwary inquirer utterly confounds us. We wind ourselves up into little Gordian Knots inside our own heads during the confused pause following your (seemingly, but so totally not) mundane question. It messes with our minds, our hearts, our souls.
We can’t handle it!
“Picking five favorite books is like picking the five body parts you’d most like not to lose.” -Neil Gaiman
The adage about stories being like old friends is absolutely true. Drawing them over and sitting down for a prolonged get-together is like cozying up to that warm-hearted, fascinating friend you haven’t seen in ages.
It can be a fantasy, a biography, a horror flick, or a comic book — it doesn’t matter. If you’ve fallen in love, it becomes a cherished companion to cuddle up to on a cold, rainy day.
I have many such dear friends on my shelves — both the ones made out of fake wood and the virtual cyber-shelves of my tablet. I spotted one of them the other day in passing and decided it was time to sit down and catch up with this particularly good chum of mine.
A few years ago, I was aimlessly strolling among the shelves at Barnes & Noble, patiently waiting for something to reach out and grab my attention. It didn’t take long. Right there, in the A’s section of Fiction, a bold, beautiful cover jumped out at me. A strikingly lovely woman, done up with bold lipstick and platinum blonde hair, looking out with a badass quirk of her arched eyebrows made me reach immediately for the closest copy.
Flipping to the dust jacket, I found the promise of a tale of high adventure, a dastardly Soviet plot, courageous bomber pilots, and a mystery lost to time. A young woman growing up in the golden age of Stalin’s empire will take to the skies, laying her life on the line for her family, the Motherland, and a love to make the stars tremble in awe.
Drama, romance, mystery and intrigue, all set in the Soviet Union during World War II?
It had me hooked from the get-go.
Here’s the review I wrote for Sapphire Skies the first time I read it. If you enjoy historical fiction that packs a punch while still delivering on an emotional and intellectual level, this is a book you need to add to your TBR pile!
I’ll just be over here with a glass of red and this good friend of mine…
(Originally published on Goodreads.com)
|World War II was a time of heroes. Titans arose and took their places in the pantheon of the world stage – soldiers, politicians, spies, and the average citizen forced to defend his own. Whole nations went to war from the professional army right down to the farm and factory workmen, even the women and children. In this unique juncture between an old era and the new one to come a woman stepped forward to defend her homeland, her people, her political beliefs, and to grasp at glory.
Natalya Stepanovna Azarova (“Natasha”) grew up during the prime of the Soviet Union’s Socialist age. A chance meeting with Joseph Stalin as a girl led to a strong case of hero-worship that colored the decisions she would make for the rest of her life. When war broke out and the Soviet Union faced the deadly and immediate threat of Nazi invasion, Natasha wasted no time in joining the air force. In a time and place where female pilots were fewer than their male counterparts, but no less valued, Natasha became the best and brightest in her command. At the same time that she achieved her sought-after fame, Natasha found a worthy ally and lover in her Captain.
At Valentin’s side, and her trusty bomber in fighting form, it seemed that nothing could stand in her way … until a heretofore unknown ghost from the past crept up behind and shattered her world.
For a valiant heroine such as Natasha Azarova the ending to her story should have been grand and as spectacular as her life. But when she simply vanished without a trace her lover, her best friend, and the people of the Soviet Union who worshiped her had no idea what to think.
How did her story end … or did it?
Russia, 2000. Lily came from Australia to escape painful memories. When chance and circumstance land her with the care of an elderly lady whose identity is as much an enigma as her history, Lily finds herself working to piece together the ending historians, conspiracy theorists, and intelligence officers have debated over since the Azarova bomber flew off and didn’t return.
Was Natasha, the Socialist golden girl, a Nazi spy as many have supposed? Is the recently discovered corpse originally found at the location of a crash site hers? Did she die, or did her legend continue on along some unrevealed route, lost to time?
Lily is not the only one searching for Natasha, as the love once so fierce but left behind without warning or reason has not dimmed. Valentin Orlov is an old man, but he has refused to leave the love of his life buried in the obscure grave of history. To the Russian people she was a star, a bright hope, but to him she was a woman his heart could never let go of.
The truth of Natasha’s fate is revealed in time, though it is not from a source Lily would ever have believed it to come from. Nor is it what she could have thought possible for so treasured a heroine. A shattering betrayal, loss and crippling grief, oppression and hatred, and a journey both epic and utterly tragic. It is a story that shows the worst of mankind — and the very best.
Belinda Alexandra has crafted a masterpiece! Sapphire Skies is a brilliant story which illuminates a corner of history rarely explored in historical fiction and clings firmly to the historical record, which isn’t always as clean-cut or as laudable as we might wish. Humanity has committed heinous crimes against its own throughout time, but WWII is a seemingly unending mine of atrocities, tragedies, and horrors out of mankind’s repertoire.
While Natasha is fictional, her character and her struggles are all based as loyally as possible on the factual record of the place and time.
Could a woman have become a flying ace? … Plenty did.
Would Stalin have turned on one of his most effective soldiers in the heat of wartime? … Stalin didn’t shrink from eliminating those who rose too high.
A Soviet veteran sent to die in a hell like Kolyma? … Many were.
It’s a harrowing story, and one that is genuinely difficult to read at times. Natasha doesn’t just struggle, she suffers. It is all the more intense because the reality of the Soviet Union at that time held that many endured — were broken and destroyed by — the selfsame indignities and brutalities described here in prose.
Soul-deep and moving, this work strikes gold on so many levels. On the surface it is a Class A historical mystery/adventure with fabulous characters, but the depths demand readers to consider hard questions and analyze some of the seedier tidbits of history, human nature — and the inner fire that enables the spirit to survive against all odds. Bravo!
© 2018 Sarah Easley – All Rights Reserved.