The Pilot’s Daughter by Meredith Jaeger
Plop me in a bookstore, twirl me around, and inevitably, you’ll find me standing in front of a pile of WWII set novels. The covers feel romantic and dreamy — and usually include a woman facing away. No matter how many I read, I find them irresistible. So it was no surprise that The Pilot’s Daughter immediately called to me.
About The Pilot’s Daughter:
In the final months of World War II, San Francisco newspaper secretary Ellie Morgan should be planning her wedding and subsequent exit from the newsroom into domestic life. Instead, Ellie, who harbors dreams of having her own column, is using all the skills she’s learned as a would-be reporter to try to uncover any scrap of evidence that her missing pilot father is still alive. But when she discovers a stack of love letters from a woman who is not her mother in his possessions, her already fragile world goes into a tailspin, and she vows to find out the truth about the father she loves—and the woman who loved him back.
When Ellie arrives on her aunt Iris’s doorstep, clutching a stack of letters and uttering a name Iris hasn’t heard in decades, Iris is terrified. She’s hidden her past as a Ziegfeld Follies showgirl from her family, and her experiences in New York City in the 1920s could reveal much more than the origin of her brother-in-law’s alleged affair. Iris’s heady days in the spotlight weren’t enough to outshine the darker underbelly of Jazz Age New York, and she’s spent the past twenty years believing that her actions in those days led to murder.
Together the two women embark on a cross-country mission to find the truth in the City That Never Sleeps. This journey might just shatter everything they thought they knew—not only about the past but about their own futures.
Inspired by a true Jazz Age murder cold case that captivated the nation, and the fact that more than 72,000 Americans still remain unaccounted for from World War II, The Pilot’s Daughter is a page-turning exploration of the stories we tell ourselves and of how well we can truly know those we love.
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It’s 1945 and Ellie’s life has been flipped upside down. Not only has she received news of her father’s death, but hidden among his possessions is a stack of love letters written to a woman across the country. As she wrestles with grief, Ellie and her aunt Iris head across the country to uncover the truth.
Full of determination and perseverance, both these women move outside of the typical roles society has placed upon them. (Iris as a retired Ziegfeld Follies girl, and Ellie as an aspiring reporter.) This was one of my favorite things about the story. I loved that these characters made bold decisions in a way that still felt very realistic.
I also found that this book tackled the subject of grief in an unexpected but honest way. At first, I found it so unrealistic that Ellie would expect to the government to give her more information about her father’s death. (There’s a war on, after all!) But as the book progressed, I really appreciated the author’s message about grief. Not only is denial a very real part of loss, a lot of families of WWII servicemen and women never got the final closure that they needed. There was an authentic feel to Ellie’s pain and I’m always grateful to authors who don’t shy away from heavy subjects.
While I enjoyed the book overall, I didn’t connect with this story as deeply as I was hoping to. Having read a lot of WWII novels, I was missing a bit of a spark with this one. (And that’s solely reader’s preference.) While the mystery angle was interesting, the stakes felt too low in the 1945 timeline. I missed the heightened sense of suspense and danger that usually accompany a mystery.
I did, however, love the inspiration behind this story.
I’d never heard of the Ziegfeld Follies or the Butterfly Murders. These are two fascinating bits of history that the author managed to merge. I turned the last page and immediately began researching more! (And it always feels like a successful story when that happens.) I would definitely check out more works by this author in the future.