I saw this novel a couple times at my local bookstore and wasn’t sure about it. It’s military fiction, which I’m often drawn to, but it also sounded kind of romancy. I worried it would be too far on the romance side for my tastes. Plus, the officer’s hair on the cover is unsat. 😱
From the publisher: Helicopter pilot Lt. Sara Denning joins a Navy battle group with little fanfare—and that’s just the way she likes it. After her brother Ian’s tragic death, her career path seemed obvious: step into his shoes and enter the Naval Academy, despite her fear of water. Sara’s philosophy is simple—blend in, be competent, and above all, never do anything to stand out as a woman in a man’s world. Somewhere along the way, Sara lost herself—her feminine, easygoing soul is now buried under so many defensive layers, she can’t reach it anymore. When she meets strong, self-assured Lt. Eric Marxen, her defenses start to falter. Eric coordinates flight operations for a Navy SEAL team that requests Sara as the exclusive pilot. This blatant show of favoritism causes conflict with the other pilots; Sara’s sexist boss seems intent on making her life miserable, and her roommate and best friend, the only other woman on the ship, is avoiding her. It doesn’t help that her interactions with Eric leave her reeling. The endgame of the SEALs’ mission is so secret, even Sara doesn’t know the reason behind her mandated participation. Soon, though, the training missions become real, and Sara must overcome her fears before they plunge her into danger. When Sara’s life is on the line, can she find her true self again and follow the orders of her heart before it is too late? Anne A. Wilson’s Hover is a thrilling, emotional women’s journey written by a groundbreaking former Navy pilot.
At the mention of Navy SEALs, red flags starting unfurling in the back of my mind. I’m not blind, I’ve seen the covers in the romance section where SEALs seem to be code for Steamy Erotic Amazing Licentious Sex, which is great, but not what I’m currently into reading. On the other hand, I reasoned with myself, standing there in front of the new book table at my local bookstore, Wilson is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and she did serve in the Navy as a helicopter pilot for nine years, so maybe there will be some good action of the military variety. I took a chance and bought it.
So glad I did!
The military action seems realistic without being overly or insecurely technical in detail and the military woman’s perspective & experience is highly accurate, from dealing with self-doubts, to the misogynistic culture, to the BS from individual men, to the strong bonds sometimes formed with other women.
In one scene an arrogant male pilot with the call sign Bull (as in bullshit, but also perhaps a nod to Pat Conroy’s thinly fictionalized father, Bull Meechum in The Great Santini) hits on Sara in a social setting when she’s out of uniform. Bull talks nonstop about himself and asks her zero questions, probably assuming he’s wowing her. She obviously knows he’s full of shit and distractedly listens as he piles lie atop lie. When her friend arrives and the truth comes out, that Sara is an Academy grad, “Bull’s drunken smile turns to a scowl, “Bitch,” he says, before marching away.” That scene nicely encapsulates what military experience can be like for women.
On her website Wilson has a “Pictorial Glossary” of the helicopters and ships featured in Hover,
|H-46 Sea Knight, Sara’s helicopter [source: author]|
which is pretty cool. I served as landlubber in the Marine Corps in the 1980s and can’t imagine the pressures Wilson experienced as a Naval pilot in the 1990s. I’ve often wished I’d joined the Navy for a chance to serve aboard ship. (Sssh! Don’t tell anyone I said that, it’s sacrilegious.)
The romance doesn’t steal the show nor is it completely unrealistic (no silly scenes where they’re off having a hot quickie in the back of a helicopter), but is actually integral to the main character’s growth.
In addition to showing the missions Sara flies, her professional challenges, emotional struggles, and budding romance, Wilson also depicts the less glamorous side of military life such as shore patrol duty, obligatory social events, and negotiating the wardroom. Although there is camaraderie, there’s also politics and jerky or even dangerous coworkers, as in many work situations.
There’s an underlying vibe that I appreciated about this novel: there is no over-the-top glorification of war or service here. For the most part, it’s humble people doing their duty, proud of the important work they do. Except for the bad guy, of course, ain’t nothing humble about him. Also touching is that Sara is not the only character trying to heal from a past trauma.
Overall, Hover is the best fictional depiction of a women in the military that I’ve read to date. I’m looking forward to Wilson’s second book, Clear to Lift, even if it looks like it will feature a new cast of characters. That’s right, after all my trepidation about the romantic elements of this novel, I want to know how things end up for Sara and Eric!
Clear to Lift is scheduled to be released on July 12, 2016.
Author: Anne A. Wilson
Publisher: Forge Books, 2015
Source: bought it
Bottom line: If you’re looking for a realistic novel that has military adventure and a human element without gratuitous violence or explicit sexual content, give this one a try.