Wednesday, July 14, 2010

‘Touching the Clouds’ by Bonnie Leon – Book Review

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During my time reading and reviewing, I have discovered that I really enjoy historical fiction. The latest book I have read in that genre is ‘Touching the Clouds’ by Bonnie Leon.

Here is the synopsis of this novel:

          She went looking for adventure…and found more than she bargained for.
Kate Evans is an adventurous and independent young woman with a pioneering spirit. When she leaves her home in Washington State to follow her dream of being an Alaskan bush pilot, she knew it was an uphill battle. But she never expected it to be quite like this. As the lone woman in a man’s world, she find that contending with people’s expectations is almost as treacherous as navigating the wild arctic storms.
When she crosses paths with a mysterious man living alone in the forbidding wilderness, she faces a new challenge. Can Kate break through the walls he has put up around his heart? And will fear keep her from realizing her dreams?
Book 1 in the Alaskan Skies series, Touching the Clouds will draw you in with raw emotion and suspense, all against the stunning background of the Alaskan wilds.    

Here is the biography for this author:

Bonnie Leon dabbled in writing for many years but never set it in a place of priority until an accident in 1991 left her unable to work at her job. She is now the author of several historical fiction series, including the Sydney Cove series, Queensland Chronicles, the Matanuska series, the Sowers Trilogy, and the Northern Lights series. She also stays busy teaching women’s Bible studies, speaking, and teaching at writing seminars and women’s gatherings. Bonnie and her husband, Greg, live in Southern Oregon. They have three grown children and four grandchildren.

This book is set in 1935, at the midpoint of the Great Depression. Kate, age 25, has decided she wants to pursue her dreams, and she takes off in her Bellanca Pacemaker to Alaska in the hopes of becoming a bush pilot (she’d been flying since she was a little girl – her father was also a pilot). She decided a week before her wedding to her fiancé Richard that she could not go through with it; the idea of a ‘normal’ life and the house with a white picket fence has no appeal. By staying in her hometown of Yakima, Washington, she was also constantly reminded of an accident that had occurred when she was nineteen and had been behind the controls of another plane – an accident that claimed the life of her best friend Allison.  

Alaska, then and now, attracts people who like the distance from their problems, not to mention the adventure it provides. Another person who moved up there after a tragic accident is Paul Anderson, who lives in a remote part of the territory (which didn’t become a state until 1959).
Paul and Kate met at the mercantile, where Kate was working as she pursued a pilot job. Paul provided some information on a lead:

“I met a fella last night who just started up an airfield. Maybe he could use someone.”
“Where? At Merrill Field?”
“No. It’s a new outfit – small – down by Lake Spenard.”
Kate’s eyes lit with interest. “Who do I talk to?”
“Sidney Shaefer. Young fella, but he’s got big dreams and seems to have a lot of drive.” Paul doubted Kate had a chance at a job and wondered if he should have kept his mouth shut. No use getting her hopes up.
“I’ll check with him. Thanks.” Kate placed his thread and buttons in the box.
Paul couldn’t hold back a caution. “Dangerous line of work, flying.”
“Yes, but so are a lot of other jobs. And I never feel happier than when I’m in the air. I love it up there.” Her expression turned blissful. “The world looks different, more beautiful.” (p. 37)

Kate was a godly young woman, and she relied on God to help her get this job:

Kate stepped outside. She’d decided to fly to the airstrip so she headed toward Merrill Field. Nerves made her muscles tight, and every few steps she’d shake her arms, trying to loosen the tension. It didn’t help. She stopped and took a deep breath, closing her eyes. Lord, I need your help. Convince Mr. Schaefer to give me a chance. (p. 56)

Kate took Sidney flying; despite some misgivings on his part, he did hire her part-time for a mail run.

The other pilots in Sidney’s employ – among them, Jack Rydell and Kenny Hicks – loved to give grief to Kate strictly because of his gender. She was up to the challenge:

Keeping her head down against the strengthening gale, Kate wondered what she had done to get Jack’s dander up. Only thing she could figure was her gender. He didn’t like female pilots. He’d made that clear. He probably sits up nights thinking of ways to get under my skin.
She glanced at Kenny. He wasn’t as bad as Jack, but he still needled her regularly. She didn’t know where he got off ridiculing her – he was, at best, a mediocre pilot. (p. 91)

Soon after her hiring, she had the opportunity for a rescue; she passed the test with flying colors, and came to a final realization:

After a perfect takeoff, she soared over the trees and headed toward home. She’d never felt such exultation. This was her first real Alaska rescue, a dream come true. Her mind flashed to Alison and she wished she could tell her about the day. They’d always shared everything. She would have been proud of me.
And Richard… well, Kate knew now that she couldn’t return to Yakima. And he wanted a traditional wife, whether it was in the states or in Alaska. That wasn’t her. Kate’s life had changed forever. She was meant to be a bush pilot in Alaska. (p. 103)

Kate saw Paul with some regularity as she delivered mail to his home, and when he came to shop in the mercantile (she still worked there part-time). She was attracted to him, but wasn’t quite sure if they would be a good match:

Paul intruded on her thoughts. She didn’t want to think about him. He wasn’t her type – too serious. Still, she couldn’t shut out the image of his broad shoulders, the set of his strong chin, and the warmth in his eyes. And the idea of him spending Christmas alone on the creek sent a twinge of sadness through her. (p. 143)

Kate developed some close relationships in her travels. One of the families that meant a lot to her was Joe and Nena and their children in Kotzebue. They were grateful for her services bringing their mail to them. She was apologetic that they gave a Christmas gift to her and she hadn’t reciprocated:

“You have – something of great value,” said Nena. “You come when it is dark and cold. It is dangerous for you, but still you bring Christmas to Kotzebue.” She smiled, her teeth looking white against her dark skin.
For the first time since arriving in Alaska, Kate saw her profession as more than a job. It was a mission. She hugged Nena and then each member of the family. At that moment she couldn’t imagine a better life. (p. 150)

Albert and Helen, her employers at the mercantile, were also like family to her; they even let her live in a room in the back of the store. On Christmas, Kate worked up the courage to tell Helen about the accident that claimed Alison’s life – and that plagued Kate with guilt with regularity. Helen offered some sound and godly advice:

“I don’t know why God does what he does. But I do know all things work out just the way he has planned. All we see of this world is what’s right in front of us. But there’s so much more, and God see it all. Alison’s life didn’t end that day in the lake. She’s still living, only in a place we can’t see. She’s with God.” Helen took Kate’s face in her hands and pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead. “I’m certain she’s not angry with you.” (p. 163)

Paul had turned his back on God after the tragedy in his life – the death of his pregnant wife back in San Francisco. When Kate’s plane went missing for a period of time, he offered up a short prayer:

What had happened to Kate? Was she down someplace? Was she safe? Or had she crashed? His elbows on the table, he put his face in his hands and tried to pray. It had been a long time and he felt guilty asking now – he’d ignored God for so long. “Lord…you know where Kate is. Help her.” (p. 187)

God did hear his prayer; she was found alive and well shortly thereafter.

Kate saw God’s majesty regularly in the beautiful territory of Alaska:

With another hour left until she reached McGrath, Kate was grateful for a full, butter-colored moon that cast its light across a dark sky and illuminated soft, rounded, snow-covered mountains. She felt God’s presence so strongly she almost expected to hear his voice declaring pleasure at his creation. (p. 208)

Another pilot that worked with Kate, Mike Conlin, was nothing like the other sexist men. She enjoyed his company:

Mike and Kate talked flying mostly, but they also discussed life in Alaska versus that in the states. The conversation turned to their families, and Mike told her a little about growing up in Chicago. Although he seemed somewhat reluctant to talk about his family, Kate did learn that his father had been a drunk, and his mother raised him, his brothers, and a sister on her own. Kate figured it must be Mike’s determination to be nothing like his father that made him so principled and loyal. Her admiration grew for her flying comrade. (p. 217)

Kate was conflicted over the two men in her life – Paul and Mike:

Thoughts of Mike popped into Kate’s mind throughout the day. She couldn’t decide how she felt about him. One moment she thought he could be the one for her and the next he felt more like a pal. And there was Paul. She’d felt something between them, but just what, she didn’t know. In any case, he’d made it clear he wasn’t interested in a relationship. (p. 254)

At the end of the book, Kate does decide on one of the two men (you will have to read it to find out which one she chose!).

I really like this book! It is incredibly well-written and well-researched; Bonnie definitely did her homework! I look forward to the next book in the Alaskan Skies series to see the continuing adventures of Kate Evans!       

You can order this book here.

Available July 2010 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

This book was provided for review purposes by Revell, a Division of Baker Publishing Group.


Bonnie Leon said...

Hi Andrea.

This is the first time I've seen this format for a book post. How creative.

Thanks so much. I'm glad you liked the book.

Grace and peace to you,


Andrea Schultz said...

Hi Bonnie -
Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words! And thanks for writing such a terrific book!
Blessings -
Andrea said...

I enjoyed Touching the Clouds very much! Bonnie Leon's book was intriguing and made me smile!

I thought this novel compared very well with others in the world of Christian historical fiction. It had numerous tricks and turns that kept me turning one page after another well into the night.

I wrote my own review that can be found here:


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