Jane is a "girl reporter" for a Nashville paper who has not been able to get any closer to the front in France than a field hospital. She is fairly resigned to her out-of-immediate-action post and the refusal of the CO to authorize her any further forward until Olivia James Harper arrives in camp. Liv is an AP photographer whose husband runs the New York Daily Press. She is not content to stay behind the action even though she and Jane file some emotionally wrenching stories and photos from the hospital that garner them acclaim from Eleanor Roosevelt herself. Citing other brave female journalists and photographers defying orders, Liv and Jane go AWOL, determined to make their way to the front and to join the race to Paris. Happening across a photographer named Fletcher who Liv knows thanks to his connection to her husband and who is working for British Intelligence, the three join forces as they slowly cross the destroyed and still contested French countryside.
With MPs after them, the trio weaves around, taking photographs and writing stories, documenting the slow drive toward the city. They encounter horror, carnage, and gunfire. They, like the troops, must wait for the clouds to clear so the planes can fly. They are slowed by the lack of gasoline just as the rest of the convoy heading to Paris is. They camp out in barns and the woods, exposed to the elements or in danger of bombing. They take risks and defy convention for the profession that drives them. In short, they endure all the things that the powers that be think to be beyond the capabilities and sensibilities of women. Both Liv and Jane slowly reveal pieces of their pasts, their personalities, and the things that drive them as they alternately rush onward and wait impatiently, determined not to be left behind.
The narrative is framed by a 1994 exhibit showcasing Liv's wartime photos and celebrating the release of a book collecting those images. A simple question about the dedication of the book pushes the narrative back into the past when those photos were being taken. Liv's character is a whirlwind of action and while Jane often comes across as the trusty sidekick, it is her character narrating the majority of the story, capturing them thumbing their noses at the professional road blocks thrown in their way, documenting their growing friendship and the different kinds of muddled, hopeless love that springs up in the trio, crafting the story of their push to Paris and beyond. Although Fletcher narrates some as well, his character is seemingly less driven, less ambitious, and less knowable than the women's. The narrative tension waxes and wanes with the forward movement of the troops interspersed by the long periods of waiting for action, just as in any actual war. But even a slackening of the tension doesn't keep the reader from turning the pages, wanting to know more about these women, who were inspired by a compilation of real women correspondents and photographers of the times. The book is thoroughly researched and well written with visually evocative passages painting the scene very clearly in the reader's mind's eye. It is a fascinating look at women who dared, who excelled at their chosen professions despite the socially designed obstructions thrown up at them. And it is a different view of the war, through the eyes of those covering it, the way that their reports shaped public morale, and what was ultimately covered and what was hidden. A quick and gripping tale, the reader will not necessarily be surprised by the climax but the pleasure really is in the getting there. Fans of WWII fiction and fans of well written, unusual historical fiction should definitely include this on their reading lists.
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Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.