Wings is the second Danielle Steel novel to make the 1994 bestseller list and, like fourth-placed The Gift, and eighth-placed Accident, it breaks from Steel’s romance formula: Its heroine, Cassie O’Malley, prefers overalls to Dior gowns.
Growing up on rural airstrip and the daughter of a WWI pilot, Cassie dreams of flying, which her dad and mom think unsuitable for a woman. Her father’s wartime buddy and post-war partner, Nick Galvin, recognizes Cassie’s determination and natural talent. He secretly gives her flying lessons.
After Cassie wins a flying competition, Desmond Williams, whose firm builds aircraft, offers her a contract that entails testing new aircraft and making public appearances.
Nick thinks Desmond is up to no-good. He’s especially leery of Desmond’s plan to have Cassie repeat the round-the-world flight on which Amelia Earhart disappeared. Nick and Cassie fall out over it.
When World War II breaks out, Nick goes to England to train pilots. He never writes to Cassie.
Having made her point that women need not be confined to the kitchen and bedroom, Steel wraps the story up neatly, pairing off Cassie with Nick whose interest in Cassie, like Desmond’s, revolves around aircraft.
Ernest K. Gann’s The High and the Mightyis to aviation novels what Gone with the Wind is to Civil War novels.
A commercial airline is leaving Honolulu for San Francisco. The crew meticulously checks everything that could possibly go wrong , knowing that failure of some tiny, unseen part somewhere could trigger a series of small failures that could plunge everyone on board to their deaths.
They take off
At 35, Sullivan, is a seasoned pilot. His co-pilot took to the air in 1917; aside from a brief period after a crash in which his wife and son and all but one other passenger perished, Roman has been flying ever since.
The other three crew members and the 16 passengers are standard Hollywood issue: a pair of newly weds, a couple splitting up, a whore with a heart of gold, a dying man, an all-business millionaire. Their stories cover the long blocks of time when nothing is happening in the cockpit.
A pilot himself, Gann writes with precise, spine-chilling detail about the plane’s operation and the mental and emotional courage of the crews that keep them flying.
Gann’s story is implausible in a predictable, hollywood way, but peopled with characters so vividly drawn that the tale is unforgettable.
The High and the Mighty
by Ernest K. Gann
William Sloane Associates, 1953
1953 bestseller # 6
My grade: B
All his life Jonas Cord Jr. had wanted his father’s love and approval. More recently he wanted Rina Marlowe, who married his father instead.
The day after Jonas wins an airplane in a poker game in 1925, his father drops dead, leaving Jonas to run the family business. With ruthless ambition, keen business acumen, and loyal employees, by the end of World War II Jonas builds Cord Explosives into a business empire including aviation, finance, and movies.
In his wake, he leaves a trail of broken enemies and broken hearts: Jonas is irresistable to women.
The Carpetbaggers includes plenty of sex and some violence, but Harold Robbins doesn’t wallow in dirt. He’s a writer who knows how to tell a story, and that’s what he does.
Robbins sketches his characters quickly and puts them right into action. Any time the story threatens to lag, Robbins picks up the story from the perspective of a different character.
The story is so action-packed, readers never have time to notice that neither the characters nor the plot is plausible.
Not that plausibility matters.
The Carpetbaggers plunges on for the sake of the experience and concludes with the most improbable of endings: a triumph of conventional morality.
by Harold Robbins
1961 bestseller #5
My grade: B