Jill Barnett tells us at the beginning of Sentimental Journey that her Texan grandfather knew the art of telling tales. She goes on in the next five hundred odd pages to prove without a doubt that he passed the craft along, as she weaves the stories of five people set against the backdrop of WWII.
We’re introduced to the men fleetingly at the first, as they rush to escape a German camp in North Africa they’ve just infiltrated and destroyed. The rest of the book is bringing us to that point in their lives, and what happens just afterward.
Captain JR Cassidy, a handsome, charming “scrounger,” inherited his family’s gift of finding almost anything someone wants, and getting it out of wherever it is. That’s good news for Kathryn Kincaid, the daughter of a prominent war scientist, who’s been kidnapped by the Germans in an effort to influence her father. JR’s task is to find the ancient castle in North Africa where she's hidden and get her out. Not exactly a piece of cake, but doable, he feels. Of course, the Army didn’t give him all the facts about Ms. Kincaid, facts that complicate the rescue and contribute to their getting trapped in the desert. It’s during this time that they come to respect each other’s resilience and humor in the face of adversity, and fall in love.
About that same time halfway around the world, pilot Charley Morrison makes an emergency landing on a rural road in Texas, practically taking out the pumps of the local Texaco gas station. Charley, a nickname for Charlotte, meets Red Walker, a tall Texan with a heart of gold, who’s always wanted to fly. Meeting Red opens Charley’s eyes to new discoveries, and she opens his to opportunities, as well as his first taste of the idea of loving someone.
In England, concurently, George Inskip, is becoming an RAF Ace. He has his reasons for wanting to kill Germans, and they’re good ones, but he recognizes that they have also begun to dehumanize him. In the nick of time he meets Charley, who’s gone to England as an ATA pilot. He sees a glimmer of hope for himself, although he fears it might be too late.
Sentimental Journey is a love story on multiple levels. There’s certainly love between men and women, but this is also a tale of love of country, of ideals, and flying—the feeling of freedom that comes from being in a plane and putting it through its paces. Ms. Barnett brings back the era of swing music, swinging skirts, beanbag-based ashtrays and flights from California to London that took more than two days to complete. She does it with style, with taste, and with a great deal of humor.
I found nothing wrong with this book—it was a complete pleasure from start to finish, where a very nice surprise awaits the reader. This is a story I will reread, enjoying as much the second time, I’m sure, as I did the first.