Desert Isle Keeper
Twentieth century historical romances are much less common than their regency or medieval counterparts so the sky’s the limit (or not in this case) for co-authors Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner to tackle the post-World War Two space-race era. Earth Bound is the second full-length novel in the Fly Me To the Moon series. The first book – Star Dust – is a fascinating look at the challenges of getting a man into orbit from an astronaut’s point of view (and a sexy romance, sixties style). Earth Bound continues on that theme but delves into the lives of the engineers who made the impossible happen in an absorbing and thoroughly entertaining read.
Eugene Parsons is an engineer wholly dedicated to the mission – get a man into orbit, and do it before the Soviets. When beautiful and skilled computer scientist Dr. Charlie Eason joins their team, his instant attraction to her is put on lockdown. She’s there to aid the mission, and though a super intelligent woman like Charlie might be the perfect fit for him, he’s not going to let anything get in the way of their goals. Charlie, on the other hand, finds Parsons a fascinating man, one she wants to get her hands on. When she approaches him with herself on offer, it’s too much to resist and they quickly get involved in a heated affair – but one that is kept secret and completely separate from their work. When their emotions spill over into the job, a decision Parsons can’t stop from being made makes Charlie withdraw, her trust in him shattered. Yet with their common mission goal in mind, they must find a way to work together. Can the embers of their affair be re-ignited, and more importantly, can it lead to a lasting love?
My fascination with this series knows no bounds. Any time I can find a book that mixes science with romance, you can be sure that I’m going to read it. But don’t worry, even if math and physics aren’t your thing, the authors have been able to take the parts of the story that require these things and make them readable at a level that everyone will understand. For me, the intense dramatic scenes that made up some of the story, the meetings and discussions between the scientists on the logistical challenges of getting a man into space, are some of the best in the book. Things I never thought of, and the science of what was possible then, how things were done, was really quite something to read about. This is world building at its finest, creating a picture of what it was like during that time for the men and women tasked to beat the Soviets into orbit. And then there are the personal agendas of the men and women in the room – the managers who are looking at the bottom line, the engineers who will be blamed for any failures, the astronauts and their egos. It all falls into place marvelously in a tightly woven tale.
Of course, a key aspect to the story is Charlie, a super smart mathematician who has disappointed her parents by choosing to go work for the US Space program instead of following a career path at a university. A woman in a man’s field in the 1960’s, she’s used to being overlooked, to having her physical appearance mean more than her brain, and takes all of these things in her stride. It doesn’t stop her from doing her best and devoting herself to her job, in this case, as deputy director of the computing department. She’s got some smart women who work under her as well (a timely reminder that some of the best code breakers in WWII were women) and together they play a significant role in getting the missions underway and salvaging some of them, too. For Charlie, Parsons is a man after her own heart, with the same work ethic. And more importantly, he’s a man who sees the real her.
Eugene Parsons is a man with a persona that isn’t eminently likable. He understands the gravity of his work, has no patience for fools (or self-absorbed astronauts), and has a temper. He seems an unlikely romance hero. But the truth of the matter is that he has a soft underbelly, one that stays hidden from view until Charlie exposes it. He keeps a saltwater fish tank at home, and his care of the fish is a direct link to his character, to show that when he loves something, he puts his full effort into keeping it (or her) happy, any way he can. I loved seeing the glimpses of that side of his character in these small scenes, and the adoration of Charlie that he tries to hide but can’t quite manage. And unlike many men of that time, he has a full appreciation of women as equally intelligent to men. The two of them together are a perfect match.
I enjoyed reading about the backgrounds that made them into the adults they are now. Eugene comes from a farming family, with one brother who died as a war hero, and another who has taken over the family farm. He’s a bit of the odd man out, his parents not really understanding his career choices. On the other hand, Charlie comes from a scientific family; her parents are both researchers (and her mother, bitter at her own choices, reflects that in her disapproval of Charlie’s chosen profession because she never had that freedom). Charlie knows her parents don’t really understand or respect her work, and this, while hurtful, she’s become accustomed to. It doesn’t stop her from doing what she wants.
The conflict comes naturally, with the hierarchy of their working positions causing them to sometimes be at odds with each other. And for Charlie, keeping her affair with Parsons under wraps is necessary to maintain the level of respect from her male colleagues that she struggles to achieve. Yet when an astronaut’s life is on the line, their true feelings can’t be hidden. I love how the story plays out, the dramatic scenes becoming real page turners as the mission becomes a life or death endeavor. Combining that with some very sexy love scenes and the eventual finding of a way to a compromise and happy ending makes for a wholly entertaining and memorable story.