Twice in a row, Ryan has knocked me out with a remarkable novel in this world of mediocre books (from the Big House books, from the indie glut). Her stories are vivid, passionate, strange and wondrous, sensuous and totally real. Her southern settings and characters come to life no matter how minor the character – even a pet cat or dog – though after reading Diane Ryan novels, you may never again think of animals as “just” pets. Kobi, Nero, Astrid, all the critters are as real to me as the people, and I have to keep reminding myself the people are mere figments of one woman’s imagination.
The opening pages take us up in the air with Kip, a veteran pilot who knows what he’s doing and loves every minute of it. We’re in good hands with this man, and with the author who’s taking us along for the ride. The prose seems effortless, and Ryan puts us so firmly in the pilot’s POV (Point of View), we feel every hitch and every stomach-turning, then heart-stopping, new glitch. The most chilling thing about this? A real-life news story, and a pilot like Kip, inspired this scene. It isn’t “just” fiction. (If there’s a bright side, the real life story was not a conspiracy gone bad.)
Whether Ryan writes in first person or third, you can count on a singular voice that’s honest and compelling. Chapter One opens with Kip: “Easy on the yoke, back by degrees, and she levels off–she’s a tight little aircraft, and I’m glad the boss put her in service. I’m the first to take her up with passengers, and I glance around to make sure they’re all happy. Three faces beam back at me, a mother and two half-grown kids, a girl and a boy….They paid more than a hundred bucks for a twenty-minute ride–have to make sure they get their money’s worth. I’ll take them down the beach, let them see their hotel from the air, swing around to open water and hopefully catch a tailwind home.”
The electrical system fails. With no warning, the engine sputters and dies.
“… The failures in this fixed-wing–they don’t happen. Not like this. Not one right after the other, totally unrelated malfunctions…this probably won’t end well. The four of us are about to make the six o’clock news–I’m just not sure yet what kind of story it’s going to be.”
Chapter Two opens with Tania, and not the way we want to remember her from Book One, with Luke. Their little miracle of a son is suffering symptoms that eerily parallel the lurid details of the preceding scene.
Readers, I urge you to start with Book One (see my review at The Leighgendarium), even though Book Two can stand alone. You’ll miss out on a lot of history and unfolding drama if you don’t first meet the ghost of a Civil War soldier who is too angry, too stubborn, too young to die. Luke haunts the site of his death, an old schoolhouse that’s slated to be razed along with two Confederate artillery bunkers –until Tania, a paranormal researcher with a gift no gadget can rival, detects Luke’s presence.
And soon she was lost, freefalling, in the very solid, very real arms of this man, her husband, who’d crossed far more than a continent to be with her this way.
Even if you haven’t already come to know and love Luke and Tania, you will by the end of Chapter Two in Book Two, as their son is airlifted to a hospital emergency room:
… the pitch of the engine noise changed and the earth fell away. Up, up they went, so fast it made her head spin. Below them Luke watched, feet braced apart at shoulder width. Standing exactly how he’d stood the first time she saw him in the viewfinder of her best friend’s video recorder. Except this time he wore leather, not wool. And he was so real–so there–watching them leave, getting smaller and smaller as the helicopter spun toward the skyline and carried them away.
Tania’s “best friend,” the blunt and brutal BFF-from-hell, is the kind of woman who alienates people more often than she endears them to her. Why does Tania put up with Lily? Hang in there, and the generous, brave, valiant side of Lily emerges in scene after scream-worthy scene. Petite and beautiful, tough and agile, Lily takes quite a beating in Book One, physically as well as emotionally. Not until the end of Book Two do we even fathom what this grizzly bear of a girlfriend endures and overcomes. Lesser mortals just give up and never walk again, or die.
The way she talks may set your teeth on edge, but I know a Lily in real life. This one comes with the quiet swish of canes and thump of their rubber tips on carpet. She talks like this:
“How’s the brat?” Lily asked.
“Do you still have that evil cat?”
“What about the ghost stuff? Still messing around with that?”
Careful, Tania. Minefields abound. “No.” That answer seemed safe enough, and it was true. “That ship has sailed.”
“Hmmph,” Lily said again, but this time the inflection was different… “That’s too bad.”
Tania blinked. “What?”
Who would guess that Lily would come up with a reason for Tania to resume her former pastime as a ghost hunter? That ship has sailed, Tania says. No way. Not gonna go there again. No more helping a stuck soul move on to the next world.
… From the sound of Lily’s voice, the other shoe was about to drop. And it did. Except it didn’t just drop. Lily took it and threw it down. Stomped it. Smashed it into the dirt with her canes. “He volunteered for …”
Okay, now Tania can’t say no to Lily, but how will she explain to her husband what she’s about to get herself involved in? Ghosts are unpredictable. Even if they mean well, they don’t know their own strengths. In a fit of frustration and rage, they can hurl heavy objects dangerously near whatever mortals may be in the way. As another reviewer said so well, Luke “knows how dangerous spirits can be, even unintentionally. His fierce need to protect his family wars with Tania’s equally fierce need to help a man stranded on the other side… Consequences be damned. I wanted Tania to help this man.”
The conflict between Tania and Luke is exquisite. They’re both equally right, and equally wrong (especially in how they say things), and totally believable. How often do romance novelists *nail* the dynamic between two people so in love they can’t imagine life without each other, until they actually start living together? What we love most about someone often becomes what we hate most about that someone.
The science surrounding Tania’s ghosts is what really ratchets up this paranormal into the realm of the believable:
“Energy in the human body is measurable,” she said. “We generate between ten and one hundred millivolts by the exchange of sodium and potassium through cell membranes, like a battery. Our heart gives off an electrical pulse that causes it to beat. Our brain waves are detectable with modern equipment. What if, in the act of dying, that energy is released? The effects of energy are finite, but energy itself is never destroyed. It just changes form.”
“And what if it changes into something that falls on the extreme end of the spectrum, undetectable by conventional means, but no less real? And taking it one step further, what if something happens during the act of dying that interrupts that transition? Extreme violence. Overwhelming emotion. A good old case of mule-ass stubbornness–who knows. But what if that person’s energy doesn’t quite make it off the spectrum, but lands somewhere between the known range and the unknown…can’t go forward, can’t go back. Stuck. What then? And how long until something else happens that blows them out of the rut and back on track for wherever they need to go?”
Having written the same way about electrical activity in the brain surviving death in my own novel in 1990, it’s no surprise I’d love Tania’s theories and explanations so much. Call me biased. My husband is an electrical engineer specializing in high-frequency power amplifiers, but I don’t even want to know if he’d say Tania’s account of electromagnetic impulses and RF signals in this novel would hold up in real life. Has he ever seen a ghost? No. Have a gazillion southerners from Virginia to New Orleans and beyond seen ghost first-hand? Yes! Anne Hite’s “Ghost on Black Mountain” comes to mind. (Hite believes, 100 percent, that she was visited by her grandmother’s ghost the hour of Grandma’s death.)
A little back story may be in order. In “Talking to Luke” we met Tania’s former team member Geoff, who now has his own ghost-hunter cable TV show out west. Tania, tasked with summoning help on behalf of Kip, recalls that her favorite Civil War ghost “was just…stuck, for all those years. So I called my friend Geoff Winchell, and he called a friend of his with some experimental equipment, and they brought it to a common location. It was like a massive EMF pump, and it turbocharged the free energy available in the air. And that allowed our ghost to take the next logical step.”*
*Just not in the direction anyone had intended.
I want to say more about this story — the tension between Tania and her husband, the unfolding clues about the cause of the tragic air crash, the animal rescues, the dialogue, the wit and humor, the splendor of all that is Luke and Tania together, the agony of making decisions that serve one person at the expense of another — it’s such a long list of wonders, I can only say READ THIS BOOK so I don’t have to write a book saying what a great book this is.
A fluffy white tail poked from the base of the drapes, the rest of the dog hidden behind their floor length folds. Kobi fancied himself invisible as long as his face couldn’t be seen, and (Tania) would never shatter that delusion.
And read this review (I’ve included excerpts only, below):
Never before has it been so easy to believe in ghosts…and to love them., February 22, 2017 By ObxFiction
We’re told that once we’re gone, we’re gone. There’s no coming back. That whatever business we left behind, will forever remain unfinished. Wrongs committed against us left without justice. Questions left painfully unanswered. But what if those wrongs were enough to keep us from being gone completely? To mire us in a place of anger and frustration, stuck desperately needing our own answers? And maybe, just maybe, a way out. And what if one person on earth could actually help?
…. Never before has it been so easy to believe in ghosts…and to love them. And if you’ve ever wondered – truly wondered – just what happens in that other dimension, how it happens, if that human energy that makes us who we are really does remain intact somewhere, unchanged and conscious, this author has the answers. Are they hard and fast, proved science? Irrefutable evidence that ghosts are real and here and just waiting to communicate? No. But she damn sure makes it feel that way.
…In Wingspan, we’re not just picking up where we left off with Luke and Tania. We get a funny, sexy, touching look into their lives together. We get to see them deal with near tragedy. And we get to see just what they mean to each other two years down the road, with a child who, by all accounts, and just like his father, has no business existing at all. They have a lovely life together. Until Lily calls, and in true Lily fashion, not only rocks the boat, but damn near sinks it. Who you gonna call? Evidently not Ghostbusters. And Luke is none too happy.
… Seeing Luke and Tania’s near perfect world rocked to it’s core was painful, and left me angry at both of them. But make no mistake, I was filled with just as much empathy for them.
… I love the characters, the detail, the sense of place Ryan masterfully constructs. I love the true human emotion, the interactions, the conflicts and resolutions. At no point did I feel I was reading a “ghost story.” Because nothing felt beyond the realm of possibility. Not one thing. Not one character. Ryan has obviously done extensive research on aviation as well as the paranormal, and no detail has been overlooked. I also appreciate the inclusion of animal rescue. Pilots N Paws is a a wonderful organization and one dear to my heart.
========== SYNOPSIS =========
Former paranormal researcher Tania Porter is no skeptic. More than most, she knows that a truth with no explanation is just as real as any fact with decades of science behind it. Her husband, for example. His physical presence on this earth defies all logical explanation, yet he exists, and so does their child.
But after two years, the reasons for his second chance still elude them. They’ve almost stopped questioning, until someone else’s tragedy lands on Tania’s doorstep. A twenty-minute sightseeing airplane tour goes down and all souls on board are burned to death—a mother and her two children, plus a handsome, charismatic pilot loved by everyone who knew him. This strikes a deep chord with Tania’s best friend Lily, who lost her soulmate to a fiery car crash several years earlier. When unexplained paranormal activity rocks the hangars at the now-defunct Santa Rosa Scenic, Lily knows just who to call. She appeals to Tania for help, and sets off a chain reaction of angst, devastation, and blistering ultimatums that threaten to rip the very bedrock from Tania’s world.
Preston Leigh (founder of the award-winning “Leighgendarium” site) meets Diane Ryan, aka Rhonda Kay, in Virginia
Diane Ryan is a pseudonym for a very real person living and writing in the mountains of Southwest Virginia. She is married with two grown children and more pets than good sense dictates.
Her heartfelt passion is saving animals. In the past, she has rescued horses and wildlife, but currently focuses on dogs imperiled by cultural indifference toward animals in Appalachian communities. She is the Executive Director of a 501c3 rescue that regularly transports unwanted dogs from areas of shelter overcrowding to regions of high demand, where No Kill methods are firmly established. She has also worked with Pilots N Paws to rehome rescue-dogs.
For at least the entirety of 2017 (this novel’s year of publication,) 100% of the proceeds from the sale of this book will go directly to animal rescue in Southwest Virginia. The need is very great. If you have purchased this book in print or electronic form, you have played a vital role in the very real lifesaving efforts underway in Appalachian communities to save animal lives. Your contribution is deeply appreciated.
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Wingspan: The Sky Is Not The Limit. (TTL Series Book 2)