Author Sara Ackerman writes “books with aloha.” The author of four historical fiction novels, Sara is sharing the cover of her newest book, Radar Girls, exclusively with She Reads. We’ve also got a little teaser of the story for you, so keep scrolling for the cover reveal of Radar Girls and an excerpt. Mark your calendars for this release, coming July 27, 2021.
In addition to Radar Girls, Sara is also the author of these historical fiction novels with an exotic twist:
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About Radar Girls
Coming July 27, 2021, Radar Girls is an extraordinary story about the Women’s Air Raid Defense, where an unlikely recruit and her sisters-in-arms forge their place in history. Inspired by the real women of the Women’s Air Raid Defense, this World War II historical fiction story follows one unlikely recruit as she trains and serves in secrecy as a radar plotter on Hawaii. A tale of resilience and sisterhood, it sees the battles of the Pacific through the eyes of these pioneering women, perfect for fans of Kate Quinn and Pam Jenoff.
The real “Radar Girls” of WWII
Ready for your first look? Here’s the cover of Sara’s newest book, Radar Girls:
Read the first chapter of Radar Girls:
December 7, 1941. Waialua, Oahu.
On Sunday mornings, while everyone else was singing and praying to the Lord above, Daisy could be found underwater with the pufferfish and the eagle rays. Not that she had anything against God; in fact, she spoke to him often, but you couldn’t eat the bible.
She stood with her toes buried in the cool sand and surveyed the water. Clouds blocked the low sun, but a few beams shot out, creating blue islands of light. The big question of the day was whether to swim towards Haleʻiwa or to Mokulēʻia. A swell had filled in during the night and the low rumble of surf on the outer reef cut through the quiet. Going north would be more protected, so she decided on that.
Just before she dove in, her borrowed horse, Moon, whinnied loudly. The animal reared up, straining at the rope that tied him to the ironwood tree.
“What is it, boy?” Daisy said, looking around for any stray dogs or something that could have spooked the animal.
There was nothing out of the ordinary to be seen, just open beach and bushes. She walked back to the nervous horse and stood next to him, speaking in a calm voice. “Just relax and eat your grass. I’ll be back soon.”
Moon snorted and swung his head away from her. His neck was still slick with sweat from galloping down the beach. She had known he was fast, but to feel him under her bare legs like that was something different altogether. He was speed and power and grace all mixed up in one big, beautiful horse.
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Daisy had taken a risk in riding him this morning. Kaʻena, the old horse that she often rode, had a swollen knee when she arrived at the stables. Moon happened to be in the next stall and had pranced around with a look that said get me out of here. He and Daisy had developed a deep bond over the past few months, solidified by the basket of guavas that she brought to work every day. She had been itching take him out on her own. Tall, black and spirited, he was without a doubt the most beautiful horse she’d ever met––and the most expensive. She was smitten, to say the least. As long as she was back before church let up, no one would ever know.
She felt bad leaving him on the beach in an uneasy state, but she needed to be the first one out. The Chun brothers often beat her to the best spots, and she wanted to give them a taste of their own medicine. Last Sunday, she had come home with an octopus, an ulua half as big as she was, and three lobsters. They had eaten well this week, and her mother even had even put on an apron and made her famous lobster casserole. It had been a long time since she’d last made it. Daisy dared to hope that maybe her mother was turning a corner, but hope had let her down over the years.
December brought cooler water, and her skin prickled as she dove in. Visibility was only about fifteen feet because of the swell, but it hardly mattered because she knew every contour of the reef, all the resident fish families, and even the local black tip sharks that patrolled the coastline. With each kick, the knots in her back loosened. Working six days a week took a toll on her, but who else was going to earn the money? Certainly not her mom, Louise. And without the money, there would be no food and no house.
As Daisy moved along, clouds gave way to sunlight that warmed her back. Schools of yellow tang and manini parted around her, glowing. Her route took her out about a hundred yards before she veered right along a ledge that dropped onto a sandy floor. Tufts of red limu grew out of the cracks, and spiny wana dotted the coral. She kept an eye out for shell trails.
And then, all around her, the water hummed. She tasted fuel on her tongue. She popped her head up and scanned the horizon for any signs of a ship. But soon it was obvious the sound was not coming from the sea, but rather the sky. Several planes buzzed just overhead before banking and heading towards the pineapple fields. Then another. And another.
Must be more military training, Daisy thought. But on Sunday? She dove and continued on. With the swell also came current, and she fought to stay on course.
It took her twice as long to reach her destination, though along the way she plucked two hand-sized tiger cowries hiding in a crevice. Those often brought a good price. When she reached part of the reef full of lobster holes, Daisy set her spear on a coral head and put on her gloves. Lucky thing the tide was low. The first few holes were empty, but she finally caught sight of a set of spindly antennas. Her heart dropped. This hole was off limits. Last time she’d nearly had her arm taken off by a moray eel as thick as her torso. She passed by the other holes again, stuck her hand in a few, but came up with nothing.
Hungry and tired after a long week at the ranch, she decided to head back to Moon. The current had picked up and she fought to make any headway, dreaming of scrambled eggs, steamed watercress and Portuguese sausage. As she approached the beach, the water started buzzing again. She kept swimming and dove down after a papio. Military maneuvers had ramped up lately, but she never paid them any mind. There were more immediate things to worry about.
By now, the buzzing had turned into a deep vibration of the water all around. When she came up for air, she found a rock to stand on to see what was happening. From behind the ironwood trees, less than fifty feet over the water, a plane with red circles under its wings zoomed towards her, passing directly over her head, followed closely by an olive-green plane with a white star on its side. The kind she was used to seeing––a P-40 Warhawk.
The rat-tat-tat of gunfire had her diving back into the water. What kind of idiots were these, shooting real guns over a residential area? Anger bunched in her chest.
From shore came a loud whinny. She saw Moon rear up on the rope, his front hooves pawing at the air. Daisy half swam, half ran towards the beach, desperate to get to him and calm him down. The lead plane suddenly pulled up its nose, flew straight up and banked around. They were both heading back toward the shoreline, weaving only a dozen feet off the water. She dove to the bottom again and held onto a rock for as long as her lungs would allow. After coming up for air, she made a mad dash for Moon. To hell with the planes. She was almost to him when the rope snapped. She reached out, her hand closing around the frayed edge, burning as the rope slipped through. And then he was gone.
“Moon! No!” Daisy screamed. He tore down the beach towards Haleiwa at a full gallop. She took a few desperate strides after him.
Above, the two planes rolled and twisted at impossible angles. There was no mistaking the fact that this was no drill. She dove behind the massive ironwood tree, cowering in its folds. She choked on her breath. Her whole body trembled.
For a few seconds, it sounded like the planes were heading away, but moments later, they returned. She risked a peek. This time, the Japanese plane was in hot pursuit, and the P-40 had a line of smoke pouring from its engine. Please, God, let him make it!
They were headed right for her, yet she couldn’t pull her gaze away. As the Japanese plane was steadily gaining on the Warhawk, the American pilot pulled his P-40 into a barrel roll and miraculously reversed his advantage. Whoever he was, the man knew how to fly. Then, quick bursts of gunfire ripped open the Zero’s fuselage and shattered the canopy. Daisy saw the Japanese pilot slump forward as his plane burst into flame and fell toward the sea. She ducked back behind the tree just as the explosion cut through the sky, rattling her teeth and piercing her ears. A loud splash and the sound of metal crashing on rock told her everything she needed to know.
She tried to stand, but her legs wouldn’t lift her. She looked down in a panic. Had she been hit by something?
Daisy gulped to catch her breath as she watched the crippled P-40 skim the trees, heading toward the airstrip just down the way. Ironwood cones cut into her bare thighs. She thought of the Japanese pilot, locked away in his watery grave. She thought of the American pilot, and was thankful for his survival.
And then she thought of Moon, terrified and frantic and running wild. She prayed he didn’t get himself hurt. Even as it was, she would be fired. No question about that. Unless she could come up with a brilliant reason why she’d taken the horse––and then lost him.
After a few more minutes passed, she tried to stand again. This time, her legs obeyed and she walked out onto the beach. Not thirty feet offshore, the downed plane lay in several charred pieces on the reef, smoldering. The cockpit was underwater, and the smell of burnt metal mixed with salt water and gasoline. She felt sick to her stomach.
Where had the Japanese plane come from? And more importantly, were there more? Maybe she should have paid more attention to the warnings.
She thought about going after Moon again. She owed him that much. This had happened on her watch, and the poor horse had been terrified. But then she thought about her mother. Daisy took off running towards home. There was no point in trying to catch up with Moon, anyway. He would be long gone. Her mother, on the other hand, was likely to have worked herself into a bad state––if she was awake. You never knew with her.
Halfway to the house she shared with her mother, Daisy heard a distant roar from somewhere behind the mountains. Or was it just the sound of huge surf, which had a way of bouncing off the cliff walls?
Daisy stopped to catch her breath and make sure she wasn’t imagining things. Time slowed. The beach was as lovely as ever, sand white and fine and scattered with broken shells. Ironwood and coconut trees in equal abundance rustled in the light trade winds. Squinting, she noticed a raincloud had moved off the tip of Kaʻena point, causing a rainbow fragment to form just off the ocean.
The sound grew louder, like a swarm of bees had taken up residence between her ears. The ground began to rumble. She started off again down the beach as fast as her lungs allowed, moments before a wall of planes appeared over the Waiʻanae Mountains. Some were mere feet above the cliffs while others stayed high. They were stacked and rowed so neatly, they seemed to be in a motion picture. Daisy beelined up to the trees and doubled over. She spit up salt water. Every single one of the planes had red circles painted on their wings or sides. A whole sky full of Japanese planes. Hundreds. And not one American plane in sight.
Excerpted from Radar Girls by Sara Ackerman, Copyright © 2021 by Sara Ackerman. Published by MIRA Books.
About the author
Sara writes books about love and life, and all of their messy and beautiful imperfections. She believes that the light is just as important as the dark, and that the world is in need of uplifting and heartwarming stories. Born and raised in Hawaii, she studied journalism and later earned graduate degrees in psychology and Chinese medicine. She blames Hawaii for her addiction to writing, and sees no end to its untapped stories.
A few of her favorite things, in no particular order – hiking, homemade pizza, a good thunderstorm, stargazing, books, craft beer, her wonderful boyfriend, surfing, mountain streams, friends, and animals. In fact, animals inhabit all of her novels in some way, shape or form – dogs, donkeys, sea turtles, a featherless chicken, endangered Hawaiian crows, horses, and even a lion. When she’s not writing or teaching, you’ll find her in the mountains or in the ocean, which is where most of her inspiration happens.