When We Had Wings [Book Review] #HistoricalFiction #WW11 #Nurses

When We Had Wings by Ariel Lawhon, Kristina McMorris, Susan Meisner

When We Had Wings is a page-turning, well-researched historical fiction story about the “Angels of Bataan” during WW11.

When We Had Wings by Ariel Lawhon, Kristina McMorris, Susan Meissner (cover) Image: three women in uniform with their backs to the camera walk down a road lined with palm trees at sunset...planes fly overhead

Genre/Categories/Setting: Historical Fiction, WW11, Philippines, Nurses/Nursing, the “Angels of Bataan”

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

My Summary of When We Had Wings:

Thanks #NetGalley #HarperMuse @HarperMuseBooks for a complimentary e ARC of #WhenWeHadWings upon my request. All opinions are my own.

Set in the Philippines during WW11, When We Had Wings is a story of friendship and survival. Eleanor (Navy), Penny (Army), and Lita (Filipina) meet and become friends at the Army/Navy Club in Manila. As war breaks out, they serve as nurses under combat conditions but soon find themselves in captivity and among the first female prisoners of war. Their fictionalized stories are representative of the Angels of Bataan.

My Thoughts:

Multiple Perspectives

When We Had Wings is told from three perspectives and the story moves frequently between perspectives and jumps from location to location. At times, this slowed my reading as I had to stop and think about which nurse I was reading about, her circumstances, and where she was located.


All three nurses have a backstory and are admirable, brave, and realistically drawn. I think more time could have been devoted to developing their friendship at the beginning, adding credibility to the bond they felt throughout the story. Selecting a representative nurse from the Army and Navy, and one locally added a layer of complexity, interest, and depth. Despite their wartime hardships and harrowing circumstances, these characters enjoy a realistic ending written for them at story’s end.


Even though the women were separated during their service and for much of their captivity, friendship is one of the strongest themes in When We Had Wings. Other themes include endurance, survival, wartime hardships, resourcefulness, overcoming obstacles, the hope of rescue, and small sides of romance that do not overshadow the plot.

Content Considerations

War-related atrocities (physical and mental abuse), war injuries and medical circumstances, captivity, and horrific conditions.

Recommending When We Had Wings

If you’re able to read about conditions in captivity, I’m recommending When We Had Wings for fans of page-turning and well-researched historical fiction and for readers who would appreciate reading about nursing during WW11. Book clubs will find rich discussion possibilities.

You might be interested in a few anachronisms that Lisa @ Hopewell’s Public Library of Life spotted.

Related: Other solo works I’ve reviewed by these authors include The Nature of Fragile Things (Meissner), As Bright As Heaven (Meisner), A Fall of Marigolds (Meissner), I Was Anastasia (Lawhon), Code Name Helene (Lawhon), and Sold on a Monday (McMorris)

My Rating: 4 Stars


When We Had Wings by Lawhon, McMorris, and Meissner (cover) Image: three women walk arm in arm along a road lined with palm trees while the sun is setting

More Information Here

Meet the Authors of When We Had Wings, Ariel Lawhon, Kristina McMorris, and Susan Meissner

Author, Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is a critically acclaimed, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction. She is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, FLIGHT OF DREAMS, I WAS ANASTASIA and CODE NAME HELENE. Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, Indie Next, One Book One County, Amazon Spotlight, Costco, and Book of the Month Club selections. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and four sons. She splits her time between the grocery store and the baseball field.

KRISTINA MCMORRIS is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author of two novellas and six historical novels, including the million-copy bestseller SOLD ON A MONDAY. The recipient of more than twenty national literary awards, she previously hosted weekly TV shows for Warner Bros. and an ABC affiliate, beginning at age nine with an Emmy Award-winning program, and owned a wedding-and-event-planning company until she had far surpassed her limit of “Y.M.C.A.” and chicken dances. Kristina lives near Portland, Oregon, where she somehow manages to be fully deficient of a green thumb and not own a single umbrella. For more, visit KristinaMcMorris.com

Author, Susan Meissner (head shot, wearing a coral cardigan leaning against a wood slat wall)

Susan Meissner is the USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction with more than three-quarters of a million books in print in eighteen languages. Her novels include The Nature of Fragile Things, starred review Publishers Weekly; The Last Year of the War, a Library Reads and Real Simple top pick; As Bright as Heaven, starred review from Library Journal; Secrets of a Charmed Life, a 2015 Goodreads Choice award finalist; and A Fall of Marigolds, named to Booklist’s Top Ten women’s fiction titles for 2014. She is also RITA finalist and Christy Award and Carol Award winner. A California native, she attended Point Loma Nazarene University and is also a writing workshop volunteer for Words Alive, a San Diego non-profit dedicated to helping at-risk youth foster a love for reading and writing.

Visit Susan at her website: https://susanmeissnerauthor.com/ and on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/susanmeissnerauthor/ on Twitter at @SusanMeissner or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/susan.meissner


Is this page-turning histfic on your TBR or have you read it?

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  1. I just started reading this today, and while Lawhon is one of my favorite authors (I’ve read both the ones you mentioned, as well as her other two, “The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress” and “Flight of Dreams” – all amazing). I don’t know the other two authors, but… already, I’m seeing some inconsistencies here. Still, I’ll read on! I enjoyed Elise Hooper’s novel about these nurses.

  2. This one is waiting for me to pick up from the library. The only author I have read before is Meissner and have loved everything I have read by her. I’m looking forward to reading this!

  3. I found another anachronism in this book. Before the Japanese take over, Lita says she was busy taking samples to the lab… um… nope, there weren’t any labs in that area at that time.

    • Yes, that makes sense! The unrelenting captivity is difficult to read and may not be for everyone, but it was interesting at the same time! So many different angles to WW11 stories!

  4. World War 11?!?! ;’D Please, dear heavens, don’t let us have more than 2. (I think you use capital “I”s). I totally agree with your thoughts on this book. I did think it was weird they shared such a bond after working together for like a week. I would have enjoyed more of that part, too. And I did love the book other than that. And it was nice to have a story that wasn’t the typical WWII setting of Germany, England, or a concentration camp. The war was so far-reaching that it’s good to have stories set elsewhere. I also liked the book Salt to the Sea for similar reasons.

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