The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 11-11-18

Sunday Post

On this day, one hundred years ago, at “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918, the guns of the Great War finally went silent. Although it was only an armistice and not an actual peace, the final shots had been fired and the formal peace agreement, the Treaty of Versailles was signed the following year. This day is celebrated as Remembrance Day in the Commonwealth countries and Veterans Day in the United States.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the November of Books Giveaway Hop
Paperback set of the Hidden Legacy series by Ilona Andrews

Winner Announcements:

The winner of Snowfall on Lighthouse Lane by JoAnn Ross is Linda R.

Blog Recap:

B+ Review: Diamond Fire by Ilona Andrews + Giveaway
A- Review: An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris
A Review: Imager by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
B Review: Midsummer Mayhem by Marty Wingate
B Review: Why Not Tonight by Susan Mallery
Stacking the Shelves (313)

Coming This Week:

Apollo to the Moon by Teasel E. Muir-Harmony (blog tour review)
Super Stocking Stuffer Giveaway Hop
Seasons of Sorcery by Amanda Bouchet, Grace Draven, Jennifer Estep and Jeffe Kennedy (review)
Gratitude Giveaway Hop
Pirate’s Passion by Lisa Kessler (blog tour review)

Review: Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach

Review: Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary RoachGrunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: military science, nonfiction
Pages: 276
Published by W. W. Norton & Company on June 7th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Best-selling author Mary Roach explores the science of keeping human beings intact, awake, sane, uninfected, and uninfested in the bizarre and extreme circumstances of war.
Grunt tackles the science behind some of a soldier's most challenging adversaries—panic, exhaustion, heat, noise—and introduces us to the scientists who seek to conquer them. Mary Roach dodges hostile fire with the U.S. Marine Corps Paintball Team as part of a study on hearing loss and survivability in combat. She visits the fashion design studio of U.S. Army Natick Labs and learns why a zipper is a problem for a sniper. She visits a repurposed movie studio where amputee actors help prepare Marine Corps medics for the shock and gore of combat wounds. At Camp Lemmonier, Djibouti, in east Africa, we learn how diarrhea can be a threat to national security. Roach samples caffeinated meat, sniffs an archival sample of a World War II stink bomb, and stays up all night with the crew tending the missiles on the nuclear submarine USS Tennessee. She answers questions not found in any other book on the military: Why is DARPA interested in ducks? How is a wedding gown like a bomb suit? Why are shrimp more dangerous to sailors than sharks? Take a tour of duty with Roach, and you’ll never see our nation’s defenders in the same way again.

My Review:

This review will be posted on Veterans Day 2016. Some years I write something about the holiday and the history behind it. My post for 2012, titled Remembrance Day, – Veterans Day, is still one of the most read items that I have ever posted.

This year I’ve chosen to review a book about the unsung heroes, scientists and researchers, who do the unglamorous and often stinky work that helps more soldiers come back as live veterans instead of dead heroes. It is research that delves into some of the odder corners of science and technology, and comes with not just a necessary dose of gallows humor, but often with a bit of slapstick as well.

Mary Roach’s latest work of nonfiction, Grunt, is all about the crazy ideas that help soldiers survive, whether on the battlefields or off. The problems and conditions that the author investigated are usually not remotely glamorous. They often delve much too deeply into realms that most of us would rather not think or talk about.

Reading the chapter about research into the causes and prevention of diarrhea over dinner was probably a mistake on my part. But she does manage to make the most mundane, and occasionally odoriferous, topics utterly fascinating.

So many of the issues explored in this book, from sleep deprivation among submariners to the potential for loss of life on SEAL teams because one member has dysentery at an inopportune moment all do impact on not just combat readiness but also on combat survivability.

Pilots in World War II were afraid of being shot down into shark-infested waters. Really. There was a lot of research into developing shark repellent – all of which failed fairly miserably. And turned out to be unnecessary. Sharks seem to be interested in prey that won’t fight back. They went after lots of dead pilots and dead or dying shipwreck victims, but healthy pilots swam for hours in shark infested waters with very few casualties. Sharks are capricious – there were a few.

The research on terrible smells was much funnier, but still had a deadly purpose. Trying to determine both which smells would completely distract enemy combatants and developing ways to deliver the stench without getting it on the messenger was hilarious. And often wrong headed in multiple ways. And yet, if an enemy could be so overcome by “Stench Soup” or the hilariously named “U.S. Government Standard Bathroom Malodor” that they can’t manage to draw their weapons, they could be disarmed and captured with much lower loss of life – at least as long as the “good guys” were wearing gas masks.

The scenarios that the author investigated ranged from the nearly sublime, uniform materials that can survive fire but not cook their wearer in the desert – to those ridiculous possibilities of stench warfare. But there is plenty of seriousness here as well, for example as she delves into the problem of making a vehicle that will keep its passengers alive if it drives over an IED. The chapters on genital transplants are medically interesting, psychologically fascinating, heartbreaking and slightly crazy making all at the same time.

But every investigation covered in this book, from the stink to the sharks to the maggots, all serve one goal. Bringing more soldiers back alive, and finding ways for them to return to civilian life with the best quality of life possible.

Reality Reading A-: This is a great read. The chapters are all compelling reading, and generally short and sweet (or stinky). There’s just enough detail not just to whet the reader’s appetite (or occasionally kill it) but also to show why the seemingly mundane is so important and worthy of government funding.

All in all, a fascinating read for the day.

Review: Soldier Girls by Helen Thorpe

soldier girls by helen thorpeFormat read: ebook borrowed from the library
Formats available: ebook, paperback, hardcover, audiobook
Genre: nonfiction
Length: 417 pages
Publisher: Scribner
Date Released: August 5, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

America has been continuously at war since the fall of 2001. This has been a matter of bitter political debate, of course, but what is uncontestable is that a sizeable percentage of American soldiers sent overseas in this era have been women. The experience in the American military is, it’s safe to say, quite different from that of men. Surrounded and far outnumbered by men, imbedded in a male culture, looked upon as both alien and desirable, women have experiences of special interest.

In Soldier Girls, Helen Thorpe follows the lives of three women over twelve years on their paths to the military, overseas to combat, and back home…and then overseas again for two of them. These women, who are quite different in every way, become friends, and we watch their interaction and also what happens when they are separated. We see their families, their lovers, their spouses, their children. We see them work extremely hard, deal with the attentions of men on base and in war zones, and struggle to stay connected to their families back home. We see some of them drink too much, have illicit affairs, and react to the deaths of fellow soldiers. And we see what happens to one of them when the truck she is driving hits an explosive in the road, blowing it up. She survives, but her life may never be the same again.

My Review:

I picked Soldier Girls as my book to review for Veterans Day because it was incredibly appropriate to the theme of the day. And I heard it was good, which it is. It also surprised me by how much it reminded me of a cross between Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, and one of Jessica Scott’s military-themed romances that highlight the difficulties of returning home after deployment.

Not that Soldier Girls is either a romance or a book about socio-economic class stratification. But as the story of three women who entered or stayed in the National Guard out of mostly economic or job stratification reasons, and whose service has effects on their civilian relationships, the parallels seem to fit.

The three women in Soldier Girls, Michelle, Desma and Debbie, are all from southern Indiana. They are all part of the same unit, and they all joined before 9/11, which is crucial. Before 9/11, National Guard units did not get deployed into overseas war zones. During the Vietnam Era, the Guard was a lucky and cushy way to sit out the war. None of these women expected to deploy overseas, because that wasn’t the way it worked until the Towers fell. And by then, it was too late for them to get out, even if they wanted to.

Michelle was a college freshman at a tiny branch college campus in a dead-end town. The only jobs available were minimum wage, and it seemed like the only way out was either the military or jail. She already had too many family and friends who had fallen down the slippery slope to drug abuse and alcoholism. Michelle joined the Guard for the college tuition.

Desma was a single-mother who joined on a dare, while drunk. As a single mother in a small town not much better off than Michelle, she stayed for the supplemental income, and the camaraderie.

Debbie was probably the best off economically, but she felt trapped in her pink-collar job as manager of a beauty salon. She wanted to do something with more meaning, and her family had a tradition of military service. So she joined to add purpose to her life. She was the oldest of the group, having joined at age 34, and having served in the Guard for 15 or more years by the time she went to Afghanistan with Michelle and Desma.

From the beginning, their experience of service is different because they are women. Combat positions were not open to women, so there were a limited number of positions available to them. They were also attached and detached to different units, because the specialties they trained in were support positions that were moved around.

Debbie spent a lot of years managing the hot dog wagon at morale events. Desma didn’t receive the proper training that she needed before her second deployment, because the training officer refused to admit she existed or allow any of the men in her unit to even speak with her.

There’s a lot of sexism, and some actual harassment. There is also an extensive use of the buddy system and the whisper network to assist all of them in preventing ever being alone with the worst offenders.

All of them use coping mechanisms for the stress of being deployed that cause major problems when they return home. Michelle and Desma both get into short-term relationships where the other party is married. Debbie copes with lots of booze, but her most emotionally sustaining relationship is with a stray dog. And they all bond with each other and the other women in their unit as a way of sharing this sometimes horrible and yet ultimately life-changing year.

What struck me in their stories was how they each came to the Guard with totally different expectations, and yet only Debbie did it out of love of the military or any actual desire to be a soldier. For all of them, the Guard was a means to an end. But they all found meaning in their friendship, even if (possibly especially if) they didn’t find meaning in the service itself.

Reality Rating A: I was riveted by these stories. The author does a terrific job of showing where each of these women came from, both physically and emotionally, and lets us see why they made the choices they did, and how this one year (or two years for Desma and Debbie) impacts the rest of their lives.

There may also be a lesson in here for recruiters or for whoever is responsible for putting together units for deployment. All the women in this unit created a tight bond that helped sustain them in Afghanistan. They all made it through relatively unscathed. However, breaking the unit up in Iraq had negative consequences both for their preparedness while deployed and for their subsequent re-adjustment back to civilian life.

At the opening, I compared this book to two completely different works, one of fiction and one of non-fiction. Jessica Scott’s series, Coming Home, reflects on the difficulties that soldiers face in returning stateside after deployment in a forward base, the toll that their deployment takes on their families and the good and often bad ways in which they cope. Everything that happens to the women in Soldier Girls was reflected in her fictionalized version. These women experienced so many relationships that foundered or succeeded based on their partners’ ability to deal with what had happened to them. They all make questionable personal choices as they attempt to handle those changes. Debbie’s first grandchild is born, and she can’t be there. Desma, a single-mother, has to deal with making childcare arrangements for her three kids while she is deployed, and then attempting to fix things long distance when her first (and second) attempts fall apart. There are negative consequences of her deployment for all three of her kids that will last throughout their lives, in addition to the disability that Desma brings home from her second deployment.

There is an underlying issue in this book about the nature of the all-volunteer military that is fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that’s where the reference to Nickel and Dimed comes in. The military offers financial inducements, like supplementary pay and especially college tuition, that are designed to appeal to people, both men and women, in Michelle’s and Desma’s situations; those who want to get out of a dead-end or need a financial boost to make ends wave at each other. This dovetails with Barbara Ehrenreich’s discovery (whatever you think of the way she did it) that it isn’t possible to live on a minimum wage job and still cover your rent, utilities, food and expenses. If she had performed her experiment in southern Indiana instead of Minneapolis, she could have heard Michelle or Desma discussing their reasons for joining the Guard, especially the financial incentives. It’s a sobering thought.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 11-9-14

Sunday Post

It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is almost upon us, but it is barreling towards us at breakneck speed. Unless you are in Canada and it’s already been and gone.

But starting this coming Saturday I’ll be participating in the 5th Annual Gratitude Giveaways Hop. And I’m very grateful that we found a house in Atlanta on the first day of the search. I’m not looking forward to moving, but I am looking forward to being back. Once it’s all done, that is.

This Thursday, Cass and I are doing a joint review, or possibly joint rant, about a dragon book. (because, Cass). There will be snark. Tune in to see what we thought. Or felt. Or puked over.

Current Giveaways:

The French Executioner by C.C. Humphreys (print, U.S. only)
$50 Gift Card, 2 Gift Baskets, print copy of Not Quite Forever by Catherine Bybee and swag

Winner Announcements:

ancillary sword by ann leckieBlog Recap:

A Review: Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
B+ Review: Core Punch by Pauline Baird Jones
B+ Review: The French Executioner by C.C. Humphreys
Guest Post by Author C.C. Humphreys + Giveaway
A Guest Review by Cryselle: Manipulation by Eden Winters
B+ Review: Not Quite Forever by Catherine Bybee + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (111)

gratitude-2013Coming Next Week:

The Red Book of Primrose House by Marty Wingate (blog tour review)
Soldier Girls by Helen Thorpe (review)
Dirty Laundry by Rhys Ford (review)
Til Dragons Do Us Part by Lorenda Christensen (joint review with Cass)
In the Company of Sherlock Holmes edited by Leslie S. Klinger (review)
Gratitude Giveaways Hop

Review: I’ll Be Home for Christmas by Jessica Scott

ill be home for christmas by jessica scottFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: Military romance, Holiday romance
Series: Coming Home #2.6
Length: 126 pages
Publisher: Forever Yours / Grand Central Publishing
Date Released: November 5, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

There’s nothing in the world Army Sergeant Vic Carponti loves more than his wife and his country. Smart-mouthed and easy tempered, he takes everything as a joke…except his promise to come home to his wife, Nicole, for Christmas. As he prepares to leave for his latest deployment into Iraq, Vic will do everything he can to shield his beautiful, supportive wife from the realities of war…and from his own darkest fears.

As a career army wife, Nicole Carponti knows just what to expect from her husband’s tour of duty: loneliness, relentless worry, and a seemingly endless countdown until the moment Vic walks through the door again. But when the unthinkable happens, Nicole and Vic’s bond is tested like never before and changes everything they believe to be true about the power of love and the simple beauty of being home for the holidays.

My Review:

In this story the author finally takes one of the most interesting (and funny!) characters in her marvelous Coming Home series and lets us get inside of his more than slightly off-kilter head for his version of the events that take place during the story so far.

And it’s fantastic seeing Sergeant Vic Carponti’s extremely askew version of the world from inside his head.

While Vic sees his purpose in life as making people laugh in order to distract them from the often truly bad shit that is going on around them, such as serving in Iraq during “The Surge” of 2007, he is also part of the one stable and happy marriage that readers see during the course of the series.

because of you by jessica scottBut it’s Vic dealing with his career-ending injuries in Because of You, the first book in the series, that helps to make Shane Garrison finally get his head out of his own ass about his. Vic is often the catalyst for the action of others. He makes things happen, sometimes by making them laugh, sometimes by irritating the crap out of them.

Vic’s wife Nicole loves him to pieces. I’ll Be Home for Christmas is their love story, even though they’ve already met, fallen in love, and gotten married. Their marriage, unlike another marriage in the series, is not on the rocks. The Carpontis are quite happily married, and enthusiastic about it into the bargain.

The love story here is about the toll that deployments take on a marriage, and how difficult it is for the spouse that remains behind. How much the worrying weighs on Nikki when Vic is at war, and how difficult it is to keep from thinking that each phone call is going to be the last time they talk.

They try to be strong for each other, because they are each doing the thing they are made to do. It’s not as if Nikki’s job is easy either. She’s an officer in the Army Criminal Investigative Division. But being a cop is not as dangerous as going to war.

Vic fears every time he deploys, that Nikki will come to her senses and realize that she can do better than him. Nikki just fears that he’ll come back in a coffin.

Neither of them has quite prepared for him to mostly come back.

Anything for You book coverEscape Rating A: If you love military romance, I can’t recommend Jessica Scott’s Coming Home series highly enough. Every single book in this series is simply awesome, which is why I picked I’ll Be Home for Christmas to review for Veterans Day. I knew it would be perfect, and it is.

The story takes place in parallel with events in Because of You (review) and Anything for You (review), and it probably works better if you’ve read those first. But read the whole series, they are absolutely made of win.

Part of what makes I’ll Be Home for Christmas special is that we don’t read a lot of love stories where the couple in the story starts out happily married. There’s no breakup drama or misunderstandammit. Vic and Nikki have stress because of his deployment, and they are both concerned because in 2007 the information about The Surge was that there was going to be a lot of pushback. He was absolutely going into harm’s way.

There is tons of stress on military families, and it takes a huge toll. That’s where the drama in this story is. As readers, we know they are going to be okay together, because it’s already happened, but this is the first time we get to see things from Vic’s and Nikki’s points of view.

And since they are fantastic people (and in Vic’s case, sometimes hilariously funny), it’s terrific to have them finally tell their own story.

Be prepared; you’ll need kleenex for this one. And maybe not to be too far from a bathroom. You’ll also laugh very hard!

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

SEAL of My Dreams

SEAL of My Dreams is a terrific anthology with a timely theme. Every story in this book features Navy SEALs as protective alpha males who are also tender romantic heroes. Each and every one is rewarded with their own, extra-special happy ever after, just in time for Veterans’ Day.

There are 18 stories in this collection. Some are short. Some are novella-length. Some of the stories stand completely on their own, and some are part of the author’s ongoing series about men in uniform. Of course, I have my favorites.

The two I enjoyed most are about wounded warriors, the women they left behind, and the brave soldier dogs who served with them. And, like so many of the stories in this collection, both mix a little bitter in with the sweet. And one story just gave me the chills.

Baby I’m Back by Stephanie Bond is about a wounded SEAL’s return to his old hometown of Sweetness, Georgia. Seaman Barry Ballantine returns after a long absence to find that the ugly-duckling that he and his high school friends teased has turned into a beautiful swan–and that she is the best physical therapist he has ever met. Which is an excellent thing, because he needs her to help him adjust to the prosthetic lower leg he acquired while on his last assignment. He’s only planning to be in town long enough to perform one last service for a comrade, then leave. But his attraction to that therapist, plus the connivance of his old friends, mean that fate has another plan for him. Did I mention there was a dog?

Dog Heart by Barbara Samuel is one of the short stories in the collection. Marcus Stone brings Staff Sgt. Thor to the best vet and animal therapist that he knows. Sgt. Thor had been a combat dog, attached to a SEAL unit on a top secret mission in Afghanistan that had gone very, very wrong. Thor was one of five SEALs badly injured on that mission, and Marcus was another. Thor’s handler was killed. But the best animal therapist that Marcus knows is also the only woman he ever really loved. The woman who turned away from him when he enlisted in the Navy after college graduation. Can healing Sgt. Thor heal all of their hearts?

Letters to Ellie, by Loreth Anne White, simply haunted me. The story starts with Ellie Winters, a radio host, conducting a call-in show on National POW/MIA Recognition Day. The callers normally remember their loved ones, but the last caller stuns her. Ellie has been waiting for 15 years for word of the man she loved. Max and Flynn were prisoners together, but only Max made it all the way back home. Max brings Ellie closure, and grief. But Flynn and Max spent 15 years as POWs, and the only thing keeping both of them alive was the thought and memory of Ellie. Now that only one of them has come home, can Ellie make a future with a man who remembers loving her, even if he’s not the man she once loved?

Letters to Ellie reminded me a lot of the poem from the Vietnam War. The one by that famous poet Anonymous. It ends like this:

There were lots of things I wanted to make up to you
when you returned from Vietnam.
But you didn’t.

Escape Rating B+: The stories I enjoyed, I liked a lot. The stories that were part of ongoing series were not as much fun because I just wasn’t into those series. But all in all, this is a collection that is well worth reading.

This book was clearly a labor of love. To quote from the foreword: “No one involved in this project will profit except the Veteran’s Research Corporation, a non-profit foundation supporting medical research for veterans.” The design work for the cover was donated, the copyeditor donated her time, even the licensing fee for the cover image was discounted.

I received my review copy of this book, as I do many of my review copies, from NetGalley. But on this particular occasion I’d like to give a special recognition to Bell Bridge Books for making this a “Read Now” title on NetGalley. This made SEAL of My Dreams immediately available to every single reviewer who requested. Thank you!