THE HARDEST PLACE: THE AMERICAN MILITARY ADRIFT IN AFGHANISTAN'S PECH VALLEY by Wesley Morgan (Random House). Brilliant, intimately reported, narrow-focused history of one of the few wars in our (or …
THE HARDEST PLACE: THE AMERICAN MILITARY ADRIFT IN AFGHANISTAN'S PECH VALLEY by Wesley Morgan (Random House). Brilliant, intimately reported, narrow-focused history of one of the few wars in our (or anybody's) military history that can probably be understood pretty well by sustaining a narrow focus. The ironies are plentiful and to be thoughtfully processed rather than snorted over, and this author understands that, too. He has been there for much of that war (at first when he was still in college for part of the year). That a war can't be won may not, in our century of history, be reason to abandon it (we're still there; a lot fewer of us, finally, but not none), and: that America is trying to be “the world's policeman” isn't necessarily—always—only—a terrible thing to say. Those conclusions are mine, not the author's, and you might arrive at others; but his book will help you to think better about (not necessarily “of”) all of that.
BAND OF SISTERS by Lauren Willig (Morrow). Lovely historical novel inspired by a terrific true story. A bunch of college girls—Smith College, that is, so young aristocrats (though we find a commoner classmate as a POV character) working as volunteers in the First World War in France. Complicated relationships among them, violent action at times—and just a nonstop read. Nice assortment of young women, but these aren't types; this is a writer with an eye as well as a heart—and the basic quality of the group (I've seen it covered in nonfiction) is generally believed to be, well, gallant, as aristos expect themselves to be but aren't, always.
THE GIRLS ARE ALL SO NICE HERE by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn (Simon & Schuster). Another, different bunch of college women; this is a dark suspense novel, but also a quite sophisticated look at female friendships and rivalries and—well, and worse; it's a suspense novel, and a very good one, so something like merciless. The setting is a ten-years reunion of a graduating class that has secrets that remain in place.
THE WINDSOR KNOT by SJ Bennet (Morrow). Speaking of aristos (weren't we?) this is a straight-faced mystery novel whose central character, even a private eye of sorts, is our contemporary, da Queen: Elizabeth II. We get to hang out with her in the castle, for a bit. This is only a distant relative of the cozily comic sub-category of pop fiction—MRS. QUEEN TAKES THE TRAIN and the like. The logistics are handled rather like the classic Nero Wolfe mysteries, with a sidekick who does much of the footwork. So, a joke, but not a mockery, and nicely worked out from start to finish.
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