News from the Red Desert by Kevin Patterson
This was a really interesting twist on the typical "war in Afghanistan" novel. Most of the action takes place on the Kandahar military base. The war is seen from the perspective of several US and Canadian soldiers, a female journalist embedded with the army (and also a former lover of one of the generals), several Pakistani nationals who run a coffee shop on the base and even a Thai woman who works as a "masseuse" on the base. Initially we see the soldiers in 2001 when they believe they have finished off the Taliban and won one of the fastest wars in history. But most of the action takes place in 2007 when it becomes clear the war is far from over.
There are definitely many gruesome scenes as one would expect in a war story, but because the story jumps so rapidly between characters, I didn't feel myself getting attached to anyone in particular. It was interesting to imagine how the war would look not only to Westerners, but to Pakistanis who are torn as they make their living off the foreign soldiers but feel kinship with the Afghans.
I really enjoyed how the chapters were short and broken into even shorter subsections so we constantly saw situations from more than one angle. There was also no clear statement on whether the war made sense - really from anyone's perspective.
I recommend this book to anyone who would like to get a different, if fictional, view of the Afghan war.
The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close
This book was a fairly humours account of political life in Washington. Matt is a young lawyer who has always dreamed of running for office. He joins to Obama political campaign and, after inauguration is offered a job in the counsel's office so he and his wife move to DC from New York. Beth, who is a writer and not involved in politics at all, struggles with the lifestyle. Everyone is obsessed with their position in the government - even making cocktail party discussion revolve around their respective security clearances. She is miserable until they meet Jimmy and Ashleigh, a young couple from Texas. Jimmy is also a behind the scenes politician and when he starts to advance more quickly than Matt we see the tension this brings to all involved.
I wouldn't say this is a deep or even terribly fascinating book but it was compelling enough to keep me interested on vacation.
Julia's Daughters by Colleen Faulkner
The premise of this book was really dark and difficult - Julia's oldest daughter, Haley, runs a stop sign and her sister Caitlin who is in the car dies. The book deals with how Julia, her husband and her youngest daughter try to accept the situation as an accident without laying too much blame on Haley. And, of course it deals with Haley's guilt and consequential rebellious behaviour - particularly as she hides several truths about that night from everyone around her. In a bold move Julia decides to drive Haley across the country hoping she will have to open up if they are in the car for days on end. The drive itself and the resulting insights all of the family members take away from it are a very interesting read.
That being said, it was a bit too hard for me to read about a family dealing with this type of nightmare scenario. Not relaxing holiday reading.
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
All I can say about this book is persevere. I really struggled with the first half which was written from the perspective of Lotto. Lotto and Mathilde marry when they are 22. We follow the ups and downs of their marriage as he is disinherited for marrying her and constantly worries that she will leave him. We also see his struggle to survive as an actor and then playwright. Frankly I did not find him terribly sympathetic and I found parts of the book downright weird (like when they include an opera Lotto wrote).
But they I got to the second half which is told from Mathilde's perspective. Here we see all kinds of secrets that were kept by many parties involved - and everything looks completely different. I don't want to give anything away so I won't get into the details. But I really was glad I persevered when I almost put the book down before I got halfway there.