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Book Review: A Journey Home by Angela Scavone

Book Review: A Journey Home by Angela Scavone

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A Journey Home by Angela Scavone

Book Cover for A Journey Home by Angela Scavone

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Cover blurb (taken from Amazon): “Air Force Captain Stephanie Tyler’s sole duty is to fly overseas to war torn areas of the world to retrieve and escort the bodies of fallen soldiers back home to the United States. It is a tough and emotional job but she is honored for the privilege. Her duty also helps her to escape her past and her failed marriage. But those flights have become increasingly more dangerous and she is forced to have a partner accompany her. Much to Stephanie’s surprise and dismay, she is partnered up with her ex-husband, Captain Douglas ‘DA’ Aston.

From the moment DA enters the scene, he irritates her. It could have something to do with the fact he slept with her best friend while she and DA were married. As they go on several missions together, Stephanie is forced to be courteous and professional with DA even though the very sight of him irritates her beyond comprehension. Then, Stephanie’s cheating, husband stealing, ex-best friend is killed in Afghanistan and Stephanie and DA must escort her body home. While executing this difficult duty, a myriad of conflicting emotions makes Stephanie ponder how short life really is . . . and to question her own ability to forgive.”

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I received a free copy of ‘A Journey Home’ in exchange for an honest review. For more information, please see my review policy page.

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What I liked:

What I liked most about this book was the way I felt after reading it. ‘A Journey Home’ made me tear up, but I walked away with a deep sense of sweetness and contentment. Captain Tyler’s job is heart-wrenching, but Scavone manages to write about the topic in a sensitive, enjoyable way. I actually read the entire novel in one sitting- the writing is simple, and that simplicity adds to it’s emotional impact.

‘A Journey Home’ is not a typical “romance novel”. “Romance novel” makes me think of bodice-rippers and torrid affairs. ‘A Journey Home’ is much more of an emotional romance story. This book is very character-driven, and it’s cute, rather than steamy. That’s the word I want to keep going back to: cute. The love story is gentle and very reminiscent of a romantic comedy.

When I first read the book description, I was a little nervous. Escorting fallen military personnel doesn’t seem like an ideal backdrop for a romance story. It would be all too easy to smack readers in the face with the life/love/death interactions. Scavone treads carefully, and swings you from heartbreak to hopefulness without it feeling too heavy-handed.

What I didn’t like:

As a personal preference, I don’t love characters with a jealous streak. Stephanie is a well-written character, and her behavior makes sense with her history, but I found her a little frustrating. Despite DA’s many attempts to discuss their past, Stephanie outright refuses to listen and I find that somewhat hard to sympathize with. It’s not an issue of bad writing, just a personal preference in the characters I relate to.

I’m not sure I’d call this a “dislike” but it’s worth pointing out that it’s hard to find your emotional footing with this book. The characters are frequently called to escort a fallen soldier in the middle of a light-hearted, romantic moment. Just as you relax into the relationship aspect, you’re reminded of the reality going on around them. It was difficult for me to switch gears as often as was necessary.

Would I recommend this book?

Yes, I definitely would.

**Sensitive content warning** This book obviously talks a lot about military procedure, soldiers who are killed in action, and the emotional impact on the families. Scavone’s descriptions are not gory or gruesome at all, but they are emotionally difficult**

**Minor spoilers** There are no explicit sex scenes in this book. As mentioned above, this story is more about the relationship, and the emotions, and less about lust or sex**

Additional thoughts:

I don’t have any experience with the military, so I can’t speak to it’s accuracy in that regard. ‘A Journey Home’ portrays the personal side of the armed forces, and each of Scavone’s characters are shown being thoughtful and caring. My deepest respect goes out to those who have to do Captain Tyler’s job in real life. I cannot imagine how difficult that is.

Let’s talk diversity. ‘A Journey Home’ doesn’t specifically draw attention to anyone’s race or ethnicity. There aren’t a lot of physical character descriptions, so you’re free to imagine them looking however you want. There is some limited discussion about injuries sustained in the line of duty, but we don’t see any of those characters in the story.

From a gender perspective,  Scavone does an excellent job of making sure that women are represented at every level. The book includes female captains, co-pilots and secretaries. In the context of the book, these women are treated with equal dignity and respect.

‘A Journey Home’ tugs at your heartstrings, but makes sure that you walk away feeling warm and fuzzy.

Discussion: Annoying Book Tropes

Discussion: Annoying Book Tropes

I’ve seen a number of posts like this, but I wanted to dive a little deeper into some of my bookish pet peeves. Let’s get ready to RAMBLE!!!!!

Heroes having a huge moral debate about killing the bad guy

I absolutely hate when the protagonist agonizes about killing the villain. It’s an interesting moral question in general, but it gets old really fast. I much prefer J.K. Rowling’s approach to this topic. Harry continues to use ‘stupefy’ or disarming spells and finally the adults around him point out “THIS PERSON IS TRYING TO KILL YOU- REACT ACCORDINGLY!”

This internal debate is also the backbone of countless movies and T.V. shows (season 3 Aang comes to mind, from Avatar: The Last Airbender). Every single time a protagonist decides to jail their opponent I think of the final scene in the X-men trilogy, when Magneto realizes he has some power left. Leaving them alive is not a good idea. It’s going to come back and bite you in the ass.

Having re-read that paragraph, I’m not sure what this attitude says about my personality… something not good, probably. In real life, things are seldom so cut and dry, but in fiction, I want my good guys to commit to a course of action and move on.

 

Sex is either amazing or traumatizing, there is no in-between

This one really makes me angry. Generally speaking, there are two types of sexual content in books: it’s either mind-blowing and orgasmic, or it’s some kind of deep, dark secret. On the mind-blowing side, you have the unrealistic first-time experiences, or sex that is always phenomenal and earth shattering. On the dark secret side, sex is the source of shame or emotional distress.

Both of these approaches have their place, but what about middle-of-the-road experiences? Your first time can be perfectly pleasant, but unremarkable. Sex with a new lover can be awkward and mediocre. Additionally, sexual trauma can be dealt with in a healthy way.

I really think that this topic would benefit from more nuanced writing. At a bare minimum, can we please see some more dialogue about sex? I’m not talking about moaning or screaming of names, but actual discussion between consenting partners.

 

Diversity as the driving force in the plot

I write about diversity. I read books specifically looking for diversity. Diversity is amazing and representation is incredibly important and undervalued.

Having said that, I would love to see diversity incorporated into books without it being the source of conflict. I love when a book includes diverse characters, but doesn’t go out of their way to draw attention to that fact. ‘Shadowshaper‘ does this really well. The characters are racially and sexually diverse, but that diversity isn’t the source of conflict in the book. The characters are all different, but equally valued and their race/gender/sexual orientation is simply accepted as fact.

Racism, sexism and general bigotry have their place in literature. I 100% believe that those stories are important to tell. However, it is actually possible for different people to peacefully coexist.  For example, I’d love to see more LGBTQ+ characters who have already come out, and are accepted unconditionally by their family. As another example, the story line for a character with disabilities doesn’t need to revolve around that disability. I want more books that feature a fat character who isn’t trying to lose weight.

Again, I just want more nuanced writing, and more inclusion of real-life situations.

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What do you think of these tropes? Do you have any others that really annoy you?

 

Friday Sneak Peek

Friday Sneak Peek

Today I’m combining two different book blog memes: Book Beginnings hosted by Rose City Reader and First Lines Fridays hosted by Wandering Words.

The idea for each one is to share the first line of a book, and your first impressions of it, so let’s begin!

First Line(s): 

“Why is, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ the go-to small talk we make with children? ‘Hello child. As I have run out of compliments to pay you on your doodling, can you tell me what sort of niche you plan to carve out for yourself in the howling existential morass of uncertainty known as the future?'”

First Impressions:

 Yeah, I’m going to like this book. In two sentences we already have funny social commentary, an overwhelming amount of sass, and existential anxiety about life in general. These are a few of my favorite things (who needs raindrops on roses, or whiskers on kittens?) (Just kidding, I love both of those things too). In all seriousness, though, I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while, and the first lines didn’t disappoint. I’m in need of some fiery feminist reading to counteract the crap happening in the world right now. I’m glad I picked this up.

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What I’m Reading:

Book Cover for Shrill by Lindy West

 

Publisher’s Blurb (taken from Amazon):

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY:
NPR, ESQUIRE, The LA Times, and NEWSWEEK

WINNER OF THE STRANGER GENIUS AWARD

Shrill is an uproarious memoir, a feminist rallying cry in a world that thinks gender politics are tedious and that women, especially feminists, can’t be funny.

Coming of age in a culture that demands women be as small, quiet, and compliant as possible–like a porcelain dove that will also have sex with you–writer and humorist Lindy West quickly discovered that she was anything but.

From a painfully shy childhood in which she tried, unsuccessfully, to hide her big body and even bigger opinions; to her public war with stand-up comedians over rape jokes; to her struggle to convince herself, and then the world, that fat people have value; to her accidental activism and never-ending battle royale with Internet trolls, Lindy narrates her life with a blend of humor and pathos that manages to make a trip to the abortion clinic funny and wring tears out of a story about diarrhea.

With inimitable good humor, vulnerability, and boundless charm, Lindy boldly shares how to survive in a world where not all stories are created equal and not all bodies are treated with equal respect, and how to weather hatred, loneliness, harassment, and loss, and walk away laughing. Shrill provocatively dissects what it means to become self-aware the hard way, to go from wanting to be silent and invisible to earning a living defending the silenced in all caps.”

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My full review will be up on Monday.

What are you reading this weekend?