There are so many books out there for military spouses, everything from basic military life 101 to dealing with your veteran spouse’s PTSD. All of these are non-fiction and while great for the information they provide, I rarely run across fiction books about military life. Ok, wait. I am always finding romances on Amazon where the guy is some super secret ninja squirrel SEAL, but we all know those are fictional versions of a fictionalized fiction. So, I put together a list of some novels I’ve read that center around military life.
After her soldier brother is horribly wounded in Afghanistan, Gabriela must honor the vow she made: If anything ever happened to him, she would walk the Camino de Santiago through Spain, making a pilgrimage in his name. The worst part is that the promise stipulates that she must travel with her brother’s best friend–a boy she has despised all her life. Her brother is in a coma, and Gabi feels that she has no time to waste, but she is unsure. Will she hesitate too long, or risk her own happiness to keep a promise? An up-close look at the lives of the children of military families, Beneath Wandering Starstakes readers on a journey of love, danger, laughter, and friendship, against all odds.
In 1952, five women bond when their husbands are stationed on the same U.S. Air Force base in England. Peggy Dewey, a no-nonsense Texan, narrates the saga of their friendship, which expands to include Kath Pharaoh, an Englishwoman they meet at King George’s funeral procession. The six women go through 47 years of births, divorces, illnesses, deaths, and amazing career changes. The fast-forward ending, more of an epilog, is a bit of a disappointment, not because it’s poorly written but because you’re reluctant to say good-bye to Peg and her friends so abruptly.
Bernadette “Bernie” Root, military brat, speaks. She has never really noticed what a peculiar bunch of nomads her eight-member Air Force family is (with the exception of her Post Princess sister, Kit), until the summer after her first year of college when she joins them at their new assignment: Kadena Air Base, Okinawa.
Just as Okinawa turns out to be a sorry version of the Japanese paradise Bernie knew in her childhood at Yokota Air Base, her family, especially her once-beautiful mother, Moe, and her former spy-pilot father, Mace, seems to have been in decline since those glory days of the American Raj. Days when her mother was happy and their best friend, Fumiko, now lost to them, was the family’s maid. The worst part of Okinawa for Bernie, though, is realizing how perfectly she fits with her oddball family and how badly she needs to get out.
So when a dance contest first prize, a trip to Japan,offers a chance to escape, she takes it, playing second banana to a third-rate comedian on a tour of Japan’s military bases. At their grand finale at the Yokota Officers’ Club, Fumiko finally reappears, and Bernie discovers the terrible price that is paid when the secrets nations hide end up buried within families.
It’s Summer 1967 and Mike O’Reilly’s just shipped out to Vietnam. Liz O’Reilly is trying to keep it all together for their four kids – 6 year old Deb–Deb (who believes she is an otter), 8 year old Angus, Kathie, (who at age 9 helps to integrate the local Blue Bird troop with her best friend Temperance), and 11 year old Danny – the spitting image of Mike. While Mike is off fighting “his” war, Liz struggles with her own desires and yearnings – to pick up the theatre career she abandoned when Danny was born, to care for the four children she loves fiercely yet also occasionally resents, to leave the backdoor unlocked so she always has an escape route. While set during the conflict in Vietnam, Farrington’s novel captures the other side of any war – that of the war at home and the careening emotions of the spouses and families left behind.
When Alice Bliss learns that her father, Matt, is being deployed to Iraq, she’s heartbroken. Alice idolizes her father, loves working beside him in their garden, accompanying him on the occasional roofing job, playing baseball. When he ships out, Alice is faced with finding a way to fill the emptiness he has left behind. Matt will miss seeing his daughter blossom from a tomboy into a full-blown teenager. Alice will learn to drive, join the track team, go to her first dance, and fall in love, all while trying to be strong for her mother, Angie, and take care of her precocious little sister, Ellie. But the smell of Matt is starting to fade from his blue shirt that Alice wears everyday, and the phone calls are never long enough. Alice Bliss is a profoundly moving coming-of-age novel about love and its many variations–the support of a small town looking after its own; love between an absent father and his daughter; the complicated love between an adolescent girl and her mother; and an exploration of new love with the boy-next-door. These characters’ struggles amidst uncertain times echo our own, lending the novel an immediacy and poignancy that is both relevant and real. At once universal and very personal, Alice Bliss is a transforming story about those who are left at home during wartime, and a teenage girl bravely facing the future.
A dedicated nurse, Stella finds comfort at the hospice where she works the late shift, especially since her husband returned from Afghanistan—cold, distant, and shattered by painful memories he refuses to share. The hospice at night is another world, where the dying receive closure by creating the letters that Stella helps them write. The pages are filled with love and humor, sometimes regret, and, occasionally, even instructions for a perplexed husband on how to run appliances. There’s one rule: The letters are mailed only after the patient has passed.
Suddenly Stella is faced with a dilemma: A woman under her care, Grace, has written a confession to the son she abandoned many years before. The letter clearly needs to be read before Grace dies. But if Stella mails it now, she breaks the rule—and risks tampering not only with Grace’s wishes but also with fate.
Navigating passion and grief, loyalty and loss, and a marriage threatened by silence and secrets, Stella discovers that letters hold a special power: granting solace, saving memories, nurturing relationships. As the words endure, love redeems.
Luz James, a contemporary U.S. Air Force brat, lives with her strictly-by-the-rules sergeant mother at Kadena Air Base in Okianawa. Luz’s older sister, her best friend and emotional center, has just been killed in the Afghan war. Unmoored by her sister’s death and a lifetime of constant moving from base to base, Luz turns for the comfort her service-hardened mother cannot offer to the “Smokinawans,” the “waste cases,” who gather to get high every night in a deserted cove. When even pills, one-hitters, Cuervo Gold, and a growing crush on Jake Furusato aren’t enough to soften the unbearable edge, the desolate girl contemplates taking her own life.
In 1945, Tamiko Kokuba, along with two hundred of her classmates, is plucked out of her elite girls’ high school and trained to work in the Imperial Army’s horrific cave hospitals. With defeat certain, Tamiko finds herself squeezed between the occupying Japanese and the invading Americans. She believes she has lost her entire family, as well as the island paradise she so loved, and, like Luz, she aches with a desire to be reunited with her beloved sister.
On an island where the spirits of the dead are part of life and your entire clan waits for you in the afterworld, suicide offers Tamiko the promise of peace. As Luz tracks down the story of her own Okinawan grandmother, she discovers that, if she surrenders to the most unbrat impulse and allows herself to connect completely with a place and its people, the ancestral spirits will save not only Tamiko but her as well.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.