Review: Between Ghosts, by Garrett Leigh

Blurb:

cover-garrettleigh-betweenghostsIn 2003, journalist Connor Regan marched through London to add his voice to a million others, decrying the imminent invasion of Iraq. Eight months later, his brother, James, was killed in action in Mosul.

Three years on, Connor finds himself bound for Iraq to embed with an elite SAS team. He sets his boots on the ground looking for closure and solace—anything to ease the pain of his brother’s death. Instead he finds Sergeant Nathan Thompson.

Nat Thompson is a veteran commander, hardened by years of combat and haunted by the loss of his best friend. Being lumbered with a civilian is a hassle Nat doesn’t need, and he vows to do nothing more than keep the hapless hack from harm’s way.

But Connor proves far from hapless, and too compelling to ignore for long. He walks straight through the steel wall Nat’s built around his heart, and when their mission puts him in mortal danger, Nat must lay old ghosts to rest and fight to the death for the only man he’s ever truly loved.


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Dates read:
Edition read:
March 12, 2016
Riptide Publishing
Contemporary, M/M, GLBT+
246 e-book pages
3rd person
Stand-alone
March 16-19, 2016
Kindle Edition
See the book on GoodReads.

Rating:     ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ratings are 1 to 5 stars and based mostly on GoodReads standards.
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Review:

A maybe not-so-quick personal take before I start talking about this book. I have a hard time editing myself to reduce word count sometimes…

My take is not unusual or particularly unique–but was the best framework I had going into this book. It was way more than a typical romance I picked up for mere entertainment value.

I’m what’s dubbed a military brat–the child and former dependent of active duty/now retired military and, by circumstance, have strong links to more than one branch of the United States armed forces.

I was born in a military hospital and lived my first few years in military housing. I grew up and still live in a military area, surrounded by bases, active duty, and their families. We frequently deal with tear-filled deployments, saying goodbye to friends and classmates because of transfers, and celebrating the homecoming of our loved ones returning from tour.

Our military is so ingrained and saturated here that I’m not alone in believing there is something unnatural about NOT hearing jet noise shred the sky on a daily basis. Hang on, lemme mute the phone for a sec because jets and I can’t hear you anyway.

I’m not military. I had no desire ever to join up because I know I’m not one to follow orders in a timely hup-to fashion…or at all sometimes. But, I’ve got more than a few honest ounces of Oorah in my veins that slow me down when I see a uniform to pause and thank them for their service. I’ll do the same for a retiree wearing a cap decorated with military pins.

Like millions, I’ve stood in Arlington National Cemetery and cried at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in awe of the precision of the guards while trying to make sense of those perfectly aligned rows upon rows of headstones. I’ve stood at Pearl Harbor and sobbed as I read names, saw the underwater carnage of ships, and watched blobs of oil rise to the surface…still…after nearly 75 years. I’ve been to the Vietnam memorial in D.C., and a number of other monuments and military cemeteries where I’ve touched names and whispered prayers of thanks and peace. I’ve been to funerals of the fallen where full military honors were given. I can’t ignore the pounding in my chest and tingle in my throat each and every time in all those places, thinking of every person’s sacrifice of time away from family, of life or limb. Feeling the plaintive strains of Taps on the bugle, the harrowing shots of a 21-gun salute, the crisp wrist-snap folding of our flag and its presentation to the grieving widow.

Regardless of our own personal political beliefs, we’re talking about men and women around the world who selflessly get up every day, usually before the sun and don a uniform. For each button or zipper, each pin or patch, star, bar, or epaulet, each perfectly ironed crease, aligned buckle, and tightly tied boot, they will go forth with measured and practiced steps, without question and often into uncertain circumstances, to do their job of serving and protecting.

Sometimes the workday is way more than eight or even 24 hours without the relief of a comfortable bed, a good meal, clean clothes, or a hot shower. Sometimes the day ends with sand-filled boots and blood on the hands. The grit, grime, and guts of war. They don’t do this blindly, or lightly, but because they’re called to do so with bravery, honor, brotherhood/sisterhood and teamwork, and a host of other reasons. But they all accept the same fundamental ideals and potential outcome for me, for you, for all and sundry to live, learn, work, speak, write, read, vote, be and breathe free.


Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die…
–Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The Charge of the Light Brigade

They bear this weight of responsibility and these horrors so we don’t have to.

…hopefully…

Also, we should not–can not–ever forget the men and women from other countries who were there in Iraq and are there now in Afghanistan, and points around the world in times of conflict, fighting alongside U.S. troops: UK, Austrailia, Italy, France, Poland, Germany, on and on and on and no disrespect meant for those not mentioned. Just. So. Many. Their commitment and sacrifice is just as big, just as important to remember.

So this book resonated for me in ways that were shaped around my own personal framework of living in and on the edges of a military life as a loved one–as well as other movies and books I’ve experienced.

I don’t personally know the grit, grime, and guts of war. I hope I never do. Mainly, I’m too selfish. I can’t fully imagine being so removed from the everyday comforts of home for months or years on end with pounds of gear strapped to my back and sporadic contact with ‘the real world.’ I can’t fully imagine following the orders from bureaucrats and politicians who aren’t there. I can’t fully imagine the reality that every encounter with another person not dressed like me is an inner conflict of wondering friend or foe, knowing that sometimes the eyes lie. That one wrong step or bump in the road could be on a landmine. I can’t fully imagine the intense heat, the dirt, sandstorms, destruction, crappy meals, days of little sleep or boredom that change on a dime to fighting for your life and that of your brothers in arms.

But I can imagine it a little bit.

Maybe more than others, maybe not.

This book takes us there. In all the grit, grime, and guts of war.

It ain’t pretty.

It’s not meant to be.

But in that, amid the bombs and firefights, sandstorms, the shitty food and less than ideal conditions are a few rays of light.

There are some humanitarian efforts that bring a little hope.

There’s a romance — though a little unconventional considering the setting. Ghosts come out of the shadows and are laid to rest. Bonds are made stronger. Desire burns and intimacy grows.

The MCs are so different with Connor the journalist looking for answers and finding more than he bargained for in Nat, the commander of the unit he’s placed with. Nat, who is etched with the scars of survival and the clawing weight of the world on his shoulders; who is also haunted by his own ghosts and guilt.

I thought it was beautifully written — brutal, honest and heartfelt with some serious attention to detail.

It’s no less than what I expected from this author who, for me, just gets better and better with every book of hers I read.

I can’t say this was a joy to read because it tore me apart–but it was definitely engaging. And it ended on the sweet high notes of hope, love, brotherhood, belonging, survival, and being found. I couldn’t ask for more.

This review also posted on GoodReads.

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