Who protects our soldiers?
That’s a question I continue to wonder about. Right now, after more than a decade of war, our soldiers are seeing record numbers of suicides–more than one a day across all branches of the military. My own father was a Vietnam veteran and, through him, I have first-hand experience with the ravages of combat on a soldier’s emotional state. How difficult it is to return home, to return to “normal” life.
And, that’s what drew me to ALL FOR YOU, a newly released contemporary romance by Jessica Scott. My regular readers know I review a ton of romance. Most of it is pretty breezy and–with regard to those books–I almost hesitate to call ALL FOR YOU a romance. There is a strong romantic plot line within the story, don’t misunderstand that, it’s simply that the emotional tenor of the book is not-at-all breezy.
In fact, it’s downright gritty.
Army Sergeant Reza Iaconelli is just returning to command. He’s considered an NCO, non-commissioned officer, and is on probation. He has served several tours of duty, in Iraq and Afghanistan, but is currently training soldiers for duty at Fort Dix in Texas while he battles an alcohol addiction. Sergeant Ike–as he is called–wants nothing more than to report for combat duty himself. He is a survivor of horrific child abuse and watched his father beat his mother to death as a young teen. For him, the living moment-to-moment atmosphere of combat is easy. It takes his mind away for the ghosts of his memory, people he didn’t save, couldn’t protect, like his mother. Due to his intoxication, Sergeant Ike missed the signs of addiction for one of his men. Guilt drives him to get that battle-scarred warrior a full medical discharge–and there’s one thing in the way.
Captain Emily Lindberg is a “slick sleeve”–a non-combat psychologist–working the enormous case load of depressed, shell-shocked, and potentially suicidal soldiers. She joined the army to help patients she felt needed it–not the pseudo-disturbed clientele of her parents’ lucrative practice. In fact, Emily’s wealthy family all but disowns her when she enlists. Her docket of files is overflowing and overwhelming. Being a female, and a slightly-built one at that–Emily sometimes suffers the scorn of the commanders–like Sergeant Reza Iaconelli. Reza directly challenges her over the care of his men, but Emily is a strong advocate. It is through her tireless devotion to care that Emily saves one of Reza’s soldiers from a pattern of hazing from a superior.
Of course, as I said, this is a romance. But it’s not the mushy-gushy type. There is an attraction between Reza and Emily. One he fights the same way he battles alcohol–one day at a time. In the guise of combat mentor Reza soon develops a rapport with Emily. And, for Emily, whose philandering ex-fiance is the son of a senator, Reza embodies the honesty and conviction of a hero and an officer.
Romance aside, there are many pressures facing this couple, not the least of which is military politics. Emily risks her commissioned status if she openly dates Reza–due to his embroilment in a potential hazing scandal. True, he didn’t perpetrate it, but he’s in the chain of command and all the lower rungs on the ladder may be sacrificed to protect the reputation of the higher-ups. Plus, he’s an easy target due to his alcoholism and short temper.
In the middle, a tragedy binds Reza and Emily together, but at what cost?
Can Emily trust Reza to keep her safe from his personal demons? And, for Reza, can he trust Emily to care for him–without constant emotional analysis? Besides, she’s a rich gal. She certainly can do better than a half-washed out officer, right?
There are some really dark parts of this story. It’s gripping in the way of A FEW GOOD MEN, but bears a slightly softer side, as well. We have alternating view point, allowing us to see inside Reza’s battle-scarred psyche, and it’s a scary place to exist, as you might imagine. In an age where our soldiers are coming home for the front lines in greater numbers and finding less opportunity and a difficult return to “normal” civilian life, the coping mechanisms are often chemical in nature. This book doesn’t shy away from that dark side. At all. Nor does it paint a rosy picture of the mental toll of war.
My father used to say something along these lines when he spoke of his army experience: They ask you for your life, and that’s exactly what they take. That’s the kind of realism I found in this story. It’s powerful and profound, and I hoped against all hope that Sergeant Ike would get it right this time around. The pacing is tight, keeping the story rolling fast. The ending isn’t a typical bright and shiny HEA–but the reader is definitely left with a sense that life will get better for these characters. That they have been tempered by the fire, not burned.
If you have the chance to pick this one up, make sure to come back and tell me what you thought!
And, as always, keep reading my friends! 🙂