To love, honor, and cherish.
That’s what you vowed, in sickness and health, ‘til death do you part. They’re promises you’ll keep forever – especially, as in the new book “The League of Wives,” by Heath Hardage Lee, when one of you fights on the other’s behalf.
When a woman married a military man in the 1960s, she quickly learned that her life would never be the same.
There was, first of all, a book she was given to help her learn the rules she’d be expected to follow. Says Lee, “a pilot needed the right wife” if he wanted a career in the military; her actions in dress and public decorum impacted his chances for promotion, and her social standing “mirrored her husband’s rank.”
By this reckoning, Sybil Stockdale was the highest-ranking wife at her husband’s naval base in California in 1964. Highly esteemed by other Navy wives, she was married to Commander James Stockdale and “had grown proficient at the military game.”
That familiarity helped her in months to come.
In September 1965, Jim Stockdale was shot down over the Gulf of Tonkin and captured. He wasn’t the first U.S. pilot to be taken as prisoner of war, and Sybil wasn’t the first wife of a Vietnam POW, but her rank conferred leadership and as the war continued, she reached out to other POW wives in what became a “reluctant sorority.”
By latter 1966, those wives began to realize that “they were low priority on the Johnson administration agenda.” Johnson wouldn’t meet with them; “the State Department all but ignored” them, even as their numbers grew. They were told that speaking out could jeopardize their husbands’ survival. They began to think that government officials wished they’d go away.
The one exception: the liaison assigned to them, a man who later was lauded for his help. He seemed to understand that there was one way for the women to get their husbands home, and he told them: “Organize.”
And so they did.
Somewhere on a shelf in your home, you might have a stack of thrillers you’ve read and loved and will read again. Add “The League of Wives” to that pile; it’s is as thrilling as any novel, but it’s all true.
Yes, you know how this story ends, but the getting-there’s the appeal. Author Heath Hardage Lee brings readers a real-life account of politics, espionage, and secrets, inside a tale of a changing world and an unpopular war, inside a story of one small corner of the history of women’s rights. While that might seem like a lot to take (and Lee may appear to lean a bit), it’s a comfortable read with urgent surprises – the kind you’d get if you discovered a pile of old women’s magazines in your grandmother’s attic, with espionage codes stuck among the pages.
That adds up to a tale that’s just-right-told, especially if you’re a politico, history buff, veteran, military wife, or feminist. For you, and you love a good thriller, “The League of Wives” could become a cherished story.
Best books, reads of 2018
Fiction: 'All the Ever Afters'
Just about every person alive grew up feeling sorry for poor little Cinderella. In “All the Ever Afters” by Danielle Teller, we see the classic story from the POV of Agnes, the evil-not-evil stepmother. This novel is an eye-opener: there are always two sides to a story, and both could be correct.
Fiction: 'The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein'
Another two-sides-to-the-tale tale is “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” by Kiersten White, a novel of the woman who loved Victor Frankenstein. Or did she? Without him, she’d be homeless, broke, and hungry. With him, she would always fear his temper and the horrible things she was discovering about him. It’s a dark-and-stormy kind of book, perfect for anyone who wants winter chills of a different sort.
Fiction: 'Berlin 1936'
A lot of mini-stories make up “Berlin 1936” by Oliver Hilmes, translated from the German by Jefferson Chase. It’s a multi-level tale of Nazis, gypsies, homosexuals, and secrets in the infancy of the Third Reich, told in a conglomerate, slice-of-life sort of way that will make you forget that it’s all fiction.
Fiction: 'How to Stop Time'
Every year, it seems, scientists claim that humans will achieve immortality within a few decades. That’s a curse in “How to Stop Time” by Matt Haig. In 1598, a man named Tom fell in love with a woman named Rose. They had a daughter and then Rose fell ill and died; Tom, however, survived because he’s an “alba.” Tom is more than 400 years old and there are two things he wants: to feel as normal as he did in 1598, and to find his daughter, who is also an alba. Romancy? Yes, but also part sci-fi, part history, a little drama, and a whole lot of wonderful.
Fiction: 'Tin Man: A Novel'
To round out the fiction list, there’s “Tin Man: A Novel” by Sarah Winman. It’s also the story of Ellis, who lost his wife and his best friend, the former to a car accident and the latter to AIDS. Ellis misses Annie because she opened his world; he misses Michael because Michael pushed him to do things he would have never tried. But there were so many things Ellis never knew about Michael, until he finds Michael’s journal. Emotional, dramatic, also romantic, here’s a book that’ll make you curl up in your chair, stricken, for an hour after you’ve finished it.
Nonfiction: 'Here is Real Magic'
For anyone who’s ever wondered how that guy on TV does those illusion tricks, “Here is Real Magic” by Nate Staniforth is a book for you. Staniforth always wanted to be a magician but he wanted to do it big. Little coin tricks were old-school so, in this book, he goes on a journey to find out of magic is real or not. Hint: this isn’t a magic book. Read it, and you’ll be left with answers you weren’t even asking for.
Nonfiction: 'The Language of Kindness'
You may never see “The Language of Kindness” by Christie Watson on any other Best Of list and that’s too bad. Watson is a nurse, and this is a book about being ill, care-giving, living, and dying. Beware that some of the stories are a bit gruesome, but this is a lovely book for anyone alive.
Nonfiction: 'Natural Causes'
And not that there’s a theme here or anything, but you’ll also want to read “Natural Causes” by Barbara Ehrenreich, a book about the things we do to avoid dying. It’s informative, funny, wry, and intelligent. Hint: rant, rail, avoid sweets, eat kale, do all you want, but you’re going to die someday anyhow…
Nonfiction: 'The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row'
There’s a ton of surprising gratitude inside “The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row” by Anthony Ray Hardin with Lara Love Hardin. The reason is that Anthony Hardin was put on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. First surprise: it took thirty years for him to be exonerated. Second surprise: this book holds a whole lot less anger than you’d think it would, and a whole lot of uplifting. Of all the books on this list, it’s the one you’ll never regret reading.
Nonfiction: 'West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express'
Rounding out the nonfiction list, there’s “West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express” by Jim DeFelice. History fans will love this book because DeFelice focuses on the Pony Express but doesn’t ignore other major players in the Civil War era. Readers who like tales of little-known life will love this book, too, as will anyone who loves a good oater. Bonus: it’s one of those easy to browse books that will pull you in tight.
For any child who loves the Little House on the Prairie books, “Hardscrabble” by Sandra Dallas will be a winner. It’s a tale of twelve-year-old Belle Martin, who moves with her family from a farm in Iowa to the prairie in Colorado in 1910, and it wasn’t easy. For your 8-to-13-year-old, though, Dallas eases through the difficulty and happiness of this historical novel.
Children’s: 'Lorraine: The Girl Who Sang the Storm Away'
Much as I loved the bouncy, joyful words that make up “Lorraine: The Girl Who Sang the Storm Away” by Ketch Secor, and as much as they made me so very happy, the cherry on this literary sundae are the illustrations by Higgins Bond. Lush, colorful, and radiant, this is the tale of a girl and her grandfather, their love of music, and a mysterious spate of missing items. Your 3-to-6-year-old will like that. You’ll love the artwork.
Children’s: 'They Lost Their Heads! What Happened to Washington ’s Teeth, Einstein’s Brain, and Other Famous Body Parts'
Something totally fun to read, for the kid who loves oddities: “They Lost Their Heads! What Happened to Washington ’s Teeth, Einstein’s Brain, and Other Famous Body Parts” by Carlyn Beccia. This is a book that will inform your 10-to-14-year-old. It’s also going to give them light shivers, a few laughs, and a big dose of informative history that doesn’t feel like schooling. What better thing to have while school is out?