Command and Control by Eric Schlosser

6452798Written with the vibrancy of a first-rate thriller, Command and Control interweaves the minute-by-minute story of an accident at a nuclear missile silo in rural Arkansas with a historical narrative that spans more than fifty years.  It depicts the urgent effort by American scientists, policymakers, and military officers to ensure that nuclear weapons can’t be stolen, sabotaged, used without permission, or detonated inadvertently. Schlosser also looks at the Cold War from a new perspective, offering history from the ground up, telling the stories of bomber pilots, missile commanders, maintenance crews, and other ordinary servicemen who risked their lives to avert a nuclear holocaust.  At the heart of the book lies the struggle, amid the rolling hills and small farms of Damascus, Arkansas, to prevent the explosion of a ballistic missile carrying the most powerful nuclear warhead ever built by the United States.


While I’ve read books about nuclear power this was my first about nuclear weapons and woah. By all rights we should all be dead by now, maybe ten times over. There are two interleaving story arcs, one about the history of nuclear weapons from the Manhattan Project through the early 2000s, and another that covers a Titan II missile accident.

I had no idea that there were so many mishaps, mistakes, and close calls – planes holding H-bombs catching fire on the runway, nukes lost at sea, early warning systems that misinterpret the moon rising over Sweden has incoming ballistic missiles.  I thought everyone would be behind more safeguards against human error because no one wants to blow up their town by mistake, but it turns out the military was largely against safety measures.  A well-protected weapon requires more checklist steps and time before launch, and those minutes would be crucial in a nuclear attack.

The narrative structure is similar to Columbine in that two separate timelines are alternated – here the history of atomic weapons and a missile accident in Arkansas.  I had never heard of the accident and didn’t know how it ended up so Schlosser’s account kept me riveted.  It also serves to break up the history portions and keep the narrative fresh.

I listened to this as an audiobook and really enjoyed it.  I had no problems with the reader and was able to push the speed over 2x, which is a help when the book is over 20 hours long.

My school history books didn’t do a good job covering the Cold War so Command and Control helped me reach a much needed deeper understanding. We should all know this history, if only to make sure we don’t repeat it.

You may also enjoy:

20820098 Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters by James Mahaffey


Warrior’s Woman by Johanna Lindsey (Ly-San-Ter #1)

More romance backlist!  The NPR Swoon-Worthy Romance Novel list has my favorite synopsis:

763774There are probably more sensible books by the great Johanna Lindsey — she’s better known for the pirate yarn Gentle Rogue — but none so outlandishly fun as this tale of a space-faring security officer who lands on a planet of giant leather-trousered barbarian warriors and winds up claimed by the biggest brute of them all.

And I mean, look at that cover.  Perfect for my “give me the crazy!” mood.  (They put a more modern cover on the re-release, but that’s no fun.)

Originally punished in 1990, Warrior’s Woman is a paranormal romance before paranormal was a thing.  Tedra is a top-level security officer on the vaguely dystopian planet Kystran when her government is overthrown in a coup.  The new dictator’s hired muscle is a brand of warrior they’re unfamiliar with – tall and physically intimidating, they wield swords instead of phazors and still manage to win fights.

Tedra sneaks off planet with her supercomputer Martha and android Corth in search of help and end up on the warriors’ mother planet.  She promptly transfers down to say hi and loses a challenge to the most intimidating guy there, ending up in his service for a month.


As long as you know the hero is an alpha caveman who basically drags his woman back to the cave you’ll be just fine.  The world building is interesting as long as you don’t think too hard, the plot makes the 452 pages breeze by, and I was transported to another world for a few carefree hours.  Excellent.

There’s plenty I could nitpick but that’s not the point.  I read some backlist, upped my romance knowledge, and was able to escape from the real world for a few hours.  Seems silly to complain about that.

Caressed by Ice by Nalini Singh (Psy-Changeling #3)

458034As an Arrow, an elite soldier in the Psy Council ranks, Judd Lauren was forced to do terrible things in the name of his people. Now he is a defector, and his dark abilities have made him the most deadly of assassins – cold, pitiless, unfeeling. Until he meets Brenna…

Brenna Shane Kincaid was an innocent before she was abducted – and had her mind violated – by a serial killer. Her sense of evil runs so deep, she fears she could become a killer herself. Then the first dead body is found, victim of a familiar madness. Judd is her only hope, yet her sensual changeling side rebels against the inhuman chill of his personality, even as desire explodes between them. Shocking and raw, their passion is a danger that threatens not only their hearts, but their very lives…


When the world gets tough, the tough read romance.  I turned to the Psy-Changing series because I wanted to escape with paranormal in a well-thought out universe, but sadly the tropes worked against me.

Both our hero and heroine are damaged – Brenna after being abducted and abused by an Evil Dude, and Judd as part of his Psy upbringing.  I don’t often read romance where the trauma comes from both directions and it’s not really my thing.  I never completely bought the romance between the two and the thought that Judd was being hurt (like, blood dripping out of his ear hurt) when he felt love for Brenna doesn’t do it for me.

I would have given up a third of the way through but I don’t want to give up on the series yet.  There’s an overarching plot through all the books and I hate the idea of missing something so I plowed on.  Here’s hoping the next book is more my thing.

Peter Darling by Austin Chant

33358438Ten years ago, Peter Pan left Neverland to grow up, leaving behind his adolescent dreams of boyhood and resigning himself to life as Wendy Darling. Growing up, however, has only made him realize how inescapable his identity as a man is.

But when he returns to Neverland, everything has changed: the Lost Boys have become men, and the war games they once played are now real and deadly. Even more shocking is the attraction Peter never knew he could feel for his old rival, Captain Hook—and the realization that he no longer knows which of them is the real villain.


This is the second book by Chant I’ve read and I think I love it even more than the first.

The good:

  • This is a trans story written by a trans writer – huzzah own voices!
  • I love how Neverland lets Peter be most himself and how it relates to the romance in the story.
  • I know next to nothing about Peter Pan but it didn’t matter.  I’m guessing that if you’ve read the original there are parallels and references but I didn’t feel like I was missing anything.
  • One of fiction’s most powerful side effects, I think, is experiencing life as someone utterly unlike yourself.  I’ve read about body dysphoria in a non-fiction sense but feeling what Peter goes through makes it more clear than any informative article could.
  • The writing is just what it needs to be – exciting during the adventure parts, romantic during the “oh wait maybe this is love” parts, and held together with a solid plot.  It’s utterly different from Coffee Boy but Chant switches gears seamlessly.

The not-so-good:

  • While the book fits its pages I wanted so much more than a novella.  I don’t know if Chant writes as this length because it’s comfortable but I think he could blow us away with double the space to run around in.

A fun read that took me away from the crazy of real life just when I needed it.  A must for anyone who’s into LGBTQIA+ reads or retellings.

Broken Play by Samantha Kane (Birmingham Rebels #1)

23834711Birmingham Rebels offensive linemen Beau Perez and Cass Zielinski are inseparable, on and off the field. Cass, the captain with the cowboy swagger, is a loose cannon. Beau, the veteran tight end, is cool under pressure. And ever since they were caught on tape in a steamy threesome, their exploits have fueled more than a few tabloid headlines—and naughty fantasies.

Marian Treadwell knows all about the video. And now that she’s the Rebels’ new assistant offensive coach, she can’t look at Beau and Cass without picturing their hard, naked bodies—with her pressed in between. Marian would like nothing more than to indulge those impulses, but she knows better than to get too close to her players, a bunch of adrenaline-fueled alpha males who don’t always follow the rules.


This is my second Kane book and man, does she have great characters.  They’re all deeply layered with flaws and ambitions and baggage, and their interactions feel real and unforced.  I fell in love with even minor characters, and I can’t wait to see them get their Happily Ever After.

And did I mention that all of the books feature MMF triads?

There’s a bunch of other good stuff here.  There’s racial and sexual diversity, hot sex, characters owning their kink, and more.  I only have one problem – Marian, an assistant coach, is in a relationship with two players under her.  The book skirts around the issue, saying that there’s no league rule against fraternizing because no one thought a woman would be in a position of authority on a football team, but it still irks.

I ended up liking Broken Play much better than the third book in the series, Jacked Up, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest.

Depression and Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim

I picked up this book after seeing the Meonicorn’s lovely own voices review (check it out!) and watching Benaim perform what I think is the best poem, “Explaining My Depression to My Mother”.  Stop reading and take three minutes to watch – it’s amazing and has over six million views to prove it:

If you have ever experienced depression or anxiety or know someone who has these poems will speak to you, as they get right to the core of the experience.

at the grocery store i practice trying to make myself feel good by pretending i am a regular person buying her groceries & not a very sad person trying to distract herself from crying.

If you don’t know anyone with depression or anxiety the poems will open your eyes to what it’s like for you brain to go off in a direction you don’t like but are powerless to change.

36070215& this is why i have a hard time talking about my anxieties / not the big heavy anxieties / but the small ones / the ones that change my earrings / & chip at my general level of self-esteem / the ones that gorge on celery & watermelon after a heavy weekend / crying quietly / standing in line / behind you / the girl you’re pretending not to notice

In addition to these poems about mental health there are others about love, loneliness, abandonment, and memory.  With a couple of exceptions they don’t feel as strong but I’m having trouble pinpointing why.  Is it a personal thing, that they don’t speak to my lived experience? (Which seems silly, because I have loved boys who haven’t loved me back.)  Is it that the images aren’t as memorable or striking?  Or is my newbie poetry spidey sense picking up that they’re just not as “good”?  I’m not sure.

While this all sounds melancholy the poems aren’t fatalistic.  You sense that the author is working to understand herself and why things happen, all on the bedrock conviction that she will get through it.

i will let dance parties be the hospitals i heal in

if i need more help i will let the medication help me
i forgive my body for being a machine after all

A great read for anyone who has dipped their toes in these dark waters if only to know that:

i am not alone
because i feel alone


Darkest Flame by Donna Grant (Dark Kings #1)

18169912Denae Lacroix is a beautiful MI5 agent on a deadly mission. Sent to the Scottish Highlands to spy on the mysterious Dreagan Industries, she discovers too late that she’s been set up—as human bait. She is an irresistible lure for a man who has not seen or touched a woman for centuries. He is a man with a destiny—and a desire—that could destroy them both…

It’s been twelve hundred years since Kellan has walked among humans—and there’s no denying the erotically charged attraction he feels for Denae. But as a Dragon King, he is sworn to protect his secrets. Yet the closer he gets to this smart, ravishing woman, the more her life is in danger. All it takes is one reckless kiss to unleash a flood of desire, the fury of dragons…and the fiercest enemy of all.


Trigger warning for assault.

The world has been overwhelming in a holy-crap-they’re-doing-what-now way, and at times like this I turn to romance.  And not just any romance but over the top, steamy, fantastical romance, the crazier the better.  When I’m like this I’m willing to forgive almost anything.  Instalove?  Go for it!  Poor characterization?  Whatever, bring on a pinball plot!  I’m actually more likely to knock a book for not being crazy enough. (Exhibit A: that time a cop went undercover as a slave on a BDSM planet and fell in love with an alien was a bit too tame.)

This book, though, I can’t forgive, because the heroine is sexually assaulted by the bad guy in front of the hero.  She’s tied up, stripped naked, and forced to orgasm against her will.

Oh, hell no.

She does have the feelings you would expect after being assaulted, so a point for that, but as soon as the coast is clear she and the hero have sex to clear her system or something.  Gah.

After that all of the other faults grated, including those I was inclined to overlook – instalust, bad phonetic renditions of accents, a fae deus ex machina, and three HEA couples even though this is book one (??) come immediately to mind.  Ugh.

Why Darkest Flame is so highly rated on Goodreads I do not know.  Stay far away, even if you’re in the mood for some crazy.

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden (Winternight Trilogy #2)

34050917The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingale continues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.


I was worried this wouldn’t be as good as The Bear and the Nightingale but you know what? I think I like this one better.

If you liked the slow set up and epic scale of the first book you may be disappointed, as there isn’t as much here.  Instead we have Vasya off on an adventure, seeing new places and meeting all kinds of people.  Even so Arden reintroduces us to characters in a gentle, non-jarring way, making it easy to follow the story even if you’ve forgotten who is who.

While some parts made me cringe – Vasya is young and makes her share of foolish mistakes – they’re in character and part of her development.  The only regrettable part for me is when she runs headlong into danger near the end.  I get the reason, and in a twisted way it was a smart thing to do, but it was a little too close to heroine bait/meaningless self-sacrifice for my liking.

Morozko is my favorite character and we get a lot of time with him here.  Everyone else, from Vasya’s siblings on down to servants is fleshed out and well characterized.

There’s no slump in Arden’s sophomore effort and I eagerly await the last book of the trilogy.

Beast by Judith Ivory

1130878An exquisite American heiress, Louise Vandermeer is beautiful, brilliant…and bored—which is why she has agreed to a daring adventure: to travel across the ocean to marry an aristocrat abroad. Rumor has it her intended is a hideous cad—a grim prospect that propels her into a passionate, reckless affair with a compelling stranger she never sees in the light of day.

Though scarred by a childhood illness, Charles d’Harcourt has successfully wooed Europe’s most sophisticated beauties. For a lark, he contrived to travel incognito on his own fiancée’s ship—and seduce the young chit in utter darkness. But the rake’s prank backfired. It was he who was smitten—while the hot-tempered Lulu, now his wife, loves only her shipboard lover, unaware it was d’Harcourt all the time! And Charles will never have her heart—unless he can open her eyes to the prince who hides within.


I’ve been wanting to try some older romances so I went through NPR’s 100 Swoon-worthy Romances list and dug in.  This book caught my eye immediately – the “beauty and the beast” trope is a favorite – so I dug in.

The good:

  • I love flipped expectations and here the beast is temporarily turned upside down.  Louise first meets Charles in shadowy corridors and staterooms, where he plays up a fake exotic angle (more on this later) and seduces her by word and deed.  Only when they meet for “real” she’s put off by his not-so-great looks and the usual fairy tale storyline kicks in.
  • While set at the dawn of the Edwardian era Louise lives as big a life as she can.  Before the novel starts she slipped away from her parents to go gambling in Montreal, and later she pursues her interests even though they’re not the most “ladylike”. Rock on.
  • Louise learned French to a high level in the classroom and her ability, mistakes, and frustrations are superbly portrayed.  She misses words in conversation, she doesn’t know any slang, and her formal speech, while perfect for parties and introductions to society, drives Charles nuts.

    “Tu, tu. Use it”, he said, encouraging the intimate verb construction.  The language used between lovers and friends.

    “I don’t know those conjugations.  My instructor thought they were too intimate.”

    As someone who uses her second, learned language in everyday life it feels all too real and true.

  • I didn’t know a thing about ambergris going in and now my head is full of the stinky stuff.  It’s fascinating.

The questionable:

  • Like it says in the synopsis, Louise gets intimate with her husband thinking he’s someone else entirely.  If this affair-but-not-an-affair isn’t your thing stay away.
  • One of the ways Charles hides his identity is by pretending he’s a Muslim man from Northern Africa, as there are some people by that description on the ship.  It makes him Other and exotic and Louise gobbles it up, often daydreaming about “her pasha”.  On one hand it’s troublesome, and I would rather it wasn’t in the book at all, but Ivory tries to be fair.

    “You must hate the Arabs for that.”

    He shrugged. “Oh, Arabs, Moors, Frenchmen” – he laughed – “Americans. We’re all about the same, good ones, bad ones.”

    Exotic dark-skinned heroes are no stranger to romance (just search for sheikh on Goodreads) and this muddied my already complicated thoughts on the issue.

The not-so-good:

  • The story is split neatly in two with a hot, lusty shipboard part and a wary, hmmm-can-I-ever-like-this-guy part.  Things move quickly while crossing the Atlantic but on land our couple maintains a cautious holding pattern.  There’s also over description in the second half (including what kind of countertops are in a room they spend a few minutes in) and we spend a lot of time wallowing in their repetitive thoughts.
  • In one scene Charles acts completely out of character, flipping the table he and Louise are eating at.  It may have been meant that way – he was so frustrated he did something out of character – but it made me worry for her physical well being. Not cool.
  • Building Louise and Charles’ emotional connection the second time around takes a lot of time and is frustrating, making the ending less satisfying.

All in all Beast has aged well considering it was written twenty years ago.  While the questionable parts still bug me the flipped trope makes for an interesting read.

Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

35840657Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Bipolar II, Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot’s mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father—an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist—who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame.


(First some trigger warnings, especially for suicidal ideation and an attempt, abuse, and eating disorders.)

There is so much to admire here.  Allow me to list the ways:

  • Mailhot puts her story on the page in a way that’s both spare and evocative, simultaneously emotional and unsympathetic.  It’s like she takes the glass form of a memoir, smashes it at her feet, and rearranges it best for her truth, complete with stray debris and blood from her cut hands.
  • The writing is amazing.  Some chapters have an intricate internal logic that I’ll need to revisit to fully appreciate, and the one liners are art.

    I think of you often, but there are still spaces unchanged by you.

    I learned that any power asks you to dedicate your life to its expansion.

    Men objectify me, to such a degree that they forget I eat.  You feed your dog more kindly than you feed me.  That’s men.

  • Some chapters fairly jump off the page – the first is one of these and I was sure I had a five star read in my hands.  The good is blow the roof off amazing so maybe I’m greedy to want that all the way through, but some of the middle essays fell flat for me.  I’m hoping that changes on a reread.
  • The forward and Q&A afterward provide context and helped me build a framework to situate my thoughts.  Skip them at your own peril as they add so much to the work.  I’d also recommend reading Heart Berries in as large gulps as possible.  My own reading was spread over two weeks and feels diluted because of it.

Overall this is an unrelenting, masterfully written work – not my usual fare but I loved it all the same.

Thanks to Counterpoint and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.