Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Small Wars by Sadie Jones

Title: Small Wars
Author: Sadie Jones

Genre: Fiction (Historical / War)

Rating: Like-pushing-to-love!
Did I finish?: Yes -- I kept gulping this book down.
One-sentence summary: British army family faces their own battles in late '50s Cyprus.

Why did I get this book?: As a child, my family was stationed in the Mediterranean so I couldn't pass up a story about a military family in Cyprus.
Reading Challenges:  British Books, Historical Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours

Do I like the cover?: YES. It's very muted -- sort of washed out -- which reminds me strongly of Cyprus and Greece.

First line: An English rain was falling onto the instruments of the band, onto their olive green uniforms and the uniforms of the cadets as they marched.

Review: I have to confess that the novel had me hooked even before I started: as a child, my military family was stationed in the Mediterranean for some years, our first overseas posting.  It was wonderful and a little traumatic -- some of our best and worst memories.  The locational setting of Small Wars, the military family at the story's center, and the era (late '50s) immediately appealed to me and I was so excited to read this novel.

My expectations were met and surpassed.

I really had two reactions with this book: one, an intense sense of nostalgia when I started (as Jones so perfectly captured that sort of numb exhaustion that comes from arriving in a foreign country so alien it's impossible to process); and two, a gripping need to finish the story because I had to know what happened.

There's a sparse, almost polite feel to the writing that feels both very British and very dated -- in a good way.  It's like reading a novel from the '50s with that sort of painful restraint that is beautiful and maddening.  There's just so much unspoken it makes one wiggle with discomfort and sadness; the burden of expectation and the understanding of one's role just weighs on the characters, on the reader. 

Jones has said in interviews that the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan provided the inspiration for this novel and I was a bit apprehensive about thin caricatures of military life or sweeping judgement.  Instead, this very deft novel explores the challenge of duty and the obligation of a soldier, the impact of decisions made for the 'greater good' and the fallout when one has to come home after participating in unimaginable cruelty.  I found myself empathizing with all the characters, even at their worst, even when I wanted so badly for the story to go in another direction.  An absolutely moving war novel -- even for those who might not typically read war fiction.

Giveaway!  I'm thrilled to say the publisher is offering one copy to any US/CA reader!  Just leave a comment (with your email) on this post for an entry.  For a second entry, comment on my interview with author Sadie Jones (coming soon!)  Contest closes Sat, Feb 5 at 5pm Pacific. 


  1. Great review! I loved this book, too. (My review is up today as well!) I'm glad to hear it felt authentic to you as someone who lived in the area. I agree about the writing, though I didn't really think about it until reading your thoughts. It was sparse and restrained, but Jones sure packs a punch regardless.

  2. Your review gave me an excellent feel for this book, which I have now added to my TBR pile. I know little to nothing about this time and place in history, and from your description of the writing style, it sounds like something I would love.

  3. I've been wanting to read this one for a while. Great review.

  4. How fascinating you spent time there as a military child! I loved this book too, and it's one I keep thinking about long after the last page was turned. I'm looking forward to reading the author's other novel, The Outcast.

  5. All: I had started to write, and was afraid I was getting too personal, that the opening scene in which the heroine arrived in Cyprus with her twin toddlers as being v 'ah-ha' for me -- my mother had to move with my brother and I from the US to Sicily w/o my father and I hadn't really thought about what that experience might have been like for her -- how overwhelming to go from Utah and Pennsylvania and Nebraska to a place like Sicily. The novel really gave me some insights into what my mother's experience as a military wife might have been like, esp when my brother and I were so young. So in addition to being a marvelous novel, it offered a v moving personal experience in terms of my own personal history.

    Also, if any of you want to win a copy, leave your email addy!

  6. "My expectations were met and surpassed." Love! This is the best kind of book -- one where you anticipate it'll be good, but don't realize *how* good.

    Thanks for being on the tour!

  7. Sounds like a fab read! roxannajolly at gmail dot com

  8. This sounds like an excellent book! Please enter me, thanks.


  9. Nice review! This book sounds like an interesting read. I've added it to my TBR list. Thanks for offering the giveaway as well. ajlw96 at yahoo dot com

  10. Sounds v intense but good! thank you for the giveaway!

    bravenewgirl at gmail.com

  11. Great review! I'm in - empty . chords @ gmail.com

  12. Sounds like one I need to read!

    kfransen7 AT gmail DOT com

  13. This looks great! Count me in please!

    jaidahsmommy AT comcast DOT net

  14. I think the cover of this book is very striking- I completely agree with you that it looks much like Greece/Cyprus!

  15. Great review!! Thanks for the chance to win!!