Battle Scars by Meghan O’Brien

Several times over the last twelve months or so this novel caught my eye at the bookstore where I work.  One of the main characters is a woman dealing with post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) from her experience as a solider in Iraq.  There’s not a plethora of novels featuring women in the military, which is one reason why this novel stayed on my mind.

I needed to take a break from reading about George Washington and decided to give Battle Scars a try.  It ended up being just what I needed: a pleasant and emotionally comforting love story about two women that also gives a snap shot of how one veteran is pro-actively trying to heal her PTSD in a healthy way.

Ray McKenna served in the Army.  While in Iraq her unit’s humvee rolled over an IED.  Ray’s leg was broken in the attack.  She was serving as a medic and before she could reach the first soldier to provide aid, she was captured by insurgents and held captive.  During captivity she witnessed a fellow soldier’s decapitation.  This information is presented during conversation or flashback; there is no violence depicted in the novel.

The action of the novel starts about two years after Ray’s ordeal in Iraq.  She’s just moved to Bodega Bay in northern California where she plans to eventually build her life anew.  For now she’s isolating with her therapy dog Jagger, a Great Dane.  Ray’s only regular interaction with another human is her weekly video session with her therapist. The therapist suggests Ray take Jagger to the vet for a base-line check-up and as a way for Ray to make contact with the outside world.

The vet is Dr. Carly Warner, a woman who lost her partner and their unborn child in a car crash five years ago.  Carly is a lesbian.  Ray is straight.  Things change.  Their mutual love of dogs is what leads them into a friendship that eventually blossoms into love and then a romantic relationship.  Carly had been doing agility training with her dog, Jack, who is scheduled to compete in an agility competition. As Ray and Carly become friends, Ray takes over working with Jack on the agility course due to Carly’s long hours at work.  It’s nice to read a novel with such such responsible dog owners and well behaved dogs.

I am no expert on PTSD but have some familiarity with it and thought Ray’s struggles with it were well done. I really liked both of the main characters (and their dogs!) and how they and their relationship were developed. And although I’m not a fan of romance novels, either gay or straight, (reading sex scenes is not my cup of tea), the steamier scenes didn’t seem hokey.

Oh, and a really refreshing aspect of this novel for me was the lack of the obligatory gay-bashing scene or homophobic oaf.

If anyone knows of novels featuring women in the military, I’d love to hear about them.

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