Black Widow Bitches (2016), winner of 5 awards

In this gritty, heart-thumping war epic, Cass takes us into the deadly, blood-soaked world of the first all-female combat infantry division.

The current “War on Terrorism” spirals out of control and engulfs much of the globe. Iconic cities and countries have been reduced to smoldering ruins of hopelessness across Europe and much of the free world, as brutal, rampaging terrorists unite across national, ethnic, and political lines to establish a Caliphate and crush millions of innocent resisters.

Opposed to a draft, the U.S. President asks each American family to send one volunteer to fight. A daring woman Army general, Jennifer Reed, proposes a bold move: training women for full-fledged combat in elite, all-women military units. Despite tremendous odds, her plan is grudgingly accepted, and the history-shattering 135th Airborne Division—the “Black Widows”—are born.

But will enough women volunteer? Can the Black Widows stand up to an enemy whose viciousness and brutality has no precedent? And, most important of all, who will train these women to become the hardened warriors they’ll need to be? No self-respecting man, since the rejection of women in combat runs deep in the American military culture.

A convicted criminal—court-martialed Captain Elias Marin, a decorated, airborne infantry war veteran who dared to disobey in battle—steps forward. Having no family and few options, he takes on the task to avoid the shame of imprisonment and to try to redeem himself. Full of doubts and with a history of PTSD-related anxiety attacks, the demoted Second Lieutenant Marin tackles the challenge of preparing the young women for combat…and winning their respect and trust, for they know he was plucked from prison because few other officers wanted to train them.

At once embodying and defying stereotypes, the volunteer women infantry are a motley bunch, who make us laugh, weep, and marvel as they step out of the civilian world and morph from various stages of ability and grit, to unforeseen levels of readiness. They come from all over America in answer to the President’s call. Prime among them are Marin’s “Fearsome Foursome”:

Araceli “Arcie” Martinez, from South El Monte, CA, a grieving Latina whose Marine brother was killed in the war; Janice Moore, a wealthy African-American from Chicago; Perle Floyd, a religious virgin from Spokane, WA; and Laura Smalls, a poor, white girl from Birmingham, AL, with a failed but doting father, and a very abusive romantic relationship. They battle themselves, their private demons, as well as the sexist soldiers who taunt them.

This grippingly realistic novel follows the “Fearsome Foursome” throughout their rigorous training, where Marin, fearless female leaders, and male officers who support their vision, struggle together against inevitable death, incredible odds, and disappointment. From their eventual baptism of fire to even deadlier combat, the women realize they are living on borrowed time. Above all, how will these women reconcile their sense of humanity with the barbarism and horror of war?