Book Review: The Road Home

The Road Home
Echo Company
#5

by Ellen Emerson White (as Zack Emerson)

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA historical fiction

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for a previous book in the series, ‘Tis the Season.

The fifth and final book in the Echo Company series takes us back to the base hospital where Lieutenant Rebecca Phillips is serving out her tour. Before long, most of the people she knew in-country have gone home one way or another, and then…it’s her turn. The prospect of returning to normal life is more daunting than the idea of staying in Vietnam for another year, but Rebecca does what she has to do. Arriving in the United States, being back home with her family, none of that is really what it should be—she’s just too messed up. And she’s not sure that will ever change.

The overall idea that war destroys more than the actual soldiers is strongly presented in this book. Granted, Rebecca did more than just stay on her base and deal with the casualties that came in as other nurses would have done. The tragic encounter that left her injured in book #3 was certainly closer to the experiences of a soldier than those of a nurse. However, that only made her more broken. The book makes it clear that seeing everything she did in the hospital was enough to make “normal life” very difficult.

I struggled a little with having the constant perspective of someone who never tells the full truth (almost never). I’m not saying it feels unrealistic though. Apparently even before the war, Rebecca tended to tell half-truths, at least to her parents. Their relationship has been strained since before she left—that’s a lot of why she left. However, from a fiction POV standpoint, for me, at least, it got a little frustrating to know she was holding back so very much, and I don’t mean just the stuff that it makes a lot of sense for her to not want to tell them.

It was also a little frustrating to see her get good advice from wise and kind people and basically just ignore it. Again, it might be completely realistic for real-life people suffering from such high levels of PTSD to act this way, but it did start to make me wonder what the point of the book was. If it was just to show us the depressing side of life after war, it wasn’t going to turn out to be my favorite at all. Things did end on a somewhat lighter note, though, and I do wish I could see some kind of follow-up for these characters. On the other hand, the realistic follow-up might not be something I’d want to see.

In the first part of the book, I found myself hanging on to everything written about Michael, the main character during most of the rest of the series. Apparently his change in personality in the last book didn’t bother me enough to make me dislike him. I’m still surprised that I picked up the first book in this series when I was a teenager, because it’s really not my norm. I didn’t read them all back then, I think just 1 and 2, but I’m really glad I went through it all now. Here, at the end of the series, I think I would still recommend it for readers who might be interested. There is some language and in the last book a decent amount of sexual references (nothing remotely graphic).

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If you’ve read any of this series, or read any in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: Stand Down

Stand Down
Echo Company
#4

by Ellen Emerson White (as Zack Emerson)

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA historical fiction

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous book in the series, ‘Tis the Season.

Michael and his squad are mostly going about business as usual, with the exception that Michael’s a little distracted thinking about the female lieutenant that they’d found wandering injured in the jungle. They also have a few new people in their squad, including a new squad commander. But Michael really liked the old squad commander. Then they get the word. Stand down. That means heading to the rear and out of combat. For Michael, that means the hoped-for chance to see the lieutenant again.

I was glad to go back to Michael and his squad, and for the first half of the book, I was really enjoying it. The most stoic character in the books became my new favorite in an amazing scene between him and Michael. We finally learn something about Michael’s ex, and boy is she a piece of work. And we get a glimpse of who Michael really is when he joins in with some hazing of a new guy in their squad. But even there, he recognizes that he’s acting that way because he’s upset and feels at least a little bad about it.

Then they get out of the jungle and onto a much safer base for their stand down, and things changed for me a little bit. It’s not like I can only enjoy the story when the characters are in peril—I did like reading about Rebecca’s time in the hospital during the previous book, despite being thrown because she was unexpectedly the MC of the book. My issue comes with the way Michael acts during this time. He gets pushy in a way that makes me feel really bad for Rebecca, and even worse, we find out that apparently happy, relaxed Michael is kind of a jerk and bully. I think if I’d read about him before he was drafted, I might not have liked the books as much. Still, I did like the way the author showed that after 2 months (or so) of combat, Michael already had the beginnings of some serious PTSD. It’s so real and so heart-wrenching to know that going home some day won’t necessarily be all safe and happy for him.

Overall, the story had some really good moments and was a good read. I’m not as sad as I thought I’d be that the main part of the series has come to an end, though, because I don’t know that I could have handled Michael after this. There is one book left that is about Rebecca and seems to have originally been published as a stand-alone. It’ll definitely be the first time I’ve ever read that (I read at least the first couple of books in this series when I was a teenager), so I’m looking forward to seeing if it stands up to the incredible hype.

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If you’ve read any of this series, or read any in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: ‘Tis the Season

‘Tis the Season
Echo Company
#3

by Ellen Emerson White (as Zack Emerson)

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA historical fiction

Focus turns from Michael and his squad to Rebecca, a nurse working at a hospital in Vietnam where the casualties are sent. While life is difficult enough for her, not to mention the work she has to do, she can’t imagine what it’s like out in the jungle. In the combat zone. Until she ends up out there, all by herself, just trying to survive.

I was really confused as I read this book, because the official synopsis makes it sound like the story still centers around the guys in Michael’s squad. They’re barely in it, and the entire thing is from Rebecca’s perspective. This might not have bothered me so much if I knew to expect it. Lots of readers seem to have already read the last book in the series, The Road Home, which was apparently originally marketed as a complete stand alone and wasn’t connected to the series until years later. That book seems to be solely about Rebecca as well. So, then, leaving aside my disappointment at not seeing the guys much, the book was good in its own right.

Rebecca was a strange mix of different than Michael, and yet similar. She shares at least a mild belligerence toward authority to him, but she’s really upbeat and whimsical. Plus, she volunteered to go to Vietnam. She’s got such a heart to help, it makes her the kind of person who could so easily be too emotionally invested in all of the injured people who come through the emergency room. While it’s difficult for those of us who have never been in this kind of situation to understand just how dangerous that can be, I can understand enough to feel for her.

Also because of the official synopsis, which talked about the guys finding Rebecca in the jungle, I was a little frustrated when it took so long for that whole scenario to start. And there was a scene out in the jungle that went on a lot longer than I understood. Honestly, I think we were supposed to get something out of it that I just didn’t. But overall, it’s still a decent book, and I tried not to let the disappointment caused by the official synopsis affect my rating (much).

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If you’ve read any of this series, or read any in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

June in Review

I read 16 books last month, which beat my old record by 2 books. It does not beat my record for actual reading done in a month, since many of the books last month were fairly short. My daughter gifted me a month of Kindle Unlimited for my birthday, so I’ve been using it to get through the list I’d been collecting of books I can only read on KU (if I don’t want to buy them) as I can in a month. That list is mostly comprised of a couple of series I read back in the late 90s as a teenager and really wanted to revisit, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the trip back in time. I was also sick in the last couple of weeks and spent a few days just laying in bed, which allowed for extra reading time. What’s really impressive is that I managed to keep up with the reviews as well as I did, since for a week or so, between those shorter books and audiobooks, I was finishing a book a day. I’m caught up now (with only one that will get posted later) and have already slowed down on reading, due to work picking back up, even though I still have KU for another couple of weeks. Now my goal is to make sure to at least finish the 2 series I started in KU before the month is up and I have to wait for the next time I decide to buy a month.

Here are the books I read in June:

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes & Joe Layden (5 / 5)
Rabbits by Terry Miles (2 / 5)
Mayday at Two Thousand Five Hundred by Frank E. Peretti (4 / 5)
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (4 / 5)
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (5 / 5)
The Widows of Champagne by Renee Ryan (3 / 5)
No More Broken Promises by Angela Elwell Hunt (5 / 5)
Welcome to Vietnam by Ellen Emerson White (4 / 5)
A Forever Friend by Angela Elwell Hunt (5 / 5)
Mr. Monk and the Blue Flu by Lee Goldberg (2 / 5)
The Compass by Tyler Scott Hess (2.5 / 5)
A Basket of Roses by Angela Elwell Hunt (4 / 5)
The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket (3.5 / 5)
Hill 568 by Ellen Emerson White (5 / 5)
Princess in the Spotlight by Meg Cabot (4 / 5)
A Dream to Cherish by Angela Elwell Hunt (review pending)

This list includes 3 ARCs and 6 re-reads. My favorite book from June was Project Hail Mary. I started 3 series, continued 3 series, and finished (or caught up on) 3 series*. My ever-changing short list of to-be-reads, as well as a flag for the book I’m currently reading and an ongoing list of those I’ve read and posted about can be found here.

*This includes 2 series that I did not reach the end of but decided not to continue reading, after being 2 books into the series.

I’m also keeping my Goodreads page updated with a more extensive list of to-be-reads. Despite my almost too-long TBR list, I’m always looking for more to add. Feel free to offer suggestions of your favorites or just recent reads you enjoyed.

Book Review: Hill 568

Hill 568
Echo Company
#2

by Ellen Emerson White (as Zack Emerson)

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: YA historical fiction

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, Welcome to Vietnam.

Now that Michael Jennings has been in Vietnam for a whole whopping not-quite two weeks, the sergeant asks him to walk point, the most dangerous job in the squad. To make things worse, the entire battalion is grouping up for a full-scale assault of a fortified hill. Fighting sleep deprivation, jungle rot, grief over their recent loss, and pure terror, Michael and the other guys from his squad will do what they have to, because what other choice to they have?

Even after reading the first book in the series recently, which I did like, I was still surprised at how much this series stuck with me since I read it as a teenager. But after reading this second book, I understand more of what I saw in it back then. The characters really begin to come into their own in this story—not just Michael, but also his friends and even at least one guy that pretty much hates Michael (the feeling is mutual). I really loved Michael and Snoopy reading Michael’s letter from his mom together—and then re-reading it. Michael, who almost prides himself on being antagonistic, especially to authority figures, just can’t seem to suppress his good principles, and it makes for some really touching scenes. Even the stilted narration is growing on me—it seems to add to the atmosphere of terror and uncertainty.

The book is still very dark; it’s written for teens, but certainly doesn’t pull many punches regarding the horrors of war—this war in particular. As with the previous book, there is definitely some language in it, but probably still not as much as adult books about the same subject would have. I’m highly anticipating continuing this series now.

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If you’ve read any of this series, or read any in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: Welcome to Vietnam

Welcome to Vietnam
Echo Company
#1

by Ellen Emerson White (as Zack Emerson)

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA historical fiction

I read this book about an 18-year-old drafted to fight in the Vietnam War when I was a teenager, which was many years ago. I recently remembered the series and recalled being surprised by how much I liked it, so I tracked it down to read again. It really was far outside of the type of books I read back then and is still quite different from my normal preference today. And just like when I was younger, I really liked this book.

The story opens with the MC, Michael Jennings, newly arrived in Vietnam after basic training in the States. He’s shuttled through various bases until he ends up with the people with whom he’ll be spending most of his time. That’s where the story, and series, really begins, as he meets those who have already been near the DMZ for some time and have developed different ways to cope. Michael earns the nickname “Meat” (as in Fresh Meat), which sticks through the rest of the book. I kinda rolled my eyes, though, because it’s a trope that annoys me a little that this one new guy out of all the new guys they have gotten happens to keep the new-guy nickname.

Early in the book, I wasn’t sure I’d want to continue the series. The narration is often choppy, but it’s purposely so. Now and then the author will write a sentence or paragraph as Michael’s train of thought, including stopping mid-thought to switch to another one, sometimes several times. It feels very real and is how I think and even talk sometimes, but reading it can be a little frustrating. However, by halfway or so, Michael had really grown on me. Though the book is dark (what book about war, particularly this war, isn’t?), it’s also a poignant glimpse at a war that isn’t written about as much, fought by teenagers who didn’t really understand why they were there, and written for teenagers. For those who are wondering, though there is some language in it, it’s not nearly as much as I’d imagine adult books about the same subject would have. I don’t remember being bothered by that when I was a teenager, even though I was never one to use that kind of language myself. I’m not sure how much of the series I read as a teen, but I’m looking forward to continuing it now.

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If you’ve read any of this series, or read any in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!