(No, I don't usually name my posts like that but when the title of a book is a name, I find it a bit confusing. Also, yes, this is a SF/F blog, but this is not a SF/F book. All the same, it's Memorial Day, this is a positive book about the US Armed Forces and, well, it's my blog and I make the rules. So there.)
Any good story, and by that I mean book, movie, television show, oral history, etc., centers around a character or group of characters. That's how it works. It doesn't matter if the setting is down the street or across the universe. It can be a war story or a love story, a two thousand word short or a forty volume series but the characters have to work. If the reader doesn't want to see the main character succeed and the antagonist fail the story is not worth their time. Every once in awhile though an author gets it just right. I've read more books about Raistlin Majere than is probably healthy for one individual. My best friends as a small child were named Kirk, Spock and McCoy. I've cheered a million of Honor Harrington's. We all remember Hawkeye from Mash and House from, well, House. My friends, it's time to learn a new name. The name I'm speaking of is not Jack July, although that's a good one to remember too since he wrote the story, it Amy Lynn. That's the name of the book and the main character and this chick is one for the ages.
I'll get to the story, but allow me a second to talk about the main character. Amy Lynn Braxton is an amazing individual. I don't spoil stories but let it be known that this girl goes through more in life than any human being should ever have to and she does better than anyone could ever expect. Amy is raised with no mother, loses her brother at a young age and then.. I'll leave it to the story to tell the rest. Let's just say that Amy's worst trial is both visceral and raw and hits the reader and the character both hard. It's not a scene for the timid. She gets through it like a champion though, even if it does take a long time. She survives heartbreak after heartbreak and in the process becomes a great student and a world class athlete. There is a dark side to her too.
Amy Lynn actually does some things that are straight up horrifying. They're necessary. They make sense but they aren't pretty. Then again, given the circumstances it makes sense. Amy has seen some of the worst things that humanity is capable of and always bounced back. On the other hand, those things have left marks on her soul. When she does what she does it's shocking but it feels right. It's in character and it fits her background and situation. It leaves the reader sickened and wanting to celebrate at the same time.
In short, this is a complicated character. She's a Navy Corpsman with the Marine training to have earned the spot. She's a stone cold killer when she needs to be but she works with children in a military hospital in Afghanistan saving lives. She refuses to join any of the sports teams at her high school and then finally gives in... and goes to states in her sport. She loves her family and friends... and she does what is necessary to protect them. It's a good thing for her that she has friends too, because she finds herself in trouble from time to time and she needs them to get her out of trouble.
This is, however, not one of those books where only the main character is fully realized. Amy's uncle Jack is a great guy and a retired Navy Seal. Her Aunt Carla Joe is a woman with a story that is just as gut wrenching as Amy's, yet she is every inch a southern belle. Amy's father is a hard working guy of the kind that is commonly found in any American community who has just been through a lot. The Braxton family in general is not a family to be messed with but at the end of the day they're not doing anything that many of us wouldn't want to do in the same circumstances. These characters all work together to make this book both enjoyable and rewarding.
Amy Lynn joins the Navy late in the book. I'm wondering if perhaps July hasn't done some time in the military himself because his military characters just work. July has envisioned both the best and the worst that the military has to offer, from the lecherous CO to the NCO that saves Amy when she puts him in his place. Amy's life is saved by someone and she saves a few others. Her bond with HER Marines, who bestow upon her the hallowed title of "Doc" feels as real as it gets.
July's knowledge of politics is also well displayed as we go from the grandstanding assholes in Washington who want to make a name for themselves by shitting on war heroes to the ass-kicking president who puts them all in their places. July's president is a woman I'd vote for. I can't wait to see what she does in the next book.
July knows how to get an emotional reaction from his audience as few others do. Throughout the beginning of the book we're witness to the trials and triumphs of young Ms. Braxton as she grows but we're never quite given a year that it's set in. The book was published in 2013 and I had assumed that the date was relatively recent and never get it another thought... until he mentioned that it was a very specific historical date, one that hit hard because I lived through it. It brought back memories and they weren't pleasant. It was the only way to make the story work and it fit perfect but it hit hard. In other words, it was perfect execution.
I usually only critique story but there is one thing about this book that made me bonkers. The first letter of each chapter is a different font than the rest of the story. That in and of itself is something I've seen a lot but this time it was different because they displayed incorrectly about half the time and were a line or two below the rest of the text. I don't read many books on my phone so maybe that's why this happened, but it was a distraction. I wanted to walk up to the author with my hat in my hand and a hangdog look on my face like an orphan in Oliver and ask "Please, Mr July, I just want to read your story sir. Why are you hiding letters from me?" It really did effect my enjoyment of the story at times.
This should be clear at this point, but I'll say it anyway: If you are squeamish, do not read this book. The violence in Amy Lynn is both graphic and disturbing. I have to believe that it was meant to be that way. Sometimes that's what works best for a story and that is the case here. Blood and death are as much a part of this story as the heroism that goes with it. You have been warned.
Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Dr Peppers (and it would have been 5/5 if it wasn't for that freaking font problem)
Self Published, 2012
And now, if you will excuse me, I'm going to go wear my Folds of Honor hat and watch We Were Soldiers.
Speaking of Folds of Honor, they are an organization that provides scholarships to spouses of military members who have fallen or become disabled in battle. If you've got a couple of extra bucks on Memorial Day, they can use your help. https://www.foldsofhonor.org/
This post is dedicated to those American service members lost in battle. Enjoy your holiday in heaven.
Amy Lynn is available at the link below: