3 out of 4 stars
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Have you ever been so in sync with someone that you could finish each other’s sentences or know what the other is thinking? How about hear their voice or visualize their surroundings when they are halfway around the world from you? Such was the case for Beth Anne Rose and her fiancée, Kaylob Shawn O’Brien in Seasons of Love and War by Brenda Barry. This book is the first installment of a four-part historical fiction saga featuring the love story of Beth Anne and Kaylob. The Vietnam War is the setting for the opening scene in which Kaylob, as part of the U.S. Army, helplessly watches his best friend die. Fueled by his resolve to not let his friend’s death be in vain, Kaylob chooses to take a second tour of duty in the war. Little did he know how deeply this choice would affect his relationship with Beth Anne and their futures both as individuals and as a couple. Their dreams were put on hold while he courageously pursued his cause.
When Kaylob is captured and held as a prisoner of war for over two years, the Army declares him Missing in Action and eventually presumes him to be dead. Upon receiving this news, Beth Anne is devastated and experiences a nervous breakdown, unable to speak or eat for months. Her faithful friends and family rally around her through this traumatic time, willing her to live again. She gradually emerges from her stupor, still unable to accept Kaylob’s death. She believed in her heart that he was still alive and was plagued by nightmares and visions of him in Vietnam.
This is a beautifully written love story which touches on themes of love, war, friendship, grief, survival, forgiveness, and bravery. I expected to learn a lot about the history of the Vietnam War, but I found a minimum of information presented through the story. Emotions ran high regarding U.S. involvement in the war as evidenced by the war protestors who spit on Kaylob in the airport and treated him like dirt. The author enlightened me to the inhumane POW conditions in South Vietnam and referenced the lack of adherence to Operation Homecoming (where 591 American prisoners were released from North Korea). The war scenes were gripping but not too graphic. Upon reflection, I believe the author kept the history at a minimum to feature the love story and the character development.
In fact, the well-done character development was one of my favorite parts of the novel. I grieved alongside Beth Anne, sympathized with Blake Tanner, appreciated the kindness of Frankie, and seethed in anger alongside Kaylob at the inhumane treatment he received as a POW. Blake Tanner was first presented as a jerk and a heartbreaker, but the reader’s opinion of him evolved as more of his history was revealed. Although Blake and Kaylob were unable to be friends due to their love for the same girl, it was touching that Blake was inspired to become a better person by Kaylob’s integrity.
I also enjoyed the author’s skillful transitions from Beth Anne’s present to her visions of Vietnam. It reminded me of how Oliver Queen often slipped from the present to flashbacks of his time as a prisoner on the mysterious island in the TV show Arrow. In Beth Anne’s case, these were not flashbacks but rather visions of the present in a country far away. For example, she would step out of bed and into thick, wet mud in the jungle. Or reach into a box of mementos only to grasp weeds and mud and fade into the tropical environment again.
Finally, I really enjoyed the author’s writing style. Following is an example of her use of personification of death (loc 2985): “Death constantly taunted him with its embrace, coaxing him to join those who had departed the hellhole.” She also personifies sadness (loc 2703): “Travel became her escape from Kaylob’s haunting cries, jungle sounds, and the crippling sadness that still popped in for unpredictable visits.”
Unfortunately, there were many editing errors throughout my copy of the book, forcing me to give Seasons of Love and War 3 out of 4 stars. I believe that the content is worthy of four stars, but until it receives another pass at editing, I must downgrade it to three. I would recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction (and war stories in particular), love stories, or survival stories.
Seasons of Love and War
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