Joker One: A Marine Platoon’s Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood

“Welcome to the world of deception and shifting allegiances that is Iraq, Golf Company. Only a fool would take a person at his word and at face value in this place.”

Donovan Campbell’s account of his time in Iraq leading a Marine platoon is one of the most honest and open war memoirs I have ever read. Campbell isn’t from a family of servicemen; he doesn’t eat, sleep, and breathe the military life. He served because he thought it was the right thing to do. This strongly comes across in the pages of Joker One. Campbell’s compassion for his men is tangible. The reader can feel the weight of the responsibility on Campbell’s shoulders, knowing that the lives of his men are truly in his hands, that the decisions he makes could be the difference between his platoon going home in one piece or not going home at all.joker one

Campbell shows the human side of deployment and war. The longing for home and family, the camaraderie among soldiers, the knowledge that one would die for his brothers, the overwhelming loss and guilt when a Marine makes the ultimate sacrifice, the grin-and-bear-it attitude that one must have when taking orders from some high-up in dress blues with no knowledge of combat and its many dangers, and the struggles a young leader faces in a combat zone.

He discusses how our rules of engagement, meant to endear us to the locals, left us looking weak and vulnerable to the Iraqi people and caused casualties that could have been prevented.

“Knowing that we would not shoot unarmed individuals, the insurgents could thus use our rules of engagement against us by fighting from one house until they were overwhelmed, then leaving their weapons and retreating—unarmed and thus relatively safely mixed with the civilian populace at large—to the next house and the next fighting position. There they would take up arms again and repeat the process.”

I honestly can’t fathom how our men, knowing this, still put on their gear and went out into the streets of Ramadi every day. It’s like their own damn government would rather they die than offend the Iraqis, many of whom were helping the insurgents and causing (directly or indirectly) American casualties.

“Instead, despite our daily kindness, despite the relief projects, the money, the aid that we had already poured into the hospitals, despite the fact that we routinely altered our missions to make ourselves less safe in order to avoid offending them, the citizens of Ramadi had come out of their houses and actively tried to kill us. Multiple intelligence sources later told us that hundreds, if not thousands, of males ranging from teenagers to fifty-year-olds had grabbed their family’s assault rifles, and, using the chaos caused by the hard-core insurgents as cover, they had taken potshots at U.S. forces as we passed by.”

I could easily launch into a tirade about how much this pisses me off and why do we even bother to help a people who have no interest in freedom or democracy, and why should Americans spill blood for them, but since this is a book blog and not a soap box, I will just say that you need to read this book, which left me openly crying on an airplane full of onlookers. Campbell’s story of his platoon and his time in Iraq shows what our men go through in a war zone and what they continue to go through when their deployment ends. Joker One will stay with you for a long time after you’ve finished reading.



Sacrifice, the end of Kemmerer’s Elementals Series is Here…Or is it?

The USA cover for Sacrifice

The USA cover for Sacrifice

I always thought authors were supposed to love their characters but I am beginning to think that Brigid Kemmerer hates her characters with a vicious vengeance because she doesn’t hesitate to hurt, injure, and damn near kill them. And then when they don’t die, she hurts them some more. In this (maybe) final installment of The Elementals series, the target for all this hurt is poor Michael Merrick.

Sacrifice is like no other book in this series – which is as it should be because this is Michael’s book, and Michael isn’t just a Merrick brother. He’s the guardian, the quasi-parent, and the one faced with trying to keep his loved ones alive. And with the events unfolding in Sacrifice, that job has never been more difficult. From the first page, the tension, suspense, and danger are ramped up so high readers will be on the edge of their seats before the first chapter is finished. The Merricks have never been in so much danger, and it just intensifies as the story unfolds.

Kemmerer has very cleverly written this book with a lack of presence of the cast we readers are used to. The younger Merricks and their significant others get very little page time in this book, which enhances the divide and separation that Michael feels as a brother who is a parent/guardian. On the other hand, as a reader, I missed the crew. I missed the banter between brothers and the sweet moments between couples. This book is so dark and so intense that I craved some lighter moments.

What I got instead was some absolutely shocking events. I’m not saying what they were because I hate spoilers, and I would want to maim someone if they spoiled this book for me, but I will say this. The book is called Sacrifice for a reason.

If there was one major letdown for me, it’s that it didn’t all come down to a massive, all-out battle between the guides and the elementals. I was expecting that. Waiting for it. Anticipating it since Book One. But it never happens. Not having a showdown between the elementals and the guides is like not having Harry battle it out with Voldemort and they just go on co-existing in the same world. It’s like the Fellowship of the Ring saying, “Nah, we’re good not battling that funky glowing eyeball thing. Let’s just have some mead instead.” Call me bloodthirsty, but I wanted my battle, dammit! I wanted the peace of mind that comes with knowing there has been a clear resolution. I wanted to know if the Merricks get a happily ever after or if the guides win in the end. I wanted to know a lot of things that I won’t discuss here because of spoilers.

I don’t think we fans are completely without hope, though. Kemmerer left Sacrifice open-ended. She left room for more, so I think what really needs to happen is we fans need to swamp Kensington Teen with demands for more Merricks. We need to inundate them with requests for more books in this series. We need to flood Kensington’s email until they are so sick of hearing from us that they contract Kemmerer for at least one more Elementals book, and then we can have our epic, world-changing battle (as long as all the Merricks survive, of course). You know, on second thought, considering what happens in this book and what I said about Kemmerer in my opening sentence, maybe asking for an all-out battle from her is a big mistake. She could easily go the route of George A.A. Martin and just start killing our favorites left and right. Maybe this series is better left alone…

No, nope, nah. I still want more, so I am ending this review so I can go petition Kensington Teen for more Merricks! Who’s with me?

Sacrifice, Kensington Teen, 9/30/14