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My (restored) faith in humanity

I took a walk last night and it put me in a terrible mood. It’s my own fault, really—because I intentionally went to a part of Yangon that would never be recommended on a tourist map. The sheer number of kids that were naked on the sidewalk and bathing in dirty water just pummeled me emotionally. I’ve seen that sort of thing in Indonesia, Laos and Vietnam, and it never gets easy.

But last night was the worst.

I felt helpless, and it made what I’m doing here seem pointless. It simply doesn’t matter how much good you try to do—there is so much misery in this part of the world. There are so few people who are willing to do anything about it.

And then this morning I got an email that really restored my faith in humanity.

A former student of mine is going to Thailand this summer to do missions-oriented humanitarian work for a month. It’s amazing and inspiring and extraordinary—and I am so freaking proud of you, Babo.

Here is the link to her GoFundMe page.

If you can help by posting her link to social media, then that would also be extraordinary.

 

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Book Review: Back Blast

I have read and enjoyed this entire series and there is no question that Mark Greaney is a terrific thriller writer—however, this book is a major disappointment.

The premise is that Court Gentry, who has been on the run from the CIA for years, has finally returned to U.S. soil to try and clear his name. This has been building of course for the entire series, and I was looking forward to reading Back Blast to get all the answers about why Gentry had been targeted by the CIA.

Three things bothered me about this book:

It’s length—at 500-plus pages there is way too much nonsensical filler that completely derailed the pace and flow. If the story had been 100 pages shorter then the writing would have been much stronger and enjoyable.

The action bordered on absurdity. In fairness it’s what you expect from a series where the main character is on the run from CIA assassins in every book—but the way he evades his pursuers has become more and more ridiculous. In the past it’s been smart and the violence was in clever, tech-savvy ways. In Back Blast it did nothing but frustrate me.

The last and biggest problem I have with the book is the actual answer as to why Gentry has been on the run all these years. I won’t reveal any spoilers, but suffice it to say the motivations and actions of the people pursuing Gentry and the final resolution were major letdowns after all the time invested in reading this series.

I feel like most longtime fans of the series will want to read it anyway—and I’ll definitely read the next installment because I am a big fan of Mark Greaney—but I don’t think I would recommend Back Blast to anyone. Instead I would suggest the earlier books in the series. They’re much, much better.

I received a free digital edition from Penguin Random House First to Read in exchange for a honest/unbiased review. Use this affiliate link to read more about Back Blast on Amazon.

Travel: Kabar Aye Pagoda Road

This will no doubt sound like rambling because it’s late and I’m confused by a couple of things: one, why I always prefer to walk through slums and tenements when I have a travel guide filled with pictures of pretty places that would be a lot easier (and safer) to visit; and two, why no matter where I go, you can find a slum only a block or two from a row of embassies and flashy cars and 5-star hotels (an easy nine-iron toward my nine o’clock is a string of embassies) but you can never seem to find anyone out on the street trying to do anything about it. Oh, and there’s a baby in this picture.

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Book Review: The Forgotten Soldier

For the first half of the book I thought Brad Taylor had finally lost his momentum with this series. The plot is basically a rehash of a theme that rears its head in nearly every Taskforce book—that an extralegal organization, no matter how well intended, will ultimately betray its mandate by exceeding / abusing its authority.

In this instance, a member of the Taskforce goes rogue after his brother is killed in Afghanistan. The first half of the book is a lot of debate, and it did nothing to develop the plot. If anything, the actions of Pike and his team in past books is inconsistent with the outrage regarding the rogue Taskforce member in this book—but even ignoring that, the first half of the book felt like a disaster for the series.

And then out of nowhere there is a scene with Jennifer that blew me away. It’s a little past the midway point, and the rest of the book is non-stop, frenetic, adrenaline fueled Brad Taylor at his absolute best. The plot takes a turn, and the debate and slow build-up in the first half of the book turn out to be incredibly relevant—and by the time you turn the last page it’s one of the most satisfying thrillers you’re likely to read this year.

I love this series, love this book, and can’t wait for the next one: 5/5 stars.

I received a free digital edition from Penguin Random House First to Read in exchange for a honest/unbiased review. Use this affiliate link to read more about The Forgotten Soldier on Amazon.

 

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Book Review: Try Not to Breathe

This is an astonishing debut novel. The promotional blurbs and editorial reviews are comparing it with The Girl on the Train, but honestly … it’s better, at least in the quality of the writing.

Holly Seddon has created an incredibly flawed protagonist in Alex Dale, a female reporter who has lost her marriage and career to alcoholism, but continues to drink even though it’s killing her.

But Alex finds one thing that might save her—a fifteen-year-old story that quickly becomes an obsession.

Seddon effortlessly spins two tales—one of Amy Stevenson, who has been in a coma for fifteen years; and the other of Alex Dale, who has been just as lost as Amy, but in her pursuit of Amy’s attacker might just find her own salvation.

The writing is face-paced and sharp, and the dialogue is insanely good. The setting and tone and female protagonist are definitely similar to The Girl on the Train, but the writing in Try Not to Breathe is so much better.

If you enjoy mystery and suspense novels, then read this book: 5/5 stars.

I received a free digital edition courtesy NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest/unbiased review. Use this affiliate link to read more about Try Not to Breathe on Amazon.

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Book Review: Ashley Bell

This is the best non-Odd Thomas novel that Dean Koontz has written in years. It’s billed as psychological, suspenseful and mysterious—and it delivers on all accounts.

It’s an incredibly imaginative and original ride, and the evil forces that must be faced by Bibi Blair, the young protagonist, in her attempt to rescue the mysterious Ashley Bell, are perhaps the most horrific to be given life on the printed page by Koontz or any of his contemporaries.

And because it’s Dean Koontz, it’s also beautifully written.

He’s created a fictional world filled with overwhelming madness, and then turned loose an unforgettable character in Bibi Blair who, in the midst of everything, learns that: “Home is where you struggle, in a world of endless struggle, to become the best you can be, and it becomes home in your heart only if one day you can look back and say that, in spite of all your faults and failures, it was in this special place where you began to see, however dimly, the shape of your soul.”

If you enjoy literary fiction, this is a must-read: 5/5 stars.

I received a free digital edition courtesy NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest/unbiased review. You can use this affiliate link to read more about Ashley Bell on Amazon.