Category Archives: new release

Book Review: The Aggrieved

A decade-plus and an additional ten books since the release of The Cleaner – the first title in the compelling Jonathan Quinn series – has seen a lot of changes for Brett Battles’ signature character and his eclectic group of specialists that live and work in the shadowy and often messy world of international intrigue.

Nate began as the clueless apprentice. He would later become an equal partner and a compelling character in his own right. Orlando was the estranged colleague and lost love. She would become Quinn’s wife, partner, and the mother of his child.

The Office and its enigmatic leader Peter have been dead and gone for a few books now. There is a scene in The Aggrieved, however, that gives readers hope that The Office might return in the near future. Perhaps Quinn will lead it, and Nate will be its go-to Cleaner?

One can always hope.

And for all these changes and character development that readers have witnessed in the past decade of reading about Jonathan Quinn – there’s one theme that has always been central, has never wavered, and that we clearly see front and center as events unfold in The Aggrieved: for all the evil he’s witnessed and the many terrible things he’s had to do, Quinn is the good guy.

That fact allows author Battles to play harshly with readers’ emotions in The Aggrieved.

Quinn has to deliver the worst possible news to his own mother – and endures words no son should ever have to live with.

Quinn has to go against Helen, who is more or less one of the good guys, when he attempts to track down Dima, a character central to the last book (which set in motion the events that unfold in The Aggrieved – first-time readers, however, no worries; the author brilliantly begins the story so that you’re pulled right in and up to speed even if you haven’t read the previous book).

After finding Dima, Quinn asks for her help – even though doing so will once again put Dima at risk.

And then the conflict between Quinn and Nate, who is suffering as bad as Quinn from the act of violence in Jakarta that set this story in motion …

Yet, despite all this, what I truly loved about this book is that Quinn, at the absolute lowest we’ve ever seen him in the past decade of reading about his exploits, is proven to have been right in maintaining his “good guy” integrity throughout all the books. Countless people that live in the same shadowy world aid his pursuit of a killer – but it is their respect for him, rather than money or favors or anything else, that brings them to his aid.

I think it’s a profound message for an author to be able to make in any book – but especially while writing a thriller that literally carries readers breathlessly on an edge-of-your-seat around the world journey.

In The Aggrieved, Orlando asks Quinn repeatedly, “What are you going to do?”

About his mom, Dima, Nate, and the killer they’re pursuing … and Quinn doesn’t have the answers. But in the end his true character compels him to act in a way that validates who he has been for the previous ten books, and I absolutely loved it. There were so many ways that Battles could have gone with this story – and while most of them would have been satisfying, I’m sure, he chose to push us right to the edge of Quinn’s breaking point … and then he brought us back.

The result?

This is the best Quinn book since the original title in the series.

It is fast-paced, unpredictable, filled with action, meticulously plotted, and boasts some of the most original characters in the thriller genre.

This is an emphatic 5 stars. I highly recommend it to thriller/espionage fans. If you’ve never read Brett Battles, well, it is ridiculous how many awards he has won and it all started with this series… so get busy reading the Jonathan Quinn series.

Use this affiliate link to purchase The Aggrieved on Amazon.

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I received a free digital edition of this book for review purposes. The review reflects my own unbiased opinion of the book’s content. I use affiliate links for Amazon.

Book Review: The Prisoner

“better safe than headless”

I’m on Alex Berenson’s email list, and when he sent a message to his readers that John Wells was “back undercover in the Muslim world” I immediately went to Amazon and pre-ordered.

I was excited, but also a little worried.

Wells is a great character. Berenson is an incredibly gifted writer. But of late, a number of usually reliable thriller authors have used the Jack Bauer “24” method of going undercover with disastrous consequences (e.g. I have serious reservations about buying any future Scot Harvath books). I felt Berenson was right on target with his idea – I can’t imagine any fan of John Wells not wanting to read about him going undercover in Afghanistan for a second time – but I feared the worst, that Wells would morph into a bad superhero caricature and Berenson would have ruined a great series.

Now that I’ve read the book, I apologize to Mr. Berenson – sorry I doubted you. This is the best post-9/11 thriller I’ve ever read. In fact, it might be the best thriller I’ve ever read, period.

It begins with a CIA mission in ISIS territory. Hence, this great line from one of the operators: “better safe than headless.” After the mission, it’s clear that someone is giving sensitive intelligence to ISIS. Shafer and Wells – with support from President Duto – launch a bold plan to uncover the mole, and what unfolds is nothing short of mesmerizing.

Berenson takes readers on a vivid, surreal journey with pacing and prose that are masterfully executed and a plot that is all too real and terrifying. Berenson has clearly been to Afghanistan and the other dangerous / exotic locales used in the book – for no one could carry a reader down this path so well unless he first traveled it himself.

The book builds to a frenetic pace, and then Berenson cranks it up even more as it turns into a race against the clock to stop ISIS from carrying out an attack that rivals 9/11.

If you enjoy thrillers, read this book. If you really enjoy thrillers that also fall into the “literary” category, then you absolutely need to be reading Alex Berenson. I used to say no one writes that category better than Daniel Silva, but I think Berenson is at the top now.

Read this book – I highly recommend it, 5/5 stars.

Use this affiliate link to read more about The Prisoner on Amazon.

Stitch Duran: From the Fields to the Garden II — contents revealed

UFC fans around the world were shocked with the news last year that Stitch Duran — the cutman synonymous with UFC and MMA — would no longer be working its promotions. Now fight fans the world over finally can read behind the scenes what really happened — along with many more incredible stories that have taken place since the successful debut of his first memoir From the Fields to the Garden five years ago.

I’ll be posting an excerpt from the new book along with interviews with Stitch and co-author Zac Robinson in the coming days — and quite possibly I’ll give away some free copies of the new book. We’re less than two weeks until From the Fields to the Garden II!

Check out the full contents of Stitch’s upcoming book — and let the speculation begin …


Foreword

The Call

Reminiscing

A Changing of the Guard

MMA 

Anderson Silva 

Cain Velasquez 

Shogun vs. Hendo 

Hero 

An Empty Seat 

Native 101 

Photo: Teotihuacan 

Invicta FC 

Photo: Bec Hyatt 

Boxing 

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles Part One 

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles Part Two 

Royalty 

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles Part Three 

Andre Ward 

The Klitschkos 

The Hyatt 

Behind the Scenes 

Leon Tabbs 

Burt Watson 

Huitzi Mata 

Photo: Huitzi Mata 

Emanuel Steward 

Marc Ratner 

Photo: Don House, Rob Monroe, Leon Tabbs 

Show Business 

Here Comes the Boom 

Creed 

Rocky 

Latin Legends 

Giving Back 

Photo: Planada 

Photo: 86ers 

Supporting the Troops 

On the Way to Afghanistan 

Down Range Gear 

Photo: Flak Jackets 

Bad Mofos 

Killer 

Photo: Afghanistan 

Explosion 

Armed Forces Entertainment 

The Reebok Deal 

The Middleman 

Growth? 

Fight Week 

Support 

A New Beginning 

WSOF and Bellator 

Options 

Rizin 

Fighters First 

Photo: Scott Coker 

Final Chapter 

Meeting Stitch 

Zac Robinson 

Mark Laws 

Josh Hiser 

Kurt Daniels 

Stefan Schott 

Michael Schmidt 

Paco Estrada 

Michelle Irwin

Stitch’s Top Lists 

Top Five Favorite Fights 

Top Five Worst Cuts 

Top Three Scariest Knockouts 

Top Three Fighters You’d Want on Your Side in a Street Fight 

Top Three Funniest Fighters 

Top Three Favorite Fight Venues 

Top Five Favorite Cities 

Top Three Tips for Long Flights 

Top Three Favorite Musicians 

Top Three Favorite Sports Movies 

Top Three Favorite Movies 

Top Three Favorite Sports Teams

About the Authors 

STITCH DURAN is regarded as the best cutman in the business. His first book is available on Amazon.

ZAC ROBINSON is the author of many MMA and baseball books. You can find them all by visiting the Zac Robinson Amazon author page.

Book Review: Tom Clancy’s Duty and Honor

This is a much better book than the author’s previous contributions to the series (DEAD OR ALIVE, UNDER FIRE). One difference is Jack Jr. isn’t out to save the world — he’s just trying to avoid being killed, and to do that he hunts down the men that are trying to kill him and tries to find a logical explanation for why he’s been targeted.

This allows Jack’s character to be less of a superhero caricature (as he was in the previous books) and more of a flawed good guy who is introspective and trying to find and learn from his mistakes. It makes for less action/excitement in the book, but it actually improves the overall quality of the book.

Forced to work without The Campus and its resources, Jack pulls in some new allies along the way as he crosses America, Europe and ultimately Africa in pursuit of the answers he needs to stay alive.

Another thing I really liked: I expected when the reason he’d been targeted was finally revealed that we’d flip back to superhero caricature mode and Jack would suddenly save the world in the final pages of the book. Well, I was so wrong. The reason is logical and compelling, and Jack’s response to it was even more so.

It all leads to a satisfying conclusion.

Hope this book will get the whole Campus series back on track. I highly recommend it to military/spy/thriller fans: 5/5 stars. Use this affiliate link to read more about it on Amazon.

The Rainy Season: “An indiscriminate giver and taker of life”

Prologue

Its headwaters flow out of the Tibetan Plateau along with the Huang He and Yangtze rivers in an area that is part of Qinghai Province, China. Its name is Lan Xang Jiang—literally, the “Turbulent River”—and it flows southeast through Yunnan Province and the Hengduan Mountains for more than fourteen hundred miles before it turns fully south and takes on a different name for the rest of its journey: the Mekong.

The_Rainy_Season_cover-HIGH-RESIts currents are no less turbulent in Burma or Laos where the river is a line of demarcation, the place where China ends and Southeast Asia begins—but here its name has a different meaning, given by peasant farmers in Laos who depend on its waters for fish, transportation, irrigation and life.

Mekong is the “Mother of Water.”

It’s an appropriate name given that the river crosses nearly three thousand miles on its journey from the mountainous terrain of Tibet to its delta in Vietnam before emptying into the South China Sea—and at various points along that path you can stand in Laos and look north across its waters into China, south into Cambodia, east into Vietnam, or west into Burma and Thailand.

No matter the border, the Mekong has been an indiscriminate giver and taker of life in Southeast Asia for thousands of years.

It’s a paradox like civilization’s other great rivers—be it the Nile, Indus, Euphrates, Ganges or China’s Sorrow the Huang He—for without its waters life is a daily struggle for survival; yet with its waters life is a daily bet that natural disasters and diseases will visit someone else’s village, because it’s not if, but when it’s going to happen that’s the relevant question.

My first glimpse of the Mekong came from the window seat of an MA-6 at about three thousand feet as it was on final approach to Pakse International Airport. The twin turbo-prop engines and narrow fuselage fitted for about four dozen or so passengers weren’t designed to instill one’s confidence in flying—and the plane being manufactured in China was no help in that regard, either—but for someone who has never had a fear of flying the one thing that was a very real concern as the plane descended through clouds and banked hard to the right was the weather. It was summer, the beginning of the rainy season in this part of the world, and for the last ten minutes the plane had been buffeted up, down, left and right at the behest of high winds and torrential rain—but then the river came into view, and whatever worried thoughts I’d had were pushed from my mind. I stared out the window, trying to take in as much as possible, because this river, more than anything else, was a visible symbol that represented why I’d embarked on this journey in the first place: my dad survived a war that he fought beside this river; my uncle died in that same war; and now I was here because of a war, too—that other indiscriminate giver and taker of life.

This new war began before my nieces were born but it continues today, even as they prepare for middle school, which means the only world they’ve ever known has been one that’s at war, and they can’t picture it in any other form. I belong to the other group—the one made up of people who not only remember how it was before but who, because of this war, have lost something along the way. Not a spouse or mom or dad or brother or sister, like so many others, but a small group of society that lost a part of our humanity all the same.

When you’ve lost something that important you go searching for it.

I did, anyway.

The MA-6 descended rather smoothly, all things considered—though we’d been so low flying over the river that it felt like we were making a water landing. I could see villages, boats and people whose way of life I’d known and experienced only through books, pictures, and videos, but one I’d soon walk amongst. The runway was an elevated strip of asphalt cut through a rice paddy, and the terminal was built to resemble a Buddhist temple. The plane landed and I disembarked with the rest of the passengers onto a tarmac area that was considerably lower than the runway. No doubt it was meant to facilitate the runoff of water during the rainy season. It also meant sloshing with carry-on luggage through seventy-five meters of ankle deep water.

But I didn’t care about that.

I stood on the tarmac as the other passengers scurried to the terminal. The sky was low and gray and I braced myself outwardly against the rain and wind. Inwardly I steeled myself for what was ahead. The first flight on this journey had been more than three weeks ago, but in reality my whole life had led me to this place. I had seventy-five meters left to cross on foot, one final passenger terminal to navigate, and a rendezvous with destiny on the other side—for at that point I would have gone as far as possible by all other means. For the rest of this journey I’d be relying on the river.

goodreads

The Rainy Season: “like toughened, battle-tested men”

I was a teacher, athletic director and varsity soccer coach on an overseas military base on 9/11. The Rainy Season is my second memoir on the subject. This excerpt is set in Korea nearly eight months after 9/11.

The Rainy Season

EXCERPT

The picture.

I was impossibly young. I look back now and barely recognize the gaunt figure with the hard face. He is a stranger with a clenched jaw, dark, swollen and hollow eyes … until I see that I am flanked on either side by Sami and On-nee.

Then I remember everything.

Will jogged across the field and congratulated me. We shook hands like toughened, battle-tested men. After which Will had cracked a smile, and then he congratulated me a second time with half-a-man-hug, like friends do when they are done pretending to be toughened and battle-tested.

The_Rainy_Season_cover-HIGH-RESOur quest for trophies and Far East had begun ingloriously three years earlier with a spectacular thrashing from Will’s team in my first-ever match as varsity soccer coach, but I had promised Ray this moment would come …

Far East. Japan.

… and now Ray sprinted onto the field, bursting with pride and emotion. He shook my shoulders and proclaimed, “We did it! We did it!” For emphasis he tossed in a few colorful expletives. My student-athletes—including Ray’s daughter—were in earshot. But as Ray would say, they’re military kids. They were already familiar with the vernacular.

Our boys and girls teams gathered for a celebratory picture. I can still feel the icy Gatorade. It rained down on Sami and me. It’s one of the few times I can remember hearing On-nee shriek in laughter. Sami had loved it. She thought it was the single, most amazing thing she had ever experienced. I had acted annoyed. But late that night I stood in the middle of the field, alone, long after everyone else had gone home. I thought about my team, and I relished the orange stains on my jacket and jeans. I felt tremendous pride, and so much love, and my whole body began to shake with joy and trepidation. Joy, for our great achievement; trepidation, for adding three weeks to our season.

Far East meant two additional weeks of training followed by a weeklong trip to Japan with more than forty military students—all during a time in which analysts offered daily assessments that mutilating American military families was at the top of al-Qaeda’s wish list.

On a good night, I was sleeping three to four hours. On a bad night, I was taking two to three migraine injections.

On the day before 9/11 I had weighed 165 lbs and ran twenty-five miles a week—but eight months later I weighed 147 lbs and ran thirty-five miles a week.

Only I wasn’t healthier.

In fact, it was the opposite. I rarely ate real food. My diet was Pepsi and Maalox. My health was deteriorating rapidly.

Fatigue.

Stress.

But I didn’t take any sick days. I didn’t complain. I didn’t make excuses. My students’ parents were at war. I got up each morning and worked harder.

The Sunday after we clinched a trip to Far East, I met Sami and her mom outside the Post Exchange. Julie was Sami’s mom, and I think she was the quintessential military spouse—confident, unflappable, and resilient no matter the crisis. In an evening gown she’d be elegant and flawless, but give her a gun and cammies and she could pull that off, too. Julie was tall, blond and athletic, and Aaron—Sami’s dad—had by all accounts won the lottery.

On that Sunday afternoon, Julie bought fifteen kids meals from Burger King and I bought a case of grape soda from the Exchange.

Sami asked me, “Where’s On-nee?”

My phone beeped before I could answer.

“Is that On-nee?”

I checked the incoming text and told Sami, “Someone should really buy you a phone. Yes, it’s On-nee. She’s going to meet us there.”

Julie said, “She’s not getting a phone. You driving or am I?”

“Actually, I was going to walk.”

“Me too, mom.”

Our military community had four posts—one was thirty minutes away, but the main gates for the other three formed a loose triangle. If you used back alleys—and Korea is the world capital, I think, for back alleys—then you could navigate between any two points within that triangle in less than ten minutes. A large apartment complex facetiously referred to as the DoDDS ghetto was inside that triangle. I lived in the ghetto, along with many other teachers. Also inside that triangle was a tiny two-story house with a narrow yard, rusted swing set, and a beat-up ajumma cart.

Julie shrugged. “Easier than finding a place to park.”

Sami raced ahead, toward the pedestrian gate that led off-post.

I told Sami, “Stay close.”

I carried the grape soda and half the Burger King bags. Julie carried the rest. A fast-minute later we reached the pedestrian gate.

I told Sami, “Hold up.”

Sami jogged in place and talked smack. “Hurry, old man.”

“Bench warmer,” I said back.

“Hey, that’s low.”

Korean soldiers and police officers manned the gate, along with a few American MPs. I paused a beat to look around anyway. Inside the perimeter wall was our safety zone, but outside the wall the “buddy system” was in effect—and the reason the “buddy system” was in effect is why I paused. The threat to Americans was very real.

I saw nothing unusual, so I told Sami, “Okay, stay close.”

Sami took off again, like a boisterous puppy freed from its leash.

Julie said, “This works better anyway. It gives us a chance to talk.”

“About what?”

“You know all about Sami’s incentives, of course.”

I nodded. “Sure.” Sami’s parents had made plans to travel to Japan for Far East—and they had also bought tickets for the 2002 World Cup, which was being played in Korea and Japan only a few days after Far East.

“All year we promised to take her to the World Cup. A once-in-a-lifetime chance, right? I mean it’s being played in our own backyard, practically. We told her maybe Far East. If she kept her grades up and did well in school. Well, she’s been spectacular. It’s her best year ever, and not just academically. She’s never fit in or belonged to anything so special. She’s never been this excited about school or anything else for that matter.”

“What’s the problem?”

“Iraq is next. You know?”

“That’s what everyone is saying.”

“I’m not just saying. It’s a fact. Aaron already got orders.”

“Orders? To where?”

“Sami and I are going back to Tampa. Aaron is going to Qatar to plan Persian Gulf The Sequel, coming to a desert near you in about a year’s time. Maybe less. Aaron says next March. It’s really not something I should joke about. It’s important, I know that, and no one needs to explain it to me. But Sami is going to be devastated. She’d be okay if it was only the World Cup, but it’s going to kill her to miss Far East.”

“You can’t stay until the end of the school year? Or go back separately?”

She shook her head, and her voice broke just a little. “Aaron is going to war. He needs us, and we need to be with him every day we can.”

“When do you leave?”

“The same week you go to Japan.”

We caught up to Sami at an intersection and she jogged in place again. “Why are you out of breath, old man?”

I wasn’t out of breath. Or old. I said, “Practice squad bench warmer.”

Sami popped me in the shoulder with a left jab and a right cross, and when the green man lit up she hit the crosswalk at a full-on sprint.

“She’s going to be devastated,” Julie said, again.

“When are you going to tell her?”

“I don’t know. Maybe tomorrow. Aaron thinks he can get us orders to Germany.”

“Germany? What for?”

“As we build-up to Iraq he’ll be in and out of Germany. We could see him maybe once a month. If we stay in Tampa then we won’t see him for a year or more. I should be grateful Aaron’s career is fast-tracked. Most spouses don’t have options.”

“I’m sorry.”

Up ahead was the front entrance to the market. Sami held up, but Julie called out, “You’re fine. Go ahead.” Sami raced headlong into the teeming market with its warren of dirty stalls and rancid smells.

I thought, Sami, wait … but Sami and her mom had visited the orphans every week for months. The market was safe enough. I said nothing.

Julie said, “You know about her friend Angel?”

“Sami talks about her all the time. Angel’s mom is pregnant.”

“Angel’s family is in Germany. Maybe God has a hand in all of it.”

Julie and I entered the market just as Sami jetted around a corner and into a narrow alley.

Julie said, “Sami tells you everything, doesn’t she?”

I gave her my best noncommittal shrug.

“Of course she does. So you already know that Angel’s family isn’t the happiest. I’ve been bitter lately to be stuck in Korea with Aaron off God-knows-where half the time—but Angel’s mom is in a worse situation. At least I’m not pregnant.”

Julie and I made it around the corner and into the narrow alley. Sami’s red hoodie was a blur in the distance. She broke left and out of sight into yet another alley.

“Sami tell you Aaron and I had a big fight?”

“No,” I lied.

“He’s already been to Qatar two or three times. I thought he was in Tampa.”

“I know it’s been tough,” I said, wishing she would change the topic, and suddenly feeling anxious about Sami being out of sight.

“Angel’s mom—”

Julie never finished her thought. We heard scuffling and a loud clatter in the next alley, and then a man began to shout angrily in Hangul.


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The Rainy Season: “for every war there is a hero”

My memoir The Rainy Season is set to be released this fall by Black Mesa Publishing. Here’s a quick/first look at a scene in Indonesia that plays a pivotal role in the story. In this scene we had just left an orphanage in Bogor and were on the highway to Jakarta.

The Rainy Season

The_Rainy_Season_cover-HIGH-RESWe rode in silence for the rest of the trip. Somewhere along the way Maya and Gita fell asleep. A large shopping center alongside the highway had “Indah” in its name. I thought, it’s got nothing on Chyka’s orphans. In the distance a train was heading south. I thought about the rooftop kids.

I felt helpless.

At last a highway sign indicated we should stay left for the airport or merge right for Jakarta. Far to our left I could see a commercial airliner on final approach to Soekarno-Hatta. Far to our right I could see the outline of tall city buildings. The imagery was hard to ignore. In the midst was an impoverished world filled with dangerous radicals. Some believed it was God’s will to crash airplanes into buildings. Some recruited children to self-detonate on buses and in coffee shops. It must be incredibly difficult to hold fast to hope when you live in such a world. It’s also hard to keep faith with humanity when religious ideology is used as an impetus for war. But I believe that for every war there is a hero … and for me, Jakarta will always be Indira’s city.

The traffic snarled and soon the streets became narrow and dark, almost sinister. Our green mini-bus made its way deep into the shadow of Central Jakarta, and I knew we were almost home.


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