Choosing a Top Ten list was harder this year than ever before. I read 91 books in 2021, and believe me, choosing just ten took a while. The books listed here affected my life and they linger still. I hope you see something new that piques your interest!
The purchase links are on the images if you see one you want to grab.
And before I close out the year, I want to pay tribute to an author who passed away in 2021. Suzanne Burke was bold in her writing and delved deep into the psyche of twisted characters. But the book that changed me forever, was her memoir, EMPTY CHAIRS. The horrific abuse she suffered would destroy a lesser person, but not Sooz. She was a warrior.
I was so excited to get my hands on this book for many reasons, but one of them being that Taylor Moore was a part of my sister’s writing critique group in Amarillo, Texas. This is his debut novel.
Garrett Kohl is as rough and rugged as the land he grew up on in the Texas Panhandle. He’s as comfortable on the back of a horse as he is behind the wheel of a vehicle. He served in the military special forces and now works closely with the CIA as a DEA undercover agent. The story begins with immediate action and tension as Garrett is on a surveillance mission in Afghanistan. He knows he’s past the allowed U.S. perimeter but when he witnesses marauders massacre an entire village, except for one small boy, he cannot idly sit by. He doesn’t stop until they all pay for murdering the innocent people. With the boy in tow, he returns to headquarters to take his punishment for interfering.
Only the punishment he receives is nothing like what he imagined. He is ordered to take the boy with him and return to Texas, to keep him safe for future testimony against the terrorists.
Here’s where the story shifts and Garrett’s family dynamics come into play. His mother is deceased. His father is a grizzled old rancher with more grit than John Wayne. He has one brother, Bridger, a prominent attorney in the small town of Canadian. Bridger is married and has two twin daughters. I was prepared to dislike Garrett’s father for his rough ways and spiteful comments, but this author made me love him. The old man takes the young Afghan boy under his wing and teaches him the ways of the ranch. The story’s pace cools down to a slow burn while building toward the climax.
While Garrett thinks he’s escaped the tense and deadly world of high-stakes drug dealing, instead he’s walked right into the most deadly fight of all and it involves his entire family. The Garza drug cartel is deeply embedded in the panhandle working through a local oil company to move the products.
When Garrett’s brother, Bridger is forced to represent Mescalero Oil, drawing up bogus contracts and representing two of the oil company’s goons who get caught with drugs, he plays a game of Russian roulette with his family as the bargaining chips. The brothers join forces, letting their bygone differences be bygones. They won’t rest until the family is safe again as well as the Afghan boy, Asadi.
The non-stop action, the authenticity of the setting, the weapons, the military tactics, and the characters are compelling and unforgettable. This author managed to combine high-tension thriller drama with family dynamics in such a way that I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. All of the tertiary characters are multi-dimensional and each with their own story. If I had to offer any critique of the story, it would be that Garrett thought about and talked about how much he loved and missed his nieces and sister-in-law, and yet he never made an effort to go see them until they were under the cartel’s thumb, so I think a thread got dropped.
This is a story we will be seeing on the big screen. It’s that good! I highly recommend it.
I received this book via NetGalley and the publisher, William Morrow, in exchange for a fair and honest review.
About the Author
I’m often asked how I ended up at the CIA, a question to which there are more than a few answers. But what I think people really want to know is what edged a regular guy like me out of the light and into the shadows of the intelligence world: a what makes you tick kind of thing.
It’s a question I can answer in one single phrase—passion for adventure.
This is the same passion that drew me to childhood heroes like Indiana Jones, James Bond, and Jack Ryan. This quest for adventure propelled me on a solo journey at the age of twenty-four through the jungles of Bolivia, over the Andes, and across the raging Drake Passage on a Russian icebreaker to Antarctica.
And it’s the same passion I have now that spurs me to write thriller novels and action-adventure stories.
We may grow up, but we don’t have to give in. No matter our age or what we do, a good passion for adventure never dies. And if you’re like me and you’re searching for the next one, then look no further. You’ve arrived.