Archive for the ‘biography’ Category

I recently discovered that Debbie Harry wrote a memoir. Well truth be told, I came across this little ditty about a year ago when I was perusing the booklists for purchasing for the library. Then other books came along, and a minor thing called a pandemic happened. So as I was going through my library e-book collection, my eyes alighted on this and it was AVAILABLE (yes !!!). Needless to say … but enough with the pleasantries and such bollocks, and on with the bleedy review.

Growing up in the TV-less land of Guyana during the 70s, by default, had many of us attached to our radios. I may have heard Rapture and Call Me numerous times on our radio, but I definitely remember the reggae-styled The Tide Is High. Actually, it was very popular in the country because of that very reggae-style beat. I always imagined it was a sultry, brown-skinned woman (that probably looked like Pam Grier) with dread-locked hair crooning The Tide Is High over the radio. Yes, I have a thing for Pam Grier (still do) and … bloody hell, I was in for a surprise. Flash forward to the early 80s where television sets (despite no transmission of telly signals in the country still) rigged to Betamax players were popping up in various venues to entertain people. One such location was the local sports club, in our town, that on Saturdays would host free videos for the kids/teens to watch. One such Saturday as I was waiting for the main movie to begin, they were playing a bunch of music videos to fill the time. And then Blondie’s Heart of Glass appeared on the screen … and for the first time in my teeny life the concept of infatuation became a vicious reality. Everything around me seem to disappear (yapping kids, rowdy teenagers, preening girls) and it was just me … and sultry Debbie Harry. My love affair with Blondie had begun. And I know this was a bit of detour here … but there.

A love child (her words) as a result of a liaison between an American woman and a married Englishman, Deborah Harry (not her original name) was placed up for adoption. She was adopted by a childless couple (the Harrys) in New Jersey. Ms Harry’s revisiting of her childhood is quite refreshing and delightfully simple where she, I suspect being quite the tomboy, bravely explored the nearby woods that hosted transient and hobo types, read books (she’s a bookworm) and later on wrestled with her floor rug as she watched wrestling on the telly. In other words, a really decent childhood, despite her tough introduction to the world. Well, there was that odd encounter, at eight years old, that involved indecent exposure and a masturbating pervert. Yes, there were absolute tossers back then. An eight year old kid. Seriously?

Moving through her teens like most typical teens and beyond her college years, with a new sense of independence, she eventually moved across the river into New York City and conception of Blondie begins. We are returned to a New York City where Times Square isn’t exactly the family friendly glitterfest that it is today and lofts on Canal Street and Soho cost $75 – $100 a month for rent (yes, this was a very long time ago). As she sets out to start her musical career we find ourselves revisiting a downtown staple that was once the hub of emerging underground music scene (punk et al): CBGB/OMFUG (which actually stands for Country, Bluegrass, Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers … aye, quite a mouthful). Along the way she and her band mates struggle to earn a living as they salvage tossed out clothing to remake into their own stage gear (yes, folks back then real punk clothing was mostly DIY since we didn’t have Hot Topic around with their ridiculous prices). There were a few perilous turns in Debbie’s NYC life: a sexual assault in the presence of an incapacitated boyfriend and a near Ted Bundy moment when she reluctantly accepted a ride from seemingly, “decent” stranger. Needless to say on both occasions, visions comprised of Dexter and Hostel emerged in my mind as I thought of these two wankers. At CBGB, she formed friendships with Joey Ramone (of the Ramones), Fab 5 Freddy, Lou Reed, Joan Jett, Patti Smith, and Siouxie Sioux (of Siouxie and the Banshees) … to name a few. One of the highlights of the earlier parts of her career was being invited on tour with Iggy Pop and David Bowie, where she learned the glaring differences between American and British punk. Let’s just say that the Brits are bit more tribal, physical and spit on groups as a sign of appreciation (a tradition that Iggy Pop claims to have pioneered). Thankfully, these folks never encountered Donita Sparks of L7 that would have rewarded such a (misread) gesture by tossing a “freshly” retrieved used tampon in the crowd (ah, such good times). Then there is that unnerving time that she worked with Phil Spector, who had an unhealthy fascination with guns and was quite the nutter. Not much changed over the years and we all know how that turned out. Though quite brilliant, the writing was on the wall for that one.
The NYC underground music scene was often intertwined with elements of the NYC art scene where both sides sometimes use each other as muses. This was seen in Harry’s relationship with the likes of Andy Warhol, Basquiat, and the controversial Mapplethorpe. Ms. Harry also talked about her fascinating film career and some of those movies that became cult classics: John Waters’ Hairspray and Videodrome. She was actually offered a script for Blade Runner but her record label (bloody tossers) “forbade” it. So now, with this disclosure, my mind is left generating scenarios of her playing Priss (Darryl Hannah) or Rachel (Sean Young). Bloody hell, I guess we’ll never know.
In writing about the paramours in her life, for the most, there are never a dull moment. There was some housepainter chap in New Jersey that liked guns and was a wee bit possessive to point where dear Debbie almost went into a form of witness protection living. Then there were a few interesting ones like Harry Dean Stanton (aye, the bloke from the original Repo Man) and Penn Jillette (yes, Penn from the Penn and Teller duo). There is a bit of an eyebrow raiser story about her collaborating with Penn to modify a Jacuzzi into an aquatic orgasm-delivery system. It is quite the venture and read. For some reason, I like Chris Stein. He is the constant in her life (lover, the other pillar of Blondie, and really good friend), and in my humble opinion, that one that should have rode off into the sunset with the girl. Only in this case, Duckie married Kristy Swanson and left Molly Ringwald by herself (yes, a Pretty in Pink reference). Alas, but good news, they still remain great friends through it all.
Filled with very intimate photographs and fan-generated art (much to my delight) Face It is quite the literary feast for Blondie and punk fans. Though written as a memoir/autobiography, it unwittingly turns Lady Deborah into a guide of the past NYC underground music and art scene and it is quite an education. We also get to see the really petty world of the record industry from the Blade Runner incident to a certain scumbag manager to their treatment at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. Surviving being burnt out of several apartments, near-electrocution, carbon monoxide poisoning, and many times on the extreme generosity of great friends (since there were many occasions of having no dosh), Debbie Harry and Blondie etched themselves into the psyche of the world of rock and punk. She is delightfully blunt, and is not afraid to put aside the tough exterior and talk about her vulnerabilities. Face It, she’s badass (I couldn’t help it).

And yes, I still have the hots for her.

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Running Title: Touching The Dragon And Other Techniques For Surviving Life Wars,
Co-author: Christian D’ Andrea

This is one of those books that basically beckoned to me in the New Arrival section. I suspect one of my mates in Central Purchasing brought this knowing my taste in books. I was ready to take a break from the “Special Ops memoirs” but my curiosity got the best of me and that was that. Needless to say, this was a good read that I could not put down. Dragon is written in several parts but the book overall is really broken down into two stages: Hatch’s first battle during his tour of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq and the second battle during his recovery from his battle wounds. It is a sobering and touching read. Mr. Hatch does not mind matters as he removes all the layers and puts it all out there … vulnerabilities and all. Some things stay with you such as the story with the woman and the shoelaces in Bosnia which basically shakes a rebuking finger at the current social atmosphere. And no, I’m not going to tell you the story for it is something to be read (and “experienced”). A lot of it was recapping his life and experiences during his 25 years in the SEALs. Bloody hell, twenty five years. But a significant part of the book chronicled his years recovering from his wounds and returning back to the civilized world (or something like it).
Like most military memoirs that seem to be centered around a certain person but always turns out to be a tribute to others, Dragon was no different and maybe this is why I am drawn to military memoirs. As Mr. Hatch goes through his journey of doubt, self-pity and anger during these early years of recovery, it took some strange “heroes” that came forward to put him back on the right path. And there are many of these stories littered throughout the book … all inspiring stories: a rape survivor, a machine gunner that survived a direct blast from an IED, some quilt makers from Montana, a 10 year old Girl Scout and Gabby Giffords. Dragon also introduces us to Mr. Hatch’s experience with military working dogs, four-legged heroes that don’t often make the news but put their lives on the line in service of this country and in some cases are probably responsible for a lot of our men and women returning home safely at a great sacrifice on their part. In his tribute to service dogs Hatch has started a foundation in memory of the dogs he served with in Afghanistan (www.spikesk9fund.org).
And then there is the Fly Fisherman, a fellow Navy SEAL. Throughout the book this individual’s name is never mentioned and is only referred to as the Fly Fisherman. And with great admiration. During the emotional rollercoaster of his recovery, the Fly Fisherman is seemingly a beacon and an anchor in Hatch’s life. I’ve never met this chap but I am envious of this friendship. In the end of the book, Hatch gets to pay tribute to the Fisherman in the most heartwarming and delightful way that would keep most readers feeling a bit fuzzy (and maybe misty eyed … or so I imagine). And probably wishing to meet the Fly Fisherman.
Truly touching, Hatch’s admiration for those military and non-military that brought him through his darkest hours is humbling, heartwarming, and somewhat enlightening. The fact that he still struggles with the “hero” title but willingly attaches this title to the people that he encountered, inspired him during his dark days is very noble of him (truly one of the best of us all). Or as I would say back home, good show Mr. Hatch, jolly good show.
And even though it has been said ad nauseum, I’ll never tire in saying it: thank you Mr. Hatch for your service and sharing a bit of your life with us.It is really inspiring stuff. God Bless you and yours, mate.

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Running title: The Battle For Room 314 – My Year Of Hope And Despair In A New York City High School.
There was a time, prior to working in the public library system, that I actually (and seriously) considered becoming a teacher. At the time I was working in the IT department at a community college and often had the misfortune of travelling home with rowdy school kids. Seriously, what are kids doing at school till 8PM? Let’s just say that some of the thoughts that passed through my head I will not mention for I may end up on some bloody watchlist of sorts or might be paid an unwelcome visit by law enforcement. Needless to say, a career in education evapourated rather quickly from mind (somewhat). Still there is always that thought, throughout the years, of “what if” that occasionally creeps back into my mind.
So after having seen and read the synopsis of Battle, in our stacks, I was intrigued and, like Kirsten Dunst in Interview With The Vampire, I wanted more. And so began my (short) reading odyssey of “what could have been”. The books open with a very unflattering encounter with “Chantay” that makes a big scene in the classroom in which she instructs Mr. Boland to “suck her dick” (yes, I wish was making this up) … all this to impress a gangbanger boyfriend. This pretty much sets the tone of what is in store for the readers. And it is quite the ride. Sad to say, it didn’t take much in reading to realize that I had very, very little to regret. Yes, we’ve all seen To Sir With Love and Stand and Deliver, where there is that “hero teacher” that rolls into town with the dream of giving educationally disadvantaged youth a fighting chance in the world. What Battle reveals is more dire than I have suspected but is (sad to say) not quite shocking since I see remnants of this bollocks strolling through the library doors when school lets out. Sort of like that movie, Class of 2000 with the cyborg teachers. Battle reads more like cry of urgency, a literary flare launched into the social atmosphere of city whose good intentions seemingly allow the lunatics to run the asylum. For some strange reason, there is this compelling need to give everyone access to education even when some clearly don’t want to be educated and become a hindrance to those that really want to better themselves. And it is quite the sad spectrum. The good: Byron (the Jamaican prodigy that has great potential, but it constantly a victim to misinformed choices that robs him of many great educational opportunities), Yvette (the smart kid with a tawdry sexual pass … something about BJs to older guys ..for a dollar) and Mariah (the sullen, red-hoodie-wearing, insightful, seemingly-bright, angst-ridden teen). The bad: Kameron Shields (the rule breaking, extravagant, gangbanger), and Sameer Gherbe (Moroccan kid that coaxed another kid into shooting a kid with pellet gun … as sign of love). The ugly: Valentia (the young sociopath in training that used a trip to Six Flags to either fake a miscarriage or commit abortion by roller coaster …yes, bloody ponderous), and the shoddy treatment of Ni-Cole, who resides in a homeless shelter, by other classmates who themselves are probably a paycheck away from the same fate. Yes, not for the intellectually faint of heart, and would most likely drive most into the loving embrace of homeschooling. Battle is in fact, a tribute to teachers who rise everyday with the hope of giving some disadvantaged child out there a fighting chance whilst dealing the bureaucratic and social bollocks … and it is quite a big buggering pile of bollocks. As if the author did not have enough on his plate, Mr. Boland writes about his mother who often made disparaging remarks about his choice and the teaching profession in general. Having worked for college admissions, he talks about the unfair (in a few pages) selection process that is enough to make any overworked and ultra-studious student take to the nearest water tower with a high-powered rifle. I guess that finally explains why I (upper 90 percentile in graduating class) got the waiting list treatment for MIT and some bloke that could toss a ball through a hoop with a 65 (!!!) average gets a scholarship to Georgetown University (he actually dropped out after a year). But it is not all downright depressing. Oh no. There is that part of one of the chapters that I call it The Ballad of Father Tenner. A moment in Boland’s past about this pious, alpha-male, General Patton wannabe that basically bullied male parochial school kids … until he got caught in a prostitute sting.
Battle is an indictment of a crappy educational system run by clueless bureaucracy, twenty-first century parenting created by years of shitty pseudo-psychology and the way we treat our educators (hint: not so great). In consideration of how New Yorkers love to tout their intellectual superiority, it is downright fraudulent as Battle reveals the classroom has become a literal gladiatorial arena of sorts, where troublemakers are furloughed into classrooms of unsuspecting students. Students who are in turn victimized by the trouble makers and the system, thus robbing them of a decent educational experience. Progress. And in this version of To Sir With Love, Lulu does not step forward to sing a charming song … but instead throws a used tampon in Sid Poitier’s face and tells him to … sod off. Quite the eye-opener. And to those that use the phrase “those who can’t do … teach”: Wanks and tossers, the lot of you.

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The Reaper by Nicholas Irving

Running Title: The Reaper – Autobiography of one of the deadliest Special Ops snipers.
Co-author: Gary Brozek

The first time I learned about this book was from an article in a local NYC newspaper: The New York Daily News. It a featured a very non-dignifying picture of Mr. Irving, with his tongue stuck out as if auditioning for Gene Simmons in a KISS biopic, with his team as he cradled an SR-25 rifle. At first (and I’ll be honest about this) I was a bit turned off and sort of rolled my eyes whilst muttering something to the likes of “the one time we get to see a story of a black sniper and we’re being graced with this cocky picture”. It was tempting to avoid the book, but since I don’t judge book by their covers (or in this case … as it turns out … a badly chosen photo), when it landed in my stacks, my curiosity got the better of me. At a quick glance at some of the pictures in the book, it was clear that the folks at the Daily News were a bunch of tossers and could have chosen a much better picture … for there were many. I guess someone bollocksed up on that one.
In reading the first two chapters of the book, it is pretty clear that Mr. Irving is quite down-to-earth and straight shooter (pun possibly intended). He is also very modest despite his accomplishment as the first Afro-American to serve as a sniper for the Army’s Special Operations 3rd Ranger Battalion 75th Regiment. Sure, he could have run with the whole legend bit where they hyped up the number of confirmed kills and he would have probably been backed up by a ton of his brothers-at-arms. Instead he simply sets the record straight and humbly lists his confirmed kills, earlier in the book: it is 33. The book takes you back and forth through his upbringing, his training and experience in combat. It is interesting to note that Mr. Irving actually tried out for the SEALs and could not qualify due to one technicality: he discovered he was colour-blind. So you may ask, how did he wash out of SEAL qualification but it to the Rangers? Let’s just say that some nurse saw a young man that was eager to serve his country and provided him with some “aid” in qualifying. Hopefully someone did not lose their job, and considering the lives he may have saved … I guess a pay raise or promotion might have been a better deal. As delve deeper into the book there is a sense of déjà vu and Chris Kyle flashes in the one’s mind. Except for the subtle differences. Kyle is white, a Navy SEAL, and endured major combat operations in Iraq. Nicholas is black, an Army Ranger and endured major combat operations in Afghanistan. The stories of combat and the action is just as riveting, harrowing and in many cases, gut wrenching. One chapter called “The Chechen”, reads like a blockbuster movie where the bad guy is a Chechen sniper that has been hunting American soldiers, even down to the firefight that ensues … up until the reader wakes up to the reality that “bloody hell” this is not a movie but it is real. And frightening. And what those brave men and women deal with in Afghanistan. Bloody sobering. It is not all gut wrenching, and white-knuckled-gripping excursions. There are a few moments of embarrassing details about Afghan and Taliban forces that go under the category of TMI: such as some in the Afghan forces in the barracks getting their male-on-male jollies on (for some strange reason) Thursday nights, Irving and his team unwittingly stumbling onto what pretty much amounted to a Taliban male orgy (a Taliban sausagefest in the worst way). And there is even talk of drones picking up videos of in-field bestiality. Did you lose your lunch, or burp-vomitted into your mouth … I apologize, sorry about that mates.
Captivating, filled with adrenaline-inducing action, and heart-wrenching, Reaper, even though it was set out to tell the story a young Army Special Ops sniper turns out to be yet another delightful tribute to Mr. Irving’s brothers-at-arms. One such person is Cpl. Benjamin Kopp, who put his life on the line to provide suppressing fire during the unit’s encounter with the Chechen. Even in death, Cpl. Kopp went on to save lives since he was an organ donor.. A truly noble, honourable man. The real definition of courage (not some bloke in a white dress going through a “change”). It never ceases to amaze me about the humility of these brave men, these silent professionals. They are truly America’s best. Thanks for your service Mr. Irving. May God bless you and yours and your days under the sun.

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Co-author(s): Kevin Maurer

In No Easy Day, Mark Owen took us through the famous raid that led to the finally removal of the nutter known as Osama Bin Laden, and all that led up to that point which included his training. In No Hero, Mr. Owen returns to talk about excerpts of other missions he was a part of during his stint in SEAL Team 6, and even some life lessons that he learned during his time with the SEALs. Mr. Owen takes us from his humble upbringings in Alaska to his first meeting of an actual Navy SEAL onwards toward his early years of Navy SEAL training. His vivid descriptions of his training at times can be as nerve wracking as some of his missions. Through it all, however, Mr. Owen’s voice is ever humble as writes about his extraordinary life in the SEALs. There is something delightful about his post-deployment of ritual of stopping in at Taco Bell for a taco … something that many of us take for granted. No Hero is not only a constrained chronicle of the life of a noble and valiant man, it also offers some very interesting life lessons. One such moment (for me) was Owen’s encounter with a mountain climber in Las Vegas and the concept of working within “your three feet world”. Brilliant piece of advice for occassionally overwhelmed, multi-taskers such as my self. Quite the eye opener, that one. Earlier in the book, Mr. Owen writes about the meaning of his title for the book. Though it is humbling that Mr. Owen sees himself as anything but a hero, I have to respectfully say that I strongly disagree with him on that. In a world where some narcissistic tart and her family are celebrated simply because they have some shitty reality show and offer the world nothing more than need for more attention (yes, Kardashians I am talking about you) to paraphrase Bonnie Tyler: “we really need some real heroes”. Any person that puts up with the most grueling, training regimen in the world and then goes off to some spot of hell on this earth, for the sake of country and fellow man, is, in my book, a hero. And in my books, Mr. Owen you are … in the truest sense. God Bless you and yours and the rest of your days under the sun. And thanks for the “three feet world”.

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Co-author:: William Doyle

The last time I reviewed a book by Dick Couch it was a brilliantly written book about the Special Forces and the behind the scenes training. It was called Choosen Soldier. Now Mr. Couch has written many other books and it is sad to admit that I have not gotten around to reading many of them. Give me time, mates. It is no surprise that I’m a big fan of all things special forces. I know … shocking (of course, the tons of Navy SEALs book on my site pretty much kills the subtlety factor). So naturally, when this appeared on my stacks, I could not help restrain myself. But enough with the blah-blah-blah and let’s get this review on it’s way, shall we?
Navy SEALs is a well written book that takes the reader from its origins to the present theater and role of operations. It is also, seemingly, a tender tribute to the SEALs, past, present and future: Mr. Couch’s alum. Needless to say, but some of the stories in are a bit tough to stomach but it makes you more appreciative of these past heroes (both alive and deceased). Some of the tough stories took place during World War II when the unit was known as Naval Demolition Combat Units (NDCU) and eventually Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT). One such story took place during the Normandy invasion. Now over the years of watching various celluloid depictions of the Normandy invasion, it was mostly from a Marine or Army perspective and … yes … it was a bit tough. However, reading about the NDCU’s role during the Normandy invasion was a bit scary. For starters, most of the naval demolitioneers went into battle with very little (a fortunate few carried a sidearm) and they had to set up explosives on a beach where bullets and mortar was raining down on them from HIGH ground. Some never made it to shore since mortar rockets detonated explosive ordinance in their boats … and let’s just say it was not pretty. Today, SEAL team operators are more prepared to deal with situations from a team level to an individual level (heaven forbid should things get so grim). In the earlier stages, things were a bit dicier for the forbearers of what was to become Naval Special Warfare. And though there were some tough moments, there were a few decent breaks like during their training in Korean waters, during the Korean war, many naval combat divers found themselves sharing waters with bare-breasted, female pearl divers. Hey, it was a tough job and someone HAD to do it.
Though the SEALs have evolved over the years, as they moved closer into the twenty-first century there were still many lessons that forged them in the elite fighting unit that they are to this day. Sadly, some of these lessons were learned the hard way in places like Vietnam, Grenada, Panama and the Afghanistan.

Though Untold Story is centered around the SEALs, it is a tribute to all those that serve in the special operations community. Those that are called upon to do the extraordinary, to go where many fear to tread and at times prevail (or sacrifice) amidst the evils and horrors that exist in those dark corners of the world daring to reach forth its tentacles on the rest of civilization. Well written and tremendously touching, the stories compiled by Couch will keep readers riveted and in the end, filled with appreciation and admiration even more for these brave men. May God bless them all and their days under the sun.

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Running title: Love My Rifle More Than You – Young and Female In the US Army
Over the years I’ve read a lot non-fiction military books, mostly from the Special Operations community. Most, needless to say, have been written by men. So when I came across Love My Rifle, I was intrigued and curious. It was a great opportunity to read about a female perspective of not only serving in the military but also being on the frontlines. Also there is something about women with guns that appeal to me. Hey, don’t judge.
It didn’t take much in the first few chapters to indicate that Ms. Williams pulls no strings and tells it like it is. She is very frank about and needlessly unapologetic about everything from her childhood through her colourful years as a teen and onwards through her military career. Aye, needless to say she is no saint, but then who is … and I’ll leave it that. We get to travel through her eyes from basic training to her military occupational specialty (MOS) as an intelligence officer. Let’s just say that Goldie Hawn lied to us in Private Benjamin. Somewhat. Even more harrowing was her tours in Iraq where, on top of worrying about being overrun by jihadists, she encountered mind-numbing bureaucracy (where common sense takes a permanent vacation), inept and incompetent female superiors, and the occasional female soldier that plays up the slutty stereotype … which sort of makes hard for the other women. Oh, of course, there are the covert forms of sexual harassment. Bloody hell. Sadly, a sentiment that is echoed throughout the book is that as female in the military you are either regarded as a “slut or a bitch”. Some, sadly, cave in to the sexual pressuring – and others simply decide – damn if I do, damn if I don’t … and opt for the latter. The B word. Sadly, this bollocks, like in every aspect of society, is perpetrated by the rotten few and is not a reflection on those that truly, honourably serve. Despite all the progress being made and Anita Hill from the 90s, it still seems like we have a far way to go especially with the way brave and valiant women that put their lives on the line for this country are treated on the frontline. Needless to say, it is a sobering read that will cause you to shake your head in dismay, on occasions, and there are those moments such as Lauren, a Hispanic soldier that stands under five feet but totes a SAW machine gun (google it – it is very big).
A brutally honest chronicle of one female’s life in the military during wartime, Love My Rifle is a fascinating read and definitely recommended reading for any female serious about a military career. Thanks, Ms. Williams for your service. God bless you and your days on earth.

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Co-author: Jim DeFelice
Running title: Code Name: Johnny Walker – The extraordinary story of the Iraqi who risked everything to fight with the U.S. Navy Seals.

I remember when the 9/11 attacks happened. It was moment of pain, anguish and anger, and as many were ready to lash out at all things Muslim, there were those voices of reason calling for understanding. There were those voices that supported those that practiced Islam peacefully. The problem, at the time, was that it seemed that many of these voices were non-Muslim and many were asking where are the real Muslims that would stand and defend their faith from the wanks that hijacked it. Little did some of us know that several years after the attacks some were doing just that … in their actions. And many may paid the ultimate price.
Johnny Walker is one such voice. The is name is also pseudonym that is used to hide the Iraqi’s real name in order to protect his family that currently reside in the US or relatives that have remained in Iraq from reprisals from insurgent mujahedeen or jihadists. It is truly a humbling story seen through the eyes of an Iraqi soldier. Johnny came from an impoverished background and in his world, Iraqis that didn’t do well in school soon found a place in the Iraqi army. An army that was filled with antiquated equipment and training that was just as laughable … but for most, was a way to a make a decent living. Still, Johnny took certain aspects of it very seriously. We are fondly introduced to Soheila, Johnny’s first love that became his wife and mother of his four children. It is possibly the purest romantic thing one could have ever read in this present day. Boy meets girl. Girl meets boy. Boy and Girl falls in love with each other. But Girl parents promises her hand in marriage to another bloke. Boy fights for the girl he truly loves. Parents eventually see their folly and give consent to Boy and Girl to be married. And all this time the relationship was unconsummated since … Muslim families are very strict about that stuff. Like I said purely romantic … almost Shakespearean. Almost. We get to see his struggles to earn a living during “peace” time (hey, they were living under Saddam’s rule) prior to the war beyond his post-military days. And then of course, the war happens and work becomes more scarce. Many Iraqis found jobs working as interpreters (or terps as they were called by military units) for US forces. It was only a matter of time before destiny found Johnny working for the US forces as an interpreter. The interesting thing is that this started as job for him to earn a living to support his family. There weren’t any political or religious motivation. It is during his time running ops with US forces he began to learn that most of the insurgents were foreigners (some trained and armed by Iran) that were in Iraq spreading much chaos and destruction had was claiming the lives of many innocent Muslim victims of certain faith. Apparently there are Shia and Sunni Muslims, one’s a bit more rigid in their interpretation of the Koran and the other is a bit more moderate. And according to jihadist tossers (to quote The Highlander), there can only be One. Of course, this angers Johnny greatly and it can be felt in his writing throughout the book, for he felt that not only was his country (Iraq) being hijacked, but also his faith. And so teaming up with the Americans was his way to restoring his country and preserving his faith and its followers. He eventually proved more effective than interpreter for he had this uncanny way of spotting and locating jihadi suspects that were being sought with such efficiency that it would make Hannibal Lector and most FBI profilers green with envy. Trust me you’ve got read about his exploits. It got the point that most SEAL teams going into Iraq always sought out his help. His admiration and loyalty to the SEALs was not lost to many that served with him. To quote the late Chris Kyle (rest in peace, my good man): “Johnny Walker is the only Iraqi I’d trust with a gun”.
It was only a matter of time before the insurgents learned about his helping the Americans and pretty soon there was bounty on his head. Things began to get more dicey when his family were getting death threats and had to move from a relatively “safe” Mosul to a dangerous Baghdad. And the kicker was that some of these threats came in the form of “warnings” from other relatives. Gives new meaning to the word “nuclear family”. For most the book it becomes a harrowing read as we follow Walker through some of the most hair-raising raids all up to the point of him getting his family safely out of Iraq into the US. Yes, apparently there was an established program setup for Iraqis, that aided Americans, to immigrate to the US. The SEALs, ever so valiant and noble, not wanting to leave their brother behind had worked hard to speed up the process at the most critical moment in Walker’s family life. It was touching and awe-inspiring about the camaraderie between Johnny and the SEALs. Johnny Walker maybe born Iraqi but at the core he is a true American hero with an extraordinary story that needs to be told. And to think it all started with him just wanting to earn a living for his family. Still think your job is really bad or tough on you? Guess again mates.
A brilliant read about a simple man and Muslim who decided in his actions to fight against those that would ravage his country of birth and faith, and ended up becoming an American hero. It is courage and honour defined, and as you read this book you’ll find yourself rooting for this bloke.

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Running Title: Heads In Beds – A reckless memoir of hotels, hustles, and so-called hospitality

A few weeks ago, I was looking up a book to fill a reserve for a patron, and interestingly enough came across Heads simply because it was carrying the identical call number (647.9409 T) and yes, after reading the running title, it intrigued the hell out of me. Aye, and there you are thinking I was kidding about working in a library. For some reason, the running title reminded me of Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica (which was reviewed earlier … somewhere below … feel free to take a look … go on, I promise you this posting will still be here … scout’s honour) and so I was drawn to it like a randy, starving, shipwrecked sailor into the loving arms of a voluptuous but deadly Siren (ah, but what a way to go). Needless to say I was not disappointed.

Now I’ve done my bit of travelling though not as often and as much as I really, really, should. And in most of my travels I’ve always been fortunate to find lodgings with relatives or mates (who were rightfully and gratefully compensated … yes, I believe in fairness and doing the right thing and all that cuddly bollocks). Hence I was spared the craziness of the hospitality in hotels, which in my limited imagination was mostly about crappy rooms, questionable room service and the possibility of being intruded upon by housekeeping whilst in the nude (possibly stemming from a night of too much pints … for there is no way on this green earth I would dare sleep in the nude on hotel beds … especially after having read this book).

Heads In Beds (I know there is a sick perverted joke in there somewhere) sort of ripped open my eyes to what goes on behind the (so-called) hospitality service scene which apparently have less to do with actually hospitality and more to do with the bottom line (there’s a shocker). For some reason, Expedia and other forms of discounted hotel bookings don’t rank very high in priority, since they figure you’re already getting a discounted room and you should just be oh-so-bloody-grateful. I say piss off. Quite a sad state of affairs. A memoir, an expose and in some cases the inside scoop for travelers who really want to get the most out of their traveling experience. Sort of beats going back home and lying to your co-workers about your experience (you know, getting mugged in Rome and still telling your mates with a straight face that that they HAVE got to go there and other such lying bollocks). Now if you’re one of those that like to drink while you read you might want to put that drink away for there are moments of hilarity and shocking revelations that will make you spill your drink. A taste you say … why not: apparently there are 101 uses for lemon-scented furniture spray, so be careful of that lemony scented taste you get from the glasses at the mini-bar (yeeeaaaaahh). Also, if you’re being a complete wanker or tosser to the hotel staff, be sure to secure your toothbrush and other dental hygiene utensils (hint: think of the term butt flossing/scrubbing). Did you spill your drink reading this review? My deepest apologies.

Now beyond the eye-popping revelations of hospitality-service hygiene, there are mini-stories that are touching, hilarious and even mind-boggling as you get to see the camaraderie that is shared amongst the frontliners of this industry. And on the other hand we get to see the devolution of manners, decency and humanity in the way people treat each other. Ah, where is an earth-ending alien invasion or apocalypse when you need one? I know, as a public “servant”, on a given day I encounter many gems that could fill several hardcovers (and maybe I just will … maybe). The sad truth is what I’ve encountered from segments of my delightful public is nothing but a tip of the iceberg what most folks endure in the hospitality-service industry (something I learned about having read Ehrenreich’s Nickle and Dime … is also posted somewhere below). Overworked, underpaid, verbal (and sometimes physical) abuse, and, depending on the wanks in management, the occasional mindscrew. Aye, there is also the ever so classy … sexual harassment. You know, the occasional codger that just happens to waddle out naked when female housekeeping shows up and other such twisted bollocks (usually some “pillar of the community”).
There are several characters that are delightful and intriguing and are truly unforgettable such as the Gray Wolf and Roy (a housekeeper with celebral palsy and a pistol tattoo). Though there may be a paragraph or two worth about Roy, I promise you that he will stay with you throughout the entire book causing you to snicker occasionally. Or maybe it’s because I’m easily amused. The schemes and hustles though seemingly shady, as you read deeper into the book, seem anything but as you “experience” what these hardworking folks put up with to accommodate the traveling public. And yes, though I don’t make CEO quid, I understand times are tough and I don’t mind tipping for services rendered. So whilst my Hotwire booking may render me low in priority on the hospitality totem pole, according to wanks in the management, I am sure the desk agents, bellmen and even housekeepers would appreciate my tips from the surplus saved from my discount booking. Like I said earlier, piss off.
Beautifully written and filled with colourful characters and gems, Tomsky takes you on an emotional roller-coaster, ripping open your eyes like McDowell in Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange to the world beyond the check-in desk and in a sense, possibly educating us for our future traveling adventures. Yes, decent manners and the willingness to part with a few quid can do wonders. Even if you’ve booked with Expedia. On the other hand, being a complete wanker and a bit stingy can find you in a room (that is just like every other room) with no view next to the noisy elevator. Especially if you’ve booked with Expedia.
Thanks for sharing a bit of your soul and the heads up, Mr. Tomsky (do you mind if I call you Mr. Tomsky?). Some of us are better for it. Even though we’ll still be using Hotwire … or Expedia.

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Running Title: Fearless – The undaunted courage and ultimate sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team Six operator Adam Brown.

On this Memorial Day as we remember those that have served this great nation, both fallen and present, I was compelled to put this review out for it is so symbolic of the many men and women that have served this nation and aside from their bravery and nobility, many serve as a source of inspiration.
We’ve all heard the story about the prodigal son. Whether you’re religious or not, most of us have encountered this or a variation of this story.
To sum it up.
Two sons, rich father. Youngest son decides he wants his inheritance today and he’s not waiting for daddy to kick the bucket. Son gets some serious dosh, spends it on fast women, mooching friends, and possibly a bit much blow (I’m guessing hashish … biblical times, you know). Son soon runs out of dosh, ends up fighting pigs and other farm animals for slop to eat. Eventually goes back home, expecting to grovel forever at his father’s feet but is instead welcomed with opened arms and his return celebrated for he was probably thought lost and possibly dead. And so ends my detour into a Sunday school lesson.
The problem about that story is that we never find out what happened to this prodigal son beyond the celebrated homecoming. For the most, the prodigal son story is sometimes used in context of those that have may fell off the righteous and promising path. The story of Navy SEAL operator Adam Brown is modern day version of the prodigal son, though I must add … a very inspiring one. Young, fearless and quite the daredevil, Mr. Brown seemed poised to conquer the future in whatever endeavours he chose. Somewhere along the way, an encounter with drugs lead Brown down a very dark spiraling path to oblivion. Despite this setback with the strong support of family, and a faithful girlfriend, Kelley (who eventually became his wife) he found his way back and enlisted in the Navy. Guided by his Christian faith and support by family, Adam found the strength to focus and pull through BUD/S training whilst still battling his inner demons and cravings of past but not so distant life. After making the SEALs, on top of battling the demons of the past, he had severely injured his “shooting” hand in a training accident and had to re-learn handling firearms with the other hand. Later on, he was involved in another accident that involved the partial blinding in one eye and leaving him dependent on one eye. And despite all his afflictions, Adam felt compelled to do the unthinkable: apply to SEAL Team Six. Getting into the SEALs is tough, getting into SEAL Team Six is tougher … and everyone (disabilities or not) all have to measure up to standard. Many SEALs with perfect eyes and hands have tried and did not make the cut, yet Mr. Brown with so many seeming setbacks was able to make SEAL Team Six. One of the many inspiring things you could ever read.

Now the book is littered with scriptural quotes from the Bible, and this may be “bothersome” to the so-called “enlightened” and “open-minded” folks out there. Whatever, mates. For the rest of us struggling sinners (such as yours truly) this was refreshing to read and it put a lot into perspective for us. What was interesting about Adam Brown was that he didn’t keep his faith to himself but even on the battlefield his faith manifested itself when he noticed the kids in Afghanistan were running around with no shoes and instead of writing home for a care package he requested that donations of children shoes be sent instead. Truly one of those moments where you had to pause your reading and go … “WOW”.
Like most SEAL biographies, the book has a nice collection of pictures of Brown and family and fellow teammates. One of the most touching photos you’ll encounter is the last photo Adam took with his family before deploying to what turned out to be his last mission. That one will get you bad, and it’s perfectly understandable if you find yourself tearing up. One of the most touching things (and there are many in this book) I encountered in this book was Adam Brown requesting that if they (his family) were to eulogize him that they should tell his full story … even the bad stuff. It never ceases to amaze me that the truly brave, extraordinary and exceptional among us are also the most humble and modest among us. In August, 2011, when the Chinook carrying his team was shot down, America lost a hero, and a gentleman. The prodigal son finally made it back home. Rest in peace, Adam Brown and may God bless the days of those you’ve left behind. Thanks mate.

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