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Archive for the ‘non-fiction’ Category

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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Running title: Operation Thunderbolt – Flight 139 And The Raid On Entebbe Airport, The Most Audacious Hostage Rescue Mission In History.

As a librarian I get to do cool things such as going to conferences or meeting with publishers as they hawk their new wares (namely books). Sure it is sort of what the pharmaceuticals do when they court doctors with their latest “life-saving” drugs and coax the docs into pushing their stuff unto unsuspecting vict …er, patients. The good thing about my situation is that, for the most, I don’t have to do that much “pushing” when it comes to books. It practically “pushes” itself and, most of all, reading books don’t leave people with side effects (aside from the occasional eyestrain) such as … DEATH. Seriously, I’ve noticed that a bunch of drugs list “death” as a side effect. Um … no, itchiness and a case of the shits is a side effect. Death is complete bollocks up. And I have detoured greatly. So back to the review … shall we?

Now it was during one of those conferences, that I had received an advanced reader’s copy or arcs (as they are affectionately known) of Operation Thunderbolt. Only a few months ago, I came across it on my shelf and came to the conclusion that I must be losing my mind since this was sitting my shelf for more than year without being read. Thunderbolt chronicles the famous hijacking of Flight 139 (an Israeli airline) and the military operation that was involved in its resolution. The Raid on Entebbe was an actual movie that was based on this story. In the 80s, the movie Delta Force, starring the immortal Chuck Norris, had a plot line that mirrored the Entebbe crisis. Ah, the 80s, such a great decade for the coolest action movies. Pure action without the PC bollocks. Awesome days. Up until Thunderbolt was written, we’ve only seen and heard the military point of view of the operation. Several decades later, Thunderbolt gives the reader a very immersive, 360 degree point of view that not only features the military point of view but also the gathered stories from those that lived through the ordeal. And though some of the players are mixture of the obscure to the well-known, they create a spectrum of bravery, nobility, and downright viciousness. An interesting character to note is Michel Cojot, a French Jew that found himself unwittingly plucked from being simple passenger to being the liaison between hostages and hijackers. Though it was later determined that it was the information provided by Cojot, to the Israeli forces, that was critical to the operation. There are some famous names such as Ehud Barak and Yoni Netanyahu (the ill-fated brother of prime minister Bibi Netanyahu) that were part of this operation. And as disgusting as the Baader-Meinhoff terrorist group was to the passengers, no one can overlook the vileness of Idi Amin as he toys and tries to manipulate the governments of the hostage countries all for his own selfish needs (but then again, this is not exactly shocking when you’re dealing with a narcissistic and psychopathic wanker). Yes, this bloke made my blood boil on a few occasions. And despite all of this, there were still those whose humanity did not take a back seat to the bollocks such as Henry Kyemba, the Ugandan minister of health, who kept hostage Dora Bloch in the hospital for an extended period for the sake of her health. Unfortunately, his good intentions cost Bloch her life. And yes, there were some interesting moments about people still finding the time to engage in a bit of the old in-out, in-out with the threat of death hanging over them. I guess I could see how that is possible. Talk about going out with a bang. Aye, I know … naughty, naughty. I could go on citing more and more examples of this book … and end up spoiling it for most of readers, so I shall refrain from such and not be a tosser about it.

Thunderbolt gives the reader a fascinating journey into one of the most spectacular hostage rescues ever attempted: sitting through every crucially planned step of the military operations from paper to execution whilst simultaneously dealing with the fears and apprehensions of the hostages and the vileness of the terrorists and Idi Amin (bloody tosser, that one). Needless to say it is quite an emotional roller coaster that is unlike anything Six Flags could ever come up with: anger – rage – sadness – rage – joy – anger – sadness (you get the idea). Especially when you read about how Amin left this world. Let’s just say he left in better fare than most of his victims … with the help of the Saudi government (some friends we have). And even though we all know the outcome, to read Thunderbolt from beginning to end is to relive this anew. Be prepared to have your emotions tested. I had mentioned the movie Delta Force earlier. Truth be told was that this operation by the Israelis served as a springboard for the creation of the Delta Force detachment in the Special Forces. I take my hat off to these folks and others like them that do the daring stuff. Yoni Netanyahu, may you truly rest in peace.

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Running Title: Grunt – The Curious Science of Humans At War.

Aye, it is that time of the year. We cave into our materialistic lust as we answer the Siren call of Black Fridays, and tons of sales “events” … and other such bollocks. It is also that time of the year when we look forward to drinking eggnog, with our our bearpaw slippers on as we curl up and watch another screening of Love Actually. Oh wait, that’s just me. Hey mates, don’t judge me. But enough with the bollocks and one with the review. Shall we begin?
When you combine the sciences with … well … war, you are bound to capture my attention, so with a running title like “the curious science of humans at war”, it was only a matter of time before this poor book was plucked from the stacks and nestled in my grasp for a few days. Yes, as you can easily surmise that Grunt does something is not so often reported when it comes to the world of war. Sure, we’ve read many books written by Special Operations warriors and military personnel about their brave and valiant deeds, but how often do you get to read about the science that goes into war that not only helps and protects our brave soldiers, but sometimes even save or heal them. Roach’s Grunt does an excellent job of this, though I must warn those who don’t have a strong stomach that they may want to reconsider reading this book during … say … eating times. Sure for the inwardly forensic fans such, such as yours truly, this great reading even whilst scarfing down mounds of lasagna. Others, maybe not so much. There is a lot of science that goes into war, and I really mean A LOT. Some of it may seem trivial, but to the folks downrange it is a big deal, such as zippers being a no-no on sniper clothing. Trust me on this one. Or (the best one) diarrhea being a threat to national security (hint: it’s every SEAL’s worst nightmare when on a mission). I bit you didn’t know that scientists have built a chicken gun that is used to propel dead chickens at turbines to test the effect of birds on aircraft engines. Some folks have all the fun. And then Roach hits you with the a literal blow to the minerals: penile reconstruction. Yes, many times when an IED goes off more than just arms and legs get injured. And for several chapters Ms. Roach explains this in great but understandably cringe-worthy detail: apparently strip of mucus membrane from the inner cheek is used to recreate urethra in penile reconstructions. There is a really dirty joke somewhere in that fact, but the science behind is amazing, and apparently it is doing wonders many of our soldiers’ lives. Occasionally, we are treated to some historical tidbits such as the REAL use of codpieces, and …no … it was not about enhancing or even protecting one’s manhood. In fact it actually stored materials that soaked up syphilitic discharges of blood and pus you get from sleeping around with wenches after beheading your wives. Yummy. I guess that explains why they were popular with hair bands in the 80s. Paging Lawless from WASP. And yes, I’ve seemingly gone there. Astounding fact: the scent of a seal and used tampon has the same effect on polar bear salivary glands. I kid you not. So ladies, be a bit wary if your mate is planning trips to the Polar-type regions and is somewhat inquisitive about your cycles. I’m afraid the love may not be there anymore and his plans for you may be malevolent. Slight detour there, everyone.
Roach’s Grunt is a fascinating read about the sciences that impact our soldiers both on and off the frontlines. If your fascinated with the sciences or just curious about what is going with our men and women in battle, Grunt is a delightful read. For the curious in mind that are not so scientifically-minded, fear not, for Roach practically keeps at a layman’s level that can be enjoyed by all but well appreciated by us nerd-types. Plus she’s got a scorchingly delightful wit that makes me wish I could marry … um, never mind. And I’ve said that too loud. Ignore that part. Please.

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Several years ago, I wrote a review on Roberto Saviano’s Gomorrah. It is one of the few books out there embeds itself in your head, like a Taylor Swift song, and you never quite recover from it. Yes, it made an appearance as a coffee table book on the set of HBO’s True Detective (season two, episode eight … I think). And yes, my mind can be that weird, and I tend to notice stuff like that. And sure they made a movie about it (a bit over two hours long) and even though some complained about the violence, I had to chuckle. Even though the movie was close to three hours long, the violence was nothing compared to the book which is probably likened to a Quentin Tarantino wet dream. In Gomorrah, the author went to great lengths (and risk) to detail the many deeds and names in the criminal underworld in Naples. And it was not pretty. It pretty much kicked all that romantic bollocks about gondolas, floating in Venice, steered by serenading oarsmen … in the minerals with a steel-tipped Doc Martins boot. And for the most, many of us thought that it couldn’t get any worse. It turns out that I was wrong. Apparently, the world’s a wee bit more shitty.

Zero Zero Zero was Saviano’s immersion into the wonderful world of cocaine. Please note that the word “wonderful” is layered in unhealthy, blistering layers of sarcasm. In a sense, think of Saviano as Morpheus and Zero Zero Zero as a literary red pill. Sorry no blue pill on this run. He traces it’s humble beginnings from Colombia onward to its ever growing tentacles that have spread over the world. Yes, more precious than gold, silver and oil … this white powdery gold is in high (and growing) demand and every criminal element in the world wants to invest and control. Needless to say, the trip down the rabbit hole does not get pretty and it gets really deep, and makes the Mad Hatter seem quite sane. Filled with colourful characters, Saviano shows a stark industry that is built on terror, corruption and unbridled barbarism. From El Chapo (yes, that El Chapo) to the Los Zetas to Griselda Blanco … and the bloody list goes on. And the really messed up part is every criminal element in the world, even terrorists (who are looking for a means to finance their operations) are looking to get in on this cash cow. A shocking disclosure: America is one of the biggest importers of cocaine. Another shocking disclosure: Mexican cartels frown on pushers selling drugs to Mexicans (yes, you are reading this correctly), drugs are strictly for sale to the gringos. Actually, some cartels have been known to put Mexican addicts through rehab. Awww, you think, that’s so nice. Wait for it. There’s a catch: once they’ve gotten better, they’ve got to work for the cartels. And just say no is not an option. As Pablo Escobar used to say “plata o plomo”: silver or lead. Get paid or get dead. And the level of barbarism mentioned in the book is enough to make you lose your lunch, bowel control or lots of sleep: cartel murders and torture, the murder and torture of DEA’s Kiki Camarena, the training techniques of the Kaibiles (Guatemalan Special Forces) … oh joy. It gets better. To think of drug kingpins as just a bunch macho blokes walking around with .45s stuck in their waistband and puffing away on Cubans as they surround themselves with hot “chicas” … is as outdated as the printing press or using the “withdraw/pull-out” method as birth control. Some are even re-investing their ill-gotten gains into “research” and innovations such as submarines or submersibles (and no, I’m not kidding) and liquid cocaine. It is frightening what’s at our doorstep. Zero is basically a mirror that is held up to every addict or “recreational user” face, with a simple question: how much is your getting high really worth? The sad news is the price is extremely high, and many people are unwittingly paying that price in other parts of the world with unbelievable suffering and their lives.
Once again, Mr. Saviano does it again.Zero Zero Zero is a sobering read, not exactly for the faint of heart (at times) and for some, it just might be a wakeup call. Hope you enjoy the ride down the rabbit hole, mates. Morpheus, thy name is Saviano.

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Running Title: Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster)

It has been a while since I read a Dave Barry book, and anyone living in the northeast this past winter could attest to the fact not only are we willing to garrote the next person that talks about having a “white Christmas” (in public) but we could use a bit of cheering up. Though I must admit that at the time I’m writing this review it is currently in the 50s outside in NYC (yeah baby!) and I feel like I should be running around on a mountainside with flowers in my hair singing “the hills are alive with the sound of music” as my skirt whips up with the warm spring … oops … sorry you had to read that. Damn you Julie Andrews.
Onwards to the review shall we (lest I embarrass myself even further).
It is always a pure delight to read Dave Barry books. Sure it freaks out most of the folks that travel with me on mass transit as I would seemingly break out into hysterical giggling and making farting sounds with my mouth. But still … the stuff is funny and I am easily amused.
In Live Right, Dave gives us some more of his hilarious (and yet often times, thought provoking) insights in life. From the world of cable news to Google glasses to soccer in Brazil. His escapades in Brazil during Fifa World Games is probably one of the most hilarious chapters you’ll encounter. At least now I know how to say “here’s my money” (aqui esta a meu dinheiro) and “please don’t stab me” (por favor, nao me esfaquear) in Portuguese. His chapter on his travels in Russia is quite the eye opener. Did not know that there are Latin themed restaurants in Russia … though you might want to avoid the chimichangas. And if you own Google glasses, hope you have a sense of humour and a thick skin. He ends the book with an endearing letter to his newly born grandson. It is riddled with charm, very hilarious and actually exposed something about mustard and ketchup that I’ve unknowingly overlooked over most of my existence on this planet. Damn it, Mr. Barry you’ve done it again.

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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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