Stupid Wars By Ed Strosser and Michael Prince

Stupid Wars is both historically interesting, telling about wars you might never have heard of otherwise, and very, very funny, it chronicles full wars or conspiracies that were so stupid that when presented to be funny, you just have to laugh out loud. If you want to be entertained by history than this is the book to read, it’s so good that, not only have I read it more times than I bothered counting, I’ve also gone back and re-read certain parts of it. Probably my favourite chapter is “the War of The Pacific 1879”, the reason why it has such a generic name is because the historians tacked it on afterwards, everyone at the time called it ‘the Birdshit war” or in polite company “the Guano War”. Allow me to provide some background up until the beginning of the nineteenth century birdshits true value was not recognized birds pooped, end of story. It was soon discovered that it contained valuable nitrates that could be used in fertilizers, or explosives. On the western costs of Peru, Chile, and formerly Bolivia where the deserts run up against the coasts and the current carries plankton against the shore for the fish to feed on and for the birds to feed on the fish. Once the birds travel inland they defecate prodigiously, mountainously. In this driest part of the world decades pass without rain, with nothing to wash it away the shit grows into cliffs along the coasts hundreds of feet tall. The leadership of the countries started seeing birdshit as the new gold and drew up treaties to determine who would own what shit and when it could be taxed. An escalating series of mining incidents culminated in the Bolivians attempting to tax the Chileans so as to repair hurricane damage when the Chileans refused their mining equipment was confiscated, the Chilean military took it back, things escalated from there and the Peruvians were dragged into it through a secret treaty. The Peruvians lost their navy, the Bolivians lost their entire country and were given back the all except the coast in exchange for dropping out of the war and the Peruvians continued the war long after their defeat was inevitable and even after they’d actually lost.

                 I would recommend this book to anyone who likes history or military history or humor  It’s all around amazing. 

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How to Lose A Battle Foolish plans and great military blunders By Bill Fawcet

 

                How to lose a battle is a book that is historically interesting, it chronicles bad military leaders and decisions, and analyzes how they lost their battles, in the process it gives you the basics on what not to do if you find yourself commanding a military force.  If you’re looking for a book on the historical analysis of bad military decision making than this is where to get it, I’ve read it many times and every time it’s been interesting.  One of the battles in it is the charge of the light brigade, while not strictly a battle, it is a single military action and it has gained sufficient fame as a military failure to be included here, it even says that they can’t make a book about bad military decisions without including it there. The charge of the light brigade was famous because the unit it concerned was arguably the best cavalry regiment in the world, it incorrectly became a case in point for why cavalry was of no use on the modern battlefield. The light brigade was destroyed because of four men: Lord Raglan, the commander of the British forces in the area, an indecisive man with little charisma and showing signs of his age, who let resentments between his subordinates fester when he should have dealt with them, the cavalry commander, Lord Lucan, the commander of the British cavalry forces in the area, including the light brigade, and his favourite, the heavy brigade, lord Lucan had little to no interest in military affairs beyond that his troops look good on parade, Lord Cardigan, the brother-in-law of Lord Lucan and commander of the light brigade, a man who had no interest in learning how a charge of horse is any different from riding to the fox, worse Lucan and Cardigan hated and disrespected each other while remaining polite enough to not make it an obvious necessity that they be separated, and so we come to our fourth man, during the battle Lord Raglan saw a battery of British guns dragged away  by the Russians, so he ordered that the light brigade retrieve them:

Lord Raglan wishes the Cavalry to advance rapidly to the front-
follow the enemy and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the
guns. Troops Horse artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on
 your left. Immediate.

The man who he sent to deliver the message was none other than Captain Lewis Edward Nolan a fanatic believer in the superiority of cavalry. Nolan, either in an attempt to prove the continued superiority of cavalry or out of frustration with Lord Lucan offered a creative “reinterpretation” of his orders, convincing Lucan to attack one of the more heavily held enemy positions and its guns and offering to lead the charge himself. What followed next was the destruction of the light brigade by excessive firepower, almost all that survived were wounded and the unit was broken. If the original intent had been followed than they would have recaptured some guns and that would be all.

                I would recommend this book to anyone with even a slight interest in military history.

Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barns

 

 

                Tales of the Madman Underground was published in 2011 by the Penguin Group. This story is set in a really normal environment, and is extremely believable; nothing in it is something that couldn’t happen in real life. It’s also insane, and hilarious, and high school, when you combine all three with five jobs, insane numbers of cats and an actual group called the madman underground. The madman underground is a group of kids that for one reason or another, have ended up being sent to psychiatric counselling by their school, and gotten it on their permanent records, any time any teacher thinks they’re doing something strange they get sent back to counselling, so they spend most of every year in group counselling paid for by the school, with the psychiatrist changing every year. The group varies from the people who really need to be there, to the people who really don’t, from people who are insane, to people who pretend to be, to people who need the help but who can’t get it from the school for one reason or another.  The main character is named Karl Shoemaker and he definitely has problems, his father’s dead, his house is filled with a veritable swarm of cats, and his mother constantly steals his money to go boozing with her friends. He starts the year with a resolution to just “be normal” this year, in the process managing to offend some of his friends and proceeds to totter through the rest of the week with chapter titles like “How the Most Expensive Pizza of My Life Resulted in Delayed Gratzification”, “Eight Madmen, the Biggest Asshole in Ohio, and One Very Normal Guy”, “I was a Third Grade communist”, or “That, Son, was the lone Madman”, eventually, after much drama, confusion, hilarity, flash backs, suspicion and near revenge Karl Shoemaker eventually finds some resolution to his problems in getting a girlfriend, regaining estranged friends,  moving out of suspicion of being a potential serial killer, and finding a way to prevent his mom from stealing his money, and thus probably cutting her off from booze and her drinking buddies, who she mostly keeps by buying them drinks and who are probably a bad influence on her.

                 I would recommend this book to people who laugh and who can handle teenaged issues, if you don’t laugh at all then I would suggest seeing a psychiatrist or pursuing a career as a mob boss.

The Reformed Vampire Support Group By Catherine Jinks

 

                Nina, a vampire who appears as the scrawny fifteen year old she was at her age of infection in 1973, writes novels about a glamazon teenage vampiress in black leather and high heels; who hunts villains and rescues humans. She’s a member of the reformed vampire support group run by Father Ramon, which includes 140 year old Dr. Sanford, Gladys Blaker (a former street walker who was 24 years old at infection),Bridgit Doherty(an 82 year old nun at infection), Horace Whittaker (infected in 1908 when he was a 21 year old aspiring archaeologist), George Mumford(a teenage boiler-makers apprentice), Dave(a 17 year old rock musician) and Casmir Kucyski. It’s the staking murder of Casmir, the sociopath vampire father of this little band of retiring and reclusive vampires that forces them into the action of this story. These vampires are reformed because they survive on guinea pig blood and enzyme supplements. it keeps them alive but they are a weak, sickly, motley crew who attend a group regularly to ensure that none of them fall of the wagon and infect another human by succumbing to the drive to fang a human who’s blood would make them energetic and stronger.

                Investigation of Casmir’s home leads to a clue, a silver bullet whose manufacturer gives them his order list for a price. It’s decided that father Roman will accompany Nina and Dave into Australia’s outback to the small town of Cobar to suss-out the vampire assassin and his further intentions. At an isolated outback farm what Nina, Dave and father Roman discover is a blood sport pit with two werewolves pitted against one another. Nina, Dave, and father Roman end up captive of Barry McKinnon , would-be purveyor of supernatural blood sports, and Reuben, the teenage werewolf champion of the pit fight. The foursome escape with the McKinnon’s (father and son) in hot pursuit. The McKinnon’s’ plan is to retake the werewolf and sell it to a wealthy American. They plan a fake accident to kill father roman, as well as the would-be vampire assassin Nefley Irving, whose bad luck and bad timing land him smack in the middle of this adventure. Are foiled by the timely reawakening’s of Nina and Dave.

                The story continues with mad-capped episodes as the vampires work in different combinations to rescue the werewolf, as well as their would-be assassin, who has been taken hostage. Every character, despite their appearance is over fifty. There is much bickering and complaining of perceived wrongs and physical ailments. What shines through is how much each vampire tries to support the others in the group with the help human intervention from father roman and Nina’s 72 year old mother. The culmination of the story sees an unfortunate addition to their vampire circle as well as a widening of the human support network to include Nefley and Reuben (whose werewolf disability they support when needed during full moons). Nina comes to realize that she doesn’t hate life as a vampire despite its limitations, and just how much she admires Dave’s attempts to live more actively. The book closes with Nina and Dave developing a relationship while Nina chronicles their last adventurous year in a new book. When she lets the group know during a Tuesday night support group everyone claims to be worried for the group’s protection, but their neurotic self-interest isn’t far from the truth of their interest either.

                I really enjoyed this quirky little book and would recommend it to anyone who’s tired of the melodramatic, romance laden vampire genre that has dominated young adult fiction over the last seven years. It’s cute, exciting and fun.

Michael vey the prisoner of cell 25 By Richard Paul Evans

                The prisoner of cell 25 was published in 2011 by SIMON PULSE/MERCURY INK. It is a teen fiction/adventure story following the life of Michael vey and those around him.

                Michael Vey is a fictional teenager who lives in the town of meridian, Idaho and, by his own admission his story is very strange. Michael’s family moved to Idaho specifically because many Americans don’t know Idaho is a state, mostly in an attempt to disappear. There are a couple of strange things about Michael, he’s kind of small, he has Tourette’s (making him twitch a lot), he’s an incredible bully magnet, and he’s Electric. “Electric?, what are you babbling about now Book reviewer?” you might ask. Fortunately, I have not lost my marbles, it is also fortunate that this story is fiction or you might have reason to doubt that last statement. In the story a corporation called Elgen.inc had tested a device called the MEI at the Pasadena general hospital fifteen years ago. The MEI was intended to be a next-gen imaging device, one that would replace all other imaging devices currently in use, in that it was wildly successful, however when it was tuned on its rays passed through the walls and affected the rest of the hospital. Most people didn’t feel it and weren’t affected however the newborn babies present in the hospital definitely were, out of the 59 newborns that passed through the hospital during the eleven days the machine was active 42 of them died. Once the Elgen realized what had happened they panicked and instigated a cover-up, destroying what reports they could and keeping everyone related to the incident under surveillance. They soon realized that the surviving children were special, they now had superhuman powers related to electricity. Once the Elgen realized the value in studying or controlling these abilities the children were quietly “reacquired” and anyone likely to object was “liquidated”, mostly through house fires. Years later Michael Vey has, entirely by chance, run into the only other undiscovered electric child, finding her has changed his life, but not as much as the Elgen finding them is about to change the lives of everyone involved.

                 I would advise for reading this book because I found it engaging, enjoyable, fun and different enough from reality to be interesting, if a little young. You should read this book.

Life As We knew it

Life As We Knew It

By Susan Beth Pfeffer

                The narrative opens with a journal entry dated May 7th in an unspecific, but clearly contemporary year. Miranda, a junior at high school – is in the midst of a very personal phone call with her father and his second, much younger wife, who is pregnant. Miranda lives in rural Pennsylvania with her writer mother, thirteen year old brother Jonny, and older college-attending brother, matt. Miranda describes her life, family and friends in the thoughtful but slightly self-involved voice imaginable for a teenaged narrator. Just days after an asteroid hit the moon, causing it to shift its axis and move to a position closer to the earth. What follows is believable world-wide destruction due to tsunami, earthquakes, volcanoes, freak electrical and wind storms that wipe out civilization on islands and most coastal cities on all continents. Miranda’s journal describes the next ten months of trying to survive in a world of dwindling power, food and fresh water supplies, not to mention a pandemic flu.

                Susan Beth pfeffer believably describes a post a post-natural disaster world on a very personal level through the eyes of a typical teenaged girl. She chronicles a summer of increasing family tension, and a first romance in strangely idyllic time due to her mother’s garden             and crazed grocery shopping trip the day after the moon’s orbit is shifted, the family has enough to eat. Their lives become increasingly focussed on the family farm house five miles outside of town. Miranda’s journal records almost every meal as a significant daily event. The family tries to keep things as normal as possible for as long as possible, but changing climate, decreased sunlight and food rationing make for rude interruptions into the increasingly insular world of the family farm house.

                Bright flashes of the outside world happen in the farm of an elderly neighbour- mrs. Nesbitt, their mother’s boyfriend Dr. peter Elliot, and the arrival of her father and his young wife Lisa and a van piled high with food supplies. Death takes Mrs. Nesbit and Peter that first brutal winter, and the family is almost decimated by the flu, they are so close to starvation that Miranda takes it upon herself to slog into town to try to get word from the post office from their father. Really going of a suicide hike; she doesn’t want to have her family witness her starvation. Despite her weakened state she survives and happens upon a government sponsored food program, thus saving her family once again.

                The events of this story are both large-environmental devastation, and small-interpersonal dramas. Susan Beth Pfeffer has created a narrator in Miranda that we dislike at times but find compelling, and we root for her and those she loves ultimately this dystopian fantasy is about what we do to and for those we choose to love. This is the first of a four book cycle, three of which I have read and enjoyed. I am awaiting the final instalment due out this September (2013).

1632 by Eric Flint

1632 by Eric flint

                1632 was written by Eric flint and published by baen books in 2000. It is a military-fiction/alternate history novel set largely in the year 1632, hence the name.  you can find it in the science fiction section of your local chapters-indigo book store.

                Excerpt from back of book:

                “1632, and in northern Germany things couldn’t get much worse. Famine. Disease. Religious war laying waste to the cities. Only the aristocrats remain relatively unscathed, for the peasants death was a mercy.

                2000, things are going OK in Grantville, west Virginia, and everybody attending the wedding of mike stearn’s sister is having a good time.

THEN EVERYTHING CHANGED ………”

 

This is one of a couple of novels that Eric Flint has written with the premise that as a result of some form of disaster, natural or otherwise, a certain chunk of land and all on it are transported through time and occasionally space. In this case the town of Grantville and its environs are transported to 1632 Germany, around the time of the thirty years war, the story then follows the rippling changes brought about by this event. This book, being written by an American author, is rather blatantly pro-America, if that turns you off of a book than you might not enjoy this book. If you enjoy action-SF, alternate history or, to a degree military fiction, than you might enjoy this series. While not truly extraordinary, this book is as well written and engaging as many of Webbers works and many BAEN books are. I consider this book to be well worth reading if not objectively amazing.