Showing posts with label tough women. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tough women. Show all posts

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Hell Hath No Fury: True Stories of Women at War from Antiquity to Iraq by Rosalind Miles, Robin Cross


Rating: WORTHY!

YA authors an graphic novel writers could learn a lot from an awesome book like this, about depicting strong female characters. Full of detail, it relates the stories of scores of women who were warriors, most of them in times when women were not considered capable or emotionally up to it, let alone being strong, independent and fierce.

Even with the detail it offers, it also includes references for further reading. The book is divided into sections for different types of female "soldier" in the broadest sense. It offers war leaders such as Cleopatra, Elizabeth I, and Margaret Thatcher, actual combatants such as Molly Pitcher, Lily Litvak, and Tammy Duckworth, spies like Belle Boyd, Virginia Hall, and Noor Inayat Khan, and reporters and propagandists such as Martha Gellhorn, Tokyo Rose, Anna Politkovskaya. It also has a section on women whom we in the west could not consider heroic: women suicide bombers, and despite the success (for their cause) of female suicide bombers, women in the Middle East are still in a fight for equality, respect, and fair treatment.

The accounts are a mix of general overarching stories supported by very many detailed accounts of individual women. There is a bias towards white western women, but then this is where the best documentation resides, and even there, some of it was biased against women or largely erased or considered not noteworthy! Women can't win no matter what color they are, but hopefully that's undergoing what will become a permanent change now.

Despite this there are many women of color included as well as rather obscure women where documentation could be found, and the stories cover ancient history (Greek and Roman) through modern (Iraq War). The authors are not afraid to tell it how it is even if it does not make the woman in question look exactly pristine. While there seems to be something of a bias in World War Two accounts to British and American women, and in more recent wars to American soldiers, there is something for everyone here, and it all goes to prove beyond any question that women are every bit the equal of men, no excuses, no qualifications, no more lies and bullshit.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Nasty Women by Various Authors


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher and the authors.

It was a feast. Not quite everything I'd hoped for, but most of it, and even from the articles I was not keen on, there was always something to learn.

It's by an assortment of authors, only one of whom I'd heard of before, and every one a women. It's about women and women's issues, and it ought to be required reading regardless of your race, gender, or orientation. The women are of different backgrounds and circumstances and with different perspectives, which in a way is what makes it powerful since they do tend to speak with a common voice. That's not to say that once you've read one of these essays, you've read them all. Far from it.

Since it was written by a variety though, it's a bit patchy and uneven, and there were a few issues I had with it, so while I enjoyed it, I felt it did not make for the strongest voice it could have had. One issue is that it's quite insular in some respects - it's very much a Scots thing. Fortunately, I love Scotland, and have been there more than once.

That said, the voices came from women of a variety of backgrounds and even a variety of nationalities, but it made it seem quite provincial for so many voices to hail from Edinburgh and very few other places. Additionally, the cross-section of society they represented was rather narrow at least in the regard that these women were all writers, so we got only that perspective (although one was a writer interviewing a musician).

They were mostly white, and mostly young, and giving only their own personal opinion of their own experience, which is fine, but we need to keep that in mind as we read their words. The ones who wrote about the musical world - which were well-worth reading, please note - were seemingly all from the punk segment of what is a vast musical world, so even there it must be noted (pun intended!) we got a slim cross-section.

So overall it bears keeping in mind that this did not come off as a representative sample, but one facet rooted in intense personal experience. That doesn't invalidate it. Far from it. It makes it very personal and for me it was enough. Here are my thoughts on the articles.

  • Independence Day by Katie Muriel is a perfectly understandable opining as to why the US elected a misogynist president. For me as a US resident, it made perfect, if nauseating, sense that he was elected. I was not at all surprised by it, but with regard to this essay, I felt it lacked a vital component, especially for a feminist perspective. Muriel's essay completely ignored Trump's opponent, who was a woman! Why Muriel didn't feel any need to explore this is a mystery to me.

    I know this essay was focused largely on her own personal perspective vis-à-vis her family, all of whom supported Trump (who won not on a popular majority vote but upon an electoral majority vote, let it be noted). I have to ask why Muriel didn't want to explore the fact that Trump's opponent was Hilary Clinton or why four million voters, who could have kept Trump out of office, failed to "man" up on the day.

    Was the country so afraid of Hilary Clinton that they would rather have a misogynist than her? If so, why? Are they merely afraid of any Clinton? Or any "liberal"? While I appreciate that this was an up-close-and-personal story for the author, there is so much more to be said here, and so many more questions to ask. I enjoyed the essay, but felt it lacked some teeth.

  • Why I'm No Longer a Punk Rock 'Cool Girl' by Kristy Diaz was an exploration of musical addiction and pigeonholes, and how women are treated in the punk world. It felt a bit juvenile to me because it is such a juvenile thing to try to classify a person by musical genre. It can't be honestly done, but music is such a huge part of young people that this fact tends to be overlooked. There is nothing more shallow than introducing yourself to another person by asking them what kind of music they're into, as though that's all they are or can be, and nothing else matters!

    I think the essay might have benefited from the perspective of the US, where everything is micro-labeled and rigidly pigeon-holed, most probably, in the final analysis, for purely commercial purposes. I haven't lived in the UK for a long time, so this author's perspective was interesting to me, but when I did live there, it was one chart, and that was it. All music failed or succeeded in competition with all other music, and the variety was magnificent.

    The essay was also interesting for me because as a teen and a young man I never was - nor felt- categorized by my musical taste, probably because I didn't have one specific kind of music I was interested in. Music was music - not some genre or other, and I liked it or I didn't like it not because it was 'my genre' or 'my band', but because it appealed or it didn't on its own merit.

    It was engaging to read about Diaz's experience, though. In some ways I felt bad not that she was labeled for her clothing and appearance, which is an awful thing to do to anyone, but because in some ways she seemed to be limiting herself when there is so much more to be had. but it takes all kinds and I enjoyed her story and learned from it. That's never a bad thing.

  • Black Feminism Online: Claiming Digital Space by Claire L. Heuchan really reached me. It was a light touch which carried a heavy weight, and it was a joy to read. You can't properly understand what these events in a person's life are like unless you've lived them, but you can get an inkling from reading a well-written essay like this one. The only sour note for me was when I read this: "Samantha Asumadu, a Black woman, is the founding editor of Media Diversified - a news site with content written entirely by people of colour."

    In an essay about racism, that appalled me. It really struck sour note that a business named Media Diversified employs only people of color. How racist is that? Racism isn't something that's just done to black people by white folk. It's any skin color lording it over any other skin color, and for the author to write something like that uncritically, and apparently not see the hypocrisy in it was quite shocking.

    You can't fix a pendulum in society that's swung too far in one direction by ramming it just as far in the other. You have to halt it in the middle and never let it move again. That said, the rest of the essay spoke volumes to me - and in a much better way than that one sentence did.

  • Lament: Living with the Consequences of Contraception by Jen McGregor was a heart-breaking history of one woman's ill-fated exploration of contraception. This is one more thing that guys expend little time upon, but which in all its ramifications, occupies a large part of every woman's life, if only through problems with the monthly red tide.

    In this case, Jen McGregor's co-dependent relationship (as it seems she's describing it!) with Depo-Provera is told in an informative and very engaging way, and it makes for a sad, sad reading experience not because it's written badly, but because it's written only too well. This author is a very creative writer.

  • These Shadows, These Ghosts by Laura Lam was an oddity because I didn't see how this was specifically about women's issues. Yes, the story she told was about a female relative of yesteryear, but the things which happened to her grandmother are not things which are specific to women. They can affect men, too, and spousal abuse isn't solely something that's done to a woman by a man, so I'm not sure what this contributed except in that it was written by a woman about women.

    I guess you can slap the label 'Nasty Woman' on a woman who purposefully shoots her husband (and this author had two relatives, both of whom did this: one merely shot him in the leg, but the other woman shot her husband to death and ended up in a psychiatric institution (She got better!). The story was interesting, but it's hardly something you can generalize to all women! I guess you can in a vague way, but this seemed not of the same hue as the previous essays I'd read to this point.

  • The Nastiness of Survival by Mel Reeve was a hard one to read, but it has to be read and understood. And probably more than once. Horrors like this one (although they're all individual) are the reason I wrote Bass Metal. You can't put a label on this and neatly file it away in an appropriate category. It doesn't work like that and anyone who thinks it does or that it should isn't getting the message. I can't speak for anyone but me, but as I see it, the message is that unless you have a clear, positive, unambiguous, willing, sober, mentally competent, age legal, un-coerced, un-bribed, unforced consent, the answer is a resounding "NO!" It's that simple, and everyone needs to fully internalize this.

  • Against Stereotypes: Working Class Girls and Working Class Art by Laura Waddell was a great article with some interesting and observant things to say. I've never been big into paintings or sculptures, but this author has a way of writing that engages the reader and brings her point home. I liked and appreciated this.
  • Go Home by Sim Bajwa

    Errata: I had probably wouldn't have had access to the opportunities that I've taken for granted." One too many words here! I suspect it's the second one in that sentence.

    This sentence caught my eye: "I'm scared and grieving for anyone in the US who isn't white, straight, cis, male, and able-bodied. The terror is bone deep." While I probably live in an area which is more liberal (even if in a more conservative state), I have to say that there isn't any terror here, despite this state being home to the third highest number of hate groups in the nation. That doesn't mean it isn't happening at all, just that Bajwa's sentece is a bit panicked. Hateful crime - mostly graffiti, but including threats - has increased since Trump's election, but to make a wild blanket statement like this is inflammatory and scaremongering.

    Here's another sentence I take issue with: "He said very clearly that he would ban Muslims and refugees from entering the United States. With the Executive Order he signed in January 2017, he did just that. People's lives, security, and families snatched away, for no other crime than being an immigrant."

    This is a blanket statement which unfortunately mixes crackdowns on illegal immigrants with legal immigrants and residents, thereby muddying the water, with ridiculous suggestions that all people of color are being turfed out! This kind of wild accusation helps nothing, least of all the case this author is trying to make. Is the author arguing that that illegal immigrants should not be deported? I've noticed this 'reverse' viewpoint often in this kind of rhetoric - where the illegality of what's been going on is never addressed. You cannot trust an author who writes so indiscriminately, so the power which this article might have had was lost for me.

  • Love in a Time of Melancholia by Becca Inglis

    This is the name of a song by Prolyphic, but here it's a paean to Courtney Love, who has never been a love of mine, so this fell completely flat for me! If a person wants to write about someone who helped them, that's fine, but it;s also a very personal thing. As for me, I'm frankly tired of reading stories about people who somehow fell off one wagon or another, and later reformed (whether permanently or not) and then having praise heaped upon them. Where are the stories about people who never fell off the wagon and helped someone? I think those people show greater heroism, and for that they are sadly under-served, so this story really just rubbed me the wrong way. But it's not my story and maybe others will see things in it I did not, so I have nothing else to say about it. You either like ti or you don't - or worse, you're indifferent to it!

  • Choices by Rowan C. Clarke is a great story about her unhappy childhood, her constant 'at odds' status with regard to the utterly absurd and downright evil 'standard' of beauty we as a society forcibly impose upon women almost right from birth. This is another reason I wrote Bass Metal. It's also the reason I wrote Femarine.

    You cannot go into supermarket without being paradoxically bombarded on the one side of the checkout aisle with fattening candy, and on the other side of that same aisle with magazines aimed at women, every one of which obsessively-compulsive tells women they are fat, ugly, and useless in bed and they'd better get with the program or they never will get a man (the LGBTIAQ-crew don't count for squat in any of these magazines, please note).

    I'm not a woman, I don't even play one on TV, but half my genes are female, so I think that gives me some sort of a voice, and that voice has to say that those magazines - the ones available in open public sale, and visible to children, are far more pernicious and abusive to woman than any amount of porn if only because they are out there, insidious and so very "innocent" aren't they?

    So I was with this author all the way from "You can distill a life..." to "...my story was just one of them."

  • 'Touch Me Again and I Will Fucking Kill You' by Ren Aldridge

    This author argues that "...we're not brought up to feel that we're entitled to other people's bodies.", but this is exactly what advertising does - to make people feel that the body you see in the ad, and by extension, the body you see on the modelling runway, on TV, and in the movies, is that one you ought to have instead of the one you're stuck with, and if you only spend enough money on our products, you can have it. Really.

    This pressure, from birth very nearly, forces far too many women to chase after a dream which may or may not, in any individual case, be attainable, and people chase this without questioning whether it's realistic, or even a sensible thing to do. This plays into the culture where unless a woman is thin and pale and dressed like she's ready to get it on, she's not worth shit.

    This is pounded into our heads, men and women alike, and even into children's malleable minds on a daily basis. This in turn plays into the idea of male privilege - that these are the women who need to be available to men, and if they fall short of the standard, there's something wrong not with the men, but with the women who fall short of what men think they should be.

    If you want to take the wider perspective - and several of these writers have argued that - then you need to really take in the bigger picture, not just focus on a few tiny jigsaw pieces, mistakenly thinking that in this microcosm, you have it all. You don't. I'm not sure I agree that there's a rape culture out there, but there's most assuredly a male privilege ethos, and perhaps a part of this can be described as rape culture.

    I'm a male who has never been raped, never been ogled or fondled. Well once I was fondled, in Israel, and by a man! And when I was a lot younger! Does that give me any idea of what it's like to live with this day in, day out? No, it doesn't, which is why I need to read articles like this one, even if I don't get it all or don't always agree with viewpoints. We don't need to read these until we agree with all viewpoints. It would be a sad world if we all always agreed on everything, but we do need to read these articles until we get some real understanding of what it's like, and put our asses in gear to end this evil ethos which is all around us.

    The author argues that, "What needs to be fought for, is survivors' rights to define and position our own experiences on this continuum." I don't think anyone in their right mind is seeking to deny that, but this statement confuses two different needs: the absolute right of a person who has suffered to define it in their own terms, and the need to define it in legal terms for the sake of not only prosecuting the law but of identifying and reporting the problem. It's a mistake to conflate these two things in my opinion.

    I get where this is coming from: "They don't try to prescribe what sexual harassment, assault or any other form of gendered violence is, but leave it open to the survivor to define their own experience," but that doesn't help to make this a thing that's illegal and/or unacceptable, nor does it make it something that can be taught to others to be on guard against, and to cease perpetrating. It has to be objectively defined for those purposes, but that doesn't mean a person upon whom this violence was perpetrated cannot define it in their own terms as well! But this was a great personal testimony.

  • On Naming by Nadine Aisha Jassat was one of the few essays in the collection which fell a bit flat for me. On the one hand I can see where the writer is coming from, but on the other, it felt like a baseless rant in many respects.

    The author writes, "I look at my signature and sigh, enjoy the full sight of it next to the name of my organisation making clear who I am, what I do, and what I stand for. I feel a certainty that I will not accept anything less going ahead. People need to know who they are dealing with." Having read this, I have to say that I do fully empathize with the author. I'm one of the white males who are railed at so often in these articles, that the writing itself comes off as racist at times, but I get Ian (ee-an) pronounced as "eye-an" often, and I also get 'Wood' with an extra 's' added on the end, like there's more than one of me, and I live with it. You know why? It's because I am not defined by my name. My name isn't all that I am. Realistically speaking, it's an insignificant part of me when you get right down to it.

    It's not even my name. I didn't choose it. I didn't have any say in it, and that last name came from my father, not my mother. I had no say in that either, and if I had been a girl, I would have lost my mom's name! But wait, it wasn't her name, it was her father's! That's why I find it so hilarious that so many women chose to keep their "maiden" name given that it's far from a maiden name - it's a male patriarch's name! This is why I read this article with a certain amount of wonderment at this author's rather strident protestations.

    While I do believe anyone is entitled to be called whatever they want to be called, and certainly they're perfectly within their rights to protect that name from mispronunciation, I'd advise keeping in mind this fact: it's a serious mistake to confine yourself in a box where your name is all you are.

    Now that may well be the wrong impression, but it is a distinct impression I kept getting from this essay, and I think that's a bigger insult to yourself than any mispronunciation of a name could offer you. You are more than your name and while you're obsessing over that, you're missing so much else in life. So yes, please do make a point of correcting people who get it wrong, but remember there's more to life than it, and you make yourself seem very small when you focus so tightly on that one thing.

    I found it curious that this author wrote: "Even now as I write at my computer, a red line zigzags under Uzoamaka, whilst Tchaikovsky goes unchecked. A subtle reminder, programmed in, of who the system works for and who is out of place."

    I'm sorry, but I found this to be entirely wrong-headed! If Uzoamaka had been a famous composer (or artist, or sports personality or movie star), then you can bet it would be in the spell-checker, but no word processor can possibly accommodate every variation of every spelling of every person's name out of seven or eight billion on Earth! I'm sorry, but that's quite simply an idiotic expectation! It truly rendered this into a juvenile rant rather than a reasonable argument, and for me it didn't help her cause one bit.

    I invite this author try a few more names before she counts her sampling complete. How about Sacajawea? That get red-lined? I thought not. What about Basquiat? Nope? Aung San Suu Kyi? No red-line there, either (not in Word, but Google can;t handle it as I write this! How about Uhuru? None there! Malala Yousafzai? Not an inkling of red ink. Imran Khan? Nope! Whoopi Goldberg gets in even under her original name: Caryn Johnson! Even Li Nguyen made it past the red-line and that's a fictional character in another review I wrote.

    So no, I think the issue here is whether the name is one likely to be used - just like it is with every other word in your word processor dictionary! Try English spellings of words in Microsoft Word when it's set for American usage, and see how many red-lines you get! It's not racism. It's not bias. It's not misogyny. It's not an attempt by da man (that didn't get red-lined!) to keep you down. It's just a matter of what's practical and what isn't.

    As I write this, neither Nadine nor Aisha is underlined, only 'Jassat', but that gets no praise from this author that two out of three ain't bad! Seriously, The final joke of this essay was that never once in this entire rant does Nadine Aisha Jassat actually tell us how her name is pronounced, so for me this essay was one of the very few complete fails in this whole collection.


  • Laura Jane Grace in conversation with Sasha de Buyl-Pisco

    This was an interview with a mtf transgendered musician. I found it curious that the author had nothing to say about a couple of articles I read in the British newspaper The Guardian which indicate on the one hand cluelessness on the part of the subject of the interview, and on the other, cluelessness on the part of the guardian writer!

    Here's the first:

    ...[Laura Jane Grace's] fear that she wouldn't be able to cope with raising a son ("knowing I wouldn't be able to be the proper male role model he would need")"
    - because no child can possibly grow up healthily without a male role model? That's an appalling thing to say!

    Here's the other:

    Grace doesn't look like a woman, but then she only began taking hormones a month ago. There's a subtle feminity [sic] in her posture, though, and in the way her features soften as she talks.
    Excuse me? She doesn't look like a woman? What does "a woman" look like, exactly, Decca Aitkenhead? In my expert opinion (as a man!), Laura Jane Grace looks just as much woman as Aitkenhead does, so does she consider herself not looking much like a woman? That aside, what a lousy thing for a journalist to write. Tell it like it is my ass. You have to have a decidedly warped sense of what a woman is to write something like that, and from a woman writer too?

    That rant aside, I have nothing to add to this. I have never heard of this band (which is quite a successful one), and there really was nothing new here except in how public Laura Jane's 'coming out' was, so the article really didn't deliver much to me.




  • Adventures of a Half-Black Yank in America by Elise Hines was less of a woman's issue than it was of a race issue: of finding oneself in a very insular, and lets call it what it is, downright racist culture after having grown up in a much more accepting community. It was another one that will make you (hopefully) uncomfortable (if you're white), or sadly make you nod your head familiarly (if you're not). It needs to be read. And we need to ask why people are forced to consider themselves half-black instead of half-white. Aren't both terms equally applicable? If not, why not?




  • Foraging and Feminism: Hedge-witchcraft in the 21st Century by Alice Tarbuck

    This is the only author I've heard of out of this collection, which is sad because this article fell flat for me. I've never been interested in foraging, and it can be downright dangerous unless you know what exactly what you're doing. While I do love nature, I've never been a fan of immersing myself in it, especially not in the USA where there is so much that can sting, bite, poison, or eat you. Finding a scorpion in the bathtub one night was closer than I ever honestly want to be, and personally, I think it needs to be left alone as much as possible. Enjoy it, but please don't mess with it! We have no entitlement to rape and pillage no matter how great we think we are.




  • Fat in Every Language by Jonatha Kottler is in some ways tied-in with Ren Aldridge's essay which touches on appearance and judgment. This author writes, "I have weighed between 140 pounds to 267 pounds" which tells us little without knowing the author's height! Maybe that was intentional! That is a wide range, but really it's not helpful without any reference to the author's lifestyle because for me, it's less about appearance than health, which is the only sensible way to look at it, and this author tells us nothing about her eating habits or exercise or general well-being, so she deliberately makes it all about skin-depth, which I think was a mistake.

    Out of curiosity, I looked up this author to see how she looks and she doesn't look fat to me - or any of the euphemisms we employ to avoid the three-letter word: corpulent, plump, curvy, rounded, or whatever. She looks fine. It's a pity that we live in a society which calculatedly makes people see themselves in the worst light for the sake of our advertisers unloading some product on them.




  • Afterbirth by Chitra Ramaswamy is about pregnancy and birth. Every man should read this or something like it if they haven't already - and even if they have, let's face it, it's worth going through again since it's nowhere near the journey every pregnant woman takes. Don't be a baby! I think I can say without fear of contraception that this is definitely a women's issue, and it was nice to read something educational and real - and entertaining - about pregnancy and childbirth when all Americans seem to be fed is the ridiculous caricature that seems to pervade every American sitcom - usually written by men - that I've ever seen where a woman is giving birth. This was so refreshingly different and welcome.




  • Hard Dumplings for Visitorsby Christina Neuwirth was a very personal story about an assortment of incidents from her life. While I found it interesting, it didn't really have a huge impact on me in the way some of the other stories here did. I'm not a fan of memoirs and this felt rather like one. Perhaps that's why it didn't really resonate with me.



  • Resisting by Existing: Carving Out Accessible Spaces by Belle Owen was great. It was about accessible space for people who are not your 'standard' human being which is all society seems interested in catering to. naturally they can't cater to everyone, but in this day and age of technology, there is no reason extraordinary lengths cannot be gone to. Her story of her being bodily ejected from a concert because they couldn't cope with a woman in a wheelchair has to be read to be believed. While, on the one hand coming from a company which has a tight focus on safety, it also has a tight focus on security, so while I can (if I squint) see their point of view, there was no excuse whatsoever for their behavior and attitude. This is why this essay is so important to read. Put yourself in someone else's wheels for once.



  • The Difficulty in Being Good by Zeba Talkhani


  • he thought it would be funny to joke about how I will no longer be allowed to enter America (while it was already quite disturbing then, it hurt even more following the January 2017 order to temporarily ban citizens from predominantly Muslim countries from entering America).
    This is another case of misleading writing and why this essay didn't impress me. Trump's executive order, while execrable and ridiculous, banned individuals from seven majority-Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, and for 90 days following the signing of the order on Friday 27 January. This is seven countries out of almost fifty which are predominantly Muslim, so the statement made by this author is simplistic at best and downright dishonest at worst. It took away from a much more important message that she touched on only tangentially. I think that was a sad waste of an opportunity.
  • The Rest is Drag by Kaite Welsh while ostensibly about butch and femme lesbians felt to me more like an article about fashion, which has never been an interest of mine. I liked her message and found her writing interesting, but I wanted more that she seemed prepared to give on this topic. I would have liked her to get into it over why fashion is such a hassle for women - what is it about society that dumps this trip on us all, male or female, and why so few of us realize what's been done to us? One thing she didn't get into, which seemed like an obvious route to explore was how easy it was for her to be free to adopt a variety of clothes - or costumes, or disguises, however you might classify it, and so hard for men to do the same. A woman wearing trousers isn't anything these days, especially if those trousers are jeans, but a man wearing a dress? There was so much more to be said here and I missed not having it.
  • The Dark Girl's Enlightenment by the amazingly-named Joelle A. Owusu was a sad way to end this fascinating display of essays, but it was a necessary one in many ways because again it went into how being not only black, but female, gives a woman a whole different perspective on life. This was a strong way to end this collection because it was so sad and so anger-inducing.

While some bits were less than thrilling for me, and the whole was a bit uneven, Overall this was an awesome collection and worth reading - even the patchy bits. I recommend this to anyone and everyone.


Saturday, June 18, 2016

Wonder Women by Sam Maggs


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a book about twenty five women in various fields of endeavor who have distinguished themselves as 'innovators, inventors, and trailblazers'. I would say twenty five plus women, but that gives entirely the wrong information! But there are more than twenty five women discussed here and every one of them is interesting - some much more so than others. Note that there's a score of books out there with 'Wonder Women' in the title - make sure you ask for the genuine article by name: Sam Maggs!

I was impressed that the mini-bios began with women of science, which featured astronomer Wang Zhenyi, mathematician Ada Lovelace, nuclear physicist Lise Meitner, mathematician Emmy Noether, and Chemist Alice Ball. Next, in medicine were Jacqueline Felice de Almania, Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell, Ogina Ginko, Anandibai Joshi, and Marie Equi, all doctors. On the secret world of spies, there was Brita Tott, Mary Bowser, Sarah Edmonds, Elvira Chaudoir, and Noor Inayat Khan. Among Innovators were Huang Daopo, Margaret Knight, Mariam Benjamin, Bessie Blount Griffin, and Mary Sherman Morgan (who actually was a rocket scientist!), and explorers/adventurers featured Maria Sibylla Merian, Annie Smith Peck, Ynes Mexia, Annie Londonderry, and Bessie Coleman.

These women lived from the thirteenth century to the latter half of the twentieth, so there's some serious history here too, and each section was punctuated with some mini bios about yet more women, and interviews with contemporary trailblazers, including a transgender woman who was fired by IBM for...wanting to be who she felt deep down she was, as well as one with Buddhini Samarasinghe, founder of STEM women. The book was a fun read and a great introduction. Many of these women, such as Zhenyi, Anandibai, Noor, and Annie I had not heard of before. Others such as Ada, Emmy, Lise, and Hypatia were much more familiar. These women were cutting edge in their time, and enlightened even by our standards.

I never read introductions and what-have-you so I skipped that, and launched right into the bios which was all the introduction I needed. The author's tone is warm and light-hearted, which makes for a cool refreshing read for the most part, despite the wealth of facts which are delivered. Plus the author is evidently into Doctor Who, which is never a bad sign! I did have one issue that I have to raise though. I can understand and appreciate the author's enthusiastic tone despite it being rather over the top at times. That's fine! These women need to be celebrated and in far too many cases it's long overdue, but I don't think you serve the cause of feminism well by insulting half the population on what felt like every other page.

It made me wonder who the target audience was - are we preaching only to the choir? If we are, isn't that simply putting the same limitations on these women as they suffered during their lifetime! Are we to confine these revelations only to a female audience? Even if that's the plan, it's still no excuse to indulge in flagrant and liberal man-bashing here and there, as though modern men are no better than men have historically been.

Yes, male-dominated societies have treated women abominably historically, and still do in far too much of the world, but it's only recently that this injustice has been widely recognized and combated. In the past, it was the way things were because so few people had the wisdom, education and influence to change it into what it needed to be. That doesn't excuse what it was, nor does it make it acceptable, nor should we ever forget it, because that's the surest way to let it come romping right back through the front door. In fact, trying to wedge that door open is precisely what the Republicans are doing right now in the US as I write this review. Next they'll be trying to get us to believe that if Hilary wins, she's going to rename her workplace 'the ovum office'. I sincerely hope she does win not only because of what she can bring to the table, but also - given the current alternative - it's a dangerous step backwards for the US if she doesn't.

The way to address a pendulum which has swung too far in one direction is not to swing it to the same extreme in the opposite one. The solution is to bring it to a stop at dead center and nail it down so securely that it never moves again! Writing as though modern men are inevitably tarred with the sins of their forefathers, or trying to project modern views backwards to show how shockingly far short of today's standards men fell a hundred or five hundred years ago, isn't a wise move in my view, especially not in a book of this nature.

That said, I really enjoyed this for the most part. There was some great humor in it, such as an aside that daguerreotypes are "...not something that steampunk authors made up," and "...the late Middle Ages, a time when everybody had weirdly flat faces if you believe the artwork..." were most welcome. The stories needed this to leaven the ofttimes heart-breaking revelations I was reading, such as in Lise Meitner's story. On a related note, I personally found it interesting how many unsung women of Jewish descent have made their gender proud over the years.

Describing Emmy Noether as "a total BAMF" might not be the wisest description, although it is a powerful one! I'm sure that the author humorously intended it as the acronym for Bad-Ass Motherfucker, but it’s also become a well-known word in the comic-book world used to describe the sound that Nightcrawler makes when he teleports, and by extension, a word used to describe teleporting in general. Might be a bit confusing, although given what's been learned of late about quantum teleportation, maybe there is a tie-in!

The 'Sub' articles on people like Hypatia, Sophia Brahe (yes, that Brahe!), Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, marquise du Châtelet (whose name alone is worthy of celebration), Marie Curie, Lanyang Lin, Rosalind Franklin, Marie Daly et al were most welcome, and I couldn't help but wonder how it was determined who got a long article and who got an honorary mention. I'll bet it was tough. Of course, with some of these women, there is very little known about them - another problem with how history treated women. Others are still living today, such as Dr Lynn Conway of whom I had never heard, so I owe the author a dear thanks for that education!

The story of the Blackwell sisters was another welcome learning experience. Elizabeth Blackwell became, despite strenuous opposition, the first woman in the USA to graduate with a medical degree. She went on with her younger sister Emily, who became the third woman in the USA to graduate with a medical degree (the second was Lydia Folger - not that Folger! - Fowler who graduated the year after Elizabeth), to start up the very excellent New York Infirmary for indigent Women and Children. Having said that, I was sorry to read the author citing their policy of "no boyz allowed" as she puts it, as though it was a proud credential. It made me sad, because this was just as discriminatory as it was for the male-dominated colleges and universities to declare no women allowed in their medical programs. Or indeed to abuse women in places like Pakistan for wanting nothing more than a basic education. I didn't see that approach as a positive or commendable step. It's that pendulum again! This kind of thing is one reason why I wrote and published Seasoning!

It isn't mentioned in this brief bio, but Elizabeth was also instrumental in founding and running a school aimed at supporting her family after her father died prematurely, and she started a slave Sunday school. She was a self-starter to her core! Elizabeth never married - claiming she could never find anyone good enough to make up her other half, although some would say that Florence Nightingale was a contender. That didn’t happen, but her sister Emily moved in with yet another female Doctor, Elizabeth Cushier. I guess female doctors were a very close-knit community back then!

I encountered another similar instance in the story of innovator Margaret Knight who invented (inter alia) a machine which could create flat-bottomed paper bags. I know! It's not something to which anyone pays attention in our spoiled-rotten modern (western) world, but back then it was a labor intensive process to make such an ostensibly simple thing. Margaret fixed this by creating a machine to do it and do it well (and almost got ripped off for it).

The author casually mentions that the machine "did the work of thirty humans!" I know (at least, I assume!) that she intended this as an enthusiastic compliment on Margaret's ingenuity, but this was in 1868, and back then it would have been a tragedy for thirty people to lose their livelihood - multiplied over and over again for each machine which was produced. Progress runs rampant and people do lose their jobs. Tesla and Edison between them, for example, put professional lamplighters and snuffers out of work, and this kind of thing was repeated over and over again with every new "labor-saving" device.

It bothered me that the author trotted this out with such abandon when it was clearly bad news for those self-same poor families from which Margaret herself had only just risen. Whilst I commend the enthusiasm, I think for the sake of balanced reporting, this wasn't something which should have slipped by so cavalierly, especially when it's still going on today as robots take over more and more jobs which thirty (and more) humans were once earning their keep from. And no, this is not a Luddite call to arms! It's just something we should not let slide by our attention.

Aside from having an amazingly cool name that I'm totally going to steal for a novel at some point, Ogino Ginko (that would be Ginko Ogino in western cardinality), did in Japan what Elizabeth Blackwell did in the US, and against tougher odds, in my estimation. The Indian equivalent to these two women was Anandi Joshi, who said, "I thought that I should never learn any more, and I would rather have died." if that doesn’t emote a tear in your eye, you’re a statue. In pursuing a medical education, she faced the same kind of abuse that too many Muslim women (and one is too many) face even today.

I read with pure pleasure the stories of the unstoppable force of nature named Marie Equi, and the mini-bio of Agnodice, an Athenian woman who was equally feisty, and who exposed herself in a court room and got away with it because it was evidence! There's also Maria Dalle Donne, the first female MD ever, in 1799, Rebecca Lee Crumpler (whose name might have been better assigned had it been owned by Marie Equi!), the first African American woman to become a doctor of medicine, Okami Keiko, the first Japanese woman to earn a medical degree in the West, Sarah Josephine Baker, Fe del Mundo, the first woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School (they evidently didn’t know that Fe was a Filipina name...), and Gurubai Karmarkar. There is a bunch more, and every one is worth reading about.

The book was well-written, as I mentioned. There were a couple of minor writing issues, such as "Margaret Knight was born the youngest of five children with two older brothers and sisters" and which seems not to make sense at first glace, or which seems to be tautologous. It actually does make sense. I just think it could have been better worded! The last gripe I have is about factory safety. The author mentions at one point men objecting to women's hooped skirts in the factory, and she dismisses it as sexism. I agree that genderism was a part of this back then, but there is also a very practical safety issue here. I've worked in places like that (not, thankfully, in nineteenth century conditions!), and even today there are safety rules in place about loose clothing for very, very good reasons which have nothing whatsoever to do with genderism and everything to do with protecting limbs. About every four days in the US someone gets injured because hair or clothing is caught in machinery. This is what I meant about commentary being a bit over the top at times.

But those issues aside, I highly recommend this book, because the problems I encountered with it are far less important than it is that knowledge like this be preserved and disseminated.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Asking For It by Kate Harding


Rating: WORTHY!

The problem with this book is that the people who need most to read it will not, and if they mistakenly happen upon it, they will dismiss it as "more feminist propaganda". It's an uncomfortable experience to read it, but I think people need to read it until they get beyond discomfort and get downright angry that this crap not only goes on in 2015, but that it evidently doesn't even cause widespread outrage. The problem is that when people are talking about "rape-rape" (like it's a baby topic that no real grown-ups waste their time with), or about "legitimate rape" or about "the rape thing", then you know as well as I do that despite recent progress, there's still a hell of a long way to go. That's what's disturbing.

What also outraged me is that this didn't show up in the first page of results on Goodreads. Asking For It it is evidently a really poorly-chosen title because Goodreads showed over 500 screens of titles that were triggered when I typed that in. Even when I typed in the author's name it was second in a long list! The title is even one in a fictional series, which reportedly attempts to retro-justify rape - because she liked it in the end. What the hell kind of a fantasy that is, and how dangerous is it? That's rape culture in all its shabby glory.

The book explores the topic of rape in civilian and in military life, and how rape culture (which the author defines) enables rapists and does serious injustice to those who are raped, to the point where those who have gone through this horror can be even more victimized by the aftermath than they were by the original atrocity itself. Even to the point where survivors have subsequently been charged with a crime - essentially charged with the 'crime' of reporting it!

That's not to say it was all plain sailing. I had some issues with the way this was written. For example, the author does explore the wider implications of a rape culture, but nowhere near enough for me, and in nowhere near enough detail, especially for a book that is specifically about the rape culture rather than specifically cases of rape. She covers, for example, the absurd clamoring of celebrities to support other celebrities - such as those who came out for rapist Roman Polansky who ostensibly couldn't distinguish between a thirteen-year-old and a consenting adult, and others like Bill Cosby and people from other celebrity ventures like the sporting world where victims aren't even given a sporting chance in popular reporting.

Having said that, she fails to address the wider picture (except briefly in passing, and tangentially) of the whole culture we live in - the movies, the video games, the comic books, the novel, the TV shows. Yes, she briefly covers some of them, but briefly isn't sufficient in a book like this which is supposedly aimed at this very problem. Rape culture isn't just rape victims getting a raw deal and rapists getting a good deal - it's the entire ethos of how women are treated and viewed in society and I felt this got short shrift.

Another issue I personally had is that the author's tone felt a bit preachy and strident at times and thereby at risk of undermining a really strong case. In this kind of environment, lists didn't help as much as they ought, and her love of lists to me was counter-productive to her aim. I'm not a fan of lists and regimented structures because life is neither, and neither are personal interactions except in crappy rom-coms. Once you start relying on a fixed list, you're in danger of missing things that are important but have failed to make the "official list". One list which I felt which was particularly confusing at best was the first one, on page 14. Clearly the author fully expects us to answer "No", but the lists are full of ambiguity which, to someone who is not clued in (and no rapist is, by definition) is going to miss, or misinterpret.

This goes to what I've been saying about taking wise precautions, and about making a "No" quite clear. Yes, lack of clear consent means no, that's a given, and yes, even a clear and unequivocal no has indeed failed to stop rapists, but given the pervasiveness of rape culture, a lack of a clear "No!" has also been used to try to muddy the waters in rape cases. A clear "No!" will cut that off at the knees. Remember, we are not dealing with an ideal society here. We're not even dealing with a rational one, much less a victim-friendly one. Here we're dealing with one which facilitates criminals getting away with rape the bulk of the time. You simply cannot play fair in that environment. You're a fool if you think you can hold out any hope that a rapist will be reasonable, considerate, nuanced, decent, or amenable to argument or persuasion.

I'm not even sure what the author was trying to demonstrate, but let's look at the list:

  1. I'd love to, but I already have plans.
  2. Sweet of you to offer, but I'm afraid I won't be able to make it.
  3. Oh geez, maybe another time?
  4. I so wish I could!

Not one of these actually says no (not that this means 'yes', understand!). If you're sensitive, which rapists are not, you will suspect that this person does not want to be involved with you, but even so you may feel free to ask again at some point, because you want to be sure, and because the answers equivocated at best and invited a "return match" at worst. Indeed, three of them say the opposite of no: "I'd love to", "Maybe another time?", and "I so wish I could!". Einstein is often quoted as saying something along the lines of "You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war," which is nonsensical, but it's that kind of approach which is being pursued here. Rather than give an unequivocal "No!", the person in question here has offered what might well be seen as an "invitation" to further predation from those who are given to viewing women as prey and are blind to subtlety. Even those who are not predators are at risk of being thoroughly confused by such ambiguous answers.

If you have no intention of becoming involved with a guy, you do not say you'd love to! You do not offer another (what may be seen as an) opportunity to stalk you. You do not utter wishes that you could be together. You do not use the word "afraid" in your response. You say "No!" It's better to be perceived as rude than to offer what a potential pest at best and rapist at worst will see as weakness, equivocation, or invitation.

If you like, you can soften it with "I'm involved with someone" or "I don't want to be involved with anyone here" or whatever, but don't omit the clear "No!". Having given that, you are in no doubt as to whether you "encouraged" someone, and neither are they - if they are even remotely reasonable. If the worst happens, you will be confident you made it crystal clear that your answer was no, and you will not be haunted with concern that you somehow "encouraged" this guy. Rape is god-awful enough without bringing self-doubt and self-recrimination into it, on top of whatever other horrors you're going through.

On this same topic, it bothered me that on some occasions the author appeared to be disparaging rape prevention advice and campaigns by presenting an anecdote which "proved" all the advice was wrong. Yes, in an ideal society, women should not have to do these things. It's reprehensible that they're forced into this position, but the fact is that we do not live in an ideal society, and we're a long - probably impossible, I'm sorry to say - way from ever getting there, so until and unless we do live in that ideal society, the advice isn't wrong and people are foolish not to take it and follow it.>/p>

It's like saying that it's foolish to wear a seat belt, because there are some occasions where the seat belt has been the problem - the victim died anyway, or the seat belt trapped them in the car. Indeed, I was once trapped in the back seat of a car fortunately not due to an accident, but because the car was old and the seat belt was shitty. We had to find some scissors and cut me out! Did I give up wearing seat belts because of this fail? Absolutely not. This doesn't mean that a victim who has failed to take this advice is the problem and no crime has been committed. Far from it. There has still been a crime and the victim's lack of forethought isn't a mitigating circumstance by any stretch of the imagination, no matter how hard the police or the commanding officer, or courts might dishonestly pretend it is - because of this rape culture. But there are nonetheless ways in which, regardless of whether we're talking about rape or any other crime, you can endeavor protect yourself from harm and it's just plain stupid not to heed them.

They're not guaranteed, by any means, and they will at times fail despite the best efforts, but on balance, they will make women and men safer, and this author's single-minded focus on the need to address the rapist problem, not the victim non-problem, commendable and accurate as that approach is, did a disservice to prevention in a society where it is a real a present danger, as they say. It's this evident inability on the author's part to separate the wheat from the chaff which for me weakened the message she was bringing - a message which is long overdue.

By that I don't mean it invalidated it, but I think it served to tint water which could have been clearer. For example, I would have liked to have seen the author outright condemn binge-drinking for an assortment of reasons, but because her focus was solely on rape, she tended to gloss over this problem because, it seemed to me, she felt it took away from her message that even if the person who was raped was drunk, she was still the victim of a crime and this does not mitigate the rapist's criminal behavior. This is unarguably true to anyone with half a functioning brain, which rapists and anyone else who buys into the rape culture quite evidently doesn't have, but more instead of addressing the real and unarguable issue

In the same vein, I would have liked her to have talked about educating men not to be criminals rather than zero in on the narrow field of educating them not to be rapists. That needs to be a distinct and pronounced part of such an education, but there needs to be a wider focus.

There are also issues with the prevalence of rape, which I admit is a doomed thing to try and calculate given how little of it goes reported because of the very fact that we do live in a rape culture. Numbers are tossed around without very much verification, so we end up with a one in five or a one in four number which then becomes folklore without anyone going back to see how that number was arrived at in the first place. Lisak's 2002 study was evidently flawed. We can see how hazy the numbers are by looking at this article on the Drew Sterrett / CB "affair" which is well covered by the author. "...a reported sexual assault rate of 0.03 percent" Even multiplied by ten that's a far cry from one in five.

The Sterret case is interesting not only in and of itself, but also because it makes it clear that not all cases of rape (or in this case alledged rape) are about power. This one clearly was not. And neither is the power always with the guy - in this case the power to ruin his life was clearly in his supposed victim's hands.

In a 1996 study, researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina set out to determine the rape-related pregnancy rate in the United States. They estimated that about 5 percent of rape victims of reproductive age (12 to 45) become pregnant — a percentage that results in about 32,000 pregnancies each year. If 5% become pregnant and that's 32,000 per year, it's an atrocity, but that's not what I want to address here. Multiplying that 32K by 20, should give us 100% of rape victims, which is 640,000 annual rapes. Even one is too many but over half a million is phenomenal and shocking beyond polite words.<.p>

Reading elsewhere, we get this number: "...there were overall 173,610 victims of rape or sexual assault, or 0.1% of the US population 12 or older in 2013". That's a far cry from 640,000, unless of course 466,390 failed to report the crime - but that's entirely possible. Elsewhere still, we learn that according to RAIIN, every 107 seconds, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. There is a yearly average of 293,000 victims we're told, but a rape every 107 seconds comes to 294,729. This is good enough to fall in with that average, but it's a far cry from either 640,000 or 173,610.

My point is not to belittle the magnitude of the numbers, which regardless of which number is most accurate, are appalling, but to point out that the numbers vary wildly, and this is the kind of thing which will be the very one that nay-sayers latch upon to try to call "the rape thing" into question. Look," they will claim, "they're making wild guesses! No one knows, clearly they're making this all up as a scare tactic!" Obviously that's blind nonsense, but that doesn't mean that it would not help to get better, more reliable numbers, because quoting poorly substantiated or discrepant numbers isn't going to do anyone any favors. A look, in this book, at the accuracy and sources of the numbers would have been appreciated, and while the author touches on this more than once, she never really pursues it as a legitimate topic in its own right. We do not want to give those who would continue to try and sweep this rape culture pandemic under the carpet any ammunition even if they're firing blanks.

I like that the author covers the fact that while the overwhelming number of rapes is indeed male on female, rape isn't just male on a female. It's very much cross-gender despite the British rather Victorian idea that girls can't rape guys. I liked the discussion of the focus on college versus focus on 'civilian' rape, but this was a relatively short book and the author obviously could not go into great detail on every topic. Focus on college is important, but in one way it's a bit of a mis-focus because college female students are only about half as likely as non-college females of the same age range to be affected by violence:
http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-sexual-assault-legal-20140608-story.html
http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2014/11/07/after-uwc-complaint-two-students-wait/
That doesn't mean it's not a problem, by any means, but it does mean we can be smarter, use better resources, and be more effective across all areas, instead of focusing on one and pretending we're addressing the problem.

I like that the author called into question some of the at best ill-advised, and at worst, situation-exacerbating ad campaigns aimed at reducing rape, but done in a wrong-headed manner. The problem isn't so much those, however, as the very effective ad campaigns which are aimed in the opposite direction, and which flood our senses throughout our lives almost subliminally. Indeed, they are so pervasive and so common and so readily available that we don't even consider them, much less talk about them.

This is why, for me, where this book most fell down is in its almost complete failure to address the far more widespread, and often very subtle rape culture problem: that which shamelessly pervades TV, advertising, movies, and literature. The author did cover, briefly and in a limited way, some movies and some TV, and even took a very small dip into advertising, but nowhere near enough. In my opinion, it's in these areas that rape culture is seeded, because it is all-pervasive and it hits men and women alike from childhood. Note that I am not saying here that some guy watches a TV show or sees a commercial, and suddenly is filled with the idea that he can simply go out and rape him some women! It doesn't work like that. But when you have, for example in movies, been subjected to a lifetime of stories where the tough hombre battles the odds and is rewarded with the helpless "chick" every time, a "babe" (not the infantilization in play here) who pretty much literally falls into his arms, a wilting violet subservient to his every command, it's not hard to see that this cultivates a mind-set which takes only a weak will not to act upon.

Every time I'm in the grocery store waiting at the check out line, I'm bombarded with a host of magazines aimed at women, and what do all of these magazines have on the covers? Curiously enough, semi-naked woman. What text do the covers most often carry? Something about sex, about improving your technique, making yourself sexier, spicing things up, and on and on. I rarely stand at the check-out without seeing at least one mention of sex on the cover of at least one magazine. These are magazines that used to cover the model's head with the magazine title, as if to make it clear that only her body was of interest - you can safely ignore the mind. Only a professional idiot (aka a rapist) would view this as a guide to your average woman's mind-set and inclinations, but if you're one of the idiots, this tells you quite unequivocally that women want sex, they're desperate for it, they crave it, they need someone to deliver it to their open door. That's all the "consent" a rapist needs.

These magazines, to me, are more abusive to women than actual pornography is, because they are much more pernicious and sly, and they're everywhere. TV and movies send the same message - a message that a woman is only waiting for the right man and she;ll hop right into bed and the hell with worrying about STDs. Books are just as bad, especially the ones showing a woman in a state of undress with a manly man on the cover, and even more-so, ill-conceived and misguided young adult novels. The worst of those are ones which purport to deliver a strong female character the main protagonist, yet almost inevitably have this character wilt and take second place when a man shows up, as though she's really quite weak, if not outright incompetent, by herself and in truth needs a man to whip her into shape. All of this contributes to a comprehensive and overwhelming, if seriously deluded, view of women. I find ti a bit sad that this author who does so well in other areas, barely mentions these areas, if at all.

Overall though, despite some issues (one of which is the author's unilateral declaration that couples in happy long-term relationships are pretty much rapists if they wake their partner up by means of foreplay!) this book is well-written, well-researched, and full of useful, needfully disturbing, information and I unreservedly I recommend it.

Here's an addendum based on a recent report, which cast previous figures into doubt - so once again we're stuck with the problem of which numbers can be relied on and how the hell we get any kind of handle on a problem which we evidently cannot measure reliably! These numbers were here:
http://www.aau.edu/Climate-Survey.aspx?id=16525

KEY FINDINGS

*Overall, 11.7 percent of student respondents across 27 universities reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation since they enrolled at their university.

*The incidence of sexual assault and sexual misconduct due to physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation among female undergraduate student respondents was 23.1 percent, including 10.8 percent who experienced penetration.

*Overall rates of reporting to campus officials and law enforcement or others were low, ranging from five percent to 28 percent, depending on the specific type of behavior.

*The most common reason for not reporting incidents of sexual assault and sexual misconduct was that it was not considered serious enough. Other reasons included because they were "embarrassed, ashamed or that it would be too emotionally difficult," and because they "did not think anything would be done about it."

*More than six in 10 student respondents (63.3 percent) believe that a report of sexual assault or sexual misconduct would be taken seriously by campus officials.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Doll by Taylor Stevens





Title: The Doll
Author: Taylor Stevens
Publisher: Crown Publishing
Rating: WARTY!

So why would a nation which overthrew the monarchy sport a publishing company called Crown Publishing? Another mystery for Vanessa Michael Munroe to crack?! This novel, published by Crown, is the third in an ongoing series of which Munroe is the main character. Note that I haven't read the previous two. The back-cover blurb compares Munroe with Lisbeth Salander of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo fame, but apart from the fact that both were abused when they were younger, they have absolutely zero in common. Let this be a warning to all who do not self-publish: there is no limit whatsoever to the stupid things your publisher will lard your novel up with, and no end to how misleading back-cover blurbs can be! Those blurbs are not there for your guidance or for your education; they're there for one purpose and for one purpose only: to trick you into buying the novel! Fortunately, since I borrowed this from the library, I was far more willing to take a risk, so it wasn't an issue for me

There is some prior history going on with this volume, but it's almost completely irrelevant to the story told here as far as I can see, so if you picked this up out of order, as I did (and there is no indication on the cover to tell a prospective reader that this is "Book x of the Blah Blah series") you won't miss anything. Plus, it's blessedly told in third person (maybe the fourth in this series will be told in the fourth person? Hmm!), so there's none of that absurd and obsessively self-important "I did..., then I did..., then I wanted to..., then I saw...." garbage to wade through.

This volume doesn't even open with the main character except in that her colleague (and romantic interest, evidently) at a private security company observes her being tranquilized and kidnapped from the parking lot as she comes in to work. He's so incompetent that he can't do anything about it! As they try to trace who took Munroe, we meet her in person in the company of her foreign and very callous kidnappers, from somewhere in central Europe. She's required by these people to transport a "package" from A to B, or her brother Logan (no, it's not The Wolverine!) will be hurt even more than he was hurt already when they kidnapped him. The package is also kidnapped. She's a young, Hollywood celebrity: Neeva Eckridge who, we're told is the daughter of a US senator, but no one seems to know this? I don't buy that something like that would never have been ferreted out by the media. Or that someone would be so stupid as to try and kidnap a celebrity of her stature for his own personal use.

I picked up this novel because I was interested in Munroe, but the chapters roughly alternate between her and her partner, Bradford, who was completely uninteresting to me. I started skipping any chapter in which he was featured, and honestly didn't feel that I missed anything! What does that say about one third of this novel?! I got everything I needed from spending my time only with Munrow and Eckridge. I found their relationship fascinating - one kidnappee effectively forced to kidnap the other and take her across Europe to Monaco! Not that this made any sense whatsoever.

I was interested because I don't recall reading a story of this nature before. It was (to me) a really good and intriguing idea; it didn't develop in the way I had thought (and hoped) it might, though, and the ending really was pathetic and inexplicable. Plus Stevens left way too many loose threads to carry over into the next volume - just like she left some from the previous volume carrying over into this one. The main loose thread was Kate Breeden, apparently a friend of Munroe's from earlier adventures, but who betrayed Munroe and got herself jailed, then betrayed her further, from inside the jail - and then escaped from jail to no doubt reappear in Volume 4. That did nothing for me save inflict a mild feeling of déjà saturé (already nauseous). I only mention this because it's important for the ending (not my nausea; the fact that Munroe did not terminate Breeden with extreme prejudice in whatever earlier volume she'd had the chance to do so).

There is very little exchange between the two kidnap victims to the point where they start their road trip, and not a whole heck of a lot afterwards, unfortunately. That's' what I'd been looking forward to, and I didn't get it! Eckridge's new "captor" is more interested in how to get out of this mess, obviously, but there is an added twist in that one of Munroe's kidnappers, a younger man, the nephew of the man who orchestrated all of this, seems to be developing some remote low-level feelings for Munroe. He and a heavy (conveniently the one against whom Munroe has a grudge) are following their victims, observing them from out of sight, tracking their every movement, and controlling those movements by means of text messages to a phone Munroe is carrying. Plus both Munroe and Eckridge have their clothing bugged as well as the cheap crappy car in which they are traveling, and as well as the phone they were issued to stay in touch with the kidnappers.

I enjoyed this cat and mouse, finding it entertaining, and I was interested in how Munroe was going to get out of it. The problem is that she didn't. She made no attempt whatsoever during the two sleepless days of the trip to communicate anything to Eckridge about her plans or her reasons for doing what she was doing. Thus when Eckridge tried to make a run for it, I had thought the two of them had planned it when they were out of earshot of their trackers, using a noisy rest room. They had not. Eckridge was going it alone, and Munroe used this attempt to procure for herself a cell phone, which she then used to send her partner Bradford some text messages communicated in Morse code (since the car was bugged and she couldn't tell him everything in plain English). Superficially, this seems ingenious, but it's really stupid given that Munroe could have simply (and in Eckridge's ignorance) turned on the phone, called Bradford's number, and then simply engaged Eckridge in a conversation explaining to her where exactly they were and what was going on - fooling the kidnappers into thinking she was educating Eckridge, when she was really cluing-in Bradford.

There was an interesting problem from the writing perspective here. On p139, Stevens writes: "Bradford lay back on the sofa, head to one side...". When I reached that point I had thought it meant his head was turned to one side, but Stevens finished the sentence: "...feet to the other..." Obviously he was laying down length-wise on the sofa, but the way Steven phrased it robbed me of that understanding to begin with. Why did she choose to say "head to one side", rather than "head to one end"? I don't know. It's just another thing which can trip-up your narrative flow, and let your reader stumble. It's very minor - the rest of Stevens's writing is quite acceptable, so I wouldn't fault her for this. It's just one thing, but something for which a writer needs to be constantly vigilant when putting words on paper. Which, of course, reminds me of a Monty Python sketch (as so most things!). As John Cleese put it, "Ah, well, I don't want you to get the impression it's just a question of the number of words! I mean, getting them in the right order is just as important." I can't add anything to that. And now let's go straight over to James Gilbert at Leicester....

Anyway, in conclusion I'm going to have to rate this warty, because there were problems and the ending was a disaster in more ways than one. One problem, for example, was that Eckridge did not even realize that Munroe was a woman until a day into their trip! Now admittedly, Munroe was inexplicably disguised as a guy for the trip, but really? They had been living in each other's laps, talking from time to time, and using the rest room together for a day, and Eckridge never figured out the obvious? Nor did Stevens communicate Eckridge's knowledge deficit to the reader in way way, shape, or form! The ending? It was not only unsatisfactory, it was downright stupid. Let me give one spoiler. In the closing chapters, and knowing that Kate Breeden - whom she let live in an earlier volume - has totally screwed her over and caused deaths in doing so, Munroe then blithely chooses to let one of her kidnappers live, when the smart thing to do, and especially to do in light of her gross error of judgment with Breeden, would be to kill him.

She fails, and with that (and other issues), so, too, does this novel. I don't want to hear how tough, and mean, and decisive, and can-do, and feisty, and Salander-like she is and then find out she has let two dangerous people live, the second one in full knowledge of what a deadly mistake she'd made by letting the first one live. Her interaction with this kidnapper guy reminded me of that Woody Allen line in what, for me, is his best movie: Annie Hall when he does battle with two spiders in Annie's bathroom, armed with nothing more than a large tennis raquet, and she's crying over her sad life when he returns. Thinking she's upset about the passing of the arachnid couple, he asks her, "What did you want me to do, capture and rehabilitate them?"

I am the first to admit that trite, happy endings are never good, and even decent happy endings are sometimes not as good as a sad ending, but for Stevens to end this one the way she did turned me right off. If it were not for the crappy way she rolled this up, with so many loose threads the pages were almost falling out of the binding, I might have been willing to give this a 'worthy' rating, but given the totality of what I had to deal with here, I'm rating it warty, and advising you that I have no plans whatsoever to read any more of this series which is sad, 'cause I could have used another really good femme fatale in my life!