February 7th, 2011

_Dying to Win_, Robert A. Pape (kindle)

Subtitled: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism
Published by Random House, 2005

Pape's thesis is simple: suicide terrorists are not lone actors, are not poor, uneducated young men with no prospects in life, don't necessarily come from (fundamentalist) (Islamic) countries and may or may not be (fundamentalist)(Islamic) themselves. They aren't people who are trying to die anyway, and just happen to do so in a particular way. They are men and women, of a wide variety of ages, who are part of a small group engaged in a concerted campaign over a period of time. This small group shares overall goals (a homeland, ending an occupation, etc.) with a much larger group that has a substantially asymmetric relationship with an occupying power that has a different religion.

Pape argues that all of these elements are important. He and a bunch of other people put together a database of suicide terrorism (quite tightly defined) and did a lot of research to try to understand who participated and how. The short form of the thesis is thus: hey, this isn't random or psychological and the individual actors are really tough to identify. The only way you're going to deal with the problem (after dealing with the currently on course missions) is to end the occupation that is triggering it. To that end, he favors a return to offshore balancing in the Middle East, border fences/walls, and getting out of any territory you aren't _really_ committed to keeping.

It's repetitive, so if you sampled, you'd get a solid sense of the book as a whole, but the repetition is fairly detailed argumentation and arguably worth slogging through. I don't necessarily agree with Pape's conclusion in policy terms; I don't think he goes nearly far enough in terms of ending our contribution to the problem.

I am, however, quite glad the book (and I believe there is a follow-up) exists and you can probably only benefit by understanding the points he is making about the conditions that pre-exist a suicide terrorist campaign.

_Her Scandalous Marriage_, Leslie Lafoy (kindle)

I read one previous book by Lafoy based on K.'s recommendation; it was a contemporary and I initially had a ton of reservations about it but it turned out to be amazingly good. Ditto, here.

This Victorian romance starts out with Our Hero, the new Duke of Ryland, formerly a regimental officer named Drayton Mackenzie (but Scottish by heritage some generations back, so if you're allergic to Scottish romances, don't worry about that here; if you're _looking_ for Scottish romances, you won't find it here), arriving on the doorstep of Our Heroine's dress shop. She is the illegitimate daughter of the late Duke of Ryland (not Drayton's father), and There is a Will.

The will is really sort of interesting. Lafoy went to some effort to actually make the whole thing plausible. The late Duke married a rich woman from Austria, and she got (enough) control of her property to make real trouble for him. Her will (she predeceased) required him to track down his three illegitimate daughters, have them recognized (by Queen Vic), and give them dowries and find them suitable husbands. Or he didn't get any of her money, which of course he desperately needed because he did such a crap job managing his estates and gambled as well.

The beginning of the book is collecting the three young women: the next two are a 14 year old (picked up at a brothel where her mother worked until she was murdered) and an 11 year old (raised by relatives and not treated well). Then off to the country house. The beach house is truly falling apart (a wall fell into the sea and the furniture has been stolen). The town house is better. The country house -- where the agricultural land is -- is in pretty good shape and the staff is good with the exception of the managers of the rental receipts and the harvest. They've both been shaving to the tune of 50% collectively. One of Drayton's first actions is to collect evidence of same and find an honest enough magistrate to try them. They had stashed a lot of their ill-gotten gains in accounts and it was thus recoverable.

Meanwhile back at the house, Caroline (our heroine who ran a dress shop) puts her skills to work fixing the country house up for company and getting some dresses on the girls. Drayton has a couple friends from the regiment who are younger sons; they descent to become part of his entourage, and Aubrey brings along his mother, who brings along a horde of titled whack jobs. Lady Aubrey is supposed to make the whole thing respectable and preserve everyone's reputation, but in practice is quite snobby and critical and serves two purposes in the novel. (1) She drives Caroline and Drayton repeatedly into each other's arms. (2) She's a prudish hypocrite to highlight the truly depraved antics of the rest of the houseguests. (3) She opens Drayton's eyes to the hidious politics of his friend Viscount Aubrey and the conservatives as a whole. Caroline and Drayton might well have just continued to ignore politics entirely, or based their political opinions on whatever the somewhat decent people around them believed. But with everyone telling them they can't marry because if they marry other people, they can lay hands on so _much_ more money, they eventually start asking why it is that they are supposed to be so miserable for something they don't particularly need.

And that is what really raises this book up. You could definitely complain about anachronistic language. Easily. But the political waters navigated by Caroline and Drayton are implicitly present in plenty of other romance novels, and generally speaking the behavior of the characters is framed as the Conservatives would frame it, and any exceptions are made "for love". Lafoy also chose to clearly depict Caroline as doing work in the household that previous generations of women in titled families would have engaged in, but which had become unacceptable in a world in which status was defined primarily by idleness. And she chose to depict Drayton working in the harvest -- and both Drayton and Caroline as unwilling to take labor away from where it was truly needed to do work that they could as easily do themselves.

I really enjoyed this. There are issues with it as a "historical" novel, but as a historical romance, it was a ton of fun and much less annoying than a lot of its sort are.

_Tarbaby Trouble_, Phoebe Matthews (kindle) (Mudflat 1)

First in the Mudflats series, published by BookStrand, there is a paperback but it is not cheap.

There are a ton of children's fantasy novels which involve a girl, or a boy, or sometimes a group of them wandering off from our reality into some other reality. Sometimes the access is through a wardrobe, or going out in the foggy twilight. Sometimes it's going into a shop and coming out into another world.

Our Heroine, Claire, grows up in the Mudflats, a part of Seattle occupied by other misfits and somewhat magical people. Her parents took off separately, leaving her with aunts and ultimately with her grandmother whose house she inherited after taking care of her for a little while. A troll lives in the basement.

Claire makes some bad dating decisions and needs to leave town in a hurry to avoid the most recent suitor more or less kidnapping her to force her to use her magical skills (her horoscopes are accurate and relatively detailed) to assist in his criminal enterprises. She tags along with friends camping in the Olympics. Once there, they do drugs and get a little weird and she decides to hitch her way somewhere else, but takes a short cut out of camp and gets really, really, really lost.

Once lost, Our Barbarian Hero (sort of), Tarvik, kidnaps her. Other hikers have been lost this way before and the last batch through saved Tarvik's dad's life. They have since died themselves, but Tarvik's dad continues to worship them, sort of. Tarvik sees a family resemblance and brings her back to be a priestess in their temple. The local warlord setup is kind of a crap deal, even compared to camping while looking over one's shoulder, but it takes a few months before Claire is able to make a break for it in good conscience. The intervening adventures make up the bulk of the book.

Claire does successfully figure out (more or less) the connection between this world and ours, and come up with a way to find the door or hole or whatever she slipped through and retrace her steps to get back home. The epilogue sets up book 2: Claire brings the local priestess with her. And Our Enterprising Barbarian Hero, Tarvik, sneaks through as well.

Oh, boy.

I don't know that I've ever read an adult version of the slip-through-the-door-to-another-world fantasy. There's no sex in this, so it's not _that_ adult. It works a lot better than I expected it to, altho it doesn't hurt that the setting is both familiar and beloved to me.

ETA: Looks like a five book series (to date) with short stories in the universe. I'll continue.