Book Review: Pistols & Petticoats by Erika Janik

bookreview

I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This fact has not altered my views on the book and I strive to provide my unaltered and completely honest option, for better or for worse.


pistolsandpetticoats

Pistols & Petticoats

by Erika Janik

❤︎ ❤︎ ❤︎

Series: Standalone
Genres: Non-Fiction, History, Mystery
Published By: Beacon Press in 2016
Format: Paperback (248 pages)

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summary

A lively exploration of the struggles faced by women in law enforcement and mystery fiction for the past 175 years.

In 1910, Alice Wells took the oath to join the all-male Los Angeles Police Department. She wore no uniform, carried no weapon, and kept her badge stuffed in her pocketbook. She wasn’t the first or only policewoman, but she became the movement’s most visible voice.

Police work from its very beginning was considered a male domain, far too dangerous and rough for a respectable woman to even contemplate doing, much less take on as a profession. A policewoman worked outside the home, walking dangerous city streets late at night to confront burglars, drunks, scam artists, and prostitutes. To solve crimes, she observed, collected evidence, and used reason and logic–traits typically associated with men. And most controversially of all, she had a purpose separate from her husband, children, and home. Women who donned the badge faced harassment and discrimination. It would take more than seventy years for women to enter the force as full-fledged officers.

Yet within the covers of popular fiction, women not only wrote mysteries but also created female characters that handily solved crimes. Smart, independent, and courageous, these nineteenth- and early twentieth-century female sleuths (including a healthy number created by male writers) set the stage for Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski, Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta, and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, as well as TV detectives such as Prime Suspect’s Jane Tennison and Law and Order’s Olivia Benson. The authors were not amateurs dabbling in detection but professional writers who helped define the genre and competed with men, often to greater success.

Pistols and Petticoats tells the story of women’s very early place in crime fiction and their public crusade to transform policing. Whether real or fictional, investigating women were nearly always at odds with society. Most women refused to let that stop them, paving the way to a modern professional life for women on the force and in popular culture.

review

Erika Janik seems to me like the type of person who learns a fact, then gets really excited about it and learns everything possible about the subject.  She is clearly enthusiastic and while I found Pistols and Petticoats interesting, it was a little too ambitious and scattered for my tastes.

Delivery

There are several ways to format any non-fiction work.  My experience in historical works is that they are approached from a chronological point-of-view.  Janik, instead, chooses to take the route of division of subject matter.  There are chapters about the first women in real life and fiction, there are chapters about uniforms and dress, job requirements, the social stigmas of being in law enforcement and so forth.  If I were a researcher looking for a specific body of information, this would be quite useful.  From a read-through standpoint, however, it makes the work feel scattered.  Names come up time and again and are not always reintroduced so I would have to keep jumping back to figure out who she was talking about.

Speaking of names, there are a lot of them.  Tackling both real-world women and fictional ones, and their authors is a fairly ambitious topic for so small a book and there are a lot of condensed facts.  If anything, I would have advised breaking this work into three separate sections and tackling each angle one at a time, just for the reader’s sake.  Having to go back and fact check on fictional vs. real life women definitely disrupted the flow.

Detail

❤︎

Detail is something Janik offers in spades.  It is immediately clear how passionate she is about her subject, and her desire to share every little bit of what she has learned.  There is absolutely nothing vague about her work – you want detail?  You got it.

Subject

❤︎

Women in law enforcement is an interesting subject and I do appreciate how Janik has tried to offer even more illumination by wrangling the likes of Miss Marple and Nancy Drew into the mix.  I think I was more interested in the history of female detectives in fiction than I was in the real life women, although the included image section in the middle of the book was a nice touch.  I never knew, for example, that L. Frank Baum had written a series of adventuring women.  I don’t know how thoroughly this subject has been approached before, or if there are any other books quite like this one, but Janik’s passion certainly presents an interesting subject.

Sources

❤︎

I think there are about twenty pages of source material and references in the appendix of this book, and all are great for those who found this book interesting, but wanted to dive more deeply into a singular section of the material – women’s treatment in prisons, for example.  Janik is very well researched.

Personal Thoughts

Overall, I just wasn’t blown away by this book.  I will not deny that Janik knows her source material and knows it well, and the subject is interesting… but I found the readability very difficult for me.  I know this isn’t always evident from my blog and reviews on Goodreads, but I have ready a fair amount of historical non-fiction and don’t attribute the difficulty in reading this to a change in flow from fiction to non-fiction.  In fact, I find that formats like this are the types that steer laymen away from history – there are so many names and dates and not a clear lineage of growth of the story (and yes, historical non-fiction definitely has a story).  Pistols and Petticoats is a fine book for academics to pick up and peruse, but it may be less accessible to those unprepared to jump into a lot of scattered detail.

tldr

Very informative, very difficult to get into thanks to the overwhelming detail and jumping subjects.

source

Beacon Press provided me with a copy of this book when I won the drawing on LibraryThing – huzzah!  It will be going out into the wild to be loved by someone else.

firstsentence

“With high heels clicking across the hardwood floors, the diminutive woman from Chicago strode into the headquarters of the New York City police.”

favoritequotes

“”Another woman, Vera Bash, found herself out of a job in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, after opponents found her too attractive to be effective at policing. “Her beauty interfered with her work,” reported the Portsmouth Herald. “The presumption is that no one had the hardness of heart to tell the young woman that beauty is not an asset to the Police Department.” “

“Americans focused more on leisure and entertainment than on lobbying and petitioning, as reform movements of all kinds lost steam.”

“Florence Dempsey, played by Torchy Blane actress Glenda Farrell, goes so far as to memorably declare to her friend Charlotte in The Mystery of the Wax Museum, “You raise the kids; I’ll raise the roof!””


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Book Review: Drawn Away by Holly Bennett


I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  This fact has not altered my views on the book and I strive to provide my unaltered and completely honest option, for better or for worse.


Drawn Away by Holly BennettDrawn Away

by Holly Bennett

❤︎ ❤︎

Series: Standalone
Genres: FantasyYoung AdultRetellings
Published By: Orca Book Publishers in 2017
Format: Paperback (198 pages)

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One minute Jack’s in math class. The next, he’s on a dark, cobblestoned, empty street. Empty, that is, except for a skinny girl wrapped in a threadbare shawl. “Matches, mister?” she asks, and just like that, Jack’s life collides with one of Hans Christian Andersen’s grimmest tales. And just when he has almost convinced himself it was just a weird dream, it happens again.

Suddenly, Jack’s ideas about what is “real” or “possible” no longer apply. While he and his new girlfriend, Lucy, struggle to understand who or what the Match Girl is, they come to realize they must also find a way to keep Jack away from her. The Match Girl is not just a sad, lonely soul; she’s dangerous. And each time Jack is drawn into her gray, solitary world, she becomes stronger, more alive…and more attached to Jack.

She wants to keep Jack for her very own, even if that means he will die. 

Review

I was very much looking forward to Drawn Away.  It has a stunning cover and an interesting concept.  Unfortunately, this book was not for me.

Characters

I found Klara, Jack, and Lucy all a bit flat as characters.  They were written with variety and individual backgrounds and hobbies – Lucy had her year as a homeless teen whereas Jack had his diabetes.  Klara was the little Match Girl, and we more or less know her story. However, they did not feel deep.  It may have been the length of the chapters (some only a page), but I felt like we really never scratched beneath the surface of any of the characters. All their thoughts and motivations were stated in dialogue.  I also found that there were excessive details about irrelevant characters, such as Jack’s mother and Lucy’s uncle.

 World

❤︎

Bennett does a decent job writing her scenery and world.  The most vivid scenes in this book, for myself, were the scene where Lucy sees the little Match Girl floating over the river, and while Jack is at the Halloween Party.  The alley where the little Match Girl lives is also quite vivid.

Story

❤︎

Conceptually speaking, there is nothing wrong with this story – however, I feel like the description of this book was not the clearest.  I expected more of a crossover story, where Jack finds himself transported to the fairytale.  Closer to the plot, this is the story about a pair of teenagers (Lucy was a complete surprise once I started reading) who see a villainous  apparition bent on hijacking one of them to be her friend forever.  Personally, I would not have even gone with the Hans Christian Andersen angle – I think this would fit better as paranormal YA fiction than a fairytale retelling.

That said, in its own, it’s a perfectly good story, just not at all what I was expecting.

Writing

Bennett’s writing style was not for me.  More often than not, it seemed much more rushed and flat than others in its genre.  If it was intended for middle grade – ages 8-12 – I think that is would have been better.  It would mean that the two characters would be better written a bit younger, but I do think the story would have fit better in that demographic.  It is a bit too simple for high school and up, and I’m not sure it will be competitive in that market.

A personal pet peeve – Bennett uses a lot of specific pop culture references.  Everything from bands to television shows, this dates the book very quickly.  It also isolates certain cultures.  The book takes place in Canada, and as such I’m close enough that I understood most of them, but a lot of these references would isolated people elsewhere in the world.  As I read an ARC, perhaps some of these specifics changed, but I believe it’s always better to use a generalization than a specific (i.e. “zombie show” vs. “The Walking Dead“) to make it relatable to the maximum amount of people.

Personal Thoughts

Bennett spends a bit of time campaigning for diabetes awareness in this book, which is fine, but we’re never quite certain if it’s part of the story or just part of the character’s life… until it is.  According to her Goodreads profile, Bennett works with diabetes spends time working with the Diabetes Research Foundation.  I think her work and experience with the foundation definitely drove the direction of this book, which is fine and I think the awareness is great, but at times it seemed like it may derail the plot.

As I said at the beginning of this review, this book was simply not for me.  I found my mind wandering often as I read, and I have to admit I skimmed a few pages near the end.  I think it could do well in the right audience, but I just wasn’t that audience.

TL;DR

With a couple tweaks this could be a great middle grade book.  There are some good scenes, great ideas, but not my cup of tea.


Source

I received this ARC from Orca Book Publishers via a giveaway on LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review.


First Sentence

“The street is completely deserted, except for the girl.”


Available At

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