November 27, 2014

Tangled Vines by Kay Bratt

The Scavenger's Daughters, the first book in the series of the same name, was engaging and interesting.  Tangled Vines is the next in the series and continues the tale of Benfu and his family. 

Linnea has just opened her clothing shop and her vintage t-shirts are a smash hit.  She's made a few new friends and her boyfriend is as attentive as ever.  So when she finds out about her adoptive parents missing daughter, she wants to make sure everyone is happy and goes out in search of her.  The missing daughter, Li Jin, has troubles of her own though, in the form of an abusive, manipulative boyfriend who is causing great harm to her and her son.

I never really felt as if I was in China with this book.  The characters seemed no different than anyone I would encounter at home.  I would expect that there would be some cultural differences, but there didn't seem to be.  Maybe this is true to life, but I can't imagine there would be some difference.  Everything always went easy for the characters too, they never really had any strife and I felt that this made it harder for their characters to develop.  Linnea, the main character in this book, seemed kind of selfish this time around.  Li Jin, she had a sad story, and I could empathize with her to a point, but I never felt connected to her character.

Everything was too easy in this book.  I can't stress that enough.  And it was predictable.  I do like that the tone of the book was older though.  It was much more graphic than the first book and there were details on sex, rape, domestic violence, and a few other adult themes.  Definitely more grown up than the first book.  And I think they were important topics, although I was disappointed to see that some of the plot lines weren't resolved.  By the way the book ended I don't expect to see them resolved in the next book either.   Some history was thrown in.  The Author has definite views on Mao and the cultural revolution, but some details were added in and there were points about female sterilization and other atrocities committed that I had never even heard of before. 

Not as good as the first but definitely not bad enough to make me stop reading the series.  I do want to see what happens to the rest of the daughters and where their stories will take them.

*This review is part of the Amazon Vine program*

Tangled Vines
Copyright 2014
308 pages

November 21, 2014

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

I found Angels & Demons, the first book in this series, to be much more engrossing than this book.  Which is surprising considering this was the one that had all the hype surrounding it.

About a year after he helped save the Vatican, Robert Langdon is embroiled in a mystery and a murder once again.  This time it is in Italy, where the curator of the Louvre has been murdered and strange symbology points to his killer.  The deceased's granddaughter is along for the ride too because clues that he left her say she should stick to Langon to solve his murder.  A strange monk is intent on finding them though and there are other mysterious players that would like to do anything to prevent Langdon from solving the clues left for him.

Sophie wasn't nearly as strong of a character as her predecessor.  She needed Langdon for almost everything; except for a few things she conveniently knew.  She didn't offer much in the way of dialogue either.  Langdon was little better.  He seemed less personable this time around and like events were outpacing him.  But at least he wasn't as "invincible" as he was in the first book.  I couldn't really care for any of the other characters too.  I predicted the bad guy pretty far in and wasn't surprised to see other characters do some of the actions that they did.  All were pretty predictable.

The plot I was pleased to see was done in a twenty-four hour format again.  I think this helps the book pacing, although this one was still a little long.  And I'm not going to comment on how accurate this book is except to say that it is a work of fiction and I read it as such.  If some of the stuff in it is true, that's great, but it has no bearing on my enjoyment of the book as a work of fiction.  I did find the symbology interesting, and liked the references to Da Vinci.  I thought the beginning offered an interesting premise and was a better lead-in than that of the first book, but the ending felt contrived and too easy.  Everything falling into place when life doesn't really work like that.

Not great, not terrible, not as special as I had been lead to believe.  It was entertaining, but I think it seems like this was a book that was written for tv.

The Da Vinci Code
Copyright 2003
454 pages

November 17, 2014

Tell Me of Brave Women by Laura Riley

Stories about domestic abuse and overcoming obstacles always speak out to me.  You want to know that with all the unfairness in the world that there is a reason for it, that it can be overcome.  Tell Me of Brave Women is all about domestic abuse, and the women who set out to fight it.

Tell Me of Brave Women follows three different women and to an extent, one man.  Samara is a storyteller, who has traveled around the world with her husband, and in her travels, helped to found Secret Sisters.  Secret Sisters is an organization that helps battered women around the globe.  Thelma is a bartender in Appalachia who witnesses a brutal domestic attack and despite not liking "weak women" finds herself drawn to the victim and willing to help.  Evangeline was taken hostage by a crime lord and forced to become his slave in all ways. While she has freedom sometimes she chafes under his rule and the violence with which he lashes out at her. Hassad is an inspector in a country where women are considered less.  He has to follow his superiors orders, even if they are not always honorable.

I can't say that I really liked any of the characters except for Thelma.  They didn't ring as authentic for me.  Samara, while an interesting storyteller, was hard to follow because of the way her timeline and story jumped around.  I could empathize with her to a point, but understanding her motives was difficult at times.  Evangeline was a little better.  She was forced into a situation but still tried to make the best of it and do what she could to help others.  She was the bravest out of all the women by far.  Thelma was a good woman but probably had the simplest storyline of the bunch.  She witnessed something happen, didn't like it, and sought to change it.  Her storyline was much more convincing than all the others and fit with what her actual abilities would have been.  I was glad to see, that although there were some seriously evil men in this book, there were also quite a few that were good and exhibited positive attributes.  Too often books with a women empowerment theme will have every male character as horrible, and that was not the case here.

This book jumped around a lot because of all the different point of views. To add into that, one of the characters, Samara, had a storyline that jumped all over in her history and the present, which added another layer of confusion.  The writing was jumpy as well and not quite as polished as I would have expected.   The voice seemed young and while that was appropriate for Evangeline, it didn't fit the rest of the characters.  There were also some action scenes that I had trouble swallowing as well.  I think condensing and restructuring the book would have really benefited it.  That being said I think the theme of domestic abuse is a pertinent one.  It shows a group of characters willing to do something about what they see as an injustice in the world and to help women who need it wherever they may be.  The "Brave Women" of the story didn't have to do anything outstanding, just being a voice for the unheard is brave.  So on those merits, this book is important.

I like the concept of this book but just couldn't quite get into the execution.  But those who have read about domestic abuse, or gravitate to books that tell a story through different characters will probably be able to sink in quite easily with this book.

**This book was received as a free advanced reviewer's copy**

Tell Me of Brave Women
Copyright 2013
498 pages

November 12, 2014

Margarita Wednesdays by Deborah Rodriguez

Maybe if I had read the author's first book I would have been more charmed by this one.  Certainly the author was genuine and had done some off the beaten path type of things with her life.  But I just couldn't find a connection or really appreciate the story she had to tell.

Having lived in Afghanistan and then leave abruptly when her son is threatened with kidnapping, Rodriguez finds herself back in the states struggling to make sense of what happened.  She stays for awhile with a friend turned a little more until he decides he's had enough of the relationship.  And then it's off to Mazatlan Mexico where she buys a little house and settles down to try to pull the pieces of her life together.  Here she makes new friends but still feels as if something is missing, and with personal problems, family problems, and other problems, peace sometimes seems unobtainable.

Rodriguez can be pretty blunt about herself at times.  Especially when it comes to her choices in men.  She is very frank about all her mistakes there.  And her two sons, while seemingly important to her, actually feature very little in her life.  Yes, one comes and lives with her, but that's when she starts describing him in detail and showing a sense of caring.  She has a lot of drama.  And it gets tiring.  You want to just shake her and say why do you keep doing this to your life?  The other characters she describes nicely though and she usually has something nice to say about almost all of them.

This book is drama.  It's disguised by the fact that it's about moving to Mexico and becoming part of the community there.  But really it's about Rodriguez's personal struggles and how she tries to overcome them.  Mexican culture is a second, although through her interactions with her son's married family help bring the culture to the reader.  She also mentions her first book a lot and that gets a little tiring.   After about the fifth mention, it's like, "ok, you have a book about the beauty school you started in Afghanistan.  That's fantastic, and wonderful for those women, but you've told me this before."  It's obvious she's very proud of it, but redundant after awhile.

This is an ok memoir.  A little too much drama for me and not enough description of everything else.  I'm sure those who read the first book though will find it much more absorbing.

**This book was won in a Goodreads Giveaway**

Margarita Wednesdays
Copyright 2014
276 pages

November 06, 2014

Mistresses of Mayhem: The Book of Women Criminals by Francine Hornberger

I'm fairly convinced that this book wasn't edited. Or at least if it was, it was a rush job. While it was interesting subject matter, the way it was written and the numerous mistakes and spelling errors made it hard reading.

Mistresses of Mayhem is a resource book that describes some of the most famous women criminals in history and the present. In fact, some of the women featured in this book are still alive while others have been dead for hundreds of years. There are murderers, prostitutes, and even pirates. Background on each of the women is given, and the events of their crimes are provided.

There are some bad ladies in here. And a good one that had charges against her dropped. And some who there are doubts about their guilt and undecided charges against them. Because their backgrounds are provided, there is some speculation into why they did the crimes that they did. Although their history doesn't always account for the terrible things that they did. I hadn't heard of the majority of the women in here, and some of their stories definitely came as a shock. It's enough to make you want to wish it was fiction.

This would have been a great reference book, except it didn't really read as a standard non-fiction reference book. There was tons of personal opinion in it I'm always a little skeptical if in a book that's supposed to be non-fiction, the term "white trash" is used several times along with other non-professional names and descriptors. It also had numerous spelling errors, places where you can tell a "find and replace" feature was used incorrectly, and probably the worst of all, some facts actually weren't recorded correctly (IE: two sisters names are reversed leaving the wrong one dead in the book). An editing read-through would have caught a lot of these errors, so I'm not sure what happened. The formatting is a page or two for each woman and it is sorted in alphabetical order.

It certainly doesn't seem as if this book was actually ready to be published. A little cleanup and it would be a good tome on women readers. In its current condition, I just can't recommend it.

Mistresses of Mayhem
Copyright 2002
248 pages

November 02, 2014

Angels & Demons by Dan Brown

Never watched the movies, this is my first experience reading any of Brown's books.  I don't understand all the hype or the controversy.  It was mildly entertaining, and the "clue" format was interesting, but it was nothing outstanding or deplorable in my eyes.

Robert Langdon is minding his own business when he is contacted by an official at CERN to come look at some evidence and a dead man.  Nevermind that Langdon is a professor, not law enforcement, his expertise is needed.  It looks to be the work of the Illuminati, a cult made of scientists who has a very big vendetta against the Catholic church.  Can Langdon solve the Illuminati riddle in time?  The very future of the Vatican depends on it.

The characters were mostly unbelievable in this.  They had too many powers, too easily overcame obstacles, and apparently had super-human strength and healing properties.  There is no way, after some of the things that Langdon went through, that he'd want to be walking let alone want to have sex (and that's all I'll say on that).  Vittoria was a shallow character that seemed to be there in an attempt to have a "strong" female character.  But she neither added much, nor was very strong on her own.  She relied on Langdon's character quite a bit.  And the character and personality changes in some of the others were hard to follow and made it seem as if they weren't even the same character at all.

If you ignored the poorly written characters, the plot was actually fast paced and kept your attention.  There was always some kind of action or gruesome scene to read and the clues and mysteries kept the reader engaged.  I also liked that the entire book took place in the space of a day, but didn't seem too rushed.  It was an impressive way of writing the story.  I can't comment on historical accuracies, etc.  I know nothing about the Illuminati or Catholic church history, etc.  I'm going to assume some is accurate and some is not, as seems to be the case with most fiction works.

Certainly entertaining but by no means a work of art.  I'll read the next in the series just because it is a good way to spend a rainy weekend.

Angels & Demons
Copyright 2000
569 pages