Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Enchanted, Inc. by Shanna Swendson

Well, this was a cute series! The titles are as follows: "Enchanted, Inc.", "Once Upon Stilettos", "Damsel Under Stress", "Much Ado About Magic", "No Quest for the Wicked", "Don't Hex with Texas" and "Kiss and Spell".

I read them all, so I'll kind of summarize and review them all here. Okay, so for all 7 books we follow Katie Chandler, a Texas girl who has moved to New York and loves it. In the first book Katie discovers that she, although having absolutely no magic herself, is of particular valuable to the large (and secret) magical community in New York. She is recruited and hired by their largest and most reputable company to use her magical immunity in their service. Over the next 6 books Katie experiences all sorts of magical adventure including: a quest, a stint with her own magical powers, romance, discovering some family secrets, battles with evil wizards, meeting the famous get the idea.

This is a gentle series, lightweight and fun, engaging and clean. I really enjoyed all 7 books.

Bad language: I don't think so
Sex: Some references to sex, but no sex scenes of any kind.

Thank You, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

I'm a relative newcomer to the Jeeves novels. I think I've read one other before this one. But there are so many references to Bertie Wooster and the unflappable Jeeves in other books, in TV, in movies...I guess it's about time that I enter the charmed world of P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves.

In this novel, Bertie's interminable (and apparently intolerably annoying) banjoele playing drives Jeeves to seek employment elsewhere and Bertie to leave his London neighbors (also unable to tolerate the banjoele) for a stint in the country. Entanglements with romance, the law, a knife wielding butler, kidnapping and arson follow. Jeeves smooths it all out, naturally.

Is there anyone who writes such delicious comedy as P.G. Wodehouse? I don't think so. Even though these books have been around for decades, Bertie's fluid and airy narration, Jeeves' spot-on solutions to every problem, the way they finish each others' sentences, Bertie's dissolute innocence (can there be such a thing?) and his endless stream of dim-witted friends and lovely's all just perfect and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this little gem. 

Bad language: none
Sex: nope

Friends and Foes by

I've read just one other book by Sarah M. Eden, Drops of Gold, which was lovely, if not outstandingly memorable. This one was very much the same--lovely. But not particularly memorable.

Sorrell, crippled and caustic, meets Philip, superficial and secretive. They dislike each other from their first meeting, but end up discovering what is truly behind the public faces they have each assumed when they are forced to share the same house party. Ultimately they must understand and trust each other to stay alive and to protect their country's secrets.

This was a sweet and entertaining book--with overtones of the Scarlet Pimpernel. I enjoyed reading it.

Bad language: nope
Sex: none

Short Straw Bride by Karen Witemeyer

Amazon's summary of this book: "No one steps on Archer land. Not if they value their life. But when Meredith Hayes overhears a lethal plot to burn the Archer brothers off their ranch, a twelve-year-old debt compels her to take the risk.

Fourteen years of constant vigilance hardens a man. Yet when Travis Archer confronts a female trespasser with the same vivid blue eyes as the courageous young girl he once aided, he can't bring himself to send her away. And when an act of sacrifice leaves her injured and her reputation in shreds, gratitude and guilt send him riding to her rescue once again.

Four brothers. Four straws. One bride. Despite the fact that Travis is no longer the gallant youth Meredith once dreamed about, she determines to stand by his side against the enemy that threatens them both. But will love ever be hers? Or will Travis always see her merely as a short-straw bride?"

I really, really like Karen Witemeyer's Christian historical romances. They have the perfect balance of spirituality and sensuality, I think. Or maybe the word "sensuality" creates the wrong impression. What I mean is that her characters have good chemistry. Some Christian romance reviewers, I have noticed, reject all evidence of sexual attraction between their main characters, but I think that a good romance must have that little zing of chemistry in order to actually BE a romance. And attraction, we hope, would be a component in all successful romantic relationships, no matter how morally clean these relationships are, right? Hm.

Anyway, this was a sweet book with less of a spiritual conflict for our main characters, perhaps, than some of her others. Tailor Made was about judgments, To Win Her Heart about forgiveness and the atonement (can't remember what the third one highlighted). This one was more about patience and unconditional love and acceptance, perhaps--the plot was not as spiritually driven as her previous books. However, it didn't take away a bit from my enjoyment of another adorable Karen Witemeyer story.

Bad language: nope
Sex: nope--although they were married and so there are references to sex as part of marriage. No sex scenes. Some kisses.

Blood Spirits by Sherwood Smith

Here is book 2 in the Dobrenica series--Dobrenica being the ancestral home of the sword-wielding, long-haired, California-born Kim Murray.

Well, the romance is resolved in this book, so that was a good thing. And it was engaging and interesting, complex and suspenseful, as expected. But it got way supernatural way fast and, as I have perhaps mentioned before, I am very tired of vampires. Very, very tired of them. And all other revenants.

In book #2 Kim gets a ghostly message from her "twin", Lady Ruli, in Dobrenica: "Help me!". Since her heart is already urging her Alec-ward, Kim decides to return to Europe and see if she can find and help Ruli. Political intrigue and shadowy scariness all follows. Kim gets to reunite with Alec, figures out a little more about Tony, uncovers the mystery of Grandfather Armandros' death, unmasks a serial killer, and finds Ruli... and lots, lots more.

It was a fun book to read. Not one of my favorites, but still very fun. I understand book #3 is even more all about the supernatural so I'll skip that one (for now, at least). Glad I read these two, anyway, and still really liking Sherwood Smith, although my favorite of hers is still The Trouble with Kings. Don't know why exactly, just that it has a combination of events that pleases me. Hm.

Bad language: Nope
Sex: nope, although not because she doesn't want to. Just who has time with all these murder attempts and bloodthirsty creatures and plotting all over the place?

Coronets and Steel by Sherwood Smith

    I have been on a re-reading kick lately, going back through a bunch of my favorites (Darkmoore, The Trouble With Kings, the Sasharia series, The Book of a Thousand Days, The Wizard of Oz series....) and trying to get through some "thinking" books (The Art of Teaching Piano, Techniques and Materials of Tonal Music, American Grace...) but a new book to me is this one, "Coronets and Steel" by one of my favorite authors, Sherwood Smith.

   In this book (which, by the way is first in a series of 3) we meet Kim Murray, one of Smith's LA long-blonde-hair, swordfighting heroines (I don't think a single one of Sherwood Smith's heroines that I have met so far has short hair). She's traveling to Europe to uncover the mysteries in her ill grandmother's past. What she doesn't know is that she is innocently entering into a convoluted political situation that will very quickly suck her right into the middle of lies, danger and...romance. Of course, there's gotta be romance, right? (I always like that part.)

     This book definitely had a book #1 feel to it. There was lots of time spent on building the many characters and their complicated ancestral lines and hometown history. I got a little lost in all the names (Count Karl-Anton, Lady Aurelia von Mecklundburg, Princess Aurelia Dsaret, Angel Xanpia, Statthalter Alec Ysvorod...) and the circles of intrigue that kept crossing each other, not to mention the mythology that got more and more real as the book progressed. And the ending was very unsatisfying. However, I did like this book even though it's definitely not my favorite Sherwood Smith. It was complex, interesting, extremely engaging and I did really like our main characters. Worth reading. (But I sure don't like the cover illustration!)

Bad language: I counted 2 swear words--unusual, I think, in a Sherwood Smith book.
Sex: Another first: our couple slept together! It was strongly implied, but with no description whatsoever. I guess Sherwood Smith still counts as mostly "clean" to me, but this book was the first time I've encountered bad language and unmarried sex (albeit extremely vaguely depicted) in a Sherwood Smith book.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Killing Jesus by Bill O'Reilly

Well, I'll tell you..... First of all, I hate the title. I know it's in line with his other "Killing _____" books, but I just did not like it. Ugh.

And. It almost seems silly when authors attempt to write "historical accounts" of religious figures since, without the religious component, there's very little that sets these folks apart from others of their time. And how can it be "accurate" to take only non-religious details from the same sources (e.g. the Bible) that include the religious details that are being discarded as--what? Myth? Superstition? Irrelevant to history? I think it's kind of useless to consider religious figures with their spiritual contributions stripped away no matter who they may be--Jesus, Buddha, Muhammed, etc. They are significant because they have been sources of passionate religious devotion for centuries so how can they really be separated from this part of their stories?

Well, we can see how Bill O'Reilly's attempt in this book went. It was interesting. I really enjoyed reading the historical context. I found that part pretty fascinating. I learned stuff about that time in history and about why Jesus in particular was crucified. I think I may finally understand the difference between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. Ha! :)

I did NOT like all the motivations, thoughts and simplistic explanations for his behavior that Bill O'Reilly (and Martin Dugard) assigned to Jesus. This is one thing I really dislike in books about history--the suppositions that are labeled as fact. You may perhaps have noticed my tendency to claim that all history is fiction. This is because ALL historical accounts are merely limited perspectives. They can never be more than that. You go to a crowded party and stand on one side of the room. I go to the same crowded party and stand on the other side of the room. The next day we tell our friends all about the party as we saw it. Meanwhile, the lady who spent most of her time at the party in the kitchen has a totally different perspective on the same party. Who can say what the party was "really" like? No one can. Each of us can only say what we saw and experienced and, of course, those accounts are all filtered through our personal collection of perceptions and previous experiences, our personal prejudices and judgments and our limited knowledge of things in general. Therefore all historical accounts--however personal they are--are just stories. And anyone who claims to have the "big picture"? Hm. I wonder if such a thing is really possible without a lot of guesswork taking place.

So. Was this book worth reading? Absolutely. It was just another interesting perspective on a story that has been told and retold many, many times. I like reading as many as I can because they add to my own little story that I carry around in my head as "reality". The details in this book were very interesting, not too gory and very engaging. It was a quick and worthwhile read.

Bad language: no
Sex: well, there are some accounts of very debased Roman sexual behavior presented in a factual fashion

Elusive by Sara Rosett

Well, this is a cute little series of books. Book one, Elusive, was the best one, I thought, but they were all entertaining.

Here's the Amazon summary: "If you enjoy Elizabeth Peter’s Vicky Bliss series or Romancing the Stone, Elusive has the same mix of mystery, international travel, and light romance.

Zoe Hunter loves living on the edge. Free-spirited and spontaneous, she’s built a life stringing together various freelance gigs that keep her bank account barely in the black.

But when her ex, Jack, goes missing along with several million dollars from his business and the FBI zeros in on her as a person of interest, Zoe’s life goes from delightfully unpredictable to downright frightening.

Plunged into a world of fake identities, deception, and murder, she’s afraid to trust anyone. Zoe impulsively skips town in a search for answers that takes her from Las Vegas to Italy, but instead of tracking down answers, she only uncovers more questions.

Who was Jack? Is he dead or did he fake his disappearance? And, what was he mixed up in—art theft, the mafia, espionage, or all three?"

I love romantic adventure--Elizabeth Peters, Mary Stewart, Helen MacInnes...those are the classic romantic adventure authors that I like best. So I'm always excited when I find books that are reminiscent of these. 
Now, this series isn't quite as sharp as any of the books from the authors above, but it's still pretty darn cute.  I found the writing good enough to be engaging and the main characters drawn well enough so I really liked them. The stories were free of bad language and sex too, and I always appreciate that. The books were fun and quick to read and if you like romantic adventure, you'll probably enjoy them!