Monday, February 21, 2011

The Iron Queen, by Julie Kagawa (a book review)

Meghan Chase is half human/half summer fairy daughter of King Oberon (any other fans of A Midsummer Night’s Dream out there?).  She has also been infused with Iron glamour.  Yes, iron is still a very bad thing for full-blooded fairies here.  And she’s in love with a dark prince from the winter court, Ash.  The couple is an aberration and a disgrace to both of their families.  Ah, forbidden love (I’m SO there).  Refusing to renounce their relationship, they are disowned and ousted from the land of fairy to live out the rest of their days as outcasts in the mortal world. 
The problem for the land of fairy is the iron fey.  Neither summer nor winter can defeat them because of the poisonous nature of iron.  Help us, Meghan Chase, you’re our only hope (I swear I totally hear Princess Leia’s voice in my head right now).  Offering them pardons to return to the land of fey in exchange for a defeat of the iron forces, Meghan and Ash return as saviors, accompanied by snarky Puck (Robin Goodfellow), the other point in the love triangle (come on, what’s a romance without a triangle?).  Thus the stage is set for The Iron Queen, book three of The Iron Fey series, where Meghan must learn to wield the warring summer and iron glamour inside herself to save all of fairy. 
In the first two books, The Iron King and The Iron Daughter, I affectionately referred to Ms. Kagawa as the “Queen of Hyperbole”.  Lots of crying and screaming and gasping.  In this newest installment, Ms. Kagawa seems to have found her stride, toning down her over-enthusiastic writing style just enough. 
As it is with many YA paranormal romances, “the girl” starts out weak, helpless and clueless, depending solely on “the boy” to keep her safe.  In the good books, the girl develops, strengthens, and matures.  This is one that fits into the latter mold.  Meghan is not content to sit by and let the boys fight all her fights for her. Yay, girl power!  The problem (sorry Julie) I had was in suspending my disbelief, not of the endless array of fantastical characters, but in Meghan herself, who grew entirely too fast in her military prowess.  The boys, centuries old and battle tested, actually look at her and kind of go, “Well, what do we do now?”  Really?  And so, much of the book is Meghan bossing around the boys, turning them into lapdogs.  My grandmother  would have said she got way too big for her britches. 
The bottom line is Ms. Kagawa gives me the two things I want the most:  characters I can’t get enough of and dialogue so true to the characters that I can hear them in my sleep. 
I like that we finally get to see a relationship build here. Ash is no longer bound by the politics of the Winter Court and his super nasty mommy.  Part of me missed the moody, dark prince, but only just a tad.  There were scenes for me to swoon over and cry over.  (Okay, only two tears, but tears nonetheless). 
This is not the last installment.  The Iron Knight shall be next. Gone are the days of a good, old-fashioned trilogy.  Regardless, I am certain I will pre-order the next book, most likely pushing aside my current read when the UPS man knocks on my door.  J
Rating:  4 out of 5 hearts
        --Suzi Ryan

Sunday, February 13, 2011

What is Love?

As the “Hallmark” holiday celebrating roses and chocolates this week quickly approaches, many thoughts turn to the big question of defining the concept of “love.”  Thirteen good years of marriage, one book about divorce, and several presentations later, and I’m still trying to figure out how to answer the question of love.
What makes someone fall in love?  What makes a couple stay in love?  Is there a formula for the laws of attraction or is love an accidental happening?  How can people sustain that initial love throughout their marriage/long-term relationship?  Why do some couples seem to embody an aura of love and others carry a nearly palpable disdain of love?
For me, the answers to some of these questions can only come from my own experiences.  When my book about divorce was released earlier this summer, one of the most common questions often phrased as a statement was “Do Muslim marriages fail because they are arranged rather than being love matches?”  Clearing that misconception was a huge initial hurdle during several talks and discussions promoting the book. 
Contrary to popular belief, the concept of arranged marriages is a cultural construct instead of a religious one.  And surprisingly, research has shown a much greater incidence of divorce among love matches as opposed to arranged marriages.  This is not to say that arranged marriages tend to have a greater longevity based on love, but that the life of the marriage might instead be a direct result of adhering to cultural norms that do not encourage divorce.
People are often surprised when I draw an analogy of Islamic marriage to the days of old-fashioned courting ala “Little House on the Prairie.”  Our current Hollywood versions of love and marriage lead us to believe in a romanticized ideal that has little to do with maintaining a real relationship.  Yet, there seems to be a growing movement of “computerized match-making” today with sites like e-harmony taking over the role of the village matchmaker.  It seems that people are going back to a more modern version of finding a mate based on compatibility rather than on the idealized “love at first sight” tactic.
In the end, love can only be defined by the individual expressing the emotion.  For me, there are many shades of love, each as strong as the one before.  Love of God, love of country, love of ideals such as peace and freedom and equality and many more are the over-arching loves that have little to do with physical expression.  Then, of course, there is love of friends, of family, of children, and of spouse.  These are the more tangible “every day” kind of loves that make the minutes of life more meaningful.
Regardless of how you rank your loves, the most important aspect to remember is that once you wipe away the sugar coating, a lasting love is the one that extends long after the roses have withered and the chocolates have melted.  Whether you pine after unrequited love or if your love is for that of an ideal over an individual, defining the meaning of love is a great way to get one step closer to understanding yourself.  While initial attraction may be the spark that lights that “great love,” compatibility, patience, understanding and forgiveness are the flames that will keep the torch burning for many years to come. 
This Valentine’s Day, rather than complaining about a commercialized or “made-up” holiday, we could all probably use the time to rethink our definitions of love and to be thankful for all the loves of our lives that we’ve been blessed with, both big and small. J
         --Suzy Ismail       

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Entice, by Carrie Jones (A Book Review)

Never let a pixie kiss you
Zara White is back in Entice, the third installment of Carrie Jones’ Need series.  The town of Bedford, Maine is still under siege from rogue pixies, with teenagers disappearing regularly, victims of the pixies’ ‘need’.  Zara and her gang are still out to rescue her lost boyfriend (hunky, track star, werewolf) Nick who was killed and taken to Valhalla, a mystical place reserved for warriors (anyone up for some Norse mythology?).  Zara is willing to risk her life and the lives of those she loves to bring back her Nick.  She even willingly allows herself to be pixie-kissed, the painful process by which one becomes a super-strong, blue-skinned, sharp-toothed pixie.  And Zara becomes not only a pixie, but a pixie queen.  Try explaining that to your werewolf boyfriend when you find him. Thank goodness pixies can use glamour to make themselves look human.
These books are told through the eyes of protagonist Zara who comes off light and quirky, creating for the most part a quick, enjoyable read.  If I have to offer a criticism, it’s that this tone tends to come off a bit too light for me during scenes where bad things are happening.  I confess I’m into pain, literarily speaking, of course.  I want characters who care enough about their circumstances to hurt.  And Zara has plenty to hurt over.  The problem for me personally is I want the author to immerse me in that pain, not float me above it. 
For those who care about writing style, this author has nailed the elusive “voice”.  Anyone who’s heard editors or literary agents talk knows that the one thing they are looking for above all else is “voice”.  When you ask them what that means, they confess, they’re not exactly sure—they just know it when they see it.  Carrie Jones has one of the most crystal clear voices in current Young Adult Fiction.   Kudos, Carrie. J
I’m closing my eyes and cringing for what I’m about to say (please forgive me, Carrie).  Entice is kind of the New Moon of the series.  In Need we we fall for Guy A (Nick), and I confess, he’s one of my more favorite YA guys.  Then in Captivate we’re still loving our Nick, but intro Guy B (Astley)…and he’s kind of nice too.  And now onto Entice, Nick is lost, leaving us to fall hook, line and sinker for super nice guy Astley.  Who cares that he’s a pixie?  I mean, he is a pixie king, Zara’s royal complement, regally and completely worthy of oodles of gold-dusted swoon. 
Okay, so going with the whole Twilight thing, I never really gave a rat’s posterior about who was going to win Bella’s affection. I never felt torn.  But here?  Nick.  Astley.  Yep, I’m completely torn in half, bleeding in the snow of Bedford, Maine.  There can’t possibly be a happy ending here, can there?  I might be wrong…it wouldn’t be the first time…but Ms. Jones seems to be an awful lot like me, all sunshine and bubbles.  I imagine that she is every bit as much of a sucker for a happy ending as I am.  I hope I’m right.  Please, Carrie, let me be right.  Please end this series with an enraptured giggle, a sigh, and a generous spoonful of “awesome sauce”.  J
Bottom line:  Lovers of paranormal romance rejoice.  There is something else to read besides vampires and angels.  Though as usual, I suggest starting at the very beginning (a very good place to start).  Pick up Need and Captivate first. 
4 out of 5 stars
          --Suzi Ryan