Thursday, February 24, 2011

Review - Season of the Harvest by Michael Hicks

Season of the Harvest by Michael Hicks
published 2011

Synopsis from publisher:

What if the genetically modified crops that we’re being forced to depend on for food weren’t really created by man? What if they had a far more sinister purpose?

FBI Special Agent Jack Dawson investigates the gruesome murder of his best friend and fellow agent who had been pursuing a group of eco-terrorists. The group’s leader, Naomi Perrault, is a beautiful geneticist who Jack believes conspired to kill his friend, and is claiming that a major international conglomerate developing genetically engineered crops is plotting a sinister transformation of our world that will lead humanity to extinction. As Jack is drawn into a quietly raging war that suddenly explodes onto the front pages of the news, he discovers that her claims may not be so outrageous after all. Together, the two of them must battle a horror Jack could never have imagined, with the fate of all life on Earth hanging in the balance…

My thoughts:

I don't have a problem admitting I'm a Michael Hicks fan - I rated In Her Name, his first published novel, as one of my favorites from 2009. I loved everything about Reza's world, and look forward to each new installment in the series. So when I heard Hicks was writing a new novel - a standalone - about genetically modified food, for crying out loud - I will admit I was a little disappointed. I wanted more stories in the world I already know and love! Of course, that didn't stop me from purchasing my copy the first day it was available on for the Kindle....

I used to be a Michael Hicks fan - now I'm a Michael Hicks believer. I love fantasy, and can be sucked into just about anything in the genre, but science fiction is a much harder sell for me. I was skeptical about this novel. Would I really be able to get drawn in to a story about a band of renegades trying to save the world's food supply? Well, the short answer is yes. I was completely engrossed from the very beginning. Season of the Harvest is smart and funny and wild and frightening and really, really scarily believable.

Hicks gives his readers a full cast of likable, well-developed characters, and two leads in Jack and Naomi that are almost made to be on a Hollywood movie screen. His bad guys are chillingly bad, and he allows for enough ambiguity that you suddenly find yourself feeling sympathy for someone you just pages before despised.

Hicks is a great storyteller, and this story will appeal to a wide range of readers. He blends science fiction, contemporary techno-thriller, and real-life issues to create a novel that literally almost impossible to put down. It's not perfect - a few situations felt a little bit too convenient, but overall it was a fun and educational reading experience.

At this point, Hicks is on my "must-read" author list. I can't wait to see what he thinks up next. Highly recommended!

Finished: 2/22/10
Source: my Kindle
MPAA rating: PG-13 for violence and intense, end-of-the-world type situations
My rating: 8/10

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Review - Nothing But Ghosts by Beth Kephart

Nothing but Ghosts by Beth Kephart
published July, 2009
278 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Ever since her mother passed away, Katie's been alone in her too-big house with her genius dad, who restores old paintings for a living. Katie takes a summer job at a garden estate, where, with the help of two brothers and a glamorous librarian, she soon becomes embroiled in decoding a mystery. There are secrets and shadows at the heart of Nothing but Ghosts: symbols hidden in a time-darkened painting, and surprises behind a locked bedroom door. But most of all, this is a love story—the story of a girl who learns about love while also learning to live with her own ghosts.

My thoughts:

This is a truly lovely book. It's a simple story, beautifully told, with no frills or flashes (or vampires!) to distract from the heart of the story. I enjoyed Kephart's writing style, although there were times it seemed a bit too much for a young girl. The author uses imagery to great effect, and many times I found her descriptions of person or place to be quite beautiful.

"Now that it's that sweet time of day and the sun feels good on my skin, I don't mind just sitting here on these library steps watching the traffic go by, don't mind the fact that I'll be late to Miss Martine's and the dig, that I'll likely catch Old Olson's flack. I don't mind watching the clouds break and drift, and sometimes it looks like there are signals up high, and sometimes the sky is through-and-through blue, and it's really pretty out here in the morning, by myself, alone. Beauty and sadness. Rescue and escape. There's that line, I think, between what is and what has not happened yet." (pp. 171-172)

I found Katie to be a delightful, smart and resourceful heroine. I loved the relationship she had with her dad, and with Ms. McDermott. All the characters felt like they could be old friends, or neighbors down the road - people you felt like you've known for a while, and can really root for. The mystery was a bit predictable, but unfolded in such a way that my interest was still peaked, even though I had a fairly good idea of how it was going to end.

I would not hesitate to recommend this to someone looking for a good YA novel to give to a child or acquaintance. I remember when My Friend Amy was trying to recruit people to read this novel - now that I've read Nothing But Ghosts, I completely understand why. I enjoyed every minute I spent with it.

Finished: 2/10/11
Source: my shelves
Recommended by: Amy at My Friend Amy
MPAA rating: PG for it's honest discussion of death and loss
My rating: 8/10

Friday, February 4, 2011

Review - Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler

Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler
published 12/09
234 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

The year is 1846. In a cold parsonage on the gloomy Yorkshire moors, a family seems cursed with disaster. A mother and two children dead. A father sick, without fortune, and hardened by the loss of his two most beloved family members. A son destroyed by alcohol and opiates. And three strong, intelligent young women, reduced to poverty and spinsterhood, with nothing to save them from their fate. Nothing, that is, except their remarkable literary talent.

So unfolds the story of the Bronte sisters. At its center are Charlotte and the writing of Jane Eyre. Delicately unraveling the connections between one of fiction's most indelible heroines and the remarkable woman who created her, Sheila Kohler's Becoming Jane Eyre will appeal to fans of historical fiction and, of course, the millions of readers who adore Jane Eyre.

My thoughts:

I've discovered that my best time to read each day is during my 25-minute long commute to work. Since I've started to make this a habit, I can feel myself getting back into the reading groove, and it feels really good.

Becoming Jane Eyre was a good choice to read for a little bit of time over several days, because it isn't an action-packed, page turning novel. It's very much an introspective read, examining the inner struggles and emotions of three intelligent, passionate young women. The style of the book is really nothing like Jane Eyre, but I could sense the author's deep love for the classic novel in her own work. In drawing parallels between Charlotte's own life and her Jane, Kohler gives readers an interesting, if somewhat speculative, glimpse into the inner workings of the author's mind and heart.

"Charlotte looks at her sisters, sitting side by side with the elderly woman who has looked after them for so many years. She realizes who must rescue Jane when she leaves Mr. Rochester: sisters, of course, two sisters like her own...They have given her courage in their different ways with their example and their love. They have rescued her from despair again and again. It is women, she thinks, looking at her brave and beautiful sisters and her old and faithful servant, who have enabled her to survive." (page 121)

The novel is somewhat slow and meandering - it is not going to grab you by the teeth and take you for a ride. But I found the ties the author created between the Bronte's life and their works to be quite interesting, and though the shifting narration was at times a bit unsettling, I found the sections written in Emily's voice especially compelling.

This was a good novel, but probably not great. It will appeal mostly to readers who are familiar with the work of the Bronte sisters, and are interested in a fictional account of the time in their lives when they were writing their great works. If you are looking for a novel to keep you reading late into the night, I would probably leave this one on the library shelves.

Finished: 2/3/11

Source: South side library

MPAA rating: PG for illusions to infidelity and the use of illicit substances

My rating: 7/10