MatthewSean Reviews

Book reviews, movie reviews, and other writing

Book Review – The Code Breaker – Walter Isaacson — January 14, 2022

Book Review – The Code Breaker – Walter Isaacson

Book Review – The Code Breaker – Walter Isaacson

Facts:

Title: The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race

Author: Walter Isaacson

Genre: Non-Fiction / Science

Year of Release: 2021

Read 485-page hardcover edition in January 2022.

Book Description:

Despite her teachers saying girls could not be scientists. Jennifer Doudna grew up in Hawaii with a passion and interest in science. Her excitement and curiousity about nature led her and numerous colleagues around the world to study DNA and RNA, which led to the amazing discovery of CRISPR, which can literally edit human DNA, changing our species and its potential forever.

Doudna has gone on to make numerous discoveries and motivate other young women to enter the sciences. This book explores the science and ethics around gene editing, as well as how these advancements allowed scientists to move quickly with regard to the global COVID-19 pandemic, in developing testing and vaccines.

Book Review:

This book by renowned biographer, historian, and writer Walter Isaacson, is an immersive success. As always, Isaacson has written an engaging book, making non-fiction and the information of someone’s life an exciting story.

Jennifer Doudna is an excellent main character for Isaacson to focus on. She comes across as thoughtful, intelligent, and a unique combination of competitive while also humble. The focus on Doudna’s early life in the early stages of the book is a great way to introduce the reader into the sciences that will be explored in more detail.

Early on in the book, there are several chapters that are the heaviest, and non-science readers may have some trouble when Isaacson tries to explain hard science. He is somewhat successful at making this plain language, but there are several points in these early pages where the material can easily be lost on the reader.

Thankfully, the remaining two-thirds of this book are fantastic. Isaacson does a great job combining and weaving between biography of interesting characters, discoveries of nature and genetics, real questions about morality, and the onslaught of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

The chapters on morality/ethics and COVID-19 are especially interesting, and particularly relevant in our times today. Isaacson always remembers to return to the cast of characters as well, and his ability to draw out their feelings and emotions as well as the scientific discoveries is what makes this book enjoyable as well as educational.

Overall: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act – Bob Joseph — January 10, 2022

Book Review – 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act – Bob Joseph

Book Review – 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act – Bob Joseph

Facts:

Book: 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act

Author: Bob Joseph

Genre: Non-Fiction

Year of Release: 2018

Read 160-page paperback edition in December 2021.

Book Description:

This accessible book takes complicated government legislation and breaks it down into plain language that is important for every Canadian to understand. Bob Joseph has focused his efforts on 21 lessons that we all need to understand about the Indian Act in Canada. He focuses on education and breaking down the stereotypes that exist today.

He also shows how the legislation has been used to control Indigenous peoples in Canada, and makes recommendations for how everyone can move forward today.

Book Review:

This was an incredible book and a great ongoing resource by Bob Joseph. No matter what your current understanding, this is an accessible and useful book that will help you learn and grow as a person. This is exceptionally important for Canadians to read, so that we can have a better sense of why our country is the way it is today. Further, we need more grounding in this history so that we can make changes and create a better Canada in the future.

Joseph focuses the book on 21 key lessons, and presents them on various subjects. The book allows us a great cross-section of knowledge on topics past and present. The book is a great way to start conversations around family dinner tables, and break down stereotypes that in some cases people may not have realized they even held.

The lessons about the future, and what could be done to move past the Indian Act, are well worth considering. Joseph has written a great resource, highly recommended for all.

Well Done!

Overall: 5 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – Comfort and Joy – Jim Grimsley — December 31, 2021

Book Review – Comfort and Joy – Jim Grimsley

Book Review – Comfort and Joy – Jim Grimsley

Facts:

Book: Comfort and Joy

Author: Jim Grimsley

Genre: Fiction / LGBT2SQ+ Fiction

Year of Release: 1999

Read 291-page paperback edition in December 2021.

Book Description:

Ford McKinney is a successful doctor from an upper class family in Savannah, Georgia. While working in Atlanta, he meets Dan Crell, a quiet but thoughtful hospital administrator. The two slowly strike up conversation, and start to connect on a deeper level. As they develop their relationship, they decide they need to try and connect with their families as well, over the holiday season. However, Dan has painful issues from his childhood, and Ford has traditional parents who don’t yet know that he is gay.

This is a novel of past and present, as we see the two connect and try to overcome the challenging baggage that can come from the past, family, and the holiday season.

Book Review:

This novel by Jim Grimsley was truly poetic, and lyrical. Grimsley does an amazing job with description and dialogue, creating beautiful sentences while telling us a touching story.

The structure of the novel is well-conceived by Grimsley, with some jumping back and forth to show us what has occurred in the present and the recent past.

The characters of Ford and Dan feel very real, and their challenges, emotions, and attempts at becoming a strong couple despite adversity are thoughtfully written. Both characters have their flaws, which allows the reader to feel we know them better as true people, which means we can really care about them.

Grimsley has written a great novel which accurately portrays the experience of gay couples in the late 1990s, from coming out to family, to being a couple in a workplace, to the regular challenges any two people have when they grow closer.

The feeling of Christmas and the holiday season is also woven into the story nicely by Grimsley, making this a great LGBT2SQ+ book for the holiday season. Re-reading it in 2021, this book from 1999 stands the test of time, and reminds us how important progress is when it comes to LGBT2SQ+ awareness and rights.

Well Done!

Overall: 5 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – False Value – Ben Aaronovitch — December 29, 2021

Book Review – False Value – Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review – False Value – Ben Aaronovitch

Facts:

Book: False Value

Author: Ben Aaronovitch

Genre: Fantasy / Crime

Year of Release: 2020

Read 297-page hardcover edition in December 2021.

Book Description:

Peter Grant, a detective of the small police unit in London that deals with magic and mysterious incidents, is looking forward with some nervousness towards fatherhood. At the same time, he takes on a new job as private detective in a tech start-up company in London that has recently relocated from Silicon Valley. The mysterious company CEO is convinced someone is out to kill him and steal his life’s work, and Peter is working with a small group in the company to try and uncover any plots or security threats.

However, Peter quickly starts to realize this supposedly simple non-magic job has a lot more mystery and intrigue behind it than he expected, and the combination of magic and technology could prove very dangerous indeed.

Book Review:

Now at volume eight in the series, this is one of the best Peter Grant / Rivers of London novels that author Ben Aaronovitch has written. He has truly hit his stride, with an established main character in Peter Grant and numerous secondary characters that are interesting and enjoyable to read more about. Aaronovitch has done a great job creating this universe, and in this novel he has a perfect blend of action-oriented plot and character development on numerous fronts.

Aaronovitch does a great job advancing the characters and giving them new things to think about and work through. The development of Peter and Beverly’s impending twins create humour and thoughtful moments as well.

Aaronovitch does his usual great job of weaving humour and action together, as well as crime, mystery, and fantasy. This is a unique and enjoyable series, part fantasy and part police procedural. In addition, the structure of this particular novel is developed in a thoughtful way, allowing us a surprise near the beginning, and then a slow unfolding of what led us to this point in the first third of the novel.

Overall, this is a great addition to a fun and endearing series.

Well Done!

Overall: 5 stars out of 5 stars.

Book Review – Cemetery Boys – Aiden Thomas — December 25, 2021

Book Review – Cemetery Boys – Aiden Thomas

Book Review – Cemetery Boys – Aiden Thomas

Facts:

Book: Cemetery Boys

Author: Aiden Thomas

Genre: Young Adult Fiction / Fantasy

Year of Release: 2020

Read 344-page hardcover edition in December 2021.

Book Description:

Yadriel’s family is responsible for managing spirits in a large graveyard, particularly helping them pass to the afterlife once someone has passed away. However, his traditional Latinx family does not accept Yadriel’s gender, and he has to suffer from traditional roles being forced upon him.

When Yadriel decides to push forward with the rite of passage that makes sense for him, he accidentally calls forth a spirit of a school troublemaker who recently died. He agrees to help the spirit so that he can achieve his own goals. But through the process, both Yadriel, his friend Maritza, and the spirit Julian, start to realize something dangerous and strange is going on. And then Yadriel also has to manage his feelings towards Julian, which are much stronger than he expected.

Book Review:

This was a beautiful and touching book about a trans Latinx team named Yadriel. A thoughtful story about a teen coming of age in a family that tries but doesn’t quite know how to fully accept Yadriel’s gender, this was perfectly executed by debut author Aiden Thomas. This book really hit all the right notes, and was a wonderful story featuring strong diversity in main and secondary characters.

The plot was engaging and enjoyable, with a great mix of action, mystery, and character development. We get to know these characters over the course of the book, and they come to care about the emotions they are going through.

The relationship between Yadriel and Julian was sweet and touching, and written perfectly for this young adult novel. The way they protect each other and care for each other in the ending third of the book becomes very powerful and believable. One slight issue was the beginning of the novel, where it felt a little bit too rigid and forced in terms of how they came to appreciate each other so quickly.

This is a minor point however, and the combination of the connection they had, and the action that went along with the character development, made for a fantastic and unique novel.

Overall: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens — December 14, 2021

Book Review – A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

Book Review – A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

Facts:

Book: A Christmas Carol

Author: Charles Dickens

Genre: Fiction / Classics

Year of Release: 1843

Listened to audiobook (99-page paperback) in December 2021.

Book Description:

In this Christmas classic by Charles Dickens, the greedy and angry Ebeneezer Scrooge is haunted by three spirits, who try to teach him the dangers of his miserly ways, and what may befall him if he continues down his selfish path. The lessons of Christmas are presented through the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.

Book Review:

This is obviously a classic story, published by Dickens in 1843 and since made into countless films, television specials, radio broadcasts, and plays around the world.

Dickens does a masterful job here writing a novella sized account of Ebeneezer Scrooge, and surrounding him with memorable and interesting supporting characters. We see the story take place within a day, however we see Scrooge’s life play out before our eyes through the time traveling spirits he is with.

Dickens does an incredible job creating a character who is mean and hateful, but then peeling back the layers and showing the audience where Scrooge is coming from, why he might be this way, and what he might have been if things had been different.

Christmas lessons are of course lessons in common decency, kindness, compassion, and sharing. They are shown through powerful imagery, and Dickens does a great job of putting together a Christmas story that is thoughtful and poignant. This is a great read, at almost any age, every Christmas!

Well Done!

Overall: 5 stars out of 5 stars.

Book Review – Bury Your Dead – Louise Penny —

Book Review – Bury Your Dead – Louise Penny

Book Review – Bury Your Dead – Louise Penny

Facts:

Book: Bury Your Dead

Author: Louise Penny

Genre: Mystery

Year of Release: 2010

Read 470-page paperback edition in December 2021.

Book Description:

It is the annual Winter Carnival in Quebec City, and Inspector Gamache is taking time off with his old mentor. However, he is also taking time to heal from a horrific incident that recently occurred to him and his team.

While he recovers, he gets involved in investigating another murder that occurred in a small English library in Quebec City, where the past history between Francophone and Anglophone may have something to do with the case. The case provides Gamache with the ability to distract himself from his current troubles and feelings of guilt over losing officers. At the same time, the case also allows him to work towards trying to understand what happened as well.

Meanwhile, his second in command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, has been tasked to revisit Three Pines, and try to determine if Olivier really did commit the murder he was recently convicted of, or if there is another answer to that crime.

Book Review:

This was a great novel by Canadian author Louise Penny, who has done a good job both with continued character development, but also some great plot developments. Her ability to combine fast-paced narrative and complex plots with new details about established characters has become clear. The novel did a great job of introducing three main plot threads, and weaving them together through characters we have learned about in previous books in the series.

This novel does a nice job of taking our key characters that we appreciate and care about, and introducing stress on them. This allows us to see how they handle emotional strain and pressure, and we learn a lot more about them through the process. Penny has created really human characters that the reader truly does have empathy for.

The one place where the book struggles is when flipping from present to recent past. In these transitions, at times they feel almost too abrupt, pulling us out of the moment, and in some cases even providing with such a confusion that it shocks the reader and forces a pause. The transitions may have been more deftly executed.

Overall though, this is a great crime novel, and a welcome addition to the series.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars.

Book Review – Stories of Your Life and Others – Ted Chiang — November 27, 2021

Book Review – Stories of Your Life and Others – Ted Chiang

Book Review – Stories of Your Life and Others – Ted Chiang

Facts:

Book: Stories of Your Life and Others

Author: Ted Chiang

Genre: Short Stories / Science Fiction

Year of Release:

Listened to audiobook (333-page paperback) on November 2021.

Book Description:

In Ted Chiang’s first collection of short stories, we get a mix of plots and characters, every one of them unique, but all of them highlighting near futures or distant pasts, a personal journey or a societal shift, always told with wonder and exploration.

The title story of this collection is the basis for the movie, Arrival.

Book Review:

This was actually the first audiobook I have ever listened to. I had an 8-hour drive for work and was alone in the car, and had caught up on all my podcasts. This was on my list of books to read, and I had always felt I couldn’t hold my attention to a novel on audiobook. However, a collection of short stories seemed more doable, so I went for it.

Ted Chiang, as with his more recent collection, Exhalation, proves himself to be a master of science fiction short stories and novellas, with this fantastic collection. A short comment on each of the eight stories in this collection:

1 – Tower of Babylon (5*) – imaginative; breathtaking; fascinating characters  

2 – Understand (5*) – futuristic; creative; suspenseful action 

3 – Division by Zero (5*) – challenging; thoughtful 

4 – Story of Your Life (5*) – complex; emotional; truly memorable main character 

5 – Seventy Two Letters (4*) – intriguing concept although slightly hard to follow and get into the characters 

6 – The Evolution of Human Science (5*) – short little blip but packs a thoughtful punch on the future changes to come with humanity and science 

7 – Hell is the Absence of God (5*) – highly conceptual; perfect blend of religion and science fiction – what if miracles were obviously happening but a mixture of good and bad?

8 – Liking What You See: A Doc (5*) – prescient; timely; predictive of our near future; great style using a documentary format 

Well Done!

Overall: 5 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman —

Book Review – The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

Book Review – The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

Facts:

Book: The Graveyard Book

Author: Neil Gaiman

Genre: Fantasy

Year of Release: 2008

Read 312-page paperback edition in November 2021.

Book Description:

Nobody Owens is a boy who has had some extreme circumstances surrounding his life. His parents and sister were murdered in their sleep, and somehow he found a way to escape as a young toddler and escape to a nearby graveyard, where he has been kept safe ever since. He is protected by an interesting assortment of ghosts, as well as a mysterious guardian.

But “Bod” also wants to explore outside the graveyard too, despite the dangers. He wonders what happened to his family, and also wants to see other “living” people. He and his protectors navigate the dangers together, as the killer who murdered the rest of his family wants to finish the job.

Book Review:

This was an imaginative and fantastic novel by famed author Neil Gaiman. As with all of his other work, Gaiman has successfully created a memorable cast of characters, a breathtaking setting, and a page-turning plot.

The characters are enjoyable to read about, in particular the main character Bod. He sometimes makes mistakes or poor judgments, but his imperfections as he grows up are natural and believable, making for a realistic story. Secondary characters, including the plethora of ghosts in the graveyard and the guardian Silas, have a mixture of humourous and mysterious character traits, which creates a variety of atmospheres in Bod’s home in the graveyard. Other “living” characters also add intrigue, drama, and suspense to the plot, providing an overall great novel.

Gaiman always does a great job creating a rich setting with colourful descriptions, and this is no different. He captures beauty, mystery, and an ethereal feeling to this book. A range of emotions from happy to sad to melancholy are richly explored.

The one drawback to the novel was that at times it felt like some of the chapters felt a little disjointed from each other. There were a few chapters in the novel that felt like disconnected short stories, while most of the other chapters really weaved together clearly. This made the book feel like novel with a few short stories woven in, almost as if the book didn’t know what structure it wanted to take.

This is a very minor point though. Overall, this is a fantastic book for young readers and adults alike.

Overall: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – Persephone’s Children – Rowan McCandless — November 20, 2021

Book Review – Persephone’s Children – Rowan McCandless

Book Review – Persephone’s Children – Rowan McCandless

Facts:

Book: Persephone’s Children

Author: Rowan McCandless

Genre: Memoir

Year of Release: 2021

Read 315-page paperback edition in November 2021.

Book Description:

In this collection of creative non-fiction forms, author Rowan McCandless shares the painful and difficult experiences of her past. A large focus is the efforts she took to escape the long-term domestic abuse experienced through a long-term relationship. Tied to this is exploration of the challenge and emotion during the experience, but also coming to terms with what happens when leaving that situation.

Furthermore, there is exploration of connected issues, and how they all run together. Topics such as eating disorders, racism, white privilege, and childhood bullying and trauma are explored through a variety of moving and powerful pieces.

Book Review:

This book is truly a success. From a structural point of view, the unique setup of the book was demonstrative of creative talent. Each section’s content was powerful and thoughtful, and the different styles and forms led to exploring difficult and emotional content in new ways.  The talent and creativity in this collection was impressive, and the forms used were unique and brought forward the emotion in a nuanced way.  An apt word to describe this is textured.  The work taken as a whole is a success, with numerous layers of difficult themes and emotions all overlapping together through the different forms used.


Author Rowan McCandless demonstrates courage in putting this work forward, showing true emotion and heart out on the page. As the reader, I felt a lot of emotion while reading the work, with the author’s bravery clearly demonstrated, bringing forward the pain not only of domestic abuse (intimate partner violence), but also other critical issues like eating disorders, racism, and white privilege.  This is so important, for local communities and the world as a whole to be having these conversations.  If we want to make the world and our local community a better place, we need to shine a light and talk about these topics.  This powerful book helps us to do that.


It was also inspiring to read about how the author’s daughters, as well as turning back to writing, helped through difficult times. 


In closing, this book is truly a complete success, and is highly recommended for everyone The writing is strong, the forms are creative, and the subject matter is timely and critical.

Well Done!

Overall: 5 stars out of 5 stars