MatthewSean Reviews

Book reviews, movie reviews, and other writing

Book Review – Lethal White – Robert Galbraith — October 9, 2018

Book Review – Lethal White – Robert Galbraith

Book Review – Lethal White – Robert Galbraith

Lethal_White_UK

Facts:

Book: Lethal White
Author: Robert Galbraith
Genre: Mystery
Year of Release: 2018
Read 650-page hardcover edition in October 2018.

Book Description:

In the fourth Cormoran Strike novel, we catch up with Private Investigator Cormoran Strike at partner Robin Ellacott’s wedding to fiance Matthew.  Strike and Ellacott both have mixed feelings about everything that occurred in the last case, and about what the marriage means to their friendship and partnership.
However, there is little time to figure these things out. Both Strike and Ellacott are thrust into a complex case, when a troubled man named Billy bursts into Strike’s office, yelling about the murder of a child he saw many years ago. Strike decides to investigate this, while at the same time a related case involving the blackmailing of a government Minister comes to the fore.
Strike and Ellacott continue their work together and separately, knowing danger is lurking.

 

Book Review:

This fourth novel in the Cormoran Strike series is one of Robert Galbraith’s (J.K. Rowling’s) best ones yet. The prior novels have all done a great job of combining character development of Cormoran and Robin with high action and fast-moving plots. This novel is no exception, but the character development is ramped up and the plot is more complex. This novel is longer than the last three, offering the author more room to explore characters and create a highly complex plot.
The novel is a fantastic series of mysteries all interwoven, with numerous secondary characters that are suspicious.  The plot is fast moving and has a number of twists and turns within it.  There are unpredictable moments, and a great cast that allows for numerous possibilities.
Character development between Cormoran and Robin continues in this novel, from where the third novel ends off.  There relationship goes through peaks and valleys again, and the sub-plots involving each of their romantic lives are well-placed in the novel, ensuring that the main plot (the mysteries) continues to evolve, but providing room for the characters to have their personal lives explored.
Galbraith (Rowling) does a great job combining action, plot development, character development, and humour throughout the novel. There are laugh out loud lines in the novel, along with sections that keep the pages turning.
A couple examples of some great writing in the novel, both serious and humourous:
“Sitting in the stylish armchair belonging to their absent landlord, Robin felt as though she were inhabiting a memory. How often were you aware, while it happened, that you were living an hour that would change the course of your life forever? …” (Page 483 – Robin reflecting)
“She headed to a table of bottles sitting in the corner of the room, uncorked some Famous Grouse and poured herself a stiff measure of whisky. ‘I wouldn’t say no, if you’re offering,’ Strike said shamelessly, wincing again as he massaged his right knee. ‘Actually, I think this is going to have to come off, do you mind?’ ” (Page 590 – Strike dealing with a difficult witness)
Just a couple of minor complaints from the novel: for some reason it seems that Cormoran Strike has increased his smoking in this book. It becomes almost a distraction to read the constant references about Strike smoking, putting out a smoke, lighting a smoke, or dumping his ashtray (once every couple pages when he is in a scene).  A second slight complaint in the book is that there are a few obvious grammar mistakes that jar the reader out of the scene when you come across them. Although there are only a few, they are frustrating.
Overall, however, this is a fantastic and exciting novel, which has equal measure thoughtful character development and a wonderful mystery. It is well worth the read!

 

Overall: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars

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Book Review – Autumn – Ali Smith —

Book Review – Autumn – Ali Smith

Book Review – Autumn – Ali Smith

autumn

Facts:

Book: Autumn
Author: Ali Smith
Genre: Fiction
Year of Release: 2016
Read 264-page paperback edition in September 2018.

Book Description:

This is the first novel of Smith’s seasonal quartet, a series of non-connected stories that roll through the seasons. Autumn features the exploration of a unique friendship forged over time between a now ailing 100 year-old man and a 32 year-old woman, who grew up beside him. We learn more about how Daniel and Elisabeth became friends in the past, and how it developed over time to the present.
We also see this friendship in the backdrop of a strange time post-Brexit in the UK, and how the current political and social climate has changed their understanding of their home.

 

Book Review:

Ali Smith has done a great job at creating a novel that truly feels post-Brexit. She captures the feel of a UK in 2016-2017 that is on the brink of change, with the negativity towards immigrants and refugees very palpable in the air.  Smith’s ability to create this in the novel demonstrates her skill at creating a setting not just based on physical place, but on society and culture as well.
Smith is also adept at creating beautiful prose. Her sentence structure is clean and crisp, and she employs a creative structure, with stylistic choices like not using quotation marks in her dialogue.  Although sometimes the emphasis on the lyrical nature and structure takes over, and there can be entire chapters that are shorter on substance, the prose truly is strong.
The style and language allows for a wonderful examination of thoughtful themes. For example, while considering grief and loss, Daniel says to Elisabeth:
“It’s all right to forget, you know, he said. It’s good to. In fact, we have to forget things sometimes. Forgetting is important. We do it on purpose. It means we get a bit of rest. Are you listening? We have to forget. Or we’d never sleep ever again.”  (Page 210)
The novel’s central characters of Daniel and Elisabeth are fascinating ones, as is the secondary character of Elisabeth’s mom. Where the novel stumbles slightly is that in all the exploration of the setting and landscape of post-Brexit UK, and jumping through different points in time to look at these three characters, one  doesn’t get a complete feeling of a strong plot created for the novel.  What was the overall purpose? There are lots of themes explored and discussed here, and hints of great characters, but they are not fully fleshed out, and the overall main plot is not fully fleshed out.
Overall, this is a good novel, with beautiful language and interesting elements, but it doesn’t fully come together into a great novel.

 

Overall: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman — September 9, 2018

Book Review – Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman

Book Review – Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman

neverwhere

Facts:

Book: Neverwhere
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Fantasy
Year of Release: 1996
Read 460-page paperback edition in September 2018.

Book Description:

This dark urban fantasy by renowned author Neil Gaiman allows us to get into the real underground of London. We follow the ordinary life of Richard Mayhew, a kind man who has a fairly mundane existence, and is mainly happy with it. However, when he comes across a young woman hurt on a sidewalk, he decides to be the Good Samaritan and help her. What he doesn’t know is that she comes from the London Below, and he has now fallen through the cracks with her. In the London Below, things are very different, and he begins to experience some shocking, bizarre things, that are going to create a lot of excitement, adventure, and danger to his once normal existence.

 

Book Review:

Neil Gaiman’s imagination is amazing, and this novel is no exception. This is one of those novels that is compulsively readable, and once you start reading this novel, you simply cannot put it down.

The creativity behind Gaiman’s world in London Below is fantastic. The characters are enjoyable and strange, and the vivid settings of the sewers, the subways, and the markets are lush with sights, smells and sounds that you almost feel like you are there.

Gaiman’s primary character Richard is loveable and sweet, and the secondary characters surrounding Richard are intriguing and quirky. We learn quite quickly that there may be a traitor in the little group’s midst, and it adds a level of suspense as we move forward with the narrative.

The plot moves quickly, and thus we have a great combination of fast-paced story and interesting characters that we care about and want to learn more about. As we move forward, once can really get the sense that Gaiman’s dark urban fantasy likely inspired the sub-genre to take flight, and today we have many novels in this vein by other authors. However, this is truly one of the best.

In addition to the fantasy, Gaiman also does a wonderful job at humour in this book. His writing is witty and his use of wry humour totally works.

One example, when speaking about the importance of the sewer system, between two characters who always have the “Mister” in front of their names in the entire novel:

“They turned their backs on the brown water, and made their way back into the tunnels. ‘With cities, as with people, Mister Vandemar,’ said Mister Croup, fastidiously, ‘the condition of the bowels is all-important.’ ”  <Page 288>

Another example, after Richard is hung over from drinking wine from Atlantis:

” ‘No wonder Atlantis sank,’ muttered Richard. ‘If they all felt like this in the morning, it was probably a relief.’ ”  <Pages 241-242>

The action is fast-paced, and there is a lot of imaginative, dark, gritty fantasy woven throughout the story. But the humour is also woven in, creating a truly enjoyable read. This is definitely a success, and you end the novel wanting to read more about this world and its characters, which is the best success an author can have.

Well done!

Overall: 5 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – Dune – Frank Herbert —

Book Review – Dune – Frank Herbert

Book Review – Dune – Frank Herbert

Facts:

Book: Dune
Author: Frank Herbert
Genre: Science Fiction
Year of Release: 1965
Read 605 page paperback edition in September 2018.

Book Description:

This classic science fiction novel, winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards, has been called by Arthur C. Clarke, “Unique among SF novels … I know nothing comparable to it except The Lord of the Rings.”
The Duke Leto Atreides, along with his lover Jessica and their son Paul, have arrived with their forces to the planet of Arrakis. The desert planet is the sole source of the powerful spice melange, which is highly valued in the galaxy.  Also on the planet are the mysterious local inhabitants, the Fremen, who have found ways to live and survive in the desert.
Although it is a great opportunity to take control of this planet, the Duke and his forces must be very cautious, because the Baron Harkonnen and his powerful forces are not happy to be leaving, and they may use treachery and war to take the planet back, and kill the Duke and his family in the process.
However, one point not considered is that Jessica has been teaching her son in the ways of her matriarchal religious beliefs, the Bene Gesserit. Paul has shown considerable fortitude in his tests and learnings, and it may mean that he is destined for great things.

 

Book Review:

This novel by Herbert truly is one of the great classics of 20th century science fiction. Herbert has found a way to bring to life an entire ecosystem, with the way he describes the ecology of Arrakis. The “dune planet” takes centre stage in much of the novel, and Herbert’s descriptions are completely convincing, allowing the reader to truly feel like they are on this desert planet. The struggles to survive around the heat, the sand, and the worms that rumble through the sand and prey on other life, are fascinating. Herbert also does a great job when describing scenes on other planets and on spaceships, however it is when he describes Arrakis that he really shines. Even when he is having his characters describe how water is recycled to ensure minimum waste, he does it in a way that the  attention of the reader is held.
In addition to the setting, Herbert has also written a multi-faceted plot that involves religion, politics, family dynamics, understanding across different species, and what happens when the powerful use violence to achieve their ends. Herbert weaves these themes seamlessly across a plot full of action and intrigue, and creates a lively story that is enjoyable. The reader is pulled in, wanting to learn more and find out what happens next. There is a mix of fast-paced action sequences, and slower scenes, but these slower sections help us understand more about what is going on, and do not detract from the story.
The dynamics between many of the primary and secondary characters are wonderful to read, and the novel has a lot of time devoted to character development. Characters like Paul and Jessica are well thought out, and Herbert does a somewhat good job, given this book is over 50 years old, at having female characters with roles that have power behind them.
The version I read had a detailed glossary of terms at the end, which I found very useful, as I could continually refer to the list and confirm what certain words meant.
This is a fantastic classic of science fiction.
Well done!

 

Overall: 5 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – Dating – Dave Williamson —

Book Review – Dating – Dave Williamson

Book Review – Dating – Dave Williamson

dating-cover

Facts:

Book: Dating
Author: Dave Williamson
Genre: Fiction
Year of Release: 2012
Read 341-page paperback edition in August 2018.

Book Description:

This light-hearted novel explores a year in the life of widowed Jenkins, a man with a group of friends, children, a grandchild, and a very set routine in his retired years. He doesn’t have much of an interest in dating, even a couple years after his beloved wife has passed away. However, events conspire to lead him on not one, but several dates with different women, some newly entering his life, and others returning into his life.
At the same time, we see into some of his old memories of dating as a teenager and young adult, and see how he has changed, and stayed the same, over time.

 

Book Review:

First and foremost, Canadian author Dave Williamson has done a great job with setting in this novel. Williamson has done his research, and we are able to really get a strong feel of the city of Winnipeg, both past and present. When we look back on the scenes in the 1950s, we get a real sense of what Winnipeg was like, and what dating was like, back in that time period. Higher involvement of parents, and the increased decorum of the day, was demonstrated clearly by Williamson, sometimes to humourous degree. On the other hand, teenagers were still interested in exploring each other, and the making out in the back seat of a car shows that dating in the 1950s may have been different, but in some cases the emotions and sense of adventure was still very much present, and hasn’t changed much.  Overall, Williamson’s was effective in placing the setting firmly in the 1950s, and in the present, making for an enjoyable and authentic read.

The characters in the novel were fun and amusing, and this was mainly a light-hearted tale. The main character of Jenkins was fun to read about, both in the present day, and in his more adventurous youth. Secondary characters were present but often not fully explored. At times it felt like characters were not fully fleshed out beyond what they were required to be for the story.

The plot was enjoyable, with lots of humour and truths about the realities of dating. In addition, Williamson also did a nice job of exploring more serious issues in the text as well, including the concepts of aging, dementia, and losing a partner. That being said, he didn’t allow these topics to overshadow the overall light-hearted tone of the novel.

In summary, this was a fun and enjoyable book, well worth reading.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – American Gods – Neil Gaiman — August 31, 2018

Book Review – American Gods – Neil Gaiman

Book Review – American Gods – Neil Gaiman

american-gods

Facts:

Book: American Gods
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Fantasy
Year of Release: 2001
Read 750-page paperback edition in August 2018.

Book Description:

Shadow is about to released from prison, serving a sentence for a crime he did not commit. However, in the days leading to his release, his loving wife Lauren, and his best friend, are killed in a car accident. In the grief-stricken days that follow, he is approached by a mysterious man named Wednesday, and agrees to be his bodyguard.

Shadow and Wednesday travel across America on a very unique roadtrip, meeting many of Wednesday’s friends. Shadow begins to realize that not all is right here, and in fact, Wednesday and his friends are Gods, who are organizing for a coming war.

Shadow must decide how to react to this, and what role he is to play in the coming battle, which “regular” citizens seem to be oblivious too, but which he is now all-too familiar is on the horizon.

Book Review:

This novel, winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards when released, has become a classic of fantasy by acclaimed author Neil Gaiman.  One can see why this is the case, as this is a truly creative and unique work.

Gaiman has done a fantastic job developing a plot that has action and intrigue, and at the same time strong feelings of melancholy as well.  The plot is very layered, and we have a variety of scenes with a diverse cast of bizarre characters. At the same time, the main character Shadow is a compelling protagonist to follow, someone we can relate to as being a “good man” but in a set of very difficult circumstances. We can really empathize with this blue-collar guy who has been through tough times.  Conversely, other characters are more nuanced and layered, and we are often left wondering whether someone is really good or evil.

Gaiman does a great job sowing seeds of doubt throughout the plot. This leads to many surprises and twists and turns throughout the novel, particularly in the ending sequence, which is surprising and satisfying.

Overall, this fantasy novel feels fresh, fun, and original. Gaiman has succeeded in a masterful work.

Well done!

Overall: 5 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – My Brother’s Husband – Gengoroh Tagame —

Book Review – My Brother’s Husband – Gengoroh Tagame

Book Review – My Brother’s Husband – Gengoroh Tagame

my-brother-husband

Facts:

Book: My Brother’s Husband
Author: Gengoroh Tagame
Genre: Manga
Year of Release: 2017
Read 353-page hardcover edition in August 2018.

Book Description:

Yaichi is a stay-at-home single father of one daughter, Kana. They live a peaceful, routine life in Japan. However, they get a surprise visitor when Mike Flanagan shows up at their door. This gay Canadian married Yaichi’s brother, Ryoji. They moved to Canada and lived together there, however Ryoji passed away.

This volume one of the manga series follows the three characters, and others, as they all learn to live together while Mike enjoys an extended stay. Mike wants to learn about the country that his deceased partner came from; Kana wants to get to know her uncle that she didn’t know about; and Yaichi learns more about acceptance and who is brother really was.

Book Review:

This first volume in the new manga series by renowned illustrator Gengoroh Tagame is absolutely fantastic!

This manga is beautifully drawn, with a wonderful balance of illustrations and captions that tell a vivid story. The plot moves quickly from scene to scene, told through both pictures and words, and it is extremely readable. As a reader, I tried to balance out the volume so that I would be able to enjoy the wonderful and touching story for longer, but I couldn’t put this down!

The characters are fresh, genuine, and believable. The story tells us about how difficult it is to come out, and how it can be difficult to understand when a family member surprises us. The characters all have their own discoveries throughout the volume, which makes for an enjoyable array of stories and ideas that come across.

This is a fantastic story, and well worth picking up and enjoying.

Well done!

Overall: 5 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – End of Watch – Stephen King —

Book Review – End of Watch – Stephen King

Book Review – End of Watch – Stephen King

endofwatch

Facts:

Book: End of Watch
Author: Stephen King
Genre: Mystery
Year of Release: 2016
Read 482-page paperback edition in July 2018.

Book Description:

Retired detective, now private investigator, Bill Hodges, continues to work on cases with his partner Holly. Things have settled into a comfortable routine of cases for the two of them.

However, they learn of a spate of suicides that eerily reminds them of Brady Hartsfield, who is still in a hospital with supposed brain damage. They are looking into whether Brady could possibly be connected, when Hodges finds out he has serious pancreatic cancer. Fighting against time, and increasing pain, Hodges works with Holly, and another friend Jerome, back from college, to try and get to the bottom of the increasingly bizarre and dangerous situation.

Book Review:

This third and final novel in Stephen King’s mystery / thriller series starring Detective Hodges took an even larger turn towards supernatural fantasy in this novel.

In this novel, we continue to learn more from familiar characters Hodges, Holly, and Jerome, as they work together to solve the mystery of multiple suicides happening around them. At the same time, we learn more about how Brady is able to come out of his coma, and begin to develop strange and dangerous powers, which can impact people far and wide.

King does a great job creating drama and action in this fast-moving plot, while at the same time providing some great character development throughout. Although there are times in the novel where the plot slows down, overall the pace is set well by King.

The conclusion of the novel is not sugar-coated, which makes it feel all the more real (supernatural elements aside). Overall, this is a great close to the trilogy, and a great testament to King’s desire to write mystery novels with some intriguing characters.

Overall: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – Finders Keepers – Stephen King — July 15, 2018

Book Review – Finders Keepers – Stephen King

Book Review – Finders Keepers – Stephen King

finders_keepers

Facts:

Book: Finders Keepers
Author: Stephen King
Genre: Fiction
Year of Release: 2015
Read 528-page paperback edition in July 2018.

Book Description:

In the second novel of the Bill Hodges Trilogy, we follow the trail of Morris Bellamy, who in the 1970s committed the heinous murder of famous author John Rothstein, stealing his secret manuscripts for unpublished works. Bellamy did so not for basic wealth alone, but because of his obsession over Rothstein’s works.

Fast forward to 2014, and high school student Pete Saubers is also a fan of Rothstein. He has had a hard few years, with his dad injured in the deadly Mr. Mercedes incident. Saubers has a secret though, to help his family. But when it begins to overwhelm him, his younger sister finds a connection to Detective Bill Hodges, his assistant Holly, and friend Jerome. These three must determine what is going on, and try to protect the family from a serious wrong.

Book Review:

King has done a usual fantastic job bringing suspenseful, intensely readable plots to life with the second novel in this trilogy. King does a great job writing a plot that is a real page-turner, using wit and humour as well as believable and likeable characters that the reader cares about.

One of the interesting things about this novel is that King chooses a few different storylines, not just our main characters from the first novel Mr. Mercedes, and then begins to weave them together half-way through the story. We are left waiting for a long time for the entrance of the characters we grew familiar with in the first novel. And that works, as we then grow to learn about another plot and other characters, both good and evil. This is a second book that is not your standard second book of a trilogy, which makes it unique.

King has extended his detective crime novels into a second book, and does a great job combining the mystery and detective-style plot points with more intense thriller elements as well.

Characters in this novel, both returning and new, are multi-layered and enjoyable to read. The evil characters are truly evil, and the other characters are ones we grow to really care for. Connections with the first book, as well as new plot points, eventually fuse together perfectly in this novel.

Overall, this is a very readable and enjoyable novel, with a great focus on the fast-paced plot, but also enough character development that we learn more about the characters and care for them.  Also, ending on a suspenseful note shows that a third novel is coming for Bill Hodges, keeping readers wanting more.

Well done!

Overall: 5 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – American War – Omar El Akkad —

Book Review – American War – Omar El Akkad

Book Review – American War – Omar El Akkad

american_war

Facts:

Book: American War
Author: Omar El Akkad
Genre: Fiction
Year of Release: 2017
Read 417-page paperback edition in July 2018.

Book Description:

In the year 2074, a second American civil war has broken out. Due to the ravages of climate change, the geography and climate of the continent, and the world, has changed immensely over the century. However, the real shock to America has been the breakout of a bloody war, when the south opposes the north’s decision to ban fossil fuels.

Looking more closely at the Chestnut family, we see the lives of three children, including Sarat Chestnut, affected. Sarat and her siblings are pulled away from their flooding state of Louisiana and brought to Camp Patience, a large refugee camp. There, Sarat and her siblings grow up, seeing what war does to the people and land around them.

Sarat also encounters people, including a mysterious teacher, who helps her to understand not only what side she is on, but also what she is willing to do, in this fight.

Book Review:

Egyptian-Canadian author Omar El Akkad, now living in the USA, has brought to life a haunting and powerful image of a future state, made very relevant in the current days of Trump, fake news, and a polarized America.

The author has done an exceptional job bringing to life the main character Sarat. He describes her throughout the book in vivid ways, and her tomboy-ish childhood tendancies evolve into an intense, violent, and highly intelligent adult. The description of Sarat is often done through her actions, and through the actions done to her. By putting Sarat in the centre of the action, from childhood to adulthood, the reader has a great picture of who she is and what she stands for.

The plot is well defined and fast-moving, and covers multiple years of war time, as well as attempts at peace time. Th author has done a great job demonstrating the tragedy of the child soldier and the lives of those who end up staying for years in refugee camps.  Seeing Sarat and her brother Simon, who become participants in the violence around them, is disturbing. Omar El Akkad has done an exceptional job bringing this to life, and educating the reader with this powerful plot.

One element of the plot that is a little disjointed and slightly hard to believe is the final sequence, where Sarat makes decisions that have extreme consequences. Although one can certainly believe that she may have made those decisions, the impacts on various family members, and how she chooses to interact with various family members leading up to the decision, are in some ways inconsistent. Perhaps there could have been a way to still carry out this extreme decision but smooth out some of the inconsistencies with how Sarat handled the individuals around her?

That is a minor complaint however. On the whole, this is a nuanced tale, and the author has succeeded in creating characters and siturations that the reader can sympathize with, and at the same time be angered and troubled by. This complexity demonstrates a true success and portrays the reality of war; that it is shades of grey, and not a black and white situation, that individuals often find themselves in.

Overall, this is a powerful, gripping dystopia, a future that one hopes will not come to pass.

Overall: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars