MatthewSean Reviews

Book reviews, movie reviews, and other writing

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

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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

Book Review – Childhood’s End – Arthur C. Clarke —

Book Review – Childhood’s End – Arthur C. Clarke

Book Review – Childhood’s End – Arthur C. Clarke

childhood

Facts:

Book: Childhood’s End
Author: Arthur C. Clarke
Genre: Science Fiction
Year of Release: 1953
Read 222-page paperback edition in June 2018.

Book Description:

Classic and legend science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke tells of the present and future of the human race, from the 1950s to the 2050s, during a period of enlightenment, advancement, and contact with aliens. We meet distinct characters and aliens in three different time blocks over the course of the novel, and see just how contact with the mysterious alien race changes and influences the course of human history.

Book Review:

This novel from Clarke packed a real punch given its short length. Clarke doesn’t waste any words, and writes a sparing prose that moves us from one scene to another fairly efficiently. This is effective, although at times we are left wondering what some of the details are, or what some of the characters are feeling and thinking. For the most part his style works well, and the pace moves quickly, providing an exciting plot, particularly in the beginning and the end. (The middle section does tend to drag slightly.)

Clarke has imagined a very creative and intriguing set of circumstances for the human race. Clarke is a pioneer, and many of his ideas and themes have come to pass 50+ years after the writing of this novel. Furthermore, many of his ideas have been reused in other science fiction novels and films, showcasing the fact that he is one of the original legends of the genre.

One must also balance that with the fact that because this was written in the 1950s, there is very little diversity in the novel, and for example the lack of any female characters of substance, even in Clarke’s future, is unfortunate. It speaks to the time period this classic novel was written in, and shows that in truth, humankind is actually making better strides in the area of gender diversity (and other forms of diversity) than Clarke may have acknowledged in this novel.

Overall, this is a creative and imaginative novel, written in the past, and telling us of a possible future. This makes the novel a great study of the past, and an enjoyable science fiction adventure.

Overall: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars

Movie Review – Ready Player One (2018) — June 10, 2018

Movie Review – Ready Player One (2018)

Movie Review – Ready Player One (2018)

readyplayermovie

Movie Synopsis:

In the adaptation of the novel of the same name, we see the high school student Wade Watts, who instead of school would rather focus his time in the virtual reality space called “The Oasis,” trying to solve the puzzle left by deceased creator James Halliday. Whoever solved the complex set of puzzles will inherit a huge amount of money, and more importantly control over the Oasis. Wade is trying to beat others to win this contest, and most importantly ensure evil corporation IOI does not take control of the Oasis.

Movie Review:

This was a fantastic adaptation of the novel Ready Player One. Screenplay being co-written by novelist Ernest Cline, and directed by Steven Spielberg, this movie is a feast for the eyes. The visual effects are completely amazing in this film, from start to finish. Spielberg and his team have done a great job at bringing this dystopian story set in 2045 to life. The movie is really enjoyable to watch from start to finish, with many memorable scenes that are imaginative, creative, action-oriented, and colourful.

The storyline is actually quite modified from the novel, with the challenges and components of the quest being quite changed, to bring some of the more individual-oriented and computer-oriented pieces to life on screen in a more accessible manner for a visual audience. Spielberg, Cline, and others have done a great job preparing some alternative challenges and quests for the characters to push through, and the result is differences from the novel that both respect the themes and work on screen.

The characters in the film adaptation also have differences from the novel, but in a positive way. The writers have built additional details into the characterization of the characters that are working with Wade against IOI, which is interesting and helps build the storyline in new directions. There is a good amount of diversity in the characters that doesn’t come across quite as effectively in the novel, which is another credit to the film. For the most part, the changes made in this area again are an impressive example of actually taking source material and making some additions for the screen that keep the spirit of the original and enhance it.

Overall, this is an exciting and visually appealing movie, for all ages.

Overall: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars.

PS. See my review of the novel Ready Player One here.