MatthewSean Reviews

Book reviews, movie reviews, and other writing

Book Review – The Casual Vacancy – J.K. Rowling — January 12, 2013

Book Review – The Casual Vacancy – J.K. Rowling


  • Book: The Casual Vacancy
  • Author: J.K. Rowling
  • Genre: Fiction (Modern Literature)
  • Year of Release: 2012
  • Read 503-page hardcover edition in December 2012.

Book Description: This is the first book written by J.K. Rowling specifically for an adult audience since her wildly successful 7-book Harry Potter series.  In this book, Rowling examines small-town Britain, and looks at what happens to a variety of diverse characters when popular Mr. Fairbrother has an untimely heart attack and dies.  Characters react in a variety of ways, some with sadness, some with excitement at the prospect of his seat on council being open and available.  Characters are young and old, some have rural backgrounds, some recently moved from London, but all have a variety of ambitions, needs, motivations, and secrets, and the death of Mr. Fairbrother will set in motion a mixture of events that spiral out of control.

Book Review: I did not know what to expect going into this book, but one thing I was thinking was that it would be difficult to be in Rowling’s shoes.  After the success of Harry Potter, it would be very difficult to write anything that would live up to expectations of her audience.  And I must admit that even though I kept this in mind and ensured I didn’t have overly high hopes that were unfair, I was slightly disappointed in this book.  On the positive side, it was a real page-turner.  Rowling ensured the pace flowed quickly and the story moved forward, which was helped along by a great diversity of characters, probably two dozen ongoing characters with real contributions to the story.  The diversity of topics, themes, and people in the story made for interesting reading at times.  On the negative side, Rowling sometimes seemed to be forcing the writing, to ensure it was clear she could write for adults as well.  Her decision to ensure we read several times about teenagers masturbating and thinking about masturbation seemed a little unnecessary after a few sections.  (We get the point, this is meant for an adult audience, we aren’t in Harry Potter world any longer.)  As well, Rowling seemed to miss one key element in the setup for this novel, and that was to ensure we had a personal connection to the plot development and characters.  We jumped so often from character to character that in the end, it was hard to establish an emotional attachment to the story, and it made the reader wonder, why am I reading this, why do I care?  Although the ending was a bit of a climax and a surprise and definitely inspired emotional reaction, which was great, the majority of the book often seemed to be missing that.  Overall, this was a good effort from Rowling in her first post-Harry Potter outing, and the book had some good elements to it, however it wasn’t bang-on like her previous works, and one can hope her future efforts will be a little more precise.

Overall: 3 stars out of 5

Movie Review – Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984) —

Movie Review – Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)


Movie Review: One of the earlier anime movies from Director Hayao Miyazaki, this story centred around Princess Nausicaa, who was trying to lead her people to a healthy and productive existence in a planet where there is limited safety and healthy living conditions due to environmental disaster and global conflict that happened long in the past.  Nausicaa leads her people and has an ally in the wise Lord Yupa, and they must defend their people against a growing threat from a neighbouring society that wants to use violence to take more control of the limited land and resources of the scorched planet.  Looking at this anime over, I had to say I was impressed with Miyazaki’s directing and writing.  The views of the planet, from the healthy inhabited areas to the poisonous deserts and desolate areas, was beautiful, and really made one think about the themes being brough forward in the writing (such as the risks of environmental destruction and war).  The characters were rich and complex, and in the English version the voice talents of Patrick Stewart, Uma Thurman, and Alison Lohman made for an excellent experience. Overall, this was an excellent tale and one of Miyazaki’s more thoughtful, creative, and enjoyable anime movies.

Overall Review: 4 stars out of 5 stars