MatthewSean Reviews

Book reviews, movie reviews, and other writing

Book Review – Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was — January 17, 2017

Book Review – Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was

Book Review – Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was



Book: Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was
Author: Sjon
Genre: Fiction
Year of Release: 2013
Read 147-page hardcover edition in January 2017.

Book Description:

In 1918 Iceland, the island is facing a variety of challenges. Incoming political change with Denmark. The prospect of the Great War occurring in Europe. Volcanic eruptions on Katla. The spanish flu outbreak. And most importantly to 16-year-old Mani Steinn, the continued development of the cinema.

We follow young Mani as he explores the cinema, his passion, and as he goes through his life in Reykjavik as a closeted gay person, unable to come out, and with only an elderly woman as his family.

As change ebbs and flows across Iceland, we see how Mani’s life changes with it, in this poetic novella from Icelandic author Sjon.

Book Review:

This was a fascinating and very lyrical story about a country and character of mystery. The author tells the story in a way that is very poetic, with a number of quotes and a couple of photos placed in the tale that add to the richness of what is being told.

We get right into the head of the main character, and see how he feels growing up very much alone in the capital of Iceland, feeling very much an outsider, but working with those feelings and putting his passion into the cinema, which has arrived recently.

As Mani discovers sex, the cinema, and deals with challenges including the spanish flu, understanding his family background, and homophobia, we learn more about what it was like to be in this time and space.

The author does a great job painting a picture of the character and the setting, through very poetic and flowing prose.

Although at times this was a little hard to fully understand, and it almost felt too short, it was definitely well worth the read.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – The Paying Guests – Sarah Waters —

Book Review – The Paying Guests – Sarah Waters

Book Review – The Paying Guests – Sarah Waters



Book: The Paying Guests
Author: Sarah Waters
Genre: Fiction
Year of Release: 2014
Read 566-page hardcover edition in November 2016.

Book Description:


It is 1922 in London, post-WWI, and Frances Wray lives with her widowed mother in their large house. However, because of the death of Frances’s father and brothers in the war, and their lack of financial resources, Frances has had to lay off their servants, conduct the cleaning and cooking herself, and now bring in renters to the upstairs rooms. These “paying guests” are Mr. and Mrs. Barber. As Frances gets to know this couple, she starts to form an unlikely friendship with Mrs. Barber, while wondering that something may be a little strange. However, when things truly start to unravel, Frances Wray and Lillian Barber have many quick decisions to make, decisions that will have lasting repercussions.

Book Review:

This lengthy novel by Sarah Waters was an enjoyable, fascinating read through 1920s London.

Firstly, Waters does an incredible job of setting the scene for us. We truly feel we are in an old mansion in 1920s London, and as the reader we can feel the emptiness of the house, feel London post the Great War, and feel what the characters are feeling in this time period. This is all thanks to the great description and the thoughtful dialogue, which makes us want to keep reading to learn what happens next.

In addition, Waters has created some fascinating characters. The four main characters, who all live in this old house with so much history, all have peculiarities of themselves. Waters does a great job bringing the plot to a slow boil, sharing details and surprises about various characters throughout the novel. The mystery / police drama this book takes on halfway through is also effective, as is the exploration of various relationships in the novel. There are some great twists and turns as the plot evolves, and I won’t give anything further away to avoid spoilers.

The one slight detraction for this book is that when considering the characters from the beginning, middle, and end, particularly Lillian Barber, one gets the feeling that things are a little bit inconsistent. For example, Lillian seems very free-spirited and independent in the beginning of the novel, but in the middle and end she seems to become less so. Part of this may be due to the circumstances she finds herself in, but part of it seems a little out of character.

This is a minor complaint though. Overall, the strong characters, interesting plot, and wonderful descriptions of London in the 1920s makes this a historical fiction that is well worth reading.


Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald —

Book Review – H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald

Book Review – H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald



Book: H is for Hawk
Author: Helen Macdonald
Genre: Memoir
Year of Release: 2014
Read 306-page paperback edition in December 2016.

Book Description:

In this memoir, the author combines the exploration of her grief at the sudden death of her father with the decision to acquire a new goshawk, a difficult to train bird of prey. As the author rears this young bird, she throws all of her energy into the process, while also considering how it relates to the management of her grief.  She also takes the time to explore her family history and her past fascination with birds of prey.

Book Review:

This memoir by Helen Macdonald truly had some thoughtful insights, and some spectacular scenes.

There were moments within some of the chapters, when the author was describing the training of the goshawk, where we were literally feeling the excitement she felt seeing it soar through the skies of rural England, or the fear she felt when perhaps it had flown away and left her very much alone.  These moments of exhilaration or fear, when they came, were well written and were a testament to how the author could draw the author in.

Furthermore, the chapters where the author explored her grief, whether through the sometimes strained relationships she had with friends and family, or how she worked through her grief in step with the training of the goshawk, was a fascinating thing for the reader to think of.

That all being said, the one thing that detracted from the book was that at times the memoir felt a little bit disjointed. There were some sequences specifically to the goshawk, very few specifically to the grief the author was working through, and sometimes they didn’t flow smoothly or connect well.  Furthermore, there were several chapters devoted to a historical trainer of birds of pray, Mr. T.H. White.  Although the author makes it clear this historical character was important for her, at the end of the day it made for some dull reading to be frank, as the readers did not sign up to read this memoir to learn more about this individual. It served to detract somewhat from the overall story of the author’s life during this time period.

Overall, the memoir had some exciting and thoughtful moments, but also had some slower sections that took away from the overall quality of the piece.


Overall: 3 stars out of 5 stars