MatthewSean Reviews

Book reviews, movie reviews, and other writing

Book Review – Children of God – Mary Doria Russell — October 15, 2017

Book Review – Children of God – Mary Doria Russell

Book Review – Children of God – Mary Doria Russell



Book: Children of God
Author: Mary Doria Russell
Genre: Science Fiction
Year of Release: 1998
Read 438-page paperback edition in September 2017.

Book Description:

In Russell’s sequel to The Sparrow, we see two parallel stories playing out as the novel opens.  One is the ongoing life story of Father Emilio Sandoz, who is back on Earth after a traumatic and harrowing ordeal on the planet Rakhat, where a doomed expedition made first contact with alien races.  Meanwhile, Sofia, the crew member who was left behind, must struggle to cope while living in an alien community, and find ways to help the Runa people, who she feels responsible for.

Father Sandoz, who wants to leave the faith and focus on getting his life together, nevertheless helps the Jesuits prepare for their second expedition to the planet.  However, he gets pushed into greater involvement, and must find a way to help the people of Rakhat, and perhaps help himself, as well.

Book Review:

This novel was the sequel to the powerful, award-winning novel The Sparrow, and as such had a lot to try and live up to. The Sparrow had amazing writing, well-developed characters, and tragic conclusions. How was the author going to move the story forward and keep the reader as excited and moved as she did with the first novel?

The novel definitely was successful in advancing the storylines of the two main characters from the first novel, Sofia and Emilio.  We see Emilio continuing to struggle, and we see how Sofia moves forward, pregnant and on Rakhat, the only human adult left.  The author does a great job bringing their conflicted emotions to the surface, and writing several powerful scenes for each of them, that made the reader empathize and feel for these characters.  Furthermore, moving the novel between Earth and Rakhat, between Sofia and Emilio, was a great way to create two connected threads, which eventually come together in the last quarter of the novel. Although both threads are interesting, the plot developments in Emilio’s world tend to be more action-oriented and easier to read, versus the chapters on Rakhat, which were sometimes overly political and difficult to follow.

Supporting characters were interesting and somewhat developed, although in general the new characters in this novel weren’t quite as intriguing and didn’t have as many poignant scenes as the characters from the first novel.

The sequel does a nice job of bringing up the central questions and conclusions of the first novel, and pushing the envelope further.  The plot allows us to further explore questions of religion, culture, and politics, and the author succeeds in creating a novel that is worthy of consideration.  Unlike a quick and easy read, this requires the reader to think carefully while reading, and consider the issues she is putting forward for us. At times the issues can be missed, and careful concentration is required when reading this novel.

Although it can be complicated at times, the novel is worthy of reading, and has a satisfying conclusion, one that is complex and has shades of grey.  Although The Sparrow is the better novel, this sequel is worthwhile as a further exploration.

Overall: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – History of Wolves – Emily Fridlund — October 9, 2017

Book Review – History of Wolves – Emily Fridlund

Book Review – History of Wolves – Emily Fridlund



Book: History of Wolves
Author: Emily Fridlund
Genre: Fiction
Year of Release: 2017
Read 279-page paperback edition in September 2017.

Book Description:

Fourteen year old Madeline lives a quiet rural Minnesota lifestyle, in a family that is very quiet and predictable.  She has few friends at school, but is drawn to the outcast Lily and eccentric Mr. Grieson.  However, when Mr. Grieson is removed from school due to possession of child pornography, Madeline does not know what to make of the situation.  She moves forward when a new family moves in across the lake.  She becomes familiar with the Gardner family, and eventually takes to babysitting their young son Paul.  However, what happens next will throw the rest of Madeline’s life into a tailspin.

Book Review:

This was a very interesting novel, and in terms of writing, was powerful and well written by Fridlund.  The author does a fantastic job of using language to paint stark visuals of winter in rural Minnesota and to showcase equally stark portraits of characters that are flawed and hurting.  Fridlund’s ability to tell the story in different timelines, and show our main character’s thoughts and feelings over a few time periods in her life, was successful and created a powerful narrative. Fridlund definitely has skill with writing strong and emotional prose.

The negative piece of this story centred on the two main storylines that it involved. One storyline involved Mr. Grieson and Lily and the other involved the Gardner family. Although both storylines involved Madeline, and I suppose you could argue that was the reason to include both, the challenge for the reader was that these two arcs were entirely unconnected otherwise.  Which arc was the most important, and which should we be focusing on?  It became clear the Gardner story is what the novel centred on, which then made us wonder, what was the point of the other storyline?  In some ways it was confusing, particularly the last chapter.  In other ways it detracted from focusing on the main storyline, which also had elements of confusion to it.

Although this novel definitely had strengths, the confusion of the plot and how it all held together took away from the book.

Overall: 3 stars out of 5 stars