MatthewSean Reviews

Book reviews, movie reviews, and other writing

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who in the 1970s committed the heinous murder of famous author John Rothstein, stealing his secret manuscripts for unpublished works.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

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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.

Book Review – Ready Player One – Ernest Cline —

Book Review – Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

Book Review – Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

readyplayerbook

Facts:

Book: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Genre: Science Fiction
Year of Release: 2011
Read 311-page paperback edition in April 2018.

Book Description:

It is 2045, and Wade Watts is like many other people on planet Earth, unhappy with the reality of his low income and meagre surroundings. Going to high school and being cared for by an unkind aunt doesn’t help the situation.  Wade spends most of his time in the Oasis, a virtual reality environment that is much more comfortable than the real world. Like many, he has taken on an interesting quest left behind by the creator of the Oasis upon his death. Whoever can complete this difficult and complicated series of puzzles will inherit his fortune, and more importantly control the Oasis. Wade is trying to win the ultimate prize, before a rival, including an evil corporation, takes the victory first.

Book Review:

This was an imaginative and enjoyable novel by the creative Ernest Cline. The author does a great job of utilizing his expertise of fantasy, science fiction, and the 1980s to create a book that is often paying homage to this decade, with numerous references that are easy – or challenging – to understand. Cline has a passion for this time period, and does a great job of using this knowledge and passion to create a story that is equally enthralling and fun. At times it can become almost too much, especially when the references aren’t clear, but usually it works well.

Cline does a great job creating a fast-moving plot that has elements of gaming from the 19080’s combined with the technology like virtual reality and computers one expects for a story set in 2045. The author has imagined a dystopian world that has a lot of problems, and he paints a great picture of things like the futuristic trailer park, where low-income folks live in trailers stacked on top of each other due to general lack of space and resources.

The novel is mixed when it comes to character development. Although he does do a great job with main character Wade, who is an approachable and sympathetic high school kid, there are times where the reader would like more back story to the other critical characters in the novel. For example, we learn something interesting and unique about Wade’s friend Aech late in the novel, and it is a great plot development, but unfortunately it would have been nicer to learn more about Aech in this light. Furthermore, the character of Art3mis is a strong female character, but at times the reader feels a little distant from Art3mis, and more background would have been nice as to where she was coming from.

Overall, this was an enjoyable science fiction story. Although at times dialogue can be a bit repetitive in this novel, overall it is one that has a fast-moving and exciting plot.

Overall: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars

P.S. See my movie review of the film adaptation of Ready Player One here.

Book Review – Titan A.E.: Cale’s Story – Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta — April 22, 2018

Book Review – Titan A.E.: Cale’s Story – Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta

Book Review – Titan A.E.: Cale’s Story – Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta

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Facts:

Book: Titan A.E.: Cale’s Story
Author: Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta
Genre: Young Adult / Science Fiction
Year of Release: 2000
Read 181-page paperback edition in April 2018.

Book Description:

In this movie tie-in, we learn about the back story of young Cale Tucker, who was evacuated 10 years ago when the Earth was destroyed by the attacking alien race, the Drej. Cale is now being raised by his foster father Tek, a scientist and member of a peaceful alien species. Along with his foster sister, the three of them decide to go on a spacefaring adventure, to try and connect Cale with other humans, and learn more about what Cale’s father Sam was working on with Tek before the Drej came.

Book Review:

An enjoyable novel for young adults, which ties in to the movie Titan A.E., this short novel tells the back story to Cale, the main character of the movie.  We learn more about where Cale’s mind was at during the movie, and the back story to his feelings as well as that of Tek, one of the secondary characters in the movie.

This novel was an interesting one, with an action-oriented plot that sees the three characters travel across the universe looking for information and allies.  We learn more about other alien species and the Drej, and it’s nice to get more back story to what we see in the movie.  The novel is an enjoyable, action-oriented adventure for young adults who see the movie and enjoy it.

However, it must be said that much of the plot is fairly basic and predictable. For example, the sibling rivalry and like/hate relationship between Cale and his foster sister has been covered in numerous books before. As well, many of the scenes are written in a very forced way, and don’t seem practical, such as the Drej coming to the human outpost of Marrakesh, wanting to destroy what is left of human kind, but also not finishing the job either. This doesn’t seem to make logical sense.

That being said, although there are holes in logic and plot, the novel is a fun, quick read, and a nice tie-in to a great animated movie.

Overall: 3 stars out of 5 stars

P.S. See my Titan A.E. movie review here.

Book Review – The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood —

Book Review – The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Book Review – The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

handmaid

Facts:

Book: The Handmaid’s Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Genre: Fiction / Dystopian
Year of Release: 1985
Read 358-page paperback edition in March 2018.

Book Description:

In this dystopian society, Offred is a handmaid, serving a Commander and his wife in their home, and only able to leave once a day to go to the market and buy food for the home. As a handmaid, her main function is to provide a womb for the Commander and his wife, in this time where environmental degradation has lowered the world’s birth rates to a dangerous level. In this country, women have no rights, are not permitted to read, and depending on social status, may be in constant peril.  Offred tries to keep living in this world, yet still thinks back to her life before, with her husband and child, when love and options were available to her.

Book Review:

This dystopian classic by Margaret Atwood is a fantastic novel, analyzing themes like feminism, human rights, violence, and environmentalism. Atwood is a powerful writer, tackling these important topics while doing so through the lens of characters that we come to care about, particularly the main character, Offred.

The Handmaid’s Tale follows the story of Offred as she experiences the horrors and realities of the world around her.  We learn more about Offred’s world before this one, where she was happy, with a husband and child.

Atwood does the little things very well in this novel. For example, we never even learn Offred’s real name. She is the property of Fred, where her “new” name comes from.  Atwood paints a stark picture in this world, and is able to showcase it at an individual character level, by showing us the feelings of the people in the plot.

The movement from Offred’s past and present helps compare and contrast the dystopian world from a past that we are more familiar with. Atwood is successful at using these contrasting visions to show us what we need to guard against in our own society, when it comes to human rights.

The one downside to the novel was there were a couple times in the novel where the plot moved slowly. Overall, however, this was definitely a dystopian classic worth reading, and just as relevant today as it was in 1985.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – Mr. Mercedes – Stephen King — April 11, 2018

Book Review – Mr. Mercedes – Stephen King

Book Review – Mr. Mercedes – Stephen King

Mercedes

Facts:

Book: Mr. Mercedes
Author: Stephen King
Genre: Mystery / Crime Thriller
Year of Release: 2014
Read 437-page hardcover edition in March 2018.

Book Description:

In this intense mystery crime thriller, we follow the exploits of recently retired detective Bill Hodges, who is struggling to adapt to retirement, but who gets thrust back into action when a villain from his past comes out of the limelight and warns him he plans to strike again, with another mass murder.

Bill finds himself working alongside newfound friends, who become his informal associates trying to help him track down the infamous Mercedes killer, before he attacks a second time.

Book Review:

Stephen King has done a fantastic job writing this crime thriller, which is an intense, fast-paced ride for the reader, as we are gripped, totally invested in whether Bill and company can save the day and stay alive, from the Mercedes killer.

King does a great job switching back and forth from the perspective of Bill and the Mercedes killer, otherwise known as Brady Hartsfield.  Bill, who is an interesting character, if not a little bit of your standard, predictable “recently retired, overweight detective” type. However, he does develop in different ways, particularly when we see him interacting with the other minor characters that he connects with.

King also does a great job when focusing our attentions in the mind of the dangerous killer, who definitely is dangerous and disturbed. However, we can also see perhaps some small grain of understanding as to how he got to where he is, when we see what happened to his family. Kind does a nice job showing how systems and societal problems lead to huge problems for individuals, and can lead individuals into dark places indeed.

King does his usual good job of keeping the plot moving quickly, although the first 100 pages or so were a bit slower than the remainder of the book. Once that front section was through, the pace really picked up, and this was a hard book to put down. King made us care about characters, and also threw in a couple of surprises to keep the reader guessing.

King also ensured the ending of the novel is not picture perfect for everyone, which is a realistic conclusion to the story. As a reader, I was left wondering what happens next to these characters, and even wanting to learn more. I was pleased there are two more books in this series, and that is truly a sign of a successful novel, when the reader wants more.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – The Lotterys Plus One – Emma Donoghue — April 10, 2018

Book Review – The Lotterys Plus One – Emma Donoghue

Book Review – The Lotterys Plus One – Emma Donoghue

lotterys

Facts:

Book: The Lotterys Plus One
Author: Emma Donoghue
Genre: Young Adult
Year of Release: 2017
Read 309-page hardcover edition in March 2018.

Book Description:

The Lotterys are a unique family, to put it mildly. However, they prove that even different families can and are built on love and care. In this large family, there are four co-parents, two same-sex couples, who care for a variety of children, some who were adopted and some who were conceived within the family.  The family tries to live close to the land, respect other cultures and diversity, and care for the environment.

However, the idyllic if chaotic family life is turned upside down when an estranged parent of one of the dad’s must come and live with the family, due to the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s. The children, and adults, must determine how best to integrate this grandparent/parent into their collective, when he doesn’t necessarily understand them, or even want to be there.

Book Review:

This was a fantastic children’s and young adults novel by renowned author Emma Donoghue.  The book explores a variety of important themes for children and teens in a fun, enjoyable, compulsively readable way. Donoghue writes in a way that is also enjoyable for adults.  Themes like sexual orientation, gender identity, mental health, environmentalism, food ethics, ageism and caring for the elderly are all explored to great effect in this novel.

Furthermore, the characters in the novel were unique and memorable. Donoghue does a good job making each child fairly unique, yet also showing how they care for each other, with differences being celebrated, not shunned. Donoghue has been very creative in developing a fun, amusing, but also at times serious plot, and putting these various characters into situations where we learn more about them and learn about the themes and how we relate to those themes.

Although at times this book can be predictable, it’s an enjoyable novel for all ages,. The book is especially useful to promote and teach diversity, inclusion, and the beauty of difference to children and teens.

 

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders —

Book Review – Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders

Book Review – Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders

lincoln-bardo

Facts:

Book: Lincoln in the Bardo
Author: George Saunders
Genre: Fiction
Year of Release: 2017
Read 349-page hardcover edition in February 2018.

Book Description:

In the long-awaited first novel by George Saunders, we are visitors to an intense series of scenes. During the difficult period of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln must also face the greatest fear of a parent, that of a child dying. The President’s young boy Willie has succumbed to sickness, and after a painful wake and funeral, he is buried in the family crypt. However, what happens next is fascinating. The President decides to come back twice to visit and hold his dead son, having a hard time moving past this loss.  And while he is hear visiting, the ghosts in the grave, between the living and the next world, are present.

Book Review:

This novel, by acclaimed short story writer Saunders, was a fascinating, enjoyable, thoughtful, and emotional read. Saunders was the winner of the Man Booker Prize for this novel, and it was certainly well-earned.

The plot is a fascinating and mythical one, where we find ourselves as readers in the “bardo,” that place between the end of life and the beginning of the next one, where spirits in the grave are very much present. President Lincoln has come to visit his recently deceased son Willie, however Willie and many other ghosts and spirits are present all around the President, unbeknownst to him. We hear about their stories, and learn from them as to what happens while in this “bardo,” this holding place. We feel the pain of President Lincoln, the confusion of his son, now present as a spirit, and all the other feelings in the graveyard, which are powerful and intense.

This combination of strong characters, thoughtful plot, and fantastic prose and unique stylistic decisions by Saunders, adds up to a fantastic and worthwhile read.

Well done!

Overall: 5 stars out of 5 stars