MatthewSean Reviews

Book reviews, movie reviews, and other writing

Book Review – Gerald’s Game – Stephen King — February 19, 2018

Book Review – Gerald’s Game – Stephen King

Book Review – Gerald’s Game – Stephen King

GeraldsGame

Facts:

Book: Gerald’s Game
Author: Stephen King
Genre: Thriller
Year of Release: 1992
Read 332-page hardcover edition in February 2018.

Book Description:

When Jessie and Gerald decide to spice up their sex life in their secluded summer home with some handcuffs, things take a turn for the worst when Gerald ends up dead. Jessie, chained to the bed, begins to realize there is little hope of escape from her bedroom in this secluded area of forested Maine. However, she starts to see and hear horrible things in the house, and in her mind, that create a horrifying state of affairs.

Book Review:

This was not necessarily a typical Stephen King horror novel. King certainly has a variety of novels and genres he has written in, and those looking for quick horror may be disappointed, as this book has its moments of shock, but is often more a psychological suspense and subtle fright.  King succeeds however in creating a story that is extremely frightening in its own right, as we slowly begin to understand the fear Jessie has in her mind’s past memories, and in her current predicament.

The title of the novel has interesting parallels to Jessie’s frame of mind and self confidence, and King brings that up throughout the novel, even though Gerald himself dies in the opening couple of chapters.  Furthermore, King does a nice job of connecting Jessie’s present situation, and the voices that come to the surface, with Jessie’s traumatic past, which comes out as we read more into the heart of the novel.

Jessie spends much of the time alone, and one might think this would make for a slow read. However, King uses many different voices in Jessie’s head to create interesting conversations, and he also uses sequences where we recall Jessie’s past, so that the narrative advances fairly efficiently.  At times, the plot does slow and does feel like it may be dragging, but this only happens a few times in the course of the novel.

The novel has great suspense throughout, and is a great exploration of the inner strength and outer resolve of a character who has been through a lot. In addition, a great twist at the end of the novel that the reader doesn’t see coming provides a further note of shock for readers who enjoy King’s trademark style and imagination.

Overall: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars

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Book Review – Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman —

Book Review – Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman

Book Review – Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman

norse_mythology

Facts:

Book: Norse Mythology
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Mythology
Year of Release: 2017
Read 299-page hardcover edition in February 2018.

Book Description:

Neil Gaiman uses his skill with language and passion for Norse Mythology to tell us more about these famous and less well known northern tales of old. Stories of Odin, Thor, Loki, ice giants, dwarves, spirits, trolls, and what will happen at Ragnarok: the end of days. Gaiman tells us how these gods of Norse Mythology lived and ruled in the different kingdoms.

Book Review:

Norse Mythology is a fantastic collection of tales that both entertains and educates the reader on the mythology of northern Europe.  Gaiman has done a fantastic job at bringing these stories to life for the modern writer, and his commitment is clear given he has been inspired by these tales from an early age.

Gaiman writes plainly and clearly, yet with great description, creating his own version of these historical tales. The tales are independent, yet many of them link together as well, creating a cohesive whole.  However, one downside is that the book is almost too summary and short, and the plainness in the tales and descriptions sometimes leave the reader wanting, wondering about some of the details in the story, and what came before or after with regard to the characters in question.

Gaiman does succeed at bringing to life some lesser-known characters and events, while also showing us different sides of better-known characters. The result is a broader collection of tales and characters that are fun to read about, and also much more complex than some of the black and white tales we may have heard about from other sources in the past.

As usual, Gaiman’s talent as a writer comes through clearly in this intriguing collection of Norse mythological tales.

Overall: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – Artemis – Andy Weir —

Book Review – Artemis – Andy Weir

Book Review – Artemis – Andy Weir

artemis

Facts:

Book: Artemis
Author: Andy Weir
Genre: Science Fiction
Year of Release: 2017
Read 309-page hardcover edition in February 2018.

Book Description:

Jazz Bashara, a young adult who has spent most of her life living on the moon colony Artemis, is tired of living amongst the poor, working class folks around her. She knows that in addition to her job as a delivery person, she can make extra money by smuggling contraband into the colony. When she gets the opportunity to work with a rich associate to pull off a huge crime and work towards a huge reward, she jumps at the chance.

But when things start to go wrong, Jazz finds herself embroiled in a scandal with organized crime, that could put the entire colony at risk. She must figure out how she can stop the damage, and save her home, and its inhabitants.

Book Review:

After the breakout success of Andy Weir’s novel The Martian, expectations were very high for his second novel.  And although this definitely is an enjoyable and intriguing book, this definitely is a bit weaker than his first novel.

Looking at the many positives in this novel, one of them relates to the main character, Jazz. Weir does a nice job creating a complex character that has shades of grey in her personality. There are some things that we don’t like or trust about this character, making her more believable in this “wild west” feeling of the first and only moon colony.  Furthermore, her strained relationships with her father and her former best friend create some interesting dynamics and conversations. These two characters, particularly the ex friend’s gay relationship with Jazz’s ex boyfriend, helps to create additional layers of conflict on top of the main plot, which is nice.

Weir also does a nice job at describing Artemis and the moon itself, including some beautiful shots looking at the moon surface and moon walks conducted by characters which are described intimately.

The plot itself, including the initial crime Jazz tries to pull off, and the outcomes that spiral further and further out of control, are interesting and enjoyable to read. Weir does a nice job explaining what is happening, using his trademark scientific explanations, and being able to limit it to an appropriate amount of detail (except in a couple of places where the reader may get a little tired of technical jargon).

Looking at detractions for the novel, the first one-third of this novel did set the stage nicely, including introduction of characters and description of Artemis. However, it was also a little bit of a slow pace at times, and the reader had to push forward to get to more action and drama in the latter two-thirds.

In addition, some of the humour that was used in the book was a touch annoying, at least for this reader. Humour was certainly valuable and a clear part of Jazz’s character, however at times it felt forced and not actually all that funny.

Overall however, this was an enjoyable science fiction book, and another success for Andy Weir.

Overall: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – Dark Matter – Blake Crouch — February 2, 2018

Book Review – Dark Matter – Blake Crouch

Book Review – Dark Matter – Blake Crouch

dark-matter

Facts:

Book: Dark Matter
Author: Blake Crouch
Genre: Fiction
Year of Release: 2016
Read 359-page paperback edition in January 2018.

Book Description:

Jason Dessen feels like he has a new-perfect life. Beautiful, loving wife, happy teenaged son, enjoyable job as a college physics professor, and a comfortable home in Chicago. However, on his way home, he is kidnapped, forcibly confined, and when he wakes up, he is surrounded by people who say they are his friends, with no sign of his family or previous life. As he tries to find out what happened to him, he begins to wonder, is he having some kind of breakdown, and is this his true life? Or was he taken from the real life that he once had?

He will need to call upon inner strength and his knowledge of physics to figure out what is going on, and stay alive.

Book Review:

This novel was a great thriller and definitely one where the reader is in suspense and turning page after page. Given the novel’s format and style, with short, crisp sentences and one-liner paragraphs, it was definitely a quick read.

The novel’s main characters exploring “the box”, Jason and work colleague Amanda, were interesting characters that developed nicely over time. The author did a nice job throwing a surprise twist into the novel half-way through regarding Amanda’s decisions, which were a stroke of genius.  In fact, several times unpredictable twists and turns were added to the ploy which helped create a stronger overall narrative.

The other main characters, Jason’s wife Daniela and son Charlie, were at times believable, but at other times these characters felt a little bit flat and not as critical as perhaps they should be. For example, Charlie is often portrayed as a well-behaved, no-nonsense, getting into no trouble teenager, which seems a little but unbelievable in modern day Chicago.

The plot itself, with its science fiction elements and the idea of different worlds based on the different decisions we make as human beings, was a fascinating concept, and author Blake Crouch does a great job painting a sometimes frightening, sometimes romantic, set of circumstances for his characters.

Overall, although this novel does have a few flaws in it, in terms of some unbelievable characterization and a couple plot holes within the science, this is still a fast, enjoyable, and fun popcorn read.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – Glass Houses – Louise Penny —

Book Review – Glass Houses – Louise Penny

Book Review – Glass Houses – Louise Penny

glass-houses

Facts:

Book: Glass Houses
Author: Louise Penny
Genre: Mystery
Year of Release: 2017
Read 391-page hardcover edition in January 2018.

Book Description:

In the 13th novel of her Detective Gamache series, author Louise Penny, brings us to Gamache’s home town of Three Pines, near the Quebec-USA border.  When a dark, almost supernatural being starts making his foreboding presence known in the middle of Three Pines, the neighbours and visitors to the town are a little bit worried. However, when a murder occurs in the town, the initial worry escalates quickly, as everyone wonders what really happened.

Meanwhile, Chief Superintendent Gamache is also dealing with a high profile, large-scale drug smuggling investigation, and trying to win the difficult drug and cartel war in Quebec. But what must he sacrifice to achieve true results? And how is this connected to what happened in Three Pines?

Book Review:

This novel was an enjoyable and fast-paced detective thriller from Canadian author Louise Penny.  The author made a smart decision to write the novel jumping back and forth in time, showing us courtroom scenes and the actual events themselves in a push and pull fashion. This was usually effective at creating different scenes that made the reader enjoy the action and see how it impacted courtroom decisions and discussions in the trial.

Penny does a great job writing about characters, and the various leads in the police force, along with Gamache and his family, were all well written and interesting characters. As with many police and crime novels, some of the minor characters were not as well developed, however Penny did a great job developing characters like Gamache’s wife, which made Gamache himself more realistic and complex for the reader.

Although this is the 13th novel in the series, and even though a reader of the entire series would surely understand the novel on a deeper level, one does not need to be well versed in the series to fully understand the plot of this novel.  In fact, one has to appreciate the research Penny did on both main plots, which weave together nicely into an exciting ending.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – Beowulf – Translated by Seamus Heaney — January 13, 2018

Book Review – Beowulf – Translated by Seamus Heaney

Book Review – Beowulf – Translated by Seamus Heaney

beowulf

Facts:

Book: Beowulf
Author: Anonymous (This Edition Translated by Seamus Heaney)
Genre: Epic Poetry
Year of Release: Original c. 975-1025 AD (This Edition Translated 1999)
Read 213-page hardcover edition in January 2018.

Book Description:

In this mythological classic, the author tells the story of Beowulf through epic poetry.  Beowulf comes to the aid of his neighbour, the King of the Danes, to battle the monster Grendel. However, after battling with Grendel, to save the King and his mead hall, he must also battle with Grendel’s mother, an equally forceful monster.

Later in the poem, we see Beowulf age, but come to the end of his long life in his most intense battle, with a fire-breathing dragon.

Book Review:

This epic poem, considered one of the most important pieces of English literature, is a fascinating tale of heroics, strength, and valour against dark forces and monsters.  One can definitely see the impacts Beowulf has had on our literature through the ages, such as the common fantasy elements of epic battles of good versus evil, or the use of monsters and dragons being fought.

This poem is a wonderful creation of the imagination, and the anonymous author has done a fantastic job describing not only the battle scenes of Beowulf and the monsters, but also the stories told by Beowulf, the King, and others in between the battle scenes. We get treated to great scenes in the halls where food and drink is served, we are seen rewards of treasures, and we get a real vision of the scenery and emotion of this medieval time period.

It is clear this epic poem had a real impact on much literature that came after, and the author has painted us a vivid picture throughout this fast-moving poem. It is definitely worth reading, for those who enjoy fantasy, those who enjoy a quick action tale, and those who want to see the roots of many other stories and tales that have come after.

This translation by Seamus Heaney in 1999 is still considered one of the best, and is very clean and preserves the rhythm of the old English as it is converted into modern text.

Well done!

Overall: 5 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – We Are the Ants – Shaun David Hutchinson — January 1, 2018

Book Review – We Are the Ants – Shaun David Hutchinson

Book Review – We Are the Ants – Shaun David Hutchinson

We-Are-the-Ants

Facts:

Book: We Are the Ants
Author: Shaun David Hutchinson
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Year of Release: 2016
Read 455-page hardcover edition in December 2017.

Book Description:

Henry Denton is going through a lot. He is getting bullied relentlessly at his high school, he is trying to come to terms with his boyfriend committing suicide last year, he has lost his best friend as a result of that, his mother is chain-smoking her way through her own issues, his dad left the family and never returned – and to top that all off, he is being kidnapped by aliens on a regular basis.

The aliens have given Henry time to push a red button on their spaceship, and prevent the destruction of the earth. However, Henry is taking his time. Does he really want the earth to go on, when everything is so messed up for everyone?

When Henry meets a new student at school, Diego Vega, he grows fascinated with this mysterious student with a hidden past. As their friendship grows, and as other relationships with Henry’s family changes, he starts to question whether he should push that button, or not.

Book Review:

This YA novel by Shaun David Hutchinson was, in one word, outstanding. This was a fantastic treat to end 2016 by reading this novel.

Hutchinson has completely succeeded in writing a novel with real, nuanced, three-dimensional characters, and a plot that is funny and enjoyable yet also full of intense and difficult issues.

Speaking of the characters first, Hutchinson has done a great job creating a cast of characters where none are under-developed or just inserted for a convenient scene. Even minor characters such as Henry’s family members are well fleshed out and have interesting stories to tell.  Charlie, Henry’s older brother, is an immature bully in many ways, but also a thoughtful guy able to develop as his life circumstances change through the course of the novel.  The interplay between Henry and his friend Audrey is interesting and develops as we learn about the effect Jesse’s suicide had on both of them.

One also has to comment on the exceptional creation and development of Diego in the novel. This character is intriguing right from his opening line of the novel, and Hutchinson does a fabulous job of creating a complex mystery in the character of Diego. Seeing Diego and Henry’s relationship develop, and ebb and flow through difficult times, makes for a page turner of a novel, as the reader wants to know what happens next with these two.

On the plot itself, as stated above, the novel truly is a page turner. Hutchinson’s creation of believable characters, each with their own issues and shades of grey, makes for a strong YA novel. The plot has elements of very light science and science fiction throughout, but not enough to put anyone off. In other words, if you aren’t a fan of hard science fiction, that’s okay, this book can still work for you.

Hutchinson does a great job exploring all kinds of relationships within the story, and he also weaves in interesting small chapters throughout, imagining how the world may end if Henry does not push the alien’s button on time.  These interspersed sections are interesting and bring us out of the narrative for a moment, before we are right back in the various plots that are occurring, and that we have a vested interest in as readers, because Hutchinson has made us care about so many of these characters.

There are serious topics covered in this novel, including suicide, depression, bullying, homophobia, and others. Hutchinson brings these up with strength and yet also writes with humour and brings up joy as well. Through all the hardship that some of the characters face, there is something to look for as well, in the light.

Overall, this is a fantastic page turner, with believable and likeable characters.  This is definitely worth the read.

Well Done!

Overall: 5 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – Night Walking – Matthew Beaumont — December 30, 2017

Book Review – Night Walking – Matthew Beaumont

Book Review – Night Walking – Matthew Beaumont

night_walking

Facts:

Book: Night Walking
Author: Matthew Beaumont
Genre: Non-Fiction
Year of Release: 2015
Read 413-page paperback edition in December 2017.

Book Description:

This non fiction book is a detailed history of the practice of night walking, specifically in London. In particular, going back to the days before gas lamps were prevalent, walking at night had a very different connotation. Depending on the time period, and who you were and what class you might be, there were different aspects to walking at night that applied.  The book focuses not only on walking itself, but on the poor who lived in the streets and were persecuted for being outdoors at night, even though they didn’t have a home to go to. This book provides detail around the history of walking at night over the past several centuries in London and the surrounding area.

Book Review:

Author Matthew Beaumont has done a very thorough research job with this book, which has a copious amount of detail around citizens and people who walk at night, either by choice or because they are homeless and have nowhere else to go.

Beaumont focuses at times on the rationale for walking at night, and at other times he focuses more on the culture, society, principles of justice, and politics that relate to night walking.  Beaumont takes a chronological approach in principle, although he does jump around at times in the book, looking at night walking and the peoples in the streets at various points in London’s history.

Beaumont does best when focusing on specific people or issues, like the last couple of chapters specifically focused on an interesting historical figure, Charles Dickens.  Reading about his habit of night walking, and why he did it and how it helped him with creativity and deal with insomnia, was fascinating.

However, in other areas of the book, Beaumont tends to be a little bit jumpy, moving from topic to topic in a somewhat disorganized and haphazard style. Further, in some chapters particularly in th emiddle of the book, Beaumont tends to allow th narrative to get buried in areas of detail that are likely uninteresting to the majority of readers who pick up the book wanting to learn about night walking in London. Although perhaps fascinating from a scholarly point of view, it gets off topic for a mainstream non fiction book.

In conclusion, this book does have some interesting areas of focus for readers, however readers will often have to endure side trips into areas that are meandering and removed.

Overall: 2.5 stars out of 5 stars

Movie Review – Thor: Ragnarok (2017) — December 16, 2017

Movie Review – Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Movie Review – Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Thor_Ragnarok

Movie Synopsis:

In the third instalment of the Thor storyline, we see serious problems in Asgard, and Thor trapped without his hammer and unable to help in time.  Hela, a dangerous and powerful woman from the past, has returned with a mission to destroy Asgard and enslave everyone. Thor must get back to save his home, and at the same time, find allies in strange places along the way.

Movie Review:

With this third Thor film, the producers have finally done the right thing with this franchise, which is turn to comedy as opposed to only action sequences. The comedy in this film is present throughout, and it is completely successful. Although over the top once or twice, for the most part it is spot-on, with fun and laughs all the way through this action-packed visual feast.

The visual effects and bright colours in this film are incredible, and are truly a spectacle to watch. The plot, although not always airtight, keeps things moving at a brisk pace. We meet new and returning characters throughout, including great performances by Benedict Cumberbatch (doctor Strange) and Mark Ruffalo (Hulk) who join Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and provide fantastic comic relief as well as furthering the action.

The villain Hela (played expertly by Cate Blanchett) is fantastic, and a great adversary for the main cast of heroes. Hela adds intensity and power to the storyline, and furthers along the suspense and force.

In summary, this is a fantastic action film, but what it does better than prior Thor films is combine an action film with great comedy throughout, so not only are we watching action-packed superhero scenes, but also laughing throughout. It’s great to see this series not take itself too seriously. It definitely works better this way.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars.

Movie Review – Life (2017) —

Movie Review – Life (2017)

Movie Review – Life (2017)

life

Movie Synopsis:

On board the International Space Station, the six-member crew is excited to study the first life form that has been found and brought back from Mars. This is an opportunity to learn more about life than ever before.

However, what starts as simple, safe analysis with organisms in the lab becomes an intense, destructive experience on board the station. The crew must try and stay alive long enough to escape or be rescued, as the Mars organism proves more deadly than first believed.

Movie Review:

This film brought up memories of particularly the Alien franchise, but also other recent science fiction movies like The Arrival. Although this film is not quite as good as these ones, given at times it felt like the film was copying some of these earlier outings, it was still an enjoyable, suspenseful, and exciting ride, as we watch whether our six humans can survive against “Calvin” the alien from Mars.

The cast in the film, which is diverse and representative of what one wants to see, does a great job portraying the sense of adventure, and later feelings of fear and anxiety, as Calvin goes about destroying the station.

The plot is filled with suspenseful moments, and the writers and director do a pretty good job of avoiding any troupes of the horror or science fiction genre. However, as said, they can’t quite avoid the fact that this looks and feels like Alien-lite.

Still, this is an enjoyable science fiction / suspense thriller.

Overall: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars.