MatthewSean Reviews

Book reviews, movie reviews, and other writing

Book Review – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne — November 6, 2016

Book Review – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

Book Review – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

harry_potter_cursed_child

Facts:

Book: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Author: J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne
Genre: Fantasy
Year of Release: 2016
Read 327-page hardcover edition in October 2016.

Book Description:

In the newest entry to the Harry Potter universe, Rowling has teamed up with John Tiffany and Jack Thorne to develop a play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

This script for the play, which opened in July 2016 in London, focuses on the story of Harry’s youngest son Albus Severus Potter, 19 years after the last events of the Harry Potter book series. We see family strain as Harry tries to connect with his distant son, who is in his early years at Hogwarts. Albus is not like Harry in many ways. To Harry’s chagrin, he has also befriended Scorpius, the son of Draco Malfoy.

However, things become very serious when Albus and Scorpius try to do something good, but it leads to major problems that could see the existence of the entire world put at risk, and with evil powers that were thought destroyed rising again.

Book Review:

For the most part, this was definitely a successful new entry into the Harry Potter universe. Rowling, Tiffany, and Thorne do a great job providing some insight and commentary on the characters we love, while at the same time focusing the story on two main characters from a “new generation,” namely Albus and Scorpius.

The decision of the authors to make Albus and Scorpius quite unlike their fathers in many respects adds intrigue, amusement, and realism to the plot. The two teenagers and their unlikely friendship are interesting to read about and observe, as it develops through the course of the novel. The sections on the feelings behind Albus’s actions, and the clear sense of humour that Scorpius has, are some of the stronger points in the book.

It is also enjoyable to read about some of our favourite characters, and see where they have ended up nineteen years after the last novel. The authors do a nice job of weaving these characters into a new plot and new adventure, along with new characters.

Although learning about old characters makes sense, one downside to this book was that some of the plot advances on the basis of tools that we have seen in prior Harry Potter novels. Devices such as using polyjuice potion to sneak into a room, or using a time turner, are things that have been done successfully before. Although it makes sense we will see some spells again, there were large sections of plot that felt a little bit repetitive in terms of how they advanced.

The structure of the book is written in play format, and although it feels a little choppy to delve into at first, you quickly develop a good flow and rhythm in the reading, and the story unfolds in a very fast paced way.

Overall, this is an interesting and fun adventure to add to the Harry Potter universe, and reading this makes one want to see the play.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars

Advertisements
Book Review – I’ll Give You the Sun – Jandy Nelson — March 31, 2016

Book Review – I’ll Give You the Sun – Jandy Nelson

Book Review – I’ll Give You the Sun – Jandy Nelson

giveyousun

Facts:

  •    Book: I’ll Give You the Sun
  •    Author: Jandy Nelson
  •    Genre: Fiction
  •    Year of Release: 2014
  •    Read 375-page hardcover edition in March 2016.

Book Description:

In her second novel, Jandy Nelson tells the story of twins Noah and Jude.  Twins who were once very close, but are now estranged as 15 year olds.  The novel tells us, from alternating time periods and both perspectives, how this came to pass.  It also tells us the story of the complex relationships they had with both of their parents, and the untimely death of their mother.  As the two characters learn more about themselves, they begin to see that getting past their difficulties and emotional trials may require the help of their twin sibling.

Book Review:

I started out reading this novel with high hopes, given the high ratings on Goodreads and Amazon for this novel.  And although I may not be the target audience for this novel, being someone in their mid-thirties, I was still excited to read this.  However, I must say I didn’t have the same positive experience as so many other readers.  Of course this is just my opinion and experience!

The overall premise here was fascinating, in terms of looking at how the relationship between twins changes over time in the teenage years, and how challenging issues of growing up, being LGBT, and losing a parent can impact teens.  These concepts were great starting points for the novel.  Furthermore, some of the scenes that were written truly were touching or funny, leading to laughing out loud or even tearing up a couple of times.

That being said, the overall execution by the author seemed confusing.  The overall lessons learned for the novel, or what the author wanted us to take away from the novel, seemed somewhat mixed.  For example, one of the lessons that seemed to be pushed by the author was that following your dreams must be done, no matter what the consequences, such as focusing on your new dreams at the expense of spending time with your children.  I may be over-simplifying the story, and I don’t want to give too much away for those who plan to read the novel, but some of these types of lessons seemed surprising to push forward, and sometimes they contradicted other lessons or themes in a way that was unclear and did not add up.

Although it is definitely believable that the twins in the novel could have a falling out, it was in some ways unbelievable the extent they both went to take certain actions that alienated them against each other.  Further, the ending of the novel, where the truth came out on both sides, the fact their didn’t seem to be hurt feelings or further alienation, even for a little while before reconciliation, didn’t seem to be the way most teenagers would react in emotionally heated situations.

In addition, the fact that all loose ends and all sub-plots of the novel were tied up so smoothly and neatly, seemed a little unbelievable and too convenient.  Even in books marketed to the young adult audience, there are often loose ends, and life is not looking perfect, and that is ok, because it is reality.

Finally, a small point here.  The idea of alternating the narrator between Noah and Jude, and alternating back and forth in time from when they were 13-16, was a fabulous idea.  However, it was unfortunate the author did not choose to do more time and narrator changes throughout the book.  Each section was sometimes 100+ pages long, meaning there were only a few changes from narrator to narrator and time period to time period.

Although it definitely has to be said that many people highly enjoyed this novel, to me it seemed full of contradictions and unbelievable plot points.

Overall: 2 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – Seveneves – Neal Stephenson —

Book Review – Seveneves – Neal Stephenson

Book Review – Seveneves – Neal Stephenson

Seveneves

Facts:

  •    Book: Seveneves
  •    Author: Neal Stephenson
  •    Genre: Science Fiction
  •    Year of Release: 2015
  •    Read 867-page hardcover edition in March 2016.

Book Description:

This science fiction / speculative fiction novel, told in two main parts, speaks of humanity’s attempts to survive an apocalyptic event, after the moon is destroyed and a rain of fragments are due to cover the earth in cataclysmic fashion shortly.  It is up to humanity to determine how they will survive this intense event, and what follows is many thousands of years of action, adventure, and evolution of culture and society for those who come after this novel.

Book Review:

In reading this novel, similar to the fact the novel was split into two parts, I was of two minds when considering my reactions to the story.

On the one hand, I very much enjoyed the overall premise of the novel.  Stephenson has taken years to develop this complex, intense story that spans 5000+ years of time.  Stephenson does well when he is exploring the world he has created, and the way society has evolved over the course of history, after an apocalypse occurs on earth.  Stephenson has also done a good job of creating complex characters who are not simply caricatures, but have shades of grey.  Nobody is all bad, everyone is redeemable in some way.  (Although there are some characters who are so flawless and perfect, for the most part Stephenson writes complex characters.)

Thus, Stephenson’s world building and character development (when he is focusing on characters) is top notch, original, and enjoyable.

On the other hand, the area where I was a little bit lost in the novel were the sections where Stephenson focused so much on the mechanics of how things were working, or on the reasons why issues were occurring in space, that he forgot to get back to the characters and story itself.  Often we would be given many pages of information that was a character running through facts (engineering, science, or astronomy), and it was definitely a way to tell the reader why something was a concern or issue, but it became a little tedious after awhile, particularly for those who don’t mind a little bit of hard sci-fi, but don’t need it to this degree.  Unlike The Martian, where the science was presented in more digestible bits, there were often pages of text where there were 1-2 paragraphs of text in this novel.  That text, appearing as a block of science to the reader, became difficult to get through at times.

Thus, although this had a great story, and some complex ideas worth spending time over, the reason this novel was so long, and perhaps too long, was because of the amount of time spent on the details, that sometimes detracted from the story and characters.

Overall: 2.5 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – The Buried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro — November 19, 2015

Book Review – The Buried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro

Book Review – The Buried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro

the-buried-giant

Facts:

  •    Book: The Buried Giant
  •    Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
  •    Genre: Fantasy
  •    Year of Release: 2015
  •    Read 345-page hardcover edition in November 2015.

Book Description:

The Romans have left Britain, and the island is falling into a dreamy, disorderly state. Saxons and Britains live together, but there is something unstable about the uneasy peace on the island. In this mystical setting, elderly couple Axl and Beatrice decide to leave their home village and set off on a long-delayed journey to find their son, whom they have not seen for many years. However, as the journey occurs, they realize that in addition to the dangers of ogres, pixies, dragons, and people on the path, there is also the danger of forgotten memories and questions about their relationship, which may be uncovered when they arrive at their destination.

Book Review:

This was a fascinating and complex novel by renowned author Kazuo Ishiguro, a British author who was born in Japan and who is entering new fantasy genre territory with his first new novel in ten years. Ishiguro has done an amazing job interweaving some complex characters, settings, and plot points into a unique tale.

The principal characters of Axl and Beatrice are interesting. They have a complex past together, and the suspense of the book is to understand what that is, and explore it with them, since they are having memory issues and troubles in the story. Although sometimes this causes their dialogue with each other to become quite repetitive, that is only a minor problem, given the confusion and suspense that we feel as readers, wanting to learn more about them and their relationship. Exploring their love for each other despite learning slowly about some of the confusions and challenges of their past feels very real-life, despite the story taking place many centuries ago. Ishiguro does succeed in making us care for this confusing but loving couple.

In addition, the themes of death, decay, and darkness are explored in the book, in this old land which contains many fantastical creatures and elements. The exploration of what happens after death and how we face death are done through a central metaphor of an island, and Ishiguro does a great job providing us with thoughts on this.

The novel has a very melancholy, dark tone and feel to it. The the main characters of Axl and Beatrice, as well as the storylines and interplay with the 3 other supporting characters in the novel, all play into these themes, creating a stark picture. Ishiguro does a great job describing the scenes to us, and the novel is a fast read as the reader can feel part of the scenes and part of the action.

The journey that Axl and Beatrice go on is one that is interesting, complicated, and includes thoughtful elements of contemplation, coupled with action sequences. The conclusion of the novel is shocking and surprising, and stays with the reader for a long time afterward. When an author creates this lasting impression after the novel is done, then you know it is a novel well worth reading.

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars.

April A-Z Challenge, April 4, Letter D: Dutch Blitz — April 4, 2014

April A-Z Challenge, April 4, Letter D: Dutch Blitz

April A-Z Challenge, April 4, Letter D: Dutch Blitz

There are many ways people here in Manitoba who have Mennonite background may express their roots.  Mennonite can mean cultural, religious, or other types of contexts.  Some choose not to identify with this element of their past at all.  Some may still attend Mennonite churches and follow Mennonite religious beliefs, which traditionally have often tended to be conservative.  Some may hold fast to core Mennonite tenants and values, which in my mind centre around peace, love, family, hard work, frugalness, and many other themes.  Some may celebrate certain cultural contexts and pieces, such as good food or a disdain for materialism.  And of course every Mennonite individual takes bits and pieces of these and integrates them into their constructs of life.  Mennonite today is certainly a diverse word that means different things to different people.

With that long intro, I decided I should share one light-hearted snippet of information about my Mennonite experience.  That is the game “Dutch Blitz” which is an awesome card game for all ages!  Those of Mennonite descent likely know what I’m talking about! 😀  It involves a pack of coloured cards, which usually resorts to a fast paced game of yelling and fun … it is a fun reminder to me of past evenings with family and friends … and promises of future fun with loved ones … and it always brings a smile to my face, knowing so many others have enjoyed this social game before me, and will enjoy it in days and years to come 🙂

If you haven’t played dutch blitz yet, buy the game online (or find it at a store if you can), and start playing today! 🙂

dutchblitz

 

 

Book Review – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling — July 20, 2013

Book Review – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling

Facts:

  • Book: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
  • Author: J.K. Rowling
  • Genre: Fiction (Modern Literature)
  • Year of Release: 1997
  • Read 223-page hardcover edition in April 2013.

Book Description: Harry Potter thinks he is an ordinary, and unlucky, boy.  He lives in a cupboard, is picked on by his bigger cousin Dudley, and is put down by his mean Aunt and Uncle.  However, on his eleventh birthday, which has been forgotten by his family, he gets an amazing visit by none other than a giant.  He learns that he is, in fact, a wizard.  Like his parents before him, whom he never knew, he is to go to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and learn how to be a wizard.  However, a mysterious object is being heavily guarded at Hogwarts, and Harry and his newfound friends become involved in the protection of this peculiar stone, from an evil that not only killed Harry’s parents, but tried to kill him as well.

Book Review: I decided to re-read all the Harry Potter books again in 2013 partly because I hadn’t read them quickly one after another, and I wondered whether I would learn new truths from moving from one to another quickly.  The other reason was simply for pure enjoyment, having read them as they came out back in the 1990s and 2000s.  Anyways, on to the review!  This novel by first-time writer Joanne Rowling, is truly an incredible tale, which takes children’s literature to a stunning new level.  Rowling has done a magnificent job of creating an entirely new environment for her characters, which are themselves very interesting people.  She has developed an entire culture and aura around the group of wizards who live in secret.  Not only is the setting developed in mythic intrigue and detail, but Rowling has also created a vast panoply of characters that are truly unique and unforgettable.  Rowling describes the inner workings of Harry’s mind with amazing and sometimes heart-wrenching details, and the children in the story are themselves very unique individuals, which young readers will be happy to get to know.  Rowling not only uses vivid imagery in her descriptions of Hogwarts and the wizard world, but she also throws in a lot of British humour and phrasing which is a welcome presence.  The conclusion of the novel is also nicely written, with an ending that is thankfully not the same old simplified ending as other children’s books, but one that shares a lesson and leaves lots of room for more future tales.  Finally, the main character of Harry is written with such wonderful appeal, both for kids and adults.  Rowling has created a main character who matters in the reader’s mind, and her hero is truly written with personal passion.  This is a character who we really care about, and with the amazing setting of Hogwarts, Rowling has truly written an amazing and powerful first novel, for readers of all ages.

Overall: 5 stars out of 5

Hello world! — October 9, 2012