Review: In Five Years

Click the link to purchase In Five Years on Amazon.

I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of Rebecca Serle’s In Five Years for the comparisons to One Day in December. Overall, I really enjoyed the book; it was a quick read that I didn’t want to finish. But weirdly, in examining its parts, I didn’t love the individual elements. The characters didn’t particularly grab me, nor did I feel strongly for either relationship (with long-term fianc√© David or premonition-fling Aaron), and I thought the concept had much more potential than the book actually delivered. I was on the fence about the relationship between Dannie and Bella, because both of them could be quite frustrating, but I did feel for them once the major struggle manifested *don’t want to ruin a major plot point there*.
My favorite thing about this book is the jumping off point: where do you see yourself in five years, and what would you do if you could actually see a snapshot of where you end up? It’s similar to the device Serle employed in her previous effort, The Dinner List, that one being: if you could have dinner with any five people, who would they be? In this book, Dannie sees a snapshot of her life that is completely out of alignment with what she thought her life would be like in five years. I think what’s great is that, while she doesn’t overhaul her life in an effort to change the outcome, she does make small changes that wind up leading her to the same conclusion (however, it should be noted that said conclusion is not what one might expect).

Have you read this book? If so, what did you think?

Review: Follow Me

Follow Me

As if my anxieties about social media weren’t heightened enough, here comes Kathleen Barber’s Follow Me to tug on my nerves even more! I’ll be Amazon Prime-ing myself a webcam cover now, thank you very much.

Truth be told (and I never hold back), I wasn’t expecting much of this book when I requested it for review. Social media stars and stalkers, sounds interesting but sort of played out at this point. However, this book is actually well done, with its multiple perspectives keeping you on your toes at all times. Barber is skilled at planting clues that are obvious only in hindsight. Looking back, I’m not sure how I didn’t know who “Him” was, but that’s the draw of this book. While a lot of mystery fiction tries to mislead you by portraying the person who did it as innocent, here the author populates the narrative with several viable suspects, trying to convince you that any one of them is the likely culprit. At each moment, you’re convinced ‘oh, it must be _______’, but that person keeps changing. So, in the end, you’ll likely find you’ve guessed it at some point, but you likely didn’t know for sure until it’s revealed.

The end, for me, was where this book lost me as it really goes over the top. Can I suspend my disbelief over the whole ‘neighbor breaks and enters on the regular, but the protagonist overlooks it’ plot line? That was trying, but I went along with it. But once the ‘Him’ is revealed, there’s another ‘twist’ that jumped the shark. This is all the more frustrating given that it’s unnecessary. The book was strong enough to stand without that last point, but it seems like the writer and editor(s) didn’t quite know when to quit.

Overall, Follow Me is a strong entry in a dense space, with its timely subject matter, effective but not preachy message, and great pacing.

Rating; 4/5 stars

Order Follow Me on Amazon here.

Book Review: Severance

Severance

Another first-time, female author– are we sensing a thread here? I guess this is the season of debut fiction for me, and hey, I’m not mad at it. I’m especially not mad at it in this case, because Ling Ma’s first effort is pretty effing phenomenal. There’s always a risk when reading an author’s first work because they don’t have a track record to give you an idea of what to expect and there’s no foundation for lending the author the benefit of the doubt. Add to this that the new author likely hasn’t yet honed their craft, and may not have even discovered his or her voice yet.

None of these are the case with Severance, which paints a bleak world with beautiful strokes and flows with ease between timelines. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is that is so special about this book, because it’s not showy or complex. It possesses very little plot or action, few characters, and the characters who do populate the world aren’t all that unique or interesting. I should also note that while I enjoy relationship-based/grounded Sci-Fi, I’m not a big fan of post-apocalyptic fiction. So what in the hell did I like so much about this book? I think the best way to describe it would be that it struck a perfect balance: between dealing with external, global issues and an individual woman’s interior life; between being beautifully written and literary, without being pretentious or gratuitous; between being contemporary and timeless.

The atmospheric quality of Severance is immediately apparent, as Candace’s world is wrought with precision and poetry. The settings of 2010-era New York City (“its charms as illusory as its facade of authenticity”) and post-apocalyptic Midwest are visceral, and the time period Ma chose– which makes this more a work of revisionist history than a possible future scenario– helps to ground it in reality. I’m not sure whether it would’ve been more effective had it been placed in a near-future, as there was a part of me that stayed outside the story partly because I knew this hadn’t actually happened.

What stood out to me were the little philosophical flourishes and wonderings, a la “The internet is a flattening of time. It is the place where the past and the present exist, on one single plane… It is the place we go to commune with the past.” How¬†beautiful and relatable is that?

And what about this: “Let us return, then, as we do in times of grief, for the sake of pleasure but mostly for the need of relief, to art.” It’s as if Ma is reaching out to the reader, grabbing her by the heart, with the full knowledge that she has sought solace in art many times before, and may very well be doing the same in reading Severance. Maybe that interpretation is too meta, but I don’t think so. I think Ling Ma knows what she’s doing, conversing with the reader so closely, Candace just a thin membrane separating the author from her audience.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Buy Severance on Amazon

 

P.S: What do you think of the cover art? I got a digital copy, so perhaps it looks better in print? I found it underwhelming– which may actually have set me up to have very low expectations, which then allowed me to enjoy it even more, as I was surprised.