Review #14: Severance

Severance by Ling Ma


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Published on 14th August 2018

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley in exchance for an honest review.

Candace Chen is a young woman who emigrated from China to the USA with her parents when she was six. Many years later, in 2011, as Candace has grown into an adult and settled in a relationship and a job in Bible publishing, a case of Shen fever erupts all over the world. As more and more people get affected by the fever, the world comes to a standstill. But Candace is lucky enough not to have come in contact with the virus and on escaping New York she finds and joins a group of survivors who are planning on rebuilding the world by themselves.

I did like this novel. The writing is simple and delicate and a pleasure to read. It differs from most apocalyptic stories in the way that the world becomes so quiet and calm and deserted as more and more people die. Candace ends up joining this group of survivors because she has nowhere else to go. At the head of the group is Bob, an extraordinarily ordinary man who took it upon himself to lead this group of people and get them to safety. Bob has no business managing the group but somehow, they’ve all accepted him as their default leader. Candace will have to learn to abide by Bob’s rules and live in a collectivity.

Severance is above all a tale of routine and a critique of capitalism. Candace has settled into a routine of going to work, doing the same job day in day out, then going back to her boyfriend’s in the evening to watch a film; sleep and repeat. She has no ambition to pursue her passions and is mainly motivated by money which is why she ends up being the last one to leave her office, long after everyone has either fled the city or died, because she was promised a big sum of money if she could work her contract until the end. The apocalypse that is wiping the world clean is also very routinely. Indeed, when affected, people start doing the same tasks over and over again until they pass out from exhaustion. The fevered are completely non-violent, they just end up doing the same chores mindlessly for days, forgetting to eat and clean themselves. And even when Candace does end up fleeing New York, she still ends up in a routine. The group of survivors she joins repeats the same patterns everyday: driving, camping and looting, day after day.

There is also a slight critique of capitalism in the book. For example, the company that Candace works for get their products manufactured in Asian countries because it is cheaper, and even when people start dying from the fever in China, the company still tries to get the most they can out of the surviving workers. They don’t care about the health issues afflicting the workers so long as they can get the products they need.

The parts of this novel I liked best are where Candace is reminiscing about her childhood in China. I found them to be really vivid and I almost felt like I was being transported there. The parts where Candace ends up being one of the only people left in New York also reminded me of the film I am Legend; especially the way New York becomes a ghost town and you don’t meet anyone for miles apart from the odd fevered person.

Overall, I liked the book. I didn’t think the world of it but I do like the idea behind it, and the simple and poetical style in which it is written. If you like science-fiction, and post-apocalyptic stories, then check this one out.

Review #13: The Psychology of Time Travel

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas


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Published on 09 August 2018

I received a complimentary copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

What an incredible piece of literature this was! This book completely blew me away. I cannot believe this is Kate Mascarenhas’ first book! The research that must have gone into it and the mastery with which she handled this highly complex story is insane. I was quite frankly gobsmacked.

The Psychology of Time Travel is set in three different time periods. First is 1967, when four brilliant women scientists secluded themselves in the middle of nowhere working on a time machine… and succeeded, pioneering the world of time travelling. Then comes 2017, time travel is in full swing by that point since it became a huge organisation (called the Conclave) after the pioneers’ discovery. Barbara (one of said pioneers, now in her eighties) receives a mysterious message from one of her former colleagues and has to plunge once again into the world of time travel, a world she had left behind many years ago. Finally, there is 2018. After Odette discovers a body on the first day of her new job at the toy museum, she is both traumatised and intrigued. Flashbacks of the body will not leave her alone for months and she feels that the only way for her to get better is to solve the mystery of this murder, and for this, she will have to enter the Conclave’s world…

This book is nothing like I’ve ever read before. The one thing that makes it stand out compared to other books and films about time travel is that, in this, there is no changing the past. I feel like a lot of stories about time travel revolve around the idea of going back into the past in order to change the future’s course of events. But in this book, the future is fated and there is no altering it. You might think at the time that you are making a decision that will influence the course of your future, but really you’re acting in exactly the way you should be for your future to go on as planned.

In The Psychology of Time Travel, aspiring time travellers have to pass an amount of physical and psychological tests before they can work for the Conclave. Due to this rigorous testing, it has become an elite profession and only a handful of members of society are actually time travellers. But as exciting as the job may sound, it is a difficult one to say the least. As a time traveller, you can discover your whole future: who you will marry, whether you’ll have children, the exact time and cause of your death… and you just have to take it as it is. Relationships between time travellers and civilians become incredibly complex. A person who doesn’t time travel will stay in one time period, going about their life unaware of what’s to come; whereas time travellers will be constantly hopping from one century to the next, knowing everything about the future and sometimes becoming the bearer of bad news. Some time travellers can then feel superior to civilians due to their excessive knowledge of the future and can develop superiority complexes.

The insight that Kate has into time travelling is unbelievable. I’m sure we’ve all fantasised before about how we’d like to go back in time, either to change something or to relive a happy moment. But Kate’s book goes into the technicalities and exposes how detrimental time travel can be. Time travellers lose their sense of self, because they have several selves (their younger and older selves that they sometimes encounter in different time periods); and they also become desensitised to death because to them, death isn’t final. They always have the opportunity to go back in time and visit the person they have lost and so they fail to understand how civilians are affected by someone’s death. Some of them even like to play Angel of Death and give civilians a forewarning.

There are so many characters and timelines to keep track of in this book but somehow it all flows seamlessly and I never felt like I was losing the plot. The writing is so clever that it reminded me of JK Rowling, especially in the way the author leaves tiny clues throughout the book that all come together in the end. It is fair to say this is the best book I’ve read in a long while. I could go on for hours but I don’t want to give too much of the plot away. I will definitely read this book again, just so that I can notice all the subtle little details I may have missed on the first read.

And as if I couldn’t like this book any more, it also features characters from various races, ethnical backgrounds, genders and sexualities, which was a delightful surprise! Yay! Representation for all!

It is hard to define the genre of this book. I’ve seen it described as a mystery & thriller, and fantasy book. However, I reckon anyone could enjoy it. And if you’ve got a particular interest in time travel, do not hesitate!

Review #12: The Wives

The Wives by Lauren Weisberger


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Published on 12th July 2018

I received a complementary copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Wives picks up the story of Emily Charlton, the infamous and insufferable Senior Assistant in The Devil Wears Prada, only it’s a good few years later. Emily now works for herself, helping celebrities out of crisis, and has completely left Runway behind. Unfortunately, her business is suffering, but when she meets Karolina Hartwell through a mutual friend, Miriam Kagan, Emily can sense that this is the job she needs to spark up her career again. Karolina’s life has gone to shambles after being wrongly accused of drunk driving and her husband (a very notorious US senator) dumped her on national TV. So, with Emily and Miriam’s help, she is preparing to take her revenge.

The first thing I have to say is that I usually never read chick lit, because it bores me to death. But considering this book was written by the author of The Devil Wears Prada (I’ve actually never read the book but loooved the film), I thought I would give it a try! And I was pleasantly surprised! I mean, it’s not a page-turner per say, but it’s very well written and the plot is intriguing.

The story is very glamorous. All three main characters are quite wealthy and because of that I almost felt at times like I was watching an episode of The Real Housewives. And the famous Miranda Priestly even makes an appearance!

I love Emily’s character, she is a very badass woman who doesn’t take shit from anyone (and accurately describes herself as ‘bitchy’). Miriam and Karolina are also very lovable as they are so relatable (especially Miriam who will regularly try to get into exercising then immediately ruins it by eating a stack of pancakes after a work out, which is something I know I would do.)

The three main characters are strong female characters, and even though their confidence will get knocked down every so often by their husbands, friends or colleagues, they get back up every single time and take back the reins of their life.

What struck me the most about this book is how well it depicts female friendship, and what women are capable of when they work together rather than against each other. It is a beautiful tale of three friends who will do whatever it takes to put things to right, all while having fun. The book might be presented as a story of three wives plotting revenge against their husbands, but I personally felt like the message inside it is more than just that: it is that women are unstoppable when they come together and that they can achieve anything.

I will admit that I did enjoy it (if anything, as a guilty pleasure type of reading) and it did make me want to invite my girl friends around for some wine and chit chat!

So, not my usual type of book but then again, I have said before that I don’t want to restrict myself to the same genre over and over. I’m lucky enough that NetGalley has plenty of amazing books so I want to make the most of the opportunity and read things that are different to what I am used to, and will make me step out of my comfort zone. Now I’m not saying I’m going to start reading chick lit all the time, but once in a while it’s good to change things up and give something else a chance.

What about you, have you read The Wives? Or any of Lauren Weisberger’s other books? Is chick lit your thing? Let me know in the comments!

Review #11: Pyre at the Eyreholme Trust

Pyre at the Eyreholme Trust by Lin Darrow


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Published on 04 July 2018

I received a complementary copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Eli Coello is an unregistered inkman, which means that they have the power to control ink, and that they are keeping said power from the authorities. You see, in Temperance City, magic is accepted so long as it abides by the law, but Eli’s affinity for ink causes them to break the law multiple times a day. Despite their daily felonies, however, Eli has chosen to live a simple life and stay out of trouble, and took up a quiet job as a jewellery seller. But this is all about to change when Eli meets Duke Haven, a member of the Pyre gang (whose members have an affinity for fire) and Duke convinces Eli to help him pull of a heist at a renowned casino.

If I had to describe this book in one word it would be: complex. Once again, this is a really short book and I feel like there is so much to it that the story would have better fitted into a longer format. I can see that the author has created this incredibly complex world of magic, and there are so many characters and storylines going on that it gets a bit confusing. It is definitely an action-packed book, but I think the story could have done with more chapters, giving the reader a respite and a chance to take in everything that is happening. I felt myself losing the plot a good few times and that is because the action never stops and everything goes really fast. I really wished it was a longer book, and that the author had gone into more details regarding certain situations.

Apart from this though, it is a very interesting and original story, nothing like I’ve ever read before. The intrigue is well constructed, and it will grasp you until the end, where the author executed a beautiful and unexpected plot twist, and I do love a plot twist when I don’t see it coming!

I should also mention that this is another LGBT+ book! The main character, Eli, is a jewellery seller by day and a drag queen in their spare time, and they are genderfluid while Duke Haven is pansexual. I absolutely love this. How refreshing to have characters that are not just at one end or the other of the spectrum. Because it’s not just about having gay/lesbian characters, there are so many more genders and sexualities around and all of them deserve and need representation! I was so very pleased to find these characters that do not conform to heteronormative standards!

Both this book and the one I reviewed last week (The Lady and the Thief) were published by Less Than Three Press, a publishing company that specialises in LGBT+ material. So if this is right up your street, make sure to check them out! I for sure know that I will go back to them often 🙂

I highly recommend this book if you like fantasy and action-packed novels, my only criticism remaining that I wish the book had been longer to give the story a chance of being explored further.