Stephen Fry on the Topic of Evolving Language

I recently learned about Kinetic Typography at a Professional Learning workshop and, aside from anything else, loved Stephen Fry’s “rant” on pedants and the evolving English language. Reminds me that Shakespeare invented (read: made up) over a thousand words which we now consider very much part of the English language. (Kinetic Typography is a software program that does what you see here in the video clip.)

I’d like to think that there’s room for both, that you can appreciate and honour the basic rules of punctuation and syntax while still enjoying what Fry describes as the ability to “bubble and froth and and slobber and cream with joy” and know a “giddy euphoric bliss” over language. I get quite excited over beautiful or zinging combinations of words full of layers of meaning, just as much as I wince over the misuse of the apostrophe. That said, I don’t write letters bothering people about it!

What say you?

Review & Giveaway: Shelf Life

shelf lifeShelf Life by Christina George
The Publicist #2

Christina George 2013
Galley (print)
274 pages
Romance; Chick-lit

Shelf Life continues the story of New York publicist, Kate Mitchell, picking up not long after the end of book one. More unhinged authors, more terrible titles, and more time with the sexiest editor in the country, MacDermott Ellis. Mac isn’t happily married to his wife of twenty years, Carolyn, but he’s always been clear he’ll never leave her either. Kate knows this as well as any other woman he’s been with, but the thought of breaking the affair off with him just isn’t something she feels capable of doing. Both Kate and Mac are putting off facing the hard decisions and emotional heartbreak that, deep down, they know must come one day.

That day arrives in the summer, the day they launch the biggest book on Morris and Dean’s portfolio for the year: The Continued Promise, the follow-up to a previous bestseller, The Promise. The CEO of MD, Edward – a dictatorial man in his seventies who’s been running things for as long as anyone can remember and who thinks its his right to feel up the female employees – unexpectedly moved up the release date without a clear reason, and the alarm bells are ringing louder than ever in Kate’s head. Her gut instinct was always that the author, Michael Singer, was suspect, and when the FBI arrest him on the same day the book launches, it’s not just MD that suffers, or Kate’s career. When Kate learns that Mac knew about the police investigation but didn’t tell her so she could prepare damage control, she’s devastated. Her career might not be salvageable, and now she knows that her relationship with Mac isn’t either.

Rather than face her situation square on, Kate runs – she escapes New York for the sun and surf of California where her friend Nick gives her valuable time and space to recover. It’s time to sort our her life, her head and her heart, but that’s easier said than done. As much as she keeps telling herself she’s over Mac, there’s a part of her that’s still running from the truth.

Having just read the first book, The Publicist, I knew exactly what to expect from Shelf Life in terms of character and style. However, compared to the first book, there’s a lot more plot in book 2. Having established her characters and the dynamics between them as well as the publishing industry, George moves on to Kate’s personal story. The breakup we always knew was going to come, came, and Shelf Life is very much Kate’s story of self-discovery and overcoming obstacles. With the same humour and entertaining insider stories as The Publicist, this was just as fun and engaging to read – perhaps more so, as there were some real nail-biting scenes and I loved learning how Kate was going to get herself out of some tight spots. She’s certainly very good at her job, though as we all know, being good at your job doesn’t protect you from the sharks.

There is an element to George’s style that, while it makes for a quick, consistent pace, also makes events seem a bit too pat. A bit too easy, which can make it feel less realistic. Part of the problem is that, despite Kate being for the large part a worthy protagonist, for large chunks of this story things just happened to her, so that even when she was actively making a decision, it still felt like she was a passive recipient of good luck. It’s hard to pin-point, because she’s an extremely hard worker who rose up out of the ashes of her career to forge a new path, and she forged it well. It was just a bit too, well, convenient, that Allan Lavigne’s book would be an instant bestseller and so beloved by everyone – when does that ever happen? There isn’t a single book that doesn’t have its critics – and everything worked out so well for her. I was happy for her, but it started to lose its sense of realism because the story became a kind of list telling us all the good things to happen one after another.

Granted, Kate’s love life is still a big mess, but I confess I started to lose patience with her after a while. There were aspects of Kate’s character that were largely missing, and she wasn’t flawed enough to seem human. Her world is surprisingly small and her new boyfriend, Nick, is way too perfect. You never really get to know him, beyond that he’s very attractive and very successful. He’s depicted as a fantasy, which Kate never picked up on – fantasies do not make for solid, long-term relationships. I liked Nick, thanks to a few moments when we get to see him vulnerable, but he’s representative of a certain manly ideal women supposedly have – a cliché or a stereotype of what women want in a man that I’ve come across so many times before, in romantic comedies and other formats – so for me he was a vacuous, unappealing romantic character who served as a plot device rather than as a human being in his own right.

I could say the same about many characters in many books, who get side-lined by the “main event” – in this case, Kate and Mac’s messy relationship. Mac was the real star of the story, even though he, too, fulfils the role of another stereotypical male love interest. It was his flaws, and the fact that he’s a philanderer, that gave him an edge as a character over all the others. Kate’s flaws are distantly irritating ones, the kind of flaws that women latch onto because she seems so bloody perfect and all these attractive men keep falling in love with her. Too good, you know? You just want to see them fall, and not in the sense of bad things happening to them: no, you just want a sign that they’re human, that they’re loved not because their perfect (for what mortal woman can compete with, or hope to achieve, that?) but because they’re human and imperfect and its our imperfections that make us endearing to the right person.

But like I said, it’s a very engaging, entertaining read, and this one in particular – because of it’s well-rounded conclusion – had me gripped. In a way it’s reminiscent of Hollywood movies, in that it follows a fairly predictable path, but as with the movies, it doesn’t stop you from enjoying the ride. Part of the enjoyment, I think, is in knowing the formula and the glee you get from seeing how things unfold. Plus, despite the truly atrocious titles these publishers put so much weight behind (self-help? bad tell-alls by convicted murderers?), or perhaps because of them, it’s so much fun to get that peek inside the industry. If Kate’s path to rescuing her career and finding love was a bit smooth and convenient, the shady, political dealings inside publishing more than make up for it.

My thanks to the author for a copy of this book via iReads Book Tours

iRead Book Tour Logo Medium



the publicist 1&2

Thanks to the wonderful generosity of the author and courtesy of iReads Book Tours, I have ONE copy of The Publicist and Shelf Life to give away. This is a two-book giveaway, open internationally, in either e-book or print editions – your choice.

To enter, please fill in the form below. (You can change your copy preference later if you want.) This giveaway is open until Tuesday 22nd April 2014. The winner will be randomly selected by I will email the winner for farther details (e.g. mailing address); if I don’t hear from the winner within 24 hours I will have to choose a new winner.

Review: The Publicist

publicistThe Publicist by Christina George
The Publicist #1

Christina George 2012
ARC (galley)
226 pages
Chick-lit; Romance

Kate Mitchell has worked as a publicist at Morris & Dean Publishing (MD) in New York City for seven years now; she’s nowhere near the bottom rung of the ladder in her department, but she’s not getting the “big books” either. Yet, to her authors, she’s a hero: saving them from jumping off a building after a bad review in the New York Times, arranging for a celebrity to turn up at their book signing before MD cancels their book contract because sales aren’t good enough, and generally doing her job with professionalism and creativity.

She’s still young, and after a few messy relationships with the “wrong” men, decidedly single. But there’s always MacDermott Ellis. Mac, a much older but still very attractive and charming man, is a known philanderer – a discreet one, but it’s a well-established fact that he’s been married for over thirty years, has two kids, and absolutely no intention of ever leaving his wife, Carolyn. Knowing that, it doesn’t stop women from embarking on an affair with him, falling in love and having their hearts broken. Mac’s never made a move on Katie – before now. His warm, friendly interactions kick up a notch when he invites her to dinner to discuss an upcoming “big book” that he wants her to work with him on; it could be her big break.

Mac is smooth, but genuine all the same. He stays in his marriage for several reasons, though he slowly comes to admit that now, it’s because he doesn’t have the guts to make such a big change in his life. Not to mention devastate his two boys. Kate has always considered herself too smart to get involved with him, too – not only is he married, and not only is he a colleague, but she knows she could fall for him.

Through the sometimes hilarious ups-and-downs of publishing publicity and in-house politics, Kate forges a path for her career and balances the increasing workload with her increasingly flirtatious outings with Mac. She must figure out a way to listen to both her heart and her gut instinct, and trust herself to make the right decisions for her own happiness. But does that mean loving Mac, or distancing herself from him?

‘Christina George’ is the pseudonym for a publishing industry insider, a publicist who has used her experience and true-to-life anecdotes to bring colour to this chick-lit romance story – though not all of them are true. If I didn’t know George worked in the biz and was using a pen name so she could share these often outlandish scenarios, I would have said they were too outrageous to be believable. It’s amazing, human behaviour, and what people who work “behind the scenes” get to see: the ‘warts and all’. These authors are a mixed bunch, but many of them are entitled, arrogant, demanding, neurotic, obsessive, and have no personal skills whatsoever. Though to be fair, most of the books Kate had to publicise sounded like utter trash, too. Nothing I’d be interested in reading, that’s for sure.

It was definitely the strength of the novel, though, this insight into the mainstream publishing industry. I’ve worked for a small independent publisher in the past, and seen that even at that level there’re plenty of colourful characters and eye-rolling stories of authorial entitlement. It makes for an entertaining read, even if it didn’t always flow through the story with a natural feel. That’s down to George’s writing, which hasn’t yet matured but shows plenty of potential.

The romance also had a decent ‘true-to-life’ feel to it, which gives the whole story a kind of TV-show realism (an oxymoron I know, but the way I can think of to capture The Publicist‘s flavour). Mac is charismatic and a nice shade of grey, reminding us that not everyone who embarks on an extra-marital affair (or two or two dozen) is an automatic sleaze-ball. You can see quite clearly how stuck he is, how he’s internalised the problems with his marriage and, rather than deal with them in a productive manner, hides from them. He keeps the status quo, a little boy pretending to be an adult, trying to protect his wife while also trying to find a slice of happiness for himself. You might not approve of his methods, but he still conjures up sympathy, making Kate’s decision less simple.

I would have liked a bit more pre-sex tension and chemistry, more of a build-up; to establish their mutual attraction a bit more – not necessarily in terms of time but in terms of their interactions, the depth of them. It becomes a bit too descriptive, with too much “tell” and not enough “show”. It’s hard to feel what they’re feeling when you’re only told.

Supporting characters help to flesh out the story and Kate’s world: her best friend Grace, an artist; her friend Allan Lavigne, an elderly man who once, in 1969, published a bestseller called The Fall and was in an iron-clad contract with MD to publish his second book, which he’d never written; and Nick, Allan’s nephew from California who reminds Kate of Matthew McConaughey – now she’s got two men to choose from, and an even bigger decision to make.

It’s a relatively short novel, with a swift pace and near-constant movement, plenty of dialogue and even a scene that brought tears to my eyes. It was entertaining but really, the story has only just started, and ends on something akin to a cliffhanger. The story continues in Shelf Life, which I’ll be reviewing next.

My thanks to the author for a copy of this book via iRead Book Tours.

iRead Book Tour Logo Medium

Other Reviews:

“While I can’t unreservedly recommend The Publicist: Book One, it does have its fun moments and I did enjoy the peek inside a publishing house, albeit a fictitious one.” All About Romance

“The industry aspect of this story is highly entertaining but the way it mingles with the emotional and personal side is beautifully interwoven.” Scandalicious Book Reviews

“This is a good read for anyone who likes to read or who is involved with publishing. It adds another dimension to (my) reading when we understand a little of what is involved in bring the work from the keyboard to our reading stacks.” Book Porchervations

Missed yours? Leave me a link and I’ll add it.


Christina GeorgeMeet the Author:

Christina George has worked in publishing for twenty years (give or take). Here’s what this book isn’t. It’s not a slam against publishing (though it is broken) and it’s not a slam against authors (though some of them are crazy). This book is not autobiographical though many of the stories are true. No you won’t know which ones, cause it’s more fun to guess, right? George continues to work in publicity and helps authors because at the end of the day she does love books, she loves publishing, and she loves authors. She hopes you’ll enjoy this romp through Kate’s world as much as she enjoyed creating it.

Twitter: @publicistgal

Visit iReads Book Tours for other stops on the tour.

Around the World in 12 Books Challenge - March Roundup

around the world 2014

I’m a bit late getting this round-up post for the Around the World reading challenge together, my apologies, life has rather taken over! There’s a lovely new list of reviews for you to peruse, though unfortunately I don’t have time to put together a more extensive round-up like I did for January and February.

For the first time so far this year, we didn’t cover all continents – there were no books read set in South America or the Caribbean. Dorothee wrote a wonderful post, “One World”, that covered 23 different authors from Africa and across the world; I couldn’t fit it into my template so I’m linking to it here.

Note: Reviewer blog links go to the reviewer’s blog page; title links will take you to the book’s Goodreads page.




Making Soapies in Kabul by Trudi-ann Tierney (Book’d Out) – Memoir

making soapies in kabul




The Sun and Other Stars by Brigid Pasulka (Canadian Bookworm) – Fiction


Skippy Dies by Paul Murray (The Book Stop) – Fiction


The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan (Canadian Bookworm) – Historical Fiction


Złoto. Walet Treflowy by Juozas Pozera (For Culture’s Sake) – 2 Short Stories


The Copenhagen Connection by Elizabeth Peters (Marj’s Mysteries) – Mystery

sun and other stars skippy painted girls US zloto-walet-treflowy copenhagen connection




The Bear by Claire Cameron (Canadian Bookworm) – Fiction; Adventure; Based on a true story

Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden (File Under) – Historical Fiction


Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler (52 Books or Bust) – Fiction

The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit (Canadian Bookworm) – Historical Fiction (WWII)

bear, the through black spruce shotgun lovesongswives of los alamos




Local Customs by Audrey Thomas (52 Books or Bust) – Historical Fiction


Heartland by Jann Turner (For Culture’s Sake)


The Hangman’s Replacement by Taona D. Chiveneko (Reading Like I’m Feasting)

local customs hearthland hangman's replacement




The Golden Day by Ursula Dubosarsky (52 Books or Bust)

golden day

Monthly Recap: March

In March I started my new teaching job, and as I expected, my time for reading, reviewing and other fun things dropped off dramatically. Here’s how the month played out:

Books Read This Year (by End of Month): 25
Books Read in March: 4 — including:

    Adult Novels: 3
    Children’s/YA Novels: 1
    Picture Books (new): 0
    Non-Fiction: 0

Total Books Added to My Library in March: 22 — including:

    Review Copies Received (print): 5
    Books Won: 0
    Kindle E-books: 0
    E-books From Netgalley: 1

Favourite Book Read in March: slim pickings, so I’ll go with Ignite Me
Most Disappointing Book: The List of My Desires – because it started so strongly
# Books by Female Authors: 3
# Books by Male Authors: 1
Currently Reading: The Secret River by Kate Grenville; The Publicist
Books Read for TLC Book Tours: 0
Books Read for France Book Tours: 1
Books Read for Challenges:

    Around the World in 12 Books Challenge – 0
    Canadian Book Challenge – 0
    Australian Women Writers Challenge – 1
    Read-alongs – 0

Books Read in March

22. The Silversmith’s Wife by Sophia Tobin
23. Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi
24. The List of My Desires by Grégoire Delacourt
25. Time Will Tell by Fiona McCallum

Rather sad, isn’t it? Not my usual that’s for sure. As you can see, behind again on reviews – and still have lots of reviews for February to write too! At least I finally got January finished. :D

Review: The Silversmith's Wife

silversmiths wifeThe Silversmith’s Wife by Sophia Tobin
Simon & Schuster 2014
ARC (paperback)
420 pages
Historical Fiction

Mary was the daughter of a silversmith and then, the wife of one too. Her husband, Pierre Renard, is now more of a businessman than an actual smith; it’s been a long time since he wielded his tools at the bench. Now he panders to the rich and influential, ingratiates himself with them to secure their business, and farms out the work to others, stamping over their mark with his own before presenting the finished product. Pierre is a man of great pretension and affectation, who considers himself a great man and worthy of much – worthy, in particular, of a perfect wife who will give him the perfect son in his own image.

But Mary was never good enough for Pierre, and eleven years as his wife has made her a ghost of herself. The girl she once was has been shrivelled to nothing under his withering gaze, impatience and high expectations – not to mention the times of actual violence. She lives in terror of him now, a fear that manifests in severe sleepwalking, to the point that the whole house must be locked at night, and all the doors within, too.

On this particular night in 1792, though, she is woken from a doze by a knock on the door. The physician, Dr Taylor, arrives with bad tidings: Pierre is dead, mugged perhaps, his possessions – especially his distinctive pocket watch – gone. Mary is left in a state of shock. So long under Pierre’s thumb and shadow, his dictatorial word, she’s adrift, lost even. She fears that in her sleepwalking she did something, is to blame. Her forthright and indomitable sister, Mallory, scoffs at this and had no love for Pierre – who had many enemies – but she can see Mary is sinking into a bleak depression.

In his will, Pierre left the whole business to his young apprentice, the nephew of the woman he wanted to marry but wasn’t granted permission to. He left a codicil for his wife, stating that she should marry his cousin – thankfully, the cousin is dead, but with Mary’s life and future held in the hands of Dr Taylor and the other men who stand as trustees, she soon feels pressure to hear the proposals of other men.

Newly returned to London, Alban Steele has come to help his ailing cousin, Jesse, with his trade. Jesse produces work for Pierre Renard, but as he weakens he needs more help. Alban arrives the same night Pierre’s body is discovered, and the news reminds him of the time he saw Mary, before she was married, an image of her that has stuck with him all these years.

Also affected by the death of Pierre is Joanna, a lady’s maid for a young newly-wed, Harriet Chichester, who married her for her family’s wealth. The Chichesters had commissioned a set of silverware from Renard, and Joanna had also made a request of him: a locket to hold a piece of her beloved’s hair. Over the following months, Joanna uncovers a secret that sheds new light on Pierre’s death and puts her in a difficult position.

Watching it all from the shadows is the nightwatchman, Digby, a red-haired man who resents the rich and the life he wasn’t born to, who nevertheless manages to be where he is needed and who sees much, and understands more.

Set during the reign of Mad King George (George III), The Silversmith’s Wife takes place in a London stripped bare of its glamour, riches and beauty. This is a dark, minimalist, almost bleak London, the London of the tradespeople, domestic servants and others who work hard in this slippery world where death is a matter of fact and life. There’s no sign of the swelling French Revolution that would have started four years before, or of life beyond the sphere of the characters of this story. You’d easily forget that there was a world beyond Bond Street or the shadows of Berkeley Square. This creates a tense, brooding atmosphere that serves the story well, giving it the sense that you’re getting a glimpse into the “real” world of London in the late 18th century.

Tobin’s debut novel begins with a murder but, since there was no forensic science available and even post-mortems were avoided, there is no actual investigation into the death. Digby, the watchman, is asked by a gentleman, Maynard, to keep his eyes and ears open, but Digby is under no real obligation to do anything. No one wonders very much over the death, assuming it to be a mugging turned mortally violent. Yet the lingering tension over a death unsolved remains, and is ever-present, adding an unsettling sense of unpredictability to the story. It’s as if, even though everyone has pretty much forgotten the matter, the fact that there’s a murderer out there – for whatever unknown reason – adds a dark sense of menace to this London. The characters don’t pick up on it – for them, that kind of threat and menace is probably a fact of life. But it’s enough to keep the reader reading.

Sadly, not much else about this story kept this reader reading. I do love a good historical fiction novel, but this one left me feeling distanced, even a bit alienated, and lacking in sympathy. It’s a slow read and not a whole lot happens, yet it’s also long. It’s rich with historical detail, but such details seem like too much padding. For a debut novel, it’s competent, and Tobin has much potential, but her actual writing lacked fluidity and an organic naturalness that makes for a smooth, effortless immersion in another world. Her narrative voice does a good job of feeling historical – it has a syntax and diction that echoes contemporary novels, making it feel less modern and more genuine. But it’s not quite polished, hasn’t yet hit its stride, and reads too sluggishly.

Combine a slow, uneventful plot with dour, unlikeable characters and a sluggish writing style, and you get a story that loses its lively promise under the weight of historical accuracy. It was an interesting story, but not a very enjoyable or captivating one. I wasn’t engrossed, only mildly curious. And after the slow, heavy-footed hobble to the finish, the climax was decidedly anti-climactic, serving only to vindicate (mildly) and answer the question that got us reading in the first place: who killed Pierre and why?

My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book.


Other Reviews:

The Silversmith’s Wife is a conventional, deftly written whodunit with an unconventional and novel telling.” Emma Lee’s Blog

“More than a murder mystery this is a beautifully written debut with a love story at its heart, set against a vividly portrayed Georgian London.” Novel Heights

“The story lacked impetus, and when the truth was revealed it didn’t really come out of what had happened before. And that was maddening because, though I found much to love, I had to put the book down thinking that it could have been so much better.” Fleur in Her World

Missed yours? Leave me a link and I’ll add it.

The Shelves are Groaning - XXIX

I started this post over a month ago and then lost my laptop (it drowned in red wine), got a new teaching job that is taking up all my time (in a good way, but still!), and have been spending any time I do have leftover unpacking and organising the house, which has taken several weeks and still isn’t done! I’ve got the old iMac up and running, though it’s considered “vintage” now so I can’t update the software, and it’s not particularly fast – oh and the keyboard is partly broken and a bitch to use – while I wait for my new Dell to arrive. Which is taking longer than I thought it would and I’ve been putting off doing so much, blog-wise, till it arrives. I’ve also been using Adam’s computer, which is brand-new and connected to a printer, so I have files in several places and it’s a bit frustrating. I’m getting so far behind, though, that it’s time to just get cracking!

Here are the books I’ve received for review or bought myself over the last month and a half. You’ll notice a real theme here – lots of Aussie books!

TheRiver_CoverIdeas5.indd people smuggler let the land speak

The River by Alessandro Sanna – Graphic Novel.

This is a beautiful graphic novel from Italian artist that features no actual text except the names of the seasons. I learned about it thanks to that excellent website/blog, Brain Pickings. “Surprising, original, and gorgeous, The River is a book about the seasons and the different kinds of experiences and stories that each season brings. Consisting almost entirely of images, The River presents each of the four seasons as its own chapter and story. A few sentences at the start of each chapter set the stage and provide clues for following each story. Beginning in autumn and ending in summer, The River is about our connection to place, as well as about the connections between geography, setting, and the stories we tell. The River is also about the flow of time, which flows like the river, and carries us. Alessandro Sanna and his work are renowned throughout Italy and this book, which will fascinate young and old alike, demonstrates why.”

The People Smuggler: The True Story Of Ali Al Jenabi, The ‘Oskar Schindler Of Asia’ by Robin De Crespigny – Non-fiction.

I’ve been eagerly wanting to read this since reading friends’ reviews of it last year, but I couldn’t get the book in Canada. Finally had a chance to get a copy and am really looking forward to it – thanks to the Australian Women Writers challenge, I’ve heard lots about it and only good things! “After his father, brother and he were incarcerated and tortured in Saddam’s Abu Ghraib, Ali al Jenabi escaped from Iraq first to work with the anti-Saddam resistance in Iran and then to help his family out of the country all together. When Saddam’s forces advance towards their refugee camp, Ali helps his family flee into Iran before going on in an attempt to get to Australia – a country they know nothing about but understand to be safe, free and compassionate. When Ali reaches Indonesia he is betrayed by a people smuggler – a common experience – which prompts him to establish his own business that will treat fellow refugees more fairly. This is the engrossing story of how he survived his years without a passport or a state, how the people smuggling business functions, and how Ali was treated when he and his family finally arrived in Australia. It will open a country’s eyes to what refugees are fleeing from, and what makes them risk their lives and the lives of their families in seeking safety.”

Let the Land Speak: A History of Australia: How the Land Created Our Nation by Jackie French – Non-fiction: History.

I had to splurge on this as it’s only available as an expensive hardback at the moment, being a relatively new release, but oh, it’s going to be so worth it! “Reinterpreting the history that we think we all know – from the indigenous women who shaped the land, Terra Incognita and Eureka, to Federation, Gallipoli and beyond – Jackie French shows that to understand history, we need to understand our land. She also shows that there’s so much we don’t understand about our history because we don’t understand the way life was lived at the time. Eye-opening and unforgettable, Let The Land Speak will transform your view of Australian history.”

lost voices swan book journey to the stone country

Lost Voices by Christopher Koch – Historical Fiction.

I am so glad that my assumption that there were no Tasmanian authors except for Richard Flanagan is proving so hugely false – I am so proud of all these writers I’m discovering! (and feeling like a bit of a twit that I didn’t know about them before!) This is one of the books on the prescribed reading list for the English Literature course I’m teaching this year, and I wanted to read it even if none of my students choose it for their independent study. “Young Hugh Dixon believes he can save his father from ruin if he asks his estranged great-uncle Walter – a wealthy lawyer who lives alone in a Tasmanian farmhouse passed down through the family – for help. As he is drawn into Walter’s rarefied world, Hugh discovers that both his uncle and the farmhouse are links to a notorious episode in the mid nineteenth century. Walter’s father, Martin, was living in the house when it was raided by members of an outlaw community run by Lucas Wilson, a charismatic ex-soldier attempting to build a utopia. But like later societies with communitarian ideals, Nowhere Valley was controlled by the gun, with Wilson as benevolent dictator. Twenty-year-old Martin’s sojourn in the Valley as Wilson’s disciple has become an obsession with Walter Dixon: one which haunts his present and keeps the past tantalizingly close. As Walter encourages Hugh’s ambition to become an artist, and again comes to his aid when one of Hugh’s friends is charged with murder, the way life’s patterns repeat themselves from one generation to another becomes eerily apparent.”

The Swan Book by Alexis Wright – Fiction; Speculative Fiction.

Lots of buzz about this one, and the premise makes me super keen to read it: “The Swan Book is set in the future, with Aboriginals still living under the Intervention in the north, in an environment fundamentally altered by climate change. It follows the life of a mute young woman called Oblivia, the victim of gang-rape by petrol-sniffing youths, from the displaced community where she lives in a hulk, in a swamp filled with rusting boats, and thousands of black swans, to her marriage to Warren Finch, the first Aboriginal president of Australia, and her elevation to the position of First Lady, confined to a tower in a flooded and lawless southern city. The Swan Book has all the qualities which made Wright’s previous novel, Carpentaria, a prize-winning best-seller. It offers an intimate awareness of the realities facing Aboriginal people; the energy and humour in her writing finds hope in the bleakest situations; and the remarkable combination of storytelling elements, drawn from myth and legend and fairy tale, has Oblivia Ethylene in the company of amazing characters like Aunty Bella Donna of the Champions, the Harbour Master, Big Red and the Mechanic, a talking monkey called Rigoletto, three genies with doctorates, and throughout, the guiding presence of swans.”

Journey to the Stone Country by Alex Miller – Fiction.

It’s terrible but I still haven’t read any of Miller’s books – I also have a copy of Autumn Laing that I got when it was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin a few years ago. This is another book on the reading list for my course. “Betrayed by her husband, Annabelle Beck retreats from Melbourne to her old family home in tropical North Queensland where she meets Bo Rennie, one of the Jangga tribe. Intrigued by Bo’s claim that he holds the key to her future, Annabelle sets out with him on a path of recovery that leads back to her childhood and into the Jangga’s ancient heartland, where their grandparents’s lives begin to yield secrets that will challenge the possibility of their happiness together. With the consummate artistry of a novelist working at the height of his powers, Miller convinces us that the stone country is not only a remote and exotic location in North Queensland, but is also an unvisited place within each of us. Journey to the Stone Country confirms Miller’s reputation as one of Australia’s most intelligent and uncompromising writers.”

286804 black roses winter garden

Othello by William Shakespeare – Classics; Play.

I bought and read this back in February, as it’s one of the texts I’m teaching in my English Lit class. This is the Penguin edition, and it has good notes and an excellent introduction from some American professor whose name I can’t remember, but I’ve also ordered the Cambridge edition (a school edition with extensive notes) so I have one that matches what the students are reading.

Black Roses by Jane Thynne – Historical Fiction.

Received for review from the publisher. First book in a series. “Berlin, 1933. Warning bells ring across Europe as Hitler comes to power Clara Vine is young and ambitious, and determined to succeed as an actress. A chance meeting at a party in London leads her to Berlin, to the famous Ufa studios and, unwittingly, into an uneasy circle of Nazi wives, among them Magda Goebbels. Then Clara meets Leo Quinn who is undercover, working for British intelligence. Leo sees in Clara the perfect recruit to spy on her new acquaintances, using her acting skills to win their confidence. But when Magda Goebbels reveals to Clara a dramatic secret and entrusts her with an extraordinary mission, Clara feels threatened, compromised and desperately caught between duty and love.”

The Winter Garden by Jane Thynne – Historical Fiction.

Received for review from the publisher. Second book in the series, just recently released. “Berlin, 1937. The city radiates glamour and ambition. But danger lurks in every shadow… Anna Hansen, a bride-to-be, is a pupil at one of Hitler’s notorious Nazi Bride Schools, where young women are schooled on the art of being an SS officer’s wife. Then, one night, she is brutally murdered and left in the gardens of the school. Her death will be hushed up and her life forgotten. Clara Vine is an actress at Berlin’s famous Ufa studios by day and an undercover British Intelligence agent by night. She knew Anna and is disturbed by news of her death. She cannot understand why someone would want to cover it up, but she soon discovers that Anna’s murder is linked to a far more ominous secret. With the newly abdicated Edward VIII and his wife Wallis set to arrive in Berlin, and the Mitford sisters dazzling on the social scene, Clara must work in the darkness to find the truth and send it back to London. It is a dangerous path she treads, and it will take everything she has to survive…”

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A Divided Inheritance by Deborah Swift – Historical Fiction.

I won this from a blog hop giveaway. “London 1609… Elspet Leviston’s greatest ambition is to continue the success of her father Nathaniel’s lace business. But her dreams are thrown into turmoil with the arrival of her mysterious cousin Zachary Deane – who has his own designs on Leviston’s Lace. Zachary is a dedicated swordsman with a secret past that seems to invite trouble. So Nathaniel sends him on a Grand Tour, away from the distractions of Jacobean London. Elspet believes herself to be free of her hot-headed relative but when Nathaniel dies her fortunes change dramatically. She is forced to leave her beloved home and go in search of Zachary – determined to claim back from him the inheritance that is rightfully hers. Under the searing Spanish sun, Elspet and Zachary become locked in a battle of wills. But these are dangerous times and they are soon embroiled in the roar and sweep of something far more threatening, sending them both on an unexpected journey of discovery which finally unlocks the true meaning of family …”

Torn by Karen Turner – Historical Fiction.

Received for review from the publisher. “1808. When 14 year old Alexandra meets Patrick, her handsome and notorious step-brother, she is confused and resentful as he shakes the foundations of everything she has ever known. Driving a wedge between Alex and her brother Simon, he tears apart the fabric of her quiet world. Yet she is intrigued by the enigmatic Patrick and finds herself increasingly drawn to him. These are the years between childhood and womanhood, during which Alex begins to realise that her growing affection for Patrick owes nothing to sibling fondness. But these are turbulent times for England and Patrick and Simon, answering the call of adventure, join the fight against Napoleon with devastating consequences. In a family ravaged by war and deceit Alex finds herself betrayed in the worst possible way. This is the story of one woman’s passionate struggle for love and hope against all the constraints of her time.”

The List of My Desires by Grégoire Delacourt – Fiction.

I reviewed this for France Book Tours – I did receive the e-galley via Netgalley from the publisher of the North American edition (where it’s called My Wish List), but when I saw the sweet little hardback in Dymocks the other day, I decided to get it and read that edition instead (you know how much I chafe at e-books!).

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The Returned by Jason Mott – Speculative Fiction.

I did get a galley of this from Netgalley last year but you know what I’m like with e-books. Found the paperback at the Salvos Store for a few dollars and thought, sweet! “The lives of Harold and Lucille Hargrave had been both joyful and sorrowful in the decades since their only son, Jacob, died tragically at his eighth birthday party in 1966. In their old age they’ve settled comfortably into life without him, their wounds tempered through the grace of time…until one day, Jacob mysteriously appears on their doorstep – flesh and blood, their sweet, precocious child, still eight years old. All over the world people’s loved ones are returning from beyond. No one knows how or why this is happening, whether it’s a miracle or a sign of the end. Not even Harold and Lucille can agree on whether the boy is real or a wondrous imitation, but one thing they know for sure: he’s their son. As chaos erupts around the globe, the newly reunited Hargrave family finds itself at the centre of a community on the brink of collapse, forced to navigate a mysterious new reality and a conflict that threatens to unravel the very meaning of what it is to be human.”

Five Bells by Gail Jones – Fiction.

Sorry about the tiny cover image: I couldn’t find a decent one online and I don’t have my scanner up and running – not with the old iMac, anyway; will fix it by the time I’ve read it. I first heard about this book, um, last year? when it was nominated for the Miles Franklin Prize. I found a nice unread copy in a local op-shop. “On a radiant day in Sydney, four people converge on Circular Quay, site of the iconic Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Each of the four is haunted by memories of the past: Ellie is preoccupied by her experiences as a girl, James by a tragedy for which he feels responsible, Catherine by the loss of her beloved brother in Dublin and Pei Xing by her imprisonment during China’s Cultural Revolution. Told over the course of a single Saturday, Five Bells describes vividly four lives which chime and resonate. By night-time, when Sydney is drenched in a rainstorm, each life has been transformed.”

The Power and the Glory by Grahame Greene – Fiction.

This is another book on the list students can choose from for their independent study, which I’ve never read. “During a vicious persecution of the clergy in Mexico, a worldly priest, the ‘whisky priest’, is on the run. With the police closing in, his routes of escape are being shut off, his chances getting fewer. But compassion and humanity force him along the road to his destiny, reluctant to abandon those who need him, and those he cares for.”

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Sweet Things, Fuss-Free Dinners and Chinese Cooking edited by Pamela Clark – Cookbooks.

I really enjoy these magazine-style books from The Australian Women’s Weekly. The Chinese one is, as you can tell, another Collector’s Edition Vintage reproduction of the original one from the 70s – awful photography but classic simply Chinese dishes.

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Nanberry: Black Brother White by Jackie French – YA Historical Fiction.

Now that I know Jackie French writes wonderful YA novels, I’m snapping them up whenever I see them! “It’s 1789, and as the new colony in Sydney Cove is established, Surgeon John White defies convention and adopts Nanberry, an Aboriginal boy, to raise as his son. Nanberry is clever and uses his unique gifts as an interpreter to bridge the two worlds he lives in. With his white brother, Andrew, he witnesses the struggles of the colonists to keep their precarious grip on a hostile wilderness. And yet he is haunted by the memories of the Cadigal warriors who will one day come to claim him as one of their own. This true story follows the brothers as they make their way in the world – one as a sailor, serving in the Royal Navy, the other a hero of the Battle of Waterloo. No less incredible is the enduring love between the gentleman surgeon and the convict girl, saved from the death penalty, to become a great lady in her own right.”

The Finisher by David Baldacci – YA Fantasy; Dystopian Fiction.

A new book from this well-established adult thriller writer, whom I’ve never read (CIA-type stories are not my thing, to be honest) – and a bit of a departure, genre-wise. I’m intrigued by the premise, though. “Welcome to Wormwood: a place where curiosity is discouraged and no one has ever left. Until one girl, Vega Jane, discovers a map that suggests a mysterious world beyond the walls. A world with possibilities and creatures beyond her imagining. But she will be forced to fight for her freedom. And unravelling the truth may cost Vega her life.”

Enmity by EJ Andrews – YA Science Fiction.

Received for review from the publisher. “After a solar flare wipes out most of the world’s inhabitants, it leaves behind nothing but a desolate earth and a desperate population. Existence is no longer a certainty. And with factions now fighting for the power to rule, people start to become reckless with their lives. The world has become a dangerous place. Amongst the ensuing chaos, Nate and Hermia — two victims of the new world order — are taken against their will to The Compound. Joined by eight other teenagers all chosen for a specific reason, Nate and Hermia are forced to train as assassins to overthrow the current president and make way for a new leader of the free world. Here, they learn to plan, fight, and most importantly… to survive. Except, despite the casual cruelty of their new existence, both Nate and Hermia — two very strong but very different people — begin to form fragile bonds within the group. But they soon realize their happiness is short lived…because their training is just the beginning. A war awaits…regardless of how ready or willing they may be.”

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Taronga by Victor Kelleher – YA Speculative Fiction.

I found this old paperback in an op-shop and while I’ve never read this particular one, it brought back memories of reading Kelleher as a kid. Love the sound of this one: “Two years after the Last Days, Australia has become a dangerous place, and a battle-ground for survival. Ben, who has a telepathic ability to control animals, leads a hazardous existence in the bush west of the Blue Mountains. Hopeful of a less brutal life, he escapes to Sydney – only to be further disillusioned. Then, at the heart of the city he comes upon Taronga Zoo, which has been strangely unaffected by the general chaos. Or has it? Is it an island of safety in the midst of so much danger? Or is it really the most sinister place of all?”

Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi – YA Sci-fi/Romance.

The third and last book in the Shatter Me trilogy, which I’ve already read and will review soon.

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner – YA Science Fiction.

First book in a trilogy called Starbound. “It’s a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets to the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone. Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they’re worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help. Then, against all odds, Lilac and Tarver find a strange blessing in the tragedy that has thrown them into each other’s arms. Without the hope of a future together in their own world, they begin to wonder – would they be better off staying in this place forever? Everything changes when they uncover the truth behind the chilling whispers that haunt their every step. Lilac and Tarver may find a way off this planet. But they won’t be the same people who landed on it.”

john dreamer here and now

John Dreamer by Elise Celine – YA Fantasy.

E-book from Netgalley. I’m about halfway through this and enjoying it so far. “Andy wasn’t usually sure about much, but she was absolutely certain this was the weirdest day of her life as she stood stranded in the middle of a great white room with six strangers. Well, they were mostly strangers. She could have sworn she’d seen the guy with the green eyes before, and maybe that was why he kept staring at her. When a man calling himself the Guardian appeared and said they had come to make their deepest dreams come true, they embark on an adventure none of them ever imagined, and the consequences of their actions would change them forever. John Dreamer is the first in a series of books set in the confines of the Great White Room.”

The Here and Now by Ann Brashares – YA Science Fiction; Time Travel.

E-book from Netgalley. “Follow the rules. Remember what happened. Never fall in love. This is the story of seventeen-year-old Prenna James, who immigrated to New York when she was twelve. Except Prenna didn’t come from a different country. She came from a different time — a future where a mosquito-borne illness has mutated into a pandemic, killing millions and leaving the world in ruins. Prenna and the others who escaped to the present day must follow a strict set of rules: never reveal where they’re from, never interfere with history, and never, ever be intimate with anyone outside their community. Prenna does as she’s told, believing she can help prevent the plague that will one day ravage the earth. But everything changes when Prenna falls for Ethan Jarves.”

terms & conditions deep south ode less travelled

Terms & Conditions by Robert Glancy – Fiction.

I’ve heard great things about this one, I can’t wait to read it – whenever that will be! “Frank has been in a serious car accident and he’s missing memories—of the people around him, of the history they share, and of how he came to be in the crash. All he remembers is that he is a lawyer who specializes in fine print, and as he narrates his story, he applies this expertise in the form of footnotes. Everyone keeps telling Frank that he was fine before the accident, ‘just a bit overwhelmed,’ but as he begins to reclaim his memories, they don’t quite jibe with what everyone is telling him. His odious brother Oscar is intent on going into business with an inventively cruel corporation. Alice, Frank’s wife, isn’t at all like the woman he fell in love with. She’s written a book called Executive X that makes Frank furious, though he isn’t sure why. And to make matters even stranger, stored in a closet is a severed finger floating in an old mustard jar that makes him feel very, very proud. As more memories flood in, Frank’s tightly regulated life begins to unspool as he is forced to face up to the real terms and the condition of his life. Robert Glancy’s debut novel is a shrewd and hilarious exploration of freedom and frustration, success and second chances, and whether it’s worth living by the rules.”

Deep South: Stories From Tasmania edited by Ralph Crane & Danielle Wood – Short Stories; Anthology.

I came across this book in my local post office, of all places. “The first collection of Tasmanian short fiction – twenty-four of the finest stories about the island state, from the nineteenth century to the present. Authors include: A.J.O.; Carmel Bird; Roy Bridges; Marcus Clarke; Geoffrey Dean; Adrienne Eberhard; Henry J Goldsmith; Margaret Scott; Nicholas Shakespeare and Rachael Treasure.”

The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry – Non-fiction: Poetry.

I got this to help me improve my understanding of poetry – and what better way than to have Stephen Fry’s charismatic, intelligent and witty voice in your head? This book has been a bit of a godsend, really, though I’ve only read the first section, on metre. It’s quite technical but he makes it fun and engaging – he sort of “humanises” poetry for you.

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The Mistake by Wendy James – Fiction.

“Jodie Garrow is a teenager from the wrong side of the tracks when she falls pregnant. Scared, alone and desperate to make something of her life, she makes the decision to adopt out her baby – and tells nobody. Twenty-five years on, Jodie has built a whole new life and a whole new family. But when a chance meeting brings the illegal adoption to the notice of the authorities, Jodie becomes embroiled in a nationwide police investigation for the missing child, and the centre of a media witch hunt. Did something sinister happen to Jodie’s baby the night it was born? The fallout from Jodie’s past puts her whole family under the microscope, and her husband and daughter must re-examine everything they believed to be true. An utterly engrossing exploration of what happens to an Australian family, seemingly just like any other, when a long-buried secret surfaces and a mother’s dirty laundry is aired in front of the entire nation. The Mistake brilliantly explores the media’s powerful role in shaping public perceptions and asks the haunting question: can we ever truly know another person?”

Time Will Tell by Fiona McCallum – Fiction.

Received for review from the publisher; book 2 in the Button Jar series. I finished this last week and to be honest, and I didn’t like it a great deal. I’ll explain in my review. “Emily Oliphant has made some major changes in her life. After leaving an abusive husband, moving house and starting her own jam-making business, things are looking up. But the last thing on Emily’s mind is a new relationship…no matter who’s vying for her attention. After receiving an offer from the elderly owners of the property she’s renting to purchase the land and house, a hopeful yet nervous Emily feels herself taking another step in the right direction. She’s unsure where the money will come from, but the offer is too good to refuse, and the property too perfectly suited for the B&B she dreams of opening. Unbeknown to her, the button jar Emily holds dear — a gift from her recently deceased Granny Mayfair — could contain the solution to all her problems… Just when things are finally beginning to go Emily’s way, everything takes a turn. Soon she’s involved in a romance she’s not sure she’s ready for, dealing with the shock of three unexpected deaths, and being forced to make some difficult decisions. With her finances, property, friendships and budding relationship now in limbo, Emily is once again drawing on her inner-strength to overcome this new set of challenges.”

Darkening Skies by Bronwyn Parry – Fiction; Romantic Suspense.

I won this from the Australia Day giveaway blog hop; it’s the third book in the Dungirri series but I don’t think I need to read the others first. “Investigative journalist Jenn Barrett never intended to return to Dungirri, the small town she escaped as a teenager. But startling revelations about local man Mark Strelitz have reopened the investigation into the accident that killed Jenn’s cousin, Paula, and she is determined to find out what really happened. For eighteen years, a gap in Mark’s memory has concealed the facts – that he was driving when Paula died and a corrupt police investigation sent an innocent man to prison. Mark has finally learnt enough of the truth to know he has to set the record straight. As Jenn and Mark start to ask questions, evidence is destroyed and witnesses murdered. Someone wants the past to remain buried and anyone probing into it to be stopped – permanently. Mark and Jenn’s discovery will shock the whole town, but only if they live long enough to reveal it.”

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Daphne by MC Beaton – Historical Romance.

The fourth book in the Six Sisters series by the author of the Hamish Macbeth series. “Black-haired, exquisite Daphne is certain she can avoid the turmoil of true love by demanding nothing more of a husband than to be an elegant companion. The self-absorbed Mr Archer seems to fit the bill to perfection. But when Mr Simon Garfield agitates Daphne’s calm outward manner, the results are dramatic and delightful!”

Deirdre & Desire by MC Beaton – Historical Romance.

The third book in the Six Sisters series. “Red-haired, jade-eyed Deirdre Armitage is determined to marry for love, rejecting the choice of their hunt-happy vicar father. Lord Harry Desire is well-bred, good-looking – and rich. Deirdre contrives to elope with dashing neighbor Guy Wentwater, slaver who first courted her elder sister. Can Harry, clever tricks up his tailored sleeve, save her from herself?”

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AmalgaNations: How Globalisation is Good by Doug Hendrie – Non-fiction.

Received for review from the author. I’m quite curious about this one, the look into unusual aspects of other cultures and the questions it seems to be raising. “When the West meets the rest – what comes next? Fuelled by curiosity and wanderlust, reporter Doug Hendrie travels to the edges of our world to find the answer: a series of unexpected – and bizarre – cultural mash-ups, from the StarCraft videogame superstars of South Korea to the Clash-loving punks of Indonesia; from gay power in the Catholic Philippines to the street filmmakers of Ghana. A whirlwind world tour through surprising subcultures told with subtle humour, AmalgaNations picks up where Louis Theroux leaves off.”

Homesickness by Murray Bail – Fiction.

I’m a big fan of Bail’s work, and I love this imprint Text Publishing has to keep Australian titles in print. “It could almost have been their own country: these sections with the gums briefly framed like a traditional oil painting by the slowly passing window. The colours were as brown and parched; that chaff-coloured grass, Ah, this dun-coloured realism. Any minute now the cry of the crow or a cockatoo; but no. Thirteen men and women travel the world on a package tour but wherever they go nothing is as it seems. Challenged by the unexpected, by differences and subtleties, Bail’s tourists are in turn repelled and attracted—and all are altered.”

The Secret River by Kate Grenville – Historical Fiction.

I had another copy of this but it’s somewhere in one of the forty boxes of books currently in storage at my parents’ place; when I found out I’d be teaching this book, I had to get another copy. Not really a hardship, but I don’t much like having duplicates. “In 1806 London thief William Thornhill is transported to Australia. Once there he earns his freedom and settles on what looks like empty land. But the land belongs to the Darug people, and they’re prepared to defend it. He can’t go back, but how can he go forward? The choice Thornhill makes will haunt him for the rest of his life. Inspired by the author’s family history, The Secret River is a classic novel about our nation’s past.”

Review: The List of My Desires

list of my desiresThe List of My Desires by Grégoire Delacourt
Other title: My Wish List
Translated by Anthea Bell

Weidenfeld & Nicholson 2013 (2012)
201 pages
french flag

Jocelyne Guerbette is a plump, middle-aged woman of forty-seven living in Arras, France. She runs a haberdashery shop and a blog, tengoldfingers, that gets over a thousand hits a day. Jo doesn’t consider herself to be successful, or interesting, or beautiful. She fears her ordinariness, and her middle class life – she fears her own happiness, contentment, with her life. Or rather, she fears her husband of twenty-one years, Jocelyn, will leave her for a younger, prettier woman. He has a well-worn list of wants, does Jo. A Porsche (red), the complete set of James Bond movies, a big flat-screen TV. An expensive watch and a fireplace for the lounge room. He works at the Häagan-Dazs factory and doesn’t earn enough for any of those things.

When Jo succumbs to her friends’ pushing to buy a lottery ticket one day, it’s nearly a week before she realises that she’s won over eighteen million euros. It’s a lot of money. Too much, perhaps. The possibilities are suddenly overwhelming. Jo doesn’t tell anyone about her win: not her husband, Jo, not her friends, the twins Danièle and Françoise, nor her two adult children, Romain and Nadine. She hides the cheque beneath the inner sole of a shoe in her wardrobe while she writes lists, a list of needs, a list of wants, a list of fantastic desires. She’s happy with her life, with Jo who’s been so attentive and loving – so different from all those years ago when she lost the third baby and he took out his misery and rage on her.

But just as she’s realising that money won’t bring additional happiness or make things better – that her life really is just the way she likes it, already – an unexpected, shocking betrayal changes everything.

The List of My Desires – or My Wish List as it’s called in North America – is both quietly, gently wonderful and also hugely disappointing. Jo – the wife – narrates most of the short novel and Delacourt’s style suits her perfectly. Her sense of insecurity, contentment, a hint of timidity curled around a resolute, brave will – it all comes across clearly, in the simple descriptive style and syntax as much as through Jo’s story. It’s also a distinctly – or what I think of as distinctly – French style, and this can work for me or it can’t.

Written in first person present tense without dialogue punctuation, one of the glitches of the novel is the fore-shadowing – either implicitly or through a sense of ominous presentiment. I really, really don’t like present tense anymore – it’s so hideously overused now, and incorrectly used – and I especially don’t like it when the story is essentially written in past tense; makes the verbs all look like typos. I don’t think it did the story any service to use present tense, though I will say that the foreshadowing (which I’m also not a fan of) gave the story tension and lent it an air of foreboding – which you can technically have when writing in present tense, if you’re skilled and careful and keep your narrator’s feet firmly planted in the present. That wasn’t the case here. (Foreshadowing can often spoil a story, like with The Age of Miracles, no matter what tense you use.) In fact, in classic French style, it was hard to know the when, while reading. The tense was a bit all over the place, as was the narration. I enjoy experimentation, but not every experiment works.

It gets messier when the plot changes gears and Jo’s life likewise changes. This is where I felt the novel got lost. It broke into two strands – Jo the wife and Jo the husband – and while Jo the husband’s story remained strong, albeit a bit obvious, Jo the wife’s story lacked cohesion, contradicted itself and, I felt, lost the plot – or the point – of the story. A few weird references made me think, rather bizarrely, of the Jason Bourne movies, and wonder what the F was even going on.

All that after such a strong start. The premise is simple and, while not original, appeals to us. It’s an age-old question, Can money buy you happiness? The psychological process Jocelyne goes through after winning the money is realistic, genuine, and so very human. Winning the lottery throws her life into perspective – or a new perspective, anyway. She rationally, calmly considers the dreams she’d had for her life as a girl, before her mother died suddenly when she was seventeen, before her father slipped into dementia after a stroke a year later. Before she married Jo.

I think of myself, of all that will now be possible for me, and I don’t want any of it. I don’t want what all the money in the world can buy. But does everyone feel like that? [p.61]

One of the insights I loved was Jo’s reflection on just how important it is to us to have those little things we need to get, how it propels us forwards, and how, if you were to win the lottery and simply buy everything on your list in one fell swoop, your sense of purpose and routine would vanish.

At home, I reread the list of what I need, and it strikes me that wealth means being able to buy everything on it all at once, from the potato peeler to the flat-screen TV, by way of the coat from Caroll’s and the non-slip mat for the bath. Go home with everything on the list, destroy the list and tell myself: Right, there we are, there’s nothing else I need. All I have left from now on are wishes. Only wishes.

But that never happens.

Because our needs are our little daily dreams. The little things to be done that project us into tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, the future; trivial things that we plan to buy next week, allowing us to think that next week we’ll still be alive.

It’s the need for a non-slip bath mat that keeps us going. Or for a couscous steamer. A potato peeler. So we stagger our purchases. We programme the places where we’ll go for them. Sometimes we draw comparisons. A Calor iron versus a Rowenta iron. We fill our cupboards slowly, our drawers one by one. You can spend your life filling a house, and when it’s full you break things so that you can replace them and have something to do the next day. You can even go so far as to break up a relationship in order to project yourself into another story, another future, another house.

Another life to fill. [pp.132-3]

It was moments of insightful reflection and philosophical thought on the discourse of human happiness and life in general that I really appreciated in this book, and Jo’s movements through her life. I did find her naïve, and I couldn’t help but think that, in some way, what happened could have been avoided. The issue was her relationship with her husband. She loves him, she tells us. She’s forgiven him, I guess, for how badly he treated her after the death of their baby. She seems to buy into a lot of stereotypes – that he must surely want a younger, prettier, slimmer (firmer) woman, that he would so easily leave her or put the acquisition of material possessions before her. I find it hard to believe that she loved him, that she had a deep and meaningful relationship with him. I can’t imagine living with someone for so long and not trusting them enough to tell them I’ve won the lottery. I wouldn’t want to be with someone who I couldn’t talk to about important things, couldn’t share things with. So I did find it hard to relate to Jo, and I found it disappointing that her husband fulfilled her lowest expectations (to be honest, it’s all a bit predictable, too). And I found it a bit confusing what happened next.

This is a coming-of-age novel for Jocelyne, but it’s her husband’s story too. In a way, she never gave him a chance. She set him up to fail. And after creating such an unequal relationship, she didn’t give him the opportunity to make mistakes, learn from them, grow and grow up. She feared what would happen if she told him about the winnings – how it would change things, ruin them – and that I can understand. But her fear was a selfish one, and she made selfish decisions for Jo as well. She decided that the life she liked should be good enough for him, as well. What came across clearly was Jo-the-husband as Jo-the-child, and nowhere in the story, in any of the memories she relates or the present-day details, could I find evidence of a real, loving, trusting relationship. Which was very sad. Beneath it al, beneath everything Jocelyne tells you, there lies this deeply-buried need for revenge, to set Jo up and watch him fall, see him pay, take out all the insecurities and disappointments and hurt on this weak and immature man.

As you can see, there’s quite a lot going on here, much more than there seems at first. And in the end, both Jo and Jo (a once in a million chance that she would marry someone with the same name as her – a nice ironic touch, that, but also a kind of foreshadowing in and of itself) pay dearly for that one winning lottery ticket. For a story about human values and our relationships not just with each other but with money – its ability to corrode and destroy and poison juxtaposed with its ability to make dreams come true – it succeeds admirably. As a story, I found it a bit hit-and-miss. But thought-provoking, definitely thought-provoking, and full of a realistically conflicted, touching sense of humanity.

I received an e-galley of this book to review courtesy of the publisher via France Book Tours and Netgalley; however, I read and reviewed my own bought copy (UK edition) from my personal collection.

3 out of 5 giraffes

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About the Author:
Grégoire Delacourt
Grégoire Delacourt was born in Valenciennes, France, in 1960. His first novel, L’Écrivain de la Famille, was published in 2011 and won five literary prizes. My Wish List has been a runaway number-one bestseller in France; publication rights have been sold in more than twenty-five countries. Delacourt lives in Paris, where he runs an advertising agency with his wife.

See more on his French website: Grégoire Delacourt
Follow him on Facebook | Goodreads



My Wish List

To celebrate the North American release of My Wish List (March 2014), the wonderful people at Viking and Penguin Books have 1 paperback (ARC or ecopy) for me to give away – open to US/Canada residents only. To enter, please fill out the form below. Giveaway ends Tuesday 25th March 2014 (Sydney time) and the winner will be notified by email the next day. (If the winner does not respond within 48 hours I will have to choose a new winner.)