the incarnations

***3 out of 5 stars

Asked to review Susan Barker’s The Incarnations, I jumped at the opportunity. English-Chinese literature, that is English language studies of Chinese culture, by writers such as Amy Tan, Pearl Buck, Jung Chang, Xue Xinran, and New Zealand’s own Suzanne Gee and Eva Wong Ng, have always intrigued me. And since The Incarnations was written by a writer who, like myself, has a Chinese mother and European father, I was even more compelled. How would Barker’s perceptions of Chinese culture compare to my own? The only way to find out was to dive right in.

The Incarnations’ primary overarching story is set in Beijing in 2008. Amid the frenzy of building, Olympic Security Volunteers spy on their neighbours, preparing the city to face the scrutiny of the world, but taxi driver Wang has other concerns. He has found a letter in the sunshade of his cab. Someone is watching him. Someone who claims to be his soul-mate, to have known him for over a thousand years. Other letters follow, relating Wang’s former lives, incarnations, in the Tang Dynasty; during the Mongol invasion; the Ming Dynasty; the Opium War; and finally the Cultural Revolution.

Writer-reviewer Chris Cleave describes The Incarnations as ‘wildly original’. Possibly. However, in my view, the novel’s structure is contrived. It is essentially a series of historical fiction pieces strung together using reincarnation—conveniently a Buddhist notion—as a plot device, in order to present those stories as a novel. Barker could just as easily have published this work as a collection short fiction without need for the disembodied souls, connected through all eternity by reincarnation, tying them together. The final twist of the ‘linking story’, intended to resolve the novel, seems, to me at least, too convenient and thus unsatisfying.

The Incarnations is an uncomfortable read, a novel which would normally would take me an evening or two to get through, took me ten full days to read. If I had been reading The Incarnations for myself, I would have put it down, but I had promised to review it, so I forced myself to finish. Why was it so hard? Because I am convinced other reviewers will hail this book as a literary masterpiece, and shower the writer with praise. Adam Johnson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2013, has already done so, calling it ‘the most extraordinary work of imagination you’ll read all year,’ while John Boyne say it is ‘erudite’ and ‘intriguing’. Yes, this is a well written book. There is no doubt that Barker’s imagery is stunning, provocative and hauntingly real. Nor can it be said that she neglected her research, spending four of the six years in which she wrote this novel living in Beijing itself, and some of that time in a Soviet-style apartment complex of Maizidan. Barker clearly knows her subject intimately. So why did I dislike this book so intently? Why did I find it superior and derisive? I believe it is the Eeyore nature of much of the English writing that exists about Chinese people, Chinese culture, and Chinese history. But whereas other writers offer a smidgen of hope, in the 1378 years spanned by her narrative, Barker has not pointed to a single moment of joy. All those years. Not one moment of joy. Jam-packed with rape, incest, torture, betrayal, murder and death, the novel is completely devoid of promise. Even the potential moments in which Barker’s central characters might find hope and redemption are tarnished with guilt, revenge, and treachery. Sure, all good literature requires conflict, yet Barker chose only to highlight the horror of her subject, making The Incarnations a bleak and deeply pejorative tale of China. It’s possible that the author is correct, that for those unfortunate enough to be Chinese, or indeed, to be reincarnated into Chinese culture, there is nothing at all of promise to look forward to there. For myself, I like to hope otherwise.


Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Lee


A four-time winner of Sir Julius Vogel Award, Lee Murray writes friction for children and adults. She lives in New Zealand with her husband and teenaged children.

Visit her website

A review of her YA novel Misplaced can be found here

Conclave, an anthology featuring her novella can be found here

war girls

This is a collection of short stories that explore how WWI changed and shaped the lives of women forever. From a courageous nurse risking her life at the Front; a young woman discovering intrigue in London; to a grief-stricken widow defending her homeland from foreign invaders, these stories show how the war affected all, no matter their nationality or class. The stories are from various authors, some quite recognisable names and show loss and grief, and hope overcoming terrible times.

I really enjoyed the different perspectives – some from those caught up in the fighting; those volunteering to help; those left behind; and from the people the Allies were fighting against. Very interesting as you don’t often get a glimpse into the life of ‘the enemy’. I really liked old lady in the 70’s recalling life after the war. I knew there was a shortage of men causing many women to never marry but she made it seem real, not just an abstract knowledge. I’d love to read more about her life too – becoming a journalist and being in the thick of WWII, she sounds a hell of a woman!

A very good book, well worth reading for another slant to WWI. It was nice to remember that women had guts and made sacrifices too, not just the courageous soldiers.

Andersen Press Ltd

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

the paris mysteries

Tandoori Angel and her siblings are living in Paris, recovering from the hectic events after her parents murders and reeling from the contents of their grandmother’s will. Though reunited with James in Paris when they arrive, he leaves to protect Tandy from his father. The Angel’s are further rocked when Harry is accused of murder and the media descend on them again. Tandy is discovering more about the death of her sister Elizabeth, and discovers a shocking truth she must keep secret.

A fast paced plot full of twists and mysteries, where nothing is as it seems. I was hooked by this book and quickly finished it. The Angel family is so close and weather any blows while coming back stronger than ever. I’m dying to read the next and find out more about the immense secret Tandy uncovered and the message she received as the book finished. Will the Angel’s uncle be exposed as the repulsive creature he is?

Young Arrow

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

See #2 review here

the intern

Seventeen-year-old Josie is studying journalism and ends up at Sash magazine to do an internship. Josie has little enthusiasm for fashion and wants to be a serious journalist. But she has little choice. It’s Sash or the local cat fancier’s magazine.

Once at Sash, Josie comes to grips with the fact that the fashion industry isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Plus she has to contend with her fellow interns and the editor, Rae, who is in charge and arbitrary – one day Josie’s her hot new favorite, the next, who knows?

Country girl Josie also has to get used to living in the city, and sharing a small flat with her cousin Tim, and his hotter-than-hot roommate James, is an education. Things come to a head at Sash when Josie manages to connect with Billy, a troubled rock star. But a disastrous episode at a nightclub and the fallout on social media causes Josie to wake up and see the real person behind his glamorous front.

Josie starts to wonder if she’ll ever get the journalistic break she longs for …



See review here

Melons. The girls. Gazongas. I could rattle off every

nickname in the world for my boobs — oops, nearly

forgot jubblies — but it didn’t change the fact they were

small. Embarrassingly small. Think grapes over melons,

fun-size bags over fun bags, shot glasses over jugs.

Which was why I shouldn’t have been surprised when

my boobs were the catalyst for squeals of laughter from

my younger sister, Kat, on the eve before an important

day. A Very Important Day.

‘Geez, put those puppies away,’ Kat smirked from my

bedroom doorway. ‘Some of us haven’t had lunch yet and

I’d hate to lose my appetite.’

I paused from rifling through piles of crumpled clothes

on my bed. ‘What? I don’t know what you —’

‘Just look down,’ said Kat, tossing her jet-black

ponytail. I hated when she did that.

Following her instructions, I looked down and saw

my left nipple peeking out of my bra. ‘Argh!’ I yelped,

yanking at the faded material. ‘Kat, get out! Get out!’


Kat cackled, then plonked onto my bed, squashing the

heaving mass of clothes. Too tired to argue, I sat down

next to her and double-checked that my boob hadn’t

made another escape.

Kat fussed with her thick fringe. ‘So, found something

to wear tomorrow, Jose?’

Broken shoes, stained shirts and fraying dresses burst

from the wardrobe, spilling into an unwearable mess. A

personal stylist would’ve come in handy to tell me why

I shouldn’t tape my sneakers together instead of buying

a new pair, and how to dress like a normal seventeenalmost-


‘Yep. Well, maybe. Probably. No. I’m screwed. My

sister just saw my boob and I’m screwed.’

Cursing, I lay back on the bed. Kat reapplied her gloss.

It smelled of cherries, reminiscent of summery desserts.

‘Hey Jose?’ she said.


‘I won’t tell anyone I saw your boob.’


‘Well, except Tye,’ Kat added. ‘I tell him everything.

You know, boyfriend rules and all that.’

I sighed. One of those melodramatic I-hate-my-life

sighs, where the air rushed up from the depths of my

stomach and exploded with a raging ‘whoosh’. But if Kat

noticed, she didn’t show it.

‘Hey Jose?’ she said again.



‘You’re going to have to look amazing tomorrow, you


‘I know.’ I know. I know. I know.

Amaaaazing. Seriously, tomorrow’s important. Mum’s

been yabbering to everyone about it.’

‘Heard you the first time.’

During the past few weeks, Kat had been firing off

tips about the Very Important Day. Wear this, don’t

wear that, do this, don’t do that, say this, don’t say

that. I knew she was trying to help me reduce the risk

of embarrassing myself, but it only made me more

panicked. You see, life loved handing me something

amazing, only to backhand me almost straight after.

It had always been that way. In Year Eight, after my

first kiss, the delectable Pete Jordan vomited from

food poisoning and hadn’t spoken to me since. At Year

Ten presentation night, I was named ‘Most Likely

To Succeed’, only to faceplant the ground as I walked

back to my seat. Some moron recorded my historic fall,

making me an overnight YouTube sensation. I won’t

even go into what happened at my Year Twelve formal,

although it involved a spiked punch bowl, ninety rolls

of toilet paper and a paddock of mud. I don’t know why

I thought the next day — the Very Important Day —

would be any different, but I was counting on a fairygodmother-

shaped miracle.


Most girls I knew, like Kat, spent their allowances or

pay on make-up, jewellery, fashion, music, phone credit

and magazines.

For me, magazines were a sparkly fantasy filled with

smiling, shiny people who looked too happy all the time.

That didn’t stop me from leafing through Kat’s magazines

when she was out, but instead of checking out the fashion

I was reading the feature stories, scoping out who wrote

them and looking for spelling mistakes.

I’d studied hard at high school for six years because

I was destined to be a news journalist at a newspaper

or radio station. So it had come as a huge shock to

everyone, including me, to discover I would be interning

at a magazine as part of my uni degree’s second semester

And not just any magazine. I’d been signed up to

(translation: pushed into) a one-day-a-week internship

at one of the hottest women’s magazines in the country,


When I told Kat my news, she was thirteen per cent

excited for me and eighty-seven per cent envious. In her

world, my inability to use a curling iron meant I didn’t

deserve the intern position. Her warning of ‘Don’t say

anything stupid to the Sash girls and ruin my chances of

working there one day’ hadn’t filled me with confidence.

Unless I underwent the world’s first personality transplant

between here and the city, I knew I’d find a way to put my

high-heeled foot in it.


Kat picked up a ratty floral dress from the top of the

pile and threw it into the bin near my desk.

‘Hey! What are you doing?’ I said. ‘I’ve had that for


‘Exactly,’ she shot back, rolling her blue eyes in a flurry

of mascara, eyeliner and eye shadow. ‘Tomorrow you

need to look hot and cool. You can’t wear your crappy

old clothes at a place like that. Now, here’s what I’m

thinking …’

I sighed and tuned out. I couldn’t handle another

one of Kat’s pep talks where she criticised my worn-out

sandals, mismatched socks, lack of bold lipstick, split

ends and under-plucked brows.

‘… so come on, it’s makeover time. We’re getting our

shop on,’ barked Kat, unaware that I’d been ignoring her


‘I’ll sort it. Trust me.’

Grunting in disbelief, Kat held up a daggy blue skirt

and waved it around. ‘This opportunity is wasted on

you — and your small boobs!’

She threw the skirt back onto the bed and stormed out,

her ponytail whipping behind her. I heard her bedroom

door slam — twice, just in case I missed the first. I held

the skirt up against my lower body and took in the

reflection grimacing back at me. Mousy brown hair,

scruffy but fine. Eyes, green and wide, easily my favourite

feature. Eyebrows, semi-unruly but manageable. Lips,


pouty and pink, no major complaints but occasionally

clownish. Nose, free from any wart-like protrusions so

doing okay. Boobs, small in size — obviously — but

apparently confident enough to jump free of brassiere at a

whim. Everything from the waist down blurred together:

hips, thighs and legs were all … just there.

I gazed at the skirt. Sure, I’d owned it for five years,

and it was a hand-me-down from my weird cousin

Tracey, but it was all I had. I needed another opinion.

‘Mum, can you come here for a sec?’

Moments later, Mum appeared in the doorway,

balancing an overflowing washing basket on one hip

and holding a bag of pegs. Her shaggy brown hair was

pulled into a loose bun at the nape of her neck and held

with a rusty peg. A fresh yellow daisy played peekaboo

from behind her right ear. Mum loved plucking flowers

from the garden and wearing them until they wilted.

Her dress — another bargain from the op shop — had

faded to a musky pink and clung to her body in all the

wrong places. But none of these things detracted from

her pretty features, which glowed without even a hint of

foundation, blush or mascara.

‘Yes, love?’ she asked, readjusting the basket on her


I held up the skirt. ‘How hideous is this? Would you

say it’s send-me-home-to-change hideous or let-me-staybut-

bitch-about-me-behind-my-back hideous?’


Mum shrugged, then patted me on the shoulder.

‘Josephine Browning, you always look gorgeous.’

‘You have to say that.’

‘Not true. When you were a child you had enormous

ears — reminded me of a baby elephant — and I was the

first person to point them out.’


‘But I do like that skirt.’

‘Kat reckons I need a new outfit — new dress, heels,

the works. You know, for tomorrow.’

‘Wait, is that my skirt? I thought I’d passed it on to

your cousin Tracey. I should’ve hung onto it if it’s back in

fashion, love.’

I forced a smile. Kat’s outburst about my lack of

options suddenly didn’t seem so hysterical. It was time to

admit defeat to the self-proclaimed fashion queen of the

house, which ranked number two on my Things I Hate

To Do List. (Number one: cross-country running.)

I knocked on Kat’s bedroom door with its Stay Out

sign sticky-taped above the doorknob. Rock music

pounded from within and I imagined her writing in her

diary about her ugly, frumpy, older sister. Either that, or

sneaking out the window to meet up with Tye. I doubted

she was dabbling in the rare option of cleaning her room,

although when it came to Kat I could never be sure.

The door cracked open. ‘Whaddya want?’

‘Um, what were you saying about the shops?’


‘Not another word, I hear your unfashionable cries

for help loud and clear,’ said Kat, scooping up a handbag

from the floor and swinging it over her shoulder. ‘Get

your wallet, Jose, because when we’re done you’re

definitely going to need it.’

I looked like a tarted-up pageant queen. As I stared into

the full-length mirror, all I could see was big green eyes,

big pink mouth, big bold jewellery, big bright patterns

and big high-heeled shoes. Everything was big, right

down to the price tags. I smelled like a perfumery and my

face itched from the foundation and bronzer caking my

skin. Kat beamed, admiring her work. She’d taken me on

a whirlwind tour of the department store, trialling makeup

products at every counter. Before I could stop her, she

called out to a saleswoman who was hovering nearby.

‘She looks amazing, right? Like, amazing,’ Kat said.

‘Oh yeah, amazing,’ gushed the woman, fuelled by the

anticipation of a sale. ‘Hon, you should seriously get that

whole outfit.’

I blushed, reminded of when Mum took me to buy my

first bra in Year Six and invited the shop owner into the

change room to admire my ‘growing buds’. Like Mum,

Kat had the intuition of a dead caterpillar when it came

to sensing my discomfort. I squeezed my wallet a little

tighter as the saleswoman circled me, eyeing me up and

down. She’d detected my fear the moment we’d walked


into the store and I’d cried out, ‘Is that a belt or a skirt?’

Mentally, I double-locked my piggy bank and buried it in

a safe three hundred metres below ground level, complete

with security guards and CCTV cameras.

I snuck another peek in the mirror and cringed at the

loud colours competing for my attention. The dress felt

tight, but Kat was convinced it fitted perfectly. I had to

admit, it was creating curves in places usually hidden by

baggy T-shirts or baby-doll dresses.

To my right, a mannequin wearing the same outfit,

down to the bright yellow peep-toes, was looking rather

fashionable. ‘How do you do it?’ I muttered to her.

‘Okay, I’ll say it: this is the best you’ve ever looked,’

said Kat. ‘Wear this tomorrow and you’ll kill it. That

dress is hot.’

‘Weren’t we aiming for hot and cool?’

Kat rolled her eyes. ‘Let’s not go crazy, Jose. It is you

we’re talking about.’

The saleswoman cleared her throat. ‘So do you want

to pay with cash or credit, hon?’

I ran through my wardrobe options at home one final

time. A montage of outdated playsuits, daggy dresses

and worn shoes danced in my mind, the blue skirt at the

forefront. I had no choice: I was getting the outfit.

‘Cash, thanks.’

I handed over the crumpled notes. There was no

turning ba

About the Author:

the internAuthor Photo_GABRIELLE TOZER
Gabrielle Tozer is a senior features writer who has edited, sub-edited and written for several magazines, newspapers and anthologies throughout the past decade. In addition to Gabrielle’s work on Dolly, Cosmopolitan, DisneyGiRL, Mamamia and FamilyFun, she has also written for creative journals such as GOfish and Take It As Red. Born and bred in regional New South Wales, Gabrielle now works at Pacific Magazines and lives in the heart of Sydney.


The Intern banner

the intern

17 year old Josie Browning wants to have a perfect journalistic career and find her Prince Charming. She lands an internship at the glossy fashion magazine Sash, a chance to research, write articles, and gain experience in the world of journalism. A columnist job and $5000 prize is for the best intern but Josie faces some stiff competition. She’s determined to win but there’s one stumbling block – Josie knows nothing about beauty or fashion.

Josie quickly learns that the magazine industry is far from easy, especially under the reign of powerful editor, Rae Swanson. From the lows of coffee-fetching and working 10-hour days, to the highs of mingling with celebrities, scoring endless free beauty products (plus falling for her cousin’s seriously gorgeous flatmate James) this is one year Josie will never forget.

This is a fantastic debut novel from an industry insider that reveals just what is behind the seeming glamour and sparkle of the magazine industry. The characters were likeable and Josie seemed so real. She dealt with a difficult home life in a sympathetic way and I was cheering her on. A great read for anyone 12 and up.

Angus & Robinson

Supplied by HarperCollins New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

The Perfect Match

A successful real estate agent, Bella has found happiness with her boss Niall and is content with her life. Her tranquil life is rocked by the reappearance of Dominic, a man from her past who stirs up feelings and in spires a deep longing in her for something more. Growing concerned about Niall’s secretive business dealings, Bella turns to Dominic, a lawyer, for help. Soon she is confronted with the truth and needs to make some tough decisions.

Bella lives with Alice, her godmother and friend, in a charming, spacious house. The 60 year old has recently met a younger man and is having a wonderful time with him. His daughters don’t approve though, viewing Alice as a scheming gold-digger who will break their father’s heart. Can Alice win them over and follow her heart?

I liked the characters and the plot was well laid out with a happy ending.   A light-hearted book that was easy to read and a lot of fun, I recommend it if you want some escapism and a HEA.


Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan


Kate Durham and her brothers, Neil and Alan, grow up on a palatial estate in Queensland during the head freedom of the sixties. The estate houses a massive sugar mill which was one of the most successful in the area. Established in the 1800’s by their great-grandfather Big Jim, who named it ‘Elianne’ in honour of is beautiful French wife he adored, it was a time when the sugar cane industry had hundreds of Kanaka’s (Pacific Island workers) and Elianne was staffed by many of these families.

Christmas in 1964 sees Kate home at Elianne, with her parents and brothers. Her father Stan idolised Big Jim but had no time for his own father Bartholomew. Learning Stan is planning to demolish the old house Big Jim built, Kate goes to say goodbye and discovers a trunk full of books her great-grandmother had cherished. Hidden underneath the books were ledgers written in French, Ellie’s diary of closely held secrets. Secrets Kate and her brothers kept hidden from Stan.

The plot went effortlessly from the 1960s to the 1880s and back, giving us an insight into lives and attitudes of the time. The characters were interesting, and the turmoil of Australia in the sixties was shown, a country which was embroiled in the Vietnam War, the White Australia Policy, politics and freedom of speech, the pill and rock’n’roll! The secrets Ellie kept would rock the family name and were the beginning of the deep and massive change to the Durham family.  I really enjoyed this book with its look into Australian history and recommend it for anyone who enjoys family sagas full of love, family, lies and secrets.

William Heinemann

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan