The Wish List

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This book was hard to find.  The best value was the Kindle version.  It was not at either of the local libraries I use or at Half Price Books.

Maria is the heroine and is totally relatable.  She doubts herself and that leads to missed opportunities in situations that aren't really that intimidating but feel insurmountable in the moment.  For example, "She didn't tip bus conductors but she wondered if she should offer him the scone? She wasn't hungry and it seemed such a shame to waste it.  Too embarrassed to ask..." (ePg. 27)  She hadn't even wanted the scone in the first place but had felt obligated to buy something, and then she wanted to offer it to someone who might appreciate it, but she was too embarrassed to ask.  I have felt this way many times and I have watched my friends go through similar angst.  Another moment I connected to was when Maria and Pauline's friendship was growing and Maria "was tempted to share everything: the whole sorry story.  She had spent a lifetime keeping it inside. But something stopped her: habit, and fear, of course- fear that she would threaten this precious new friendship if Pauline knew everything."  (Ch. 21, ePg. 198)  I feel like a lot of people have experienced this, I know I have, and once again Maria is just so relatable.  And many people will relate to Maria's struggles with self-worth and feeling like she didn't deserve the good things she had. (Ch. 24, ePg. 232)

There is also a parallel story of which we are only fed small bits of info at a time regarding Maria's daughter who died young, at sixteen, in 1984 (ref. Ch. 34, ePg. 309), 36 years before the story occurs.  By the end of the book we do learn what happened and in the meantime, we get a bit of a detective experience trying to put all the clues together.  On a similar level are the clues to what happened to the father of the daughter, Steve, who walked out when the baby was eleven months old.  It's one of those books that you want to go back and read again once you know the whole story, to see how badly you missed the hints and details.

The story is set in Brighton, England and therefore you will notice that some of the words and phrasing seem a bit off if you are used to American English.  Mostly it's not a problem but it did take me 90% of the book to figure out what type of clothing a "jumper" is.  Apparently it is a pullover sweater and can be worn by men or women.  Sometimes the speech pattern reminded me of Mrs. Hall on "All Creatures Great and Small" (which is one of the nicest series I've ever seen on TV, based on the original books from the '70s.)

The message from this story is that we are our own worst critic.  Both Albie and Maria saw beauty in each other but neither thought they were worthy of being loved.  The story demonstrates that we all have our own journey to self-improvement, nobody can do it for us, but they can walk alongside us.

On a scale of 1 - 5

Sex:  0

Religion:  1

Gruesome:  0

Suspense:  2

Morality:  2

Traditional:  5

Sex - no instances to report

Religion - :"The vicar talked about a better place, peace, the comfort of never growing old.  I hated that, hated God for taking her from me." (Ch. 34, ePg. 314)

Gruesome - no instances to report

Suspense - when Maria first walked into Albie's bedroom she saw something that took her breath away (Ch. 9, ePg. 87) but then the suspense is lengthened because the action is interrupted with a memory of Maria's daughter.  When Maria read the note on the back of the painting, the reader doesn't get to know what it said for several pages. (Ch. 35, ePg. 317)

Morality - Amrit censors herself when she is about to compare a dessert to sex. (Ch. 1, LP Pg. 14)  Ex-husband had an affair with his secretary. (loc. 2285)

Traditional - reference to college students drinking in a pub (Ch. 14, ePg. 130)

There were quite a few characters, and some of them appeared so infrequently I forgot who they were in between, like Mandy the hairdresser. 

Discussion Questions

Question:  Maria worried that she hadn't waited long enough for Albie in the cafe. (Loc. 200)  Have you ever been in a similar waiting situation?

Question:  Maria had a hard time finding the napkin on which Albie had written his phone number.  Eventually she found it in a book.  (Loc. 220) What have you put away safely and then forgot where you put it?

Question:  Maria often felt too timid or embarrassed to take action or speak up, however, she remembered working as a "big shot" when she "marched into plenty of offices". (Ch. 6, ePg. 54)  What caused her to lose her confidence?  Was it because she lost a baby?

Question:  The last bullet of the list is not revealed to the reader for quite a while. (ref. Ch. 10, ePg. 95)  What did you think it was?

Question:  Maria struggled internally with thoughts that Albie had lied to her and hadn't trusted her to tell her about his medical condition and is money.  What might Albie's motivation have been for not telling her?

Question:  Albie had always wanted to pay the bill at the cafe and Maria had assumed he was just being chivalrous, "but now she could see it ran deeper than that." (Ch. 11, ePg. 98)  When have you been wrong about someone?

Question:  When Maria started working on the list, she realized that Albie's death impacted so much more than just her life.  What impact will your death have, beyond your family?

Discuss:  Maria remembered holding her daughter's hand when she walked her to school for the first time and "trying not to show her that I was as nervous as her." (Ch. 11, ePg. 101)  Describe your memories of taking your child to school for the first time.

Question:  Maria fussed about her wardrobe choice when she began working on the list. "What do you dress in to impress someone for the first time?" (Ch. 12, ePg. 102)  What would you wear to go meet a homeless person?

Finish the sentence:  Keith told Maria, "He thought the sun shone out of know."  (Ch. 12, ePg. 107)

Question:  Maria remembered taking her daughter to London for the first time. (Ch. 13, ePg. 121)  What is the earliest sightseeing trip you remember?

Question: Maria told herself not to think about things that were difficult, like the ocean. (Ch. 14, ePg. 125)  Is there anything you don't want to think about?  What strategy works for you to refocus your mind?

Question:  Maria used to play tennis, and then she quit and took up running, but by the time we meet her she has also given up running.  (Ch. 14, ePg. 127)  Did you picture her as athletic, or formerly athletic?  How does this relate to one of the overall themes that the side we see of people is often very different from the reality?

Question:  TImothy liked the scones so much he said they could be his last meal.(Ch. 14, ePg. 128)  If you could pick one thing to be the last thing you taste, what would it be?

Discuss:  After one of Maria's early encounters with her neighbor, she felt relieved when she got outside and away from the crying baby.  "Even after all these years a child crying still made her insides ache."  (Ch. 15, ePg. 139)  How does a crying baby make you feel?

Question:  How did you feel about Rosie, who popped in and out of Maria's days like a stalker?  Did your opinion of her change as you went through the book?

Question:  Did you think Keith would wind up with one of the female characters?  Which one?

Discuss:  Albie didn't intend to leave a To Do list for Maria, but it wound up being good for her.  Should we all leave a To Do list for our loved ones to complete after we've gone? (ref. Ch. 17, ePg. 157)

Question: Maria felt, "it was one thing to be directed to help people by Albie, quite another to find the confidence to push into someone else's life uninvited (like her neighbor). (Ch. 18, ePg. 159)  Are you more likely to help when directed or when you just see a need?

Question:  When Maria considered inviting her neighbor out she convinced herself not to because she figured Cara probably had her own set of friends and activities.  (ref. Ch. 18, ePg. 160)  Are you more likely to invite people out or assume they are busy?

Question: Every chapter ending felt like a potential for this is it, this is where the daughter got hurt.  What were your guesses for what happend to Maria's daughter, before it was revealed?

Question:  Like Maria, did you wonder why Albie had a list? (ref. Ch. 21, ePg. 195)  Were you satisfied with Albie's explanation?  If you made a list, what would be on it?

Question:  Why do Keith and Troy not ask Maria how she met Albie? (ref. Ch. 20, ePg. 182)

Question: Maria wondered, "How could she have got to her eighth decade" (Ch. 23, ePg. 226) without tasting macaroons.  So she was in her 70s.  Did you realize she was that old?  If not, did you think differently of her or understand her better once you realized her age?

Question:  What would Albie have thought about Maria continuing his list and her successes or failures, such as Cathie and Troy? (Ch. 26, ePg. 248)

Question: Maria was tempted to read her daughter's journal, but decided not to because she "trusted her and there was a small part of [Maria] that simply didn't want to know." (Ch. 26, ePg. 251)  Which way did you go as a parent?

Question:  Maria struggled to accept help, even when she really needed it. (ref. Ch. 27, ePg. 254)  How easy is it for you to accept a helping hand?  

Question:  Maria worried about forgetting details about her daughter. (Ch. 29, ePg. 275)  What have you forgotten of a loved one passed?  Or what sticks in your memory?  Do you have any special tricks for hanging on to the memories? (Addie LaRue recited her own story to herself at night as she fell asleep so she wouldn't forget.)

Question:  What were your ideas about the young woman Maria kept seeing around town, Rosie?  How did you feel when you found out the true story?

Question:  Maria thinks she would have said yes if Albie had proposed, but would she have?  She would have been the old Maria who hadn't been changed by completing the list.  (ref. Ch. 36, ePg. 325)

Question: The novel ends with Maria falling asleep.  What do you think happens next? (Ch. 38, ePg. 336)

Theme Ideas

The cafe that Maria frequented smelled of cinnamon. (Ch. 7, ePg. 63)  Decorate with something cinnamon scented.
Decorate with "a single red carnation in a small vase" in the center of the table (Ch. 1, ePg. 12) and use a "red gingham tablecloth" (Ch. 1, LP Pg. 13) like at the cafe.
Maria's hands were in need of a manicure (loc. 262) .  Host your book club at a nail salon so everyone can get manicures or provide all the supplies and take turns doing each others nails.  Or get pedicures like when Maria and Pauline went to the spa. (Ch. 21, ePg. 196)
Decorate with a "print of Degas ballerinas" like the one that hung in the solicitor's office (Ch. 6, ePg. 56)
Decorate with cactus or gift them to your guests because Albie had a cactus on his deck. (Ch. 10, ePg. 89)
Decorate with tulips in clay pots, especially  yellow tulips, like Maria's daughter  tended on their patio (Ch. 20, ePg. 188) and Albie noted that they made Maria smile. (Ch. 37, ePg. 331)
Decorate with "tea lights scattered on the tables" like the restaurant in London. (Ch. 23, ePg. 219)
Albie read "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" to the kids at the library.  Decorate with a theme from this book. (Ch. 26, ePg. 249)
Play Scrabble, like Keith and Maria discussed, or Words with Friends like they played. (Ch. 14, ePg. 132)
Host a cake sale to benefit a cancer organization like Pauline and Keith did. (Ch. 21, ePg. 195)
Meet at an aquarium or beach, like Maria went to with Cathie, especially because Albie encouraged Maria to watch marine life documentaries. (Ch. 30, ePg. 278)

Serve coffee and tea (served several times in the book)

Serve marble cake like Maria and Albie always shared.
Serve "chocolate peppermint slices" like the Chef was making that Amrit described as "better than se-". (Ch. 1, ePg. 14)
Serve rose wine, like Maria often drank. (Ch. 1, ePg. 17)
Serve toast and jam because they were a regular part of Maria's days. (Ch. 2, ePg. 22)
Serve "jacket potatoes and warm bread" and minestrone soup (along with marble cake and tea) like Maria observed in the cafe. (Ch. 3, ePg. 36)  Also, Maria took Keith to the cafe for "jacket potatoes and cheese" . (Ch. 13, ePg. 117)
Serve sparkling water like Maria was offered at the solicitor's office. (Ch. 6, ePg. 58)
Serve candy cigarettes like Maria's daughter had on the sofa. (Ch. 6, ePg. 61)
Serve iced buns and lattes like Maria considered getting instead of the marble cake. (Ch. 9, ePg. 81)
Serve carrot cake without icing but with a drizzle of lemon and a dusting of light brown sugar, and cappuccino, like Keith had when Maria took him to the cafe. (Ch. 13, ePg. 119)
Serve scones with cream and jam (Ch. 14, ePg. 124 and ePg. 128) like when Maria visited Timothy.
Serve fudge (Ch. 14, ePg. 126) like Maria and TImothy got at the market stall.
Serve crepes and eclairs (Ch. 15, ePg. 140) like Rosie remembered from Paris.
Serve Crunchie bars (by Cadbury), like Troy finally accepted from Maria. (Ch. 18, ePg. 171)
Serve Hubba Bubba bubble gum, because Maria's daughter was obsessed with it. (Ch. 19, ePg. 176)
Serve raspberry muffins and chocolate cake, like when Troy met Maria at the cafe. (Ch. 20, ePg. 180)  Other choices they considered were "iced buns, Eccles cakes, scones".  Troy's chocolate cake had "double layers of chocolate buttercream icing, the sprinkles on top". (ePg. 182)
Serve "Black Forest gateau" like Pauline and Maria had at the spa restaurant. (Ch. 21, ePg. 197)
Serve drinks from a SodaStream, like Maria offered to make for her daughter when she was upset. (Ch. 21, ePg. 200) (By the way, I think the timing is a little off regarding the availability of this product in the year when the book would be set, based on the number of years that have passed since the daughter died.)
Serve what Maria and Troy ordered in London: "starter of onion soup with fresh, warm bread, ...steaming bowls of snails, ...eclairs, ...chocolat chaud." (Ch. 23, ePg. 219-220)
Serve "pudding wine", like Maria had after the first day with Cathie. (Ch. 23, ePg. 221)
Serve buttery croissants and cafe au lait like Maria and Cathie had for breakfast. (Ch. 23, ePg. 221)
Serve "delicious light macaroons in pastel shades" like Maria and Cathie ate in Paris. (Ch. 23, ePg. 226)
Serve donuts, even though they are not really food. (ref. Ch. 23, ePg. 230)
Serve coffee and fried sausage like Maria smelled when she went to the cafe and chicken fillets like Keith was cooking. (Ch. 24, ePg. 236)
Serve shepherd's pie, like Maria thought about taking to her neighbor. (Ch. 25, ePg. 242)
Serve snacks themed from caterpillars because Albie read "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" to the kids at the library.  (Ch. 26, ePg. 249)
Serve angel delight, like Maria would leave for her daughter. (Ch. 26, ePg. 251)
Serve "macaroons, muffins, fresh bread rolls, croissants" like were on the counter when Maria went to the cafe after going to Paris. (Ch. 28, ePg. 261)  At that time Maria ordered "tagliatelle, the sauce creamy, the enormous pink prawns coated in cheese" (Ch. 28, ePg. 264) and also on the menu were: Homemade Artichoke and Pancetta Soup and Homemade Lemon Meringue Pie. (Ch. 28, ePg. 263)  For dessert she had walnut cake and coffee. (Ch. 28, ePg. 266)
Serve lemon drizzle cake, like Troy liked. (Ch. 29, ePg. 272)
Serve "seafood soup", like Keith offered Cathie when she went to the cafe. (Ch. 31, ePg. 285)  He served it with "hunks of fresh white bread" and "coffee and a cheese baguette". (Ch. 31, ePg. 286)
Maria's neighbor gave her son a "hobnob". (Ch. 32, ePg. 292)
Serve tea and cans of coke like Maria purchased for herself and Troy on the train. (Ch. 33, ePg. 296)
Serve what Maria and Troy were exposed to at the restaurant in London: a tiered cake stand with tiny sandwiches - cucumber and cream cheese, salmon, and egg and cress - cut in perfect triangles lined up along the bottom, enormous fluffy scones next to pots of thick clotted cream and...strawberry jam, then miniature cakes of every variety - layers of delicate sponge, fillings in pastel shades, even a small, perfectly round marble cake. (Ch. 33, ePg. 299)
When Maria went back to the old neighborhood there were stalls selling coffee, ice cream, and bags of sugared donuts (Ch. 36, ePg. 322)
Serve "cherry Bakewell tart" like Keith made in Ch. 38 (ePg. 332).
Serve raspberry wine, like Maria drank in the bathtub. (Ch. 38, ePg. 334)
Maria told Albie her last meal would be "Sunday roast" but later she thinks it might be "a thin steak that was perfectly done, pink in the middle, with homemade chips and peas". (Ch. 38, ePg. 334)