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The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

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Post by michellemoran » Mon October 6th, 2008, 9:06 pm

I'm not sure I can count the ways in which I adored this book. I think it's very, very difficult to write a compelling epistolary novel, but this one had my attention from the first page. I gave this book as a gift to one of my dearest friends who just turned forty. I wrapped it a lavender Coach scarf, and I swear, when she unwrapped it, she was more excited about the book than the scarf (which is as it should be ;) ). Ultimately, she'll probably come to love the book a lot more.
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Post by Telynor » Fri October 17th, 2008, 5:58 am

(Yes, I know I am gushing about this book. Embarrassing for someone of my years, but it is a delight!)

Every now and then, I get my hands on a book that manages to delight right from the start and all the way through to the finish. Sadly, that doesn't happen very much any more, but when it does, oh! -- what satisfaction it brings. Such was the case with this delighful novel, <i>The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.</i>

Juliet Ashton, a single woman who has survived WWII in London, is putting her life back together, albeit somewhat slowly. She wrote a series of newspaper columns during the war, and now they have been collected into a book -- and the book has turned out to be a success. So now the author of <i>Izzy Bickerstaff Goes to War</i> has gone off on a book tour. It all may sound glamourous, but in reality it's a tiring, annoying, expedition, especially when an obnoxious journalist turns up with upsetting results, and someone is sending extravagant bouquets of flowers to her hotel room. By the time the book tour is over, Juliet is relieved to be home, but she still doesn't quite have the energy to cope with the new complications in her life. Namely, the would be suitor who sent her all of those flowers, and while Markham V. Reynolds is certainly wealthy, tall, dark and shamelessly handsome, there's something a bit off about him that Juliet doesn't quite trust.

On a happier note, she also has a surprise awaiting her when she returns to London. A man by the name of Dawsey Adams has written to her after finding her name and address in the flyleaf of a book that she had sold. He's from the Channel Islands, and more specificially, Guernsey. And her book has opened up a world for him, where words can be magic, and a new experience awaits.

At the center of the novel is the night when the Society was created, and how it provided a lifeline to a group of people trying to survive German occupation. Told in a series of letters exchanged between members of the Society and Juliet, it's a wonderful means of telling a story. I found myself laughing out loud at some of them, and actually crying out <I>OH NO!</I> at one point, and moved to tears at another.

The use of letters to tell a story isn't a new concept. One of the earliest European novels, <I>Les Liaisons Dangereuse</I>, is made up of just letters exchanged between the main characters. And it is a very effective way to let the reader into the minds of the characters, and how memory works. It's also a way of eavesdropping as it were, into the inimate thoughts and hopes of a person, in a way that straight prose narrative just can not capture.

I confess that I loved reading this book. By turns I found the story hopeful, exasperating -- especially whenever the priggish Miss Adelaide Addison wrote anything -- and the comical. Many of the characters have stuck in my head, among them Sydney, Juliet's friend and partner; Isola Pribby, with her homemade herbal brews, and finally, Elizabeth McKenna, of which I shan't say much more, as I really don't want to ruin anyone's surprises.

As with all good books, there's plenty of sorrow threaded through this novel, as the memories come forward of the German Occupation of the Channel Islands. Many of the stories are heartbreaking to read, and at times, I had to set the book aside and go for a walk to settle down before I could pick it up again. There's not a lot of books that can do that to me anymore, but this one did. What it has sparked in me is a desire to learn more about this little known corner of the world, as I had known about this episode in history, but not very much.

All in all, this is a must-read, and one that any bibliophile will delight in. It's gotten rave reviews, and I can happily say that this is worth it to find, whether you find it in your local library or purchase it for yourself. As to my copy, it's going straight to my 'keeper' shelf.

Five stars.

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Post by Ash » Fri October 17th, 2008, 1:41 pm

Perfect, I couldn't agree more!

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Post by annis » Sat October 18th, 2008, 5:21 am

There have been a few novels written about the Channel Islands during the WWII.
One of my favourites is an oldie, Jerrard Tickell's 1951 "Appointment with Venus" which also has a lovely mix of quirky characters, humour, triumph and sadness. It was based on a real incident told to Tickell ten years after the war by an army officer who was involved in a similar event.
It's set on the fictitious island of Armorel, which is probably Sark, and was later made into a movie starrring David Niven.

More recently, there's Tim Binding's mystery "Lying with the Enemy" aka "Island Madness" and Libby Cone's "War on the Margins".

There's an interesting BBC archive of collected memories from Channel Islanders who experienced the occupation:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stor ... 5678.shtml

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Post by ellenjane » Tue November 4th, 2008, 3:52 pm

I just finished this, and really, really enjoyed it. It reminded me of Lucy Maud Montgomery and the Avonlea stories in a lot of ways - chatty, quirky stories about local characters. I was a little dissatisfied with the romantic storyline - I didn't understand why the hero was so wonderful, but that didn't detract too much from good parts.

The book did make me more interested in the occupation of the Channel Islands. I wonder if some of the general anecdotes were real.

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Post by Leyland » Tue November 4th, 2008, 4:50 pm

I read it a couple weeks ago and highly recommend it to everybody. I think this story is not to be missed primarily because of the subject material and the characterization on a multiple scale (the Society/island obviously contains lots of people). I knew the Channel Islands had been occupied but hadn't considered what life was like for the islanders under Nazi rule.

I was amazed as the charming and idiosyncratic characters tell their stories of the war years in a polite and upbeat way, but all of a sudden you realize they've just mentioned an incident so heinous that you're breath is taken away.

The author accomplished a uniquely excellent story.

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Post by Misfit » Tue November 4th, 2008, 5:15 pm

I really really need to get this from the library and read it. For those interested in stories of Nazi occupation you might take a look at Rosalind Laker's This Shining Land which is set in Norway during the occupation and covers their resistance movement. I really enjoyed it and it's very different from Laker's usual formula. Laker's husband was from Norway and she came to that country as a young bride shortly after the occupation ended.

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Post by Spitfire » Wed November 5th, 2008, 5:25 pm

Thanks for the reviews and comments, I must say I never had any prior interrest in reading this book. But, now I think I am going to go ahead and order it. :)
Only the pure of heart can make good soup. - Beethoven

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War on the Margins

Post by Libby Cone » Thu November 13th, 2008, 10:08 pm

I'm honored that you mentioned my book about the occupation of Jersey, War on the Marginshttp://www.amazon.com/dp/1419689959
I loved Shaffer's book, too. I have been joking about changing my title to "Like the Guernsey book, but on Jersey, and not Epistolary." The occupation of the Channel Islands is a story that needs to be told over and over again; its implications extend beyond the Islands' shores.

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Post by tsjmom » Sun December 21st, 2008, 11:53 pm

I just finished this and would concur with others that this book is a treasure. Poignant, funny, moving, endearing, etc. I found it amazing that a book about such a serious and tragic topic could feel warm and touching at the same time.

The use of correspondences also made for a unique way to tell a story. 5/5 for me :)

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