Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Rating : 10/10

There are several times when I've wished I could do a Thursday Next and get inside a book and live with the characters. I desperately wanted my letter from Hogwarts to arrive, so that I could be part of that wonderful magical world of witches and wizards. I longed to rush to Derbyshire and lounge in the library at Pemberley. And now, I want to take the first plane to Guernsey and be part of the marvellous Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. 

I have nothing but praise for this epistolary novel which is definitely among the best books I've read this year. It is everything I'd want a good book to be: engaging, heart-warming, emotional, well-written and ultimately, unforgettable. The only complaint I have about the book is that it ended. 

Author Juliet Ashton, while in search of an idea for her next book, receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, about a book that she once owned which is now in his possession. That chance correspondence leads to stories being exchanged about each other and soon, other members of the literary society write to Juliet, sharing their experiences about life during the German Occupation of Guernsey. 

Mary Ann Shaffer wrote the majority of this magnificent book, before illness forced her niece Annie Barrows to take over and rewrite some parts. The first thing that struck me about this book was how personal the writing seemed, as you find yourself reading letters to and from different people who you grow to care about infinitely. The subtle wit, humour and realism of this very quotable book is amazing. In addition to being exquisitely charming, there is just so much talk about books in general. People talk about the books they've read that impacted their lives, kept them sane and busy when they faced all kinds of trauma. People talk of their favourite writers and recommend books to each other. People reference literary characters and try to be like them. That was all I needed. It felt like home. See this, for example:

'I remember lying in our hay-loft reading The Secret Garden with a cowbell beside me. I'd read for an hour and then ring the bell for a glass of lemonade to be brought to me. Mrs. Hutchins, the cook, eventually grew weary of this arrangement and told my mother, and that was the end of my cowbell, but not my reading in the hay.'

I believe that sometimes, the simplest tales are the ones that touch your heart and that is definitely the case with this book. I adored how nothing was pretentious about the book! Something as tragic and painful as the occupation of Guernsey by Germans who subjected the people to great problems, is told from the point of view of a commoner. It's brutally simple and so very real. Though this is a center point of the book, never is the book depressing. On the contrary, it is heart-warming, inspirational and filled with hope.  

This book has some of the most memorable characters I've ever read. Juliet Ashton is delightfully witty and definitely the girl you would love to be friends with! The members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society are about as different as the society's name itself and they pull you into their world. I felt like I should take a walk with the strong, silent Dawsey, have tea with kindhearted Amelia and try out Will Thisbee's potato peel pie, discuss Pride and Prejudice with the wild and vivid Isola (my favourite), play with  little Kit and learn more about her amazing mother Elizabeth McKenna.

You see what I mean? This book will make you want to be part of it. It will make you smile. It will make you hope for your favourite characters to get together. It will make you think about things that went wrong in the world but will more than compensate your feeling of sadness by reminding you of some of the most exciting bunch of characters. 

Mary Ann Shaffer with co-author Annie Barrows  ( Photo Credit )

Reading this book is like sipping a warm cup of tea and watching through your window while it rains. It's comforting and I definitely recommend you read it. It saddens me that Mary Ann Shaffer is not alive to see the impact and reach of this book. I can't thank her enough for hours of reading pleasure. I'm so glad I bought this book and look forward to rereading it soon! This one is a keeper.


A Buckeye Girl Reads said...

This book became an immediate favorite after I read it. I just loved Guernsey.I may or may not have wrote my name and address down in a couple of my books.

Did you know that Mary Ann Shaffer died before the book was finished, and that is why her niece, Annie Barrows finished the editing process? I couldn't figure out why it had two authors until I found that out.

Kate said...

This is one of my favorites too!

"Reading this book is like sipping a warm cup of tea and watching through your window while it rains."

Love it!

...and I noticed that you're currently reading Girl With the Pearl Earring. Another great read - hope you're enjoying it!

B said...

You've made me want to read this book! Next time I'm at the bookstore it will come with me to checkout :) Thanks for the wonderful review.

christa @ mental foodie said...

I enjoyed this book as well when I read it last year. It's not something I'd normally pick but I'm glad I did.

Although, I wish I am more familiar with the books mentioned in the book... I have hardly read any classics so I probably miss out on something by not knowing the books mentioned.

Vaishnavi said...

I am so glad you liked this book! This was a gift from my brother and I love it so much! It is definitely one of my all time favourites! :) Great review of a great book! :)

BookQuoter said...

I am so happy you liked the book too. I don't know how one can't. It's really a book that makes one feel so connected to the characters and the place. It made me really want to visit Guernsey. Thanks for the great review.

A Buckeye Girl Reads: thanks for that info. I didn't know that. That's the second author that I will miss their next books. (Stieg Larson is the first one)

Booksnyc said...

Thanks for your excellent review - I love books that stay with you as this one seems to have for you. It is on my shelf and I am looking forward to it!

Priya Iyer said...

I have heard so much about this book. I so want to check out this one soon :)

Veens said...

just 3 words - I DESPERATELY WANT!

thanks for the heart-felt review!

Kals said...

Colette - Thanks! LOL. I should try doing that too!

Yes, I did know and did mention that Shaffer died and left Barrows to rewrite parts of the book. I did wonder about the two authors as well :)

Kate - Thank you! I've just started with A Girl With A Pearl Earring and I hope it's as great as everyone says it is :)

Brenna - Thank you so much for the wonderful compliment! This is definitely a book worth buying and I hope you love it as much as I do :)

Christa - Oh, I totally understand that point! I knew a lot of books mentioned, but not all. I was in awe of how the author(s) related just about everything with a book reference! :)

Vaishnavi - Thank you! This is among my all-time favourites too. My Mum bought it for me and I'm so glad she did :)

BookQuoter - Thank you so much and I agree with everything you said :) I desperately wanted to find myself in Guernsey too!

Booksync, Priya, Veens - Thank you so very much! :) I'm hopeful that this book will make an impact on you as much as it did on me. Happy reading!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

This book was just delightful. I love your description of reading it.

Priya Parmar said...

i loved everything about this book. and the story behind it was so touching. your writing is so good! love the letter from hagwarts!

Priya Iyer said...

you have been tagged!!

Kals said...

Avid Reader - Thanks! :)

Priya Parmar - Thank you so much!! :) The book is every bookworm's dream come true.

Priya - The tag looks very interesting! :)

vvb32 reads said...

a favorite for me too. i love how the community bonded.

Kate said...

Just wanted to let you know that I included this post as part of my Friday Five at Kate's Library!

Kals said...

Velvet - Me too! It made me want to be part of their community :)

Kate - Oh thank you so much!! I'm honoured that you included my post :)

Unknown said...

Just so you know, I found you through Kate's Friday Five :)
This is truly a beautiful review! Even though I write reviews, I rarely read them b/c I'd just as soon read the book myself. But I loooved yours! I've been putting off reading this book just b/c I have so many YAs that I want to get through before school starts, but now I think you've really got me hooked...

Kals said...

Katie - Thank you so very much! Your comment made my day. I'm glad you enjoyed my review and I can promise that you'll most certainly adore the book :) Thanks again!

Grad said...

I have been wanting to read this book for the longest time, and your post only makes me want to read it even more. I am currently reading my way through Thursday Next (the 6th book is coming out this month - yipee). But I'll definitely pick this one up after that. Good post!

Birdy said...

I read this book recently and I absolutely loved it... It's such a delightful book with some really heartwarming characters... Great review!

Priya Iyer said...

I am looking for this book. :)
BTW, going by your review, I am quite sure you will LOVE a book called 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. It is an epistolary novel, letters exchanged between Helen and the staff of a certain bookstore. It is all about books and is very heart warming. Do check it out whenever possible.

Kim said...

Yes, yes, yes ... love, love, loved it! What's not to like?

Priya Iyer said...

I finally got my copy of this book and started reading it too. It resembles 84 Charing Cross Road (a book written in the 70s) quite a bit, but so far, has been a pleasant read. :)

Mel u said...

I loved this book also-I also learned a lot about life in the Channel Islands during WWII-this is a great books for those who love books and the reading life


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