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

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Genre: Fiction / Author: Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows / Paperback / 256 Pages / Book is published 2008-10-22 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

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      05.07.2013 10:31
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      Historical fiction about the life on the island of Guernsey during WW2

      When the island of Guernsey was occupied by the Nazis during WW2, some of the inhabitants tried to carry on as usual. Others felt they should try to do something in defiance of their captors. When their gatherings become suspect, they use the auspices of a book club and sharing what little food they have to create "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society." Author Mary Ann Shaffer tells this story, through letters between one of the society's members Dawsey Adams, and a London writer Juliet Ashton. They start writing to each other after Dawsey finds Juliet's address inside one of the club's books.

      What makes this so unusual is that instead of having the correspondence recounting something that was happening at the time, these exchanges recall the group's experiences, in a retelling of their story. This is very appropriate since most people know little if anything about the Nazi occupation of this tiny outpost. As we get to know these characters and their lives during that time, we realize how unique their situation was. We get to see the human side of those less tyrannical soldiers together with those who strictly applied their assignment. And since the island wasn't technically a battlefield, as the islanders muddled through their situation, some of the incidents are actually humorous.

      Telling any story using the epistolary form can have its drawbacks. This happens when the writing styles and voices of the characters aren't distinct enough to make it clear to the reader who is writing to whom. Shaffer, however, does a fairly good job of making these correspondents into different sounding individuals, and this works especially well when she includes letters from another character whose literacy is less than optimal.

      What is even more important is that the reader can connect with the characters, and here Shaffer succeeds in spades. As the story progresses, the reader will increasingly feel empathy for these people and the particulars of their lives. Since this island has such a multi-faceted community, we don't just get to know the letter writers, but almost the whole population. Although some of the things that happen are slightly predictable, because we feel emotionally connected to the characters, this is mostly forgiven. Of course, it is that emotional connection that makes us keep reading, and many will find themselves laughing out loud and possibly shedding some tears along the way.

      If there are any drawbacks in this novel, they are such minor ones that they don't deserve mention. Readers may find this so enjoyable and engrossing that it will end up being a very quick read, ending far too soon. And the whole "potato peel pie" business is a clever addition that shows the creativity of the author. After such a lovely debut novel, one always hopes that there will be others to follow. However, the biggest shame is that Shaffer didn't live to see this book published, and that her niece Annie Barrows, had to work on the final version. This fact could have had something to do with how popular the book became, but I doubt it. I think the public would have taken to it just as warmly. I'm going to give this a full five stars out of five and highly recommend it.

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        02.12.2011 14:25
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        You'll laugh, you'll cry, and you might even learn something.

        After a bad day a few weeks ago, I was looking for something light hearted and feel good to read - and boy, did I get it with this! The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is the story of Juliet, an author who is in need of a new project. When she gets a letter from a man named Dawsey Adams, who lives on Guernsey and is a member of the aforementioned society, she becomes engaged in a flurry of letter-writing with all the members of the society which culminates in a visit to the island. Set in 1946, the story of German occupation in Guernsey unfolds slowly through the voices of the islanders.

        Now I'm one of those people that has to either get on a bandwagon immediately, and be a founding member of the movement, or I'm not interested. I'll very rarely read a book or watch a film that everyone's raving about - usually because I don't believe it's as good as people say it is. This is one of the exceptions to this rule - I read this even though everyone said it was good - and despite the too-long, trying-too-hard-to-be-quirky irritating title. I know, I'm so obstinate.

        The story is told through the letters that Juliet sends and receives whilst she is researching Guernsey and the Society. Slowly, she learns more and more about how the occupation affected Guernsey, and the islanders share with her the story of Elizabeth, a young girl who isn't a 'true' islander but who has had a real impact on their community. Elizabeth founded the society, fell in love with a German, gave birth to a daughter and was arrested for hiding a prisoner of war. She was taken away to the continent and her daughter was raised by the Society. As Juliet gets to know the other Society members - they tell her stories both of the war and of their literary heroes - she gets to know Elizabeth through their eyes.

        Like Juliet, I never even knew Guernsey had been occupied during the war, so I really enjoyed learning more about that. The island itself is painted in a beautiful light, and it definitely made me want to go there at some point in my life.

        The story isn't exactly at thriller pace. It's leisurely and gentle, but Juliet and certain of the islanders have such distinctive voices and stories that you're drawn in all the same. Juliet is opinionated, witty and likeable and you're with her from the start. To hear the Society talk of their discovery of books that they love is a little clichéd, but still lovely. When things do get going, it's a bit strange because you're always hearing about things after the event, in letters, but because all the islanders, plus Juliet and her friends are all such incredible letter writers (phew!) there is still plenty of tension when it's needed.

        Many of the characters are mere sketches, whilst just the central few are more developed. Juliet's bestie Sophie in particular is nothing more than a stick figure to whom Juliet can pour out her innermost feelings. Some of the society members, though, are larger than life and twice the fun! Isola Pribby, the practising witch, is one who will certainly stay with you. Whilst it was brilliant getting to know all these colourful characters, you also do have to suspend belief to a certain extent to believe that quite such a group of singular, eccentric and eclectic people all happen to live in the same building.

        The idea of telling a story through letters is a bit gimmicky, and there are places where you think, honestly? Would someone write that? To a stranger? There are also a couple of quick fire conversations supposedly by messenger that don't quite add up, and a lot of notes left in people's houses for various contrived reasons. Overall though, this doesn't really affect your reading experience too much.

        This book is credited with two authors. The lady writing it, M A Schaffer, fell ill after the first draft of the manuscript, and her niece did all the revisions. This wasn't at all noticeable in the book, luckily. Sadly, Schaffer died as this, her first novel went to print.

        The book is charming and lovely and comforting and heart warming. It's not huge on character development, or plot, or philosophy, but then it's not supposed to be. I enjoy a wide range of books, and I sometimes ask myself when I'm reading them whether I think people will still be reading them in 200 years time, like they are with Jane Austen's and, I think will be with Dickens'. So will people still be reading this in 200 years time? I doubt it. But if they did, I like to think they'd still enjoy it.

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        28.08.2011 14:27

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        Great book with interesting story lines

        I often find myself nosying through my friends book collections and pinching the ones that interest me. The Gurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society struck me as the title was so unusual. I questioned my friends choice of book and she recommended a read. I wasn't particularly enthrawled with the thought of this book, however it was definately worth a read.

        I love that the story is written through letters and telegraphs that bounce between the different characters involved in the book. The author manages to describe each character in such a way that you are really able to imagine their individual personalities.

        I did find it took me quite a long time to read as it doesn't quite flow like other books do, however the characters draw you in with their quirky personas and the story allows your imagination to place yourself in the characters situations.

        I didnt't want the story to end towards finishing the book and wished it had gone on slightly longer as I feel it finshed slightly abruptly.

        A very enjoyable read!

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        05.01.2011 23:33
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        Fab read

        This book has been sitting around my house for ages now, it had been recommended and lent to me by a friend. However I have piles of books waiting to be read and I kept picking this one up then putting it down again as I was drawn to another book. But over the xmas period I was looking for an easy read and was also getting a tad guilty for not returning the book so I set about reading it. And boy am I glad I did!

        It is written in the form of letters which adds a novel and charming angle to the story. The main character is Juliet Ashton, an author who lives in London and is set in the years after the Second World War. Juliet throughout the war had written a column for the Spectator publication, however she is now at a loss as what to write about next. Out of the blue a letter drops through her letterbox from a Dawsey Adams of Guernsey. He had acquired a book that had once belonged to her (and had her address written in it). they start corresponding and Juliet begins to find out about Dawsey, his friends, their war and the German occupation of Guernsey and the Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society. Before long Juliet begins to hear from the other members of the Society via letters which comes thick and fast, her curiosity gets the better of her and she eventually decides to visit for herself, the sory and her book unfolds.

        This is an enchanting novel that is witty, fun and charming and hard not to love! The characters are fabulously crafted and you fall in love with each of them and their stories. I read this book very quickly almost too quickly as I was sad to see it end. It is a beautiful story and a very enjoyable read, well worth the time.

        It is not a long book at 248 pages and costs £4.99 on Amazon with a rrp pf £7.99.

        I can definitely recommend this book, a fascinating story with fabulous characters.

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          01.07.2010 10:12
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          A gentle, feelgood read

          As a title, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society may not exactly stimulate the taste buds but it certainly stimulated my curiosity and I felt compelled to read the book if only to find out what a Potato Peel Pie was.

          This is a quirky tale where endearing characters are blended with a love story and a taste of Guernsey's wartime history, in a charming confection which is both entertaining and heart warming.

          Juliet, a writer, is searching for a subject for a new book and receives a letter from one of the members of the The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. So begins a cross channel correspondence which introduces such quirky characters as Clovis Fossey and Isola Pribby, her parrot Zenobia and Mrs Maugery.

          Set in 1946 the book takes the form of a compilation of letters exchanged between, or about, Juliet and the Society Members and tells of their experiences during the German Occupation their lives on the island of Guernsey.

          The hardships endured by the Guernsey Islanders during the occupation are not overly dwelled upon but the incidents detailed draw a picture of how difficult life really was during that time and the privations suffered under the Germans.

          The letters are treasure of entertaining snippets, such as Clovis Fossey writing about his rival in love only wanting the widow Hubert for her grazing land for his cows and Isola Pribby admitting that she doesn't have a pleasing appearance on account of a big nose which was broken when she fell off the henhouse roof and an eyeball which "skitters".....
          Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows have produced a book which is a joy to read, simple, uncomplicated and guaranteed to make you smile. The original characters are brought to life through their letters and I found myself believing in them and their stories, wanting to live on their island and join their Literary Society!
          A love story and mystery sit comfortably with the tales of wartime life and it is a tribute to the authors that the book leaves the reader both entertained and informed.

          If there is one criticism, it is that the characters appeared to lose something of their individual style and develop common traits as the story went on and all had a similarity in their matter of fact way of stating things. It could be said perhaps, that this was the Guernsey way.

          This is not a gripping page turner but nevertheless there is an easy rhythm to the book which I found to be compulsive simply because I wanted to find out what happens next to the characters. I felt drawn into the lives of the islanders and indeed I didn't want the book to end. This is a gentle book just crying out to be made into a film.

          Sadly Mary Ann Shaffer health failed before the book was published and it fell to her niece Annie Barrows to seamlessly complete the rewriting to effect the changes required by the editors. Mary Ann passed away early in 2008.
          The Afterward written by Annie Barrows reveals her as a sensitive and sympathetic co-writer of the book and she writes that the membership of "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" increases each time the book is read and enjoyed, so go on, read the book and join!

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            07.04.2010 15:46
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            I'm just sorry its over

            I often swap bags of books with friends and colleagues as we all love reading. I usually read most books that are given to me but this was one of those random books that I wasn't enthralled by. The blurb on the back didn't appeal and the fact that it was written in the style of letters didn't inspire me to read it either so it lay on a small pile with a few other books that I didn't feel compelled to read. However one day, when short of reading material I decided to plunder this pile and force myself to read something out of it. I picked this one simply because it had the most interesting title although I was sure that it wouldn't be my sort of book. How wrong I was.

            Its 1946, the second world war has just finished, and writer Juliet Ashton has writers block. She is struggling to think of a subject for her next book when out of the blue she receives a letter from a stranger - a man from Guernsey named Dawsey Adams - who has bought a second hand book with Juliet's name and address written on the front. Dawsey is enthralled by the author of the book and wonders if Juliet can tell him anything else about him.

            Juliet on the other hand, becomes enthralled with life on post-war Guernsey. In particular when Dawsey mentions he is a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Juliet is intrigued and wants to find out more. She soon finds herself corresponding with other members of the group and as she builds a picture of their lives she decides upon a topic for her next book. And as she becomes more involved in the lives of her new pen friends, she decides to visit the island and witness their lives for herself.

            This type of story - written in letter form - is called an epistolary style story. I didn't know this until recently. And as I said before this originally put me off the book. I thought it would be disjointed and it would be difficult to get close to and care about the characters if we could only read about them through letters. But this is most definitely not the case. The authors have done a wonderful job of creating vivid, interesting and quirky but believable characters and we get to know them as well as if we were seeing them ourselves. This also means that there are multiple points of view so we get to see everything from different angles. We get to read the letters from Juliet to the islanders, and their letters to her. There are also letters between Juliet and her publisher Sidney, and Sophie, who is Sidney's sister and Juliet's best friend as well as letters between Juliet and her potential love interest, Mark.

            Juliet is the main character in the book as it is she who holds the story together. She is likeable and charming, as well as witty and self-deprecating. She has a knack of adding appropriate humour to the most horrendous experiences. In particular the story about why she split from her fiancé was sad yet at the same time funny. The authors did manage to give each individual character a different personality and a somewhat different voice, but still at times I did get confused as to who was friends with who and who someone was referring to. I'm assuming this is because they had to keep a degree of consistency in the narrative. But this didn't put me off and I found the book just as engaging even with those minor moments of confusion.

            The letters create a wonderfully vivid picture of Guernsey during and after the Second World War. Indeed I had no idea what part the island played during the war so it was an interesting read. The stories and anecdotes gave the book a hefty dose of reality as well as humour. It was also lovely to see the islanders pull together in such a troubled time, and their strength of character and humour in the face of adversity was heart warming. As much as the idea of an epistolary novel didn't appeal to me, I actually found that I enjoyed reading letters in a day and age where everyone keeps in touch by text or email. It makes for quite a nostalgic read and I did have a momentary yearning for a world in which we move just a little bit slower.

            I loved this book and find it very hard to do it justice in a review. It has a magical, nostalgic quality to it, but isn't at all clichéd or twee. The characters come across as real and at moments it did feel as if I was reading real letters from real people. There are no "goodies" and "baddies" in this story - the islanders have flaws and make mistakes, and the German soldiers show moments of true kindness. It is a heart warming and humorous book, made all the more bittersweet by the fact that the main author, Mary Ann Shaffer, died before it was published. Her niece, Annie Barrows, completed the book. Between the two of them they have crafted a true work of art and I would highly recommend this book. If the style of the book puts you off, as it did with me, see past it. You won't regret it!

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              27.03.2010 23:46
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              A lovely book

              " There are only two respectable people in the society - Eben Ramsey and Amelia Maugrey. The others: a rag and bone man, a lapsed Alienist who drinks, a stuttering swine-herd, a footman posing as a lord and Isola Pribby, a practicing witch who, by her own admission, distils and sells potions."


              Juliet Ashton is a writer living in post war London and by chance receives a letter from Dawsey Adams who found her address inscribed inside a second hand book. A correspondence begins between the two spurred on by their love of reading and Dawsey shares details of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, a reading group based on Guernsey formed from a diverse group of people who were not all keen readers. Juliet is curious to learn more about the society and asks for other members to also write to her. As she learns more about the life of the islanders she feels driven to go to Guernsey and meet her new friends but will the people on the page turn out to be the same when she meets them in the flesh?

              This is a book written almost wholly in the form of letters to and from Juliet to members of the society and her oldest friends Sidney and Sophie and it is through these witty letters that we learn more about the society and the hardships that the people endured in German occupied Guernsey during WW 2. I learned a lot about the life of the islanders during the war, discovering books was a way for the group to keep their minds occupied and build friendships to keep them going during times of stress, loss and hunger. Sometimes the words in a book can speak directly to a person and those words can keep them going when things are tough and good books can unite people with very different backgrounds.

              I picked up The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel society after reading several rave reviews of the book and it was keeping those reviews in mind that got me through the first 30 or so pages which were rather dull witterings about Juliet's life in London. Once the letters from the members of the society started to appear the book flowed really well and some letters were incredibly poignant and sad, some uplifting and some just hilariously quirky. War brings out the worst in some people with great atrocities happening but at the same time people pull together and show incredible bravery, strength and humanity.


              The style of the letters Juliet writes reminded me very much of Monica Dickens writing and was very much in tune with the period however I don't feel that the different characters voices were very distinct as they were mainly written all in one style so the characters all started to flow into one mass sometimes. Having said that the fact the book was composed of letters makes it a short and light read and perfect for grabbing when you have the odd moment to spare.

              The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a unique book which is both touching and funny and despite the few flaws that it has is a delight to read.

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                22.03.2010 11:33
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                A charming book of letters.

                The novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society first attracted my attention because of its name, it is then that I read a few reviews of it and discovered that it had received a very positive response. It is written by Mary Ann Schaffer and her niece Annie Barrows. Schaffer tells of her relationship with Guernsey and her interest in its history at the back of the book, and this book was one she always wanted to write. Sadly poor health meant she was struggling to finish it, and here is where she asked her niece to step in and help her. Schaffer passed away a few years ago, but not before learning how well her book was received.

                The book is set in 1946 and is conducted in a series of letters. The character that holds it together is an author by the name of Juliet Ashton. Juliet, under a nom de plume, wrote a popular newspaper column during the war which was subsequently published as a book when the war ended. She goes on a book tour and we see the correspondence between her and other characters, mainly her best friend Sophie, and Sophie's brother Sidney, who is another friend and also her publisher. We see letters she sends and receives, but not all letters, so there is no repetition. Here we get the image of Juliet as spirited, impulsive and outspoken. Early on amongst these letters Juliet receives one from a pig farmer in Guernsey called Dawsey Adams, who happened across a book she once owned. Seeing her address inside it he decides to write to her and tell her how much he enjoyed it and how glad he was to come across it. This sparks up an exchange of letters between them, especially when he reveals his membership of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Juliet is intrigued and wishes to know more. She has been asked to write some literary articles for The Times and further correspondence makes her think that this book club with a difference would be a good topic, thus she implores Dawsey to ask his fellow Society members to write to her also.

                This is not a large book - only about 250 pages - and as it is a series of letters, plus the odd diary entry at the back. Some letters are very short, telegrams in fact, some go over several pages, but it doesn't take long to read. I, for one, was left wanting more. The book is easy to get into, and the characters really show through in their correspondence, from the matronly Amelia, one of the society founders, to the slightly scatty, yet passionate Isola and her homemade natural remedies. Also well drawn are the characters that don't actually write, but are written about, to the extent that they still become very central to the novel. I was impressed that such a short novel, could supply such character depth, and I guess the letter aspect allows them to have a voice early on, an identity and image in your head as to the type of person they are that would normally grow over several chapters in a conventional novel. I have to say, apart from Juliet, I am not sure who my favourite character would be.

                The book is set post World War Two, and during the war Guernsey and the other Channel Islands were occupied by German forces. Through these letters Juliet learns what life was like for the Islanders during this time, and I have to say it is something I had never given much thought to. Like Juliet I was aware that they were occupied, but has never really imagined what it was like. Through these letters I felt I learnt a lot more about it. Although this is a work of fiction, it seems very well researched, although no doubt a difficult time, the bravery of the residents was heart warming. The stories are humanised because of the letter format, they are non-judgemental for the most part (depending on which character is writing of course) but explain the decisions and actions that different Islanders took to survive.

                As you probably have gathered I really enjoyed this book. I think it has a broad cross-genre appeal: a bit of intrigue, drama, romance and humour all play their parts. Thus I recommend this to all readers really, even non-readers! My mum isn't a big reader preferring short-stories but the format of this book means she has easily got into the book and isn't bogged down by unnecessary narrative that doesn't hold her attention. I did find myself thinking: 'Just one more letter and then I'll put it down' and then reading pages and pages more.

                The book has a RRP of £7.99 and I think this is quite expensive for such a short book, but I managed to get my copy from Amazon for £3.49 which is a fair price.

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                  20.02.2010 18:46
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                  very good book

                  This book was given to me by a friend who said how great it was and how she hoped the writer would bring out a sequel as she felt she could have read it for ever.

                  It is about a writer called Juliet Ashton who lives in London and is struggling for a topic to write about for her new book. Then quite out of the blue she receives a letter from a pig farmer who has traced her through a second hand book which she wrote her address in. He begins to write to her about a book club he is involved in and all these letters are put together to tell the story throughout the book. Juliet soon receives letters from all the member of the book club and through these you learn about each character but unfortunately they are all written in a very similar style so you don't really learn about their personality. I wonder if this was intentional by the author or whether she could have developed the characters further by giving each one their own writing style and personality.

                  Through the letters we learn about life on what becomes a very remote area as it is cut off from the rest of the world and the member of the club tell their story of the concentration camps and how they are surviving without much help from anyone else.

                  This book is great and the letter style is very well presented I just feel that this could have been developed a little better as the letter could have shown more character and style for each person, having said that I really enjoyed the book and feel this would be a great read for people who enjoy many different genres.

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                    19.02.2010 18:31
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                    Life on Guernsey during the German Occupation... in letter format.

                    Juliet Ashton is an author in London. It's 1946, and everywhere is still recovering from the war, and Juliet is unsure what to write about next. One day though, she receives a letter from a man named Dawsey Adams who lives at Guernsey. He has happened upon a book that once belonged to her, and spurred by their mutual love of reading, they begin to write letters to each other frequently. Dawsey reveals he is a member of something called the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which stirs some interest in Juliet. It's not long before she's writing frequent letters to other members of the society and as they begin to exchange letters, she begins to discover just what life was like on Guernsey under the German Occupation and finds out the society is just as extraordinary as its name!

                    Now, I know you should never judge a book by its cover, but it seems lately you should also say that about titles! The title of this book certainly doesn't lead me to think it would be a book I would enjoy, and I probably would never have came across it, if it wasn't for the brilliant reviews this book was receiving everywhere. Even reading reviews of this however, still made me dubious. You see this book is written in a letter format, the whole book is letters from Juliet to other people, or letters back to her, and to be honest I didn't think this would be something I would enjoy at all.

                    I was so wrong. Indeed what I discovered is one of the most warming, charming and uplifting books ever. The letter format and the fact that the book is only 240 pages long made this great for me to read on my lunch break, but I found it extremely hard to put down and go back to work! With it being written in letter format I really began to get to know each character and I loved them all. The main character, Juliet, is instantly likeable and I often found myself on occasion smiling or laughing to myself, especially when she is writing letters to her publisher and old friend, Sidney Stark.

                    I have never heard of anything really concerning the German Occupation of Guernsey and well, to be honest, I certainly didn't think it would be something I would enjoy reading about. This book however really draws pictures in my mind and though I'm not sure whether any of this is true to real events, it still made for an amazing read, and I think the book being in letters format really made things very vivid in my mind. For example an islander would be writing to Juliet describing the day the German's arrived and the bombing, and it just became so horrific in my mind and the descriptions were done so well.

                    It's hard to think that a book involving stories of the German Occupation would be uplifting, but it really is. It's hard not to want to smile reading this book, especially as Juliet herself is such a happy and friendly person. They all seem to have a love of books too, but during the war they didn't have access to a wide range of books (they were burned when coal and wood began to run out) and it's quite amusing to see the types of books they did read! It's not all love of books though and sometimes stories of horrible German soldiers or concentration camps crop up, carefully reminding the reader that life hasn't been great for everyone on the island. One thing which did surprise me however is that the author hasn't made all German soldiers horrible people and often talks of kind soliders who feel sorry for the islanders, which isn't something I expected at all.

                    What would a good uplifting book be without a love story? But this is no easy love story either, and whilst the reader can see it early on, and times it was so frustrating I wanted to write a letter myself to the people concerned! Sometimes it would hint towards something.... but then a letter concerning a totally different matter would pop up making me want to keep on reading, and it's this affect which carried me right through to the end.

                    I was really into this book so much that I couldn't believe it when it came to an end! I really wanted it to go on for longer, and for me it's a sign of a brilliant book. I know others have also felt the same of this book, and it's so true. I really wanted to continue reading about Juliet and her new friends on the island and what happens next... and it stayed in my mind for days after I had finished reading.

                    Unfortunately this is the only book the author, Mary Ann Shaffer, would ever write. She died in February 2008 knowing that this, her only novel, would be published in thirteen countries. As her health began to decline she asked her niece, Annie Barrows to help her finish the book, which is why you see the two names on the cover.

                    I really enjoyed this book and I couldn't recommend it enough. Don't let the title or the letter format put you off at all, as what you will find is one of the most heart warming books you'll ever read.

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                      08.12.2009 13:45
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                      Booklovers on Guernsey after WW2

                      London based writer Juliet Ashton is searching for a topic for her next book but her mind is blocked. When she gets a letter from a man from Guernsey who's bought a second-hand book with her address in it, she begins a correspondence with him. They discuss literature, to her amazement she learns that he, a pig farmer, is a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. She's intrigued, what she hears about the group of booklovers and how the name was found thanks to the quick wit of young woman, rouses her interest. Soon other members correspond with her, too. After a while, they don't only discuss books but also write about personal matters.

                      The year is 1946, the 5-year-long German occupation of the island has ended. Guernsey was completely cut off from mainland England and the rest of the world, no radios, no newspapers, no outsiders with news reached the people on Guernsey. They knew as little about the goings-on in the world as the world knew about them.

                      Juliet has finally found a topic she wants to write on, i.e., what the German occupation did to Guernsey and how people coped. Her literary friends spread the word and letters to Juliet pour in. At last she decides to visit the island and her pen-friends in person.

                      The book is an epistolary novel meaning that it consists only of letters and the occasional telegram (Helene Hanff's novel '84 Charing Cross Road' from 1982 belonging to the same genre sends kind regards). We don't only get the letters the people from Guernsey write to Juliet, but also Juliet's letters to them and Juliet's letters to Sophie, her best friend, and Sidney, Sophie's brother, who's Juliet's publisher, letters from Sophie to Sidney and vice versa.

                      This is a clever trick as it allows the author to introduce many different points of view without it looking strained. The characters of the writers shine through their writing, the books they read and discuss reveal their thoughts, sometimes they gossip about each other which reveals something about the gossiper and the gossipee.

                      The characters Shaffer has thought of are realistic and likeable, so much so that readers worldwide have bemoaned the fact that the book comes to an end. 'I want it to go on forever', they say or 'I want to go to Guernsey and join a book club' (from the Afterword).

                      I've also taken to the fictitious characters. I have no problem believing that a simple farmer can be fascinated by the writings of Seneca, for example, even so much that he refuses to ever open another book. Everybody who's learnt to read can read, what niggles me, however, is the way these people express their thoughts in writing. Not everyone who's learnt to write can write well, and these people nearly all write well, too well. Only rarely does a grammatically incorrect form slip in, mirroring the way uneducated people talk. 'Them German soldiers was as hungry as we was.'

                      Of course, a good writer should be able to give each character their own voice, but if Shaffer had done this consistently, the narrative wouldn't run smoothly and the readers would perhaps stumble over odd expressions, dialect terms and incorrect grammatical constructions distracting them from the content proper. I don't know if Ms Shaffer couldn't write differently or if she didn't want to, anyways, I think it's better to read souped-up English as we do here than linguistically correct English, it's better for the greater good of the novel.

                      A piece of literature is of high quality if it works on more than one level, this is the reason why nearly all crime novels are not of high literary quality. There's usually only the level of suspense, no profound thoughts or double meanings hinder the flow.

                      Besides the discussion on literature The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society also offers a love story with two rather dissimilar contenders. It differs from the typical chick lit pattern as the woman and one of the man involved don't realise at all that a love story is going on, everyone else does, though. This love story gives the novel structure because it leads to an ending, without it the novel could indeed go on forever.

                      It's laudable that the German soldiers aren't described only as brutal beasts, one good German officer plays a pivotal rôle in the lives of the people we get to know through the book club. The description of what happens in a concentration camp an islander is sent to isn't easy to stomach but it's good that it is included in my opinion.

                      Despite the horrors connected with this disastrous period of time the overall tone of the novel is positive, at times even light and funny. Juliet who 'carries' the story is a witty woman, and some of the stories she hears from the islanders are humorous anecdotes, for example, how to raise and slaughter a pig without the Germans noticing it although all piglets are marked immediately after birth. One can't but grin about the people's inventiveness.

                      Sadly, the novel is a one-book writer's success, Mary Ann Shaffer was born in Martinsburg, West Virginia, in 1934, and died in 2008, she only ever worked on this book. The cover also mentions the name of her niece, Annie Barrows, who helped her to complete the final drafts.

                      All in all a recommendable read which satisfies different literary tastes. From what I've read it's a great favourite with book clubs.

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                        22.09.2009 18:14

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                        Lose yourself in 1940s Guernsey

                        Step back into 1940s Guernsey with this glorious tale of life in a small community that was turned upside down by the Second World War. Written in a beautiful style involving letters and diary entries this really was a book I couldn't put down - and it finished far too quickly.
                        The characters are charming and easy to warm to, and the tales of day-to-day life are compelling for their simplicity and the gripping horror of World War II.
                        I really would recommend this book to anyone who wants to get lost in a story - its ideal for a beach read, but equally good for curling up with in front of the fire with and forgetting the outside world.
                        If there was a downside to this book, it would be that there is no sequel. If you have been to Guernsey this book will make you want to go back - if you haven't been, you'll want to go!

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                        11.09.2009 21:53
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                        A truly excellent read

                        This book is one of the sweetest, funniest, most touching books I have read for a long time.

                        It is written in the form of letters between the main characters, which is a lovely writing style which allows you to get to know the main players as they get to know each other.

                        The plot revolves around a group of residents on Guernsey, who form a 'literary society', initially as an excuse for a post-curfew meeting under the Nazi occupation of the island. Their reasons for continuing with the society are all different, but together they help eachother to maintain their sense of identity and belonging to a community at a time when the occupying forces seek to divide and conquer.

                        The woman who discovers their story (through a strange coincidence with a second hand book) becomes more interested and entangled in their story as the novel progresses.

                        This book reminds me of Cold Comfort Farm, I Capture the Castle and the Mitford sisters' books (love in a cold climate etc) but has an identity all of its own.

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                          01.09.2009 17:14
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                          A thought-provoking read.

                          I have just joined a reading club and this was the second book that we had decided to read. The first was a complete disaster so we all had high hopes for this one!


                          The title was certainly intriguing and when I received my copy I liked the simple sleeve design with the Guernsey post marks on the letter. I have never visited Guernsey but I did visit Jersey for my honeymoon, I knew about the hard time the people had suffered during the Occupation so this made me even more keen to start reading.


                          The story begins not long after the end of the Second World War, an author Juliet Ashton is contacted out of the blue by a Guernsey resident, Dawsey Adams, after he came into possession of a book by Charles lamb that she had previously owned. Her name and address were inside and they began to correspond. Juliet soon becomes intrigued by the life on the island and about how the islanders had used their love of the written word to help them through the difficult times. She finds out how the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society came into existence and discovers other members with whom she also starts to form various relationships. How close does she become to these strangers and what impact will this have on her own life?


                          The book is unusual in that it is written in letter format. Most of the letters and telegrams are to or from Juliet and communicate with her old school friend Sophie, her editor (and Sophie's brother) Sidney, her boyfriend and members of the Literary Society. The letter format took me a little while to get into as it makes the beginning of the story feel disjointed. However the more I read the more I enjoyed the idea and it also meant that there was always a good place to stop; I didn't have to get to the end of a chapter!


                          I felt that the characters were beautifully written and certainly made me feel that they were correct for their time, their use of language and the way their thoughts were expressed definitely seemed right for the time. The writing drew you in to the story perfectly and the skill of the writer sent you from being amused to horrified within the length of one letter.


                          The author Mary Ann Shaffer was taken very ill whilst writing this book and it was finished by her niece Annie Barrows. I do not know how close this story is to the original intention. I found that towards the end of the book the story seemed to get a little bit silly with additions to the tale that I felt were unnecessary and also not believable. There was also one character Isola who I felt also became almost a caricature of herself. This is the one aspect that I feel lets the book down, the ending was fine it was just a section before that just didn't hold my attention as well as the rest. This is hard to describe without it becoming a spoiler so you will just have to get your hands on a copy!


                          This is certainly a book I would recommend as it is a thoroughly engrossing read and using letters certainly allows you a glimpse into lots of people's emotions. It certainly makes you think about how you would have managed in similar situations. It was a book that I was sad to finish and that is always a good sign!

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                            26.08.2009 15:41
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                            Wonderful!

                            I read this a few weeks ago but despite making numerous attempts to write a review of it, I simply wasn't able to capture how wonderful this book is. It feels like a warm comforter and cup of hot chocolate on a winter evening - it is one of the most heartwarming books about World War II I have ever read and has brought tears to my eyes as I read about the courage, humanity and gentle humour of the islanders on Guernsey during the war.

                            It is an epislatory novel, consisting entirely of letters - and occasional diary entries - between the main characters. It begins when Dawsey Adams, an islander on Guernsey gets in touch with Juliet Ashton, a young writer based in London. He has found her address inside one of her old books and wants her to help him locate a bookshop that will send him books since there are no bookshops left on Guernsey after the German occupation. Juliet writes back and correspondence springs up between them gradually growing to include the other members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and slowly the story of their experiences during the occupation emerges. None of them are readers before the society is formed, yet reading helps the community bond and helps individuals survive.

                            More than this I will not reveal. It is not the plot but the writing that makes this novel so special - Mary Ann Shaffer dies shortly after writing this, her first and only novel. I mourn for what we readers have lost because I have never read such a sparkling, sensitive, human voice before.

                            There are several characters in the book, each of whom has a distinct and unique personality. None of them are 'secondary' characters - their stories all contribute to making the book what it is and together they help to build the sense of a real, diverse community. Each letter genuinely feels like a letter written by a distinct individual and without seemingly making any effort to do so, paints a picture of what it is like to be living on an occupied island, or in post war, bombed out London. By the end of the book, I felt like I'd known these people all my life and I wanted to go and visit them and become part of their community.

                            If you haven't read this book, please run out and buy it immediately. You will not regret it.

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