Shannon (Giraffe Days)'s Reviews > The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
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Sep 17, 09

bookshelves: 2009, favourite, historical-fiction
Recommended to Shannon (Giraffe Days) by: lots of friends on GR
Read in May, 2009

The Second World War has ended and people across the world are picking up the pieces. It's 1946, January, and Juliet Ashton is on a book tour around England for her recently published collection of humorous columns that had been so popular during the war, Izzy Bickerstaff Goes to War. She's not used to being a success and she does tend to throw things at people, but on the upside a very wealthy and attractive man keeps sending her flowers.

A surprise letter from a complete stranger from one of the Channel Islands, Guernsey, provides a new friendship and the germ of an idea for a new book. He, Dawsey Adams, had one of her books (works by Charles Lamb), which had her address on the inside cover. Her old address, her beloved flat that was bombed. The letter reaches her, and so begins a new friendship not just with Dawsey, but the entire community of St Peter Port and the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Intrigued by this amazing name, the story of the literary society's origins are revealed and soon Juliet is caught up in their story, and that of the island which was under German Occupation during the war. Everyone has a story, and one woman in particular shines through all their tales: Elizabeth McKenna, a resourceful and quick-witted young woman whom Juliet feels an affinity to.

Told through letters between various characters but predominantly between Juliet and her publisher and best friend's brother, Sidney Stark, this poignant and bittersweet story is skilfully revealed and celebrated.

I'm not normally a fan of books told through letters, though it's an unfair assumption that they must always be boring. A truly skilled writer can reveal much through letters - and Mary Ann Shaffer, who died just before the book was published, and her niece Annie Barrows who finished the manuscript when her aunt fell ill, have completed a remarkable book that I cannot recommend highly enough.

This is a book that made me laugh, made me cry, and sometimes made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. Yet it's not a morbid or sad book. Juliet is a delightfully funny woman whose teasing tone reminded me of one of my sisters; and the Islanders each have their own quirks and remind me of shows like Seachange and Hamish Macbeth - that small town, close-knit community feel. So much is cleverly revealed to us through their correspondence, things that the characters themselves, writing the letters, don't notice.

It's beautifully written, slightly tongue-in-cheek and with that real British sense of humour - which is wonderful considering the authors are American. They really captured that tone, of the period as well as the place. There's also a great deal of subtlety, and an undercurrent of excitement, that completely beguiles you.

There are stories within stories as the past and the present overlap, and the complex relationship between Islander and Occupier is gently explored, while the horrors of a concentration camp are lightly touched upon - the full import is there, but not thrust in your face. A light touch, this book proves, can be more powerful that a hard-hitting one.

I felt close to all the characters in this book, who came vividly to life through these letters and their personal stories and adventures. It also makes me want to visit Guernsey! It's a quick, light read that will have you fully engrossed within the first few pages. A new favourite.
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Comments (showing 1-30 of 30) (30 new)

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Lisa Vegan Shannon, Wow, you just reminded me of how good this book is and how much I enjoyed it and I'm seriously reconsidering my 4 star (vs. 5 star) rating, even though it won't make my personal favorites shelf. I do like books told via letters, when they're done well.


Shannon (Giraffe Days) Don't let me influence you Lisa! I loved it, hence the five stars, and I've added it to my favourites shelf too. I kept thinking of all the people on GR I wanted to recommend it to, only to find that they've already read and loved it! Saves me the trouble ay ;)


Lisa Vegan Well, I loved it too. It's one of those instances when I longed for half stars: 4 1/2, which I think I'd assign to many of my 4 and 5 star books.


Bonnie After reading your review, Shannon, I am glad I already have the book on my "to read" list. Not sure when I'll get to it -- is it a "light" read? If so, I may read it sooner -- I'm feeling due for a light read!

And this is for Lisa: I have read so many books that I can't quite follow the rating rule strictly, so, sometimes I will, e.g., click on 4 stars, but in a review, give it 4 1/2 stars. Usually it's a book that I rate closer to 4, but think there is just a bit extra there that deserves that extra "mention-only" credit. (I don't alter 1 or 2 star ratings, and seldom 3, although I did the latter just recently, actually.)And oh! didn't you do this once, at least, Shannon?

Anyway, thought I would let you know this, for what it's worth!

Cheers -- to both of you -- and happy reading! :)


Lisa Vegan Bonnie,

Yes, I wish I'd mentioned the half stars in my reviews from the beginning; now, I'm reluctant to do so because I haven't done it for all my "and a half" star reviews. That's the OCD in me. I should consider starting, or even going back and marking, even if only in the private notes field.

I consider this a light read: It's an easy read and much of it is humorous, but there are some serious parts too.


message 6: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey Shannon, I am completely uninterested in reading this book, but your skill as a reviewer makes me almost want to read it. I really think you do a great job of telling about the book without ruining the suspense of the story. Keep up the good work.


Lisa Vegan Jeffrey and Everybody, There are many times when I've enjoyed Goodreads reviewers' reviews more than the books they reviewed, and I've frequently been completely entertained by a review here but have no desire to read the particular books.


Shannon (Giraffe Days) Lisa, I love giving books stars 'cause they're pretty but otherwise I hate rating them. How can you possibly capture your feelings towards a book on a number scale?! I'm always torn and I dither about it a lot. Lots of people have asked GR to introduce the half star and I know I would love that.

Bonnie, it's a very light read. I read it in just a few hours.

Thanks Jeffrey! I try :)

I agree Lisa - there are some reviews that I love even though I disagree with them, and plenty that make me think about the book in a new way.


Bonnie I don't think it's too late to start adding 1/2 stars. As you say, Shannon, it really is difficult to capture feelings towards a book on a number scale, so it helps a bit. And I guess that's what got me started writing reviews -- the "extra" in the rating can only be done if you make a comment or, better yet, write a review.

And yes, I agree with your last line to Lisa, too. :)




Shannon (Giraffe Days) I agree Bonnie. I started writing reviews long before I gave in and started rating them. I find I can be a bit of a ditherer though, in my reviews. I'll say one thing and then go "but then again..." or something, always finding an exception! It helps to talk about the books.


message 11: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Vegan I've rated a lot of books I haven't reviewed. Some i read so long ago I remember how much I liked them/didn't like them, but not enough to give them a fair and an interesting review. Also, sometimes now I'd rather read than review and I don't take the time. Also, I don't feel at all confident about my writing: for months I didn't review at all, then at first I wrote just blurbs. At some point I should go back and expand on those.

I've been lobbying for half stars from the beginning. I hope that they're eventually implemented. You can make your requests in the Goodreads Feedback group. Many members ask for them, but many also ask for other changes to the ratings system too.

I do appreciate other members' thoughtful reviews. it's one of the things I like best about Goodreads, the others being finding new books to read and being reminded of long ago books I've already read. The latter doesn't happen that frequently, but when it does, I'm delighted!


Louis Shannon, that was an amazing review and I looked forward to where you were going to say that you want to visit Guernsey. You of course,did not disappoint. Everyone I know who reads and loves this book says the same thing.


Shannon (Giraffe Days) You're not from Guernsey are you Louis?


Shannon (Giraffe Days) p.s. you make it impossible to feel bad about being so predictable!


Louis No, not from Guernsey, but I am definitely looking into it when I get to Europe next year.




Shannon (Giraffe Days) Envious! I hope you post photos or something!


Rayni Shannon your review was well-written. This will definitely be one of my favorite books of the year.

I am so glad I bought it. I'm like Juliet in that I like to make margin notes, LOL. I made several notes. I read it in 3 sittings & was sad when I finished it. I had no idea the Channel Islands were occupied during WWII.


Shannon (Giraffe Days) Rayni, I think it makes a good comfort read so I'm glad I have a copy too! I didn't know that about the Channel Islands either, I don't think - they don't really get included in history lessons do they?


Rayni No, they don't. In fact, that's about all they talked about in discussing this book last night in the book club. A friend who attended, & hadn't read the book, said she wasn't going to read it. It doesn't sound good. I said I wouldn't have read it either if all I had to go on was the discussion last night.


Shannon (Giraffe Days) I was a bit put off by the whole "story told through letters" thing, but I'm so glad I read it. There are few books I'd dismiss out-of-hand like your friend did. Read it, and THEN have an opinion! That's what's so fun!


Rayni I think I've only read one other book that is a "story told through letters," "Daddy Long Legs." It is one of my all-time favorites. Now, I want to read "84, Charing Cross," another "epistolary???" read.


Shannon (Giraffe Days) I have Dracula to read and I believe that one's told through letters. I haven't heard of Daddy Long Legs - creepy title!? Is it a mystery? - or 84 Charing Cross.

I read some YA books told through letters - the one that sticks in my memory is John Marsden's Letters From the Inside, I think that's what it was called, about a girl and a girl in a youth detention centre/prison, writing to each other as penpals. It was really well written.


Rayni Daddy Long Legs It's an old book, published in 1912, about an orphan & her benefactor "Daddy Long-Legs." All she saw was his shadow & since she didn't know his name, she called him Daddy Long-Legs, LOL.


Maria M. Elmvang Shannon! I am shocked. Daddy Long Legs is an absolutely adoring book. I grew up with it, and can't believe you haven't read it! ;)

The sequel, My Dear Enemy is just as good. I highly recommend both for some old-fashioned charm :)


Rayni I had never heard of Dear Enemy until recently. I can't find it.


Maria M. Elmvang I know Gutenberg has it. It's also recently been recorded for librivox.org.


Shannon (Giraffe Days) I'm sorry, I really don't think I've heard of it! I can try to find it though, since it's coming so highly recommended!


Maria M. Elmvang You should! It's definitely worth reading :) It's nothing special plotwise, but I've always loved epistolary(?) books, and this is just charming and cozy and an excellent comfort read - quickly read too, as it's a childrens/YA book.


Shannon (Giraffe Days) I've saved it to my Amazon wish-list, for next time I make an order :)


Maria M. Elmvang Excellent! I'm looking forward to hearing what you think of it.


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