Thursday, August 05, 2010

Thursday Reading - The Guernsey, Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Columnist Annie West talks about one of her favourite, unexpectedly enjoyable recent reads: "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society".

Sometimes I think I wander around my my head in the clouds. I hear the vital news but miss out on a lot of other interesting discussion. I blame it on books - writing them that is. When I'm deep in the writing process I switch off from a lot of the wider discussions going on around me. Like what's on the bestseller list and why, especially if the book isn't labelled 'romance'.

When I arrived recently at an airport I found the flight I was meeting was still half an hour away. So of course I went to the bookshop for a good browse. On the way in I noticed a book with an intriguing name: "The Guernsey, Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society". Dimly I recognised the name. I realise now a friend told me she was reading it. Maybe too I picked up by osmosis the fact that this was a runaway bestseller. But at the time I just found myself faintly intrigued. It looked and sounded just the thing, especially given the variety of hard drama/action/thriller/blood and guts/supernatural bloodletting options getting prominent display further inside the store. I just wanted a pleasant book to read. I'd handed in my own ms and was thrilled at the prospect of reading for fun.

Imagine my delight when I discovered this book did live up to its promise. The cover quote: "When was the last time you read a book that made you feel really good?" was spot on. I devoured it. By the time the plane landed, carrying one of my dear family members, I was wishing it had taken a little longer to taxi down the runway. I'd dipped in and within minutes was totally, gloriously absorbed in a whole new world. Not by startling, in your face thrills and spills, but with a simple, slyly witty, endearing and generous view of post war Britain and in particular the friends and acquaintances of Juliet Ashton, writer and resident of London.

This is a winding and thoroughly engaging tale about Juliet's friends old and new, and how she comes to visit Guernsey after receiving an intriguing letter from a book lover there. It's a long time since I read an epistolary book, but the letter format, and the way it allows the authors (Mary Ann Shaffer wrote the book but her niece Annie Barrows finished the editing ) to show us with a minimum of fuss a whole range of perspectives. Such fun!

The book's name comes from the title of a goup formed of necessity by local farmers and others who are caught out after curfew by German soldiers, after indulging themselves on an illegal feast of contraband pork. Drunk, the excuse is given that they've been to the local literary society meeting. The next day they have to race out and collect some books to read, in case their cover is questioned. Not easy when books are a valued source of fuel on the blockaded island.

Juliet finds herself drawn more and more to the individuals in the group with enormous consequences for herself. I won't attempt to relate the story. It's rich and fun and is best enjoyed as you turn the pages for yourself. There are some dark sections, as the book doesn't shy away from some of the more distressing details of World War II but it's all about context and understanding the actions of the characters.

Overall this was a joy to read. Uplifting, gently humorous and a lovely portrait of not one or two but a variety of characters. And yes, there is a romance in there too. This is one I can heartily recommend. I'll be reading it again as soon as I've finished my current project.

Annie's next book, PASSION, PURITY AND THE PRINCE is out soon in the UK. It's a September release but if you're in Britain you'll see it on shelves late in August. Or if you're elsewhere and you'd like to order it, visit Amazon or Mills and Boon to order a copy. You can find an excerpt of this sexy Cinderella story on Annie's website. And if you're visiting, stop by her contest page for a chance to win free books.


  1. Annie, a few years ago PBS had a miniseries on called Island at War which was set during WWII on the Channel Islands. I knew when this book came out I had to have it, and like you, I enjoyed it a lot.

  2. Hi Donna, I've never seen that show. I must look out for it. It's a fascinating area. Wasn't to book a great read?

  3. Hi Annie - I love the GL&PPPS too. It had such quiet charm. Plus I learnt stuff that I had no idea about - which never hurts.

  4. Hi Sandra, it's lovely to see you here. Yes, I think quiet charm sums the book up. Within pages I felt like I was in a warm, cosy place I just wanted to stay.

    I must say too I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that so much of the book was about people who loved books, even if they only loved the one and only book they'd ever read! And the way those books revealed character was tremendous.

    Yes, I learned things too. As you say - always good! I want to read more now, but sadly there won't be any more from Mary Ann Shaffer.

  5. Oh, Annie, you wicked woman! You have me dying to go out, find this book and then to curl up in a cosy nook somewhere and lose myself in it.

    Honestly, the one thing my tbr pile doesn't need at the moment is another book. Well... maybe just the one :-) Thanks for the great review.

  6. Annie, this book sounds like a marvellous read! So next trip to town, I'll look for it! Though I confess, I'm just like Michelle - my TBR pile is getting scary! LOL Still... there's always room for one more... Can't wait to finish my current project and sit down for a lovely read!

  7. Hi Michelle,

    Sorry to tempt you with another book. But this one really is something not to be missed. I think she captures the time and the place so well.

  8. Sharon, it's hard, isn't it when the pile of books to be read is so big. Must say I can't wait for some reading time myself. When I finish this project...

  9. Glad you liked this book, Annie. Sometimes it's the quiet ones that have the most impact!

  10. Loved the book, Annie. I took it with me to read while I was in Guernsey two years ago for my daughter's wedding and then I passed it on to her. She loved it, too.

  11. Hi Annie, sometimes when a book has so much hype around it I tend to hold back from buying it. I was so glad when I dived in quite quickly to read this one. I absolutely loved it--for all the reasons you've written about in this blog.
    I am a very fast reader but this was one of those books I forced myself to read slowly so as to savour every moment of the story.
    What an intriguing title for your next book: PASSION, PURITY AND THE PRINCE. I look forward to reading it!

  12. I read this book soon after it came out. Definitely one of the best I've ever read!

  13. Loved this one, Annie. God knows where my copy is. I lent it to someone! Like Kandy I tend to hold back from books people are raving about. Too often I end up disappointed. Not this time. I was up reading until 3am with GL&PPPS.
    Sharon and Michelle, just go out and find a copy. If you don't enjoy it I'll buy you a drink next time we catch up. Coogee anyone?

  14. Hi everyone,

    Just back home after a long weekend trip away and found all these comments. It's great to hear so many of you enjoyed this one too. Yes, to being wary of books and films for that matter, that attract a lot of hype! Isn't it great when you find it's fantastic anyway?