Nov 7, 2008

Book Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

When THE GUERNSEY LITERARY and POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows came out this past August, there was so much talk about it and it was said to be one of those you-just-have-to-read books. I resisted. One reason is that I typically don't run out and buy a book because 'everyone' is reading it. I tend to shy away from the mainstream top sellers and I'm perfectly happy reading authors no one has heard of or books that don't even come close to the New York Times fame. Secondly, I didn't know how I could possibly read a book with such a title! Now I am from the south and I do love sweet potato pie, but I had no idea what a potato peel pie was! However, my curiosity got the better of me and when The Literary Guild had a special I just couldn't pass up, I ordered it, thinking, I'll probably regret this. I didn't think that a book made up entirely of letter correspondence would be able to tell a story that would hold my interest. Boy, was I wrong!

I'm embarrassed to admit that I knew nothing of the history of The Channel Islands, Guernsey or the Occupation by the Germans in WWII. But that is exactly what The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is about. It only took me reading a few of the letters to realize I had misled myself into thinking I wouldn't care for this book.

The protagonist of this story is Juliet Ashton, a Londoner who stumbled upon a writing career during the war and lost just about everything to the bombings of London. The letters tell the story of how, in early 1946, Juliet received a note from a Dawsey Adams from the island of Giuernsey explaining he had come by a copy of a book by Charles Lamb that had once belonged to her and could she possibly help him in finding more of his writings. He explained further that he, along with other islanders belonged to a literary society that was formed during the Occupation and that they still met regularly to discuss books. So began a friendship between two book lovers that would eventually lead Juliet to Guernsey to meet Dawsey and the other members of the society and to begin work on a new book she hoped to write about the German Occupation of Guernsey.

This is not just a book about the German Occupation of Guernsey. It's a story of the tragedies of war, friendship, loyalty, family and even love. Through their letters the reader gets to know the characters and the stories behind them. It's hard to say which of them was my favorite as they all are endearing people with big hearts. You instantly want to be included in their group. One character did stand out to me. Her name was Elizabeth McKenna and there were no letters from or to her, but through the others you learn that she is a loyal and courageous woman that is loved so very much.

This was a delightful, entertaining and interesting book that I am so glad I read. I enjoyed learning about the history of Guernsey and the people connected to the island, the friendships that were more like family and the lives they led. Because the stories were told through letters, it was a quick read that moved swiftly. One of my favorite things about the book was the many references to classic literature, the authors and the characters in their books. It really was a joy to read and although I don't re-read many books, I would consider changing my view for this one. I just have to mention one more thing about the actual book that I really appreciated. It has a sewn-in dark green ribbon to keep your place as you read. Not many books have those anymore and I know it's just a small thing, but I thought it was a really nice touch.
Click here to watch a very interesting video about the book.

Authors: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Publisher: The Dial Press a Division of Random House
Published: August 2008
Pages: 274
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (I really liked it a lot!)


  1. I've had *Guernsey* on my wish list for a while, but I haven't gotten to it yet. Your review is a good one (and, yes, the ribbon bookmark is such a nice touch!)

  2. I loved this book, too. I hated for it to end.

  3. This book is rich with colorful and endearing characters, and is a pleasure to read from beginning to end. I highly recommend it.

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