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

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (Adult Historical Fiction)

Juliet Ashton is tired of writing under the name of Izzy Bickerstaff and no longer wants to be considered a light-hearted journalist.  She wants to create something meaningful, but has no idea where to find inspiration…until a letter comes.  It’s a kind note from a Mr. Dawsey Adams of St. Martin’s, Guernsey who found her name and address written on the inside front cover of a book written by his favorite author, Charles Lamb.  He asks if she could kindly send him the name and address of other bookshops in London (for there aren’t any left on Guernsey after the war) so that he may acquire more Lamb books?  Through several letters, Juliet begins to learn more about Guernsey and its famed Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and she has questions.  Questions such as how could a pig begin a literary society and what exactly is a potato peel pie?  Perhaps this is the inspiration that Juliet has been looking for?

I admit I was in Heaven while reading this book—a book about people who love books.  What’s not to like?  It also doesn’t hurt that the writing was witty and sharp, the characters were endearingly flawed and humorously relatable, and the story had an equal mix of quirky, sadness, drama, humor, treachery, suspense, and yes, love.  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a touching and bittersweet book about the residents of Guernsey during the German occupation of the Channel Islands during WWII.  Through the stories of the island’s residents, as well as a few of the prison camp survivors, we get a glimpse of the toll that the destruction, separation, and isolation had on the human psyche.  We are also given stories of bravery, selflessness, and heroism, which illustrates the strength of the human spirit even during the darkest of times.

What started out as a ruse to prevent dinner guests from being arrested by German soldiers, the literary society ended up showing its members how much power a book possesses.  Books can motivate, educate, inspire, entertain, and transport us to worlds far beyond our borders and imagination.  For the members of the Guernsey literary society, a book turned a fisherman into a Casanova, saved a man from a life of inebriation, allowed a collector to find his faith, and bridged two very unlikely friendships.

I was a little wary when I discovered that this book consisted entirely of letters.  Would it have the same depth and weight of a typical novel?  O me, of little faith.  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a descriptive, warm, engaging, and satisfying read that will make you long for village life and allow you to believe in love again.  And while this book reminds us that life is often tragic and history sometimes reveals the worst in humankind, it also shows us how resilient the human spirit is and how expansive our hearts can be when the need arises.

Just as a particular song might come on the radio when you need it most or the perfect meme pops up on your Facebook feed that strikes a certain chord, I believe a book acts in the same capacity.  It finds us—chooses us—and makes us think, challenge, defend, or dream while allowing us to imagine, escape, explore, or be comforted.  The perfect book always seems to find us at just the right time and it changes us somehow.  And when it does, WE then become the conduit and pass it along to someone in need of a good laugh, cry, or shriek.  Books are indeed powerful.  As Juliet wrote in one of her letters to Dawsey, “Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.  How delightful if that were true.”  Maybe as delightful as a potato peel pie?  I’ll let you decide.

Rating: 5/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

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Paris Is Always a Good Idea by Nicolas Barreau

Paris Is Always a Good Idea

Paris Is Always a Good Idea

Nicolas Barreau (Adult Fiction)

“A few days later, on a springlike day in April, the story of the blue tiger entered Rosalie Laurent’s life and changed it forever.  Ultimately there is a story in every life that becomes the fulcrum about which it revolves—even if very few people recognize it at first.”

Rosalie Laurent is the owner of Luna Luna, a charming postcard shop in Saint-Germain.  She sells stationery, paperweights, beautiful pens, and wishing cards—beautiful and unique cards lovingly painted by Rosalie herself.  She is happy (her mother would rather she have a more “respectable” job) and content and although several of her own wishes have gone unanswered, she can’t imagine her life to be any more fulfilled until the day when celebrated children’s author Max Marchais walks—rather trips—into her shop and brings with him a book in need of an illustrator.  Just when Rosalie thinks that all of her wishes are beginning to come true, a handsome American literature professor enters her life with accusations of plagiarism.  So much for wishes.

Nicolas Barreau has written a book as light and sweet as a freshly baked croissant, as colorful and expressive as a Monet painting, and as beautiful and vibrant as the city of Paris itself.  It’s a delightful and charming story brimming with hope, loss, regret, and love…beaucoup d’amour! It’s endearing without being sappy and the relationship between Rosalie and Max shows us that love and compassion can bridge any age gap and provide two souls with the belief that each day is full of promise and possibility.

One of the sweetest aspects of this novel is the blue notebook that Rosalie writes in every night just before going to bed.  In it, she writes just two things: the worst moment of her day and the best.  If I had a blue notebook right now, I would write that the worst moment of the day would be reading the very last sentence of Nicolas Barreau’s lovely book and having to say goodbye to Rosalie, Max, Luna Luna, and the splendor that is Paris.  The best moment of the day would be knowing that there is another book out there with a story and characters who are waiting to touch my heart and brighten my day just like this book has.  After all, reading, just like Paris, is always a good idea.

Rating: 5/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

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The Giant’s House by Elizabeth McCracken

The Giants House

The Giant’s House

Elizabeth McCracken

“Peggy Cort is crazy, anyone will tell you so.  The only person who ever thought I wasn’t is dead; he is the subject of this memoir.”

Peggy Cort is a librarian in Brewsterville, an unremarkable little town in Cape Cod that has a few guest houses and a small stretch of beach.  But at one time, Brewsterville had James Carlson Sweatt.  Everyone knew him as “The Giant”.  It was the fall of 1950 when Peggy first met James.  He walked into her library looking for a book on magic.  At that time, he was 11-years old to her 25 and had already reached a height of six foot two.  Little did Peggy realize then how much that one ordinary moment would change her life forever.  How, as James Carlson Sweatt grew, so would her feelings for this humble, kind, and gentle giant.

The Giant’s House is Elizabeth McCracken’s first novel and it’s easy to see why it became a National Book Award finalist.  McCracken gives us an exceptionally well-written and heartbreakingly beautiful story of two souls who share a quiet and understated love.  James and Peggy form a mutually beneficial yet emotionally satisfying relationship based on their circumstances: he—by genetics—requires daily support and assistance while she—through vocation—is more than able to adequately provide both.  On the cover, The Giant’s House is rightly billed as a “romance” rather than a love story since the author mainly focuses on the growing relationship between James and Peggy.  It truly is an immersive story filled with compassion and tenderness.  I withheld a rating only because the ending didn’t seem to fully hit the mark.  McCracken’s story seemed to veer a bit off-course near the end and this shift was just enough to leave me a bit unsettled and unsatisfied.

When Peggy once used the word desiderata, James asked her its meaning to which she replied, “That word, it’s the best thing I learned in library school.  It means—well, it’s sort of like, what’s desired and required.”  “Desired and required?  Which?” James asked.  “Both.  Some things are both,” she said.  Dictionary.com gives an example of this word by providing “happily-ever-after”.  While The Giant’s House may have fallen short in providing readers with a traditional happily ever after, it does give us two characters who succeed in making each other happy until their own ever after arrives.  And that is enough to satisfy my own desideratum.

Rating: 4/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com

 

 

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker

Kate Alcott (Adult Fiction)

All Tess Collins dreams of is being a seamstress, but instead, deception places her in a hotel where she spends her days working as a servant.  The dockworkers say that there are jobs on that huge ship sailing to New York.  It is magnificent and truly worthy of its name…Titanic.  With an act of blind benevolence on the part of world-renowned designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon, Tess’s future suddenly appears as bright and hopeful as Titanic’s maiden voyage.  Her romantic life also casts off when she meets two men vying for her attention: a mature Chicago millionaire and an amiable ship’s sailor.  But when disaster strikes and passengers fight for survival, circumstances force Tess to question her own choices and desires.

Many are familiar with Titanic’s plight through movies and history books, but few know the aftermath: the hearings, testimony, scandals, and anguish endured by the survivors who vacillate between feelings of euphoria and guilt.  Alcott masterfully combines actual people and Senate transcripts with fictional characters and dramatic situations to deliver a story both chilling and compelling.  Through it all, she gives us a main character who constantly struggles between being loyal to her mistress and being true to herself.

Alcott’s The Dressmaker reminds us that courage cannot be carried in a wallet and character cannot be poured from a bottle of champagne.  Instead, it is often the most humble and poor among us that are capable of the most extraordinary acts of heroism and kindness.

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.penguinrandomhouse.com