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446 of 467 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An unexpected delight
This is a truly delightful book. I worried before it arrived that an amusing and whimsical title might have persuaded me to request something which would turn out not to be very good, but I was wholly wrong. I enjoyed it immensely; it is witty, erudite without being smug, interesting, laugh-out-loud funny in places and very moving in others.

The novel is set...
Published on 23 Jun 2008 by Sid Nuncius

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52 of 55 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Love it or Hate it
I wasn't going to bother reviewing this book because there are so many reviews already. I won't re-hash the plot, but here is the lowdown if you are confused by the polarised opinions.

The characters are very well defined despite some complaints about several of them having a similar `voice' in their letters. They are well-defined to the point of caricature...
Published on 15 Feb 2011 by Tamara L


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446 of 467 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An unexpected delight, 23 Jun 2008
By 
Sid Nuncius (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Hardcover)
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This is a truly delightful book. I worried before it arrived that an amusing and whimsical title might have persuaded me to request something which would turn out not to be very good, but I was wholly wrong. I enjoyed it immensely; it is witty, erudite without being smug, interesting, laugh-out-loud funny in places and very moving in others.

The novel is set in 1946 and is in the form of letters, mainly to and from the central character, Juliet Ashton, a successful writer who becomes, wholly coincidentally, involved with a group of people on Guernsey who lived through the wartime German Occupation. The characters are thoroughly engaging and Mary Ann Shaffer (although born in the USA) manages to capture the English voice of the time beautifully: the prose is a pleasure to read.

It is very hard to summarise any of the developing stories without giving away more than I'd have wanted to know in advance, so I won't try, but the book has something to say about all kinds of things. Among them are friendship, suffering, forgiveness, goodness and wickedness, the resilience of humanity in desperate circumstances, how reading may influence us and the history of the Channel Islanders during the war. All this makes it sound a bit worthy and turgid, but it's neither - anything but, in fact. I never felt that I was being lectured, the history forms a really interesting and beautifully evoked backdrop to a thoroughly involving story and the observations on other things are either implicit in the doings of characters I really cared about or made directly with wit and flair. And there's a really tense will-they-won't-they love story which Jane Austen would have been proud of and which kept me in nail-biting suspense right up to the last page.

One theme in the book is the impact of reading on hitherto unliterary characters, which carries a risk of being patronising or sentimental. Shaffer has a sure feel, though, and avoids both. She does, naturally, use the device to give her views on some of her favourite authors, but it's very wittily and sometimes touchingly done. For example, one of her characters says of Wilfred Owen, "...he knew what was what and called it by its right name. I was there, too, at Passchendaele, and I knew what he knew but I could never put it into words for myself." As a definition of poetry, I think you could do a lot worse than that. And in the same letter there is a paragraph about Yeats's omission of Great War poetry from his Oxford Book of Modern Verse which made me smile and brought a great lump to my throat at the same time.

Another of Shaffer's characters writes, "Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books." That's a very dangerous thing to write in a novel lest it be turned against you, but there is no chance of that here. This is a very good book indeed and I kept wanting to get back to reading it. I was completely carried along by it and when it ended I was very sorry that there was no more. I urge you to read it. I loved it and I'm sure others will too.
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52 of 55 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Love it or Hate it, 15 Feb 2011
By 
Tamara L (North West England) - See all my reviews
I wasn't going to bother reviewing this book because there are so many reviews already. I won't re-hash the plot, but here is the lowdown if you are confused by the polarised opinions.

The characters are very well defined despite some complaints about several of them having a similar `voice' in their letters. They are well-defined to the point of caricature. Not entirely unforgivable, Dickens did a lot of this (she's no Dickens). There are probably too many characters and they need distinctive traits but if you look at the five star reviews, people who love the book compare the Islanders to the cast of the Vicar of Dibley and Last of the Summer Wine. This is cited as a compliment. If the Vicar of Dibley makes you chuckle maybe this is the book for you. A lot of the five star reviews come from this camp.

The Vicar of Dibley isn't a bad comparison when you think about it. The book has that Richard Curtis winning combination of humour, warmth and whimsy interspersed with loss and tragedy. Many people love this formula. Other people think it's an insult and a travesty to serve up what happened to the people of Guernsey in the Second World War as light entertainment, albeit with a few tears along the way. Islanders here are patronised as a bunch of eccentrics who could inhabit any small community. There is no sense of a Guernsey identity, just bits of its history served up against a picturesque backdrop. Even the surnames are wrong, like setting a book in rural Ireland where all the characters have made-up Americanised names without a Murphy, Fitzgerald or O'Reilly anywhere on the horizon.

Novels in the form of letters put some people off. This one is a red herring. I think the form is irrelevant if the book is well constructed and good enough in its own right, though there is a view that it's not well constructed but piecemeal and anecdotal.

There are comparisons with Dodie Smith (most likely they mean 'I Capture the Castle' which has a bit of a cult following). This is mostly down to the arch, knowing tone of the upper-middle class female narrator. I always found Dodie Smith over-rated but I seem to be in a minority there.

I am guessing that a fair proportion of the `hate it' reviews come from:

a) People expecting something more literary who found themselves reading a bit of a girly novel with Mills and Boonish qualities.
b) People who hate whimsy and contrived eccentric characters.
c) People annoyed by plot developments which are wildly unlikely or historically inaccurate and similarly object to the grafting of 'acceptable' 21st sensibilities about moral issues on to all the 'good' characters in the book.
d) People who come from or know Guernsey and are enraged by the novel's lack of local authenticity. If I came from Guernsey I would certainly give it 1*. They deserve better.

So where do I stand? Apologies to the population of Guernsey. I am giving it a three star rating, not because it is mediocre in the way that most three star novels are - and not because I am sitting on the fence. I will come clean, I enjoyed it. It was fun and a bit sad. As I got further into it I started to have more and more reservations about its two-dimensional jolly hockey-sticks heroines, salt-of-the-earth heroes, pantomime villains, improbable appearance of Oscar Wilde and other issues discussed above. There's no emotional depth and an easy consensus among the 'good' characters about what constitutes right and wrong, but it presses all the right buttons. I do read serious novels and don't object to bit of light reading among the more worthy stuff though its arguable about whether it's morally right to serve up real, recent-history human suffering in such a superficial `heart warming' way.

Its shortcomings are glaring but I can see why it's become a best seller. So basically: engrossing middle-brow holiday reading but with many elements to make you gnash your teeth if you take it seriously. I would recommend it with those caveats. Buy it for the right person and they will love it. Buy it for the wrong person and you will send them into apoplexy.
PS. I am now going to read The Book of Ebenezer Le Page so it seems some good has come from this
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105 of 113 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Charming, 10 July 2008
By 
kehs (Hertfordshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Hardcover)
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Told in epistolary form this book is comparable to 84 Charing Cross Road but also has a charm all of its own. Set in 1946, we meet Juliet, a writer who is searching for inspiration to begin a new book. By a string of coincidences she learns about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and becomes intrigued by them. They all begin writing to each other and sharing snippets of their lives. Some of their wartime tales are of heroics; some of love, some are humorous and some are heartbreaking. Through everything that they endured they became united by a shared passion for books. Although, in fact, the book group was originally just a subterfuge to outwit the German soldiers, but became a reality as a love for books was discovered between them all. The surprise at the end is wonderfully warming and such a delight.

Mary Anne Shaffer has told a story of wartime horrors and hardships, yet kept the tone gentle and just bearable to read, without taking away the awfulness of the Nazi occupation in Guernsey. This book had me entranced from the very beginning and will stay with me for some time to come.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful and charming story told through letters., 2 July 2008
By 
sam155 (Wales) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Hardcover)
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This novel more than lives up to its intriguing whimsical title. It positively bursts with life and characters and stories from post war Britain and post occupation Guernsey. It tells the tale of Guernsey's occupation from the people's point of view and these people are real and rounded and have their own divisions and spats alongside their united attempts to keep their spirits uncrushed and untethered by their German occupiers.

The catalyst for this intriguing adventure is a writer, Juliet Ashton, who, under a pseudonym has been writing morale boosting books during the war and is now at a loss for a new subject. Through a mutual love of books, she gains a pen pal from Guernsey and he and his neighbours are a real can of worms that opens delightfully into a vivid cast of characters.

Juliet is charming and there is a subplot about a budding romance bubbling away in the background. What is interesting about the book is that it is told through the format of letters. The downside of this is that you sometimes mentally have to ask "now who was Mrs so and so again and why is she writing to Juliet?", since there are at least ten characters all writing to each other at various times. Don't let this put you off though, as its also a lovely way of having more than one voice or opinion to give you a rounder picture of the story and characters. Whilst I was reading it, I thought how lovely it would be as a film or TV adaptation and it reminded me of 84 Charing Cross Road, Howard's End, and the Camomile Lawn.

It is a pleasant book to read with beautiful language, often formal, but never stiff, and it isn't afraid to touch on the darker side of war despite its light humour and quirky characters. It's a heck of an achievement to tell such a gripping tale via the medium of letters alone but Shaffer pulls it off delightfully and I thoroughly enjoyed this wonderfully charming read. Its almost impossible to believe the characters are fictional.
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70 of 76 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good way in to finding out more about this subject, 21 Jan 2009
By 
Mrs. Katharine Kirby "Kate" (HELSTON, Cornwall United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Hardcover)
Remembering two other excellent books that I had read several years ago about the German Occupation of the Channel Islands during World War II - Island Madness by Tim Binding and The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by G.B. Edwards - I found this jolly romp to be a 'lite' version of the other more deep and informative books. However it had a checklist of the various bullet point 'must mentions' (A German killing and roasting a cat, starving Todt workers escaping, Islanders being betrayed, a love affair between a German Officer and a local girl..) This book is, as another reviewer described it, suitable for Year 12, early adult reading. It is charming and different being in the format of letters. Gosh the postal system must have been as good as emails in those days! Sad to read that this is the only book published by Mary Ann Shaffer and good for her niece tidying it up at the end. The last pages make sad reading for that reason. I can recommend is a quirky quick read with a satisfactory ending and some fun characters that you grow to admire. The descriptions of the child Kit are especially well drawn. I think that the reviews written by today's Islanders are well worth reading. They have picked up on anomalies which annoy the practiced ear.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A perfect summer read, 16 July 2008
By 
Steve Benner "Stonegnome" (Lancaster, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Hardcover)
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This is an utterly delightful little book and, in fact, much meatier than its slim 240 pages suggest. Its story -- of the unfolding discovery of the characters of Guernsey and their charismatic and quirky endurance of the Nazi occupation of the island between 1940 and 1945 by writer Juliet Ashton in the immediate post-war period -- is revealed piecemeal, and through illuminating changes in perspectives, via a series of letters exchanged between the book's various central characters. This device is by no means new, but it is used to perfection here by Mary Ann Shaffer (and posthumously completed by her niece, Annie Barrows) who manages to convey not only the individual natures of the various characters through their varying writing styles and nuances of expression, but also the very feel of a by-gone age, when life was indeed conducted at a pace that could be sustained through a correspondence using the postal service.

Shaffer evokes the character of the post-war years perfectly and handles the experiences of the Nazi occupation with a sensitive mix of humour and gravitas, making the story both amusing and moving by turns, while at the same time sustaining a number of other independent story threads, which combine to make for a highly entertaining and engaging read, which kept me enthralled right to the very end.

Highly recommended for anyone seeking something light but edifying.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sweet but deceptively harrowing, 14 July 2008
By 
S. Zigmond (Yorkshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Hardcover)
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This is one of those novels that comes along every so often that everyone will want to read, young, old, male, female. A witty and delightful page-turner, it tells the story in letter form of Juliet, a young self-deprecating author and is set just after the end of the second world war. Keen to begin a new and challenging project she finds out by chance about the society of the title which formed during the German occupation of Guernsey. Intrigued by its bizarre name (which is explained), she soon begins exchanging letters with its members and finds out about their personalities as well as the hardship they all suffered.

That is the basic gist but, as in all great stories, there is much more to it than that. One of the society members, Elizabeth, was arrested for harbouring a slave worker and sent to a concentration camp. She has not returned and she is very much missed. Elizabeth's story is harrowing in the extreme and is largely what prevents the novel from becoming too twee and saccharine.

I knew Guernsey was occupied during the war but I never realised (shame on me) until I read this novel just how awful life was under occupation. The fortitude and resourcefulness of the island's inhabitants, who are by no means saints and the way they welcome Juliet in their midst is heart-warming and if the conclusion, the love-story and a sub-plot about some letters by Oscar Wilde, are all too good to be true, I am prepared to waive any criticism because of the underlying darkness that I can't ever forget. It would make a great film but before that I guarantee the novel will be a huge best-seller.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gorgeous Guernsey!!, 28 Jun 2008
By 
laineyf "widnes" (warwickshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Hardcover)
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What a delightful, lovely book this is. It is brimming with such great characters, and has a storyline that just draws you in. It makes you want to go to Guernsey and see it for yourself! It tells the tale of Juliet, a writer who lives in London, after the war and the occupation of the Channel Islands by the Germans. She receives a 'fan letter' from Dawsey, who lives on the island of Guernsey,and they find that they have liking for Charles Lamb in common. One thing leads to another, and Juliet goes to visit Guernsey, both to meet the islanders that she has come to know through her correspondence, and also as research for a book she wants to write. She is captivated by the island and the islanders, and soon becomes integrated into their way of life.She finds many friends there, and before she knows it, she finds that she cannot leave and return to her everyday life in London, as she is so happy in Guernsey. Throw in a little Oscar Wilde into the mix, a french girl, Remy, who survived Ravensbruck concentration camp, and Elizabeth McKenna, who is central to everything, and you have a beautiful story. It is told in the form of letters to various people, so it is easy to read, never dull, and just SO lovely. It deals with war, love, loss, happiness, sadness, personal discovery, and although it doesn't go into too much detail, it never trivialises the effect that the occupation had on the Channel Islands, nor the impact
that the war had in general. This is a great read, enjoyable, and well worth re-reading. I have no hesitation in recommending it to all. Thoroughly engrossing, chatty and oddly innocent, I just loved it.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely delightful read, 17 July 2008
This review is from: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Hardcover)
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What a fantastic book! The quirky title was my main reason for picking this little gem, i was hoping the book really would be as fun as the title and it really is!

It's an endearing novel focussing on juliet and the correspondance between herself and a man which happened by sheer coincidence and wanting to meet her new friends made through writing the letters, she visits and once there she loves it and becomes fascinated by the individuals who share their stories of the war and sets out to write a book about one in particular.. but it is so much more than that, it crams in so much energy and warmth, some absolutely amazing characters that jump off the pages and a truely delightful love story. It's one of those books you can't believe you haven't read before, set in time in 1946 you believe the time it's set in and wish you'd read it long before now!

A fantastic read, it's a perfect light read, you'll finish it so quickly like i did, you really enter their little world! Highly recommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging from start to finish, 1 July 2008
By 
Mo "mo79uk" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Hardcover)
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I had to admit I was a bit worried when I chose this book. I thought 'what have I done?' when I chose a title that seemed mundane and whose synopsis seemed only vaguely engaging.

This isn't the first or last book to deliver it's story in the angle of letters looking back on events in past tense, but the device suits the content the well.

Set against the backdrop of post World War II, our heroine writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a man in Guernsey; she tells him about her London life while he magnetizes her to Guernsey, it's literary society & stories connected to it.

While I was very engaged I did find it a little hard to suspend belief when - without revealing more of the story - Juliet was ever so easily handed a responsibility by people who hadn't known her that long to be trusting of. But this is a minor thing and something had to give to get this driving.

The ending though is very satisfying, although I'd like to have ended on one more thing about the Elizabeth character - I don't know what but it was what I personally expected.
The character Isola steals the end pages in a marvelous way, but all of the characters are well painted and likeable. Shaffer's way with words is highly descriptive but not over the top.

Someone noted that a lot of the voices seem similar and this particularly seems weird in the correspondence of the American character, but this is allowable as the content of the characters compensates for the mannerly and uniform letter and telegram writing.

Little things I aside, I enjoyed the book immensely and think it will be a great hit. Shaffer really makes you keep those pages turning, although I restrained myself enough to read it over a fortnight.

The reason why the book succeeds is ultimately because you're engaged by the characters and their personal predicaments rather than just the ever interesting back drop of the war.
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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows (Hardcover - 4 Aug 2008)
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