July 28, 2008

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Update: I decided to re-read this charming novel in preparation for watching the newly released movie. I finished the book on August 12, 2018 and thought it was just as good as when I first read it in 2008. I love it when that happens!

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Contemporary Fiction - Epistolary
2008 The Dial Press
Finished on 7/23/08
Rating: 4.75/5 (Fabulous!)
ARC - Release date of July 29th

“Here's who will love this book—anyone who nods in profound agreement with the statement,'Reading keeps you from going gaga.' The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a delight. Tart, insightful and fun.”—Mary Doria Russell, author of The Sparrow, A Thread of Grace and Dreamers of the Day.

Publisher's Blurb:

"...I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers."

January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she'd never met, a native of Guernsey, the British island once occupied by the Nazis. He'd come across her name on the flyleaf of a secondhand volume by Charles Lamb. Perhaps she could tell him where he might find more books by this author.

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, she is drawn into the world of this man and his friends, all members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a unique book club formed in a unique, spur-of-the-moment way: as an alibi to protect its members from arrest by the Germans.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society's charming, deeply human members, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all. Through their letters she learns about their island, their taste in books, and the powerful, transformative impact the recent German occupations has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds there will change her forever.

Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.

The minute I read the above blurb, I knew this was my kind of book. I love epistolary works (84, Charing Cross Road is one of my all-time favorites!) and I love books set during (and post) World War II. I was immediately drawn into Juliet's story and found myself reading late into the night, savoring each letter, dreading the impending finale as it drew near.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a delightful book and a joy to read! I chuckled to myself on several occasions, felt a gentle tug at my heartstrings toward the end of the story, and had a strong desire to book a flight to the island for a month-long getaway! It didn't take long to realize that this entertaining novel will be among my Top Ten for 2008 and one I'll enjoy recommending to friends, family and customers at work.

On booksellers...

I love seeing the bookshops and meeting the booksellers—booksellers really are a special breed. No one in their right mind would take up clerking in a bookstore for the salary, and no proprietor in his right mind would want to own one—the margin of profit is too small. So, it has to be a love of readers and reading that makes them do it—along with first dibs on the new books.

On literary societies...

None of us had any experience with literary societies, so we made our own rules: we took turns speaking about the books we'd read. At the start, we tried to be calm and objective, but that soon fell away, and the purpose of the speakers was to goad the listeners into wanting to read the book themselves. Once two members had read the same book, they could argue, which was our great delight. We read books, talked books, argued over books, and became dearer and dearer to one another. Other Islanders asked to join us, and our evenings together became bright, lively times—we could almost forget, now and then, the darkness outside. We still meet every fortnight.

On the Occupation...

Due to your kind offices, I have received lovely, long letters from Mrs. Maugery and Isola Pribby. I hadn't realized that the Germans permitted no outside news at all, not even letters, to reach Guernsey. It surprised me so much. It shouldn't have—I knew the Channel Islands had been occupied, but I never, not once, thought what that might have entailed. Willful ignorance is all I can call it. So, I am off to the London Library to educate myself. The library suffered terrible bomb damage, but the floors are safe to walk on again, all the books that could be saved are back on the shelf, and I know they have collected all the Times from 1900 to—yesterday. I shall study up on the Occupation.

On the evacuation of the children...

Eli left Guernsey on 20th June, along with the thousands of babies and schoolchildren who were evacuated to England. We knew the Germans were coming and Jane worried for his safety here. The doctor would not let Jane sail with them, the baby's birth being so close.

Eli did not come back until the war was over—and they did send all the children home at once. That was a day! More wonderful even than when the British soldiers came to liberate Guernsey. Eli, he was the first boy down the gangway—he'd grown long legs in five years—and I don't think I could have left off hugging him to me, if Isola hadn't pushed me a bit so she could hug him herself.

On the island and slave labor...

My greatest pleasure has been in resuming my evening walks along the cliff tops. The Channel is no longer framed in rolls of barbed wire, the view is unbroken by huge VERBOTEN signs. The mines are gone from our beaches, and I can walk when, where, and for as long as I like. If I stand on the cliffs and turn out to face the sea, I don't see the ugly cement bunkers behind me, or the land naked without its trees. Not even the Germans could ruin the sea.

This summer the gorse will begin to grow around the fortifications, and by next year, perhaps vines will creep all over them. I hope they are soon covered. For all I can look away, I will never be able to forget how they were made.

The Todt workers built them. I know you have heard of Germany's slave workers in camps on the continent, but did you know that Hitler sent over sixteen thousand of them here, to the Channel Islands?

Hitler was fanatic about fortifying these islands—England was never to get them back! His generals called it Island Madness. He ordered large-gun emplacements, anti-tank walls on the beaches, hundreds of bunkers and batteries, arms and bomb depots, miles and miles of underground tunnels, a huge underground hospital, and a railroad to cross the island to carry materials. The coastal fortifications were absurd—the Channel Isles were better fortified than the Atlantic Wall built against an Allied invasion. The installations jutted out over every bay. The Third Reich was to last one thousand years—in concrete.

On cooking...

I had a small supper party for him—cooked by me alone, and edible too. Will Thisbee gave me The Beginner's Cook-Book for Girl Guides. It was just the thing; the writer assumes you know nothing about cookery and writes useful hints—"When adding eggs, break the shells first."

Epistolary novels bring a sense of intimacy to the reader, and the Guernsey characters and location are so nicely drawn, I felt a bit sad, as though I were saying goodbye to a group of new friends as I finished the final page of this fabulous book. I was also saddened to learn that Mary Ann Shaffer died in February at the age of 73. What a shame that she didn't live long enough to see her first published novel. I hope her niece (and co-author), Annie Barrows, continues to write, possibly with a follow-up to this wonderful story. It was a joy to read and one I'll return to in the coming years.

I have a feeling this book will not only be quite popular with book groups, but it's also the sort that is sure to be passed around among friends and co-workers.

Cornflower claims, Mary Ann Shaffer's The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is an utter joy of a book, beautifully judged, witty, lively, almost Mitfordesque at times, sparky, extremely touching, and I can't recommend it highly enough. To read her complete review, go here.

You can find The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society website here.


  1. Hurray! I can't wait to read this. I'm so happy to read your good review.

  2. Now if it will only arrive at our library!

  3. Anonymous5:27 PM

    I've never heard of this book, but after reading your wonderful review, I'm putting it on my wish list.

  4. Anonymous5:50 PM

    I just picked up the ARC from a store that I worked at last week and I'm so excited to read it :)

  5. I just started this and am loving it -- I got an ARC from the Amazon Vine program -- I am happy to see you loved it as well. Off to visit the book's website now.

  6. Les, I loooooved this book as well. I so wanted to book a flight to Guernsey, too! I fell in love with the characters and, like you, I love the epistolary style. I am recommending this book to everyone I know.

    Tammy from otps

  7. I'm taking this book on vacation with me in Sept. (and a bunch of other 'leslie recommended books' lol!

  8. My ARC is on its way to me. I can't wait!

  9. I must have this one! The style, the humor, and the subject matter all appeal,and a favorite author (Mary Doria Russell) recommends it!
    provide praise without good reason.

  10. Anonymous6:48 AM

    I've picked up an arc of this as well. I'm planning on reading it soon. Don't know if you remember, but epistolary novels are really my absolute favorites. Thanks for a great review and I know I will love this book.

  11. Greetings from Yachats ;-) This book sounds wonderful - on the TBR list it goes.

  12. I'm *really* looking forward to this one. Great title, great cover, sounds like a great story. Can't beat that.

  13. So glad you loved it, too, Les!

  14. Great review. I can't wait to get my hands on this one. The author really owes you one.

  15. I'm going to wait and read your review after I've read the book. :<)

  16. Excellent review! I have been hearing some wonderful things about this book. It's on my TBR.

  17. Great review...how is this not already on my list?? Thanks for putting it on my radar...!

  18. Mary - It's Barnes & Noble's latest "Recommends" title and is currently 30% off. If you don't have a B&N nearby, just click on the title in my review and you can order at Amazon. Don't wait!! It's fabulous!

    Debnance - This one's a keeper. You might want to own it. :)

    Lynne - I only heard about it because we got a couple of ARCs at work. I think you'll really enjoy it.

    Janet - You were working in a different store? Email me offlist and tell me what's up. Can't wait to hear what you think of the book.

    Maudeen - Isn't it lovely? I keep using that word, but it fits. It's a lovely, delightful book that's worthy of a second read as soon as I can find time.

    Tammy - I have a feeling it's going to be a winner with most people. Wouldn't it be fun to visit Guernsey. I wonder how their tourism does after the book's been out for a while! :)

    Thanks for stopping by my blog! :)

    Pat - You're in for a treat!! You'll have to let me know what else you take on your trip. Where ya goin'? We head out to Virginia next week. Looking forward to some beach time with my daughter and granddaughter. Need to pick a couple of books to take myself.

    Lesa - You're gonna love it! Can't wait to read your review.

    Jenclair - Yes, you must. :) And, like you, Ms. Russell's endorsement was encouraging to read.

    Kay - Yes, I remember you love epistolary works, too. I think this one is going to be quite a treat for you. I'll be anxious to read your review once you've read it. Enjoy!

    SuziQ - Are you having a fun trip?! Don't let this book languish on your TRBR list too long! It's a gem. Enjoy your vacation. I head out on mine next week.

    Tara - I can't think of a single negative thing to say about the book. Isn't it fun to have something like this to look forward to?

    Karen - It's definitely my kind of book and one I'll read over and over. Hope you didn't mind me quoting from your blog without permission!

    Framed - Thanks. It may wind up as my #1 read of the year!

    Nan - I kind of figured that. ;) I can't wait to hear what you think about it. I've sent my copy off to my mom, but she promised to send it back when she's finished.

    Teddy Rose - Aw, thanks! It was an easy review to write since the book was so good.

    Jill - Thank you. It sounds like it's going on a lot of TBR lists. Let me know what you think once you've read it.

  19. I'm too tired to look at the links, but I'm assuming this is Guernsey as in the Channel Islands? I've been wanting to visit the Channel Islands since reading another WWII book, but I can't remember what it was. I'll have to look this one up, thanks! Gettin' me in trouble, again. :)

  20. Hooray . . . another great review! I have heard nothing but good about this book. I'm happy to see you felt the same way. :)

  21. Oops! I forgot to add that I am going to be listening to Year of Wonders soon. I look forward to reading your thoughts.

  22. I broke down and ordered a copy of this (B&N is selling it online for something like $14). I've heard nthing but good things about it, so I can't wait until it comes and I can finally read it, too.

  23. This was a wonderful read. I have already handsold a couple of copies at my store and I look forward to talking to more customers about it.


  24. Nancy - Yep, Guernsey is one of the Channel Islands. Hey, when you think of that other WWII book, let me know. I might be interested in reading it!

    Joy - It seems to be getting great reviews all over, doesn't it?

    It'll probably be a week or so before I get my review up for Year of Wonders. I haven't been reading much, but I hope to get it read this Thursday. I'm flying to VA and have two long flights, so I plan to get a lot of reading in.

    Danielle - It's well-worth $14! I'd even pay $24, is was that good. Looking forward to your reveiw.

    Lee - It sure was, wasn't it?! Seems to be a fairly good handsell, too, which is nice for us booksellers.

  25. I have seen the cover of this book but really did not pay any attention to it. It is now on my TBR list!! Thanks!!!

  26. Laura - I'm glad you've added it to your TBR list. I think you'll fall in love with this book like so many other readers have. Keep me posted!


I may not answer your comments in a timely fashion, but I always answer. Check back soon!