The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society

by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

There are beloved books I keep on my shelves just to re-read and The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society is just such a book.  Netflix is releasing a film based on the book, so last night I reached for my copy to read — yet again.

This morning, I woke with the realization I’d never talked about this epistolary novel here on Book Barmy.  By now, I’m sure you have already read this bestseller.   But just in case, let me tell about about this this little gem just to tempt you into reading it (or re-reading) before the film debuts.

Mary Ann Shaffer spent years doing background research for The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society but sadly passed away just after the first draft manuscript went to the publishers.  Her daughter, Annie Barrows, an author herself, completed the final editing.

Juliet Ashton, is a 32-year-old author and survivor of WWII London. She’s struggling to find a subject for her next book when she receives a letter from a stranger on isle of Guernsey which was occupied by the Germans during the war.  Mr. Dawsey Adams tells that a used book by Charles Lamb called `Selected Essays of Elia’, kept him sane during the war.  Turns out this tattered volume was once owned by Juliet and her address was written in the jacket cover.  (Only in a book lovers world would this not be considered stalking.) 

He goes on to tell her that the residents of Guernsey — namely the members of  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society — are starved for books and could Juliet help him find other books on Charles Lamb.

Thus begins this wonderful story and a correspondence which grows to include a number of characters who lived through the German occupation and were all, for the most part, members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (I’ll let you discover the origins of the intriguing title).  The society includes pig farmers to phrenologists (you learn more about Phrenology in your reading)  — all literature lovers who outsmart the Germans.   The letters are witty, poignant, and for this reader, eye-opening.  Although it’s probably common knowledge to most (especially those in the UK), somehow I never knew Guernsey was occupied during the war.

Although the subject matter is serious — the Nazi occupation of Guernsey and the resulting cruelty inflicted on the residents of the beautiful island — (here’s where the author’s in-depth research shines*)— the manner in which the story is told endears the reader to each and every character.

So if you haven’t yet read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, get yourself a copy by hook or crook, because I agree with Juliet Ashton’s prediction:

There is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.

The film starts airing on Netflix in early August. I’ll give it a try, but it looks like it might be a bit overly-romantic — trust me the book is much more — much richer.    Film trailer HERE


*I gave a copy to a friend who was a child in Germany during WWII, and she said the bulk of the book rang true, however some of the German parade scenes were not technically correct — something about appropriate parading. 

Bookmarks Magazine

I became addicted to magazines during my advertising gigs in the 1980’s and 90’s.  I’m talking about curl-up and slowly turn the glossy pages, real magazines.  Back in those ancient times, magazines were a mainstay media outlet for advertisers.  As a benefit, I was on many complimentary subscription lists.  From Good Housekeeping to Vanity Fair to Tennis Magazine — they piled up waiting for the quiet evening or foggy afternoon when I could curl up and browse them.

Many magazines are now long gone, and many have moved to digital editions. Nonetheless, I’m still addicted to real magazines, I buy them off the newsstand from time to time, and still subscribe to a few magazines – sadly no longer complimentary, but funded out of my own Book Barmy budget.

That’s hysterical, you really think I stick to a budget?

 

But, back on subject — Bookmarks Magazine is my favorite magazine.  I’ve been a subscriber almost since they launched in 2002.  A small publication dedicated to readers, bookgroups and librarians — with the charming mantra For Everyone who Hasn’t Read Everything.

I do a little dance when it arrives in the mail.  Just look at the fun covers.

What’s unique about Bookmarks is they gather and summarize a wide range of published book reviews (good and bad)  and summarize those reviews. So a voracious bibliophiliac reader, like myself, can make decisions on whether or not to seek out a newly published book (see Book Barmy budget above).

They also have their own articles and book recommendations such as Books You Missed and Shouldn’t Have, Great Forgotten Mysteries, and Non-fiction Must Reads.

They always profile a book group (with a fun group photo) their reading list and favorite and least favorite reads over the years of the book group.

Regular readers recommend their own list of 10 books, grouped under the heading “Have You Read?“.

Sadly, their website is not kept current, I fear they suffer from lack of staffing…but you can still subscribe.

I suggest you call the phone number (1-888-488-6593) to subscribe versus using their web page.  They are a legitimate publication, the issues have come to me every two months for 12 years now.   However, their web page and social media presence is pretty weak.  (I sort of like that, I picture three or four people sitting around a book-strewn office reading, while their computers and smart phones gather dust.)

And, if I can’t convince you to subscribe – maybe Kurt Vonnegut can:

He weighed in on Bookmarks Magazine — after one of their first issues featured a profile on his life and works;

….the first publication to summarize my career as a writer. I am beguiled by your physical beauty and I am moved by how head-over-heels in love with books you are. And nowhere else have I found such thoughtful and literate reportage on the state of the American soul, as that soul makes itself known in the books we write. News of the hour indeed!

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

How do I decide which books to take on holiday? My requirements:  They must be an easy read, yet intelligent enough to hold my interest when I’m sure to be reading in fits and starts.  I read At the Water’s Edge while galloping across Central Europe and it fit the bill beautifully.

From the blurb:

After disgracing themselves at a high society New Year’s Eve party in Philadelphia in 1944, Madeline Hyde and her husband, Ellis, are cut off financially by his father, a former army colonel who is already ashamed of his son’s inability to serve in the war. When Ellis and his best friend, Hank, decide that the only way to regain the Colonel’s favor is to succeed where the Colonel very publicly failed—by hunting down the famous Loch Ness monster—Maddie reluctantly follows them across the Atlantic, leaving her sheltered world behind.

WWII is raging and yet this unlikely trio arranges passage across the Atlantic sailing through U-boats to a small Scottish village on the shores of Loch Ness.  The only inn falls far below their usual standards, there is no electricity at night, there are severe food shortages, and rations on what little food is available. 

Ellis and Hank are unwilling to adapt to the war-time conditions, expecting room cleaning, laundry service, and extravagant meals after their outings attempting to photograph the Loch Ness Monster.

Maddie, happily left behind during the men’s outings, starts to become friendly with the two young women who work in the inn and begins to see beyond her wealthy Philadelphia background.  Maddie soon dons an apron and helps out around the inn, grows even fonder of her new friends — and especially the rugged Scotsman inn manager.

Meanwhile, our hapless American males grow even more obnoxious as they set out to interview locals who have reportedly seen “Nessie”.  The villagers are having none of these monster seekers. They have no interest in helping out, so tell conflicting stories and give wildly inaccurate locations.  As Ellis and Hank continue to fail in their quest, they drink excessively, stay out for days, and there are repercussions, not only to the marriage and their friendship– but throughout the village.  Maddie grew on me, just as she did with the Scottish villagers. And the range of village characters were well drawn and unique.

This novel isn’t just about a Scottish village or searching for the Loch Ness Monster — there’s a hint of murder, a haunted castle, ghosts, a war story, superstitions, abuse and romance– and in the end — good versus evil.

I’ll admit there were some downright silly elements to the book. Normally I would roll my eyes but for some reason I was able to forgive them in this story.  (See above — requirements for books when I travel.)

While the ending is a bit predictable, and sometimes the characters were either a bit all-too-good or all-bad, but this historical romance was a fun read with a beautiful setting and compelling story line.

Good vacation reading.

 

 

 

Readable Piffle

Now here’s a book rating system I really like.

Lifetime reader, Stefanie Dreyfuss, used her own personal system of book rating abbreviations, and it’s totally inspired and brutally honest.

 

Here’s her delightful rating system:

RB: Readable Banality

RP: Readable Piffle

NFM: Not For Me

DNF: Did Not Finish

DNR: Did Not Read

RP+1: One Step Up From “RP”

RPM: Readable Piffle Mystery

G: Good, Different, Holds My Attention

VB: Very Bad

NMS: Not My Style

PB: Pretty Boring

NBAA: Not Bad At All

RR: Readable

WOT: Waste Of Time

Author Lauren Tarshis, Dreyfuss’ daughter-in-law, shared her discovery of Dreyfuss’ codes as she sorted through her belongings after Dreyfuss’s death last week at the age of 96. 

I think I would have really liked this lovely lady, and without question, I’ll be pilfering her rating system

Excerpted from BuzzFeed.  Full article HERE.

 

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Remember the old, creepy nursery rhyme?

In the dark, dark wood, There was a dark, dark house.

And in the dark, dark house, there was a dark, dark room.

And in the dark, dark room, There was a dark, dark cupboard.

And in the dark, dark cupboard, There was a dark dark shelf.

And on the dark, dark shelf, There was a dark, dark box.

And in the dark, dark box,  there was a big white ghost!

With this rhyme as it’s preface, I knew this book was going to be scary and — well — dark.  I saved In a Dark, Dark Wood for the plane home from Europe.   Turns out it was the perfect antidote for the mind-numbing flight.  Here’s the blurb from the book:

When reclusive writer Leonora (Nora) is invited to a hen party (British for bachelorette party)  in an eerie glass house deep in the English countryside, she reluctantly agrees to make the trip. But as the first night falls, revelations unfold among friends old and new and a haunting realization creeps in—they are not alone in the woods.

Forty-eight hours later, Nora wakes up in a hospital bed injured but alive, with the knowledge that someone is dead. Wondering not “what happened?” but “what have I done?” she tries to piece together the events of the past weekend. Working to uncover secrets, reveal motives, and find answers, Nora must revisit parts of herself that she would much rather leave buried where they belong: in the past.

Creepy and yes, dark  — this is pure thriller enjoyment — complete with an Agatha Christie-ish limited list of suspects, much Gothic foreshadowing, and a story line that twists and turns.   Like all good mysteries, the reader is challenged to piece together all the elements —  who, what, where, when, how and why. I had figured out some of it, but was surprised by the final tying up of loose ends.

Ms. Ware has crafted a perfectly creepy setting — a cold, modern glass house that looks out a large forest– a “wood” which looms dark, large and menacing throughout.

The characters were engaging and the story moved at a steady, never once bored, pace.  I must admit that I didn’t find the book to be the scary read promised —  to me it was just creepy — which is plenty for me.  (I’m still recovering from reading my one and only Stephen King novel back in my teens.)  In a Dark, Dark Wood was an easy read that kept me engaged for hours.

I wasn’t a fan of Ms. Ware’s other book The Woman in Cabin 10, but this, her first novel published in 2015 — is much better.

Recommended for your summer reading list– especially if you have a long plane journey ahead of you.

And, guess what folks, Reese Witherspoon is developing In a Dark, Dark Wood it into a film.

A digital review copy was kindly provided by Gallery/Scout Press via Netgalley.

Barmy Travel Tips

“He who returns from a journey is not the same as he who left.”

Chinese Proverb

 

We’re home, tired, a little bleary-eyed but very happy.

What a trip – what an adventure.  We loved every minute.

But as we unpack and try to stay awake past 8 PM, I thought I’d share some Barmy Travel Tips for what they’re worth:

 

Every shower tells a story:  Europe has weird showers and no two are alike.  Study the shower set-up before getting into said shower.  Turn on the water from outside the shower and adjust accordingly.  Otherwise you will get water everywhere except your body.  Husband graciously took on this role, always being first up and with the uncanny ability to wrangle showers in any culture.  I get shower instructions with my wake up call.

Ice dreams:  It will only make you miserable if you long for ice in your drinks.  Water, soda, beer, wine, ice tea and lemonade all come room temperature.  There is no ice, ever, anywhere. Deal with it.

Invest in good footwear:  Buy the best shoes you can, wear them for a few weeks before your trip to make sure they are comfortable.  Same for socks – you’re on your feet all day, every day and if your feet hurt, you’ll be miserable.  I took only one pair of shoes THESE which I wore every day  and a pair of lightweight sandals for around apartments, etc.  THESE.  My socks from Uniqlo were incredible, I love my socks.

Look up:  Despite the cobblestones ready to trip you, remember to look up.  Gaze at the tops of buildings to see statutes, carvings, and especially those all important street signs.

To market, to market:  Go to both grocery stores and outdoor farmers markets.  Explore the offerings, see how other countries sell bread, coffee, fresh meats and cleaning products.  Enjoy the beautifully arranged produce (but don’t touch, just look – they choose the produce for you).

I love wandering the aisles of foreign grocery stores not only to marvel at the numerous yogurt offerings, but also to watch how people shop and what they buy.  (Why is that lady buying handkerchiefs from a grocery store?)

Get lost:  We enjoy Rick Steeves walking tours and learn much from his descriptions. But we also like to get lost on purpose. Venture down a side street, find a small neighborhood.  Discover a little hidden park or a shop that sells nothing but brushes. A small church where a choir is practicing, a courtyard where children are playing soccer while parents watch indulgently. This is another way to experience a city – to see how and where its people live.

Go rogue for meals: Seek out a small cafe, one with a chalk board advertising a worker’s lunch deal.  A cafe you’ll have all to yourselves…with an owner pleased you stopped in. 

Often you’ll get samples of things ‘on the house’ and be offered a special not on the menu — home made just that morning. Ask for the restaurant’s recommendation for wine, beer, dessert…9 times of out 10, they will be delighted to bring out the really good stuff, usually saved for locals. Food is one of the best ways to experience a culture, be brave and embrace the unknown. Universally, food is how people welcome you, enjoy it, no matter how different from your own.

Trains rule:  It bears repeating — take the trains in Europe.  You can get anywhere, no matter how small the village or town.  It’s a chance to rest your weary feet, see beautiful countryside, peek into back gardens.  Most valuable, trains get you to your destination without the hassle and confusion of driving a car in a foreign country.  To me, there is nothing more exciting than an European train station – (I admit I actually hopped up and down in excitement at one point).

Bring sunscreen:  There is no need to take big quantities of toiletries from home.   Trust me, they have toothpaste and shampoo in Central Europe.  You can buy anything you need — the exception being sunscreen.  For some reason, it is very expensive in Europe.  So do invest in a few tubes to take with you.

Stop and rest:  Just when you think you’re done, when you’re too weary to go any further and you long to call it quits – stop for a moment.  Sit on a park bench, duck into a cafe for a lukewarm drink, rest that back and look around you.  Inevitably something will delight — a family playing together, an old man chuckling over his newspaper, or a little dog dressed like its owner  — you’ll find you soon regain your travel mojo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack light – no even lighter:  We took backpacks, no wheelies…and we were incredibly pleased.  These backpacks allowed us to go easily up and down train stations, across cities, and climb long stairwells to the loft apartments we rented.  Yes, you’ll be wearing the same clothes over and over again,  you’ll actually get sick of your clothes.  But, if you can master the showers, you will be clean every day and you’ll be surprised at how often you can re-wear things before needing to wash them. (Food spills notwithstanding.)

It’s never too late:  Back in our 20’s, we dreamed of backpacking across Europe, but college and careers got in the way.  These two aging hippies with backpacks did it anyway – 40 years later. You can too – we’re proof it’s never too late.

 

Travel is a privilege:  You are guests in another country, you need to adapt to their culture, customs and habits (see ice above).  Don’t expect them to adapt to you.  Take the time to learn the basics of the language — being able to say hello, thank you, and please in their language is a gracious step which will endear you to those you encounter.  Travel is fun but it is also a learning experience, treat it as such.  Studying the country’s history will let you see into their backgrounds.  Who are their artists?  Their rebels?  Their authors?  Why are their heros cherished?  Understanding what’s important to a people will give you a insight into their culture.

 

I will end this final installment with this –  from one of the great travel adventurers.

 

 

 

 

 

Hijacked in Croatia

We were indeed hijacked upon our arrival in Croatia, but most happily by our friends who live in Zagreb.

Lloyd and Lana picked us up at the bus station and promptly whisked to their new home which they planned and designed themselves.  They found an investor who sold the upper units and our friends live in the lower unit.

After sleeping like logs, we awoke to plans to visit Lana’s father’s (Vladamier) small farm about 30 minutes outside of Zagreb.  This is where he happily lives all but the winter…his own little piece of man-heaven.

Vlad is a very fit 84, he was, for many years a principal dancer with the Croatian national ballet.  His tends his farm, cuts his own wood, harvests his own food, and best of all, makes his own delightful wine.

Lloyd and Husband donned farm hats and white overalls (better to see the ticks and bugs) and cut the grass for Vlad.

Then we had a lovely meal with Vlad’s wonderful wine.  We taught little Marc (aged 4 1/2) all sorts of American expressions.  “Hey Dude”, “What’s Up?”, “See you later, alligator” —  well, you get the gist…He’ll be a star at kindergarten next week.

Drove home filled to the brim with good food, fun friends, and too much sun.

The next day we headed for the Dalmatian coast of Croatia.  Our destination — a 300 year old stone villa, Lana’s mom (Jadranka) operates as a guest rental.  A three hour drive to Biograd where we caught the ferry to Pasman.

It was so hot that, upon arrival, we ditched our clothes and shoes, donned bathing suits and headed to the beach just a short walk away.

Then as the sun set, tired and cooled off from swimming and wading in the cold water, we headed back through the tiny stone village of Tkon.

Villa Antiqua is unlike any other place, a magical 300 year old stone house converted into a large rental for families with stone passages and bedrooms hidden up high.  Here’s their website with photos.

Villa Antiqua on the Island of Pasman

Highly recommended if you’re looking for a relaxing, beautiful and non-touristy place on the Croatian coast.

Here are my photos ~~

They gave us this apartment with its own lovely deck and view…

Husband did his own relaxing by weeding in their garden. Marc and I watched the butterflies on the lavender.

Jadranka cooked for us –fish, fresh off the boat that morning and salad from the garden.

Lana is an interior designer and her lovely touches are everywhere.

Have I convinced you to go here yet?  Trust me – it’s magical.

At the end of our visit we were surprised with matching tee shirts commemorating our visit ~~ we gamely posed for photos.

What a lovely end to our trip.

Next stop an overnight in London — then home after 25 days away ~~ sigh.