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

Okay, so apparently I am the LAST person to read this book.  What took me so long?  Why hadn’t I read this one earlier?  I can’t even explain how much I loved this book.  I was reading it today at the gym on the treadmill and literally had to stop and go wipe the tears that were falling.  I may have looked a bit odd to the other people in the gym, but I love when a book does that to me.

Summary: This book is told entirely in letters, something I do not usually enjoy, but more on that in my review section.  The “narrator” is Juliet Ashton, a well-known author.  The story begins right after World War II, in England.  London, and everywhere else for that matter, is still reeling from the aftermath of the war.  Juliet is struggling to pick up her own life and find something to write about, when she receives a letter from a man living on the island of Guernsey (located on the English channel).  Apparently this man had found a copy of book that once belonged to her.  The two begin corresponding to one another and he tells her about his life in Guernsey during the war.  Juliet finds his story fascinating and decides she wants to publish a weekly article about what it was like to be under German occupation.  Soon other people on the island begin writing to Juliet and she finds herself swept up in their lives. She decides to go to Guernsey so she can learn more and complete her research.  While many of the stories she hears are heartbreakingly sad, there is always an overwhelming amount of love, strength, and triumph of human spirit.  This is the kind of story that makes you remember all the kindness and good in the world, even in the darkest of times.

Review: I do not normally like books that switch voices, I usually experience a disconnect with the characters, but this was not the case.  I loved all the characters, each one was fully developed and had their own adorable and charming quirks.  We all have heard of the horrors of the concentration camps and what life was like there, but this story tells a whole other side of the war that I knew nothing about.  In fact, I had never even heard of Guernsey before this book.  And the stories!  Parents forced with the decision of sending their children to England or keeping them home and under the threat of Nazis, women who faced death to save and feed starving prisoners, German soldiers facing death to give starving children a potato off their truck, these stories will stay with me forever.  If you are one of those people who haven’t read this book yet, don’t waste another minute…..read it today!!

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Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

I have been meaning to read Tess for a long time now, but I just never got around to it.  I mentioned to one of my co-workers that I wanted to read it and she bought me a copy for Christmas.  Love her for this.  I loved this book.  I love discovering classics for the first time.

Summary: Tess Durbeyfield is a common girl, with a father who tends to drink more than he works and a mother who is always tending to the children and household duties.  When her father discovers that the Durbeyfields may actually be descendents of the D’Urbervilles he sends his oldest daughter, Tess, off to try and claim some of their fortunes.  Tess meets Alec D’Urberville, who takes an instant liking to Tess.  What happens between Tess and Alec is not quite clear.  However, what is made clear is that Tess no longer has her virtue and is now with child.  Whether is was rape or not is sort of glossed over by Hardy.  Tess returns home, unwed and with child.  She gives birth to a son whom she names Sorrow and who dies within the first few months of his life.  Tess again leaves home and goes to work as a milkmaid.  Here Tess meets and falls in love with Angel Clare.  She wants to tell Angel the truth about her past, but fears he will no longer love her when he discovers she is not a chaste woman.  They marry and on their wedding night Tess is honest with Angel, hoping his love for her will overcome her past.  However, this is not the case and Angel cannot handle the truth.  He separates from her and heads off to South America, leaving Tess alone and devastated.  Can their love overcome past mistakes?  Will Angel ever forgive Tess?   You need to read this book to find out.

Review:  Again, I loved this book.  Hardy’s style is so engaging. There were moments when I just wanted to punch Angel Clare in the face, which to me is always a sign I am connecting with characters and am engaged in the story.

I felt as though the author sometimes hovered over the characters giving an overview of what was happening, distanced from the characters, and then zoned in on the characters and their emotions. Like a bird, who comes in for a closer look.

One of the things I really liked about this book was the role that nature and setting took.  They were crucial parts of the book, reflecting Tess’s conflicts.  I am considering using excerpts of this book with my students so they can analyze this aspect.


The Magicians by Lev Grossman

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Harry Potter discovers Narnia is real in this derivative fantasy thriller from Time book critic Grossman (Codex). Quentin Coldwater, a Brooklyn high school student devoted to a children’s series set in the Narnia-like world of Fillory, is leading an aimless existence until he’s tapped to enter a mysterious portal that leads to Brakebills College, an exclusive academy where he’s taught magic. Coldwater, whose special gifts enable him to skip grades, finds his family’s world mundane and domestic when he returns home for vacation. He loses his innocence after a prank unintentionally allows a powerful evil force known only as the Beast to enter the college and wreak havoc. Eventually, Coldwater’s powers are put to the test when he learns that Fillory is a real place and how he can journey there. Genre fans will easily pick up the many nods to J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis, not to mention J.R.R. Tolkien in the climactic battle between the bad guy and a magician.

My Review:

I loved this book.  This is the Harry Potter I have been waiting for.  It is not quite so quaint and wholesome, there’s sex and drugs involved and  the characters seem much more multi-layered to me and more convincing.  I will admit that the last third of the book went a little too much into the fantastical for my taste, but the realness of the characters and their conflicts helped to keep the story grounded.  I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, so I am just going to advise you all to READ THIS BOOK!!

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

My book group chose this book (mainly because we had extra copies laying around and wanted to put them to some use), but whatever the reason, I think we made a good choice.

Summary: The Namesake is the story of the Ganguli family.  The parents were an arranged marriage, as most Bengali marriages are, who move from Calcutta to America to start a family.  There the parents, Ashima and Ashoke, proceed to have two children, Gogol and Sonia.  Gogol is named after his father’s favorite author Nikoli Gogol, a name which he comes to resent in his adolescent years.  The Namesake folows the Ganguli family from the birth of Gogol all the way through his thirties.  It is about the blending of cultures, of keeping traditions, of acclamating to life in America, of both honoring and forgetting the past, of love, of pain and loss, and most of all of the ties that bind us to our families.

Review: The story is told in third-person narrative, so I felt like a voyeur looking through the living room window and into the house of the Gangulis.  Told through a series of snapshots, often skipping years at a time, we are observers, outsiders, looking into the life of the Ganguli family, who themselves often feel like outsiders in America and in India when they return to visit their families.  At times I felt very distant from the characters and removed from their lives, but overall I enjoyed this novel.  I think I connected more to Ashima’s (the mother) character than to Gogol’s, so when the narrative focus shifted in the second half, I felt a disconnect.  Still, it passed the time on a long car journey and I think it was a good choice for our book group.