The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society … a review

I received this book as an early Christmas present from a friend. And because I am impatient with books and I also want to watch the movie, I’ve even finished reading it before Christmas! What an enjoyable read. This story is set on the tiny island of Guernsey in the English Channel in the mid-1940s. After the end of World War II, the German occupation of Guernsey ended and our book’s protagonist Juliet Ashton is touring the UK promoting her book.

Out of the blue, she receives a letter from an unknown man called Dawsey Adams from Guernsey. One thing leads to another, and instead of ‘settling down’ with her suitor Reynolds, which she never intended to do anyway, Ashton ends up researching her next book about the Occupation of Guernsey. Not least to do with the fact that she is intrigued by the name of the society that Adams is a part of ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’.

This is a beautifully written book, based on letters that the characters write to one another. The backdrop of war is very prominent, but because of the time it is set in, the war isn’t central, which I liked. Overall, it is light-hearted in its approach to the life of the characters and has a heart-warming ending. Not that that’s what I go for at Christmastime, but I did enjoy it. Now to get the popcorn and watch the movie!

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Zlata’s Diary … a review

Most of my reading this year has been guided by the latest releases picked up by The Wee Review and Neon Books. So it has been a while since I picked anything else up. This book caught my eye in a second hand Christmas book sale and the blurb looked very interesting. This is the story of Zlata Filipovich who lives in Sarajevo. She is 11 years old in 1991, when war breaks out in Bosnia and Herzegovina and she starts recording her experiences in a diary.

If it sounds similar to Anne Frank’s Diary, it is. It tells the story of a different war, through the eyes of a different girl, but fundamentally, the story is the same. The futility of war, the robbing of innocent childhoods and the utterly despicable nature of war is captured here.

Zlata is a regular pre-teen when war breaks out – going to school, getting top grades, loving piano and living life. But slowly the climate in her city becomes suffocating. And her family go into living in one room – often without heating or electricity or food. They lose many loved ones, their family friends, all of Zlata’s schoolfriends leave and they take on refugees from other parts of the country. All of this is written into ‘Mimmi’ which is what Zlata calls her diary.

Unlike Anne Frank, this novella has a happy ending. Zlata’s diary becomes famous in about two years, and her family and she are able to move to Paris because of its worldwide success. It is an unlikely tale, and goes the full gamut of emotions. But it provides a glimpse into what life is like during modern warfare and it brings home the horrific reality that hundreds of thousands of people are living in many countries today.

All the Light We Cannot See … a review

This is a hands down brilliant book. I picked this up because I saw a friend reading it and I thought it looked interesting. I am usually not up for books set during the war (unless they are classics like Hemingway or Remarque). But this book is different, because it follows the journey of a young girl in Paris, the blind Marie-Laure LeBlanc – daughter of a Museum employee and a young boy Werner Pfennig in Germany.

Werner and his sister Jutta fix a half broken radio and listen to a Science made simple show, where an older Frenchman breaks complicated concepts down for children. When Germany invades France in 1940, Marie-Laure has to flee Paris and ends up with her eccentric great-Uncle Etienne. The story interleaves between the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner and the amazing thing is that the two central characters don’t meet until 80% of the book is over. Even so, it is a fleeting meeting that doesn’t last long at all. Everything about the story is incredibly well crafted. I loved Jules Verne as a child and this book has snippets of all time favourite ‘20,000 Leagues under the Sea’.

The storyline is incredibly simple, but with Germany invading France during the war, even the simplest of stories take on a larger than life meaning. I would definitely recommend this book, even if it is the only one you read in the summer. It was long after I had finished reading and I couldn’t get the book out of my head, I decided to red up on the author and discovered that this book had won the 2015 Pulitzer!

Cartes Postales from Greece … a review

I was only meandering through the aisles of my local library and chanced upon another Victoria Hislop novel – since I had enjoyed The Sunrise a lot, I thought I’d borrow it. I wasn’t disappointed – set in Greece and Hislop’s easy style is very engaging.

The story follows the travels of a young English woman as she goes on a whimsical journey around Greece, guided by random postcards that appear in her London flat from a man only known as A. The overall plot is rather incredulous and doesn’t touch upon practicalities of undertaking such an adventure. However, that doesn’t take much away as this story is actually interwoven with fictional short stories from each place. My favourite was the one with the Oracle from Delphi and also the one that featured Lord Byron.

I was quite pleased that this book didn’t take me long to read at all, as at one point I was starting to tire a bit of the repetition in some of the themes, which made the short stories somewhat predictable. And the ending of the book, with Ellie finally meeting A is completely absurd too. But, it’s strange, it was still enjoyable.

I would definitely recommend The Sunrise more vehemently, however, if you are going to Greece or have been, you’ll definitely enjoy this read. It is definitely perfect for summer travels across the continent. Best consumed with some feta and olives!

Sybil … a review

Written by Flora Rheta Schreiber, this book has been on my TBR for years. In fact, it has been on that list since I read Sidney Sheldon’s Tell Me Your Dreams, which is fiction, based on similar fact. Sybil is the story of a young woman, who has Dissociative Identity Disorder, and has 16 separate identities.

The book is her account as told by Schreiber, who was an academic consult on the case, in association with her therapist. What is notable about this case is that it was a milestone moment for research and further study of DID as a significant mental illness. Before Sybil’s case apparently, it was disproved by some as not a real illness and more of an excuse for criminals to get out of confessions!

Even though this book is non-fiction, the events and episodes described in it are so bizarre that it reads like a fast paced thriller. Understandably, the book is also controversial, with many accusing the therapist of wrongfully diagnosing Sybil’s mother (who was not a patient) and also of the author making millions at the expense of Sybil.

However, all things considered, I’d like to think that highly specialised cases such as this deserve a retelling, to rally public support to fund more research and perhaps help more victims. If it has achieved that, then at least there is some good. I am really glad I finally got around to reading it, and I wasn’t disappointed in the least!

Chance Developments: Stories … a review

I haven’t read an Alexander McCall Smith is absolute ages! It may have been close to five years, I went through a phase of reading his stuff (and it was great with all the Edinburgh references). I got this one on discount on the Kindle, and it is quite an unusual work. There are 5-6 old photographs and what he tries to do is to create a short story out of each one.

In true Smith style, there is a strong central theme, in this case ‘love’ and the author manages to weave the different kinds of love into the lives of the various characters. What I loved about the book was how the characters all seem very ‘everyday.’ They could be the people who sat next to you on the bus or served you at the till. It really brings to life the concept of everyone has a story and when we meet someone or interact with them, it really is two personal story arcs meeting briefly before diverging again.

In particular, I loved the richeness of the first story and how it presents a snapshot of the life of an ex-nun. It was beautifully crafted from top to tail and ends in a bit of a flourish. Very enjoyable reading – I may be getting into that phase again!