Tag Archives: wwii

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Review and GIVEAWAY

My first response to reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows was: I can’t believe this adorable novel has been in print for nine years and I’ve never heard of it! Forgive me, dear reader, for my failure in raving about this book sooner. I absolutely loved reading this epistolary novel, and I am so excited that it is getting more attention with the recently released film from Netflix.

Screenshot at Sep 04 08-39-05.png

In this book, we learn about the island of Guernsey, which as part of the Channel Islands, was occupied by the Nazis during World War II. The people of Guernsey share their stories of the occupation, stories of bravery and patience, ingenuity and love. Their lives are the heartwarming kind; they make you want to be friends with them. And sometimes, you just need the kind of book that makes friends with you, the kind of book you could have tea with by your bay window overlooking the sea. This book feels like a penpal letter to your soul.

So what is the “Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”? It’s a group of neighbors who come together to enjoy a secret meal (secret because they’ve hidden a pig from the Nazis who took all the animals for themselves) and who by necessity make up a book club on the spot when they’re almost caught. Even though the book club is just a coverup, they keep gathering together and reading books because they find it gives them joy and keeps them feeling alive during the dark times of the occupation.

guernsey

the island of Guernsey, image by John Rostron

So one of the things that makes this book work is its epistolary format: it is entirely written as letters from different people, marvelously fitted together to make the plot apparent to the reader. Because of the gaps between letters, there’s a tension about what’s happening off the page, making you feel like you’re in on a secret. There is something so charming about getting to know the characters through not only their own voices but also the voices of their friends. The people that make up the literary society are a community who have been through tragedy and trauma of war and hardship. But they come together and support each other even in the worst of times.

Much of the book is told through the perspective of Juliet, a writer from London who by chance has come to correspond with the Guernsey literary society and who is potentially researching a new book about their experience during the war. Juliet’s voice is endearing, and her “discovery” of the island and the islanders is enjoyable to follow. Finding the literary society for Juliet is like finding her tribe; she realizes she might just belong more on Guernsey than she does at home. And as she makes this discovery shortly after the war is over, we feel her journey like the awakening from nightmare into a dreamlike reality.

If you’ve read this blog before, you might know that I’m a little (ahem, okay a lot) obsessed with British television like Call the Midwife and Downton Abbey. This book gave me the same feels that make me obsess over those shows. Many days (if not most) you just need a dose of heartfelt, satisfying story that makes you think and feel at the same time. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is the perfect read for this late summer, early autumn in-between time as we start to spend more time cozy inside than out in the sunshine.

The film is streaming now on Netflix, but I highly recommend picking up the book too. You can purchase yours here. To celebrate the new film, Penguin Random House is letting me give away three copies of the book to my readers!

 

Giveaway Details

To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment below (be sure to link contact information or include some way for me to reach you in case you win! It’s easier if you sign in with Twitter or Facebook.) and/or post on Twitter using the hashtag #guernseygiveaway and @roseofthewest. By leaving a comment on this post or on Twitter, you are agreeing to the following rules:

OFFICIAL RULES

  • No purchase necessary
  • One entry per person. An entry is a comment on this post. An additional entry is granted by posting a comment on Twitter with the hashtag #guernseygiveaway and @roseofthewest
  • Entrants must be 18 years old or older and residents of the U.S.
  • Giveaway entries will be accepted from Tuesday, September 4, 2018 until 11:59 p.m. Sunday, September 16, 2018.
  • 3 randomly selected winners will win a copy of the book The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
  • 3 winners will be selected at random from the comment section on this post and the comments on Twitter. Only comments received before 11:59 p.m. Sunday, September 16, 2018 will be entered. Winners will be announced Monday, September 17, 2018 Winners will have one week to claim prize.
  • Prizes can only be shipped to addresses in the U.S.
  • The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning
  • By entering giveaway, you are submitting the right to access your name for the winning entries as well as for use in a post revealing winners
  • If potential winner forfeits or does not claim prize, prize will be re-awarded in Sponsor’s sole discretion
  • Neither Rose M. West nor Penguin Random House is liable for any negative impacts as a result of the prize or giveaway
  • Prize is provided by Penguin Random House
  • Giveaway is regulated in the state of Michigan
  • Void where prohibited by law

Don’t forget to share this post with your British-loving friends. Follow me on Twitter for Giveaway updates!

 

8 Comments

Filed under Books, Giveaway, Movies

Book Review of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir

Quiet country village. Rolling hills. Grazing sheep in pastures. Singing choir and church bells resounding out of the parish church.

Sound familiar? It’s the setting for many of the British stories that we love. Except this time, the story takes place during World War II, when most of the men in the community have left for battle, leaving the women at home to fend for themselvthe-chilbury-ladies-choir-jacket-252x380es.

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan is a fast-paced story about a group of women who sing together, but it is more than that: the women are individuals who suffer, worry, and triumph through their separate experiences. One of the things that I find the most interesting about this book is this idea of the converse narrative. Most history book stories about WWII revolve around male narratives: men training, men fighting, men dying, men returning home. But a lot of the time (at least in the history I studied as a child), the female narrative is glossed over or left out entirely. Not so, in this book. Although it is a fictional narrative, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir reconstructs a female history of the war, covering the stories of many women of different ages, personalities, and social statuses. Put together, the book shines a light on the complexity of women’s lives during war time in the U.K. Jennifer Ryan does a good job of crafting a unique voice for each character, making it easy to follow along.

 

As a story of many stories, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is made of the narrations of many women through the form of letters and diaries. This not only makes the text easy to read, but also allows each woman to speak in her own voice.And voice is important in this story. 1940s Chilbury seems to be a culture in which women are supposed to be silent, or at least quiet, but these women sing to show their power and togetherness.

So here’s the gist (I will try to avoid too many spoilers):

The Setup

World War II. England. Most of the men (at least the young ones) are gone to the Continent to fight the advancing German army. Meanwhile, in the small village of Chilbury, the vicar wants to close down the community choir because there aren’t enough male voices to keep it going. Through the instigation of a female music teacher, the women of the village step outside the norm to create an all-female choir.

The Ladies

Mrs. Tilling is a widow who lives alone now that her son David has gone to France. Being alone makes her ruminate on the danger her son faces. She’s quiet, known as a “do-gooder,” and can be a little curious about other people’s lives. As a nurse, she helps out when the army retreats from Dunkirk, gaining a close-up encounter with the fatalities of war. When she has to take in a seemingly cranky colonel under billeting, her internal world starts to come undone.

Edwina Paltry is something of an outsider. She claims to be a midwife and seeks to boost her clientele (and pocketbook) in the village. Edwina gives us a look at the hierarchical social class of the village, as she represents someone without property. Wanting to retake her childhood home where she dreams of living with her sister, she is willing to do whatever it takes to save up enough money to return. I won’t reveal too much, but let’s just say that it has something to do with baby-swapping.

Kitty Winthrop is thirteen years old but sees herself as much older than she is. She serves as an observing lens to the rest of the community because she’s a bit ignored. However, Kitty’s view of the world is a little skewed as she imagines things to be more than they are in reality: for example, a “proposal” by a handsome young man. At first, I was a little confused by Kitty’s section as the descriptions seemed extravagant and overdone, but once I realized her voice as a dramatic teen, it made sense, reminding me of my own diary at that age.

Venetia Winthrop is Kitty’s older sister at eighteen years old. She is rather a flirt, and likes the attention of the young men of the village (most of whom have now joined the army or air force). With all the young men gone, Venetia turns her attention to Mr. Alastair Slater, a mysterious artist who doesn’t reveal too much about his past. Venetia finds a satisfying independence in spending time with him, but if her father knew what she was up to, he might think it was a bit too much time.

Silvie is a little Jewish girl who has come to live with the Winthrops after escaping the Nazis in Czechoslovakia. As an evacuee, she left behind her family and all her belongings. She’s very quiet both in life, and in the narrative, but her character adds to the depth of female experience in Great Britain at the time.

Other characters include Prim, the inspiring choir leader; Elsie, the maid who knows too much; and Mrs. B who has the negativity of a Debbie Downer and the forceful stubbornness of Mrs. Rachel Lynde.

dover_white_cliffs
The White Cliffs of Dover, near where the soldiers returned – Photo Credit: Ad Meskins / Wikimedia Commons

At times, because of its simply styled language and dialogue-driven plot, this book reads like a British miniseries, which was appealing to me, lover of the BBC. I’ve heard the television rights have been picked up by Carnival TV, so here’s to hoping it does get made.

I read this at a fitting time, I think, since I’ve been watching Land Girls,  a TV show about women working for the British Women’s Land Army to produce food during WWII, and I just re-watched Atonement, one of my favorites, a film that connects the war to themes of family, love, and the power of words. So altogether, WWII has been on my mind, especially the non-battle stories of people who remained at home and fought metaphorical battles of their own.

Reading stories of hope and cooperation in the midst of danger and uncertainty is uplifting in times such as ours. As Mrs. Tilling writes in her journal: “Then we were in our own little worlds, with our own problems, and then suddenly they seemed to dissolve, and we realized that it’s us here now, living through this, supporting each other.”

Order your copy of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir (released on February 14, 2017) here.Thank you to The Crown Publishing Group and Penguin Random House for providing this book for review.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Books