Commentary on The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

This review contains spoilers for the book, so please don’t read this until you’ve finished the book, if you plan on reading it.

This is a wonderful book. It is about a young female writer who goes on to discover a wonderful story of another person whom she will never get to meet. It is about enduring human strength in the face of pain and suffering during War.

The colourful cast of characters is one of my most favourite things about this book. Out of all the beautifully portrayed people, my favourite is Isola. She made me laugh so many times, and I love that when we first meet her, she was a “witch”. She’s the perfect anti-thesis to Adelaide Addison (another well-written character). Eben is my second favourite character. His letters make him sound like he’s full of wisdom. He is the type of person I would go to for advice.

All of the important characters felt real to me. Even though I knew that this is a work of fiction, the things that people wrote about in their letters felt real.

The story was also gripping. Before I knew enough about Elizabeth, I was already invested in Juliet’s story. I wanted to know more about this woman who apparently broke off an engagement to a man who later died in the war. I wanted to know why she’d broken off the engagement, so I kept reading… but once I got to know the islanders of Guernsey, the reason for Juliet’s broken engagement didn’t seem to matter so much anymore. I was enthralled by the mystery of what happened to Elizabeth and whether we would ever meet Elizabeth for ourselves through Juliet.

Even after we find out Juliet’s death through Remy, I still held out hope… I guess because Remy’s account was not an eyewitness account and perhaps Elizabeth was somehow rescued and the story of her execution was a lie. Honestly even after I’ve now finished the story, I still hope.

One of my favourite parts of the book is Eben’s first letter to Juliet. How he describes his thoughts when he saw the German soldiers landing. He thought “damn them, damn them, damn them.” I could completely relate the to the helplessness of that moment, as I personally find myself victim to such refrains in times of stress and helplessness. I loved it. It made Eben feel real to me. My heart went out to him.

The book made me laugh AND cry. I laughed out loud at Adelaide Addison’s letters. The ridiculousness of that woman. I was kind of hoping that Juliet would reply to her, but I guess Juliet is a better person than I am.

When we find out through Remy that Elizabeth was executed, I cried. I had to put down the book and go do something else. I couldn’t keep on reading. It’s not that I no longer wanted to read the book because Elizabeth was dead; I just felt like someone I cared deeply about had died and I needed a moment. I felt such loss for a beautiful person like Elizabeth. And then I felt sad for all those who came to trust in her survival. All the people Elizabeth touched and saved. It just felt like there was no justice. But I suppose that’s what the book is trying to tell us, right? That there is no justice in war. That people like Adelaide Addison and Billie Bee Jones should have survived the war but people like Elizabeth had died—no justice in a war at all. Even writing this out now is getting me sappy again for the loss of Elizabeth—a fictional character!

I can’t forget to mention another favourite thing though. The Love of Books so permeated this story. It was books that brought the Society together, sure, a lie about books, but a lie they made into a truth because of how wonderful they came to realise books actually were. When Eben wrote about how he might had felt better if he had the words from Shakespeare: “the bright day is done and we are for the dark,” that really got to me. Eben pointed out how reading a piece of literature gave him the ability to come to terms with things easier than he could have done before. For me that is how I feel about books, about reading. For that I love Eben’s character and I love the theme of this book.

There isn’t anything I actually dislike about the book. Even the one thing that I wish was different (that Elizabeth was alive) would have made this book not as endearing as it currently is. If Elizabeth was found alive, this book would somehow be less than what is now, which is a beautiful eulogy, a tribute, to people like Elizabeth.

Owning It

Yesterday was the first day that I didn’t write, at all. I didn’t write on my current projects. I didn’t write in my personal journal. I didn’t even study writing.

Going to be honest here, but how else will I learn if I’m not:

The main project I’m working on is in a stall right now because I’ve simply gotten bored of setting the story up. I’m at the part where the hero of my story is on her adventure, but before much action can take place, the world has to be set. There has to be motives that are laid out and subplots introduced. And for some reason writing this part of it really really bores me.

The other side project that I’m working on is stalled for a different reason: things are happening too fast. When I go back to read it, I feel that the narrator is rushing me, and I don’t get to know the characters well enough to care about what’s happening to them at all. So that’s not working out very well, which in turn makes me feel like this project is just going to shit and I don’t want to keep working on it.

I’ve considered uploading these projects to one of the writing groups I’ve joined, in the hopes that maybe someone who’s not in my head will be able to help me see a way around these two problems… but I’m also scared of the criticism they might receive. But right now that seems to be the only way out of this hole.

I even tried to tell myself that it’s okay–that I can just go back to working on the short story collection I’ve been meaning to put together… but that’s really just me making excuses not to tackle the problems with the main projects.

On another note, I’ve pledged to read 36 books for 2018 (three books a month). I’m on book 2 of the year right now so it looks like I’m on schedule. Though I did cheat with my 1st book because I actually started reading it when we were still in 2017… and I was 90% done with it before the New Year turned over.

Honesty is refreshing.

Another “Don’t Want It to End” Book

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver has been on my bookshelf, unread, back in Coquitlam for a while. I always meant to read it after I first found it on the Pop Crunch list for The 10 Most Disturbing Books of All Time, but I never got around to it. You know what they say about borrowed things versus things you actually own; if you know the book is going to be yours forever, you’ll just put off reading it.

This book, for me, goes on my list of books that I wish “would never end.” I’m enjoying the book so much that I want to just go on reading it. Not very many books make this list. Some other books that were on my “Please Never End” list:

There are a few more books that I can’t recall off the top of my head, so I’ll just get straight to the point of this short post: being able to enjoy a book so much that you don’t want it to end is something that I hope I never lose.

Home Towns

I wrote this in response to someone’s question about my hometown.

I currently live in Stamford, CT, USA. I came here in 2013 in order to be with my husband. He’d moved here in 2012 for work.

Our favorite restaurant changes with the season. Currently it’s Dinosaur BBQ. We don’t really have a favorite anything else because Stamford is not really our scene.

We go to the movie theatre a lot; and there are 2 Cineplex theatres here. Our favorite of the 2 is the one in the mall because it’s not as shabby.

We spent a lot of time at the Stamford Nature Center one year in Spring, now we spend our weekends up North a bit at a new State park we found.

I see this one bus driver, Charlie, a lot. He’s always cheerful. Doesn’t have that, “I hate my job” vibe that most bus drivers have. he talks too much though.

I see this other bus driver, I call him Parrot guy because I think he has a parrot. He constantly has a scar over his nose and it always looks like it’s a new scar. I’ve taken his bus for 6 months now, and the wound always heals a bit and then looks fresh again. I’m sure he probably doesn’t have a parrot and it might be some other story; but I’d like to think he has a grumpy parrot who pecks him and he’s grumpy back.

He used to be grumpy whenever I saw him, but I started smiling and asking him how his day was all the time. He started smiling back, and whenever he saw it’s me boarding the bus, he’d laugh and say “hey!” I hope I’ve made his day a little better.

I don’t like living here, to be honest. We’re planning to move to Australia at one point, which I’m really looking forward to.

Before we came here, we lived in Vancouver. There are countless interesting things to do in Vancouver that it would take a whole hour just to write them out.

Before that, I lived in Taipei, Taiwan (where I was born). My favorite restaurant there was this chain steak house; because they have unlimited free soda. My brother and I once went in there with a paper cup and filled up on our way home from elementary school; the waitress chased us out. Free soda was for paying customers only.

In Taipei, we lived by this huge river with a dam. We took walks along the dam most nights after dinner. We’d walk up to the skate park and our aunt would teach us how to roller skate. Lots of great memories from there, too.

Like the time I took in a stray puppy (snuck it in my back pack, kept it at school, then took it home with me) and hid it in my closet for a whole week. I moved it to my brother’s closet at one point because I was afraid it would poop on my clothes. It ended up pooping on his jacket. That’s when we moved the puppy into a card board box in our room (with the help of our aunt).

It took a whole week before Dad found the puppy. He then helped us construct a more secure box. A couple days later, Mom found out, and that was the end of keeping Puppy. Mom didn’t like animals, so we had to return it back to the wild.

In Taipei, in the 90’s, there were A LOT of stray dogs roaming about. I think animal control back then wasn’t very well funded.

I always get stumped by the Home Town question, because I have two. I have childhood memories from Taipei and Vancouver. Then when we include where I live now, or have lived, then there’s a lot more.

I used to hate moving around. I felt displaced a lot and never felt like I belonged. Since I’ve met my husband, I’ve come to enjoy it. I think my mind has re-centered what it thinks of as “home” to just “husband”. Now it feels like it doesn’t really matter where we live; it feels like home as long as we’re there together.

One Piece – My Forever Obsession

The Obsession

Today’s first words are dedicated to One Piece, one of the longest running Manga series and Anime series of all time.

Very briefly, One Piece is a Japanese manga series created by Eiichiro Oda. The series depicts the adventures of Monkey D. Luffy, who sets out to become the Pirate King in Oda’s imaginary world.

My interest in One Piece began as early as 2003. I fell in love with the anime, then later I would go on to follow the manga as well. Through out the years I’ve fallen off the One Piece wagon time and again, but I always crawl my way back on.


The Cause of the Obsession

The Characters

Every. Single. Character created by Oda is full of depth. The formula of a core cast (the Straw Hat crew) of characters and playing them off of each other that Oda uses is a very popular structure we see in Western TV Shows (Cheers, FRIENDS, Buffy, Serenity).

This method ensures that the readers will keep reading, just to see how the characters play off of each other, even if the plot is lacking.

The Plot

The plot starts small, then unravels into a larger idea of the world as Luffy and his crew explore the One Piece world. Many teenagers and young adults can identify with this type of adventure, especially if they are also leaving their nests (home towns) and going away to college to find the person they will become.

The Many, Many Relevant Themes

There are so many different issues covered in the story of One Piece. Prejudice, Class Division, Corruption, Sacrifice, Family Values; and that’s only to name a few. These are heavy issues for a “children’s show” to be portraying, but Oda presents them well.

The Laughs

There’s just so much room for hilarity with the cast of One Piece. Even the “boring” interludes between story arcs are welcomed “feel good” episodes.

The Future

Even though Oda started this series in 1997, he’s mentioned in recent interviews that the series is far from finished. I’m happy knowing that… it’s the same feeling you’d get knowing that there’s a Book 7 to Harry Potter after you just finished Book 5 (that is, if you’re a Harry Potter fan).

Thanks, Oda, for sharing with the world the beautiful thing that is One Piece. I’m looking forwards to the next 15 years.

Don’t Go by Lisa Scottoline

I started this book with high hopes, as the premise of the story sounded very interesting.

The hook of this story was done early, and now I know why; it needed a reason to make the reader keep reading despite all the terrible plot devices that followed.

Through out the story, the actions of the characters felt forced; it was very evident that their decisions weren’t natural reactions to the events that befell them. It seems that character development and the integrity to remain true to a character’s personality were forfeit for the purpose of driving the plot forward. And here’s why:


The hook was quite well done. It was easily the best part of this novel. Having an unknown person walk in and leave Chloe for dead made me want to find out exactly who it could have been.

Then Dr. Mike comes home… and therein starts the string of unrealistic events. The author reveals tidbits of Danielle (Chloe’s sister)’s personality. At times she seems controlling (over Emily, Dr. Mike & Chloe’s baby daughter) , at others she seems pathetic (when dealing with her own husband, Bob).

A long string of characters are then introduced. They are all one-dimensional characters with no depth. Their only purpose is to drive the plot forward.

Through it all, I kept reading because I wanted to find out what type of person would have left another person dying. The “whodunit” hook kept me going. I ignored the poor plot devices.

Then… you find out. Dr. Mike makes a decision that lands him in the right place at the right time to hear the killer’s confession.

While it is conceivable that the killers were these characters, it feels poorly done. The author seems to have run out of steam with the whodunit plot line and simply rushed to the finish. The characters that the negligence & murder were pinned on were simply never developed at all, so it makes it difficult for a reader to understand their purpose. They were just another plot device. Ending the “whodunit” plot on poorly developed characters robs the reader of the satisfaction of concluding the mystery.

Then comes the dénouement… somehow after Dr. Mike solves the murder, every unfortunate circumstance the author piled on him miraculously evaporates. He’s not charged for attacking Pat (who is not mentioned at all in this part. His parents are both going to end up in jail and it’s as if Pat never existed). His in-laws suddenly feel differently about him (after finding evidence of his addict behaviour) and want to give him his baby back. Stephanie the lawyer somehow became his new romantic interest…. It’s as if the author felt bad for forcing readers through the disappointment resolution, so she thought giving us a happy ending would make us feel better. She failed; the unrealistic nature of “and they lived happily ever after” just made a disappointing read even more pathetic.

The ONE thing that kept me reading ended up failing the story. The author has some skill in driving plot. But without believable characters, a structured plot is just a skeleton of a story. There is no flesh, no color, no depth. This book was overall, very disappointing.

Back From the Land Down Under

I’m back, and yet I’m not.

Jamie and I spent 3 weeks in Australia visiting with family, and I loved all of it. I fell in love with his family, who accepted me as part of them, now that we’re married.

What I remember, most of all, is what Jamie’s father kept saying to me the summer before this last. Summer 2013 was when we last visited them. Jamie and I wouldn’t be married until mid 2014, and we weren’t yet headed in that direction.

I eat slow, and so did Jamie’s dad. Each time this was brought up, Rod would look up at me meaningfully, and say, “I’m glad to have another slow eater in the family.” That meant so much to me. I fell in love with their family then.

Now that we came back, we can both feel the loss of family. We don’t enjoy living here in America. We love each other very much, yet we also realise we need other people in our lives. Other people who love us and who we love.

So we’re planning. We’re going to get ourselves home. Soon. It’s not easy, but we know we need to do it.