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.

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.

My Story

I finally started it. All the random memories, along with the feelings associated with them, are now being recorded on virtual paper.

It’s something I was afraid of doing before. I was afraid of being absolutely honest even when it was to no one in particular. The fear of offending someone else’s sensitivities gave me pause.

But I’m ignoring all of that now.


I finished the series a best friend got me for Christmas. The Legend Trilogy by Marie Lu. Not the best writing I’ve ever come across, not even the best story. It wasn’t terrible enough for me to just abandon reading half way through. The ideas it put forth was familiar and the execution of it was admirable. I just didn’t feel sympathetic to the story or the characters–and I generally grow attached to books that CAN make me feel something.

I started another series that I came across while shopping for Steak. The book aisle at Stop & Shop is directly facing the meats. Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Now this book is more up my alley. It’s horrifying at times and it reads as it the author drew the story from genuine feeling. The writing is fluid and the story enjoyable. There are certain areas of the book where it feels like a heavy-handed plot device inserted to get the characters from point A to point B, but it doesn’t distract enough from the story itself.


My family. How do I explain this? I changed my facebook profile photo to one of my younger self propping up my baby brother. The only comments this drew were from my mother and my aunts.

My mother: “You miss your brother.” What she’s really trying to say is that I don’t miss her.

My other aunt: “Good! Now when you come back you should continue to love your brother oh!” ……………

Why is my choice of living in a separate area from family viewed as desertion? Why am I accused of loving my family less simply because I live in a different area from them? The idea of what “family” means for my Chinese relatives prevents them from understanding this, but their lack of decorum is preventing them from keeping their thoughts to themselves.

There is nothing like being guilt tripped by one Chinese mother. I’m being guilt tripped by multiple because apparent my mother’s sisters all band together when it comes to their children’s wrong-doings. Let’s quadruple the guilt power, shall we?

So that’s today in my life.

Cheap Classics

I acquired three Classics for $10. Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, Emma, and Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

I’ve read Pride quite a few times already, but I thought it would be handy to have a small copy to take with me on hand–simply because I never know when I’d like to re-read it again. I’ve never successfully finished Emma, but now I plan to.

This is all an attempt to quit my reading dry spell. I sped through the last three books I read because they were difficult to put down. I spent most of my days looking forward to free time for reading. The magic ended after I put down John Grisham’s The Racketeer (I knew what Bannister was up to the whole time, by the way).

I attempted, for the N’th time, to begin reading A Time to Kill but I was foiled yet again by the descriptive rape at the beginning of the book. Other seasoned readers may suggest that I skip that chapter entirely and simply begin reading from after the rape, but that would be admitting defeat. Skipping any part of a story would be as if I never started that story at all.

I’ve been having some success with Emma this time around. I found it very difficult to relate to the character and theme in my previous attempts–a difficulty I suspect was due to my lack of life experience. This time around I found myself continuing to read the book while walking on the sidewalk (a dangerous habit).

Here’s to knocking off another great book on my list!

All That I Am by Anna Funder

Here is another book crossed off of my reading list. A fantastic book–definitely joins the ranks in my personal reading history with The Time Traveler’s Wife and My Sister’s Keeper. What Anna Funder did with All That I Am absolutely blew me away.

What these books have in common for me is the after-reading-glow I experience when I’ve finally finished these books. It leaves me thinking and I end up reading the acknowledgements in my desperate need to feel somehow even closer to this story.

I rarely ever summarize a book I’ve read, but here it is.

All That I Am is a novel of the story of Nazi Germany told through the eyes of two different–and real–people. Ernst Toller and Ruth Blatt. While Funder takes fictional license to each of these character’s narratives, it is with much research of the historical facts from these two people’s lives.

While googling her book, I found a few comments and ratings on I was surprised that there were readers who took issue with the time lapse in the story and somehow they felt it was unclear; I can only assume these readers are used to reading Goosebumps or Twilight. I felt the the narrative switch is quite clear in the entire novel. There was always a clear distinction between present narrative and past narrative by the use of present tense and past tense.

The only reason I can think of the time line switch being confusing for readers is if the reader itself lacked the common sense knowledge of WWI and WWII. Common sense knowledge such as the general time line of when each War took place. Therefore, I do not think the book itself needs to make any apologies.

One of the many aspects that made this book so important to me is the writing. Funder is a poet, a storyteller, and a mistress of prose all at the same time. She understands the balance between Action and Narrative of a story incredibly well and her use of this balance in her story is one of the best I have seen in all the fiction I’ve read. Another comment on mentioned that while the book was wonderfully written, the reader had a difficult time getting into the story. This was not so for me. I was immediately drawn into the book by the first paragraph, and the enchantment did not end for me until the very last sentence of the short biography blurb of Funder on the back cover of the book. I attribute this enchantment to Funder’s masterful use of action-narrative-action-narrative balance in her writing.

I also have to admit–my obsession with this book may have to do with my interest in both WWI and WWII. An interest that was peaked by Mr. Edgett, my Grade 11 History teacher. Even though his pits were constantly drenched–something we got to see every time he raised his arm to pull down the World Map–Mr. Edgett captivated me with his re-telling of the famous Schlieffen Plan. It’s amazing that this man was able to make a normally boring subject come so alive for 16 year old me. Mr. Edgett didn’t focus on the date of each event, instead he glossed over it and emphasized how each of these events were connected; in short, he showed us the bigger picture.  

I still remember the mock run of the Versailles Treaty as well as the Nuremberg Trials. I was paired with my friends Kris and Jenn and we represented England. The two of them convinced me to be the Monarch of England (a useless figurehead) while they represented the Parliamentary Government.

Eleven years later, my fascination with both World Wars has not died. During university my passion for the analysis of these events was crushed by the mindless memorization of dates and names–facts that supports the study of history while distracting from real analysis. The professors of history always seemed uninterested in sharing their theories and their analysis of these events–instead they stood on the podium and rattled off dates and names like bored auctioneers who hated their jobs. It was obvious that the part of giving lectures to undergrads was the most tedious task of their professorship and they had no passion for it. Instead, they were more interested in passing their knowledge down to a select few students who managed to maintain enough wonder to carry their study into a Masters degree.

And who can blame them? How is it possible for one person to make such a connection with hundreds of students whom they saw for 120 minutes a week when they can make much more intimate connections with 10 students instead?

Here I go again, off on a tangent.

Funder has reinvigorated my passion for history by her story telling. She has reminded me that the study of history is not just about dates and names, but the study of all that has gone before–and perspective. I’m very grateful to have read this book.

Next on my list? Ernst Toller’s I Was A German of course.