What I Read This Week – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Over a year ago I joined a book club. Each month we democratically choose a book to read and then meet up the following month to discuss it. One of the great things about being part of a group like this, is having the opportunity to read books I may not have picked up on my own.

This was the case with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. From the title, I just assumed it was some kind of British version of the Ya Ya Sisterhood and I wasn’t very excited about reading it.

It wasn’t what I expected at all.

It takes place in 1946 while Great Britain was recovering from World War II. By chance, a London author begins corresponding with some residents of Guernsey (one of the Channel Islands) and becomes intertwined with the community as she collects their stories of suffering, friendship and humanity during the war. The story is told in a series of letters, to and from the various characters. The novel does contain a cute underlying love story but there is also a darker narrative about the the hardships of war – not from a miltary perspective, but from a civilian one. It’s that story that I found most incredible, because while the novel was a work of fiction, the plight of the islanders was true.

During the war, the Germans were under the impression that the islands held some strategic value. The British did not, and so they left the islands undefended. When the Germans showed up in 1940, the islanders (at least the ones that had not evacuated to England) had no choice but to surrender. The German soldiers fortified the island, took over their homes, commadeered thier resources and forbid communication with the mainland. Eventually, the allies cut off their supply line from Germany and they were all left to fend for themsleves with what little was left on the island. When humitarinan aid finally arrived, nearly everyone, including the soliders, were near starvation.

It boogles my mind to think about what life must have been like for those people during that time. Even after the Germans retreated there were lasting effects that changed the culture of the island and the lives of its inhabitants forever.

For me this book had the best of both worlds: a cute, fluffy story with a touch of humour, but at the same time, gave me some food for thought. Thumbs up.

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What I Read This Week – Main Street

I’d been meaning to read this book for years. I’m fascinated with the 1920s and while this book isn’t actually about the 20s, it was a bestseller of that era. The story takes place the decade before and is about of a college educated city woman who marries a village doctor and moves with him to his hometown in rural Minnesota.

She’s a feminist who wants to to make a difference in her newly adopted home. She’s full of modern ideas to make the town a better place. No one cares. The townsfolk prefer to keep things status quo. She longs for culture and a greater purpose but her husband would rather her forget about the highbrow stuff and just be a normal wife. For years she tries to settle in, but can never really accept the narrow minds, gossip and her role as housewife.

The novel was intended to be a satire about small town life in the United States and the tone was a little on the bitter side. I really liked it though. The plot was slow in parts but you couldn’t help but get sucked into the town’s little dramas and scandals. I was never sure who’s side I was on. While I pitied the protagonist at times, she wasn’t really likable. She reminded me of an early 20th century Diane Chambers . The rest of the characters weren’t exactly endearing either, but you had to respect their right to enjoy life in their own way. It takes different strokes, of course

I was impressed at how relevant this novel was, considering the story takes place before the first world war and was published 90 years ago. While I’ve never lived in a small town like the one depicted in the story, I understood the complicated dynamic and politics of being part of any small group. Whether its a classroom, workplace or neighbourhood, if you’ve ever been part of one of these microcosms, on some level, you can relate to Main Street.

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What I Read This Week – The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency

I’ve been thinking about my blog lately and it occurred to me that I almost never write about the books I read. Reading (mainly fiction) has always been one of the cornerstones of my existence and a common bond I share with most of my friends and family. I read a lot of fantastic books (and some lousy ones too) so you would think that among the frivolity I write about here, I would mention the occasional piece of literature.

Maybe it’s because I read so many books, that I never write about them. Once I’ve finished a book, I’ve moved on to another before I’ve had a chance to sit and jot anything down about it. Going forward, I’d like to share some thoughts about what I’ve been reading. Starting with The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, the novel I finished last night.

Mystery novels are one of my guilty pleasures. I’m especially fond of anything that comes in a series and features a spunky, independent female solver of mysteries (I guess I’ve never really gotten past my Nancy Drew phase). There are so many of these out there, but most of them are mediocre at best. To me, the Sue Grafton alphabet series is the gold standard, but I am always looking for another good one to fill the time in between letters.

I was interested in The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency because the story takes place in Botswana, a refreshing change to a genre that tends to be a little too formulaic at times. I don’t think I’ve ever read a mystery that wasn’t set outside of North America or Europe. I must confess, I had to actually look up Botswana on a map though. My geographic knowledge of Africa was a little hazy.

Overall, it was a good read. The heroine is an older, single woman who used her inheritance to open a detective agency. It was a risky business venture in her country, where traditional gender roles are still the norm. She’s clever and fearless. With her creative approach to solving mysteries she nearly always gets the job done.

While the book was enjoyable, it was also forgettable. There was something missing, although I wasn’t able to pinpoint what that something was. Usually, when I pick up a mystery I have trouble putting it down. I wasn’t in a rush to get though this one and so, I can’t see myself running out to pick up the next volume of this series. Instead, I’ll go back to wondering what V will be for…

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