Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

"Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books."

I think I mentioned in a previous post that I'm a slow reader. Right now I'm plodding through two different books so during a slow week, I'll write about the best books I've read this year. One of them is the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. I read it about two months ago but it still brings a smile to my face everytime I think about it. It is such a delightful read and everyone I've recommended it to has loved it including Mr. B. It is one of those rare books where you love every single character. They each had their own charm and before the end of the book you'll be wanting so much to be a member of this society.

The novel is set in London and the island of Guernsey in 1946, just after the second world war. It follows the correspondence of a writer, Juliet, and some of the inhabitants of Guernsey who each have their own stories to tell of their life during the war, some of them funny or harrowing but all quite touching. Juliet soon forms long distance friendships with the inhabitants and then decides to write a book about them. The book's title refers to a society some of the islanders formed during the war. The society discussed books and writers, growing closer as they escaped (through books) from the distressing events that surrounded them.

Sadly, the first time author, Mary Ann Shaffer, passed away just before her book was published in 2008. She had been fascinated with Guernsey since she visited it in 1976. Her niece Annie Barrows, helped her finish the book.

The book is filled with wonderful quotes such as the above and below.

"That's what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book and that tiny thing will lead you on to another book, and another bit will lead you onto a third book. It's geometrically progressive--all with no end in sight, and for no reason other than sheer enjoyment."

Isn't this quote so true? And it's even doubly true with book blogging. I find that since reading book blogs and blogging myself, I've increased my to-be-read pile faster than I can read the books. Oh, but it is so enjoyable!

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is truly a wonderful book for book lovers. Read it! You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Young Adult Fiction, Winners and Losers

I loved the Hunger Games and if you haven't read it yet, then you're in for a treat! It was so entertaining and such a refreshing change from the more serious novels I've been reading lately. I'm not really an avid follower of Young Adult fiction.  I really disliked the Twilight series but after two books from the Hunger Games, I was spurned to try more books from this genre.

Patrick Ness' The Knife of Never Letting Go was not bad however I had trouble getting through the second book which I thought was more of the same. I also read a Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray and I think it should be renamed the Ghastly and Terrible Book. I admit there was some promise in the beginning and maybe under a more talented writer and editor this could have turned into a better novel. Recently I was attracted by the cover and the reviews of the Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink. I was really hoping this would be a scary read for Halloween week but it was ultimately disappointing. I gave up after reading a third of the book. It was just so cliched and it reminded me of that awful apocalyptic movie with Demi Moore. The name escapes me right now. Was it called the Seven Signs? Anyway, please don't pick up the latter two books unless you feel like wasting your money and throwing the books out the window.

I did end up with one YA winner though, Sorcery and Cecilia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. I read about Wrede at Jenny's Books and I was intrigued by her comments and the cover of the book not to mention the title. It's set in early 1800s England and two young cousins, Kate and Cecelia seem to be constantly running into wizards with mysterious agendas. It's a delightfully witty and cozy read. Saying more will just spoil it. The book is written in Jane Austen style with a dash of  J.K. Rowling thrown it. I can't believe I've never heard of this book as it's not a new one. It was published in 1988. Anyway, there's more in the series if you enjoy this one and Wrede seems to have written more YA winners.

Have you read any of these? I'd love to hear your own recommendations for YA novels past or present.

Monday, October 26, 2009

24 Hour Read-a-Thon: Mini Challenge

Lynn from Chronicle of an Infant Bibliophile is hosting this 24 Hour Read-a-Thon: Mini Challenge where we're asked to remember five books we enjoyed as a child or five books we enjoy reading to our children. This is definitely a difficult challenge because there so many wonderful children's off the top of my head, here are my five...(not in any particular order).

Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel and Blair Lent
A wonderful book with a protaganist with a very long name, Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo, which means the most wonderful thing in the whole world.

The Rascally Cake by Jeane Willis and Korky Paul
The Ghastly Mr. O'Parsley decides to one day bake a Rascally Cake. A funny book with rollicking rhymes and fun illustrations

The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss
All the books by Dr. Seuss are wondeful but this one is a particular favourite.
"Now the star-belly sneetches had bellies with stars and the plain-belly sneetches had none upon thars."

The Digging-est Dog by Al Perkins
Another favourite from childhood that I just can't forget. It's about a dog who learns how to dig and eventually digs up the whole town. Wondefully illustrated.

The Bike Lesson by Stan Berenstain and Jan Berenstain
Brother Bear gets a brand new bike but before he can ride it, Papa Bear gives him several lessons with disastrous results.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Bored by Margaret Atwood

All those times I was bored
out of my mind. Holding the log
while he sawed it. Holding
the string while he measured, boards,
distances between things, or pounded
stakes into the ground for rows and rows
of lettuces and beets, which I then (bored)
weeded. Or sat in the back
of the car, or sat still in boats,
sat, sat, while at the prow, stern, wheel
he drove, steered, paddled. It
wasn't even boredom, it was looking,
looking hard and up close at the small
details. Myopia. The worn gunwales,
the intricate twill of the seat
cover. The acid crumbs of loam, the granular
pink rock, its igneous veins, the sea-fans
of dry moss, the blackish and then the graying
bristles on the back of his neck.
Sometimes he would whistle, sometimes
I would. The boring rhythm of doing
things over and over, carrying
the wood, drying
the dishes. Such minutiae. It's what
the animals spend most of their time at,
ferrying the sand, grain by grain, from their tunnels,
shuffling the leaves in their burrows. He pointed
such things out, and I would look
at the whorled texture of his square finger, earth under
the nail. Why do I remember it as sunnier
all the time then, although it more often
rained, and more birdsong?
I could hardly wait to get
the hell out of there to
anywhere else. Perhaps though
boredom is happier. It is for dogs or
groundhogs. Now I wouldn't be bored.
Now I would know too much.
Now I would know.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. I've seen it on several book blogs and I'd like to continue the tradition so here it goes...

Quote two sentences from the book you're currently reading:

"It was with an agitated burning heart and brain that I hurried homewards, regardless of that scorching noon-day sun - forgetful of everything but her I had just left - regreting nothing but her impenetrability, and my own precipitancy and want of tact - fearing nothing but her hateful resolution, and my inability to overcome it - hoping nothing - But halt, - I will not bore you with my conflicting hopes and fears - my serious cogitations and resolves."

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, page. 56

Monday, October 19, 2009

15 books

I came across a list from Verity's The B Files blog of 15 books that will stick with her forever. Here's my list of 15 books I've read that will stay with me always (not in any particular order). The first 15 I can recall in no more than 15 minutes.

1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
2. The Magus by John Fowles
3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
4. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
5. They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple
6. A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh
7. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
8. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
9. Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
10. In the Woods by Tana French
11. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
12. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
13. Le Grand Meaulness by Alain Fournier
14. The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley
15. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Would you believe I've had this book for over five years and have only read it recently? It's been talked about so much among book bloggers of late that I knew I just had to read it. I have a Penguin edition from 1984 (shown above) with a beautiful cover illustration by Harry Bliss. I prefer this cover over the newer editions and I feel it really conveys the atmosphere of the book.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) by American author, Shirley Jackson, is a sinister and well-written novel. Mary Katherine and her sister Constance live with their invalid Uncle Julian in an isolated old house. Four of their family members were poisoned with arsenic six years ago. Constance got the blame but was acquitted and since then the three Blackwoods live in almost total isolation from their village next door save for a weekly trip to the general store and visits from the doctor and a friendly villager. They somehow manage to live this way until their greedy cousin Charles comes and upsets their well ordered routine.

This novel is very well-written and very atmospheric, however, I was still a bit disappointed in the end. It didn't take a lot of pages to figure out that Mary Katherine was indeed the murderer and that Constance out of love for her much younger sister has decided to play the martyr. Mary Katherine has episodes of bizarre behaviour and she isn't a very likeable character. In fact she seems to be ultimately dangerous. Constance is the one we feel sorry for. I felt like shaking her a few times and saying, "Constance! Leave this house! Leave your sister!" In fact there's almost a sigh of relief when a new person appears on the scene in the person of cousin Charles. However, he soon proves to be just a greedy and terrible person. In spite of that, I was still hoping Constance would run away and escape with Charles. At least she'd be out in the real world and then maybe find herself.
I was disappointed because the novel didn't turn out like I expected and the ending of the two sisters now living in total and complete isolation was just too dreary a thought. Readers have described the novel as claustrophobic and yes I definitely agree. In hindsight though, I understand that this is the feeling that Shirley Jackson wanted from her readers. Aside from claustrophobia, also helplessness, frustration and anger. And maybe I just didn't like having those feelings... But I do appreciate what Jackson succeded in doing. It is definitely a classic but I just can't put it on my list of favourites. It's too disturbing.

Is this a creepy novel? Yes, it is creepy but in truth, it's more sad than scary.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

And so we begin...

I've come to realise that I follow quite a lot of book blogs and there are so many group reads and challenges going on that I'd love to be a part of. I first contemplated turning my food blog into a book one as well but I quickly discarded that idea and just decided to create the Literary Stew. I'm not a fast reader so I don't expect to post as often as other book bloggers but at least this gives me a space to post my thoughts on my latest reads and join in the fun with other readers.
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