Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Book: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (GLPPPS)

Authors: Mary Ann Schaeffer and Annie Barrows

Style: Epistolary (Letters)

My review: A very charming tale set amidst the atrocities of World War II. The book transports you to Guernsey during WWII and introduces you to some very interesting characters that you get so acquainted with that you actually miss them when you put the book down! (not very brief I know!)

My rating: 5 Stars

1. A book set during World War II

2. A book written in Epistolary form (as letters between various people)

3. A book that received rave reviews from all the book bloggers that have read it until now

4. Winner of Washington post’s Best Book 2008 award

5. A book about a very unique book club with an even more unique name (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society)

Any one of the above criteria would have made me pick the book up instantly. Seriously! When I saw that the GLPPPS actually satisfied all five, I just HAD to read the book. And when I placed a request for the book in my local library, every passing day was filled with a sweet anticipation mixed with a slightly bitter anxiety that I wouldn’t like the book as much as I wanted to. I really needn’t have worried. The GLPPPS was absolutely amazing and I enjoyed every page of it!

During the World War II, Germany occupied a small, relatively unknown, island in the English Channel – Guernsey. Guernsey and its inhabitants buckled under the occupation – no food, no freedom, nothing! One evening, while a bunch of Guernsey inhabitants were returning to their respective residences way past curfew time they found themselves face to face with German authorities. Unable to mention the true reason for their staying outside after curfew (a gathering to partake of a delicious feast of roast pork from a pig that escaped German inventory), the group came up with one that the authorities would have no issues with – a literary society: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society! To validate the claim just in case the authorities decided to drop in and check on them, books were bought and discussions held. Soon, however, the members of the society turned to books to distract them from the agonies of German occupation.

In a completely unrelated part of the world, a writer Juliet Ashton corresponds with her best friend and her brother who is Juliet’s publicist. She is on a tour to promote her book which is a collection of her newspaper columns “Izzy Biggerstaff goes to war”, which had a humorous take on the war. Juliet is in search of a serious topic to write about when un expectedly she receives a letter in the mail from a Dawsey Adams of Guernsey. Being a member of the GLPPPS, he had fallen in love with the writing of Charles Lamb. He owned a used copy of the book and had taken the liberty to write to the previous owner hoping that she would direct him to more books by the same author. This seemingly innocent letter gives rise to a series of letters between Juliet Ashton and the inhabitants of Guernsey.

I can’t tell you how much I loved this book. It is easily one of the best books I have ever read. The writing is beautiful and immediately transports you to the post world war period. The characters are very well defined and so real! Even though the book is just a collection of letters, each voice is unique and adds more charm to the novel. The writing is very descriptive and paints vivid pictures to portray the beauty of Guernsey even for those who have never heard of its existence before reading this book.

IF you haven’t already read the zillion raving reviews for this book, I hope reading mine will make you want to pick this book up. I totally recommend this book to anyone to likes to read. There’s something in it for every reader!

The book has its own charming website. where you can find more information about the authors, the book, a recipe for potato peel pie, etc. Some of the interesting sections are: Books mentioned in Guernsey, Other Epistolary novels, etc – good resources for those looking for another interesting read!

Have you already read “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”? What did you think of it?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Review: The Teashop Girls

Book: The Teashop Girls
Author: Laura Schaefer
Genre: YA Novel
My Review: As refreshing as a freshly brewed cuppa tea! Thoroughly enjoyable for girls/women of all ages
My Rating: 5 Stars

A wonderful review of “The Teashop Girls” in Bethany’s blog made me want to pick the book up from my TBR pile immediately. If you haven’t read Bethany’s review of it, head over to her blog to see her review. It is a really fun post with a recipe, some pictures, etc and quite an enjoyable read!

“The Teashop Girls” is a YA novel revolving around Annie Green. Annie’s grandmother Louisa, who also lives in Wisconsin, has her own tea shop called “The Steeping Leaf”. The Steeping Leaf is a dear little shop built lovingly by her grandparents. The plants, the oversized mismatched comfortable furniture, the expensive French soap in the restrooms, etc gave The Steeping Leaf a very personal touch. But ever since Annie’s grandfather had passed away four years ago, The Steeping Leaf had slowly slipped into financial troubles. Though Louisa loved the shop, she didn’t have too much of a business head on her shoulders. Annie and her two best friends Genna and Zoe were the official “Teashop Girls” after having spent many delightful hours in The Steeping Leaf ever since they were old enough to come there. The Teashop Girls had their little handbook (which included the mandatory “set of rules”), a scrapbook of many interesting tidbits related to tea and a new item on their agenda – Save The Steeping Leaf! Along with the many attempts to save the little tea shop (some successful, some disastrous), the girls learn a lot about life, their friendship and themselves.

The Teashop Girls was an interesting book and one of the most cheerful YA novels I have ever read! There are wonderful illustrations throughout the book. The best part, however are the little inserts found through out the book. I loved them all – the little Zen stories told by Louisa, recipes for wonderful tea as well as tea accompaniments, vintage advertisements for tea from across the world, lists and more lists drafted by the compulsive list makers, etc.

Laura Schaeffer has done a wonderful job with the book. It is a fabulous read for both young girls as well as others who are just looking for a light read. If you are a tea lover, let me assure you, there’s so much in this book for you! If you are not a tea-lover, just read this book and it sure will turn you into one!

This book proved to be dear to me because of the nostalgic memories it brought to mind. I grew up in a hill station – Ooty. Tea grows well in high altitudes and the slopes of the hills give the soil the right amount of moisture necessary for tea growth. Ooty is filled with tea plantations and I grew up loving the smell and process of tea making. During my vacations, I spent hours on the tea plantations observing the tea pickers and their nimble fingers as they worked through the plants picking just the right leaves which would then be sent to factories to turn into the black coarse powder we are all familiar with.

The process of tea picking is a very interesting one. The women are trained to pick just “two leaves and the bud” at the tip of every shoot. This is the most tender part of the tea plant and has the most flavor.  The tea bushes are pruned and maintained at waist level to facilitate rapid picking of the leaves. During the tea picking season, you can find hordes of women with colorful baskets hanging on their backs on every slope in Ooty. They’d sing and talk as their hands rapidly worked through the tea bushes. I’ve tried my hand at tea picking and by the time I would meticulously pick out just “two leaves and a bud” from 3 to 4 shoots, the regular tea pickers would have picked at least fifty!

The leaves that are picked by these women are then transported to tea factories not too far away (because the leaves have to be fresh when ground). In these factories, the green tender leaves are turned into the coarse black powder that we are all familiar with. I loved visiting the tea factories when I was a kid. The smell of fresh tea was always in the air and at the end, I was offered freshly made lemon tea prepared with the highest grade of tea leaves, fresh lemon and some honey. I loved that hot lemon tea and no tea that I have ever had after that comes close to the flavor of that tea!

I guess you can understand now why I love tea so much and why I loved this book!! Thanks to Laura Schaefer for sending me a review copy of this book.
Have you read “The Teashop Girls”? What did you think of it?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Review: The Dream

Book: The Dream

Author: Harry Bernstein

Genre: Memoir

Challenge: Jewish Literature Challenge

My Short Review: Second book in the trilogy of Bernstein’s memoirs. An interesting story with an inspiring touch considering the author’s age when he wrote the book!

My Rating: 4 Stars

I read “The Invisible Wall” earlier this year for the Jewish Literature Challenge. In that book, Harry describes the early part of his life when he was a little boy in England during WWI. It was a very well written book and I enjoyed reading. What inspired me more was the fact that the author – Harry Bernstein was over 90 years old when he actually started writing the book!

When I finished reading the book, I googled the author and came across his Wikipedia page where I learnt that his second book was already published as well and the third book in his trilogy of memoirs is expected in the middle of this year!

I immediately decided to pick up “The Dream” – the second book in the trilogy. In this book, Harry’s family moves to the US (well, everyone except for his oldest sister who got married at the end of the first book and was settled in England). Moving to the US was the biggest wish and dream of Harry’s mother. Their life in England was dominated by poverty and his mother had to struggle to make ends meet. His father who preferred to get drunk rather than socialize with his family was hardly any help because what he gave his wife for her weekly expenses were never sufficient.

For Harry’s mother, moving to the US was to be the solution for all her problems. Her relatives painted pretty pictures of their fancy lives in the US and she yearned to join them in the land of opportunity and extravagance. And then one fine day in England, her hopes and prayers are answered and they receive steamship tickets to go to America.

I guess for Harry’s mother, this was a perfect case where anticipation was way better than what you actually get in the end. The reality in Chicago was definitely not what she had expected: The cramped housing, the poverty, the stench. Her life was to be no better than the one she had in England!

The book deals with the difficulties they had to go through to get settled in the US and how their lives took many turns – some for the better and some for the worse. Towards the end of the book, Harry meets his soul-mate so there’s a touch of romance for those interested in that as well!

I must say that I enjoyed this book as much as I enjoyed “The Invisible Wall”. I am always a little wary of sequels because they are usually not as good as the first book but this book was definitely as good as the first one. It was a quick and easy read and as usual there were many pictures from Harry’s life to add that touch of reality to the book. I love having a face to associate the characters with!

Have you read any/both of Bernstein’s Books? What did you think about this one?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Review: Anne of Avonlea

Book: Anne of Avonlea

Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery

Notes: 2nd book in the Anne of Green Gables series
My Review: As addictive and entertaining as Anne of Green Gables

My Rating: 5 Stars

I finished listening to Anne of Green Gables earlier this month and immediately started listening to Anne of Avonlea. I loved the way the first book easily flowed into the second without any kind of a break. Yet in spite of that, Anne in Anne of Avonlea is so much more grown up than the Anne in Anne of Green Gables.

Lucy Maud Montgomery has done a fabulous job in capturing the growth of Anne over the years. In addition, she brings all the people of Avonlea to life and listening/reading the book takes you into that world very easily – Avonlea in the early 1900s is such a beautiful peaceful community and the people are all very endearing – yes, even Mrs. Rachel Lynde!

A host of new characters are introduced in the book. Dora and Davy – the siblings that Marilla adopts when their mother dies, Mr. Harrison – the man who lives next to Green Gables with his garrulous parrot, Little Paul Irwing – one of Anne’s students in the Avonlea school, Miss Lavendar – who is pretty and charming and definitely one of Anne’s kindred spirits who lives in the most charming place called the Echo Lodge!

By the end of the book, you feel like you’ve always known all of them! Anne has definitely grown up in this book but not too grown up to avoid getting into scrapes. The chapter where she sells Mr. Harrison’s Jersey cow is hilarious!

If you’ve read Anne of Green Gables and haven’t read this one – you definitely are missing out on a book that is as fabulous as Anne of Green Gables! And if you haven’t read either of the books, I would recommend that you start with Anne of Green Gables and then definitely read Anne of Avonlea.

I am now listening to Anne of the Island and I am loving it just as much! Audiobooks are so useful when I am trying to knit. I am definitely not one of those prolific knitters who can read while they are knitting and so I just turn on my audiobook and get lost in the world of Anne while the little blue baby blanket that I am knitting for my best friend who is due this weekend slowly and steadily takes shape!

Have you read Anne of Avonlea? Share your thoughts with me!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Review: The Smart One and the Pretty One

Book: The Smart one and the Pretty One
Author: Claire LaZebnik
Genre: Chick-Lit

My review: Interesting, easy to read and light
My rating: 3 Stars

If you’ve been following this blog long enough you know that I love my occasional chick lit. I came across a review for this on Swapna’s blog a while ago and added it to my mental to-read list and never really thought too much about it until I spotted it while I was browsing the shelves in my local library the other day. I picked it up and definitely didn’t need an excuse to start reading it.

Here’s a description of the book from the back cover:

Smart, successful Ava Nickerson is closing in on thirty and has barely had a date since law school. When a family crisis brings her prodigal little sister Lauren back to Los Angeles, Lauren stumbles across a forgotten document – a contract their parents had jokingly drawn up years ago betrothing Ava to their friends’ son.
Frustrated and embarrassed by Ava’s constant lectures about financial responsibility (all because she’s in a little debt. Okay, a lot of debt), Lauren decides to do some sisterly interfering of her own and tracks down her sister’s childhood fiancĂ©. When she finds him, the highly inappropriate, twice-divorced, but incredibly charming Russell Markowitz is all too happy to reenter the Nickerson sisters’ lives. And always-accountable Ava will soon realize just how binding a contract can be…

I guess that beautifully sums the book up. It was an interesting story line and though both Lauren and Ava have their faults, they are both endearing. The men in the book, for a change, are not stereotypical. They are pretty interesting characters themselves and I liked the fact that the book was as much about them as it was about the sisters. The book is well written, easy to read and keeps you interested enough to sit with it until you turn the last page.

I would definitely recommend this one to any of your chick lit lovers out there looking for a nice light read.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Review: Anne of Green Gables

Book: Anne of Green Gables
Published: 1908
Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery
Challenges: Orbis Terrarum 2009
My Short Review: Anne is a totally lovable character and this is easily one of my all time favorite books.
My Rating: 5 Stars

The year was 1998. I was 16 years old. I read Anne of Green Gables and all the other books in the series and loved them all! I remember that Anne of Green Gables was my favorite in the series, but I loved the other books as well! I totally identified with Anne. I was the garrulous one at home and I loved nature and day dreaming and Anne just seemed like me in so many ways! I even had a bosom buddy like Diana Barry – an angelic looking girl who was the sweetest ever and stood by me all the time! I even thought I had found my Gilbert Blythe! Those were the dreamy days.

I picked up Anne of Green Gables again this year – 10 years after I had first read it. I was curious to see what I’d think of the book now. I was amazed to see that I loved the book still. I no longer put myself in Anne’s shoes and no longer thought about having story clubs or inviting friends over for tea but I enjoyed the book nevertheless. I actually didn’t read it this time. I listened to the audio version that I downloaded from Librivox.

This would be my first stop in the Orbis Terrarum Challenge this year – Canada and I think it is a perfect book for this challenge. The beauty of Prince Edward Islands in the early 1900s is brought out beautifully in this book. Anne is a nature lover and through her descriptions we get to know about the beauty of the place!

Here’s a little blurb about the book for those of you unfortunate enough to have never read this:

Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert are siblings who live together in Green Gables, a beautiful farm in Avonlea. They decide to adopt an orphan boy to help them with the farm work but by mistake, they get Anne Shirley – a tall, bony, freckled, smart, talkative 11 year old with bright red hair. They know they should send her back, but there’s something so endearing about her that they decide to keep her. Anne of Green Gables describes the first 5 years of Anne’s life in Green Gables. In this book you can see Anne transform into a beautiful young lady. And she gets more and more lovable as the book goes by.

I loved the book! It made me laugh at so many places and it made me cry as well! I realized that I had forgotten many parts of the book and remembered many other vividly! It was interesting to see what scenes made the most impact on me when I was 16! I personally think that these books can be read by women of all ages. It is definitely a fun read and remains one of my all-time favorites.

I am listening to the second book in the series now – Anne of Avonlea.

Dar, who blogs at Peeking Between the Pages and who was featured in my Book Lovers Recommendation section yesterday said that this was one of her all time favorite books! Bethany, who blogs at B&b Ex Libris just read and reviewed this book as well! Check out her review of the book here.

I am sure most of you have read this book. What was your favorite part in this book? What did you like most about it and what did you not like about it? Talk to me!:)