#bustlereads wrap-up

bustlereads

So yes, bookmas is quite over and has spectacularly failed towards the end. I can only very lamely blame my falling ill unexpectedly (obviously, how else?) and being too consumed by coughing and sleeping to blog. Catching up now, guys, catching up.

So here we are. Probably the biggest thing I tackled last year in the reading department – #bustlereads, a reading challenge promoting diversity and female writers and that just resonated with me when I came across it early last year (this is the original post introducing the challenge).

Now, almost twelve months later, I’ve completed it proudly and am ready to bring you a gigantic masterpost of all the books I counted towards it. When planning bookmas last december, I decided to write a review on as many of them as I could, on the one hand to get myself to write some more posts on single books and on the other hand to prevent this post to grow into an uncontrollable monster of experiences, surprises and ever repeating recollections. That’s why I kept the reviewing extremely brief here and went all out on the self-promoting links to my reviews. Enjoy.

Read A Book Written By A Woman Under 25

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Sense and Sensibility apparently Jane Austen’s first novel and published when she was extremely young. You can kind of tell, but it’s lovely and cosy and Austen and I’m so excited to read more of hers. Full review here.

Read A Book About Non-Western History

I really wanted to complete this task extra-super proper because I was looking so forward to it. I really wanted to read something on the Chinese Cultural Revolution… but then, the year just flew by and I ended up slightly cheating this category. We’re counting The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende here, because although it is a novel, it heavily draws from actual Chilean history… full review here.

Read A Book Of Essays

I was looking forward to this category so much, and I was even more excited to get James Baldwin’s Notes Of A Native Son from the library. It’s a collection of essays on being a black man in the United States, and I wanted to be blown away by it so badly. I just didn’t know what even happened, and have decided to not write a full review because it was just a weird reading experience of feeling overwhelmed, but just not impressed. I suspect it’s a great book, but we didn’t click at all and I can’t help feeling that’s my fault.

Read A Book About An Indigenous Culture

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Well, this isn’t really about an indigenous culture, but I think I should get some extra credit for super inclusive comprehensiveness, right? The No-Nonsense Guide to Indigenous Peoples by Lotte Hughes is a very short, but very good introduction to indigenous cultures, historic as well as contemporary, and a perfect pick for the uneducated white girl I am. Full review here.

Read A Book Before You See The Movie

I always do this. Literally always. I’d never watch a film if I was planning on reading the book in the future, that’s just not how my input works. However, for this particular task in this particular challenge I chose Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind.
I read and analysed this in school for German class, and to conclude the unit on the book, our teacher watched the 2006 film with us. I’d recommend both, but the book is definitely very superior. I love it way too much considering I got graded on analysing it…

Read A YA Book By An Author Of Colour

This is one of the reasons I’m glad I did this challenge. I would never have discovered How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon without it, having only found it after some extensive internet research, and I absolutely adored it. It’s a book about a black teenager getting shot by a white man and everyone trying to figure out what really happened, to piece together the whole story. It’s gorgeous and contemporary, but very readable, and I did a full review of it here.

Read A Book Set In The Middle East

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A book you’re probably sick of hearing about by now, but I just love it way too much. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi is a memoir by a English literature scholar living in Iran before, during and after the Islamic Revolution who founded a book club with some of her female students to read and discuss Western works of literature. It’s absolutely brilliant, and fully dissected here.

Read A Book About Women In War

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I found it so hard to find a book for this category, so I ended up just asking my mother and she recommended this as an okay, fun read – a novel set post WWII, but handling events during the German occupation of the Channel Islands and features a lot of female characters, so I decided it’d work. Ended up liking it, but feeling no need to keep or recommend it… full review here.

Read A Graphic Novel Written By A Woman

For this I picked up The Three Incestuous Sisters by Audrey Niffenegger. This is literally the only graphic novel I’ve read this year, although I generally really enjoy them… this one though, I just didn’t love it. While I could appreciate the art, it wasn’t really my style and the story didn’t give me anything, either, so all in all, just a really disappointing read.

Read A Book About An Immigrant Or Refugee To The U.S.

I loved this challenge, and I absolutely loved the book I chose to pick up: The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka. If I can make you pick up only one book from this list, it would probably have to be this one. It’s about Japanese picture brides coming to the US in the early 20th century, and manages to show the progress of their lifes in a very beautiful, unusual voice – it’s just gorgeous and poetic and I loved it.

Read A Children’s Book Aloud

I did this loads during my internship in a local kindergarten, and got really nostalgic for my own childhood. It’s just so lovely to read out to people who can’t yet read themselves – with the risk of being cheesy, it’s like recruiting future readers.

Reread Your Favourite Book From Your Childhood

This was so hard to choose, I’ve got an abundance of wonderful childhood favourites on my shelves. In the end, however, I went with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken. This is without a doubt the warmest, cosiest book ever, despite some terrible stuff happening. I honestly don’t think there’ll ever be a time in my life when this won’t make me happy…

Read A Memoir By Someone Who Identifies as LGBTQIA

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Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson isn’t really your typical memoir. It honestly felt unlike anything else I’ve ever read. While it of course talks about her discovering her sexuality and her (very Christian) mother throwing her out of the house as a consequence, it’s also about class in 70s Northern England, it’s about home and identity and how the two are linked and books, always books, as an inevitable part of her life story. I massively enjoyed it, and reviewed it in full here.

Read A Work Of Post-Apocalyptic Fiction Written By A Woman

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Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is one of the books I never ever would have read without this challenge because postapocalyptic fiction isn’t my genre at all. And yet, I’m so glad I’ve read it. It’s about a flu pandemic and the world it leaves behind, jumps time a lot and tals about civilisation, art and living in an extremely interesting way. Definitely made me think, and write a review here.

Read A Feminist Sci-Fi Novel

For this, I went with Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. Again, Science Fiction isn’t what I normally read at all, and with this more than Station Eleven, I was kind of reminded why I don’t, but I could appreciate its brilliance nonetheless. I’m sure most readers would like this much more than I do, and I already enjoyed it massively – it was just too much in its genre for me to absolutely adore. Still, the post-pandemic world, the narrative jumping and the feminist tones have me not hesitating to recommend this to loads of people. Reviewed here.

Read The First Book In A Series You’ve Never Read

Basically, I just avoid series. I don’t really like them, they don’t give me anything I can’t find in standalones, and often they take away from my enjoyment because they split up the story or stretch it out too much. That’s why I went for a very loose series, and read Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse. This collection of short anecdotes about shallow, but hilarious young Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves charmed me, but didn’t give me as much as I’d hoped. Long monologue explaining my mixed feelings here.

Read A Book Set In Africa, By An Author From Africa

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This I should do much more. It’s ridiculous how little writers from African countries I’ve read, and I’m going to make myself pick up more (hopefully), because it’s such an interesting experience to explore a culture I tend to be shamefully ignorant about. We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo was a great start for that project, because it really rubs your privilege and ignorance in your face in a way that doesn’t make you hate the writer… I agree that it was overstuffed with themes at times, but it did great at the immigration narrative and exploring identity and home in a very fascinating way. Reviewed here.

Read A Translated Book

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For this, I went with Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, a childhood and adolescence memoir by the brilliant Simone de Beauvoir. This, I loved because it combined feminism, existentialism and growing up in a very fascinating way, and while it didn’t speak to me personally as much as I’d hoped, I still really enjoyed it. Full review here.

Read A Contemporary Collection Of Poetry

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Search Party by George The Poet was a gorgeous christmas present 2015, and after reading it with massive enjoyment last year, I was (and am) so excited to read more poetry. Hasn’t happened, hopefully will, until then, this is a marvellous book of spoken word poetry about social justice issues, race and growing up which I gushingly reviewed here.

Read A Book By A Modernist Woman Writer

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Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. This one, I was just planning to pick up some time in my life. And then, I just spontaneously did it and enjoyed it very much…
I find it really hard to talk about this book because I just don’t feel as if I completely got it, so it definitely made its way onto my reread-list already. What this did give me however, the stream of consciousness-writing style and the motives and the 1920s London setting, I absolutely adored. Full review here.

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We Need New Names – NoViolet Bulawayo

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Here we are then for the last #bustlereads review, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t getting sentimental…
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo was that book I squeezed in mid-december because I needed to finish the challenge. That’s why I read it in German – that’s what they had at the library at the time.

We Need New Names starts by following the life of ten-year-old Darling and her group of friends in Zimbabwe where they steal guavas to still their hunger and try to hold back memories of their life before they lost everything and moved to a village of makeshift huts. There’s obsessive priests, there’s boredom and hunger and illness and sexual abuse, but there’s also political change and hope and community.

After half the book a big chance offers itself to Darling: leaving her prospectless life and move to the US with her aunt. That’s what happens, and that’s where the book now moves: a story of immigration, of home and foreign culture, of disillusionment and disappointment.

That’s basically the two things this novel’s trying to do. You could probably ask if one needs both in one book, but I thought that rather worked. She obviously tried to squeeze a lot into one book, and I see how that would annoy you. I didn’t mind though.
What didn’t work for me was one chapter in this book near the end, dropping the direct, childlike voice of the rest of the book for a few pages of almost poetic thoughts on immigration and the experience of people out of African countries immigrating to the US and the racism and hopelessness they encounter, which wasn’t bad but just felt too separate from the novel’s voice to fit in naturally.

Still, all in all I enjoyed this book and thought it told me things I should already know. I enjoyed the immigration narrative, and really think it can’t be overexplored in our current political situation.
What I also liked, and please hear me out because this sounds extremely weird, was whenever there was white people in this novel. I think Bulawayo did a great job at depicting all shades of white ignorance and the way people volunteers from western countries who come to African countries to do good have an extremely distorted, privileged experience of living there and how poverty and the continent as a whole get romanticized and patronised in the Western eye.
That gets even worse in the United States-based half of the book, the questions and presumptions Darling faces seem completely ridiculous but taking a step back you can see how ordinary and everyday they are.

That’s what I enjoyed most about this book and why I want people to read it. It does a great job at uncomfortably treading on Western privilege, and that’s something I’m sure we all need to be reminded of. A lot.

Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf

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Is there anything to make you feel insufficient or stupid like reviewing very literary classics? ‘Cause I don’t think there is.
I read Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf in an incredibly stressful time this november and it really got rather snippeted, which is a shame. While reading, I definitely noticed that Woolf’s stream of consciousness-writing benefits massively from being read in bigger chunks, and my enjoyment of the book always increased when I had more time for it.

Even so and with all the fragmentary intake, I could really see, if not fully appreciate the brilliance of this novel.
It’s set over the course of only one day in 1920s’ London and mainly follows two people: Clarissa Dalloway, a middle-aged wife and mainly concerned throughout the novel with organising a dinner party, and Septimus Smith, a former soldier in WW I suffering from shellshock.

It’s structure is very unusual, although probably very Woolf. As her work is the absolute epitome of stream of consciousness, I was very interested to see how the narrative would be arranged in this book, and I have to say it’s definitely unlike anything else I’ve ever read. There’s not really an indication of change of narrator, and direct speech and thoughts aren’t clearly distinguished either.

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While that may sound very choppy and hard to follow, I actually think it rather works. The way she manages to stick to recurring motives of time (and Big Ben’s bells) and memory and have all her perspectives just blend into each other and get interconnected without ever feeling even a tad forced or constructed impressed me a lot.

Still, I don’t feel at all that I got everything I could have (and can) out of reading this book and will definitely invest time in the future to read more of her work and also rereading this novel to understand its genius even better.

So while this isn’t a completely satisfying book to read because you just feel like it goes right over your head sometimes (at least that’s how I felt), it’s still highly rewardng and gives you that treasure hunter-feeling of something being there to be discovered, of a book having so much more than you expected it to give, and that’s a marvellous feeling.

Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood

Science fiction. Totally not up my street.
Margaret Atwood. Totally intriguing.

Oryx and Crake. What a book, eh?
And I really don’t know what to write about, besides that I really didn’t look forward to reading it, kind of ecpected to not enjoy it, just because I’m apparently disgustingly prejudiced towards certain genres, and was absolutely blown away.

Oryx and Crake is the first novel in a trilogy of post apocalyptic speculative fiction told from the perspective of Snowman, a man living in a world post civilisation breaking down. The world he describes seems completely absurd, and only when he starts to flash back to his youth with his best friend Crake do the pieces start to fit together, the creatures and structures of the wasteland around him start to make sense and his own role and survival to become clear. I don’t think I can decide which is worse: the deserted, straining world post-apocalypse or the society it derives from, a civilisation already so dystopian and creepy that it alone would make you massively uncomfortable.

I’ve mentioned this when talking about Station Eleven and I’ll say it again, I just can’t deal with post-apocalyptic settings. They stress me out and make me lose all hope for humanity at the same time, and while I don’t want my books to be all candy floss and rainbow-riding unicorns, that’s just not something I’m looking for regularly. That being said, when I do read them they always make me think, which is good I suppose.

That being said, because the world breaking down in this wasn’t our own, it felt farther away and less personal. It obviously still crept underneath every skin cell of my body and made me massively uncomfortamble in an intentional way, but it didn’t have me taking that feeling into my everyday life. It was just a book. A hypnotic, feverish and yet subtle work of brilliance, mind.

I would say it’s worth a read, I definitely will pick up more Atwood in the future, possibly even the other two books in this trilogy. I don’t think this is a book just for genre-lovers because, evidently, I enjoyed it too, but it probably helps if you enjoy the occasional apocalypse.

Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter – Simone de Beauvoir

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It’s memoir time again- and today, we’re talking about Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir. I read this in a brief streak of existentialism inspired by what I still consider one of the more memorable character from The House of the Spirits (review), as well as my newly found enthusiasm for feminism. Plus finding it for really cheap on a fleamarket…

So what is this book? Simone de Beauvoir, one of the 20th century’s most fascinating female intellectuals, a French feminist thinker and writer and longtime companion of Jean-Paul Sartre, writing about her upbringing, childhood and adolescence up to meeting Sartre.

This is a piece of history, showing you a part of French society that is very much product of the early 20th century – a weird mix of money, intellectualism and an insistence on an unwritten bourgeois rulebook that borders the pathetic.

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In the midst of it all you have de Beauvoir, growing into quite a different attitude, a radically modern worldview, refusing to become the woman she’s expected to be.
She also reads a lot. One of my problems when reading this book actually were the bits of her meticulously documenting her reading, although I usually love that in memoirs – just because I knew almost none of the books referenced.

The world de Beauvoir is writing in is so weird, and only in her talking about books did I really become aware of the closed-off absolute Frenchness she grows up in. I find it really hard to describe, but as a child of the European Union I was really surprised by the smallness of the young Simone’s universe. Which is never something that bothers me in British books from the same time…

This was literally the only book originally written in French I read this year, and reviewing it now reminds me that I need to get a move on with French literature next year… also, memoir wasn’t really a genre I ever considered before this year, and this is one of the one’s that really makes me think that they’re a medium even more thought-provoking than fiction when done well.

This one certainly feeds your brain in gluttonous proportions, and in the best way possible. There’s philosophy and feminism and literature and, reading it now, also history to turn over in your head, and there’s an incredibly intelligent, interesting woman just seamlessly wrapping it up in her life story. Only the first twenty years, mind.

Carry on, Jeeves – P.G. Wodehouse

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Serving you today a portion of absolute immaculate britishness, because who doesn’t need that in their life?

Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse is one out of the endless succession of Jeeves novels by the innately witty man that Wodehouse inevitably must have been.
It’s a collection of humorous short stories, all of them consisting of the same basic plot device: Bertram “Bertie” Wooster getting himself massively into trouble by being a careless young man of a lot of money and very little wit and his imperturbable valet Jeeves coming up with a brilliant, albeit slightly absurd, scheme to get out of the situation as elegantly as might prove possible.

Now imagine this setting of absurdity and wit with the most british language you’ll ever see written and set it in the early 20th century for some comfortable backdrop, subtract all problems of class and social situation because that’s of no consequence in the circles we’re moving in for the duration of this book, and you might be able to begin imagining what this book is like.

It’s wonderfully funny and witty, shutting out all the big troubles to concentrate on almost mundane everyday situations that always escalate into absolute hilarity not last because of the main character’s careless conduct, and so essentially british that I have to mention its britishness again.

While I wanted to absolutely adore this, I only found it a funny, sweet read that didn’t really incline me to read on, but still charmed with its style and humour in a way that makes me want to read some more Wodehouse the next time life seems dull and annoying. I just might make it one of his novellas that time, for really I couldn’t love this collection as much as I desperately wanted to.

Search Party – George The Poet

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Yes, as I said, I’ll be shamelessly gushing about this collection until every single one of you has caved in and bought it just to shut me up. Search Party by George the Poet is a collection of spoken word poetry that deserves all the praise I can give it.
Also, it’s physically beautiful, so I couldn’t refrain from taking a bazillion pictures…

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This is actually the first book of poetry I’ve ever read cover to cover (excluding some children’s ones), and I think it’s a perfect little stepping stool into the genre.
Since it’s spoken word poetry and very rhythmically satisfying, it really is a joy to read and still so incredibly beautiful.
It’s the kind of book you want to read aloud, and sometimes when I particularly enjoyed a poem, I went back and did just that.

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The collection centers around the themes of social justice and growing up, just stuff that is really huge in my life right now. While it is a very broad outlook on different aspects, the central point is definitely being a black man in the UK, on which he writes brilliantly clever poems. Still standing out to me is The Lazy Dog, which I had to reread three times immediately, just because.
The themes are relevant and in the moment, and while I thought the bits on social justice were much stronger than the ones on finding purpose in life, all of them are ingeniously wonderful.

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This, I think, is what I want my generation’s poetic legacy to look like, this is what I want to grow up reading and rereading, and, I’ll say it again, this is what I want everyone else to pick up asap.

How It Went Down – Kekla Magoon

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon is one of the two YA-books I read this year, the other being a nostalgic reread (Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares), and I SO wouldn’t have picked this up without #bustlereads.

I feel like this next sentence is a theme linking all the #bustlereads-posts together, but, the happier I was when I actually enjoyed it.
How It Went Down is a novel centering around the death of sixteen-year-old Tariq, who is shot on an open street in the very first pages.
Tariq was black, his shooter is a white man with no apparent reason for the shots besides feeling threatened by a gun he thought he saw Tariq hold. 2016, amirite? The novel was actually published in 2014 already, but arguably has reached the peak of its relevance (so far, I should say) right now.

It’s quite brilliantly constructed. The story is told from a lot of different view points, people in different ways connected to Tariq (or his shooter) talking about what they witnessed during the shooting scene, but also how they react to Tariq’s death and reactions to Tariq’s death, I suppose.
It’s extremely interesting because so many different motives make people get involved in the narrative, and, as obviously is the point of all the different perspectives on Tariq’s death and “legacy”, you really start to understand the ambiguity of the situation.
Also, while the writing wasn’t particularly beautiful or special, the voices felt very realistic (and different!) which I think with this book’s aim is actually much more important.

I don’t think it’s a novel written to make you understand race in the 21st century or even just comparable shootings that happen in real life. It just reminds you of the complexity of all human relations and gives you a slightly different outlook on news reports.
It’s a book about circumstances and motivation, obvious or hidden, that can probably be taken a lot of different ways. I genuinely believe that a white ignorant idiot could come out of reading this feeling reassured in his opinion of those damn gang kids, but that’s not a problem of this book, it’s a problem in the reader.

I think Kekla Magoon showing everyone as flawed and not completely angelic, not glorifying either party ever, did the only possible thing when writing this book, and I genuinely believe this is a great read for people who enjoy good novels that don’t shy away from being in the moment, political and always equivocal.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal – Jeanette Winterson

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Brilliant book. That’s bookmas for today. Always good to see you…

Alright, I’ll give you some detail.
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson is a memoir, mainly of Jeanette’s childhood and adolescence (random sidenote: normally, I call authors by their surnames but, having read an entire book of her life, I’d feel weird not calling her Jeanette…). It’s about her being adopted into a very religious household in Northern England, her relationship with her parents, her discovering her sexuality which her mother massively disagrees with, leaving home and throughout all of this always finding a home in literature.

It’s a book I don’t feel like I can do justice by writing about because there’s so much to it. Home and identity and how the two are related is definitely what this book tried to explore. Although her being lesbian without a doubt massively influenced the way her life worked out, this wasn’t a book about her sexuality or about homophobia to me.
It’s Jeanette Winterson trying to find and understand herself, but done in a way where, while almost exclusively talking about her experience, it’s not just about her.

Being adopted with no links to her birth parents and being rejected by her parents (or mother) for who she is obviously made it harder for Jeanette to feel at home somewhere and, more specifically, feel at home in her own mind.

Matching that insecurity and searching, the book feels like a notebook in the best way possible. There isn’t a straightforward timeline, there’s pagelong digressions that feel like they’ve got nothing to do with the story and yet they work just right. Winterson talks a lot about books, literature, poetry and language, but also Northern England, class and the social situation in the 70s.

And then there’s the last part of this memoir, which is completely different from the rest because it doesn’t look back, reflect and interweave. It’s written as it happens, which most people love for the rawness and honesty it gives, but I have to say I didn’t love it as gushingly as I did the rest.

Still, this was a gorgeous read and I want to hand out copies to everyone I know, because it is just that interesting.
This is the perfect book to read with somebody else too. I definitely missed someone to talk it over with while reading, but hey, that calls for a reread, right?

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

20161118_112955I know all of us hate meta-stuff, but I can’t not comment on this. I feel like I’m completely failing #bookmas right now (you might have witnessed that completely humiliating moment when this post here was automically published- but hadn’t yet been furnished with text by me. I’m terribly sorry.), but I promise you there’s definitely going to be 31 blogposts this month, however that will work…

So here we go. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, which I’ve just read last month.
It’s an epistolary novel set on the Channel island of Guernsey, very shortly after WWII, centered around writer Juliet (sorry, can’t remember her surname and can’t be bothered to look it up…)

I always struggle with really taking a neutral position when starting a new book unless it’s something I know literally nothing about. With this one, I had that attitude of it going to be an easy, but slightly cheesy read of not too much substance, and as much as I tried getting over that prejudice, that’s kind of what it was.

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I definitely enjoyed it and flew through it quite happily, but I have to say, it’s not the kind of book I’d want to read all the time.
It’s shockingly predictable as in the moment you read the main love interest’s first letter, you know he’s going to end up with Juliet, and the resolution to her “huge writer’s block” could also be solved by asking the reader after the first fifty pages. The character’s were very consciously made out to be quirky, but that didn’t really bother me while reading.

The only thing that really annoyed me was the huge revelation and resulting climactic sequence of drama that ended the book, which I read physically cringing because I didn’t find them subtle or well-done at all.

Still I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it, because it’s (again, very much consciously and palpably constructed to be) endearing and comfortable, so if you’re looking to curl up for an evening with a hot drink and lose yourself for some hours, this is one to get from the library and just leave your critical reader outside the room for a while.
If you get over the cliché of them all, the characters are very much one’s to love while reading, although (as proven above by me forgetting Juliet’s surname already), quite forgettable, and I definitely did put it aside smiling.

Those (doubtful) compliments aside, it’s subject matter (the German Occupation of the Channel Islands and the islanders, very much ordinary people, coping with it) was without a question fascinating and something that, did I harbour an all-consuming interest in World War II, I’d probably research further…