by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
I have a friend who gives me book recommendations from time to time. I'll admit that I actually don't take book recommendations willing, when someone tells me about a book they're reading and how much I'd be certain to love it I usually smile blandly and nod and say something like, "I'm sure--maybe I'll check to see if the library has a copy" or another equally ambiguous statement.
You see I don't trust too many people when it comes to books. If I see a movie that I don't like I just figure that I've wasted an hour or two of my time and that the odds were against it being a great production anyway, seeing that so many bad movies make it to theaters, but a book is a considerable investment. Hours, days, maybe even weeks. It's very difficult for me to put a book down, I have this compulsion to finish it as if it's a plate of that nasty green bean casserole from my childhood and my mother is hovering overhead telling me to clean my plate, that it's good for me.
So if I get into a book and it's not holding up its end of the bargain I have a hard time actually signing the divorce papers and I find myself at the end of a miserable relationship wondering why I didn't cut bait ages ago. I just can't take that kind of emotion and waste.
However, I have known this friend since we were children and in the last five years I've been able to get to know her well and she's intelligent, interesting and a thinking person. You know the kind I mean--someone who has thoughts and opinions and reasons for why she may or may not do something. In short, a book she reads is one that already has a foot in the door with me.
She showed up one day with this book in her hand, gesturing with it as she talked, and saying how I must read it--she was sure I would like it. If it had been someone else I might have flipped through it casually, skimming key paragraphs as if I was trying to fake it through a pop quiz, then returned it with a thank you but instead I found myself taking it with me on my ceremonial parking-lot-waits at the school while Spencer had ski practice.
It's really a charming book. Charming because it's British, charming because it's epistolary (correspondence from one character to another) and charming because of its post World War II setting. It feels as if you're sitting down to tea and overhearing the characters at the next table as they tell their stories and laugh together so genuinely that you strain to hear every word.
The book follows Juliet Ashton who is a writer that stumbles into a correspondence with people on Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands and the only place in England to have been occupied by the Germans during the war. The islanders are recuperating from years of privation and are very willing to make her acquaintance and share their stories which, of course, inspires her writing.
Yes it's completely predictable, slightly formulaic and the characters are all stock. If you've seen a BBC production of any of the Miss Marple mysteries (or any other English country drama) then you already know the staples you can expect to find. But that doesn't mean it's not enjoyable. I happen to like Miss Marple mysteries, thank you very much.
It's an easy and a quick read. I think it took me three or four ski practices to get through it, not counting one ski meet, and it reminds me of other classics in the genre on this side of the Atlantic such as Cold Sassy Tree or Fried Green Tomatoes. Homey, down-to-earth and full of little fun characters waltzing in and out of the narrative with all their eccentricities waving in the breeze.
So if you've got an afternoon without any obligations, pull out a blanket and some cocoa and give it a read. Don't let it put you off that Stephanie Meyer raved about how she loved it (that's what my teen daughter told me after I'd read it and thank goodness I didn't know that before I picked it up or I may never have cracked the cover--an approval from Stephanie Meyer is only one step above a spot on Oprah's book list in my opinion). You'll love it. I'm quite sure of it--take my friend's word for it.
Sponsored by Annette Lyon, whose new novel Band of Sisters is now in print. Annette is also working to help families of deployed servicemen in the Flat Daddy Project in connection with the release of her book. See her website for more details.
Thursday, March 04, 2010
by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows