- Title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
- Author: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
- Printed Pages: 274
- Publish Year: 2008 (The Dial Press)
- Recommended For: Something different, bucolic scenery, a vision of history, a unique style, flavorful characters, something to read in one or two days.
First Lines: “8th January, 1946… Dear Sidney, Susan Scott is a wonder. We sold over forty copies of the book, which was very pleasant, but much more thrilling from my standpoint was the food.”
There’s more to love about this book than just its unique title. Written by the late Mary Ann Shaffer, with the help of her niece Annie Barrows, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was one of those books I simply couldn’t put down. Lovable (and loathsome) characters, a quaint setting, and a beautifully-unique presentation make this historical fiction a worthwhile read.
The book is written as a series of letters (and a few telegrams) both to and from the protagonist, the writer Juliet Ashton. Juliet had earned some success as a writer thanks to her humorous columns published during the Second World War. She’s quite unsure how to handle her success and struggles to come up with an idea for her next publication. A letter from a stranger, a man named Dawsey Adams from the Channel Islands, plants the tiniest seed of an idea in Juliet’s head, setting the 32-year-old writer off on a project that will completely transform her life.
This historical fiction recounts some of the horrors perpetrated by the Germans during World War II, and exposes the effects of those tragic acts of savagery. The story doesn’t dwell on the dreadful however; it uplifts the reader more than it depresses.
When I first read about the book, I worried that the epistolary form and multitude of characters would be cumbersome to keep track of; I was pleasantly surprised to the contrary. The book reads fast and each character remains warm in your memory. If I were to have one critique, it would be that the character voices weren’t as distinct as I feel they should be.
“Now, about Markham V. Reynolds (Junior). Your questions regarding that gentleman are very delicate, very subtle, very much like being smacked in the head with a mallet.”
“In a good mood, I call my hair Chestnut with Gold Glints. In a bad mood, I call it mousy brown.”
“I sat; arms crossed, hands tucked under my armpits, glaring like a molting eagle, looking around for someone to hate.”
“If I were ever to fall off a horse, it would be lovely to be picked up by Mark, but I don’t think I’m likely to fall off a horse any time soon.”
My rating: 4/5 – Easy to read, transported me to a different place during a different time, made me sad but then made me happy, quirky in a good way.
Buy at Amazon:
I listen to podcasts. Among my favorites: Radiolab, Star Talk, I Should Be Writing, and Astronomy Cast. And now, I’ve added a new favorite: Serial. In April of 2015, it became the first ever podcast to win a Peabody Award.
Serial spun off of the popular This American Life podcast and is hosted by Sarah Koenig. It explores a single non-fiction story over a multiple-episode season. The first of twelve episodes of season one aired in October 2014.
Before I tell you what season one was about, let me tell you how I came across the podcast. I first listened to it in December 2015, as its second season was beginning. I stumbled across it while researching serial fiction. I was thinking about trying to turn one of my stories into a serialized fiction, in which I would publish a single scene or chapter at a time. Through my searching, I came across the podcast, Serial. Same idea, except in audio, rather than written, form. I subscribed to the podcast and listened to the first episode of season two to see what it was all about. I immediately became hooked.
The second season is about Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the US soldier that was imprisoned by the Taliban for five years before being released in a controversial swap for five prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. It’s built around numerous hours of audio of Sgt. Bergdahl telling his story to Academy Award-winning screenwriter Mark Boal.
The tagline for the first episode of season two is:
In the middle of the night, Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl grabs a notebook, snacks, water, some cash. Then he quietly slips off a remote U.S. Army outpost in eastern Afghanistan and into the dark, open desert. About 20 minutes later, it occurs to him: he’s in over his head.
I listened to the 40-minute episode and was impressed with how well it was produced and how engaging it was. It would be a week before the second episode aired, so I went and listened to the first episode of season one. It was just as beautifully crafted and I ended up listening to the entire season in two days.
Season one investigates the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, an 18-year-old high school student from Baltimore, Maryland. Her ex-boyfriend Adnan Masud Syed was eventually, over the course of two trials, convicted of her murder and sentenced to life in prison. Adnan has always insisted his innocence.
Throughout the twelve episodes Sarah Koenig and her team investigate the case, turning over evidence and following leads that both the prosecutors and defense in the 2000 trial over Lee’s murder failed to investigate. Sarah interviews dozens of players in the case, including spending dozens of hours speaking with an Adnan Syed himself, who has been in prison for the past 15 years. Episodes focus on issues such as the prosecutor’s lack of evidence, the variation in the witness testimonies, the personalities of all the players, and all of the grisly details of what we know (and don’t know) about Lee’s tragic murder.
The story plays out so well, that I was constantly finding myself questioning my personal instincts and beliefs about what happened. Twelve episodes–more than eight hours of listening–and for the past week I can’t stop thinking about the case. I hardly have a hunch about what actually occurred. There are times I think the right person is prison, that Adnan Syed committed the crime and is either such a fantastic liar or he has somehow been able to convince himself that he actually didn’t murder Hae Min Lee. Other times, I think about how bizarre the evidence against him is and how he had to have been framed somehow. Syed doesn’t sound like a murderer (whatever murderers sound like) and he does sound convincing is his declaration of innocence, but at the same time there’s no motive for anyone else to commit the crime and make it appear that Syed did it.
I won’t tell you where Koenig eventually settles on the story, but for me, I can’t say.
In an interesting update to the case, following the airing of season one, it was announced that in February of 2016, a month from when this post was published, Syed will be back in court for a post-conviction hearing in which his lawyers are expected to present an alibi witness and raise questions over some of the evidence that was used to convict him 15 years ago. Because of Serial, not only am I familiar with this case, but I’m looking forwarded to how it all pans out beginning next month.
Back To Season Two
Three episodes of the second season have been published thus far, with the fourth episode set to drop this Thursday, January 7. Thus far, we’ve heard about Sgt. Bergdahl’s disappearance, his capture by the Taliban, his multiple escape attempts, and the nightmare US troops went through trying to bring their fellow soldier back home. The story, we’re learning, is much deeper and interesting than you might have already imagined.
We’re home. Our tans are fading, our wounds are healing, the sand is almost out of our shoes. The current feelings seem to be mixed: some of us are glad to be home and back in our own beds; whereas, I’m already looking forward to the next trip. I could have used another week.
We spent our last days mostly snorkeling. On one of the last days, we figured out the tide situation in the beach behind our house and realized we had an amazing snorkeling location a few steps from our backdoor. We also spent a day at Hanauma Bay State Park. This beautiful beach is well-maintained and requires a small entrance fee. It’s very popular and thus somewhat crowded, but they do control the number of people allowed on the beach at any given time. The wind and surf was strong the day we went and we didn’t end up seeing a lot under the water (the reef areas were a bit too crowded for me).
My nephew was swimming near me when he announced that a Portuguese man o’ war was near him. I told him to try to get away from it, but as the words were coming out of my mouth he shouted, “It stung me!” I urged him to head towards shore and I followed. He swam extremely fast. He reached the beach and the lifeguards there had already figured out what was going on. They met him with a spray bottle of vinegar. They sprayed it on his hand where he had been stung and cracked a few jokes with him to keep his spirits up. The wound began to really sting and swell up. They told him there really wasn’t much that could be done, he just had to wait it out.
The next day, we were snorkeling at our beach. These man o’ wars were ubiquitous on the beach, apparently an unusual outbreak owing to strong trade winds. My nephew took a stick and drew big circles around them in the sand, pointing them out to anyone unaware. Still, he would not be deterred. We swam and played on bodyboards. Then he felt something bump him. “I think I got stung again!”, he shouted. He got out of the water and I noticed what had hit him. It was a beautiful white jellyfish, the top of it about the size of a quarter with thin ghost-like tendrils drifting behind it a couple of inches. He waited around to see if this would start stinging like the man o’ war. A decent-sized welt appeared, but he didn’t seem to be bothered too much by pain this time around. He was the only one that managed to be stung, and he got stung twice by two different species of animals. The seas might be out to get him.
I was seriously regretting not having a waterproof camera. In the Hanauma Bay gift store, my wife found a contraption that allowed me to use my phone underwater. It’s basically a plastic case that’s clear where the camera lens is and half-inflated with air to ensure it floats. The plastic allows the touchscreen to be used even while underwater.
Back at our beach, I was able to use it properly and captured some decent video clips of the world below the sea’s surface. The photos aren’t that great, but the sun was setting and it was getting dark quickly. I wished I had had it earlier in our trip, especially when I was swimming with the turtles.
I apologize for the crappy photos below (cellphone in a bag, what do you expect?), but hopefully you get an idea of the wonders I found below.
The video turned out a little better:
We had a fantastic time on our vacation. It was relaxing and exciting all at once. There were some things that I had hoped to see but we ran out of time: Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head, Waimea Canyon, etc. I’m already looking forward to planning the next trip.
I don’t take the time to watch a lot of television or movies, but I’ve been vacationing lately and have had more time for recreation. I started scrolling Netflix for the first time in who-knows-how-long? and saw a recommendation for a Netflix original show called Master of None, created by and starring Aziz Ansari. I’m a little familiar with Ansari’s comedy, so I figured I’d give it a shot. I was hooked instantly.
The first episode in the series started with a hilariously awkward scene involving a broken condom and an Uber trip for some emergency contraception. Dev (Ansari’s character) and Rachel (played by the adorable Noël Wells) have this brilliant duality in their chemistry; they’re great together until Dev does something to revert all of the progress that their relationship has gained. Still, he gets chance after chance to set things right.
I binge-watched the first half-season and will have the second half finished by the end of the weekend. So far, my favorite episode is Indians On TV. Ansari tackles the inherent racism in Hollywood, ironically using more than two Indian actors to illustrate how no show can get away with more than one Indian character. I created a .gif of my favorite clip from the episode:
What’s wrong with Short Circuit 2?
They got a white guy to play an Indian guy.
What the ro… the robot movie? With Johnny Five?
Wait, you don’t know this?
Wait, which Indian guy are you talking about?
Dude. That guy’s a white guy.
The robot, or the Indian?
The Indian guy, is a white guy. That’s Fisher Stevens. They used brown face makeup.
Yeah, they got a real robot and a fake Indian.
Ansari actually contacted Fisher Stevens after this episode aired, which Ansari wrote this article about.
So far, the show has covered a broad range of relevant issues: in addition to racism, he explores the overlooked-by-males female perspective, dealing with bad dates, the challenges and rewards of raising children, and struggling to relate with parents. The show is comedic genius with characters you instantly fall in love with.
There’s a few days left in the holiday season; if you find yourself with some time to binge-watch some television I highly recommend giving Master of None a chance.
I can’t believe I’ve never been snorkeling before now. Well, I guess it’s sort of understandable considering I spend most of my time in Alaska. But seriously, the snorkeling I’ve done over the past few days has changed my life and I nearly regret not experiencing this sooner.
I’ve floated above countless species of angelfish, rainbow-colored wrasse, and various tangs. I’ve swam beside trumpetfish, puffers, and butterfly fish. I’ve even been up close and personal with Hawaii’s state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua’a (pronounced: who-moo-who-moo-noo-koo-noo-koo-ah-pooah-ah).
But by far, the most remarkable experience has been within the presence of the green sea turtles. Referring to what these amazing animals do underwater as swimming feels like an understatement. They fly, soar, and glide through the ocean. Their motions defy effort, as they slip through the sea. They slowly flap their flippers, propelling themselves through the undercurrents. They appear to defy gravity, friction, or any sense of resistance. It’s almost as if they travel through an unseen dimension and we’re only perceiving their supernatural reflection.
I swam nearby, giving space to the creatures. I watched, and they watched me. They were fearless; I felt like they knew how I felt about them. One swam to the surface next to me. I lifted my head out of the water just in time to see one of these amazing animals break the surface just mere inches away from me, pulling in a breath of fresh, salty air, before returning to the cosmos beneath the ocean’s glistening surface.
I don’t yet have a camera capable of surviving these underwater encounters, so unfortunately I can’t share these wonders with you as well as I’d like. I’ll be better prepared for my next trip.
But for me I’ll have these images in my mind for the rest of my life, as the magnificent world under the sea fills my dreams and memories.
We spent the previous couple of days exploring the nearby attractions. We spent a day at Kailua Beach Park, a gorgeous sandy beach with warm waters and a gentle surf. Here, we could bodyboard without fear of running up against sharp rocks. We brought our snorkeling gear, but there wasn’t much to be seen at the particular part of the beach that we were camped at. We all were in the water for hours: trying to bodyboard, snorkeling, swimming, and just floating around in the warm, buoyant water. The beach is a popular vacation haunt for President Obama and the First Family, and it’s no wonder why. (In fact, he’s slated to be in town for his Christmas vacation starting tomorrow.)
The next day, we toured a few spots on the North Shore on our way to Dole Plantation. We first stopped at a seemingly-unnamed beach near Kawela Bay. The beach here features rocky reefs right near the shore. The surf pulses through here, filling depressions into large pools before pulling the water back out to the sea. Alexis was taken a bit off guard as a big surge of water rolled in and rose up to her waist. We explored the small tidepools and admired the large waves that crashed just off shore.
We continued on the Kamehameha Highway around the North Shore. The Billabong Pipe Masters surfing event is in full swing, apparent via the endless line of vehicles parked along the highway and people in beach attire walking along the road. We found a parking spot and headed down to Pupukea beach. Massive waves pummeled the beach. We were all mesmerized by the size of the waves, rising higher than our heads before crashing down in front of us. A rocky outcropping that separated our beach from Sharks Cove was full of small pools that the kids loved to explore. Huge walls of foamy sea crashed over the wall of rock, refilling the pools.
We then headed over to Dole Plantation, the place where many of the pineapples you eat come from. The main attractions at the plantation are a guided train tour of the pineapple fields, and the proclaimed world’s largest maze. We ate lunch in the cafe: the usual fish sandwich, chicken strips, cheeseburger type fare. A few cats were on the patio dining area, adorably begging for food. The kids marveled at the size of huge snails browsing the foliage surrounding the dining area.
After lunch, we rode the Pineapple Express train tour. The little train chugged us through a sample of various plants and trees, some I had heard of and others I’ve already forgotten the names of. We passed by various machinery used to harvest pineapples while overheard speakers fed us bits of trivia. Did you know it takes 20 months for the first pineapple to grow on a plant? Then, a second one follows 15 months later before the field has to be replanted.
We then entered the Pineapple Maze, which apparently holds a Guinness World Record for being the largest maze. You get a small map and are challenged to find seven stations within the maze. Each station has a slot you put your map card into to trace that station’s icon onto. The idea is once you find all seven stations you can exit the maze and consider it completed. We split into groups. Terry and Drew were the only group to find all seven stations. The rest of us settled for five or six. We spent about 45 minutes in the maze. By this time, the place was shutting down but we had just enough time to go back into the cafe for cups of Dole Whip, which I believe is just pineapple-flavored ice cream with pineapple chunks on top. Whatever it was, it was good.
We headed back past the North Shore towards our house. We made a final stop at Waimea Bay Beach Park, where we watched surfers and bodyboarders attempt the waves. Jett chased some of the wild chicken, one of which took flight to evade him. This effectively ended an argument we had a couple of days ago, where he insisted chickens can’t fly.
“Hey Jett… What’s that chicken doing right now? Huh?!”
My rambunctious nephew Corvin was doing his best “JOOOOHHHNNNNN CEEENNNA!” impression and wrestling with his siblings and cousins. Apparently, Alexis managed to get the best of him when she introduced him to ‘The Peoples’ Elbow’.
We ended the day with margaritas and play on the beach in our back yard.
One should never take for granted, the technology that allows one to go from somewhere near the top of the planet, where the air burns one’s face with cold, to somewhere closer to the middle, where the air envelopes you in a warm embrace, by climbing into a winged cylinder with engines that suck, squeeze, bang, and blow you there in a mere six hours. It’s a fantastic time to be alive.
My family and I landed in Honolulu just before 7pm last night. My wife’s bag didn’t make the flight (the flight apparently was overweight and her bag was one of the lucky few that were held for the next day’s flight). This meant that as soon as we grabbed our rental car our first experience with the local shopping scene was a quick trip into Target for some of the essentials that were supposed to arrive with us in her suitcase.
Famished as we were, we ate at the first restaurant we could find: a joint I had never had been to before called Ruby Tuesday. Their smokehouse cheeseburger is a seriously good eat, but we all agreed that my wife’s Chicken and Broccoli Pasta was the best dish on the table.
We were excited to get to our house, so we hit the road. From Honolulu to Laie–the town we’re staying at–the highway cut us through the middle of the island towards the eastern coast, which we then followed north to Laie. It’s a one-hour drive, but that’s only because most of the drive has a speed limit of 35-45 miles per hour. Much of it was two-lanes winding along the coast. It was dark, so our views were limited. Occasionally, the road skirted close enough to the beach that streetlights illuminated the water. I think I even saw some turtles, but I’m the only one that believes me. Before we knew it, we had arrived at our home for the next week plus.
We rented a large, five-bedroom house right on the beach. We’re sharing it with my brother-in-law and his family who are arriving a day after us. After a most brief tour of the house, we went out back to check out the beach. Apparently, some of the beaches on Oahu are seasonal and we were expecting ours to be one of them. To our good fortune, a most quintessential sandy beach is just outside our back door and ready for our enjoyment. It was too dark to see much, but from what we could make out by the light of my LED headlamp (which I never leave home without!) we had quite a space to enjoy as soon as the daylight showed itself.
The stars were magnificent. Fortunately, the light pollution here is very minimal and I had a limitless view into the heavens. Stars and planets glistened brilliantly above the crashing surf below. The Geminids meteor shower peaking, it was almost too much to believe.
After a long day of traveling and the extra fatigue that always accompanies 3,000 miles worth of flying, we were all exhausted. The wife and kids went to sleep, but I was too excited to follow suit. I was up until nearly 2am sitting in the back yard, photographing the stars and watching meteors streak across the sky. Some of them brilliantly shot below the eastern horizon, appearing as if they were landing in the ocean. I sat out there on the wet grass and breathed humid air until Jupiter had climbed well above the horizon. I finally came inside and let the ocean lull me to sleep.
The next morning our plan was to get the rest of the things we needed for our stay: a trip to Costco, acquiring our snorkel gear, and arranging the delivery for our missing bag. My son and I swam in the ocean while waiting for the other two to get ready to go. The current is remarkably strong on our beach, almost impossible to swim directly against. It was fun letting the current pull me along the coast while I floated.
Everyone ready to go get our shopping out the way, we hopped in the car. We skirted the north shore on the way to the Costco in Waipio, driving past endless roadside shops, fruit stands, food trucks, and surfers. We passed myriad fields, growing coffee, sugar cane and pineapple. We stocked up on groceries and then made the return trip back. We stopped at a few places along the way. We bought fresh fruit and a few trinkets (I got a wooden beaded bracelet for $3.50 from a store that had the most docile cats lounging around. I thought being a cat in Hawaii might not be a bad reincarnation.)
Back at the house, the kids and I went to play in the water. I had warned my daughter about the current and had her experience it for herself as I swam nearby. Eventually, my son wanted to try out the bodyboards that came with the house. The waves, at that time, weren’t the best for bodyboarding but it was fun floating around on the things. I paddled out near a reef that’s just off shore and tried to ride the current back onto the beach. As I neared the beach, I came upon a shallower spot with jagged rocks below me. I scraped the top of my foot against one of the rocks. I tried to stand and wade away from the potential danger but it was too late. A larger wave crashed over my head and pushed my body down onto the razor-sharp rocks. I received a couple cuts on my wrist, one of my fingers, and my foot. Nothing serious, but enough to reinforce the potential danger to my kids. Unfortunately, they seemed less concerned with my wounds and more excited by the fact that my blood might attract sharks. “Stay in the water, dad! I want to see the sharks!”
We cooked tacos for dinner and sat around watching movies. I cracked my bottle of Laphroaig, which paired nicely with the sea breeze flowing through the beach house.
I listen to a lot of audiobooks. I enjoy them for a number of different reasons:
- I can ‘read’ on the go. I listen to audiobooks while I’m commuting, out walking the dog, or doing chores around the house.
- I enjoy high-quality, professional narration. I let the narrator tell me how to pronounce certain names, or to give me a feel for a character’s speaking voice.
- I like to read while listening to the narration. I find myself immersed in the story when I’m listening and reading at the same time. Kindle apps on my phone and tablet make this seamless. (The narration pace is normally slower than my reading pace, so I have to expect my books to take longer this way.)
There are three primary (legal) ways to acquire audiobooks from Audible.
Adding Narration to a Kindle Title
Audible is the largest retailer for audiobooks. Like Kindle, it is owned by Amazon, which is good news for those of us that are Kindle addicts. Amazon offers the Audible audiobook narration for many Kindle titles at a greatly-reduced price once you own the Kindle ebook. An audiobook that might be $30 from Audible.com can often be found for just a couple dollars on Amazon if you have already purchased the Kindle ebook. In my experience, most of the time I can purchase the ebook and add the audiobook narration for a fraction of the price of just buying the audiobook on its own. This is how I built the majority of my Audible library. In addition, Kindle’s ‘Whispersync’ service keeps your place across devices and formats, so when I get in my car and start playing the audiobook it will pick up right where I left off with the ebook.
Buying the Audiobook
You can purchase audiobooks at both Amazon.com and Audible.com. You’ll pay full-price, which most titles seem to be in the $25-$30 price range.
Subscribing to Audible
Another way to purchase audiobooks from Audible is by subscribing to their service. They offer multiple plans, the most common and basic being $14.95 per month. For this price, you get one free audiobook credit per month (almost all titles require a single credit) and significant discounts on additional titles. For $22.95, you can get two credits per month. You can have a free 30-day trial by clicking the link on the right. You get a free title and can cancel before your trial is up and keep your book free of charge.
I’ve done all three options. Currently, the first one–adding narration to my Kindle titles–is the right plan for me. I read almost exclusively on my Kindle, so adding narration for a few extra dollars makes the most sense for my situation. This also depends on my rate of consumption, which currently is about one book per month. If I was going to read more than I do now, I might consider other options like Kindle Unlimited (which I’ll write about in a subsequent post). If I were to listen to more audiobooks that I weren’t also planning to read, or if I came across a title that didn’t have a reduced price for owning the Kindle version, I might reactivate my premium Audible membership.
First, go check out Naomi’s blog, Some Girl’s Words. She just recently started publishing there and has already posted some pretty powerful stuff. I highly recommend her article about being kicked out of her church. The comments that it has provoked shows that her experience is troubling, and far from unique. Her writing is straight from the heart and she doesn’t pull punches.
On a more scientific note, the Japanese space agency JAXA received an early Christmas present. 5 years ago, on my space blog I wrote about the agency’s failed attempt to put an orbiter around Venus. At the time, I thought they would have to wait six years for a second attempt, but it looks like it was only five before things aligned just such that they could send the commands to the craft to try again. This time, it was a success. JAXA’s Akatsuki craft is now in orbit around Venus.
I‘m currently re-reading Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson. I take advantage of Amazon’s reduce price on audiobooks when you own a Kindle title of the same book. I switch to the audio version when I’m driving, out walking, or doing things around the house, but also like to listen to it as I’m reading along. The narration for this particular title is very well down. The narrator has a voice that I would call a cross between Martin Sheen and Tom Waits (yeah, that’s going to be a tough one to imagine, I know).
Finally, I’m heading to Hawaii in a few days so expect to see a more tropical slant to the site in the immediate future.