The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

9781741758955It is 1946. London writer and war-time columnist, Juliet Ashton is searching in vain for her next project when per chance she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams of Guernsey.

In the letter, he tells her he has a copy of a book she once owned by Charles Lamb and wishes to know how he can acquire more titles by the author. He is one of the founding members of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Juliet is immediately intrigued. She begins corresponding with society members and so, through a series of letters, unfolds the story.

One of the many touching aspects of the book is that it was written by a 70-year-old first time author and former librarian, Mary Ann Shaffer.

Not long after the sale of the manuscript, her health failed and her writer niece, Annie Burrows took over editing. The author died before her book was in print, but what a legacy she left behind.

Reminiscent of Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road, the story is told purely through the words of the various characters by means of letters to Juliet, and her return correspondence.

Over time, Juliet comes to paint a picture of what it was like to live on the island while under German occupation and the seeds for a book are sown.

The quaint, poignant and humorous letters reveal the quirky characters of the members and Juliet finds her life taking a different course, so drawn is she to these delightful people, each with a captivating story to tell.

She finally visits the island and falls in love with its rugged beauty and its welcoming, eccentric characters—an unexpected touch of romance and heart-warming bond with a young girl brings this book to a charming end.

I would agree with the blurb—‘when was the last time you read a book that made you feel really good?’

This one certainly does.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows

Published by Allen and Unwin

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (with Steven L Hopp and Camille Kingsolver)If there’s one book you read this year, make sure it’s this one.

It took me a month of Sundays to finish on account of the detailed content, (and reading another book in between) but wow, was it worth it! I came away inspired, informed and far more aware of the adage, ‘you are what you eat’.

American author, Barbara Kingsolver, best known for her fiction titles, The Poisonwood Bible and The Bean Trees – (two of 12 published works), tells the story of her family’s year-long sojourn – their challenge to only eat food produced on their 100-year-old farm or sourced from the area.

 In her words, “this is the story…of how our family was changed by our first year of deliberately eating food produced from the same place we worked, went to school, loved our neighbours, drank the water, and breathed the air.”

It gives fascinating, and sometimes shocking insight into the American food industry often monopolised by huge corporates. While her husband, Steven, an environmental studies expert interjects her story with informative theory, facts and figures, her daughter, Camille offers insight from a student’s perspective – providing family favourite recipes at the end of her chapters. I tried the zucchini choc chip cookies which looked somewhat suspicious with their green bits but were surprisingly well received.

What does come across in the book, is that living off the land is not all romance – it takes perseverance and pure hard work. A bountiful crop has to first be planted – and then harvested. Excess produce has to be frozen, bottled or roasted, roosters have to be culled and turkeys killed for Thanksgiving … not for the faint hearted.

There are some charming life lessons learnt along the way, for example the adorable sounding Lilly’s foray into the egg business – working out profit, expenditure and losses – how to market her product and reap the rewards.

There is triumph when Barbara’s carefully raised Heirloom Bourbon Red turkeys learn the art of procreation and how to sit on eggs. Shocking to learn that battery raised turkeys are unable to procreate and have to be artificially inseminated so fat and listless do they become.

With her artful prose, clever humour and ability to tell a really good story, Barbara captures her reader from the start. While we can’t all live on a 100-year-old farm, we can still make informed choices. I came away inspired to grow a veggie or two, support local farmers’ markets, check labels and know what’s seasonal before forking out money for Californian oranges in January.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is published by HarperCollins

A couple’s journey into parenthood

Lisa Lazarus and husband, Greg Fried - co-authors of the Book of Jacob

Cape Town writer Lisa Lazarus doesn’t mince her words when explaining why she wrote The Book of Jacob—her joint memoir of a couple’s journey into parenthood.

”I wrote it because I was cross, in truth I was furious—the book really burst out of me,” she said at the recent launch of the book, which was co-written with her husband, UCT philosophy teacher Greg Fried. ”It was this feeling that sparked the book, like I’d been conned in some way.”

Everyone who has been through the joy and trauma of having a child will relate to Lisa’s sentiment, knowing that, with the exhilaration of the beloved precious bundle comes a great deal of hard work, deep feelings of failure and loss—and many sleepless nights.

Her husband has this to say: ”The Book of Jacob doesn’t look like the other books in the parenting section. The other books are in bright colours, red, orange, green, with cute infants and serene or laughing parents, books pleading to be adored. Our volume, with its haunting, silvery gleam, like a Victorian photo of a séance, mixes strangely with its companions. When we first saw its eerie grey-blue among the gaudy shelves of Exclusive Books, we realised that we’d broken into a new genre: the Gothic parenting memoir.”

He goes on: ”In fact, though, its appearance is entirely appropriate to the material. If you take pleasure in sudden screams in the night, the feeling that something is about to go terribly wrong, long and close confinement within a small space, unexpected denunciations from blood relatives, long brooding followed by spasms of rage, bursts of hysterical laughter, then our parenting memoir is for you.”

It is this kind of humour that pervades The Book of Jacob—a book which had me giggling—and occasionally shedding a tear—from the preface all the way through. With Greg’s often hilarious philosophical musings—reminiscent of the philosophical author Alain de Botton, I would suggest it has a place in the Humour section too.

The book tells the story of a young and very happily married couple who decide to have a baby.

”We had decided that we didn’t NOT want to have a baby,” declares Lisa. ”This is not a good reason, nor a clever one, to have a child.” But, she adds, that was, in fact, the only reason she had.

Her poor track record with kids didn’t help. She had been fired, in her twenties, from a job looking after children because, as the father bluntly put it: ”The kids don’t like you.”

Early on in the book, we are told how Lisa summons her husband to the bedroom where they have ‘baby sex’.

Against their expectations, she falls pregnant immediately and the couple—accustomed to a wonderful life together, are forced to hit the ground running. Despite the antenatal classes and the first aid courses for infants, they realise nothing has prepared them for a baby.

In honest, often hilariously funny or poignantly sad style, this couple provide ‘his’ and ‘her’ versions of their daily toils in raising a baby during that tumultuous first year.

Describing the first year of parenthood, Lisa says: ”It felt like a rickety row boat, lost at sea, heading into the distance … knowing only what I’ve left behind, and with a terrible longing for what that was.”

She describes the real anxiety of not being able to breast-feed properly, and the trauma of having a baby that won’t fall asleep or stop crying.

Greg describes, at one point, the relief of leaving their ‘grimy pad’ to hand baby Jacob over to his parents for his first sleep over.

He writes: ”At home, Lisa and I bumble about with Jacob, two village oafs trying to keep a hot potato in the air. We slump into the couches of my parents’ lounge. At last someone is going to take care of Jacob.”

The arrival of Jacob stripped Greg of views he previously cherished about himself:     ” … a calm person, able to be cool and reasonable under stress. Over months it came to me, as a slow wave of revelation, that under stress I am a lunatic, totally unreasonable and quick to attack everyone nearby and then try to escape. I think, at some level I don’t usually think about, it’s been a blow to my sense of manliness.”

At one point, during one of their few conversations since childbirth, Greg asks anxiously about the baby: ”Do you think he’s advanced?”, to which Lisa replies: ”Not really.”

When Lisa’s friend Shani, the perfect mother, visits, she relates how once she had a child, her whole life made sense. ”It seems to be the point, doesn’t it,” she says, while breast-feeding contentedly.

At that stage, Lisa contemplates tranquillisers.

When the couple takes a short break in Paris, leaving Jacob with Greg’s parents, they find themselves in a restaurant enjoying hot chocolate and French onion soup. But they are talking about Jacob’s education.

Despite some of the hair-raising moments described in the book, Greg and Lisa are doing just fine. There’s even talk of a possible second child.

As Lisa puts it: ”Despite the very long, and very treacherous, journey in our boat we, the three of us—Greg, Jacob and I—eventually bumped up against land. We managed to pull our boat up to shore, get off and take a look at this new country where we found ourselves.

The Book of Jacob”It’s a vast place—this country, which is not really a country, but rather a new state of being, parenthood—and from the small part I’ve seen (because I’m still really exploring the edges of this foreign world) it’s a rich place—mountainous, with great peaks and troughs. There are many dangers but also many joys.”

The Book of Jacob is not only informative for prospective parents, it’s also entertaining the whole way through. Every book club should have a copy.

The Book of Jacob—A journey into parenthood by Lisa Lazarus and Greg Fried.

Publishers Oshun Books.

The Last Chinese Chef

The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones
The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones. A Trade paperback from 4th Estate, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

‘A story of food, healing and love’ reads the blurb.

It’s that … and more. Food writer, Maggie goes on a quest to Beijing, China, to discover the truth behind her late husband’s infidelity and subsequent paternity suit. The search coincides with the opportunity to interview rising culinary star, Sam Liang for a magazine.

The story seems like a straight forward piece like the many emotionally unattached stories she’s written before, but she is soon captivated by China and discovers a food steeped in ancient history and philosophy. She cannot help being drawn into Sam’s world—and begins to understand his passion to re-connect with familial culinary roots.

He gives her a sumptuous insight into Chinese cuisine and she begins a gastronomically enchanting journey—one that ultimately sees her healing from the tragedy of her husband’s untimely death and shock discovery of his betrayal.

A great read for the foodies and romantics out there.

Pomegranate Soup

Three sisters flee Iraq in the midst of political and personal turmoil and settle in a quaint little Irish town called Ballinacroagh.

Reminiscent of Joanne Harris’s Chocolat, the sisters open The Babylon Café serving exquisitely created Iranian fare that transcends the bland local offering. Gradually, they win over the jolly Father Ferber Mahoney and a number of his merry followers, all inexplicably drawn to the café’s sublime and exotic aromas.

Not everyone, however, is entranced by their instant success – least of all the town bully, Thomas McGuire, who monopolises local business with his scare tactics. He also harbours a deep desire to take over The Babylon Café for the creation of a tacky disco.
The past also threatens to haunt the sisters and brings an insidious darkness to the fresh start they hope for. Each chapter begins with a recipe and by the end, the reader can almost taste the plump ‘elephant ears’ – pastries dusted in sugar and cinnamon, the heady aroma of abgusht – a rich, clear broth made with lamb, vegetables and lashing of exotic herbs and spices – and of course, the fragrant blend of Pomegranate Soup.

A gastronomical read that left my mouth watering – and my stomach begging me to seek out a little Middle Eastern café tucked away in my own city.

A feast of the senses!

Published by Harper Collins

LK JournoNews


Australian author, Tim Winton’s gift of writing with clarity and simplicity immediately sweeps his reader into the story.

In Breath, even the brooding dark cover of a boy in dusk surf aptly dictates the darkness that seems to permeate through the entire novel.

BreathNarrated by ‘Pikelet’ – a young surfer, it tells the story of his sometimes tortured life – of the peaks and troughs that come with adolescence. One of his central characters is his adrenalin addicted friend, Loonie, who seems hell-bent on self-destruction Alongside them in their journey is Sando, a has-been surfer, and muse – an untouchable hero of the waves in the young boys’ eyes. He physically and mentally challenges them in his pursuit of the next big wave.

While Winton’s accurate description of the compelling nature of surfing and the vivid detail of waves evokes such feeling one can almost smell the saltiness of the surf, the story is far more than a surfing tale.

It delves into dangerous individual deviations, of the torturous addiction of adrenalin, played out in the relentless hankering after the ultimate wave. It is also about unfulfilled dreams, wrong choices and disappointment. And it is about making peace with the way life ultimately unfolds.

The Red Tent

An imaginative, compelling story set in ancient Mesopotamia, Canaan, and Egypt, offers readers a rare insight into life as a biblical woman—in particular, Dinah, only daughter of Jacob.

While the author, Anita Diamant maintains her interpretation is purely fictional (food sounded delectable), she has clearly researched her topic with great detail and there are fascinating and colourful glimpses into the lives of these historical biblical characters such as Rachel and Leah. It brings them to life as women of great strength, character, and intelligence.

TheRedTentDinah narrates her own story, vividly tracing her journey from life as a young girl into adulthood and beyond.

It gives readers insight into all aspects of life in these times—from giving birth, death, honour and the intricately woven relationships that must have existed in the tribes of old. In essence, it gives Dinah a voice.

Says the author: ‘I was drawn to retell the biblical story of Dinah in large part because of her silence. In Genesis 34, Dinah’s experience is described and characterized by the men in her family, who treat her as a rape victim, which in that historical setting meant she was irredeemably ruined and degraded. Because she does not say a word, I found it easy to imagine an alternative telling to the story, in which Dinah is not a passive victim but a young woman who makes choices and acts on her own initiative.’

A captivating read.