The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Cover of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Art of vintage letters wrapped in a ribbow by Christian Raoul Skrein von Bumbala.
Art by Christian Raoul Skrein von Bumbala. Click to read an excerpt!

Title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Author: Mary Ann Schaffer

Nutshell: World War Two is over, and for Juliet Ashton, sometime writer of a war humour column, so is the Muse of Comedy. Juliet is sick of making fun of war, and ready to write something completely new. As she tours England, two unexpected things happen. The first is that a rich, handsome man begins to court her. The second is that she recieves a letter from one Dawsey Adams, inhabitant of the Island of Guernsey in the English Channel, who owns a book that used to be hers. It’s collected writings of Charles Lamb, and he adores them and wonders if she might know of a place where he could acquire more?

Juliet, intrigued, has her favorite bookseller hunt down a volume which she sends with her reply, asking about his literary passions. He explains that he is a member of the Society given by the title of the book, which came about during the war in order to prevent their being arrested by Germans, and that only serves to fascinate her more. How could a literary society prevent arrest? Wherefore the Potato Peel Pie? And so she begins to correspond with the members of the Society, discovering the extraordinary story of one community’s occupation by Germans in WWII, and their reconstruction.

Readalikes: I have not read much WWII fiction since my girlhood. If you wish to delve deeper into the experiences of those caught in the Holocaust, The Hiding Place and Number the Stars are two excellemt choices. For those wanting more historical fiction in this style, Sorcery and Cecelia and sequals are also told through correspondence. The characters and narrative story are rather like Dorothy Sayers, without the mystery aspect.

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The Mulberry Tree

Cover of The Mulberry Tree. Painting of a bench under a tree in sunshine by Lisa Litwack.
Art by Lisa Litwack. Click to read an excerpt!

Title: The Mulberry Tree

Author: Jude Deveraux

Nutshell: When James Manville, emperor of a billion dollar corporate network, died, he left his widow nothing.

That’s not entirely true. He left her a ruined farmhouse, fifty-thousand dollars, and a note, saying, “Find out what really happened for me, Frecks?” But the billions of dollars, the twelve luxury homes, the yachts and planes and extravagant cars he left to his horrible brother and sister.

Lillian Manville adored her husand. He was her whole world. Now, crucified by the media, nearly penniless, and with no practical skills to speak of, she has to figure out how to survive, support herself, and possibly investigate whatever her late husband wanted. If that weren’t enough, the tiny town nearby is full of odd characters, formed by the aftermath of events surrounding six boys a generation ago, the Golden Six.

Readalikes:  I’m going to say Midnight in Austenland, since both are about women in bizarre circumstances finding themselves at the end of a marriage, and hit very similar emotional notes. If you have a better title, drop it in the comments!Read More »

Shadowhunters

Artwork from the tv show Shadowhunters.
Click for an excerpt from City of Bones!

The Shadowhunters: Eleven books as a trilogy, a pair of trilogies, and two story collections.

Author: Cassandra Clare

Nutshell: Demons exist. So do a secret race of demon-slayers. They are called the Nephilim, or Shadowhunters.

In the late 2000s, Clary Fray discovers them in New York city, and learns that she is one of them. Her mother not only raised her as a normal human but erased all her memories of the magical world. But now Clary has discovered her birthright, and just in time, as she is about to be a key player in a war between the Shadowhunters and their greatest shame: the twisted Valentine.

In the 1850s, Teresa Gray arrives in London, the city with all the best novels. She’s eager to meet her brother and start a new life after the deaths of their parents, but something’s not right. The women that pick Teresa up at the docks are, frankly, hideous and terrifying, and the place they take Teresa is more like a prison than a home. Then they torture her, forcing her to perform dark magic. But one night, the Shadowhunters raid the place, expecting a den of demons. Teresa is at least as suprised to find a rescuer breaking into her room as the rescuer, one Will Herondale, is to see her there. After a slight misunderstanding (in which Teresa proves quite able to defend her virtue from mysterious young men at midnight) Will manages to hold her off long enough to rescue her, and takes her back with him. This is fortunate, as Teresa has the first warning of one of the greatest threats the Shadowhunters have ever faced.

In the Bane Chronicles, Magnus Bane, reprobate warlock, makes his irreverent, immortal way through the centuries, loving deeply, living wildly, and learning, but not too much. Too much learning is for people who want to be serious. And depressing. Magnus Bane is never serious or depressing. If he starts to show signs of seriousness, he gets himself riotously drunk instead.

And in the Tales from the Shadowhunters Academy, Simon Lewis does some things because of spoilers from the previous books and then some other spoilers happen and then more spoilers.

Read-alikes: There are lots of “Turns out you’re actually a character in a fantasy novel” books like the Mortal Instruments. Try the Iron King, by Julie Kagawa, or the Tryll series by Amanda Hocking. For the Infernal Devices, I find The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross is satisfyingly similar. Any Buffy the Vampire Slayer literature is going to be like this also, though I haven’t read any myself.

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The Mermaid and the Unicorn

Cover of the Mermaid and the Unicorn by Elizabeth Amy Hajek.
Click through to read a preview on Amazon!

Title: The Mermaid and the Unicorn

Author: Elizabeth Amy Hajek

Nutshell: Daphne is an American in Paris! Specifically a timid, sheltered, American collegiate on a study abroad semester in Paris. Overwhelmed her first night, she takes a walk in the evening and meets a sophisticated woman who invites her to her nightclub and then mysteriously disappears. Days later, accompanied by her bubbly roommate Maddie, she does visit, and meets some very interesting characters. She has a fine time, not aware of the threads of conspiracy woven through the place. She is too busy enjoying Paris, soaking in the art and the atmosphere, and of course struggling with the language. She even begins dating one of her classmates. But she will not be allowed to remain ignorant forever. In the first place, she saw something astonishing in a courtyard garden. In the second place, a stranger with a covered face attempted to kidnap her. Twice. And in the third place, someone needs her help.

Read-alikes: Lots of “intro to how the fantasy world is still with us” books are like this one, although this is a milder-mannered book: City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare and The Iron King, by Julie Kagawa. This also reminds me very much of A Ring of Endless Light, by Madeleine L’Engle. Also, of books I have read recently, Her Royal Spyness is similar in feel, because of how the main character is a sheltered young woman finding her way in a city, although the content is vastly different.Read More »

Top Ten: Northanger Abbey

A woman in Regency dress and bonnet.
Click to read an excerpt!

Title: Northanger Abbey

Author: Jane Austen

Nutshell: Catherine Morland does not have any of the hallmarks of a heroine. She is not an orphan, nor a ward, nor even a dead parent. She does not have incomparable beauty or strength of character to suffer trials that would break a person’s spirit. She is barely above plain in looks and has an uncomplicated, straighforward character. Indeed, nobody would suspect her of being the leading lady in a novel. Yet she is one.

A childless couple from her neighborhood are staying in Bath for a time and invite her to go with them. Bath is nothing like her plain home. The people are unlike anything she has ever met, and as she makes friends, it begins to be obvious (but not to her) that the people who profess their admiration for her are trying to use her. Her family friend, in charge of her care, is happy to let her get into whatever trouble she likes. Will Catherine be taken advantage of because of her virtues, or will she escape with her reputation intact?

Read-alikes: If you wanted, you could try Anthony Trollope, or Charles Dickens, or the Brontë sisters. Frankly, though, these are from a later era of literature, and have a very different tone. You could get ahold of Ann Radcliffe, but only if you want to roll your eyes a great deal. To find that dry humour and sense of a bygone era, you’ll have to find Georgette Heyer. For similar style applied to a very different genre, try The Princess Bride. For a modern book with a somewhat similar theme, the Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield.

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