Tag Archives: Letters

More Than Reading: Unexpected Surprises In Books


Hey guys! 

Happy August! The weather doesn’t particularly resemble August or summer but that shouldn’t stop us from making the most of it. 

This post is something slightly different to what I usually post (I hope that’s ok!) because I realised that I’ve found books in various places which contained more than the story. 

You may remember from an earlier post that I love receiving books which include little messages inside. I keep them and treasure them. However, I also like to see what I can find inside books. I don’t look specifically for what’s inside; it’s what I’ve found in books after I’ve purchased them. The extra surprise you aren’t always guaranteed to find. 

I realised I’ve actually started a little collection! Well, 4. But it’s only the beginning. Therefore, to mark the start of August I wanted to share with you all what I’ve found and where. Maybe you’ve found something too! 


The Worst Witch – Jill Murphy

As my first find, this is a particularly awesome and surprising place to start. I wanted this book because I remember getting it from the library as a child and I wanted my own copy. They were my motives for buying it. However, as I was flicking through I spotted a letter. I was so intrigued for two reasons. Firstly, it was written before I was born. Yet, I found it years later in 2012. Secondly, the address (which I’ve coloured out) was a house near my grandparents home. 


Why did this get into a children’s book? Who are the people involved? What caused this letter to be mixed up or discarded? For me it’s about the person or people behind the book. I find it quite sad that I won’t be able to find out the answers to these questions. 

The Notebook – Nicholas Sparks

It was my Mum that actually recommended this book to me. One day when I was mooching about I found a copy. What I didn’t bargain for was the poignant message within the book. 


Now I have to confess that this made my cry originally. Everyone wants to have that one love that changes your life. I guess I kept hold of this book because I believe it can and will happen. 

Again, more questions. Who is Elaine? How many bad dates did she go on? Has she given up altogether because of unrequited love? A fitting message for a stunning novel. So beautiful. 

Bernice Bobs Her Hair – F. Scott Fitzgerald

This was a relatively recent find actually. Fitzgerald is a writer that I absolutely adore. The Great Gatsby is one of my all time favourite novels so I always jump at the change to buy more of his work. 


21st birthdays are quite important; they are a milestone birthday so why would this book be given away? Hmm. Yet more questions! Another story untold. 

Miss Treadway & The Field Of Stars

This was my latest find in Stratford. I really wanted to read this book anyway and I fell on my feet because I managed to find a signed copy! 


I guess this doesn’t raise the personal questions of the others. However, I still count it as an incredible find. I always seem to miss out on signed books so I was secretly quite pleased to find this. 

So these are my unexpected surprises from books so far. Have you ever found anything? It is difficult because shops do tend to go through them first, making my finds even more thrilling! I think I’ll keep this updated so watch this space. Here’s hoping I find more! 

Have a fabulous summery August everyone.

Big love xx

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

  
Hey guys. 

Hope you’re all well on this wet and dismal Thursday evening. I wanted to use this rare opportunity of a free evening to write a review of this book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, for you all. This book is like a hug, honestly. I absolutely loved it! I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. 

On with the review…

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is set in January 1946. It was a time where London was merely rubble due to the Second World War. The novels main protagonist, Juliet Ashton, is a known writer on the search for her next literary piece. During the war, Juliet wrote a column under the pseudonym, Izzy Bickerstaff. As the war ended, her publisher and close friend, Sidney Stark, published her columns. They were viewed as rather humorous and the made a complete book called Izzy Bickerstaff Goes To War. The novel opens with Juliet searching for a more serious topic that she can write about under her own true identify. 

“I no longer want to write this book- my head and my heart just aren’t in it. Dear as Izzy Bickerstaff is-and was- to me, I don’t want to write anything else under that name. I don’t want to be considered a light-hearted journalist anymore. I do acknowledge that making readers laugh- or at least chuckle- during the war was no mean feat, but I don’t want to do it anymore. I can’t seem to dredge up any sense of proportion or balance these days, and God knows one cannot write humor without them.”

The novel is structured using a series of letters and correspondences. Rather unexpectedly, Juliet receives a letter from a man called Dawsey Adams from Guernsey. By pure chance, Dawsey noticed Juliet’s name inside a book by Charles Lamb. These books are so rare on the island of Guernsey that he enquires for more, particularly for the island’s book club, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. 

“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” 

Dawsey’s first letter is the catalyst for many others off the island. The central person that featured in the correspondence is Elizabeth McKenna, a young woman who had sadly already died by the time Juliet begins her letters with the people of Guernsey. During the occupation of Guernsey by the Germans, Elizabeth had been deported to a concentration camp, where she was later killed. 

“Life goes on.” What nonsense, I thought, of course it doesn’t. It’s death that goes on.” 

Before she was taken away, she had fallen in love with Christian, a German soldier, and given birth to their daughter, Kit. Kit was raised for the first four years of her life by Dawsey and the Guernsey islanders. Via her correspondences, Juliet is drawn into a world of differing characters and members of the literary society. She learns that the society bring together a whole host of people who found peace in literature during a dangerous and tragic time. 

Through the letters, Juliet and the reader, learns the origins of the society. When the German soldiers controlled Guernsey during the occupation of the Channel Islands from 1940-1945, the islanders were living under strict rules and people were severely oppressed. Eating their own livestock was also prohibited. However, several islanders concocted a clever scheme that could save a pig for themselves. When one farmer’s pig died, several farmers would pass around the carcass, each reporting the death of their own pig to the German officials. Farmers could then hide away one of their pigs to a laughter in secrecy and eat with their friends and neighbours. 

“None of us had any experience with literary societies, so we made our own rules: we took turns speaking about he books we’d read …We read books, talked books, argued over books and became dearer and dearer to one another. Other Islanders asked to join us, and our evenings together became bright, lively times-we could almost forget, now and then, the darkness outside. We still meet every fortnight”

One evening, the islander’s feasted on one such secret pig. German soldiers discovered the gathering and immediately demanded to know why they had broken the curfew. Elizabeth McKenna saved them all by telling the story of how their meeting was the first gathering of a new livery club on the island. Thankfully, the story was bought. 

Thus, the society was born. They met every fortnight and grew close together: the own little community. Most members knew nothing of literature but discovered an author or genre that appealed to their own personalities. Literature help boost morale and spirits. They read all kinds of literary texts from Charles Lamb to the Brontë sisters. The society enabled the island to find solace and forget, briefly, the horrors of war. 

“We clung to books and to our friends; they reminded us that we had another part to us.” 

As letters and time passes, Juliet learns more and yearns to meet her new friends in Guernsey. It also gives her opportunity to get away from the overwhelming attention from a male suitor. Upon her arrival, relationships are strengthened and life in London doesn’t appear to be so appealing anymore. Most significantly, she grows increasing close to Kit and eventually applies for her adoption. 

Juliet also falls in love with Dawsey and proposes marriage to him. Juliet’s time on the island has changed everything. She even begs Sidney to visit her and see for himself the charm and friendliness of these people. Finally, with Sidney’s help, she decides her next book would be: the life of Elizabeth McKenna. Her life was central to life on this island. What is rather touching, Elizabeth helps Juliet find herself too. Julie’s life decisions provide the self-fulfilment and happiness she had been longing for. 

“I don’t want to be married just to be married. I can’t think of anything lonelier than spending the rest of my life with someone I can’t talk to, or worse, someone I can’t be silent with.” 

As the novel closes, Juliet is dedicated to writing her new book to honour the life of Elizabeth. After all, she is the heart and soul of this group. 

“If I could have anything I wanted, I would choose story without end, and it seems I have lots of company in that.”

This book is pure magic. I laughed and felt the pain of the islander’s when they lost Elizabeth. It’s heartwarming and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. The use of letters as the narrative structure emphasises the emotions and the secrecy of this society. I was sad this novel came to a close. 

Big love x

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84 Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff

  
I stumbled across this book, hidden at the bottom of the pile, in a box of books at a second hand book shop. What attracted me to it was the cover – the letter design. I love looking at old letters, stamps and postcards. I find them really incredibly interesting, so I bought this book. I’m also the first to admit I’ve no idea who Helene Hanff is. I do now, and I absolutely loved this book. 

Note: My copy of the book also contains The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, so I will also be reviewing this. 


Firstly, 84 Charing Cross Road. 

It is an epistolary novel, written in the form of letters to and from Helene Hanff and Frank Doel of Marks & Company. The correspondence spans from October 1949 to October 1969, New York to London, in less than 100 pages. 

The first letter from Helene is a response to an advertisement for a book seller specialising in out of print books. At this stage, she knows nothing about Marks & Co in London, but she encloses a list of her “most pressing problems” – books she can’t find locally. They must be clean, and cost less than $5. When the books arrive safely at her New York apartment, she enlists the help of a neighbour to change the cost from dollars to British pounds. 

“The phrase ‘antiquarian book-sellers’ scares me somewhat, as I equate ‘antique’ with expensive.” 

Some of the most touching letters are sent and received during the war years, where the rations in London meant that food was limited. In America, things were different. Helene sends over a 6 pound ham for all the staff at 84 Charing Cross Road for Christmas. She also sends gifts for Easter. 

“Now then. Brian told me you are all rationed to 2 ounces of meat per family per week and one egg per person per month and I am simply appalled.” 

As more letters, food parcels and books travel to and from London/New York, Helene gets to know more people from the book shop: Cecily, Megan, Bill and Nora, Frank’s wife and others. As well as books, the narrative also becomes a plea to get Helene to visit London. 

“My dear, I do hope you get your wish to come to England. Why not save your pennies and come next summer?” 

The relationship between Helene and Frank is based on mutual respect and fondness. Therefore, when Helene has a complaint, and she has a few within this little book, she writes honestly to Frank to express her feelings. From a structural point of view, it is interesting and rather realistic that Helene’s writing style changes at points this like. She writes in full capitals, or with no capitals at all. One example of this is when she requests a complete copy of Pepy’s Diary, but gets sent an incomplete or collected version. What is sweet, is the letter ends with the question of fresh or powdered eggs for Christmas. Harmony is restored. 

“WHAT KIND OF PEPYS’ DIARY DO YOU CALL THIS? 

this is not pepys’ diary, this is some busybody editor’s miserable collection of EXCERPTS from pepys’ diary may he rot. 

i could just spit.”

However, there comes a time when great sadness is explored within this book. There is a gap in time from Helene’s last letter dated 30th September and correspondence in January, this time from a different character. On the 8th January, Helene receives a letter from Joan Todd, a secretary from Marks & Co, bringing news of Frank’s death. 

“It is with great regret that I have to tell you that he passed away on Sunday 22nd of December, he funeral took place last week on Wednesday 1st January. “

Helene, exclaims herself, how much 84 Charing Cross Road means to her, wishing her friend to “kiss it for me! I owe it so much.” 

I loved this so much, it was utterly charming. It makes me think about the power of blogs and social media now, connecting people from all over the world. How much the world has changed! For me, the letter is still something special, and this is shown within this book. I wish I could have experienced something like this within my own life. 

Secondly, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street.

Again, this novel is an epistolary novel, this time written in the form of a diary. It takes place much later, in 1971, when Helene finally gets to visit London for the English publication of 84 Charing Cross Road. 

It is in this book that she meets Nora, the wife of Frank of whom she has been corresponding with for over twenty years. Helene also fulfills her dream to visit a number of literary landmarks in London. These included Trinity College where John Donne often walked in the yard as well as Claridges. This book is a tour of England seen through the excited eyes of Helene, who had dreamed of this trip all her life. 

“Theoretically, it was one of the happiness days of my life. The date was Thursday, June 17th, 1971; the BOAC lifted from Kennedy airport promptly at 10 A.M.; the sky was blue and sunny, and after a lifetime of waiting I was finally on my way to London.” 

Helene leaves New York just days after leaving the hospital, full of excitement and expectations to finally see the country she has always wanted to visit. Naturally, Helene worries that no one will meet her, and makes a plan just in case. She reassures herself with the many letters she received from both her fans and her publisher. As planned, a gentleman was waiting for her arrival. This gentleman, The Colonel, was a fan of Helene’s book and happened to work at the airport. 

“And there he was, a big, towering Colonel Blimp with a beaming smile on his face and both arms outstretched, waiting to get my dainty feet onto British soil.” 

She finds her friends, Nora and Shelia and from there checks in to a hotel, hardly believing that she was in London. She decides, after advice, to keep a diary for her trip. The next day, Helene visits Mark & Co, which had sadly since closed down. As part of her books promotion, a photographer accompanied her to be interviewed and photographed with Nora about the correspondence between Helene and Frank. 

“How about this, Frankie? I finally made it.”

The narration rapidly progresses from an array of interviews and book signings. However, soon enough, Helene had time to explore London at her own pace. She experiences a pub where Shakespeare once drank and drove past the Tower of London to witness the locking of the gates. She also meets up with her old friends from Texas who were also visits the city, and lunched at Claridges. Helene, was also able to meet Joyce Grenfall, an actress she had always admired, and also took a trip to Oxford with the Colonel. As well as this, Helene also met Leo Marks, the son of Marks who owned Marks & Co, and his wife Ena. As a portrait painter, Ena would eventually persuade Helene to sit for a portrait, as long as she sat outside. A rather touching moment was when Helene went to St. Paul’s Covent Garden where Ellen Terry’s ashes are. 

“Just inside the door as I was leaving I came upon the most recent plaque: VIVIEN LEIGH D.1967 and I was suddenly moved to tears.”

Helene stayed in London for nearly a month, visiting every place she had ever read about. Helene embraced and enjoyed the sights and sounds of London. When it was time to head back to New York, a number of parties were thrown to say goodbye. On the plane to go home, Helene says goodbye to London, England, and focuses on life back in New York City. 

“I sit here on the plane trying to see faces, trying to hold onto London, but the mind intrudes with thoughts of home: the mail piled up waiting for me, the people waiting, the work waiting.” 

I loved this short book as well. The excitement of visiting a place you’ve always wanted to visit I can easily relate to. I loved reading about the sights and sounds of London, a city I adore. This book, as a collective, was absolutely charming. It’s very short, so can be read in a couple of hours. I would recommend this book to anyone, but you do need both 84 Charing Cross Road and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street in order to not be disappointed. 

BL x

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Letters From Home – Kristina McMorris

Now, I don’t normally read romance or history, but you should never say never. I saw this book in a shop and I’m not really too sure why, but it called to me. The word ‘unforgettable’ naturally jumps out of the page. With the ‘extraordinary’ that precedes it, this story is rather built up. Thankfully, I really enjoyed this novel. It was heart warming and emotional. I really bought into the story, the characters were also incredibly likable. It wasn’t overly sentimental or mushy, something else that I really appreciated. 

The novel opens in Chicargo, 1944, during World War II. It centres around a sparkling and lifelong friendship between three girls: Liz, Betty and Julia. Each girl is coming to a crossroad in their lives. Liz is engaged to be married to her childhood sweetheart, Dalton, but after meeting Morgan, a U.S. soldier at a USO dance, she is not so sure. Liz felt an immediate connection with him, but there was the slight problem of how he was being shipped out the next day. Julia is meant to marry the love of her own life, Christian, who is serving with overseas, but she is offered an internship at Vogue as a result of her incredible talent. However, if she takes it, she feels that this would mean sacrificing her relationship. Betty, repeatedly described as the prettiest girl, is trying to identify who she really is, when she meets Morgan, when Liz leaves the dance. Morgan does not understand why Liz left him, until the end of the novel. She decides to write to him whilst he’s serving overseas. 

The close relationship between Morgan and his brother Charlie is also rather moving. They show the usual ‘brother banter’ between each other, and yet, Morgan feels like he has to protect his brother, especially at war. Morgan wouls have been happy at home, on the farm, he thought it was the best thing to do to sign up as well and watch over his brother. Charlie is described as being very jokey and off the wall. He clearly needs his brother and at war, they needed each other. “Charlie! Where are you?” 

Betty, feeling unsure and having a lack of confidence with her letter writing, begs Liz to help her by writing the first letter. Liz naturally feels apprehension because of Dalton, however, she agrees, letting Morgan believe it is Betty writing to him. The letter motif is essential to this novel, it is what holds the plot together. In an age of emails, the letter is quite romantic. Who doesn’t get excited when they receive a personal letter? That same emotion is what kept both Liz and Morgan going during their own personal challenges; Liz and her relationship, Morgan and the war. 

Overtime, Liz and Morgan exchange many letters. They share their lives, secrets, thoughts and emotions. Their feelings grow and deepen over the year they spend writing. It is also through these letters that we gain a first hand experience of the scenes of war. I found these to be written in great depth with accurate detail. I felt like I could see and smell the associations with war. It was very moving. “I’m actually writing to you tonight crouched in one of those soggy holes. My knee sure doesn’t make a great desk, but with a grain of luck you’ll still be able to read most of this.”

Meanwhile, Betty decides that she too much help in the war effort, and uses her powers of persuasion to enlist in the Women’s Army Corp. Betty soon realises that war is difficult. She faces the injuries and sounds of men slowly dying. I have a massive respect for Betty. This showed another layer to her character other than the beautiful woman that she embodies so well. She too has a love affair of her own. It is only when she lets her guard down that she too ends up getting hurt, when she finds an incriminating photograph. “She felt her very soul being sucked away as she collapsed against the bed, the photo clinging to her hand.” Julia too receives her own heartbreak, and again I feel the description regarding the girls’ reactions is very well written. Liz too makes a life changing decision for herself and Dalton. 

As the war and the novel come to an end, both Liz and Morgan can’t wait to meet each other again. However, love clearly isn’t that simple as it is actually Betty who receives the telegram. When Betty and Morgan meet, naturally Betty has no idea what is going on, being in a jungle for the past year herself. By the closing stages of the novel, everything is tied up in a neat little bow. is too short not to say how you feel to the people you love.” I do feel like I’d like to know more about Julia, but that’s a minor criticism. 

This really is a good summer read and is well written with plenty of historical accuracies. I really felt like I could trust the novel because of the Kristina McMorris’s personal experiences within this novel, being as her grandfather fought in the war, something which is noted before the novel begins. “Respectfully dedicated to the veterans of World War II, a generation of heroes who, like my grandfather, fought valiantly and courageously to secure freedom for us all.” The letters from her grandparents gave her inspiration. For me, I felt all warm inside when I read this book. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but despite it being a genre I don’t normally read, I did enjoy it. A perfect summer read. 

Big love x

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