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The Summer Before the War

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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER •“A novel to cure your Downton Abbey withdrawal . . . a delightful story about nontraditional romantic relationships, class snobbery and the everybody-knows-everybody complications of living in a small community.”—The Washington Post The bestselling author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand returns with a breathtaking novel of love on the eve of World NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “A novel to cure your Downton Abbey withdrawal . . . a delightful story about nontraditional romantic relationships, class snobbery and the everybody-knows-everybody complications of living in a small community.”—The Washington Post The bestselling author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand returns with a breathtaking novel of love on the eve of World War I that reaches far beyond the small English town in which it is set.   East Sussex, 1914. It is the end of England’s brief Edwardian summer, and everyone agrees that the weather has never been so beautiful. Hugh Grange, down from his medical studies, is visiting his Aunt Agatha, who lives with her husband in the small, idyllic coastal town of Rye. Agatha’s husband works in the Foreign Office, and she is certain he will ensure that the recent saber rattling over the Balkans won’t come to anything. And Agatha has more immediate concerns; she has just risked her carefully built reputation by pushing for the appointment of a woman to replace the Latin master.   When Beatrice Nash arrives with one trunk and several large crates of books, it is clear she is significantly more freethinking—and attractive—than anyone believes a Latin teacher should be. For her part, mourning the death of her beloved father, who has left her penniless, Beatrice simply wants to be left alone to pursue her teaching and writing.   But just as Beatrice comes alive to the beauty of the Sussex landscape and the colorful characters who populate Rye, the perfect summer is about to end. For despite Agatha’s reassurances, the unimaginable is coming. Soon the limits of progress, and the old ways, will be tested as this small Sussex town and its inhabitants go to war.   Praise for The Summer Before the War   “What begins as a study of a small-town society becomes a compelling account of war and its aftermath.”—Woman’s Day   “This witty character study of how a small English town reacts to the 1914 arrival of its first female teacher offers gentle humor wrapped in a hauntingly detailed story.”—Good Housekeeping   “Perfect for readers in a post–Downton Abbey slump . . . The gently teasing banter between two kindred spirits edging slowly into love is as delicately crafted as a bone-china teacup. . . . More than a high-toned romantic reverie for Anglophiles—though it serves the latter purpose, too.”—The Seattle Times   “[Helen Simonson’s] characters are so vivid, it’s as if a PBS series has come to life. There’s scandal, star-crossed love and fear, but at its heart, The Summer Before the War is about loyalty, love and family.”—AARP: The Magazine “This luminous story of a family, a town, and a world in their final moments of innocence is as lingering and lovely as a long summer sunset.”—Annie Barrows, author of The Truth According to Us and co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society   “Simonson is like a Jane Austen for our day and age—she is that good—and The Summer Before the War is nothing short of a


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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER •“A novel to cure your Downton Abbey withdrawal . . . a delightful story about nontraditional romantic relationships, class snobbery and the everybody-knows-everybody complications of living in a small community.”—The Washington Post The bestselling author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand returns with a breathtaking novel of love on the eve of World NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “A novel to cure your Downton Abbey withdrawal . . . a delightful story about nontraditional romantic relationships, class snobbery and the everybody-knows-everybody complications of living in a small community.”—The Washington Post The bestselling author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand returns with a breathtaking novel of love on the eve of World War I that reaches far beyond the small English town in which it is set.   East Sussex, 1914. It is the end of England’s brief Edwardian summer, and everyone agrees that the weather has never been so beautiful. Hugh Grange, down from his medical studies, is visiting his Aunt Agatha, who lives with her husband in the small, idyllic coastal town of Rye. Agatha’s husband works in the Foreign Office, and she is certain he will ensure that the recent saber rattling over the Balkans won’t come to anything. And Agatha has more immediate concerns; she has just risked her carefully built reputation by pushing for the appointment of a woman to replace the Latin master.   When Beatrice Nash arrives with one trunk and several large crates of books, it is clear she is significantly more freethinking—and attractive—than anyone believes a Latin teacher should be. For her part, mourning the death of her beloved father, who has left her penniless, Beatrice simply wants to be left alone to pursue her teaching and writing.   But just as Beatrice comes alive to the beauty of the Sussex landscape and the colorful characters who populate Rye, the perfect summer is about to end. For despite Agatha’s reassurances, the unimaginable is coming. Soon the limits of progress, and the old ways, will be tested as this small Sussex town and its inhabitants go to war.   Praise for The Summer Before the War   “What begins as a study of a small-town society becomes a compelling account of war and its aftermath.”—Woman’s Day   “This witty character study of how a small English town reacts to the 1914 arrival of its first female teacher offers gentle humor wrapped in a hauntingly detailed story.”—Good Housekeeping   “Perfect for readers in a post–Downton Abbey slump . . . The gently teasing banter between two kindred spirits edging slowly into love is as delicately crafted as a bone-china teacup. . . . More than a high-toned romantic reverie for Anglophiles—though it serves the latter purpose, too.”—The Seattle Times   “[Helen Simonson’s] characters are so vivid, it’s as if a PBS series has come to life. There’s scandal, star-crossed love and fear, but at its heart, The Summer Before the War is about loyalty, love and family.”—AARP: The Magazine “This luminous story of a family, a town, and a world in their final moments of innocence is as lingering and lovely as a long summer sunset.”—Annie Barrows, author of The Truth According to Us and co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society   “Simonson is like a Jane Austen for our day and age—she is that good—and The Summer Before the War is nothing short of a

30 review for The Summer Before the War

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I absolutely loved the book Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, so when I heard that author Helen Simonson wrote a second book I was thrilled to have the chance to read an early copy. Unfortunately, this book was a huge disappointment. Simonson's charm and wit, which made "Pettigrew" so enjoyable, are present in this book but they are buried among superfluous pages and words. Rather than stand out they are lost in the shuffle. There are far too many characters -- most of them indistinguishable from I absolutely loved the book Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, so when I heard that author Helen Simonson wrote a second book I was thrilled to have the chance to read an early copy. Unfortunately, this book was a huge disappointment. Simonson's charm and wit, which made "Pettigrew" so enjoyable, are present in this book but they are buried among superfluous pages and words. Rather than stand out they are lost in the shuffle. There are far too many characters -- most of them indistinguishable from each other. Eventually I stopped trying to keep them straight. The elements of a good plot exist here, but the story just muddles along. I've read instruction manuals that were more exciting. This might have been an entirely different book with more ruthless editing. At 496 pages I'm wondering how much got left on the cutting room floor. It easily could have been half the length -- which might have let the charm shine through and given space for the worthwhile characters to be developed. At one point in the story there is reference to a book: it was a dense tome, printed in close-set type, as if the printer had struggled to squeeze its impossible length into some manageable slab of pages. I felt that was apropos here! While the book left much to be desired, it did provide much food for thought on the subject of refugees. As part of the story, the villagers need to decide whether to take in Belgian refugees, and what form of hospitality to provide them. I couldn't help but think of the parallels with today's Syrian refugees. I do hope this book is an aberration and that Simonson continues to write. I would certainly read her future books. Many other reviewers seem to like this book, so readers should consider other reviews, and not just mine. Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for a galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lawyer

    The Summer Before the War: An Exaltation of Larks By whatever means necessary get hold of a copy of The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson and read it. Obtain it legally if possible. However, should you read it, praise it, press it into the hands of your book loving friends, don't expect it to be returned. It's that good. I found I loved Ms. Simonson's writing in Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. This novel gives me even more cause to appreciate Simonson as an author. The Summer Before the War is The Summer Before the War: An Exaltation of Larks By whatever means necessary get hold of a copy of The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson and read it. Obtain it legally if possible. However, should you read it, praise it, press it into the hands of your book loving friends, don't expect it to be returned. It's that good. I found I loved Ms. Simonson's writing in Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. This novel gives me even more cause to appreciate Simonson as an author. The Summer Before the War is an ambitious and finely wrought work of historical fiction set in the East Sussex village of Rye during the summer of 1914. Although Archduke Ferdinand of Austria has been assassinated in Bosnia, few outside the halls of government expect England will find itself embroiled in a war over the troublesome Balkans. In fact, Agatha Kent, one of the indomitable women of Rye has decreed that there shall be no war. Agatha is more concerned with filling the position of Latin teacher at the village school. With a woman. On the Board of Governors of the School, along with Lady Emily Wheaton, they just may do it. Agatha Kent's candidate to be the new Latin Mistress is Beatrice Nash, an independent young woman who served as her scholarly father's secretary until his recent death. Bereaved and penniless, Miss Nash has resigned herself to making her way in the world with a teaching position and life as a spinster. However, Beatrice Nash is much younger and far more attractive than even Agatha Kent anticipated. Agatha's village rival, Bettina Fothergill, who lost a suitor to Agatha in their youth, is opposed to Miss Nash achieving the position. She pushes her nephew, appropriately named Mr. Poot, forward for the position. Agatha married John Kent, a civil servant of long standing in London. Alas, they were never blessed with children. However, they had the benefit of two nephews: Hugh Grange, studying to be a surgeon; and, Daniel Bookham, who intended on spending the next year in France, starting a poetry journal. The two cousins had grown up spending summers and school holidays in the Kent household. John considered the boys the equivalent of the bestowing of fatherhood upon him without the expense of it. Of course, the chosen professions of the two cousins is fine bit of foreshadowing. However, beforehand, it is essential that Miss Nash's position be secured. Enter Harry Wheaton, the son of Lady Emily. The clown, the prankster. The perfect co-conspirator to lead Mr. Poot astray causing poor Poot to hoist himself on his own petard. Ms. Simonson creates a wonderful cast of village characters from Romany to Nobles. From that perspective consider this one of those books to love for those who mourn the absence of Downton Abby. Especially delightful is the insertion of a Henry Jamesian character who resides in Rye. Oh, yes. Henry James, in fact, did live in East Susssex. The American author who would have preferred to have his nation of origin forgotten, having become the true Anglophile, is in full literary bloom. Alternately he speaks with wisdom. At others with arrogance and pomposity. Simonson slyly inserts wonderful little bits of James characater into the figure of "Twillingham" who joys in the adulation of his English reading public and little gems of anecdotes such as visits by Edith Wharton who squired the great man around the Shire in her gauchely large motor car. With the coming of the Great War, Simonson keeps the reader on the edge of the seat while showing life at the home front and life on the Western Front. Here the cast of characters grows to include heroes for whom to cheer and villains who are devoid of competence and honor worthy of contempt. The earliest impact on Rye is the reception of Belgian refugees fleeing the invasion of the Kaiser's Prussian troops. While their acts fall far short of the horrendous acts made subject of British propaganda in early days of the war in 1914, atrocities do occur. And what of those residents who have ties to family in Germany? Consider that the heads of the British Realm, Russia, and Germany were all cousins, referring to one another by first names as they attempted to avoid the conflagration that erupted with the guns of August. While such connections may be acceptable for royalty, further down the social ranks, they are not. Lady Emily's daughter is married to a German Baron who has been called to his home for military service. Though the couple share a child, the couple is separated by war. Helen Simonson has done her research before putting these words to paper. Rarely have I come across a work of fiction dealing with the War to End All Wars that so adequately reflects the coming changes this devestating war will bring about on an England that will be changed forever. This is a masterful work. By all means, oh readers who are prone to pass over an author's acknowledgments and notes following the final page of narrative. This is a section not to be missed. For those interested in reading more about the Great War, there are referenced works here I can also recommend. I also give Ms. Simonson a tip of the hat for acknowledging that for her the poetry generated by the First World War lies at the heart of the story told in The Summer Before the War. This one comes with my highest recommendation. A solid five star read with a heart rending ending. Hankie consumption will vary according to reader. Extras Soundtrack Ralph Vaughn Williams was older by ten years than Britains younger composers who served during the First World War. He interrupted his musical career to serve in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Here is his Symphony No. 3, The Pastoral. First performed in 1922, the Symphony was considered a remembrance for those who died in service during the war. Ivor Gurney was not only a composer but also a poet. Gurney served on the Western front beginning in 1915. After being shot and gassed and made a prisoner of war, he ultimately was returned to England. Here are three of his most famous war songs composed in the trenches while under fire. "Blood of Heroes" Presentation with "In Flanders" and "Severn Meadows" performances. Gustav Holst who will forever be remembered for "The Planets" best known composition for the Great War is "Ode to Death." It has always been held to have been underperformed. However, you can listen to it Here. It will move you, as will each of these pieces. And, one final note. What is an exaltation of larks? It is a poetic comment on the climb of the skylark high into the sky while uttering its twittering song As I used it in the title to this review it represents the resilient human spirit to endure the withering and winnowing of life, particularly of the young, which always survives and resurges to carry forward the abundance of life even in the face of sorrow. It is fitting to return to Ralph Vaughn Williams. Here is The Lark Ascending.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Susan Johnson

    I loved this book. Written by the author of "Major Pettigrew" it takes place in Rye, a small town in East Sussex, in the summer of 1914 before the start of WWI. The sweet innocence of the times is brought to life when Beatrice Nash arrives to teach Latin to the students of Rye. Beatrice is a well educated woman who must make it on her own after the death of her academic father. She struggles against the strictures of her time to find a place. For some reason, a woman teaching Latin is I loved this book. Written by the author of "Major Pettigrew" it takes place in Rye, a small town in East Sussex, in the summer of 1914 before the start of WWI. The sweet innocence of the times is brought to life when Beatrice Nash arrives to teach Latin to the students of Rye. Beatrice is a well educated woman who must make it on her own after the death of her academic father. She struggles against the strictures of her time to find a place. For some reason, a woman teaching Latin is relatively shocking. I am not sure why as there are two other women teachers but for some reason Latin is a no-no. The story of her appointment to the job is one of the funniest scenes I've read in a long time. Beatrice, also, to everyone's horror rides a bicycle and is fiercely independent and competent. She's taken under the wing of a town leader, Agatha Kent, who becomes one of my very characters ever. She is so diplomatic, loving and full of life. Agatha has also raised two nephews, Hugh and Daniel, both interesting characters. In fact the town is full of interesting characters including the idiotic wife of the mayor. The story is full of women trying to fly on their own wings and it is just 6 years later that American women got the right to vote. It is a time of great change and limits are being tested even in the small town of Rye. The town decides to help in the upcoming War effort by taking in Belgian refugees and are then horrified to discover families want to stay to together and not be parceled out one at a time. The wry humor is delightful. There is also a group of gypsies involved who had color to the story. And as the year progresses, change comes slowly and painfully. Friendships are made and class barriers start to fall. Innocence is lost and things are never quite the same. It's a lovely, lovely story that so accurately describes the times (at least in my opinion) that it takes my breath away. It is a slow moving book in the way real life is. I loved every minute of it. I highly recommend it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Annet

    It's sometimes easier to manage a war than a wife, John continued... Although a bit long, and a bit slow in story in the beginning, I did thoroughly enjoy this book. Already loved 'Major Pettigrew's Last stand' and I loved this latest one of Helen Simonson too. I started it in December and read some chapters almost every day during Xmas times and in the NewYear and looked forward to the continued reading. It's a gentle story, although about the war, and it is a slow story with a number of It's sometimes easier to manage a war than a wife, John continued... Although a bit long, and a bit slow in story in the beginning, I did thoroughly enjoy this book. Already loved 'Major Pettigrew's Last stand' and I loved this latest one of Helen Simonson too. I started it in December and read some chapters almost every day during Xmas times and in the NewYear and looked forward to the continued reading. It's a gentle story, although about the war, and it is a slow story with a number of memorable characters... It's humorous, sad, emotional, funny, mildly critical, it puts forward social injustice, the position of women, and it slowly grows and grows on you... I just loved it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jaline

    From the Epilogue, overlooking Flanders Fields in 1920: ”Under her happiness ran a thin vein of sorrow that millions like her would feel down the years. It did not stop their feet from walking, or prevent the quotidian routines of life; but it ran in the population like the copper wires of the telephone system, connecting them all to each other and to the tragedy that had ripped at their hearts just as it had ripped at the fields outside her window.” Beatrice Nash has a small allowance from her From the Epilogue, overlooking Flanders Fields in 1920: ”Under her happiness ran a thin vein of sorrow that millions like her would feel down the years. It did not stop their feet from walking, or prevent the quotidian routines of life; but it ran in the population like the copper wires of the telephone system, connecting them all to each other and to the tragedy that had ripped at their hearts just as it had ripped at the fields outside her window.” Beatrice Nash has a small allowance from her father’s estate but it needs supplementing, and she is determined to be an independent woman so she applies for a teaching position (Latin Master – or, Mistress in this case) in Rye, Sussex. Her champion is Agatha Kent who has lobbied vigorously for more females in the local school, something that rarely happens in the world of 1914. The author lived in Rye for several years when she was growing up which is likely why her descriptions are so vivid, and why once again, I felt that I was teleported into this village and all of its events, both big and small. There is an authenticity to Ms Simonson’s writing that evolves into both predictable and unexpected events, just like in real life. The people in her books are also genuine – some that I would love to sit and have a cup of tea with, and others that I would tend to avoid if at all possible. Again, just like in real life. I felt very much a part of everything the author wrote about in this book, despite not being a part of that time and place in real life. Agatha and John Kent have two nephews – Daniel and Hugh. Daniel is a poet and Hugh is getting set for his final exam qualification to become a licensed surgeon. They are both like surrogate sons for Agatha and John who didn’t have children of their own. Then John comes home one day to let the family know that Belgium has been viciously attacked by the Germans and that Britain is now at war. The village also receives refugees from Belgium who will billet in various homes until they can return to their own country. There was quite an impact when the refugees arrived. Maybe the village expected apple-cheeked little ones needing a temporary home but they certainly did not expect to see the bedraggled, beaten-down huddle of humanity that made its slow procession from the train station to the Town Hall. Even Beatrice did her part and brought home a young girl whose father was staying with her neighbouring bachelor author who Beatrice revered. Beatrice had arrived in the village early so she could get settled in well in advance of the school year. Little did she know that many other events would crowd their way into her life – including the war with all its deprivations. I loved this book so much that I purposefully slowed down my reading process to make it last longer. Helen Simonson is a talented writer who makes it look and feel so easy as the words flow across the page. I became so wrapped up in the story that this novel became my “life within a life” for the duration. There was a six year gap between the author’s debut and this, her second novel. I fervently (and selfishly) hope that the gap time between this one and her next one is reduced by at least 75%. I am very excited to move right in to the next story she creates.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Paula

    What a lovely book. The Summer before the War written by Helen Simonson is a charming love story set in 1914 East Essex, England. Reminiscent of Jane Austen, the romance that develops between Surgeon Hugh Grange and visiting Latin teacher Beatrice Nash is delightful. To the heart of this novel are women’s issues of equality. Beatrice’s father has past away and left a small trust in the hands of his unkind relatives rather than with his daughter. Pictured is her struggle to make ends meet by What a lovely book. The Summer before the War written by Helen Simonson is a charming love story set in 1914 East Essex, England. Reminiscent of Jane Austen, the romance that develops between Surgeon Hugh Grange and visiting Latin teacher Beatrice Nash is delightful. To the heart of this novel are women’s issues of equality. Beatrice’s father has past away and left a small trust in the hands of his unkind relatives rather than with his daughter. Pictured is her struggle to make ends meet by teaching Latin in the small town of Rye for the summer. But for the help of Agatha, Aunt to Hugh and Daniel, she wouldn’t even have been considered for the job. It is heartbreaking to see what Beatrice goes through both socially and professionally. I enjoyed the narration by Fiona Hardingham. Be ready for a few tears during the war. For those of you that have read Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand this book is definitely recommended. 4 out of 5 stars.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Veronica ⭐️

    How you go into a story, your mindset, and what you are expecting has a great impact on your enjoyment of the story. The Summer Before the War is a slow paced read. The characterization is brilliant. The conversations, the underlying sarcasm and nuances of the characters are all described in poetic detail. I feel Simonson has written an astute study of personalities during this period, 1913 – 1914. A time of doing what you must, not what you want. Agatha Kent thought of herself as forward thinking How you go into a story, your mindset, and what you are expecting has a great impact on your enjoyment of the story. The Summer Before the War is a slow paced read. The characterization is brilliant. The conversations, the underlying sarcasm and nuances of the characters are all described in poetic detail. I feel Simonson has written an astute study of personalities during this period, 1913 – 1914. A time of doing what you must, not what you want. Agatha Kent thought of herself as forward thinking but we see many times when even her progressiveness has its limits. “Oh no, Lady Marbely took pains to assure me she’s quite plain,” said Aunt Agatha. “I may be progressive, but I would never hire a pretty teacher.” “And just one more thing, Miss Nash” said Agatha, as Beatrice moved toward the hall. “I would not be public about any yearnings to write. It would be an absolute disaster for a lady in your position to earn a reputation as a bohemian.” I’m not usually a fan of great slabs of dialogue but the conversations were filled with wit and a hint of sarcasm and I couldn’t help but be enthralled and have a few chuckles as I read. A slow paced yet delightful story like meandering through a garden on a summer’s day. If you find this story slow going put it aside and pick it up again. Your perseverance will be rewarded. The last 40 pages had me in tears. When the emotion was added it was real. I would read this book again. Note: Sometimes you need to read between the lines to get the full picture. I would like to thank Goodreads giveaways and Allen & Unwin for my copy to read and review.

  8. 4 out of 5

    DeB MaRtEnS

    *****I felt that I must edit and add. (Somehow my first review did its Goodreads vaporizing act, so I tiredly short-formed the second. Enthusiastic responses prompted me to reply in what became an addendum to the review - so instead, an expanded version for this wonderful book.). Couldn't put it down. Excellent historical fiction, historically accurate details. I love Simonson's aesthetic: dialogue, setting, dress, class and social structure. Many layered story, wonderfully branched out from the *****I felt that I must edit and add. (Somehow my first review did its Goodreads vaporizing act, so I tiredly short-formed the second. Enthusiastic responses prompted me to reply in what became an addendum to the review - so instead, an expanded version for this wonderful book.). Couldn't put it down. Excellent historical fiction, historically accurate details. I love Simonson's aesthetic: dialogue, setting, dress, class and social structure. Many layered story, wonderfully branched out from the village of Rye, Sussex just before WWI and its beginning. Time of great change. Any knowledge of this period of British history will simply make this not a good story, but a superb one. A time of transition - the character Daniel wants to be a poet, living in London, living a free life. "Bohemian" characters, a divorced man and wife, both writers, have moved to the country for a life free of scandal but the villagers are very conservative - these artists are typical of those like writers Veronica Wolfe and Vita Sackville-Hays, artists Vanessa Bell and Augustus John who lived together in artist colonies, like the Bloomsbury group, with their flowing clothing. Understanding these individuals helps to fully grasp the turmoil that Daniel and his family are up against in this most conservative era. Women speaking up. The Status Quo turning their backs, before the Great War turned their world upside down. Beatrice Nash, educated so well that she will teach Latin, a MAN'S subject, is met with derision when she arrives in Rye. Her author father has left her nearly destitute with his death, and her small inheritance in a trust managed by controlling and unlikeable relatives. It is through her eyes that we meet the townspeople, cheer her alliances, cringe at the prejudices and poverty and observe life in Rye. I'd seen complaints of too many characters, subplots, details - after reading it, I couldn't imagine how/where. Chock full of the classic British characters, village life, bias, rigid social structure, strong women behind the scenes who eventually would have to become visibly powerful with the war, sly infighting, some scandals; The Summer Before the War is a "bird's eye view" of a moment in time, captured before it was about to implode. I adored the careful dialogue, the note on Edwardian dress, (those tight narrow tubular long gowns, worn with elaborate hats), the description of "tight stays" of corsets - and the horrified pointed remarks about needing "no more loose women", an aside meant to denegrate the Bohemian artists who wore no corsets and did not "dress up" appropriately for teas and dinners with clothing changes every day. As the villagers' gentry and wealthier merchants organized fêtes, fundraisers and excited parades with a carnival air, in support of homeless Belgians and then England's gathering troops, the defense of their country is seen as the only honourable action. The young doctor in training, Hugh, is enlisted by his prominent surgeon teacher to be at the Front in the medical corps. Lucy, the elder surgeon's daughter, taunts those of the upper classes that they will not be affianced without a uniform and branded with a white feather instead. As the homes of the gentry are emptied of their sons, the first to enlist, (and take the toll of the largest number of British deaths of any group in WWI, as history proves though the novel does not share) the little village of Rye is on the cusp of immense social change. We, the readers, watch as the predictable patterns of the timeless Rye are about to be blurred beyond its people's recognition. I loved the characters. Shed a few tears, which surprised me. The novel saturated my senses, transported me. Truly a treat for lovers of well-researched and character filled historical fiction. I had hesitated to read it because the reviews were so mixed. SO happy that I did - a real pleasure! 5.00 stars!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Paromjit

    I absolutely adored this novel. Helen Simonsen is a gifted and erudite writer who has penned an intelligent period story set in the summer before the first world war. The narrative is rich in historical detail, gentle wit and laugh out loud humour. The pace is slow to take in the in depth observations of the characters, their development, and capture a picture of England embodied in Rye at a crucial time for the country. At the beginning, we see the social and moral strictures of a class ridden I absolutely adored this novel. Helen Simonsen is a gifted and erudite writer who has penned an intelligent period story set in the summer before the first world war. The narrative is rich in historical detail, gentle wit and laugh out loud humour. The pace is slow to take in the in depth observations of the characters, their development, and capture a picture of England embodied in Rye at a crucial time for the country. At the beginning, we see the social and moral strictures of a class ridden society that judges women and the lower classes harshly and by the end those rules are beginning to crumble. The author has a keen understanding of this period and the impact that war has on individuals, families and communities at that time. She does that effectively through her cast of characters - Agatha, the tour de force behind progressive community decisions. She is aided and abetted by Lady Emily and Eleanor. Beatrice, as a newly arrived Latin teacher, is a protege of Agatha’s. She lives in genteel poverty due to her father placing her trust money in the hands of obstructive relatives. Her job is precarious due to the machinations of the ghastly Bettina Fothergill, the Lord Mayor’s wife. We see this conflict between Mrs Fothergill and Agatha played out with both amusement and horror when decisions are in the hands of the so called traditionalist characters that include Lord North. Having said that, I was so pleased that Mr Tillingham turns out to be much more compassionate and progressive with regard to the treatment of Celeste and Beatrice. There is the love that dare not speaks its name laid out in the story and the backlash it inspires at the time. Hugh is a nearly qualified surgeon and the playful Daniel is a poet. They are portrayed as living a merry and privileged life, having fun at the Hop festival, supporting Agatha in her many schemes and including Beatrice in their social lives. It is an idyllic world until the shadows of the upcoming war creep in. You have the society young women, like Lucy, who hand out feathers to men, a symbol of cowardice, having little understanding of the nature of war. You have the parades that honour war and patriotism through enlisting. You begin to get a real picture of the war with the entrance of the refugees, although most locals still do not get how they might be affected in the future. Snout is a intelligent young gypsy schoolboy who is held back by the social rules that despise gypsies, and adhere to the fact that they hold no place in society and it is a waste that they are educated. This is why a 15 year old Snout enlists and pays such a fearful price for the narrow minds that pervade Rye. The war marks the shattering of the innocence depicted in the summer at Rye. We see a community marked by unspeakable suffering, death, injuries and grief that mark the people of Rye and Britain. The author is skilled in creating an absorbing, emotional and engaging prose that leaves us in no doubt of the impact of the war on Rye across the social spectrum. It also documents the slow and improving picture for women and some people becoming wiser as a result of the war. A truly gripping, entrancing and compulsive novel. I am grateful to Bloomsbury for a copy of the book via netgalley.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Shawn

    Fans of "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand", who were anxiously waiting for a follow up novel of equal charm and dazzle, will be greatly disappointed in this, the second novel by Helen Simonson. I was one of those people -- anxiously awaiting, and greatly disappointed. This book is nothing like 'Major Pettigrew'. I was both pleased and disappointed in that fact. Pleased because I don't want cookie cutter books from authors -- with thinly veiled sequels to successful first books. I want original. I Fans of "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand", who were anxiously waiting for a follow up novel of equal charm and dazzle, will be greatly disappointed in this, the second novel by Helen Simonson. I was one of those people -- anxiously awaiting, and greatly disappointed. This book is nothing like 'Major Pettigrew'. I was both pleased and disappointed in that fact. Pleased because I don't want cookie cutter books from authors -- with thinly veiled sequels to successful first books. I want original. I want different. To me, that's the sign of a truly gifted writer. What disappoints about this novel is that it carries not even a hint of the brilliance that shined so brightly in Simonson's debut. Without a doubt the writing is solid. I think we can safely place her in the category of authors for whom even their bad books are better than the best efforts of others. "The Summer Before the War", however, is nearly 500 pages of wasted talent. There is nothing that stands out in the storylines, and nothing memorable about the characters. Even the historical aspect is forgettable. Everything about it is lack luster. Let's face it, Major Pettigrew was high end Chick Lit. Chick Lit of the first water! It, understandably, set a certain expectation for a second novel by this author. Yet, you'd be hard pressed to find a duller, more lifeless love story than happens in this book! It is breathtaking in it's blandness. And, it took 465 pages to barely reach mediocrity!? I will eagerly await her next book, because I think she's proven her writing is worth waiting for. But, once the fervor dies down about this, and everyone comes to terms with the sad realities, "The Summer Before the War" may be considered one of the biggest "misses" ever to follow a hit.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Tammy

    Just the thing for Downton Abbey withdrawal. The Summer Before the War is rich with interesting characters and their relationships. It contains a few gasp worthy moments as it tells the tale of the inhabitants of a small country village as the Great War begins and ends. I was particularly struck by the treatment of women during this time. This is something that Downton Abbey deals with a bit breezily. Fans of Downton Abbey will love it. I did.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn

    Beatrice Nash, recently orphaned by the death of her beloved father, arrives in the idyllic village of Rye in Sussex at the start of the summer before WWI. She has been,rather controversially, hired to teach latin at the local grammar school. The male members Board of Governors is not convinced having a woman teach latin is a good thing but Agatha Kent is convinced Beatrice is the best qualified for the job. While waiting for the school year to start, Beatrice settles into her new accommodation Beatrice Nash, recently orphaned by the death of her beloved father, arrives in the idyllic village of Rye in Sussex at the start of the summer before WWI. She has been,rather controversially, hired to teach latin at the local grammar school. The male members Board of Governors is not convinced having a woman teach latin is a good thing but Agatha Kent is convinced Beatrice is the best qualified for the job. While waiting for the school year to start, Beatrice settles into her new accommodation and gets to know the people in the village including Agatha's nephews Hugh and Daniel, visiting for the summer and tutors some young boys in latin. However, before long the rumblings of war become louder and the village receives a group of Belgian refugees to house and Beatrice finds herself sharing her room with a young belgian woman. Soon enough the days of picnics and sunshine are over as the men, young and old enlist to fight in France. Many will not return and some will return injured in body or mind and none will ever be the same again. Helen Simonsen captures the feeling of the last of the summer before the war so well. Her characters are carefully built and their place in the strict Edwardian times adhered to. The women in particular are strong characters, especially Agatha and Beatrice, however their behaviour is still strictly dictated by Edwardian standards. Even as Beatrice's champion, Agatha still tells her that she must be careful to hide the fact that she writes so as not be taken as a Bohemian. Particularly galling to Beatrice is that her trust fund is parsimoniously managed by her distant relatives, even though Beatrice managed her father's accounts and household perfectly well, but now as a single spinster she can't possibly mange her own funds. Despite the necessary war scenes, this is a gentle book with much humour and intelligent banter. Beatrice is no shrinking violet and Agatha is more than a match for her rival, Bettina Fothergill, the mayor's wife. Hugh and Daniel are great characters; Hugh training to be a surgeon and Daniel the less practical poet. There are insights too into the lives of the working class people and the Romany gypsies who have been constant visitors at fruit and hop picking time. Helen Simonsen has crafted a gently lit snapshot of Britain before the war changed it forever and blew away much of how it thought about the place of class and gender in its society.

  13. 5 out of 5

    aPriL does feral sometimes

    'The Summer Before the War' is the kind of book where every part of the body below the eyebrows is vulgar. The story takes place in East Sussex, England in 1914, but it could just as easily have been a great 1950's sitcom plot for the sterile family-values show 'Leave it to Beaver' with a few changes. However, even Walt Disney would have rejected this pablum on the grounds of too many banal clichés. If you, gentle reader, want a stupefyingly dull read where shallow characters perform a 'The Summer Before the War' is the kind of book where every part of the body below the eyebrows is vulgar. The story takes place in East Sussex, England in 1914, but it could just as easily have been a great 1950's sitcom plot for the sterile family-values show 'Leave it to Beaver' with a few changes. However, even Walt Disney would have rejected this pablum on the grounds of too many banal clichés. If you, gentle reader, want a stupefyingly dull read where shallow characters perform a spotlessly clean puppet show of 'life', this is the novel for you. This pseudo-Edwardian novel opens as our 23-year-old spinster heroine, recently bereaved Beatrice Nash, who thinks she is pluckily independent, arrives at the English town of Rye. Despite her constant suffering at the slightly sniffy polite behavior of everyone there treating her like the poor lower-class schoolteacher she now is, since her respected intellectual-writer father died, she tries to persevere. But her feelings are hurt all of the time by all of the middle-class and aristocratic stuffy small-minded social-climbing but polite cardboard cutouts of East Sussex - not because she isn't like that, but because she is, and they all understand she has slipped down a rung on the social ladder now. All of the characters, including Beatrice, worry about breathing too hard while being alive for 450 pages. Meanwhile, some of the men realize WWI is starting. John and Agatha Grange Kent, who sponsored Beatrice for the job of Latin teacher, are stunned when nephews Hugh and his cousin Daniel enlist. Daniel's enlistment in particular surprises everyone because he writes poetry and he often demonstrates emotion. Beatrice rises above them all, though, because she actually has real sympathy for a young Belgian refugee, Celeste, who may have suffered an outrage before escaping Europe. While the entire village discusses putting the beautiful Celeste into a nunnery and putting the child far away someplace, but where, nobody in Rye has an idea, Beatrice hopes everything will be ok, because after all, she is the plucky heroine. Eventually, the war becomes more real because there isn't any more sugar around for biscuits. Some of the men don't come back. Impoverished spinster Beatrice and outraged Celeste are saved by - well, I don't think I even need to finish saying it, do I, genteel reader? Ok, a hint.(view spoiler)[ Marriage. (hide spoiler)] https://youtu.be/w6RnirpFaZk

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sandy *The world could end while I was reading and I would never notice*

    This is a quiet and gentle book that delivers a 'warts and all' social commentary on life leading up to and during the First World War. Set in East Sussex, 1914, Beatrice Nash arrives in the coastal town of Rye to take up her new position as Latin teacher. She is not what anyone was expecting; she is well travelled, young and attractive and her position is immediately put under threat by the Mayor's wife, Mrs Fothergill, who is busily promoting her nephew Mr Poot for the job. Agatha Kent, who This is a quiet and gentle book that delivers a 'warts and all' social commentary on life leading up to and during the First World War. Set in East Sussex, 1914, Beatrice Nash arrives in the coastal town of Rye to take up her new position as Latin teacher. She is not what anyone was expecting; she is well travelled, young and attractive and her position is immediately put under threat by the Mayor's wife, Mrs Fothergill, who is busily promoting her nephew Mr Poot for the job. Agatha Kent, who pushed for Beatrice's appointment, is not a woman to be trifled with, and this challenge from Mrs Fothergill's camp is just one in a long line. The town takes in Belgian refugees, the most notable of whom, The Professor and his daughter Celeste, will have a huge impact on the inhabitants of Rye as the men move off to war and the women fight battles of their own. The characters in this book are superbly developed; from the two ambulance drivers, who use their wit to obscure the horrors they face daily, to Snout, one of Beatrice's summer pupils, a bright and intelligent boy who wanted no more than to 'fit in' to a life he was not born to, to Celeste who is abandoned to her fate by her father who is more interested in saving his library than his daughter. There are moments of exquisite lightness and moments of heart-breaking tragedy in this moving tale that had me smiling and crying in turn. Thank you to NetGalley and publishers Random House for the gift of a digital ARC of The Summer Before the War in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    2.5 stars - rounded down. Once again, I find myself outside the majority on a book. I was excited and expecting to love it, I didn't. It was OK, but there was too much that was cliche, too much that was predictable, and too much that seemed to be to be stretching to address issues with modern sensibilities instead of 19th Century ones. I would truly like to think that ordinary Englishmen of this period were not so duplicitous and hard-hearted. Indeed, even the good-hearted people don’t seem to be 2.5 stars - rounded down. Once again, I find myself outside the majority on a book. I was excited and expecting to love it, I didn't. It was OK, but there was too much that was cliche, too much that was predictable, and too much that seemed to be to be stretching to address issues with modern sensibilities instead of 19th Century ones. I would truly like to think that ordinary Englishmen of this period were not so duplicitous and hard-hearted. Indeed, even the good-hearted people don’t seem to be able to pull it off. Lord North is just a cartoon character. Some things just didn’t make sense. (view spoiler)[To expose Daniel as gay would bring doubt and injury to his own son’s reputation. Would a man like North have risked that? Why get Daniel discharged from service when he will be on the battlefield and subject to being killed? Isn’t that what North would have wanted? Even the despicable of the world might draw the line at murdering a boy in order to have revenge on a man. I could not buy into North taking this form of revenge. According to Simonson, the Edwardians would have made the Victorians seem liberal and open-minded. (hide spoiler)] My reaction to this novel was more complex than that, however. It was very much about my inability to connect to these characters. They seemed terribly two dimensional. They laughed at the wrong time, they teased and kidded when they might have reasonably been expected to cry or moan or writhe in pain. I did not feel any emotional stirrings except (view spoiler)[in the trial portion and the shooting of the dog. (hide spoiler)] I was reading another book simultaneously that was set in the second World War. I could not help contrasting the two books and the impact they were having on me as I read. Perhaps this book might not have felt so bereft of reality had the other not been so moving and real. I went into this read with great expectations, as well, which can sometimes be a mistake. Obviously, this novel has had an impact on others, who found it fulfilling and satisfying. I am not saying they are wrong. It sometimes has as much to do with the reader as the writer and I am quite willing to admit that this time it might be weighted on the reader’s side. It was not poorly written (as regards to style and ability), it was not without its moments of elevation, it was just not, as my British friends might say, my cup of tea. A bit of Camomile when I was needing a strong Earl Grey.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    Despite the widely differing opinions and ratings on this one, I have to say I really liked it a lot. It was a little overlong, a little too heavy on the small town characatures, and just a tad predictable. Otherwise, a really good depiction of the summer of 1914 in England, just as the first world War was beginning. Simonson was not afraid to tackle big subjects like homosexuality, the refugee problem, and the unfair treatment of women disguised as "protection". Their were sections that read Despite the widely differing opinions and ratings on this one, I have to say I really liked it a lot. It was a little overlong, a little too heavy on the small town characatures, and just a tad predictable. Otherwise, a really good depiction of the summer of 1914 in England, just as the first world War was beginning. Simonson was not afraid to tackle big subjects like homosexuality, the refugee problem, and the unfair treatment of women disguised as "protection". Their were sections that read like a Jane Austen novel, with Beatrice and Aunt Agatha providing sensible women humor and scathing comments. I vote Maggie Smith as Aunt Agatha if a movie is made. Fans of "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand" will not be disappointed, but this one is very different and much more thought provoking.

  17. 4 out of 5

    JanB

    I hate to be one more voice saying this book doesn't live up to the author's first book, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, but it doesn't. If you like slow novels with an abundance of descriptive writing then this is the book for you. It has a Jane Austen feel about it, with the requisite strong-willed, intelligent female character and a small English village setting. Much attention is given to social standing, manners and propriety, much of it delivered with subtle wit. There was probably a good I hate to be one more voice saying this book doesn't live up to the author's first book, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, but it doesn't. If you like slow novels with an abundance of descriptive writing then this is the book for you. It has a Jane Austen feel about it, with the requisite strong-willed, intelligent female character and a small English village setting. Much attention is given to social standing, manners and propriety, much of it delivered with subtle wit. There was probably a good story buried among the 500 pages and tighter editing would have let the writing and story shine. The title is misleading, there are too many characters, too many subplots, and the ending just a bit too pat and predictable. But my main complaint is it was so slow, filled with pages and pages of mundane events and conversations. I struggled to finish it and by the end I was skimming. *Thanks to Netgalley and Random House for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review

  18. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    This novel is sweet and charming and wears its heart on its sleeve. It's not a perfect book, but I enjoyed it. The Summer Before the War is set in the summer of 1914 in a small English village. The dreadful world war is on the horizon, but for now, a bigger problem is who will teach Latin at the local school. Enter Beatrice Nash, a feisty single woman of 23, determined to live independently. A few of the villagers aren't ready for a female schoolteacher, and some plotting has to occur to secure This novel is sweet and charming and wears its heart on its sleeve. It's not a perfect book, but I enjoyed it. The Summer Before the War is set in the summer of 1914 in a small English village. The dreadful world war is on the horizon, but for now, a bigger problem is who will teach Latin at the local school. Enter Beatrice Nash, a feisty single woman of 23, determined to live independently. A few of the villagers aren't ready for a female schoolteacher, and some plotting has to occur to secure her the job. We meet other folks in the village, including a young doctor named Hugh Grange, and his headstrong Aunt Agatha, who likes to run things in the town. When war breaks out, it affects everyone in unexpected ways. The story expands when some refugees arrive, and their presence brings new problems. I mentioned at the start that this novel isn't perfect, and it's partly because the story felt so formulaic. Young boy runs off to war and dies? Check. Sensitive young man is sneered at for his homosexuality? Check. Feisty single gal falls in love with cute doctor? Check. I've seen a few reviews comparing this novel to Jane Austen, and I would agree only in the sense that Simonson focuses most of her story on the folks in one English village, just as Austen focused her novels. Otherwise, Summer lacks the depth, grace and natural wit of an Austen work. I would recommend this book to those who enjoy historical fiction, with the warning that serious readers will have seen all of this before. But if you like charming British novels, you might enjoy this.

  19. 4 out of 5

    K

    What a bummer. I really enjoyed Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and was eager to read Helen Simonson's sophomore attempt. Unfortunately this book was a disappointment. Although Simonsen's ability to craft a multilayered sentence was amply evident here, it was actually to the book's detriment as people engaged in dialogue that was long on eloquence and short on verissimilitude. This was most obvious when our hero and heroine conversed. Their detail-heavy exchanges were rather surprising for two What a bummer. I really enjoyed Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and was eager to read Helen Simonson's sophomore attempt. Unfortunately this book was a disappointment. Although Simonsen's ability to craft a multilayered sentence was amply evident here, it was actually to the book's detriment as people engaged in dialogue that was long on eloquence and short on verissimilitude. This was most obvious when our hero and heroine conversed. Their detail-heavy exchanges were rather surprising for two people who barely knew each other, yet there was no sense that their actual relationship was deepening. The characters in this book were mostly interchangeable and the plotline felt clicheed for historical fiction; independent ahead-of-her-time single woman moves to town and wants to fight societal norms (she wants to write a book! Everyone in these novels wants to write a book!), swears she'll never marry (hmm, do you think this wonderful guy she keeps talking to will test her resolve?), she's younger and prettier than they had expected (don't things ever happen to average-looking people?), etc., etc. I just lost patience after a while, and even though I enjoyed the convenience of being able to read this on my phone (free ARC from Netgalley; I do feel guilty panning it and dnfing it), it simply didn't do it for me.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Marie

    This historical fiction novel is set in the idyllic countryside of Rye the summer before England enters WW1. It begins as a comedy of manners as Beatrice Nash arrives at the home of Agatha and John Kent to be the new Latin teacher in Rye. Agatha’s nephews are there for the summer as well and there develops a romantic interest between Beatrice who has decided not to marry and one of the nephews who had planned on proposing to another woman. The social milieu of the time is explored throughout This historical fiction novel is set in the idyllic countryside of Rye the summer before England enters WW1. It begins as a comedy of manners as Beatrice Nash arrives at the home of Agatha and John Kent to be the new Latin teacher in Rye. Agatha’s nephews are there for the summer as well and there develops a romantic interest between Beatrice who has decided not to marry and one of the nephews who had planned on proposing to another woman. The social milieu of the time is explored throughout this book. The book explores society’s reaction to divorce, upward mobility, women’s rights, homosexuality, pregnancy outside of marriage (even if the result of rape). The scope of this book is large. The reader gets to know the Kents, their nephews, and Beatrice intimately through this novel, as well as their closest friends and associates. You learn how the politics and society are deeply entangled in the way the town functions and decisions are made. All plans for the future are turned on their head with the start of the war, however. First, refugees from Belgium arrive and are taken in by various residents of Rye. After getting to know and love so many young people in this idyllic setting, the young men begin going off to war. Some are injured, some are killed; all are affected by the war in different ways. People come together in ways they wouldn’t have pre-war. You watch the social fabric and rules start to change in subtle ways. There is a dramatic shift from prewar to wartime notable in the pace of events. The speech even changes from verbose to succinct. As Daniel says to Hugh, “War makes our needs so much smaller. In ordinary life, I never understood how much pleasure it gives me to see you.” The characters realize more than ever, through war, what and who is most important to them. I loved the characters, the hilarity of the social scenes, the budding romance between Hugh and Beatrice. I loved the social banter, the eloquent wordy ways in which they would argue and criticise each other, especially pre-war. The characters were very well developed such that I truly cared about them, who they ended up with, and how they fared. I thought that the contrast between the pre-war scenes and after war was declared very well done. The final reveal in the epilogue was something I had been wondering the entire book, and I was glad that that piece finally came to light. I gave this novel four stars for a brilliantly written, very enjoyable novel complete with family drama, societal etiquette, romance, and major societal commentaries on the values held by the people in England at the time. My favorite laugh-out-loud scene in the book is when Agatha Kent and Beatrice Nash are naked sunbathing in Agatha’s garden the morning following Beatrice’s arrival in Rye. Thank you so much to Netgalley, Random House, & Helen Simonson for the ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review! For discussion questions, please visit http://www.book-chatter.com/?p=212.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lorna

    The Summer Before the War takes place in the summer of 1914 in the idyllic English countryside and the coastal town of Rye in County Sussex as the lives of so many come together with the unfolding events as everyone is preparing for the Great War. Beatrice Nash, having been hired as the new Latin teacher, arrives with a trunk and several crates of books and a bicycle. We meet Aunt Agatha and her husband John Kent, a government official in London, as well as their nephews; Hugh Grange pursuing a The Summer Before the War takes place in the summer of 1914 in the idyllic English countryside and the coastal town of Rye in County Sussex as the lives of so many come together with the unfolding events as everyone is preparing for the Great War. Beatrice Nash, having been hired as the new Latin teacher, arrives with a trunk and several crates of books and a bicycle. We meet Aunt Agatha and her husband John Kent, a government official in London, as well as their nephews; Hugh Grange pursuing a medical career and Daniel Bookham, with a bohemian bent, pursuing poetry and the arts. With the arrival of refugees from Belgium, the reality of the impending war begins to impact the community and their decisions. The writing was beautiful and lyrical as I found myself totally immersed, not only in the novel, but all of the literary references. An interesting note by author Helen Simonson discusses many of the authors associated with Sussex and Kent during this time period, including Henry James, Rudyard Kipling, Virginia Woolf and Edith Wharton. I loved this book. It was in the first place, after the strangest fashion, a sense of extraordinary way in which the most benign conditions of light and air, of sky and sea, the most beautiful English summer conceivable, mixed themselves with all of the violence of action and passion. . . Never were desperate doing so blandly lighted up as by the two unforgettable months that I was to spend so much of in looking over from the old rampart of a little high-perched Sussex town at the bright blue streak of the Channel. HENRY JAMES, "Within the Rim" "War broke: and now Winter of the world With perishing great darkness closes in. . . . . For after Spring had bloomed in early Greece, And Summer blazed her glory out with Rome, An Autumn softly fell, a harvest home, A slow grand age, and rich with all increase, But now, for us, wild Winter, and the need Of sowings for new Spring, and blood for seed. WILFRED OWEN, "1914" "Come with me," he said, "and I will show you where your son lies." RUDYARD KIPLING, "The Gardener

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ellinor

    The Summer Before the War is one of the rare books which moved me to tears. I grew to like most of the characters very much and their fates really touched me. I enjoyed the style of The Summer Before the War. It reminded me a bit of Jane Austen with all the wit especially in the first part of the novel. Stylewise the book often read as if it had been written shortly after the Great War, and I'm saying this in a positive way: I really like reading novels from that time. However, I found the title The Summer Before the War is one of the rare books which moved me to tears. I grew to like most of the characters very much and their fates really touched me. I enjoyed the style of The Summer Before the War. It reminded me a bit of Jane Austen with all the wit especially in the first part of the novel. Stylewise the book often read as if it had been written shortly after the Great War, and I'm saying this in a positive way: I really like reading novels from that time. However, I found the title a little misleading: I thought that the book would be set entirely before the war. In fact the second half of the book is set during the war and the last 50 pages are even set at the trenches. But this took nothing from my enjoyment of reading it. I was torn between rating it 4 or 5 stars. In the end I opted for 4 stars because the story wasn't extraordinary enough for 5 stars. (I received a free digital copy via Netgalley/ the publisher. Thanks for the opportunity!)

  23. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    I admit that when I helped craft this topic in my ongoing book challenge, it was the most difficult for me to complete, as few books I know actively take place during a single season and highlight that fact. Once I flipped through my library’s offerings and came upon this piece by Helen Simonson, I knew I had a winner. Mix the quaintness of an English village with the impending thunder of the Great War and Simonson has a recipe for an interesting and highly tangential novel. The bucolic town of I admit that when I helped craft this topic in my ongoing book challenge, it was the most difficult for me to complete, as few books I know actively take place during a single season and highlight that fact. Once I flipped through my library’s offerings and came upon this piece by Helen Simonson, I knew I had a winner. Mix the quaintness of an English village with the impending thunder of the Great War and Simonson has a recipe for an interesting and highly tangential novel. The bucolic town of Rye, England is precisely what it appears to be. Nestled away from the big city, it is home to a community that is tightly woven together, yet keep away from the big city stresses. However, when the school requires a new Latin teacher, the scholastic gap might as well be an endless abyss. It may be the summer of 1914, but no child should be without a chance to expand their knowledge, or so the sentiment appears to be. When Agatha Kent locates the perfect candidate, she seeks to knock down many of the walls Rye has built around itself, while permitting her also to push forth her women’s rights agenda. Beatrice Nash arrives to take the post, having just lost her father and life-long mentor. While Nash is young, she has all the credentials and Agatha is sure that the school’s board will not be able to turn her down. As Nash settles into her new home, she is surrounded by townsfolk, all of whom have their own perspectives of what life is like and how the greater world should react to the potential war about to burst onto the European scene. Plunging into her work, Nash soon learns that she may have bitten off more than she can chew, as Rye is anything but the peaceful town she might have expected, and things are just getting started. Simonson does a masterful job of mixing humour, politics, and early twentieth century English ways of life in this novel that captivates as it entertains. Recommended to those who enjoy something a little lighter, but still full of heavy political and social issues, all peppered with humorous undertones. Having never read Helen Simonson before, I was unsure what I ought to expect or if this would be the ideal book for my current reading challenge. I came to see that it strays far from what I might be used to reading, but definitely hit the spot and opened my eyes to a new and promising author. Beatrice Nash is surely more than the next Latin teacher, something she exhibits through her forward personality and stern scholastic manner. She must, however, try to fit into this small-town mentality without letting herself go mad. Nash exhibits some interesting characteristics, all of which come to the surface as she interacts with many of the townsfolk in Rye. The numerous secondary characters prove to be highly entertaining and offer a wonderful flavour of what the reader can expect throughout, engaging one another on many topics from local charitable ventures to the suffrage movement and even into politics of the Great War through Belgian Refugee Relief. Simonson delves deep to provide a wonderful cross-section of society and forces them all to subsist in a goldfish bowl, while the reader watches. The story is a mix of social commentary, dry wit, and even some political sentiment, which propels the reader to see World War I through the eyes of a small English community, something that might be foreign to many who pick-up this book. It is by opening one’s mind—as the townspeople must do for Nash—that the truth can seep in and shape the future for all. Kudos, Madam Simonson, for this delightful book. I was so pleased to have taken a risk on it and hope many others will read it for themselves. This book fulfills Topic #6: The Current Season/Equiniox for the Equinox #4 Reading Challenge. Love/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at: http://pecheyponderings.wordpress.com/ A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/...

  24. 5 out of 5

    Bettie

    Description: East Sussex, 1914. It is the end of England's brief Edwardian summer, and everyone agrees that the weather has never been so beautiful. Hugh Grange, down from his medical studies, is visiting his Aunt Agatha, who lives with her husband in the small, idyllic coastal town of Rye. Agatha's husband works in the Foreign Office, and she is certain he will ensure that the recent saber rattling over the Balkans won't come to anything. And Agatha has more immediate concerns; she has just Description: East Sussex, 1914. It is the end of England's brief Edwardian summer, and everyone agrees that the weather has never been so beautiful. Hugh Grange, down from his medical studies, is visiting his Aunt Agatha, who lives with her husband in the small, idyllic coastal town of Rye. Agatha's husband works in the Foreign Office, and she is certain he will ensure that the recent saber rattling over the Balkans won't come to anything. And Agatha has more immediate concerns; she has just risked her carefully built reputation by pushing for the appointment of a woman to replace the Latin master. When Beatrice Nash arrives with one trunk and several large crates of books, it is clear she is significantly more freethinking--and attractive--than anyone believes a Latin teacher should be. For her part, mourning the death of her beloved father, who has left her penniless, Beatrice simply wants to be left alone to pursue her teaching and writing. But just as Beatrice comes alive to the beauty of the Sussex landscape and the colorful characters who populate Rye, the perfect summer is about to end. For despite Agatha's reassurances, the unimaginable is coming. Soon the limits of progress, and the old ways, will be tested as this small Sussex town and its inhabitants go to war. To my parents, Alan and Margaret Phillips Opening: THE TOWN OF RYE rose from the flat marshes like an island, its tumbled pyramid of red-tiled roofs glowing in the slanting evening light. The high Sussex bluffs were a massive, unbroken line of shadow from east to west, the fields breathed out the heat of the day, and the sea was a sheet of hammered pewter. If you fancy an accomplished South Coast story that keeps reminding you of Austen, then this could be a bull's eye for you as it was for me. I must admit, the title was off-putting, given this summer of 2017 and all the global tensions, however, ploughing on through the portents gave rich reward and reminded me of childhood holidays in the marshes. Indulging in heads-ups, this book brings flisters to the fore: Susanna, Judy, Bob - thank you for this book Carey - I think of your teaching of the Classics Wanda - for also finding this book was the right read at the right time Kathryn - for introducing me to Alexander Pope all those years ago. Happy the man, whose wish and care A few paternal acres bound, Content to breathe his native air, In his own ground. Whose heards with milk, whose fields with bread, Whose flocks supply him with attire, Whose trees in summer yield him shade, In winter fire. Blest! who can unconcern'dly find Hours, days, and years slide soft away, In health of body, peace of mind, Quiet by day, Sound sleep by night; study and ease Together mix'd; sweet recreation, And innocence, which most does please, With meditation. Thus let me live, unseen, unknown; Thus unlamented let me dye; Steal from the world, and not a stone Tell where I lye. (Alexander Pope - Ode on Solitude)

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tom Mathews

    The Great War, as World War I was called before another, larger conflict came along and made numeration necessary, introduced to the world the Industrial Revolution’s penchant for efficiency, streamlining one of mankind’s oldest activities, that of killing each other. What with poison gas, machine guns, barbed wire, tanks, airplanes and explosive artillery, the ability to commit wholesale slaughter achieved apocalyptic proportions. Soldiers from all over the globe died in the millions trying to The Great War, as World War I was called before another, larger conflict came along and made numeration necessary, introduced to the world the Industrial Revolution’s penchant for efficiency, streamlining one of mankind’s oldest activities, that of killing each other. What with poison gas, machine guns, barbed wire, tanks, airplanes and explosive artillery, the ability to commit wholesale slaughter achieved apocalyptic proportions. Soldiers from all over the globe died in the millions trying to capture or recapture terrain that was measured in yards, or even feet. In Verdun, there is a single crypt that contains the remains of an estimated 130,000 unidentified soldiers who fell on that battlefield alone. Sometimes numbers are so great they lose all meaning but when you see the Mémorial Ossuaire, the impact is staggering. In the summer before the war, though, and in Helen Simonson’s book of that name war on such a scale was beyond anyone’s imagining. How could a little unpleasantness in the Balkans possibly disrupt the most pleasant summer East Sussex has seen in years? For a cast of characters that Downton Abbey’s mourners will appreciate, the coming conflict is seen more as an opportunity. Men’s careers and reputations will be made and women will be able to exhibit their philanthropic natures by tending to the needs of refugees fleeing Belgium. In less skillful hands, Beatrice the spinster Latin teacher, Hugh the stuffy aspiring surgeon, and Daniel the flamboyant poet cousin would be stereotypical caricatures. Fortunately, Simonson has done an amazing job of fleshing out a varied cast of characters, artfully endowing each with his or her own unique personality. As I listened to this spellbinding story, ably narrated by Fiona Hardingham, I could not help but recall a poem that perfectly captures the melancholy spirit of this excellent novel. The poem is by by A.E. Housman, a kindred spirit of Daniel. When I would muse in boyhood The wild green woods among, And nurse resolves and fancies Because the world was young, It was not foes to conquer, Nor sweethearts to be kind, But it was friends to die for That I would seek and find. I sought them far and found them, The sure, the straight, the brave, The hearts I lost my own to, The souls I could not save. They braced their belts about them, They crossed in ships the sea, They sought and found six feet of ground, And there they died for me.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ann Marie (Lit·Wit·Wine·Dine)

    Helen Simonson has proven she's no one-trick pony. The author of the NYT bestselling debut, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, has left no doubt that she is here to stay. The Summer Before the War transports us to the beautiful seaside town of Rye, East Sussex. My mind's eye has conjured a bit of a Pleasantville feel to this innocent pre-war town where everything is just as it should be at the beginning of the book. Beatrice Nash is the new Latin teacher at the local school. She can thank Agatha Helen Simonson has proven she's no one-trick pony. The author of the NYT bestselling debut, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, has left no doubt that she is here to stay. The Summer Before the War transports us to the beautiful seaside town of Rye, East Sussex. My mind's eye has conjured a bit of a Pleasantville feel to this innocent pre-war town where everything is just as it should be at the beginning of the book. Beatrice Nash is the new Latin teacher at the local school. She can thank Agatha Grange, who is a member of the school's Board of Governors, for her having been offered the position as many in the town are aghast at the prospect of a woman teaching Latin. Agatha has really stuck her neck out with her fellow Board members in getting Beatrice this teaching appointment and she takes her under her wing in her determination to see Beatrice become a success. She did, however, count upon Beatrice being a little more spinsterly than the attractive, intelligent woman who showed up at her door. (She plainly states that though she is progressive, she would not have considered hiring an attractive teacher.) Agatha and her husband are very close to their nephews Daniel and Hugh. The boys grew up summering with Aunt Agatha and Uncle John, who, having no children of their own, provide much parental love and guidance to the young men. Daniel is a talented aspiring poet. Hugh has just finished his training to become a surgeon with a renowned mentor. Life changes dramatically, of course, once the war begins. It all starts with the arrival of the Belgian refugees; the beautiful Celeste and her father. Celeste is staying with Beatrice while her father, the professor, stays nearby with the famous poet, Mr. Tillingham. Soon many of our characters are drawn to serve in the war efforts.They serve in all capacities ranging from the men on the front lines to the ladies who are doing their part on the homefront. The characters in this book are all remarkably well-developed and complex. This goes for minor (I'm thinking of the surly ambulance drivers) characters as well which is something I think of as difficult to pull off when we only get to know a character on a page or two. What really makes this book special however, is the way it made me feel. There were smiles and tears and I think it's been a while since a book has moved me in that way. I'm finding that the more I read, the more difficult it can be to access those emotions. The author does a beautiful job reminding us of the very real and terrible consequences of war while tempering all of the tragedy and sadness with the light that good people with good intentions can bring to a difficult situation. My rating: 4.5 stars www.litwitwineanddine.com Thanks to Random House Publishing Group via NetGalley for providing me with a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Colleen

    The author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand has done it again. A perfect 5 star read. Lord North doesn't like me much. I think he's suspicious of people who read. And she had never had patience with those more literary heroines who solved their problems with a knife or an oncoming train. They would pick the man over her, but she would make sure they knew, in their hearts, that she was the better candidate. Mr. Poot, I believe we have only barely been introduced. I do not wish to be rude, but it is The author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand has done it again. A perfect 5 star read. Lord North doesn't like me much. I think he's suspicious of people who read. And she had never had patience with those more literary heroines who solved their problems with a knife or an oncoming train. They would pick the man over her, but she would make sure they knew, in their hearts, that she was the better candidate. Mr. Poot, I believe we have only barely been introduced. I do not wish to be rude, but it is not quite nice for you to accost me in the street. We shall remain modest about our contribution and silent on our methods. I shall ask dear Mrs. Fothergill to recommend a selection from the many she is now enjoying. Well, not beyond the obvious disappointment that she is, in fact, a complete horse. But I will attempt to remain upright, at least in my chair. By claiming a small space for ourselves, we can perhaps return to the innocence of our childhood. And through the lens of innocence we can begin to glimpse something true. Or if drinking in the afternoon- I assure you, dear Miss Nash, that champagne is quite the muse if approached with the proper air of worship. People who say they are not suspicious are fooling no one but themselves. One wishes to allow room for the flourishing of personal conscience. The dread hand of authority can instill fear, but it cannot build character. Agatha held it to be the greatest of all John's many qualities as a husband that he always stood shoulder to shoulder with her; or rather, did exactly as he was told. Youth's lost companion may be the measured friend of old age, I hope. He of the ancient wisdom and sour face. Gossip is only corrosive to the spirit of one entertains it. Do as I do and let it roll off you like water of a duck's back. She had long maintained no interest in marriage, but perhaps she had not properly considered the full implications of the spinster life. Why does everyone burden me with their secrets? It's an unfair slur in my character to always be considered dependable. God would not be so cruel as to taunt us with sunshine. Grief begs for dark skies. She is not my Beatrice. Make her so, Hugh said Daniel. She is so obviously meant to put up with you. You are half my life too said Daniel. Live for both of us, Hugh. Love for both of us. And for goodness' sake try to be a little less stuffy. Yes, dear Hugh. It is the unexpected note that makes the poem. You, Hugh, are the unexpected note. I'm coming said Agatha. No forth on Earth will keep me from those docks. He was my son said Snout's father. He was a scholar and a soldier and a good son to his mother. But the stone was found and the sound of her single sob carried down the rows to where they stood together. It's always the mothers said the gardener.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    *Buddy Read with Lyuda* I have a 'freebie' to make to all my friends and followers on Goodreads but more of that in a few minutes. Once upon a time, In a land so far away, There was an undercurrent of dissatisfaction, And a rumbling of malcontent, Among the good citizens, Of many countries. It was 1914 in the small community of Rye, England and it was The Summer Before the War. Beatrice Nash was hired to teach Latin; an unheard of job for a woman of that era. Her loving father had passed away and left *Buddy Read with Lyuda* I have a 'freebie' to make to all my friends and followers on Goodreads but more of that in a few minutes. Once upon a time, In a land so far away, There was an undercurrent of dissatisfaction, And a rumbling of malcontent, Among the good citizens, Of many countries. It was 1914 in the small community of Rye, England and it was The Summer Before the War. Beatrice Nash was hired to teach Latin; an unheard of job for a woman of that era. Her loving father had passed away and left her without much-needed funds to survive. In moments of silence, she thought he had unfairly abandoned her. She soon would learn the sharp differences of a young lady attended by a man and a woman alone. Hugh Grange was a comfortable man. At the age of 24, his goal was to become a well-respected surgeon and marry his mentor's daughter. This was before he met the educated and independent Miss Nash and the breakout of The Great War: the first man-made disaster of the 20th century. Beatrice's ally was the indomitable Agatha Kent. Mrs. Kent's nephews were the serious Hugh and his cousin, the scathingly-witty poet, Daniel. They are as different as night is to day. Together they take on Agatha's nemesis, Bettina Fothergill; her pompous husband, the mayor, and their annoying relative, Mr. Poot. The threesome intend on sabotaging Beatrice's educational appointment. But there was so much more going on. The mellow village of Rye was the embodiment of small-town living with commoners and eccentric aristocrats. There were gossips and prejudices, distinct social classes and a smattering of feminism. With many of the characters, the tension between desire and duty constantly recurred. The Summer Before the War acknowledged its comfort slowly. ~~~ I simply love this author's style of writing; it reminded me of a ship on water. Sometimes the sea was calm and the bateau floated gently by. Other times the waves surged and crashed and the craft had to fight its way to port. Ms. Simonson's gift, and with all my heart I believe it is a gift, is her ability to take a group of words and fashion them into a powerful emotion. She researched and started to write this story 5+ years ago. She lived in Rye as a teenager. One of her characters was based on the very real author Henry James. The story was the heartbeat of sensible historical fiction and a very human comedy of manners. I was awed at how it made me feel. The plot encompassed humor, shock, romance, amazement and a plethora of other sentiments. All of the characters, with their offbeat personalities, were multiple shades of gray. It was my absolutely favorite story in 2015 and 2016. And believe me when I say, I went back and reviewed all my titles on Goodreads for this time period. ~~~ This narrative can easily be read alone but it is much more enjoyable as a buddy-read. Thank you again, Lyuda! The intense feelings that it compels are best shared with another. And now, My Offer: if you cannot find someone to read it with you, send me a message and I will be your book-companion. I can't imagine forgetting this story anytime soon and I would not mind sharing our thoughts. And don't worry if you disagree with my five-star rating. I always love a challenge!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Camie

    Helen Simonson after doing extensive research has written a beautiful very " Jane Austin " feeling story about the genteel folks of small town Rye , East Sussix, in the year before the war, 1914. There are many characters to love here, highly regarded and strongly opinionated Aunt Agatha, her obedient ( mostly) husband John who works in the Foreign office, and their two Nephews , Hugh a physician and Daniel a poet both of whom are enjoying the dotage , and prestige of the childless couple during Helen Simonson after doing extensive research has written a beautiful very " Jane Austin " feeling story about the genteel folks of small town Rye , East Sussix, in the year before the war, 1914. There are many characters to love here, highly regarded and strongly opinionated Aunt Agatha, her obedient ( mostly) husband John who works in the Foreign office, and their two Nephews , Hugh a physician and Daniel a poet both of whom are enjoying the dotage , and prestige of the childless couple during a summer visit. There's also Beatrice Nash , an unexpectedly beautiful and ( by some unwelcome) teacher recruited and sponsored by Aunt Agatha as a Latin teacher at the school who arrives mourning her father and determined to be a freethinking spinster. Their lives are all about to change as the war once believed unthinkable begins to crowd in , and Belgian refugee's begin to arrive and are taken in. Most notably a Professor and his young daughter Celeste, who will also have big roles to play in the tale. We also have a resident author who contributes his own artistic flair to the town. The author is not afraid to include controversy , and one of the first casualties of war is the loss of the usual prim and proper deportment of these town people as they face the challenges of wartime. I have not read this author's debut novel the bestselling Major Pettigrew's Last Stand , a highly rated book which many reviewers state they have enjoyed even more than this one, so I'm in for a treat as I already really enjoyed this one. 4.5 stars ( Parts 1 and 11) and 5 stars (part 111 and IV) where the pace of the action really picks up . Great choice -July KUYH group !!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Dorie - Cats&Books :)

    I read “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” and really enjoyed it so I jumped at the chance to read Helen Simonson’s new book. My curiosity was further heightened because I haven’t read many books about WWI and the year 1914 intrigued me. I did enjoy this book but as much as I liked the characters, I wasn’t really totally invested in them or how things would end for any of them, even Beatrice. Beatrice had led a very different life before coming to Rye. She was well traveled accompanying her father who I read “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” and really enjoyed it so I jumped at the chance to read Helen Simonson’s new book. My curiosity was further heightened because I haven’t read many books about WWI and the year 1914 intrigued me. I did enjoy this book but as much as I liked the characters, I wasn’t really totally invested in them or how things would end for any of them, even Beatrice. Beatrice had led a very different life before coming to Rye. She was well traveled accompanying her father who was a professor and writer. Three quarters of the way through the book I found myself skimming pages, it was just too long and sometimes seemed repetitive to me. I enjoyed the descriptions of the town of Rye in 1914 and the seemingly total innocence, or resistence of the idea of war of the townspeople. Agatha was probably my favorite character. She takes Beatrice under her wing when she arrives as the first Latin teacher the town has ever had. She does everything she can to secure her position and even helps her furnish her small apartment. Agatha is a mother figure and the aunt of her two nephews, Hugh and Daniel. Their personalities are very different. Hugh is a dedicated, kind and caring young man studying to be a doctor. Daniel has yet to decide what he wants to do with his life and likes to play “man about town” but later in the book his true character is revealed. The writing in this book is wonderful, poetic and descriptive. I just wish there had been more editing as the book just didn’t hold my interest. I would still recommend this book as it was an enjoyable very leisurely read. I look forward to the next book by Ms. Simonson. I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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