Monday, February 20, 2017

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

Star Rating : 5 out of 5 
Content Rating : MILD

Back Cover :
"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.”

My Thoughts :
I LOVED IT. Simonson’s story reminds me of a PBS masterpiece series. If you are missing Downton Abbey this is the perfect book for you. The book gives you a glimpse into the normal lives of early twentieth century England with a small problem of the war thrown in. Simonson’s reminds readers of simpler times without pretending it was perfect. I highly recommend it; it’s a must read.

I gave it a MILD rating. There are some secondhand reports of violence of battles or wounds, nothing gory or detailed. There are few uses of mild language, a few veiled references of homosexuality and a young woman alludes to being raped.

What I liked :
  • Characters – The characters are the story. They pull you in. I was emotionally involved in the plot; I literally wanted to punch one of the characters in the face. Beatrice to everyone in the town’s horror is a well-educated, independent woman with a mind of her own. How dare she! Agatha Kent is a town leader that takes Beatrice under her wing. She is ever the diplomatic, loving and fun. Daniel is also an interesting character; the town is filled with interesting characters.
  • The Story – World War I was a time of great change. Limits are tested and barriers slow long established begin to fall. It’s a slower moving book, more like real life than most. It’s a great story and in my opinion really immerses you in the early 1900s. Simonson’s style is very subtle and very descriptive.
  • The Research – Simonson really did her research beforehand. It reflects the time wonderfully and has great tidbits from the time woven in. For example, Henry James, an American author who would have much preferred to have been born in England, did live in East Sussex where they story takes place. Simonson cleverly inserts parts of Henry James’s character into Mr. Twillingham in her book.
What I didn’t like :
  • The Title – The title insinuates it is a book about one summer. Actually, the book starts in the summer before the war, fast forwards a bit through the actual war, and ends with the remaining characters at the end of the war.
  • The Ending - I felt like the focus change from the home-front to the trenches towards the end of the book was a little odd; but, it didn't dissuade me too much.
What others are saying :
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

“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 treasure.”—Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun

Reviewed by Shayna Hinshaw

Pick it up at Amazon or Barnes & Noble

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