The First of July
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The First of July

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  119 ratings  ·  33 reviews
On July 1st, 1913, four very different men are leading four very different lives.

Exactly three years later, it is just after seven in the morning, and there are a few seconds of peace as the guns on the Somme fall silent and larks soar across the battlefield, singing as they fly over the trenches. What follows is a day of catastrophe in which Allied casualties number almos...more
Hardcover, 399 pages
Published November 14th 2013 by Pegasus Books (first published November 2013)
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Oh, my goodness!! This novel was astonishing and mesmerizing! It took my breath away. Do read this book; you'll be glad you did!

This novel begins in 1913; then World War I breaks out and leads up to the Battle of the Somme [which "began on the middle day, of the middle year of the War", July 1, 1916], the battle itself and aftermath. This is the story of four different men from different social classes: the Englishmen, Benedict, gentle organ student at Gloucester Cathedral and son of a vicar; F...more
Diane S.
Speller certainly has the ability to craft a well-plotted, tightly constructed novel. I found that they way this novel was written was amazing. Four men from diverse backgrounds all find themselves involved in fighting in France during World War I. We first learn about these men from separate chapters, each devoted to one of the men, and thus we learn their hopes and dreams, about their lives and loves and the reader becomes emotionally vested in each of these men.

That is not to say that this is...more
Nov 24, 2013 Joseph rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: war
The First of July by Elizabeth Speller is a novel that examines the lives of four men leading up to the opening of the Battle of the Somme. Speller has lived throughout western Europe and currently splits her time between Gloucestershire and Greece. She has written for The Independent, Financial Times, Vogue, and Big Issue. This is her third novel.

I spend quite a bit of time reading World War I books, from Ernest K Gann's In the Company of Eagles which started me in my early teens to Paul Janko...more
This is the third novel by Elizabeth Speller, a stand-alone novel, following the brilliant; The Return of Captain John Emmet and The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton, which feature a character in the years following WW1. This novel follows the fortunes of four very different men, just before and during the First World War.
Next year of course it will be a hundred years since the outbreak of WW1 – so the publication of this novel then is very timely, pulling no punches, it is an emotional, evocative...more
TheRLPL Rice Lake Public Library
Patron Review:

This book centers on the experience of four young men, on French and three British, who experience and participate in World War I from the eye of the war on July 1, 1913, to the eye of the great battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916. Jean-Baptiste comes from a small village in France; Bennedict,an organ student at the great cathedral at Gloucester; Frank Stanton, the son of a casket maker, who goes to London to seek his fortune as a cabinet maker and then department store clerk; and...more
This book as was a quick and – despite the subject matter – light read. Unfortunately, it did not do much for me: I kept thinking that I was supposed to feel more than I actually did. The book follows four separate men (three British and one French) caught up in World War I, culminating in the Battle of the Somme. Though each character has his own thread, they coincide too frequently to be credible.

The book clearly is aiming straight for the heart – as the postscript informs us, the Battle of t...more
Paul Cook
The First of July is Elizabeth Speller's third novel, all three set in and around WWI. The July 1 date in the title refers to the first day of the horrendously bloody Battle of the Somme, which dragged on into mid-November of that year, dragging a million casualties with it.

The narrative focuses on the stories of four young men, one British and living in New York City, two others who live in Britain, and one Frenchman. Speller begins their stories in 1913, placing them in their civilian lives,...more
Holly Fetter
I really enjoyed this book. At first, I wasn't sure I was going to like it, but it didn't take long for me to be sucked in. I love reading WWI era fiction, and this one didn't disappoint (unlike Wake). I liked how the 4 main characters were connected, yet separate, and didn't feel like a far fetched "you gotta be kidding me" coincidence when their lives intersect. Well done!
Four young men, possibly heroes, are protagonists in THE FIRST OF JULY: Frank, a former coffin-maker turned London department store clerk who fancies himself an Internationalist; Benedict, a Gloucester music student with the gift/curse of synesthesia and a homosexual crush on his impulsive best friend; Jean-Batiste, an indomitable blacksmith's helper who thinks the amorous doctor in his French village is a German spy and who dreams of stealing a rowboat to seek his fortune in a wider world; and...more
Heather Schmitt
I enjoyed this book very much. Thank God it wasn't like a bunch of WWI fiction I have had the misfortune of wasting my time with,where the female characters are so wishy-washy you want to smack them or so militant you want to tranquilize them just to get them to calm down a tad. This book did not have that. Excellent character development, and I was emotionally involved/invested in all four of the men.I was overjoyed with the survivors and the characters who perished...well,I was destroyed. I si...more
This is a sweeping war epic that deserves a place with the better books about the first world war.

With recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, readers often forget the worst battles and terrific losses of WWI. In the disaster that was the Battle of the Somme, final numbers showed over 57,000 casualties, of which over 19,000 killed and over 35,000 wounded.

The story portrays the lives of four men in the years prior to WWI. We follow their paths from 1913 to their actions in the battle on July 1, 1916...more
I am endlessly fascinated by WWI, and it was in that spirit that I picked up this book, which exceeded my expectations. It's the story of five men and how their lives intertwine just prior to and then during the first World War. They seem so different: Jean-Baptiste, a rural French boy who grows up along the banks of the Somme; Henry, a British national who has moved to America and is about to be married; Frank, a coffin-maker from rural England who loves cycling; and Benedict and Theo, who are...more
Karen Cole
At Break of Day (published as The First of July in the USA) follows four men, Jean-Baptiste, a French teenager from the Somme who dreams of adventure; Frank, an ambitious shop assistant working in London; Benedict, an organ scholar at Gloucester Cathedral and Harry, a wealthy English industrialist living in New York. Beginning on July 1st 1913 as Europe teetered on the brink of war, we learn what leads each of these men to their involvement in the first day of the Battle of the Somme exactly thr...more
Tom Gordon
Well written, characters well defined, nice detail throughout, and I thought those qualities offset the serendipitous way these characters came together. A statistical summary of the Battle of the Somme, which began on July 1, 1916, is an important bit of information at the end of the book. I've walked on parts of the battlefield, stopped at small, well-tended British cemeteries adjacent to farm fields and seen sprawling monuments to the many who died never knowing that their sacrifice would do...more
As someone who has read many many books about WWI I at first thought this would fall in the middle. However, by the end I was hooked. The book follows four young men as they move inexorably towards the first day of the battle of the Somme. Although they do not know each other they in some way have influence on each other and occasionally have glancing contact. Although I wouldn't say you get to know each soldier well, you get to know them well enough to care for them.
Pam Walter
This was a very enjoyable read, and look at the Great War, from the soldier's viewpoint.

Spelling has very cleverly woven together the personal and professional lives of 4 recruits who had no prior knowledge of one another, but have been pulled together during chance meetings.
Graphically, though accurately viewed...........close up.

Wonderful character development. I loved it.
Jo at Jaffareadstoo
This story begins in 1913, on the cusp of WW1, and introduces us four very different young men, whose lives are about to be changed forever by what happens on the First of July 1916, during the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

I found the book to be a well written account of the horror of warfare and of lives broken and lost in the heat of battle. I liked how the author combined the stories so that we are given the perspective from each of the four men, Frank, Benedict, Jean-Batiste, and Har...more
This story follows 4 very different young men as they experience WWI. Very interesting as each man's story is so different- yet in somethings they become strangely entwined. Loved the history and culture. Felt the war and battle scenes were very well done and realistic. Good character development- I will look for other books by this author. Would recommend for all. Would rate 3.5 stars if possible.
Aug 11, 2014 Aimee added it
As the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of World War I has just past, I thought reading First of July was an appropriate novel. Unfortunately, I had a difficult time connecting to the author's prose and her style of writing did not resonant with me. Despite the good reviews, I could not finish the book.
Jun 25, 2014 Barbara rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: wwi
This was an excellent book. It told the stories of 4 different young men and how they all wound up on the Somme on July 1, 1916. While it was a novel, not a historical account, the author had clearly done her research on the battle and the lead-up to the battle. It was very moving.
I've really liked Speller's other books, so I was glad that this was another good read. Following four young men before and as they become cannon fodder during the Great War, Speller does a great job of depicting them, warts and all. Their journey toward the 1st of July is both compelling and heartbreaking - leaving the reader mourning the lads who don't make it all the way through (that's not really a spoiler, surely? I mean, statistically, readers wouldn't/shouldn't assume that they all surviv...more
Dave Hoff
Looking thru the 1st 100 pages I was prepared to give it one star and set it aside. Then my interest picked up and by the time I finished, it truly is a 4 star book. The lives of 4 men who endured the horrors of WW One, 2 giving there lives, gave this military history buff his money's worth. I would like a sequel with Jean-Baptiste and Teddy as main characters.
This is really really good. WWI at its best and worst. The title refers to the beginning of the push on the Somme with half a million soldiers.

"The Somme campaign was finally brought to a close by bad weather after 143 days. By that time, there had been few territorial gains but over one million casualties on all sides".

The story follows 4 men from different countries, class, and occupation, before and during the battle.
Novel about four fighting men during World War One that reads more like non-fiction than fiction. A good shelf addition to anyone trying to learn more about WWI during its centennial years.
Really a good book.
This is the story of four men and their lives leading up to, and during the first day of the Battle of the Somme. I'm not sure how much I liked it, so just 3 stars, but it was well written, though I didn't connect with most of the characters until well into the book. Having said that there were some quite moving passages towards the end, and I enjoyed the character Benedict, an organ scholar who sees music in waves of colour.
A wonderful novel, moving and poetic, following a group of young men during the months leading up to 1 July 2016 and the Battle of the Somme. The river itself is almost as much a character as it is transformed from an Eden into Hell over just a few months. Not an easy read in places, but not one you should miss.

A full review
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It's well-written, so I'm looking forward to reading her earlier books. Her descriptions and pacing were very good. I really liked that it wasn't 500 pages long, it felt tight and the gaps were illustrative rather than confusing, but I found the plot a little coincidental. The intersections and interactions of the characters did not resonate with me.
Dec 30, 2013 Linden rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: ww1
The battle of the Somme told from the point of view of four different soldiers.
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Elizabeth Speller is a poet and author of four non-fiction books including a biography of Emperor Hadrian, companion guides to Rome and to Athens, and a memoir, Sunlight on the Garden. She has contributed to publications as varied as the Financial Times, Big Issue and Vogue and produced the libretto for a requiem for Linda McCartney, Farewell, composed by Michael Berkeley (OUP). She currently has...more
More about Elizabeth Speller...
The Return of Captain John Emmett The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton Following Hadrian: A Second-Century Journey Through the Roman Empire The Sunlight on the Garden: A Memoir of Love, War and Madness At Break of Day

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