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The Summer Before the War

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3.78  ·  Rating details ·  34,304 ratings  ·  4,946 reviews
The bestselling author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand returns with a breathtaking novel of love and war 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
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Hardcover, 481 pages
Published March 22nd 2016 by Random House (first published March 1st 2016)
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Average rating 3.78  · 
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 ·  34,304 ratings  ·  4,946 reviews


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Jennifer
Feb 21, 2016 rated it it was ok
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 fr
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Lawyer
Apr 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lovers of Downton Abby, Jane Austen, Mark Twain, and see no inconsistency in that
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: 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.

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Susan Johnson
Dec 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 relative
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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 memorable charac
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Jaline
May 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: xx2018-completed
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 h/>”Under
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Paula Kalin
Nov 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Historical fiction fans
Recommended to Paula by: Book club
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 teac
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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 her
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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 ...more
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 ...more
Shawn
Nov 14, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 wa
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Tammy
Feb 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
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.
Carolyn
Feb 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, historical, ww1
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 ...more
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 spotlessl ...more
Sara
Dec 18, 2015 rated it it was ok
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’
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JanB
Mar 14, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: netgalley
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 st
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Diane Barnes
Jun 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 t
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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 secu/>The
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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 K
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K
Feb 21, 2016 rated it it was ok
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 w
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Marie
Feb 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 thi ...more
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 med ...more
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 ris ...more
Matt
Aug 01, 2018 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Ellinor
Jan 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
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Tom Mathews
Mar 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: lovers of historical fiction and Downton Abbey
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 ...more
Colleen
Jun 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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, bu
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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 Gran
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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 lovin
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Camie
Jul 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
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 he
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Helen Simonson was born in England and spent her teenage years in a small village in East Sussex. A graduate of the London School of Economics with an MFA from Stony Brook Southampton, she is a former travel advertising executive who has lived in America for almost three decades. A longtime resident of Brooklyn, she is married with two sons. Her debut novel, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, was a NY ...more
“They sat a moment in embrace of silent mutual comfort, which was, she often thought, the reward of those long married.” 9 likes
“Most of all I remember that what begins with drums and fife, flags and bunting, becomes too swiftly a long and grey winter of the spirit.” 9 likes
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