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The Summer Before the War
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Group Reads - Fiction > The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson (July '16 Group Fiction Read)

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Leslie | 15985 comments Here is the thread for discussing our July Book of the Month, The Summer Before the War by the author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, Helen Simonson.

This is a fairly new release so hopefully everyone will be able to get a copy. I know that it is flying off the shelves in my local library system!


Karin | 1978 comments I love this book and both the hard copy and audiobook were available from my library network, and probably an e-copy as well.

Enjoy, but be warned that this is not a fast paced book, but a lovely, slower pace fit for summer.


Diane Barnes I just finished this as well, and loved it, but Karin is right. It is slow paced, but packed with details of village life.


Alannah Clarke (alannahclarke) | 12204 comments Mod
Have my copy sitting in bookshelves, looking forward to starting it. Hoping to get my recommendation swap out of the way before I start it.


message 5: by Portia (last edited Jul 02, 2016 10:22AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Portia I read this book just a few months ago and loved it. We were lucky to spend a few days in Rye in 1996, and reading this book stirred happy memories of a beautiful town with a long, fascinating history.

I was so relieved to read a book concerning war from a less bloody, torture-filled angle. Another other group I belong to has read The Narrow Road to the Deep North and The Sympathizer. These books tell important stories but the stories of the people in England trying desperately to keep their lives in the face of the rising specter coming from Europe is just as important and valuable. A timely reading, with the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme being observed this week


message 6: by Karin (last edited Jul 06, 2016 04:35PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Karin | 1978 comments On the heels of this I just listened to the audiobook Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania which is nonfiction and about WW I.


Veronica ⭐️ | 109 comments Im hoping to start on The Summer Before the War tonight. I'm looking forward to this one :)


message 8: by Blue (new)

Blue (topazamber) Those are two books I would like to read: The Summer Before The War and Dead Wake. Would love to hear or see more photos of Rye. I really like to read about village life.


Portia Karin wrote: "On the heels of this I just listened to the audiobook Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania which is nonfiction and about WW I."

I read his The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. Fantastic writer who knows how to keep up tension and pages turning. Not an easy task for a writer of nonfiction.


message 10: by John (new) - rated it 5 stars

John Frankham (johnfrankham) Will start The Summer Before the War when I have finished Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady, which I am, to my surprise, loving. Looking forward to it, as I loved her first, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand


message 11: by Terry ~ Huntress of Erudition (last edited Jul 08, 2016 07:17AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Terry ~ Huntress of Erudition | 572 comments Yay! I just downloaded "The Summer Before the War" using my monthly Audible credit. However, I have to finish some others before I let myself start this one.
I tend to start multiple books, then finish them one by one, according to my interest in them. Even though my Currently Reading List is 14, I am actively reading 2:
"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (way, way better and more in depth characterization than the movie) The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and
"Eligible" ( a modern re-write of Pride & Prejudice, which is quite entertaining)Eligible


Shirley | 4177 comments Just picked this up from the library today!


Colleen  | 349 comments Loved this book, and I agree, the pace is a little slow to begin with, but definitely worth sticking with. I just loved it. My emotions were involved in this story so be forewarned. The writing is beautiful and just perfect. I love this author and the way she marks her craft.


Karin | 1978 comments Hattie wrote: "Those are two books I would like to read: The Summer Before The War and Dead Wake. Would love to hear or see more photos of Rye. I really like to read about village life."

I liked them both quite a bit. They are very different, but both leisurely paced.


Terry ~ Huntress of Erudition | 572 comments I am about 1/2 way into the book. It is charming and pleasant, but also a little boring. The characters & situations seem very predictable.


Veronica ⭐️ | 109 comments Terry wrote: "I am about 1/2 way into the book. It is charming and pleasant, but also a little boring. The characters & situations seem very predictable."

Oh no! I'm only on page 20. I got sidetracked with a new grandson born. Hoping to get back into it tonight.


Terry ~ Huntress of Erudition | 572 comments Congratulations on your grandson, Veronica! My grandson is the light of my life, he is going to be 2 years old in September.


message 18: by Terry ~ Huntress of Erudition (last edited Jul 15, 2016 03:00PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Terry ~ Huntress of Erudition | 572 comments I am enjoying the author's beautiful, evocative writing - the way she describes the smell of old and new books in the library of Mr. Tillingham, mingling with the breakfast smells from the kitchen, etc.
However, she casts an unflattering light on the British upper class, thinking they are actively contributing to "the cause" or "war effort", while being so oblivious to the suffering of others.
(view spoiler)


Jennifer (goodreadscomjenniferediting) | 42 comments Terry wrote: "I am about 1/2 way into the book. It is charming and pleasant, but also a little boring. The characters & situations seem very predictable."

I agree Terry - a pleasant and charming read, but a bit boring. I'm on page 212 and hope it picks up soon.


Veronica ⭐️ | 109 comments Terry wrote: "Congratulations on your grandson, Veronica! My grandson is the light of my life, he is going to be 2 years old in September."

Thank you Terry. He has a two year old sister who is going to be a big help to mummy :)


Veronica ⭐️ | 109 comments Back into reading now and just love Agatha and Beatrice. I admire women who pushed the boundaries.


Sandy *The world could end while I was reading and I would never notice* (sandyj21) | 1345 comments I am 21% into this and loving the leisurely pace, the descriptive writing. I think Beatrice is just delightful and appreciate her thought processes. I am even rather warming to Agatha. She surprises me at times.
How different life was then. You couldn't just say what you thought, and women led very restricted lives.


message 23: by John (new) - rated it 5 stars

John Frankham (johnfrankham) I'm listening to this, and now half way through. Having read her first novel and loved it, I'm glad that this one, based in early WW1 time, rather than modern-day, is just as good. Just as Sandy says, and it unfolds deliciously, with real character observation, and subtle and sly humour at weaknesses. I think she likes humanity. Echoes of Barbara Pym and Angela Thirkell?

Good plot development in the second quarter- but don't want to spoil, so can't say!


Shirley | 4177 comments I'm just over half way through, and though it was a bit slow at the start, I'm enjoying this more and more, mainly due to the characters of Beatrice, Agatha and Hugh. Lots of humour, too.


Terry ~ Huntress of Erudition | 572 comments I am going to put this down for a while, until I am in the mood again.
I read "The Buccaneers" by Edith Wharton at the same time as this book & I have to say I found it a lot more interesting.
Maybe they are too similar, I just found the story more believable and compelling in Edith Wharton's book.


Leslie | 15985 comments Terry wrote: "I am going to put this down for a while, until I am in the mood again.
I read "The Buccaneers" by Edith Wharton at the same time as this book & I have to say I found it a lot more interesting.
May..."


Maybe Edith Wharton is just a better writer! My library hold has finally come in so I will be starting this over the weekend.


message 27: by John (new) - rated it 5 stars

John Frankham (johnfrankham) Well, I finished this a few days ago, and as it reaches its climax during WW1 it gets better and better, Echoes of Evelyn Waugh' bitter farcical writing. I was in tears listening to chapter 30. A 5* gem.


Veronica ⭐️ | 109 comments I'm about 70% through now and as much as I love the writing it's a slow read as I feel no compulsion to pick the book up. I'm even watching TV!!!!!


Shirley | 4177 comments I finished it yesterday, and really enjoyed it. It's a slow burner to start with, but I became increasingly involved with the characters of both Beatrice and Hugh and found I wanted to read it more and more. I love the way this author deals with the subject of doing the right thing, despite the conventions of society at that time, which she also tackles in her first book, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. I'm so glad I read this, well worth a read.


Kathy McC | 112 comments I finished this yesterday. I loved the themes of gender equality and the evils of war, and was angered by the treatment of David. But, for me this was only three stars. I thought the prose was wonderfully written but thought the first half too bland. I was also unhappy with two small plot events toward the end of the story. These events were not really necessary to move the plot along, or to provide further support for her themes.


Terry ~ Huntress of Erudition | 572 comments Veronica ⭐️ wrote: "I'm about 70% through now and as much as I love the writing it's a slow read as I feel no compulsion to pick the book up. I'm even watching TV!!!!!"

That's how I feel - there's nothing wrong with her writing, I just don't feel compelled to read it - actually, I have it on audio and it is pleasant, but even slower, because of course you listen much slower than you can read.


Kathy McC | 112 comments Terry wrote: "Veronica ⭐️ wrote: "I'm about 70% through now and as much as I love the writing it's a slow read as I feel no compulsion to pick the book up. I'm even watching TV!!!!!"

That's how I feel - there's..."


I started it twice! When I got to the middle it did get more interesting and I read more. But, overall , an underwhelming read for me.


Jennifer (goodreadscomjenniferediting) | 42 comments I finished the other day, and overall I enjoyed the book. Like many of you, I found the beginning to be boring with a slow ramp up to the climax. However, I do enjoy reading about this time period, and I'm always interested in learning about every day life. I thought Simonson did a good job capturing how people's opinions and reactions to the war changed over time. I also liked how she went into gender and social inequalities and how she dealt with doing the right thing in a society so rigidly based on perception and reputation. Overall, a good light summer read.


Terry ~ Huntress of Erudition | 572 comments Do you think the playwright that caused a scandal referred to by "Mr. Tillingham" (regarding Daniel's troubles with his friend's family after his death and enlisting into service) was Oscar Wilde? (view spoiler)


Terry ~ Huntress of Erudition | 572 comments I find it interesting that Aunt Agatha and Uncle John are not as progressive as they like to think they are - (view spoiler)


Jennifer (goodreadscomjenniferediting) | 42 comments Terry wrote: "Do you think the playwright that caused a scandal referred to by "Mr. Tillingham" (regarding Daniel's troubles with his friend's family after his death and enlisting into service) was Oscar Wilde? ..."

That's a good question, Terry! It didn't occur to me that they might be referring to Oscar Wilde. I think you are right about Daniel (view spoiler)


Shirley | 4177 comments Jennifer wrote: "Terry wrote: "Do you think the playwright that caused a scandal referred to by "Mr. Tillingham" (regarding Daniel's troubles with his friend's family after his death and enlisting into service) was..."

Yes, I think you are right, Terry, and it is interesting about Aunt Agatha and Uncle John, but I think that's so true to life. We are complex creatures, and whilst on one hand we can accept something contrary to "the done thing", on the other hand there are things we still maintain so as not to lose face in front of our contemporaries.


Colleen  | 349 comments I completely agree with Terry's assessment and interesting to note how we all have our limits when it comes to our beliefs. What may be progressive and honorable beliefs to some, are abhorrent when it comes to others. I suppose depending on how close it hits home or how one may be personally affected is how one takes a stand, or not, on a social issue.


message 39: by Karin (last edited Jul 28, 2016 11:36AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Karin | 1978 comments Terry wrote: "Do you think the playwright that caused a scandal referred to by "Mr. Tillingham" (regarding Daniel's troubles with his friend's family after his death and enlisting into service) was Oscar Wilde? ..."

I'm not sure if it was Oscar Wilde, although it did cross my mind, and I think that you are correct. It fits well with how certain things played out later on, too.

I have been away on holidays and really cannot stop to read all the posts (sadly). I am staying here, but dropping many Goodreads groups (I joined too many, so waited to see which ones I got most involved with) so that I can keep my time here manageable, fun and not a problem with my responsibilities IRL.


aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) I picked this up from the library today; and as I often have ten or more books checked out, the librarian warned me to read it first because there is a long waiting list for it. I thanked her for the suggestion, but as this isn't usually the kind of book which pleases me, I felt a little guilty! To tell the truth, normally I wouldn't read something like this with the kind of comments posted here, or from what I've read about it. Oh well. Crossing my fingers and starting it today. I do so like a lot of drama normally, though!


Leslie | 15985 comments I finished yesterday so I am going to go back and read the comments now - don't be surprised if I end posting several posts in a row!


Leslie | 15985 comments Karin wrote: "Enjoy, but be warned that this is not a fast paced book, but a lovely, slower pace fit for summer..."

It wasn't an action-packed book but I didn't find it slow. Simonson's prose was easy to read and she quickly drew my interest in.

Karin wrote: "Terry wrote: "Do you think the playwright that caused a scandal referred to by "Mr. Tillingham" (regarding Daniel's troubles with his friend's family after his death and enlisting into service) was..."

I thought it was Oscar Wilde immediately. I assume that (view spoiler)


message 43: by Leslie (last edited Aug 04, 2016 07:52AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Leslie | 15985 comments Terry wrote: "I find it interesting that Aunt Agatha and Uncle John are not as progressive as they like to think they are …."

But better than Lady Emily and her husband! I think that the range of liberal to conservative was one of the novel's strengths - showing the people in the middle & the fact that it's difficult to always practice what you preach when it becomes personal. The only one I felt was a caricature was Lord North - (view spoiler)


aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) I am so bored with these characters. I'm at page 218. So far, this is a very cliched novel of stupid shallow provincial people spending way too much time on judging pecking order by the appearance of clothes, class and furniture, and everybody is a walking 20th century cliche of 1950 family-value tidiness. The book reminds me of those stupid 1950's family sitcom shows like 'Leave it to Beaver' and 'Father Knows Best'. Yawn. Snout is the only character who has a heartbeat to me.

This is my first Simonson. I can't believe she is popular.


Veronica ⭐️ | 109 comments aPriL does feral sometimes wrote: "I am so bored with these characters. I'm at page 218. So far, this is a very cliched novel of stupid shallow provincial people spending way too much time on judging pecking order by the appearance ..."

Oh April, maybe this isn't your type of read because it doesn't get much more dramatic until the very end. It's very much about the characters and society of the time.


aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) I much prefer Virginia Wolf.


Shirley | 4177 comments Veronica ⭐️ wrote: "aPriL does feral sometimes wrote: "I am so bored with these characters. I'm at page 218. So far, this is a very cliched novel of stupid shallow provincial people spending way too much time on judgi..."

I think it's quite true to the time and class of the people, and I found it interesting to see how they were challenged. "Major Pettigrew" also deals with challenging worldviews, but more concerned with race.


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