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The Summer Before the War
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Group Read Discussions > June 2017 Group Read- The Summer Before the War *NO SPOILERS*

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message 1: by Gretchen, Keep your head up or the crown slips (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gretchen (eab2012) | 563 comments Mod
The book picked by our group to read for June 2017 was The Summer Before the War. This is the NO SPOILER thread. Happy Reading!

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 sabre 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.



Alice | 4421 comments So I started the book last night (I know a bit early). It is okay but seems to move very slowly. The writing is lovely but I am waiting for something interesting to happen. I will continue on. I know the book gets very good reviews.


message 3: by Jasmine, Gatekeeper of Giveaways. (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jasmine | 1237 comments Mod
Picked this up from the library Tuesday. My plan is to actually read this one. I picked up the last group read from the library too and it just sat on my desk.


Alice | 4421 comments I finished it last night. Last half was better than the first half. Lots of class discussions in the book got a bit older after a while. Good info on Belgium Refugees. Nicely written Ms Simonson's writing style is wonderful the words flow together nicely. Truthfully could have edited out about 100 pages and the books would still work.


message 5: by Sandy from Alaska (last edited Jun 02, 2017 12:16PM) (new) - added it

Sandy from Alaska Colón (sandycfromak) | 75 comments I'm about a third through the book and enjoying the story. I didn't find it slow at the beginning. I thought it was pleasant, just ordinary life happening, before the war started. And now, life is slowing starting to change for the characters. So far, I think the book is doing a great job of showing how life changes when war comes.

I tried to read The Name of the Rose but my mind just wouldn't stop wandering.


message 6: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) | 69 comments If I hadn't watched the BBC series Downton Abbey, I'm not sure I would have made it through the first half of this book - the class assignments were unattractive and the people seemed very trivial. But, luckily, I did make it to the last half of the book, and I found it to be relatable and often very touching. It was a bit melodramatic all through, but that was forgiveable.


message 7: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) | 69 comments Someone I know in another group just received her book but couldn't imagine which group she was supposed to be reading with. I don't know if it was this group, but there is no title of the book in the thread headers here, only the date (June 2017 Group Read), and if I hadn't written it down I wouldn't have found it either. Maybe the title should be in the header?


Diane | 215 comments Janice(JG) wrote: "Someone I know in another group just received her book but couldn't imagine which group she was supposed to be reading with. I don't know if it was this group, but there is no title of the book in ..."

That's a great suggestion. I've gotten confused too.


message 9: by Jasmine, Gatekeeper of Giveaways. (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jasmine | 1237 comments Mod
Janice(JG) wrote: "Someone I know in another group just received her book but couldn't imagine which group she was supposed to be reading with. I don't know if it was this group, but there is no title of the book in ..."

Fixed. Thanks for pointing that out.


message 10: by Gretchen, Keep your head up or the crown slips (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gretchen (eab2012) | 563 comments Mod
Thanks. I didn't even notice. We've had two funerals in three days. My mind is somewhere else.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 407 comments Sorry about the funerals, Gretchen.


message 12: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) | 69 comments Gretchen wrote: "Thanks. I didn't even notice. We've had two funerals in three days. My mind is somewhere else."

Ack. No wonder you're pre-occupied. Thanks for fixing it, and I hope it all lightens up for you sooner than later.


Michele | 377 comments Finished! I really enjoyed this, but then I am a total Anglophile :) Look forward to discussing it.


message 14: by Kaitlyn (new) - added it

Kaitlyn Tisdale | 1 comments I am nearly halfway through, and agree with the thoughts that the book is slow in the beginning. Honestly, it has taken me 20 days to get through the first 200 pages. I kept having to put the book down and read something more exciting. Simonson tends to just drone on and on in certain areas. At some point I thought, "ok, lady, we get it!".


Sarah | 53 comments Glad to hear that it's slow in the beginning for more than one person; makes me want to keep reading until it picks up.


Michele | 377 comments It is slow in the beginning, but then, English village life is slow. So I think that's probably deliberate.


Margaret Cook | 3 comments I loved it, especially the examination of attitudes, mores and prejudices of the time. Equivalent to a modern Jane Austen in my view.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 407 comments I did not find it particularly slow - but I have read a good bit of 19th century fiction.


Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 598 comments Hey hey, Margaret—you got my attention with “Equivalent to a modern Jane Austen”! I didn’t think I was going to have time to read this, but now it looks as if I’ll have to try.


message 20: by Fred (new) - rated it 5 stars

Fred Shaw Me review:

The Summer Before the War: A Novel, by Helen Simonson, Published March 2016
5 + Stars

This novel, the author’s second, is one of the finest examples of literature I have read in a long time. It evokes the themes I enjoy most: family, romance, history, a cause (WW I), suspense and brings an emotional edge. There are undercurrents of entrenched class, culture, prejudice, Suffrage and breaking down barriers. The setting is Edwardian Rye, Sussex, England in the summer of 1914. (I’m sure you know, Rye, is the hometown of Kipling, Henry James and Virginia Wolfe. The Author, Ms. Simonson also grew up in Rye and her desire to become a writer was kindles there.) Automobiles, electric lights and the telephone are new but rare, and the Germans are on the verge of attacking Belgium.

It is the story of the Kent family, Agatha and John who take in two nephews, Hugh whose father and mother are deceased and Daniel whose has an estranged relationship with his father in London. The Kents had been unable to have children and Hugh and Daniel were raised as their own. Aunt Agatha has also championed a young woman, Beatrice Nash as the new Latin teacher. Hiring a young woman goes against the grain in Rye not only because of her youth but that she will be teaching the children, mostly boys of the local farmers and tradesmen. The school would of course prefer a man that can keep the “rabble” in line. The story builds as the cousins and their friends go to war. As with all war, loss of life knows no culture or beliefs, age or even gender.

I normally don’t buy many books, I just take advantage of our fantastic library, but I will buy this one. I will want to be able to read it again. Highly recommended.


message 21: by Gretchen, Keep your head up or the crown slips (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gretchen (eab2012) | 563 comments Mod
I'm actually going to read a group read book during the month it is a group read! This is kind of a big deal for me.

I've been on a 20th century kick lately. This is the third book I've read recently that takes place between WWI and WWII. That's a little out of my historical bubble.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 407 comments What's your usual bubble, Gretchen?


message 23: by Gretchen, Keep your head up or the crown slips (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gretchen (eab2012) | 563 comments Mod
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads wrote: "What's your usual bubble, Gretchen?"

I tend to stick to anything before the 19th century but I've slowly been wandering into more "modern" eras as I've discovered some new to me authors.


message 24: by Gretchen, Keep your head up or the crown slips (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gretchen (eab2012) | 563 comments Mod
I've just wrapped up part one. It is a little slow moving but I find the author's writing style lyrical enough to keep me interested.

Lucy- Ugh. With the minimal knowledge I have about the white feather movement, I've already decided I'm not a fan of hers.


Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 598 comments I just started reading yesterday, so you’re not the only laggard, Gretchen!


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 407 comments Yes, I'd say that Lucy and the White Feather movement are a good match for each other.


message 27: by Gretchen, Keep your head up or the crown slips (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gretchen (eab2012) | 563 comments Mod
I have read about five pages into part 2. I want to throw the book. The people of Rye are too much especially the mayor's wife.

"We want refugees because it's the charitable thing to do. We only want children. Take these other people back."

While I understand this is probably the attitude held by people across England at the time, it doesn't mean I have to like it. I'm guessing this is the author's way of setting up the impact of the war on the unsuspecting people of Rye.


message 28: by Michele (last edited Jun 29, 2017 09:19PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Michele | 377 comments On a related note, over the past couple of weeks my mom has introduced me to Miss Read and her villagers -- lovely, gentle pictures of small-town English life. So far I've read:

Village Diary
Miss Clare Remembers


Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 598 comments Miss Read is charming! You might also like the works of Elizabeth Goudge.


Michele | 377 comments Abigail wrote: "Miss Read is charming! You might also like the works of Elizabeth Goudge."

Know her. Love her :)


message 31: by Julie (new)

Julie Anderson | 6 comments Post Script - I loved The Name of the Rose.


Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 598 comments I’m really enjoying the dynamics within the Kent/Grange family—all the quick-witted ribbing, with a strong loyalty underneath. Very well written!


Jennifer Ryan (jennifer_ryan) I enjoyed it, but I have to confess I found the beginning slow, and there were times I could have just put it down and not picked it back up.
I preferred the lighter, more jovial tone of Major Pedigrew, and felt it spoke more about the characters.


message 34: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) | 69 comments Michele wrote: "Abigail wrote: "Miss Read is charming! You might also like the works of Elizabeth Goudge."

Know her. Love her :)"


Yes, she is wonderful. I have read several of her novels (and have more stacked up to read), but Green Dolphin Street still stands out above the others for me.


message 35: by Jasmine, Gatekeeper of Giveaways. (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jasmine | 1237 comments Mod
Just started this so I'm just going to be a month late.


Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 598 comments No worries, Jasmine, I just got to part II so I’m well behind also.


Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 598 comments I like the way the author slides us gently into disaster and tragedy, so we’re there almost before we realize it. I’m just past the hop picking and feeling sad for Daniel and Craigmore, even though Daniel is such an unlovely character. Yes, he’s soft and self-indulgent, but he’s certainly getting a cruel lesson in how harsh life can be! Touched by the way their relationship is portrayed.


message 38: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Sinclair | 22 comments I wish I could say I'd finished it, but it was so gentle, and so slow, that I just couldn't get through it. I still have it on my stack since you all said, the second half is better.


Michele | 377 comments Rachel wrote: "...it was so gentle, and so slow, that I just couldn't get through it..."

It gets substantially less gentle eventually, I thought, although it never loses that essential British stoicism.


message 40: by Jasmine, Gatekeeper of Giveaways. (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jasmine | 1237 comments Mod
When does the pace seem to pick up? I'm about 150 pages in and I like it, but as everyone has said it is a little slow in plot development. I'm just wondering when I should expect to not be able to put it down?


Sarah | 53 comments Jasmine I'd say the second half of the book moves better than the first. Honestly though I felt the entire book to move kinda slowly.


message 42: by Jasmine, Gatekeeper of Giveaways. (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jasmine | 1237 comments Mod
Okay good! I am three pages away from Part Two, so hopefully that will make things better.


Michele | 377 comments Jasmine wrote: "When does the pace seem to pick up? I'm about 150 pages in and I like it, but as everyone has said it is a little slow in plot development. I'm just wondering when I should expect to not be able to..."

I don't know that I'd say it ever gets fast but it does become rather more intense/gripping as the war gets closer to home.


message 44: by Jasmine, Gatekeeper of Giveaways. (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jasmine | 1237 comments Mod
I'm about halfway through now and the book is getting better, but I want to throw it sometimes just for the sheer stupidity of these women and their airs. I understand it was the times and I applaud the author for remaining so true to the truth of upper-class women during this time but good lord, can they be any more selfish and ridiculous. I only want women who can pay for their own silks for this elaborate parade for the Belgian refugees who can't afford anything because they lost everything. How ridiculous!


Sarah | 53 comments Jasmine I felt the same way that's what bothered me about the book, it got to a point where I had enough of the old societal ways and wanted to hear more about the struggles these women such as the Belgian refugees were facing, or about the men in the trenches.


message 46: by Gretchen, Keep your head up or the crown slips (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gretchen (eab2012) | 563 comments Mod
Jasmine wrote: "I'm about halfway through now and the book is getting better, but I want to throw it sometimes just for the sheer stupidity of these women and their airs. I understand it was the times and I applau..."

Yes! I had that problem when the town women were complaining about the kind of refugees. "We only wanted children."


Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 598 comments It’s an extraordinary portrait of how hard it is for people to step out of their own worlds when the circumstances around them change. And it seems the ladies in this world of Rye were especially concerned with how they appeared to others. For all its charm, the story is a stinging indictment of that kind of smug insularity.


Michele | 377 comments Abigail wrote: "It’s an extraordinary portrait of how hard it is for people to step out of their own worlds when the circumstances around them change."

Great observation. Think about some of the things that Americans do that make us look like idiots to other people ;)


Sarah | 53 comments Oh that is so very true Michele sometimes as an American I see someone do something and I do a *facepalm*. I think it's important to keep the observation in mind that sometimes it's hard to break out of one's mold.


Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 598 comments Yes, Americans seem especially unable or unwilling to step outside their own culture and observe others. Perhaps it’s all the hype we get about being the greatest nation in the world (ha), or perhaps it’s that we don’t have a strong unifying culture of our own and all feel we can just act however we please. Whenever I’m elsewhere I’m in a perpetual state of honte (shame + humiliation).


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