The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

The Summer Before the WarThis is another short book review as I catch up with writing about my reading. The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson is one of my TBR books. It is her second novel and I enjoyed it so much more than her first book, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. It’s the  summer of 1914, set in Rye in East Sussex when spinster Beatrice Nash arrived to teach Latin at the local grammar school. Her appointment was the result of Agatha Kent’s and Lady Emily Wheaton’s wish to have a female teacher as a Latin teacher.

This is really a book of two parts – the months before the outbreak of the First World War and then the events as the war got underway. It begins slowly with the first part describing the lazy, idyllic summer and in which all the characters are introduced. Although there is a clear distinction between the classes in society cracks are beginning to appear which will only widen as the century gets under way and the war acts as a catalyst for change..

But it really gets going in the second part when the young men sign up, including High and Daniel, Agatha’s nephews, and Snout one of Beatrice’s pupils. He was underage but his father, the local farrier, signed the papers agreeing he could enlist. Simonson doesn’t hold back on the horrific conditions under which the war took place and from a gentle beginning the book moves into a war novel, emotional and moving.

This book slots into the only reading challenge I’m doing this year – What’s in a Name 2018. It fits into two of the categories, The word ‘the’ used twice and A season. For the time being I’m putting it into the ‘season‘ category but may change that later if I read one of the other ‘season‘ books on my list.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1770 KB
  • Print Length: 497 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing; 1 edition (24 Mar. 2016)
  • Source: I bought the book
  • My Rating: 4*

Amazon UK link
Amazon US link

My Wednesday Post: 9 May 2018

There are two memes I take part in on Wednesdays:

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next.


A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: I have three books on the go at the moment,  – The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, from my TBR shelves.  I’m only up to chapter 3 so far but I’m enjoying his descriptive writing so much as Tom Joad returns to his family home in Oklahoma during a drought as a storm blew up and dust clouds covered everything. Tom, convicted of homicide has just been released from prison after serving four years of a seven year sentence.

I’m also reading Her Hidden Life by V S Alexander, a novel set in Germany during the Second World War, about the life of Magda, one of Hitler’s food tasters. See yesterday’s post for the opening paragraph and synopsis. I’m in chapter 6 at the moment when Magda sees photos taken by an SS officer at Auschwitz, that show that Hitler is lying about how the Reich is dealing with Jews and prisoners of war near the Eastern front.

The Summer Before the War

The third book I’m reading is The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson, about the  summer of 1914, set in Rye in East Sussex when spinster Beatrice Nash arrived to teach at the local grammar school. Her appointment was the result of Agatha Kent’s and Lady Emily Wheaton’s wish to have a female teacher as a Latin teacher. I’m in the middle of chapter 5 in which Beatrice is at Lady Emily’s annual garden party with the school governors, the Headmaster and staff and some of the local dignitaries. I’m finding it rather slow-going so far.

The last book I finished is Belinda Bauer’s latest book Snap, one of my NetGalley books. It’s crime fiction about Jack and his sisters and what happens to them after their mother is murdered. Belinda Bauer’s books are so original, full of tension and suspense. I’ll write more about it in a later post.

What do you think you’ll read next: I shall probably read The Inheritance by Louisa May Alcott next, or if not next then by the end of the month as it’s the book chosen by my book group for our May meeting.

The Inheritance


Written in 1849, when Louisa May Alcott was just seventeen years old, this is a captivating tale of Edith Adelon, an impoverished Italian orphan who innocently wields the charms of virtue, beauty, and loyalty to win her true birthright. Her inheritance, nothing less than the English estate on which she is a paid companion, is a secret locked in a long-lost letter. But Edith is loath to claim it _ for more important to her by far is the respect and affection of her wealthy patrons, and the love of a newfound friend, the kind and noble Lord Percy. This novel is Alcott writing under the influence of the gothic romances and sentimental novels of her day. The introduction considers early literary influences in the light of Alcott’s mature style

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Major Pettigrew's Last StandThere are some books that I read and really don’t want to write much about them: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson falls into this category. (See this post for the opening sentence, an extract from page 56 and the description on Amazon)

The quotations on the back cover all praise this book as ‘charming’, ‘funny’, ‘heart-warming’, ‘refreshing in its optimism’, ‘jolly’, ‘a delight’, ‘quirky’, and ‘lovely’.

I think this last one from the Daily Mail is probably closest to my reaction to the book – ‘A book to make you think, laugh, and ultimately cheer – the perfect holiday read’, except it didn’t make me laugh or cheer. But it did make me think.

It’s set in an English village and at times I could imagine it was during the 1950s when in reality it’s set in the present day. Major Pettigrew is a retired army officer, living on his own after his wife had died six years earlier. The death of his younger brother knocks him for six and he finds himself attracted to Mrs Ali, the owner of the village shop whose husband had also died not long before. Their friendship deepens much to the concern of his family and friends.

What follows is a story about the difficulties of cultural differences, colonialism, racial prejudice, and class snobbery. It’s also about family relationships – the attitude of young people towards the older generation and also about love and friendship. It’s an enjoyable book even though I thought there were too many sub-plots, one or more verging on the ridiculous (the duck hunt is one example), and too many stereotypes.The Major and Mrs Ali stand out as believable characters.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand was Helen Simonson’s debut novel. Her second is The Summer Before the War, set in 1914 and I have the e-book edition waiting to be read on my Kindle.

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Paperbacks; First Edition edition (4 Jan. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408809559
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408809556
  • Source: I bought the book
  • My Rating: 3.5*

Amazon UK link
Amazon US link

My Friday Post: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This morning I have just started to read Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson.

It begins:

Major Pettigrew was still upset about the phone call from his brother’s wife and so he answered the doorbell without thinking.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

‘We may have to be a bit more bound by the rule book these days, but you can be sure that Tewkesbury and Teale will always try to do the best for you.’ The Major thought that perhaps after all this was settled he would do as he should have done in the first place and find himself another solicitor.

Description (Amazon):

Major Ernest Pettigrew is perfectly content to lead a quiet life in the 
sleepy village of Edgecombe St Mary, away from the meddling of the 
locals and his overbearing son. But when his brother dies, the Major 
finds himself seeking companionship with the village shopkeeper, Mrs 
Ali. Drawn together by a love of books and the loss of their partners, 
they are soon forced to contend with irate relatives and gossiping 
villagers. The perfect gentleman, but the most unlikely hero, the Major 
must ask himself what matters most: family obligation, tradition or 

Funny, comforting and heart-warming, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand proves that sometimes, against all odds, life does give you a second chance.


A change for me from crime fiction and historical fiction, I’m hoping this will be a good choice.

What do you think? Have you read it – or are you planning to read it?