The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

Summer_10_14_redHat_BrokenLine.inddLately I have been reading several books of historical fiction from the era of WWI. I am currently listening to a Maisie Dobbs audio bookhave started a Bess Crawford book on Overdrive, and last night I finished up The Summer Before the War.

The Summer Before the War was a book that I felt improved and was more entertaining and engrossing as it went along. (So much better than one that starts out promising and then the ending disappoints.) It takes place in East Sussex in 1914, in the small village of Rye. The first major event of their summer is the arrival of Beatrice Nash who has come to apply for the position of Latin teacher. Many in the village do not approve of a young woman for this position; especially one that upon arrival turns out to be more attractive than expected.

Beatrice is championed by a prominent woman of the village, Agatha Kent, whose husband works for the Foreign Office. Agatha has two nephews, Hugh, a medical student, and Daniel, a promising poet. Hugh and Daniel have differing personalities but are close and are both adored by Agatha.

When Germany invades Belgium, Rye is quick to welcome refugees and, in spite of those who still believe war won’t come to England, the village prepares to support their country even if it means sending their young men off to war. Soon everyone in the village–the young the old, and all those in between–become caught up in a patriotic fervor. Of course, their young men do go off to war, and what happens to them and the ones who are left to wait for them makes up the rest of the story.

Part of what interests me in reading historical fiction is found at the end in the author’s notes or acknowledgements. Simonson tells of the books she read to immerse herself in this period, as well as the websites and libraries. I love that she was able to read newspapers of the time (and took the trouble to do so).

birds-of-a-feather-150For those of you unfamiliar with Maisie Dobbs or Bess Crawford, they are both heroines of their own historical mystery series. The Maisie Dobbs books are written by Jacqueline Winspear and Birds of a Feather is the second in the series. I’m always looking for audio books with good narrators and a story that I can follow as I drive, walk, or cook. So far, this book has delivered with the excellent narration done by Kim Hicks.

The Bess Crawford books are written by the mother/son team, Charles Todd. I have just started reading the second in that series, An Impartial Witness. A group I belong to on goodreads–Historical Mystery Lovers–will be reading a selection of your choice from Charles Todd during July, so I have a bit of a head start. If you’re on goodreads, check out the group and come read with us.cover-impartial-witness

Reading any WWI fiction or nonfiction? Let me know what you’ve read and can recommend.



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