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The Summer Before the War
Cover of The Summer Before the War
The Summer Before the War
A Novel
Borrow Borrow Borrow
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • "A novel to cure your Downton Abbey withdrawal . . . a delightful story about nontraditional romantic relationships, class snobbery and the everybody-knows-everybody complications of living in a small community."—The Washington Post
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE WASHINGTON POST • The bestselling author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand returns with a breathtaking novel of love on the eve of World War I 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 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 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.
Praise for The Summer Before the War
"What begins as a study of a small-town society becomes a compelling account of war and its aftermath."Woman's Day
"This witty character study of how a small English town reacts to the 1914 arrival of its first female teacher offers gentle humor wrapped in a hauntingly detailed story."Good Housekeeping
"Perfect for readers in a post–Downton Abbey slump . . . The gently teasing banter between two kindred spirits edging slowly into love is as delicately crafted as a bone-china teacup. . . . More than a high-toned romantic reverie for Anglophiles—though it serves the latter purpose, too."The Seattle Times
"[Helen Simonson's] characters are so vivid, it's as if a PBS series has come to life. There's scandal, star-crossed love and fear, but at its heart, The Summer Before the War is about loyalty, love and family."AARP: The Magazine
"This luminous story of a family, a town, and a world in their final moments of innocence is as lingering and lovely as a long summer sunset."—Annie Barrows, author of The Truth According to Us and co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
"Simonson is like a Jane Austen for our day and age—she is that good—and The Summer Before the War is nothing short of a treasure."—Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • "A novel to cure your Downton Abbey withdrawal . . . a delightful story about nontraditional romantic relationships, class snobbery and the everybody-knows-everybody complications of living in a small community."—The Washington Post
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE WASHINGTON POST • The bestselling author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand returns with a breathtaking novel of love on the eve of World War I 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 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 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.
Praise for The Summer Before the War
"What begins as a study of a small-town society becomes a compelling account of war and its aftermath."Woman's Day
"This witty character study of how a small English town reacts to the 1914 arrival of its first female teacher offers gentle humor wrapped in a hauntingly detailed story."Good Housekeeping
"Perfect for readers in a post–Downton Abbey slump . . . The gently teasing banter between two kindred spirits edging slowly into love is as delicately crafted as a bone-china teacup. . . . More than a high-toned romantic reverie for Anglophiles—though it serves the latter purpose, too."The Seattle Times
"[Helen Simonson's] characters are so vivid, it's as if a PBS series has come to life. There's scandal, star-crossed love and fear, but at its heart, The Summer Before the War is about loyalty, love and family."AARP: The Magazine
"This luminous story of a family, a town, and a world in their final moments of innocence is as lingering and lovely as a long summer sunset."—Annie Barrows, author of The Truth According to Us and co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
"Simonson is like a Jane Austen for our day and age—she is that good—and The Summer Before the War is nothing short of a treasure."—Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun
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About the Author-
  • Helen Simonson was born in England and spent her teenage years in a small village in East Sussex. A graduate of London School of Economics, she has spent the last three decades in the United States, and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. Simonson is married, with two grown sons, and is the author of the New York Times bestselling debut novel Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. This is her second novel.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    January 11, 2016
    Simonson’s dense follow-up to the bestselling Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand focuses on gender, class, and social mores in the town of Rye in Sussex, England, at the dawn of World War I. Following the death of her father, who raised her to be intelligent and worldly, writer Beatrice Nash looks forward to tutoring three boys in Latin before she begins her position at school in the fall. Her advocate is the shrewd Agatha Kent, a discreet progressive who’s married to John, a senior official in the military. The childless couple love their grown nephews, Hugh Grange, who is destined to be a doctor, and Daniel Bookham, a handsome poet who hopes to move to Paris and start his own journal with a friend. As a woman, Beatrice doesn’t have much clout, nearly losing her job to nepotism and being dismissed by her favorite author, her relatives, and her dad’s publishing house. Simonson does a great job crafting the novel’s world. It’s a large book, and the plot takes its time to get going, but the story becomes engaging after Germany invades Belgium and Rye takes in refugees. Simonson’s writing is restrained but effective, especially when making quiet revelations. A heartbreaking but satisfying ending seems fitting for a story about the social constructs that unfairly limit people and their potential. Agent: Julie Barer, Barer Literary.

  • Library Journal

    February 1, 2016

    Schoolteacher Beatrice Nash is eager to start a new job teaching Latin in the small English seaside town of Rye in the summer of 1914. She soon has a front-row seat as local squabbles regarding such matters as whether a woman should be teaching Latin at all give way to the more pressing concerns of World War I. A group of refugees from Belgium throw the orderly lives of Rye's residents into tumult, and the town is soon asked to make even larger sacrifices as its sons depart for the front. VERDICT Simonson's episodic descriptions of life in Rye as the war looms are a good bet for those looking for a relatively gentle World War I-era historical with a touch of romance. The book falters a bit when it switches away from Rye to cover life in the trenches, and the climax there feels a bit melodramatic, but Simonson's good-hearted, likable characters make up for these weaknesses and will remind readers of those from her best-selling debut, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. [See Prepub Alert, 9/21/15.]--Mara Bandy, Champaign P.L., IL

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun "At once haunting and effervescent, The Summer Before the War demonstrates the sure hand of a master. Helen Simonson's characters enchant us, her English countryside beguiles us, and her historical intelligence keeps us at the edge of our seats. This luminous story of a family, a town, and a world in their final moments of innocence is as lingering and lovely as a long summer sunset."--Annie Barrows, author of The Truth According to Us and co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society "Helen Simonson has outdone herself in this radiant follow-up to Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. The provincial town of Rye, East Sussex, in the days just before and after the Great War is so vividly drawn it fairly vibrates. The depth and sensitivity with which she weighs the steep costs and delicate bonds of wartime--and not just for the young men in the trenches, but for every changed life and heart--reveal the full mastery of her storytelling. Simonson is like a Jane Austen for our day and age--she is that good--and The Summer Before the War is nothing short of a treasure."
  • Booklist "A bright confection of a book morphs into a story of dignity and backbone. . . . This book is beautifully plotted and morally astute."--Kirkus Reviews (starred review) "This novel is just the ticket for fans of Simonson's debut, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, and for any reader who enjoys leisurely fiction steeped in the British past."
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    Random House Publishing Group
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