January 26, 2017

"Just a kind voice in the dark is all we want most times."


I bought The Summer Before the War one day after the cover caught my eye while I was browsing in Costco's book section. I hadn't read Simonson's previous novel, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, although I was familiar with it and had heard wonderful things. With that in mind, I decided to take a chance on this gorgeous book. 

You probably won't be surprised to learn that the book was placed on my shelves... where I promptly forgot about it. Thankfully, Alexa and I came up with The Picky Pledge Reading Challenge and that was the push I needed to start reading this quiet and quaint novel. The Summer Before the War is the story of Beatrice Nash - a young, single woman who is hired to teach Latin in a small English town. It's supposed to be a fresh start after the death of her beloved father, but the idyllic summer of 1914 is about to end because war is looming. 

Simonson's writing was my favorite part of this book. I marked so many phrases and conversations dialogue, in particular, that made me laugh or pause. There was a calm, quaint feeling to the book that felt so realistic to the setting. I took my time reading this book, but I enjoyed my quiet and dreamy journey through these pages. And I adored the subtle humor in this story, especially since there was a somber tone as the war approached and ultimately intensified. For example:
"I think you'll find most women in pursuit of a husband share an interest in appearing less educated than they really are," said Beatrice. "It is why I have a low opinion of them." 
"Of women, miss?" said Abigail. 
"No, of husbands," said Beatrice.
I loved the setting - a small town in East Sussex - and the locals who inhabited it. I adored Beatrice for her sharp mind, her willingness to risk her reputation for someone in need, her determination to succeed on her own and her desire to follow in her father's footsteps and become a writer. Aunt Agatha was a formidable woman, and I loved her relationship with her two nephews, Hugh and Daniel. Both men added so much to the story! And I cracked up at a few of the local busybodies who stirred up drama and spread gossip. I found the inclusion of the Romani fascinating and appreciated how Simonson depicted the judgement and racism they faced. I have no idea if their were any problems with her portrayal, though she did include notes on her research at the end.

However, I did feel that the story itself could have been tightened up a bit. It was a long book, and there wasn't always a lot happening. The pacing in the book was slow, which I liked and disliked depending on the section I was reading. I was in love with the book for the first half or so, but I began to lose patience as it continued along. With more development of the romance and war, this might have been a new favorite for me. And though it fell a little short of that mark, I quite enjoyed my visit to this small town and my time spent with these characters. 
Release Date: March 2016 | Publisher: Random House
Pages: 496 pages | Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover 

This was my first read for The Picky Pledge Reading Challenge that Alexa and I are doing in 2017! It's the perfect motivation to read books from my TBR and adds an extra dose of accountability, too. In addition to reading and reviewing one challenge book per month, we're answering three questions about each book we read!

1. How long has this book been on your TBR? 
I bought this book on impulse at Costco in March or April 2016. It had briefly crossed my radar before then, but it wasn't until I saw it in person that I realized I wanted to read it. 

2. What did you like about the cover? 
I loved that bright blue and red and the somewhat watercolor-esque illustration. I don't always love covers with people on them, but I adored the way this cover just hinted at the characters. Plus, it suggested historical fiction with the title, the clothing and the hint of a village in the background. That's right up my alley!

3. How many books are on your TBR because of the cover? 
Honestly, I can't say there are really any books on my TBR solely because of the cover! Even with The Summer Before the War, what I loved about the cover was the fact that it + the title seemed to indicate that the book focused on a topic and time period that already fascinated me. But there are definitely a number of books on my TBR that I may not have investigated further if not for a gorgeous cover!

2 comments:

  1. I don't blame you for buying it because of the cover... it's totally gorgeous! I haven't seen many reviews of this book, but I'm pretty sure my mom has a copy. Maybe I'll have to go steal it. :) Great review!

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  2. I love that we both generally don't tend to buy a book just because of a pretty cover ;) But I'm glad you finally got a chance to read this! It sounds pretty good, and I liked that snippet you included as well.

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