The Summer Before the War – Helen Simonson

The-Summer-Before-The-War-Helen-Simonson
Source: Goodreads

 

Accepting the position of smalltown Latin teacher was a no-brainer for Beatrice Nash. Finally on her own, she can’t wait to make her own money and get out from under her stifling family’s thumb and her father’s shadow. But war is looming. A great, big, world war, the likes of which have never been seen. With men signing up left and right, it’s only a matter of time before Beatrice’s students and colleagues start to head for the continent, closely followed by the new officers comprised mostly of the lesser gentry. A young surgeon and a poet, a Romani and a scholar, the war keeps its distance from no one. And so beings the summer before the war.

 

Helen Simonson does it again. The author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – one of my favorite reads of 2017 – is back with another well-developed look at England’s less viewed history, and hits her mark. The characters are well developed and engaging, as well as incredibly refreshing. A book about an Edwardian surgeon! The first women authors! Single women living alone and working a respectable job! POETS. and so, so many underlying narratives about race and sexuality. Absolutely wonderful. 10/10 would read again.

I would like a prequel about Beatrice’s life with her father and then with her Aunt. Also, a novel purely about Aunt Agatha and her husband who works for the foreign office and who I am sure does spy things. I think they’re all just so interesting!

The book itself starts out relatively lighthearted, following the main premise of Beatrice settling into the town and her interactions with the townsfolk. About 3/4 of the way through, the war is finally upon us, with dire consequences for many. Simonson wraps everything up neatly, but not before she rips our hearts out and forces us to acknowledge that not everyone can live happily ever after.

 

HHC Rating: 5 Stars

 

Other reviews for works by this author:
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

The Boston Girl – Anita Diamant

the-boston-girl-anita-diamant

Source: Goodreads

Anita Diamant’s The Boston Girl follows first-generation American Addie Baum through the ups and down of living in early 20th century Boston, Massachusetts. Not your typical historical-fiction-memoir, the story reads as though Addie is being interviewed by her granddaughter, Ava, and shows us her life from 1900-1985.

Having never heard of Anita Diamant except when people spoke in passing about The Red Tent, I don’t 100% remember why I picked up this book in the first place. I think I came across a summary and it sounded interesting, and then I had family that moved to Boston, and I bought it. Then, The Red Tent was turned into a TV miniseries (Trailer and Miniseries rated PG13) in 2014 on Lifetime that my mother and I marathoned and bawled our eyes out through. It was life-changing. And then I was moving to Boston this year and I picked up this book to add to my reading list and realized it was by the same author all over again. Still, I kept putting it off, for no real reason. I’m glad I read it in Boston. It gave me a new perspective on my new city, and I’m beyond thankful for that.

This book is nothing like any historical, fictional, memoir type book that I have ever come across. The almost but not quite interview style is done extremely well, and you hardly realize that the story is being told in first-person. If Addie was a real person she would immediately be on my list of biggest heroes. There is so much gumption in this girl. She’s just so real, and the twists and turns that her life takes are too numerous to count.

True, the number of words which I’m guessing were either Yiddish or Hebrew and I, therefore, didn’t know (not having studied those languages myself) were high, it’s true. However, each one only added to the hominess feel of the book, as though the reader is one of Addie’s close friends, maybe from the Saturday Club, or maybe a close Jewish friend (like the granddaughter who’s supposedly interviewing her) who would understand all the terms. The humor with which she speaks is contagious, and even though I read the book in the span of a day, I found myself walking around smiling even when I wasn’t reading it.

“You know, Ava, it’s good to be smart, but kindness is more important. Oh dear, another old-lady chestnut to stitch on a sampler. Or maybe one of those little throw pillows.”
~Addie Baum

There are too many ‘chestnuts’ to share them all, but The Boston Girl is pure magic if I’ve ever seen it. Even the sad and tragic things that happen to and around Addie provide important information that allows you to dig deeper into Addie’s story. This is one of those books that really was too good to put down, completely sucking me in. It’s so good that it might have even earned a spot on my all-time favorites list, something that rarely, if ever, happens.

HHC Rating: 5 Stars