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

Someone to Love (Westcott, #1) – Mary Balogh

Westscott-Someone-To-Love-Mary-Balogh

Source: Goodreads

 

Anna Snow has grown up in an orphanage in Bath, where she now teaches, supported by a mysterious benefactor for as long as she stays. A letter summoning her to London is not only surprising, for she knows no one outside of Bath, but life-shattering when the identity of her benefactor is revealed.

Avery Archer, the Duke of Netherby, is only Harry Westcott’s guardian because the boy’s father died a year too early. Avery wouldn’t even have taken charge of his nearly grown step-cousin, except that his own father promised to look after Harry in the event of the Earl of Riverdale’s death. With the Earl’s death fresh on everyone’s mind, it strikes Avery as odd that the late Earl’s wife is sending their solicitor on a fool’s errand to find Riverdale’s bastard daughter and tell her that her allowance will be cut off now that her father has died. He likes the plan even less when the solicitor instead drags the girl to London and announces that she is the sole heir to the Earl of Riverdale’s fortune and that Harry and his sisters are the real bastard children.

 

 

The premise for this series is just amazing. The role reversal is definitely unique and interesting to dive into. However, the execution could use some work. I dearly love many of Balogh’s books, but not only does the Westcott series start off with one too many side plots, but the characters all fall kind of flat. I’m hoping this is a single-book-problem like we had with Ben and Samantha in The Escape. Sometimes there’s just too much plot going on for proper character development. Granted, Balogh is just churning out new books in this series, but I would much prefer that the characters were more developed than to have a new book every six months.

 

I loved Anna, I loved Camille, I loved Elizabeth, and I loved Alexander. Avery I had trouble with because of his strange history and the side plot which goes with it that just didn’t work with the rest of the story. His public self and his private self just don’t mesh well together, and it made it impossible for me to really understand him and therefore support the main relationship. Overall, I felt the book put more character development into Camille and Elizabeth than anyone else. I have the second book from the library, so I will let you know if the characters get any better.

 

HHC Rating: 3.5 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #2 – Someone to Hold
Book #3 – Someone to Wed
Book #4 – Someone to Care
Book #5 – Someone to Trust
Book #6 – TBA
Book #7 – TBA
Book #8 – TBA

Greenwitch (The Dark is Rising Sequence, #3) – Susan Cooper

 

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Photo by Amanda_HHC

 

 

Barnabus, Jane, and Simon are returning to the small town of Trewissick for a week away with their favorite great uncle – and to recover a priceless artifact the evil Dark has stolen from a museum. With them on their vacation is a mysterious young boy named Will Stanton. Unsure whether to trust Will with their secret or to forge ahead alone, the Drews will learn the difference between an outsider and an enemy as they race against the hourglass turned by mother nature herself to stop the Dark from rising.

 

This third installment in Cooper’s pentalogy is the shortest, yet the most chock-full of character development.  Barney comes into his own talents, Simon learns to tone down his temper, Jane finds her inner strength, and Will learns how to balance being a boy and an immortal. As the trio grows to a quartet, the bonds of the light grow stronger and the Dark is pushed back yet again. Cooper does an excellent job of taking a general storyline – darkness vs light – and creating it anew. With two books left in the series, I can’t wait to see where this series goes.

My favorite parts of this book involved Jane. Sure, she’s basically the only girl, but Cooper sets it up so this aspect gives her special access to knowledge and events that the boys are not privy to. This, combined with her open mind, allows for greater understanding of the implications of Will and Uncle Merry’s powers, and the truth about the fight against the Dark. While Barney and Simon only know that magic is playing a role in this fight, Jane can see and sense that this fight is bigger than four kids and an old man against a few unsavory people. Jane, without having it explained to her, understands that this is for all the marbles, and that while she isn’t the chosen one she’s still part of the fight. She actually reminds me of Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series in many ways. She’s smart, she’s brave, and she’s unafraid to be herself. She doesn’t always know why things happen the way they do, but she’s here for it, and her good heart – like in a Grimm’s fairytale, almost – leads her in the right direction.

 

 

HHC Rating: 4 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – Over Sea, Under Stone
Book #2 – The Dark is Rising
Book #4 – The Grey King (Review Coming Soon!)
Book #5 – Silver on the Tree (Review Coming Soon!)

The Dark is Rising (The Dark is Rising Sequence, #2) – Susan Cooper

 

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Photo by Amanda_HHC

 

 

All Will Stanton wants for his birthday is snow; something that never arrives in time for Christmas or his birthday in the south of England. Until it does. But the freak snowstorm isn’t the only thing that’s arrived in the Thames Valley. A homeless wanderer, a dark rider, and a man with a very distinctive white beard are all laying in wait for Will’s birthday. With Christmas fast approaching there isn’t much time to worry about the forces of evil, and that’s probably for the best because Will has another mission to worry about: he must combine the six ancient signs for the Light before the Dark rises to power forever.

 

In this second installment of The Dark is Rising sequence, we head to a new part of the British Isles, with new characters and old (pun intended), and new mission.  Will Stanton is tasked with finding the second of the ‘things of the Light’, the first being the grail found by the Drew children in the first book. To complete his quest, Will has to gather the six signs, all made from different natural elements, to complete something called ‘the circle’. Along the way, the Dark seeks to trick and distract Will in many ways and test his loyalty to the Light. The danger factor in this book is definitely taken up a notch from the previous installment. Where the Drew children were chased by scary people with guns, Will is attacked by ravens, tortured with the simulated screams of his family among other emotional attacks, and chased down by horses and tornadoes. Oh, and everything takes place over the course of about two weeks, from Will’s birthday to Twelfth Night.

I’m still unsure if I like the time jumps in these books – days when nothing exciting happens are just skipped, but you don’t usually know there’s been a time jump for a few paragraphs – but the short time-spans of the novels is quite interesting. Most YA and MG books that are coming out today like to wrap everything up at the end of every book in a series, and leave the overarching storyline to be mostly a mystery. In this series, however, everything seems like tiny little steps towards facing the BIG BAD DARK ‘someday’. They finally explain in this one that there are four ‘things of the light’, and since there are five books, I assume we’ll find the other two things in Greenwitch and The Grey King, and then we’ll have our big fight scenes in Silver on the Tree. Just saying. It’s a lot more information than we had after Over Sea, Under Stone, which gave away nothing about the plot of the series except at the very very end when Barney is all like, ‘You know, I think Uncle Merry is a lot older than we think he is,” because Barney rules.

I’m going to try to finish the series and reviews for the books by the end of the year, despite the fact that I totally missed posting this last week. Grad school is hard, okay? I’m also starting to get sick and I’m starting a new job (more on that in the October Update post on Thursday), so there’s been a lot going on. Who knows if I’ll get to NaNoWriMo this year. So, this has been your chatty book review for the week. I’m going to go finish a rough draft of a paper now before getting five hours of sleep and then going to work training for eight hours before my four-hour class where said rough draft is due. You’ll find out on Thursday if I’ve survived. Until then, leave me a comment about your favorite use of timelines in a book series!

 

HHC Rating: 4 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – Over Sea, Under Stone
Book #3 – Greenwitch
Book #4 – The Grey King (Review Coming Soon!)
Book #5 – Silver on the Tree (Review Coming Soon!)

Over Sea, Under Stone (The Dark is Rising Sequence, #1) – Susan Cooper

 

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Photo by Amanda_HHC

 

 

Simon, Jane, and Barnabus Drew have just arrived in Cornwall for a summer holiday with their parents and great uncle when they discover a mysteriously hidden passageway to a long-forgotten attic in the house they are staying at. Among the relics and dust, they find what could only be a treasure map. In following the ancient clues, the Drews attract the attention of other treasure hunters, determined to get the prize for themselves in the name of an evil known only as the Dark. As Simon, Jane, and Barney unravel the secrets of the map, they realize the treasure is more important than they ever could have dreamed, and might even be related to the true history of King Arthur.

 

I was gifted The Dark is Rising Sequence as a Christmas present from my parents over a decade ago and loved them. When I set out to re-read all of my childhood favorites this year, I knew this series needed to be on my list. Cooper’s writing is simple enough that my young mind could comprehend it, but it is also complex enough to still make the story enjoyable as an adult.

Admittedly, I don’t remember much from my original reading of the book beyond that it had a theme about King Arthur and Merlin, and that I liked it, so re-reading these is nearly as entertaining as it was back then. I have always loved anything to do with King Arthur and Merlin (Guinevere and Lancelot not so much), so those themes in the story are my favorite. As a child, it was fun to read about people near my own age getting in on the adventures, rather than reading about yet another 16-year-old protagonist who needed to go save a princess or a kingdom or slay something. The Drews are not ‘special snowflakes’ in any sense. They make mistakes, and that is what allows the story to wander where it does and come to the conclusion Cooper had planned. The book does move a little slowly, and the characters’ minds wander so that we get more description than is strictly necessary. Most of these descriptions help build other characters in the reader’s mind, however, and for younger readers, it would make perfect sense that these descriptions would be needed. After all, we can’t all have ready-made villains in our heads to slap names on at the drop of a hat. What I am trying to say here is this: There is a lot of description, but it is not altogether unwelcome.

The scenery, seen through Cooper’s world-building, is wonderful. No matter where I picked up in the book, I could almost feel the Cornish winds whipping across the headlands and hear the sea slamming against the rocks of Kemare head as the tide rushes in. The characters each have their own personalities and accents, making each an interesting little nugget of eccentricities to mine for.

I have no idea where the rest of the series will take me, but I look forward to diving in!

 

HHC Rating: 3.5 Stars

P.S. The covers featured are from a reprint of the 1986 box set edition. The edition was printed in 2000, but as far as I can find, these covers are no longer available.

Other reviews in this series:
Book #2 – The Dark is Rising
Book #3 – Greenwitch 
Book #4 – The Grey King (Review Coming Soon!)
Book #5 – Silver on the Tree (Review Coming Soon!)

Peter Pan – J. M. Barrie

Peter-Pan-J-M-Barrie

Source: Goodreads

Peter Pan doesn’t want to grow up. He wants to fight pirates and indians (Native Americans), play with mermaids, and do cartwheels in the sky. The Lost Boys, however, need a mother, and Wendy Darling is just the girl for the job.

How it’s taken me nearly 25 years to read Peter Pan I’ll never quite know. Maybe I was scarred after reading Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid and worried I’d hate Peter and Wendy and Hook. After all, I grew up watching films like the Disney animated version of the classic, as well as Robin Williams’ Pan in Hook, and more recently Finding Neverland and NBC’s Peter Pan Live!  Not to mention the numerous other films, plays, and book series based on and around this original story. This book had a lot to live up to.

I decided to read it aloud to my cousin, who’s just turned one. Sure, he can’t understand any of it yet, but this is supposed to be a children’s book. Over the course of a week, reading a chapter or two a day, we sped through it. I have to say, it seems very short at around 200 pages, but as you read you realize what a wealth of information there is. This is one of those books that is written to build your imagination. It leaves bits out purposefully so the reader will fill them in themselves.

One huge thing I noticed was the narrator’s decision to call Neverland ‘The Neverland’, and explain that it’s different and yet somehow the same for everyone. I’ve always thought of Neverland as a specific place, like Treasure Island, or Narnia, that existed in our world or an alternate dimension. But that’s only partly true. When Tinkerbell is in distress, Peter calls out to all the boys and girls of the world and asks them to believe. But here’s the thing: They aren’t all in Neverland the way the Darlings and the Lost Boys are. The children who save Tinkerbell are at home, asleep in their beds, visiting the foggier version of Neverland in their dreams. If you watch the 2003 live action Peter Pan, you get an inkling that something like this is happening, but if you haven’t read the book it is easy to assume that Peter just has extra magical powers.

The next thing I noticed was how rude Peter and Tinkerbell are. She calls him a ‘silly ass’ at least five times, and Peter regulary forgets who people are or waits until just before they die to save them. Sure, it’s supposed to be part of his hero-complex, but it doesn’t seem like heroic behavior to me. By the end, I was glad that the Darlings made it home in one piece, as even that seemed at times too much to ask.

Truth be told, I’m not entirely sure why this is considered a children’s story unless it is meant as one of warning: don’t run away from home.

If there is a hero it is certainly Wendy, though even she lives with a kind of grief throughout the rest of her days. I always hated that Peter and Wendy didn’t end up together, but after reading the original story I’ve come to terms with the reality that they are what, 10? 12 years old? and in no position to be in love, but also that Peter is not a character one should be falling in love with. In fact, when it is Jane’s turn to fly, she doesn’t reason with Wendy that she’s in love with him. She reasons that he needs a mother. Because motherly love is the only kind a girl could have for the boy who never grows up. A mother’s love is universal, and everyone is deserving of it, no matter how unheroic, prideful, or childish they may be.

One thing I did enjoy in this particular edition was the glossary at the end of the book explaining J. M. Barrie’s completely inaccurate native Americans, as well as some other rather interesting tidbits. I thought it was very nice of them to explain why the characters were written as they are, especially since so much has changed in terms of standards of political correctness since the book’s original publication. I wish all reprintings of historical works included a historical explanation of the language and characters.

HHC Rating: 3.5 Stars

Only Beloved (The Survivors' Club, #7) – Mary Balogh

only-beloved-mary-balogh

Source: Goodreads

George, Duke of Stanbrook and the figurehead of the self-styled Survivors’ Club, is feeling lonely. All of his compatriots have found love and are building their lives back up. He worries that they won’t need him anymore and he’ll live alone at Penderris Hall for eternity. Then he lights upon an idea that could change everything.

Dora Debbins is perfectly happy being a small town music teacher. An established spinster, she finds joy in teaching the young of Inglebrook as well as Lord and Lady Darleigh the fine art of music. She gardens, and when her sister lived with her, would enjoy chatting and drinking tea on a rainy afternoon. Now that her sister has married, Dora feels lonely, and her mind keeps wandering back to the gentleman she met around the same time her sister met her now husband. It could never be, but a little daydreaming never hurt anyone. That is until her daydreams suddenly become reality and Dora is thrust into a marriage she never expected and a world she never imagined.

George and Dora! I couldn’t be happier. I’ve been wishing and hoping they would get together ever since book four when we met her. Dora is just too sweet for words, and I am simply elated that George is going to try and be happy again.

Bullheadedness aside, George got super complex in this book. Like woah. And there are so many plot twists. No one saw those coming. No. One. This book actually becomes quite dark in places. Much darker than the previous books. Dora’s lightness of personality becomes a metaphorical guiding light to George, who is stuck in this dark place of misery. It all feels terribly serious while you’re reading it. Tissues probably needed.

I’m incredibly sad that this series is ending, but also extremely excited for whatever Mary Balogh writes next. This book not only serves as George’s story, but it also wraps up the previous six stories. THERE’S EVEN AN EPILOGUE. I CRIED. HAPPY. TEARS. It’s beautiful. This is how a good book series should end.

HHC Rating: 5 stars

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – The Proposal
Book #2 – The Arrangement
Book #3 – The Escape
Book #4 – Only Enchanting
Book #5 – Only A Promise
Book #6 – Only A Kiss