Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is one of my favorite books, I have been eagerly anticipating Simonson’s next and am happy to report it does not disappoint. Rye, a small coastal town in East Sussex, is enjoying the tail end of a peaceful summer in 1914 as Agatha schemes to install a woman as the Latin instructor in the local school. Beatrice arrives in Rye to take up the position in much reduced circumstances. She traveled the world with her father who educated her handsomely. Treacherously, when he became ill, he returned to England, to the family home he was long estranged from, where he dies leaving total control of his small estate to Beatrice’s fussy aunt. Penniless, other than a very small allowance, she sees the teaching position as a way to remain independent. Agatha is knee deep in all town politics, obliquely so, doing her maneuvering behind scenes. She is determined to install a woman teacher against fierce opposition from her rival, the Mayor’s wife. Agatha is a kindly woman, lovingly involved in helping to raise her two nephews, Daniel and Hugh, who have grown into handsome young men. Hugh is studying to be a surgeon and falling in love with his mentor’s daughter, while Daniel has the soul of a poet, a rather imperious poet at that. As the days of 1914 march forward, world events will intrude on the peace of the town. Agatha’s husband, John, works in a position of importance in the Foreign Office, watching Europe spin out of control. What Simonson does brilliantly is create characters that the reader will care about in places that feel like they could be home.— Deon Stonehouse
April 2016 Indie Next List
“Witty, engaging, elegiac, and tragic -- with this tale Simonson has once again captured our hearts. Set in an East Sussex village in the summer before the tragedy of the First World War, Simonson's latest details a battle of wills between Agatha, Lady North, and the mayor's wife over the new Latin master -- a woman! Beatrice Nash arrives to her new post, charming everyone including the reader. Since readers know the horrors that lie ahead for England's young men, the story becomes more poignant as they move closer to their destinies. I loved it!”
— Valerie Koehler (M), Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, TX
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 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.
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE WASHINGTON POST AND NPR 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
About the Author
Helen Simonson was born in England and spent her teenage years in a small village in East Sussex. A graduate of the 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.