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The Falconer by Elizabeth May

The Falconer by Elizabeth MayThe Falconer (The Falconer, #1) by Elizabeth May
Series: The Falconer #1
Published by Chronicle Books on May 6th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Historical, YA, YA - Fantasy
Pages: 378
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
three-stars

One girl's nightmare is this girl's faery tale

She's a stunner. Edinburgh, 1844. Eighteen-year-old Lady Aileana Kameron, the only daughter of the Marquess of Douglas, has everything a girl could dream of: brains, charm, wealth, a title—and drop-dead beauty.

She's a liar. But Aileana only looks the part of an aristocratic young lady. she's leading a double life: She has a rare ability to sense the sìthíchean—the faery race obsessed with slaughtering humans—and, with the aid of a mysterious mentor, has spent the year since her mother died learning how to kill them.

She's a murderer. Now Aileana is dedicated to slaying the fae before they take innocent lives. With her knack for inventing ingenious tools and weapons—from flying machines to detonators to lightning pistols—ruthless Aileana has one goal: Destroy the faery who destroyed her mother.

She's a Falconer. The last in a line of female warriors born with a gift for hunting and killing the fae, Aileana is the sole hope of preventing a powerful faery population from massacring all of humanity. Suddenly, her quest is a lot more complicated. She still longs to avenge her mother's murder—but she'll have to save the world first.

The first volume of a trilogy from an exciting new voice in young adult fantasy, this electrifying thriller combines romance and action, steampunk technology and Scottish lore in a deliciously addictive read.

I received a free e-copy of this book from netgalley.

I requested this book because I’ve been seeing the series by Elizabeth May popping up everywhere. Overall, I liked the book – it was sort of an 18th century Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with fae instead of vampires. I do have a few issues with the book, however.

First, it is awfully similar to the Karen Marie Moning Fever series, which makes it feel a bit derivative. In addition, one of the strengths of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was her relationship with her posse – Xander, Willow and Giles. It would’ve been nice to see some development of the supporting characters so that they could’ve been more active participants as opposed to being essentially window-dressing. I also like the Scottish themes.

Finally, I do have an issue with the title of the book – it’s a bit strange to call a book “The Falconer” when it doesn’t even remotely involve falcons, no matter the historical context. I suppose calling it Aileana the Fae Slayer would’ve been too obvious, however! I’m curious about book 2, and will likely continue the series. This one was enjoyable, but slight, and I doubt it will leave a lasting impression

three-stars

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer

The Grand Sophy by Georgette HeyerThe Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
Published by Sourcebooks on 1950
Genres: Historical, Romance
Pages: 372
Source: Purchased: ebook
Goodreads

New York Times Bestseller! "Sophy sets everything right for her desperate family in one of Georgette Heyer's most popular Regency romances."

When Lady Ombersley agrees to take in her young niece, no one expects Sophy, who sweeps in and immediately takes the ton by storm. Sophy discovers that her aunt's family is in desperate need of her talent for setting everything right: Ceclia is in love with a poet, Charles has tyrannical tendencies that are being aggravated by his grim fiancee, her uncle is of no use at all, and the younger children are in desperate need of some fun and freedom. By the time she's done, Sophy has commandeered Charles's horses, his household, and finally, his heart.

The Grand Sophy was published in 1950, between Arabella and The Quiet Gentleman. It is set in 1816, in the immediate aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars.

In spite of one glaringly problematic aspect, which will be further discussed below, The Grand Sophy is my absolute favorite Heyer of all that I have read because I adore Sophy. She is a simply wonderful heroine – outspoken, self-confident, and well-liked in spite of her occasionally unconventional behavior. She is basically the Annie Oakley of regency England right down to the pistol.

Her verbal sparring with the ultimate hero, Charles Rivenhall, is laugh out loud funny:

‘I’ll take care of that!’ he retorted. ‘Let me tell you, my dear cousin, that I should be better pleased if you would refrain from meddling in the affairs of my family!’

‘Now, that,’ said Sophy, ‘I am very glad to know, because if ever I should desire to please you I shall know just how to set about it. I daresay I shan’t, but one likes to be prepared for any event, however unlikely.’

Charles is obviously confounded by Sophy, when she shows up at his house with a dog, a monkey and an attitude. He likes her, at times a great deal, but is befuddled by her lack of fainting spells, her out-spokenness, and her meddling nature as she starts to set things right with his family. Charles is engaged to the antithesis of Sophy, Eugenia Wraxton, who is well-bred, humorless, and smug. One of the funniest aspects of this book is watching Charles struggle with the priggish Miss Wraxton because he is completely loyal to his family, and while he is perfectly comfortable criticizing them, woe betide the person who has the audacity to be critical of them in his presence. Eugenia makes this unfortunate mistake on more than one occasion.

There are two events in the book that really establish the worth of both Sophy and Charles Rivenhall, though. The innocent young man stumbling into debt through gambling is often a feature of Heyer’s stories, and this one is no exception – Charles’ younger brother, Hubert, has found himself deep in debt from gambling and tries to recover his fortunes by taking out a loan from a usurer and betting on a horse race. This – of course – goes badly, and Hubert is deeply ashamed as well as completely demoralized. Sophy is able to extract the truth from him with some skilful and sympathetic questioning, and offers to loan him the money to repay the lender, which he refuses. When Hubert is too ashamed to come clean with Charles, Sophy, naturally, takes matters into her own hands and visits the moneylender.

This could be a successful and funny device to show Sophy’s intrepid nature because she handles the whole thing with aplomb and resourcefulness. Unfortunately, Heyer endows the blackmailer with many of the most pernicious stereotyped character traits of a Jewish moneylender, which makes the entire interaction uncomfortable for the modern day reader. Whether or not Heyer was actually anti-Semitic I will let scholars who have studied her critically address. All I can say about this part of the book is that it detracts from the story in the same way that the unfortunate caricaturing of Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s detracted from that fine movie. It didn’t ruin the experience for me, although I can see how it could for other readers. It is doubly unfortunate because there was simply no need for it, so the only conclusion I can draw is that Heyer did it on purpose for effect. Her narrative goals could have been served by any character that was greasy, unpleasant, and criminal. There are – were – plenty of character types from which she could have drawn without bigotry.

Leaving aside that blight on the book, Charles, as well, shows to advantage as a result of this episode. Far from reproaching his younger brother, he takes Hubert into his confidence and explains that the gaming of their father has left the family essentially destitute, and accepts responsibility for the rift that made it impossible for Hubert to confide in him.

‘Well, I had better make a clean breast of the whole! I went to a rascally moneylender, and I borrowed five hundred from him, for six months. I thought I should have won every penny back, and more beside, at Newmarket. But the damnable screw was unplaced!’ He saw his brother’s expression, and said: ‘You need not look like that! I swear I shall never do so again as long as I live! Of course I ought to have come rather to you, but –’

‘You should have come to me, and that you did not must have been far more my fault than yours!’

The second event relates to the youngest sibling, Amabel, who becomes extremely ill during the course of the book. Charles returns home to find the house in disarray, his mother taken to her bed, and his sister, Cecilia, and Sophy, in charge of nursing the ill child.

‘Oh, yes, tell about the time you were lost in the Pyrenees!’ begged Amabel drowsily. Sophy did so, her voice sinking as the little girl’s eyelids began to droop. Mr Rivenhall sat still and silent on the other side of the bed, watching his sister. Presently Amabel’s deeper breathing betrayed that she slept. Sophy’s voice ceased; she looked up, and met Mr Rivenhall’s eyes. He was staring at her, as though a thought, blinding in its novelty, had occurred to him. Her gaze remained steady, a little questioning. He rose abruptly, half-stretched out his hand, but let it fall again, and, turning, went quickly out of the room.

Am I crazy, or does this remind of this:

odb-The-Look

Swoon. No, seriously. I just died.

For the ending, Heyer brings together all of the disparate and mostly unwitting participants in Sophy’s plans, and shuffles the partners until everyone ends up with their proper match. It is a consummate game of romantic chance, deftly managed, with an eye toward perfect propriety, and only the clever Sophy could have pulled it off. There are a few important side stories that are worth mentioning, most particularly Cecilia’s romance with Fawnhope and Charling, and the indolent Sancia, Sophy’s putative and unwilling step-mama. This is, to my mind, Heyer’s most enjoyable novel to date – witty, sparkling, and genuinely funny.

Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson

Somewhere in France by Jennifer RobsonSomewhere In France by Jennifer Robson
Published by William Morrow on December 13, 2013
Genres: Historical
Pages: 400
Source: Purchased: ebook
Goodreads

Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford wants to travel the world, pursue a career, and marry for love. But in 1914, the stifling restrictions of aristocratic British society and her mother’s rigid expectations forbid Lily from following her heart. When war breaks out, the spirited young woman seizes her chance for independence. Defying her parents, she moves to London and eventually becomes an ambulance driver in the newly formed Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps—an exciting and treacherous job that takes her close to the Western Front.

Assigned to a field hospital in France, Lily is reunited with Robert Fraser, her dear brother Edward’s best friend. The handsome Scottish surgeon has always encouraged Lily’s dreams. She doesn’t care that Robbie grew up in poverty—she yearns for their friendly affection to become something more. Lily is the most beautiful—and forbidden—woman Robbie has ever known. Fearful for her life, he’s determined to keep her safe, even if it means breaking her heart.

In a world divided by class, filled with uncertainty and death, can their hope for love survive. . . or will it become another casualty of this tragic war?

Recommended for fans of historical fiction, Rosamund Pilcher, Jennifer Donnelly’s “Rose” series, and Judith Kinghorn.

This book reminds me strongly of Ms. Kinghorn’s The Last Summer, which I read (and reviewed) last year and very much enjoyed. It is neither groundbreaking nor terribly original, but is an entertaining and well-written historical novel with strong romantic themes.

The heroine, Lilly, was extremely likeable – brave and assertive. The World War I setting worked well, and I enjoyed the secondary characters, especially Lilly’s fellow WAAC friend, Constance. There were a couple of scenes that made me smile, and more than a few scenes that caused me to sniffle a bit.

This book doesn’t possess the depth of, say, Cather’s One of Ours. But it is highly entertaining, seems to be historically solid, and I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours devouring it. I would recommend it to anyone who likes their historical fiction with a happily ever after.

The Passing Bells by Phillip Rock

The Passing Bells by Phillip RockThe Passing Bells by Phillip Rock
Published by William Morrow on 1978
Genres: Historical
Pages: 516
Source: Purchased: ebook
Goodreads

"The guns of August are rumbling throughout Europe in the summer of 1914, but war has not yet touched Abingdon Pryory. Here, at the grand home of the Greville family, the parties, dances, and romances play on. Alexandra Greville embarks on her debutante season while brother Charles remains hopelessly in love with the beautiful, untitled Lydia Foxe, knowing that his father, the Earl of Stanmore, will never approve of the match. Downstairs the new servant, Ivy, struggles to adjust to the routines of the well-oiled household staff, as the arrival of American cousin Martin Rilke, a Chicago newspaperman, causes a stir.

But, ultimately, the Great War will not be denied, as what begins for the high-bred Grevilles as a glorious adventure soon takes its toll—shattering the household's tranquillity, crumbling class barriers, and bringing its myriad horrors home."

Recommended for fans of family sagas, books set during the Edwardian period, and multi-generational epics, The Passing Bells is one of those long sagas that was extremely popular during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Given the number of those that I read in high school, I am honestly surprised that I missed this one. Like many books in that style, it is a mile wide and an inch deep. Honestly, though, it is a satisfying inch.

Phillip Rock was a screenwriter and a novelist, and wrote novelizations of Dirty Harry and The Cheyenne Social Club. The Passing Bells was the first in a trilogy of novels about the Greville family. It begins during that last golden summer before the crisis in July, followed by the August madness and the declaration of war.

“All I know for sure is that everything is going to bloody well change.” “That might be a blessing,” Charles said quietly.

The beginning of the book focuses on the events at the Pryory, introducing us to the three children of the manor and their friends and romantic interests, certain members of the servant class, and an American cousin who also a journalist. From there, the book follows each of them, from England to the fronts, to the devastation that is the trench warfare.

My favorite two characters were Martin Rilke, the American journalist who comes to visit and Ivy, a downstairs maid who takes advantage of the new opportunities for women offered by the war, and becomes a nurse. Every character in the book is changed by World War I, and, in a fictionalized fashion, the sweeping changes to British society, to the youth, to a way of life that cannot survive the war, are explored. Things cannot stand.

The last of the young maids had departed after Christmas, answering their country’s call for women to take over the jobs that men were leaving. Men and more men. Kitchener had asked for one hundred thousand volunteers to form the nucleus of his New Army. Over a million responded.

Rock does not shy away from a gut punch or two, leaving the greatest of them for the end of the book. I can’t help but reminded of the lyrics from Children’s Crusade, from Sting’s Dream of Blue Turtles album:

“Children’s Crusade”

Young men, soldiers, Nineteen Fourteen
Marching through countries they’d never seen
Virgins with rifles, a game of charades
All for a Children’s Crusade

Pawns in the game are not victims of chance
Strewn on the fields of Belgium and France
Poppies for young men, death’s bitter trade
All of those young lives betrayed

The children of England would never be slaves
They’re trapped on the wire and dying in waves
The flower of England face down in the mud
And stained in the blood of a whole generation

Corpulent generals safe behind lines
History’s lessons drowned in red wine
Poppies for young men, death’s bitter trade
All of those young lives betrayed
All for a Children’s Crusade

The children of England would never be slaves
They’re trapped on the wire and dying in waves
The flower of England face down in the mud
And stained in the blood of a whole generation

Midnight in Soho, Nineteen Eighty-four
Fixing in doorways, opium slaves
Poppies for young men, such bitter trade
All of those young lives betrayed
All for a Children’s Crusade

A “passing bell” is defined as a bell tolled to announce a death or funeral service —called also death bell. An apt title.

I is for Iceland

I is for Iceland by Arnaldur Indridason, Hannah Kent
Genres: Historical, Mystery

There are a lot of places that I would like to visit – Prague, and Norway, and Banff, British Columbia. One of them is Iceland.

I am fascinated by the culture and the geography.

Reykjavík_séð_úr_Hallgrímskirkju

There is a series written by an Icelandic author and set in Reykjavik that I really enjoy: the Inspector Erlender series, by Arnaldur Indridason. I’ve read several of these books, including Jar City.

jar city

Indridason has been compared to other Nordic crime writers, like Henning Mankell, whom I also love.

One of my favorite books of 2013 was set in Iceland, in the early nineteenth century.

burial rites

Burial Rites was based on the true story of the last execution in Iceland, that occurred on January 12, 1830. Agnes Magnusdottir, a farmhand, was convicted of murdering two men in March, 1828.

Burial Rites is fascinating, telling the story of the time that Agnes spends as a “prisoner” on a farm in the rural district where she was raised. Because there was no jail where she could be held, she was assigned to a family and resided with them until the date of her execution. The book tells us the story of Agnes, and the murder, and also details her effect on the family and community where she lives before her execution. Spoiler alert – this book does not have a happy ending. It is a fascinating exploration of the historical Icelandic culture, of gender relationships, of capital punishment, and of the manner in which stories are told.

Highly recommended.

Sinful Folk by Ned Hayes

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Sinful Folk by Ned HayesSinful Folk by Ned Hayes
on January 22, 2014
Genres: Historical
Pages: 400
Goodreads
five-stars

In December of the year 1377, five children were burned to death in a suspicious house fire. A small band of villagers traveled 200 miles across England in midwinter to demand justice for their children’s deaths.

Sinful Folk is the story of this treacherous journey as seen by Mear, a former nun who has lived for a decade disguised as a mute man, raising her son quietly in this isolated village.

For years, she has concealed herself and all her secrets. But in this journey, she will find the strength to claim the promise of her past and find a new future. Mear begins her journey in terror and heartache, and ends in triumph and redemption.

The remarkable new novel by Ned Hayes
Illustrated by New York Times bestseller Nikki McClure

Cross-posted on Booklikes and amazon.

Disclosure: I won a free copy of this book from an author. It was a no-strings attached sort of a thing, and there was no agreement that I would review this book at all as a part of the giveaway. In addition, I was very excited about the release of this book because the author is someone I follow here on Booklikes, so I had read various excerpts from the book before getting my hands on it (digital hands, really) and it looked fantastic.

I was not disappointed.

I’m going to witter on for a bit about myself, to explain what kind of a reader I am. I have read a lot of historical fiction, including the grand dame of English historical fiction, Sharon Kay Penman, and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. Both of these writers primarily write in a period that is quite a bit later than the period chosen by Mr. Hayes for his novel, but they – Penman in particular – are well known for the quality of their research and writing.

I am not tremendously knowledgable about the English Middle Ages and am definitely not reading as a scholar. However, I am pretty picky about obvious errors and I am quite picky about good writing, and I love a great story. Ned Hayes is one of those authors who is the total package.

Sinful Folk was, in a word, wonderful.

Most historical fiction focuses on the nobles not the vassals. This makes sense, as it is undoubtedly much easier to research how the royalty and the powerful members of the church and the wealthy lived. The peasantry are usually there, in the book, as an aside. They serve things, they (if they are male) are the cannon fodder for the foolish wars embarked upon by the powerful, or they (if they are female) are a sexual outlet – sometimes consenting, sometimes not so much – for the men of noble blood that they might encounter. Nonetheless, they are mostly interchangeble. Unnamed, unknown, unimportant.

But, of course, in the Middle Ages, as in any other period, those are the people who do most of the living and loving and hating and dying. This book gives them a voice in Mear, or Miriam. And it is a beautiful voice, utterly convincing.

“In the end, I listen to my fear. It keeps me awake, resounding through the frantic beating in my breast. It is there in the dry terror in my throat, in the pricking of the rats’ nervous feet in the darkness.

Christian has not come home all the night long.”

The book begins with the death of Mear’s son, Christian. He is burned to death in a terrible fire, along with four other boys. The men of the village, including Miriam, because she is living as a man, and a mute one, at that, take a pilgrimage in the dead of winter, seeking justice for their boys. The story is the story of their journey, and the life story of Miriam, who has secrets that are slowly revealed as the journey unfolds, picking up other travellers as they go. It is incredibly dangerous for peasants to be abroad on the road in winter, especially as they travel without the permission of their Lord. This is no light-hearted picaresque tale about villagers on a pleasure trip – the characters face real dangers, real hardship, and experience real terrors and injuries. It is winter, in the midst of a famine, and the world is a harsh and unforgiving place.

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

(Poem by Christina Rosetti)

I don’t want to spoil the story, so I will stop here. Ned Hayes has a story-teller’s sense of timing and mystery, and a poet’s grasp of language. He could have been a bard in another time.

Rooks have clustered on either side of the long road. It is as if they line a grand parade route for our passage. Their black feathers are stark as soot against the White Road and the snow. They stab at the ground with their strange bare bills and unfeathered faces.”

five-stars

1938: Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

1938: Rebecca by Daphne Du MaurierRebecca by Daphne du Maurier
on 1938
Genres: Classics - Twentieth Century, Historical, Thriller
Pages: 448
Source: Purchased: print book
Goodreads

The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady's maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives--presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave

Rebecca has one of the most famous opening lines in literature: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

Where to begin with my discussion of Rebecca. Let me begin by acknowledging that du Maurier tells a ripping good story. The book, written from the perspective of the unnamed narrator, the second Mrs. de Winter, tells the tale of her whirlwind courtship and marriage to bereaved widower Max de Winter. The second Mrs. de Winter returns to Manderley, where she is ill-equipped by birth, education or confidence to take over the running of the great home. Du Maurier builds suspense as the second Mrs. de Winter clashes with Rebecca’s former housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who makes her feel inferior and generally lurks about in a way that is extremely creepy. This part of the book was excellent, and Mrs. Danver’s obsession with the beautiful Rebecca and her contempt for Rebecca’s replacement is well-drawn and successful.

Unfortunately, I had really high expectations of this book. And, also unfortunately, it did not meet my expectations. Let me warn now – this post is likely to get very spoilery in a paragraph or two. So, if you’ve never read Rebecca, if you don’t know what the big reveal is, and if you want to experience the suspense as du Maurier created it, then stop reading now.

I mean it. Stop reading. Now.

Okay, so I am now assuming that everyone left reading this post has already read the book, and knows about the big reveal: Max murdered Rebecca as she taunted him with her infidelity, and then he disposed of her body by scuttling her boat so that it will appear that she was lost at sea. Our narrator, a singularly weak and annoying character, learns this when she weepingly acknowledges that, in spite of her love for him, she recognizes that she can never measure up to Rebecca, and that he will never love her.

Astounded by this great confession, Max disabuses the narrator of her illusions. He hated Rebecca. Rebecca was an evil, two-timing monster.

But how can we present a murderer as a great romantic hero? The narrator, far from being repelled by the confession that her husband MURDERED HIS FIRST WIFE in a hail of bullets and blood, is overjoyed. Her only thought is: he never loved Rebecca. And this brings her great comfort.

In part, I think that Rebecca demonstrates how far we have come as a culture. Because I hope that it is fair to say that it would be unlikely for a writer to write a wife-murderer as a romantic hero in quite the same way that du Maurier did. What, precisely, was the great crime that was committed by Rebecca that rendered her worthy of slaughter in the boathouse? It appears to me that her great crime was that she acted just like a man of that time period. Rebecca is set well before the days of no fault divorce. During that era men of property often maintained mistresses and engaged in other extra-marital sexual liasons without repercussions, and which were accepted by society.

Rebecca, by Max’s account (and let’s leave aside the unreliability of his version given that he is, of course, a murderer) had affairs. She was promiscuous, slutty. She tramped around, and lived life on her own terms. She was a bloody rotten wife, and it would have been totally reasonable for him to have tossed her out on her ear, cut off without a shilling, for him to have moved to America with all of his money, divorced her and dragged her name through the mud. But he didn’t do any of those things. Instead, he murdered her. And then his second wife reacts to the fact that she has married a murderer by rejoicing in the fact that he didn’t love his first wife after all.

Are you kidding me?

What makes the second Mrs. de Winter think that she won’t end up just like Rebecca if she displeases Max? After all, he’s already gotten away with murder.

Let me finish this post by saying that I didn’t hate Rebecca. It is well-written, and interesting, and a lot of fun to read. But I just can’t get behind a murderer as a romantic hero. Because, actually, Max de Winter belongs in prison for what he did. What really distinguishes Max de Winter from someone serving a sentence of 25 to life for murdering his wife? Nothing, in my mind.

So, Rebecca, you didn’t work for me. I’m just not up for a book that uses female infidelity as a justification for a domestic violence homicide. As a reason for divorce, sure. But being a woman and having an affair (or three or ten) shouldn’t be a capital crime. Not even in 1938. And certainly not in 2013.

The Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn

The Last Summer by Judith KinghornThe Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn
Published by Penguin USA on December 31, 2012
Genres: Historical
Pages: 433
Source: Purchased: ebook
Goodreads

Clarissa is almost seventeen when the spell of her childhood is broken. It is 1914, the beginning of a blissful, golden summer - and the end of an era. Deyning Park is in its heyday, the large country house filled with the laughter and excitement of privileged youth preparing for a weekend party. When Clarissa meets Tom Cuthbert, home from university and staying with his mother, the housekeeper, she is dazzled. Tom is handsome and enigmatic; he is also an outsider. Ambitious, clever, his sights set on a career in law, Tom is an acute observer, and a man who knows what he wants. For now, that is Clarissa.

As Tom and Clarissa's friendship deepens, the wider landscape of political life around them is changing, and another story unfolds: they are not the only people in love. Soon the world - and all that they know - is rocked by a war that changes their lives for ever.

I think I am one of ten people in America who has never watched Downton Abbey. Which is strange, because I love period dramas, and am mildly obsessed with pre-war, Edwardian British society. Notwithstanding, I have never once watched Downton Abbey.

However, I recently stumbled upon a couple of blog posts written by a blogger named Sarah at Reading the Past here which provide a list of books for fans of Downton Abbey. These posts expanded my TBR list while simultaneously depleting my bank account. The Last Summer is the first book from the list that I read.

In many ways, The Last Summer is reminiscent of Atonement, by Ian McEwan. It is set during that time period immediately pre-WWI, during the last, golden summer before war breaks out and England is forever changed. The main character, Clarissa Granville, is the daughter of the house at Deyning Park, who falls in love with Tom Cuthbert, the son of one of the servants.

The Last Summer is not exactly a romance, although it has strong romantic elements. It is a coming of age story of a young woman living in a time of great change. Clarissa is not a young woman who is ahead of her time. In fact, in many ways, she is a disappointing heroine because she is so flawed and passive. The one really rebellious thing she does is to fall in love with Tom Cuthbert.

While there were points at which I wanted to shake Clarissa into finding a bit of backbone to stand up to her overbearing mother or to make a decision that wasn’t merely what was expected of her, overall, I loved this book. This period in history is hard to read about. Thousands of young men died in the trenches, and those who didn’t die returned from war damaged in body and soul. The family members left on the home front suffered terribly. I highly recommend The Last Summer – I thoroughly enjoyed it even if the middle section of the book is so full of sadness that it is difficult to read. And while it isn’t strictly a romance, there is a happily ever after.

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