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review 2017-06-13 15:40
The Summer Before the War
The Summer Before the War: A Novel - Helen Simonson

It is the summer of 1914, and Beatrice Nash, 23, finds herself in Rye, in Sussex, attempting desperately to get a job as a teacher at the local grammar school.  (As Latin mistress, of all things - very shocking for a female!)  She has fled her late father's family, wealthy but highly controlling, to try to make her own, independent life, and is not finding it easy.  For one thing, she's neither as old or as plain as they were expecting.


Down in Rye, she becomes involved in the lives of her sponsor there, Agatha Grange, Agatha's husband, John ("something at the Foreign Office"), and their two nephews, close as sons, Hugh Grange and Daniel Goodham.  Hugh is studying medicine, and Daniel has aspirations as a poet. 


When the war does break out, life becomes ever more complicated.  Young men start to join up.  There are panicked runs on food and other goods in the stores.  The mayor's wife is even more impossible than usual.  Young ladies of good breeding but little brain start handing out white feathers to young men not in uniform.  Poor harmless dachshunds are attacked.  And the town does its bit by taking in Belgian refugees.


There are four narrators - mostly Beatrice or Hugh, but occasionally also Agatha or "Snout," a boy in the village.  Simonson writes well, so it's not really an issue; it's always easy to tell them apart.


This novel is every bit as good as Simonson's first novel, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, and a good historical novel.  (I don't recall seeing any historical detail that struck me as improbable or just wrong.)  A thoroughly enjoyable read - I dithered between 4 and 4 1/2 stars.

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review 2016-10-07 21:13
Everfair - Nisi Shawl
Everfair - Nisi Shawl

It's an alternate history in which a genocide doesn't happen.

It's about a utopian society that isn't so cleverly set up as to avoid all problems, but in which people work to find different, practical, solutions.

It's steampunk that feels utterly plausible.

It's a book that acknowledges the tremendous breadth and depth of people and cultures throughout Africa, although it focuses on one nation.

It is a marvelous accomplishment in every sense of the word, and I'm sure it's going to be one of my top reads for the year, and probably every other reader's list, because it is a book that makes you go "ohhh" and "ahhh", that constantly delights and surprises, even though it is addressing many of the darkest aspects of colonialism.

It's a book that reminded me of how new and appealing are the many voices in scifi these days, and actually makes me feel optimistic about humanity.

Sweet, fancy Moses, it's just a great, sweeping Victorian "ills of society" novel, such as those of Charles Dickens, but with a light touch. It's just perfect.


Now goo, read it right away, unless you're devoting October to horror, in which case, okay, but then you have to start it on November first.


ARC provided by publisher via GoodReads

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review 2016-09-19 01:55
Death at the Excelsior, and Other Stories - P.G. Wodehouse
Death at the Excelsior, and Other Stories - P.G. Wodehouse

Comedy is hard, but Wodehouse makes it look effortless. I can't help thinking if only he had been a faster typist, what his total output might have been. Happily I continue to dole them out, one at a time, savoring.

Personal copy

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review 2016-06-28 23:16
The Twice-Killed Man
The Twice-Killed Man: An Edwardian Mystery: Being a Further Recollection from the Papers of Colonel Sir Francis FitzMaurice, Concerning the Shocking Murder ... in 1907 (Montclaire Weekend Mysteries) - E.A. Allen

Catherine Ormond is a woman with class and fine sensibilities who had the misfortune of being married to a brute. That he managed to get himself murdered isn't the problem, but finding out who killed him proves to a challenge made ever more difficult by the number of people willing to confess to the crime. On the positive side, I like the narrator's voice and the tone. On the negative, I found it difficult to believe the queen would visit Montclaire rather than calling round for him if she wished to be so personally involved in Catherine Ormond's difficulties, but that's essentially a minor point. The novel, which is heavy on dialogue, sparse on description, might benefit from more character development as the novel is largely plot driven, but it was a decent cozy old Victorian mystery and not a bad way to spend a few hours on a lazy afternoon.


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