THE SUMMER BEFORE THE WAR by Helen Simonson (published 2016)

The author of the impressive debut novel, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, has done the impossible: her second novel is as good as her first. The story takes place in East Sussix, England (town of Rye) beginning in 1914 and covers the period just before and just after The Great War. At the opening of this novel, one is reminded of a country Downton Abbey, and we get to know the characters and situation in the English countryside as England gets ready to go to war.

Hugh, the medical student nephew of Aunt Agatha and Uncle John, who works for the Foreign Office, meets Beatrice, the unexpectedly attractive and freethinking new Latin mistress, supported and encouraged by Agatha.  The little town is the opposite of progressive-thinking, and many characters have definite opinions on the “proper” goings ons in the lives of the young people, Beatrice, Hugh, and Hugh’s cousin, Aunt Agatha’s favorite, a sensitive young poet.

What happens to the residents of this town and what going to war will (and does) mean to them really matters to the reader as he/she reads the novel. One critic describes Simonson as “…like a Jane Austin for our day and age.” Booklist advertises this engaging novel as “leisurely fiction steeped in the British past,” and another blurb on the cover says it is “…historically accurate.”  What more could one want in a good read?