Online Reading Challenge – August Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Fans-of-Reading!

How was your August? Did you find something wonderful to read that was set during the Edwardian Era? Or maybe you watched a movie – tell us about you read or watched!

I started the month planning to read The Alienist by Caleb Carr, a book that has been popular for several years and now has a television series based on it on TNT. I tried to read it, I really did. But. It just wasn’t my cup of tea. I’m a strong believer that, if a book isn’t working for me, I abandon it. I know some people will stick with a book to the bitter end, disliking it the whole time, but there are too many titles on my “to read” list. So I dropped The Alienist and instead picked up The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson. Much better.

The Summer Before the War starts in June 1914 and is set in the idyllic English countryside. Beatrice Nash, whose father has recently died, has come to Rye to be a Latin teacher. She soon becomes involved the lives of the people around her, learning about their secrets and dreams. When war is declared in late July, there is a burst of patriotic fervor and excitement with men and boys joining up to “advance their careers” and proclaiming that they’ll “be home by Christmas”. The reality of the war soon begins to creep into their lives, both on a national and personal level, and the old ways of thinking are slowly torn away.

I very much enjoyed this book. It wasn’t necessarily ground-breaking, but it is much more than a simple, quaint story. It was interesting to read about the very constricted lives women were allowed and how Beatrice had to fight for her job even though she was far more qualified than her (male) competition. I was also fascinated by how the strict codes of society dictated everyday life, such as who could dine with who, and how merely talking to someone considered disreputable could ruin your own standing. The war eats into these rules as death and pain impact everyone no matter your place.

Beatrice is a wonderful main character – witty, smart and confident in her abilities but struggling to make her way on her own in a world that scorns spinsters. She finds compassion from unexpected sources and strength from within to face a time when everything changed.

Now it’s your turn. What did you read this month and how did you like it?

4 thoughts on “Online Reading Challenge – August Wrap-Up

  1. For August I picked up one of titles suggested in the original challenge post, reading The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott. It was an enjoyable read, in a skimming-the-surface-of-a-potential-pageturner sort of way. The storyline followed the adventures of a serving girl leaving England to seek her fortune in the New World. Managing to secure employment as a maid for a wealthy designer traveling aboard the Titanic, Tess embarks on a journey that sets the stage for this historical romance novel.
    The actual sinking of the Titanic is given very little coverage in the story, and is told with a detachment that did little to bring the reader into the drama of the event. The real story presented was the future that ensued for select few passengers after being rescued. The presentation of inquiry and court cases dealing with the incident felt honest and well researched, giving the reader opportunity to reflect on how one single event can expose the deepest character of person.
    While the story was pleasant, and somewhat thought provoking, it lacked emotion. The most enjoyable aspect for me was the discussions on changing women’s fashions during the period, and the quick glimpse of women’s suffrage presented at the end of the story.

  2. Thanks for this thoughtful review! The subject is certainly intriguing but it’s lack of emotional involvement is disappointing. Better luck with your September choice! And thanks for reading along!! Ann

  3. Unfortunately, I hit a very busy spot during this time and it took me two months to finished my July book! I hope to complete the challenge still by picking up an Edwardian book to read at some point. The books won’t be in order but at least I can say I completed the challenge in my own way!

  4. That’s the beauty of our little Online Reading Challenge – no strict deadlines, just encouragement to read! Participate in the way that works best for you. Thanks so much for reading along! Ann

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