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At Summer's End

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Alberta Preston is a young woman who dreams of being a painter. When Bertie is invited to the Earl of Wakeford’s home of Castle Braemore to paint the estate, she defies her parents’ orders and leaves to make her mark in art. However, when she arrives, the job isn’t what she expected. The Earl, Julian, lives locked in his bedroom, having come back from the Great War injured. Bertie spends time with the Julian’s younger siblings, but she can’t help but try to crack the isolated earl. As they spend more time together, Bertie has to figure out the secrets hidden in the estate.

When I saw that this book was described as Downton Abbey meets Beauty and the Beast, I knew I had to read it. I don’t usually read books set in the 1920s, but I really enjoyed this one. The time setting alternated between the present with Bertie at Castle Braemore and scenes from the years leading up to the war that explain what Julian’s life was like before the war. This was a great way to show the events that led up to Bertie arriving.

There were many different types of trauma that affected Julian and his siblings. Julian had been physically injured in the war, which affected his mental health. His older sister was a widow with two young children. His younger brother didn’t conform to societal expectations, so he had to live his life secretly on the estate. His youngest sister no longer had a relationship with Julian, despite being close before he left for the war. All of these siblings had deep secrets that drew them away from high society and united them in a close bond.

At Summer’s End is a beautiful story about life after war.

Thank you Berkley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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A beautiful historical novel! I loved loved loved Courtney's debut and her heroine's strength and specificity.
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This was a good historical fiction novel; I just hoped for more from it. I was really looking forward to it. I still think it's overall a good novel, I just didn't connect to it the way that I hoped I would. I enjoyed the Beauty & the Beast retelling aspect. If you enjoy historical fiction. this is definitely worth the read!
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Review will be posted on 9/16/21

WWI is over and England is recovering.  The world is very different now and Bertie Preston finds herself 28 years old and unmarried. For the time period, this isn't the norm, but Bertie doesn't care about society's rules. She strives to be independent and wants to support herself as an artist.  She gains some attention after winning an art competition and with that she is contacted by the Earl of Wakefield to pain his home, Castle Braemore.  This is exactly the type of job that Bertie has been hoping for and one that will hopefully help her make the move to London.  In order to paint Castle Braemore, she must move there for a short period of time and to make things even more awkward, the Earl thought Bertie was a man.  Despite this, she is determined to make the best of it, but with the Earl hiding in his rooms and the Castle a bit dismal, things aren't what she thought they would be. Thankfully, the Earl's siblings are excited for to be there. As time passes Bertie learns why the Earl, also known as Julian, spends most of his time in his room and how the war has impacted not only him, but also the estate.  The world is changing around Castle Braemore and the big question is are the inhabitants ready for it? At Summer's End by Courtney Ellis is a compelling historical debut that fans of Downton Abbey will enjoy.

I really liked Bertie right from the start of At Summer's End. I always love a determined, spunky, and unconventional heroine, especially when that isn't the norm for the time period.  I was excited for her to start her life as an artist and use the money to support her dreams in London. Once she arrives at Castle Braemore, things start to get a little more difficult than she initially thought. For starters, Julian, the Earl, doesn't really leave his rooms, so there's a Beauty and the Beast vibe to this novel.  Bertie can't help but wonder what happened to him at the war? Why won't he leave his rooms?  I am a big Beauty and the Beast fan, so I loved the similarities here.

The best part of At Summer's End is the setting. Ellis brought this time period to life very well and she made me feel like I was at Castle Braemore. The secrets that the Castle holds, including its residents, also adds the mystery and the atmosphere.  Fans evocative historical fiction will appreciate the setting of the atmospheric Castle, the lyrical descriptions, the conflicting social classes, as well as the changing times. Also, if you are looking for a historical romance, At Summer's End has one that doesn't disappoint.

So, if you love historical fiction, especially ones with a Downton Abbey vibe, give At Summer's End a try as summer comes to a close--now is the perfect time!
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Fascinating historical fiction that takes place in post World War One England. The main character, a female artist, manages to get her first serious commission by signing her work in such a way that people assume the artist is a male. When she arrives at an earl's storied estate to begin work, she forms an unexpected relationship, in spite of all the challenges. Readers who prefer their historical fiction to be well-researched and authentic will really appreciate this one.
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Bertie believes she has found her breakthrough as an artist when the Earl of Wakeford invites her to his estate, offering to commission a series of paintings of the castle and its surroundings. Her primary fear is that she’ll be turned away once the earl realizes Bertie is short for Alberta, but those fears are quickly assuaged when the earl’s younger brother Roland collects her. Bertie soaks in the estate’s natural beauty like a cat in a ray of sunlight, her artist’s eye picking up the most minute of details.

But the sheen of opulence that coats the estate like a thin veneer of gold dust does little to distract from the family’s secrets and fraught relationships. The earl, Julian, returned from World War One physically and emotionally damaged, and now spends his days hiding and keeping to himself. Bertie slowly draws him out with sensitivity and compassion, knowing when to push and when to step back, their shared love and appreciation of art bringing them together.  

Haunting and compelling, At Summer’s End is a book I found myself lost in. The richly painted historical backdrop, Bertie’s determination to have the life she envisions for herself, one that is rewarding and bucks tradition when it doesn’t suit her, and the delicately unfolded revelations fully captured me. Bertie and Julian’s romance twines and twists around threads from their pasts, and those closest to them, a reminder that our lives are never lived in isolation, even when we’ve fooled ourselves otherwise.

Thank you to Berkley for a gifted copy. This did not affect my review.
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At Summer's end is a wonderful, beautifully written book! I loved it from beginning to end. It's one of those books where you can feel the author writing every single word with love and passion. It's full of emotions. Set in England during the 1920s the author tells us the story of an earl and his family living at their country state. 

Great historical romance debut😍.
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This book is different than many historical fiction books. It is one that captivates you and draws you in from the first page.
A Beauty and the Beast story if you will.
A debut author that you're going to want to read more of.

Pub Date 10 Aug 2021
I was given a complimentary copy of this book. Thank you.
All opinions expressed are my own.
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I am finding myself venturing into different genres as a result of this neverending pandemic!  I just finished this historical fiction/romance novel At Summer's End by Courtney Ellis!  I am not always a fan of any sort of a romance novel but in this case, I enjoyed it so much!  It has been described as Downtown Abbey combined with Beauty and the Beast and it was a great read!  I have recommended it to a couple of my Austenite friends!
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This book was my most anticipated book of the summer! The cover, the premise, swoon! Everything sounded so incredible! I couldn’t wait to dive into this one and I can tell you right now that I read it in a matter of days. I could have finished it in one siting but I breezed through it in just 2 days. It was so addicting and if you are a fan of historical fiction then you need to read this one. It boasts a unique romance, complex characters with a rich backdrop full of history and human rawness.

I am a huge fan of WWI historical romances and this should have been right up my alley for that reason alone, but I especially loved the ‘Beauty and the Beast meets Phantom of the Opera ‘ element to the story. But all of the amazing praise I have for this book was slightly tarnished by some of the issues between the characters. While I loved this one, I also felt a little conflicted about how the story unfolded and what kind of message it was sending to readers (more on that soon).

I want to say that I think readers should absolutely read this book without question. It’s well written, interesting, and romantic. But it isn’t without some issues.

A sparkling debut from a new author we’re all going to want more from.”–Susan Meissner, bestselling author of The Nature of Fragile Things 

When an ambitious female artist accepts an unexpected commission at a powerful earl’s country estate in 1920s England, she finds his war-torn family crumbling under the weight of long-kept secrets. From debut author Courtney Ellis comes a captivating novel about finding the courage to heal after the ravages of war.

Alberta Preston accepts the commission of a lifetime when she receives an invitation from the Earl of Wakeford to spend a summer painting at His Lordship’s country home, Castle Braemore. Bertie imagines her residence at the prodigious estate will finally enable her to embark on a professional career and prove her worth as an artist, regardless of her gender.

Upon her arrival, however, Bertie finds the opulent Braemore and its inhabitants diminished by the Great War. The earl has been living in isolation since returning from the trenches, locked away in his rooms and hiding battle scars behind a prosthetic mask. While his younger siblings eagerly welcome Bertie into their world, she soon sees chips in that world’s gilded facade. As she and the earl develop an unexpected bond, Bertie becomes deeply entangled in the pain and secrets she discovers hidden within Castle Braemore and the hearts of its residents.

Threaded with hope, love, and loss, At Summer’s End delivers a portrait of a noble family–and a world–changed forever by the war to end all wars (summary from Goodreads)

One of the things that stood out in this one was the historical background on prosthetic masks during the Great War. The main character, Julian, has been horribly injured in the Great War and one of the main aspects of his character is his prosthetic mask. I loved that the author went all in with his character. Not only was he emotionally damaged from the war but he had to endure a horrible disfigurement (not just loss of limb which is common in WWI historical fiction). His mask works as a wonderful figurative and metaphor for his character. I thought it added so much to his character and I loved that the author went in this direction. The characters were well developed, rich, and complex in their showcase. However, there were times I had difficulty with Bertie’s character. She started out so strong for me but quickly she felt out of place with the other characters. My guess is that was intentional to highlight how similar her and Julian were in that case, but some times she felt farther removed than I think the author intended.

While I loved Julian and Bertie together, I struggled with the message it was sending to readers. There was quite a bit of toxicity in their relationship with Julian struggling with his own demons and Bertie struggling to be her own woman. I felt that the whole family basically sucked Bertie in and pressured her to ‘fix’ their brother and it just felt wrong to me. While I think it was realistic and made sense especially for the time period, as a modern reader I was screaming at Bertie to just run and leave well enough alone. As their romance unfolded it became clear that there was way way way too much going on with Julian’s mental health for her to fix and I think her character made a good choice, ultimately I felt like that good choice because moot in the end. I won’t get too much into the details for people who want to read it, but I felt like the ending (while appropriate and the one I was hoping for!) was a little too quick in the resolution. I felt like more time needed to go by and more healing to be demonstrated. It felt too fast for all that was going on and transpired by the end.

Even with that criticism though, it was still a solid book that was wonderful to read. I love the Great War and I think that the author did such an outstanding job with her research and showcase of mental health as well as the use of prosthetics. I was blown away by the complexity of Julian’s character and I just love how well done this book was. While I might have had issues with this one, overall I couldn’t deny the wonderful writing and characters. I ended up giving this one 5 stars even with my criticism of how things wrapped up. It was a wonderful book and I am looking forward to her next book!

Book Info and Rating
Format368 pages, Paperback

PublishedAugust 10, 2021 by Berkley Books

ISBN9780593201299 (ISBN10: 0593201299)

Free review copy provided by publisher, Berkley Books, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and in no way influenced.

Rating: 5 stars

Genre: historical fiction
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You had me at 1920s Castle Braemore, England.

The Earl of Wakeford has requested Bertie Preston’s presence to paint at his family castle. He saw her paintings in a paper and wanted none other than her. She is not famous and has barely started her career as an artist, so she accepts and moves to Castle Braemore for the summer. What she doesn’t expect is to find a war torn family, broken, and needing repair, yet openly accepting of her and quick to befriend.

Julian, Earl of Wakeford, doesn’t leave his room. He has seen and felt what war is, and won’t step outside this comfort to face the many things that haunt him. Bertie is able to develop a strong bond with him, but is she able and willing to mend this family and their hidden secrets?

I immediately fell in love with these characters and the setting! As the story progresses, you are able to dig deeper into each one of them. This is definitely a favorite of mine this summer!
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You never know what to expect when you take a gamble on a debut author. You could be blown away by their raw talent, or you could feel that their writing quality isn't quite up to par. At Summer's End was a pleasant surprise filled with human vulnerabilities, family dysfunction and struggle, and one woman's determined leap of faith to find her place in the world. Not all historical fiction has a heavy theme of romance in it. This one did, and in fact, that was one of the draws for me going into it. It isn't the only area of conflict and interest by far, but it does have a solid place in the forefront of the story. There were two other major focus points: unraveling the Earl of Wakeford's family secrets through flashback chapters, and the outcome of Alberta "Bertie" Preston's summer job at castle Braemore as a struggling female artist. All of this came together to form a cohesive, compelling story that easily drew me in, enticing me to keep reading.

Bertie was what was considered a "spinster" of her time. I hate that word and all of the connotations attached to it. The story takes place in the 1920s when a woman's value was purely measured by her marriageability and child bearing capabilities. Bertie has reached her late 20s as a single woman out of choice which was considered something to be ashamed of at the time. From an early age, her passion centered around creating art and she wants nothing more than to be able to have a career doing what truly makes her happy. Her parents do not agree, and she has become almost invisible in the shadow of her sisters who have faithfully produced the requisite grandchildren.

When Bertie wins an art contest, the newspaper article about her piece draws the attention of Julian, the Earl of Wakeford. It seems like an opportunity of a lifetime for an unknown, female artist looking to make a name for herself. Going against her parents' wishes, she banks her entire future on the success of one summer at castle Braemore. If she fails, she will have no home to return to and no prospects of commissions to support herself. You can't help but admire the courage it would have taken for a young woman to go after her dream in an all or nothing gamble like this one. Of course, her time taking care of wounded soldiers during the Great War had already shown that she has character and substance beyond her years. 

After arriving at the castle, she meets Julian's three siblings: Celia, Roland, and Gwen. On the surface, they seemed like the average affluent, high society family living a life of privilege. She was surrounded by opulence unlike anything she was experienced before and it put stars in her eyes in a way. But her preconceived notions of what life was really like there quickly began to fall apart. 

The Earl is a physically and mentally wounded man from the horrors of the war. He and his youngest sister Celia had a falling out which causes much friction in the house. Roland has an odd temperament-one minute exuberant, the next withdrawn. And Gwen has been through hell and back with the loss of her beloved husband and the responsibility of holding her broken family together. Soon, what was once a simple visit to paint the stately home of a noble family becomes something completely unexpected.

Julian is fragile man hiding from his family and the world behind his bedroom door. The only one he allows in his sanctuary is his older sister Gwen, until the young woman he hired comes to his home and begins to open his heart again. Julian was such a quiet man to begin with. Someone who was highly reserved and comfortable in the quiet of his own thoughts. Like Bertie, he was a disappointment to his parents. They wanted someone more outgoing and aggressive to take the reins of the family's legacy. They saw him as weak where he was only kind. Powerless when he was merely soft spoken and gentle. His interactions with his siblings were such a sweet thing to read in his younger years that it was such an injustice he wasn't recognized for the rock he really was for his family. 

He and Bertie had other things in common besides the ill-fitting place in their family. They also shared an affinity for art, though he doesn't have the heart to do the things that he once enjoyed. Slowly but surely, Bertie tries to ease him back to taking control of his life once again. Their friendship begins slowly and graduates to confidants and the hint of something more. But will he ever be mentally stable enough to take control of his crumbling life once again? Will his emotional wounds ever mend enough for the two of them to find some sort of happiness together in the future? Julian is very, very unwell. He suffers horribly with grief, guilt, PTSD, and a level of desolation that no one quite knows how to approach. I've heard it said that we never move on from grief, but we find a way to move on with it. Julian must find a way to do so and forgive himself for the things that he thinks are unforgivable. 

What I liked about the story was that Bertie's support and love were not the magic key to solving all of his issues. Realistically, she wasn't his cure, and she understood that enough to let him find his way back to her if he could without any recrimination. 

I enjoyed that aspect of it very much, however I did feel that the end was not quite as impactful as I was expecting. I'm not sure what was missing there, but I was left feeling just a tad deflated. Perhaps the section of the story after Bertie left the castle could have used some more exploration and detail. In a way it felt that everything fell together so smoothly and almost too easily after such a build up to the harsh realism of what Julian was struggling with internally. However, that's just my point of view and it didn't cause much of an issue for me. I loved Bertie's unconditional acceptance of Julian-at his very worst and seeing the best of him even when he could not. I also enjoyed learning more about the masks (like Julian's) that were common for soldiers who were disfigured during the war. It's a great reminder of what WW1 soldiers willingly volunteered for in order to protect their loved ones and their country. It was a sacrifice of the ideals of the world that they once knew and the comfort inside their own skin. It's a lifetime sacrifice that should never be forgotten. 

If you love a historical fiction with a strong element of romance and mysterious family secrets to be unraveled, this is the perfect book for you. I really enjoyed reading it and look forward to reading more from this author in the future.
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Thanks to Berkley for an advanced copy of At Summer's End by Courtney Ellis. 

I liked the post World War I setting of this book and how the author looks at how WWI really impacted British society. I liked the shell shock/ptsd aspect of the story along with some of the new medical practices that came out of the war. 

I didn't like the time hopping to the Earl's childhood and growing up aspect of the book. I loved Bertie and how she fought to be an artist.
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This is one of the best ARCs I had the pleasure of reading in 2021. It was so good, I ran myself out to the store to pick it up to put it on my shelf. This book is very powerful, and shows the impact of a second chance at life and love. The exploration of trauma, the impact of a misunderstanding, the way humans punish themselves, redemption, I could go on and on. I loved this book. I couldn't put it down, and was squinting at my phone WAY too late in the night to finish. Y'all I liked this book a lot. It made me cry, it made me smile, I loved it. (TW: suicide attempt)
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In the 1920s there’s not much in the way of opportunities for women artists, so Alberta, “Bertie” is thrilled to be offered a commission at Castle Braemore to immortalize the estate. After the Earl of Wakeford sees her work in a local paper, he requests that she come and paint, mistaking Bertie Preston to be a man, but it doesn’t seem to be an issue. The Earl, Julian Napier, however, is a mystery as he won’t set foot outside of his upper apartments.  On a whim she knocks on his door, and finds a man scarred physically and emotionally by the war and not much older than Bertie. They strike up a friendship that quickly turns into more. 

At Summer’s End flips from the present to the past revealing the history of Julian and his siblings. Their mother wasn’t a nurturer and so Gwen and Julian, the older of the Napier kids, stood in as sort of parents to the two younger kids, Roland, and Celia. Gwen was like the rock of the family, and I just loved her. She had her own reasons to grieve and yet she still cared for Julian, Celia, and Roland. In the present Celia and Julian are estranged, with her refusing to see him since he arrived back from the war and it broke my heart that she’d shut him out like that. 

While Bertie and Julian fall into each other pretty quickly the fact that Julian was so sad and damaged didn’t bode well. Bertie struggles with the thought of taking on a man so broken, when she has aspirations of her own. However, as she falls more and more for Julian and his family, her priorities shift. While I could see heartbreak on the horizon, I couldn’t help but root for Bertie and Julian, but I wasn’t surprised at the rough road they had to travel first. 

At Summer’s End chronicled a time when Britain and the world were still recovering from the shock and losses of WWI and while I’m not a history buff, the story felt authentic. It was a beautiful emotional story of family, healing, and love!
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I am incapable of expressing exactly what I think about this novel. It is a rich and powerful read. If Downton Abbey met Beauty and the Beast, this would be their baby.
Told in dual timelines, At Summer's End mostly takes place a few years following the end of the Great War. Bertie aspires to be a great artist and gets the opportunity of a lifetime to paint for the Earl of Braemore. With little information to go on, Bertie arrives at his seat unprepared for the enchantment of the grounds and the mysteries revolving around the reclusive family. At the heart is Julian, the earl and previous officer during the war.
This book reminds me so much why I love historical fiction. Courtney's ability to weave a engrossing plot within a beautifully described setting will sit with be sure to stay with me. After finishing, I just want to go back and see Gwen and Celia get their own happily ever after's.
Thank you to Berkley and NetGalley for the advanced copy. All thoughts in this review are my own.
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WOW. What a breathtaking + stunning debut by @courtney! Rich with history, glamour and complex + authentic characters, this novel overwhelmed me and has quickly become one of my favorite historical reads. Bertie Preston is an ambitious and passionate painter who is commissioned by the aloof Earl of Wakefield to paint at his country estate during the summer of 1922. Eager to prove herself as an artist and gain financial independence from her family, Bertie accepts his offer- even though she is entirely sure he believes her to be a man based off their correspondence. She is welcomed to Castle Breamore by the Earl’s siblings- Gwen, Roland and Celia- and becomes enchanted by the gorgeous sprawling estate and the people who live there. She learns that Lord Wakeford has suffered serious injuries from the war and doesn’t leave his quarters. As a former nurse, Bertie seeks a connection to help heal his troubled spirit and to better understand the man who found value in her artwork. Over the course of the summer, she finds herself entrenched in the history and hope of this incredible family. 

Beautifully written, this poignant story is told from multiple perspectives and unfolds across the years. I loved learning more about these character’s feelings, secrets and dreams. They came alive to me through the vivid, descriptive and powerful storytelling. It was fascinating to learn more about World War I’s effect on society as a whole through the lens of these family members. I can’t recommend this one enough- thank you so much to @berkleypub + @netgalley for this ARC!
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Unlike most well-born women her age who aspired only to marriage and motherhood, Alberta “Bertie” Preston dreamed of having her paintings hang in the poshest salons of London.  Her parents refuse to accept that this is what she desires most from life - even after her modest win in the Royal British Legion’s art contest.

Bertie is now faced with a decision. Live as she chooses or become that which society says she must be.  Her mind is instantly made up when a letter arrives with an unexpected offer. So she’s going to spend the summer painting for the Earl of Wakeford – regardless of the consequences.  

“Someone—a bloody earl! - wanted me to paint for him. For money. This had been my goal when entering the contest. But how could I ever have expected such a commission? An earl might display my paintings where his titled friends could see. It wouldn’t be long before more commissions came through and I had the income for a solo show, to submit a piece for entry in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, to rent a flat with a view of Hyde Park. 
Now I certainly was going to faint. I sat down in a nearby chair to save myself the fall and put the petunia under my nose to breathe the warm sweetness. 
I was finally on my way.”

Life at Castle Braemore isn’t at all what she thought it might be.  The Napier family is shrouded in mystery and in secrets. With the Earl being the most mysterious of all.  

Julian Napier has shouldered the responsibility of his title since a very young age.  Taking care of his family has always been paramount and every action was always taken with them in the forefront of his mind.  But after the war scarred both his heart and his body, he’s been hiding from them. 

The arrival of Bertie Preston is the greatest of blessings and the worst of curses.  With her independent spirit, she’s worked her way right into a heart that he long believed to be dead.  But would she still dare to love him when all his sins are laid bare?

“I fell in love with the way his teeth touched when he said my name, the crooked bottom row peeking out from behind his lip. His lip—my God, did I want to know what it tasted like. I thought perhaps it was time I stepped away to gain some composure, but Wakeford had a firm hold on me.”

With At Summer’s End, Courtney Ellis delivers the kind of historical that I’ve always wished for!  With a breathtaking combination of fiercely independent female characters unafraid to walk their own path, tender romance, and opulent landscapes, I was instantly captivated.  

She somehow fashions the Napiers themselves into a microcosm of the modern world.  They embrace each other and Bertie with a devotion that never ever waivers. And it’s what makes them something truly exceptional.

This story is everything a historical romance should be.  And so much more…
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Thank you to Net Galley for the advanced copy of this book. What a great debut novel for Courtney Ellis. She addressed so many issues in this book and did all of them well. From the decline of nobility after world war one, to PTSD of soldiers after the war, Ms. Ellis addresses each in a forthright yet empathetic way. The healing that takes place throughout this book is a joy to read about. How the characters, both main and side are tied together is interesting. All in all Ms. Ellis captures a very turbulent time in history and the lives of a somewhat dysfunctional family and brings everything together to prove that people with love, patience and understanding can get past anything to become  stronger people. This is a wonderful story that takes you back to post world war one and gives you great insight into many facets of the ways people's lives were affected by the war.
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Beauty and the Beast!   Bertie is commissioned to paint for an Earl, upon arrival she finds that things are not exactly she expected.   She arrives at the home to find the Earl lives in his own apartment, does not venture out, and does not see visitors.   Somehow, she breaks through the barricade that the Earl has built around himself and gives him friendship, support, and possibly more.  

I really enjoyed seeing Bertie not only open the doors that the Earl has slammed shut but she also learns how to live for herself.   She realizes that she has talent, that she can stand on her own two feet, and that she does not have to bend to society’s expectations.    I liked that she stood up for herself to her parents, to the Earl, and to the Earl’s family.   She showed her strength while still being respectful and true to what she needs to be happy.  

I enjoyed the 1920’s and look forward to visiting there again.   Historical Fiction books are a great escape to the past and learning about the history in an enjoyable way.
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