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The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club

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Helen Simonson is the author of the bestselling novel, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. With her new release, The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club, she is once more in her element, creating believable characters and using them to skewer the pervasive racism and class snobbery of Britain, and also, in a smaller way, that of the U.S. With outstanding word smithery and an unflagging pace, this historical novel should be number one on your summer reading list.

My thanks go to NetGalley and Random House for the review copy. This book is for sale now.

The year is 1919; the place is England. Constance Haverhill has been ousted from her job running an estate; the Great War has ended, and now the women that have been gainfully employed and done a fine job are unceremoniously ejected so that their jobs may go to the men that have returned from the conflict. For the time being, she has a position as a traveling companion to a family friend who’s recuperating at the seashore; once this situation ends, she has no idea where she’ll go or what she’ll do.

Out of nowhere comes Poppy, a daring young woman from a wealthy family. Poppy wears trousers and drives a motorcycle; she befriends Constance and sweeps her into her motorcycle club. Things become even more interesting when Poppy purchases a used biplane to bring home to her brother Harris, a handsome but severely depressed young man who’s lost a leg in the war. At one point he laments, “They look at me as if my brain has gone missing along with the leg. Or rather they refuse to look at me at all.”

Poppy is utterly fearless, challenging local authority and promoting women’s rights. She doesn’t care about the opinions of others; her eye is set on the horizon. And she can do that, because she has a soft nest in which to land. At the same time, Constance is always aware of the stark class division that prevents her from behaving as Poppy does. “Respectability was the currency in which Constance knew she just trade for the foreseeable future. She…did not have Poppy’s wealth and position from which to defend herself against notoriety.”

There are a number of amusing side characters whose less progressive attitudes contrast with Poppy’s. The two women—also very wealthy—on the adjoining estate sniff at her exploits and declare them to be unladylike. The class division is also highlighted when Constance is offered a position with the hotel where she and Mrs. Fox, the family friend she accompanies, are staying. However, she is told that once she accepts the offer, she can no longer be a guest at the hotel, nor may she use the restaurant, which is a frequent gathering place of Constance’s new friends. No hobnobbing with the clientele will be tolerated; she must use the back door. Constance reflects to herself that wherever she goes, her friend Poppy will use the front door.

Britain’s racist attitudes toward people of color is also featured here, but in a way that does not hijack the plot. There’s an Indian guest of the hotel that is snubbed left and right; at one point, an American visitor attempts to have him excluded from the social events to which he’s been invited. This is resolved in a deeply satisfying manner, as is the issue of taboo friendships formed by Mrs. Fox.

If I could change one thing, it would be to add a bit more nuance. The bad characters are oh so bad; and while the good characters make the occasional mistake, we never doubt their complete goodness. However, this is a minor bone to pick, and overall this is a delightful book.

Highly recommended.

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What happens to the women that have found independence while the men that were away fighting in WWI return home? It’s 1919 and women are finding themselves without prospects as the men return home to their previous jobs. Constance is but one of these women, seeking new employment she finds herself in Hazelbourne and is quickly swept up in the social scene. Soon she becomes friends with trouser wearing Poppy who runs a taxi service in order to employ local women, she also plans to add flying lessons to her repertoire. The women are learning that as the country is celebrating peace, they are losing their new found freedom. With a cast of wonderful characters you’d like to be your friends, this book was a delightful read. Thank you to Doubleday and NetGalley for an ARC of this book.

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I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review.

The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club is a new release from Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. Set in the summer of 1919, in a British seaside resort town, it explores the alteration of British lives in the aftermath of WWI and the Spanish flu.

Constance Haverhill is a young woman who has lost both her parents and now her job and home. During the war, she helped run the estate of old family friends. But with the return of men from the war, women were booted back to traditional female roles so that men could have jobs, no matter if the women (and their children) had no means of support. For this summer, Constance is serving as a companion to Mrs. Fog, the widowed mother of Lady Mercer (whose estate Constance had been overseeing.) Fortunately for Constance, Mrs. Fog is a kind woman who allows her a good bit of autonomy. (Mrs. Fog has interests on the side that she doesn’t want her daughter to know about.)

While at the hotel, Constance is befriended by Poppy Wirrall, a feisty girl of her own age who runs a motorcycle taxi and delivery service, staffed by women. Poppy takes Constance for a ride, and Constance is hooked. Poppy also introduces her to her mother, widow of a local baronet and a force in the community. And Constance meets Poppy’s brother, Harris, a sour-faced and angry war veteran, a pilot, whose leg had been amputated after a crash. Harris has means to live an idle life, but he wants to fly again, to be treated as the man he has always been, not be shunted aside as damaged goods.

While Constance is enjoying this time with new friends, abuzz with activity, she is acutely aware of the difference between her social class (and some of Poppy’s employees/friends) and that of Poppy and her society friends. Moreover, Constance is pressed by the passage of time to look for employment. The summer will not last forever, and Mrs. Fog will be returning home to her daughter. She will have no further need for a companion. Constance hopes for a bookkeeping job, but fears those jobs will go to men and she will end up a governess.

The plight of women cast adrift in the aftermath of the war is beautifully shown, as is the upheaval in the lives of veterans. Nevertheless, despite the potentially heavy subject matter, this is a light, charming read thanks to the good-heartedness of the protagonists and their enjoyment of what the summer has to offer.

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A fun and heartwarming post-war fiction, this was an enjoyable audio to listen to. I listend along with the audio and Fiona Hardingham nails the characters' personalities and Simonson has written another must read (or listen)!

I received an advanced copy of this book. All opinions are my own.

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The Great War is over and all of the social shifting in Britain that mobilized troops and women into the workforce are settling back into pre-war standards.

In 1919, Constance takes a summer to care for her wealthy charge at a seaside estate while charting the course for her next move. Although she helped run a large estate during the war, a man will take her place to order seeds, collect tenet rent, and ensure smooth operations of a large Downton-type family home.

Should she move to London and become a secretary? She lives in this liminal space as the beneficiary of a wealthy family and can afford this luxurious hotel, but soon she must return to the reality of bills and rent.

She meets Poppy, who while wealthy, operates a women run motorcycle service for taxis. Constance is taken in to this new world of women operating a business and seeking thrills without reliance on men or the wealthy benefactors of her past.

I learned a lot about WWI history and loved cheering for Constance to find her own way in a world limited for female independence.

Thank you NetGalley and Random House Publishing for providing this ARC for a review.

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Thank you to the author and publisher for prividing me with a digital ARC of this title via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

I was drawn to this book by the title, but wasn't sure what to think. It was either going to be fun and unique or really strange. I am glad I gave it a try. It is historical fiction set after the war when many have come home wounded and women are told to leave their jobs for the men who came home needing work. The story works around the norms and customs of the time, showing how difficult it was for women who needed or wanted to work, but were told they should be home. I was surpised by how poorly wounded men were also treated, seen as unfit to work and even shunned from society. Those pushing against the norms however were able to come togther in this story over a ladies motorcycle club started so women could continue work, providing paid rides via motorcycle to other women. There is friendship, growth, humor, trials that knock you down, and then blessings from keep going. I found this read to be pleasantly enjoyable and am glad I took a chance on it.

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DNF 60%

I have loved the author's previous books, and was so looking forward to this new one; unfortunately, it just didn't work for me.

Though this was well-written [ in the respect of that you are supposed to feel what you feel when the "bad" people are on the page and when the discrimination is being shown], and is VERY faithful to the time period [plus there is an excellent narrator, which is always a bonus], there was just no substance to this book and I would be close to dread each day when it came time to read it.

Other than Constance [who is a sweet, kind, likeable character that you spend the whole time wishing she'd grow just a teeny bit of a backbone], and sweet Mrs. Fogg [WHO. JUST. WANTS. TO. LIVE. HER. LIFE. and for her daughter to STFU already], there are no real like a likeable, or even nice [for that matter] characters [Mrs. Mercer anyone?? Blech], and there is just so much talktalktalk [it's almost constant breakfast, luncheon, supper, tea, and cards over and over and over again!], and just awful behavior [the American everyone is complaining about in their reviews is actually the truest-to-life character in the book; the US was not that far out from the Civil War (54 years), Jim Crow is raising its ugly head more and more, and the brave African-American men that fought in France and were treated abhorrently both in France (CAN YOU EVEN imagine segregating the troops WHILE FIGHTING A WAR???) makes Rachel's fiancee's bigotry and racism right on point and was part of the book that rang very true to me] from everyone, just got so very tedious over time. The motorcycle girls were mostly nice, but there was classism there as well, and lots of in-fighting that just got on my last nerve, not to mention the casual "richness" of Poppy [ and her inability to see how it affects all those around her] that just made me want to gag at times. I will say that what Poppy's brother (Harris??) deals with is very true to how the injured were treated after they came home and I still find that behavior completely despicable.

I love this author and I adore good historical fiction, but unfortunately this was just too boring [minus sweet Mrs. Fogg's story; I didn't read the end, but I hope that she gets her very happy ending. And Constance too], unlikable, long, for me and well, life is just too short. I will admit, I am very disappointed.

I was invited to read/review this by the publisher [Random House Publishing Group - Random House/The Dial Press] and I want to thank them for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest .

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Well-loved and highly respected as an author by yours truly, I will of course read anything that Helen Simonson writes, even if it's a grocery list. Her new stand-alone novel is wildly more addictive and interesting and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt just how amazing and versatile of an author she is. I couldn't turn the pages quickly enough and really enjoyed diving back into British society after WWI, and the challenges the women faced when the men came home. It was romantic, witty, and utterly exquisite. Highly recommended and can't wait to own this one in print! Thank you so much to Netgalley and the publisher. It was such a treat!

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For some young women at a loss when peace comes and the jobs are given to the returning men, the excitement of riding and servicing motorcycles and airplanes becomes a dandy summer adventure by the sea. Author Helen Simonson has come into her own with a second historical fiction set against the England of Post-WWI with authentic historical details, careful attention to character, and plot development with a gentle pace and a warm, nostalgic tone.

Three narrators from different classes, genders, and nationalities give The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club a richer perspective for the reader to appreciate as a large surrounding cast and side plots are presented. Klaus is a German-born English citizen who has had a rough time because of his ethnicity. Recently interned during the war, he feels lucky to get a good wait staff position, but he knows there must be no mistakes; his position is precarious as anti-German sentiment runs high.

Constance is a farmer’s daughter, educated as a gentlewoman, caught between two worlds, and uncertain of her future. Her mother’s old friend gifts her a summer by the sea as an older lady’s companion, and the old gal teaches her a thing or two about life. Is she brave enough to step out of her comfort zone to try something adventurous like her new friend Poppy and the other women who ride motorcycles and want to learn to fly? Her biggest gamble of all is to take a chance at romance with someone above her station.

And there's Harris, Poppy’s brother, who flew planes in the war, crashed, and lost his leg. He’s morose and uninterested in anything since it happened, but the ladies with their plans, particularly the quiet but determined Constance, give him something to tempt him back to life and recognize that he still has worth.

It was easy to root for Constance and the others as they found their way. I also appreciated the well-written summer seaside 1920s backdrop and the excitement of historical era motorcycles and aviation. The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club takes its time building to the crisis, utilizing a bet, a race, tangled relationships, and an outcome that surprises all.

A great choice for your summer beach reading.

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Historical Fiction | Adult
[cover image]
This is set in an interesting time – just after the Great War, when the English soldiers have returned home, so many of them injured, and the women who kept the economy going in their absence are being pushed back into pre-war roles. A competent farm manager during the war, Constance Haverhill is spending the summer as an elderly neighbour’s companion. She has no home to return to, and faces a dim future as a governess, since her accounting skills are undervalued when so many men need the jobs instead. At the seaside hotel, she meets Poppy Wirrall, who defies convention and challenges expectations by running a motorcycle taxi service with women drivers and focusing on women clients. Her brother Harris is a pilot, but the war left him with a prosthetic leg, and his hopes of a flying career are in ruins. Then there is Klaus Zeiger, a German national living in England and a top-notch waiter who laments the disappearing rules and mores that provided clear structure in society. The times they are a-changin’ – much too fast for Klaus, not fast enough for Poppy and Constance. This authentic story is full of isms – sexism, classism, feminism, ableism, and racism, with wonderful villains, sympathetic and fully drawn characters, and achingly beautiful writing: “Harris’s face darkened and Constance was moved to see pain, joy and anguish chase each other across his eyes.” While the ending was a bit predictable and neatly wrapped up, there were plenty of surprising plot twists too. My thanks to Dial Press for the digital reading copy provided through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. And a big thumbs up for the cover!
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Confession... the title was a very strong factor in my requesting this book from Netgalley! And coupled with the author, Helen Simonson... I really hoped I would be approved!

The time is post WWI (The Great War) and there is a really interesting conundrum occurring... what do the women who have been working and keeping their homes, their communities, and their country going do now that war is over? At one point in the book Simonson introduces the idea that if men want women to stay home, perhaps they should not go to war! Ummm, YES!

The characters are really fun and even though the ending was a bit predictable, I wanted that ending!

I highly recommend!

I would like to thank Netgalley, Random House Publishing Group - Random House, and The Dial Press for the digital copy of this book. It was published on May 7, 2024.

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I am a big fan of historical fiction but generally lean more towards WWII books, so reading a book focused on WWI was a nice change for me. This book takes place in England at the end of WWI. The men are coming home from the war and reclaiming their old jobs, which means the woman who have been taking care of business in the soldiers' absence are now being told they are no longer needed and must go back to their "womanly" duties. However, the Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club aren't going down without a bit of a fight. This is a fun story about a group of feisty woman who do not want to follow the social norms of society and how they accept a new friend into their circle and make her feel welcomed and useful. It has that whole "You Go Girl" vibe along with a bit of romance.

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Helen Simonson has once again created memorable characters in her newest novel, "The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club."
Set soon after the end of World War II in Hazelbourne, a British town by the sea, the novel explores a time of change and conflicting feelings about the roles of women and traditional social class divisions. The reader is drawn into the challenges of injured men returning from combat and women being expected by most to return to the more restricted lives they led prior to the freedoms and demands required by wartime. I cheered for the strong female characters, rolled my eyes at the "entitled" upper class individuals, felt pain and anger at the racial and class prejudices, and was sad to leave the characters I cared for when the novel ended. Thank you to #Net Galley and #Random House for the ARC.

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This is a light historical fiction set in England in the years just after WWI. Women are facing the hard facts that, as the men come home, they are losing jobs and misogyny is once again alive and well. People seem to ignore the fact that women need to eat and some do not have husbands or family to support them. The book also looks at racism, snobbery and includes some romance. The characters are varied and really fun (I really enjoyed Mrs. Fog). 4/5 !

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“It is the summer of 1919 and Constance Haverhill is without prospects. Now that all the men have returned from the front, she has been asked to give up her cottage and her job at the estate she helped run during the war. While she looks for a position as a bookkeeper or—horror—a governess, she’s sent as a lady’s companion to an old family friend who is convalescing at a seaside hotel. Despite having only weeks to find a permanent home, Constance is swept up in the social whirl of Hazelbourne-on-Sea after she rescues the local baronet’s daughter, Poppy Wirrall, from a social faux pas. Poppy wears trousers, operates a taxi and delivery service to employ local women, and runs a ladies’ motorcycle club (to which she plans to add flying lessons). She and her friends enthusiastically welcome Constance into their circle.”
Astute, sassy, smart, and utterly transportive, The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club is historical fiction of an unforgettable coming-of-age story, a tender romance, and a portrait of a nation on the brink of change. A historical drama navigating topics of class and women's rights in England after World War I. The plot unfolds for the most part at the perfectly respectable, if not top-of-the-line, Meredith Hotel in the British seaside town of Hazelbourne on the eve of Armistice celebrations. There is an impressive and entertaining cast of trousers-wearing female motorcyclists, snooty aristocrats, one particularly pompous American, and, at the center of it all, a young woman from a farming family struggling to define the next phase of her life.
The adventures start there! The idea of women trying to start their own business in the post-WWI era certainly is the story I have read before. Women during both World Wars ended up keeping the industries and businesses alive while the men fought in the wars. We also know that in both cases, these same women ended up being sidelined to allow the returning soldiers to return to their “proper places” in society. I’m certain that there were no small number of women like Poppy who felt the need to not return to their behind-the-scenes roles, and step out as independent, more self-reliant people, with the hopes of being treated like equals. Knowing that even today women are still far from being truly equal, you have to admire these trailblazers of over 100 years ago.
An entertaining summer read. I recommend this one for all historical lovers.

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Helen Simonson takes you to the English seaside shortly after the end of WWI. During the war Constance Haverhill managed the estate of the Mercer family. Her mother had been a friend of Lady Mercer, but with her passing and the return of the men Constance lost both her position and the estate cottage that she shared with her mother. To thank her for her service, Lady Mercer sends her to Hazelbourne for the summer to act as the companion to Lady Fog, her mother. As an unaccompanied woman she is denied entry to the hotel restaurant. Feeling humiliated, she encounters Poppy Wirral in the lobby, where she has also been denied service. She arrived on her motorcycle and is dressed inappropriately to be allowed tea on the terrace. Constance loans her a skirt and it is the beginning of their friendship. To thank her, Poppy invites her to dine with Lady Wirral, her mother, and her brother Harris, who have taken up residence at the hotel while their estate is being renovated. Harris was a pilot during the war and suffers depression after losing a leg. Just as Poppy’s independence brings changes to her new friend’s life, Constance also gradually brings Harris back to life. Poppy runs the Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle Club, where she employs women for taxi services and deliveries. The women depend on this income, but Poppy is in danger of losing this business as new laws require her to hire the returning men. As the end of summer approaches, Constance must also find a way to support herself. She is intelligent and has a certificate in bookkeeping from a correspondence course, but as a woman it is difficult to find employment. She has the support of Lady Fog and Lady Wirral, but with the arrival of Lady Mercer her future is once again threatened.

Simonson’s story reflects the discrimination against residents from the colonies, a society still reeling from the Spanish flu and the number of war wounded and widows trying to survive on an inadequate pension. The hotel’s residents are the upper crust of society and many of them look down on the working class. Hazelbourne is planning a peace celebration where Harris will once again be able to fly in a plane that Poppy obtained to expand her business. It is a celebration followed by Lady Wirral’s gala that will change everyone’s lives. With romance, betrayals and characters that are easy to love this is a story that will have you adding Simonson to your must read list. I would like to thank NetGalley and Random House/Dial Press for providing this book.

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Hazelbourne's latest is delightful It has romance, history, adventure and interesting characters. Especially for fans of post WWI England and women's aviation buffs.

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A fun historical fiction. I enjoy the characters and believe that their struggle, going back to “normal” after a war and a health pandemic is very difficult. I think that there is a lot to be learned from the piece of the world that these women carve out despite the individuals attempting to put them back into the neat little boxes they occupied before the war. The beginning was a bit slow, and there is lots of detail setting up the scenery and describing the place, but overall it was enjoyable.

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Constance Haverhill wants more from life than working on her brother's farm, or worse, being in service, even as a governess. When she spends a summer as a companion to a family acquaintance at a hotel by the sea, she begins to believe that there is a wider world available to her. She is caught up in the social whirl of the "Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club", a group of women who were dispatch riders during the war who aren't ready to give up on riding and dreaming now that the war is over.

This book is a reminder of the truth of the old adage that when people tell you who they are by their actions, you should believe them. Constance's dreams will crash against the realities of social rigidity in post-war Britain.

I enjoyed spending the summer with Constance and her friends, and was sorry to see the summer end.

I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club by Helen Simonson is historical fiction set in England in the immediate aftermath of World War I. Women are displaced from the roles they filled during the War and the men return to their home and need jobs including Harris the main male character who lost a leg during the war and realized people are uncomfortable looking at him because he is a cripple. Prior to the war, for Harris, the world was his to command. He came from a wealthy family, he went to the right schools, he knew the right people, but after he was injured and came home - it did not matter that he was a war hero, people averted their eyes. They did not want to look at a crippled man who injuries were a constant reminder of the war.. Constance, our main female character ran a large estate during the war. But, now that the war is over, she must give her position to the men returning home, and the cottage she lived in with her mother due to the largesse of her mother's old school friend will also no longer be available to her. She must find a job. She wants to find work as a bookkeeper, but it is unlikely she will be hired because she is a woman. She is sent as a companion to a family friend's mother to Hazelbourne on the Sea to assist an elderly woman convaleace and it is there she meets the irrepressible Poppy, who runs the Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club with a couple of friends, and her brother Harris, and her life will never be the same. It covers a lot of ground including tackling issues of class and race. Interesting and enjoyable read.. 4 stars.

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