Member Reviews

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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Title: The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club
Author: Helen Simonson
Genre: Historical fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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. And then there is Harris, Poppy’s recalcitrant but handsome brother—a fighter pilot recently wounded in battle—who warms in Constance’s presence. But things are more complicated than they seem in this sunny pocket of English high society. As the country prepares to celebrate its hard-won peace, Constance and the women of the club are forced to confront the fact that the freedoms they gained during the war are being revoked.

This was so much fun to read! I immediately liked Constance and couldn’t wait to find out what was in store for her. I was invested in all the secondary characters, too. Poppy was a lot of fun, and poor Harris had me rooting for him to overcome his trauma and grief. This was an excellent historical fiction read, and I was engrossed from the beginning.

Helen Simonson is a bestselling author. The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Random House in exchange for an honest review.)

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This was likely just a me thing or a wrong time, wrong mood, thing. I usually love historical fiction books like this one but I found it really long with a lot of characters and when I was 50% in I just could not get into it or find myself absorbed by the story AT ALL. It was quite disappointing as I was really looking forward to this one. I had to DNF - maybe not the book for me but I would still recommend it for fans of WWII historical fiction fans. Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an early digital copy in exchange for my honest review!

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I was reminded of Simonson’s earlier book, The Summer before the War, set in 1919. Rich people intend to keep their standards, living in hotels, remodeling mansions and adhering to societal protocols. Constance has lost her source of income and Harris is trying to make a life, diminished by a war injury. They live in the same circles and flirt with a romantic attraction. Highly readable. Thank you Random House for the ARC.

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I received a galley via NetGalley.

Fantastic historical fiction. Though a bit slow to start, the story soon revs up. Set in a British beachside resort in the aftermath of World War I, the ardently feminist tale touches on deep issues with incredible finesse and heart. The treatment of disabled veterans is addressed, as is sexism (oh so much sexism), classism, and racism. Constance is the main character, a young woman of compassion and business savvy, but the entire cast is delightful, especially Mrs. Fog, who develops in such a surprising and touching way. I'll be recommending this one for my local book clubs!

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Connie is spending the summer at a seaside hotel as a lady’s companion. With the end of WWI, the men have returned and the women are out of jobs. Concerned about her future, Connie spends the summer searching for herself and who she wants to be. When she runs into Poppy, a local, she is drawn into the world of motorcycles, airplanes, and high adventure.

This was a fun and compelling read. I really liked the characters and thought they were multidimensional and well formed. The book moved at a nice pace and featured a nice blend of femininity and romance. Overall, highly recommended!

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THE HAZELBOURNE LADIES MOTORCYCLE AND FLYING CLUB by Helen Simonson (Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and The Summer before the War) is a delightful romp in the English countryside. WWI has just ended and society is still under its shadow, adjusting to the return of soldiers and changing gender and class norms. All of which provides an extraordinary setting for main characters Constance Haverhill (a young woman of limited resources who has just lost her mother) and Captain Harris Wirrall who flew planes during the war. Simonson cleverly weaves in concerns about finances, the disabled, and prejudice against women, particularly those like Poppy (Harris' sister) and Iris (a champion racer) who have strong independent streaks, while relating the story of a fledgling title club. Poppy is trying to create an ongoing delivery and taxi business and she befriends Constance who quickly embraces the adventuresome spirit. Constance's kindness and growing self-confidence ("I've decided that a woman should always aim to be competent rather than decorative") allow her to confront social society's dictates and connect with characters who are facing their own struggles (e.g., alcoholism, prejudice against Germans). Throughout the novel, hope and building community are key elements in battling adversity. As Harris reflects, "it was funny ... how each person saw their own circumstances loom large, as if through a telescope, and the tribulations of others as if backwards through the small end." One needs only to look at the other authors (e.g., Ann Napolitano with Hello Beautiful; Christina Baker Kline with Orphan Train and The Exiles; or Carol Rifka Brunt with Tell the Wolves I’m Home) promoting this book to know what an entertaining comfort it will be to read. Helen Simonson is adept at creating memorable, relatable characters and as Publishers Weekly says, "Readers are in for a treat." Plus, Simonson recommends more enjoyment through Dave Richmond's Motorcycle Timeline website with images and articles from the nineteenth century to today. Enjoy!

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Summer of 1919

The war is over and Constance wants a job as a bookkeeper or a governess if nothing else turns up! But she gets a job at Hazelbourne-on-Sea as an older lady's companion for a family friend . She makes a friend in a surprising way . Poppy flies into their resort in pants and boots fresh off her motorcycle. She can't be seated for dinner in such improper attire for a lady! Constance saves her by loaning her some of her clothes. Poppy later introduces her to her brother who is home from the war, injured as a fighter pilot. The friends who had a made a life where women were needed and appreciated for their work, are now finding themselves with few options for work. Poppy runs a motorcycle club and hopes to earn money to learn how to fly.

Seeing these friends look out for each other in time period where women were to be "put back in their place" ,yet it leaves them wanting more. I fell in love with these friends and the boldness in such a beautiful sounding place south of Surrey, England.

My thanks to Net Galley and The Dial Press for an advanced copy of this e-book.

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Helen Simonson’s new book is a great comfort read. Set in 1919 at the end of the Great War, readers meet a cast a characters at a seaside hotel and the some of the village residents. It is a small community so there aren’t many secrets that aren’t found out.

Constance, our main character is at the hotel to chaperone and help Mrs. Fog, who is recovering from an illness. Constance has lost both parents and has been at the mercy of her mother’s best friend from girlhood. However the friend has a bit of a mean streak and is not looking out for Constance’s best interests.

While residing at the hotel both Mrs. Fog and Constance agree to pursue their own interests and give each other some freedom. Constance meets a group of young people and is befriended by Poppy. Poppy is innovative and has started a motorcycling taxi service for women. She also aspires to start a flying club for women.

Unfortunately, the war has put a dent in the family wealth and it is up to her brother Harris to try and get their finances set right. Harris has been devastated by a war injury but he is ready to prove himself worthy of his position.

Mixed in with all the nice characters were a few naughty ones who kept the story exciting. I just loved how their politeness often caught them out. This was such an enjoyable read.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Dial Press for allowing me to read an advance copy. I am happy to recommend this book to other readers.

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I wanted to love this so much and expected to based on the author's previous books and early reviews BUT I was bored. I just didn't get pulled into the story. No offense to the book, maybe it just wasn't the right time for me.

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I felt that this was a quick transformative but engaging read about the time period and the challenges faced . It had a little romance and coming of age vibe to it . Overall it was an ok read
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for letting me review book

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The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club is a well-researched, charming look at a bygone era.

1919 is a year of mixed emotions for most people. While the war and flu epidemic have finally passed, leaving joy in their wake, the loss of loved ones to these events has been devastating. Almost no household has escaped the consequences, and Constance Haverhill is amongst the walking wounded. She lost her mother and nephew to the recent illness and is additionally facing unemployment and homelessness. The men have returned from battle, and the jobs single women were using to earn enough to keep a roof over their heads are being taken from them and given to the returning soldiers. The ladies are told to find husbands.

Constance is steadfastly looking for a position. While she conducts her job hunt, she works diligently as a lady’s companion to the mother of an old family friend, Mrs. Fog, who was saved from becoming another victim of the flu by Constance’s devoted nursing. This time spent at a lovely seaside resort while Mrs. Fog is convalescing comes with paid room and board and is meant to recompense Constance’s dedicated service. With her patient still quite fragile from her recent illness, Constance often spends the time her charge is resting quietly exploring the lobbies and terraces of the hotel, which is how she comes to rescue Poppy Wirrall from a social faux pas. Or more specifically, from displaying a horrible lack of decorum by being a single lady attempting to eat in a public dining room by herself. It has the hotel staff and other guests in a complete kerfuffle.

Constance joins Poppy for the meal, making things marginally proper once more. While the women share tea and life stories, they surprisingly become fast friends. The practical, pretty, soft-spoken, and humbly-born Constance is the perfect counterpart to baronet’s daughter Poppy, who 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). Poppy, her brother Harris, and her mother are living in the hotel while their country home is being refurbished. The two women enthusiastically welcome Constance into their family, and while Harris, a former fighter pilot who lost his leg in the war, can be sarcastic, self-pitying, and coldly superior by turns, even he slowly thaws in Constance’s presence.

Constance’s time at the shore is limited, though, and the moment is rapidly approaching when she will have to leave Hazelbourne-on-Sea for the working world. Yet her new friends are reluctant to let her go, and she is equally reluctant to leave them. Is it possible for her to stay and build a new life among those she’s come to love?

On the surface, this tale is a saccharine-coated look at life in an idyllic English seaside town, but woven into all that sweetness is a strong perusal of the small injustices of life and how they can be quite large to the people they affect. One subject explored in depth is women’s rights. Constance, Poppy, and the ladies of the motorcycle club all did meaningful work during the war. Constance’s intelligence and assiduousness as an estate agent led to the Mercer family properties thriving, but once the war was over, her post was given to a man, and she was stripped of her home and livelihood in one blow. Poppy worked as a courier and her courage and tenacity were lauded by many, but society expects her to give up her thrill-seeking ways to marry well. Her friends find themselves in a similar position as new laws begin to severely limit the jobs women can hold.

Sexism isn’t the only -ism tackled in this novel. Harris and many of his fellow returning wounded soldiers face a great deal of ableism. Harris used to fly at a friend’s airfield but is not allowed to anymore because of his missing leg, even though the prosthetic he wears functions adequately for his piloting needs. He is denied a position at the bank, a spot which had been held for him during the war, because the public doesn’t want to look upon the wounded. Harris is rightly furious since his feet would be hidden under the desk most of the time, and his prosthetic ensures he has only a mild limp. Many men in far greater need find themselves in the same boat. Even the mildest deformities are considered reminders of the conflict’s cost, which must be hidden away so the public can “move on”. Society’s hypocrisy on the issue – with the soldiers lauded as heroes and jobs stripped from the women while the wounded are simultaneously rejected and shunted to dark corners – is shown in all its horrific glory here.

We also get a close look at racism and elitism through Mrs. Fog’s family who disapprove of anyone not of their class or color.

The characters occasionally come close to drowning under the weight of all the points they are making, but Ms. Simonson is a good enough writer that they are able to rise up to the challenge. I found myself deeply invested in the story as our leads slowly go about their lives, building relationships and coming to realizations about who and what matters most to them. Constance and Poppy, being compassionate and clever, do this with more ease than Harris, who still struggles with clinging to the old rather than embracing the new. It takes almost the entire book for him to come to the understanding that he has to release what was in order to live in the now, and that journey wouldn’t have been possible without our two ladies giving him heaping helpings of aid along the way.

There is a romance here, but it is extremely subtle and slow-burn. The HEA literally occurs on the last page.

What keeps the book from a higher grade doesn’t occur until the 80% mark. At that point, a character we’ve grown quite attached to is shown to have feet of clay, a man who was irritating but not villainous turns out to be a complete reprobate, and a very sweet, fragile secondary character becomes a sacrificial lamb for no good reason. It’s obvious the author is trying to add last-minute conflict and drama, but it’s a completely unnecessary addition that sets up awkward situations for the future our heroines face.

The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club won’t be a good fit for every reader. It’s long, and those tired of social issues may find too much of that here, and the romance is sparse. However, I think fans who enjoy ‘comedy of manners’ style books will be completely delighted by this novel. I am happy to recommend it to them.

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Helen Simonson’s latest novel put me in a sort of trance. The story and writing style transported me to World War I era England. But unlike much World War I fiction, I did not feel like I was reading about contemporary people living 100 years in the past. These characters seemed to actually live and breathe a different air. They were clearly not of today. I felt I was watching them through some wavy antique glass. It was not an entirely comfortable or even enjoyable feeling, which is why I have given the novel a 4/5. Wonderfully written, but a bit unsettling and disconcerting.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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As with many of the novels I have read lately, I found The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club to be a bit slow to get into. I feel like nothing really happened until a little more than halfway through the book. When the plot finally started to pick up, I found myself considerably more drawn in and engaged. I loved all of the well developed characters, especially Constance. I was fully prepared to be very dissatisfied with the ending until the epilogue!

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The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club tells the story of Constance, who joins an older woman on a trip to the seaside as her companion. Constance quickly gets drawn into a fun crowd of woman working on a motorcycle taxi business.

Simonson explores a lot in this book - how women were forced to reconcile their yet again changing roles with the men returning from war, the inner life and treatment of emotionally and physically injured Veterans, race relations, and class differences - and she does it all with beautiful, descriptive (sometimes maybe too long-winded) writing.

This book is described as a "comedy of manners," which connects for me in some ways, but not in others. Simonson's writing is more thoughtful than laugh out loud funny and I guess the comedy, in part, comes from some of the characters holding ill-informed, unjust, and racist beliefs while the main character is presented as being above those opinions. It's hard to articulate why, but this didn't work for me at several parts of the story. While I'm glad the writing made it clear that those are horrible beliefs, it felt kind of weird to present them in some cases and also for the main character to be a sort of shining example of what people should think. It left me wondering if some parts were meant to be satirical. Though, I recognize that the timing of this story aligns with people having a reckoning with some of these beliefs and I can appreciate the tackling them.

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“Paradise on the English seashore.” This novel is brimming with British snobbishness, hijinks at the Peace Parade festivities, a business wager with grave consequences, and a love story with a twist. These elements create a race from start to finish!
Simonson exhibits the bold nature of the characters as Constance rescues motorcyclist Poppy Wirrall on the Meredith Hotel veranda. Several star characters appear at dinner that very evening. The humorous sibling rivalry of Poppy and Harris is woven between their incorrigible mother, Lady Wirrall, friend Tom Morris and his twin sisters, Evangeline and Guinevere. The wry banter, honesty, and discernment shown in this scene are perfect examples of the narrative to come. Constance reveals she has but the summer months to map out a plan for her future. Buckle up for a great ride!
Behind the planning of the Peace Parade, the burgeoning motorcycle club, and saving Lady Wirral’s estate, are themes of loss, women’s rights, social class distinction and prejudice. Simonson exquisitely examines dealing with loss through the guarded transformation of Harris inside and out. A new law requiring businesses to hire returning soldiers creates anxiety and anticipation, highlighting this struggle for women of the post war era. Class distinction and prejudices are exposed with snooty, haughty, maddening remarks, but handled immediately by Simonson with insightful discerning dialogue and even some rewarding groveling. Cheers for Constance as she reveals her brilliance and finds the voice to prove it, “Women should always aim to be competent rather than decorative,” says it all.
The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying club, filled with analogies, witty banter, and unforgettable characters, evokes emotions from glee to outrage. Constance decides she “can’t be bitter simply because life was not a fairy tale.” Or is it? Trousers, riding goggles, and a jaunty scarf suggested, but not required.

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"A woman should always aim to be competent rather than decorative." Helen Simonson writes the most charming books. This newest book follows a group of women who are fighting for work, equality, and freedoms after World War I. Told from several different perspectives, you'll find yourself wrapped up in a novel full of romance, grit, friendship, and determination. I enjoyed all of the main characters and despised the villains - a very entertaining read for historical fiction lovers.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group - Random House for this ARC.

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