Member Reviews

A beautiful story, engaging characters, and an all round joy to read.

What happens to the girls and women who kept things together during the war, when the war is over? Well, they are relieved of their jobs and left to figure out the rest of their lives.

I loved these ladies so much. A wonderful Historical Fiction read.

NetGalley/ Random House/ Dial May 07, 2024

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The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club by Helen Simonson

A post World War I story, this nicely written book emphasizes England’s adjustment to the men coming home after the war. Women did the heavy lifting while the men fought, and that’s about to change. After getting a taste of financial independence, the gals are not ready to give up their jobs so easily.

There are many facets to this story about traditional English roles, class, money, prejudice and snobbery. It is wonderfully entertaining with a lot of humor, especially between siblings Harris and Poppy.

The female characters in this story are the original feminists. The men stay in character for the males of their time. The struggle for the women is real. Poppy runs a motorcycle sidecar taxi service and(gasp)wears pants. Constance meets her in the seaside Meredith Hotel where she is companion to an elderly Mrs. Fog.

I recommend this book without hesitation to any reader. Five stars from me and my thanks to Random House for this advanced reader copy.

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Thank you Netgalley and Random House | The Dial Press for access to this arc.

Huzzah. A new book from Simonson. I’d almost given up when I saw it on a “to be released” list and sprang at the chance to read it. It’s a complicated and at times melancholy and heartbreaking book. It also, yeah, takes a while to get into gear and truly had me guessing how certain things would be resolved.

I should have remembered that her style is to slowly introduce the characters, set the scene, and only then allow the story to get going. This mimics the slower pace of life in a smaller seaside vacation town of 1919. Even with the gentler tempo, things are still going too quickly for middle aged characters who decry the sudden changes that are jolting their world. Meanwhile young women who see new opportunities are champing at the bit to enjoy life or, if they’re working class, are desperately attempting to find a job and scrounge a living. Those who fought and survived are learning how to live with their new realities. Tertiary characters fill out the background and show how various social outcasts ease through this world.

Constance is inhabiting a middle ground. She’s not truly a part of the wealthy titled world that she lives in and can easily see herself sinking into the unnoticed working class. The camaraderie she sees in the motorcycle club draws her. I liked Constance and felt she was standing up for herself as well as she could in her situation. Yes, she bites her tongue at times but she has to keep on on the good side of certain characters who control her employment. But she does stick up for Mrs. Fog and that woman’s lovely second chance.

Harris has inherited a barontency but is mired in depression due to his amputation and the feeling that he should have died in the war with his friends. A strong sense of responsibility for his former mechanic and a gift from his sister might be what drags him back even before the stark realities of the financial situation of his estate yank him out of his funk. I could understand Harris’s desire to withdraw from company, especially as we learn of past relationships that have been broken. Poppy is a character who both charmed and annoyed me. Often her heart is in the right place but she can also duck responsibility when she feels like it and makes a decision that causes a stunned Constance to tell Poppy that she just doesn’t understand the people in this (rarified) world.

There are events and revelations that call out the racism and classism of this world. Some people will end up having to reap what they have sown. Some innocents will pay the price for jingoistic attitudes. This story is much more historical fiction with romantic elements than a romance. The pace is leisurely. Bad things happen to some people. Other people get off the hook. But Constance’s eyes are open to what she’s going into and Harris knows that he’s found the woman he can respect and admire.

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So, I’m calling this romance and literary, because while there was a strong romantic element running throughout this novel, there was also plenty more going on beside that to keep it from feeling too romancy for my taste. That’s obviously a good thing, because otherwise I might have DNF this book. In any case, there are a few things I got with this book that I wasn’t expecting. For example, the title led me to believe that this was going to be a fun romp, with lots of humor. I didn’t really get that here, although there were a few times that I did let out a giggle or two. In fact, most of this novel was fairly on the serious side. I also got a huge cast of characters, all with their own stories, a few of which seemed somewhat superfluous to me. That said, while I often have a hard time with highly populated books, I wasn’t confused with who was whom, which is a real plus.

The basic premise of this novel is actually a very creative one. The idea of women trying to start their own business in the post WWI era certainly makes a whole lot of sense. We all know that during both world wars women ended up keeping the “home fires burning” in all sorts of industries and businesses, while their men fought abroad. We also know that in both cases, often 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 gilded cages, and step out as independent, more self-reliant people, with the hopes of being treated like equals – if not immediately, then at least eventually. Knowing that even today women are still far from being truly equal, you have to admire these trailblazers of over 100 years ago, and I loved how Simonson highlighted them.

Our two main female pioneers in this book are Poppy, and in particular, Constance. I really liked both of them, and how very differently Simonson portrayed them. At the same time, they’re both very similar in much of their opinions about people, wealth, and society, especially regarding the changing world that the two of them were now entering into. Sadly, they had no idea that the peace that they were celebrating was going to be as short lived as it was, but Simonson doesn’t allow that fact to cast any shadows on their festivities. Well, almost none, since Simonson also gives us a few characters in this story who remind us of the types of racial prejudices and baseless hatred that existed at the time, and unfortunately, have never seemed to totally dissipate.

While there were a few very pointed episodes of this in this novel that I believe Simonson put in to remind us of how flawed humanity was (and still is), I’m not totally sure that all of them were necessary. Not because I don’t agree with the sentiments, but because it gave the book a touch of a frenzied atmosphere in certain places. Not because I don’t agree with the sentiments, but because it gave the book a touch of a frenzied atmosphere. Plus, Simonson is quite a master of descriptive passages, and vividly painting the scenes for us, but I wonder if she couldn’t have cut a few of these down. That’s because for me, as much as I enjoyed them, some of these lovely passages seemed to slow the story down somewhat. Despite these drawbacks (which included a slightly clichéd ending), I’m still very warmly recommending this novel, and giving it a very solid four out of five stars! (And yes, I would like to read more by Simonson in the future.)

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This book is post World War I and not an era I have read much about, fiction or non-fiction. I am glad this author has chosen this book to write as I like her writing style and feel that she has done the research that lends truth to the story. My biggest surprise was the bad-assed women who rode motorcycles with dispatches--through all kinds of weather and long hours. Of course, when the war was over these same women had to go back to their places as proper ladies. Not all of them did. I loved that this group of Hazelbourne Ladies visited convalescent hospitals to take injured soldiers out for rides, taking them away from their nightmares for a few minutes every couple of weeks. I hadn't realized that the German people (living in England prior to the war) had been placed in internment camps or made to live away from the coast in case they were spies. Klaus, one of the elderly German waiters has an interesting tale in this book. The author writes with a droll style which I rather enjoyed and seems very British to me. The book is a tad slow but all in all, very good. Thank you to Random House and NetGalley for the digital ARC. This review is my own words.

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In the summer of 1919, men have returned home to Britain after WWI. Constance, a young woman who ran an estate during the war, is told that her services are no longer required. Along with losing her job, Constance has lost her home. But she has a 2 week reprieve, because she has agreed to accompany an elderly friend to the seashore at Hazelbourne. There she meets a wonderful group of women who have served as motorcycle couriers, airplane mechanics, and more during the war, but are now being left without jobs. The more wealthy women live a comfortable life, but those like Constance who must work to support themselves, are in a much more tenuous position.
Simonson has written another thoughtful historical novel that addresses themes of racism, colonial imperialism, class differences, and the true cost of war.

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The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club by Helen Simonson is a captivating post WWI world of Britain that was truly fascinating in every way possible!
The excellent writing, engaging and interesting characters, and a truly awesome plot made this one seriously hard to put away.

Thank You NetGalley and Publisher for your generosity and gifting me a copy of this amazing eARC!

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A delightful step back into 1919 where young women who were so instrumental in the war by taking on new and traditionally male jobs are now being forced out by law. Even when they are unmarried and need to support themselves. Constance finds herself pushed out of her job running an estate and takes a position as a “caretaker” companion to the elder Ms Fog at a seaside hotel. She is “the help” but also becomes friends with girls of upper society girls who have started a taxi service via motorcycles. A cute tale of time in history where women struggle to make their way in a world that keeps pushing them back to household duties even when there are much fewer men to marry and they want to continue to contribute like they did during the war that includes a deep sense of family duty, love, society rules of how women should behave and survival in a new era.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing for the ARC!

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When a male dominated community delivers notice to the women who kept the war effort running while the men fought, tells these same women that their efforts were laudable but no longer necessary, it should not be a surprise when resistance is met. I've often wondered who had the temerity to tell these women to go back to their pre-war places and act like it never happened. Helen Simonson has taken that premise and run it into an excellent story of the refusal of some women to go back to their domestic duties. The characters, bith male and female, in THE HAZELBOURNE LADIES MOTORCYCLE AND FLYING CLUB are entertaining in their refusal while courageous in their insistence that they have earned their rights to be more.........

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Full of charm and warmth thanks to its endearing characters, we readers learn of the various hardships of what happens after war. I enjoyed the different points of view and found myself rooting for the smart and plucky women who want to continue with the changes in their lives brought about by their efforts in WWI.

Many thanks to Random House and NetGalley for the advance review copy.

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If THE WOMEN was your favorite historical fiction book this year, you will enjoy this post-WWII story exploring women's resilience and unrecognized work contributions during the war.

Helen Simonson, widely known for her novels Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and The Summer Before the War, admitted in her author's note that writing with love and optimism was challenging amidst these bitter political times and the pandemic. Although the threads of her cynicism sometimes shimmer, this endearing story captured my heart.

It's 1919, and readers are pulled into the bustling dinner table scene at a seaside hotel, where servings feel thin, but the conversation is robust with the town's lively gossip.

Constance is one of many women who found themselves without a paid position. She managed a farm during the war but was released after peace was declared. This job loss led her to an unexpected position as a companion to an old family friend staying at this resort for a few weeks.

She quickly feels drawn into the orbit of Poppy and Harris, siblings leading very different lives whose mother also resides at the resort.
Harris is a pilot who has returned as an amputee and struggles to find his place in society. From the abrupt ending of his engagement to his inability to provide for the family, he's not only navigating a city that feels inaccessible to him but also unclear what a future looks like with his disability. Harris is a hero but treated as the town's punching bag, with scenes that made me bristle up more than once as people speculated on his peg leg and perceived inabilities because of his injury.

In contrast, his spitfire sister Poppy inventively bucks the atrocities expected of women of this era, from running a motorcycle taxi service to wearing pants. While indeed opposites, both hope to be free of the financial hardships that have plagued them since the war, especially when Harris discovers that their mother's economic future is far from secure.

This novel reminded me of Downton Abbey in many ways as it explores social class and the hierarchy, especially post-war when financial futures look different even for the wealthy. Women cannot afford to not worry about their future, and this contemplation is captured beautifully in Simson's line, "To live for today, one must be reasonably financially assured of tomorrow."

Luckily, the camaraderie of these women reaches unexplored levels when Poppy concocts creative ways to offer local women jobs during a tumultuous time when many have found themselves widowed or financially downtrodden.

She boldly purchases a beaten-up airplane in a new hair-brained scheme to teach the ladies in her motorcycle club how to fly, pulling her brother in as an instructor. But, as Poppy, Harris, and Constance all find a new purpose, the town's residents grapple with progress, potentially halting their hard work.

The story offers a few well-plotted villains as this women's club becomes embroiled in a scenario that compromises this cozy, progressive space for the town and gives a book club much to discuss in this sprawling 432-page novel. I loved this more than expected and finished it in a single day.

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Helen Simonson’s wonderful new historical fiction novel centers around a group of people in England trying to find their footing following the end of World War I. With the war over and men returning home, women have once again been relegated to the sidelines, and the jobs they held during the war are no longer available to females, often by law according to the War Practices Act. The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club follows numerous individuals living in the seaside town of Hazelbourne as they come to terms with what the return to peace means for them. These characters include a woman who lost her job working on a farm to returning soldiers, a socialite who forms the motorcycle and flying club, her brother who lost his leg in the war, and a German-born, naturalized citizen who was interned on the Isle of Man during the war. As they work to recover from the horrors of war, they realize that life as they knew it has permanently changed and that their country is on the brink of significant transformation. Simonson creates a fascinating glimpse into a drastically shifting world as the reader understands how much more change is coming.

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Simonson’s last novel The Summer before the War is set in 1914 before the beginning of World War I; this novel is set in the summer of 1919 just after the end of that war.

Constance Haverhill is sent as a lady’s companion to Mrs. Eleanor Fog, an old family friend who is convalescing at a hotel in Hazelbourne-on-Sea. After the summer, Constance will have to find a position to support herself but in the meantime she finds herself mixing with the elites who live in the hotel. In particular, she meets Poppy Wirrall, an unconventional young woman, the leader of a group of independent-minded motorcycle-riding women, and her brother Harris, a fighter pilot trying to adjust to life as an amputee.

The book focuses on the challenges of post-war life, especially those faced by women. During the war, women took jobs left vacant by men who were off fighting; these jobs allowed women to show their competence and gave them both responsibility and freedom. With the end of the war, however, women are expected to give up these jobs to returning soldiers. Constance, for instance, managed a large estate but is told she is now no longer needed; Poppy expresses her frustration: “’I got used to feeling life was urgent and I was doing something important. Now we are all expected to go home to the kitchen or drawing room.’” Mention is made of the Restoration of Pre-War Practices Act which legislated certain jobs could be held only by men. Those women left widowed are expected to survive on an insufficient pension whereas those who are unmarried find a limited supply of potential husbands after the deaths of so many young men.

Women also experience misogyny. Constance admits that when showing her wartime employer “’how well his estate was doing . . . I forgot men don’t like women to be too competent. I should have been more circumspect.’” Men and women are certainly judged differently. One man’s comments are jokingly dismissed as overbearing but a woman points out that “’when I am overbearing, which I often like to be, they call me an absolute shrew.’” It’s best that women “’simper and faint and hide our abilities in all things worldly.’” Constance is careful “never to share her opinion, especially with a man” because she knows that if a woman says anything of import, “It was as if when offering a dog a biscuit, the dog had thanked them and begun to quote from the Encyclopaedia Britannica.”

Of course men must also adapt to changes. Those who survived the battlefield and the influenza pandemic have to integrate back into society. Injured men like Harris find themselves being treated as incapable of resuming work; Harris, for example, wants to continue to fly planes but is discouraged from doing so: “’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.’” He also struggles with survivor’s guilt. Men who suffered serious injury are hidden away from society. In a parade celebrating victory and peace, attempts are made not to include the seriously wounded as if to prove one woman’s opinion that “’it seems as if the dead are more convenient than the wounded.’”

Classism is addressed. Men of lower classes who might have proven during wartime that “competence, decency, and grit were not the sole purview, or even the natural gifts, of the well-born” have to return to lives in which they are no longer seen as equals. And as a woman who has to earn a living to survive, Constance does not have the freedom of the wealthy. For instance, Poppy, because of her wealth and social class, is able to engage in activities not available to Constance: “Respectability was the currency in which Constance knew she must trade for the foreseeable future. She . . . did not have Poppy’s wealth and position from which to defend herself against notoriety.”

The book also touches on xenophobia and racism. At the hotel there’s a waiter named Klaus Zeiger, a German-born naturalized citizen. At the beginning of the war, he was kept in an internment camp, and after the war, because of lingering anti-German sentiment, he tries to keep a low profile. “’British India and the independent princely states together contributed over a million men to this war,’” but an Indian delegation is prevented from marching in the Peace Parade in London. One Indian pilot mentions that when he applied to the Flying Corps, he was told to become an air mechanic instead: “Some imputed weakness of my race, or perhaps a disinclination to train and empower a colonial.’” There is also racism against blacks; a visiting American expresses particularly odious views: “’Relationships across the races being, we believe, against the laws of the state and nature.’”

This book will be described as a gentle, quiet read but its charm is not a disguise for fluff. Though its plot, especially the romance, is predictable, the book captures the mood of the world after the First World War. It is the novel’s social commentary that I will remember. It’s an entertaining book that provides food for thought.

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The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club by Helen Simonson is a delightful read that offers a warm and romantic portrayal of women's lives in the post-World War I era. This historical fiction novel is not only pleasurable but also thought-provoking, shedding light on the challenges and triumphs of women during this time period. Simonson's storytelling is both engaging and insightful, making it a must-read for fans of the genre.

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For lovers of historical fiction and stories about women's rights this might be the book for you. I am usually medium on historical fiction, but loved the cover and wanted to try something new. This book is set in the aftermath of WWI as the war wraps ups and the conflict of women being told to take a step back after stepping up during the war, as the soldiers come home. I was rooting for Constance and enjoyed seeing her grow as a character, but felt the book overall felt too long and dragged for me, especially in the second half.

Thank you Netgalley & Random House Publishing Group - Random House | The Dial Press

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Settle in for a warm and often amusing story of a group coping with the shifts in the world and the UK in the post WWI era. Constance, having lost her home and her job managing an estate, is working as a companion to Mrs. Fog during a visit to Hazelbourne, a small town by the sea. A chance meeting with Poppy, daughter of a dynamic and wealthy widow and sister of Harris, who lost his leg when his plane crashed, changes her life. Poppy and her band of friends have a motorcycle club and then she buys a Sophwith Camel for Harris. Each character is more than you think they will be- and there are a lot of them, ranging from Tilly who wants to be a mechanic to a visiting civil servant from India to Mrs. Fog's childhood friends to most poignantly of all, Klaus, the waiter at the hotel who is German. This unfolds slowly (to be honest, more slowly than I originally expected) but that's not a bad thing. It's the small scenes here (wait til Constance and Poppy go to the East End) that mean the most. Indeed it is a tale of manners with the mores that seem outdated to Constance and Poppy. And there's the casual regrettable racism. I've liked Simonson in the past and this is an expansion on her skills and shows off her storytelling better than ever. Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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I really liked this book. It cozy in a great sort of adventure way.
Its all about Constance who is really trying to find herself now that her mother has passed. She is taking care of an older lady who she nursed through influenza. They are staying in this fun hotel in the town of Hazelborne. She ends up meeting Poppy and their fun amazing friendship starts right away. Of course, I am a sucker for friendship stories especially this one. When all the men went to war all the women had to start doing all the jobs men would do because they need to make money as well to support the family and Poppy has made a business of being a sort of taxi service. Motorcycle and side car, you call and they come pick you up but with all the men coming home from the war things are changing. 
This book has friendship, a bit of romance, exciting adventures and a real way of pulling you into this world that feels like you are right there with them. I love books that take you away like that.
5 STARS for sure!!!!! ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Thank you to NetGalley for giving me an Advanced Readers Copy of this amazing book. I now have to wait for the book to come out in a few days so I can buy it!!!! Come Out May 7,2024.

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DNF after about 33%. I thought the premise sounded interesting and somewhat humorous, but I found it to be boring and all of the characters to be too one dimensional. I really wanted to like the book, but it just wasn't for me

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Now that the men have come home from the war, women are forced to give up the work that they had come to love, and for women like Constance, the work they need to support themselves. Before Constance has to figure out how to support herself in London, she is spending the summer as a companion to an old family friend at a seaside hotel at Hazelbourne. While there she encounters Poppy, a sassy wealthy women about her age who runs a motorcycle taxi service run by and for women. Constance is brought into her group of friends as they attempt to navigate post WWI England and the misogynistic restrictions being forced upon them which is taking away all the freedoms they had during the war.

I was so excited to read this one because I loved the author’s novel, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. While I enjoyed all of the quirky and fun characters and Simonson’s enjoyable writing style was present, this one just was a bit of a slow read for me and just couldn’t hold my attention as much as I wanted it to. The last 1/4 of the book was my favorite and I wish the whole novel was as engaging. The novel was good just not as great as I was hoping it would be.

3.75 stars (rounded to 4)

Thank you to NetGalley and Dial Press for the ARC

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I wanted to like this book, it just wasn't for me. There were too many storylines and character and I found myself wandering. But, that is just my personal preference. If you like a lot of happenings and much goings on,,, this might be the perfect book for you! :)

Thank you to the publisher and to NetGalley for and ARC. All opinions expressed are my own.

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