Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Summer Before the Storm, Gabriele Wills (3.5 stars)

Description of The Summer Before the Storm

Publisher: Mindshadows, 2006
Category: Historical Fiction
Tour Dates: November, 2012
Available in: Print and Kindle, 551 pages

It’s the Age of Elegance in the summer playground of the affluent and powerful. Amid the pristine, island-dotted lakes and pine-scented forests of the Canadian wilderness, the young and carefree amuse themselves with glittering balls and friendly competitions. The summer of 1914 promises to be different when the ambitious and destitute son of a disowned heir joins his wealthy family at their cottage on Wyndwood Island. Through Jack’s introduction into the privileged life of the aristocratic Wyndhams and their illustrious social circle, he seeks opportunities and alliances to better himself, including in his schemes, his beautiful and audacious cousin, Victoria.

But their charmed lives begin to unravel with the onset of the Great War, in which many are destined to become part of the “lost generation”.

This richly textured tale takes the reader on an unforgettable journey from romantic moonlight cruises to the horrific sinking of the Lusitania, from regattas on the water to combat in the skies over France, from extravagant mansions to deadly trenches – from innocence to nationhood.

The Summer Before The Storm, the first of the epic Muskoka Trilogy, evokes a gracious, bygone era that still resonates in this legendary land of lakes.

This novel was chosen by the Muskoka Chautauqua for their esteemed Reading List in 2010.

If you are a Downton Abbey fan, chances are you will love this book and the rest of the series!


Rich in history and family ties, The Summer Before the Storm is the saga of the Wyndhams. When Jack comes to find the family that exiled his father, everything changes. He's determined to never be poor and hungry again and to force his father's family to recognize him. Augusta, the matriarch, has doubts. She rules the family with a strong will and tight purse strings, and she's the one he needs to impress.

Jack quickly realizes that Augusta is no pushover, so he looks for opportunity wherever he can. Enter Victoria, one of Augusta's favorite grandchildren, as intelligent as she is beautiful. But she has her heart set on Chas Thornton, who is wealthy in his own right. In the mix are several other siblings and other characters vying for their place.

Then each of the characters' lives is drastically changed by the war--several of the men, including both Jack and Chas, head off to do their part. Victoria, now fully committed to Chas, finds herself lonely and in quite a predicament. Needing to be with her true love, she books voyage on the Lusitania. Although she survives the ill-fated trip, she is forever scarred, as are most of the characters from their wartime experiences.

A sweeping epic, The Summer Before the Storm pulls you into so many lives, lives you can't help but care about. In fact, the cast of characters is so large, it was overwhelming at times. There's enough material here to make two books easily, especially since this book weighs in at 551 pages. Although I never lost interest, the author quite adept at creating memorable characters, I felt like I started reading one book and finished reading another. Both books were good, but something about them being put together stalled me for a bit.

The first part is an engaging story of family, and how people can tear it apart or lift it up with the smallest of actions. Then, the book is solely focused on the war, with the family split apart and a lot of characters' lives told through letters. Yet, I was still left wanting more... a whole book could be dedicated to sets of characters, especially prequels about Jack's family and Augusta as well as more details on some of my other favorites like Ellie (Eleanor) and Edelina.

For readers who love a good historical fiction tale, this certainly will not disappoint. But, it's as much about relationships, both in times of joy and suffering, as it is about the war or the Lusitania. And it was those relationships that will stick with me the most.

Note: My review is not full of details for a reason, I hesitate to give away much of the story. Several things happened that I was not expecting, and those surprises were part of the novel's allure. However, I will go on record that I did not like the ending. Not only because it was abrupt (granted this is Book One of a series), but because of its intense sadness. Of course, I was only sad because I cared about the character so very much.

Rating: 3.5 stars
(Worthy of rounding up to a 4 on Amazon and GoodReads)

About Gabriele Wills
The author of five highly acclaimed historical novels, Gabriele loves to recreate an era in which she can immerse herself (and readers), by weaving compelling stories around meticulously researched facts. Her characters are best friends, whom others are now calling “cherished friends”.

With degrees in the social sciences and education, Gabriele has had a varied career as an educator, literacy coordinator, and website designer, and has been an active community volunteer, particularly in heritage preservation. But writing fiction has always been her passion. Her first short story appeared in the Canadian Authors Association Winners’ Circle 5 Anthology. In 2001, she produced an award-nominated feature on CBC Radio’s “Outfront”.

Born in Germany, Gabriele emigrated to Canada as a young child. She grew up in Lindsay, Ontario, enjoyed several years in Ottawa, and currently resides in Guelph with her husband. She is the proud mother of an accomplished daughter, with whom she is collaborating on an historical YA novel.

For more information, please visit her at Mindshadows, her Facebook page, and on Twitter.

Thanks to Virtual Author Book Tours for including me on this blog tour. Please visit more blog stops on The Summer Before the Storm blog tour page.


Praise for The Summer Before the Storm

“The Summer Before the Storm is a richly detailed, complex novel- one that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page. The details have been painstakingly researched, and when Gabriele Wills described a scene or a home, I felt as if I was actually right there along the characters. She makes her characters multi-layered, revealing only small parts of their personality at a time. The Summer Before the Storm offers a realistic reflection on the war from a uniquely Canadian perspective, and incorporates romance, betrayal, family dynamics, and loyalty within its pages.”- Jonita, The Book Chick

“I very much enjoyed the Muskoka-tale, describing a world I’ve never known and could not even have imagined before, and here it came alive in a way that made me almost feel part of it. And I was fascinated by all those different characters, whom I soon felt very close to, following their trials and adventures, hopes and despairs. Highly recommended!”- Gisela Kretzschmar, Focus on Books

“It was by chance that Gabriele Wills’ novel The Summer Before the Storm fell into my lap. It had been forwarded to the Forester for review and it was the cover that caught my eye. One shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but the glossy photograph of the prow of an antique boat and the line “The First of the Muskoka Novels” invited me in. I began to read and was immediately drawn toward the saga’s rich cast of fictitious characters – the aristocratic Wyndhams and their social circle of friends… It is impossible not to be drawn into the lives and emotions of the eminently believable characters… Wills melds historical fact and fiction with aplomb, giving the reader insight into Muskoka’s gracious bygone era and the horrors that faced so many young Canadian men and women in World War I.”- Gillian Brunette, “The Huntsville Forester”

“The Summer Before the Storm by Gabriele Wills is a beautifully written story that shows humanity from all walks of life – from the very wealthy to the poorest – playing out their differences and commonalities. The cover is colorful and eye-catching. The map and other front matter are very helpful. The opening paragraph serves several purposes – to show the era, to set the tone of the story, and to provide a hook that will keep fans turning the pages. All the dialogue is strong, natural, and true to each character. There is good balance between narrative and dialogue. The book sets the stage for the series extremely well. “- Writer’s Digest Magazine

An endearing, engaging, and charismatic historical fiction set in the beautiful Muskoka’s in the year 1914. The cast of characters are endless and cover both ends of the spectrum from the proper, well-mannered and etiquettely correct, to the shifty, devious and flouting! I fell in love with Ria and Chas. Gabriele Wills deserves a standing ovation for the research and knowledge that went into this book, and for the skill she possesses in writing with such clarity and vivid detail that the reader is transplanted back in time, awakening your five senses as if you were there. Everyone young and old needs to peruse this brilliant piece of literary genius!!!”- Louise, The BookBag Lady


Gabriele Wills said...

Thank you for your review, Tia. I'm delighted that you enjoyed spending time with and caring about my "friends"!
Gabriele Wills

Teddy Rose said...

Thanks for taking part in the tour. I'm glad you enjoyed the book!

Unknown said...

Gabriele, I HAVE to read the next one and find out what happens to Victoria. I want her to find happiness.

Teddy, Thanks for having me on the tour!