Review: At Summer’s End by Courtney Ellis

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.

Summary

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)

Review

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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