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on 26 February 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I don't think I will be alone in thinking that this novel is really exceptionally good. Three stars? Four stars? What are you thinking, people?! Major Pettigrew's Last Stand definitely deserves the full five stars in my book. I did not expect to like it as much as I did, but I found it very readable and hard to put down. Despite the fact that it is very readable and engaging, I do think there is quite a bit of substance to the novel.

Yes, this book is essentially a romantic comedy (there are the requisite smushy bits and hilarious bits). And it is very readable (I couldn't put it down). But I felt there was a lot more to it than that. The main characters are senior citizens, and the setting is a small and picturesque English village. I am sure you can guess from the title that the main character is an elderly chap, Major Pettigrew. None of these things sound like ingredients for a gripping tale (though why shouldn't they be?) but they are. The Major is a decent sort, if old-fashioned - set in his ways and full of prejudices and preconceptions. In fact, he is practically emotionally crippled by his extreme politeness and sense of right and wrong, which is often founded on societal norms. The Major faces the world with a stiff upper lip and is almost comically conservative and set in his ways. Of course, it turns out that there is much more to him than this - and he discovers that there is much more to Mrs Ali, the Pakistani lady who runs the village shop. Drama ensues, but I won't spoil the plot for you by describing it. The Major is a classic case of a main character who I really didn't expect to like. Yet, when push comes to shove, the characteristics that make the Major rather irritating are the same ones that make him a wonderfully brave, likeable character who always tries to do the right thing in the face of adversity.

I thought this was just a brilliant read, and I've lent it to my best friend already. It's a very funny, thought-provoking and heart-warming look at old age, family, stereotypes, fitting in to society, and of course (most importantly!) love.
33 comments|91 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a very gentle tale of two widowed individuals who find friendship and then love later in life. It is slow-paced for the most part and that is part of its appeal.

The Major and Mrs Ali come from different cultural backgrounds but each has suffered the bereavement of losing their partner and the changing dynamics that occurred in their families as a result; Mrs Ali is facing family pressure to give up her shop in favour of her nephew, whilst Major Pettigrew is challenged by a son with high expectations of inheritance and who has few qualms about selling the family `silver'.

Helen Simonson skilfully weaves together the story of family tensions over possessions that hold value in the aftermath of bereavement with the story of a burgeoning affection between two individuals. It is the perfect accompaniment to a Sunday evening, curled up on the sofa in front of the fire.
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I thought this an excellent book. In spite of recommendations, I thought there was a strong possibility I would thoroughly dislike it because the story of a relationship between an elderly Major who has lived in the same Sussex village all his life and the Muslim widow who runs the village shop could be toe-curlingly sentimental and patronising in the wrong hands. This is anything but: it is charming in many ways, witty and heart-warming (a phrase which normally inspires a vague dread in me) but there is real thought and insight here, too.

It is excellently written and paced, with an unfussy, elegant style which is very easy to read and which allows the characters to emerge from their own words and actions rather than lavish description, much as they do in Alan Bennett or Barbara Pym (although I wouldn't suggest that it's in the same league as those two towering masters.) I found her characters entertaining, engaging and very believable. Simonson doesn't resort to stereotype, and people often behave unexpectedly, making the book much more thought-provoking than most "gentle comedies of manners". As one of her more robustly-spoken young characters sums it up when speaking to the Major, "You ought to be an old git, but I like you."

I found this book hard to put down and a joy to read. Very warmly recommended.
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on 14 July 2010
Everone has heard of Custer's Last Stand.
How the golden haired cavalry leader fought a massive hoard of savages and died bravely for his country. Or alternatively how a rather dim soldier acted as the pawn of a genocidal government bent on the racial cleansing of their country by exterminating its original owners. One was the view of the traditional western, but Soldier Blue changed all that.
Philbrick gives neither extreme view, presenting the bravery and savagery of each side and tells a fascinating story well.
Oddly enough, while the rest of the campaign is well documented, there is no authentic history of Custer's death and whether ther even was a last stand.
I was probably on the side of the native Americans for most of the story: read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee for what happened next.
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on 7 July 2011
The tale of "General Custard" (that's how I first heard it in a school playground in Belfast) was one of the first I heard of the Wild West, and it remained a fascination. We have been through several variations, from Custer as hero (Errol Flynn in "They died with their boots on") to Custer as incompetent ("Little Big Man"). In addition, it depended on the prevailing attitudes to native Americans, from murdering primitive savages, who must inevitably give way to the wiser, civilised white man, to a noble people fighting to preserve their ancient ways in the face of a onslaught of pure greed (the US Government had conceded the Black Hills to the Sioux - but then they found gold there...).

The author paints a detailed and highly interesting picture, taking in both sides of the conflict, both Sitting Bull and Custer. Along the way, he fills in the back stories of the various protagonists, the arrogant, relentlessly self-publicising and almost recklessly brave Custer, the determined Sitting Bull, seeking to preserve the old ways in the face of the evidence that their time was running out, and importantly Custer's juniors, Reno and Benteen, who detested him and who had problems of their own (Reno was drunk for most of the battle). The Little Big Horn campaign itself is covered meticulously, and we get to watch as the Seventh Cavalry, with absolutely no idea as to how many Indians there were (the terrain made it impossible to see how big the Indian village was, until they were right on top of it), made the fatal mistake of dividing into three separate companies, all of which were defeated, Custer's being completely wiped out and Reno's and Benteen's survivors being forced into the defence of Reno Hill (I had never heard of this), where Benteen distinguished himself. (Benteen was later severely criticised for disobeying orders and not joining Custer, but this may have saved the Seventh Cavalry from total annihilation).

Sadly, the conflict came at a time when Sitting Bull was ready to talk peace. However, he hadn't reckoned on Custer, who was seeking to raise his name and reputation to its former heights, and who was willing to take outsize risks to do so. Both the Seventh Cavalry and the native American population of the USA were to pay dearly for this.

Having said all this, I emphasise that I am no expert. On the other hand, there are on the Amazon.com site many who have studied Western history and the Indian Wars meticulously. Some are less than impressed by this book, but largely on points of detail.
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on 23 October 2015
Hmm, what started out as a really good read but, sadly, by about a third of the way through fell a bit flat. The ending rushed and a bit, well, lame.

From Major Pettigrew, a terribly correct ex-military man, through to Mrs Ali, the local shop keeper, who, and I quote, 'is quintessentially Indian, or at least quintessentially Pakistani' despite being from Cambridge where born in 'the municipal hospital, ward three' she has 'never been further abroad than the Isle of Wight' via Major Pettigrew's horribly obnoxious son, Roger, and his equally horribly vulgar American girlfriend there are some interesting characters.
Interesting? Err, yes. BUT, a 'terribly correct, ex military man', a woman of Indian/Pakistani descent who happens to work in the local corner shop, and a 'vulgar American', there is also something horrendously stereotypical about many of them. Something which I can only compare to like watching an out-dated comedy of the 80's.

Essentially a sweet love story come (to a lesser extent) family saga. Gentle though arguably a tad twee. At times very humorous albeit arguably in an out-dated, 'British' sort of way. On the whole I found this a nice, light read, the creeping in of 'casual racism' as depicted by many of the characters something I felt the book could well do without if it were to maintain, warring families aside, what I felt was otherwise a quietly gentile read of a sixty something man's persual of a widow some ten years his junior.

A debut novel, I'd be interested to see what this authors future works might include.

Copyright: Tracy Terry @ Pen and Paper
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I thought this an excellent book. In spite of recommendations, I thought there was a strong possibility I would thoroughly dislike it because the story of a relationship between an elderly Major who has lived in the same Sussex village all his life and the Muslim widow who runs the village shop could be toe-curlingly sentimental and patronising in the wrong hands. This is anything but: it is charming in many ways, witty and heart-warming (a phrase which normally inspires a vague dread in me) but there is real thought and insight here, too.

It is excellently written and paced, with an unfussy, elegant style which is very easy to read and which allows the characters to emerge from their own words and actions rather than lavish description, much as they do in Alan Bennett or Barbara Pym (although I wouldn’t suggest that it’s in the same league as those two towering masters.) I found her characters entertaining, engaging and very believable. Simonson doesn’t resort to stereotype, and people often behave unexpectedly, making the book much more thought-provoking than most “gentle comedies of manners”. As one of her more robustly-spoken young characters sums it up when speaking to the Major, “You ought to be an old git, but I like you.”

I found this book hard to put down and a joy to read. Very warmly recommended.
0Comment|One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I thought this an excellent book. In spite of recommendations, I thought there was a strong possibility I would thoroughly dislike it because the story of a relationship between an elderly Major who has lived in the same Sussex village all his life and the Muslim widow who runs the village shop could be toe-curlingly sentimental and patronising in the wrong hands. This is anything but: it is charming in many ways, witty and heart-warming (a phrase which normally inspires a vague dread in me) but there is real thought and insight here, too.

It is excellently written and paced, with an unfussy, elegant style which is very easy to read and which allows the characters to emerge from their own words and actions rather than lavish description, much as they do in Alan Bennett or Barbara Pym (although I wouldn't suggest that it's in the same league as those two towering masters.) I found her characters entertaining, engaging and very believable. Simonson doesn't resort to stereotype, and people often behave unexpectedly, making the book much more thought-provoking than most "gentle comedies of manners". As one of her more robustly-spoken young characters sums it up when speaking to the Major, "You ought to be an old git, but I like you."

I found this book hard to put down and a joy to read. Very warmly recommended.
0Comment|One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 6 July 2010
I have to confess that I expected to dislike this book - I read and loved A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn - The Last Great Battle of the American West and was expecting to find negative comparisons all the way through. However I think this book is very nearly as good, and probably a more fun read, so I would wholeheartedly recommend both!
Philbrick approaches the story in a more story-teller mode - setting the scene by placing Custer's last stand (and the later one of Sitting Bull "shot while attempting to escape") in the context of famous last stands of history, and their intrinsic poignancy. He then moves to introduce the people and the scene with vivid and lively language, bringing the various interesting characters before our eyes very clearly and effectively, before tracing through the detailed events of the failed "three pointed" march, of which Custer's group was one third, and the detailed events which led to his and his whole immediate command's slaughter. The politics within the army and Custer's command are both well drawn out so as to set the scene for the failures (and most strikingly the question of: might Benteen have hurried on to Custer and reached him in time if Custer hadn't completely alienated him?) and recriminations which were to follow. The battle on both sides brings terrible stories of violence, love and grief, and I defy any reader to remain unmoved by the account! There are a number of good maps, but I find it a battle where much help is needed - and felt the picture was aided by recourse to the Osprey guide to the battle, whose maps are unequalled. I felt the book slightly "fell off" in terms of strength in the aftermatch of the battle - the story dotted forward and back, when a more chronological tretmant might have been more effective, and I felt that having established the characters so well towards the beginning they were (with the exception of Sitting Bull) not really given a send off (particularly poor Libbie Custer). Having said that the book was still highly enjoyable to the end.
Comparing this book to "Terrible Glory" I found the detail of the battle rather less full, although the details of Indian survivors' accounts, and the confusion which arises from their different perspectives and sense of timing was much clearer. Also worthy of note were the Indian pictographs which are beautifully reproduced, and the photos of the site (though I would have loved even more of these!).
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VINE VOICEon 2 May 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a gentle, uplifting story with an endearing set of main characters - the Major especially so - who become more likeable as the story unfolds and one gets to know them. The book is something of a "comfort read", and none the worse for that. There are some satisfyingly irritating characters as well, though even they turn out to have some redeeming features.

The pettiness of many of the characters portrayed is true to life, especially in the way Simonson evokes the distress which can be provoked by family disputes in the wake of a bereavement.

Someone with no experience of the Major's background might find it difficult to relate to such a lifestyle. He is aware that many of his tastes are unfashionable, and as a character he is resolutely so; but therein lies much of his charm. The clever start immediately grips the reader and moves on at a good pace. There is no tedious long drawn out descriptions: instead, you get lots of dialogue and reflection, with many gentle gentle touches of humour.
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