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REVIEW: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Dear Mrs. Simonson,

This may be your first published book but wow, just wow. I am in love with it and want to go around telling all my friends, my coworkers, total strangers on the street, almost everyone about it. I haven’t read too many A grade books this year but the wait for another was worth it.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson“When Major Pettigrew, a retired British army major in a small English village, embarks on an unexpected friendship with the widowed Mrs. Ali, who runs the local shop, trouble erupts to disturb the bucolic serenity of the village and of the Major's carefully regimented life.

As the Major and Mrs. Ali discover just how much they have in common, including an educated background and a shared love of books, they must struggle to understand what it means to belong and how far the obligations of family and tradition can be set aside for personal freedom. Meanwhile, the village itself, lost in its petty prejudices and traditions, may not see its own destruction coming.”

Rich, meaty, satisfying, filling – I’m making this sound like an advert for a pot pie but it was just such a treat to read this book. I don’t just mean I enjoyed the story, the plot, or the characters, what I’m trying to say is the experience is something to be savored as well. The gentle humor, the cutting truths, the ease as the story flowed on – all of it came together for me and made reading the story magical.

Since I’m headed towards becoming a woman of “a certain age,” the fact that the romance is between a woman in her fifties and a man ten years older is an attraction for me. I don’t mind that most romances these days are about people in their 20s and 30s but every once in a while, I like to be reminded that anyone at any age can still fall in love. Here it’s shown delicately, slowly advancing, almost gently occurring but totally believable.

Mrs. Ali and the Major are from different backgrounds, different religions, different experiences and yet…they have so much in common. Their sense of loyalty and honor is bred in the bone, their love of literature calls to the other, their enjoyment of the countryside, of England brings them together more closely than any mere physical attraction can. They are perfect for each other.

But it’s not easy sailing as the combined prejudices of a village and both families thrust themselves in the story like a cold wind, seeking out vulnerabilities and testing strengths and weaknesses. I like the story better that both Mrs. Ali and Major Pettigrew have their moments of failure, their fleeting experiences with clay feet yet no knight in shining armor ever rode – or in this case drove – to his lady’s rescue with any more feeling than does the Major. And no lady ever seized the day and demanded her joy in life more sweetly and more insistently than does Mrs. Ali.

What brings my grade down from a straight A is a bit that is at the end of the story and which seems out of place compared to the rest.[spoiler] I dislike the use of the “character who suddenly goes crazy” as a plot resolution though perhaps you felt it was needed to ensure that one character has a final break from family tradition and feels free to pursue the main romance.[/spoiler]

Both the Major and Mrs. Ali grow as people and learn as the story progresses. They make each other better and, to some degree, help those around them be better too. In the end, the circle of friends and acquaintances might have been pared down by the prejudices of those around them but in each other, they have found that which will sustain them through what I can just feel are going to be happy years together.


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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.


  1. Marg
    Jan 04, 2011 @ 15:05:23

    This is my next up read, and I am really looking forward to it! I have heard lots of good things about it.

  2. tori aka ggs_closet
    Jan 04, 2011 @ 15:12:01

    What a fabulous review. I must look into this book.

  3. Jayne
    Jan 04, 2011 @ 15:24:23

    @Marg: The first I heard about it was from the 5 heart review at The Romance Reader. It took me a little while to buy it and then longer to read it but I am so glad I took the chance on it.

  4. Jayne
    Jan 04, 2011 @ 15:25:25

    @tori aka ggs_closet: Thanks! I hope you’ll enjoy it too.

  5. liz talley
    Jan 04, 2011 @ 15:38:38

    A friend of mine read it and loved it. She’s a pretty picky reader. Sigh. Guess I’ll be shelling out more money and downloading it onto the kindle tonight.

    Thanks for the review :)

  6. Darlene Marshall
    Jan 04, 2011 @ 16:06:45

    It was so wonderful to read this novel, a romantic story of grown people falling in love, overcoming obstacles and struggling to find their HEA. I hate to use the cliched term “heartwarming”, but in this case it seems quite appropriate.

    I loved the cover too.[g]

  7. joanne
    Jan 04, 2011 @ 16:47:08

    This is next on my buy page, I was just waiting for a non-Amazon review.

    I thought my current read, The Admiral’s Penniless Bride by Carla Kelly with a hero who is 45 and a heroine who is 32, was anomalous so I’m happy to find another book with more mature lead characters.

    Maybe it’s my “after the Holidays, all done with kids” stance right now and I certainly don’t want a steady diet of older heroes and heroines – but a few once in a while is a real pleasure.

  8. Sandy D.
    Jan 04, 2011 @ 16:48:15

    This is one my favorite books from the last year. I read it right after I finished King’s “Under the Dome”, and let me tell you, it was the perfect antidote to the vague depression I after being in the minds of some of King’s creepier characters.

  9. Ros
    Jan 04, 2011 @ 17:05:18

    I haven’t read too many A grade books this year…

    It’s only been 4 days! How many were you hoping to have read?!

    But I have to say, this sounds lovely and I shall look out for it.

  10. Kay Sisk
    Jan 04, 2011 @ 17:19:23

    Putting this on the buy-list as it reminds me of Jeanne Ray’s Julie and Romeo, another cross-culture, older h/h novel.

  11. Kaye
    Jan 04, 2011 @ 17:50:21

    So many books, so little time to read.

    My time & money are better spent by your ‘negative’ reviews, so keep ’em coming!

  12. Jayne
    Jan 04, 2011 @ 18:06:53

    @Ros: I guess you didn’t read my Top 2010 books list post. Or didn’t read it too closely.

  13. Jayne
    Jan 04, 2011 @ 18:20:19

    @Darlene Marshall:

    I loved the cover too.[g]

    Me too!

  14. Jayne
    Jan 04, 2011 @ 18:21:11

    @Kay Sisk: Yes, yes. Loved that book too. I wonder if she’s still writing….

  15. Julie M.
    Jan 04, 2011 @ 20:45:54

    I got this for Christmas from my husband. It’s next up on my reading list too! I’m looking forward to it even more now – thanks for the review.

  16. Brussel Sprout
    Jan 05, 2011 @ 06:26:59

    I read this book last summer and loved it. Really charming and a gruesomely accurate exploration of how village society in the UK works. There are wonderful subsidiary characters as well. This was a DIK for me and I am looking forward to rereading it.

  17. DS
    Jan 05, 2011 @ 07:16:16

    There’s an Audible version narrated by Bill Wallis. I’m going to take a chance. Wallis always adds to the value of an audio book in my opinion.

  18. Janet P.
    Jan 05, 2011 @ 08:01:38

    Wow. I’ve seen the title of this book floating around for about a year but I never knew it was something I’d be interested in reading. I am so weary of the same old, same old.

    Now I want to start it today. Thanks for the review.

  19. Jayne
    Jan 05, 2011 @ 08:53:00

    @Janet P.: It’s definitely a break from same old, same old.

  20. Joy
    Jan 05, 2011 @ 09:00:41

    I read this book after my friends started raving about it last year at this time, and adored it. Since then it’s been one of the standard recommendations I’ve given out to anyone who asks me for one (“You read a lot. I’m looking for a book. What’s good?”)–because I think this book works well for many people who aren’t particularly into genre romance as well as romance readers.

  21. Elyssa Papa
    Jan 06, 2011 @ 13:41:04

    I’ve been looking at this book since it was released, but I was reluctant to pick it up because usually lit fic = depressing ending. And I’m a HEA kind of girl. But this book seems like it ends good and that it might be a good read. I might have to check this one out., partially in thanks to your review.

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