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981 of 1,007 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Manners and Manors: An Unconventional Love Story
It is always cause for celebration when a debut author bursts on the scene with an original and whimsical novel that is bound to capture attention. And this novel -- Major Pettigrew's Last Stand -- has much to recommend it.

Major Pettigrew is a very proper and delightfully droll widower of 68 who resides in the quaint village of Edgecombe St. Mary in Sussex,...
Published on February 9, 2010 by Jill I. Shtulman

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265 of 305 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well Written, but a Sludge to Get Through
This is a difficult book for me to evaluate because I'm not exactly sure how I feel about it. For starters, I can't join all the rave reviews that have been written, or the group of readers who have placed the book on the NYT extended best sellers list. Yet, I recognize that it is very well written and narrated. My problem with it is that is was really slow going; the...
Published on May 24, 2010 by Buzz


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981 of 1,007 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Manners and Manors: An Unconventional Love Story, February 9, 2010
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It is always cause for celebration when a debut author bursts on the scene with an original and whimsical novel that is bound to capture attention. And this novel -- Major Pettigrew's Last Stand -- has much to recommend it.

Major Pettigrew is a very proper and delightfully droll widower of 68 who resides in the quaint village of Edgecombe St. Mary in Sussex, England. He is the father of Roger, a posturing and preening young man who has incorporated none of the values of his dad. And he is also the accidental suitor of the proprietress of the village mini-mart, Jasmina Ali, a 50-something Pakistani widow who shares his love of Kipling and his wry look at the world in which they both reside. The two of them -- the quintessential local and the attractive outsider -- must navigate the gossip and outright prejudice of their stilted society. Helen Simonson writes, "He (the Major) had always assumed gossip to be the malicious whispering of uncomfortable truths, not the fabrication of absurdities. Was a life of careful, impeccable behavior not enough in a world where inventions were passed around as facts?"

This is by no means "chick lit", nor is it hard-hitting politically correct narrative, couched in fiction. It is a charming English comedy of manners -- in places, a laugh-out-loud comedy. A scene, for example, where the atrocities of Pakistani Partition are reduced to a bad-taste dinner show or where the favored ducks of schoolchildren are chosen as prey for a duck hunt are satirical and spot-on.

Yet despite its gentle humor, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand touches on many of the big issues: the clash of culture and religions, the greed of unbridaled globalization, the tension between fathers and sons...and families in general. At its heart, though, it is an old-fashioned love story. I couldn't help but stand by the sidelines rooting for the Major and his lady and keep my fingers crossed for their eventual coupling. The book is an ode for anyone who refuses to give up on life or love at any stage of life. For those who love the charm of the "Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society", you're in for yet another treat.
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271 of 281 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic debut novel from an author to watch!, January 28, 2010
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I got this as an advanced reading copy from the Amazon Vine program, and didn't know anything about it except the brief synopsis from the Vine newsletter. I am fond of reading "gentle" novels that take the reader into the hearts and lives of people in a community, and this novel didn't disappoint me. It has a slow start, but builds up to the point where you can't put it down because you just have to know what happens next. It is a combination of romance, a comedy of manners, a statement on prejudice, a look at family and community relationships, and a reaffirmation that love is ageless. The hero, Major Pettigrew, is widower in his 60's who has become complacent about his quiet existence as a retired Army officer. He is shocked out of his routine by the sudden death of his only brother. He has known the heroine, Jasmina Ali, for quite some time as the wife and then widow of Pakistani shopkeeper in his community. As the Major and Jasmina become closer due to their shared griefs and their common interests, both of them are challenged to look at their own world views and to face the discrimination and shallowness of some of their friends and relatives. There is a nice chemistry between the hero and the heroine. When they become physically intimate, it is done in the "now dear reader, we will close the bedroom door" type of approach, which is fitting for the type of novel that it is. Although the novel isn't religious in tone, the characters and the style reminds me favorably of Jan Karon's Mitford series of novels. That is why I am hoping that the author has more novels about the little English community that is home to the Major and Jasmina. I want to know what happens next. I am a picky reader when it comes to writing style and I particularly like the way that the author handles prose and dialogue. She uses similes and other literary techniques judiciously--just enough but not too much. One example that sticks out in my mind was her description of an elderly Pakistani couple as having the symmetry of two wrinkled halves of a walnut. Very descriptive, and not something I've read before. While there are some underlying political, religious, and moral issues in this novel, the author doesn't force the reader to take sides. The novel reflects that there is a lot that is uncertain in life, and that "good" people can make mistakes and continue to grow. There is a bit of suspense and action in the novel, but it is mainly character-driven, which is my favorite type of novel. I didn't want the book to end. The mark of a good book, in my opinion, is whether or not I would want to re-read it, and this book is definitely going on my "keeper shelf," hopefully to be joined by more books by this author in the future.
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162 of 173 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gem!, January 29, 2010
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"Last Stand" is a wondrous novel- a debut by author Simonson written with extraordinary insight and with vivid crackling descriptions so apt you'll find yourself reading slowly so you won't miss any of them. Wry and witty, the book is frequently hilarious and I often laughed so hard the tears were running down my face. The ending of this love story will leave you with a feeling of contentment but most of all the book is a paean to the human spirit that will warm the shackles of your heart.

The novel takes place in the little English village of Edgecombe St. Mary and the prejudices, and race and religious intolerances endemic in a small town are alive and well.

Major Pettigrew, a pukka sahib if there ever was one, is the endearing hero and he finds an unusual soul- mate in Jasmina Ali. The Major has a clipped grey mustache and twinkling blue eyes, and Mrs. Ali. who is Pakistani, has shiny black hair coiled into a bun and her dark brown eyes don't miss a thing. Seemingly yin and yang are these two- seemingly. Under the surface they discover a huge rapport. The Major and Mrs Ali are both widowed; the Major has an obnoxious son, Mrs. Ali has an obnoxious nephew. But it's their love of literature that really bonds them together as well as the fact they are both kind, caring individuals with fine senses of humor bubbling just beneath the surface.

The story is not sentimental or mawkish, it's sparkling and lively. True love will find a way but there are many thorns along this particular rocky path and the book builds up to a crescendo of a climax while you the reader are terrified something awful is going to happen to either the Major or Mrs. Ali.

To make yourself just feel good and indulge in a good laugh, grab this charming book! You'll love it, trust me!
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265 of 305 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well Written, but a Sludge to Get Through, May 24, 2010
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Buzz (Scottsdale, AZ, United States) - See all my reviews
This is a difficult book for me to evaluate because I'm not exactly sure how I feel about it. For starters, I can't join all the rave reviews that have been written, or the group of readers who have placed the book on the NYT extended best sellers list. Yet, I recognize that it is very well written and narrated. My problem with it is that is was really slow going; the plot progressed reluctantly and predictably. It was, however, sufficiently engaging so that I did finish it, but was somewhat relieved when it was over so that I could proceed to other books. I was happy for the happy ending, a rarity these days. But, as a reader, I have many choices, and for truly magnificent novels of English village life, I would rather spend my time with Anthony Trollope's Barchester series, beginning with "The Warden."
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38 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars British Comedy of Manners, February 24, 2010
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sb-lynn (Santa Barbara, California United States) - See all my reviews
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Brief summary, no spoilers.

This charming British comedy takes place in current times, although the protagonist, Major Pettigrew, seems more like a character from an old English novel.

Major Ernest Pettigrew is a widower and he lives in a quaint old fashioned English village. The book starts out with Miss Jasmina Ali, a local Pakistani shop owner (and widow) coming by the Major's home to collect money owed. Major Pettigrew greets her at the door but then becomes faint as the reader and Miss Ali find out that the Major's younger brother has just died.

This comedy of manners tells us how a traditional Englishman in a traditional English village deals with matters of the heart and a clash of cultures. We also see the cultural divide from Miss Ali and her family's point of view, as well. Throw into this mix the Major's shallow and narcissistic son Roger, his very American girlfriend Sandy (she calls the Major by his first name), and all manner of opinionated and class/race conscious villager. Oh, and did I mention two very valuable antique guns?

I enjoyed this novel quite a bit. There are bits that are laugh out loud funny, and whenever I put the book down, I looked forward to picking it up again, which for me is always the sign of a good novel.

In criticism, although I do know that people like this exist, I thought many of the cast felt like stock characters and were a bit too stereotypical, thus easy targets for parody. For me at times they felt a little out of place and time.

Even so, I do recommend this book. If you are a fan of British humor and such authors as P. G. Wodehouse or E. F. Benson, I think you would enjoy this as well.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What a delightful, fun read!, April 16, 2010
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I read, and listened to, this lovely, entertaining novel. Both reading and listening was pretty enjoyable, although with slightly different reasons. Ms. Simonson's writing was very readable and well paced, which I liked. The narrater Peter Altschuler did a marvelous job in demonstrating all the major characters' different emotions and personalities with his fabulous reading - I truly admired his consummate professionalism!

After reading it, I was first surprised to find this novel was the author's very debut - I thought it was written by a seasoned writer several fictions and nonfictions under her belt. It was a well-written novel with plentiful sub-plots that are all intriguing and contributing to escalating all the relationship tensions to the climax, and the whole setting didn't look like that of a first-time writer.

However, I felt a little bit wanting from Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali, two protagonists, of their personalities that must have been more elaborate, more human, and more fallable, thus letting readers be more sympathetic to them. Somehow, it looked as though their characters were stalled in the middle of full development. Major Pettigrew's friends also seemed having lots of potential to be a even better positions in the book, but they also were stuck somewhere in the middle.

Overall, though, it was just heart-warming, fairytale like reading experience. Good work. I'm looking forward to seeing lots more books of Helena Simonson.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I was raised to believe in politeness above all.", March 2, 2010
There is a great deal to like in Helen Simonson's debut novel, "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand," whose protagonist is sixty-eight year old widower Major Ernest Pettigrew. The Major, who lives in a small English village named Edgecombe St. Mary, plays golf with his cronies, dines at the club, and is well-respected by his neighbors. Still, something is missing. He still mourns his late wife, Nancy, and derives minimal solace from his only son, Roger, who has become a self-centered social climber. When Pettigrew hears that his younger brother has died, he is overcome with grief, although the two had not seen each other much of late.

Unexpectedly, the widowed local shopkeeper, Mrs. Jasmina Ali, drops by, and she kindly offers her assistance when she learns of the Major's loss. Gradually, the two become friends and are gratified to learn that they share a passion for literature. Mrs. Ali and the Major make every effort to keep their budding relationship quiet in order prevent their stuffy and bigoted neighbors from gossiping. Still, other events that neither could have foreseen threaten to separate them.

Simonson's premise is refreshingly original, and Pettigrew is an appealing character who reminds us that old age is not a disease. Although Pettigrew suffers from insomnia, is not as quick as he once was, and may be a tad forgetful, he can still shoot, play golf, and harbor romantic feelings for a lovely and sensitive woman. Jasmina, who is fifty-eight, is proud, intelligent, and independent, a perfect match for the Major. The author's dialogue is bright and witty, her descriptive writing vivid, and certain satirical passages are laugh-out-loud funny. There are several engrossing subplots, as well, about a bitter single mother, a set of valuable sporting guns, an arrogant nephew, and Roger's tireless efforts to be accepted by men of wealth and influence. However, the themes that resonate most are that children should not dictate to their parents; that there should be no tolerance for bigotry in a civilized society; and that in a small town, it is impossible to stop busybodies from wagging their tongues and shaking their fingers.

This would have been an even more successful novel had Simonson shortened it by fifty pages or so and maintained a consistently lighthearted tone throughout. Alas, she allows a few over-the-top plot developments to mar the book's ending, which is a bit too convoluted and protracted. Still, most of "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand" is a genuine delight and a moving tribute to the principles that many espouse, but few adhere to: We should make a genuine effort to treat our elders with respect, to be open-minded about people's differences, to remember that good manners never go out of style, and to recognize that lasting romantic love is based not only on physical attraction, but also on shared interests and genuine affection. It is heartening to see Mrs. Ali stand tall and declare, "I will rule my own life, thank you."
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nice with a cuppa, March 7, 2011
This review is from: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand: A Novel (Paperback)
In `Major Pettigrew's Last Stand', the inhabitants of Edgecombe St. Mary appear to be feeling the backlash of colonialism's karma. They have hitherto practiced a genteel social segregation - a place for everyone and everyone in their place. But their Pakistani neighbors don't seem to be following the rules - they're refusing to use the service entrance at the clubhouses; questioning the traditional British perspective of the Indian sub-continent's history; and horrors, even aspiring to hobnob with them as social equals.

The protagonist of Helen Simonson's novel, Major Pettigrew, is himself a quintessential English gentleman, so rigid, that not only does he have a stiff upper lip, he also seems to have a very stiff poker inserted up a bodily cavity. The Major does not impress favorably at first sight. He seems to have a profound distaste for all things un-English, such as European couture, American commercialism, or even the notion of a more equitable sharing of one's patrimony.

But a strange thing happens. Following the death of his brother, and a moment of sympathy from the local Pakistani shop-owner, Mrs. Jasmina Ali, he finds himself increasingly attracted to her. The Major and Mrs. Ali have a lot in common - both book-lovers, who are mourning the passing away of much-loved spouses, and whose family members impose shamelessly on them. They are both also very much a part of their own social world, though not averse to the other's. Therein lies the problem. The Major's English friends and neighbors make it plain to him that his `lady-friend' could never truly be one of them. The Major, who has more than a few hypocritical bones in his body, has his doubts as well. Jasmina, hemmed in by her husband's conservative Muslim family, has problems of her own to resolve. Will true love surmount all obstacles, or will it give in quietly to practical considerations?

The English comedy of manners is a hard act to pull off. It requires a deft, delicate touch accompanied by a spot-on skewering of society's little hypocrisies and intolerance. Ms. Simonson has done a commendable job in this novel. Her witty, observant writing reveals that no single community holds the exclusive rights to small-mindedness and bigotry. She manages to peel away the carefully cultivated layers of national attitudes and cultural identities to reveal the imperfect, endearing human beings underneath. A promising beginning from a debutante author.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Slow at first..., May 17, 2010
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I think the book was a little slow at first.Honestly I wasn't totally crazy about the lead character Major Pettigrew at first either.I felt like he was implying that everyone around him was acting childish or narrow-minded.Then sometimes you would see him act the very same way,he was looking down on them for their actions and quite guilty of some of the same himself.
Around page 200 it started getting more interesting and I'd say within the last 50-75 pages of the book it got worlds more exciting then it was at the beginning of the novel.
It was also nice to see the characters' personalities improve as you went along with the book.

If you start reading this book and can't get into it at first,give it awhile.It definitely took some time for me to warm up to it but by the time I finished it,I was glad I stuck with it.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Self-conscious charm..., August 28, 2010
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I admit that I feel like a curmudgeon, but I just can't share the wave of enthusiasm for this novel. The story of a stodgy yet unpredictable retired British army major and his growing and unlikely love for shopkeeper Jasmina Ali is the kind that should have appealed to me, but I found myself underwhelmed by the too-predictable plot turns and character developments, and yearning for something new or fresh into which I could sink my teeth. It's the kind of novel where the characters' flaws, for the most part, turn out to be strengths in disguise and the author is obviously on a mission to warm the hearts of the most calculated cynic. It didn't work for me, even after I waited for a few months and then re-read it to see if I had missed something on the first pass. I don't think I did.

In a way, this is a very old-fashioned kind of novel, the kind that had it been written about the England of the 1950s and published at that time could have been edgy and thought-provoking. Instead, it's merely warm and fuzzy, with rather conventional and predictable personalities. Nope, it's not chick lit, but in many ways I'd prefer to read a book that has no pretensions to any greater status than that of potboiler than a novel that often feels as if it's aspiring to greater things, without really arriving there.

That said, this is a feel-good book that could well function as the literary equivalent of comfort food. It's pleasant and not terribly challenging, which is fine. It's just not what I thought it could have been, and the very solid writing didn't compensate for that fact. Not a book that will appear on my holiday/birthday gift list this year.
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Major Pettigrew's Last Stand: A Novel
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand: A Novel by Helen Simonson (Paperback - November 30, 2010)
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