At Summer’s End

Written by Courtney Ellis
Review by Dorothy Schwab

Alberta Preston, an unknown aspiring artist in 1922 England, enters a competition as “Bertie,” hoping the assumption would be that she is a “he.” Her painting titled Something for the Pain wins and is featured in the Times. Soon Alberta receives a letter from the Earl of Wakeford, addressed to Mr. Preston, offering to commission “him” for several paintings of the estate in Wiltshire, England, known as Castle Braemore. Against her parents’ wishes, Bertie accepts the commission to spend the summer at the castle, and the experience changes her life forever.

This debut novel by Courtney Ellis is a superb character study of women and their aspirations in the early 20th century and the long-term effects of World War I on soldiers, nurses, and those left behind, along with the economic aftermath that families dealt with. Upon his father’s death, 12-year-old Julian becomes the Earl of Wakeford and his oldest sister, Gwen, takes over the responsibilities of her siblings. The author’s use of flashbacks develops compassion and empathy as alternating chapters take a glimpse into the family dynamics, early years, and the personalities of each of the Wakeford children. Bertie’s personal feelings are explored as she comes to grips with her aspirations and feelings of unworthiness within her own family.

Readers will get a true sense of Bertie’s inspiration and obsession with painting as Courtney Ellis combines wonderful descriptions of the castle and grounds with artistic details of composition and techniques. As the family faces reality, the Earl of Wakeford and his siblings attempt to heal their wounds of war with love and loyalty. Readers will be filled with suspense, sometimes even anxiousness, but also cheer for Bertie’s boldness, her sense of accomplishment, and the decision she makes at summer’s end.