As a former fiction editor, author Harriet Evans knows what makes for a compelling story. After a more than a decade of publishing women's fiction at Penguin UK and Headline, Evans left the industry to become a full-time writer. She has now published four books, the most recent of which is I Remember You.
In a post exclusive to The Book Case, Evans shares her all-time favorite vacation reads.
My Favourite Summer Reads
Guest post by Harriet Evans
Perhaps you’re like me and reserve a lot of your reading for the summer holidays, when you can freely indulge in a pageturner, get sucked into it and devour it in a way you can’t the rest of the year. I was a very moody teenager who didn’t much like summer holidays with my parents and sister but was too pathetic to go off and do something exciting by myself, either. (How nice she sounds, I hear you cry). So all summer long I’d read instead (or write terrible poems, but don’t worry, I’m not going to inflict any of them on you), and that has stayed with me ever since. I’m quite particular about a summer read. I want something not too heavy, but it can’t be totally brainless, either. Here are a few books and authors I’ve enjoyed on my summer holidays over the years, which I remember as part of the holiday as much as the ouzo in Crete, or the spaghetti in Florence…
First, The Help, which doesn’t need any help from me but which you should read anyway. I adored Gone with the Wind as a teenager, and this is that story told from the other side, and just as gripping.
This summer I also read Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld, which I can’t recommend highly enough. The quote on the front says "The OC meets The Secret History," which about sums it up. She is such a wonderful writer; I can’t wait to see what she does next.
The Regency romances of Georgette Heyer, which should be read by anyone who has any pretensions to write women’s fiction. Sharp, structured, gripping, swooningly romantic, reliable but never predictable—she wrote a book a year for years and they’re pretty much all as good as each other—I LOVE Georgette Heyer. If you haven’t read her, I am so jealous of the treat you have in store. Start with Regency Buck or Venetia. Enjoy!
I spent a very happy holiday in Greece once reading The Three Musketeers, which is not normally a book you’d see in summer reading promotions, I know. But if you haven’t read it, I heartily recommend it. It’s completely unputdownable, really good fun, with more swashbuckling than an Errol Flynn DVD boxset.
Peyton Place by Grace Metalious—hot, sweaty, grimy and oh so naughty. Grr.
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. This is my favourite book of all time. (I don’t say this lightly). Written when the author her husband were in California during WWII and desperately missing England, it is a nostalgic look at first love and I absolutely adore it. I could read it again and again.
My latest book is set in Italy, and last summer after I’d finished it I read Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Arnim. I’m glad I didn’t before, because it’s the sort of book you wish you’d written. It’s about a group of women who rent a castle in Italy in . . . yes, you guessed it . . . April.
Isn’t part of the pleasure of a good summer read the intensity of the experience? If you haven’t read Philippa Gregory before, then you really should. The Other Boylen Girl is her best-known book, and rightly so, but my favourite is Wideacre. It’s what I call an eczema book—you just want to scratch and scratch at it till it’s done. I have a copy of Wideacre that my two best friends and I read in Spain one summer and it is still full of sand and smells, even now, 10 years on, of suntan lotion.
I love biographies and books of letters. Clare Tomalin’s brilliant biography of Jane Austen, Jane Austen, is a must for anyone with even a vague interest in the woman herself. Followed, of course, by a reread of Pride and Prejudice.
I am packing to come to New York in the midst of writing this list of recommendations. What am I packing? The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford. I’ve read it about 10 times, but it always delivers. Might read a few pages now before I finish…
Have a great summer.
Harriet Evans is the internationally bestselling author of I Remember You and three previous novels, Going Home, A Hopeless Romantic and The Love of Her Life. Find out more about Harriet at harriet-evans.com. Do you have a favorite summer reading selection? Tell us in the comments!