27 July 2016

Book Review: The Butterfly Summer by Harriet Evans

"What magic is this?

You follow the hidden creek towards a long-forgotten house.

They call it Keepsake, a place full of wonder ... and danger. Locked inside the crumbling elegance of its walls lies the story of the Butterfly Summer, a story you've been waiting all your life to hear.

This house is Nina Parr's birthright. It holds the truth about her family - and a chance to put everything right at last."

Rating: 4/5

You can buy the book now.

I'm a big Harriet Evans fan so was very pleased when I was sent a review copy of her latest book The Butterfly Summer to read and review. The cover was beautiful, depicting an old house in a gorgeous setting, and the blurb of the book made it sound very compelling, and something I wanted to read on and find out about. It's definitely a move away from Harriet Evans' earlier books, so how would I fare reading this, a women's fiction novel combined with historical fiction? Let's find out.

This book is the story of Nina Parr, a young woman with a past she is yet to discover. Nina has an office job, but spends much of her spare time in the National Library, working her way through the archives and reading old books, her first love. But when she bumps into someone who mistakes her for someone else, Nina is intrigued. They seem to think her father, who Nina has believed to be dead for much of her life, to be very much alive. Nina heads home, determined to find out the truth, but what she uncovers is far more shocking... welcome to Keepsake.

I have to confess that I did find the first half of the book to be quite hard going. I kept losing track of what was going on, who was who and found it all a bit confusing. I kept going back and re-reading parts to make sure I had it in my head, and there were a few points I wasn't sure if I was going to keep going. But because my curiosity had been peaked, I decided to carry on and I'm pleased that I did. The latter part of the book was much more enjoyable for me, things started coming together and I had got it sorted in my head exactly what was going on and found it far more enjoyable.

Nina was an interesting character for me. I wasn't entirely sure throughout the book if I liked her or not - there was nothing particularly likeable about her, but again there didn't seem to be much that was dislikeable either. I didn't really have an opinion about her either way which felt a bit strange for me. I was, however, interested in her story, especially when a big event happened in the middle of the book that threw everything on its head and had us heading in a new direction, that being Keepsake, the birthright of Nina that she had no idea existed before then.

The supporting cast of characters were very good, once I had got them all down and worked out who was who of course. One of my favourites was Mrs Poll, Nina's upstairs neighbour who helped Nina's mother raise her when she was younger and a single mother. Nina's mother was very unlikeable, I couldn't believe a mother could behave like that towards her child, and really did sympathise with Nina having to deal with her all the time. The arrival of Keepsake into the book was very interesting, and I enjoyed the book delving into the past history of the Parr family at the home, and how it has fallen into the disrepair and disuse it has in Nina's time. The book does go quite far back in time, to the first owner of Keepsake, and I was worried I would get more confused if more information was being thrown at me, but it was certainly eye-opening and an important part of the story.

Some of the descriptions in the book were a little long-winded for me, I far preferred the scenes with dialogue that kept me wanting more, and to find out what was going on. There were quite a few surprises along the way in the book, and I really didn't see most of them coming - it really was a shock and a great twist for the book overall, and added a whole different element to the story. I did enjoy the split narrative between Nina's time, and the more historical side of the book though, it was fascinating to read. Overall, this was certainly very different from Harriet Evans' other novels that I have read to date, and whilst it hasn't been my favourite of her stories, it was enjoyable to read. It does require a lot of concentration, particularly in the first half of the book so isn't really a book you can flit in and out of, but once I was taken in by the story, I did enjoy finding out more about Nina and her legacy at Keepsake.

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