Book Review: The Butterfly Summer by Harriet Evans


The Butterfly Summer

The Butterfly Summer by Harriet Evans
Release Date: 19th May 2016
Publisher: Headline
Buy: Paperback  Kindle


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.



Divorced at twenty five and living back home with her mother and stepfather, Nina Parr’s life is somewhat different from the norm. Nina never knew her father after he went on an expedition to Venezuela when she was six months old and never returned. Always believing her father to have died on his venture, everything Nina knows is turned upside down after a chance encounter at the London Library. An elderly lady claims to know Nina and insists that her father isn’t dead. She also asks Nina about ‘Keepsake’ – who (or what?) is Keepsake?
Feeling utterly confused and rather uneasy, the plot thickens when Nina receives a postcard informing her of a woman called Teddy who appears to look just like her. Nina sets about uncovering the truth about her father, the mystery surrounding Keepsake and who exactly Teddy is, only the things she discovers are more shocking than she ever could have imagined…

I feel as though I should start my review by confessing my undying love for Harriet Evans. I think she is an utterly amazing author who can never put a foot wrong in my eyes. Her books always have that something special for me and her 2015 novel A Place For Us still stands as one of my all-time-favourite-novels.
As soon as I read the synopsis for The Butterfly Summer I knew that it was going to be special, but I will freely admit I had no idea exactly how special. This novel is definitely my favourite Harriet Evans book to date; her writing just seems to get better and better and I am certain that she is one of the best storytellers out there at the moment.
The story is told from two perspectives. You have Nina’s narration which is set in 2011 and then you also get to hear from Teddy (aka Theodora). I don’t want to give too much away about who Teddy is exactly, but don’t worry – you will learn all you need to know about this elusive and intriguing lady as soon as you get settled into the story. You will discover more about her past and her all-important relationship to both Keepsake and to Nina. This also enables you to learn more about Nina’a ancestors and their fascinating history, which is just waiting to be discovered.
When Nina kicks off the story, she is fed-up of her hum-drum life as an office manager. Recently divorced and unhappy with the way her life is panning out, I absolutely loved the fact that this chance encounter with an old lady in the library completely turned Nina’s life on its head. Her life, as she knows it, is set to change forever and that is such a powerful and compelling thought that kind of blows my mind.
I was just as intrigued as Nina to start off with and I was desperate for her to uncover the secrets of her family. Who were these mysterious people? What was their story? It was so cryptic and exciting…You can’t help but be sucked into the mystery and you won’t be able to rest until you have reached the conclusion. It also seems to be the case that the more you discover, the more intrigued you will become. There are also twists by the bucket load here and Harriet Evans is really clever in her writing because you just DON’T see them coming. I love it when a book can properly shock me and The Butterfly Summer certainly did this. As twisted as it sounds; I also love a book that can evoke proper, genuine emotion in me (I’m talking tears…) and boy, oh boy – THERE WERE TEARS. I was a complete mess when I finished this book. It really packs and punch and I am not saying why because I want every reader to feel the same way that I did when they finish this book. Just try and prepare yourself as best you can, but I feel it’s all part of the reading experience and is so much better if you don’t know what’s coming.

I also love the way that Harriet has weaved so much history into the story. You get to visit various periods in time throughout the story and they are intertwined with Nina’s story in the present day so effortlessly. Not only was this a fascinating aspect to the story but the way in which threads from different storylines were connected through the different time periods was done in such a clever way. The whole story was plotted and paced in such a smart and effective way; never giving away too much information and letting the reader reach the conclusion by themselves.

It’s become clear that no one does dark family secrets quite in the way Harriet Evans does. Once again, The Butterfly Summer touches upon the complexity of families and how the actions of generations before your own can still impact just as greatly. As well as the destructiveness of family secrets, you can also find romance, mystery and humour within these pages, whilst Harriet also includes serious subjects such as sexuality, inheritances and war. I’m not sure how you can pack so much into one story but Harriet does so with ease and she really has created something magical within this story.

A beautiful, haunting and hugely memorable book. I urge you to read it and discover its magic for yourself…


A huge thank you to Katie (and Lizzie!) at Headline for the opportunity to review The Butterfly Summer. 


Harriet Evans (c) Johnny Ring (1)I was born in London in 1974 and grew up on the mean streets of Chiswick, where I went to school. I was a completely undistinguished pupil in every way, except I absolutely loved reading and drama. My only achievements from the age of 5 to 18 were, a) winning a doodling competition at primary school (of a witch flying in the sky with balloons in her hand), b) I was head chorister of the church choir, which believe me is not something that wins you cool points with anyone you know apart from your granny.

After school I went to Bristol University and did Classical Studies, which was great, I absolutely loved Bristol and I liked being a student and being with people who didn’t know my shameful head chorister past. I left university and adventurously headed straight back down the motorway to London again.

I wanted to get into magazines, but the only place that would employ me was the Lady magazine, which turned out to be one of those awful first jobs where you think your working life will always be like this: I was wholly unequipped for office life, its politics, its mundanity, its tensions. I did, however, learn how one polishes chandeliers and a lot about interesting road signs in Devon.

A couple of months later I was lucky enough to get into publishing, first at Penguin, where I worked for seven years, progressing from secretary to editorial director, publishing mainly women’s fiction. I left in 2003 and went to another publisher, Headline, where I worked until May 2009.

In the meantime, I started writing in the mornings before work, and in 2003 I sent the first few pages of my book to an agent under a pseudonym. Eventually, to my great joy, this led to a publishing deal with HarperCollins in the UK and Simon and Schuster in the US, who have now published all five of my novels. FIVE books, that’s crazy!

In 2008 I left my job to write full time. I was extremely happy at Headline, working with authors such as Penny Vincenzi, Emily Barr, and Louise Bagshawe, and coming up with initiatives like rejacketing Jane Austen’s novels to appeal to a younger female audience. But it became harder to balance the two jobs, and writing won out, and I know I’m very fortunate to be in a position to write full time, though I missed the office something chronic the first year after I left. It’s awful going to work on a rainy Monday morning, but there’s something great about walking down the road with your iPod in and your coffee in your hand ready to attach another day. When you’re inside all day wearing loose clothing and glasses you don’t feel quite the same…!

I am passionate about commercial fiction, especially commercial women’s fiction, which seems to me to come in for an extraordinary amount of bile and patronising comment, in contrast to the same kind of books by men, which get reviewed, discussed, accepted into the canon with far greater ease. Books about young women’s lives, their jobs, romances, nights out, what they like doing, are seen as frippery and silly; books about young men’s lives covering exactly the same topics are discussed and debated, often accepted as valid and interesting contributions to the current social and media scene.

Last year my boyfriend and I bought a place together in Angel. I am getting used to living in North / East London – it’s strange being able to walk to Brick Lane when I’ve always been no more than 5 minutes from the M4 but I love it round here. I have my own study which is great – previously I was writing in bed or on the sofa, which is not conducive to knuckling down. It is conducive to having a quick nap though… I miss it.

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