It’s the holiday season.

Time to……..relax.

This is the moment I have waited for over the last 3 years – a long overdue and very welcome return to one of our ‘Happy Places’ – the idyllic Cycladic Island of Santorini.

I have arrived in paradise – blue skies, crystal clear sea and our very own plunge pool.  Not a cloud in sight.  White buildings, olive trees and the iconic blue domes of Santorini’s many churches.

I haven’t come alone – Mr Booka is with me, but more importantly I have my stack of beach reads to dive into.  This is my opportunity to escape from the day to day, turn the internal monologue to silent and ditch the constant distraction of ‘to do’ lists. Digital detox here I come.

We are staying in the beach resort of Kamari on the Eastern side of the island, edged with black volcanic beaches and surrounded by majestic mountains.

For the first couple of days, we do nothing – bask on our loungers, read our books, drink cocktails and debate which restaurant to eat in that night – it’s a hard life.

Then we (or should I say ‘I’ ) start to get a little twitchy.  Time for some sight-seeing.

One of the crazy things we love to do when we are in Santorini is to walk up the zigzag path to Ancient Thira – which used to be the Island’s capital.  I say crazy because it is a hot, steep slog up and around 13 bends to the top, but we do it every time we visit.  This time we also decide to climb up to the ruins of Ancient Thira itself.  It’s blisteringly hot, there is very little shade but we are soldiering on –  determined to immerse ourselves in the history and atmosphere of these ancient remains.  The views are stunning and we are higher than the planes carrying holidaymakers to and from Kamari airport.

We decide to walk down the other side into the neighbouring resort of Perissa – lulled by the fact that we can have a leisurely lunch and catch the water taxi back.

Two ice cold beers, a plate of tzatziki, tomato fritters and Greek salad later we make our way to the beach to await the taxi.  Half an hour goes by – no boat appears, but we are on Greek time.  Half an hour later, the queue for the taxi has grown and we are all guarding our positions ready to board – no boat appears.  We scan the horizon, cool our feet in the water, apply more sunscreen and wait.  Eventually, someone appears to tell us the water taxi is not running as the wind and waves make it too dangerous.

They suggest a taxi and we haggle over price – desperate to escape the heat and return to the coolness of the pool and air conditioning of our hotel.

Undeterred, the next day we decide to embark on another adventure and take the local bus to Fira – the capital of Santorini.  It’s always an experience – cheap as chips and a great way to see the island and leave the navigation to someone else.  The buses are crowded but after years of visiting we are pros and have our change ready and our elbows out.  No standing politely and waiting your turn here (unless you want to be left behind).

Once we get to Fira we decide to carry on to Oia at the top of the island – famed for it’s Instagram-able sunsets and more importantly for us, the location of one of our favourite haunts ‘Atlantis Books’ – it’s a busman’s holiday in more ways than one.

Situated off a narrow, busy street, you have to navigate steep steps down to the bookshop.  It is tiny and would fit into Booka about ten times.  The curation is excellent – due in part to the history, the tourists and the space available – Greek history, Greek Myths in various languages, contemporary classics, quirky reads.  The bookshop is staffed by volunteers who live on site and work to earn their stay.  Amy Liptrott author of The Outrun and more recently The Instant – spent a Summer here.  Last time we visited we got into conversation with a Belgium Bookseller who by some strange and unlikely coincidence had been to Oswestry.  As they say – ‘It’s a small world’



We stop and stare – not quite ready to believe that this little gem of a bookshop is closed AND abandoned.  Our afternoon of dwelling and browsing the book-shelves is not to be.

So – how to pass the time?

We decide to do the walk we have talked about but never actually found time to do – 10K from Oia to Fira.  It’s about 11 am.  I am not appropriately dressed, so we stop to buy a T-shirt and stock up on water before we set off.  The ground is very loose – which is fine for me, but Tim has a dodgy hip (bone on bone as he constantly reminds me) and at times it’s tough going, although he still manages to get round a golf course – just saying!

We meet lots of other walkers but notice that most are walking the other way from Thira to Oia.  The views of the Caldera are dramatic and breathtaking and we start off with a bounce in our step.  There are key viewing points along route and we stop half-way for a cold drink.

Hot, dusty and sweaty we reach Fira and find a small, shady café to cool down and refuel with an obligatory beer and a toasted sandwich – simple pleasures.

The next day, Tim’s hip is sore, so my planned walk from Ancient Thira over the mountains to the village of Pyrgos is put on hold and will have to wait until our next visit.

The remaining couple of days we spend at the beach, swimming in the sea and idling over lunch.  We recline onto our loungers and disappear into the world of books, drifting from Booka to Paradise.

I love the freedom of choosing books for a holiday, when I have time to savour, to crack their spines and bend their pages – guilt free with no time-table.

I stay up past my bed-time, read late into the morning, become completely anti-social, ignore Tim and inhabit other worlds, sustained by words, sentences, characters and plot.

Complete bliss. Here’s what I read

Women of Troy by Pat Barker – the follow on from Silence of the Girls and a captivating retelling of Greek Myth through a female lense.  It reveals, with great empathy and insight, the plight of women in the aftermath of war – the changes in their fortunes, their day-to-day existence and treatment at the hands of the Greek victors of the Trojan War.  Despite the trauma, the threats and the bleakness of their future, the women come together to help each other survive and to transcend the brutality of their existence.  It is a quietly powerful novel and an atmospheric one particularly when read against a backdrop of black sand beaches, brilliantly white buildings and cloudless skies.

I washed it down with plates of Tzatziki, hummus, pitta bread and rose with ice.

I can wholeheartedly recommend it and you don’t have to travel to Santorini, just sit under a parasol in your garden and let the book transport you.

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

I love a short book but the intensity of this took me by surprise.  It is incredibly nuanced and lyrical.  It tenderly depicts the beginnings of a new relationship against a backdrop of everyday racism.  Both passionate and emotionally challenging, it highlights the fragile mindset of a young man navigating the cruelty and indifference of our society.  The characters are incredibly drawn and the intensity of the writing stays with you long after the final page.

This book has received high praise and won numerous awards.  I can completely see why.

It’s a book to take your time with, stroll to a café, order an iced coffee and let the powerful prose take hold.

A Tidy Ending by Joanna Cannon

A cleverly plotted and character led book by an author I love.  Jo Cannon’s skill is writing about characters who don’t often get centre stage – those on the edges of society, often overlooked and written off.  If you are already fans of Joanna Cannon’s ‘Trouble with Goats and Sheep’ and ‘Three Things About Elsie’ – you will love this.  Domestic noir at it’s very best with an unforgettable central character and a story line that will wrong-foot you and keep you guessing until the last page.

Turn off the phone, close the door and take a trip to down Linda’s street.  A place that feels familiar, ordinary, parochial, but lift the net curtains to discover that all is not as it seems and that sometimes the answers are hiding in plain sight. Darkly humorous and deliciously sinister.

Serve it with an ice-cold white (possibly a Jaffa cake or two) and relish its subversive nature.

Paradise means different things to different people – but making the time and having the means to step away from the everyday and spend time with books is a huge privilege and one I look forward to and delight in.

Where is your paradise this Summer and which books are you travelling with?

  • Carrie