Saturday, July 25, 2009

Weekend Wind Down: Holiday TBR piles

As you read this, I’m heading towards deepest Sussex, on the south coast of England (with no internet connection, so apologies in advance that my replies to comments will be a week late!).

My post today is all about something I’m seriously looking forward to – my holiday TBR pile. Because we’re staying in England, I don’t have to worry about baggage limits and can take as many books as I like (otherwise, believe me, I would’ve cracked and bought an e-Reader and a pile of e-books, as well as downloading all the Harlequin 60th anniversary free reads).

I have certain autobuy authors and I save their books for the summer every year (including Judith Lennox’s wonderful multi-generational novels and Lindsey Davis’s Falco series) but sadly not this year: I have to wait until NEXT year for their new paperbacks. Sigh. But I do have the new ones by Susanna Kearsley, Rachel Hore, Katie Fforde, CJ Sansom and Arianna Franklin to look forward to, plus a recommendation of Tess Gerritsen from the wonderful Liz Fielding and one that caught my eye in the bookshop.

And then it got me thinking. What makes you choose your holiday reading? For me, it’s my autobuy list, followed by recommendations from friends who know my tastes (which are quite wide, actually – as long as the writing’s good and the characterisation is strong, I’ll give most genres a try). And then there are the ones that surprise me – when I’ve been caught bookless with a train journey ahead, and pick something from the shelves. Could be the title or the cover that catches my eye – and then I’ll look at the blurb. If I think I’m going to like the story, I look at the first page (to see if I like the author’s voice), and then the middle (on the basis that the saggy middle is a problem for many authors, including me: if I read something in this section that’s tight, it means the pace is likely to be good throughout).

I did a straw poll among the Modern Heat authors to find out how they chose books (and picked up some great recommendations along the way, too – thank you!).

Heidi Rice has a huge list of autobuy authors – and how she discovered them is fascinating. ‘One was a book I judged for the RITAs – I loved it and was thrilled to have found a new author to read. Abby Green recommended Anna Morgan and I loved her fluent style, her really engaging characters and her extremely evocative sex scenes. I picked up two Victoria Alexander books in the RWA conference goodie room last year and was immediately hooked. What I love is if I find a new author I can immediately go and buy up her whole backlist and if they're as prolific as Nora for example you can keep your TBR pile stocked for years.’

Natalie Anderson has a slightly different way of choosing. ‘For romance, I read the ones of people I know, or big names who I know I should read - but otherwise I’m shallow enough to admit I go by cover! I also read a lot outside romance, usually crime. And then it’s by author or by concept, headlined on the blurb.’

And Ally Blake has an even more different way of doing things. ‘I was agreeing with everyone re: recommendations from trustworthy sources such as friends who know what you like to read, auto-buy authors, heavy backlists you can dive into - then I thought back over the past few books I've read and found a pattern. I so often pick books by authors I haven't read because they're coming out as movies! Twilight, Shopaholic, I'm sure I picked up my first Harry Potter that way. I even took a course in American lit at uni because “Age of Innocence” was on the booklist and it was coming out as a movie that year. I think it's the whole “if they think it'll appeal as a film it must be a rollicking story” sensibility that draws me in. But I won't buy any book unless the first couple of lines grab me.’

Kelly Hunter was drawn to ‘a tome of bleak and terrible beauty’. Why did she pick it up? ‘Eerie cover in the bookshop that drew the eye and the million fabulous reviews front and back that told me it was extra special. Oh, yeah, and the Pulitzer . It's one of those books that stays with you long after you've put it down.’

On the whole it seems I’m not alone with a fondness for autobuy authors and recommendations by friends. And my daughter is definitely with Ally: after we saw Inkspell, she asked me to buy her the book and said it was even better than the film.

So my question to you is: how do you choose your holiday reading, and what's on your holiday reading pile this year?

Kate’s thrilled to say that she’s had her first ever Romantic Times Top Pick with Surrender to the Playboy Sheikh (available on shelves this month in the US). You can also get an early copy of the second book in the duo, Playboy Boss, Pregnancy of Passion, from the Harlequin website in the US, and copies are also available on the M&B website in the UK and the Harlequin website in Australia.
You can find out more about these books, and Kate, on her website ( and her blog (


  1. Kate, I'm so impressed you manage to save your favourite auto-buy authors for the summer. I so cannot do deferred gratification, if I've got a brand new Susan Elizabeth Phillips or Jennifer Crusie in my hands my whole life tends to go on the back burner till it's finished.

    Have to admit Nat's Between the Italian Sheets and your Surrender to the Playboy Sheikh had the same effect recently... and no laundry got done in our household for a week. What a shame, eh!

  2. Kate;

    I too save must buy authors for a treat on vacation. At the present time I have the latest by Nora Roberts and Linda Howard awaiting a few days of R&R. Hope you have a great break and return all rested and rejeuvenated!!

  3. I brought home a Tess Gerritsen from the library for the dh and now he's hooked on her -- although I'm not sure The Bone Garden with it's historical medical background would appeal to him.

    I like to try something different when I'm on holiday -- preferably something with a flavour of the place I'm visiting. That's how I got to read the wonderful Guernsey Potato Peel Pie story.

  4. I can't manage to read anything at the moment - too many other things going on - so all the books I buy end up on my TBR pile by default. At present, I tend to go for the M&B historicals automatically when they come out, although I'm going to choose them more carefully after some real turkeys (and no, I'm not naming them)! I read crime novels too, on recommendations by friends, although I love cosy American ones I pick up in Borders, usually choosing on the basis of the protagonist's hobbies. And I always enjoy biographies, which I'll read irrespective of whether or not I've heard of the author (or subject) before.