Books to Read Before you Visit Crete

Books everyone should be reading before you visit Crete in Greece.

When you think of Greece what Island first comes to mind? For me, I always imagine myself sipping a cocktail in a tavern on the beach watching the sun set on the island of Crete. Perhaps it is because Crete boasts of a moderately warm climate all year around, or maybe it is because there have been several amazing books written specifically about the Island.

If you are looking for inspiration for your next getaway as well as you next big read, then look no further. We may not be able to simply pack our bags and head for the airport, but that doesn’t stop us travelling to the largest of the Greek Islands from the comfort of our own home. Whether you are looking for a summer romance, a historical novel or a factual account of the past, authors have been writing about this wonderful island for a very long time.

14 Books Set on the Greek Island of Crete

#1 Island of Secrets by Patricia Wilson

All her life, London-born Angie has been intrigued by her mother’s secret past. Now, planning her own wedding she feels she must visit the remote Cretan village her mother grew up in, despite her objections. Unbeknownst to Angie her elderly grandmother, Maria, is dying. She wants to unburden herself of the terrible story that she will otherwise take to the grave.

It’s the story of the time of the German occupation of Crete during the Second World War, of horror, of courage and of the lengths to which a mother will go to protect her children and of how you learn to go on in the aftermath of tragedy. And it’s the story of bitter secrets that broke the family apart, and of three enchanting women who come together to heal wounds that have damaged two generations.

#2 The Girl Under the Olive Tree by Leah Fleming

May 1941 and the island of Crete is invaded by paratroopers from the air. 60 years later, Lois West and her young son, Alex, invite feisty Great Aunt Pen to a special 85th birthday celebration on Crete, knowing she hasn’t been back since the war. When word spreads of her visit, and old friends come to greet her, Lois and Alex are caught up in her pilgrimage and the journey which leads her to a reunion with the friend she thought she had lost – and the truth behind a secret buried in the past.

#3 The Honey Farm on the Hill by Jo Thomas

We never forget the one who got away.

Eighteen years ago Nell fell in love in the mountains of Crete and life changed forever. Nell’s daughter, Demi, has never met her dad. Nell never saw him again.

When she gets the chance to return to the hilltop town of Vounoplagia, where everything began, Nell can’t resist the urge to go back and find him.

Working on a honey farm perched high up in the hills, there’s plenty to keep her busy. And she will quickly realise the town harbours just as many secrets as she does.

But if Nell’s favourite romantic films are right, there’s a happy ending in store for each of us. All she has to do is seek out the magic of the mountains

#4 Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis

Set before the start of the First World War, this moving fable sees a young English writer set out to Crete to claim a small inheritance. But when he arrives, he meets Alexis Zorba, a middle-aged Greek man with a zest for life. Zorba has had a family and many lovers, has fought in the Balkan wars, has lived and loved – he is a simple but deep man who lives every moment fully and without shame. As their friendship develops, the Englishman is gradually won over, transformed and inspired.

#5 The Dark Labyrinth by Lawrence Durrell

The story is set on Crete just after the War and focuses on an odd assortment of English travellers as they come ashore from a cruise ship to explore the island and in particular to examine a dangerous local labyrinth. They include an extrovert painter, a spiritualist, and a Protestant spinster with a fox terrier, an antiquarian peer and minor poet, a soldier with guilty memories of the Cretan resistance, a pretty convalescent and an eccentric married couple.

#6 The House of Dust and Dreams by Brenda Reid

A young British diplomat and his wife have been posted to Athens. Hugh loves the life there but his spirited and unconventional wife, Evadne, finds it hard to fit in with the whirl of endless parties and socialising.

When Hugh is sent to Crete to sort out a problem, they stay in a rundown house owned by his family. His wife falls in love with the place and the people, and stays on when Hugh returns to his duties. As she tries to rebuild the ramshackle home, Evadne – known as Heavenly by the locals – makes firm friends with Anthi, a young woman from the village and Christo, the handsome and charismatic young builder.

But the dark clouds of war are gathering and the island will become a crucible of violence and bloodshed in the days to come. For Heavenly, her friends and family, it will be the greatest test they have ever known.

#7 Wish You Were Here by Mike Gayle

Their holiday brochure said 18-30 but they’ve just turned 35. After ten years together Charlie Mansell has been dumped by his live-in girlfriend, Sarah. All he wants to do is wallow in misery, but mates Andy and Tom have a better idea: a week of sun, sea and souvlaki in Malia, party capital of the Greek islands. But Charlie and his mates aren’t eighteen any more. Or even under thirty. And it shows. It isn’t the cheap beer, the late nights or even the fast-food that’s the problem – its girls and life and most of all each other.

#8 Children of War by Ahmet Yorulmaz

Hassanakis is a young Muslim boy of Turkish descent growing up on Crete during WWI.

Fifteen generations of his family have lived on the island and until now he has never had any reason not to think he is a Cretan. But with the Great Powers tussling over the collapsing Ottoman Empire and the island’s Christians in rebellion, an outbreak of ethnic violence forces his family to flee to the Cretan City of Chania. He begins to lay down roots and his snappy dress earns him the nickname of Hassan ‘the mirror’. As WWI draws to a close and the Turkish War of Independence rages, he begins a heady romance with the elegant Hüsniye. There are rumours that the Cretan Muslims will be sent to Turkey but Hassanakis can’t believe he will be sent to a country whose language he barely knows and where he knows no-one.

This powerful novel drawn from the diary of a refugee family evokes the beauty, complexity and trauma of Crete’s past and weaves it into a moving tale of an ordinary man living through extraordinary times.

#9 The Crocus Hour by Charlotte Randall

In a village cafe in Crete, 1981, a young backpacker is befriended by a troubled New Zealander, Henry Davis. He reveals that his daughter Sally vanished from the island two years earlier and he has come to Crete to explore the baffling circumstances of her disappearance.

For Davis there are painful unanswered questions. What happened to Sally? Who was to blame for her mysterious disappearance? Was it an accident? Davis soon has to confront the painful possibility that Sally herself may have planned a deliberate flight from a too-protective father. And who was the real Sally?

#10 I’ll Met by Moonlight by W. Stanley Moss

This is the true story of one of the most hazardous missions of the Second World War. W. Stanley Moss is a young British officer who, along with Major Patrick Leigh Fermor, sets out in Nazi-occupied Crete to kidnap General Kreipe, Commander of the Sevastopool Division, and narrowly escaping the German manhunt.

#11 Lies That Bind Us by Andrew Hart

Jan needs this. She’s flying to Crete to reunite with friends she met there five years ago and relive an idyllic vacation. Basking in the warmth of the sun, the azure sea, and the aura of antiquity, she can once again pretend—for a little while—that she belongs. Her ex-boyfriend Marcus will be among them, but even he doesn’t know the secrets she keeps hidden behind a veil of lies. None of them really know her, and that’s only part of the problem.

Then again, how well does she know them?

When Jan awakens in utter darkness, chained to a wall, a manacle around her wrist, her echoing screams only give her a sense of how small her cell is. As she desperately tries to reconstruct what happened and determine who is holding her prisoner, dread covers despair like a hand clamped over her mouth. Like the Minotaur in the labyrinth in Greek mythology, her captor will be coming back for her, and all the lies will catch up to her.

#12 The Cretan Runner by George Psychoundakis

George Psychoundakis was a young shepherd boy who knew the island of Crete intimately when the Nazis invaded by air in 1941. He immediately joined the resistance and took on the crucial job of war-time runner.

It was not only the toughest but the most dangerous job of all. It involved immense journeys carrying vital messages, smuggling arms and explosives and guiding Allied soldiers, agents and commandos through heavily garrisoned territory. And George did not escape capture and torture on his many forays.

This brilliant account of George’s activities across mountainous terrain, come blazing summer or freezing winter, is a gripping story of bravery against impossible odds.

#13 The Golden Step by Christopher Somerville

For Somerville this was a kind of pilgrimage, a journey unlike any he had undertaken in 20 years of travel-writing. It was an expedition where he traded the usual comforts and certainties for a real physical and mental challenge, with no mobile phone or other technological aids. The only plan for his journey was to begin in the East at Easter and finish at Whitsun in the extreme West, at the Monastery of the Golden Step, whose gold step, legend says, can only be seen by those who have purged themselves into purity. During his 300-mile walk, he tackled four mountain ranges, high slopes and the numerous gorges of the West. Speaking only basic Greek and trying to follow a poorly way-marked path, he had to rely on his own instincts when climbing mountain passes and crossing high plateaux, farming and shepherding country, where villages are scarce and each night’s accommodation was uncertain. He saw a Crete few ever encounter.

#14 The Island by Victoria Hislop

On the brink of a life-changing decision, Alexis Fielding longs to find out about her mother’s past. But Sofia has never spoken of it. All she admits to is growing up in a small Cretan village before moving to London. When Alexis decides to visit Crete, however, Sofia gives her daughter a letter to take to an old friend, and promises that through her she will learn more.

Arriving in Plaka, Alexis is astonished to see that it lays a stone’s throw from the tiny, deserted island of Spinalonga, Greece’s former leper colony. Then she finds Fotini, and at last hears the story that Sofia has buried all her life: the tale of her great-grandmother Eleni and her daughters and a family rent by tragedy, war and passion. She discovers how intimately she is connected with the island, and how secrecy holds them all in its powerful grip.

Have you read a book set in Crete that you think others will enjoy? If so, we would love for you to share these titles with us.

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Books everyone should be reading before they visit Crete in Greece via @tbookjunkie

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