After a busy couple of work months over the summer which saw my Kindle starting to get dusty, the last few months of train and plane journeys have seen me get well and truly back into my reading groove. So I’m back with my fourth selection of inspiring and interesting travel-related books I’ve discovered recently. This edition features a mixture of travel memoirs and historical dramas, with a definite foodie theme emerging and a list of exotic locations including Sri Lanka, Morocco and Iran. Hopefully you’ll find some travel reading inspiration among them – and please do share some of your favourites too so I can add them to my reading list for next time.
Read more: 30 wanderlust-inspiring books for travellers
The Temporary Bride (Jennifer Klinec)
The Temporary Bride is a fascinating glimpse into a country I didn’t know much about – Iran. Canadian Jennifer leaves her corporate job to set up a cookery school from her London flat, travelling to discover the culinary secrets of different cultures (bizarrely I did one of her cookery classes in London years ago). The book follows her trip to Iran, where she meets Vahid, who takes her on a culinary tour of his city while his mother teaches her about Persian food.
It starts focused on food, but turns into an unlikely love story between Jennifer and Vahid. She’s older, Western and independent, he’s inexperienced and a bit awkward, but an attraction grows between them. The food descriptions will have your mouth watering, but it’s the insight into life in Iran that’s most interesting, from what life is like for women in the country to the struggles of keeping a relationship secret when you could be arrested just for being seen together.
The Saffron Trail (Rosanna Ley)
Another book guaranteed to make you hungry is The Saffron Trail, set in one of my favourite food destinations – Morocco. This time the drama is fictional, and it follows the story of Nell who comes from a family of saffron farmers in Cornwall (I’d always imagined that saffron was grown somewhere exotic but turns out it really does grow in England).
Struggling to get over her grief after her mum dies, Nell heads to Marrakech to take a cookery course to chase her dream of opening her own restaurant. She meets photographer Amy out there and they become good friends as they both try to unravel their family secrets, travelling between Marrakech and Essaouria. The plot hinges on a pretty whopping coincidence, but if you can get over that it’s a great story. There’s lots of detailed description that took me right back to my trip to Morocco, dusty streets, chaotic souks, fragrant spice stalls and all.
How Not to Travel the World (Lauren Juliff)
I’ve read Lauren’s blog, Never Ending Footsteps for years, so was looking forward to her travel memoir, How Not to Travel the World. With the subtitle ‘Adventures of a Disaster-Prone Backpacker’, you know it’s not going to be the usual story of fabulous experiences in exotic locations. Leaving the UK with an anxiety problem, broken heart and no life experience, Lauren headed off on a solo RTW trip, hoping it would transform her into a confident backpacker.
Instead she ended up facing disaster after disaster, from being sat next to a dead body for six hours to getting caught in a tsunami. Having had my own RTW trip misadventures I could definitely empathise. But the story of how she went from panic attacks and constant anxiety to pushing out of her comfort zone and falling in love with both travel and a fellow blogger is inspiring. Travel might not be all glamour but even the messy bits can be life-changing.
Hokkaido Highway Blues (Will Ferguson)
After spending a couple of days in Tokyo on a stopover years ago, I’ve been longing to get back to Japan, and after reading Hokkaido Highway Blues I was ready to book a flight. The book is the real-life story of a Canadian writer’s 1800-mile journey up the west coast of Japan following the cherry blossom front. He hitchhikes all the way – despite practically everyone who stops for him saying that Japanese people don’t stop for hitchhikers.
With each driver’s story you get a different insight into Japanese life. Will lived in the country for years so could speak the language and get deeper into Japanese culture and history than most visitors, and you can tell he has a lot of love for the country without it being too fawning. The book is a mixture of funny and sad, with a big dose of sarcasm and self-depreciating humour but also some interesting observations about loneliness, cultural differences and being an outsider.
The Tea Planter’s Wife (Dinah Jefferies)
Written by an author from near me in Gloucestershire, The Tea Planter’s Wife takes you back in time to 1920s Sri Lanka, or Ceylon as it was then. It’s the story of 19-year-old English woman Gwen who arrives fresh off the boat from England to join her new husband on his tea plantation. It’s a completely alien world for her, from the climate to the way of life with its huge contrast between the lavish colonial lifestyle and the tough conditions for local tea pickers.
There are lots of interesting characters and the descriptions really bring the lush landscape of the tea plantations to life. On the surface it’s a story of love and family secrets, after Gwen gives birth and has to make a terrible decision. But underneath there’s a lot of well-researched detail about what life was like in 1920s Ceylon, a time of major change with a simmering undercurrent of racism and political unrest beneath a veneer of colonial respectability.
The Lavender Keeper (Fiona McIntosh)
My final book is another historical story with plenty of drama, The Lavender Keeper. It’s set in Nazi-occupied France in the 1940s and starts off among the lavender fields of Provence. Luc is a lavender farmer adopted by a Jewish French family after his German parents were killed. When Nazi collaborators drag his family from their farm he becomes a Resistance fighter.
There he meets Lisette, originally from France but now living in England and working as a British spy. She’s on her way to Paris on a mission to seduce a high-ranking German officer. There’s a love-triangle story undercurrent as Lisette ends up torn between Luc and the German Colonel. But it’s also an interesting look at the work of the French Resistance and with some likable German characters it’s a twist on the usual good vs evil story.
So those are my favourite recent travel reads, but what are yours?
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