As my annual winter reading binge comes to an end, I’m back with my fifth selection of ‘Reads on the Road’, with some of the most inspiring and interesting travel-related books I’ve discovered recently. This edition is all about fiction, covering a range of locations that stretch from the cold north of Iceland to the dusty Red Centre of Australia. I’ve been inspired by places I’ve visited recently – Greece and Devon – and one I’ll be visiting soon – the Outer Hebrides. Hopefully some of them will provide reading inspiration for you too, and please do share your recent favourites so I can add them to my reading list for next time.
Read more: 30 wanderlust-inspiring books for travellers
My first pick, The Atlas of Us by Tracy Buchanan is a real round-the-world trip of a novel that had me adding a few new destinations to my wishlist. It follows Louise, who heads to Thailand to look for her estranged mother after she disappears in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. Among her things she finds an atlas belonging to travel journalist Claire and uncovers the story of her life and travels while she searches for a connection with her mother. The diverse set of locations stretching across the world are really brought to life – the Thai islands in the aftermath of the tsunami, an animal rescue centre in war-torn Serbia, the snowy north of Finand and a mango farm in the dry heart of Australia. The stark contrast between the main characters, Louise the timid, family-led, stay-at-home mum and Claire who’s filled her life with adventure to escape her tragic past and infertility, also helps make it a real page-tuner.
I discovered Girl Gone Greek when I met its author and fellow blogger Rebecca A Hall when we had neighbouring tables at a speed networking event last year. Rebecca lives in Greece and her love for the country just shines through in the book, as does her knowledge of it as a Rough Guides contributor. It’s the story of Rachel, a rootless 30-something who is trying to work out what to do with her life while fighting pressure from her family to grow up and settle down. On a whim she moves to a remote Greek village to teach English where she becomes part of a new world full of strange traditions and colourful characters, where she finds herself finally starting to feel at home. On the surface it’s a great summer beach read, but I also learnt a lot about the country’s history and culture, and what it means to be Greek.
Scandi crime novels are hugely popular, but Ragnar Jónasson’s Snowblind brings the genre to Iceland‘s Arctic Circle. It’s the first in a series of five books set in Siglufjörður, Iceland’s most northerly town – a place which pretty much defines bleak and remote. Newly posted rookie police officer Ari Thór is the Reykjavik outsider finding his way in a town where everyone knows each other’s business. But when a woman is found bleeding in the snow and well-known author dies seemingly accidentally, Ari starts to uncover the secrets the locals have been hiding. Jónasson worked as a translator on Agatha Christie’s books and there’s a definite Christie feel about the story. It’s a classic whodunnit with an Icelandic twist and a real claustrophobic feel as the suspects get trapped by the snow and the long dark nights of Siglufjörður’s winter.
Another great northerly crime series – albeit a bit more gruesome – is the Lewis Trilogy by Peter May, set in the Outer Hebrides‘ Isle of Lewis. I read first book The Blackhouse last year but have been catching up on the rest of the series before I visit the island in August. They feature Fin Macleod, an Edinburgh detective who returns to his native Isle of Lewis to investigate a murder and ends up confronting his childhood demons. The second book, The Lewis Man, includes a body found in a peat bog and a prime suspect suffering from Alzheimer’s. And the trilogy ends with The Chessmen, where the body of a musician is found in an airplane submerged in a lake. All the books are full of evocative descriptions of the landscape and lifestyle of the Outer Hebrides and have made me even more excited to see it for myself.
I came across Dance with Fireflies by Jane Gill after visiting the seaside town of Shaldon in Devon last year as part of the book is set there. It’s a Second World War story with a twist, seen though the eyes of Indian-born Phyllis who leaves Raj-era India behind to sail to England with her soldier husband and young child. She’s dreamed of England for years but it’s not quite what she imagined. Going from a close-knit family and a luxurious lifestyle of servants to racism and the coldness of both the weather and her new in-laws is a real culture shock as her high-spirited, modern ways are looked down on by the staid Brits. You can really feel her homesickness as she struggles to find her place in wartime England and in her husband’s family. The book is based on the true story of the author’s grandmother and it’s one that leaves you wanting to know what happened next, so I was glad to hear that a sequel is in the works.
My final book is another wartime story, this time set in 1940s Spain in the aftermath of the Civil War – Winter in Madrid by CJ Sansom. It’s a part of history I knew almost nothing about but the book was packed with historical detail as well as being part spy story, part love story. It features three ex-public schoolboys whose lives had taken completely different turns but who are brought back together in Madrid. There’s Harry the injured soldier turned reluctant spy, Sandy the shady businessman, and Bernie the communist fighter who disappeared years before. It’s quite a long read and there’s a lot to get your teeth into, but it strikes the right balance between getting the historical details across and not totally confusing you, and is a real insight into the hardships people faced in Spain during the 1930s and 40s.
So those are my favourite recent travel reads, but what are yours?
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