Travel tales

Reads on the Road 5: My travel book recommendations

Reads on the Road 5: My travel book recommendations

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

Uluru in Australia

Australia’s Red Centre

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.


Greek blues and whites in Santorini

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.

Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides

Stunning landscapes on the Isle of Lewis

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.

Shaldon Beach

The beach at Shaldon

So those are my favourite recent travel reads, but what are yours?

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Reads on the Road 4: My travel book recommendations – On the Luce travel blog

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  • Reply
    February 24, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    I love to read books set in countries/cities that I will be visiting. My two favorite authors are M.C. Beaton who writes the Agatha Raisin mystery novels based in the Cotswold’s and mystery novels by Qiu Xiaolong. I discovered him when I was researching books to read before and after my trip to China. I highly recommend both authors!

    • Reply
      February 24, 2016 at 2:08 pm

      Thanks for the tips – I’d not heard of the Agatha Raisin books and I’m so close to the Cotswolds I’ll have to check them out. Chinese mystery novels sounds good too!

    • Reply
      February 26, 2016 at 7:18 pm

      That is so good to hear! I love reading books that get under the skin of a destination, authors have their own unique take on setting!

  • Reply
    February 24, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    I just read Pompeii by Robert Harris, a great depiction of life in this historic and tragic city the days leading up to the eruption. Having just visited the site, the book brought it all to life.

    • Reply
      February 24, 2016 at 2:07 pm

      I loved Pompeii! I read it not long before going to the ruins so it was still really fresh in my mind when I was there. One to reread sometime though as sure it’s be even more atmospheric having been there.

  • Reply
    Rebecca Hall (@BeyondBex)
    February 24, 2016 at 4:18 pm

    Thank you so, so much for including ‘Girl Gone Greek’ here and it means a lot to me that you enjoyed her. She was written with love and when people lover her back, it makes me go all gooey.
    Thanks for taking the time to share GGG with your readers…it was great to meet you at WTM.

    • Reply
      February 25, 2016 at 6:51 pm

      Hi Rebecca, it was lovely to meet you too and you’re very welcome – I really enjoyed the book, it got me wanting to book another trip out to Greece which is always a good sign!

  • Reply
    February 24, 2016 at 6:44 pm

    Lost track of you recently, Lucy, so it’s nice to catch you in the Reader. My memory’s dreadful these days. I’m sure the second I post this I’ll remember a book I wanted to recommend 🙁 I used to use Goodreads to keep track but it became a chore. Never mind- you’ve given me a couple of good ideas. Happy travels! 🙂

    • Reply
      February 25, 2016 at 6:54 pm

      Hi Jo, hope all is well with you? I’m a bit sporadic with Goodreads too – tend to dip in when I remember. Always grateful for book suggestions though so if anything come to mind do let me know!

  • Reply
    February 24, 2016 at 9:04 pm

    thanks for recommendation!

    • Reply
      February 25, 2016 at 6:58 pm

      You’re welcome, hope you enjoy them!

  • Reply
    Amanda | Chasing My Sunshine
    February 24, 2016 at 11:12 pm

    I think destination reads and travel memoirs make up at LEAST three quarters of my Goodreads to-read list. And your series certainly contributes heavily to that list, with this edition being no different. They’ve all been added and I’m ready to see if my library can help me make a dent in the list. 🙂 I’m particularly excited to read Snowblind!

    • Reply
      February 25, 2016 at 6:59 pm

      I have a ridiculous travel-related to-read list which never seems to get any shorter! Snowblind was great, I’m really looking forward to the rest of the series now.

  • Reply
    February 25, 2016 at 12:17 am

    The Lewis trilogy are great books as are his other books. I got hooked on the Enzo mysteries (based in France) and enjoyed them as much for the description of the country. I tend to go for travel based novels these days. Shall have to look up the Icelandic ones you mention.

    • Reply
      February 25, 2016 at 7:02 pm

      My mother-in-law recently gave me a big pile of Peter May books so I’ve got a few more ready to go! Not sure if the Enzo mysteries are in among them but if not I’ll have to look them up – thanks.

      • Reply
        February 29, 2016 at 9:01 am

        You’ll enjoy the Enzo books Lucy – I’ll have a look and see if I still have them, but I think I gave them away!!

  • Reply
    February 25, 2016 at 7:55 am

    Ooh, The Atlas of Us sounds so good! You’re a bad influence, making me add even more to my book wishlist 😉

    A recent-ish read I can recommend is “Borderland: A Journey Through the History of Ukraine”. It’s a good introduction to Ukrainian history/life in Ukraine, at least for those who know nothing about the country (ashamed to say I am one of those, despite my grandad being Ukrainian!).

    • Reply
      February 25, 2016 at 7:06 pm

      Haha, yes I’m always a book bad influence (though I get all mine from eBay/second-hand shops or for a couple of pounds on the Kindle – which just means I can buy more!). Borderland sounds really interesting too, I don’t know much about the Ukraine at all.

  • Reply
    jane gill
    February 25, 2016 at 2:18 pm

    Lucy, Thank you for including my novel, Dance with Fireflies. It’s always such a thrill when somebody somewhere enjoys a book you have written! X

    • Reply
      February 25, 2016 at 7:07 pm

      Hi Jane, you’re very welcome, it was such a great story – and so nice to read about Shaldon after spending a few lovely days there this time last year!

  • Reply
    March 2, 2016 at 10:20 am

    Hi Cla, thanks for letting me know – I will submit a DMCA takedown notice to Google and suggest you do the same for your post (link here: I also looked up their host ( so am going to fill in their online abuse form for copyright infringlement.

    • Reply
      Cla Panuelos
      March 4, 2016 at 2:52 am

      Thanks for the tip. I am indeed going to do this as he copied another one of my posts.

  • Reply
    March 3, 2016 at 8:49 pm

    Great suggestions and I’m enjoying your recommendation lists! I love reading travel writing and memoirs and have added your suggestions to my to-read list.
    A few of my favorite books are:
    A Fortune-Teller Told Me by Tiziano Terzani – a beautifully written book of his travels through Asia
    Molokai’i by Alan Brennert – set during the times of leprosy in Hawaii, about a young girl sent to live in the quarantine settlement on Molokai’i island
    The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mafouz – an excellent read, story of a Muslim family in Cairo during Britain’s occupation of Egypt during the early 20th century
    Looking forward to your next recommendations!

    • Reply
      March 4, 2016 at 5:15 pm

      Thanks so much for the suggestions – they’re all new to me and sound like some great books, should keep me going for a while!

  • Reply
    Packing my Suitcase
    March 14, 2016 at 10:54 am

    I love your book recommendations Lucy, I have followed some of them and loved it! So I keep coming back for more!
    I would definitely recommend “All the light we cannot see” by Anthony Doerr. I fell in love with this book! 😀

    • Reply
      March 14, 2016 at 11:28 pm

      I actually just downloaded ‘All the light we cannot see’ for my Kindle! Look forward to checking it out – and so glad you like the recommendations.

  • Reply
    Jessi (@2feet1world)
    March 21, 2016 at 9:08 pm

    Oooh I love travel book recommendations – looking forward to checking these out! I second the “All the Light We Cannot See” recommendation – beautiful book 🙂

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