After years of faithful service, my trusty Kindle finally bit the dust last month (from overwork undoubtedly). I’ve already ordered a replacement, but it’s been a good excuse to read some ‘real’ books for a while, and I’ve uncovered some gems lurking on my ‘to read’ shelves. This sixth selection of Reads on the Road features some of my favourite recent travel-related books. It mixes fiction and travel memoirs, with inspiration for trips to Greece, France, Amsterdam and Morocco, plus a few destinations for train travel lovers to add to their wishlist. Hopefully you’ll find some travel reading ideas among them – and please share your recent favourites too.
Read more: 30 wanderlust-inspiring books for travellers
The Miniaturist (Jessie Burton)
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton is set in 1680s Amsterdam – the city’s Golden Age. It’s the story of 18-year-old country girl Nella who moves to the city after an arranged marriage to a rich older merchant. She finds herself in a strange, unwelcoming house with an uninterested new husband and his domineering sister. As a wedding present she’s given a miniature replica of their house, and finds a miniaturist to build model furniture and fittings to go inside.
Beautifully crafted tiny pieces start arriving, but after a while the models aren’t what she’d ordered. Instead the mysterious miniaturist uses them to uncover the household’s secrets and lies. The book twists and turns with lots of well-researched detail. And there’s an underlying dark feel bringing the bitter, damp winters and hardships of 17th-century Amsterdam to life.
All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)
Another historical novel I couldn’t put down was All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This WWII story cleverly weaves two contrasting but connected lives together – those of blind French girl Marie-Laure and German orphan Werner. Marie-Laure and her museum curator father have to leave Paris so head to Saint-Malo to stay with her great-uncle – taking a precious jewel from the museum to protect it from the Nazis. And Werner becomes a radio operator after the Nazis spot his science skills but struggles with his conscience.
There are three different threads to the story – their childhood stories, what happens during the war and when they finally meet. It’s beautifully written with characters you really grow to care about. And the descriptions of Saint-Malo with its tall, narrow stone houses, ancient city walls and crashing seas have given it a spot on my France travel wishlist.
An Octopus in my Ouzo (Jennifer Barclay)
There’s a definite Greek theme to this edition of Reads on the Road, with two very different books both set in the county. First up is An Octopus in my Ouzo. This is a memoir by writer Jennifer Barclay, who leaves the UK to move to the tiny Greek island of Tilos where she immerses herself in local life. The descriptions of the island’s beautiful beaches, sunset swims and local festivals made me want to start looking at flights to Greece.
But she’s honest about the downsides too and shares the bad aspects of life in paradise, from the dangers of having an accident when the nearest hospital is on another island, dealing with cold wet winters when you don’t have any heating, to her struggles with infertility. Being on such a small island has its challenges, but there are a lot of lessons about living life simply and with the seasons that city dwellers like me could learn from.
The Thread (Victoria Hislop)
My second Greek choice is fiction, The Thread by Victoria Hislop. The book tells the story of two families, centring on rich fabric merchants son Dimitri and refugee seamstress Katerina. But the star of the story is really the city of Thessaloniki. It starts off in 1917 when the city was a multicultural mix of Jews, Christians and Muslims. But a huge fire destroyed two-thirds of the city and over the years that came it faced civil war, economic collapse and Nazi occupation.
The old ways of life were torn apart and neighbours were separated as first the Jews then the Muslims were removed from the city. It’s a fascinating insight into the upheavals that Greece has faced over the years. There’s plenty of historical detail but the story also carries you through so it doesn’t feel to heavy going and would make a good beach read.
Ticket to Ride (Tom Chesshyre)
This year’s travels haven’t included much of my beloved train travel, so I’ve been getting my fix with a couple of rail-related reads instead. Ticket to Ride by Tom Chesshyre takes you around the world through 49 of the most interesting and unusual train journeys. There are famous train trips like the Indian Pacific across Australia or the Trans-Siberian through Russia, as well as lesser-known journeys through places like Iran and North Korea.
The trains vary from China’s ultra-modern high-speed lines to rickety Indian mountain railways, but the enthusiasm for life on the rails is universal. The stories of the people he meets along the way are what really make the book. I might have mostly read it on the train to London, but I felt myself being transported everywhere from the Scottish Highlands to Sri Lanka.
Marrakech Express (Peter Millar)
My final book is another rail tale, this time focusing on Morocco. Marrakech Express by Peter Millar is the story of his trip around Morocco, inspired by the 1969 Crosby, Stills and Nash song of the same name. After starting in Marrakech he heads out to explore the country. And although he gets around by train, the book is more about the destinations than the journeys.
It’s a great introduction to Morocco’s chaotic mix of old and new, with a mix of destinations including Volubilis’ Roman ruins, wineries in Meknes, giant mosques in Casablanca and the souks of Fez. Best read along with a pot of fresh mint tea for the full Moroccan experience, the descriptions took me right back to the madness of Marrakech’s medina.
So those are my favourite recent travel reads, but what are yours?
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