Travel tales

Reads on the Road 7: My travel book recommendations

Travel book recommendations – the best inspiring and interesting travel-related reads, taking you from wild Scottish islands to wintery Prague.

Winter nights are the perfect time to tackle my huge ‘to read’ backlog. So after working my way through most of the pile, I’m back with the seventh edition of Reads on the Road, featuring my favourite recent travel-inspired books. This batch are a mix of true-life stories and fiction, with a couple that combine the two. They’ll transport you from the far north of Scotland to the island of Tahiti, and from grand Russian palaces to a lifeboat in the South Atlantic. Hopefully you’ll find some travel reading ideas among them – please let me know your recent favourites too.

Read more: 30 wanderlust-inspiring books for travellers

Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides

Scottish island scenery

The Outrun (Amy Liptrott)

I loved my first taste of the Scottish islands last year, so was drawn to the Orkney setting of The Outrun by Amy Liptrott. It’s the true story of a local girl who left the islands behind for London. She started partying and her drinking spiralled out of control, losing her boyfriend and numerous flats and jobs along the way. After a stint in rehab she heads back to Orkney to recover, and to work through her past mistakes while trying to stay sober.

A lot of the book focuses on the contrast between her old life and her new one, where she has to build a new lifestyle and new interests. She spends a stint working for the RSPCA, monitoring a rare bird called the corncrake that sparks a love of nature. And there are forays into sea swimming and astronomy. It’s also an insight into island life, especially in the remote islands like Papa Westray where she spent half a year.

The Year of Living Danishly (Helen Russell)

Another real-life story, The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell tells of how a Marie Claire writer and her husband swapped their London life for a year in rural Jutland. While she’s there she decides to investigate what makes Denmark one of the world’s happiest countries and interviews a series of experts to get their insights. There are a few culture shocks and adjustments along the way, but she discovers a lot of benefits to Danish life – Danes have pretty much nailed work/life balance, community spirit, social welfare, and not to mention pastries.

Nowhere’s perfect though, and the descriptions of long, dark, cold, winters, high taxes and some of the social problems that are creeping in stopped me planning my emigration. But there are definitely some lessons from living Danishly that I’ll try to adopt back home.

Nyhavn in Copenhagen, Denmark

Beautiful Copenhagen

The Signature of All Things (Elizabeth Gilbert)

Elizabeth Gilbert is best known for Eat, Pray, Love, but she’s written a real range of books, including The Signature of All Things. It’s a real epic of a story which spans a generation, 600 pages, and multiple locations from Tahiti to Amsterdam. It starts with Henry Whittaker, a poor Englishman who becomes a botanist, makes a fortune in South America and moves to Philadelphia where he builds a grand house called White Acre.

But the story really focuses on his daughter Alma, who was born in 1800 and brought up with a sharp mind and a love of science. Her money and eccentric upbringing mean that she can build a life of her own choosing – unlike most women in that era. She dedicates her life and travels to the study of mosses, but finds friendships and love a lot harder to master. It’s a long read but an intriguing story which features a very different type of heroine.

The Secret Wife (Gill Paul)

The Secret Wife by Gill Paul cleverly takes the famous historical story of the Russian royal family, the Romanovs, and adds a fictional spin to what might have been. In 1915, Grand Duchess Tatiana falls in love with calvary officer when she’s working as a nurse, and he does everything he can to save her when revolutionaries turn on her family.

In modern-day America, Kitty escapes her marital problems by renovating an old cabin in the Adirondacks that belonged to a great-grandfather she never knew about. She starts looking into his mysterious past and uncovers an amazing story. It’s very well-researched with a lot of detail about the Romanovs, life in Russia 100 years ago and why the people turned on the royals when they were living in luxury but ordinary people were struggling in poverty.

St Petersburg, Russia

St Petersburg – photo credit fsadykov on Flickr

How To Be Brave (Louise Beech)

How To Be Brave by Louise Beech manages to bring together two very different stories beautifully. Nine-year-old Rose is diagnosed with diabetes and she and her mother struggle to get used to the injections and the way it’s changed her life. So to distract her, her mother tells the story of her great-grandfather, Colin, which she’s uncovered from his old journals.

He was a sailor who was left stranded in a lifeboat in the South Atlantic in 1943 when the boat he was working on was hit by a torpedo. It’s part fact, part fiction (Colin is the author’s real grandfather) and weaves the two stories together brilliantly as Rose learns about bravery and resilience. You really feel you’ve been transported to that lifeboat with the men as they fight off boredom, hunger, thirst and sharks, all the time trying not to lose hope that they’ll be rescued.

A Year and a Day (Isabelle Broom)

My final book is set in snowy Prague around Christmas, and is a perfect winter read by the fire with a glass of mulled wine. A Year and a Day by Isabelle Broom tells the story of three women who head to Prague for a wintery holiday – one with her male best friend, one with the man she recently left her husband for, and one waiting for her boyfriend. They’re all staying at the same hotel and their stories get intertwined as they deal with their problems.

On the surface it sounds like standard chick-lit but it’s well-written with stories that draw you in and the descriptions of Prague bring it to life so vividly. I’ve only ever visited in the summer when it was hot and packed and wasn’t the biggest fan, but the descriptions of walking across the Charles Bridge in the snow sound magical – who knows, maybe another visit’s on the cards!

The Charles Bridge across the Vltava River in Pargue, Czech Republic

Prague’s Charles Bridge at sunset

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

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Travel book recommendations – the best inspiring and interesting travel-related reads, taking you from wild Scottish islands to wintery Prague.

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  • Reply
    Katie MacLeod
    March 1, 2017 at 1:36 pm

    The Outrun was one of my favourite books of last year, such a beautiful written book. I’ve been addicted to the Shetland series lately – more good books set on islands! I finally finished the 7th in the series and I’m now eagerly awaiting the 8th.

    • Reply
      March 2, 2017 at 11:29 am

      I really liked the Shetland TV series so will have to check the books out!

  • Reply
    A Pair of Passports (@apairofpassport)
    March 7, 2017 at 11:03 am

    All of these sound incredible! I’ve added them all to my “to-read” list. Thanks for the recommendations!

    • Reply
      March 8, 2017 at 3:16 pm

      You’re very welcome, hope you enjoy them!

  • Reply
    Jaillan Yehia
    March 7, 2017 at 6:29 pm

    This is really useful – I feel like sinc social media was invented I have forgotten how to read a book, but I bought one for my upcoming trip to Egypt and the idea of lying on a beach and reading it feel so decadent. I really like all your recommendations, but I have to say thank you for letting me know about The Year of Living Danishly. I have family living in Jutland and I am really excited to read this book and to buy it for my dad who also moved there from London so I bet he will find it hilarious!

    • Reply
      March 8, 2017 at 3:16 pm

      There’s something so relaxing about lazing about and reading a book – if I have a sunlounger and a free day I’ll happily not move at all. Hope you like The Year of Living Danishly – sure it’d be extra interesting for someone who’s lived through it themselves!

  • Reply
    Jo Addison
    March 8, 2017 at 2:34 pm

    Great tips! I’ve just bought The Year Of Living Danishly, and am really enjoying it. Thanks for the recommendation.

    • Reply
      March 8, 2017 at 2:59 pm

      Hope you enjoy it – really had me wanting to move to Denmark (until the bit about the winters at least!).

  • Reply
    March 11, 2017 at 6:58 pm

    I just got a kindle and have been looking around for new recommendations so this is perfect timing!

    • Reply
      March 12, 2017 at 4:46 pm

      I love my Kindle – still like reading ‘proper’ books when I’m at home but for travel it’s so useful to be able to carry a whole library around with me.

  • Reply
    Sara Dobak
    March 12, 2017 at 9:34 am

    I’m sure there’s much talk of the famous Danish ‘hygge’ in The Year of Living Danishly (love that title!), but MY book has to be The Signature of All Things – A woman in science in the 1800s?? Right up my street 🙂

    • Reply
      March 12, 2017 at 5:41 pm

      Hygge does get a bit of a mention! The Signature of All Things was fascinating though, a real epic story and such unusual characters.

  • Reply
    Kathryn Burrington
    March 12, 2017 at 11:30 am

    Oh dear! I’ve so many books I want to read and you’ve just given me a few more. I’m a VERY slow reader and it takes me ages to finish one book. You have reminded me though how much I enjoy reading and I’m now rather looking forward to a long flight next weekend which will give me some serious reading time. So now alI have to decide is which books to take.

    • Reply
      March 12, 2017 at 5:43 pm

      I’m a really quick reader but my ‘to-read’ list still never gets any shorter! Journeys are always my best time for reading though so it’s the best part of long-haul flights for me.

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