Smell that? It’s a pumpkin spice latte sneaking through the air calling your name. Now I am not actually a fan of pumpkin lattes (horrors!), but I do love a hot chai in front of the fireplace with a good book. My reading tastes go in waves; do I want some reality through a travel memoir, or do I want to really get away from it all with a fun piece of fiction. As I’ve been dragged out of summer (kicking and screaming I assure you), I find myself wanting to hang onto warmer weather with a few works of fiction before I dive into a bout of seriousness as the clouds come into stay here in Seattle. I’m not alone. I’ve asked a few friends, and fellow contributor Tara, to give me their favorite novels that take them across the globe.
by Jess Walter
Recommended: fellow Walking On Travels writer, Tara M.
Beautiful Ruins ruined me for other books. I finished Jess Walter’s seventh book (released 2012) and couldn’t bear the idea of picking up the next title waiting in my digital reader. I wanted to sit with these characters longer; I wanted to feel the book’s weight. And I was afraid another story would fall so short of the expectations Walter set it would be wasted on me.
Walter weaves a tale of dreamers beset by the hand life dealt. Hilarious and heartbreaking, Beautiful Ruins touches every part of you that has ever wanted something so bad you could taste it. It challenges regret. It stirs desire. It reminds you of just what you already have in your life.
This story carries you from modern-day Hollywood to half a century past on Italy’s northwest coast, through the trials and magic of communicating any way possible when language and reality stands in your way. A dying actress, her secret lover, a movie maker who stops at nothing to reach the top. A hotelier, his ailing mother desperate for him to fall in love and his solitary guest, a failing novelist who’d rather tip the glass than face the blank page. Their dreams, their demons. You meet them all in this beautifully written novel. And you will cry, laugh and cheer for them all.
A Good Year
by Peter Mayle
Where? South of France
Recommended: Keryn from Walking On Travels
The story of Max Skinner (to be later played by Russell Crow in the movie adaptation) unfolds as he loses his job, and moves to his uncle’s estate in the south of France that he inherited. What follows is nothing short of chaos, a bit of mystery, and fun that the locals and a surprise cousin bring into his life. Mayle brings this Provencal tale to life through vibrant characters, delectable food, and what Skinner will find is one of the best wines in the region. .
This was not the first book I had read by legendary ex-pat Peter Mayle. My college professor had encouraged all of his students going on a tour of all things art, to pick up A Year In Provence before we left. I was hooked within the first chapter. Mayle loves his food and describes the characters he meets in such a way that you feel like you have known them just as long as he has. A Good Year, Mayle’s fifth novel, is no different. Although these characters are not real, I was still pulled into their lives and eager to find out what happened next. And of course, with every Mayle novel, I was hungry by the end of each chapter. You have been warned.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone
by Laini Taylor
Recommended by: NY Times bestselling YA novel author Marissa Meyer
According to GoodReads.com “Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky. In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low. And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.”
The city of Prague is brought to lush and vivid life in DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE, the first of a YA fantasy trilogy by Laini Taylor. I don’t think I’d ever considered Prague as a desirable travel destination before, and now it’s at the top of my list. From the food to the architecture, this book makes you feel like you’re right in the midst of this historic, beautiful city. (On top of that, the book is just a phenomenal, entrancing read. Don’t be put off by mention of “angels” – these are not like any fictional angels you’ve read before!)
The Birth Of Venus
by Sarah Dunant
Recommended by: Tai, a world traveler, great friend and interior designer at roomTen
The Birth of Venus, by Sarah Dunant, tells the story of a young noblewoman coming of age during the tumultuous Medici era in Florence. The daughter of a wealthy fabric merchant, she is fascinated with painting, and wants to be a painter in a time when women were quiet, in the background, not allowed to make her mark.
Florence in the 15th century was explosively creative – Giberti and Brunelleschi had made their mark, daVinci and Donatello were rapidly advancing, and Michelangelo and Rafael were just beginning to flex their artistic muscle – revolutionizing the visual world by literally placing man next to god on the walls, a concept never before conceived. Humanism was turning the Church around – synthesizing long lost teachings from the ancient Greeks, turning away from medieval Church teachings towards a philosophy of human value and agency, and interaction with the world. The humanities, as such, flourished: poetry, philosophy and ethics were topics discussed at all the finest tables.
In such a modern setting, a young woman might find herself straining against the social norms ascribed to her – and in fact, Alessandra Checci continually pushes her own bounds, exploring the ideas of modernity in a rapidly changing world.
Sarah Dunant is a meticulous researcher and her storytelling brings the torch-lit alleys and sun drenched hills of 15th century Tuscany to life. Even almost a decade after reading this novel I recall the surprise of recognition and realization while reading many of her passages. This is a book that transports the reader not only to a different place, but a different time – and fosters an understanding of a period critical to the city that stands today.
The Love of My Youth
by Mary Gordon
Recommended by: Lisa of Gone with the Family
“The Love of My Youth,” by Mary Gordon, is the story of Adam and Miranda who had been childhood sweethearts during the 1960’s and broken up over a betrayal. The novel takes place in 2007 when Adam and Miranda, now middle-aged, meet for the first time since the breakup when they both happen to be in Rome and are invited to dinner at the home of a mutual friend. Adam suggests that the two meet each morning of Miranda’s three-week visit so that they can talk while he shows her around the city. Miranda agrees and their daily walks take them around to various famous sites in Rome as the pair talk about their younger selves, what led their relationship to self-destruct and how they became the people they are. The story is a nostalgic look back at first love and how it shaped these two individuals as well as the more general question of how each person’s past affects who they become.
I read this book two years ago during the weeks leading up to my first trip to Rome and I loved it – probably in no small part because the descriptions of the neighbourhoods in Rome that the couple visited as they strolled their way around the city heightened my anticipation for our own trip to the Eternal City. But more than the lovely descriptions of the setting, it was the two main characters and the issues that they were discussing that endeared this book to me.
Adam and Miranda are both well-written, sympathetic characters and readers can’t help but feel for them and the pain that they have suffered in their lives. As they discuss the past and whether they have any regrets, a reader can’t help but reflect on whether they have any regrets from their own past and whether they would change things if they could or whether they believe that the past is what makes us the people we are today.”