Every summer I get pretty jealous of people who live on the coast. I see their instagram photos of sparkling sand and oceans that can’t possibly be that blue and I just wish I could run away to the beach and stay for a few years! The beach always sounds like the perfect escape. Since I don’t live anywhere near the beach (boo!), I have to do my escaping the old fashioned way: with a book. So for this month’s book list I’ve rounded up 9 books set in faraway places that are perfect to read or listen to when you need an escape.
Photo credit: (c) Can Stock Photo / HaywireMedia
Lately I’ve been doing a lot of of my reading in the form of listening to audiobooks. Audiobooks are the perfect way to escape even when you’re stuck doing something boring, like folding laundry or driving multiple children to their multiplicitous activities (not a word?). So I have a subscription to Audible, the leading provider of audio entertainment, with an unmatched selection of audiobooks. You can try Audible for 30 days and receive your first audiobook absolutely free! Download one of the books I’ve listed below, or if you’re looking to escape even further than these books can take you, check out The X-Files: Cold Cases, which is a new, exclusive Audible original drama featuring narration from Golden Globe and Emmy award-winning Gillian Anderson, and Golden Globe award-winning David Duchovny. Cold Cases provides additional backstory to the incidents that pulled Mulder and Scully out of reclusion prior to 2016’s miniseries revival, and is a must-listen for sci-fi fans.
9 books to read when you want an escape (or a vacation!)
1. Nights of Rain and Stars by Maeve Binchy – Greece
Good old Maeve Binchy is one of my favorite authors to turn to when I’m looking for a cozy read, one that will keep my interest with welcoming characters and a good storyline without making me work too hard. Most of her books are set in Ireland, which I love, but this book is set in Greece, complete with descriptions of the beautiful scenery you’d expect in that part of the world. Four strangers have all traveled to Greece for different reasons and meet in a hilltop tavern. When they witness an unexpected tragedy, they are drawn into a friendship that will help them find what they’ve been looking for.
2. Chocolat by Joanne Harris – France
It’s Lent in the sleepy French town of Lansquenet, a time of reflection and self denial. So when a beautiful young widow named Vianne arrives and transforms an empty little building across the street from the church into an exquisitely tempting chocolate shop (which stays open on Sundays), the parish priest is not amused. As the locals gather the courage to visit the shop, they realize Vianne seems to know exactly what they need to cure not just their cravings for sweets, but their discontents in life as well. A delightful read that will make you feel like you’re on vacation, even if you’re at home folding laundry. Like I usually am.
3. The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin – Great Britain
So this book is unabashedly written for fans of Downton Abbey, and it tells a story that could have been Cora’s had she not ended up with Lord Grantham (in fact, the main character’s name IS Cora). So while it doesn’t feel like the most original material in the world, it’s actually pretty enjoyable. Cora Cash is one of the wealthy American girls who travelled to England in the late 1800’s in hopes of “catching” a husband and a title, which she does, quite easily in fact. Unfortunately for her, all is not as wonderful as it seems! (Sure, we could have predicted that, but hey, it’s still fun.) No grand literary aspirations here, just an engaging story to get lost in, especially for those of us who have watched Downton Abbey over and over and can’t wait for Poldark to start again in the fall.
4. The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan – China
Born in America, Pearl has always been more interested in forging her American identity than uncovering her Chinese roots. Prompted by her Auntie Helen, Pearl finally asks her mother Winnie to tell the story of her childhood in China, and as a result we are treated to an incredible tale of courage and resilience. This book manages to convey loads of information about Chinese culture and the role of Chinese women in the early 20th century while being an absolute page turner. NOTE: There are a few scenes of abuse and some difficult subject matter in this book.
5. The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman – Australia
Ok, I’ll tell you right now this is a sad book, so it’s not an “escape book” in the traditional sense, but the setting – a lighthouse on an isolated Australian island – is so vivid and the plot so riveting that this book will definitely transport you away from your everyday life. Isabel loves Tom so much that leaving everything she knows to join him as a lighthouse keeper seems like no sacrifice at all. Each is enough to make the other happy. But as the years pass and the graves of lost babies multiply, Isabel begins to lose herself. Until one day a boat washes up on shore carrying a dead man and a baby who is very much alive. And Isabel makes a choice that will change everything. (So yes, spoiler alert I already told you it’s a sad book, but it’s so good it’s worth it!)
6. Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland – Holland
Professor Englebrecht has a painting hidden away in his basement. He inherited it from his father, a Nazi soldier, and is unsure of it’s provenance and what he should do with it. He’s even considered destroying it, but he suspects it may be a previously unknown Vermeer. In a series of charming related short stories, the history of the painting is traced, from present day all the way back to Holland in the 1600’s. The book is a beautifully written, compelling ride into the time of the great Masters.
7. O Come Ye Back to Ireland by Niall Williams and Christine Breen – Ireland
Have you ever wished you could leave the hustle and bustles of life behind and start over in a simpler place? That is exactly what Niall and Christine did in the 1980’s when they left their careers in New York and moved to a tiny village in County Clare, Ireland. Their plan was to for Niall to write and Christine to paint, but they soon realized that a “simple life” takes considerable effort. This memoir is both charming and fascinating and will have you wishing you could move to Ireland, too, (although I imagine not many of us would be willing to cut peat to heat our homes).
8. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith – Botswana
As indicated by the title, yes, this book is a detective story, but it’s so much more! This little gem tells the story of Mma Precious Ramotswe, a 34 year old woman in Botswana, Africa, who has decided to use her inheritance to set up one of the only detective agencies in the country, and certainly the first one run by a woman. Precious is decidedly cheerful despite a difficult past, and she loves her homeland fiercely, giving us westerners a different impression of Africa than we usually get from books and movies. Precious solves crimes and mysteries not with forensics and evidence, but with a keen understanding of human nature. Yes, life is hard in this part of Africa, and the book is at times poignant, but there’s also an optimism here that’s enchanting. I think the word most used to describe this book in reviews is “charming.” It’s absolutely a breath of fresh air and a fantastic escape!
9. The Orphan’s Tale by Pan Jenoff – Germany
No on wants to escape to Nazi Germany, but escaping to the circus is an altogether different matter. When Noa flees into the snowy night with a Jewish baby in tow, she doesn’t expect to end up training as a trapeze artist in the circus. But she does, and she soon realizes there is much more to learn from this particular group of circus performers than how to fly through the air. The harsh realities of the time period aren’t ignored here, but they are tempered with a satisfying ending. In short, this is a book about friends becoming family and all that entails.
I hope you like some of these recommendations, and I’d love to know what books you are reading or listening to, so leave me some ideas in the comments. And remember to visit Audible to download your first audiobook absolutely free!
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Audible. The opinions and text are all mine.