Around the world in 20 books

Looking to explore the world this summer? Whether you're off on holiday or not, these books will transport you to all kinds of exotic places - from the Amazon to (ahem!) Aberystywth 

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Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson

"I can honestly say this is one of the most amazing books I've ever read! The descriptions of Brazil and the rainforest just draw you into the scenery and the world of the Amazon. I read it to my daughter until I'd almost lost my voice some nights because we couldn't wait to find out what happens next!"


Still Life (Chief Inspector Gamache) by Louise Penny

"Set around the village of Three Pines near Quebec, so lots of interesting background detail about the French speaking/English speaking divide in the area, as well as mouth-watering descriptions of the food and drink in the local bistro. Highly recommended."


Wild Swans by Jung Chang

"Jaw-droppingly good and one of my favourite reads ever. Set across a timespan of three generations and really gives an insight into that time period. It's a true story."

The Congo (DR Congo)

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

"The Poisonwood Bible is written from the point of view of four women - the wife and daughters of an American missionary - who move to a remote part of the Congo which is just on the cusp of independence. It's beautifully written and a fantastic story."


The Saviour of Lasnamäe by Mari Saat

"Set in the late 1990s/early 2000s, it's about a woman of Russian origin who lives in Tallinn and how she and her teenage daughter are adjusting to the realities of life after the fall of the USSR. Written by an Estonian of Estonian (not Russian) ethnicity, this is a very interesting novella from a prize-winning author."


The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

"It is a Finnish classic, set on a tiny island in the Gulf of Finland where a girl Sophia lives with her grandmother and father. It beautifully describes very ordinary everyday living in a series of vignettes rather than a straightforward storyline. Philosophical and completely unsentimental, I really enjoyed it."


Stasi Child by David Young

"Thriller/police procedural set in East Germany in the mid 1970s. The setting is excellent, and it's well written (a debut novel, but I wouldn't have guessed). I liked the lead character, Oberleutnant Karin Mulle of the DDR Kripo, and that it's a cold war thriller written entirely from the perspective of the East."


History of the Rain by Niall Williams

"This book is brilliant - it made me laugh out loud several times and I cried through the last few chapters. I loved the way it was an old-fashioned literary book and at the same time set in contemporary post-boom Ireland. There isn't ever going to be another book featuring Charles Dickens and also a critique of how broadband was rolled out in Ireland." 


The Book of Night Women by Marlon James

"Outstanding writing, totally gripping, brutal and powerful and just wonderful. One of those books that stays with you and haunts you. I didn't want to read anything for a few days after finishing it, as I was still totally stuck in the world of the characters. It's set on a plantation in 18th century Jamaica and follows the life of a 'house slave' girl named Lillith. Beautiful, dark, soul-rocking book."


A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton

"The way the author has described human consequence using the most beautiful, evocative prose is just heart-wrenching. I loved the extracts from the English dictionary of Japanese culture, each tied into the central vein of the chapter that followed. It really was a beautifully constructed book."

New Zealand

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

"Set in the 19th century New Zealand Gold Rush, it is an old style adventure-mystery, told in an original way. The way all the threads of it came together was beautifully done, and very satisfying. The writing is exquisite; her use of language capturing the feel of the time without ever being overwrought."


Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

"This book is gorgeously written. The main characters are so believable and intriguing. The book is hugely informative about Nigerian life without being preachy. I couldn't put the book down - I cared so much about the characters, I did not want it to end."


Kolymsky Heights by Lionel Davidson

"Amazing book, not like anything I usually read but it really gripped me and I'm still thinking about it days later. It's a Cold War thriller set in Siberia. Absolutely fascinating."


The Blackhouse by Peter May

"Detective Fin Macleod is sent to investigate a murder on the Island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, where he grew up. We are given a lot of Fin's back story, as a child growing up there. I particularly enjoyed the section about the guga hunters on An Sgeir - very atmospheric. I could see and almost smell the place - the wheeling birds, rolling sea, terror of the cliff-face climbs. Brilliantly evocative." 


As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee

"How did it take me this long to find this book? It's a masterpiece of travel writing. And you can gasp and gawp at Laurie Lee's adventures walking through Spain whilst thanking Christ you're comfortably not walking anywhere and are cosily ensconced in your deckchair. Lee's descriptions of 1930s Spain are remarkably beautiful and uplifting. You'll taste the chorizo even if you're in a caravan in Wales."


The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin

"A historical murder mystery set in 1830s Istanbul. The setting and the time period took me out of my comfort zone, with no prior knowledge of the cultural, political and military history background. Fast-paced, intelligent and good fun."

USA - Alaska

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

"The Snow Child is a masterpiece, in my opinion. It's set in Alaska but I please I implore everyone in the world to read it. I loved it so much."


Aberystwyth Mon Amour by Malcolm Pryce

"Crime fiction with laughs - it's Raymond Chandler set in Aberystwyth, basically! Malcolm Pryce has a lot of fun playing off the Welsh setting against the hard-boiled film noir style. It's very silly but funny."

Yugoslavia (this part is now Croatia)

Illyrian Spring by Ann Bridge

"Beautifully told story of a bygone age - the long descriptions of Yugoslavia, unspoilt and rural, before mass tourism arrived, made me rather wistful."


The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah

"I couldn't put it down. I was fascinated by the description of life in Zimbabwe. The characters, both major and minor, were so well drawn. The way the story unfolded was very clever."

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Last updated: 5 months ago