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10 Whimsical Stories That’ll Immerse You in a New Place

Sara Roncero-Menendez
May 27 2022
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Traveling lets you see new ways of life, explore new cuisines and cultures, and experience art and entertainment in cool new ways. Unfortunately, travel is also very expensive, and rather time-consuming. Books, however, can help you explore new people, places, and art from the comfort of your own home—no passport required. So, if you’re looking to get away while hunkering down for a good reading session, or just need some inspiration for your next trip, here are ten books that will take you on whimsical adventures abroad.

The House Between Tides
by Sarah Maine

Scotland

There’s nothing that blends mystery and romance like the moors of Scotland. When Hetty Deveraux inherits her family estate back in the Outer Hebrides, she leaves London for this scenic setting, ready to turn the house into a hotel. Unfortunately, those plans are halted when the body of a murder victim is found. Hetty will learn terrible truths about Theo Blake, a distant relative, and his wife, Beatrice, who led dark and mysterious lives on the island she now finds herself on. THE HOUSE BETWEEN TIDES is an atmospheric Gothic novel sure to fill you with dread and wonder, and a desire to roam Scotland yourself!

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The House Between Tides
Sarah Maine

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The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina
by Zoraida Córdova

Ecuador

Inspired by the family-centric magical realism of Encanto but want to see a different country’s take? Explore Ecuador through THE INHERITANCE OF ORQUÍDEA DIVINA. The matriarch of the Montoya family, Orquídea Divina never leaves their home at Four Rivers for any reason, though the rest of her family has no idea why. Even in death, she continues to confound them, bestowing strange gifts on her descendants. Seven years later, when someone begins killing their remaining family members, Marimar, Rey, and Rhiannon must go to Ecuador and stop them before Orquídea’s family tree is no more. Filled with gorgeous imagery and family intrigue, this book is a great way to expand the borders of your imagination.

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The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina
Zoraida Córdova

Perfect for fans of Alice Hoffman, Isabel Allende, and Sarah Addison Allen, this is a gorgeously written novel about a family searching for the truth hidden in their past and the power they’ve inherited, from the author of the acclaimed and “giddily exciting” (The New York Times Book Review) Brooklyn Brujas series.

The Montoyas are used to a life without explanations. They know better than to ask why the pantry never seems to run low or empty, or why their matriarch won’t ever leave their home in Four Rivers—even for graduations, weddings, or baptisms. But when Orquídea Divina invites them to her funeral and to collect their inheritance, they hope to learn the secrets that she has held onto so tightly their whole lives. Instead, Orquídea is transformed, leaving them with more questions than answers.

Seven years later, her gifts have manifested in different ways for Marimar, Rey, and Tatinelly’s daughter, Rhiannon, granting them unexpected blessings. But soon, a hidden figure begins to tear through their family tree, picking them off one by one as it seeks to destroy Orquídea’s line. Determined to save what’s left of their family and uncover the truth behind their inheritance, the four descendants travel to Ecuador—to the place where Orquídea buried her secrets and broken promises and never looked back.

Alternating between Orquídea’s past and her descendants’ present, The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is an enchanting novel about what we knowingly and unknowingly inherit from our ancestors, the ties that bind, and reclaiming your power.

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The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
by Lisa See

China

China is such a large country that one book couldn’t possibly encompass all of its different peoples and cultures. What THE TEA GIRL OF HUMMINGBIRD LANE does is give readers a peek into a way of life that they might not have known about. The book follows Li-yan, a young girl growing up among the Akha people, who are known for growing pu-erh tea. However, as the rest of the world changes, Li-yan also finds herself bucking the old ways, getting pregnant out of wedlock and running away to have the child in secret. Rather than letting her be killed, Li-yan gives her daughter up for adoption, and years later, mother and child seek answers about each other, finding their way through the tea that has been a cornerstone of their lives.

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The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
Lisa See

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa See, “one of those special writers capable of delivering both poetry and plot” (The New York Times Book Review), a moving novel about tradition, tea farming, and the bonds between mothers and daughters.

In their remote mountain village, Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea. For the Akha people, ensconced in ritual and routine, life goes on as it has for generations—until a stranger appears at the village gate in a jeep, the first automobile any of the villagers has ever seen.

The stranger’s arrival marks the first entrance of the modern world in the lives of the Akha people. Slowly, Li-yan, one of the few educated girls on her mountain, begins to reject the customs that shaped her early life. When she has a baby out of wedlock—conceived with a man her parents consider a poor choice—she rejects the tradition that would compel her to give the child over to be killed, and instead leaves her, wrapped in a blanket with a tea cake tucked in its folds, near an orphanage in a nearby city.

As Li-yan comes into herself, leaving her insular village for an education, a business, and city life, her daughter, Haley, is raised in California by loving adoptive parents. Despite her privileged childhood, Haley wonders about her origins. Across the ocean Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. Over the course of years, each searches for meaning in the study of Pu’er, the tea that has shaped their family’s destiny for centuries.

A powerful story about circumstances, culture, and distance, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane paints an unforgettable portrait of a little known region and its people and celebrates the bond of family.

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Istanbul Passage
by Joseph Kanon

Turkey

Istanbul (not Constantinople, mind you) is a bustling city that serves as the meeting place for a number of different peoples and cultures, making it an excellent place for trading goods and secrets. In ISTANBUL PASSAGE, American businessman Leon Bauer traverses the city just after World War II as power dynamics shift in the wake of newfound peace. Peace, however, is definitely not in the cards for Leon, who ends up on the run after saving another’s life. To survive, he must navigate this often beautiful, occasionally shadowy city, which the novel describes in gorgeous, captivating detail. You may not get an answer to that famous question of why they changed the name in these pages, but you’re sure to find a lot to love about Istanbul.

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Istanbul Passage
Joseph Kanon

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Brooklyn Story
by Suzanne Corso

United States

There’s nowhere quite like New York City—the lights, the sounds, the bagels. So, if you’re looking to be transported to the Big Apple without having to shove your way through Times Square, BROOKLYN STORY is the read for you. Fifteen-year-old Samantha Bonti, a half-Jewish, half-Italian girl from Bensonhurst, is trying to find her way in the world. Not satisfied with the prospect of settling for a life like those of the women around her, she finds herself drawn to Tony Kroon and the world of trouble he brings with him. If you’re looking to see a whole different side of New York, this gripping coming-of-age tale is the book for you.

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Brooklyn Story
Suzanne Corso

Perfectly evoking the sights and sounds of the summer of 1978 in Brooklyn, Suzanne Corso makes an acclaimed fiction debut with this powerful coming-of-age tale, told from an adult perspective, of family, best friends, first loves, and big dreams waiting to come true.

Samantha Bonti is fifteen years old, half Jewish and half Italian, and hesitantly edging toward pure Brooklyn. She lives in Bensonhurst with her mother, Joan, a woman poisoned with cynicism and shackled by addictions; and with her Grandma Ruth, Samantha’s loudest and most opinionated source of encouragement. As flawed as they are, they are family. And this is home—a tight-knit community of ancestors and traditions, of controlling mobsters, compliant wives, and charismatic young guys willing to engage in anything illegal to get a shot at playing with the big boys. Yet Samantha has something that even her most simpatico girlfriend, Janice Caputo, doesn’t share—a desire to become a writer and to escape their insular, overcrowded little world and the destiny that is assumed for all of them.

Then comes Tony Kroon. He’s a gorgeous mobster wannabe, a Bensonhurst Adonis whose seductive charms Samantha finds irresistible—even when she knows she’s too smart to fall this deep . . . but Samantha soon finds herself swallowed up by dangerous circumstances that threaten to jeopardize more than her dreams. Grandma Ruth’s advice: Samantha had better write herself out of this story and into a new one, fast.

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Red Island House
by Andrea Lee

Madagascar

Sometimes travel is less about seeing something new and more about reconnecting with something old and familiar. For Shay, a Black American professor, the villa her Italian husband builds on Madagascar presents an odd situation: Africa may be her ancestral homeland, but she’s very much a foreigner thanks to her American upbringing. RED ISLAND HOUSE brings to life a mysterious, spellbinding place where Shay comes to terms with the horrors and trauma of colonialism and her own foreignness. This is definitely the kind of travel read that makes you think.

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Red Island House
Andrea Lee

From National Book Award–nominated writer Andrea Lee comes Red Island House, a travel epic that opens a window on the mysterious African island of Madagascar, and on the dangers of life and love in paradise, as seen through the eyes of a Black American heroine.

“People do mysterious things when they think they have found paradise,” reflects Shay, the heroine of Red Island House. When Shay, an intrepid Black American professor, marries Senna, a brash Italian businessman, she doesn’t imagine that her life’s greatest adventure will carry her far beyond their home in Milan: to an idyllic stretch of beach in Madagascar where Senna builds a flamboyant vacation villa. Before she knows it, she becomes the reluctant mistress of a sprawling household, caught between her privileged American upbringing and her connection to the continent of her ancestors. So begins Shay’s journey into the heart of a remote African country. Can she keep her identity and her marriage intact amid the wild beauty and the lingering colonial sins of this mysterious world that both captivates and destroys foreigners?

A mesmerizing, powerful tale of travel and self-discovery that evokes Isabel Allende’s House of the Spirits and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, Red Island House showcases an extraordinary literary voice and gorgeously depicts a lush and unknown world.

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The Old Drift
by Namwali Serpell

Zambia

Who doesn’t love a good multigenerational story about a family trying to survive personal and political tides? THE OLD DRIFT begins in 1904 and follows three Zambian families as each generation struggles with love, loss, and revolution in a colonial settlement called the Old Drift. Each household—one white, one brown, one Black—experiences different sides of the conflict, creating a unique narrative that blends the story into one cohesive, compassionate tale not just about what it means to be Zambian but about what it means to be human.

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The Old Drift
Namwali Serpell

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Moonlight and the Pearler's Daughter
by Lizzie Pook

Australia

The amazing natural landscapes of Australia form the backdrop of MOONLIGHT AND THE PEARLER’S DAUGHTER, which follows Eliza, the daughter of a pearl-diving boat captain looking to make his fortune in the late 1880s. When her father goes missing amid rumors of foul play, Eliza must swim treacherous waters, both literal and metaphorical. But there’s more below the surface than riches, and Eliza may not like the secrets she finds. Haunting and wild, this book will have you ready to take the plunge on a trip to Australia.

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Moonlight and the Pearler's Daughter
Lizzie Pook

For readers of The Light Between Oceans and The Island of Sea Women, a feminist adventure story set against the backdrop of the dangerous pearl diving industry in 19th-century Western Australia, about a young English woman who sets off to uncover the truth about the disappearance of her eccentric father.

Western Australia, 1886. After months at sea, a slow boat makes its passage from London to the shores of Bannin Bay. From the deck, young Eliza Brightwell and her family eye their strange, new home. Here is an unforgiving land where fortune sits patiently at the bottom of the ocean, waiting to be claimed by those brave enough to venture into its depths. An ocean where pearl shells bloom to the size of soup plates, where men are coaxed into unthinkable places and unspeakable acts by the promise of unimaginable riches.

Ten years later, the pearl-diving boat captained by Eliza’s eccentric father returns after months at sea—without Eliza’s father on it. Whispers from townsfolk point to mutiny or murder. Headstrong Eliza knows it’s up to her to discover who, or what, is really responsible.

As she searches for the truth, Eliza discovers that beneath the glamorous veneer of the pearling industry, lies a dark underbelly of sweltering, stinking decay. The sun-scorched streets of Bannin Bay, a place she once thought she knew so well, are teeming with corruption, prejudice, and blackmail. Just how far is Eliza willing to push herself in order to solve the mystery of her missing father? And what family secrets will come to haunt her along the way?

A transporting feminist adventure story based on Lizzie Pook’s deep research into the pearling industry and the era of British colonial rule in Australia, Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter is ultimately about the lengths one woman will travel to save her family.

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An Atlas of Impossible Longing
by Anuradha Roy

India

India is a rich and diverse country with hundreds of languages and traditions, but some facets of life are felt in many parts of the country. AN ATLAS OF IMPOSSIBLE LONGING explores love that transcends the lines of the caste system, as Bakul and Mukunda struggle to be together as they navigate life in Bengal. Mukunda is an orphan of unknown caste taken in by Bakul’s family, who have a large house and a multitude of problems. When Mukunda is sent away to Calcutta, he works hard to prosper so he can return for the woman he loves—but will it be enough? This romantic, sweeping love story will have you dreaming of an Indian vacation.

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An Atlas of Impossible Longing
Anuradha Roy

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About the Night
by Anat Talshir

Israel

Love may know no bounds, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t borders that can keep lovers apart. Elias, a Christian Arab, is in love with Lila, a Jewish woman who lives on the other side of the recently divided city of Jerusalem in 1947. As they attempt to navigate the thorny and ever-shifting politics of their world and the literal wall that separates them, Elias and Lila find that love might not conquer all. A story of hardship and heartbreak in one of the world’s oldest cities, ABOUT THE NIGHT is a tale that will transport you to a place and a world on the brink of massive change.

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About the Night
Anat Talshir

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Photo credit: iStock / Jelena990

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