Travel the World: Novels Set in Other Countries

I’ll admit that I’m an arm chair traveler. I open a book and I’m instantly in another place. I love a story that really immerses the reader in the details of the setting: the water, the mountains, the sounds and smells. I’ve traveled the world via books.

Here are a few titles where the setting is an integral part of the story. So settle into  your favorite chair and escape…

The Rocks by Peters Nichols
Majorca, Spain
This story is set against dramatic Mediterranean Sea views and lush olive groves. What was the mysterious, catastrophic event that drove two honeymooners apart so absolutely in 1948 that they never spoke again despite living on the same island for sixty more years? And how did their history shape the Romeo and Juliet like romance of their (unrelated) children decades later? Centered around a popular seaside resort club and its community, this double love story  begins with a mystery, then moves backward in time, era by era, to unravel what really happened decades earlier.

 Half a Lifelong Romance by Eileen Chang ; translated by Karen S. Kingsbury
Shanghai, China
Shen Shijun, a young engineer, has fallen in love with his colleague, the beautiful Gu Manzhen. He is determined to resist his family’s efforts to match him with his wealthy cousin so that he can marry the woman he truly loves. But dark circumstance force the two young lovers apart. A glamorous, wrenching tale set against the glittering backdrop of an extraordinary city.

 Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker
Dordogne, France
Benoît Courrèges, aka Bruno, is a policeman in a small village in the South of France who loves the pleasures and slow rhythms of country life. He has a gun but never wears it; he has the power to arrest but never uses it. But then the murder of an elderly North African who fought in the French army changes all that. Now Bruno must balance his beloved routines—living in his restored shepherd’s cottage, shopping at the local market, drinking wine, strolling the countryside—with a politically delicate investigation.

 The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
Newfoundland, Canada
Quoyle, a third-rate newspaper hack, is wrenched violently out of his workaday life when his two-timing wife dies. An aunt convinces Quoyle and his two emotionally disturbed daughters to return with her to the starkly beautiful coastal landscape of their ancestral home in Newfoundland. Here, on desolate Quoyle’s Point, in a house empty except for a few mementos of the family’s unsavory past, the battered members of three generations try to cobble up new lives.

Shakespeare Imagined: The Bard in Fiction

Who was William Shakespeare? Some folks think we know, others have doubts. Was Edward de Vere, Earl of the Oxford, really the Bard of Avon? Was it Christopher Marlowe? Or someone one else? Although new evidence points to the William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon as the author of the plays,  there will always be speculation.

Whether or not you believe he was the son of a merchant who grew to become the most well-known playwright of all time or someone else, we all remain fascinated by his life. Many authors have re-imagined Shakespeare’s life and characters and the results are riveting! Shakespeare’s legacy is unique, his reach unparalleled. Try some of these works of fiction that feature either Shakespeare or one of his characters.

 The Secret Life of William Shakespeare by Jude Morgan
There are so few established facts about how the son of a glove maker from Warwickshire became one of the greatest writers of all time that some people doubt he could really have written so many astonishing plays. When and how did he become a genius? This novel  imagines the private world of the master bard and chronicles the transformation of an unwilling craftsman and resentful son into a husband, father and genius playwright in Renaissance London.

 

 Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey
A retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest told from Miranda’s perspective as the magus’ isolated daughter, who finds solace and companionship with her father’s savage servant, Caliban. We all know the tale of Prospero’s quest for revenge, but what of Miranda? Or Caliban, the so-called savage Prospero chained to his will? In this incredible retelling of the tale, Jacqueline Carey shows readers the other side of the coin–the dutiful and tenderhearted Miranda, who loves her father but is terribly lonely. And Caliban, the strange and feral boy Prospero has bewitched to serve him.

 

 Hag-Seed: The Tempest Retold by Margaret Atwood
Felix, the artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival, is staging a Tempest like no other that will it boost his reputation. Or that was the plan. Instead, after an act of unforeseen treachery, Felix is living in exile in a backwoods hovel, haunted by memories of his beloved lost daughter, Miranda. And brewing revenge. After 12 years revenge finally arrives in the shape of a theater course at a nearby prison. Here Felix and his inmate actors will put on his Tempest and snare the traitors who destroyed him.

 The Tutor by Andrea Chapin
Another novel starring Shakespeare.  The year is 1590, and Katharine de L’Isle , a widow, is living at Lufanwal Hall, the  manor of her uncle, Sir Edward when a new schoolmaster arrives from Stratford, a man named William Shakespeare. Coarse, quick-witted, and brazenly flirtatious, Shakespeare swiftly disrupts the household and soon Katharine finds herself drawn into Shakespeare’s verse, and his life, in ways that will change her forever.

 Juliet’s Nurse by Lois Leveen
A new telling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, from the perspective of Juliet’s nurse. In Verona, a mother mourning the death of her day-old infant enters the household of the powerful Cappelletti family to become the wet-nurse to their newborn baby. As she serves her beloved Juliet over the next fourteen years, the nurse learns the Cappelletti’s darkest secrets. Those secrets– and the nurse’s deep personal grief– erupt across five momentous days of love and loss that destroy a daughter, and a family.

 The Gap of Time: The Winter’s Tale Retold by Jeanette Winterson
The Winter’s Tale tells the story of a king whose jealousy results in the banishment of his baby daughter and the death of his beautiful wife. His daughter is found and brought up by a shepherd on the Bohemian coast. In The Gap of Time, we move from London, a city reeling after the 2008 financial crisis, to a storm-ravaged American city called New Bohemia. The story is one of childhood friendship, the power of jealousy, and the redemption and enduring love of a lost child.

What If…? 10 Books about Alternate Histories

I love alternate history stories. That infinite “what if?” tantalizes me. What if Abraham Lincoln was not assassinated? What if Germany won World War II? What if London was a city populated by humans with extraordinary powers? What if, what if, what if?

Speculative fiction that delves into alternate time streams or alternate histories can take many forms. Some veers off into the paranormal, some follows the “what if the other side won” theme, some just imagines a new world that sits parallel to our own world.

Whichever way you like your alternative history, we have a great selection of titles. Here are ten to get you started.

 The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln  by Stephen L. Carter (Available as a Book and Audiobook on CD)
What if Abraham Lincoln escaped assassination by John Wilkes Booth?
This novel imagines what might have happened if Lincoln had lived to face the tumultuous post-war politics of 1865 Washington, D.C., including an impeachment trial for overstepping his Constitutional authority during the Civil War. At the novel’s center is Abigail Canner, a young black woman recently graduated from Oberlin, who is hired by the D.C. law firm that is working on Lincoln’s defense.

 Bombs Away : The Hot War by Harry Turtledove (Hardcover)
What if the Cold War had suddenly turned hot?
President Harry Truman in desperate consultation with General Douglas MacArthur, whose control of the ground war in Korea has slipped disastrously away. The only way to stop the Communist surge into the Korean Peninsula and save thousands of American lives is through a nuclear attack. MacArthur advocates a strike on Chinese targets in Manchuria. In actual history, Truman rejected his general’s advice; here, he does not. The miscalculation turns into a disaster when Truman fails to foresee Russia’s reaction.

 The Madagaskar Plan  by Guy Saville (Hardcover)
What if Germany had won World War II?
The year is 1952. There is peace in Europe, but a victorious Germany continues to consolidate power in Afrika, and Hitler has approved the resettlement of European Jews to the remote island of Madagaskar. In Mozambique, British forces plan to free Madagaskar, relying on the expertise of Jacques Salois, an escaped leader of Jewish resistance, they plot to incite a colony-wide revolt. Into this roiling landscape arrives ex-mercenary Burton Cole, who scours shanty towns and work camps for his beloved Madeleine and their child.

 Smoke : a novel by Dan Vyleta (Hardcover)
What if people who are wicked in thought or deed are marked by the Smoke that pours from their bodies?
In an alternate England, Thomas, Charlie, and Livia notice that some people appear to be able to lie without triggering Smoke. As they dig deeper, they discover revolutionaries who are fighting against a secret police force. They begin to suspect that everything they have been taught about Smoke is a lie; but if that is a lie, what else about their world is lies?

 Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente (Available as a Book, Downloadable Audiobook, and Audiobook on CD)
What if there was life on other planets in our solar system?
In an alternate 1986, where talking movies are still a daring innovation due to the patent-hoarding Edison family., Severin Unck starts making documentaries, traveling through space and investigating the levitator cults of Neptune and the lawless saloons of Mars. For this is not our solar system, but one drawn from classic science fiction in which all the planets are inhabited and we travel through space on beautiful rockets.

 Crooked by Austin Grossman (Hardcover)
What if Richard Nixon was a pivotal figure  in a struggle between ordinary life and horrors from another reality?
In this novel, Richard Milhous Nixon faces down the Russians, the Chinese, and ultimately his own government. Here for the first time– in his own words– are the terrifying supernatural secret he stumbled upon as a young man, the truth behind the Cold War, and the truth behind the Watergate cover-up.

 Bring the Jubilee: What if the South Had Won the Civil War? by Ward Moore (E-Book)
What if the South won the Civil War?
What is left of the United States has been drained of its resources and is trapped in a depression. Hodge, a young man living in a village in rural New York with his parents, decides to head to the city to escape his otherwise inevitable future of poverty and indentured servitude. But the specter of war between the Confederacy and the other great global power, the German Union, haunts the entire region, and a nationalist terrorist group has other plans for Hodge.

 Hystopia by David Means (Hardcover)
What if John F. Kennedy survived his assassination?
At the bitter end of 1960’s President John F. Kennedy is entering his third term in office. The Vietnam War rages on, and the president has created a vast federal agency, the Psych Corps, dedicated to maintaining the nation’s mental hygiene by any means necessary. Soldiers returning home from the war have their battlefield traumas “enfolded”—wiped from their memories through drugs and therapy—while veterans too damaged to be enfolded roam at will in Michigan, evading the government and reenacting atrocities on civilians.

 Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters (Available as an Audiobook on CD, Book, and Downloadable Audiobook))
What if there had never been a Civil War?
It is the present-day, and the world is as we know it: smart phones, social networking, and happy meals–save for one thing: the Civil War never occurred. A gifted young black man calling himself Victor is working as a bounty hunter for the US Marshall Service.  In this version of America, slavery continues in four states called “the Hard Four.” On the trail of a runaway known as Jackdaw, Victor arrives in Indianapolis knowing that something isn’t right–with the case file, with his work, and with the country itself.  Victor suppresses his memories of his childhood on a plantation, and works to infiltrate the local cell of a abolitionist movement called the Underground Airlines.

 The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis (Hardcover)
What if robots had been invented in the 17th century?
Soon after a Dutch scientist invented the very first Clakker (a mechanical man, endowed with great strength and boundless stamina — but beholden to the wishes of its human masters) in the 17th Century, the Netherlands built a whole mechanical army. It wasn’t long before a legion of clockwork soldiers marched on Westminster, and the Netherlands became the world’s sole superpower. Three centuries later, it still is. Only the French still fiercely defend their belief in universal human rights for all men — flesh and brass alike. But one audacious Clakker, Jax, can no longer bear the bonds of his slavery. He will make a bid for freedom, and the consequences  will shake the very foundations of the Brasswork Throne.

The Irish in Fiction: 10 New Books

It’s almost St. Patrick’s Day and what better way to celebrate than with some new fiction that either takes place in Ireland or has main characters who are Irish. So when you’re wearin’ the green you can also be reading the green, too.

 

 Murder at an Irish Wedding by Carlene O’Connor
(Available as a Book and Downloadable Audiobook)
Any wedding is a big deal in the small village of Kilbane-even more so when the bride is a famous fashion model. It’s also good for business; Siobhan O’Sullivan’s bistro will be catering the three-day affair. When the drunken best man is dis-invited, Siobhan’s own beau, Macdara, gladly steps in. But finding the original best man murdered in the woods casts a pall over the nuptials. And when a second member of the wedding party is poisoned, Macdara goes from being best man to prime suspect.

 

 Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan by Ruth Gilligan
At the start of the twentieth century, a young girl and her family emigrate from Lithuania in search of a better life and end up in Ireland.
In 1958, a mute Jewish boy locked away in a mental institution outside of Dublin forms an unlikely friendship with a man consumed by the story of the love he lost  two decades earlier. And in present-day London, an Irish journalist is forced to confront her conflicting notions of identity and family when her Jewish boyfriend asks her to make a true leap of faith. These three arcs, which span generations and intertwine in unusual ways, come together to tell the haunting story of Ireland’s all-but-forgotten Jewish community.

 

 Days without End : a Novel by by Sebastian Barry (Available as an Audiobook on CD, Book, E-Book and Downloadable Audiobook)
Entering the U.S. army after fleeing the Great Famine in Ireland, seventeen-year-old Thomas McNulty and his brother-in-arms, John Cole, experience the harrowing realities of the Indian wars and the American Civil War between the Wyoming plains and Tennessee.

 

 The Stolen Child : a Novel by Lisa Carey
St. Brigid’s Island is a place that people move away from, not to–until an outspoken American, also named Brigid, arrives to claim her late uncle’s cottage. Brigid has come for more than an inheritance. She’s seeking a secret holy well that’s rumored to grant miracles. Emer, an inhabitant of the island, has good reason to believe in inexplicable powers. Yet Brigid has a gift too, even more remarkable than Emer’s. As months pass and Brigid carves out a place on the island, a complicated web of betrayal, fear, and desire culminates in one shocking night that will change the island, and its inhabitants, forever.

 The Last Night at Tremore Beach by Mikel Santiago
Recently divorced and in the middle of a creative crisis, Peter Harper decides to take shelter on Ireland s scenic and isolated Tremore Beach. But after he is struck by lightning after one stormy night, he begins experiencing terrible headaches and strange dreams. As the line between his dreams and reality begins to blur, Peter realizes that his bizarre dreams may be a warning of horror still to come.

 Through Your Eyes by Shannyn Schroeder
Deirdre Murphy has had her life planned for her since she was born: Work in her parents’ noisy pub in rural Ireland. Live with her family until she marries. Marry her childhood sweetheart ASAP, since he’s decided sexy fun time should wait for marriage. None of it excites her. But before her fate closes in, Deirdre’s got one last visit to her Chicago cousins–where she can spend her mornings in a peaceful bakery, keep to herself, and savor the space she needs… Until she meets Tommy O’Malley.

 Saints for all Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan
(Available as an Audiobook on CD, Book, E-Book, Downloadable Audiobook, Large Print Book)
Nora and Theresa Flynn are twenty-one and seventeen when they leave their small village in Ireland and journey to America. Nora is the responsible sister; she’s shy and serious and engaged to a man she isn’t sure that she loves. Theresa is thrilled by their new life in Boston and besotted with the fashionable dresses and dance halls. But when Theresa ends up pregnant, Nora is forced to come up with a plan–a decision with repercussions they are both far too young to understand. Fifty years later, Nora is the matriarch of a big Catholic family with four grown children and Theresa is a cloistered nun, living in an abbey in rural Vermont. A sudden death forces Nora and Theresa to confront the choices they made so long ago.

 Beyond Absolution : a Mystery set in 1920s Ireland by Cora Harrison
Reverend Mother Aquinas must discover who murdered a much-loved priest in the third of this compelling new Irish historical mystery series. Pierced through to the brain, the dead body of the priest was found wedged into the small, dark confessional cubicle. Loved by all, Father Dominic had lent a listening ear to sinners of all kinds: gunmen and policemen; prostitutes and nuns; prosperous businessmen and petty swindlers; tradesmen and thieves. But who knelt behind the metal grid and inserted a deadly weapon into that listening ear?

 The Irish Inheritance : a Jayne Sinclair Genealogical Mystery by M J Lee (Downloadable audiobook)
July 8, 1921. Ireland. A British Officer is shot dead on a remote hillside south of Dublinches. November 22, 2015. United Kingdom. Former police detective, Jayne Sinclair, now working as a genealogical investigator, receives a phone call from an adopted American billionaire asking her to discover the identity of his real father. How are the two events linked? Jayne Sinclair has only three clues to help her: a photocopied birth certificate, a stolen book and an old photograph. And it soon becomes apparent somebody else is on the trail of the mystery: a killer who will stop at nothing to prevent Jayne discovering the secret hidden in the past.

 Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict
Clara Kelley is not the experienced Irish maid who was hired to work in one of Pittsburgh’s grandest households. She’s a poor farmer’s daughter with nowhere to go and nothing in her pockets. But the other woman with the same name has vanished, and pretending to be her just might get Clara some money to send back home. Serving as a lady’s maid in the household of Andrew Carnegie requires skills she doesn’t have, answering to an icy mistress who rules her sons and her domain with an iron fist. What Clara does have is a resolve as strong as steel coupled with an uncanny understanding of business, and Andrew begins to rely on her. But Clara can’t let her guard down, not even when Andrew becomes something more than an employer.

A Delicious Mystery Series

I recently stumbled on the Verlaque and Bonnet mysteries by M.L. Longworth. These delectable stories are set in Aix-en-Provence and begin with Death at the Château Bremont.

Death at the Château Bremont‘s description says “Antoine Verlaque, the handsome chief magistrate of Aix and his sometimes love interest, law professor Marine Bonnet, investigate the death of a local French nobleman who fell from the family Chateau in charming and historic Aix-en-Provence.”

Simple, non? Well, that one-sentence blurb does not even begin to cover the colorful world waiting for you within its pages. Not only do you get a good mystery, the descriptions of the town and countryside are a virtual tour of Provence. Longworth, who has lived there since 1997, obviously loves her adopted home.

And the food! As the characters eat and drink their way though the story, I often became more engrossed in their meals than in their sleuthing. They partake of fine wines and cheeses. They visit vineyards and cafes.  They meet friends for scrumptious dinners at small restaurants owned by skilled chefs. I was completely consumed by lifestyle envy.

The story is liberally sprinkled with passages such as this:

He tore open the cannele and bit into the soft inner cake made of rum and vanilla. Crusty and caramelized on the outside and soft and gooey on the inside, it was perfect.

The mystery floats in the background as the characters sit in cafes consuming fine French food and debating the merits of various wines. Verlaque often despairs of Marine. He is a gourmet and she will eat anything! Still, they enjoy an on-again, off-again love affair amid some meals that made me want to pack and move to France.

There are currently six books in this cozy mystery series. Warning: They are not only a good read, they will make you hungry!

Murder in the Rue Dumas

Death in the Vines

Murder on the Île Sordou

The Mystery of the Lost Cézanne

The Curse of La Fontaine