Summer’s here, we’re all still in lock-down, and probably going a little bit stir-crazy. I’m yearning for Europe, but even if I won’t be hopping on an international flight anytime soon, there are books that will take me there! Not a complete list of European countries below, but a fair sampling. If you’re aching for…
…England? ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL by James Herriot wraps you up in the beauties of Yorkshire through the eyes of a thirties-era small-town vet; BATH TANGLE by Georgette Heyer immerses you in Regency-era Bath along with its two rebellious heroines seeking to control their lives; Winston Graham’s POLDARK series gallops you along the windswept cliffs of Cornwall; Bill Bryson’s THE ROAD TO LITTLE DRIBBLING tootles you in humorous fashion from modern-day Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath and everywhere else between.
…Ireland? Maeve Binchy’s lengthy backlist will take you from modern day Dublin (THE SCARLET FEATHER, as a pair of cooking-school besties try to get a catering company off the ground) to fifties-era small towns (THE GLASS LAKE, as a mother’s abandonment of her family plays out in tense drama through two generations); Patricia Falvey’s THE YELLOW HOUSE and THE LINEN QUEEN immerse you in northern Ireland’s respective struggles for independence and World War II involvement, as seen through the eyes of two fierce young heroines.
…France? THE ORACLE GLASS by Judith Merkle Riley takes you to the Sun King’s Versailles; THE PARIS WINTER by Imogen Robertson immerses you in the belle-epoque Paris of starving artists and Seine-side cafes; MEET ME IN MONACO by Hazel Gaynor & Heather Webb covers not only into Monaco but the sun-drenched Cote d’Azur.
…Italy? ENCHANTED APRIL by Elizabeth von Arnim sweeps you off to Portofino with four disenchanted English heroines looking to rediscover their zest for life; THE FOOD OF LOVE by Anthony Capella retells a modern-day Cyrano de Bergerac love-triangle among the high-cuisine restaurants of Rome (recipes included!); THE BOTTICELLI SECRET by Marina Fiorato embroils a Renaissance-era courtesan and a reluctant monk in a zany caper through the city-states of Italy from Florence to Pisa to Genoa to Venice and more.
…Spain? A SPANISH LOVER by Joanna Trollope follows a buttoned-up Englishwoman who falls for the glories of both Spain and a Spanish suitor; C.W. Gortner’s THE QUEEN’S VOW takes us further back to Renaissance Castile where a young queen dons her armor and her faith to unite her country’s warring factions.
…Austria? MADENSKY SQUARE by Eva Ibbotson is a glorious valentine to pre-WWI Vienna; VOICES OF SUMMER by Diane Pearson sweeps you to a spa town in the mountains where an operetta company puts on the season of a lifetime and all kinds of lives are both hilariously and poignantly at stake.
…Bulgaria? VALLEY OF THRACIANS by Ellis Shuman takes you through modern day Bulgaria in the search for a missing Peace Corps volunteer and a missing ancient artifact; Elizabeth Kostova’s THE SHADOW LAND explores the beauties of Sofia as a World War II-era mystery unfolds from past to present.
…Hungary? THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE by Julie Orringer follows a Jewish family from dreamy Paris to exuberant Budapest to the horrors of Carpathian labor camps throughout World War II; CSARDAS by Diane Pearson follows three generations of an aristocratic family from pre-war Austro-Hungarian glory through post-World War II peace.
…Romania? THE GIRL THEY LEFT BEHIND by Roxanne Veletzos sumptuously and poignantly evokes forties-era Bucharest; DRACULA by Bram Stoker is the Romania-set novel of all time.
…Russia? (Ok, I know Russia isn’t in Europe, but I couldn’t resist one more step east!) Katherine Arden’s THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE sings an enchanted song of pre-czarist Russia, its myriad spirits, and a brave horse-loving heroine; Cynthia Harrod Eagles’s ANNA evokes glorious Imperial Russia through the eyes of an English governess come to tutor a Russian count’s children as Napoleon sets his sights on invasion; Paullina Simons’s THE BRONZE HORSEMAN brings the siege of Leningrad to life in the midst of a passionate forbidden love story.
Next up: the books that will take us to the myriad countries of Asia, Africa, South America, and more…
Happy reading, and stay safe!
Everybody needs some feel-good reading while quarantined. Here are some of my favorites…and yes, there are quite a lot of kids’ books on there. This is both for parents looking for books to share with stir-crazy offspring, and adults who simply want some comforting literary nursery food. And most of these come with hefty backlists or are the start of a series, so you should be reading–and smiling–for quite some time.
“Dealing With Dragons” by Patricia Wrede. A princess keeping house (cave?) for a dragon…only this princess wasn’t captured, but volunteered for her post after being bored to tears by palace etiquette and thick-skulled princes. The start of an enchanting four-book series, the Dragons books were doing the hilarious-skewed-fairytale thing long before Shrek made it cool.
“Half Magic” by Edward Eager. Four siblings at the start of a long hot summer wonder crossly why they never seem to stumble across magical adventures like the Narnia siblings or the Nesbitt children. Cue the arrival of a magic talisman that grants wishes but only in halves, and let the fractionally-challenged adventures (hilariously) ensue. At least three books follow, all of the kids-go-magically-adventuring sort, all funny.
“Cheaper By The Dozen” by Frank Gilbreth & Earnestine Gilbreth Carey. A breezy turn-of-the-century motion studies expert and his high-powered wife (both real historical figures) have a brood of 12, and the hi-jinks of six brothers and six sisters across WWI and the twenties is funny and touching. The sequel, “Bells On Their Toes”, is even funnier.
“A Countess Below Stairs” by Eva Ibbotson. For anyone who’s already binged “Downton Abbey” and needs a fix, pick up this delightful period piece starring a Russian countess fleeing the Bolsheviks only to find herself scraping a living as a housemaid in a falling-to-bits country manor owned by a PTSD-ravaged young earl newly returned from the trenches of WWI. No sex, lots of humor, and enough upstairs-downstairs shenanigans among the stately-home set to feed your Julian Fellowes craving. And Eva Ibbotson has a huge backlist, all wonderful.
“The Blue Castle” by L.M. Montgomery. You’ve already reread all of Anne of Green Gables–try this standalone by the same author, more poignant and deeply satisfying. A shy, emotionally-battered spinster gets news from her doctor that she has only a year to live, and decides to live it with a vengeance–telling her emotionally abusive family to shove it, getting the first job of her life, then becoming the town scandal when she elopes with a mysterious ex-convict. One of the most satisfying beaten-down-woman-reclaims-her-life stories ever, with a sweet ending. This one doesn’t lead to a series, like Anne’s tales, but L.M. Montgomery’s backlist has lots more besides Anne, and they’re all worth investigating.
“The 101 Dalmatians” by Dodie Smith. Sure, you’ve seen the animated Disney film and the live action remake–but have you ever read the book? Smith’s prose is droll, dry, delightful, very British, and the read will delight you if the story of Pongo, Perdita, Missus, and their kidnapped puppies is one you assume you know.
Happy reading, and stay safe!