I'm thrilled to feature a guest post from Kim Culbertson today, author of The Wonder of Us, a fantastic story of travel and friendship that's perfect for the summer. There are few things I love more than travelling, but sometimes disappearing into an evocative literary setting is just as good.
A Tour of Seven Literary Wonders
I love to travel pretty much anywhere. No matter how short or far the distance, I see traveling as leaving a regular place to explore a different one. Whether I fly to Hawaii or take a one hour drive in any direction from my small, Northern California town, I know I will see something I haven’t seen before, something that has the potential to change the way I see the world around me. Lucky for me (and my bank account), this type of magic also happens when I’m reading. In honor of my YA novel The Wonder of Us, where my two characters, Abby and Riya, go on a grand tour of Europe in hope of finding new wonders in their life, here are Seven Literary Wonders, a literary grand tour of sorts, that never fail to pilot me into beautiful, distinctive worlds.
Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
I will read anything by Ruta Sepetys, who always vaults me into a richly examined historical place in her novels, but I am partial to Out of the Easy. Set in the 1950s French Quarter of New Orleans, Sepetys’s story of young Josie, the daughter of a prostitute, transported me to a rich, sultry land of mystery, but its strength is in its beautifully written account of a young girl trying to live life on her own terms, always my favorite sort of story.
Three Junes by Julia Glass
Set in Greece, Scotland, Greenwich Village, and Long Island, each phase of Glass’s story takes place in a different month of June. It is a story of family and self – marriage, betrayal, secrets, joy – all shaped through the crystalline lens of Glass’s extraordinary sentences.
Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill
On a class trip to London, accident prone, straight-A student Julia is partnered with an unlikely boy – the class clown. Hijinks ensue. This is my favorite sort of YA novel and Lauren is just so good at it. Often when I need a feel-good book, I reach for one set in London. For me, if comfort food were a city, it would be London.
The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand
Speaking of comfort food (and I mean that with the highest respect as a writer!), when I need to get away, I reach for the Nantucket settings of Elin’s books. And this one is a murder mystery at a wedding. I love books about weddings gone wrong and I love books set on islands – put them together and you have The Perfect Couple. It is hard to write compulsively readable books year after year and Elin Hilderbrand somehow keeps doing it.
Little Do We Know by Tamara Ireland Stone
The power of place doesn’t have to be expansive or on far island shores or in a big city. It can also be two homes side by side that hold two friends who have fallen apart. Obviously I am a huge fan of friendship stories (or I wouldn’t have written The Wonder of Us) and Tamara’s YA novel is an intricate, beautiful look at female friendship.
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
This was one of my favorite novels I read in the last year. I’m a sucker for travel-that-challenges-and-changes-us books, especially when they are witty (David Nicholl’s Us also falls into this category for me). These books are always among my favorites (I’ve even attempted to write a couple), but this novel felt especially successful because it explored the need to make sense of our own stories amid the larger backdrop of a turbulent world, and then, ultimately, realize we are fools if we don’t recognize the good stuff already present in our lives. That this hopeful, lovely novel won the Pulitzer gives me hope for the whole literary world.
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
I love Matt Haig’s work – especially The Humans and How to Stop Time, but I keep a copy of Reasons to Stay Alive near to me so I can read a few short chapters anytime I feel anxious or down or just need to vault myself into a place of knowingness – and that is how Matt’s book feels. Like a hug that says, hey, I get it, I know how that feels. That’s what most of my favorite reading ends up being for me in the long run – an unknown place that eventually feels like home.
Thank you so much Kim for sharing that brilliant post and such a range of recommendations with wonderful settings!
Look out for my review of The Wonder of Us, and thank you to Walker Books for the book.