Vacation reading

What Should I Read Next episode 333: Book flights inspired by three vacation destinations

Photo of a person reading a book on an airplane with a view of the airplane wing through the window

Readers, whether you’ve got a trip planned this summer or you’re seeking some inspired armchair travel, today’s conversation will fuel your wanderlust.

Today I’m joined by Lynette Calleros, a travel agent based in the St. Louis area. Lynette came to the show hoping I could help her create some destination-specific “book flights”—purposeful, thematic literary pairings—she could share with her clients as they embarked on their trips. Readers, I was happy to oblige!

Lynette and I talk about her own passion for reading and the unique challenge of packing books for a vacation, before exploring three popular destinations and the books I suggest for readers planning a visit. I leave Lynette with a selection of recommendations that span genres and continents, and offer her clients a delightful assortment of options to transport them to—or back to—their favorite destination.

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What Should I Read Next Episode 333: Vacation reading, with Lynette Calleros

Connect with Lynette on Instagram and see what’s on her to-be-read shelf!

Lynette (00:00): I have to tell you, Anne, I don't know if this book is on your list, but I did read this book this past year and I thought this is a book I will never tell my clients about reading, cuz it would scare them to death to go anywhere. [BOTH LAUGH]

Anne (00:10): Hey readers, I'm Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next episode 333. Welcome to the show that's dedicated to answering the question that plagues every reader: what should I read next? We don't get bossy on this show. What we will do here is give you the information you need to choose your next read. Every week, we'll talk all things books and reading and do a little literary matchmaking with one guest.

Anne (00:44): Readers, if you're dusting off your summer wardrobe, we have a perfect addition for you. Our new What Should I Read Next T-shirt. Part of our 2022 collection of gear to rep your reading life, our t-shirt is the perfect conversation starter. Our 2022 collection also includes a book-worthy tote to fill with your Summer Reading Guide library loans and delightful book darts to keep your place and mark the best passages in your current reads. Pre-order your gear now at And while you're at it, add a copy of my book journal, My Reading Life. We are expecting pre-orders to ship by July 1st and we can't wait to see you in action with your What Should I Read Next reading gear. That's

Anne (01:25): Readers, today we are taking a virtual vacation to three fabulous summery destinations via the books that transport us there.

Anne (01:38): My guest today, Lynette Calleros, lives in the St Louis area, where she works as a travel agent, helping her customers plan perfect getaways to beautiful places. When Lynette's submission showed up in my inbox, I was delighted because not only is Lynette a reader herself, she asked for my help in creating destination-specific book flights—that is, purposeful, thematic literary pairings that she can suggest to her travelers. I share my picks for three of Lynette's most requested destinations today and along the way, Lynette and I commiserate about the unique challenge of packing books for a vacation plus the specific type of travel narrative. she never wants to recommend to her clients. Whether you've got a trip on the horizon or you're staying close to home this summer, this episode will equip you for adventure and fuel your wanderlust with recommendations that span genres and continents. Let's get to it. Lynette. Welcome to the show.

Lynette (02:31): Thanks for having me on Anne.

Anne (02:34): Lynette, where are you in the world right now?

Lynette (02:37): So I live outside of, uh, St. Louis, Missouri. Um, I'm about like 30, 40 minutes from downtown. Just kind of in the Midwest here.

Anne (02:44): Well, we were just there for college visits, but I have a good friend who's moving to the St. Louis area this summer and she said, I don't know anything about it. I'm not sure what to expect. Like I don't, I don't know what's good or bad about St. Louis. Tell us a little bit about St. Louis.

Lynette (02:59): I just love St. Louis. I think I am a Midwest girl at heart, even though I was born and raised in Southern California as was my husband. We left Southern California, gosh, it's been a long time now since we moved around with his job, but we moved to Florida. Then we were in Northern California for a while, and then we settled here and we've been here almost 16 years. And I just think that people here are so nice. I don't know if it's that Midwest quality. Like all our neighbors are so nice. Like when we moved in this neighborhood, all our kids were little. So they've all just grown up together. I don't know, for me just coming from Southern California, it's a slower pace of life for me, right? I guess if you were from a really small town and you moved here, it's like a big city, but living on the outskirts, you still kind of have that country feel a little slower paced. I just don't know what it is to put my finger on the Midwest, but we just both love living here and raising our kids here. It's been fantastic.

Anne (03:58): Well, I'll pass that along to my friend. What's it like to be a reader in St. Louis?

Lynette (04:02): Gosh. Oh, it's great. I have met up with, um, a few people that started book clubs and just so many people read, in my world a least. I have a really good friend who I get together with once a month and we talk books. She's the one who turned me onto your podcast, actually.

Anne (04:19): Oh, thank you friend.

Lynette (04:20): Yeah. A few years ago. So I just love that. And again, there are some great little book indie bookstores around here too, that you can go and explore. So that's fun.

Anne (04:30): Listeners, you may not realize this right off the bat, but we've had several episodes with St. Louis area bookseller, Holland Saltsman, and those are some fan favorites. So if you want a little St. Louis flavor and also awesome book recs, please go listen to those episodes from our back catalog. Now, Lynette, we are so intrigued, as we said, about what you wanted to talk about on the show today. What brings you to What Should I Read Next right now?

Lynette (04:56): So I really was so surprised when I received that email from Brenna, but I kind of filled out that form spur of the moment. Uh, I used to be my, I feel like a former life, a elementary school teacher, which I loved. So hard, I think teachers do have just the hardest job in the world. I stayed home with my kids for a while and I kind of fell into this job through friends of friends. And it is as a travel agent. And I was doubtful at first thinking, I don't know if I can do this, cuz I have not been everywhere in the world, and I think that's a misconception that a lot of people have of travel agents that they know everything about everything. And obviously we don't [LAUGHS], we haven't been everywhere, but this job has just turned into such a blessing and I can work from home.

Lynette (05:42): Uh, you can work almost like a real estate agent, right? You can set your hours. You can be as go-getter as you want to or not do as much, I guess it depends on, you know, your time, your, your lifestyle, your family. We have about over 25 of us in our agency and everyone specializes in different things. And I think that is the fun of it. So when I get a, a request from a client of a place I have not been, usually there's so much help I have available of different agents and just reaching out to them and then others, a huge network of agents around the world, even, that are so willing to help. And I can plan a fantastic trip for a client that I think puts a special touch on it for them.

Anne (06:22): Now you said that everyone in your agency has a specialty. How would you describe yours?

Lynette (06:27): I feel like I started as more of just an all inclusive kind of gal, uh, you know, mainly the Caribbean, uh, specialized, definitely in Hawaii. I think just growing up on the west coast too, you know, it's a lot easier to get there from, from the west coast than it is from the Midwest or the east coast, it's a longer haul for sure, but I've definitely been there over a dozen times to all the major islands, not the little islands. But I love to plan Hawaii trips for my customers, just cuz it's all so unique of what their interest is, what their activity level is, what they wanna see. There is just something magical about Hawaii. So that is near and dear to my heart, for sure.

Anne (07:07): You know that you are a reader Lynette because you, you love to travel. You love your job. You love to send your clients on these, you know, amazing trips and have them make memories and have these great experiences. Um, but you want to inject a little bit of the reading life into your clients' travel. I love the idea of a professional, suggesting it to those who might not think to do it for themselves, if they don't know what a book flight is or it hadn't occurred to them to set the stage by reading about it. You're there to put some great books in their hands or at least that's what you're thinking you might do. Tell me more about that.

Lynette (07:43): You know, there's a lot of communication that goes through back and forth through emails, uh, text, calls, whatever, till right before they go. And I always send them last minute, like tips and tricks and things to do. And I thought, how fun if I could put on those documents I send them, if they're a reader, you know, hey, here's some great suggestions. You may wanna look into these books for your trip of where you're going, cuz they're set in that area. And you know if they can download them. They can listen to 'em on audio or actually take a physical book, whatever they prefer. But I thought a fun book flight would be so much fun. So I'm just at the beginning stages of starting this, and that's why I reached out to you, cuz I thought who better that knows so many books about different places than Anne? So that's kind of where I, I started and I have to tell you, Anne, one of the magical things that started this was I was in Hawaii this past summer and I was reading a book about Hawaii on the beach and it was, it was just so great. I was like, this is amazing. I need to tell all my clients about this.

Anne (08:42): Oh, that's so fun. What was the book you were reading on the beach?

Lynette (08:44): So I had picked up, um, Honolulu by Alan Brennert. It's a historical fiction, but it does have some real elements in there, I think, of truth, you know, of, of things that did happen. So it does open your eyes. And it was a little hard to get into at first, but as I kept going, I really did enjoy that book.

Anne (09:04): Okay. Lynette, you're using a term that we throw around a lot around here. Friends, if you're thinking what the heck is a book flight, it's a term I made up in the year like 2012. [BOTH LAUGH] So it's okay if you don't know what we're talking about, you can Google the, the blog post on Modern Mrs Darcy called "Reading is better when it's done wine tasting style" and we're borrowing the concept of a wine flight. You've seen them on restaurant menus. Maybe you've tried them. I live in Kentucky where you can get bourbon flights, but it contains several small pours of different varietals. And the idea is that by sipping several of these different wines or, or bourbons or even teas back to back, you get a better feel for a certain varietal or vintage and you get a better feel for your own taste. And the idea is that comparing these different flavors side by side lets you appreciate the wine's depth and breadth far better than an individual glass that you drink on its own. Or at least this is what they say, because still 10 years later, I am still definitely a wine novice, but I do know my books and I've seen how, when you purposefully group books together, you can learn a lot more about a subject's depth and breadth than you can. I mean, what I usually tend to do is, you know, read a book and pick up something totally different next, but purposeful groupings can show you so much, especially when you're trying to learn more about, about a place, which is what you're really doing, Lynette.

Lynette (10:28): Yeah, I love that idea. I remember you said that once on a podcast about a book flight and I think that's so true. And especially like you said, going to a different place, if you would just read, say one book on Hawaii that gives you maybe that person's idea. But if you're take a, you know, two or three different books and then you can really get a feel for that area, you're visiting. If it's those books are all set in wherever you're at.

Anne (10:52): Oh and the options, there are so many, we will talk about those as we move more into just thinking through what book flights might look like for some of your most popular destinations that you send clients to. And something I love about the literary experience of tourism is that it's so accessible. It's not constrained by location. It's not constrained by budget. We're gonna give you a lot of picks today, friends. Some of these are going to be in your library system or even like free because the copyright has expired. While you can read to prepare, like to go on a trip, you can also keep reliving your experience in that place by reading long after you return home. There's so much to be excited about here, Lynette.

Lynette (11:36): Absolutely. And, I have to tell you, Anne, I don't know if this book is on your list, but I did read this book this past year and I thought this is a book I will never tell my clients about reading, cuz it would scare them to death to go anywhere. [BOTH LAUGH]

Lynette (11:50): But it is, um, Do Not Become Alarmed [ANNE GASPS]

Lynette (11:54): Do you, do you know that book?

New Speaker (11:55): Well, yes. And what you've really hinted at here is the fact that there's this whole subset of travel fiction, right? Not just fiction, [BOTH LAUGH] of travel writing that involves vacations gone horribly awry. [LYNETTE LAUGHS] Not even awry, like vacation's gone off the cliff.

Lynette (12:14): Yes. Okay. Well it was a book I was in a book club and someone suggested it. And as I'm reading this, I'm like, oh my goodness. So it is a, uh, mystery kind of thriller, I would say contemporary fiction. And it is definitely plot driven, like it keeps you going, but something goes horribly wrong to this family on a cruise. And I thought this is every parent's worst nightmare. And if I would tell any people to read this before they go on a cruise, [BOTH LAUGH] they would be terrified. It definitely is a thriller it's uh, keeps you on the edge of your seat. I could not read it at night before bed because I would lie awake in bed [LAUGHS] with my heart pounding. But it was, it definitely was a great read, but not probably to read when you're going on a cruise.

Anne (12:58): I think that's fair. That might be a fun kind of book for a traveler to read at some point. But immediately before going to that destination, maybe not. All right. I think we need to take a giant step back Lynette and say you have to really care deeply about books to want your clients to have this literary experience. And I love that you're catching people who may not be, you know, like habitual readers at a point where you see like this could really help you get more out of your experience. You're going on this trip to have a new experience. Like how about try this one, in this little 300 page package as well. Before we get into books you recommend to your clients or you might in the future, I'd love to hear more about your reading life. So I'm gonna ask you a really difficult question and I'm not kidding. Are you ready?

Lynette (13:46): [LAUGHS] I'm ready.

Anne (13:48): How would you describe yourself as a reader?

Lynette (13:50): I always read, so I always have something in my hand. I will have to say because of your podcast and listening to it, I have become an audio reader also.

Anne (13:59): Oh, that's exciting.

Lynette (14:00): And I remember you saying, find a genre that works for you. And if that genre doesn't work for you through an audiobook, maybe a different genre will. And that was me. So I will definitely listen to more nonfiction and memoir through audio. And I love that. Like I absolutely adore that and I could listen all the time in the car, you know, doing chores around the house. And then I'm always, now do have a physical book in my hand too. I definitely am more of a plot driven person and I do love some historical fiction, uh, mystery, sometimes a thriller, if it doesn't keep me up late at night. I definitely tend to not always pick up the brand new release. I am more kind of a backlisted girl, but I will pick up a new release if someone recommends it or, or says it was really great or they think it's for me. But usually I kind of let those sit on my shelf, kind of marinate a little bit. And then when I'm ready or kind of the mood reader, I'll pick it up.

Anne (14:57): What do you like to read when you go on vacation?

Lynette (15:00): Oh gosh. You know, that is the hard part, being a physical book reader and not bringing on a Kindle cuz you have to pack those books. So I try to get some paperback and do get usually a mystery I'll throw in there. If I can find one about the destination I'm going to, I'll pick that up. And then I usually just throw in an odd, I don't know, book off my shelf, something I'm like, you know what? I haven't read that book. And it's been sitting there for a while. I'm just gonna throw that in there too. So I do tend to bring about three books, say if I'm going for a week or so, it just depends, right, what kind of vacation. If I'm going with my family, I know I probably won't have as much downtime cuz we're going and doing and seeing stuff. But if it's just me and my husband and I know I have more downtime, I definitely pack about three books so I can just spend some time reading.

Anne (15:43): That's so true. I mean, depending on the destination and itinerary, there are trips where I read all the time and trips where I hardly ever read. And readers are surprised to hear that I read, I think the least on book tour [BOTH LAUGH] cause there's just not any time to read. You're too busy talking about books. Not that I've had a book tour in several years now, but that will happen again. And when it does, I'm not gonna read on it cuz that's just not how it works. Only, only on the airplanes.

Anne (16:13): Lynette, one of the ways we get to know our guests on What Should I Read Next is by hearing about the books that they love. Because you know, knowing what you love, what you're inclined to pick up, what works for you and what doesn't says so much about you, not just as a reader, but as a person. So before we get into recommending book flights for your clients, I'd love to hear about three books that have been really meaningful in your own life.

Lynette (16:34): I would say the first one and I did hear this one on your podcast was, uh, Daughters of Smoke and Fire by Ava Homa.

Anne (16:41): Yes.

Lynette (16:42): Yes. Such a great book, and that is one I just happened to see at the library when I was walking through and I picked it up. I actually took that one on vacation with me and I loved that book so much. I don't know. I'm I'm trying to figure out why I liked it so much. It was a little hard to get into, it deals with some really hard themes set in Iran. Things that this author is writing, obviously it's a fiction story, but she's telling things that could be true. Like all these things happening in the book that were really hard could be true. The first third I say was a little hard to get into cuz it does deal with some really hard things. And I thought, oh gosh, if this book doesn't get better, I'm just, this is gonna be horrible. [LAUGHS] It got so much better. And I think a sign of a good book is one you really think about when it's over and I could not stop thinking about this book, I just recommend this to people. I just loved it so much. I think she is such a good author. I was engrossed with Leila's story. Leila was the prime character in the book. A book that opens my eyes to other cultures, I do enjoy.

Anne (17:47): Tell me about another book that really meant a lot to you.

Lynette (17:50): Oh, so I knew the author I had heard about from your podcast, which is Rick Bragg, and I have listened to two of his books on audio now. I just listened to The Speckled Beauty by him on audio, which is a newer release about his dog [LAUGHS] which is the speckled beauty. And it's a great dog story and the dog does not die in the end for anyone that's worried. [LAUGHS] That seems to be a theme with dog stories, they die, but this dog does not. And I think Rick Bragg is just a storyteller and he is so great to listen to on audio because he narrates his books. You really get to hear his voice. He's funny. He'll make you laugh. He'll make you tear up just telling his, his family's story and his history through these hilarious little vignettes, I guess, he puts in there. So I adore Rick Bragg. I buy his book. I've given it to my mom. I've given it to other people. I just, I can't say enough about him.

Anne (18:48): Now, I can see my hard cover of The Speckled Beauty, which I'm probably not going to read in that format, from where I'm sitting, but I haven't read it yet. And yet I, 1000% agree with what you said about Rick Bragg on audio. Listeners. I'm not sure how to not be completely effusive to tell you like this man can tell a story and in his to hear him do so in his own voice is just so wonderful. And often just so life giving, like even as he writes about difficult things, like I remember some of the most moving essays he wrote in one of his collections are about the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. You know, he's like he's writing about difficult things. And yet to mix my reviews here, I know I read one about The Speckled Beauty where a paper said, if you want a book that will make your whole self smile, [LYNETTE LAUGHS] pick up this dog story.

Anne (19:35): They're not long either. Like this book comes in, I mean the hard cover is quite small. It's less than 200 pages. It feels like there's a lot of story and a lot of meaning, um, in a really compact little package. So what was it about this story for you Lynette? Is it the fact that it was Rick Bragg in general and you really like his things and this is the most recent thing you read, or is it the story of this dog who is not a well behaved dog and yet is everything good in its people's lives? [LYNETTE LAUGHS]

Lynette (20:00): I read his previous book, uh, The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma's Kitchen, and that book has recipes in it and that's why—I actually listened to it on audio and then bought it paperback because I wanted those recipes. But what I liked about his stories, like you said, it's humorous, but he's telling a story also just about his life, but you could also just read a chapter and in between something else you're reading, you know, you don't have to read it like in one sitting, you could read a chapter, put it down. They, they do build on kind of on each other or different characters, but you don't have to read it all in one sitting. So sit it down. If you wanna pick it up again next week, you'd read it, read the next chapter you can. And then when I saw The Speckled Beauty, and again, like you said, it's not super long, so I didn't have to commit to like a 20 hour audio book. I could just listen to it and laugh. I think he's so poignant. Just what he sees about life, what he talks about life, death, loving each other, our family, just everyday issues that everyone can relate to, but he does it in such a way that is just so heartwarming, I guess I would say.

Anne (21:10): I'm so glad it worked for you. And also I'm happy to be reminded of a book I've been looking forward to. Lynette, tell us one more book that you really loved.

Lynette (21:19): So this one was such an odd suggestion, I guess I got for also from someone at book club, but,

Anne (21:23): I love it!

Lynette (21:24): But it was Open by Andre Agassi.

Anne (21:27): Yes!

Lynette (21:28): And she suggested it. A friend of mine, she said, listen to it on audio. And I loved it. I think it's maybe it's my age. Just growing up in that era. I remember watching Andre Agassi playing on television, watching him play tennis, seeing his commercials, like I do remember those commercials he was in. And so I thought, you know what, I'm gonna read that book. And it was so great. It was not narrated by him, which I understand as you read it because it is a little personal and I'm sure it would've been a little hard for him to read, but I love that is just an idea of a type of biography that I love to read of just a person. I find people so fascinating. I think everyone has gone through something in their life and just hearing how they overcame difficulties, challenges, things they've gone through. And then growing up as a celebrity, I can't imagine how hard that was and being in a spotlight growing up.

Anne (22:21): Now we talked about that book a little bit on What Should I Read Next in Episode 272 with Derek Dupuis, it's called, I loved the library before it was cool. Derek has what to me was a surprising love of celebrity memoirs. And we ended up talking about it in that vein, but whether or not you were ever a tennis player or fan, I was a tennis player. And I remember when Andre Agassi like came on the scene with his long hair and would he wear the Wimbledon whites? And it was like a big thing. And now it's yeah, but this memoir, um, chronicles of course his tennis years, but it's about so much more than the sport.

Lynette (22:57): And I am not a tennis player at all, but him growing up how he grew up in this lifestyle and of both playing tennis and the spotlight, and really not even choosing that as what he wanted to do with his life.

Anne (23:12): No, I'm just thinking about the crushing pressure from a father who was determined he would succeed and the ensuing, um, psychological and emotional and even physical struggles in his experience with addiction, which I didn't know anything about. And his relationship with Steffi Graf, and like, you know, finding love and learning to manage the public. Also, something that's really interesting about this memoir is that it was written with assistance from Pulitzer winner J. R. Moehringer. It's just incredibly well done, the, the book itself is.

Lynette (23:42): Yes. I, I agree with that.

Anne (23:44): Actually. We had an episode air just a couple weeks ago with Katrina Fleming about fabulous biographies. And I had thought when we were talking that that book may come up then, because it's one of my favorite biographies, but we went in a totally different direction as listeners know. And if you haven't listened yet, go back and listen. It's episode 330. All right. Lynette, are you ready to pick some flights for your traveling clients?

Lynette (24:08): I am. I can't wait.

Anne (24:12): Okay. So we are looking to find some book flights that matches the destination they're traveling to. And I think it would be really nice to offer a variety of kind of titles to readers. We can have like informational nonfiction. We can have memoir. We can have like page turning plotty contemporary novels. We can have classics, I think. We can have literary fiction. We can have coming of age. There's so many great stories, but what's going to unite them is the place. What am I forgetting here? What else do we need to keep in mind as we think about recommending books to readers? I'm thinking if you're offering the destination and books that could be great in conversation with each other, but also you could just slip one in your bag and read it in the airport or in the car or at your destination.

Lynette (25:01): And that's what I kind of was thinking too, with a book flight, because not everyone will like the type of books I would pick up and read necessarily, but giving them an option of some different genres, different ideas, different stories told in different ways, kind of have your staycation at home and act like you're there and, and get the idea of, of that destination through a book.

Anne (25:23): That sounds good. So I think what we want to know is where are you sending people these days?

Lynette (25:29): Some of the biggest places right now I have been working on is Hawaii; Mexico, for sure—just the ease of getting there, I think there's so many great places in Mexico to go to west coast, or if you're heading down to the Caribbean–and Italy. For whatever reason, I have been getting a lot of clients wanting to plan trips to Italy. So those are some of the major ones right now I'm working on.

Anne (25:55): I've never been to Italy, but I could think of a few good reasons [BOTH LAUGH] that might make one want to travel there, and some of those reasons are honestly that I read about it in a book and thought, you know, I would love to experience that for myself off the page. We've got Mexico, Hawaii and Italy. Okay. This sounds like fun. Let's do this.

Anne (26:18): Lynette. I was thinking maybe four books per destination, if we can limit ourselves. That's so hard. That sounds like a lot of books, but readers, if you think about a destination you've been to, I, that sounds like a lot of books, but very quickly I realize how many different ways there are to think about and write about a place and how many centuries we've had to do this. And gosh, there are just so many options. So friends, we know that this list is incomplete and these flights could be built into like veritable, like cellars of, of titles to choose from.

Anne (26:55): And we'd love to hear your recommendations for these destinations. It's at So please pile it on, know that this is just a beginning for Lynette and her clients. And yeah, with that in mind, let's do this and Lynette, I will try to keep these descriptions short.

Lynette (27:12): I can't wait to hear what you're gonna say.

Anne (27:13): Okay. For Mexico. Well, I think that you started by saying that you have already been recommending the works of Silvia Moreno-Garcia to your clients.

Lynette (27:22): Yes.

Anne (27:22): I think that's worth mentioning right off the bat. And a good one based on what's coming next, cuz I know that and you don't, is Gods of Jade and Shadow because it's more magical than some of the other ones that we're about to talk about. I think it's Moreno-Garcia's debut. Mexican Gothic really got a ton of press and lots and lots of sales.

Anne (27:40): So if you're thinking, I know that name, I wonder if that's not why, but we're going back to Gods of Jade and Shadow. And this is a jazz age fairytale that's inspired by Mexican folklore. At the center of the story is a girl. Her name is Casiopea and she spends her days cleaning her wealthy grandfather's home. But what she really wants to do is escape to start a new life. And that's what she dreams about while she's cleaning. And then one day she opens this strange wooden box in her grandfather's room. And when she does, she unleashes the spirit of the Mayan God of death who makes her an offer. If she helps him take the throne from his brother who betrayed him, she can have that life that she's been dreaming about. So she can't resist that pull of adventure, even if failure would surely lead to death.

Anne (28:25): So she sets out on a journey that takes her far away from home and into the Mayan underworld. So that's a magical YA story for your readers. Okay. Let's pivot into, oh gosh. Okay. Now right off the bat, we're gonna talk about a vacation gone wrong book.

Lynette (28:40): [LAUGHS] okay.

Anne (28:40): Although the one thing that makes me think this can hang out on the list is, it's easy reading. And also I think there's something about the story that was like, yes, if I don't make terrible life choices and make myself vulnerable to sketchy strangers, I can have a vacation that doesn't end badly like this. Okay. So the book I'm thinking of is Girls' Night Out by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke and it came out in 2018. I don't think it was in the Summer Reading Guide, but I remember reading it in the run up to that summer reading season.

Anne (29:10): This is psychological suspense. And in this story, three estranged friends take a much needed vacation to the Yucatan peninsula in an effort to heal their friendship that has, uh, fractured. It's told from multiple points of view, we've got that Tulum, Mexico setting. And what happens here is over the course of the trip, each woman discovers that the others are dealing with lots of trouble in their own life that they've kind of been keeping under wraps and meanwhile, a handsome local man draws one of the friend's attention. They make some bad choices. After a night out, spent drinking and arguing, one of them goes missing and it's unclear if she was running away from her friends or towards this guy and/or did something truly sinister happen here. Now, something that readers may love and may hate is that Liz and Lisa leave you to draw your own conclusions as to what happens, but they are racing around the region through the, the sites that would be on your itinerary, were you going to the, to the Tulum region and they're flying through the airports you would fly through. And so that sense of place is fun. And I think, Lynette, I think your clients can make their own decisions about if they feel comfortable reading that or not.

Lynette (30:21): That sounds great.

Anne (30:23): Okay. Now let's go in a different direction. I would want to make sure that if they haven't read it in school, that Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros is on their radar. This is a novel, I believe it's her second book, and it's largely autobiographical, even though this is fiction. So Cisneros herself was born in Chicago to a Chicana mother, a Mexican father. And he was an upholsterer. Cisneros was one of seven, and he would often take his six sons and Sandra, uh, back and forth between Mexico City and Chicago. When they went to Mexico City, they'd stay with their grandmother. So she's drawing from that early experience about going home, surrounded by her largely male family, feeling a little bit out of step with her family because of the frequent moves her family made within the U.S. and just kind of like sinking into the background and watching what's going on.

Anne (31:13): So this is a slim book, but there's a lot packed into it. It's a generational story that's structured in three parts, and you get to hear from three different perspectives. This is the young girl as a child watching her loud loving family. That's set in Mexico. Later, she's an adult writer who is telling stories about her Awful Grandmother. And that is what she's called in the book. The capital A Awful, Capital G Grandmother. And then later she's an American adolescent in a, um, maybe awkward and tender, um, coming of age moment. The book is written, even the English version is written largely in Spanish, which is really, um, interesting and immersive and the way she plays with words and the way she has such a sense of humor in this story, even as she's addressing difficult things, just makes it really a remarkable and special reading experience.

Anne (32:06): At the very beginning of the book, it begins: "Tell me a story, even if it's a lie." And the way that she plays with almost mythic family history, as well as this truth telling is really interesting. And finally, I think we need a genuine non-fiction pick and a fun one here, I think could be by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe, the husband and wife team. Their book is The True History of Chocolate. Lynette, because you said that you are a backlist girl yourself, I wanted to make sure that we didn't have all new releases. So Caramelo is about 20 years old at this point. Gods of Jade and Shadow is a few years old and this one was published in 1996. I want you to know right off that this book can be a little dry for a certain sort of reader, but that is okay. It's going to be perfect for others.

Anne (32:54): The Coe's bonafides are impressive. Sophie Coe was an anthropologist, a food historian and an author. And she was primarily known for this work on the history of chocolate. And her husband who assisted her in the writing of this story was an authority himself on pre-Columbian civilizations. So this is really a, uh, dynamic duo when it comes to this topic. For readers who are familiar with Cod, the biography of the fish and how it really changed the world, this is very much in this vein. It reads as a biography of chocolate. Extreme detail, so much detail. There's a ton of information here. Again, some readers are going to eat it up, no pun intended, but it kind of works. Your readers can decide for themselves, but, chocolate's, origins, history, it's like discovery, really, how it was made, um, how it was enjoyed by various peoples in Mexico. They, they talk about how the Mayans loved it with spice, preferably a lot of it. And then how it disseminated into Europe and how that changed things, for not just chocolate consumers and, um, merchants, but the chocolate makers and growers. So this is your nerdy fun option. Okay. Lynette, how do those books sound for your Mexican travelers? We had Caramelo, Gods of Jade and Shadow, Girls' Night Out and The True History of Chocolate.

Lynette (34:15): I think those sound really good. And you gave a great sampling of different genres. So I think any one of my clients at least would find one book in there that they would possibly pick out to take with them on their trip to Mexico.

Anne (34:27): Okay. Let's move on to Hawaii. We have a team member right now who is living in Hawaii. That's Ginger Horton. She's been on the podcast, which was such a fun episode from last year. We'll put that in show notes. She is our community manager for the Modern Mrs Darcy book club. And she is in Hawaii right now. So Lynette, knowing that we were going to talk, I asked her: Ginger, I know you've been on the literary voyage through all the Hawaii options. What should Lynette recommend to her travelers? And I've got some recs from Ginger. Are you ready?

Lynette (34:59): Yes, I can't wait.

Anne (35:00): And something that I really liked about Ginger's recommendations, thank you, Ginger, is that she recommended titles from authors I knew, but I didn't know these books. And I certainly didn't know they'd written anything about Hawaii. The first one of those is by Daniel James Brown, and he is the author of The Boys in the Boat. It's called Facing the Mountain, and Ginger says, the story in and of itself is riveting, if not, she wouldn't call it enjoyable, about the Japanese internment camps, but so many of the characters and families and so much of the action takes place on the islands of Oahu and Maui. And she said that she found herself thinking, oh my gosh, I've been there. Or that's just up the street, and so on. She says that if you've read any Daniel James Brown listeners, you know, this, that his interviewing and research are absolutely impeccable.

Anne (35:46): And she thought this would be a really great unconventional Hawaii pick as well as a great vacation read, in that it was a, like a chunky book that could keep you busy for a while that she just could not put down, and a good pick for those of us who are sometimes drawn to, or often drawn to sometimes people affectionately call them "Dad books", but you know, that nerdy non-fiction popular history kind of thing like we just talked about with The History of Chocolate. The next up is by Alan Brennert, an author that you just mentioned along with his book Honolulu. Lynette, that book is Moloka'i. And also Ginger said the sequel, Daughter of Moloka'i. This has actually been on my list since Modern Mrs Darcy readers recommended it over and over in the comments on one post about historical fiction in a superlative list of like, oh my gosh, the best historical fiction novels I have ever read discussion.

Anne (36:37): So Ginger says that if a coming of age story can still be a sweeping historical, epic about a girl sent away from her home at age seven to live on the leper colony of Moloka'i, this is it. And this narrative also blends mostly fictional characters with lots of real historical events and facts about the, um, the history, the setting, and the people. Ginger describes the characters in this book as part John Steinbeck and part Isabella Allende.

Anne (37:06): The next is Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell, who is the author of books we've discussed on this podcast, including Assassination Vacation. And Vowell has a very distinctive style that is really all her own. It's like smart alek-y, witty, um, surprising and strange history. So Ginger calls this absolutely hilarious, but completely fascinating. This is a take on the history of colonization and specifically how Hawaii became the 50th state in the United States.

Anne (37:35): Sarah Vowell's argument here is that 1898, when all this happened, was a really defining year in American history, when the United States annexed Puerto Rico, Guam, we invaded Cuba, Philippines, and we annexed Hawaii and became an international superpower, uh, practically overnight, as she says. She describes it as being a little bawdy and says that she loves the tagline from the publisher, which is where manifest destiny got a sunburn. Now that's several nonfiction picks, so we need one more novel. She says, um, not she says, and for that, Ginger recommends The Lion in the Lei Shop. This is by Kaye Starbird. Ginger said that Nancy Pearl's booklust re-discovery series alerted her to this, and she found it to be an underrated gem, and she was so glad that she found it. She said that she felt like she was actually there on the day of the Pearl Harbor bombings, experiencing the terror and disorientation of not what the military went through, but the local families, as they then had to navigate in the coming days, where to go and what to do next. She said that so many stories at Pearl Harbor are told from the perspective of the bombing, the war itself, the military angle, but this look is at what happened next in day to day life, and it's told through the eyes of one mother, mother, and daughter, and really caught her imagination and her heart. How do those sound for your Hawaii travelers?

Lynette (38:54): Those all sound so great and so different.

Anne (38:58): Now we're going to go to Italy. What are your popular destinations in Italy for your clients?

Lynette (39:03): Mostly people wanna hit the main cities, you know, especially if they've never been before. So usually it's like Rome, Venice, Florence, sometimes the Amalfi Coast. That seems to be the main areas, especially if it's their first time there, they wanna at least get, see the most bang for their buck, you know, and hit those touristy areas.

Anne (39:25): And for those who are drooling thinking, I've gotta get to Italy or those who are thinking, gimme a book, cuz that's not happening for me, I hope these titles are satisfying. Okay. The first is one we've talked about on the podcast. I think many a time at this point, and that is Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr. This is a magical memoir and also a very slim one. It might be even smaller than The Speckled Beauty. And it's about the year that Anthony Doerr, his wife and his twin baby boys went to Rome after he won a writer's residency grant, which basically means they funded him to live there while he worked on his novel. But the timing on this was really interesting. He found out he won the award the same day that he and his wife brought their twins home from the hospital.

Anne (40:07): He writes just so beautifully. And so, uh, vividly, like you can picture everything he's saying about the year they spent in Rome. And some of it is very like mundane or at least it would, it would be mundane like cuz he is talking about getting groceries, but he's doing it in Rome. And that makes it a story to, to this American reader. And he also writes about the extraordinary. So there's grocery shopping. There's trying to figure out baby gear for twins in Italy with cobblestone streets, and that's really interesting. Um, his wife's unexpected illness and navigating the health system when they don't speak Italian. Sightseeing, taking advantage of being in Italy while they're there, and they happen to be there during Pope John Paul II's funeral as well. And he goes and writes about that.

Anne (40:49): Something I really loved about this story, which I think would make it an amazing read for your clients. I would really recommend they read this in advance if they're going to Rome, cause I think it's going to put destinations on their must-visit list. Um, was he writes about so many real places in great detail. Like he was so struck by the windows or the murals or the fountains. And I found myself Googling just about every street, church, town, landmark that he referenced. Um, something else that's fun for readers now is that he makes all these references to the novel he was writing while in Rome. We now know that that book was All the Light We Cannot See, which maybe one that you've read. But to see him talk about that novel in development was really fun.

Anne (41:31): Okay, next, we have A Room with a View by E. M. Forster. Now this is a classic. This is out of copyright at this point. Um, this is a book that turns on a stolen kiss in the Italian countryside. You might actually wanna recommend that your clients watch the movie because it is widely believed that the movie is better than the book, but it's such a slim novel. Why not give it a try? It's also about quirky families. This is about the awakening of a sheltered English woman. Her name is Lucy Honeychurch. And not to like talk about the movie again on a books podcast, but I'm going to because uh, Maggie Smith plays Lucy's uptight Aunt. Lucy herself is played by Helena Bonham Carter, when she's just a baby, it's a lot of fun. Uh, it's set largely in Florence. Next we have, we had to toss in something new and that is One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle, that just came out in February. I know you like to listen to audio books, Lynette: it's worth mentioning that this one is narrated by Lauren Graham.

Anne (42:32): And once again, this is not intended to be a theme, but this is not a long story. Um, it's awfully close to 200 pages. Uh, I flew through it in an afternoon, that's not something I can typically do with a full length book. This is about a twenty-something young woman named Katy who loses her mother to cancer. And when she does, she loses her best friend in the world and she doesn't know what to do next. So she decides to go find the answers in Italy. She makes the difficult decision to travel to the Amalfi Coast, um, difficult because she and her mother had planned to take this trip together. She ends up at this charming little hotel in Positano and imagines what her own mother's visit must have been like many years before cause that's why they wanted to go together, cause her mother had had a life changing experience there many years before.

Anne (43:17): Uh, and it's a Rebecca Serle novel, so strange and magical things happen. Um, I'll tell you a little bit what that is. I don't think that's spoiler for Rebecca Serle. Katy's just wandering around the hotel one day and like, boom, there's her mother in the flesh, but she's not yet Katy's mother because she's just 30 years old. So all of a sudden her mother, her magical mother who can't be, you know it, that that's not how space and time work, but they're, you know, palling around seeing the sites on the Amalfi Coast and the scenery is lovely. Um, the descriptions of the food are lavish and um, wonderful. If I didn't already desperately want to go to the Amalfi Coast, this novel would've made me want to. This is a fun read. Like it feels like, uh, the kind of breezy read. I don't mean that it doesn't have depth. I'm just saying, this is the kind of story that you can fly through and that can make it a really fun read to fulfill a certain kind of vacation desire.

Anne (44:13): And finally, we have a memoir that is From Scratch by Tembi Locke. This is really a grief memoir. Um, it's such a beautiful and reflective story. Another kind of book, they can be really lovely to read when you're outside your usual life, the way you are on a trip. And it's sad of course, but also filled with so much love and appreciation. So you find out at the very beginning that Tembi Locke's husband died. And from there, she sets out to tell a story of how she fell in love with him. Even though perhaps they didn't look on the surface, like they belong together for a whole list of reasons she shares like race, class and culture and how they overcame a lot to be together and just really meant everything to each other.

Anne (44:56): And that's of course why losing him was so painful for her and why she felt she really needed to tell this story, but she does a really beautiful job sharing how she found him and how food and also chance brought them together. And something interesting in this story is that his Sicilian family was not wild about him marrying her, a Black woman from America. And for years that splintered the family. But in this book she chronicles the three summers that she spent in Sicily with her daughter. She begins to build a new life. Like she, she builds a life from scratch, like it says in the title, but does so without her husband and she's doing it in his tiny hometown farming community in Sicily. And once there was tension between her and her husband's family of origin, but now they're really, um, building relationships and meaning so much to each other. And she tells these beautiful stories of being at her mother-in-law's table and the food and the community and the healing. And it's a really lovely story of love and love after loss. This close-knit community that she creates and of course, Sicily itself. So that is a wide variety of Italian picks that your clients could dig into. How did those sound?

Lynette (46:11): Those sound wonderful also and make me wanna go to Italy right now, too. [BOTH LAUGH]

Anne (46:15): Lynette. This has been so much fun. Thank you so much for talking books and travel and flights with me today.

Lynette (46:23): It's been my pleasure Anne, I have just enjoyed this so much. Thank you so much for all these great book recommendations.

Anne (46:29): Oh, the pleasure is mine. Um, happy travels and happy reading.

Lynette (46:33): Thank you.

Anne (46:38): Hey readers. I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Lynette and I'd love to hear which titles you would recommend to her travelers. Our show notes page, is at We'll share Lynette's Instagram account there, as well as the full list of titles we talked about today. Our weekly newsletter keeps you up to date with our weekly episodes and exciting announcements, like that new collection of reading gear. Make sure you're on the list at If you are loving our 2022 Summer Reading Guide, be sure to tag us in our posts over on social and use the hashtag #MMDSummerReading. That's for Modern Mrs. Darcy, MMD, summer reading. I am on Instagram at Anne Bogel. That is Anne with an E, B as in books, O G E L and find our show at whatshouldireadnext.

Anne (47:24): Make sure you're following in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, wherever you get your podcasts. Tune in next week, when I'll be talking with a reader who's recently made the jump from non-fiction to fiction, but is seeking help in articulating what he actually enjoys in that new section of the bookstore.

Anne (47:41): Thanks to the people who make this show happen! What Should I Read Next is produced by Brenna Frederick, with sound design by Kellen Pechacek. Readers, that’s it for this episode. Thanks so much for listening. And as Rainer Maria Rilke said, “ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.” Happy reading, everyone.

Books mentioned:

Honolulu by Alan Brennert
Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy 
Daughters of Smoke and Fire by Ava Homa
❤  The Speckled Beauty: A Dog and His People by Rick Bragg (audio edition)
The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma’s Southern Table by Rick Bragg
Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi  (audio edition)
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Girls’ Night Out by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke
Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros
The True History of Chocolate by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe
Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky
Facing the Mountain: A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War II by Daniel James Brown 
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
Moloka’i by  Alan Brennert 
Daughter of Moloka’i by Alan Brennert
Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell 
Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
The Lion in the Lei Shop by Kaye Starbird
Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World by Anthony Doerr
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr 
A Room with a View by E. M. Forster 
One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle (audio edition)
From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home by Tembi Locke

Also Mentioned:

WSIRN Ep 40: Spouses of Readers Anonymous with Holland Saltsman
WSIRN Ep 41: 20 books everyone will be talking about this fall
WSIRN Ep 107: Bookish gifts for everyone on your list
WSIRN Ep 210: Book gifts are the BEST gifts
Reading is better when it’s done wine tasting style
WSIRN Ep 272: I loved the library before it was cool with Derek Dupuis
WSIRN Ep 330: Fascinating lives, fascinating stories with Katrina Fleming
Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust Rediscoveries series
A Room with a View movie


Leave A Comment
  1. Amanda says:

    Gods of Jade and Shadow is not Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s debut. She wrote several books before this one. It’s also not YA.

  2. Gretchen S. says:

    For Mexico, you might consider Harriet Doerr’s books Stones for Ibarra and Consider This, Senora. Harriet Doerr was a late bloomer — she published her first work in her 70s to great acclaim. Both of these books are informed by her years in Mexico with her husband operating a mine and picture a different Mexico than tourists typically see. For a cozier mystery, you might consider Aaron Elkins’ Curses! which focuses on a archeological mystery on the Yucatan Peninsula.

    For more Amalfi Coast reads, you might consider Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim (another book that is in the public domain) and Jess Walters’ Beautiful Ruins.

  3. adepy says:

    What a nice idea for travelers!
    I don’t know all the destinations available in Strong Sense of Place blog but perhaps it can provide interesting recommendations…

  4. Celiwe says:

    I didn’t check the other countries but was disappointed that none of the books recommended for Hawaii were written by Hawaiians.

    • Rayna says:

      Agreed. Shark Dialogues by Kiana Davenport is a must read. She also wrote Song of Exile and House of Many Gods. I was surprised not to hear at least The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings. Lesser know is Kristiana Kahakauwila, who wrote This is Paradise.

      • Ginger Horton says:

        Thanks for these recommendations! I’m excited to read some more by Hawaiian authors. I had Song of Exile and Shark Dialogues on my shelves, but somehow didn’t notice these were written by the same author. Sounds like it’s time for me to read some Kiana Davenport!

    • Stephanie says:

      I’m so glad to see I wasn’t the only one who noticed this. In addition to Kiana Davenport’s books and “This is Paradise” that Rayna mentioned, I would add “Hawai’i’s Story by Hawai’i’s Queen” by Queen Lili’uokalani and “From a Native Daughter” by the late, great activist Haunani-Kay Trask, especially if travelers are interested in decolonizing their trip.

  5. Carol says:

    One of my fav authors for light historical fiction with a strong women’s fiction component is an author from Hawaii, Sara Ackerman. She writes WW11 histfic stories that feature the events of Pearl Harbor. She has written 5 books……,Radar Girls is one of my favs but they are all engaging and page turning with themes of friendship and women supporting women and vivid island descriptions. Perfect vacation reading!

  6. Torrie says:

    I recently sent Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kauai Strong Washburn to a friend vacationing in Hawaii. (Also, as an aside, I’m reading Caramelo right now – it’s wonderful, but at over 400 pages, I wouldn’t say it is a slim novel – so worth the length though!).

  7. Lisa Holtzman says:

    I am currently reading Cook Real Hawai’i by Sheldon Simeon. It’s a cookbook, but I think it would be a great recommendation for your clients. In the book’s introduction he describes the complexities of the food of Hawai’i, cultural identities, his own story, a brief Hawai’ian history, and answers frequently asked questions.

    Each recipe has a headnote describing when and why people eat a certain dish and sometimes it’s history. There are also text boxes throughout describe how various cultures influenced the foods of Hawai’i.

    It’s very good and the pictures are beautiful. I think it would be fun to try some dishes before traveling and learn a little more about the islands.

    • Ginger Horton says:

      That sounds really good! I’ll add it to my (growing) shelf of Hawaiian cookbooks. I just recently tried my hand at haupia pie bars and they were a big hit in my house.

  8. Megan K says:

    A book I loved that impressed me so much I wanted to visit Florence, Italy was Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius reinvented Architecture. It is narrative nonfiction and tells the history of the Santa Maria Del Fiore. I read it ten or more years ago and I still think about it. For clients interesting in traveling to Florence, Italy, this would be an amazing book to read before they get to tour the cathedral itself.

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