JourneyWoman Book Club: Summer Travel Reads by Women

Featured image: Inspire your summer with dreams of slow travel through the French countryside /Photo by Cecile Musy on Unsplash

Summer Reads about Love, Courage and Adversity to Keep us Inspired to Travel: Vote Below for Your Favourites

There’s nothing like a good summer read to keep us inspired and help us get the ‘story behind the story’. In this series, we look at best-selling summer reads that share women’s stories of love, family, resilience, and triumph over adversity, that take place in France, the US, India, Brazil, Egypt and the Middle East. 

Your book club co-hosts, Wendy and Carolyn, reviewed all your recommendations and curated a list of books to keep us inspired through the summer and fall of 2020. These are based on your recommendations and a few of our own. We can’t wait to read these with you!

AVAILABILITY: We’ve prechecked each book to ensure that is relatively recent, and readily available through independent bookstores, libraries and as downloads. Some books can take 2-3 weeks to order so please don’t wait until a few weeks prior to order the book! We do not support or check availability on Amazon, Goodreads or Audible (owned by Amazon) as we want to support small businesses like ours!

HOSTS:  As in our recent (amazing!) book club on Ireland, every book club will focus on the destination and feature an expert on the region or country who will provide relevant context and colour, so come prepared with your questions.

MEETINGS: Discussions are on the third Wednesday of every month, so please save the date and time of 7 pm ET! (October 21, November 18, December 16).  For each book club we also invite a local expert to join us and share her insider perspective.  A big thank you to the women who have joined us on previous book clubs (Ann Quinlan for Ireland, Amit Janco for Spain and Doni Belau for France)!

A SMALL REQUEST: We want to keep book club sessions open to everyone. If you find the sessions valuable, please consider letting us know by making a small Pay-What-You-Can donation to cover the costs associated with speaker time, planning, facilitation, content production + Zoom. This is also a great way to give us feedback and buy us a coffee:

All JW events are now listed on a NEW calendar on our website which includes all registration information!  This will make it easier to sign up and add events to your own calendar.

To advocate for your choice or suggest a new book, please put it in the comments below! Just a quickie reminder that we’ve read books about Portugal, Ireland, France Spain. 

(Disclaimer: This page contains affiliate links which allow us to earn a small commission if you purchase the book through our site; it helps us offset our costs if you purchase books here! Thank you!)


The Kitchen House, Kathleen Grissom

The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom

SEPTEMBER: September 16, 2020

Register here.

Recommended by: Carolyn, Wendy, Nancy

Published: 2010
Country: USA

Abstract: A New York Times Bestseller — Orphaned onboard a ship from Ireland in 1791, seven-year-old Lavinia arrives at a tobacco plantation where she is to live and work with the slaves of the kitchen house. Under the care of the master’s illegitimate daughter, she becomes deeply bonded to her adopted family. Eventually accepted into the world of the big house, with its absent master and mistress battling opium addiction, Lavinia straddles two very different worlds. Then she is forced to make a choice.

Quill and Quire says: “The novel spans 19 years, during which Lavinia’s experience mirrors that of the slaves in the kitchen house but contains an additional level: as a white orphan, she is an outsider according to both the haves and the have-nots. Grissom creates parallels between many of the novel’s female characters, emphasizing that each one – even the mistress of the house – is subjugated in some way. Sex (usually in the form of rape) unifies the women and illustrates their powerlessness. This is an obvious device, but one that Grissom uses delicately to build and rebuild sisterly bonds among her female characters.”

We have a very special guest joining us:  Mary Furlong-Minkoff, PhD,  Curator of Archaeological Collections at Montpelier. Montpelier is the home of James Madison, the United States’ fourth President. Her focus is to work across disciplines and with the public, particularly the descendants of the enslaved at Montpelier to tell a whole truth history.


Mary joined Montpelier in 2015, and oversees the archaeology laboratory and archaeological collections. Her research interests focus civically engaged archaeology, African American archaeology and sensory archaeology. She received her PhD from the University of Maryland in Anthropology, and her MA in Historical Archaeology from the University of West Florida. Prior to her time at Montpelier, Mary worked across the Eastern Seaboard and with the National Parks Service.

To prepare for this book club, visit Montpelier’s Mere Distinction of Colour (MDC) Exhibit. Through archaeological artifacts, oral histories, documentary research, and architectural reconstructions, MDC tells the story of the enslaved people of Montpelier and the connections between slavery, racism, the Constitution, and today.

 This is one book club you won’t want to miss!

August 29 is #indepedent #bookstoreday so we encourage you to purchase your books from small bookstores using the link below.

Check here for discussion questions one week prior to the session! 

To purchase:

The Kitchen House: Discussion Questions

1. What was your favorite passage in the book and why?
2. Why do you think the author chose to tell the story through two narrators? How are Lavinia’s observations and judgments different from Belle’s? Does this story belong to one more than the other? If you could choose another character to narrate the novel, who would it be?
3. One of the novel’s themes is history repeating itself. Another theme is isolation. Select scenes from The Kitchen House that depict each theme and discuss. Are there scenes in which the two themes intersect?
4. “Mae knows that her eldest daughter consorts with my husband. . . Almost from the beginning, I suspected their secrets” (page 107). Why does the captain keep Belle’s true identity a secret from his wife and children? Do you think the truth would have been a relief to his family or torn them further apart? At what point does keeping this secret turn tragic?
5. Marshall is a complicated character. At times, he is kind and protective; other times, he is a violent monster. What is the secret that Marshall is forced to keep? Is he to blame for what happened to Sally? Why do you think Marshall was loyal to Rankin, who was a conspirator with Mr. Waters?
6. “Fortunately, making myself amenable was not foreign to me, as I had lived this way for much of my life” (page 233). Do you think this attribute of Lavinia saves or endangers her life? Give examples for both.
7. Describe the relationship between Ben’s wife, Lucy, and Belle. How does it evolve throughout the novel? Is it difficult for you to understand their friendship? Why or why not?
8. “I was as enslaved as all the others” (page 300). Do you think this statement by Lavinia is fair? Is her position equivalent to those of the slaves? What freedom does she have that the slaves do not? What burdens does her race put upon her?

d settings.

October – December:

Based on your input, we’ve prioritized your top three picks for Fall 2020. 

1. Travels with my Hat, by Christine Osborne

OCTOBER 21, 2020, 7 PM ET 

Registration information to come 

Recommended by: Amos

Published in: 2014
Countries: Iraq, Ethiopia, Egypt, Pakistan, Morocco

Abstract: The remarkable story of how an Australian nurse became an award-winning travel writer and acclaimed photographer working alone in some of the most offbeat places on earth. This was trailblazing travel in a time well before the internet: before travel rating websites advised where to stay and before mass tourism disturbed the culture of many countries. In 1979 Christine Osborne travelled with the Buckingham Palace Press Corps to cover Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s tour of the Arab states. The hat incident of the title refers to a moment in Nizwa, in the Sultanate of Oman when the Queen became separated from the royal party in the labyrinthine souq. Christine’s other adventures in Yemen, Pakistan, Morocco, Ethiopia and Iraq are rounded off with letters to her mother who had never left Australia. Travels with My Hat: A lifetime on the road is an extraordinary account by a cool-headed young woman carrying her camera-bag and wearing her trusty blue hat.

To purchase:

Travels with my Hat, Christine Osborne

2. Mistress of Nothing, by Kate Pullinger

NOVEMBER 18, 2020, 7 PM ET 

Registration Information to come

Recommended by: Susan

Published in: 2009
Country: Egypt

Abstract: Kate Pullinger’s Governor General’s Literary Award-winning novel about a lady, her maid and the man that comes between them. Lady Duff Gordon is the toast of Victorian London society but when she contracts tuberculosis, she and her devoted lady’s maid, Sally, set sail for Egypt and an entirely new life. Sally and Lady Duff Gordon thrive in their new and exotic surroundings, learning Arabic, adopting native dress and visiting the tombs of ancient pharaohs. Soon, Sally adapts to this new world and to the heady freedom she’s never known before. But freedom and romance are luxuries a lady’s maid can ill afford. When Sally yearns for more than her status entitles her to, she receives a brutal reminder that she is the mistress of nothing.

To purchase:

The Mistress of Nothing, Kate Pullinger
State of Wonder, Ann Patchett

3. State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett

DECEMBER 16, 2020, 7 PM

Registration Information to come

Recommended by: Dee

Published in 2011
Country: Brazil

Abstract: “Expect miracles when you read Ann Patchett’s fiction.”—New York Times Book Review. Award-winning, New York Times bestselling author Ann Patchett returns with a provocative and assured novel of morality and miracles, science and sacrifice set in the Amazon rainforest. Infusing the narrative with the same ingenuity and emotional urgency that pervaded her acclaimed previous novels Bel Canto, Taft, Run, The Magician’s Assistant, and The Patron Saint of Liars, Patchett delivers an enthrallingly innovative tale of aspiration, exploration, and attachment in State of Wonder—a gripping adventure story and a profound look at the difficult choices we make in the name of discovery and love.

To purchase:

JourneyWoman Summer Reading Book Club Poll – The Poll is now closed! Thank you! 

This poll is no longer accepting votes

Which THREE books should we read next? Please select from the list below! Polling closes August 1.
39 votes


The Lost Vintage, by Ann Mah

AUGUST: August 19, 2020
Recommended by: Vanessa

Published in: 2018
Country: France

Abstract: Sweetbitter meets The Nightingale in this page-turning novel about a woman who returns to her family’s ancestral vineyard in Burgundy and unexpectedly uncovers a lost diary, an unknown relative, and a secret her family has been keeping since World War II. To become one of only a few hundred certified wine experts in the world, Kate must pass the notoriously difficult Master of Wine examination. Suddenly finding herself without a job and with the test a few months away, she travels to Burgundy to spend the fall at the vineyard estate that has belonged to her family for generations. The one person Kate hopes to avoid is Jean-Luc, a talented young winemaker and her first love. Deep inside the cellar, behind a large armoire, she discovers a hidden room containing a cot, some Resistance pamphlets, and an enormous cache of valuable wine. Piqued by the secret space, Kate begins to dig into her family’s history—a search that takes her back to the dark days of World War II and introduces her to a relative she never knew existed, a great–half aunt who was a teenager during the Nazi occupation.

The Lost Vintage by Ann M

Waitlisted for another time

1. The Storyteller’s Secret, by Sejal Badani

Recommended by Anita, Amanda, Carolyn

Published in: 2018
Country: India

Abstract: An Amazon Charts, USA Today, and Washington Post bestseller. From the bestselling author of Trail of Broken Wings comes an epic story of the unrelenting force of love, the power of healing, and the invincible desire to dream.

Nothing prepares Jaya, a New York journalist, for the heartbreak of her third miscarriage and the slow unravelling of her marriage in its wake. Desperate to assuage her deep anguish, she decides to go to India to uncover answers to her family’s past.

Intoxicated by the sights, smells, and sounds she experiences, Jaya becomes an eager student of the culture. But it is Ravi—her grandmother’s former servant and trusted confidant—who reveals the resilience, struggles, secret love, and tragic fall of Jaya’s pioneering grandmother during the British occupation. Through her courageous grandmother’s arrestingly romantic and heart-wrenching story, Jaya discovers the legacy bequeathed to her and a strength that, until now, she never knew was possible.

To purchase:

Special Guest: Joining us on this call: Doni Belau, founder of women’s tour company Girls Guide to Paris. Doni bought her first home in France 20 years ago and divides her time between Paris, Bordeaux and New York.

The Storyteller's Secret, Sejal Badani
All the way to the Tigers by Mary Morris

2. All the Way to the Tigers, by Mary Morris

Recommended by: Carolyn

Published in: June 2020 (Hardcover or ebook only available now)
Country: USA +India

Abstract: Mary Morris is the author of numerous works of fiction, including the travel classic Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone. In the tradition of Wild by Cheryl Strayed and Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, Mary Morris turns a personal catastrophe into a rich, multilayered memoir full of personal growth, family history, and thrilling travel.

In February 2008 a casual afternoon of ice skating derailed the trip of a lifetime. Mary Morris was on the verge of a well-earned sabbatical, but instead, she endured three months in a wheelchair, two surgeries, and extensive rehabilitation. On Easter Sunday, when she was supposed to be in Morocco, Morris was instead lying on the sofa reading Death in Venice, casting her eyes over these words again and again: “He would go on a journey. Not far. Not all the way to the tigers.” Disaster shifted to possibility and Morris made a decision. When she was well enough to walk again (and her doctor wasn’t sure she ever would), she would go “all the way to the tigers.”

So begins a three-year odyssey that takes Morris to India in search of the world’s most elusive apex predator. Her first lesson: don’t look for a tiger because you won’t find it–you look for signs of a tiger. And all unseen tigers, hiding in the bush, are referred to as “she.” Morris connects deeply with these magnificent and highly endangered animals, and her weeks on tiger safari also afford a new understanding of herself. Written in over a hundred short chapters, All the Way to the Tigers offers an elegiac, wry, and wise look at a woman on the road and the glorious, elusive creature she seeks.

To purchase:

Carolyn Ray

Carolyn is the Publisher + Editor-in-Chief of JourneyWoman and a member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). A Canadian raised in South Florida, Carolyn loves historic destinations and always has her backpack ready to go.




  1. Avatar

    Book suggestion

    Lands of Lost Borders by Kate Harris. A 6000 mile cycling journey along the Silk Road

    Beautifully written by a Canadian author ( I like to support all things Canadian ).

  2. Avatar

    Book Suggestion

    In Turkey I am Beautiful by Brendan Shanahan.

    Four stars on Goodreads

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    Book suggestions:

    War in Val d’Orcia, an Italian War Diary, 1943-1944 by Iris Origo
    Written by American/Irish woman who lived in Italy since a child, married an Italian man and bought an estate in what was at that time an impoverished part of Tuscany. Riveting diary of war years and how they coped – took in children from the cities, assisted partisans, refugees, etc. with courage and compassion. Their estate is called La Foce, where you can do tours of the amazing gardens and stay at the guesthouses.

    Miss Iceland by Audur Ava Olafsdottir – I haven’t read this one yet, just found it in my local bookstore. Winner of the Icelandic Bookseller’s Prize, translated from Icelandic. 1960’s Iceland, young woman from small town, aspiring writer, moves to Reykjavik.

  4. Avatar

    Book suggestions: In Ethiopia With a Mule by Dervla Murphy, and Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez

  5. Avatar

    I always seem to be 1 book behind for your online discussions!

    I was wondering if the discussion questions for the Ireland and S. Spain book are still available to ponder on my own?


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