Holiday Gift Guide: Our Top Travel Books for Women, From the JourneyWoman Book Club

by | Dec 15, 2023

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Last updated on December 22nd, 2023

Featured image: Books with a strong sense of place inspire us as travellers to learn more | Photo by Wavebreakmedia on Envato

Our favourite books to inspire future travel 

By Carolyn Ray 

As 2023 comes to a close, our book club team has been reflecting on the books we’ve read over the four years in the JourneyWoman Book Club. Together, we’ve read 40 books and travelled around the world many times over, with stops in Ukraine, South America, Japan, New Zealand, Spain, Nigeria and Italy — to name a few. If you’re looking for the perfect holiday read, we’ve compiled a shortlist of the books that touched us, inspired us to travel and taught us something new about the world.

We’d like to thank our partner Tina Hartas at TripFiction, everyone who participated in our book club meetings and the authors who joined us on our webinars, interviews and provided first-hand insights into the cultures, people and countries in their books. A very big thank you to Erin Litteken, Author of The Memory Keeper of Ukraine, Alka Joshi, Author of The Henna Artist, Lisa See, Author of Lady Tan’s Circle of Women, Joanna Glenn, Author of All My Mothers, Jane Christmas, Author of The Psychic and the Pilgrim, Charity Norman, Author of Remember Me, Laura Maya, Author of Tell Them My Name, and Rebecca Copeland, Author of The Kimono Tattoo. We are so grateful for your support! An even bigger virtual hug to our book club co-hosts, Wendy Brooke and Sally Jane Smith. We hope you’ll join us in 2024 for our first quarterly book club meeting in February 2024. Our featured book is the Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin. (Learn more here)

When you use the links below to purchase the book, you are supporting our book club and for that we are grateful! 

Our 12 top travel books for women from the JourneyWoman Book Club

While it’s always difficult to choose favourites, the past two years of the JourneyWoman Book Club have been wonderfully stimulating for our book club members. After much discussion, we’ve listed our top holiday books for women to inspire future travel, based on feedback from our book club meetings. 

February 2023 Book of the Month

1. Eva Luna, by Isabel Allende

Set in South America 

Best selling author, Isabel Allende was born in Peru, grew up in Chile and has lived in other countries including Venezuela and the United States. Now 80, Allende —novelist, feminist, and philanthropist—is one of the most widely-read authors in the world, having sold more than 77 million books.

Published in 1987, Eva Luna features a diverse cast of characters including immigrants from many countries. Eva Luna is a poor child living in an unnamed country in South America and becomes orphaned at a young age. She learns to rely on her wits and love of words and storytelling to survive. Allende says it was inspired by her time living in Venezuela, and her friendship with a young artist named Elsa Morales. Eva Luna is many things: an orphan, a servant, a runaway, a rebel – and a storyteller. As she grows into a young woman, her colourful life is populated by a string of eccentric characters. Her unusual alliances – with street urchins, merchants, brothel madams, refugees and guerrilla fighters – help her to triumph over adversity. Despite sinister circumstances, her astonishing visions beguile the world and bring light into dark places.

Find it at your local library

February 2022 Book of the Month

2. All My Mothers by Joanna Glenn

Set in Cordoba, Spain 

Joanna Glen read Spanish at the University of London, and lost her heart to Andalusia whilst studying at the Faculty of Arts in Córdoba. She went on to become a teacher of English and Spanish, and a school principal. Joanna’s debut novel, The Other Half of Augusta Hope, was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award. It was wonderful to interview her for and learn more about the inspiration for this book. 

Set in London and Córdoba, Spain, All My Mothers is an uplifting and perceptive novel that explores the themes of motherhood and loss.  Eva is growing up with parents, with whom she just doesn’t seem to bond – Dad is Spanish from Andalucía and Mum is a fragile, reclusive woman who has no motherly warmth. They simply don’t feel like her tribe and when she discovers a photo of herself as a child, with the head of the female caregiver removed, she decides that she really needs to understand more about her heritage. Dad then abandons his little family and returns to his home country of Spain, leaving the two females floundering. 

She is driven to study in Córdoba, where she somehow feels she belongs. Her father, she knows, is in the vicinity and there is a good chance she might bump into him, of course. And it is there that she starts her search for her childhood history. It is a convoluted path to uncovering the secrets that have permeated her life and consciousness, a preoccupation that consumes her.

Find it at your local library

August 2023 Book of the Month

3. Still Life by Sarah Winman

Set in Florence, Italy 

Sarah Winman’s 2011 debut novel When God Was a Rabbit became an international bestseller and won Winman several awards including New Writer of the Year in the Galaxy National Book Awards. If you love Florence and Italy, this is a book for you – full of love and appreciation for the little things in life.

In her latest novel, published in November 2021, Still Life, Winman takes us to Tuscany in 1944. As Allied troops advance and bombs fall around deserted villages, a young English soldier, Ulysses Temper, finds himself in the wine cellar of a deserted villa. There, he has a chance encounter with Evelyn Skinner, a middle-aged art historian who has come to Italy to salvage paintings from the ruins and recall long-forgotten memories of her own youth. In each other, Ulysses and Evelyn find a kindred spirit amongst the rubble of war-torn Italy, and set off on a course of events that will shape Ulysses’s life for the next four decades.

Find it at your local library

June 2023 Book of the Month

4. The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré

Set in Lagos, Nigeria 

We can all relate to the need for women to find their voice — and freedom. This is the unforgettable story of Adunni, a 14-year-old Nigerian girl who knows what she wants: an education.

As the only daughter of a broke father, Adunni is a valuable commodity. Removed from school and sold as a third wife to an old man, her life amounts to this: four goats, two bags of rice, some chickens and a new TV. When unspeakable tragedy swiftly strikes in her new home, she is secretly sold as a domestic servant to a household in the wealthy enclaves of Lagos, where no one will talk about the strange disappearance of her predecessor, Rebecca. As a yielding daughter, a subservient wife, and a powerless servant, 14-year-old Adunni is repeatedly told that she is nothing. But Adunni won’t be silenced. She is determined to find her voice – in a whisper, in song, in broken English – until she can speak for herself, for the girls like Rebecca who came before, and for all the girls who will follow.

This is the debut novel of Abi Daré, who grew up in Lagos, Nigeria and has lived in the UK for 18 years.

“I’m excited about this debut novel from Nigerian author Abi Daré. . . . In Nigeria, and around the world, girls are fighting for their right to learn. I’m grateful to Abi for showing the challenges Nigerian girls face and showcasing the power of their voices.”— Malala Yousafzai

Find it at your local library

November 2023 Book of the Month

5.  Lady Tan’s Circle of Women by Lisa See

Set in China in the 15th Century

We were thrilled to have Author, Lisa See join us at our November 2023 book club. In addition to Lady Tan’s Circle of Women, she is the New York Times bestselling author of The Island of Sea WomenThe Tea Girl of Hummingbird LaneSnow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, Shanghai Girls, China Dolls, and Dreams of Joy, which debuted at #1.

Set in 15th century China, Lady Tan’s Circle of Women is the story of  Tan Yunxian, in the fifth year of the Chenghua emperor’s reign. Born into an elite family, yet haunted by death, separations, and loneliness, Yunxian is being raised by her grandparents to be of use. Her grandmother is one of only a handful of female doctors in China, and she teaches Yunxian the pillars of Chinese medicine; the Four Examinations—looking, listening, touching, and asking—something a man can never do with a female patient. Lady Tan’s Circle of Women is a captivating story of women helping other women. It is also a triumphant reimagining of the life of a woman who was remarkable in the Ming dynasty and would be considered remarkable today.

“I write about these relationships because I’m a woman, because I want to connect to women, and because women’s stories still need to be told.” – Lisa See

Find it at your local library

May 2023 Book of the Month

6. The Kimono Tattoo by Rebecca Copeland

Set in Kyoto, Japan 

If you love textiles, you’ll love this book, which takes readers on an intricate journey into Kyoto’s world of kimono design. Written by Rebecca Copeland, this is her debut work, and touches on questions of identity, belonging and self-discovery.  

This high-octane multicultural thriller centres around American translator, Ruth Bennett, who recently returned to her childhood home in Kyoto, after losing her job in the United States (and her marriage). Ruth was hoping her new job would offer a quiet diversion, perhaps even boost her flagging confidence. But she soon finds the storyline in the mysterious novel she’s translating is leaking into her everyday life. Fictional characters turn out to be real, and the past catches up with the present in a menacing way. Using her skills as a translator and her intimate knowledge of both kimono and Kyoto, Ruth is forced to confront a vicious killer along with her own painful family secrets.

Find it at your local library

April 2023 Book of the Month

7. Remember Me by Charity Norman

Set in New Zealand 

Written by Charity Norman, this is a heartfelt, page-turning suspense novel from the bestselling author of The Secrets of Strangers – which is an ideal reading-group fiction, and perfect for fans of Jodi Picoult and Liane Moriarty. Until I spoke with Norman at her home in New Zealand, I didn’t realize just how personal this story is for her. Her writing flows so well, showing such an intuitive understanding of the character. In conversation, I learn that her mother had Alzheimer’s, making it both poignant and cathartic to write. In real life, Norman didn’t get to say goodbye to her mother. In her book, she gave her story a beautiful and different ending, perhaps the one her mother would have wanted. 

The plot is one that many of us can relate to, as it involves caregiving. In this book, Emily returns to New Zealand’s North Island to take care of her father, who is struggling with Alzheimer’s disease. Once there, she finds her hometown still haunted by the mysterious disappearance of a young woman 25 years before. Now, shattering truths about the past threaten to rip the close-knit community apart.

Find it at your local library

July 2023 Book of the Month

8. What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim: A Midlife Misadventure on Spain’s Camino de Santiago de Compostela by Jane Christmas

Set in Spain, the Camino de Santiago

Written by Canadian Jane Christmas, this is a must-read for any woman who wants to walk the Camino de Santiago. It’s not a guidebook, rather, it’s a hilarious look at one woman’s journey through Spain that will have you laughing throughout — and inspire you to walk it on your own terms. I met Jane last fall in Bath, UK, and she’s walking the Camino again – this time from the bottom of Spain.

The description alone is compelling: “Who knew that a bottle of wine, an airline steward, and a rash of goosebumps would direct me to a 780-kilometre trek across Spain, despite the fact I had never backpacked or laced up hiking boots? I believe that every physical journey we take has a metaphysical one (or six) going on inside us simultaneously; for me, that year, those side journeys included healing a broken heart, grappling with the politics of female friendships, and trying not to be a whining middle-aged woman. Then, in the midst of it all, something wonderfully unexpected sprang up, and altered my universe. Never underestimate the power of goosebumps, but if it ends up involving 14 other women, don’t say you weren’t warned.”

Find it at your local library

April 2022 Book of the Month

9. The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak

Set in Cyprus

The most widely read female writer in Turkey and acclaimed worldwide for her work’s “vision, bravery and compassion” (The New York Times Book Review), Elif Shafak is the author of 12 bestselling novels, including The Bastard of Istanbul, The Architect’s Apprentice, Three Daughters of Eve, and 10 Minutes 28 Seconds in This Strange World, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. She is also the author of the memoir Black Milk and has written articles for periodicals around the world.

“The pandemic made it urgent to appreciate the immaterial things in life: family, friendship, sisterhood. Now, we must broaden our horizons: family is humanity, friendship extends beyond national borders and sisterhood means nothing unless it is translated globally.” – Elif Shafak, The Guardian, March 17, 2022 

Find it at your local library

August 2022 Book of the Month

10.  The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

Set in Jaipur, India 

Born in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India, Joshi has lived in the U.S. since the age of nine. She published her debut novel, The Henna Artist, at the age of 62 after a decade of work. She says; “It took me 10 years to really learn how to write The Henna Artist, how to layer it with all of the complexities, and how to grow a character in order for the story to come alive and make it meaningful to so many people.” Published in 2020, The Henna Artist is followed by The Secret Keeper of Jaipur (2021), the former a bestseller on The New York Times list and selected by actress Reese Witherspoon’s Reese’s Book Club. Michael Edelstein, who headed NBC studios during its filming of Downton Abbey, is executive producing The Henna Artist with Indian actress, Freida Pinto.

Many of the themes in The Henna Artist are universal to us all: suffering, learning, family, love, belonging, and even the tension between old and new traditions. From the first page, I felt as if I was stepping into India’s 1950s culture, with wonderful and evocative phrases like ‘gossip-eaters’ – which describes the women who spread rumors, and Indian words and phrases that bring this complex country to life. Vivid and compelling, this novel shares one woman’s struggle for fulfillment in a society pivoting between the traditional and the modern, exploring themes of personal freedom and choice.

Find it at your local library

January 2023 Book of the Month

11.  The Memory Keeper of Kyiv by Erin Litteken

Set in Ukraine 

The granddaughter of a Ukrainian refugee, Erin Litteken grew up hearing about the difficulties of life in Eastern Europe during, and after, World War II. The family stories triggered her further research into this dark period of European history, making her debut novel over 10 years to craft.

When asked why this novel? Why this subject? She said: “It’s so important to know what has come before…history does repeat itself if we don’t learn lessons from it, and clearly we haven’t learnt the lessons from this instance of Russia and Ukraine, and now its happening again.” As a historian with a passion for research, she hopes that this book will help us to learn the lessons of the past.

Find it at your local library

November 2022 Book of the Month

12. Tell Them My Name by Laura Maya

Set in Nepal

Tell Them My Name is an inspiring true story that explores how even the most impossible dreams can come true when unlikely friendships are built across cultures. In this offbeat travel memoir written by Laura Maya, four strangers from three countries, with barely a common language between them, decide to adopt each other as family and take on the world. 

“I wanted to explore the beauty in our differences,” she says to Sally Jane, who interviewed her about her reasons for writing the memoir and her conscious efforts to tell the story of Aama and Babba without ‘whitewashing’ the narrative. Her book took seven years to write out of respect for the Nepalese family she lived with in 2009, in a remote village high in the Himalayas.  

Find it at your local library

More Travel Books for Women

As the CEO and Editor of JourneyWoman, Carolyn is a passionate advocate for women's travel and living the life of your dreams. She leads JourneyWoman's team of writers and chairs the JourneyWoman Women's Advisory Council and Women's Speaker's Bureau. She has been featured in the New York Times, Toronto Star and Zoomer as a solo travel expert, and speaks at women's travel conferences around the world. In March 2023, she was named one of the most influential women in travel by TravelPulse and was the recipient of a SATW travel writing award in September 2023. She is the chair of the Canadian chapter of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), a member of the Travel Media Association of Canada (TMAC), Women's Travel Leaders and a Herald for the Transformational Travel Council (TTC). Sometimes she sleeps. A bit.

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