Monday, February 8, 2016

Destination reads: Books to travel with

HALLIE EPHRON: I love to travel, and on every trip I bring books along. This summer we're going to Iceland, and I'll probably bring along a novel by one of my favorite Icelandic authors like Arnaldur Indriðason or Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. Books by Deborah Crombie, Peter Robinson, and Ruth Rendell went with me to London. I took Denise Mina and Ian Rankin to Scotland.

But I never do the same thing when I'm traveling in this country. I should have been re-reading Pat Conroy's The Great Santini when I was in Beaufort, SC, and one of James Lee Burke's Dave Robichaux novels when I was in New Orleans. Missed opportunities.

Here are the most visited cities by tourists in the US. What books would you recommend as a take-along for any of them? Fiction, nonfiction, what book would give someone to read for special insight into the place.

#1 New York City
#2 Chicago
#3 Charleston
#4 Las Vegas
#5 Seattle
#6 San Francisco
#7 Washington, DC
#8 New Orleans

LUCY BURDETTE: for New York, I'd recommend SJ Rozan's Lydia Chin series. For Washington, anything George Pelecanos. You didn't mention Australia, but I read Bill Bryson's IN A SUNBURNED COUNTRY before we went last year. I had to stop halfway through because of all the poisonous creatures he was describing--although he's a fabulous writer and very, very funny.  Also, western Australia, ML Stedman's THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS. A disturbing but lovely novel taking place on a small island across from Perth. I'm sure I'll think of more as soon as I hit save.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: As a former DC resident, I love books that show Washington for the dynamic, diverse urban center it is. So of course, I'd recommend almost anything by George Pelecanos, who has been chronicling life and crime in the non-touristy parts of town for two decades. DC is an African-American city, And no two books capture the breadth of that experience like LOST IN THE CITY, a collection of neighborhood stories by Edward P. Jones, and Stephen Carter's THE EMPEROR OF OCEAN PARK, spotlighting the members of the city's black elite.

To  explore the other Washington - white, powerful, political - I suggest the very funny NO WAY TO TREAT A FIRST LADY by Christopher Buckley, wherein the first lady clubs the president on the head with a Paul Revere spittoon and is put on trial for murder. And finally, for a jaundiced look at DC's movers and shakers, HEARTBURN, by Nora Ephron. It's a wickedly sharp portrayal of one couple's marriage falling apart in the leafy, cobblestoned confines of Georgetown.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Ah, New York! For fantastical New York, I'd recommend Mark Halprin's A Winter's Tale, for historical New York, Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence. For Brooklyn, anything by Paul Auster, Betty Smith's a Tree Growns in Brooklyn, and for snark about (fictional) Brooklyn mommies, Amy Sohn's Prospect Park West.

For Boston, I like this author — maybe you've heard of her?— Hank Phillippi Ryan.

RHYS BOWEN: Exactly what I was about to say, Susan. You actually have a group of writers here at Jungle Reds who bring places to life for us. Hank's Boston, Lucy's Key West, Debs' London, Julia's upstate New York. My Molly Murphy can take you on a good tour of New York a century ago. Susan gives a great feel for London during WW2. And Hallie--you absolutely nailed Hollywood in the sixties!

I'd also agree on S.J. Rozan for contemporary New York. Kelli Stanley brings 1940s San Francisco to life beautifully. Janet Dawson's Jeri Howard series evokes the contemporary Bay Area. But when I think about sense of place it's always Pat Conroy who comes to mind first.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Aw, Susan, thank you! And so funny--do you know A Winters Tale is my favorite book of all time? I've never read "cold" like the Lake of the Coheeries in that book, and never read beauty like his magical New York. (Edith Wharton is my other favorite, especially House of Mirth and  Wharton's Custom of the Country.  Also for turn of the century New York, Caleb Carr's The Alienist. What an amazing book. For the 1980's New York? Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities, completely amazing, brave and rule-breaking.

For Boston, Dennis Lehane's Mystic River. And Chuck Hogan's Prince of Thieves.  (The movie of which, The Town,  had an entirely different ending.)

Now I'll be thinking about his for the rest of the day.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: So many books I've loved already mentioned! And so many I would like to read... For another fascinating look at New York, I'd recommend City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg (although I have to admit I haven't finished it.. Good but a bit daunting.) For Chicago, Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden novels. You'll never think of Chicago quite the same way again. And for Charleston, how about Kathy Reichs? And one more for Seattle--a new series by Glen Erik Hamilton, featuring ex-Army Ranger and former thief Van Shaw. The first book, Past Crimes, is nominated for an Edgar for Best First Novel. The second, Hard Cold Winter, is out in March and is definitely one to watch for.

HALLIE: Please, weigh in! What books would you pack for a trip to a great US city?


  1. I must agree with Rhys . . . the books written by the Jungle Red ladies are the perfect books to take along, no matter where you might be traveling.

    After some thought on the idea of books about specific places, here are a few that come to mind:
    John Grisham’s “The Litigators” or Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files” books for Chicago.
    Carol Wiley Cassella’s “Gemini” for Seattle.
    James Patterson’s “Women’s Murder Club” series for San Francisco.
    J. D. Robb’s “In Death” series for New York City.

  2. What a list! I'd add Sheila Connolly's Museum series set in Philadelphia, and Leslie Budewitz's Spice Shop mysteries, which focus on the heart of Seattle, the Pike Place Market. Both series capture the feel of the city in its details. I'm also loving Nancy Herriman's historical mysteries set in San Francisco in the second half of the nineteenth century.

  3. New Orleans: Walker Percy, The Moviegoer

  4. Love this! And yes, I agree, it's just fun to read novels that take place wherever we're traveling.

    For DC I have always enjoyed Margaret Truman's mystery series. But I recently discovered a "new to me" mystery author and was lucky enough to meet him in Raleigh at Bouchercon. Neely Tucker. Have y'all read his Sully Carter books yet? Please give them a try! So far there are two, with one due out fairly soon, I believe.

    For Atlanta - Anne Rivers Siddons. She nails it.

    Don't forget Julie Smith for New Orleans!

    Dorothea Benton Frank for Charleston and the low country.

  5. J. A. Jance for Seattle and Arizona--thanks to her we discovered "fish ladders" and James Lee Burke for Louisiana. We saw Bayou Teche and other Evangeline locales. Craig Johnson for Wyoming. If you visit Buffalo, stop at the Busy Bee Cafe, you might see Craig, who writes the Longmire series.
    The Hillermans for Arizona and New Mexico.
    Both volumes of. "Virginia is for mysteries" for the Old Dominion.
    Triss Stein for Brooklyn.

  6. Great additions...
    Another Brooklyn author to recommend: Julia Dahl.
    And for OLD Hollywood can't beat Joseph Wambaugh.

  7. Susan, I love Paul Auster! After I read LEVIATHAN, I was sure Paul was the Unabomber. Several things in the novel fit and Paul could pass for the drawing circulating at the time. Turns out I am pretty terrible at conspiracy theoryizing.

    For D.C., I would recommend WASHINGTON SCHLEPPED HERE, Christopher Buckley's travel guide to the city. It is full of history and hysterical anecdotes.

    For New Orleans, Kate Chopin's AWAKENING and Ellen Gilchrist's NORA JANE.

  8. Yes, Triss Stein and Julie Dahl for Brooklyn!

  9. Do you take book-books, or e-reader? I'm on airplanes a lot, as you know..and I have to report I see about 50-50.

    And I am reading Brunonia Barry's ARC right now--and her Salem MA is perfect. SO perfect I keep forgetting it's a book.

  10. A friend of mine shared a site where you can plug in a city and it'll give you a list of books set in that place (I think it does fiction and non-fiction).

    I'll add my voice to the praise of the Reds and Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden. Best book I've ever read set in the Buffalo area - City of Light which captured both the city and the time period.

  11. Which reminds me: The Devil in the White City (Erik Larson) is the perfect accompaniment to a Chicago architecture tour.

  12. I'm glad to know there are some more Jim Butcher fans out there!

    Here's another DC suggestion--Ellen Crosby's Sophie Medina books, particularly the first, Multiple Exposures. The second, Ghost Image, takes place partly in London and partly in DC, and the London scenes are terrific, too.

    So funny--when I was in London, I wanted to read a contemporary book set in London. I could not find a single one at Waterstone's, either in crime fiction or on the big trade paperback fiction table. (Not looking in hardcover, for obvious reasons.) I ended up downloading a Barry Maitland Brock and Kolla mystery on my tablet.

  13. Armchair travel is the best! Love books that use just enough local architecture and events to give me the feel of the place, without reading like a guidebook. Debs for London, SJ Rozan and Cleo Coyle for contemporary NYC, Rhys and Vicki Thompson for the historic view. And not on the list, but I always feel like I've actually been to NC when I read Margaret Maron, and to Ireland when I read Sheila Connolly and Erin Hart -- I raise my head and have to shake it a bit to remember where I really am!

    Debs, too funny about not finding a contemporary London setting when you were IN London. Funny-sad-curious.

  14. When I read through the list of cities, there were two that leaped out at me with an author association. While plenty of people write about New York City, Lawrence Block is the first name that comes to my mind for it. I especially liked his "Small Town." Though it has one rather salacious subplot that might turn some off, it is such an affectionate post-911 look at the city that it moved me. And when I think of New Orleans, I think of Julie Smith's Skip Langdon series.

  15. Speaking of Ireland, I'll be going there in a few months for research (yay!). I was hoping Tana French's sixth murder squad mystery would be out. Have you-all reader hers? She's fantastic. But alas, looks like I'll need to find another Irish mystery writer to spend my time with. I agree, Leslie, that Erin and Sheila's books are great for sinking into Eire. I can't wait to get over there!

  16. I am much more likely to read about a city and then plan a trip. It doesn't even need to be a real one. When we went to England I wanted to visit St. Mary Mead. Julie did a bit of research and discovered the PBS specials were filmed in Nether Wallop. No kidding. So we went there. For our trip to France this year I wanted to visit "St. Denis" of the Martin Walker Bruno series. We did a driving trip in the sud-ouest and not only found several villages that might have been St. Denis, we even asked directions from a gendarme that I am sure was Bruno.

    Lisa Alber, I haven't heard about Tana French's newest book, but the BBC series "The Clinic" should give you a lovely taste of Ireland. I get it on Acorn.

    The worst part of my cataract surgery last week was the couple of days I couldn't real. Audio books just don't cut it.

    Anyway, here's my list, own all of these except the Seattle cookbook.

    #1 New York City: Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann

    #2 Chicago: Black Deutschland by Darryl Pinckney

    #3 Charleston: South of Broad by Pat Conroy

    #4 Las Vegas; The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani

    #5 Seattle: Pike Place Public Market Seafood Cookbook

    #6 San Francisco: Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin (Entire series of nine)

    #7 Washington, DC: Behind the Scenes or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House by Elizabeth Keckley

    #8 New Orleans: In the Electric Mist with the Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke

  17. I love this topic today, as one of the most enjoyable aspects of reading is when an author takes you somewhere and makes you feel the place. And, to repeat others' voices, our Jungle Red Writers are masters at making readers feel the setting. I will keep harping about Debs doing a guided tour of London that revolves around her books. Debs, you are bringing London to readers piece by piece (area by area), and it is fascinating. Lucy, you know how I adore Key West, and to have your series that lets me visit there is absolutely heavenly. You capture the flavor of one of my favorite places perfectly. Rhys, I have learned so much about the New York City and London of the past through your Molly and Lady Georgie series. Molly living in Greenwich Village allows us to see the early days of that artistic spot. Julia, your description of the Adirondack Mountains caused a detour on my trip to Niagara Falls after the New Albany Bouchercon in 2013. My friend and I ate at a lovely inn on Lake Sacandaga in honor of the series. Hank, well, Boston is your beat and you have made it one of my top places I want to visit. Your titles always are packed with so much meaning, and What You See made me see historic Faneuil Hall and its surroundings like I was there right along with Jane. Susan, the very first thing that I loved about your series is that you gave me a true look at what London looked and felt like during WWII, a real atmospheric feel that brought history alive for me. Hallie, There Was an Old Woman, the first book I read of yours brought to my attention the residential area of the Bronx, away from the bright lights of Manhattan and intrigued me mightily. Of course, my introduction to the glamour days of Hollywood came from you, too.

    Other authors who have brought places alive for me include Peter May with his Lewis Trilogy set on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland; Pat Conroy with Beach Music set in South Carolina (and Italy); Will North with his Davis and West mystery series set in Cornwall; Alan Brennert for Molokai and Honolulu set in Hawaii; Elly Griffiths with her Ruth Galloway series set in coastal Norfolk; Linda Fairstein with her Alexandra Cooper series set in NYC; Geraldine Brooks with all of her books wherever they're set, including Caleb's Crossing set in the mid-1600s of an early Martha's Vineyard; Carl Hiaasen and all his novels set in Florida; Nicolas Evans (not Sparks!) and all of his books set in different places, especially The Loop and The Horse Whisperer; and, of course, for imaginary setting, Louise Penny and Three Pines.

  18. Linda Fairstein for NYC -- each book has an historic element -- "Terminal City" set in the abandoned tunnels below the terminal, for example.

  19. Thanks, Ann in R! I'll check out "The Clinic."

  20. Mary, I LOVED City of Light! Did it ever get the acclaim we think it deserved?

    Debs, Jonathan just read THE VERDICT --I can't remember the author, but it's new--which is set in London. He really liked it!

    And thank you, Kathy Reel! Can't wait for you to come visit! xooo (And for Debs' London tour.)

  21. Mary, CITY OF LIGHT, yes!

    Right now I'm obsessed with Ann Cleeves' novels set in Shetland.... Although I have to read them in NYC and NOT Scotland. : (


  22. I love Australian fiction. These are just some of my favorite authors:

    Miles Franklin
    Tim Winton
    David Malouf
    Shane Maloney
    Garry Disher

    ML Stedman's book "The Light Between Oceans" is also now film soon to be released.
    I'm looking forward to it since I, too, loved the book.

  23. Hank, just ordered The Verdict. Thanks for the recommendation!

  24. For New York City, books about its past: Time and Again, by Jack Finney (best time travel novel ever), The Waterworks, by E. L. Doctorow, and The Alienist, by Caleb Carr (already mentioned), and Washington Square by Henry James. And a Molly Murphy or two...

    London, of course, for me, is all about Dickens. When I'm not at the theatres I'll be there in May hunting up locations from Great Expectations (Mr. Jaggers's office in Little Britain) and the areas around the former Barnard's Inn where Pip and Herbert lodge, and over to Hammersmith where the Pocket family lived and where Pip learned to row.

    Of course, I'd take Ruth Rendell anywhere.