Summer is finally drawing to a close — apparently. (This was news to me since in my mind we’re somewhere around week 10,000 of the weirdest March ever.) During a summer like this, we have to readjust our typical definition of “travel”: goodbye long flights and Airbnbs, hello cautious trips to the grocery store, and infinite masked loops around the Zilker hike and bike trail. But if you’ve found yourself longing for a jaunt out of town lately, I’ve got you covered. Below, I’ve listed some of my favorite reads featuring adventurous protagonists and exciting locations. You may not be able to travel for real, but these books will certainly transport you as you sweat your way through the dog days.
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Things aren’t going so hot for Arthur Less. No one wants to read his novels, his boyfriend of the past decade is engaged to someone who isn’t him, and worst of all, he’s about to turn 50. So Arthur turns to his dusty pile of invitations to obscure literary events — and accepts every single one of them. The result is a gorgeous, meditative trip around the world full of humor, insight, and self-discovery.
A Double Life by Flynn Berry
Based on the true story of Lord Lucan, this riveting mystery stars Claire, a London doctor whose father is suspected to have brutally murdered the family babysitter nearly thirty years ago. But no one knows for sure — he vanished without a trace that same night. Now an adult, Claire becomes determined to infiltrate her father’s cold, snobbish circle of upper-class friends and discover the truth about what happened. As she wanders down the rabbit hole of her father’s past, her mission leads her to some unexpected places — including on a fateful trip abroad.
If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha
As a traveler, it can be hard to tell if you’re getting the authentic experience of a place or just the gussied-up tourist version. But Frances Cha’s sharp feminist portrait of contemporary South Korea leaves no room for doubt. The novel stars four young women, all living in the same apartment building, whose lives and relationships interweave in unexpected ways. Covering a diverse range of topics from sex work to billionaire boyfriends to Kpop to the power of friendship, If I Had Your Face feels at once relatable and brand-new.
French Exit by Patrick DeWitt
A darkly funny little novel that I once heard described as Arrested Development in book form, French Exit follows formidable widow Frances Price and her adult son Malcolm as their impending bankruptcy forces them to flee the Upper East Side for Paris. With them is a cat called Small Frank, who happens to house the reincarnated soul of Frances’s dead husband. Balancing hilarity and poignancy to brilliant effect, this novel takes you on a trip that — like its protagonists — you never saw coming.
Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert
When 31-year-old Chloe Brown is nearly flattened by a Range Rover, she realizes it may be time to reevaluate her life. Right now, her fibromyalgia keeps her from going out much, and her idea of fun is a weekend full of coding. But when she decides to make a bucket list including bullet points like “move out,” “travel the world with nothing but hand luggage,” and “do something bad,” things begin to turn around — especially because the “something bad” turns out to be a sexy ginger handyman named Red. Steamy and heartfelt, this rom-com is the ideal “beach” (or maybe bathtub) read.
A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen
Aimless American grad student Andrei Kaplan was born in Russia, but he doesn’t really remember what it was like — he hasn’t returned since he was six. That changes when his older brother sends him off to Moscow to care for his ailing grandmother. As Andrei absorbs himself in pickup hockey, meets new friends, and begins to acclimate to life in Putin’s Russia, he must learn to strike a balance between American effusivity and Russian reserve — or there may be serious consequences.
Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory
Technically, the “holiday” in Guillory’s title is of the winter variety — but since all of 2020 has been a time warp anyway, there’s nothing wrong with a little Christmas in August. In this charming royal rom-com, Vivian Forest sets off on her second-ever trip out of the country with her daughter Maddie, who’s been unexpectedly assigned to style a British duchess. Vivian is instantly drawn to the crisp accent and cool formality of private secretary Malcolm — and he clearly likes her back. But when the fairy lights come down, the Christmas tree wilts, and Vivian heads back to California, what will become of their romance?
In the Woods by Tana French
The first book of Tana French’s utterly unputdownable Dublin Murder Squad series will transport you to the rolling fields of Ireland, but this trip is far from idyllic. Starring detective Rob Ryan and his partner Cassie Maddox, the novel centers around the murder of a twelve-year-old girl in the woods of a Dublin suburb. It’s standard enough stuff for Rob — he’s a Murder Squad pro, after all — except that a mysterious event from his own past took place in the very same woods. As a proud Tana French addict, I highly recommend sticking around in Dublin and finishing her series of fast-paced, expertly crafted thrillers.