Looking back at my life, I realize I was very fortunate in being able to move beyond my farm-life upbringing at an early age. Some of my relatives only moved from the farms in eastern Pennsylvania to the farms over the mountains in central Pennsylvania. Or possibly they went to Lancaster to visit the big Mennonite bookstore. If they were lucky, they parked in the Watt & Shand garage and walked through the department store to the bookstore. I can still remember the illicit thrill I’d get looking at the grown up dresses with patterns. I knew someday I’d get to shop there instead of hurrying through. But I was also excited to get to visit the fiction section of the bookstore, where I’d browse through novels based on religious women.
At 16, I took the opportunity to go on a religious trip to the “Holy Lands” of Israel and Greece. The stated objective was to walk the Bible. My goal was to get on a plane and visit all the places that came alive for me in Leon Uris’ Exodus and James Michener’s The Source. I’d see freedom fighters, sexy, misunderstood men, find a kibbutz and pretend to be an explorer uncovering history. I will say, I probably bored my fellow travelers to death with my bits and pieces of archaeological and historical knowledge as we visited all types of sites from abandoned towns to Masada and ancient Roman ruins. I had a blast on that trip and it made me want to explore so many other places in the world. So I started a list based on my favorite reads.
Growing up, I gained most of my worldly knowledge from novels; I never picked up a travel guide until college. They weren’t in our little library and I didn’t go to bookstores except for the Mennonite one before my college years. In fact, I don’t think I realized there were other bookstores—they didn’t exist in my world. So, imagine my delight in discovering travelogues by people who had traveled Europe on $20 a day! I could find $20 or $140 to do a whole week! Unfortunately, they also advocated hostels and even as a young person that kind of boarding wasn’t appealing. I grew up in a nine-person household with one bathroom and, well, you do the math. And sharing with strangers? Uh, not what I wanted to do. I’d rather find a handsome, rich hero who would sweep me off my feet, fete me with fine food and wines and tuck me up in some marble-lined palace. Yes, I had discovered Harlequin and Mills and Boon by college.
My next chance to travel came when I married my husband serving in the Army. First I was whisked away to New Jersey, which may not be too exciting to some, but he was stationed in Fort Monmouth and our first place was on the beach in Asbury Park. It was the dead of winter and the rooms were the cheapest in the area, but I had fun walking the beach each morning and pretending it was warmer. The scenery was very different from my farm days—there was an ocean! Within I year, I ended up in Germany, and I got to explore the country’s splendor and hominess. Alas, I didn’t meet any one who lived in a castle—although I did learn to know some who worked in one. But I got my kicks visiting the spas at Baden Baden and peeking in the casinos, and exploring palaces in Germany and France.
As my children grew up, I always managed to find a book set in the places we’d visit so I could tell them stories of where we’d be and what came before. Local history always seems to make a place more exciting. So it should not come as a surprise that on my recent trip to California I had to find out as much as I could about the hotel where we were staying. I was curious as to why it had the name “Huntington” and although parts seemed old other parts were new—a great remodeling job? I dug up as much as I could and for me it made the whole stay even brighter as I admired the lovely views from our windows, the terrace, and the horseshoe garden. Alas, there were no ghosts—but there was a night of fog so thick you couldn’t see two feet in front of you. It reminded me of Jayne Ann Krentz novels set in the Pacific Northwest where the fog always seemed to have a life of its own in the story.
So as I’m planning a trip in the spring to the London Book Fair, I’m also trying to find some books to read which will help me make the trip more meaningful. We’ll be staying two nights in Paris, then take the train through the tunnel to London. Perhaps I should watch Mission Impossible instead? Wasn’t there a battle on the train? Unfortunately my film memories aren’t as sharp as my book reading ones. So, I really need a few contemporary set romances so I can bone up on the area. In the meantime, I’ve fallen back on Regency historicals, since it doesn’t hurt to know about the buildings, right, especially since we’ll be in Kensington. That sounds right!
In the meantime, a book that will whisk you back in time is Prince of Shadows (NAL; February 4, 2014) by Rachel Caine. Known for her Morganville Vampire series, she now turns to retelling the story of Romeo and Juliet from the point of view of Benvolio, Romeo’s Montague cousin. As our reviewer says: “Simply superb.” The Shakespeare-ian flavor isn’t lost, and it’s a wonderful read you don’t want to miss. Although it’s marketed for young adults, I advise everyone to read it.
Also, don’t forget about our Adventures in Fiction event that Rachel will be attending and acting as hostess for the night’s Masquerade Ball. You can dress up as your favorite character or just come and have fun. I’ll be looking for books to help me plan a few trips.
Sara Reyes is the founder and partner at FreshFiction.com, a popular fiction web site for today's reader with new titles, contests, over 50,000 genre fiction author profiles with backlists, and permanently archived reviews, plus all the industry buzz. Fresh Fiction has a biweekly segment (Buy the Book) on WFAA Channel 8 Good Morning Texas to talk about new books not to miss. Believing face-to-face interaction is as important as virtual communities, Fresh Fiction sponsors Adventures in Fiction in February, an annual author reader tea in June, a readers conference in November, monthly literary events, and book clubs. Follow Sara at @FreshFiction on Twitter or Facebook.com/FreshFiction.