My favorite books that capture the unusual charm of other countries

Why am I passionate about this?

I love books that take the reader to another country. Travel (even vicariously in a book) takes us out of our comfort zones and inspires us to open our minds to other cultures, ways of life and thought. These books constantly challenge us, not only to understand different surroundings, but also to understand unique people, to embrace adventures, glamour and romance and to share these new and meaningful thoughts and ideas with others.

I wrote...


By Cynthia Watson,

Book cover of Wind

What is my book about?

Eighteen-year-old Flynn Flood is a Boston college student whose world falls apart when her beloved father dies of the "Irish Cancer"—alcoholism—and her once-vibrant mother, descends into a paralyzing depression. After a seemingly accidental encounter, help arrives in the form of earthy-looking Dante, an international student from Italy.  Dante seems perfect, but when Flynn finds herself descending into a rabbit hole of frightening, mystical occurrences, she quickly deduces that Dante is no ordinary boyfriend.

A coming-of-age tale with humor, and unexpected violence, Wind explores the complex bonds of sisterhood, romantic longing, and the possibility of the existence of a divine, unseen world around us. Wind , Book One of The Eternal Symmetry Saga, advanced to the second round in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award!

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Theatre for Dreamers

Cynthia Watson Why did I love this book?

A Theatre for Dreamers captures the halcyon days of the 60s artistic community on the Greek Island of Hydra. It focuses on the international bohemian set, including the authors Charmian Clift and George Johnston. Among the artists, poets and hangers-on are a Norwegian couple—Axel Jensen and Marianne Ihlen—and a young, charismatic Canadian by the name of Leonard Cohen. It is narrated by the likable ingenue Erica, a novitiate novelist in her late teens whose mother’s dying wish was for her daughter to go off on an adventure. Erica is like Nick Carraway, mainly on the periphery of events, observing and learning from the more experienced, glamorous people she has fallen in with. Interesting fact: author, Polly Samson, is married to David Gilmour of Pink Floyd.

By Polly Samson,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Theatre for Dreamers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'Delicious' Nigella Lawson
'Clever and beguiling' Guardian
'Sublime and immersive' Jojo Moyes

Erica is eighteen and ready for freedom. It's the summer of 1960 when she lands on the sun-baked Greek island of Hydra where she is swept up in a circle of bohemian poets, painters, musicians, writers and artists, living tangled lives. Life on their island paradise is heady, dream-like, a string of seemingly endless summer days. But nothing can last forever.

'A surefire summer hit ... At once a blissful piece of escapism and a powerful meditation on art and sexuality' Observer
'Heady armchair…

Book cover of The Light in the Piazza and Other Italian Tales

Cynthia Watson Why did I love this book?

Elizabeth Spencer was an American writer who loved Italy and once lived there. This collection in one volume contains Spencer's six Italian tales.

In “The Light in the Piazza” a wealthy American woman and her beautiful but mentally disabled daughter meet a young Italian man in Florence who will have a profound impact on their lives.

In “Knights and Dragons” an American woman in Rome and Venice struggles for release from her husband's disturbing control over her. In “The Cousins,” “The Pincian Gate,” “The White Azalea,” and “The Visit,” Spencer shows the unique craft that has earned her acclaim as one of America's top writers of short stories.

Elizabeth Spencer died in 2019 at the age of 98. Interesting fact: She was a cousin of United States senator John McCain.

By Elizabeth Spencer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Light in the Piazza and Other Italian Tales as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Elizabeth Spencer is captivated by Italy. For her it has been a second home. A one-time resident who returns there, this native-born Mississippian has found Italy to be an enchanting land whose culture lends itself powerfully to her artistic vision.Some of her most acclaimed work is set there. Her American characters encounter but never quite wholly adjust to the mysteries of the Italian mores. Collected here in one volume are Spencer's six Italian tales. Their plots are so alluring and enigmatic that Boccaccio would have been charmed by their delightful ironies and their sinister contrasts of dark and light.Spencer is…

Book cover of The Comedians

Cynthia Watson Why did I love this book?

Set in Haiti under the rule of François "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his secret police, the Tontons Macoutes, this novel explores political repression and terrorism through the figure Mr. Brown. Brown, a British ne’er-do-well who has inherited a failing hotel near the capital, Port-au-Prince, narrates.

The Comedians is a novel of character. Each of the leading characters reveals an unforeseen facet of personality: a naive fool who was once a candidate for U.S. president proves to be compassionate and courageous; a lying, cowardly gunrunner dies a hero; and a former Freedom Rider rises above her simple liberalism to unwittingly save Brown’s life.

I loved the cast of characters and was fascinated by the brutal regime of Haiti in the mid-60s. Like witnessing an accident, it’s hard to look away.

By Graham Greene,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Comedians as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Three men meet on a ship bound for Haiti, a world in the grip of the corrupt "Papa Doc" and the Tontons Macoute, his sinister secret police. Brown the hotelier, Smith the innocent American and Jones the confidence man are the "Comedians" of Graham Greene's title.

Book cover of A Gentleman in Moscow

Cynthia Watson Why did I love this book?

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully written scene after another, A Gentleman in Moscow is the story of handsome Count Alexander Rostov, who, after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, is sentenced to lifelong imprisonment in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel. The Count must adjust not only to a small room in the hotel’s belfry, but also to the knowledge that his way of life is disappearing.

Count Rostov has “opted for the life of the purposefully unrushed.” He was raised to appreciate the conveniences of life, such as keeping “a carriage waiting at the door of one party, so that on a moment’s notice it can whisk you away to another.” When asked by the Bolsheviks to state his occupation, he replies, “It is not the business of a gentleman to have occupations.” Charming!!

Interesting fact, this is set to be made into a movie starring fabulous Scottish actor Ewan McGregor!

By Amor Towles,

Why should I read it?

30 authors picked A Gentleman in Moscow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The mega-bestseller with more than 2 million readers, soon to be a major television series

From the #1 New York Times-bestselling author of The Lincoln Highway and Rules of Civility, a beautifully transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel

In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and…

Book cover of In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

Cynthia Watson Why did I love this book?

In the Garden of Beasts follows the story of William E. Dodd, who was sent to Hitler’s Nazi Germany in 1933 as an American ambassador.

The Dodds move into a mansion across the street from Berlin’s public park called the “Tiergarten,” which means “the garden of beasts.” The mansion’s owner, a Jewish banker who lives upstairs, hopes that the American ambassador’s presence will dissuade authorities from breaking in and arresting him.

Along with his family, Dodd experiences the glamour and romance of Germany—until he becomes disturbingly aware of the Third Reich’s oppressive practices and terrifying plans.

It’s fascinating and horrifying to see Germany of 1933 through the eyes of this uniquely well-positioned American family (which included Dodd’s 24-year-old daughter, an adventurous young woman who joins Berlin’s social whirl).

By Erik Larson,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked In the Garden of Beasts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It's Berlin, 1933. William E. Dodd, a mild-mannered academic from Chicago, has to his own and everyone else's surprise, become America's first ambassador to Hitler's Germany, in a year that proves to be a turning point in history. Dodd and his family, notably his vivacious daughter, Martha, observe at first-hand the many changes - some subtle, some disturbing, and some horrifically violent - that signal Hitler's consolidation of power. Dodd has little choice but to associate with key figures in the Nazi party, his increasingly concerned cables make little impact on an indifferent U.S. State Department, while Martha is drawn…

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What You Do To Me: A Novel

By Rochelle B. Weinstein,

Book cover of What You Do To Me: A Novel

Rochelle B. Weinstein Author Of When We Let Go

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Not only am I the author of seven women’s fiction novels, I’m a voracious reader who believes she was raised by Judy Blume and Sidney Sheldon. In our broken home, reading was an escape, a salve for the wound, a place where I felt heard and understood. My novels touch on deep emotions—real and relatable. If I don’t capture that feeling when I’m reading through my drafts, I dig deeper. And that’s the thing about a great book, that gut punch, that slide under my skin, I get you. There’s no better read than the one that pulls the heartstrings and gives you all the feels.    

Rochelle's book list on tugging on every one of your heartstrings

What is my book about?

What You Do To Me follows Rolling Stone reporter Cecilia James on the hunt to find the muse behind a famous love song, all while managing an estranged relationship with her father and boyfriend Pete.

Inspired by Hey There Deliah, the dual timeline stretches across the sunny beaches of 1970s Miami with star-crossed lovers Eddie and Sara, to the glittery music industry of 1990s LA. For music lovers and fans of that first, unforgettable love, What You Do To Me is the story of a love song with equal parts heart and harmony.

What You Do To Me: A Novel

By Rochelle B. Weinstein,

What is this book about?

From the bestselling author of This Is Not How It Ends comes a moving novel of two unfinished love stories and the music and lyrics that bring them together.

Journalist Cecilia James is a sucker for a love song. So when she stumbles across a clue to the identity of the muse for one of rock’s greatest, she devotes herself to uncovering the truth, even as her own relationship is falling apart.

While writing an article for Rolling Stone, Cecilia works to reveal the mystery that has intrigued fans and discovers a classic tale of two soulmates separated by fate and circumstance. Rock…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Germany, Italy, and Moscow?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Germany, Italy, and Moscow.

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