The best books to take you all over the world, in good company

Who am I?

I’ve lived in small towns and capital cities and gone to school on four continents, so I love books in which the location is practically a character in the story. When moving, I struggle to put down roots and feel legitimate in my new home. Writing about old homes helps. While living in New England, I wrote my Jana Bibi trilogy, set in India. Now in New York state, I’m setting a new novel in my native New Hampshire. I’ve been a Jill of all Trades: teaching, software, editing, fact-checking, social science research, and, most happily, fiction-writing. I’m also an amateur musician and an avid foreign language buff.

I wrote...

Jana Bibi's Excellent Fortunes

By Betsy Woodman,

Book cover of Jana Bibi's Excellent Fortunes

What is my book about?

Scottish-born Janet Laird (Jana to her friends) inherits her grandfather’s house in an Indian hill station and moves in with her loyal housekeeper and savvy parrot. Her own home, at last! But when the town is threatened by a government dam, Jana has to help to attract tourists and put it on the map. She hangs out her fortune-telling shingle—and Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes is born. Will the ploy work? Readers all over the world responded to the novel’s humor, drama, and Bollywood-style high spirits.  

The books I picked & why

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The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

By Alexander McCall Smith,

Book cover of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

Why this book?

This book made me fall in love with the southern African country of Botswana as well as with Mma Ramotswe, the intrepid lady who starts a company to help people solve their problems. Her advice isn’t conventional, but it works! If a client’s husband has stolen an expensive auto, why not steal it back and return it to the rightful owner? I’m told that Alexander McCall Smith accurately depicts much about Botswana; he also celebrates decency, courage, empathy, and good humor. Happily, there are many more books in the series. They’re addictive.

A Gentleman in Moscow

By Amor Towles,

Book cover of A Gentleman in Moscow

Why this book?

Grace under pressure! That’s what the main character, Count Rostov, illustrates all the way through this wonderful book, from the leisurely beginning through the riveting plot to the satisfying surprise ending. Along the way, the history of the Soviet Union unfolds. It makes you wonder. Could you craft a meaningful life in a dingy attic room, while a hostile political regime reigns outside? Could you plot your escape? And could you simultaneously live in the moment, enjoying the pleasures of food, drink, and conversation?  The threads of Rostov’s past and present intertwine…while his future is still open.

Two Under the Indian Sun

By Jon Godden, Rumer Godden,

Book cover of Two Under the Indian Sun

Why this book?

I love Rumer Godden’s novels, but I’m even fonder of her memoirs, especially this one. Writing with her sister, Jon, she describes life in Naryangang (then in British India, now in Bangla Desh) during and shortly after World War 1. The large household, the bazaar, the diversity of people, the bright sun and the monsoon rains, the wealth and the poverty, the danger of rabid dogs, the holidays in hill stations…I grew up in India forty years after Jon and Rumer Godden, but in many ways, their experiences bring back my own childhood.


By Min Jin Lee,

Book cover of Pachinko

Why this book?

Wow! I felt intimately connected to the family depicted in this turbulent but big-hearted saga. I rooted for them at every turn, from their humble beginnings in Korea through their struggles as immigrants in Japan. The world changes dramatically from 1910 to 1989, but despite tragedy, they hold tight to their values of loyalty, hard work, independence, and honesty. Inspiring.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

By Rachel Joyce,

Book cover of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Why this book?

Harold Fry sets off on the spur of the moment to trek across England, believing he can save a former colleague with terminal cancer. But that’s not all that needs saving. Rachel Joyce’s distinctive voice makes me feel as if she’s sitting next to me, telling the story, and from time to time both of us burst out laughing. But this heartwarming novel also made me consider how poignant life is, how we make wrong turns, and how sometimes we feel the urgent need to make up for past mistakes.

5 book lists we think you will like!

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