9 New Books Savvy Travelers Should Put on Their Summer Reading List

Picturesque Portugal, historic expeditions, Korean recipes, and ocean exploration are among our choices for the best new books for travelers this season.

Collage of three book covers on a blue background

There’s something here for you, whether you’re in the mood for historical fiction, a memoir, or biography this summer.

Courtesy of the publishers

For some travelers, a summer “beach read” is the print equivalent of junk food. Others aim higher: Lin-Manuel Miranda first encountered the story of Alexander Hamilton while vacationing in Mexico, reading the 800+ pages of Ron Chernow’s biography. The following selection of nine new recommended reads released in 2024 are diverse but share one quality: All are rooted in place, whether it’s rural Sicily, South Africa, Paris, or New York City. Let them inspire your next trip.

Front cover of "Patterns of Portugal"

Patterns of Portugal by Christine Chitnis (Clarkson Potter Publishers, 2024)

Courtesy of Clarkson Potter Publishers

Patterns of Portugal by Christine Chitnis

  • Location: Portugal
  • Type: Photography book
  • Buy now: bookshop.org

It’s said you can’t judge a book by its cover. But the front of Patterns of Portugal perfectly summarizes the contents and subtitle: A Journey Through Colors, History, Tiles, and Architecture. It depicts part of the blue-and-white tiled exterior of the rococo 18th-century Catholic Igreja do Carmo in Porto. A more conventional photo would show the ornate front. But Chitnis focuses on a side wall.

The book’s 200+ photographs are divided among five chapters based on such colors as terra-cotta and verde. This is a scrubbed-up Portugal: no trash on the streets, no tourist hordes, no gray skies. The photos are the stars, with informative captions. The limited text includes one-page overviews of azulejos, cuisine, textile arts, and several other topics.

Front cover of "Footnotes From the Most Fascinating Museums"

Footnotes From the Most Fascinating Museums by Bob Eckstein (Princeton Architectural Press, 2024)

Courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press

Footnotes From the Most Fascinating Museums by Bob Eckstein

This delightful compendium covers 70+ museums in North America, nearly all in the United States. Besides the usual suspects (Met in NYC, Art Institute of Chicago) are some quirky selections (Graceland as a “Historic Home,” SPAM Museum) and others that may be new to you (Peabody Essex Museum, Greenfield Village, American Writers Museum). Most include an intriguing quote about the museum by staff or visitors. Yes, it’s highly subjective, as the author/illustrator explains in his introduction, but from the funny foreword on, it’s an entertaining guide. It will increase your must-see list.

Front cover of "Paradise of the Damned"

Paradise of the Damned by Keith Thomson (Little Brown and Company, 2024)

Courtesy of Little Brown and Company

Paradise of the Damned by Keith Thomson

  • Location: South America and London, England
  • Type: Biography/History
  • Buy now: bookshop.org

The subtitle is The True Story of an Obsessive Quest for El Dorado, the Legendary City of Gold, but it could be “People Will Do Anything for Gold.” This absorbing account focuses on several attempts by Sir Walter Raleigh to locate a hidden city of gold in uncharted Guyana. What doesn’t go wrong? While trying to beat Spanish rivals to the elusive prize, he’s also dealing with royal politics back in London with Queen Elizabeth and King James. His first voyage and expedition to South America occur in 1595; he’s still searching in 1618. Spoiler alert: Things don’t end well.

Front cover of "The Sicilian Inheritance"

The Sicilian Inheritance by Jo Piazza (Dutton, 2024)

Courtesy of Dutton

The Sicilian Inheritance by Jo Piazza

  • Location: Sicily, Italy
  • Type: Historical mystery
  • Buy now: bookshop.org

In alternating chapters, Jo Piazza weaves a story of Serafina, native of Sicily, and Sara, her American-born great granddaughter, who travels to the island for answers to questions about her family and land she may have inherited. Both are wives, mothers, and workers, but their stories occur a century apart. Most of the novel takes place in Caltabellessa, a fictional hill village. It’s a family saga with romance, history, crime, mystery—and maybe one too many plot twists and coincidences. But you’ll be rooting for these two smart, determined women as they struggle against a society undermining their ambitions.

Front cover of "Amphibious Soul"

Amphibious Soul by Craig Foster (HarperOne, 2024)

Courtesy of HarperOne

Amphibious Soul by Craig Foster

  • Location: Atlantic Ocean and South Africa
  • Type: Memoir
  • Buy now: bookshop.org

Craig Foster is best-known for his Academy Award–winning documentary My Octopus Teacher. His decades as a filmmaker in southern Africa inform this memoir about his search to connect with wilderness. Daily cold ocean dives and learning the skills of tracking animals are among the ways he finds rejuvenation in nature. Conservation and support for biodiversity are key concerns. Besides photos of sea life, the book has a QR code linking to 27 short videos from Foster’s work over the past 25 years. Vivid minutes of jellyfish, crocodiles, octopuses, and other animals are a wonderful bonus.

Front cover of "Koreaworld: A Cookbook"

Koreaworld: A Cookbook by Deuki Hong and Matt Rodbard (Clarkson Potter Publishers, 2024)

Courtesy of Clarkson Potter Publishers

Koreaworld: A Cookbook by Deuki Hong and Matt Rodbard

  • Location: Korea and its diaspora
  • Type: Cookbook
  • Buy now: bookshop.org

Chef Deuki Hong and journalist Matt Rodbard (founding editor of Taste, a James Beard Award–winning food magazine) team up again. (Their best-selling Koreatown looked at U.S. Korean American communities.) This time they range from Seoul to NYC with recipes that pay tribute to barbecue (smoked ribs cooked over hay), seafood and plant-based dishes, and modern takes on classics. With recipes that include ingredients like 7Up and preparations like Radish Kimchi Granita, this collection has a sense of fun. There’s even Taco Bell Bibimbap and street food inspired by K-pop. In addition to some 75 recipes, Koreaworld looks at Korean food’s expansion and evolution worldwide and includes conversations with leading chefs.

Front cover of "Bird Milk & Mosquito Bones"

Bird Milk & Mosquito Bones by Priyanka Mattoo (Knopf Publishing Group, 2024)

Courtesy of Knopf Publishing Group

Bird Milk & Mosquito Bones by Priyanka Mattoo

  • Location: Around the world
  • Type: Memoir
  • Preorder now (out June 18): bookshop.org

Some two dozen short essays of immigrant/nomad life for one family from India make up this memoir. They range in setting from Saudi Arabia to England, Italy, Los Angeles, and other places Mattoo called “home” for a time. In 40 years, she had 32 addresses. The essays, not in chronological order, lend themselves to dipping here and there, depending on what titles intrigue you: “Astrocartography,” “American Sigh,” “A Remarkably Self-Assured Debut.” Throughout, Mattoo is a wise, observant guide who has kept her sense of humor intact despite various challenges in her peripatetic life.

Front cover of "The Paris Novel"

The Paris Novel by Ruth Reichl (Random House, 2024)

Courtesy of Random House

The Paris Novel by Ruth Reichl

  • Location: Paris, France
  • Type: Historical fiction
  • Buy now: bookshop.org

This is less a novel than a fairy-tale, but fans of French cuisine and art, Paris, and/or Ruth Reichl won’t mind the coincidences and other implausibilities as a poor orphan drudge transforms into a princess. The once upon a time setting is the 1980s. During her first trip to Paris, Stella St. Vincent from New York City encounters people who wear couture clothes and drink fine vintages with their gourmet cuisine. They know lots about art and literature. The key unlocking this world for Stella is a vintage Dior dress with almost magical properties. It’s an ideal escape when a tiny bag of pretzels is a highlight of your long-delayed flight.

Cover of How to Find Old New York

How to Find Old New York (Herb Lester Associates, 2024)

Courtesy of Herb Lester Associates

How to Find Old New York by Herb Lester Associates

  • Location: New York City
  • Type: Guidebook
  • Preorder now (out July 10): herblester.com

Herb Lester, the London-based publisher, produces unique maps for various European and U.S. cities. Its clever NYC guidebook—an updated version out June 20—is printed on card stock and has a map and hand-drawn illustrations. Here, “Old New York” often means south of Central Park. The focus is on food and drink at places where no one “curated” the menu: B&H Kosher Dairy Restaurant, Dublin House, Donohue’s Steak House, Arturo’s Coal Oven Pizza, plus better-known spots like the oyster bar at Grand Central and Sardi’s—all with suggestions of what to note and/or order. The Strand and Argosy bookstores and Casa Magazines are included, too.

Book lovers will enjoy other Herb Lester guides with literary themes, such as The Raymond Chandler Map of Los Angeles, The World of Patricia Highsmith, and Douglas Adams’ London.

Pat Tompkins has written for Afar about movies, books, art, UNESCO World Heritage sites, and other topics.
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