In 1930, Agatha Christie married her second husband, Max Mallowan, an archeologist, and spent many happy seasons accompanying him on his archeological digs in the Middle East. Her experiences with the people and the environment then became inspirations for many of her most famous novels including Death on the Nile, Murder in Mesopotamia, and Murder on the Orient Express. Agatha Christie wrote Come, Tell Me How You Live as response to the many people who asked her what it was like to travel around the cradle of civilization on her husband’s expeditions in Syria, Iraq and many other places.

I ADORE this book. From lamenting over her husband shoving books into her carefully packed crate at the last minute to becoming tongue-tied with feeling inferior while chatting with their architect to running out of her bedroom screaming due to being covered in mice and cockroaches (her husband recommended that she just go to sleep and then she wouldn’t notice them crawling over her…yeah right), I just found Agatha to be so lovely and Britishy and wonderful! She manages to be both neurotic yet brave, awkward yet charming, silly yet shrewd, much like a heroine in a Sophie Kinsella or Katie Fforde novel. Come, Tell Me How You Live is the perfect mixture of personal memoir and travel adventure and a fascinating snapshot of the relationship between European archeologists and the Middle Eastern peoples during the years between the wars. This little known book is a fun read for all armchair travelers and Agatha Christie fans.

The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson is the memoir of a young woman who makes the life-changing decision to abandon atheism and convert to Islam.  After being offered a teaching position at the Language School, Wilson moves to Cairo, Egypt, where she experiences what it is really like to be a Muslim woman in a Middle Eastern country.  Here she quickly discovers that she must learn all over again how to do simple things like greet someone and shop for groceries.  Her life takes an unexpected turn when she meets Omar, who defies the stereotypes of Muslim men she has always heard about.  As Omar teaches Willow how to get by in this new environment, the two fall in love and embark upon a new journey where two cultures come together and learn to relate to one another.

I absolutely loved this book.  I was a Religion major in college, so I had a little background knowledge of Islam, but I learned so much more about it from reading an actual Muslim woman’s perspective.  It was incredibly enlightening to learn about what it’s like for a real Muslim woman in the Middle East, rather than just focusing on the often sad images we see on the news.  Despite being in a place so different from where we live, the story is still relatable, and the author takes care to always explain Arabic words and cultural concepts to the reader.  If you’re interested in learning about about Islam but want something that reads like a novel rather than a textbook, I highly recommend The Butterfly Mosque.

Agnes Shanklin, a 40-year-old schoolteacher from Ohio, is still reeling from the tragedies of the Great War and the influenza epidemic. A modest inheritance allows her to take the trip of a lifetime and travel to Egypt and the Holy Land. Arriving just as the Cairo Peace Conference of 1921 begins, Agnes becomes an observer and confident of the historic players – including Winston Churchill and T.E. Lawrence (better known as Lawrence of Arabia) – that will, in the course of a few days, invent the nations of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan.

Best known for her award winning science fiction novels, Russell’s Dreamers of the Day is historical fiction at it’s best – the characters and their actions are believable and the history is made real through the skillful use of period details and atmosphere. “Seeing” the formation of these countries and the divisions of loyalties – many of which have lead directly to issues we still face in the region today – was fascinating and enlightening.

There’s more than history here, though – you will get caught up in Agnes’ personal story, her triumphs and set-backs, her clear-eyed perspective as she and her little dog Rosie walk in history’s shadow.