Travel Lit Review: Passport Diaries by Tamara T. Gregory

“Whether you’re sitting by the pool or on the beach, it’s the perfect summer read. I couldn’t put it down.” –Gabrielle Union

I couldn’t agree more with this quote I found on the back cover of Passport Diaries, a novel I discovered through Twitter (shoutout to @monicalwilliams!). I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a semi-biographical travel-related novel and this summer I’m on a mission to read any and every piece of travel literature written by someone of color. Enter Passport Diaries. This book took me all of a day to read. I literally devoured it. It was an easy read, but it was so much fun and I really felt like I was with my homegirl (or the protagonist) Kia as she journeyed through London, Paris, and Mykonos. I say “homegirl” because Kia’s voice is so clear and so real. She’s a successful lawyer from L.A., 30-something, single, and ready to celebrate her next birthday internationally. And much like me, she’d rather go on a trip solo than cancel it because other people changed their minds, didn’t want to go, flaked, whatever (although it took a little prodding by her travel agent). But really, you can’t wait on someone else to live your life. I feel you Kia!

I had no idea what to expect when I opened up the first page, but couldn’t help but smile when I recognized Kia’s voice as that of, well… my homegirl. For example, take this passage I came across within the first couple of pages:

“Every black woman has beauty-shop horror stories. It’s our cross to bear. It’s like going to church. We know we have to go, even when we don’t feel like it. Afterwards, though we feel like a different person, like a weight has been lifted off our shoulders. But, good God, why does it have to take so long? Does the paster really have to take up two collections? Does the hairdresser really have to double-book appointments? Inquiring-minded people with a life really want to know.”

I could also relate to Kia’s frustration with the lack of traveling or international awareness of our fellow countrymen. When the book was published (2004), only 16% of Americans had a passport, which means we’re making progress, no? To that figure Kia remarks, “It seems we have a strong desire to rule the world; we just don’t want to travel it.” You can say that again. Just like all travel-related fiction, Passport Diaries, not only tells a cute story, but it also makes me want to dust off my passport.

Definitely give this one a read, it’s light fiction, not too deep, will take you a weekend at the most and will have you laughing out loud and wanderlusting it up all at the same time. And Tamara T. Gregory gets bonus points because she details Kia’s itinerary in the back of the book. So you can relive Passport Diaries by staying at the same places, eating at the same restaurants, and visiting the same attractions. Click the image above to find the book on Amazon – or do like me and hit up your local library. 🙂 Enjoy!

Rating: 3.5/5

If anyone else out there has read Passport Diaries, what did you think? And what are some other books out there for me to check out?


Travel Lit Review: Kinky Gazpacho by Lori L. Tharps


Kinky Gazpacho Review

Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love and Spain surprised me on many levels.  In this travel memoir you follow Lori through her every encounter with international experiences from International Day in third grade, to hosting international students, to spending weeks in Morocco and then to her eternal love affair with Spain (and a Spaniard). Throughout the entire book you get more than just a travel memoir, but you also get to see these experiences through the eyes of a black girl who’s not even sure of her “blackness.”  Many people dream of going on that international escapade and falling in love and trying to make an international love affair work – I must admit some of the things that happen in Tharps’s memoir couldn’t have been better scripted on Lifetime. It was a great story and I loved being able to study abroad again through the memoir.

More than the history that Tharps discovered and the reflections on race in Milwaukee and Spain, I was most tied to her time actually studying abroad in Spain. For the majority of the beginning of the book I found myself flipping ahead to see how many more chapters before she goes abroad.  Those stories are always the most interesting to me.  How can you not want to know more about her first marriage proposal by the Moroccan boy with whom her first date consisted of meeting his mother (first date?!?) where they ate in practically total silence? I live for hearing about experiences like those.  I also like to hear more about how Americans in other countries adjust to cultural differences.  In Kinky Gazpacho, Tharps remarks about the concept of time in Spain after her date, Manuel, shows up 20 minutes late to her home for dinner:

“The concept of time was a very fluid thing. Deadlines were guidelines. And it was true, if you said you were going to meet someone for drinks at six, not until seven o’clock rolled around could you get even slightly worried that they might be late. So I forgave this smiling Spaniard in front of me…”

I can definitely relate to passages like this from my time abroad in Italy and also from being in Dominca for 5 days.  Watches are optional, there are no schedules, things happen whenever they happen – it’s freeing but it takes some getting used to. I’d like to thank Lori L. Tharps for reminding me of these awakening experiences where you learn to appreciate the subtleties of other cultures.

Rating: 3.5/5

**Not sure if it’s an editor’s or publisher’s issue but at the beginning of this book there are typos and misspellings that REALLY threw me off – I’m a stickler for those kinds of things and it was kind of a distraction. I didn’t notice many (if any) towards the end of the book though.

Coming soon: Kinky Gazpacho Review

Travel Lit Disclaimer: I am in no way responsible for sudden urges to check prices for round-the-world flights, the sudden desire to quit one’s job and move to another country, or any other passport-required epiphany you may experience after reading about Lori’s escapades in Spain.  However, I can’t deny that my heart would smile just a little at the thought of such an adventure 🙂

I’m currently reading Kinky Gazpacho:  Life, Love, and Spain by Lori Tharps.  I’m really surprised I had never heard of this book before. First of all, there aren’t droves of black people traveling abroad. Secondly, if they are they aren’t rushing home to write novels and memoirs about it!  Just like Black Girl in Paris, we are following our protagonist along with her European adventures – this time Lori is studying abroad and it’s actually a memoir. I’ve read half of this book in about 2 days and I’m not really wanting to put it down.  I think I’m biased though. It doesn’t really matter how well it’s written – if it’s about travel or studying abroad from a black woman’s perspective, I’m probably going to give it a minimum of 3 stars. Even if it sucked (for lack of a better word). I’m not sure yet if it’s a really good book or if I’m just craving that international feeling it’s giving me. You know how when you’re really really really hungry, no matter what you’re eating it’s like the best thing you’ve had since your teeth broke through your gums? Then you say, “Either this is really really really good, or I’m really really really hungry!”

My review is coming soon! In the meantime I’m just enjoying following Lori to Morocco, on a brief encounter with Madrid, and then to Salamanca. Spain for a year of study abroad.  I can relate to a lot of the things she’s going through much moreso than with the previous novel – probably because she went to Spain for study abroad as opposed to following in the footsteps of a literary giant. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the book.  I said these very same words to myself and learned how to incorporate them into my life in the states as well:

“That had kind of become my mantra during my year abroad: ‘You have nothing to lose, so go ahead and do the things you’ve always been afraid of and never had a chance to experience.’ I considered this year in Spain my parenthesis from reality.”

Want to read it with me? Click here to buy it from Amazon (and to read the editors’ reviews).