Recently I watched, and was seriously hooked by, the Simon Reeve BBC documentaries Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, in which he travels the world at each line of latitude to learn about issues in various countries. When you picture “the tropics,” you probably, like me, think palm trees and white sandy beaches. The documentaries brought the diversity of the region home to me – in a way that surprised me. I read so much. Why does my reading life lack stories from such a wide span of the world?

I decided that my reading theme for this summer would be ‘tropical love.’ But I’ve made some rules for myself to try to avoid the ‘white sandy beaches’ Disney version of the tropics.

  1. Either the hero or the heroine should be from the country.
  2. When possible, the author should be from the country. If necessary, I will read a book by an author with strong ties (like a spouse or a long stretch of residence). I will try to avoid books by written by foreigners.
  3. The books themselves should be primarily set in the tropical country, rather than being about people from that country living elsewhere. But if books have travel or flashbacks etc., that’s okay.
  4. If the country is large and only partly tropical, the book should preferably be set in the tropical region. Hong Kong, for instance, is clearly tropical and Beijing is clearly not. But if I find a romance set in Saudi Arabia, which is not fully tropical but not huge, I won’t split hairs over which side of the line of latitude the book’s setting is.
  5. The books have to be in English!

As I’ve started shopping, these rules have proved both more and less challenging than I anticipated. When the tropical country or region in question is Anglophone, there are more books than I realized. Nigeria, for instance, is a hotbed of romance, and there are lots of options from the Philippines. When the region isn’t (Anglophone), or has historically been associated with a Harlequin ethnic line (looking at you, sheikhs and Argentine tycoons), finding a romance that meets my qualifications can be a real challenge.

Search results are also a real pain. I can’t tell you how many times my search for ‘romance set in X country’ turns up something in the style of Romeo and Juliet or Miss Saigon. Just because it’s a love story doesn’t make it a romance, people. This has, however, made me more determined to do this project and help people like me find new love stories (happy ones, this time!) that will expand their horizons.

Would you like to join me? For my first book, I’ve chosen Bianca Mori’s One Night at the Palace Hotel, set in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. I chose this book because a) it’s a novella, so even people with big TBRs can give it a go, and b) it’s on Kindle for just 99c. I finished it last night and I’m looking forward to discussing it with you in a couple of weeks!

Do you have any books or authors that meet the criteria for me to add to my reading list? Please list them in the comments so I can look for them! Hope to see you back here in a week or so for our first Tropical Romance book club!