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If you love to travel by train, we have just the reading list for you! Don’t miss these books set on trains to inspire (or detract) your next vacation by rail.
Nothing beats sitting on a train from Florence to Lucca, watching as the Italian countryside blurs by. The anticipation of the destination — bike riding on the city’s walls — is half of the adventure.
Personally, I love travel writing on long train rides. There is something especially soothing and meditative about a train’s gentle sway.
In literature, trains represent a way for people to escape or daydream. They possess both positive and negative connotations. Trains carry people to work, new lives, and exotic destinations. Strangers and friends converge.
Trains also offer up the unknown. Sometimes they are an ominous setting filled with death and heartbreak. They might be a last-minute attempt to escape or resolve a situation. Trains are hope.
For our April 2021 Uncorked Reading Challenge, we are exploring some of the best books set on trains. Don’t miss these train thrillers, train-set mysteries, and contemporary and historical fiction train novels sure to make you want to hop on or off a train.
For some of these books, trains or their tracks will sit in the backdrop. For others, one train ride might change their entire life.
P.S. A few ways to snag these train books:
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4. As a member of Amazon Prime, don’t miss Amazon First Reads — early access to Kindle books.
Historical Fiction Books Set On Trains
For one of my favorite books about trains, The Last Train To Key West is slightly a stretch but also a must-read historical fiction novel featuring inspiring women. You do not have to read the first two in the ‘series.’
Cheer for pregnant Helen who is trapped in an abusive marriage. Watch Mirta question if she can fall in love with her new mafia-tied husband. Keep an eye out for Elizabeth who is looking for her veteran war brother to escape being married to a criminal.
Their lives collide during Florida’s deadliest hurricane in the mid-1930s. Uncover multiple romances and a gripping narrative to devour in one or two sittings against the brief backdrop of Flagler’s railroad to Key West. Amazon | Goodreads | Read More
Based on the 1854-1929 ‘orphan trains’ that carried abandoned children from the East Coast to the rural Midwest, readers meet Vivian Daly, an Irish immigrant. Vivian recalls her childhood when a young woman helps clean out her attic.
Molly is a Penobscot Indian and foster child completing community service for Vivian. With their budding friendship, the two learn more about survival and second chances.
For indie books set on trains, don’t miss Renea Winchester’s Outbound Train. Set in Bryson City, North Carolina, head to the 1960s where a violent night on the train tracks forever shapes Barbara Parker’s life.
Barbara’s daughter, Carole Anne, is caught up in the same vicious cycle of poverty, disgusting men, and corrupt leaders that make biased decisions based on socioeconomic stereotypes. Carole Anne wants and deserves so much more.
Like The Conners, learn more about hope, second chances, and growing up in rural Appalachia. A slower and more reflective read, Outbound Train is contemporary historical and literary fiction. Amazon | Goodreads | Read More
Along With Outbound Train, head to North Carolina With These Books.
Mysteries & Thrillers Set On Trains
One of the older and more famous books set on trains, don’t miss Strangers On A Train by Patricia Highsmith. This 1950s train thriller gained popularity when Alfred Hitchcock turned the book into a movie. And yes, the movie is different and, for me, better. *Gasp.*
Guy Haines is sitting on a train hoping to divorce his cheating, pregnant wife when he meets Charles Bruno. A renowned architect, Haines wants to marry his new love. Bruno is, well, a psychopath.
When rambling Bruno suggests that they swap murders — he’ll kill Haines’s wife Miriam if Haines kills his father — Haines brushes him off. Until Miriam is found strangled to death at a fair…
Save This Train-Set Reading List For Later
Imagine meeting a stranger on a train who could forever change your life. You think that sharing a nip is an innocent gesture until someone ends up missing…or dead. Clearly, Selena never read Highsmith.
If you are looking for a surface-level train thriller and fast-paced mystery, Unger’s Confessions On The 7:45 will have you questioning who is running this money-making scheme and why.
Reading much like Pretty Little Wife by Darby Kane and inspired by Highsmith’s Strangers On A Train, Selena catches her husband screwing the nanny and confesses to a random commuter. With the nanny now missing, who is responsible?
Recommended by an Uncorked Reader, Violet is a train thriller and mystery set on the Trans-Siberian Express. On my TBR list, not only does Violet sound like a great destination armchair adventure, but you just know never to talk to strangers…
Carrie decides to take her around-the-world train trip even though her best friend can no longer come with her. When she meets Violet at the Beijing Hotel, Carrie takes an impulsive leap of faith and decides to offer her the extra ticket.
For psychological train thrillers, you cannot go wrong with Hawkins’ The Girl On The Train, especially if you champion Gone Girl. Although I don’t always buy into the hype of these suspense novels, I’d put Hawkins a few notches above Unger.
Rachel watches ‘Jess and Jason’ from her daily commuter train. In her imagination, she gives them the perfect lives that she craves. When she witnesses something that disturbs her happy narrative, Rachel decides to get involved.
A classic and one of my favorite Christie’s, Murder On The Orient Express isn’t one of the scariest books set on trains but the title will leave you questioning everyone and their intentions.
Samual Ratchett is found stabbed to death in his cabin on The Orient Express. The killer is still on the train, and no one is safe. Of course, they are all trapped.
If you love chilling books, we have just the Beach Books Reading List for you…
Romance Train-Set Books
For sweet LGBTQ+ YA books set on trains, meet Mae and Hugo. Mae is an aspiring NY filmmaker that didn’t get into the college she wants. As her now ex-boyfriend notes, she doesn’t show enough of herself in her films.
Then there’s Hugo from England. Recently dumped, Hugo is in need of another M. Campbell to take his ex-girlfriend’s train ticket.
Another train-based book recommended to me by our readers, hop on the train from London to Venice. Find multiple character’s stories filled with tragedy, love, and family that all converge on the train
Head to Italy With These Dreamy Books.
Which books set on trains have you read?
What’s your favorite book set on a train? What are the common themes that you’ve noticed across these books? Why do you think many of the novels set on trains are historical fiction or thrillers? Let us know in the comments!