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Books Set in California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington

Whether you’re participating in our 2023 Read Around the USA Challenge or simply found your way to our website researching books set in the Pacific states, you’ve come to the right place!

Below you’ll find a list of highly-rated books featuring the states of California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

What Kind of Books Are Included On This List?

Our curated recommendations strike a good balance between historical fiction, contemporary novels, non-fiction, and memoirs. The list is broken down by state. Before each list, you’ll also find a brief state history and details of each state’s defining characteristics.

History of California

California’s history traces back to its Native American origins, with over 100 distinct tribes. Spanish explorers first landed in California in 1542, and the state became a Spanish mission frontier in 1769. Mexico gained control of this region after its independence from Spain in 1821, and California’s ranchos flourished. The state’s trajectory drastically shifted in 1848 with the California Gold Rush. After becoming a state in 1850, the population exploded, including significant Chinese immigration. Major events like the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the Great Depression, World War II, and the countercultural movements of the 1960s and ’70s also greatly impacted California’s growth and development.

California is not only the third largest state but also one of the most geographically diverse states in the US. It spans the 800-mile-long Pacific coastline, includes the towering peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains, encompasses the fertile Central Valley, and stretches to the arid Mojave Desert. It also contains both the lowest point (Death Valley) and the highest point (Mount Whitney) in the contiguous United States. 

Northern California is a region of diverse landscapes and cultural richness. It’s home to the majestic Redwood and Sequoia forests, featuring some of the oldest and tallest trees on Earth. The region also encompasses the world-renowned Napa and Sonoma Valleys, famous for their idyllic vineyards and premium wines. San Francisco blends historic charm with modern innovation, adding to Northern California’s unique appeal.

Southern California is known for its stunning coastline and sunny climate. Home to Los Angeles, the region is globally recognized for Hollywood, a pillar of the world’s entertainment industry. Further south, San Diego is known for its historic Gaslamp Quarter, with lively dining and nightlife.  It also boasts beautiful beaches and the renowned San Diego Zoo. Further inland, SoCal’s Coachella Valley is home to Joshua Tree National Park and the vibrant city of Palm Springs. Famed for its mid-century modern architecture and upscale amenities, the Palm Springs region has served as a playground for celebrities since the 1920s.

Central California is primarily known for its agricultural richness. It’s home to the fertile Central Valley, which produces a significant portion of the nation’s fruits, nuts, and vegetables. This region also encompasses the iconic Yosemite National Park, with its stunning waterfalls, deep valleys, and grand meadows. The best way to experience the coastal part of Central California is with a drive along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway and through Big Sur. Dotted with breathtaking beaches, and coastal towns like Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey, this part of the state blend of rural charm and natural beauty.

Books Set in California

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

100% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

This novel by debut author Ash Davidson transports you back to 1977 in the Northern California logging town of Klamath, just an hour north of Davidson’s hometown of Arcata.

Rich Gunderson comes from a long line of loggers. For generations, his family has made their living off of the Redwood trees, but now his way of life is threatened as the National Park Service is expanding to protect tens of thousands of acres of trees. Additionally, environmentalists are protesting the logging operations on the remaining private lands, raising concerns about water contamination. In an effort to secure his family’s future, Rich secretly spends their savings on a grove of ancient Redwoods that he hopes to harvest.

Rich’s wife, Colleen, is an amateur midwife who hopes for a second child of her own. She has suffered a long string of miscarriages and has begun to see a disturbing number of birth defects and fetal deaths throughout her small community. She begins to suspect that the herbicides used by the logging company that employs her husband might be to blame.

The Book Girls Say…

Angela picked this book up immediately after returning from a family vacation to the Redwoods, so she was instantly drawn to the story about the towns she had just visited. But it was the dual perspectives of this story that kept her hooked. We see the story unfold from the point of view of both Rich and Colleen, as well as a few chapters from their eight-year-old son.

In a world where people often seem increasingly unwilling to listen to opposing viewpoints, the storytelling format of this environmental novel compassionately shines a light on all the shades of gray that exist for the families and communities caught in the middle.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 07/14/2023

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

Books Set in the 1970s
Best Books of 2021

Book Summary

Rockwell “Rocky” Rhodes and his wife, Lou, raised their twins on their California ranch. Rocky and the kids have remained on the ranch even after Lou’s death. Throughout those years, Rocky has been fiercely protecting his property from the LA Water Corporation.

When the US enters WWII, Rocky’s sun Stryker joins the fight and deploys to Pearl Harbor not long before it is attacked. Then, the government decided to build a Japanese-American internment camp next to the Rhodes ranch. Rocky realizes that his land now faces a much bigger threat than the watermen. 

Complicating matters is the fact that the idealistic Department of the Interior employee assigned to build the camp, who only begins to understand the horror of his task after it may be too late, becomes infatuated with Rocky’s daughter Sunny.

The Book Girls Say…

In 2016, when author Marianne Wiggins was just chapters away from finishing this novel, she suffered a massive stroke that affected both her memory and her ability to think creatively. Not wanting to see her mother’s work go unfinished, her daughter, Lara Porzak, began sifting through her mother’s notebooks. Along with the written notes, Porzak also spoke to the handful of friends with whom her mother had discussed the book’s ending. Together, the mother-daughter duo set about to piece together the final chapters of the book. The result is a beautiful novel that was named a New Yorker Best Book of 2022.

Book Summary

In an era when women were expected to be housewives and mothers were expected to behave like Donna Reed, Carol Donelly broke the mold. She was a legendary female surfer, competing in a male-dominated sport. Her days were spent surfing beneath sunny Malibu skies. And her nights were spent under the glittering neon lights at Whiskey A-Go-Go. But, very little time was spent at home with her daughters.

Mindy and Ginger bear the weight of their mother’s unconventional lifestyle, enduring both her physical and emotional absence. To escape questions about their mother, they skip school and spend their days in the water. Mindy is a natural on a surfboard, but Ginger feels out of place.

As the sisters grow, their lives diverge. Mindy is swept up in celebrity and spends her days at Playboy Club parties and on USO tours to Vietnam. Ginger, on the other hand, is pulled into the counterculture scene of drugs and cults. The one thing that always connects them is the emotional damage they still carry from their unorthodox childhood.

The Book Girls Say…

The author drew her inspiration from a real-life mother and daughter surfing trio, but the lives of these characters are purely fictional. Some early readers note that while the characters are not always likable, they are sympathetic. 

The first two-thirds alternates between Mindy and Ginger’s points of view across the timeline. The final section is from Carol’s point of view, and readers say it will change the way you view things.

Set in the 1980s, Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reed is another great choice for a book about the California surf culture.

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

100% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

Kate feels stuck in her family’s failing restaurant in San Fransisco. She jumps at the chance to escape when her grandfather makes a cryptic plea for her to “find a beautiful stranger.” This search takes her to the Hotel del Coronado near San Diego, where the movie Some Like it Hot is being filmed.

When she’s offered a position at the glamorous hotel, it feels like a dream come true. And her life continues to get better as new romance blossoms. However, the hotel has ghosts from the past, just like Kate. Sixty years earlier, a guest died at the hotel and still haunts the halls. The life of that turn-of-the-century guest and Kate’s present intertwine in surprising ways.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 07/19/2023

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

98% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

When family tragedy strikes, Uncle Patrick needs to take custody of his niece and nephew for the summer. Forty-three-year-old GUP (Gay Uncle Patrick) loves the kids, but he’s used to them going home after a weekend.

Once a famous sitcom star, Patrick’s career is stalled. His Palm Springs lifestyle of cocktails at brunch isn’t exactly ideal for a 6 and 9-year-old. He quickly realizes that having the kids longer than a few days means he needs to be more of a parent figure. But in order to help the kids, Patrick will also have to figure out how to help himself. This means facing some difficult memories from his past and deciding what he wants for his future.

The Book Girls Say…

This book has much more depth than the cover might imply.  We both rated this book 5 stars because it made us laugh, cry, and feel everything in between! Even though the family is recovering from grief and in the midst of another complicated situation, the Guncle is full of heartwarming moments and laugh-out-loud humor. Patrick is the embodiment of what you hope for in a family member or friend. He steps way outside of his comfort zone, leads with open-hearted love, and does his best when in an unexpected difficult situation. The kids are equally fantastic characters!

Rowley’s newest novel, The Celebrants, takes place largely in the Big Sur region of northern California, making it another great pick this state.

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

90% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

Are you a fan of watching The Bachelorette? If so, and if you’re looking for a light and entertaining read, One to Watch might be your perfect match.

Bea is a plus-sized fashion blogger tired of watching casts full of size 0 models. After a drunken post about the un-realness of the reality dating show Main Squeeze, she gets a shocking call asking HER to be the next star of the show.

Can she trust the male contestants with her heart, or is it safer to remember she’s on the show mainly for her career?

As the season progresses throughout the book, you’ll feel like you are exploring Southern California with Bea as you root for her to find love.

The Book Girls Say…

We enjoyed that the story varies between the narrative/ standard book format and snippets of podcast dialog, emails, etc. ABOUT the show as fans watched. All the aspects came together and served as a great way to help your brain fully engage in the story.

Book Summary

Macy and her dad spend their weekends at a house in the charming town of Healdsburg, where they are able to escape their daily life in San Francisco. While it starts as a place to process their grief, they gain even more than they expected. The large family across the street, starting with son Elliot, quickly becomes more than just casual neighbors.

Elliot and Macy soon bond over their love of books and their favorite words. Over time, their teenage friendship grows into romance.

The book is told in a split timeline as you watch their relationship develop as teens, but then also see Macy eleven years later working on her pediatrics residency in San Francisco. She’s engaged to someone else when she unexpectedly runs into Elliot at a coffee shop.

Upon seeing him, her long-repressed emotions come rushing back. Something happened in the past to tear them apart, but their chemistry is as strong as ever. For a shot at a future, they’ll be forced to come to terms with both the past and the present.

The Book Girls Say…

We love everything written by the writing duo of Christina Lauren, and this ranks among our favorites. Love & Other Words leans more toward romantic drama than comedy and has a classic coming-of-age feel in the earlier timeline. You’ll want to keep the tissues handy when all is finally revealed – don’t say we didn’t warn you.

History of Hawaii

The history of Hawaii is as diverse and vibrant as the volcanic archipelago itself. Believed to have been settled by Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands around 300-500 AD, Hawaii developed a unique culture centered around the concept of ‘Aloha.’ These settlers developed complex societies, traditions, and language.

Western contact began in 1778 with the arrival of British explorer Captain James Cook. This marked the beginning of a challenging period, characterized by diseases, population decline, and social disruption. In the 19th century, American missionaries and businessmen settled on the islands, exerting increasing influence and initiating changes in the indigenous Hawaiian culture. These men were most interested in the islands’ agricultural potential and started to transform the lands into commercial plantations. Sugar became the dominant crop. 

By the mid-19th century, vast sugar plantations, often owned by large corporations known as the ‘Big Five,’ dominated Hawaii’s economy and political landscape. The plantation system required a massive influx of labor, prompting the recruitment of workers from China, Japan, Portugal, and the Philippines. This created a multiethnic society that significantly influenced the culture of Hawaii and fostered profound social change.

Prior to the 19th century, Hawaii was governed by a system of local chieftains each controlling their own territories. After years of conflict, King Kamehameha united the Hawaiian islands into a single kingdom in 1810. Hawaii was ruled as a monarchy for the next 83 years. In 1887, the Bayonet Constitution was forced upon King Kalākaua by the Hawaiian League, made up of non-native residents and citizens. This constitution significantly reduced the monarch’s power and expanded suffrage to non-native residents, largely to the benefit of the wealthy, land-owning class. In 1893, a group of American and European businessmen with support from the U.S. Minister to Hawaii, overthrew the monarchy. This led to the establishment of a provisional government. Hawaii was then annexed by the United States in 1898 following the Spanish-American War and became a US territory in 1900.

The US military had a significant presence in Hawaii due to its strategic location in the Pacific. In the early 20th century, the military began fortifying the islands, particularly the island of Oahu. Recognizing its value as a naval base, the U.S. began the development of Pearl Harbor in 1908, dredging the coral reef to allow larger ships to enter and exit the harbor. When Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japan on December 7, 1941, it thrust the United States into World War II.

Since becoming the 50th state in 1959, Hawaii has undergone significant transformations. Hawaii transitioned from an agriculture-based economy dominated by plantations to a service-based one. Tourism, spurred by advancements in air travel and marketing of Hawaii’s natural beauty and unique culture, became the leading source of income and jobs. The balance between development, tourism, and conservation remains a critical challenge for Hawaii. Politically and socially, Hawaii’s transition from a US territory to a state gave Hawaiians greater representation in U.S. governance. However, it also led to tensions and issues around land use, development, and Native Hawaiian rights.

Books Set in Hawaii

Book Summary

In 1935, Dr. Daniel Abe returns home to Hawaii from Chicago to visit his Uncle Koji, who has always thought of Daniel as a son. However, during the visit, Koji plans to tell Daniel the truth about his mother and father. However, as Daniel returns, the Mauna Loa volcano also comes back to life and is on a dangerous path toward their village.

If you love descriptive historical fiction, this dual-timeline novel about a Japanese-American family would be an excellent choice. The novel is set against the backdrop of the real 1935 Mauna Loa volcano eruption but also shares the history of Hawaii’s sugar plantations and the Japanese immigrant workers who cut the cane.

Book Summary

Regret was one of many Korean daughters whose names symbolized their father’s disappointment that they were not a son. In 1914, she learns of the opportunity to become a “picture bride” and marry a husband in Hawaii. Regret believes it’s the perfect way to escape her life of feeling unwanted and start fresh in a new land.

However, despite being promised a young, affluent husband and an opportunity for education, she finds herself married to a bitter and poor laborer. She tries to make the best of the situation, renaming herself Jin and working with three other picture brides to prosper in their new home. As Honolulu grows from a small capital into a multicultural city, the four women face disappointment and sacrifice, but also friendship.

The Book Girls Say…

The author has two other beloved books set in Hawaii – Molokai & Daughter of Molokai, both of which are included with Kindle Unlimited as of 7/19/23. Daughter of Molokai is split between Honolulu & California and also covers internment during WW2.

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

90% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

If you’re a fan of memoirs based on unorthodox childhoods like The Glass Castle or Educated, Freckled is a similar tale set in Hawaii. Author T.W. Neal (Toby) typically pens mysteries, but in 2018 she shared her own personal story about growing up in Kauai in the 1970s. 

Her parents were addicts and hippies, creating an unstable environment. Nights were spent in tents and vans instead of in a stable home. Yet, with resilience and intelligence, she balanced caring for her parents, her siblings, and herself. 

Because the family moved around, this memoir will give you insight into the island’s different regions.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 07/19/2023

Book Summary

Spanning three generations in Hilo, Hawaii, this expressive literary work explores the tradition, culture, family, and history of Native Hawaiians. Hi’i is the youngest daughter of the Naupka dynasty, her grandmother, Halali, is the Hulu matriarch on the Big Island. Hi’i mother, Laka, disappeared when Hi’i was a child.

As the youngest member of the family, Hi’i struggles with her identity and connection to the past, but hopes to heal the rifts within her family by becoming the next Miss Aloha Hula, just like her mother was. Hula is the perfect way for her to demonstrate that she still has a devotion to her culture. But people still want to know why Laka disappeared. Then, a revelation about Hi’i comes out and leaves the community with a huge decision that will impact the course of Hi’i’s future.

The Book Girls Say…

Readers say the writing is beautiful and steeped in history, but at times this book can be difficult to follow and a slower read, especially in the first half. Hula has been referred to as a blend of There, There and Sharks in the Time of Saviors, so if you love literary dives into the meaning of heritage, it could be a great pick. The novel is partially told from the collective tribal “We” point of view, so don’t pick it if you’re looking for more standard historical fiction.

Some reviews recommend the audiobook so you can experience the accents and cadence of the Hawaiian pidgin language.

Book Summary

Inspired by the real Women’s Air Raid Defense (WARD), this historical fiction takes us to the aftermath of Pearl Harbor when women replaced male soldiers in a war zone for the first time. Daisy enlists in the top-secret program and must guide pilots into blacked-out airstrips and track unidentified planes across Pacific skies.

However, the women face extra scrutiny and resistance because many of the male soldiers don’t believe they’re up to the job. But, with America’s future at stake and someone she loves on the front lines, she knows she cannot fail. This inspiring story will transport you to wartime Hawaii and teach you about some of the unsung heroines of the war.

The Book Girls Say…

Another great historical fiction about a woman from the mainland US traveling to Hawaii is Her Last Flight by Beatriz Williams. Her Last Flight is not a WW2 novel, but takes place after the war and features a former war correspondent tracking a female aviation pioneer.

Book Summary

Quinn has a good life and a clear vision of her future with her financé until her mother makes a deathbed confession. The absentee father Quinn spent thirty years resenting is not her real father. The whisper leads Quinn to Maui, her mother’s childhood home, where she hopes to find the truth.

As she searches for buried secrets from her mother’s past, her financé back home continues questioning everything she does. Can the beauty of Maui help Quinn uncover not only her father, but herself?

The Book Girls Say…

Readers say the setting and culture of Hawaii is beautifully described in True to Me, and that the mystery elements make this one a page-turner! There are two additional books in this series, both set in Maui, but featuring different characters. All three books are currently included with Kindle Unlimited.

If you’re looking for a lighter and hilarious rom-com set in Hawaii, we also recommend The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren. It’s set largely on a resort, so you’ll feel like you are on a great vacation but won’t get the full native Hawaii experience.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 07/19/2023

History of Nevada

Long before the arrival of European fur traders in the 1820s, the area now known as Nevada was home to the Washoe, Paiute, and Shoshone tribes, among others. Nevada’s real transformation began with the discovery of the Comstock Lode in 1859, which triggered a silver rush and resulted in significant population growth. Nevada was swiftly admitted as the 36th state to the Union in 1864 during the Civil War, a move hastened by its mineral wealth.

The geography of Nevada, the seventh largest state in the US, is defined by vast desert landscapes, rugged mountain ranges, and verdant valleys. It is the most mountainous state in the lower 48, punctuated by more than 300 named mountain ranges. Among these are the Sierra Nevada and the Ruby Mountains. The most distinguishing geographic feature is the Great Basin, a desert valley that stretches across most of the state between parallel mountain ranges. The state encompasses part of Lake Tahoe, one of the largest, deepest, and clearest freshwater lakes in the world. The Mojave Desert occupies a portion of southern Nevada, home to the city of Las Vegas. 

About 40 miles southwest of Las Vegas is the Hoover Dam. Constructed during the Great Depression between 1931 and 1936, it was one of the largest public works projects of its time. Named after President Herbert Hoover, it serves multiple purposes including hydroelectric power production, flood control, and water storage for irrigation. It impounds the Colorado River, forming Lake Mead, one of the largest artificial lakes in the US.

During the Great Depression, Nevada also legalized gambling and relaxed marriage and divorce laws as a way to attract visitors from far and wide and stimulate economic recovery. This led cities like Reno and Las Vegas to become casino towns. Through the mid-20th century, Reno was recognized as the gaming capital of the United States. However, the growth of Las Vegas in the latter half of the 20th century eventually overshadowed Reno’s prominence. 

The Rat Pack, a group of entertainers led by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr., became synonymous with Las Vegas during the 1960s. They transformed the city’s entertainment scene, creating a new, sophisticated standard for stage performances. The Rat Pack’s shows at the Sands Hotel and Casino were legendary and played a crucial role in popularizing Las Vegas as a glamorous nightlife destination. Today, its neon-drenched streets, thriving nightlife, and gaming culture are iconic, reflecting a city that truly never sleeps.

Books Set in Nevada

Book Summary

Far from the neon lights of the Vegas strip, there are locals going about their lives and raising families. In this novel, four lives will collide in ways that will change them all.

Avis thought her marriage was just in a rut, but with one middle-of-the-night confession, everything comes unraveled.

Roberta is a social worker and a court-appointed child advocate.

Luis is a soldier trying to make the grandmother who raised him proud. He wakes up at Walter Reed Hospital with only sketchy memories of how he got there. Now he’ll have to find a new way to lead a life of honor.

Bashkim is a third grader who loves the quiet order of school and the kindness of his teacher. His family came to the US fleeing political persecution and settled in Vegas. Their ice cream truck business barely pays the bills. Bashkim opens his heart to a pen pal – a US Soldier.

The Book Girls Say…

This is described as a feel-good book about how the little moments in life are actually the big ones. Reviewers praise the descriptions of suburban Las Vegas life – a side of the city many of us likely have trouble envisioning if we’ve never ventured beyond the bright lights of the Strip.

Book Summary

This is the first book in a brand-new mystery series featuring Sheriff Porter Beck. Born and raised in the high desert of Nevada, north of Las Vegas, Beck left to join the army. After spending years working in Intelligence, he’s returned home to take the sheriff position that his father once held.

In The Bitter Past, the quiet of the desert is rocked when a retired FBI agent is found dead. It’s clear that he was brutally tortured before he was killed, and the clues draw connections to a mystery dating back to the early days of the nuclear age.

The case unfolds in a dual timeline. In the 1950s, a Russian spy infiltrated a nuclear testing site. In the present day, someone is looking for that long-ago, all-but-forgotten person who holds the key to the current mystery.

The Book Girls Say…

Early readers say this book combines an espionage thriller, a police procedural, and historical fiction all in one. It’s not clear when we can expect the second book in this new series, but reviewers are already eager for more.

Book Summary

Calling all cozy mystery fans! This is the first book in the Vegas-based Lucky O’Toole series, which has been described as Janet Evanovich meets CSI.

Lucky is the “Chief Problem Solver” for the Babylon casino. She’s very good at her job, and she does it all wearing a pair of five-inch heels.

In Wanna Get Lucky, a young woman plunges from a sightseeing helicopter, landing in the Pirate Lagoon in front of the Treasure Island Hotel. Everyone else is ready to write it off as an accident, but Lucky suspects foul play.

The Book Girls Say…

This cozy mystery series is as Vegas as they come. They don’t call it Sin City for no reason, so skip this one if you’re looking for a wholesome read.

Cozy mystery lovers may also want to check out the series, Spying in High Heels. The second book in the series is set in Vegas, while the first and third books are set in Beverly Hills and Hollywood, respectively.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 07/19/2023

Book Summary

Biographer Shawn Levy is a former film critic who has written about some of pop culture’s most iconic names, from Robert De Niro to Paul Newman and Jerry Lewis. In Rat Pack Confidential, he transports readers back to Las Vegas in 1960.

Vegas is smooth and cool, and the Strip is a jet-age theme park. The greatest singer in the history of American popular music – Frank Sinatra – summons a group of friends there to make a movie. The marquee of the Sands Hotel declared their presence simply by listing their names: FRANK SINATRA. DEAN MARTIN. SAMMY DAVIS, JR. PETER LAWFORD. JOEY BISHOP.

To the world, it looked like these men had it all – fame and fortune in a playground called Vegas. But there was also a dark side. The line was thin between pleasure and debauchery and between confidence and arrogance. Four short years later, their ride was over, but showbiz would never be the same again.

The Book Girls Say…

The audiobook version of this non-fiction is included with Audible subscriptions without using a credit as of 7/19/23.

Book Summary

This non-fiction, true crime novel tells the story of gambling mastermind Franky “Lefty” Rosenthal. Together with his best friend, Tony, they practically ran the Vegas mob. Lefty was the brains of the operation, while Tony delivered suitcases filled with millions to the bosses each week. It seemed like nothing could take them down. But Lefty’s obsession with power, and Tony’s obsession with Lefty’s wife, ultimately led to betrayals and investigations.

The Book Girls Say…

In addition to writing this novel that was adapted into the mega-hit film of the same name directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert DeNiro, Sharon Stone, and Joe Pesci, Nicholas Pileggi is also the author of the Wiseguys, which became the Academy Award-winning movie Goodfellas.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 07/19/2023

Book Summary

Allison Johnson is in her twenties, living in Las Vegas, and struggling with her self-worth. She knows that she needs to get away from her abusive and alcoholic boyfriend. In an effort to escape and start over, she moves to Reno. But running away doesn’t solve all of her problems. She’s still haunted by the mistakes of her past. There is one thing that makes her feel better, though – the imaginary conversations she has with her hero, Paul Newman.

As more time passes, Allison slowly starts to build a new life for herself, aided by small acts of kindness. This quiet book provides slice-of-life insight into being twenty-something with all of its imperfections.

The Book Girls Say…

This is a short read, at just over 200 pages, and the writing is described as sparse. There is not a lot of joy on these pages, but reviewers say that you’ll find yourself rooting for Allison and finding hope in the little moments. If you enjoy “found family” stories, you may want to give this one a try.

History of Oregon

Located in the Pacific Northwest, Oregon was historically home to various Native American tribes, including the Chinook, Umatilla, Kalapuya, among many others. The Lewis and Clark Expedition explored the region in the early 19th century. In the mid-19th century the Oregon Trail, a 2,000-mile route beginning in Missouri, brought thousands of pioneers. Oregon became the 33rd state in 1859.

The state is renowned for its stunning landscapes, including the rugged coastline along the Pacific Ocean, the Cascade Range with its majestic mountains, and the lush forests and scenic waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge. The late 19th and early 20th centuries in Oregon were defined by the growth of the timber industry. However, conservation efforts gained momentum, leading to the establishment of national forests and a more sustainable approach to forestry. The latter half of the 20th century saw an increase in environmental activism and an even great focus on conservation. Oregon became a pioneer in land-use planning, protecting its natural resources, and promoting sustainable development. 

Oregon’s cultural landscape evolved with the counterculture movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The state’s reputation for progressive values has continued to shape its social fabric. Oregon embraces diversity, promotes social justice, and has been at the forefront of the LGBTQ+ rights movement.

Additionally, in the 1990s, the high-tech industry began to flourish in Oregon, particularly in the Silicon Forest region around Portland. Portland’s favorable business environment, relatively lower cost of living compared to other west coast tech hubs, and vibrant entrepreneurial community has continued to attract tech companies and startups. The city’s focus on sustainability and quality of life also appealed to professionals in the industry. With the growth in business, housing prices have grown considerably, making it less affordable than it once was, but still more affordable than many other West Coast cities.

Outside of Portland, Oregon is home to a wide array of cities and towns, each with its own unique charm and appeal. The state capital of Salem is the location of Willamette University, the oldest university in the West. Further south is Eugene, which is known for its focus on outdoor recreation, especially running, jogging, and biking. The Nike company was founded in Eugene in the mid-1960s. Further east, nestled against the Cascade Range, is the town of Bend, which is famous for expansive mountain views and adventure sports. In the far northwest of the state, situated at the mouth of the Columbia River, is the charming, coastal town of Astoria, known for its Victorian homes.

Books Set in Oregon

Book Summary

This atmospheric thriller will take you right to the forests of Oregon where Madison five-year-old Madison disappeared as her family was choosing a Christmas tree. It’s been three years, and the Culver family is still desperate to find their now eight-year-old daughter.

The Culvers turn to Naomi, a private investigator known as the “Child Finder” with an uncanny talent for locating the lost and missing. She understands lost children because she was a lost girl too. As her search takes her into the icy forest, she has to come to terms with her own past as well.

The Book Girls Say…

This book is a bit more literary than your average thriller. It’s told in alternating voices between Naomi and a deeply imaginative child.

Book Summary

Forty-four-year-old Alice is in the midst of deep grief. She’s unexpectedly lost her husband, her job is a dead-end, and even her beloved beekeeping hobby isn’t bringing her the usual joy. She has even begun to have anxiety attacks thinking about how far her life has strayed from her dreams.

As she’s transporting 120,000 bees in her truck, she nearly collides with Jake. He’s a troubled, paraplegic teenager with the tallest mohawk in Hood River County. When Alice sees Jake’s genuine interest in the bees and learns about his own difficulties at home, she impulsively invites him to see the farm.

The third member of the unlikely trio that makes up this novel is Harry. He’s twenty-four, and his social anxiety has prevented him from getting a traditional job. He answers Alice’s ad for part-time farm help and is shocked to be hired. Alice, Jake, and Harry become fast friends when they have to work together to stop a pesticide company that is threatening the bees. Through their new friendship, they each begin to heal.

The Book Girls Say…

While this book deals with grief and other tough topics, the overall book is said to be uplifting and heartwarming.

Book Summary

In the early 1800s, the east coast had major trading colonies like Jamestown. Thomas Jefferson and John Jacob Astor decided the wild west coast could benefit from a similar colony. Six years after the Lewis & Clark Expedition and 1 year after Thomas Jefferson’s Presidental term ended, the Astor Expedition launched with the goal of transforming the nation into a Pacific trading power.

While much of this book does focus on the deadly journey to Astoria (by land and sea), we thought it was a fascinating peak into the founding of the oldest city in Oregon and the first permanent American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains.

The Book Girls Say…

Astoria was a Goodreads nominee for Best History & Biography in 2014, but we had never heard of this wild expedition by a recently retired President and visionary businessman. If you enjoy learning about new facets of American history, grab this non-fiction book.

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

83% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

A small town in Oregon was shocked in 1977 when two seemingly random men were murdered with the same gun. The killer left strange notes, leading the town to believe that the killer was a rich, eccentric 23-year-old woman, Beth. After being acquitted of the murders, she became reclusive, tucked away in the isolation of her mansion.

Forty years later, in 2017, receptionist Shea runs a true-crime website at night. When she has a chance encounter with now 63-year-old Beth, she’s thrilled when Beth agrees to an interview. The duo begins meeting regularly at Beth’s mansion, which is not a comforting place. Shea swears items move on their own, and other strange things also happen. Although Beth is highly charming, Shea can’t help but wonder if she’s befriending a murderer.

The Book Girls Say…

If you prefer single timelines or dual chronological timelines, skip this one. The storyline alternates between the present and Beth’s life in the 70s, leading up to and including her arrest and trial. However, her past isn’t always revealed to the reader in order.

Book Summary

Addison had a lovely vacation planned to the Cayman Islands as a reward for her business success. However, her mother has requested she head to the Oregon wilderness instead because her mom’s former college roommate needs some help.

Brogan is a reclusive novelist with a new thriller on the New York Times Bestseller list. He planned to celebrate at the family’s fishing cabin, but his mom also needs a favor.

The moms, Libby and Ruby, have been scheming a way to get Addison and Brogan together, even though the few times they have met each other, the wrong kinds of sparks have flown. But will their new idea help the kids see that they are perfect for each other?

This book is the first in the Seven Brides for Seven Mothers series, so if you enjoy the author’s writing, there are six more rom-coms and they are all currently included with Kindle Unlimited.

The Book Girls Say…

For a Portland, Oregon rom-com option, check out Josh & Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 07/18/2023

Book Summary

This is a coming-of-age novel about Triinu Hoffman, a young woman growing up in rural Oregon. Shy and intellectual, Triinu is already bullied and doesn’t fit it – and that’s before she begins coming to terms with her sexuality.

Her personal realizations are set against the backdrop of the gay rights struggles in 1990s Oregon, where most people in her hometown are fighting for anti-gay legislation.

The Book Girls Say…

Although this a YA novel, reviewers say that its well-developed characters and the depth of its compassion and social commentary make it an excellent read for adults. It’s described as a story where not much happens, and yet everything happens.

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

Books Set in the 1990s

History of Washington State

Washington State has a rich history beginning with the Indigenous tribes that once inhabited the land, including the Salish, Yakama, and Spokane. The Spanish claimed the territory for Spain in 1775, but it was the British and American fur traders and settlers in the 19th century that brought significant change. Washington was admitted as the 42nd state of the Union in 1889. The following decades saw further growth, spurred by gold rushes, logging, and fishing.

By the mid-20th century, the aerospace industry was growing rapidly in Washington, led by Boeing. Towards the end of the century, the emergence of technology companies, such as Microsoft and Amazon, sparked another economic transformation. This established Washington as a global hub for the technology and digital economy.

The Pacific coast of Washington features rugged beaches and rainforests that giveaway to the snow-capped Olympic Mountains. East of the Olympic Mountains is the Puget Sound inlet, along which the cities of Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, and Everett are located. On the other side of these metropolitan areas is the Cascade Range, which divides Washington. The area westof the range receives heavy rainfall, while the eastern port of the state lies in the rain shadow.

The iconic, volcanic, Mount Rainier is visible from Seattle on a clear day. A bit further south is Mount St. Helens, which erupted in May of 1980 in one of the most significant volcanic events in US history. The 9-hour eruption flattened the surrounding forest, and rivers were clogged with ash and debris, causing severe flooding. Within hours, falling ash closed highways around the region, including I-90 between Seattle and Spokane.

In addition to its natural beauty, Washington is known for its coffee culture and its vibrant music and arts scene. While Seattle may be best known as the home of Starbucks, which was founded in 1971, the state is packed with independent coffee shops that serve as community gathering places. In the late 1980s and early 90s, Seattle also put its name on the global music map as epicenter of grunge music. Bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains cultivated their raw, alternative sound in the city’s clubs, forever changing the rock music landscape.

Books Set in Washington

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

97% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

Henry Lee’s father desperately wants his son to be an American. But, at his school, he is ignored by all of the white kids. The one friend he makes is a young Japanese girl named Keiko. Soon, Keiko and her family are rounded up into a Japanese internment camp. Forty years later, Henry finds himself searching to reconnect.

In addition to giving readers a closer look at the Japanese internment camps in America that often get glossed over in our history lessons, this book also peeks into the 1940s Seattle jazz scene.

The Book Girls Say…

Melissa really enjoyed learning about a part of WWII that she knew very little about. This one will make you think, but it’s NOT a graphic look into the horrors of war.

Another great Washington read is Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson. This novel is set in Puget Sound in the 1950s. When a local fisherman is found suspiciously drowned, a Japanese American is charged with his murder. Haunted by the memories of the Japanese internment camps during WWII just a decade before, events during the trial make it clear that much more is at stake in this community than one man’s guilt or innocence. Keep in mind that this book is on the longer side at 460 pages, and some readers say it feels even longer because it’s slower-paced and descriptive.

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

Books Set in the 1940s

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

91% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

Bernadette lives with her husband and her teenage daughter in Seattle – a city where she’s never felt she fits in. She was once a renowned architect, but now spends most of her time in the house hiding from the other moms of her daughter’s elite prep school.

Unlike her Microsoft employee husband, Elgie, who has fully embraced the granola-eating, public transport-using, bike-riding culture of 2010s Seattle, Bernadette spends her days in the house relying on a virtual assistant in India for many of her daily tasks. This becomes a real problem when her daughter’s stellar report card earns her a family cruise to Antarctica, and Bernadette becomes overwhelmed by the planning and preparations. When Bernadette disappears before the trip, her daughter Bee is determined to track her down, unraveling a web of secrets.

Much of this book is told in epistolary form, including notes from Bee’s school, email exchanges between Bernadette and her virtual assistant, and catty moms communicating about Bernadette’s eccentricities.

The Book Girls Say…

If you’re drawn to quirky and eccentric characters, you might love Bernadette as much as we do! This satirical novel was a Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for “Best Humor” when it was released in 2012, and it’s one of our favorite laugh-out-loud reads. But it’s more than just that… Maria Semple managed to create an enjoyable, witty, smart, and emotional novel!

Angela and her husband both enjoyed the audio version of this book, and this is one of the rare instances where we felt like the movie was almost as good as the book!

Book Summary

In May 1933, Seattle was covered with a surprise late snow. When single mother Vera returns from her night shift at the local hotel, she discovers that her three-year-old son Daniel has disappeared into the icy weather. While his teddy bear is found on the streets, new snow has covered any other tracks or clues.

Nearly 80 years later, in 2010, there is another shocking May snowstorm in Seattle. Reporter Claire is assigned to write about the parallels to the 1933 “Blackberry Winter” storm. When she uncovers the story of Daniel’s disappearance, she refocuses her story on his case. The book alternates perspectives between Vera in 1933 & Claire in 2010.

The Book Girls Say…

Several of Sarah Jio’s books are set in Washington. If you are interested in the Seattle music scene in the 1990s, pick up Always. If you love books about bookstores, try Goodnight June, and if you haven’t read Sarah Jio’s debut novel, pick up The Violets of March, which is set on Bainbridge Island.

Book Summary

Be warned, while this often hilarious and uplifting story will make you smile, you’ll also need tissues to wipe your eyes. Narrated by Enzo, a philosophizing dog, who is recalling all he and his family has been through on his final evening on earth.

Enzo’s master, Denny, is an up-and-coming race car driver who has taught Enzo that life, like racing, isn’t simply about going fast. While this sounds like a quirky concept, it’s actually a beautiful book about the wonders and absurdities of human life.

The Book Girls Say…

Random fact of the day – the adorable dog photographed for the cover of this book belonged to one of Angela’s friends!

Kindle Unlimited as of: 07/18/2023

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

97% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

In this charming debut novel, Widower Tova works at the Sowell Bay Aquarium to occupy her mind and time. She takes pride in cleaning perfectly every night, even though she doesn’t need the money. She loves all the aquarium life but forms a special bond with the intelligent (and curmudgeonly) octopus named Marcellus.

He’s just as surprised to feel friendly toward this human who visits him nightly. Soon, he connects the sadness he sees in her with something he saw in the ocean long ago. Can he help her solve the mystery of her son’s disappearance 30 years ago?

The Book Girls Say…

Neither of us expected to have a book partially narrated by a giant Pacific octopus on our best books of 2022 list, but Marcellus stole our hearts. Beyond that, we loved each of the human characters and their struggles in different phases of life. Young or older, so many people deal with loneliness and loss. Watching characters process and evolve through that was a heartwarming treat.

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

Remarkably Bright Creatures Book Club Guide with Discussion Questions
Uplifting Books for Book Clubs
Best Book Club Books for 2023
Intergenerational Novels: Books that Connect Generations

PS: We also have a printable Remarkably Bright Creatures book club guide available on Etsy, including discussion questions, themed games, a Marcellus bookmark, and more!

Book Summary

From 8th grade, Kate and Tully cycle through the highs and lows of long-term friendships as they try to figure out what they want from the world and what they need from each other.

Tully seems to have both beauty and brains while Kate feels doomed to be uncool forever. However, Tully doesn’t have it all. She longs to fill the void left when her mom abandoned her, and she funnels all her feelings into ambition at work. Kate is equally driven, but her life looks different as she becomes a wife and mother.

In Firefly Lane, Kristin Hannah uses the descriptive talent you know from her historical fiction books to share the story of three decades between friends.

Bonus: One Book that Covers Four States

Book Summary

In 1995, on a rare family vacation to Kailua-Kona, Hawaii seven-year-old Nainoa falls overboard from a cruise ship. Everyone assumes the worse when they see a shark in the water. But instead of harming Noa, the shark gently returns him to his mother. The struggling family takes this as a sign of blessing from the Hawaiian gods.

Sadly, this divine favor begins to drive the family apart. As an adult, Noa becomes a paramedic in Portland and still struggles with the abilities he received that fateful day. His brother Dan becomes a college athlete in Washington. Sister, Kaui leads a risky lifestyle in California but also takes on an extreme academic load as she tries to distance herself from the family legacy.

When supernatural events revisit the family in Hawaii, they must all reexamine the bonds of family and heritage.

The Book Girls Say…

For the readers who mentioned on the reader survey that they love magical realism & literary fiction, this is the book for you!

You are welcome to choose any book you’d like to read for the challenge. But, we hope this list of books has given you a good starting point.

Members of our email list and Facebook group, Read with the Book Girls, can log ratings for their monthly challenge reads. The logs provide us with data for the “BGG Reader Ratings” that are added to descriptions for future years. We’d love you to contribute your rating after you’ve finished your read this month. You can find the links to the logs in your Friday emails each week throughout the month of the challenge.

Join the Read Around the USA Challenge

Photo of the read around the USA reading challenge printable with text about how to join the challenge

Book Recommendations for Other Regions of the USA

We’re publishing a book list for a new group of states each month throughout 2023. You’ll find a schedule of upcoming regions in this post.

Can you send me a printable list with the book titles but not descriptions?

This was a big request last year that we weren’t able to add to our plates in 2022. New for 2023, readers who support Book Girls Guide through our Buy Me a Coffee membership site will receive special monthly printable journal pages as a thank you bonus. The voluntary members (we call them our BFFs) help cover the cost of running the challenges so we can keep them free for everyone.

We’re so excited to be able to offer this fun perk this year!

We pre-filled the journal pages with every book title for each state. The printable also includes space for you to mark your interest level, make notes about whether you’ve requested the book from the library (or any other notes you’d like), and then fill in your rating. Blank lines are included in case you have other books on your TBR (to be read) list that meet the prompt. We’d love you to sign up here!

This was a big request last year that we weren’t able to add to our plates in 2022. New for 2023, readers who support Book Girls Guide through our Buy Me a Coffee membership site will receive special monthly printable journal pages as a thank you bonus. The voluntary members (we call them our BFFs) help cover the cost of running the challenges so we can keep them free for everyone.

That said, you’ll always find the most updated version of our recommendations with descriptions each month at no cost on our website. We do update the list and descriptions regularly based on reader feedback. But, we know some of you wanted to print the list to take to the library or bookstore, and we hope this helps.

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Angela & Melissa

The Book Girls are best friends who jointly read over 200 books per year. We started Book Girls' Guide in 2019 to help others de-stress and find joy through the power of a great book. We do in-depth research on thousands of novels and non-fiction titles each year to provide curated book lists covering a variety of genres.

Chris Rehfeldt

Friday 11th of August 2023

I haven't been as pleased with the books I selected as I had hoped. First of all, the best books on each list are almost always ones that I have already read. But as I choose from the remainder, I have not liked most of them - in particular, this month I read Radar Girls, which is billed as historical fiction. Frankly, I would call it a Romance novel. Most of the book was about the relationship of the two lead characters. I really expected more about their job than a few pages of jargon. I joined because I love to read and am always looking for new authors, but haven't found much yet. I will continue though, because reading is what I do. I read 180 books per year - 4 of them (including this one) are for book clubs. I have 92 favorite authors, and I read everything they write, which is why many of your selections have already been read by me. I do appreciate your efforts.

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Looking for your next great read? Try one of the highly-rated titles from our curated book lists.