Books Set in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin

Whether you’re participating in our Read Around the USA Challenge or simply found your way to our website researching books set in the Upper Midwest states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, or Wisconsin, you’ve come to the right place!

What Kind of Books are Included On This List?

Our curated recommendations strike a good balance between historical fiction, contemporary novels, and non-fiction books about the northern states. We’ve grouped the books by state and also indicated the time setting of each. You’ll also find a brief description of each state’s characteristics before the corresponding books.

You are welcome to choose any book you’d like to read for the challenge. But, we hope that our book lists, together with the added context about each state’s history, give you a good starting point.

History of Illinois

The history of Illinois dates back thousands of years to when indigenous peoples, such as the Illiniwek, Miami, and Shawnee, thrived on its fertile lands. In the early 1700s, French explorers began establishing fur trading posts in the region, but the British later won short-lived control of the area. Following the Revolutionary, American settlement increased. The Illinois Territory was formed in 1809, and less than a decade later, it became the 21st state. 

Later in the century, Illinois became a key battleground in the struggle over slavery. Though he was born in Kentucky, Abraham Lincoln moved to Illinois as a young man and began his political career there. He emerged as a pivotal figure in the slavery debate, later becoming the 16th U.S. President who governed during the Civil War and was instrumental in ending slavery.

Illinois is predominantly flat with rolling hills and vast prairies, earning it the nickname “Prairie State.” The Mississippi River forms its western border, while the Ohio River delineates its southern boundary. These rivers and the Illinois River are significant in the state’s geography and economy. Northern Illinois is marked by higher elevations. The largest city, Chicago, is located on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan. This Great Lake significantly influences the state’s climate and is a vital resource for transportation, water supply, and recreation.

By population, Chicago is the third-largest city in the US and is known for its impressive skyline. The city’s architectural legacy began after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which led to a massive rebuilding effort and the advent of the skyscraper in the 1880s. The city is also famed for its contributions to the Prairie School, led by Frank Lloyd Wright, whose designs emphasize horizontal lines and natural elements. Chicago has a deep jazz and blues legacy and is home to many world-renowned museums, like the Field Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago is also known for its vibrant food scene, featuring iconic dishes like deep-dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs.

Beyond this major metropolis, Illinois is home to numerous other cities with unique characteristics and histories. Springfield, the state capital, is steeped in Abraham Lincoln’s legacy, housing his presidential museum, home, and tomb. Peoria, nestled along the Illinois River, is known for its rich industrial history and as a representative American city, often used in market research. Aurora, known as the “City of Lights,” was one of the first U.S. cities to implement an all-electric street lighting system. Champaign-Urbana, a twin city, is renowned for the University of Illinois, a research and higher education hub.

Books Set in Illinois

Saving Ruby King Book Cover

Book Summary

The police assume the death of Ruby King’s mother in Chicago’s South Side is just another act of violence in a black neighborhood. For Ruby, the loss of her mother means being left alone with her violent father. Layla, Ruby’s best friend, is the only person who knows how dangerous and scary Ruby’s life is now.

Ruby is even more alone when Layla’s father, the pastor of their church, demands that Layla stop hanging out with Ruby. However, Layla refuses to give up on her friend and discovers the murky loyalties and dark secrets tying their families together for three generations.

The Book Girls Say…

While you may see this book tagged as a mystery, reviewers say it’s better classified as a literary fiction work exploring Chicago’s South Side and how long-buried secrets affect future generations. The first 3/4th of the novel is said to be a slower-paced read before the ending escalates in pace.

For a memoir that includes growing up on the South Side of Chicago, check out Becoming by Michelle Obama. It’s especially good in audio form, and a great listen regardless of your political leanings.

Book Summary

Joanna Teale has thrown herself into dawn-to-dusk work studying nesting birds in rural Illinois for her graduate program. It’s a great distraction from the loss of her mother and her own breast cancer battle.

Out of nowhere, a bruised girl named Ursa shows up. The girl claims to have been sent from the stars to witness five miracles, but provides no other background information. Concerned about the bruises, Joanna lets the girl stay while enlisting the help of her reclusive neighbor to solve the mystery of where the girl came from.

Over the summer, miracles occur, but as the end of summer and the 5th miracle approach, Ursa’s dangerous past also gets closer.

The Book Girls Say…

This heartwarming novel is perfect for fans of The Snow Child. At its core, it’s a story of friendship and found family with a richly described setting.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 11/13/2023

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25 Books Like Where the Crawdads Sing

Book Summary

Charlie greets the women in his family, including his wife and four daughters, by saying “Hello, Beautiful” and truly sees something special in each of them. Unfortunately, Charlie is resented by his wife, Rose, because he’s an alcoholic, which also impacts his ability to provide for the family.

Their oldest daughter, Julie, is smart and ambitious. When she meets William, whose family couldn’t be more different than her own, he’s in Chicago for a college basketball scholarship. For William, the sport has been his saving grace and a substitute for the love of family. At least until he meets Julie and her family embraces him in their family unit when they become a couple. Once that happens, the family refuses to give up on him.

The Book Girls Say…

Hello Beautiful also follows the characters for nearly four decades. The book begins in the main character’s childhood, in the 1960s, and spans into their middle age years. This slow-paced character-driven family drama from the author of Dead Edward pays homage to Little Women, including references to the classic.

Heads Up: Themes in this book include depression and suicide.

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Best Book Club Books for 2023

Dating-ish Book Cover

Book Summary

Knitting club member Marie Harris is fed up with dating. The final straw was her most recent first date with a man named Matt, which was the most bizarre yet. The date left her wondering if she really needed a man in her life. Could she fulfill her needs with paid cuddlers and life coaches instead of a boyfriend? Maybe even a companion robot?

Can AI solve her problems, or will it be the man behind the robot that finally wins her heart?

The Book Girls Say…

While this is book #6 in the Knitting in City series, the author says the books can be read as stand-alone except #1.5, #4.5, #6.5, #7*, #8. So, while we’re highlighting the highly-rated #6, you could also select any of #1- #5 if those are easier to find. All are set in Chicago!

If you prefer a less steamy Chicago romance, try Comeback Summer instead. While it does contain some romance, it also focuses on the relationship between two sisters.

Devil in the White City book cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

96% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

This book alternates the true stories of two men connected to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Daniel H. Burnham is the architect of the fair, responsible for constructing the famous “White City,” which attracted appearances by Buffalo Bill Cody, Susan B. Anthony, and Thomas Edison.

Dr. Holmes erected the World’s Fair Hotel near the fairgrounds with a gas chamber and crematorium. He lured both guests and victims to his hotel with his charismatic personality.

The Book Girls Say…

While Erik Larson’s books are written in a narrative style, they are still classified as non-fiction. This one is more true crime/horror than some of his other works, as a serial killer is involved. While it still has high reviews overall, many readers comment that it feels like two different books combined into one, with the history of the fair and the sinister Dr. Holmes sections feeling disconnected despite being told in alternating chapters.

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Books Set in the 1880s and 1890s
Gilded Age Books

Hide by Tracy Clark book cover

Book Summary

As a Black woman in a male-dominated department, Detective Harriet Foster knows that adapting to a new partner will be a struggle. It’s even more difficult because she’s still mourning the sudden death of her former partner. However, crime won’t wait for Harriet to sort out her personal life.

When a young red-haired woman is found brutally murdered in downtown Chicago, Harriet is assigned the case. Her biggest clue is the red lipstick encircling the victim’s wrists and ankles. Unfortunately, another victim soon shows up with the same markings, indicating the presence of a new serial killer in her town.

The Book Girls Say…

If you enjoy the character of Harriet Foster and the blend of thriller and police procedural in Hide, you’re in luck. The second book in this series, Fall, will be published on 12/5/2023.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 11/13/2023

History of Indiana

Indiana was originally inhabited by indigenous peoples, such as the Miami and Potawatomi. The arrival of French explorers and fur traders in the 17th century led to the establishment of trading posts and a strong French influence in the region. In 1763, control of the area shifted from France to Britain. Following the Revolutionary War, the region became part of the United States upon the formation of the Indiana territory, which included present-day Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota. Indiana later achieved statehood in 1816 as the 19th state.

The state played a crucial role in the Civil War, contributing large numbers of troops to the Union army. After the war, Indiana experienced rapid industrialization and population growth. Its economy diversified, moving beyond corn and soybean agriculture to manufacturing and mining. The city of Gary became a center for steel production, and South Bend became the home to the Studebaker auto manufacturing company. Indiana is also renowned for its high-quality limestone, used in iconic buildings nationwide, including the Empire State Building and the Pentagon.

In the north, Indiana borders Lake Michigan, featuring sandy dunes and industrial cities like Gary. South Bend, the home of the University of Notre Dame, is also located in northern Indiana. The central part of the state is called the Corn Belt, with flat to gently rolling terrain ideal for agriculture. The capital city of Indianapolis is located right in the center of the state, making it the focal point for transportation and a crossroad that connects different parts of the state. The geography of Southern Indiana is more varied, with the Hoosier National Forest and the hilly region around the Ohio River Valley. Located on the Ohio River, the town of Evansville is the commercial and cultural hub of Southwestern Indiana and the Illinois-Indiana-Kentucky tri-state area.

Indiana has a rich cultural heritage, with events like the Indiana State Fair showcasing its agricultural roots. The state has a deep-rooted love for basketball, known as the “Hoosier Hysteria.” Indiana is renowned for its high school basketball tournaments, producing many notable college and NBA players.

Indiana is also famously home to the Indianapolis 500 auto race, held annually at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. First held in 1911, the Indy 500 is one of the oldest and most prestigious events in the world of motorsport. Traditionally run on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, this event is often called “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and draws a massive international audience.

Books Set in Indiana

Zorrie book cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

90% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

In under 200 pages, author Laird Hunt covers the entire life of the main character Zorrie. It begins with Zorrie in a modest home before the death of her parents. After being orphaned a second time when her aunt passes away, Zorrie drifts through Depression-era Indiana. She even spends a short time as a radium watch painter.

Eventually, she finds home in the community of Hillisburg. As Zorrie ages, you’ll see many events of the 20th century through the eyes of a woman in a small midwestern town.

The Book Girls Say…

The style of this National Book Award finalist is very poetic with beautiful prose. It’s slow-moving, emphasizing the characters and writing, which means you won’t get much action or a quick plot. But if you love quiet books that meander through a character’s normal life through the years, we think you’ll enjoy it.

All Good People Here book cover

Book Summary

When the main character, Margot, was just a kid, her six-year-old neighbor, January, was found in a ditch. Twenty years later, the killer has never been found. Margot still lives with the terrible feeling that she could have been the victim instead of January.

Now a journalist, when Margot returns to her hometown, it feels just as stifled and secretive as it did when she left. While she is still there caring for her sick uncle, another young child, Natalie, in the next town disappears like January two decades earlier. Margot vows to find Natalie, no matter how much resistance she faces from the townspeople.

The Book Girls Say…

This is the debut novel written by the host of the true-crime podcast Crime Junkie. It was nominated for the 2022 Goodreads Choice Awards as both Best Mystery/Thriller & Best Debut.

For another thriller set in Indiana, try Come and Get Me by August Norman.

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Best Psychological Thriller Books

Somebody's Daughter book cover

Book Summary

Author Ashley Ford grew up idolizing her father. She believed he was the only one that could understand her, and that they were both artists with sensitive souls. She is sure they will be reunited one day, with the major barrier being that he’s in prison, and she doesn’t know what he did to end up there.

This memoir goes back to her coming of age, as she suffered through growing up black in Indiana amid poverty, a difficult relationship with her mother, and her changing body that began attracting the attention of men. As she strives to find unconditional love, she dates a boy her mother hates. When she begins to see that her mom is right this time and ends the relationship, he rapes her. After that, she finally finds out why her father is in prison. And that’s where the story really begins.

The Book Girls Say…

The bestselling memoir covers the author’s childhood through college years in different cities across Indiana. The book is especially enjoyable in audiobook form, winning an Audie Award for Best Autobiography/Memoir in 2022.

A Fever in the Heartland book cover

Book Summary

In the 1920s, the Klan’s rise seemed unstoppable, especially in Indiana. A charismatic con man named D.C. Stephenson led the way, despite the constantly changing facts when he recounted his life story. He brought the message of the KKK out of the shadows and into the mainstream as he worked to spread hatred of Blacks, Jews, Catholics, and immigrants in equal measure across the state.

His message of hate was endorsed from the pulpits of local churches, spread at family picnics, and cheered on during town celebrations. Judges, prosecutors, ministers, governors, and senators nationwide proudly proclaimed their membership.

Then, in 1925, his cruel nature was exposed in a new way. Madge Oberholtzer was kidnapped, raped, and mutilated by Stephenson. She suffered for twenty-nine days before succumbing to her injuries. However, she boldly left behind a testimony that resulted in the arrest and conviction of Stephenson. Her deathbed testimony brought down the KKK’s Grand Dragon of Indiana and helped change the course of Indiana & American History.

The Book Girls Say…

This book receives incredibly high and consistent ratings for its compelling factual but novelistic recounting of this shocking period of history.

All the Bright Places book cover

Book Summary

Outcast Theodore is preoccupied with death and the ways he could end his life. But each time he gets serious about a plan, something good happens to stop him.

Cheerleader Violet is counting down the days until she can escape her Indiana town, which is filled with survivor’s remorse after the recent death of her sister.

When Finch and Violet meet at the edge of the bell tower, it’s unclear who saved whom. Now, they’re paired up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of Indiana, forcing the unlikely duo to find beauty in unexpected places.

The Book Girls Say…

All the Bright Places has been adapted to a Netflix movie of the same name starring Elle Fanning.
For more YA books set in Indiana, try The Fault in Our Stars or Turtles All the Way Down by Indiana native and bestselling author John Green.

A Christmas Story book cover

Book Summary

Did you know that the now-classic 1983 movie A Christmas Story was based on a series of short stories? This 144-page book contains the autobiographical humor that Jean Shepherd drew upon to create this enduring film.

Whether your favorite scenes include the Ovaltine decoder ring, the leg lamp prize, or Ralphie’s obsession with the Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle, you’re sure to chuckle while reading this book.

The Book Girls Say…

We can’t think of a more fun book pick to end the year than this quick Christmas read! Because it’s formatted as a series of short stories, it’s especially easy to fit into this busy holiday season.

History of Michigan

Long before the arrival of European settlers, Michigan was inhabited by Native American tribes such as the Ojibwe, Ottawa, and Potawatomi. The arrival of French explorers in the 17th century led to the establishment of the Great Lakes fur trade. As the fur trade declined in the 19th century, Michigan’s economy gradually shifted towards other industries, including lumber. Michigan’s path to statehood was complicated by the Toledo War, a boundary dispute with Ohio. The resolution in 1836, which granted the Upper Peninsula to Michigan, paved the way for it to become the 26th state in 1837.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the state became a hub for the automotive industry due to Henry Ford’s introduction of assembly line production methods. This innovation profoundly impacted the industrial landscape of Michigan, particularly in the Detroit area, which became known as the “Motor City.” The “Big Three” automakers – General Motors (GM), Ford, and Stellantis (formerly Chrysler) – all continue to have a significant presence in the Detroit area, but their dominance in the industry began to wane in the late 20th century in the face of global competition. 

As the auto industry faced challenges, so too did Detroit’s economy, which was heavily reliant on this sector. While the recovery process has been complex, the city is building back thanks to economic diversification, a culture and artistic renaissance, and many public-private partnerships focused on redevelopment and community initiatives. The decline in the auto industry has also had major impacts on other Michigan cities, including Flint. Once thriving from automotive manufacturing, Flint faced economic decline as the industry shifted. The city gained international attention during the last decade due to the Flint water crisis, which began in 2014, exposing severe infrastructure and environmental health issues.

Known as the Great Lakes State, Michigan is the only state in the U.S. bordered by four of the five Great Lakes and boasts the longest freshwater coastline in the US. The state is split in the upper and lower peninsulas. The Upper Peninsula (U.P.) is known for its rugged natural beauty and distinct culture. Due to its northern location, the U.P. experiences long, cold winters with substantial snowfall. The region is famous for its heavy lake-effect snow and is a popular winter sports destination. 

The Lower Peninsula is easily identified by its distinct mitten shape, and much of this area features flat to gently rolling terrain. Michigan’s lower peninsula is a leading producer of cherries – especially tart cherries. The region around Traverse City, particularly, is famous for its cherry orchards and is often called the “Cherry Capital of the World.” The annual National Cherry Festival celebrates this important part of the state’s agricultural industry and culture.

Michigan’s two peninsulas are connected by the Mackinac Bridge, which crosses the waterway between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. This suspension bridge, one of the longest in the world, is regarded as a an iconic symbol and an engineering marvel. Located in Lake Huron, car-free Mackinac Island is a popular tourist destination known for its preserved 19th-century character, fudge, and the historic Grand Hotel.

Books Set in Michigan

Women of Copper Country book cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

100% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

Twenty-five-year-old Annie Clements has spent her whole life in the copper-mining town of Calumet, Michigan. The men risk their lives deep underground, and the women labor in elite households to help make enough money to put food on the table.

When Annie decides to stand up for herself and the workers in her town, she faces opposition from all sides. Her husband resents her growing independence, she’s endangered by the violent political landscape, and she risks the threat of prison. Ultimately, she has to decide if standing up how much of herself she’s willing to sacrifice for the families in her town.

This historical fiction novel is a portrait of the early 20th-century labor movement.

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Books Set in the 1900s-1910s: The Turn of the Century

The Wishing Bridge book cover

Book Summary

Henrietta (Henri) is a successful mergers and acquisitions executive, but the next generation of employees at the company are eager to replace her. Henri’s boss informs her that she’ll be out of work if she doesn’t close a big deal before the end of the year. Desperate to keep her job, Henri assures her boss that she can convince her parents to sell their iconic small-town Christmas store to a huge corporate client.

Henri typically only leaves her job in Detroit long enough for a quick, 24-hour holiday visit with her mom and dad. Imagine their surprise when she shows up at the family business in early December. Her parents are thrilled to see her, but her brother is immediately suspicious.

While she’s used to closing cold corporate deals, she finds herself reconnecting with the warmth of the family store and her hometown. Will she be able to close the deal and save her career even if it hurts her family?

The Book Girls Say…

We included this title because it’s the newest from Viola Shipman (the pen name for author Wade Rouse), and is at the top of our personal TBRs. However, the majority of Shipman’s books are set in Michigan, so there are countless great backlist titles you could select instead. Two of our favorites are The Secret of Snow and Wish for Winter. Numerous of our readers from Michigan specifically noted that they enjoyed all of the local references in these books.

Another great option for a light and fun Michigan read is Emily Henry’s Beach Read. This one will transport you to the summertime in a western Michigan beach town. Best-selling romance novelist January Andrews is suffering extreme writer’s block and retreats to her dad’s secret Lake Michigan beach house in a last-ditch effort to meet her next book deadline. Her college English-department rival lives next door and is suffering from his own bout of writer’s block.

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The Best Christmas Romance Novels for 2023

Chevy in the Hole book cover

Book Summary

The book opens with Gus overdosing in a bathroom stall of the Detroit restaurant where he works. After recommitting to sobriety, he returns home to his family in Flint, but will this latest slip be his last? Things begin to look different for Gus when he meets Monae, and urban farmer who envisions a better future for the city’s damaged land. For the first time in a long time, Gus begins to see what might be possible for his city and himself. But as they begin dreaming up an oasis together, even the most essential resources can’t be counted on.

Through the stories of Gus, Monae, and their families – his White and hers Black – we see how things change and how things stay the same.

The Book Girls Say…

This book came highly recommended to us by one of our readers and we’re looking forward to reading it! The novel has been called a gorgeous, unflinching love letter to Flint, Michigan, and the resilience of its people.

The Firekeeper's Daughter book cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

97% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

This YA thriller, written by a Native American author, is about a biracial teen who is an unenrolled member of the Ojibwe tribe. Daunis has never quite fit in at home or on the reservation. She dreams of heading to college, but after a tragedy, she must remain home to care for her mom.

Life takes another big turn when she witnesses a murder and then reluctantly goes undercover in the criminal investigation to infiltrate a drug ring in her community.

The Book Girls Say…

Although some feel that this book starts slow, it made the list of our reader’s favorite books of 2021! They mentioned that it’s great on audio to hear the beautiful native language woven into the book.

Heads Up: The book contains a sexual assault.

The Welcome Home Diner book cover

Book Summary

Cousins Addie and Samantha set out to renovate a vintage diner in a depressed part of Detroit. Born and raised in Michigan, they are betting on the city’s comeback, and they want to be a part of it. But they quickly learn that not everyone is excited about their plans. Angus is a beloved local strongly opposed to the gentrification taking place in his neighborhood, and he’s not the only local who feels that way.

Surprised by the less-than-warm welcome, Addie and Samantha start questioning their plans. As the challenges add up in their business and personal lives, the cousins are increasingly at odds, jeopardizing everything they’ve worked for.

The Book Girls Say…

Reviewers say that this book is for you if you are a fan of food and love. Though some say they had a hard time connecting with the characters at first, most are ultimately won over by the witty banter and the heartwarming themes.

When researching books for this challenge, we always put added emphasis on the opinions of readers who call these cities home. Many reviewers who grew up in and around Detroit commented that they loved seeing the revitalization of their city on the pages of this novel. They also appreciated the historical context that the author included through the story.

Author Peggy Lampman attended college at the University of Michigan and then later moved back to Ann Arbor to open a specialty food store.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 11/16/2023
Tom Lake book cover

Book Summary

Set during the summer of 2020, Lara’s three adult daughters have returned home to quarantine at the family’s northern Michigan cherry orchard. As they pick cherries and go about running the family business in isolation, the sisters beg their mother to tell them the story of her long-ago romance with celebrity Peter Duke. When Lara was in her early 20s, she and Peter shared the stage during a Michigan summer stock theater run of the play Our Town.

Lara begins the story with her very first experience on stage in high school and works her way forward through her brief but eventful theater career. As the girls learn more about their mother’s life, they are forced to reconsider everything they thought they knew about her and their father.

The Book Girls Say…

This beautiful novel captures the ways in which our past shapes who we become, how certain moments and experiences stay with us forever, and how certain relationships – no matter how brief – leave lasting imprints on our souls.

Ann Patchett has had some amazing narrators for her audiobooks over the years (Tom Hanks reading The Dutch House, for example), and this book is no exception. Meryl Streep’s narration is phenomenal and definitely adds to the experience of reading the book.

For a fun, light-hearted look at the cherry culture of northern Michigan, we also recommend Viola Shipman’s Famous in a Small Town.

History of Minnesota

Minnesota has a rich history, beginning with the Dakota and Ojibwe/Anishinaabe people, the state’s original inhabitants. European exploration started in the 17th century with French fur traders. Minnesota became a U.S. territory in 1849, following the Louisiana Purchase and subsequent treaties with Native Americans. It was admitted as the 32nd U.S. state in 1858.

The state’s fertile soil made it a leading producer of wheat. By the late 1800s, it was one of the top wheat-producing states in the U.S. This agriculture boom led to the development of related industries like flour milling. Minneapolis became a global leader in flour milling with companies like Pillsbury and General Mills utilizing the Mississippi River for their operations. Today, food processing remains a key segment of Minnesota’s economy, anchored by giants like General Mills, Hormel Foods, and Cargill. 

Minnesota’s northern region borders Canada and showcases the rugged Boundary Waters, while the mighty Mississippi River originates in the state’s Itasca State Park. Known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” this nickname is no exaggeration. The state has over 11,000 lakes that are larger than 10 acres in size. 

Hockey is exceptionally popular in Minnesota and is often considered part of the state’s identity, earning it another nickname: “The State of Hockey.” The long, cold winters create ideal conditions for ice hockey, both indoor and outdoor. Frozen lakes and ponds are natural venues for skating and hockey, making the sport accessible from a young age. The state boasts one of the highest rates of youth hockey participation in the US. Many children start playing at a young age, and the sport is a staple in community and school activities.

Separated by the Mississippi River, Minnesota’s Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are closely intertwined but still maintain their distinct identities. Minneapolis, the larger of the two, is known for its modern skyline and vibrant arts scene. St. Paul, the state capital, has a more historic and traditional character, with well-preserved neighborhoods and a focus on government and educational institutions. Other major cities include Duluth, Rochester, Bloomington, and Mankato.

Situated on Lake Superior’s shores, Duluth is a major port city known for its maritime heritage. The city offers stunning lake views and landmarks like the Aerial Lift Bridge. Home to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, Rochester is a hub for healthcare and medical research. Best known for housing the Mall of America, the largest shopping mall in the U.S., Bloomington is a suburban city with a strong retail and hospitality industry. Located in the southern part of the state, Mankato is a vibrant college town that is home to Minnesota State University.

Books Set in Minnesota

Lager Queen of Minnesota book cover

Book Summary

Sisters Edith and Helen are opposites in many ways. Older sister Edith has a heart as big as Minnesota, while the younger Helen is as rigid as a steel keg. Their family is torn apart when their father leaves his entire estate to Helen.

Edith is an excellent pie baker, but she struggles to make a living. She always wonders how her life might have been different if she had received a portion of the family farm money.

With her inheritance, younger sister Helen builds one of the most successful light breweries in the country. But when Helen finds herself in need of help, she realizes she might find it close to home, if it’s not too late.

Edith’s granddaughter, Diana, grows up knowing that the real world requires a tougher constitution than her grandmother possesses. If she earns a shot at learning the IPA business from the ground up – it could change their fortunes forever. And maybe even reunite her splintered family.

The Book Girls Say…

This multigenerational novel is filled with a cast of lovable characters and a huge dose of Americana.

Sunday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club is another Minnesota title by the same author. Although the ratings are a bit lower, this book is on our TBRs list because we are fascinated by the state’s supper club history.

The River We Remember book cover

Book Summary

On Memorial Day in 1958, the residents of Jewel, Minnesota, are shocked to discover the dead body of the town’s most powerful citizen, wealthy landowner Jimmy Quinn. Sheriff Brody Dern must investigate, but he’s still carrying the physical and emotional scars of his military service, which complicate his career.

The townspeople have a prime suspect before Dern even has the autopsy report. Noah Bluestone, a Native American WWII veteran, has recently come back to town with a Japanese wife. But does the couple’s return have anything to do with this case?

The River We Remember explores midcentury life in America and highlights how countless small towns were affected by the WWII scars that remained well after the last shots were fired.

The Book Girls Say…

We’ve both already purchased this book, but haven’t had a chance to read it. However, we took a peek at the average reviews online, and it’s trending even better than This Tender Land, which is an impressive feat!

Krueger’s writing often blends a mystery with vivid descriptions of the landscape and even a little history. His inclusion of Native American characters and gorgeous Minnesota settings are recurring trademarks of his writing. Any of his books, including those in his popular Cork O’Connor series, would make an excellent choice for the challenge this month.

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William Kent Krueger Books in Order

Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons book cover

Book Summary

This novel follows the friendship of five women from the 1960s through the 21st century. They began as neighbors, then formed a book club, but over time it becomes a lifeline for each of them as they see each other through all the seasons of life. From the stay-at-home motherhood days to new careers, second chances, grandchildren, and all that life throws at them. Laughter is the glue that holds them together, even when they are mending broken hearts or shattered dreams.

The Book Girls Say…

Don’t let the fluffy title of this book fool you… it’s so much more than that!

Book lovers will especially enjoy that each chapter is headed by the title of the book they read, why it was chosen, and by whom.

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25 Books About Friendship for Adults

The Seed Keeper book cover

Book Summary

Long before spring meant placing orders for seeds through gardening catalogs, the Dakhótas relied on their strong seed-saving traditions for survival. While this book will teach you about that seed-saving heritage, it also covers so much more.

Rosalie Iron Wing grew up learning about plants and her ancestry as a Dakhóta from her father. However, she is sent to live with a foster family when he goes missing. Decades later, Rosalie is now both a mother and the widow of a farmer. She still takes solace in their land, although it has been threatened by both nature and man.

When Rosalie returns to her birthplace to search out more of her family history, she learns about the trauma of boarding schools, the war between the Dakhótas and the government, and the cache of seeds that survived through generations.

The Book Girls Say…

Diane Wilson is a Dakota writer who uses personal experience to illustrate broader social and historical context. Another acclaimed Native American author is Louise Erdrich, an enrolled member of the Anishinaabe Nation. Her 2021 novel, The Sentence, is set in Minneapolis, Minnesota during the one-year period between All Souls’ Day 2019 to All Souls’ Day 2020.

The Seed Keeper is included free with an Audible Membership as of 11/16/23.

Book Summary

Alexis is a thirty-seven-year-old sophisticated city girl. Daniel is the twenty-eight-year-old small-town mayor who saves her when her car gets stuck in a ditch. They have almost nothing in common but a strong commitment to their respective communities. Nonetheless, their chemistry is undeniable!

She comes from an ultra-wealthy family who looks down on her for being a mere ER doctor (rather than carrying on the family legacy as a world-renowned surgeon). She’s also recovering from a toxic relationship.

As she spends time in Daniel’s tight-knit small town, she discovers what’s really important to her. But it seems impossible to reconcile these revelations with her obligations. Is there any chance that their fling could be anything more than that? How can she choose between her world and his?

The Book Girls Say…

We love a good rom-com, but many fall more into the four-star range. Those that rise to the five-star level for us mix humor and romance with deeper topics, and Part of Your World does that so well! It will make you laugh and cry (sometimes even at the same time). It’s a book that you’ll want to hug!

Let’s start with the laughs… this book includes one of the absolute funniest scenes we can remember (the tutorial – IYKYK)! Angela was laughing out loud while listening to the audiobook and had to rewind and listen again to catch every hilarious detail! Then she played the scene over for her husband, who was literally in tears from laughing so hard.

On the flip side, this story deals with some heavier issues, including both emotional and physical abuse. Neither is graphically portrayed on the page, but the impacts on the survivors are felt throughout the book.

We could go on and on, but we don’t want to spoil anything for you. We’ll just leave you with this, in case you’re not already convinced to pick up this book… the lovable characters include a baby goat in pajamas and a pig named Kevin Bacon.

Sugar Cookie Murder book cover

Book Summary

In this book, the small town of Lake Eden is baking up a storm in preparation for the annual Christmas Buffet. Recently divorced Martin Dubinski arrives at the buffet with his new Vegas showgirl wife. When Hannah’s mother’s antique Christmas cake knife disappears only to be found in the new—and now late—Mrs. Dubinski’s décolletage, the festivities are put on ice.

With everyone stranded at the community center by a blizzard, Hannah puts her investigative skills to the test to ensure their are no more dead bodies before the snow is cleared.

The Book Girls Say…

All of the books in this Minnesota-based cozy mystery series would make an excellent choice if you’re looking for a light read this month. The books read well as standalones, so we selected this title set around the December holidays, but feel free to start with book 1 if you prefer.

Sugar Cookie Murder is included free with an Audible Membership as of 11/16/23.

History of Wisconsin

The history of Wisconsin begins with the Native American tribes, like the Menominee, Ojibwe, and Ho-Chunk, who lived off this land for centuries. The arrival of French explorers ushered in an era of fur trading. By the early 19th century, lead mining attracted settlers to the region and paved the way for Wisconsin to become the 30th state in 1848. The lead miners often lived in temporary, makeshift homes as they moved around in search of rich lead deposits. These homes, dug into the hillsides or constructed hastily, resembled the burrows of badgers. The miners themselves were also compared to badgers, digging through the earth for lead ore. This association led to Wisconsin being nicknamed the “Badger State,” a name that has endured to this day. 

In the late 19th century, dairy farming emerged as a significant industry in Wisconsin, earning Wisconsin the title “America’s Dairyland.” Today, the state is still renowned for its dairy production. Wisconsin leads the nation in cheese production, contributing a significant portion of the country’s total cheese output.

Wisconsin borders Lake Superior to the north and Lake Michigan to the east. Its landscape features rolling hills, vast forests, and over 15,000 lakes, including the notable Lake Winnebago. The Mississippi River forms part of its western border. Northern Wisconsin is part of the Northwoods, known for its thick forests and many lakes.

Situated on Lake Michigan’s western shore, Wisconsin’s largest city, Milwaukee, is known for its brewing history. Brew City is also known for its vibrant arts scene, including the Milwaukee Art Museum’s striking architecture. Nestled between Lakes Mendota and Monona, the state capital of Madison is home to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is known for its political activism and progressive culture. 

Other major cities in the state include Green Bay, Kenosha, Racine, and Eau Claire. Green Bay is an important port city on the Bay of Green Bay, an arm of Lake Michigan, and has a deep-seated passion for football as the home of the Packers. Located on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan, Kenosha has a charming lakefront area and a rich history in manufacturing. Also situated along Lake Michigan, Racine is renowned for its architectural landmarks designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The city’s also has a strong Danish heritage reflected in its bakeries and the annual Danish Festival. Nestled at the confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa Rivers, the city of Eau Claire has a  picturesque setting and a unique college-town charm.

Books Set in Wisconsin

North of the Tension Line book cover

Book Summary

The small town of Ephraim, Wisconsin, is filled with artists and summer tourists. It’s got just enough going on to satisfy newcomer Fiona Campbell’s city tastes. Her feelings about Washington Island in northern Door County are quite different, though. Visiting this remote spot leaves Fiona feeling refreshed, but nonetheless, she is convinced that only lunatics and hermits could survive the frigid isolation of winter there.

Despite her strong feelings, Fiona finds herself accepting a dare to survive winter on the island in a decrepit, old house. With nothing more than a book and a bottle of scotch, she’s determined to win the dare. She quickly learns, however, that small-town life north of the tension line is not as dull as she imagined. There are vicious politics, ruthless neighbors, and persistent animals.

The Book Girls Say…

Stretching across Wisconsin in an S-shape from the northwest to southeast, the Tension Line represents the boundary on either side of which plants and animals have different adaptations. This line divides the state into two major ecological regions.

Whistling in the Dark book cover

Book Summary

Before her dad died, Sally promised him that she’d look after your sister, Troo. In the summer of 1959, with their mother in the hospital and their step-father more interested in beer, Sally and Troo are on their own to wander the town. But a murderer and molester is doing the same.

Sally is pretty sure of who the killer is, and she’s convinced that she’s next on his list. The way she sees it, she has no choice but to protect herself and Troo as best she can. She’ll rely on her own courage and the kindness of her neighbors.

Book Summary

Sabrina is not happy to be returning home to the Wisconsin Dells, otherwise known as the Waterpark Capital of the World. But it’s not the town she’s been avoiding. It’s the Monroe family curse. The women in her family can see spirits who need help with unfinished business. The only ghost Sabrina doesn’t mind is Molly, who is bubbly, loves rom coms, and was a great friend to Sabrina throughout her childhood.

Ray is a charming restauranteur who invites Sabrina to his supper club. While it’s not terrible that he’s flirting with her over Brandy Old Fashioneds, she is much more concerned with getting a job than a boyfriend. Although, Ray’s kindness toward rescue dogs and talent in the kitchen are nice bonuses on top of his handsomeness.

Sabrina is still worried about the spirits that follow her, but maybe with Ray, she could find joy.

The Book Girls Say…

Foodie fiction lovers will enjoy the delicious descriptions of food throughout this romance.

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

Halloween Romance Books and Rom Coms

You Deserve Each Other book cover

Book Summary

This is a laugh-out-loud lovers-to-enemies-to lovers tale.

When Naomi and Nicholas separately both get cool feet three months before their wedding, they find out whoever cancels is financially responsible for the nonrefundable wedding bill.

Can either of them get the other person to cancel? Or will they rediscover love through pranks and sabotage?

The Book Girls Say…

This rom com is filled with witty and sarcastic humor and characters who don’t always make good decisions. As long as you go into this book knowing that you might not immediately like each either of the main characters as they set about to torture one sabotage, you’ll soon find yourself laughing at their antics. Soon enough, the characters will start showing their more redeeming qualities and you’ll be rooting for their happy ending.

Dovetail book cover

Book Summary

When Joe begins having troubling dreams of himself as a different man in another place and time, everything in his life is turned upside down. But it’s not until he visits his grandmother, Pearl, in her small Wisconsin hometown that he discovers a startling connection. Joe is drawn into his family’s past when he learns about the secret weighing on the old woman’s soul – the 1916 tragic death of her sister Alice a half-century ago. This death had ripple effects on all who loved her.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 11/16/2023

Book Summary

In 1941 Wisconsin, Fritzi and her sister are forced to find work when the men are sent off to war. They become experts at everything from fixing flats to driving the tow truck. They put their own spin on these tasks, including short skirts and roller skates. Before long, however, women were also needed to fly planes for the war effort.

In 2005, Alabama, Sookie’s last daughter has just married, and now Sookie is looking forward to relaxation. Her plans are turned upside down when a package arrives that sends her right back to the 1940s in her memories.

The Book Girls Say…

While only half of this story is set in Wisconsin, we love learning more about what life was like stateside during WWII. And we’re especially eager to learn about the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASP).

We hope you enjoyed this book list and found several books to add to your TBR (to be read list). If you’re choosing a book for our reading challenge, you are also welcome to read any other book that meets the challenge prompt.

If you have a suggestion for a book that you think would be a great addition to this list, please fill out this form.

You can read all about the Read Around the USA Challenge and sign up for a free printable challenge book tracker here.


Comments on: Books Set in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin

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  1. Nancy Bethel says:

    A book I just read that I would recommend for MN is In the Night of Memory by Linda Grover. A beautiful book about Native Americans in MN, and the problem of missing Native American women. A 5 star read for me for sure!

  2. Kathy Witt says:

    Does it count if I have read the script for the Musical version of A Christmas Story?