Crank up the the AC and curl up with a good book from these Tucson-inspired categories. We asked Pima County Public Library, Bookmans, Mostly Books and Antigone Books to recommend some fantastic titles. Challenge yourself to read them all or one from each section and share your progress using #thisistucsonbookchallenge. Reading superstars can even earn a prize!

Download and print the summer reading checklist here, or keep scrolling for more information on the selected books. 

NOTE: Summaries come from and library catalog. 

Memoir / biography

-Tucson Famous-

Author: Barbara Kingsolver

Recommended by: Mostly Books and Antigone Books

Goodreads rating: 4.03 stars

Tucson connection: Kingsolver lived in Tucson. 

Summary: Nonfiction. "Twenty-six original essays explore themes of family, community, and the natural world while considering such specific topics as modern motherhood, paper dolls, and high-tide oysters."

Author: Kristie Miller

Recommended by: Bookmans Midtown

Goodreads rating: 3.46 stars

Tucson connection: Isabella opened the Arizona Inn. 

Summary: Nonfiction. "A biography of the Arizona entrepeneur and politician Isabella Greenway, who came to prominence during the New Deal."

Author: Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly

Recommended by: This Is Tucson staff

Goodreads rating: 4.1 stars

Tucson connection: Tucson authors

Summary: Nonfiction. "Congresswoman Giffords and her astronaut husband recount her early years, their marriage, the assassination attempt that left her gravely wounded and took the lives of six others, and her rehabilitation." 


-Too hot to handle-

Author: Beverly Jenkins

Recommended by: Pima County Public Library

Goodreads rating: 4.2 stars

Tucson connection: Set in the Arizona Territory.

Summary: Fiction. "Portia Carmichael, the manager of one of Arizona Territory's finest hotels, is determined to avoid the wrong kind of man until Kent Randolph, an old family friend, comes back into her life, and sets himself to win her heart."

Author: Jillian Cantor

Recommended by: This Is Tucson staff

Goodreads rating: 4.18 stars

Tucson connection: Tucson author

Summary: Fiction. "Austria, 1938. Kristoff is a young apprentice to a master Jewish stamp engraver. When his teacher disappears during Kristallnacht, Kristoff is forced to engrave stamps for the Germans, and simultaneously works alongside Elena, his beloved teacher's fiery daughter, and with the Austrian resistance to send underground messages and forge papers. As he falls for Elena amidst the brutal chaos of war, Kristoff must find a way to save her, and himself. Los Angeles, 1989. Katie Nelson is going through a divorce and while cleaning out her house and life in the aftermath, she comes across the stamp collection of her father, who recently went into a nursing home. When an appraiser, Benjamin, discovers an unusual World War II-era Austrian stamp placed on an old love letter as he goes through her dad's collection, Katie and Benjamin are sent on a journey together that will uncover a story of passion and tragedy spanning decades and continents, behind the just fallen Berlin Wall."

Author: Terry McMillan

Recommended by: Pima County Public Library

Goodreads rating: 3.95 stars

Tucson connection: Set in Arizona. 

Summary: Fiction. "Four African-American women console and support one another in a complex friendship that helps each of them face the middle of their lives as single women." 

Sense of place

-Take me away-

Author: Ken Lamberton

Recommended by: Pima County Public Library

Goodreads rating: 4.35 stars

Tucson connection: We¬†‚̧ԳŹ Arizona.¬†

Summary: Nonfiction. "The book is a personal account of the author's year spent 'chasing Arizona' by going to as many places as possible in fifty-two weeks to learn about Arizona's history, symbols, food, people, and quirky customs. It is part travelogue, part history book, part essay collection and covers the whole state from border towns to the Four Corners."

Author: T.C. Boyle

Recommended by: Mostly Books / Pima County Public Library

Goodreads rating: 3.32 stars

Tucson connection: Um... Biosphere 2, anyone? 

Summary: Fiction. "Sealed inside a glass enclosure designed as a prototype for a possible off-Earth colony, eight Terranauts in the 1990s Arizona desert test their skills in five biome environments that they must protect from skeptics who would sabotage the mission.

Author: Paula McLain

Recommended by: Antigone Books

Goodreads rating: 3.93 stars

Tucson connection: Literally just the word "sun" in the title. :) 

Summary: Fiction. "Paula McLain, author of the phenomenal bestseller The Paris Wife, now returns with her keenly anticipated new novel, transporting readers to colonial Kenya in the 1920s. Circling the Sun brings to life a fearless and captivating woman--Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, author of the classic memoir Out of Africa. Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature's delicate balance. But even the wild child must grow up, and when everything Beryl knows and trusts dissolves, she is catapulted into a string of disastrous relationships." ...

Local must-reads

-Cactus classics-

Author: Barbara Kingsolver

Recommended by: Pima County Public Library

Goodreads rating: 3.95 stars

Tucson connection: Set in Tucson. 

Summary: Fiction. "Young, bright Taylor Greer leaves her poverty-stricken life in Kentucky and heads west, picking up an abandoned Native American baby girl whom she names Turtle and finds a new home in Tucson with Mattie, an old woman who takes in Central American refugees."

Author: Luis Alberto Urrea

Recommended by: Bookmans East

Goodreads rating: 4.16 stars

Tucson connection: Urrea writes beautifully about the border region. 

Summary: Fiction. "When sixteen-year-old Teresita, the illegitimate and beloved daughter of a powerful late-nineteenth-century rancher, arises from death possessing the power to heal, she is declared a saint and finds her family and faith tested by the impending Mexican civil war."

Author: Leslie Marmon Silko

Recommended by: Mostly Books

Goodreads rating: 3.74 stars

Tucson connection: Tucson author

Summary: Fiction. "One Native American family, on a New Mexico reservation, struggles to survive in a world no longer theirs in the years just before and after World War II."


-Smells like rain-

Author: Aldo Leopold

Recommended by: Mostly Books

Goodreads rating: 4.25 stars

Tucson connection: Contains reflections on Arizona's environment

Summary: Nonfiction. "Featuring more than one hundred photographs and numerous essays, Aldo Leopold portrays his ecological writings, on nature, conservation and environmentalism."

Author: Eric Magrane and Christopher Cokinos

Recommended by: Antigone Books / Mostly Books

Goodreads rating: 4.11 stars

Tucson connection: If summer makes you forget why Tucson is beautiful.

Summary: Nonfiction. "This is an anthology of poetry and short prose about the Sonoran Desert that is organized in the manner of a field guide."

Author: Kevin Fedarko
Recommended by: Pima County Public Library
Goodreads rating: 4.4 stars
Tucson connection: Set in Arizona
Summary: Nonfiction. "Documents the 1983 Colorado River flood that threatened the region with a catastrophic dam failure and prompted oarsman Kenton Grua's near-suicidal effort to navigate the turbulent waters of the Emerald Mile on a small wooden dory to achieve a world speed record."


-The food desert-

Author: Desert Harvesters

Recommended by: Antigone Books

Tucson connection: Native foods + local authors

Summary:¬†Cookbook. "Eat Mesquite and More¬†celebrates native food forests of the Sonoran Desert and beyond with over 170 recipes featuring wild, indigenous foods, including mesquite, acorn, barrel cactus, chiltepin, cholla, desert chia, desert herbs and flowers, desert ironwood, hackberry, palo verde, prickly pear, saguaro, wolfberry, and wild greens. The recipes‚ÄĒcontributed by desert dwellers, harvesters, chefs, and innovators‚ÄĒcapture a spirit of adventure and reverence inviting both newcomers and seasoned experts to try new foods and experiment with new flavors." ...¬†

Author: Laura Esquivel

Recommended by: This Is Tucson staff

Goodreads rating: 3.94 stars

Tucson connection: Celebrating our city's Mexican influences.

Summary: Fiction. Also in Spanish. "Despite the fact that she has fallen in love with a young man, Tita, the youngest of three daughters born to a tyrannical rancher, must obey tradition and remain single and at home to care for her mother. A combination fairy tale, melodrama, romance, Mexican cookbook, and home remedy handbook." 

Author: Gary Paul Nabhan

Recommended by: This Is Tucson staff

Goodreads rating: 3.69 stars

Tucson connection: Author is Native SEEDS/Search co-founder. 

Summary: Nonfiction. "A celebration of food and culture with a social conscience, in the tradition of M. F. K. Fischer and Frances Moore Lapp. We really are what we eat. Eating close to home is not just a matter of convenience it is an act of deep cultural, emotional, and environmental significance."


Once upon a time in the West

Author: Lydia Otero

Recommended by: Pima County Public Library / Antigone Books

Goodreads rating: 4.12 stars

Tucson connection: A look at Tucson history

Summary: Nonfiction. "Documents the urban renewal project, initiated in 1966, that erased a densely populated, predominantly Mexican American enclave located in a central region of Tuscon, Arizona, examining relationships between the destruction of place and history, and explores the roles of competing historical narratives in the perpetuation and resistance of cultural and socioeconomic dominance."

Author: Gregory McNamee

Recommended by: Pima County Public Library, Antigone Books, Mostly Books 

Goodreads rating: 3.8 stars

Tucson connection: Why we eat what we eat.

Summary: Nonfiction. "In this entertaining history, Gregory McNamee explores the many ethnic and cultural traditions that have contributed to the food of the Southwest. He traces the origins of the cuisine to the arrival of humans in the Americas, the work of the earliest farmers of Mesoamerica, and the most ancient trade networks joining peoples of the coast, plains, and mountains. From the ancient chile pepper and agave to the comparatively recent fare of sushi and Frito pie, this complex culinary journey involves many players over space and time. Born of scarcity, migration, and climate change, these foods are now fully at home in the Southwest of today -- and with the 'southwesternization' of the American palate at large, they are found across the globe. McNamee extends that story across thousands of years to the present, even imagining what the southwestern menu will look like in the near future." 

Author: Paulette Jiles

Recommended by: This Is Tucson staff

Goodreads rating: 4.1 stars

Tucson connection: Set in the Southwest. 

Summary: Fiction. "In the wake of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence. In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna's parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows. Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act civilized. Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land..."


Honk if you ‚̧ԳŹ La Llorona

Author: Sylvia Nobel

Recommended by: Bookmans Northwest

Goodreads rating: 3.49 stars

Tucson connection: Set in Arizona

Summary: Fiction. "Beautiful, strong-willed reporter, Kendall O'Dell, is drawn into an evil web of conspiracy beyond anything she could have ever imagined when she accepts a position at a small newspaper in isolated Castle Valley, Arizona."

Author: J.A. Jance

Recommended by: Mostly Books

Goodreads rating: 4.18 stars

Tucson connection: Set in Arizona. Arizona author

Summary: Fiction. "A puzzling new case has just hit Sheriff Joanna Brady‚Äôs department, demanding every resource she has at her disposal‚ÄĒas well as help from neighboring law enforcement agencies and the Feds. The bodies of two women have been found at the base of a nearby peak, known to Bisbee locals as Geronimo. Is this a terrible accident, a case of murder/suicide, or a double homicide?

"The investigation takes a puzzling twist when Joanna discovers that one victim was a local teacher and minister‚Äôs wife, while the other was a brilliant microbiologist working toward her Ph.D.‚ÄĒtwo vastly different women with seemingly no connections to link them.

"As Joanna and her team methodically hunt down answers, they begin to uncover a knotty web of sordid secrets and evil lies‚ÄĒclues that take the valiant sheriff down a winding and dangerous road that leads shockingly close to home . . . and close to a desperate and determined killer."

Author: Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child 

Recommended by: Antigone Books

Goodreads rating: 4.1 stars

Tucson connection: Set in the Southwest

Summary: Fiction. "Archaeologist Nora Kelly leads an expedition to Utah in search of Quivira, a fabled City of Gold. With the aid of satellite photos, the group retraces her missing father's footsteps and runs into monsters."

Current events

Hot topics

Author: Luis Alberto Urrea

Recommended by: Pima County Public Library / Bookmans Northwest / Antigone Books / Mostly Books 

Goodreads rating: 4.03 stars

Tucson connection: Set in Southern Arizona

Summary: Nonfiction. "In May 2001, a group of men attempted to cross the Mexican border into the desert of southern Arizona, through the deadliest region of the continent, the 'Devil's Highway.' Three years later, Luis Alberto Urrea wrote about what happened to them. The result was a national bestseller, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a 'book of the year' in multiple newspapers, and a work proclaimed as a modern American classic."

Author: Kim Antieau

Recommended by: This Is Tucson staff

Goodreads rating: 4.21 stars

Tucson connection: Set in Tucson. Also, Return of the Mermaids! 

Summary: Fiction. "Myla Alvarez, novice, walks into the Sonoran desert near Tucson, Arizona and begins telling stories about the Old Mermaids who were washed ashore onto the New Desert when the Old Sea dried up. In this mystical new world, they lived, created, and walked in beauty. Myla finds sustenance and meaning in their lives and stories. But she worries that Homeland Security may discover the illegal immigrants she harbors at the Old Mermaid Sanctuary. When an old friend re-enters her life, Myla begins to doubt herself and the wisdom of preserving the Old Mermaid Sanctuary. Will the Old Mermaids come to her aid? Church of the Old Mermaids is a tale of redemption, love, compassion, and mystery."

Transgender History

Author: Susan Stryker

Recommended by: Antigone Books

Goodreads rating: 4.05 stars

Tucson connection: Written by University of Arizona professor

Summary: "Covering American transgender history from the mid-twentieth century to today, 'Transgender History' takes a chronological approach to the subject of transgender history, with each chapter covering major movements, writings, and events. .... 

"'Transgender History' includes informative sidebars highlighting quotes from major texts and speeches in transgender history and brief biographies of key players, plus excerpts from transgender memoirs and discussion of treatments of transgenderism in popular culture."

Fun reads

Jave laugh

Author: Dusti Bowling

Recommended by: Mostly Books

Goodreads rating: 4.39 stars

Tucson connection:¬†Set in Arizona + look at that cover.¬†‚̧ԳŹ

Summary: Fiction. "New friends and a mystery help Aven, 13, adjust to middle school and life at a dying western theme park in a new state, where her being born arm-less presents many challenges."

Desert Dames and Doodles: A Coloring Book Inspired by the Sonoran Desert

Author: Audrey De La Cruz

Recommended by: Antigone Books

Goodreads rating: No ratings

Tucson connection: Tucson artist. Desert pictures to color.¬†ūüĆĶ

Summary: Coloring book. "Relax and get your creative juices flowing with this beautiful collection of illustrations inspired by the Sonoran Desert. This book contains 50 unique illustrations by artist, Audrey De La Cruz (Annotated Audrey). Discover the lush landscape and fascinating inhabitants of the desert in this one of a kind creative adventure."

Author: Dave Nasser and Lynne Barrett-Lee

Recommended by: Pima County Public Library

Goodreads rating: 3.86 stars

Tucson connection: For a while, the tallest dog in the world lived in Tucson.

Summary: Nonfiction. "With his big blue eyes and soulful expression, George was the irresistible runt of the litter. But Dave and Christie Nasser's "baby" ended up being almost five feet tall, seven feet long, and 245 pounds. Eager to play, and boisterous to the point of causing chaos, this big Great Dane was scared of water, scared of dogs a fraction of his size and, most of all, scared of being alone."

Self help

Saguaro you today?

Author: Megan Kimble

Recommended by: Bookmans East / Pima County Public Library

Goodreads rating: 3.79 stars

Tucson connection: Tucson author

Summary: Nonfiction. "The author describes her year-long commitment to eating only natural, unprocessed foods, and provides a background on Americas food system, past and present."

Landwhale: On Turning Insults Into Nicknames, Why Body Image is Hard and How Diets Can Kiss My Ass

Author: Jes Baker

Recommended by: Pima County Public Library / Bookmans East

Goodreads rating: 3.79 stars

Tucson connection: Tucson author

Summary:¬†Nonfiction.¬†"Jes Baker burst onto the body-positivity scene when she created her own ads mocking Abercrombie & Fitch for discriminating against all body types¬†‚ÄĒ¬†a move that landed her on the 'Today¬†Show' and garnered a loyal following for her raw, honest, and attitude-filled blog missives. ... This memoir goes deeply into Jes's inner life, from growing up a fat girl to dating while fat. With material that will have readers laughing and crying along with Jes's experience, this new book is a natural fit with her irreverent, open-book style.

"A deeply personal take, "Landwhale" is a glimpse at life as a fat woman today, but it's also a reflection of the unforgiving ways our culture still treats fatness, all with Jes's biting voice as the guide."

Author: Melody Warnick 

Recommended by: This Is Tucson staff

Goodreads rating: 3.66 stars

Tucson connection: Lots of community-building principles we could apply here.

Summary: Nonfiction. "Recounts how, after several moves around the country, the author decided to adopt their latest town as a permanent home by identifying reasons to love it, sharing her findings about the psychology of place attachment and the motivations of people dedicated to improving their cities." 


the desert sun sets / beauty fills the sky tonight / so many pictures 

Author: Logan Phillips

Recommended by: Pima County Public Library / Antigone Books

Goodreads rating: 4.82 stars

Tucson connection: 

Summary: Poetry. "'Sonoran Strange' is a poem cycle about the Arizona-Sonoran borderlands, as told through the stories of historic, ironic, and sometimes ludicrous characters and events. Phillips' debut full-length collection, the book is a love letter to the desert and an indictment of human folly. Phillips' poetry is universal and historical: He addresses culture, the environment and our borderlands history. 'Sonoran Strange' is a land of contradictions. It is a land of settlement and manifest destiny, a land of indigenous and migrant cultures. The author includes notes on the poems that relay their historical and literary underpinnings for a multilayered look at Arizona's collisions." ... 

Author: Ofelia Zepeda

Recommended by: Pima County Public Library / Bookmans East

Goodreads rating: 4.06 stars

Tucson connection: Written by a University of Arizona professor

Summary: Poetry. "A Native American poet explores aspects of language, Native American culture, and the land." 

Author: T.C. Tolbert

Recommended by: Antigone Books

Goodreads rating: 4.5 stars

Tucson connection: Tucson's 2017 poet laureate 

Summary:¬†Poetry. "'Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics' gathers together a diverse range of 55 poets with varying aesthetics and backgrounds. In addition to generous samples of poetry by each trans writer, the book also includes 'poetics statements'‚ÄĒreflections by each poet that provide context for their work covering a range of issues from identification and embodiment to language and activism."

NOTE: Summaries come from the library catalog. 

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