Just because you can't make immediate travel plans right now doesn't mean you can't explore the world as an armchair traveler.
For the last three years, #ThisIsTucson has compiled a list of books with an Arizona connection as part of our Summer Reading Challenge for Grown-Ups. Many of these books are written by local or Tucson authors or are set in Tucson or Arizona. Some explore topics relevant to our region.
This list would be crazy long if we included all 72 titles from the past three years, so we selected a handful that span a variety of topics and genres. However, if you want to see the complete lists for 2020, 2019 and 2018, visit thisistucson.com/readingchallenge.
In the meantime, please enjoy exploring locations including the Highlands of Scotland, the Gulf of Mexico, national parks, our very own Sonoran Desert and so many more.
Goodreads ratings taken on Dec. 11, 2020.
Author: Jackie Alpers
Goodreads rating: 4.56 stars; 18 ratings
Arizona connection: Tucson author; Tucson food
Summary (from the library catalog): Cookbook. "A cookbook dedicated to the foods inspired by the region’s beauty and diversity, 'Taste of Tucson' discovers through recipes and photos the unique mix of cultures that create Southern Arizona’s incredible cuisine. Award-winning photographer and cookbook author Jackie Alpers shares her own inspired food creations in this book as well as her favorite restaurants’ dishes, while incorporating the history of the Sonora region, the mysticism and lore, and how it has contributed to the food of the people who live there. Building from tried-and-true basics and tutorials on tacos, enchiladas, carne asada, and huevos rancheros, she divulges secrets to making Sonora’s most unique savories and sweets, including Chicken Mole Amarillo, Adobo Pulled Pork, Red Pozole, Dark Chocolate and Coffee Figgy Pudding Cakes, and more. For cooks of all levels, from anywhere in the world who love to dine on this Southwestern region’s foods, this cookbook welcomes you to bring Sonora’s best and most iconic tastes into your own kitchen."
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Goodreads rating: 3.84 stars; 21,355 ratings
Arizona connection: Set in Arizona/Phoenix
Summary (from the library catalog): Fiction. "The American Southwest has been decimated by drought. Nevada and Arizona skirmish over dwindling shares of the Colorado River, while California watches, deciding if it should just take the whole river all for itself. Into the fray steps Las Vegas water knife Angel Velasquez. Detective, assassin, and spy, Angel 'cuts' water for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, ensuring that lush, luxurious arcology developments can bloom in the desert and that anyone who challenges her is left in the gutted-suburban dust. When water is more valuable than gold, alliances shift like sand, and the only truth in the desert is that someone will have to bleed if anyone hopes to drink."
Author: Brooke Bessesen
Goodreads rating: 4.37 stars; 81 ratings
Tucson connection: Arizona author
Summary (from the library catalog): Nonfiction. “In 2006, the last of China's Yangtze river dolphins—baiji—succumbed to extinction, and la vaquita marina, a diminutive porpoise endemic to the Upper Gulf of California, quietly and without fanfare inherited the title of world's most endangered marine mammal. Unlike many other critically endangered species, the vaquita is not hunted. Nor is its habitat disappearing or degraded. The species is even protected by law. Why then have its numbers plummeted to near extinction when few humans have seen it live in the wild? The answer lies in a shadowy mix of international cartels, fishermen entrapped by politics and culture, and an unlikely fish called the totoaba. In this haunting story, Brooke Bessesen sets out to Mexico's Upper Gulf region to untangle the intricacies of the biology, acoustical science, and international intrigues behind the vaquita's decline. She interviews townspeople, fishermen, politicians, scientists, and activists, teasing apart a complex story filled with villains and heroes, a story whose outcome is unclear. When diplomatic and political efforts to save the little porpoise fail, Bessesen follows a team of veterinary experts in a binational effort to capture the last remaining vaquitas and breed them in captivity—the best hope for their survival.”
Author: Dusti Bowling
Goodreads rating: 4.33 stars; 13,957 ratings
Tucson connection: Set in Arizona; Arizona author
Summary (from the library catalog): 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."
Author: Jillian Cantor
Goodreads rating: 4.22 stars; 9,679 ratings
Tucson connection: Tucson author
Summary (from the library catalog): 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: Kimi Eisele
Goodreads rating: 3.67 stars; 1,830 ratings
Arizona connection: Tucson author
Summary (from the library catalog): Fiction. "What if the end times allowed people to see and build the world anew? This is the landscape that Kimi Eisele creates in her surprising and original debut novel. Evoking the spirit of such monumental love stories as 'Cold Mountain' and the creative vision of novels like 'Station Eleven,' 'The Lightest Object in the Universe' tells the story of what happens after the global economy collapses and the electrical grid goes down. In this new world, Carson, on the East Coast, is desperate to find Beatrix, a woman on the West Coast who holds his heart. Working his way along a cross-country railroad line, he encounters lost souls, clever opportunists, and those who believe they'll be saved by an evangelical preacher in the middle of the country. Meanwhile, Beatrix and her neighbors begin to construct a cooperative community that suggests the end could be, in fact, a bright beginning. Without modern means of communication, will Beatrix and Carson reach each other, and what will be left of the old world if they do? The answers may lie with a 15-year-old girl who could ultimately decide the fate of the cross-country lovers."
Author: Laura Esquivel
Goodreads rating: 3.95 stars; 325,927 ratings
Tucson connection: Celebrating our city's Mexican influences.
Summary (from the library catalog): 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: Diana Gabaldon
Goodreads rating: 4.23 stars; 834,122 ratings
Tucson connection: Arizona author
Summary (from the library catalog): Fiction. “Hurtled back through time more than two hundred years to Scotland in 1743, Claire Randall finds herself caught in the midst of an unfamiliar world torn apart by violence, pestilence, and revolution and haunted by her growing feelings for James Fraser, a young soldier.”
Author: Barbara Kingsolver
Goodreads rating: 3.97 stars; 135,568 ratings
Tucson connection: Set in Tucson.
Summary (from the library catalog): 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: Annette McGivney
Goodreads rating: 4.25 stars; 928 ratings
Tucson connection: Arizona author; set in Arizona
Summary (from the library catalog): Nonfiction. “Tomomi Hanamure, a Japanese citizen who loved exploring the rugged wilderness of the American West, was killed on her birthday May 8, 2006. She was stabbed 29 times as she hiked to Havasu Falls on the Havasupai Indian Reservation at the bottom of Grand Canyon. Her killer was a distressed 18-year old Havasupai youth. Pure Land is the story of this tragedy. But it is also the story of how McGivney's quest to understand Hanamure's life and death wound up guiding the author through her own life-threatening crisis. On this journey stretching from the southern tip of Japan to the bottom of Grand Canyon, and into the ugliest aspects of human behavior, Pure Land offers proof of the healing power of nature and the resiliency of the human spirit.”
Author: Terry McMillan
Goodreads rating: 3.98 stars; 14,807 ratings
Tucson connection: Set in Arizona.
Summary (from the library catalog): 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."
Author: Kristie Miller
Goodreads rating: 3.64 stars; 59 ratings
Tucson connection: Isabella opened the Arizona Inn.
Author: Emily Nemens
Goodreads rating: 3.51 stars; 2,409 ratings
Arizona connection: Set in Arizona
Summary (from the library catalog): Fiction. "Jason Goodyear is the star outfielder for the Los Angeles Lions, stationed with the rest of his team in the punishingly hot Arizona desert for their annual spring training. Handsome, famous, and talented, Goodyear is nonetheless coming apart at the seams. And the coaches, writers, wives, girlfriends, petty criminals, and diehard fans following his every move are eager to find out why—as they hide secrets of their own."
Author: Téa Obreht
Goodreads rating: 3.45 stars; 9004 ratings
Arizona connection: Set in Arizona
Summary (from the library catalog): Fiction. "In the lawless, drought-ridden lands of the Arizona Territory in 1893, two extraordinary lives collide. Nora is an unflinching frontierswoman, alone in a house abandoned by the men in her life—her husband, who has gone in search of water for the parched household, and her two older sons, who have gone in search of their father after his return is delayed. Nora is biding her time with her youngest son, a boy with a bad eye who is convinced that a mysterious beast is stalking the land around their home, and a 17-year-old maid named Josie, her husband's cousin who communes with spirits. Lurie is the son of a dead dockworker, a former outlaw, and a man haunted by ghosts — he sees lost souls who want something from him, and he finds reprieve from their longing in an unexpected relationship that inspires an epic journey across the West. The way in which Nora and Lurie's stories intertwine is the surprise and suspense of this brilliant novel. Mythical, lyrical, and sweeping in scope, Inland showcases all of Téa Obreht's talents as a writer, as she subverts and reimagines the classical American genre of the Western, making it entirely —and unforgettably — her own."
Author: Lydia Otero
Goodreads rating: 4.14 stars; 42 ratings
Tucson connection: A look at Tucson history
Summary (from the library catalog): Nonfiction. "Documents the urban renewal project, initiated in 1966, that erased a densely populated, predominantly Mexican American enclave located in a central region of Tucson, 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: Kiley Reid
Goodreads rating: 3.85 stars; 189,392 ratings
Arizona connection: Author Kiley Reid grew up in Tucson
Summary (from the library catalog): Fiction. "Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living, with her confidence-driven brand, showing other women how to do the same. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains' toddler one night, walking the aisles of their local high-end supermarket. The store's security guard, seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make things right. But Emira herself is aimless, broke, and wary of Alix's desire to help. At twenty-five, she is about to lose her health insurance and has no idea what to do with her life. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix's past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other. With empathy and piercing social commentary, 'Such a Fun Age' explores the stickiness of transactional relationships, what it means to make someone 'family,' and the complicated reality of being a grown up. It is a searing debut for our times."
Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
Goodreads rating: 3.97 stars; 17,231 ratings
Tucson connection: Features Navajo mythology
Summary (from the library catalog): Fiction. “While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinetah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters. Maggie Hoskie is a Dinetah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last best hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much more terrifying than anything she could imagine. Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel the rez, unraveling clues from ancient legends, trading favors with tricksters, and battling dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology. As Maggie discovers the truth behind the killings, she will have to confront her past if she wants to survive.”
Author: Nancy E. Turner
Goodreads rating: 4.03 stars; 1,369 ratings
Arizona connection: Set in Arizona, Arizona author
Summary (from the library catalog): "It's the summer of 1907 and the sun is scorching down on Mary Pearl in the Arizona Territory. Mary Pearl and her sister Esther take their minds off the heat by sneaking banned Jane Austen novels from Aunt Sarah Elliot's lively bookshelf. Whispered read-alouds preoccupy their nights, and reveries of getting hitched to their own Mr. Darcy a la Pride and Prejudice swirl through their day dreams. In walks old-fashioned old-money suitor Aubrey Hanna, here to whisk 17-year-old Mary Pearl off her feet with a forbidden kiss and hasty engagement. With the promise of high society outings and a rich estate, Aubrey's lustful courtship quickly creates petty tension among the three generations of Prine women. As autumn approaches all too quickly, Mary Pearl's Wheaton College acceptance counters quick marriage preparations. Days of travel by horse and by train carry her deep into a sophisticated new world of Northern girls' schooling. Seeking friendship but finding foes, Mary Pearl not only learns how to write, read, and draw, but also how to act, dress, and be a woman."
Author: Luis Alberto Urrea
Goodreads rating: 4.09 stars; 10,447 ratings
Tucson connection: Set in Southern Arizona
Summary (from the library catalog): 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: David Yetman, Alberto Búrquez, Kevin Hultine and Michael Sanderson
Goodreads rating: 4 stars; 7 ratings
Arizona connection: Arizona authors; Saguaros are native to Arizona
Summary (from the library catalog): "The saguaro, with its great size and characteristic shape, its arms stretching heavenward, its silhouette often resembling a human, has become the emblem of the Sonoran Desert of southwestern Arizona and northwestern Mexico. The largest and tallest cactus in the United States, it is both familiar and an object of fascination and curiosity. This book offers a complete natural history of this enduring and iconic desert plant. Gathering everything from the saguaro's role in Sonoran Desert ecology to its adaptations to the desert climate and its sacred place in Indigenous culture, this book shares precolonial through current scientific findings. The saguaro is charismatic and readily accessible but also decidedly different from other desert flora. The essays in this book bear witness to our ongoing fascination with the great cactus and the plant's unusual characteristics, covering the saguaro's history of discovery, place in the cactus family, ecology, anatomy and physiology, genetics, and ethnobotany. ..."
Author: Ofelia Zepeda
Goodreads rating: 4.18 stars; 49 ratings
Tucson connection: Written by a University of Arizona professor
Summary (from the library catalog): Poetry. "A Native American poet explores aspects of language, Native American culture, and the land."
Cover images taken from Goodreads.com.