The best books about Los Angeles

16 authors have picked their favorite books about Los Angeles and why they recommend each book.

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Always Crashing in the Same Car

By Matthew Specktor,

Book cover of Always Crashing in the Same Car: On Art, Crisis, and Los Angeles, California

This is a memoir about being a writer—and failing. With scholarly rigor and tenderhearted sympathy, Specktor excavates the lives of artists forgotten (Carol Eastman, Eleanor Perry), underappreciated (Thomas McGuane, Hal Ashby), and notorious (Warren Zevon, Michael Cimino), while always circling back to his own benighted Hollywood upbringing, complete with a lovely tribute to his mother, a failed screenwriter. This is an angry, sad, but always somehow joyful book about not hitting it big, and I've never read anything quite like it.


Who am I?

I'm a journalist, fiction writer, and screenwriter, as well as the author of ten books, the most recent of which is Creative Types and Other Stories, which will be published later this year. Along with Neil Cross, I developed for television The Mosquito Coast, based on Paul Theroux’s novel, which is now showing on Apple TV. Currently, I live with my family in Los Angeles.


I wrote...

The Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam

By Tom Bissell,

Book cover of The Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam

What is my book about?

In 2003, my father John and I traveled to Vietnam together. My dad was a Marine Corps combat veteran of the war, and the trip marked his first return to the country that shaped and nearly destroyed him. The Father of All Things is my account of our journey, but also an examination of the myths, history, and complexity of the war and how it affected generations of families, both American and Vietnamese.

In March of this year, my father passed away at 79. I loved my father deeply and am still coming to terms with understanding how it is that this man could be gone. In the aftermath of his death, I picked up and reread the books you'll read about below, looking for ways to understand what I was feeling and how I could cope with my loss. They helped. Every single one of them helped.

Those Who Knew

By Idra Novey,

Book cover of Those Who Knew

Doubling as both a political thriller and political satire, and set on an unnamed, maybe South American island, Idra Novey’s novel about a corrupt senator stars powerful women who are determined to uncover a past sexual assault and possible murder, ultimately speaking truth to power.


Who am I?

As much as I enjoy traveling to real places in fiction, I find that authors who ask me to inhabit a world of their own making make me think more deeply, and these are also the novels I dream about when I’m not actually reading them, the pages I cannot wait to return to when I can pick up the book again. By exiting the world we inhabit, and occupying a world very much like our own, I end up reflecting more thoughtfully about the contemporary moment, and in a way, feel more connected. I tried to create such a world in The Stranger Game, and this is something I hope to do again in a future novel.


I wrote...

The Stranger Game

By Peter Gadol,

Book cover of The Stranger Game

What is my book about?

Rebecca’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, Ezra, has gone missing, but when she notifies the police, they seem surprisingly unconcerned. They suspect he has been playing the “stranger game,” a viral hit in which players start following others in real life, as they might otherwise do on social media. As the game spreads, however, the rules begin to change, play grows more intense and disappearances are reported across the country. Curious about this popular new obsession, and hoping that she might be able to track down Ezra, Rebecca tries the game for herself. She also meets Carey, someone who is willing to take the game further than she imagined possible.

A thought-provoking, haunting novel, The Stranger Game unearths the connections, both imagined and real, that we build with the people around us in the physical and digital world, and where the boundaries blur between them.

Secret Agent Mom

By Martha Carr, Michael Anderle,

Book cover of Secret Agent Mom

As a mom of six, I must say that I’m in a constant state of balancing motherly duties with other obligations—so Lucy Heron has my sympathy as a fellow native of Los Angeles, who juggles her kids, a bakery, and apparently her job as “Agent 485,” fighting supernatural crime.

Lucy works for a secret organization that wants to keep magic in the realm of myth and humanity none the wiser to its existence. Well, that will be tough as a tribe of ancient witches gets thrown into the mix, some unscrupulous magical beings, and the fact that this mom of three has to get this all done in time for dinner. This is definitely a fun read to check out!


Who am I?

I’m an avid fantasy reader and enjoy stories filled with magic, danger, and a mix of humor and romance thrown in. When I’m not writing my own fantasy novels, you might catch me tucked away in a corner, reading a book, and fueling my imagination. Since my own book, The Wayward Wizard, features a secret organization trying to intercept the supernatural, I knew similar stories would make a perfect list to share with fellow fantasy readers.


I wrote...

The Wayward Wizard

By Alesha Escobar,

Book cover of The Wayward Wizard

What is my book about?

Jack Crowley is the last person a secret government agency wants to call for help.

He spends his days selling New Age trinkets to humans and his nights drinking with a street-hustling alchemist. Not exactly the law and order type. But when monsters from our childhood nightmares become flesh and blood, snatching people from the streets, he’s one of the few wizards alive who can uncover who’s behind it.

L.A. Confidential

By James Ellroy,

Book cover of L.A. Confidential

Again, this should cover the whole LA Quartet. Crime novels that ooze the sleaziness, despair, and hypocrisy of the city of dreams that Hollywood built. Perfectly formed sentences, amazing characters, a story that twists and turns more than a rollercoaster and Ellroy’s savage wit. What more could anybody want? Except more Ellroy books….


Who am I?

There are some books that transcend a time or a place. Some books demand space on your bookshelf, elbowing aside less demanding, more transient material. Some books, every time you read them, reveal something new about themselves, the writer, or the story they are telling. These are some of the books I return to when I want to rediscover why I became a writer. Why are they my favourites? I really have no idea. The only thing I do know is that re-reading them is like being with an old friend, sharing both the past and the present and everything in between. 


I wrote...

The Irish Inheritance: A Jayne Sinclair Genealogical Mystery

By M.J. Lee,

Book cover of The Irish Inheritance: A Jayne Sinclair Genealogical Mystery

What is my book about?

Sometimes, digging up the past reveals more than just secrets…

Former police detective, Jayne Sinclair, now working as a genealogical investigator, is commissioned by an adopted American billionaire to discover the identity of his birth father. She has only three clues to help her: a photocopied birth certificate, a stolen book, and an old photograph. But she soon realises somebody else is on the trail of the mystery. A killer who will stop at nothing to prevent Jayne from discovering the secret hidden in the past. It is the first in a series of novels featuring Jayne Sinclair, a genealogical detective.

Call of the Cats

By Andrew Bloomfield,

Book cover of Call of the Cats: What I Learned about Life and Love from a Feral Colony

I absolutely loved this book. One of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever read, it’s heartfelt and hilarious. After running his own bookshop in Seattle, Andrew Bloomfield moves to Hollywood to become a screenwriter and discovers a colony of feral cats living in his backyard. He was not a cat person. After witnessing one too many raccoon and coyote attacks and hungry, crying kittens, he and his two female housemates intervene and start caring for these wild yet vulnerable cats who transform his life. With his sharp wit and keen eye for detail, Bloomfield is a brilliant storyteller. I got completely caught up in the soap-opera dramas and death-defying moments of these cats, along with the heartaches and triumphs of rescuing them.

Who am I?

I am an international bestselling author of Strays and a London-based journalist for The Guardian, The Observer, The Sunday Times, and other publications. I've written about animals, conservation, and volunteered at sanctuaries around the world, from tending big cats and baboons in Namibia to wild mustangs in Nevada—a labour of love that has inspired features for The Guardian, The Independent, and Condé Nast Traveller. I've raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for many charities through my investigative animal-cruelty stories; as an activist, I helped shut down controversial breeders of laboratory animals in the UK. I also created Catfestlondon, a sell-out boutique festival that rescues and rehomes Moroccan street kittens in the UK.


I wrote...

Strays: The True Story of a Lost Cat, a Homeless Man, and Their Journey Across America

By Britt Collins,

Book cover of Strays: The True Story of a Lost Cat, a Homeless Man, and Their Journey Across America

What is my book about?

Strays: A Lost Cat, a Homeless Man and their Journey Across America is a true story about a troubled drifter who finds a lost cat and takes her on a ten-month adventure across the spirit-lifting settings of the American West.

Michael King, a former chef, was depressed, drunk, and living on the streets of Portland. When stumbles on a hurt and starving stray, he takes her into his home in a UPS loading bay and into his heart. He names her Tabor and nurses her back to health. When winter comes, they hitchhike to the beaches of California, the deserts of Idaho, and the high-plains of Montana, surviving on the kindnesses of strangers. The pair become inseparable, healing the scars of each other’s troubled pasts. Meanwhile, back in Portland, the cat’s owner never stops looking her.

Tinseltown Tango

By Phil Swann,

Book cover of Tinseltown Tango

This is the third book in the Trip Callaway Gig mystery series written by Phil Swann. While I’ve enjoyed all the Trip Callaway books, I especially like this one because it takes place in 1966 Hollywood. In this story, musician and undercover agent Trip Callaway takes us into the world of Los Angeles studio musicians, who played on all those memorable recordings and variety shows of the time. On top of spending some quality time in great, but sadly long gone, Hollywood hotspots like Shelly’s Manne Hole, The Palomino, and Martoni’s – places I went growing up in Los Angeles – Tinseltown Tango is also a ripping good yarn. If you enjoy a good murder mystery with a dash of music and no shortage of laughs, check out this book. You won’t be disappointed. 


Who am I?

I’m Andy Marx and I am definitely a child of Hollywood. My paternal grandfather was the comic icon, Groucho Marx, and my maternal grandfather was the legendary songwriter, Gus Kahn, who wrote such classic songs as “It Had To Be You,” “Makin’ Whoopee!” and “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” After working as a film publicist on a number of films including, Terminator and Red Dragon, I launched my journalism career writing about Hollywood for such publications as The Los Angeles Times, and Daily Variety. I also co-founded the satirical website, Hollywood & Swine, which poked fun of Hollywood, not a terribly hard thing to do. 


I wrote...

Royalties

By Andy Marx,

Book cover of Royalties

What is my book about?

Part family saga, part love story, Royalties traces the rise of two immigrant families, whose paths would romantically, and, sometimes, tragically cross throughout much of the 20th century. From the humble beginnings of Vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley to the glamour and power of Hollywood at its zenith, this multi-generational tale weaves the indelible story of struggles, sacrifice, and love.

Inspired by stories I heard throughout my childhood, I wanted to celebrate the legacy of my two famous grandfathers - the iconic Groucho Marx and legendary songwriter Gus Kahn - in a rich and engrossing fictional saga of two families with a cast of characters whose fates rise and fall, and rise again. I feel that my intimate perspective brings a thrilling mix of romance, family tribulations, and personal triumphs.

Becoming Los Angeles

By D.J. Waldie,

Book cover of Becoming Los Angeles: Myth, Memory, and a Sense of Place

D.J. Waldie elegantly captures the essence of the ordinary in this beautiful collection of essays. He has lived and worked in Lakewood, California his entire life and he doesn’t drive, which is remarkable in Southern California. Instead, he walks, he observes, and he writes about the kinds of Southern California neighborhoods that I know. I wish that I could describe the sky and the light as accurately and poetically as Waldie does. He has taught me to walk slower and pay attention. His stories of the history of Los Angeles are equally compelling. Waldie says he writes “about sacred and humanizing Los Angeles because I find myself there.” How fortunate for us all!


Who am I?

My father was transferred to Southern California from Charlotte, North Carolina when I was fourteen years old. I was excited and my friends were jealous. At that point, all I knew about California was the music of the Beach Boys and the Gidget television series. I thought everyone lived on the beach and knew movie stars. I didn’t know there were neighborhoods like Reseda and Anaheim and Fountain Valley, places where people live lives that have nothing to do with the glamour and celebrity of Hollywood. California has been my home for more than fifty years. I still find it fascinating and puzzling, and I still feel like an outsider.


I wrote...

The Lockhart Women

By Mary Camarillo,

Book cover of The Lockhart Women

What is my book about?

The Lockhart Women is a mother/daughter/sister story set in Huntington Beach, California in the 1990s. It's about divorce, choices, and regrets with the OJ Simpson trial as background noise. Susan Straight, author of In the Country of Women calls The Lockhart Women “deeply and thoroughly Southern Californian.”

The novel begins on June 17, 1994, the night of Simpson’s slow-speed chase through Southern California, when Brenda Lockhart’s husband announces he’s leaving her for an older and less attractive woman. Brenda’s never worked outside the home and needs to find a job. Instead, she sits down on the couch and gets hooked on the media frenzy surrounding the criminal trial. Meanwhile, her two teenage daughters make their own bad decisions in lovers and crime.

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc

By Jennifer Kincheloe,

Book cover of The Secret Life of Anna Blanc: Volume 1

This book is laugh-out-loud funny. The rich socialite heroine is quite intelligent in some things and ridiculously stupid in others. The whole book is absolutely unbelievable, but utterly delightful – and way beyond society's terms of approval for women in 1907 Los Angeles. Sometimes a book doesn’t have to be anything but a joy to read. This one delivers.

Who am I?

I love history and I love to laugh. That’s why I brand myself as a writer of Victorian Whodunits with a touch of humor. I’ve spent decades learning about 1800s America. I began sharing that knowledge by performing in costume as real women of history. But I couldn’t be on stage all the time so I began writing the books I want to read, books that entertain while sticking to the basic facts of history and giving the flavor of an earlier time. I seek that great marriage of words that brings readers to a new understanding. As Albert Einstein said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” 


I wrote...

Have Your Ticket Punched by Frank James

By Fedora Amis,

Book cover of Have Your Ticket Punched by Frank James

What is my book about?

Investigating the death of a pugilist sends Jemmy  McBustle to illegal boxing bouts in 1898 St. Louis. She chases clues from the department store to Coroner’s office to the grand Jewish Fair. She visits City Jail to interview Jesse James’ smarter brother, legendary outlaw Frank James. She even explores the seedy world of patent medicine makers who flourished before the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.

Jemmy has troubles. Every person at the Illuminator newspaper hates her. Mother keeps trying to marry her off to a rich old geezer. Add into the mix a swarm of boarders at the McBustle boarding house, an uncooperative Thanksgiving turkey, and an entire family down with the flu. Oh, and there’s an ugly calico cat with a broken leg.

The Loved One

By Evelyn Waugh,

Book cover of The Loved One

Let’s end on a delightfully weird and silly note, with this pure dark humor confection by Evelyn Waugh. Set in the absurd world of the luxury funeral industry, this book will have you alternating between hilarity and deep, existential horror. A little whiplash-inducing, but Waugh’s command over the smallest subtleties of language and tone is truly a delight to witness. It holds a special place in my heart because I was reading it on one of the first trips I took with my husband—so a pro tip, to really enjoy this text to the fullest, try having someone bring you a strawberry milkshake as you read it in a motel bathtub, although I’m sure it’s equally delightful enjoyed soberly with a cup of tea. 


Who am I?

It’s safe to say that I love LA. While my home town is often dismissed as being little more than a string of shopping malls strung together by freeways, to me, it’s a place like nowhere else in the world. In a city fueled by cinema, LA’s outsider magic is hard to capture, but I find it fascinating when novelists make the attempt. With my first novel, The Body Double, I take a surreal deep dive into the mystery and magic of this strange city—inspired, in no small part, by my five favorite books about Los Angeles. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!


I wrote...

The Body Double

By Emily Beyda,

Book cover of The Body Double

What is my book about?

A strange man discovers our nameless narrator selling popcorn at a decrepit small-town movie theater and offers her an odd and lucrative position: she will forget her job, her acquaintances, even her name, and move to Los Angeles, where she will become the body double of the famous and troubled celebrity Rosanna Feld. A nervous breakdown has forced Rosanna out of the public eye, and she needs a look-alike to take her place in the tabloid media circus of Hollywood. But as she makes her public debut as Rosanna, alarming questions begin to arise. What really caused Rosanna's mental collapse? Will she ever return? And is Max truly her ally, or something more sinister?

Virtual Light

By William Gibson,

Book cover of Virtual Light

What can you say about the book that kicked off a whole new genre?

Widely regarded as the first ‘cyberpunk’ novel, reading Virtual Light today is beyond eery. It takes place in the dystopian future year of 2006 (the book was written in 1994) and is set in San Francisco during a time when the middle class has disappeared and the only people left are either disgustingly rich or living on the street. And as I look around at what San Francisco, and many other cities have become, it makes me think that Gibson might be the Cassandra of the modern world. 


Who am I?

Why do I have expertise in end-of-the-world scenarios? Well, I am a person living in the 2020s who reads too much. But more than that, I’ve had an interest in space exploration and history for as long as I can remember. While those two might seem like completely unrelated fields, it gives me a wider view of our world in the sense of where we are and where we are going. Civilization is not always a straight line upward. And when it dips down… well interesting things happen. Saturnius Mons specifically blends my love of Roman history with my interest in humanity’s future.


I wrote...

Saturnius Mons (Ruins of Empire)

By Jeremy L. Jones,

Book cover of Saturnius Mons (Ruins of Empire)

What is my book about?

The once great Global Civilization not only dominated the earth by the end of the 21st century, but it expanded to the solar system and created colonies on Venus, Mars, Europa, and Titan. Then came the Fall.

Overnight the light of Civilization dimmed and the settlers on these far-flung worlds were left to fend for themselves for a thousand years. Saturnius takes place on Titan where the colony has split into two factions. One inhabits the ancient city and has formed a cult around the Global Corporation. The other has retreated to the forests and waits for the moment to destroy it all. But what could cause a global civilization to simply collapse? Well, this list provides some interesting scenarios…

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