The best books about Nebraska

5 authors have picked their favorite books about Nebraska and why they recommend each book.

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All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook

By Leslie Connor,

Book cover of All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook

I’ve read – and loved – many of Connor’s others books, but I hadn’t read this one until last year, when, after sharing the plot of Born Behind Bars with a librarian, she mentioned that it sounded a little like All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook. At once, I looked it up – and when I read the synopsis, I was shocked. It seemed to begin almost exactly the way that my own novel began – with a boy whose mother is incarcerated, and who is suddenly told he’s too old to continue living with her. I wrote a frantic email to my agent, who was reassuringly calm. When I finally read the book, I felt enormous relief. While Connor’s book and mine share this single plot point, and they are both, ultimately, about the triumph of love and family and friendship, the plots diverge tremendously, the…


Who am I?

Over 5 million children in the United States have had at least one parent in a correctional facility at one time or another. These children, and their parents, are our neighbors, our family, our friends. We might see them at a soccer match, or sit beside them at public libraries, or gather together with them regularly in prayer. They need to see themselves portrayed in a meaningful manner in the books they read. This shortlist includes two picture books, a middle-grade novel, and two young adult titles. I'm passionate about books on this topic because equity and inclusiveness and vital to me; and because I think excellent books such as these may enable us to start nuanced discussions and enhance our compassion. 


I wrote...

Born Behind Bars

By Padma Venkatraman,

Book cover of Born Behind Bars

What is my book about?

Kabir has been in jail since the day he was born, because his mom is serving time for a crime she didn’t commit. He’s never met his dad, so the only family he’s got are their cellmates, and the only place he feels the least bit free is in the classroom, where his kind teacher regales him with stories of the wonders of the outside world. Then one day a new warden arrives and announces Kabir is too old to stay. He gets handed over to a long-lost “uncle” who unfortunately turns out to be a fraud, and intends to sell Kabir. So Kabir does the only thing he can–run away as fast as his legs will take him.

How does a boy with nowhere to go and no connections make his way?

Secrets on the Wind

By Stephanie Grace Whitson,

Book cover of Secrets on the Wind

“You ought to write inspirationals.” Every time a reader told me that, I’d shake my head and reply, “They’re too preachy.” But then a dear friend’s death made me reconsider the direction of my writing, and I began to research the inspirational market. One of the first books I read was Secrets on the Wind, the first of Whitson’s Pine Ridge Portraits trilogy. To my delight, she combined meticulous research, sprinkling her story with “telling” details that brought the Nebraska prairie and Fort Robinson to life, and unforgettable characters to create a story that’s lingered in my memory for more than a decade. Best of all, she demonstrated that faith-friendly fiction doesn’t need to be preachy. I’m deeply grateful to her because Secrets on the Wind convinced me that this was the right market for me. 


Who am I?

Like Thomas Jefferson, I cannot live without books. And, while I read in a variety of genres, from early childhood on, my favorite stories were the ones that began with “once upon a time.” My fascination with historicals started with one of my father’s few books from his childhood, The Cave Twins, which introduced me to a world far different from suburban America. For me, the appeal of historicals is the opportunity to learn about another era and to escape from the modern world. And so, if you want to escape from what seems like an endless pandemic, I invite you to explore the worlds six talented authors have created.


I wrote...

The Spark of Love

By Amanda Cabot,

Book cover of The Spark of Love

What is my book about?

When a spurned suitor threatens her, heiress Alexandra Tarkington flees New York for Mesquite Springs in the Texas Hill Country, where her father is building a hotel. But her father insists she return to New York. Instead, Alexandra carves out a niche for herself in town, teaching schoolchildren to paint and enjoying the company of Gabe Seymour, a delightful man she met on the stagecoach.

Two men, each with his own agenda, have followed her to Mesquite Springs. And Gabe is an investigator, searching for proof that her father is a swindler. When a series of apparent accidents threaten her life, Alexandra and Gabe will have to work together to discover the truth. And perhaps they will discover that the sparks they've felt from the beginning are more than sparks--they're love.

Mollie

By Mollie Dorsey Sanford,

Book cover of Mollie: The Journal of Mollie Dorsey Sanford in Nebraska and Colorado Territories, 1857-1866

We have seen so many movies about the American West we sometimes forget it happened to ordinary people exactly like ourselves. Church-going pioneers on the great wagon trail west would wake up to find Native Americans in camp, singing a morning prayer to their god. As a young bride, Mollie Sanford experiences the rattlesnakes, chaos, and lawlessness of wild west gold camps, with nothing to protect her but her hymn-singing upbringing in the Mid-West. Her character and beliefs are tested to the limit.

Who am I?

I was born in a little shipbuilding town in Scotland but, like everyone else in the world back then, I grew up in the American West. These were the stories we all grew up with – burned into our imaginations along with stories from the Bible or the Greek myths. Nowadays, the West is still important to me – but today it is the personal accounts of the West that interest me most – the personal diaries and eye-witness accounts of the brides, the doctors, teachers, mothers, children, who experienced the West first-hand.


I wrote...

Missy

By Chris Hannan,

Book cover of Missy

What is my book about?

Described by Entertainment Weekly as “an adventure so hair-raising it makes Deadwood look positively staid by comparison” and reviewed by The Times as “funny and exhilarating. Moll Flanders on drugs”, Missy is the story of Dol McQueen, a prostitute who stumbles on some stolen loot and takes off with it – and all hell in pursuit. Her alcoholic mother is an added burden on the journey. Can Dol save herself, her mother, and their poisonous relationship?

“Deliciously uplifting…  Narrated by one of the more luminous characters in recent fiction.” - The Guardian

Worth Dying for

By Lee Child,

Book cover of Worth Dying for

Of all twenty-some books (and counting) in Child’s Jack Reacher series, this one stands out. In an interview, Lee once said, "I just wrote this one by the numbers." To me his final solo effort feels like he finally figured out how to say what he always wanted. It’s personal, yet geopolitical. Empathetic, yet very tough. In this tale of two half-cities run by rival gangs, the Armenians and the Ukrainians, he does so simply and brilliantly.

The story’s government is corrupt, as so many are, full of bribe-taking politicians who are unable to protect the citizenry from organized crime. To fill that void, in steps Jack Reacher with some intuitive detecting, a little romance, and a lot of bad-guy killing.


Who am I?

I love these books because they hold thinking as the highest virtue, and they value the rights of the individual. I like to challenge the norm. These stories seek to preserve and enhance human life through art and science.


I wrote...

Loss Of Reason

By Miles A. Maxwell,

Book cover of Loss Of Reason

What is my book about?

Distant for many years, Franklin out of Pennsylvania and his step-brother Everon out of Nevada are connected by a single link: Their sister Cynthia. Enter The Nightmare—A nuclear bomb is detonated in New York. Banker, wife, mother, Cynthia lives in New York.

The military has quarantined the city, its bridges and tunnels destroyed or blocked. Easterly winds have forced the bomb's radiation cloud out over Long Island. But the wind is about to change. Franklin climbs mountains and truly understands people. Everon can fly anything. And Cynthia's brothers are determined to find her. If it were your sister, what would you do?

Nebraska

By Ron Hansen,

Book cover of Nebraska: Stories

This is a portrait of Nebraska (and Nebraskans) where most of my own book takes place. It’s also the state where I went to high school. I like Hansen’s spare and precise writing style because it perfectly fits the time and place, as well as the characters themselves who are presented stripped of the conceits and pretensions. For me, it’s a style, though different from McCarthy’s, that creates the illusion of actual direct experience as opposed to something I happen to be reading about. His story “Wickedness” creates a powerful image of winter on the Great Plains and its effect on people.


Who am I?

My family moved frequently and, as a result, I was raised in a number of different small towns in Montana, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, and Massachusetts. I now live in a large city but the experience has never left me. There was always a certain amount of crime and corruption in the towns I grew up in, but I only had a child’s eye view of it. However, a child’s eye view is usually the most vivid. This experience and the books that I have listed above all had a direct influence on Blue Hotel.


I wrote...

Blue Hotel

By J.T. Conroe,

Book cover of Blue Hotel

What is my book about?

It’s the bitter winter of 1947. The young driver for a Chicago gangster flees his boss’s retribution carrying a valise full of stolen mob money. Suffering from an infected bullet wound received during his escape, he leaves his California-bound train and takes refuge in a dying Nebraska railroad town where he encounters a corrupt sheriff and a crippled war veteran who has been traumatized both by his combat experience and a tragic event back home that took place while he was fighting in Europe. This is a novel imagined as a sequel to Stephen Crane’s 1899 short story called “The Blue Hotel”.

Thankful for the Cowboy

By Mary Connealy,

Book cover of Thankful for the Cowboy

I liked this story so much that I read it a second time. Author Mary Connealy took me to the Nebraska Sandhills and showed me the beauty of the country while painting the beauty of the woman who lived there. Such a sweet love story of a mother who gives all she has for her sons—and the man who surprisingly gives back to her something she never dreamed she'd have again. 


Who am I?

As a child, I fell in love with horses. As a teen, I fell in love with a cowboy. That’s how I became the wife and mother of professional rodeo bullfighters and wrote for rodeo magazines. Today I write historical cowboy romances. The Western way of life is down-to-earth, honest, and God-fearing—even in our contemporary world, and I’ve written several of those stories as well. But my favorite challenge takes me back to the 1800s when life was simpler. Not easier, just simpler even though people faced the same emotional challenges we face today. I love writing about their journeys and encouraging readers that there is hope.


I wrote...

An Improper Proposal

By Davalynn Spencer,

Book cover of An Improper Proposal

What is my book about?

When a mail-order bride’s groom is shot dead on their way to the wedding, she does the only thing she can in an unfamiliar town with no money or friends—she proposes to a stranger. Mae Ann Remington isn’t afraid to fight for what she wants—a home and respectability. If that means becoming a rancher’s wife, so be it. 

Colorado rancher Cade Parker’s biggest problem isn’t catching the rustlers that are thinning his herd. It’s keeping his heart from stampeding after the last person in the world he should be falling for—the bride he didn't want.

My Ántonia

By Willa Cather,

Book cover of My Ántonia

Every discussion about the evolution of writing in ‘the West’ has to start with Willa Cather, who was the first writer from the west to be awarded a major literary award when she won the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours, which isn’t even one of her five best novels. Cather wrote openly about alcoholism, domestic violence, and other painful topics, transforming western writing from cardboard cutout characters to real people. My Ántonia has become an American classic, not just in western literature but in all literature. My Ántonia is told from the point of view of a young farm boy who falls in love with the enchanting Ántonia, and it’s beautifully written, taking us into the emotional heart of youth and idealism in the West.


Who am I?

I have published seven books, all set in the West, including an anthology, West of 98: Living and Writing the New American West, that features writers from every state west of the Mississippi. For four years now, I have been doing a podcast called Breakfast in Montana, where my partner Aaron Parrett and I discuss Montana books. I also published a book in 2016 called 56 Counties, where I traveled to every county in Montana and interviewed people about what it means to live in this state. So I have a good feel for the people of this region and for the books they love. 


I wrote...

In Open Spaces

By Russell Rowland,

Book cover of In Open Spaces

What is my book about?

In Open Spaces is the story of the Arbuckle Ranch in Southeastern Montana. Loosely based on the author’s family history, the story starts with the drowning of the oldest Arbuckle brother, George, meaning that the narrator, Blake, is forced to leave school in Belle Fourche South Dakota to work on the ranch. In a story that covers three decades, Blake and his two surviving brothers, Jack and Bob, jockey for position as to who will take over the ranch. While Jack is the oldest, he has a tendency to disappear for years at a time, even after he marries a young woman from back east. Meanwhile, youngest brother Bob ends up marrying a woman who will stop at nothing to try and bring the ranch into the hands of her husband.

One (One Universe)

By Leigh Ann Kopans,

Book cover of One (One Universe)

In a world with superpowers, two abilities mean you’re a Super and none means you’re Normal.

The Twist? Merrin Grey has a single power, meaning she’s half a Super called a One. And when she’s forced to transfer to a normal high school she meets Elias who is also a One. When they combine their powers, they can fly! 

One is a love letter to superheroes and comics and plays with the idea of what makes someone a superhero vs a less than. I loved all the sci-fi tropes stood on their heads in this book. And Merrin and Elias are the cutest. This was one of the first indie-published novels I read. It showed me the art of possible, and how fantastic the world of indie publishing is.


Who am I?

I grew up with a fascination for space and things that fly. I always wanted to be an astronaut. That didn’t exactly pan out (I have bad eyesight and I hate to run), but I was able to turn that passion into a career as an aerospace engineer. I’ve also been drawn to Young Adult books because they're able to take a seemingly mundane concept and twist it on its head. I start my stories with the question of ‘what if’? What if we could access infinite knowledge in the blink of an eye, but everything we did was constantly monitored? That is the basis for my YA sci-fi Tracker220 and my love of the genre.



I wrote...

Tracker220

By Jamie Krakover,

Book cover of Tracker220

What is my book about?

Kaya has access to infinite knowledge through the tracking chip in her head. When it glitches she runs from the authorities who monitor everything she says, everyone she talks to, and everywhere she goes. Bailen, a tech genius from a rogue underground movement offers refuge from the authorities who want to turn her into a lab rat, but he’s interested in more than her broken tracker.

The twist? Trusting him means betraying the only tech she’s ever known.

Our Trespasses

By Michael Cordell,

Book cover of Our Trespasses: A Paranormal Thriller

There are many negatives about this book that told me to stay away. For me, the subject that deserved to be highlighted is forgiveness. The way the author weaved it into this story was perfect. The topic does not fit with the genre, and though paranormal and suspenseful, forgiveness ties it over for me.

Our Trespasses’ negative was the paranormal side of the book. I’m not a big fan of the genre but once my interest was piqued, I really enjoyed the book. In the end, it wasn’t that big negative, but it made me hesitant to read at first.


Who am I?

I am a very realistic person, curious by nature, who loves a good thrill. A good twist—no matter the genre—that has all the above recommendations captures my attention. A feel-good chick flick or book does nothing for my curious side but adds a twist or two and you have me hooked. Love at war is that kind of book. It has a few twists that touch on important topics and leave you with a few thoughts to think about afterward. Life is not only marshmallows and sprinklers. Life is real and I like my books like that, too. Therefore, I call myself a multi-genre author. I don’t want to be bound by one genre.


I wrote...

Love at War: A Love Story

By Lynelle Clark,

Book cover of Love at War: A Love Story

What is my book about?

Passionate about her work, war-torn South Sudan offered Sonia Main peace. A short-lived peace shaken by choices. Could Sonia let go of the past and see a future?

Curt McGee was a man bound by honour and duty. It took him away from home for long periods of time. Confronted with obedience he had to put love aside. Tau Gbadamosi had a tough time. War ravished his country. The enormous plight for help too great for one man or one fight. Faced with loyalty, he had to decide. A decision that would cost him. When a warlord sets his sight on the Red Cross nurse, all hell broke loose. Only God could stop him.

Never Caught Twice

By Matthew S. Luckett,

Book cover of Never Caught Twice: Horse Stealing in Western Nebraska, 1850-1890

Horse stealing was more than theft of valuable and essential property. Matthew Luckett explains that on the Great Plains horse stealing “destabilized communities, institutions, nations, diplomatic relations, and cross-cultural exchange.” Luckett challenges many popular notions about horse thieves (for starters, they were not hung).  There were different kinds of horse theft and horse thieves. Don’t be misled by “Nebraska” in the title—this book shows that horse stealing had regional and national repercussions.   Luckett is an engaging writer, and this book is extremely readable and filled with compelling stories. I particularly recommend the chapter “The Horse Wars” about the role of horses in the war the U.S. Army waged against the Indians. 


Who am I?

Growing up in rural Wisconsin, I was crazy about both horses and books, so it’s not surprising that in grad school I became a horse historian. I found that writing about work horses linked my love of horses with my interests in technology and nature. The books I’ve chosen show how humans and horses shaped each other, society, the environment, and built the modern world. I hope readers browse (graze?) these books at their leisure and pleasure.


I wrote...

Horses at Work: Harnessing Power in Industrial America

By Ann Greene,

Book cover of Horses at Work: Harnessing Power in Industrial America

What is my book about?

My book explores the rise of horse power between 1800 and 1920. A bird’s-eye view of nineteenth-century American society would show millions of horses supplying the energy for transportation, delivery, construction, maintenance, manufacturing, and agriculture, especially in the Northeast, Middle Atlantic, and Upper Midwest. Mechanization and steam power made it possible to use horses in unprecedented numbers. The Civil War also used thousands of equines to haul wagons and artillery. Animal power drove national development and expansion. The use of horse power declined when Americans began to make different social, cultural, and environmental choices about consuming energy.

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