The best books about the Pacific Northwest

6 authors have picked their favorite books about the Pacific Northwest and why they recommend each book.

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A Wolf Called Wander

By Rosanne Parry, Mónica Armiño (illustrator),

Book cover of A Wolf Called Wander

I adored this book! Not only was I astounded at the believable way the author expertly tells a tale from a wolf’s perspective (no small feat to be realistic here) but it’s also based on the true story of the actual wolf OR-7. I was fascinated to be drawn into this journey and world. And the scrumptious illustrations throughout are icing on the cake. 


Who am I?

I’ve spent my life journey so far in the outdoors of northern Ontario, Canada. Before I became a conservation officer, I worked for twelve years in a wilderness park as a canoe ranger. I also had eighteen sled dogs and taught dogsledding and winter survival. I’ve always been drawn to reading adventure stories, so when I finally became an author (in my forties. It’s never too late), I naturally wrote the kind of books that I grew up reading. Now I love that I get to share my passions with readers.  I hope you find some books of interest on this list and join me on a journey into a new adventure.


I wrote...

Ice Dogs

By Terry Lynn Johnson,

Book cover of Ice Dogs

What is my book about?

Victoria Secord, a fourteen-year-old Alaskan dogsled racer, loses her way on a routine outing with her dogs. With food gone and temperatures dropping, her survival and that of her dogs and the mysterious boy she meets in the woods is entirely up to her.

The author Terry Lynn Johnson is a musher herself, and her crackling writing puts readers at the reins as Victoria and Chris experience setbacks, mistakes, and small triumphs in their wilderness adventure.

The Reckoning of Boston Jim

By Claire Mulligan,

Book cover of The Reckoning of Boston Jim

Packed with detail about Victoria, Vancouver Island, and the Gold Rush days in British Columbia, I thought this book was engaging, epic, funny (wait until the camels appear—and the wake!), and a real page-turner. I swooned over the descriptions of the landscape and would go so far as to say the land and sea, so alive in this book, should be considered a character. I was so profoundly invested in the fates of Jim, Dora, and Eugene, that I almost missed how cunningly the novel took on gender, class, and race, illuminating so many of the contemporary issues dogging us here on the coast.  


Who am I?

As a transplant to the west coast of North America, I’m always on the lookout for books that capture aspects of the history of this region and help me understand my new home. For me, the books on this list have shed light on different communities, worldviews, and a complicated past. Besides, I am a pushover for epic stories that span generations and geographies and teach me new ways of thinking and looking at the world.


I wrote...

Anna, Like Thunder

By Peggy Herring,

Book cover of Anna, Like Thunder

What is my book about?

In 1808, the Russian ship St. Nikolai runs aground off Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula. The crew, who’d been exploring and trading for sea otter pelts, are forced ashore into Indigenous territory, where they are captured, enslaved, and then traded among three Indigenous communities. Eighteen-year-old Anna Petrovna Bulygina is one of the crew. Terrified at first, she soon discovers that nothing—including slavery—is what she expected. She questions Russian imperialist aspirations, the crew’s conduct, and her own beliefs as she experiences a way of life she’d never imagined.

Based on historical accounts, this novel blends fact and fiction to explore the early days of contact between Indigenous people and Europeans off the west coast of North America and challenge the historical record.

Westward the Women

By Nancy Wilson Ross,

Book cover of Westward the Women

I have collected a lot of nonfiction focused on the women’s experiences in the Old West – there are many such books available now. But, when Nancy Wilson Ross published this book in 1944, there weren’t any.  Can you imagine that?

Ross writes about women in all walks of life, from missionaries to outlaws to farmers and ranchers. She writes mainly about white women and Native Americans, though some of her attitudes will feel a little dated to modern readers. But that just means that this book is as much a window into the ideas of the 1940s as it is into the lives of women in the 1800s, which I find fascinating.


Who am I?

I’ve loved learning about the Old West for as long as I can remember. Is this because I was born a few miles from the spot where Jesse James robbed his first train? Or is it because my family watched so many classic western movies and TV shows when I was a kid? Either way, writing books set in the Old West is a natural fit for me. I love researching the real history of that era just as much as I love making up stories set there. In fact, I write a column about the real history of the Wild West for a Colorado-based newspaper, The Prairie Times.


I wrote...

One Bad Apple

By Rachel Kovaciny,

Book cover of One Bad Apple

What is my book about?

When a wagon train of Black pioneers rescues the seven orphaned Dalton cousins from the side of the trail to Kansas, fourteen-year-old Levi Dalton is dazzled by the beautiful Mrs. Mallone. Her knowledge of medicines and herbs inspires Levi to want to become a doctor. Maybe then he can stop people from dying of fevers like his folks did.

Mrs. Mallone's stepdaughter, Hopeful, warns Levi not to become too attached to the healer. Levi dismisses her warnings and his own misgivings until the day he sees something dreadful. Levi knows he needs to tell someone what he’s seen before it’s too late. But will anyone believe the story of a fourteen-year-old orphan? Will anyone stand up to evil, no matter how beautifully it’s packaged?

Cass Turnbull's Guide to Pruning

By Cass Turnbull,

Book cover of Cass Turnbull's Guide to Pruning: What, When, Where & How to Prune for a More Beautiful Garden

This book perfectly demystifies the art of pruning trees and shrubs for even the most apprehensive gardener. Turnbull’s conversational style and matter-of-fact presentation of all you need to know to do it right and not wreck your plants, has been a fan favorite for years. I recommend it to my gardening students that may find the Brown/Kirkham pruning book a bit on the dry side. Cass makes pruning sound fun, and important, blending her horticultural knowledge and skill with a keen political sensibility that stresses the ethics of doing things the right way for the health and well-being of your plants.  


Who am I?

As a gardening instructor and designer, I've been recommending these five books for years. They were the core texts of the Fundamentals of Gardening course I've been teaching at the New York Botanical Garden for over a decade. Since the publication of The New Gardener’s Handbook, which covers all these topics in a more abbreviated way, I still recommend these five books to my students if they want to dig deeper. These books are what I call “keeper texts.” I own fewer and fewer actual gardening books these days, but it's a fact that a copy of each of these excellent resources resides on my office bookshelf where I refer to them frequently. 


I wrote...

The New Gardener's Handbook: Everything You Need to Know to Grow a Beautiful and Bountiful Garden

By Daryl Beyers,

Book cover of The New Gardener's Handbook: Everything You Need to Know to Grow a Beautiful and Bountiful Garden

What is my book about?

Every new gardener has to start somewhere—and the process can be intimidating. Knowing when and what to plant, how to care for the plants once they’re in the ground, and how to keep pests and diseases away is a lot to take on. Luckily, Daryl Beyers—an expert from the New York Botanical Garden—has written what will be a go-to resource for decades to come.

The New Gardener’s Handbook is a comprehensive overview of the fundamentals of gardening, based on the introductory gardening class that Beyers teaches at NYBG. Readers will learn about soil, plant selection, propagation, planting and mulching, watering and feeding, pruning, and weeds, pests, and diseases. Featuring inspiring photography and helpful illustrations, The New Gardener’s Handbook gives home gardeners a foundation upon which they can grow.

Boneshaker

By Cherie Priest,

Book cover of Boneshaker: A Novel of the Clockwork Century

Briar Wilkes will brave the warrens of a steampunk Seattle in order to find her runaway son. Twisting passages are full of the undead animated by a mysterious gas liberated by a drilling machine created by her deceased husband. But Seattle is a city that doesn't give up its secrets or those who venture within easily. 


Who am I?

I find joy in niches and steampunk is not cut from the ordinary cloth. I was originally challenged to produce a story that incorporated magic into steampunk. The resulting character, Kassandra Leyden who can speak to the dead, brought to life an alternate history where a deadly plague made the British Empire emigrate to the Americas and begin anew. The style and fashion of steampunk in modifying the ordinary appeals to the maker in me. I am an avid renfaire attendee and create and sell garb, which now includes steampunk elements. I hope you enjoy these choices and discover what steampunk has to offer as a genre. 


I wrote...

Spirit Seeker: The Kassandra Leyden Adventures

By Jeff Young,

Book cover of Spirit Seeker: The Kassandra Leyden Adventures

What is my book about?

Kassandra Leyden was the daughter of extraordinary parents. Her father, a well-known adventurer until his wife vanished without a trace, now drinks his life away, while his daughter grows up. But the abilities that made her mother so valuable to the government of New Britain are the inheritance Kassandra never expected. Only a rare few can hear past the walls that separate the living from those who have passed on. Together with unlikely allies, Kassandra will defend both the living and the departed against exploiters of spirits, makers of killer automatons, megalomaniacal bomb builders, and more.

Something Worth Doing

By Jane Kirkpatrick,

Book cover of Something Worth Doing: A Novel of an Early Suffragist

Jane Kirkpatrick, a New York Times bestselling writer of over 35 books, specializes in fictionalizing true stories of prominent women in history who are often unknown to today’s readers. Something Worth Doing, a historical novel, brings to life the story of Abigail Scott Duniway, an early suffragist and pioneer in the 19th century Pacific Northwest. As a married woman and mother of eight living children, Kirkpatrick weaves together Dunn's challenges as a newspaper publisher, primary breadwinner, and national speaker fighting for the rights of women and the vote. 

Kirkpatrick, a psychologist, illustrates the universal pulls between career and family in a male-dominated sphere. One of my favorite genres is historical fiction and Kirkpatrick backs her novels with significant historical research.  


Who am I?

While a history student at the University of Washington I became aware that courses never included more than a paragraph on the important contributions of women, such as Eleanor Roosevelt or Jane Addams. I longed to know more. What gave some women motivation to defy conventions and use their talents?  When I first learned that Helga Estby’s audacious achievement was silenced for over 100 years, it launched me into over 15 years of research trying to recover this forgotten woman’s story.  As a writing professor for twenty years, I saw how assigning papers that led to exploring and understanding the women in one’s family background deeply enriched college students' lives.


I wrote...

Bold Spirit: Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America

By Linda Lawrence Hunt,

Book cover of Bold Spirit: Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America

What is my book about?

Defying all assumptions about women in 1896, a determined and desperate eight living children, Helga Estby and her daughter Clara dared to walk over 3500 miles on a $10,000 wager trying to save her family farm. Using their wits and a Smith and Wesson, they battled snowstorms, hunger, mountain lions, and the occasional thief walking from Spokane, Washington to New York City.

Accomplishing what was once deemed impossible, they arrived in New York heralded by the city’s newspapers for their astonishing achievement. But their triumph was quickly complicated by deep disappointment, betrayal, and heartbreaking news from home, all of which combined to silence their remarkable story among their family and friends for generations. A favorite with book clubs and winner of several literary awards.

Salmon Without Rivers

By James A. Lichatowich,

Book cover of Salmon Without Rivers: A History Of The Pacific Salmon Crisis

Biologist Lichatowich draws on his lifetime of experience studying and working with fisheries to reveal both the persisting wonder and the ongoing shortcomings of fish-and-wildlife agencies' mismanagement of salmon that migrate up our rivers to spawn and then return to the ocean for most of their life cycles. Striking to the heart of a critical but under-recognized issue affecting rivers today, he explains why fish hatcheries that were sold to the public as a way of compensating for fish-killing dams have actually harmed wild fish further, and he urges all who are responsible to avert an ongoing tragedy.


Who am I?

I've been passionate about and engaged with rivers ever since growing up along streams in the Appalachian foothills of Pennsylvania. Now living in Oregon, I'm the author and photographer of 30 books about rivers, the environment, and adventure travel. My books include a history of river conservation, a primer on modern-day river issues, profiles of great rivers from the Youghiogheny in the East to the Snake and Columbia in the West, guidebooks, and photo essays. I've received the Ansel Adams Photography Award from the Sierra Club, the Communicator of the Year Award from the National Wildlife Federation, the Lifetime Achievement Award from American Rivers, a "paddler of the century" recognition from Paddler magazine, and numerous book honors.


I wrote...

America's Great River Journeys: 50 Canoe, Kayak, and Raft Adventures

By Tim Palmer,

Book cover of America's Great River Journeys: 50 Canoe, Kayak, and Raft Adventures

What is my book about?

With America's Great River Journeys, author Tim Palmer draws on a lifetime of experience rafting, canoeing, and writing about rivers across the United States and invites readers to explore 50 of the finest streams. From the Saint John, Potomac, and Suwannee in the East to the Colorado, Salmon, and Rogue in the West, this book reveals why each river is extraordinary, what to expect in terms of difficulty and wildness, and the best ways to travel by raft, canoe, or kayak.

Each description includes directions to put-ins and take-outs, seasonal recommendations, and an engaging narrative about each journey, all illustrated with 200 spectacular photos by the author.

Sarah Canary

By Karen Joy Fowler,

Book cover of Sarah Canary

In Karen Joy Fowler’s Sarah Canary, we get glimpses of the American railway being built, one painful railroad tie at a time, hewn from the raw landscape at a cost of human misery and lives. This novel is funny, poignant, and serves up a full course of rich, historical story that never lets you go, whether giving insights into the tough realities faced by the suffragist movement or the grim mistreatment of Chinese workers as they built the western railways.


Who am I?

Ever since I was a kid tagging along with my contractor Dad to the construction site, I’ve been in love with the physical act of creating and building. All novels are stories of making and unmaking: selves, relationships, futures, worlds. I’m especially intrigued by the subset of writings that foreground this process, novels that build things, novels in which something is convincingly, authoritatively, made, and we’re jacked into, however briefly, the experience or process of work. That’s the gift of these maker novels: they offer glimpses of the human mind figuring out its world in a practical, hands-on sort of way.


I wrote...

Watershed

By Mark Barr,

Book cover of Watershed

What is my book about?

Amidst construction of a federal dam in rural Tennessee, Nathan, an engineer hiding from his past, meets Claire, a small-town housewife struggling to find her footing in the newly-electrified, job-hungry, post-Depression South. As Nathan wrestles with the burdens of a secret guilt and tangled love, Claire struggles to balance motherhood and a newfound freedom that awakens ambitions and a sexuality she hadn’t known she possessed. The arrival of electricity in the rural community, where prostitution and dog-fighting are commonplace, thrusts together modern and backcountry values. Watershed delivers a gripping story of characters whose ambitions and yearnings threaten to overflow the banks of their time and place. 

Kolea

By Russell Cahill,

Book cover of Kolea

This novel is like a wild ride on the ocean. I loved how it took me into the Indigenous communities in the Hawai’ian Islands prior to contact with Europeans and revealed their longstanding links to the Pacific coast of North America. There’s an epic story, and it’s chock full of marvelous detail about culture, food, clothing, migration, and worldview, and even explores the nature of time. However, what most struck me was considering what it would be like to orient my thinking to the sea and its rhythms instead of the land. It shifted the way I see the place I live.   


Who am I?

As a transplant to the west coast of North America, I’m always on the lookout for books that capture aspects of the history of this region and help me understand my new home. For me, the books on this list have shed light on different communities, worldviews, and a complicated past. Besides, I am a pushover for epic stories that span generations and geographies and teach me new ways of thinking and looking at the world.


I wrote...

Anna, Like Thunder

By Peggy Herring,

Book cover of Anna, Like Thunder

What is my book about?

In 1808, the Russian ship St. Nikolai runs aground off Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula. The crew, who’d been exploring and trading for sea otter pelts, are forced ashore into Indigenous territory, where they are captured, enslaved, and then traded among three Indigenous communities. Eighteen-year-old Anna Petrovna Bulygina is one of the crew. Terrified at first, she soon discovers that nothing—including slavery—is what she expected. She questions Russian imperialist aspirations, the crew’s conduct, and her own beliefs as she experiences a way of life she’d never imagined.

Based on historical accounts, this novel blends fact and fiction to explore the early days of contact between Indigenous people and Europeans off the west coast of North America and challenge the historical record.

Julie of the Wolves

By Jean Craighead George, John Schoenherr (illustrator),

Book cover of Julie of the Wolves

As a young girl, most afternoons you could find me up a tree, book in hand. My favorite stories all had a common theme: animals. I felt a stronger connection to the animal world than to my own species. When I first read Julie of the Wolves at the age of 8, I was far too young to understand all the social implications of being a barely pubescent orphaned girl forced into a child marriage, but I resonated with the overwhelming desire to escape the confusion and pressures of human relationships. How I longed to be Julie, living among the wolves! 


Who am I?

Back in the mid-80s, at the tender age of 19, I dropped out of college, and with $800 of hard-earned cash and my bicycle, booked a one-way ticket to Europe. This would be the first chapter of a life of adventure and self-discovery. Through my experiences, I have gained a deeper understanding of the fundamental human qualities which transcend cultural boundaries—in short, the human condition. And what better way to explore the rich and varied tapestry of our collective humanity than through the stories we tell? I hope you enjoy my (far too abbreviated!) eclectic list of books. 


I wrote...

Callisto 2.0: A novel of the future

By Susan English,

Book cover of Callisto 2.0: A novel of the future

What is my book about?

She had to travel beyond the planet to discover her true self. Will she find the courage to walk through the doorway to a new future?

Shambhala Space Station, 2097. When physicist Callisto is recruited to work on faster-than-light technology by a beautiful older woman, she eagerly accepts the opportunity at the women-only research station orbiting Earth’s moon. But her enthusiasm suffers when her first discovery is unexpected heartbreak. Throwing herself into work on a problematic warp drive prototype, Calli blossoms in the utopian female community that shows her love and acceptance for the first time. But when a twisted conspiracy, disingenuous affair, and disastrous betrayal test her place in this unique environment, the brilliant scientist must dig deep to find her moment of truth.

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