The best books about San Francisco

9 authors have picked their favorite books about San Francisco and why they recommend each book.

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Redeeming Love

By Francine Rivers,

Book cover of Redeeming Love

I have loved this book since the first time I read it over a decade ago! Redeeming Love shows the power of love and forgiveness to heal someone who was thrust into a life not of their choosing. No matter how many times I read the book or watch the movie, the depth of God’s and Michael Hosea’s love for Angel brings me to tears of gratitude and joy for a story well told.


Who am I?

I am first and foremost an avid reader of a variety of genres, but women’s/romantic fiction is my favorite. I have a passion for God and His ability to pull us out of the deepest pit and transform a life of beauty from the ashes of our past. Although I write from a “Christian” viewpoint, I prefer characters with flaws and books that deal with women’s issues in a realistic way, not glossed over or hinted at. Which is why my tagline is “Inspirational with an Edge!” ™ In my opinion, the harder our characters fall from grace, the more powerful their redemption or testimony will be.


I wrote...

The Visionary

By Pamela S. Thibodeaux,

Book cover of The Visionary

What is my book about?

While most visionaries see into the future, Taylor sees the past. but only as it pertains to her work. Hailed by her peers as “a visionary with an instinct for beauty and an eye for the unique” Taylor is undoubtedly a brilliant architect and gifted designer. But she and twin brother Trevor, share more than a successful business. The two share a childhood wrought with lies and deceit and the kind of abuse that’s disturbingly prevalent in today’s society.

Can the love of God and the awesome healing power of His grace and mercy free the twins from their past and open their hearts to the good plan and the future He has for their lives?

Maids of Misfortune

By M. Louisa Locke,

Book cover of Maids of Misfortune: A Victorian San Francisco Mystery

I love historical mysteries, and this series set in nineteenth-century San Francisco delivers the goods. I really like the main character, Annie Fuller. She’s been left on her own, and she excels at her ventures as a boardinghouse owner and a financial advisor. When she learns she has sleuthing talents as well, there’s no stopping her. In this book, she goes undercover as a housemaid to solve a mystery. 


Who am I?

A good puzzle will draw me in every time, and I’ve always loved mysteries. When I was a kid, Trixie Belden was my favorite sleuth. In junior high, I tried my hand at writing a few mystery stories. I also discovered logic puzzles about this time. In a mystery, you have to locate the clues and put them together in a logical manner to solve the riddle. Now I’m the author of 100 published books. Many of them are mysteries, and most of the ones that aren’t have elements of mystery within the story. 


I wrote...

Blue Plate Special

By Susan Page Davis,

Book cover of Blue Plate Special

What is my book about?

Campbell McBride drives to her father’s house in Murray, Kentucky, dreading telling him she’s lost her job as an English professor. Her father, Bill McBride, isn’t there or at his office in town. His brash young employee, Nick Emerson, says Bill hasn’t come in this morning, but he did call the night before, saying he had a new case.

When her dad doesn’t show up by late afternoon, Campbell and Nick follow up on a phone number he’d jotted on a memo sheet. They learn who last spoke to her father, but they also find a dead body. When Bill’s car is found, locked and empty in a secluded spot, Campbell and Nick must get past their differences and work together to find him.

Woman of Ill Fame

By Erika Mailman,

Book cover of Woman of Ill Fame

The forthright honesty and the audacity of Nora Simms, narrator of Erika Mailman’s Woman of Ill Fame, is stunning and nearly as compelling as the murder mystery at the center of the novel. Set in San Francisco during the Gold Rush, the novel takes us into the city’s bordellos, which, like the rest of the state, have been infected by a get rich quick at any cost ethos. The cost for many of Nora’s colleagues is high. Women of ill-fame are being killed, one by one, and only Nora is capable and willing to wade through layers of deception to discover the identity of the killer and to save her own life. 

Nora is not your typical damsel in distress and that might be why I love this book so much. She’s not a “good” woman, by society's standards, but she is one of the most surprising…


Who am I?

I don’t write about well-behaved women. I prefer rebels and outcasts, women who, by choice or circumstance, live outside of social norms. 19th-century American history is full of such women—if you know where to look. Hint: not in most public-school textbooks. They’re found, instead, in archives and libraries, in old newspapers and journals, in family letters and autobiographies. The characters in my most recent novel, Reliance, Illinois, were inspired by badass 19th-century women, such as Victoria Woodhull, Mary Livermore, and Olympia Brown. Each of the novels in the list below were inspired by or based on audacious women. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!  


I wrote...

Reliance, Illinois

By Mary Volmer,

Book cover of Reliance, Illinois

What is my book about?

Illinois, 1874: With a birthmark covering half her face, thirteen-year-old Madelyn Branch is accustomed to cold and awkward greetings and expects no less in the struggling town of Reliance. Her mother, Rebecca, was careful not to mention a daughter in the Matrimonial Times ad that brought them there.

When Rebecca weds, Madelyn poses as her mother’s younger sister and earns a grudging berth in her new house. Madelyn soon leaves to enter the service of Miss Rose Werner, prodigal daughter of the town’s founder. Miss Rose is a suffragist and purveyor of black market birth control who sees in Madelyn a project and potential acolyte. At first, Madelyn simply wants to feel beautiful and loved. But, when a series of troubling events threaten the small town, Madelyn must make a life-changing choice. 

Our Way

By T.L. Swan,

Book cover of Our Way

This story elicited every emotion: joy, excitement, yearning, jealousy, rage, hope, betrayal, relief, shock, bewilderment… it took my poor heart on a wild ride. However, there were two pieces that stand out in stark relief in my mind. First, the betrayal of the friendship in hopes of saving it. What a position to be in. Second, Nathan’s pain and confusion as he worked his way past his own assumptions. It’s never an easy journey to know oneself. Witnessing Nathan’s journey, because of the collateral damage to his most treasured relationship, stung. Compassion for both of them broke my heart. And isn’t that the whole point of a good story? To walk in someone else’s shoes and come away with more compassion, more wisdom, and a deeper capacity to love?


Who am I?

At age five, I was reading under the blankets with a flashlight far past my bedtime. It’s an often told story of how I believed I was getting away with something while my makeshift tent, held up by my head, was lit up like a snowglobe. By age eleven, when I picked up my aunt’s book, I discovered romance novels. I was hooked. I’ve read thousands of romance novels in the almost four decades that have since passed, and I’ve learned that each person who reads a book takes something different from it, and I hope these five books that gave so much to me, might do the same for you.


I wrote...

Live Again: A Bridgewater Novel

By Devin Sloane,

Book cover of Live Again: A Bridgewater Novel

What is my book about?

Bex: Coming back to the land of the living still sounds like a hard sell, but I can’t hang out in this limbo any longer. It’s been seven years. I miss him. I’ll always miss him. But I miss getting excited about things, having plans, getting dressed up, going out on the town. I miss sex. Is it okay to miss sex?

Rhys: I didn’t usually make time for these small jobs. It was a favor to a friend, that and deep-seated compassion for a fellow member of the Dead Spouse Society. Until I saw her. I haven’t wanted something this bad for so long, I’m ready to fight for it. Is she?

Around the World on a Bicycle - From San Francisco to Tehran

By Thomas Stevens,

Book cover of Around the World on a Bicycle - From San Francisco to Tehran

First published in 1887, Stevens was the first person to circumnavigate the earth on a bicycle, and a high-wheeler at that. Over three years he pedaled, pushed, and dragged his bicycle through all corners of the globe on one of the most epic journeys ever undertaken.


Who am I?

About thirty years ago I learned that my great-grandaunt Annie was, arguably, the first woman to circle the world by bicycle (1894-1895) and I spent years rescuing her story from the trash bin of history, for she was virtually forgotten for more than a century. An avid cyclist myself, Annie became both my muse and my inspiration. She was an outlandish character who stepped far outside the bounds of what was expected for women of her time; among other things, she was the married mother of three young children when she took off from Boston for fifteen months on the road, and she pioneered sports-related marketing for women, securing corporate sponsors and adorning her body and her bicycle with advertisements wherever she traveled.


I wrote...

Spin: A Novel Based on a (Mostly) True Story

By Peter Zheutlin,

Book cover of Spin: A Novel Based on a (Mostly) True Story

What is my book about?

Who was Annie Londonderry? She captured the popular imagination with her daring 'round the world trip on two wheels. It was, declared The New York World in October of 1895, "the most extraordinary journey ever undertaken by a woman."

But beyond the headlines, Londonderry was really Annie Cohen Kopchovsky, a young, Jewish mother of three small children, who climbed onto a 42-pound Columbia bicycle and pedaled away into history. Reportedly set in motion by a wager between two wealthy Boston merchants, the bet required Annie not only to circle the earth by bicycle in 15 months but to earn $5,000 en route, as well. This was no mere test of a woman's physical endurance and mental fortitude; it was a test of a woman's ability to fend for herself in the world.

Plants And Landscapes For Summer-dry Climates Of The San Francisco Bay Region

By Nora Harlow,

Book cover of Plants And Landscapes For Summer-dry Climates Of The San Francisco Bay Region

An introductory chapter describes our greater Bay Area climate and its microclimates. The plants listed are ones that will thrive in the region with a minimum of summer water. The glory of the book is in the photographs by Saxon Holt, which include close shots for identification and wider shots that will inspire you to combine plants handsomely in your garden. 


Who am I?

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you know that its climate is unique in the U.S. and that there are many microclimates within the region. It’s all mediterranean, as you can tell by its dry summers and mild, wet winters. But near the coast, summer fog carpets the land for weeks and winter is rarely frosty, while inland summers are hot, winter frosts are frequent. I live here and use my academic and first-hand experience with plants to help regional gardeners create year-round beauty and harvests in all of our wonderful, often perplexing microclimates.


I wrote...

Golden Gate Gardening, The Complete Guide to Year-Round Food Gardening in the San Francisco Bay Area & Coastal California

By Pam Peirce,

Book cover of Golden Gate Gardening,  The Complete Guide to Year-Round Food Gardening in the San Francisco Bay Area & Coastal California

What is my book about?

Now in its third, revised edition, Golden Gate Gardening introduces readers to food gardening in California from Eureka to San Luis Obispo, and from the coast inland to the edge of the Central Valley. This mediterranean-climate region is like no other in the U. S. Summers vary from cool at the coast to hot inland, with rain only in winters. The whole region allows year-round production of vegetables, herbs, fruits, edible, and cutting flowers.

This book is an indispensable source of information on all the topics you need for success: what to plant and when, how to start seed, prepare the soil, conserve water, control weeds, and manage pests in less-toxic ways. It is a clear, friendly book that will guide you to garden success and enjoyment.

The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead

By Chanelle Benz,

Book cover of The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead: Stories

This story collection grabbed me right away from the title and stole my heart with some of the most exciting and visceral characters that I’ve read. In “West of the Known,” my favorite story, a young girl escapes violence to become an outlaw; in “The Diplomat’s Daughter,” a woman renames and reworks herself into a feared force of nature. I’ll be honest that reading this book inspired me and scared me; I wanted to write as powerfully and truthfully about anger and violence in women as Chanelle did. So when I asked her to read an early copy of my book, and she came back with lovely praise, I just about lost my mind.

Who am I?

I’m fascinated by angry, feral, primal women. In my book, ten stories feature these women, the ones doing the things we’re not supposed to do, thinking and feeling and saying the things we’re not supposed to. I think we’re beyond powerful when we embrace our anger, nourish and cultivate it, channel it. So I write about these women in the hopes that I’ll get a bit of their strength. The books in this list have inspired me as a writer and thrilled me as a reader.


I wrote...

Dig Me Out

By Amy Lee Lillard,

Book cover of Dig Me Out

What is my book about?

Dig Me Out is ten deeply absorbing stories about the women who won’t smile: angry, aching women, and women returning to base instincts, primal fears, and mythic power. Across past, present, and future, around the midwest and the world, these women demand we witness as they work to break through, to defy, to become. It won’t be pretty, and it won’t be safe, but it will be real.

Spanning genres, continents, and eras, Dig Me Out takes on misogyny and homophobia, societal and climatological violence, and the specter of our technologized future — all with a punk rock literary twist.

Last Night at the Telegraph Club

By Malinda Lo,

Book cover of Last Night at the Telegraph Club

I really enjoyed Lo’s writing and how she intersected the love and passion between two teenage girls (Lily, who is Chinese American and Kath, who is Caucasian), and the risks they take to be together. This is a historical novel set in 1954 and Lo artfully juxtaposes their growing desire alongside the oppression and harassment of queer people at the time. I found it captivating how Lily’s family and Chinese tradition impact the story, along with the constraints of living in San Francisco’s Chinatown and the ongoing red-baiting at the time. The illicit nature of same-sex desire added to the tension and heightened the girls’ quest to remain together. Lo didn’t shirk from addressing the impact of racism, sexism, and repression of Chinese and Chinese American people by the US government.

Also interesting was how she brought to light the clubs in SF’s North Beach where male impersonators performed and…


Who am I?

I wrote my first novel in a quest to create a story about a girl who loves girls surviving a violent, repressive world. Reading novels pertinent to the life I’ve lived was both affirming and life-saving. After graduate school, I developed a class at UC Berkeley where I focused on novels written by and about women of color, knowing compelling stories gave the students a chance to live in someone else’s universe. I still believe books can change hearts and minds, and reading them propels me to continue seeking well-told stories by authors—particularly writers of color—who have the courage to put their words on the page. 


I wrote...

What Night Brings

By Carla Trujillo,

Book cover of What Night Brings

What is my book about?

Marci Cruz wants two things from God: change her into a boy, and rid her of her father. What Night Brings is the unforgettable story of Marci’s struggle to find and maintain her identity against all odds—a perilous home life, an incomprehensible Church, and a largely indifferent world. Smart, feisty, and funny, 13-year-old Marci prays to become a boy so that she can capture the attention of Raquel, the teenage beauty next door. Marci's fighting spirit, her sense of justice, and her power of observation enable her to find her identity and her freedom.

Cool Gray City of Love

By Gary Kamiya,

Book cover of Cool Gray City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco

In this beautifully written book, you find yourself wandering the streets with the author as he comes upon the quirky and eccentric characters and locations that have charmed us all for generations. But you also meet the real people who do the real work that keep this city running, and he doesn’t shy away from visiting the parts of town that are mostly well off the beaten tourist (or local’s) path! There’s probably no other book about San Francisco that made me so glad to live here, but also felt so honest and true to the strange contradictions that define this place. Kamiya’s ongoing coverage of the city’s history via the online SF Chronicle has furthered his role as an indispensable chronicler of the city’s life, past and present.


Who am I?

I’ve lived in San Francisco since I was 20 in 1978. I helped launch Processed World in 1981, Critical Mass in 1992, and Shaping San Francisco in 1998. I’ve been co-directing and co-curating the archive at foundsf.org since 2009, and have been fully immersed for years in gathering and presenting local history online, on bike and walking tours, during Public Talks, and most recently on Bay Cruises. I have published three books of my own and edited or co-edited seven additional volumes, much of which covers local history. The more I’ve learned the more I’ve realized how little I know!


I wrote...

Hidden San Francisco: A Guide to Lost Landscapes, Unsung Heroes and Radical Histories

By Chris Carlsson,

Book cover of Hidden San Francisco: A Guide to Lost Landscapes, Unsung Heroes and Radical Histories

What is my book about?

In Hidden San Francisco Chris Carlsson peels back the layers of San Francisco’s history to reveal a storied past: behind old walls and gleaming glass facades lurk former industries, secret music and poetry venues, forgotten terrorist bombings, and much more. Carlsson delves into the Bay Area’s long prehistory as well, examining the region’s geography and the lives of its inhabitants before the 1849 Gold Rush changed everything, setting in motion the clash between capital and labor that shaped the modern city.

The definitive San Francisco ‘history from below’, Hidden San Francisco invites you to step out in the streets and use its self-guided walking and bike routes to immerse yourself in a history that is varied, contested, and still being written.

Killer on the Road

By James Ellroy,

Book cover of Killer on the Road

This book blew my mind when I first read it. In my opinion, it is one of the most visceral, scary, and under-rated serial killer novels of all time. Published in 1986 in the midst of America’s much-hyped real and fictional serial killer ‘epidemic,’ Killer on the Road stands out as a first-person serial-killer narrative, as well as putting forward a new kind of character (for the 1980s) – the homosexual serial murderer. In this novel, Ellroy delves into the phenomenon of motiveless serial murder from the perspective of the killer on a subversive journey through a hellish suburban America. From the prologue to the epilogue the reader is presented an interior world-view saturated with violence and nightmarish insights into the psychopathology of a disturbed killer. 


Who am I?

As a writer of Psychological Horror who specializes in stories about serial killers, the first-person serial killer narrative stands out as a fascinating vehicle to explore the psyche of real human ‘monsters.’ Which is precisely what I did, using books from this list as subject material for my Master’s thesis. The research also informed Blood Related, my debut novel, a first-person serial killer narrative and the most controversial book I’ve written so far. Perhaps, gaining insight from fictional serial killers would be a failed enterprise if life didn’t imitate art, but the fact is that these types of narratives are mostly informed by their real-life counterparts. Be warned – read at your own discretion.


I wrote...

Blood Related

By William Cook,

Book cover of Blood Related

What is my book about?

Tough-as-nails Detective Ray Truman battles his demons, as he tracks a family of prolific serial killers in this nail-biting psychological thriller. For over two decades, Truman has been searching for the killer or killers who have terrorized Portvale. The remains of young female prostitutes have been the killer’s victims of choice, but now other districts are reporting similar gruesome discoveries. 

This disturbing tale of a family tree of evil will embed itself in the mind of the reader, long after the last page has been turned. If you’re looking for a truly haunting ride into the primal depths of the psychopathic mind, Blood Related is for you. Be sure to leave the lights on.

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