The best books about Wisconsin

8 authors have picked their favorite books about Wisconsin and why they recommend each book.

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By Brian Harmon,

Book cover of Rushed

I’ve read all of this author’s work and the Rushed series is my favourite because although it’s a sinister paranormal fantasy, it is filled with humour. The world-building for each book is amazing – certainly daunting and nasty in parts, yet believable.

There are remarks in reviews that it’s confusing and weird, so maybe you have to be odd to understand and appreciate it. I did, so I must be.

Who am I?

Because sometimes I think they go further than the formulas set by traditional publishing.  I love fantasy and similar genres because there are no limits for the imagination. The books I’ve chosen fulfill what I think is important – world-building, imagination, thought-provoking, intelligent, and wonderful characters on a mission of some kind.

I wrote...


By Julie Elizabeth Powell,

Book cover of Gone

What is my book about?

Gone will always be my most important book because of why it was written. When my daughter, Samantha, was two, her heart stopped and she died. Doctors revived her, but too late because she was left severely brain-damaged, who she’d been was wiped clean. For the next seventeen years, I watched her withering, twisting body survive without her knowing what was happening except for pain and suffering until she died a second and final time.

During those seventeen years, I had a question: Where had my daughter gone? Because her essence had vanished leaving only an empty shell: hence I created a world and went in search of her. Gone is one answer to that question.  It’s a unique fantasy and might even help others to come to terms with loss.

North of Highway Eight

By Dan Woll,

Book cover of North of Highway Eight

Dan Woll is an exceptional author who writes about outdoor life in Northern Wisconsin. He’s an avid runner, cyclist, and climber. This collection features an account of the Barneveld tornado that blew through Wisconsin back in 1984. Woll’s work is filled with both humor and wisdom. This is a great book for anyone with a passion for the outdoors.

Who am I?

I’ve been working professionally as a writer for twenty-five years. I’m nothing close to a household name, but a number of my articles have gone viral throughout the years. I’ve had educators reach out to mention they’ve taught my work at both the high school and college levels. Writing is an occupation of passion, and the authors I’ve mentioned are all talented and passionate about their craft. It’s rare to find people who speak the truth anywhere in our society. These writers don’t just speak the truth, they make it sing.

I wrote...

The Reader of Acheron

By Walter Rhein,

Book cover of The Reader of Acheron

What is my book about?

The Reader of Acheron is a thoughtful dystopian/fantasy about a world where reading is prohibited. The book wrestles with the concept of willful ignorance, and the way an established power system can spread misinformation in the interest of servitude. The book has many parallels in our current political environment.

One Came Home

By Amy Timberlake,

Book cover of One Came Home

Told from the point of view of thirteen-year-old tomboy Georgie Burkhardt in 1871 Wisconsin, the story begins with the funeral of Georgie’s sister, Agatha—a funeral Georgie calls her sister’s first funeral, which Georgie knows won’t be Agatha’s last, and is the reason Georgie leaves town in search of her sister. Even though mere days earlier, the sheriff rode into town with an unidentifiable body wearing her older sister’s blue-green ball gown, Georgie won’t believe the body belongs to her sister. Thus begins her adventure tracking all of the clues and bits of evidence she can find to prove her sister is still alive and bring her home.

The pure adventure of this frontier story pulled me in from page one. The mystery of Agatha’s death, and whether Georgie’s simply in denial over her sister’s death, or just possibly might be the only one in town who’s on the right track…

Who am I?

I'm a huge bookworm and have enjoyed writing stories of my own since my elementary school days. During junior high, high school, and college, along with a lot of literature courses, I enrolled in every creative writing class I could find. I loved the stories, poems, and novels dealing with hard subjects the most, which (of course) resulted in me writing my own piles of gritty short stories. Those short stories continue to inspire my writing today. No surprise that the novel I’m currently working on is also based on a dark, gritty story I wrote my freshman year of college. Wish me luck on getting this one published, too! 

I wrote...

The Secret Journal of Brett Colton

By Kay Lynn Mangum,

Book cover of The Secret Journal of Brett Colton

What is my book about?

Kathy Colton can’t stand her brother Brett. Her family talks about him as if he were perfect! All Kathy knows for sure is that Brett is dead. And that he died of leukemia when he was seventeen and she was only two. But when Kathy turns sixteen, she discovers her brother’s hidden journal—a journal written especially for her—and learns about the brother she never knew. At the same time, Kathy is mortified by an assignment to tutor the popular high school quarterback Jason West, a football jock who, even worse, is a Mormon. Author Kay Lynn Mangum brilliantly weaves the dual stories of a dying brother and a coming-of-age sister who both learn the importance of loving family and friends and nurturing faith. 

Anywhere But Here

By Mona Simpson,

Book cover of Anywhere But Here

When this astonishing debut novel about a complicated mother-daughter relationship came out, I wondered if the author had met my mother. Because Adele August believes there’s nothing for her in her small Wisconsin town, she sets off for Los Angeles with her twelve-year-old daughter and a dream—Ann will be a child star; Adele will make a wealthy marriage; they’ll live the lives they were meant to. Simpson’s writing is gorgeous: “My mother and I should have both been girls who stayed out on the porch a little longer than the rest… who strained to hear the long-distance trucks on the highway... girls who looked at the sky and wanted to go away… but who finally sighed, and calling the dog with a mixture of reluctance and relief, shut the door and went home.” Reality can’t live up to Adele’s delusions; mother-child roles are often reversed; but love underlies this tangled…

Who am I?

In the ‘60s, everyone was reading—or claiming to have read—Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. I faked reading it, to appear cool. The idea of a road trip, though—characters running away, running toward, or often both—and the self-discovery that ensues—was so intriguing, I made it the heart of the novel I first drafted decades ago. I wrote about a middle-aged woman who flees her life to find a lost love and her lost youth, then put the manuscript away. For 30 years. When I retired from my social work career, I pulled it from the closet, revised it, and became an author at 74. 

I wrote...

So Happy Together

By Deborah K. Shepherd,

Book cover of So Happy Together

What is my book about?

Set in the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll ‘60s, when drama students Caro Mills and Peter MacKinley were kooky, colorful, and inseparable, and in the suburban ‘80s, when Caro’s creative spark has been quenched to serve the needs of her husband, Jack, and their children, So Happy Together explores the conundrum of love and sexual attraction, creativity, and family responsibilities, and what happens when they are out of sync. It’s a road trip story of missed opportunities, the possibility of second chances, and what we leave behind, carry forward, and settle for when we choose. It sits in that raw, messy, confounding, beautiful place where love resides.

Wisconsin Death Trip

By Michael Lesy,

Book cover of Wisconsin Death Trip

Lesy’s classic book about sorrow, decline, and death in the American countryside during the 1890s is something I first came upon in graduate school in the 1980s. It haunted me then and has haunted me since for its grim portrayal of rural Wisconsin. Lesy’s ability to tell a history through juxtaposing both every day and simultaneously disturbing photographs of life and death with textual snippets of the same from local newspapers is genius. More than what academic histories typically had done in their approach to this topic prior to the publication of Lesy’s work, Wisconsin Death Trip provided then and still provides today a more creative and emotion-driven model for exploring the tragedies of our past and how they shape us.

Who am I?

As a student, the Gilded Age bored me to no end. Since then, I have come to understand that the era’s paradoxes, contingencies, and uncertainties are what has created modern America; they have preoccupied my research and writing since. I undertook Pioneering Death as a meditation on how one of the darkest and most intensely personal events—parricide—is both an expected and unexpected outcome of the interconnectedness between place, region, and nation during the Gilded Age. I hope my very select booklist about death, violence, and brutal killings assists you to recognize how these are central to the human condition and how they are foundational to modern America. 

I wrote...

Pioneering Death: The Violence of Boyhood in Turn-Of-The-Century Oregon

By Peter Boag,

Book cover of Pioneering Death: The Violence of Boyhood in Turn-Of-The-Century Oregon

What is my book about?

On an autumn day in 1895, eighteen-year-old Loyd Montgomery shot his parents and a neighbor in a gruesome act that reverberated beyond the small confines of Montgomery's Oregon farming community. The dispassionate slaying and Montgomery's consequent hanging exposed the fault lines of a rapidly industrializing and urbanizing society and revealed the burdens of pioneer narratives boys of the time inherited.

In Pioneering Death: The Violence of Boyhood in Turn-of-the-Century Oregon, Peter Boag examines the Brownsville parricide as an allegory for the destabilizing transitions within the rural United States at the end of the nineteenth century. Boag uncovers how Loyd's violent acts reflected the brutality of American colonizing efforts, the anxieties of global capitalism, and the buried traumas of childhood in the American West.

Caddie Woodlawn

By Carol Ryrie Brink,

Book cover of Caddie Woodlawn

Caddie Woodlawn is a kindred spirit with her love of adventure, boisterous friendship with her brothers, and her dislike of the constraints of “lady-like” expectations. Her parents give her freedom and responsibilities, both of which help her grow into a young woman—not of fashion, but of character. I love the interactions between the siblings and between the parents and children. They are real, with frustrations and forgiveness, love and laughter.

Who am I?

I am the mother of six and a voracious journaler. I am also a novelist. Though I’ve found that the facts of family adventures are often more fascinating than fiction. I bring in-the-moment observations as well as decade-seasoned insights to the world of family life. I also love reading about other families with all their quirks and joys. 

I wrote...

When I Was a Pie: And Other Slices of Family Life

By M.L. Farb,

Book cover of When I Was a Pie: And Other Slices of Family Life

What is my book about?

Most stories end with Happily Ever After. This one starts with it.

These are slices of life in the form of short stories, musings, comics, and poetry—showing bright moments, soul pondering, frustrations, and side-aching laughter. Join our family as we play compliment tag, create piano calls, and cut a crawl hole in the bathroom door to rescue a toddler. It is life, lived in the moment and observed. Welcome to the eclectic joy we call our family.

Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?

By Harold Schechter, Eric Powell,

Book cover of Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?

So few books give me chills, but I could feel my temperature downright drop the deeper into this graphic novel I went. Certainly not for the weak-hearted, or stomached for that matter, Powell and Schechter plunge into one of the most depraved characters of the Midwest… none other than Ed Gein himself. There is an odd beauty to the madness at display here. It just goes to show you never know what’s going on behind the closed doors of your next-door neighbors.

Who am I?

Neighbors. We’ve all got ‘em, right? We believe we’re the good ones, and we pray we don’t live next door to the bad ones… but sometimes it’s inevitable that we share our property lines with those ill-suited for neighborly behavior. Horror books about bad neighbors are the perfect window into our own communities. We can peer into the lives of others without worry of getting caught. We can tiptoe through their rooms and rummage through their drawers… Who knows what we might find. Are they witches? Serial killers? Devil worshippers? Only their dirty laundry will tell. 

I wrote...

Whisper Down the Lane

By Clay McLeod Chapman,

Book cover of Whisper Down the Lane

What is my book about?

Richard doesn’t have a past. For him, there is only the present: a new marriage, a first chance at fatherhood, and a quiet life as an art teacher in Virginia. Then the body of a ritualistically murdered rabbit appears on his school’s playground, along with a birthday card for him. But Richard hasn’t celebrated his birthday since he was known as Sean . . .In the 1980s, Sean was five years old when his mother unwittingly led him to tell a lie about his teacher. When school administrators, cops, and therapists questioned him, he told another. And another. And another. Each was more outlandish than the last—and fueled a moral panic that engulfed the nation and destroyed the lives of everyone around him.

Now, thirty years later, someone is here to tell Richard that they know what Sean did. Whisper Down the Lane is a tense and compulsively readable exploration of a world primed by paranoia to believe the unbelievable.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

By David Wroblewski,

Book cover of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

This is my favorite dog novel that I’ve ever read. I keep buying new copies and lending them to friends who apparently enjoy the book as well, since the books continue to circulate around. The story is a simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking tale about a family who breeds their own unique mélange of dogs and strives to keep them alive through a son who is mute but has a special method of communicating with dogs. 

Who am I?

When I adopted my first dog, Jackson, I felt a little intimidated by his exuberance. By reading books about animals (and human behavior) along with stories that showed the deep connection possible between humans and dogs, I was encouraged to dig deeper, try different techniques, and appreciate all aspects of Jackson’s personality. As we added more dogs to the pack and discover new challenges, I continued to seek out experts to help develop my relationship with my dogs and help them to live happier lives.  As somebody who does a great deal of research about dogs, I appreciate and share well-researched and well-presented materials from both non-fiction and fiction.

I wrote...

Feed Your Best Friend Better: Easy, Nutritious Meals and Treats for Dogs

By Rick Woodford,

Book cover of Feed Your Best Friend Better: Easy, Nutritious Meals and Treats for Dogs

What is my book about?

I wrote Feed Your Best Friend Better to provide readers with options from a few tasty and nutritious morsels directly off the cutting board to full meals and nutrition to their dogs. The inspiration behind the book was to provide the "Warm Nose Meals" section to assist dogs with serious ailments, something that I did when I operated my own dog food company. In the original edition, I also included easy meals with a variety of ingredients, recipes for homemade cookies, and treats you can share. 

With the expanded edition, I’ve included 20 additional grain-free recipes and expanded nutritional information for each recipe.


By Michael Perry,

Book cover of Population: 485

Population 485 was the first book about EMS I ever read. I was just starting out as a volunteer in a rural area, so this book really resonated with me. The author, in moving back to his rural hometown in Wisconsin, joins the local fire department and shares with his readers the funny, crazy, and tragic stories that haunt his small town.

Perry’s writing is full of humility and wit. Population 485 is a portrait of “small-town America” but also serves as a peek behind the curtain at the education of a first responder.

Who am I?

I am a paramedic. I like being a medic. Not so much because of the science and medicine related to the job, but I like connecting with people. People from every walk of life. I like the chaos and unpredictability of the streets. The books on my list portray what it’s like to be out there. Not just war stories. But stories of humility and grace.  

I wrote...

Emergency Monster Squad

By Dave Horowitz,

Book cover of Emergency Monster Squad

What is my book about?

What is it like to ride on an ambulance? What’s the difference between a paramedic and an EMT? What exactly is “the Q-word?” and why shouldn’t I say it to an ambulance crew?

These questions and more are answered in Emergency Monster Squad, a kooky, fast-paced, children’s book by author/illustrator/paramedic, Dave Horowitz. 

A Reliable Wife

By Robert Goolrick,

Book cover of A Reliable Wife

This novel created a stir when it first came out in 2010; it seemed everyone was talking about it. After I read it, I had to agree it was worth the buzz. In 1909, Ralph Truitt, a successful businessman in rural Wisconsin, places a notice in a Chicago paper advertising for "a reliable wife." But when Catherine Land steps off the train from Chicago, she's not the "simple, honest woman" that Ralph is expecting. She is both complex and devious, haunted by a terrible past and motivated by greed. She plans to win his devotion, poison him, and leave a wealthy widow. But Truitt has his own secrets and plans, and soon they’re both in over their heads. I love novels like this that take me on an unexpected journey.

Who am I?

Ever since I stumbled across the story of May Dugas, who the Pinkertons described as “the most dangerous woman in the world,” I’ve been fascinated by women who were born into lowly circumstances and yearned to better themselves. How far were they willing to go to rise above their station? This question takes on added weight for women in earlier eras—when women’s choices and opportunities were limited. So I’ve long been attracted to historical fiction that examines just these questions. And I’ve enjoyed hearing readers’ reactions to May’s story when I visit book clubs. What reader isn’t fascinated by stories of transgression and daring?

I wrote...

Parlor Games

By Maryka Biaggio,

Book cover of Parlor Games

What is my book about?

The Pinkertons branded her a crafty blackmailer, but to her Dutch Baron husband she was the most glamorous woman to grace Europe’s shores. Was the real May Dugas a cold-hearted enchantress, an able provider for her poor family, or a free-spirited globe-trotter? Parlor Games is based on the true story of the woman who made headlines not only in her Michigan hometown, but also in New York and London.

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