Books Set In Utah: Utah Novels
Utah has some of the most striking landscapes in the country, and this environment has inspired numerous authors. This list of books set in Utah is the perfect accompaniment for a trip to Utah, or simply to immerse yourself in the scenery and culture of the state (especially if you call it home!) ⛰
Utah is named after the Native American Ute tribe (meaning people of the mountains) and the state has one of the highest literacy rates in America. These books set in Utah transverse many incredible locations. Utah is home to numerous national parks, ski resorts and natural wonders; including Arches National Park, the Bonneville Salt Flats, Bryce Canyon National Park, the Great Salt Lake, Monument Valley and Zion National Park.
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Books Set in Utah: Introduction
Some of the first books set in Utah are of the Western genre; tales of cowboys in the American Old West. These stories often highlight the harsh wilderness and Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey is often credited with kickstarting the genre.
Some of the most widely-read books set in Utah include Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey, a memoir of his experiences working in Arches National Park; The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey, a tale of industrial development; and The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer, a true crime story that won the Pulitzer Prize.
The majority of Utah residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, informally known as the mormon church. In recent years there has been a swell of literature based around the religion including fiction titles such as the bestseller The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff and The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall.
Please note: There are numerous memoirs and non-fiction books set in Utah. Many of these are included in the list below and are noted where relevant.
Books Set in Utah: Shortlist
If you’re short on time, these are my personal picks for books set in Utah:
- Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
- The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer
- When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
- Cage of Stars by Jacquelyn Mitchard
- The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
- The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall
Books Set In Utah
1. A Study in Scarlet (Sherlock Holmes #1) by Arthur Conan Doyle, 1887
A Study in Scarlet is the first published story of one of the most famous literary detectives of all time, Sherlock Holmes. Here Dr. Watson, who has just returned from a war in Afghanistan, meets Sherlock Holmes for the first time when they become flat-mates at the famous 221 B Baker Street. Sherlock Holmes investigates a murder at Lauriston Gardens as Dr. Watson tags along with Holmes while narratively detailing his amazing deductive abilities. Note: this is partly set in Salt Lake Valley, Utah.
2. Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey, 1912
Told by a master storyteller who, according to critic Russell Nye, ‘combined adventure, action, violence, crisis, conflict, sentimentalism, and sex in an extremely shrewd mixture,’ Riders of the Purple Sage is a classic of the Western genre. It is the story of Lassiter, a gunslinging avenger in black, who shows up in a remote Utah town just in time to save the young and beautiful rancher Jane Withersteen from having to marry a Mormon elder against her will. Note: this one is set along the Utah and Arizona border.
3. Mormon Country by Wallace Stegner, 1942
Where others saw only sage, a salt lake, and a great desert, the Mormons saw their ‘lovely Deseret,’ a land of lilacs, honeycombs, poplars, and fruit trees. Unwelcome in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois, they migrated to the dry lands between the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada to establish Mormon country, a wasteland made green. Like the land the Mormons settled, their habits stood in stark contrast to the frenzied recklessness of the American West. Note: non-fiction set across Utah, Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming, Arizona and New Mexico.
4. The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner, 1943
Bo Mason, his wife, Elsa, and their two boys live a transient life of poverty and despair. Drifting from town to town and from state to state, the violent, ruthless Bo seeks out his fortune – in the hotel business, in new farmland, and, eventually, in illegal rum-running through the treacherous back roads of the American Northwest. Note: this is set in Canada, North Dakota and Utah.
5. Silver Canyon by Louis L’Amour, 1956
“You’re not wanted in Hattan’s Point,” Matt Brennan was told moments after arriving in town. “There’s trouble here and men are picking sides.” But Matt decided he wasn’t going anywhere. Not until he found out what the dispute was about, and not before he got to know Moira Maclaren. She considered him nothing more than a drifting ranch hand, but Matt was determined to prove her wrong. To do so, he’d have to solve a mystery that was at the center of the growing violence in Hattan’s Point – a secret that could make a man rich or dead. Probably dead.
6. Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey, 1968
Desert Solitaire is one of Edward Abbey’s most critically acclaimed works and marks his first foray into the world of nonfiction writing. Written while Abbey was working as a ranger at Arches National Park outside of Moab, Utah, Desert Solitaire is a rare view of one man’s quest to experience nature in its purest form. Note: this is a memoir.
7. Everett Ruess: A Vagabond for Beauty by W.L. Rusho, 1973
Everett Ruess, the young poet and artist who disappeared into the desert canyonlands of Utah in 1934, has become widely known posthumously as the spokesman for the spirit of the high desert. Many have been inspired by his intense search for adventure, leaving behind the amenities of a comfortable life. His search for ultimate beauty and oneness with nature is chronicled in this remarkable collection of letters to family and friends. Note: this is non-fiction.
8. The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey, 1975
The story centers on Vietnam veteran George Washington Hayduke III, who returns to the desert to find his beloved canyons and rivers threatened by industrial development. On a rafting trip down the Colorado River, Hayduke joins forces with feminist saboteur Bonnie Abbzug, wilderness guide Seldom Seen Smith, and billboard torcher Doc Sarvis, M.D., and together they wander off to wage war on the big yellow machines, on dam builders and road builders and strip miners. Note: this is set between Arizona and Utah.
9. The Giant Joshua by Maurine Whipple, 1976
Set in the 1860s at Utah’s Dixie Mission, The Giant Joshua is the deeply moving story of a far-flung outpost in the desert where a band of Mormons, like the giant Joshua, fight to survive in an arid land. A young Mormon girl – innocent, tender, courageous – finds herself torn between fear of her older husband and love for his son; between her passionate faith in the stern tenets of Mormonism and her equally passionate desire for beauty and gaiety.
10. The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer, 1979
In what is arguably his greatest work, America’s most heroically ambitious writer follows the short, blighted career of Gary Gilmore, an intractably violent product of America’s prisons who became notorious for two reasons: first, for robbing two men in 1976, then killing them in cold blood; and, second, after being tried and convicted, for insisting on dying for his crime. To do so, he had to fight a system that seemed paradoxically intent on keeping him alive long after it had sentenced him to death. Note: this is non-fiction.
11. Recapitulation by Wallace Stegner, 1979
The moving sequel to the bestselling Big Rock Candy Mountain. Bruce Mason returns to Salt Lake City not for his aunt’s funeral, but to encounter after forty-five years the place he fled in bitterness. A successful statesman and diplomat, Mason had buried his awkward and lonely childhood, sealed himself off from the thrills and torments of adolescence to become a figure who commanded international respect.
12. Basin and Range by John McPhee, 1981
The first of John McPhee’s works in his series on geology and geologists, Basin and Range is a book of journeys through ancient terrains, always in juxtaposition with travels in the modern world – a history of vanished landscapes, enhanced by the histories of people who bring them to light. The title refers to the physiographic province of the United States that reaches from eastern Utah to eastern California, a silent world of austere beauty, of hundreds of discrete high mountain ranges that are green with junipers and often white with snow. Note: non-fiction set across Utah and Nevada.
13. Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water by Marc Reisner, 1986
The story of the American West is the story of a relentless quest for a precious resource: water. It is a tale of rivers diverted and dammed, of political corruption and intrigue, of billion-dollar battles over water rights, of ecologic and economic disaster. Marc Reisner writes of the earliest settlers, lured by the promise of paradise, and of the ruthless tactics employed by Los Angeles politicians and business interests. Note: non-fiction spanning California, Texas, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and Oregon.
14. The Backslider by Levi S. Peterson, 1986
Frank Windham is a Mormon cowboy – hard-working, trying to be honest, convinced he is going to hell for incurable lust, and convinced that he deserves to. He has an ultra-pious mother, a brother who is more than just a little touched in the head, and a comfortable Lutheran girlfriend who knows she has been saved. This is a story about sin and salvation, written with raunchiness and reverence. It is an extraordinary landmark in Mormon fiction – the first novel to consider the ubiquitous tension between religious guilt and sexual frustration.
15. Salamander: The Story of the Mormon Forgery Murders by Allen D. Roberts and Linda Sillitoe, 1988
Drawing from 1000s of pages of police reports, court documents, interviews, letters & diaries, Sillitoe’s & Roberts’s narrative cuts thru the complexities of this famous crime investigation to deliver a gripping, Capote-esque tale. They embrace the details, then lay them out systematically as seen thru the eyes of the detectives, victims & perpetrator. Note: this is non-fiction.
16. Reckless Love (MacKenzie-Blackthorn #1) by Elizabeth Lowell, 1989
No one who roamed the steep green mountains and red-rock canyons of Utah Territory was safe from El Cascabel and his renegade warriors – not Janna Wayland, not the wild stallion, Lucifer – not even Ty MacKenzie, the stranger who had come for the stallion, and stayed to capture Janna’s heart. Now all three must join forces and make their escape, or die trying.
17. This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff, 1989
This unforgettable memoir, introduces us to the young Toby Wolff, by turns tough and vulnerable, crafty and bumbling, and ultimately winning. Separated by divorce from his father and brother, Toby and his mother are constantly on the move, yet they develop an extraordinarily close, almost telepathic relationship. As Toby fights for identity and self-respect against the unrelenting hostility of a new stepfather, his experiences are at once poignant and comical, and Wolff does a masterful job of re-creating the frustrations and cruelties of adolescence. Note: part of this memoir is set in Utah.
18. Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams, 1991
In the spring of 1983 Terry Tempest Williams learned that her mother was dying of cancer. That same season, The Great Salt Lake began to rise to record heights, threatening the herons, owls, and snowy egrets that Williams, a poet and naturalist, had come to gauge her life by. One event was nature at its most random, the other a by-product of rogue technology: Terry’s mother, and Terry herself, had been exposed to the fallout of atomic bomb tests in the 1950s. Note: this is a memoir.
19. Cowboys Are My Weakness: Stories by Pam Houston, 1992
“I’ve always had this thing for cowboys, maybe because I was born in New Jersey,” says the narrator in this collection’s title story. “But a real cowboy is hard to find these days, even in the West.” In Pam Houston’s collection of stories, we meet smart women who are looking for the love of a good man, and men who are wild and hard to pin down. Our heroines are part daredevil, part philosopher, all acute observers of the nuances of modern romance. Note: this is mostly set in Montana and Utah.
20. The Christmas Box (The Christmas Box Trilogy #1) by Richard Paul Evans, 1993
This inspiring holiday tale tells the touching story of a widow and the young family who moves in with her, and the ways in which they discover together the first gift of Christmas and what the holiday is really all about. Written by the author as a token of affection for his daughters, The Christmas Box has captured the hearts and minds of over a million readers. Note: set in Salt Lake City, Utah.
21. All My Rivers Are Gone: A Journey of Discovery Through Glen Canyon by Katie Lee, 1998
David Brower, who has always regretted the Sierra Club’s failure to save the Glen Canyon, called it The Place No One Knew. But Katie Lee was among a handful of men and women who knew the 170 miles of Glen Canyon very well. She’d made sixteen trips down the river, even named some of the side canyons. Glen Canyon and the river that ran through it had changed her life. Her descriptions of a magnificent desert oasis and its rich archaeological ruins are a paean to paradise lost. Note: this is non-fiction.
22. Hunting Badger (Leaphorn & Chee #14) by Tony Hillerman, 1999
Three men raid the gambling casino run by the Ute nation and then disappear into the maze of canyons on the Utah-Arizona border. When the FBI, with its helicopters and high-tech equipment, focuses on a wounded deputy sheriff as a possible suspect, Navajo Tribal Police Sergeant Jim Chee and his longtime colleague, retired Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, launch an investigation of their own. Note: this is part of a book series set in and around the region.
23. Thunderhead by Douglas Preston, 1999
Nora Kelly, a young archaeologist in Santa Fe, receives a letter written sixteen years ago, yet mysteriously mailed only recently. In it her father, long believed dead, hints at a fantastic discovery that will make him famous and rich – the lost city of an ancient civilization that suddenly vanished a thousand years ago. Now Nora is leading an expedition into a harsh, remote corner of Utah’s canyon country. Searching for her father and his glory, Nora begins to unravel the greatest riddle of American archeology.
24. When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka, 2002
This novel paints a portrait of the Japanese internment camps unlike any we have ever seen. With intensity and precision, Otsuka uses a single family to evoke the deracination “both physical and emotional” of a generation of Japanese Americans. In five chapters, each flawlessly executed from a different point of view “the mother receiving the order to evacuate; the daughter on the long train ride to the camp; the son in the desert encampment; the family’s return to their home; and the bitter release of the father after more than four years in captivity” she has created a small tour de force.
25. Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer, 2003
Jon Krakauer’s literary reputation rests on insightful chronicles of lives conducted at the outer limits. Here, he shifts his focus from extremes of physical adventure to extremes of religious belief within our own borders. At the core of his book is an appalling double murder committed by two Mormon Fundamentalist brothers, Ron and Dan Lafferty, who insist they received a revelation from God commanding them to kill their blameless victims. Note: this is non-fiction.
26. Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston, 2004
One of the most extraordinary survival stories ever told – Aron Ralston’s searing account of his six days trapped in one of the most remote spots in America, and how one inspired act of bravery brought him home. It started out as a simple hike in the Utah canyonlands on a warm Saturday afternoon. For Aron Ralston, a twenty-seven-year-old mountaineer and outdoorsman, a walk into the remote Blue John Canyon was a chance to get a break from a winter of solo climbing Colorado’s highest and toughest peaks. Note: this is a memoir.
27. Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith by Martha N. Beck, 2005
As “Mormon royalty” within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Martha Beck was raised in a home frequented by the Church’s high elders in an existence framed by the strictest code of conduct. As an adult, she moved to the east coast, outside of her Mormon enclave for the first time in her life. When her son was born with Down syndrome, Martha and her husband left their graduate programs at Harvard to return to Utah. Note: this a memoir.
28. Eating Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild by Ellen Meloy, 2005
Long believed to be disappearing and possibly even extinct, the Southwestern bighorn sheep of Utah’s canyonlands have made a surprising comeback. Naturalist Ellen Meloy tracks a band of these majestic creatures through backcountry hikes, downriver floats, and travels across the Southwest. Alone in the wilderness, Meloy chronicles her communion with the bighorns and laments the growing severance of man from nature, a severance that she feels has left us spiritually hungry. Note: this is non-fiction.
29. The King’s English: Adventures of an Independent Bookseller by Betsy Burton, 2005
Betsy Burton, owner of The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, has been a bookseller for nearly thirty years, and a passionate book lover all her life. Her modestly sized yet widely respected shop has hosted authors such as Isabel Allende, Jon Krakauer, Margaret Atwood and Octavio Paz, and she has built a reputation as a passionate purveyor of the written word. Note: this is a memoir.
30. Cage of Stars by Jacquelyn Mitchard, 2006
12-year-old Veronica Swan’s idyllic life in a close-knit Mormon community is shattered when her two younger sisters are brutally murdered. Although her parents find the strength to forgive the deranged killer, Scott Early, Veronica cannot do the same. Years later, she sets out alone to avenge her sisters’ deaths, dropping her identity and severing ties in the process.
31. Escape by Carolyn Jessop, 2007
When she was eighteen years old, Carolyn Jessop was coerced into an arranged marriage with a total stranger: a man thirty-two years her senior. Merril Jessop already had three wives. But arranged plural marriages were an integral part of Carolyn’s heritage: She was born into and raised in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the radical offshoot of the Mormon Church that had settled in small communities along the Arizona-Utah border. Note: this is a memoir.
32. On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape by Jared Farmer, 2008
Shrouded in the lore of legendary Indians, Mt. Timpanogos beckons the urban populace of Utah. And yet, no ‘Indian’ legend graced the mount until Mormon settlers conjured it – once they had displaced the local Indians, the Utes, from their actual landmark, Utah Lake. This tells the story of this curious shift. It is a quintessentially American story about the fraught process of making oneself ‘native’ in a strange land. But it is also a complex tale of how cultures confer meaning on the environment. Note: this is non-fiction.
33. The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff, 2008
It is 1875, and Ann Eliza Young has recently separated from her powerful husband, Brigham Young, prophet and leader of the Mormon Church. Expelled and an outcast, Ann Eliza embarks on a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. A rich account of a family’s polygamous history is revealed, including how a young woman became a plural wife. Soon after Ann Eliza’s story begins, a second exquisite narrative unfolds – a tale of murder involving a polygamist family in present-day Utah.
34. The Last Cowgirl by Jana Richman, 2008
Dickie Sinfield was seven years old when her father decided to become a cowboy and move his family from their comfortable suburban home to a small run-down ranch in Clayton, Utah. From her first stock show to the day she turns eighteen and flees for the comforts of the city, Dickie bucks the cattle-ranching lifestyle and yearns for manicured lawns, housebroken pets, and neighborhood playmates.
35. Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs by Elissa Wall, 2008
Stolen Innocence is the gripping New York Times bestselling memoir of Elissa Wall, the courageous former member of Utah’s infamous FLDS polygamist sect whose powerful courtroom testimony helped convict controversial sect leader Warren Jeffs in September 2007. At once shocking, heartbreaking, and inspiring, Wall’s story of subjugation and survival exposes the darkness at the root of this rebel offshoot of the Mormon faith. Note: this is a memoir.
36. The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale, 2009
Mormon housewife Becky Jack is seven months pregnant with her fourth child when she meets celebrity hearththrob Felix Callahan. Twelve hours, one elevator ride, and one alcohol-free dinner later, something has happened… though nothing has happened. It isn’t sexual. It isn’t even quite love. But a month later Felix shows up in Salt Lake City to visit and before they know what’s hit them, Felix and Becky are best friends.
37. The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession by Allison Hoover Bartlett, 2009
A compelling narrative set within the strange and genteel world of rare-book collecting: the true story of an infamous book thief, his victims, and the man determined to catch him. Rare-book theft is even more widespread than fine-art theft. Most thieves, of course, steal for profit. John Charles Gilkey steals purely for the love of books. In an attempt to understand him better, journalist Allison Hoover Bartlett plunged herself into the world of book lust. Note: this is non-fiction.
38. Latter-Day Cipher by Latayne C. Scott, 2009
When rebellious Utah socialite Kirsten Young is found murdered in Provo Canyon with strange markings carved into her flesh and a note written in a 19th Century code, questions arise about the old laws of the Mormon Church. Journalist Selonnah Zee is assigned the story, which quickly takes on a life of its own. Even before the first murder is solved, several more victims appear, each one more mysterious than the last.
39. The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall, 2010
Golden Richards, husband to four wives, father to twenty-eight children, is having the mother of all midlife crises. His construction business is failing, his family has grown into an overpopulated mini-dukedom beset with insurrection and rivalry, and he is done in with grief: due to the accidental death of a daughter and the stillbirth of a son, he has come to doubt the capacity of his own heart.
40. Forty Days at Kamas (The Kamas Trilogy #1) by Preston Fleming, 2010
Kamas, Utah. 2024. In the totalitarian dystopia that America has become after the Unionist Party’s rise to power, the American West contains vast Restricted Zones dotted with ghost towns, scattered military garrisons and corrective labor camps where the regime disposes of its real and suspected enemies. Kamas is one such camp. On a frigid March night, a former businessman from Pittsburgh, Paul Wagner, arrives at a labor camp in Utah’s Kamas Valley, a dozen miles east of the deserted resort town of Park City, which prisoners are dismantling as part of a massive recycling project.
41. The Sister Wife (Brides of Gabriel #1) by Diane Noble, 2010
An unlikely shipboard romance occurs in 1840 between a wealthy young Mormon convert from England, Mary Rose Ashley, traveling with her family from England to America, and Gabriel MacKay, one of the builders and designers of the new Cunard line who is evaluating the clipper ship’s performance. Married on board, the newlyweds make their way to the new Mormon settlement in Nauvoo, Illinois and are just settling in when Prophet Joseph Smith receives a revelation from God about polygamy. Note: part of a series in which a family is moving west towards Salt Lake Valley.
42. For Time and Eternity (Sister Wife #1) by Allison Pittman, 2010
All Camilla Deardon knows of the Mormons camping nearby is the songs she hears floating on the breeze. Then she meets one of them – a young man named Nathan Fox. Never did she imagine he would be so handsome, so charming, especially after Mama and Papa’s warnings to stay away. Though she knows she should obey her parents, Camilla can’t refuse her heart. But even Nathan’s promises cannot prepare her for what she will face in Utah.
43. Hidden Wives by Claire Avery, 2010
Fifteen-year-old Sara and her beautiful sister, Rachel, are too young to legally drive a car but are approaching spinsterhood in Utah’s secret polygamist Blood of the Lamb community. Having long since reached the age of preparedness, they will soon be married off to much older men chosen by the hidden sects revered Prophet. As Sara, chosen to become her uncle’s fifth wife, grows more distraught over her impending incestuous marriage, she begins to scrutinize the faith she has followed blindly her entire life.
44. Prophet’s Prey by Sam Brower, 2011
From the private investigator who cracked open the case that led to the arrest of Warren Jeffs, the maniacal prophet of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), comes the page-turning, horrifying story of how a rogue sect used sex, money, and power disguised under a facade of religion to further criminal activities and a madman’s vision. Note: this is non-fiction.
45. Finding Everett Ruess: The Life and Unsolved Disappearance of a Legendary Wilderness Explorer by David Roberts, 2011
Finding Everett Ruess is the definitive biography of the artist, writer, and eloquent celebrator of the wilderness whose bold solo explorations of the American West and mysterious disappearance in the Utah desert at age 20 have earned him a large and devoted cult following. More than 75 years after his vanishing, Ruess stirs the kinds of passion and speculation accorded such legendary doomed American adventurers as Chris McCandless and Amelia Earhart. Note: this is non-fiction.
46. The Rope (Anna Pigeon #17) by Nevada Barr, 2012
In the latest of the bestselling novels featuring Anna Pigeon, Nevada Barr gathers together the many strings of Anna’s past and finally reveals the story that her many fans have been long asking for. In 1995 and 35 years old, fresh off the bus from New York City and nursing a broken heart, Anna Pigeon takes a decidedly unglamorous job as a seasonal employee of the Glen Canyon National Recreational Area. On her day off, Anna goes hiking into the park never to return. Her co-workers think she’s simply moved on—her cabin is cleaned out and her things gone.
47. Byuck by Theric Jepson, 2012
At one of the most conservative colleges in the country – Brigham Young University, where both angst and premarital sex are verboten – returned missionary David Them and his flamboyantly Texan roommate Curses Olai set out to pen a rock opera about the ultimate quest for the twentysomething Mormon male: avoiding matrimony. There’s just one problem. Dave’s best friend since age five, lacrosse player Martha ‘Referee’ Plantree, is a girl – and Ref is on a quest of her own.
48. True Sisters by Sandra Dallas, 2012
In 1856, Mormon converts, encouraged by Brigham Young himself, and outfitted with two-wheeled handcarts, set out on foot from Iowa City to Salt Lake City, the promised land. The Martin Handcart Company, a ragtag group of weary families headed for Zion, is the last to leave on this 1,300-mile journey. Three companies that left earlier in the year have completed their trek successfully, but for the Martin Company the trip proves disastrous. True Sisters tells the story of four women from the British Isles traveling in this group.
49. When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams, 2012
Terry Tempest Williams’s mother told her: “I am leaving you all my journals, but you must promise me you won’t look at them until after I’m gone.” Readers of Williams’s iconic and unconventional memoir, Refuge, well remember that mother. She was one of a large Mormon clan in northern Utah who developed cancer as a result of the nuclear testing in nearby Nevada. It was a shock to Williams to discover that her mother had kept journals. Note: this is a memoir.
50. Sugarhouse: Turning the Neighborhood Crack House into Our Home Sweet Home by Matthew Batt, 2012
When a season of ludicrous loss tests the mettle of their marriage, Matthew Batt and his wife decide not to call it quits. They set their sights instead on the purchase of a dilapidated house in the Sugarhouse section of Salt Lake City. With no homesteading experience and a full-blown quarter-life crisis on their hands, these perpetual grad students/waiters/nonprofiteers decide to seek salvation through renovation. Note: this is a memoir.
51. My Story by Elizabeth Smart, 2013
For the first time, ten years after her abduction from her Salt Lake City bedroom, Elizabeth Smart reveals how she survived and the secret to forging a new life in the wake of a brutal crime. On June 5, 2002, fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Smart, the daughter of a close-knit Mormon family, was taken from her home in the middle of the night by religious fanatic, Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee. She was kept chained, dressed in disguise, repeatedly raped, and told she and her family would be killed if she tried to escape. Note: this is a memoir.
52. The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family by Josh Hanagarne, 2013
Josh Hanagarne couldn’t be invisible if he tried. Although he wouldn’t officially be diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome until his freshman year of high school, Josh was six years old and onstage in a school Thanksgiving play when he first began exhibiting symptoms. By the time he was twenty, the young Mormon had reached his towering adult height of 6’7″ when – while serving on a mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints – his Tourette’s tics escalated to nightmarish levels. Note: this is a memoir.
53. The Bishop’s Wife (Linda Wallheim Mystery #1) by Mette Ivie Harrison, 2014
Linda Wallheim is a devout Mormon, the mother of five boys and the wife of a bishop. But Linda is increasingly troubled by her church’s structure and secrecy, especially as a disturbing situation takes shape in her ward. One cold winter night, a young wife and mother named Carrie Helm disappears, leaving behind everything she owns. Carrie’s husband, Jared, claims his wife has always been unstable and that she has abandoned the family, but Linda doesn’t trust him.
54. The Lincoln Myth (Cotton Malone #9) by Steve Berry, 2014
September 1861: All is not as it seems. With these cryptic words, a shocking secret passed down from president to president comes to rest in the hands of Abraham Lincoln. And as the first bloody clashes of the Civil War unfold, Lincoln alone must decide how best to use this volatile knowledge: save thousands of American lives, or keep the young nation from being torn apart forever? The present: In Utah, the fabled remains of Mormon pioneers whose nineteenth-century expedition across the desert met with a murderous end have been uncovered.
55. The Never-Open Desert Diner (Ben Jones #1) by James Anderson, 2015
Ben Jones lives a quiet, hardscrabble life, working as a trucker on Route 117, a little-travelled road in a remote region of the Utah desert which serves as a haven for fugitives and others looking to hide from the world. For many of the desert’s inhabitants, Ben’s visits are their only contact with the outside world, and the only landmark worth noting is a once-famous roadside diner that hasn’t opened in years. Ben’s routine is turned upside down when he stumbles across a beautiful woman named Claire playing a cello in an abandoned housing development.
56. To Helvetica and Back (Dangerous Type Mystery #1) by Paige Shelton, 2016
Star City, Utah is known for its slopes and its powder. But nestled in the valley of this ski resort town is a side street full of shops that specialize in the simple charms of earlier eras. One of those shops is the Rescued Word, where Chester Henry and his adult granddaughter Clare lovingly repair old typewriters and restore old books. Who ever thought their quaint store would hold the key to some modern-day trouble?
57. The Desert Sky Before Us by Anne Valente, 2019
When Billie is released from a correctional facility in Decatur, her sister Rhiannon is there to meet her, even though the two haven’t seen each other in months. Painful secrets and numerous unspoken betrayals linger between them – but most agonizing is the sudden passing of their mother, a renowned paleontologist. Rhiannon and Billie must overcome their differences as they set off on a road trip west, following the breadcrumb-trail of their late mother’s scavenger hunt. The sisters know the trail will end in Utah at the famous Cleveland-Lloyd Quarry, where their mother spent her career.
What do you think of these books set in Utah?
Have you been to Utah? Do you call Utah home? Know some great books set in Utah that should be added to this list? What are your favorite books set in Utah? I’d love to hear more about your tips for books set in Utah in the comments below!
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