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Ten Great Books set in SAN FRANCISCO

30th January 2021

San Francisco is the latest destination in our ‘Great books set in…’ series. Ten great books set in San Francisco.

The Summer of Love. Golden Gate Bridge. Alcatraz. Cable cars. Fisherman’s Wharf. Chinatown. Sexual freedom. Silicon Valley.

So many iconic images and eras that help to define this haven of liberal mores on the west coast of the US, and so many books that help to evoke the literary spirit of this great Californian city. Here are just ten from the TripFiction database to take with you on holiday to San Francisco – or to pick up at home for some vicarious travelling – to enjoy a little literary wanderlust.

The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth

The Golden Gate is a brilliantly achieved novel written in verse.

Set in the 1980s in the affluence and sunshine of California’s Silicon Valley, it is an exuberant and witty story of twenty-somethings looking for love, pleasure and the meaning of life.

It was awarded the 1986 British Airways Commonwealth Poetry Prize

China Dolls by Lisa See

It’s 1938 and the exclusive Oriental nightclub in San Francisco’s Forbidden City is holding auditions for showgirls. In the dark, scandalous glamour of the club, three girls from very different backgrounds stumble into each other lives.

All the girls have secrets. Grace, an American-born Chinese girl, has fled the Midwest and an abusive father. Helen is from a Chinese family which has deep roots in San Francisco’s Chinatown. And, as both her friends know, Ruby is Japanese passing as Chinese.

Then, in a heartbeat, everything changes. The Japanese attack Pearl Harbor and paranoia, suspicion, and a shocking act of betrayal, threaten to destroy their lives.

A Message to Your Heart by Niamh Greene

Niamh Greene’s delightful fifth novel A Message to Your Heart is an intriguing and heart-warming story for fans of the wise humour of Catherine Alliott and the modern day fairytales of Cecelia Ahern. Throw in Niamh’s unique brand of heart-warming storytelling and readers are in for a real treat.

Frankie Rowley is far too practical to believe in karma or fate … and her family and friends reckon that work-obsessed Frankie’s strongest relationship is with her phone. (And why not? At least it never judges her for cancelling dinner for the umpteenth time.)

When she loses that precious phone on a business trip to San Francisco, Frankie is forced to hire a replacement. Soon she’s getting texts meant for someone else – a woman called Aimee who seems like a lot of fun, and whose family clearly loves to keep in touch – and whose presence in her life is the last thing Frankie needs.

Frankie goes on the warpath, but she is in for some surprises when she blunders into Aimee’s world. And the biggest surprise of all is how your life can be changed forever by losing a phone. Frankie may not believe in karma or fate, but suddenly it looks like they’ve got her number …

The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan

LuLing Young is in her eighties, and finally beginning to feel the effects of old age. Trying to hold on to the evaporating past, she begins to write down all that she can remember of her life as a girl in China. Meanwhile, her daughter Ruth, a ghostwriter for authors of self-help books, is losing the ability to speak up for herself in front of the man she lives with. LuLing can only look on, helpless: her prickly relationship with her daughter does not make it easy to discuss such matters. In turn, Ruth has begun to suspect that something is wrong with her mother: she says so many confusing and contradictory things.

Ruth decides to move in with her ailing mother, and while tending to her discovers the story LuLing wrote in Chinese, of her tumultuous life growing up in a remote mountain village known as Immortal Heart. LuLing tells of the secrets passed along by her mute nursemaid, Precious Auntie; of a cave where dragon bones are mined and where Peking Man was discovered; of the crumbling ravine known as the End of the World, where Precious Auntie’s bones lie, and of the curse that LuLing believes she released through betrayal. Like layers of sediment being removed, each page unfolds into an even greater mystery: Who was Precious Auntie, whose suicide changed the path of LuLing’s life?

Set in contemporary San Francisco and pre-war China, ‘The Bonesetter’s Daughter’ is an excavation of the human spirit. With great warmth and humour, Amy Tan gives us a mesmerising story of a mother and daughter discovering together that what they share in their bones through history and heredity is priceless beyond measure.

Cinnamon Kiss by Walter Mosley

It is the Summer of Love, and Easy Rawlins is contemplating robbing an armoured car. it’s further outside the law than Easy has ever travelled, but his daughter needs medical treatment that costs far more than Easy can borrow or earn. Then a friend offers a job that might solve Easy’s problem without risking jail time. He has to track the disappearance of an eccentric, prominent attorney and his assistant, the beautiful “Cinnaomon” Cargill. Easy can tell the story is more complex than he is being told, but his need overcomes all concern, so Easy plunges into unfamiliar territory.

Market Street by Anita Hughes

Cassie Blake is the heiress to Fenton’s, San Francisco’s most exclusive department store. After the revelation of her husband Aidan’s affair with a student, she searches out her friend Alexis at Presidio Heights mansion, and has some soul searching to do about the future of her marriage. Meanwhile the opportunity presents itself to preside over a gourmet food establishment, yet another decision to make about her future….

Unlucky 13 by James Patterson

When two dead bodies are found inside a wrecked car on the Golden Gate Bridge, Detective Lindsay Boxer doubts that it will be anything as simple as a traffic accident.

The scene is more gruesome than anything she has seen before. It definitely wasn’t the crash that killed these people.

While Lindsay starts to piece this case together, she gets a call she wasn’t expecting. Sightings of her ex-colleague-turned-ruthless-killer Mackie Morales have been reported.

Wanted for three murders, Mackie has been in hiding since she escaped from custody. But now she’s ready to return to San Francisco and pay a visit to some old friends.

Valencia by Michelle Tea

Valencia is the fast-paced account of one girl’s search for love and high times in the drama-filled dyke world of San Francisco’s Mission District. Michelle Tea records a year lived in a world of girls: there’s knife-wielding Marta, who introduces Michelle to a new world of radical sex: Willa, Michelle’s tormented poet-girlfriend: Iris, the beautiful boy-dyke who ran away from the South in a dust cloud of drama: and Iris’s ex, Magdalena Squalor, to whom Michelle turns when Iris breaks her heart.

The Deception Artist by Fayette Fox

Who needs the truth?

Eight-year-old Ivy has a vivid imagination and tells lies so that people will like her. With her brother, Brice, in hospital, life at home feels unsettled and things become even more strained after her father loses his job, along with his sense of purpose. Ivy’s parents might divorce and her best friend hates her but, ever creative, she abandons her escapist fantasies and determines to uncover the truth.

In this sharp and funny literary debut set in Northern California during the 1980s recession, Fayette Fox delves deep into the dark heart of an ordinary American family – and finds out that make-believe isn’t just for kids.

Take A Look At Me Now by Miranda Dickinson

What a difference a day makes…

Nell Sullivan has always been known as ‘Miss Five-Year Plan’. But when she finds herself jobless and newly single on the same day, Nell decides it is time to stop planning and start taking chances.

Nell blows her redundancy cheque on a trip of lifetime to a place where anything is possible – San Francisco. There she meets a host of colourful characters, including the intriguing and gorgeous Max. Very soon the city begins to feel like Nell’s second home.

But when it’s time to return to London, will she leave the ‘new Nell’ behind? And can the magic of San Francisco continue to sparkle thousands of miles away?

Any we’ve missed, please enter them in the Comments below!

Tony for the TripFiction Team

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  1. User: Charles Lambert

    Posted on: 24/03/2021 at 11:21 am

    You can’t talk about books set in San Francisco without mentioning Armistead Maupin’s wonderful, ground-breaking (and occasionally heart-breaking) series, Tales of the City.


    1 Comment

    • User: Tina Hartas

      Posted on: 24/03/2021 at 12:02 pm

      Actually, that is VERY true!!! Thank you