March 6, 2020


I have kind of an odd reason for choosing Ohio next. First of all, I should say that I read more books than just those that I read for Reading My Way. And I am working on Book Riot’s Read Harder 2020 challenge. As I looked at books for that challenge, I took note of those that would work for Reading My Way as well. Surprisingly, I found several that were set in Ohio. Some, like Beloved by Toni Morrison, were already on my Want To Read list. Most were happy coincidences. Some may turn out to not work well for getting to know Ohio.

I’ll make a note in the list below as to what task the books qualified for if they were part of the Read Harder challenge.

Most of what I know of Ohio pertains to Columbus, the capital, where my college roommate grew up. She grew up in a middle class neighborhood, but several of her friends were from Upper Arlington, the rich part of town. And Columbus has strong German ties, with a German Village neighborhood, which my half-German mother always enjoyed visiting.

My general sense of Ohio, however, is colored by the fact that I was usually traveling through the state–it was never really a destination in itself. Hopefully, we’ll find some reasons to stay–much as we did for the other “fly-over” states we’ve done!

There seem to be a lot of mystery/thrillers set in Ohio, which can be hit or miss when it comes to setting for this challenge–they usually do a good job with the general atmosphere, but not necessarily with giving the reader a good feel for the location or people. I read two of Vivien Chien’s Noodle Shop Mystery series, which are set in Cleveland’s suburbs, but other than the Asia Village shopping center where the noodle shop is, the settings are not great, and definitely not on the level of what I want for this challenge–enjoyable reads, but not for here. (The two I read, however, (#1 & #4) both fit Task 3 of Read Harder 2020 – Read a mystery where the victim(s) is not a woman.) I’m more optimistic about Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo, and the fact that it mentions the intersection of the Amish and “English” communities. I’m also considering Jonathan Valin’s Harry Stoner series, which is set in Cincinnati, though it would definitely NOT work for that particular task of no female victims–from what I’ve seen, Valin’s books may be too graphic for me.

UPDATE: Well. 2020 turned out to be… challenging. And though I read around 175 books this year, I mostly stopped reading books for Reading My Way. I wasn’t able to concentrate on the more challenging books that I often pick for this. Much of what I read this year was much “lighter” than normal for me. And almost none of it worked for this challenge in general or for Ohio in particular.

I had finished reading several of the books listed here, and had started writing my reviews, but I wasn’t able to concentrate to write. So. I’ll try to clean up what I have and post the ones I did. I’m currently reading Ohio by Stephen Markley, and I notice that I don’t seem to have a Young Adult/Young Readers book listed (although I think The Rust Maidens and I Am Number Four are both listed as YA).

The List:

Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987) – This one is probably a stretch for Ohio. Ohio is where Sethe escapes to, but much of the story is that of her life as a slave, which was not in Ohio. The Goodreads page for the books lists the setting as Ohio, Kentucky, and Delaware. I may decide not to review this for this challenge, but I’m adding it to the list for now. (Works for Task 2 of Read Harder 2020 – Read a retelling of a classic of the canon, fairytale, or myth by an author of color. Retells Euripides’ Medea.) UPDATE: I am changing this to a different book by Toni Morrison.

Sula by Toni Morrison (1973) – “This rich and moving novel traces the lives of two Black heroines from their close-knit childhood in a small Ohio town, through their sharply divergent paths of womanhood, to their ultimate confrontation and reconciliation” (from the Goodreads publisher’s blurb). I’m not sure how I missed this when I was looking at Ohio and Toni Morrison (#facepalm), but not only is this one set in Ohio, by a Black author, but it deals with the “leave vs stay” theme that we’ve discussed a number of times during this challenge.

Ohio by Stephen Markley (2018) – “One sweltering night in 2013, four former high school classmates converge on their hometown in northeastern Ohio. … Set over the course of a single evening, Ohio toggles between the perspectives of these unforgettable characters as they unearth dark secrets, revisit old regrets and uncover—and compound—bitter betrayals. Before the evening is through, these narratives converge masterfully to reveal a mystery so dark and shocking it will take your breath away” (from the Goodreads‘ publisher’s blurb). The town in the book is said to be based on Mt. Vernon, located about 40 miles northeast of Columbus.

The Trees by Conrad Richter (1940) – “Conrad Richter’s trilogy of novels The Trees (1940), The Fields (1946), and The Town (1950) trace the transformation of Ohio from wilderness to farmland to the site of modern industrial civilization, all in the lifetime of one character” (from the Goodreads publisher’s blurb). This first novel sees the Luckett family settle in the deep woods of frontier Ohio in the late 1700s. We may follow this with the rest of the trilogy. (Works for Task 10 of Read Harder 2020 – Read a book that takes place in a rural setting.)

The New American Splendor: From Off the Streets of Cleveland by Harvey Pekar (1991) – Harvey Pekar and his American Splendor series are credited with inspiring interest in graphic novels for adults. Since I’ve been reading a number of graphic novels lately, and since this is set in Cleveland, I couldn’t resist adding an anthology of American Splendor to this list for Ohio. (Works for Task 4 of Read Harder 2020 – Read a graphic memoir.) There’s also an anthology called Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland, published posthumously, which includes historical bits and landmarks from Cleveland. I may take a look at this one as well. UPDATE: I read this and Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland. Of the two, I enjoyed Cleveland more, partly because it was more focused, with an actual storyline. As one might expect, it gives an interesting, though simplified, history of Cleveland, as well as anecdotes from Pekar’s life there–it works pretty well for this challenge.

The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste (2018) – “It’s the summer of 1980 in Cleveland, Ohio, and Phoebe Shaw and her best friend Jacqueline have just graduated high school, only to confront an ugly, uncertain future. … The girls Phoebe and Jacqueline have grown up with are changing. It starts with footprints of dark water on the sidewalk. Then, one by one, the girls’ bodies wither away, their fingernails turning to broken glass, and their bones exposed like corroded metal beneath their flesh” (from Goodreads publisher’s blurb). (Works for Task 22 of Read Harder 2020 – Read a horror book published by an indie press.)

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (2017) – “Explores the weight of long-held secrets and the ferocious pull of motherhood-and the danger of believing that planning and following the rules can avert disaster, or heartbreak” (from the Goodreads publisher’s blurb). An unconventional mother-daughter duo settle in a very conventional neighborhood, and don’t shy away from expressing their opinions, even when they cause waves.


Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (2014) – Ng’s debut novel, set in the 1970s in small town Ohio, is a family drama/thriller. Lydia, the favorite child of a Chinese-American family, turns up dead, destroying, “the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together, [and] tumbling them into chaos” (from the Goodreads publisher’s blurb). I’ll probably only read one of the Ng books, but I’m not sure which one yet. I have several set in and around Cleveland, so I’m leaning toward this one.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (2016) – A modern American retelling of Pride and Prejudice, set in Cincinnati, Ohio, complete with cross-fit, yoga, and paleo diets. It’s part of the Austen Project Series of modern retellings, but doesn’t qualify for Task 2 of the 2020 Read Harder challenge, as the author is white. However, it’s set in Cincinnati, and I’m hoping Sittenfeld captures the city and not just the modern timeframe.

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore (2010) – This is the first in the Lorien Legacies series, which tells about the alien survivors of the planet Lorien, who escaped their planet’s destruction by hiding among us–and, much like Superman, they look like us but hide supernatural powers. However, the alien race who destroyed Lorien are hunting them. Nine arrived on Earth; the first three have been found and killed. The narrator is the next. I will honestly be surprised if the Ohio setting really comes through in this, but we’ll see. UPDATE: Well, I was correct about the setting being less than ideal for this challenge. This was an okay book, but not for here.

Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo (2009) – This is the first in Castillo’s Kate Burkholder series. Burkholder is the Police Chief of Painters Mill, Ohio, and the book “illuminates the divide between the Amish and English worlds” (from the Goodreads publisher’s blurb). When faced with a murder which is disturbingly similar to several cold cases from 16 years ago, Burkholder struggles with the secret she keeps about those cases.

Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. Jenny Gerhardt by Dreiser & Green Bay Tree by Bromfield. In case you ever pass through Ohio in your reading again.


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