Gripping, Midwest-Based Reads

By Laura Anne Bird

Three authors who call our literary city home have launched new novels, and they’re all worth adding to your TBR (“to-be-read”) pile.


Good for: If Hollywood makes you swoon.

Garvin’s humorous, delightful and tear-jerking fifth novel centers on the inimitable Poppy Lively, a single mom from Madison who’s just lost her life savings, thanks to a crooked tax accountant. Bankrupt and coffee- stained, Poppy takes off in her minivan for Los Angeles, where an old flame finds her a lucrative job on a film set.

Poppy is positive that her can-do Midwestern attitude will carry her through this glitzy new world, but her earnestness is not universally adored. Readers will cheer as Poppy grapples with stereotypes, dashed dreams, awkward romance and back-lot intrigue.

“I see Wisconsin as the epitome of Midwestern loveliness,” Garvin says of Poppy’s background. “In my view, we are genuine people who want to do right by others. It’s the perfect juxtaposition with Hollywood, where there are big players trying to get what they want. To me, watching these two bubbles meet is very funny.”

“I KNOW WHAT YOU DID” by Cayce Osborne

Good for: If psychological suspense is your jam.

Carve out a few hours to read Osborne’s gripping debut, because you won’t be able to put it down.

Petal Woznewski is a reclusive New Yorker whose indulgent, carefully constructed life shields her from sorrow and traumatic memories. When she discovers she’s the main character of a bestselling new novel, she knows her past has finally caught up with her. Petal flees to her home- town of Madison to solve the mystery of who wrote the story and why.

A graduate of West High School and UW-Madison, Osborne weaves local landmarks into her book. “Although the tone is ominous, I don’t see Madison as an ominous place,” she says. “My son called aspens ‘skeleton trees’ when he was little. ‘The skeleton trees have holes, and the holes are eyes,’ he told me once. That creepy phrase stuck in my brain, and years later found its way into this novel.”

“WINE PEOPLE” by Michelle Wildgen

Good for: If you love good food and a glass of bubbly.

Rich with sumptuous detail, Wildgen’s fourth novel introduces readers to Wren and Thessaly, two highly competi- tive young women who work for a wine distributor in New York City. They travel the world, honing their palates and relishing the good life, until their company begins to implode. Can they forge a new path as unlikely allies?

Inspired by Wildgen’s three years as a waiter and host at L’Etoile (“I still get nostalgic over the smell of a Sungold tomato because we served so many of them there,” she says), “Wine People” transports readers to Europe, California and even Madison, offering a moving story of friendship and ambition. As for her favorite local haunts, Wildgen says, “I love Table Wine, Mint Mark and Ahan — and Greenbush and Salvatore’s for pizza. I love Lombardino’s for … [their] specials and Osteria Papavero for their fettuccine con ‘nduja and budino di caramello.”

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