Books Set In North Carolina: North Carolina Novels
This list of books set in North Carolina will transport you to the diverse landscapes of the state; from the miles of Atlantic coastline to the forests sprawling across the Blue Ridge Mountains and Great Smoky Mountains of the Appalachian range.
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Books Set In North Carolina: Introduction
The list below spans from classics through to contemporary fiction and includes works from many notable North Carolina authors. There are titles by local novelist Kaye Gibbons (including Ellen Foster and Charms for the Easy Life) and multiple titles from the fourteen book Mitford Years series by Jan Karon (including At Home in Mitford, A Light in the Window and These High, Green Hills).
It would impossible to discuss books set in North Carolina without mentioning Nicholas Sparks, who is a New Bern resident and has set many of his bestselling romance titles in the state. The list below includes The Notebook, Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John and Every Breath; all of which (with the exception of the last title) have been adapted into movies.
Charles Frazier was born in Asheville and won the National Book Award in 1997 for his historical novel Cold Mountain, which was followed by the publication of Thirteen Moons. David Sedaris was raised in Raleigh, and explores his upbringing in some of the short stories in Me Talk Pretty One Day. Lee Smith is based in Hillsborough and wrote On Agate Hill and Guests on Earth, with the latter based on the life of Zelda Fitzgerald.
Sarah Addison Allen is based in Asheville and combines magical realism and romance in small town settings in her novels such as Garden Spells, The Sugar Queen, The Girl Who Chased the Moon and The Peach Keeper. Ron Rash grew up in Boiling Springs and his novels Serena, The Cove and The Risen have all appeared on New York Times Bestseller lists. And finally, Delia Owens debut novel Where The Crawdads Sing is set around the fictional Barkley Cove and has sold over 4.5 million copies, topping numerous bestseller lists.
Books Set In North Carolina: The Shortlist
If you’re short on time and want to skip the longer list below, these are my picks for books set in North Carolina:
- The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
- Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
- The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert
- Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
- Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain
- Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Books Set In North Carolina
1. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs, 1861
A haunting, evocative recounting of her life as a slave in North Carolina, and her final escape and emancipation, Jacobs’ narrative, written between 1853 and 1858 and published in 1861, is one of the most important books ever written documenting the traumas and horrors of slavery in the antebellum South.
2. Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe, 1929
Look Homeward, Angel is Wolfe’s first novel, and is considered a highly autobiographical American Bildungsroman. The character of Eugene Gant is generally believed to be a depiction of Wolfe himself. The novel covers the span of time from Gant’s birth to the age of 19. The setting is the fictional town and state of Altamont, Catawba, a fictionalization of his home town, Asheville, North Carolina.
3. If Morning Ever Comes by Anne Tyler, 1964
Note: this is set in Sandhill, North Carolina.
Ben Joe is the only boy in a family of six sisters, Mama and Gram. He is studying for a law degree in New York when he hears his eldest sister Joanne has left her husband and returned home with her baby girl. Out of a mixture of homesickness and duty Ben Joe returns to the home in which he has always felt like an outsider.
4. Christy by Catherine Marshall, 1967
Note: this is set between North Carolina and Tennessee.
The train taking nineteen-year-old teacher Christy Huddleston from her home in Asheville, North Carolina, might as well be transporting her to another world. The Smoky Mountain community of Cutter Gap feels suspended in time, trapped by poverty, superstitions, and century-old traditions. But as Christy struggles to find acceptance in her new home, some see her — and her one-room school — as a threat to their way of life. Her faith is challenged and her heart is torn between two strong men with conflicting views about how to care for the families of the Cove.
5. Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons, 1987
Note: Gibbons was raised in Rocky Mount, North Carolina which inspired this setting.
“When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy. I would figure out this or that way and run it down through my head until it got easy.” So begins the tale of Ellen Foster, the brave and engaging heroine of Kay Gibbons’s first novel. An eleven-year-old heroine tells her unforgettable story with honesty, perceptivity, humour, and unselfconscious heroism.
6. Ferris Beach by Jill McCorkle, 1990 (YA)
Katie Tennyson Burns is caught at the stage of life when everything is both wonderful and terrible. She is caught, as well, in a struggle for her spirit – in a contest between a prim and sensible mother and a beautiful and reckless cousin. A riveting novel about the conflict between manners and freedom, between those who live by the rules and those who bend and twist them.
7. Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind by Ann B. Ross, 1990
Note: this is the first title in the 20 book Miss Julia series.
Miss Julia, a recently bereaved and newly wealthy widow, is only slightly bemused when one Hazel Marie Puckett appears at her door with a youngster in tow and unceremoniously announces that the child is the bastard son of Miss Julia’s late husband. Suddenly, this longtime church member and pillar of her small Southern community finds herself in the center of an unseemly scandal – and the guardian of a wan nine-year-old whose mere presence turns her life upside down.
8. Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons, 1993
A family without men, the Birches live gloriously offbeat lives in the lush, green backwoods of North Carolina. Radiant, headstrong Sophia and her shy, brilliant daughter, Margaret, possess powerful charms to ward off loneliness, despair, and the human misery that often beats a path to their door. And they are protected by the eccentric wisdom and muscular love of the remarkable matriarch Charlie Kate, a solid, uncompromising, self-taught healer who treats everything from boils to broken bones to broken hearts.
9. The Body Farm by Patricia Cornwell, 1994
Please note: This is the fifth novel in the Kay Scarpetta series.
The Body Farm – a research institute that tests the decomposition of corpses. Black Mountain, North Carolina: a sleepy little town where the local police deal with one homicide a year, if they’re unlucky, and where people are still getting used to the idea of locking their doors at night. But violent death is no respecter of venue, and the discovery of the corpse of an 11-year-old girl sends shock waves through the community. Dr Kay Scarpetta, Chief medical Examiner on a similar case in Virginia, is called in to apply her forensic skills to this latest atrocity, but the apparent simplicity of the case proves something of a poisoned chalice – until Scarpetta finds enlightenment through the curious pathologists’ playground known as The Body Farm.
10. At Home in Mitford (Mitford Years #1) by Jan Karon, 1994
Note: this 14 book series is set in Mitford, North Carolina.
It’s easy to feel at home in Mitford. In these high, green hills, the air is pure, the village is charming, and the people are generally lovable. Yet, Father Tim, the bachelor rector, wants something more. Enter a dog the size of a sofa who moves in and won’t go away. Add an attractive neighbor who begins wearing a path through the hedge. Now, stir in a lovable but unloved boy, a mystifying jewel theft, and a secret that’s sixty years old. Suddenly, Father Tim gets more than he bargained for. And readers get a rich comedy about ordinary people and their ordinary lives.
11. A Light in the Window (Mitford Years #2) by Jan Karon, 1995
A Light in the Window is the second installment in this enormously popular series about a small-town rector, Father Tim, and the heartwarming cast of characters surrounding him. This time Father Tim, a lifelong bachelor, finds his heart distracted by his free-spirited neighbor Cynthia, but his stomach and the rectory cash box are distracted by Edith, a wealthy widow who is wooing the rector with love potion casseroles. At every turn, including when a brooding Irish cousin decides to move in, Father Tim must decide whether he will practice what he preaches.
12. These High, Green Hills (Mitford Years #3) by Jan Karon, 1996
For years, Mitford’s sixty-something rector has been happily married to his parish. Now he’s also married to Cynthia, his vivacious next-door neighbor. For Father Tim, life in Mitford has never been so full of surprises. His wife is “aging” his already ancient kitchen walls, not to mention burning his draperies. The mountain boy he’s learned to love as his own makes a heart-rending decision. And the agony of mastering the church computer system is as boggling as the pandemonium that breaks loose when his quiet rectory becomes a nursery. All this, however, is small potatoes compared to what happens on a wilderness camping trip that sends him home a changed man.
13. The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks, 1996
Set amid the austere beauty of the North Carolina coast, The Notebook begins with the story of Noah Calhoun, a rural Southerner recently returned from the Second World War. Noah is restoring a plantation home to its former glory, and he is haunted by images of the beautiful girl he met fourteen years earlier, a girl he loved like no other. Unable to find her, yet unwilling to forget the summer they spent together, Noah is content to live with only memories, until she unexpectedly returns to his town to see him once again.
14. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, 1997
Note: this is set in Cold Mountain, North Carolina, which is part of the Blue Ridge Montains.
Based on local history & family stories passed down by Frazier’s great-great-grandfather, Cold Mountain is the tale of a wounded Confederate soldier, Inman, who walks away from the ravages of the war and back home to his prewar sweetheart, Ada. His odyssey through the devastated landscape of the soon-to-be-defeated South interweaves with Ada’s struggle to revive her father’s farm, with the help of an intrepid young drifter named Ruby. As their long-separated lives begin to converge at the close of the war, Inman and Ada confront the vastly transformed world they’ve been delivered.
15. Message in a Bottle by Nicholas Sparks, 1998
Thrown to the waves, and to fate, the bottle could have ended up anywhere. Instead, it is found just three weeks after it begins its journey. Theresa Osborne, divorced and the mother of a twelve-year-old son, picks it up during a seaside vacation from her job as a Boston newspaper columnist. Inside is a letter that opens with: “My Dearest Catherine, I miss you my darling, as I always do, but today is particularly hard because the ocean has been singing to me, and the song is that of our life together.”
16. A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks, 1999
There was a time when the world was sweeter, when the women in Beaufort, North Carolina, wore dresses, and the men donned hats, when something happened to a seventeen-year-old boy that would change his life forever. Every April, when the wind blows in from the sea and mingles with the scent of lilacs, Landon Carter remembers his last year at Beaufort High. It was 1958, and Landon had already dated a girl or two. He even swore that he had once been in love. Certainly the last person in town he thought he’d fall for was Jamie Sullivan, the daughter of the town’s Baptist minister.
17. Gap Creek by Robert Morgan, 1999
Note: this is set in the Blue Ridge mountains, along the border of North and South Carolina.
Young Julie Harmon works “hard as a man,” they say, so hard that at times she’s not sure she can stop. People depend on her to slaughter the hogs and nurse the dying. People are weak, and there is so much to do. At just seventeen she marries and moves down into the valley of Gap Creek, where perhaps life will be better.
18. Look Back All the Green Valley by Fred Chappell, 1999
Jess Kirkman returns to the North Carolina mountain town of his boyhood to tend to his ailing mother, and clean out his deceased father’s workroom. What he discovers there leads him – and the reader – on an unforgettable journey through the secret life of Jess’s father, Joe Robert, which culminates in a moment of profound mystery and comedy.
19. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, 2000
Note: only some of these short stories are partly set in North Carolina.
David Sedaris’ move to Paris from New York inspired these hilarious pieces, including the title essay, about his attempts to learn French from a sadistic teacher who declares that every day spent with you is like having a caesarean section. His family is another inspiration. ‘You Can’t Kill the Rooster’ is a portrait of his brother, who talks incessant hip-hop slang to his bewildered father. And no one hones a finer fury in response to such modern annoyances as restaurant meals presented in ludicrous towers of food and cashiers with six-inch fingernails.
20. The Fiery Cross (Outlander #5) by Diana Gabaldon, 2001
Note: the first books in the Outlander series are mainly set in Scotland, while books 5 & 6 are largely set in North Carolina.
The year is 1771, and war is coming. Jamie Fraser’s wife tells him so. Little as he wishes to, he must believe it, for hers is a gift of dreadful prophecy – a time-traveler’s certain knowledge. Claire’s unique view of the future has brought him both danger and deliverance in the past; her knowledge of the oncoming revolution is a flickering torch that may light his way through the perilous years ahead – or ignite a conflagration that will leave their lives in ashes.
21. Nights in Rodanthe by Nicholas Sparks, 2002
At forty-five, Adrienne Willis must rethink her entire life when her husband abandons her for a younger woman. Reeling with heartache and in search of a respite, she flees to the small coastal town of Rodanthe, North Carolina to tend to a friend’s inn for the weekend. But when a major storm starts moving in, it appears that Adrienne’s perfect getaway will be ruined – until a guest named Paul Flanner arrives. At fifty-four, Paul has just sold his medical practice and come to Rodanthe to escape his own shattered past. Now, with the storm closing in, two wounded people will turn to each other for comfort – and in one weekend set in motion feelings that will resonate throughout the rest of their lives.
22. The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert, 2002
Note: set in Boone, North Carolina, part of Appalachia.
In this rousing examination of contemporary American male identity, acclaimed author and journalist Elizabeth Gilbert explores the fascinating true story of Eustace Conway. In 1977, at the age of seventeen, Conway left his family’s comfortable suburban home to move to the Appalachian Mountains. For more than two decades he has lived there, making fire with sticks, wearing skins from animals he has trapped, and trying to convince Americans to give up their materialistic lifestyles and return with him back to nature. To Gilbert, Conway’s mythical character challenges all our assumptions about what it is to be a modern man in America; he is a symbol of much we feel how our men should be, but rarely are.
23. Bare Bones by Kathy Reichs, 2003
Note: this is the sixth book in the Temperance Brennan series.
It’s a summer of sizzling heat in Charlotte where Dr. Temperance Brennan, forensic anthropologist for the North Carolina medical examiner, looks forward to her first vacation in years. A romantic vacation. She’s almost out the door when the bones start appearing. A newborn’s charred remains turn up in a woodstove. A small plane crashes in a North Carolina cornfield on a sunny afternoon. Both pilot and passenger are burned beyond recognition. And what is the mysterious black substance covering the bodies? Most puzzling of all are the bones discovered at a remote farm outside Charlotte. The remains seem to be of animal origin, but Tempe is shocked when she gets them to her lab.
24. A Breath of Snow and Ashes (Outlander #6) by Diana Gabaldon, 2005
A Breath of Snow and Ashes continues the extraordinary story of 18th-century Scotsman Jamie Fraser and his 20th-century wife, Claire. The year is 1772, and on the eve of the American Revolution, the long fuse of rebellion has already been lit. Men lie dead in the streets of Boston, and in the backwoods of North Carolina, isolated cabins burn in the forest. With chaos brewing, the governor calls upon Jamie Fraser to unite the backcountry and safeguard the colony for King and Crown. But from his wife Jamie knows that three years hence the shot heard round the world will be fired, and the result will be independence – with those loyal to the King either dead or in exile.
25. Me & Emma by Elizabeth Flock, 2005
Note: set in the small town of Toast, North Carolina.
The title characters in Me & Emma are very nearly photographic opposites – 8-year-old Carrie, the raven-haired narrator, is timid and introverted, while her little sister Emma is a tow-headed powerhouse with no sense of fear. The girls live in a terrible situation: they depend on an unstable mother that has never recovered from her husband’s murder, their stepfather beats them regularly, and they must forage on their own for food. Stop here and you have a story told many times before, stories in which a young girl reveals the horrors of her childhood. Me & Emma differentiates itself with a spectacular finish, shocking the reader and turning the entire story on its head.
26. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, 2006 (YA)
Special Topics in Calamity Physics is a darkly hilarious coming-of-age novel and a richly plotted suspense tale told through the distinctive voice of its heroine, Blue van Meer. After a childhood moving from one academic outpost to another with her father (a man prone to aphorisms and meteoric affairs), Blue is clever, deadpan, and possessed of a vast lexicon of literary, political, philosophical, and scientific knowledge – and is quite the cineaste to boot. In her final year of high school at the elite (and unusual) St. Gallway School in Stockton, North Carolina, Blue falls in with a charismatic group of friends and their captivating teacher, Hannah Schneider.
27. Dear John by Nicholas Sparks, 2006
Note: this is partially set in Wilmington, North Carolina.
An angry rebel, John dropped out of school and enlisted in the Army, not knowing what else to do with his life – until he meets the girl of his dreams, Savannah. Their mutual attraction quickly grows into the kind of love that leaves Savannah waiting for John to finish his tour of duty, and John wanting to settle down with the woman who has captured his heart. But 9/11 changes everything. John feels it is his duty to re-enlist. And sadly, the long separation finds Savannah falling in love with someone else.
28. The King of Lies by John Hart, 2006
Jackson Workman Pickens – known to most as Work – mindlessly holds together his life: a failing law practice left to him when his father, Ezra, mysteriously disappeared, a distant wife, and a fragile sister, Jean, damaged by the shared past they’ve endured. And then Ezra’s body is discovered. Set to inherit his father’s fortune, Work becomes a prime suspect. But so does Jean. Fearing the worst, Work launches his own investigation, crossing paths with a power-hungry detective, a string of damning evidence, and the ugly rumors that swirl within his small, moneyed Southern town.
29. On Agate Hill by Lee Smith, 2006
A dusty box discovered in the wreckage of a once prosperous plantation on Agate Hill in North Carolina contains the remnants of an extraordinary life: diaries, letters, poems, songs, newspaper clippings, court records, marbles, rocks, dolls, and bones. It’s through these treasured mementos that we meet Molly Petree. Raised in those ruins and orphaned by the Civil War, Molly is a refugee who has no interest in self-pity. When a mysterious benefactor appears out her father’s past to rescue her, she never looks back.
30. Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier, 2006
Note: this is set in the Cherokee Nation, in present-day North Carolina.
At the age of twelve, an orphan named Will Cooper is given a horse, a key, and a map and is sent on a journey through the uncharted wilderness of the Cherokee Nation. Will is a bound boy, obliged to run a remote Indian trading post. As he fulfills his lonesome duty, Will finds a father in Bear, a Cherokee chief, and is adopted by him and his people, developing relationships that ultimately forge Will’s character. All the while, his love of Claire, the enigmatic and captivating charge of volatile and powerful Featherstone, will forever rule Will’s heart.
31. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen, 2007
The women of the Waverley family – whether they like it or not – are heirs to an unusual legacy, one that grows in a fenced plot behind their Queen Anne home on Pendland Street in Bascom, North Carolina. There, an apple tree bearing fruit of magical properties looms over a garden filled with herbs and edible flowers that possess the power to affect in curious ways anyone who eats them. For nearly a decade, 34-year-old Claire Waverley, at peace with her family inheritance, has lived in the house alone, embracing the spirit of the grandmother who raised her, ruing her mother’s unfortunate destiny and seemingly unconcerned about the fate of her rebellious sister, Sydney, who freed herself long ago from their small town’s constraints.
32. Let it Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle, 2008 (YA)
A Christmas Eve snowstorm transforms one small town into a romantic haven, the kind you see only in movies. Well, kinda. After all, a cold and wet hike from a stranded train through the middle of nowhere would not normally end with a delicious kiss from a charming stranger. And no one would think that a trip to the Waffle House through four feet of snow would lead to love with an old friend. Or that the way back to true love begins with a painfully early morning shift at Starbucks. The magic of the holidays shines on these hilarious and charming interconnected tales of love, romance, and breathtaking kisses.
33. The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen, 2008
Twenty-seven-year-old Josey is sure of three things: winter in her North Carolina hometown is her favorite season; she’s a sorry excuse for a Southern belle; and sweets are best eaten in the privacy of her hidden closet. For while Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mother’s house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night. Until she finds her closet harboring none other than local waitress Della Lee Baker, a tough-talking, tender-hearted woman who is one part nemesis – and two parts fairy godmother.
34. Serena by Ron Rash, 2008
The year is 1929, and newlyweds George and Serena Pemberton travel from Boston to the North Carolina mountains where they plan to create a timber empire. Although George has already lived in the camp long enough to father an illegitimate child, Serena is new to the mountains – but she soon shows herself to be the equal of any man, overseeing crews, hunting rattle-snakes, even saving her husband’s life in the wilderness. Together this lord and lady of the woodlands ruthlessly kill or vanquish all who fall out of favor. Yet when Serena learns that she will never bear a child, she sets out to murder the son George fathered without her.
35. The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen, 2010
Emily Benedict came to Mullaby, North Carolina, hoping to solve at least some of the riddles surrounding her mother’s life. Such as, why did Dulcie Shelby leave her hometown so suddenly? And why did she vow never to return? But the moment Emily enters the house where her mother grew up and meets the grandfather she never knew – a reclusive, real-life gentle giant – she realizes that mysteries aren’t solved in Mullaby, they’re a way of life: here are rooms where the wallpaper changes to suit your mood. Unexplained lights skip across the yard at midnight. And a neighbor bakes hope in the form of cakes.
36. Glazed Murder by Jessica Beck, 2010
Note: this is the first of the 45 titles in the Donut Shop Mystery series.
Meet Suzanne Hart, owner and operator of Donut Hearts coffee shop in April Springs, North Carolina. After her divorce from Max, an out-of-work actor she’s dubbed ‘The Great Impersonator,’ Suzanne decided to pursue her one true passion in life: donuts. So she cashed in her settlement and opened up shop in the heart of her beloved hometown. But when a dead body is dumped on her doorstep like a sack of flour, Suzanne’s cozy little shop becomes an all-out crime scene. Now, everyone in town is dropping by for glazed donuts and gruesome details.
37. Crossing Oceans by Gina Holmes, 2010
Jenny Lucas swore she’d never go home again. But being told you’re dying has a way of changing things. Years after she left, she and her five-year-old daughter, Isabella, must return to her sleepy North Carolina town to face the ghosts she left behind. They welcome her in the form of her oxygen tank-toting grandmother, her stoic and distant father, and David, Isabella’s dad – who doesn’t yet know he has a daughter. As Jenny navigates the rough and unknown waters of her new reality, the unforgettable story that unfolds is a testament to the power of love and its ability to change everything.
38. The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen, 2011
Walls of Water, North Carolina, where the secrets are thicker than the fog from the town’s famous waterfalls, and the stuff of superstition is just as real as you want it to be. It’s the dubious distinction of thirty-year-old Willa Jackson to hail from a fine old Southern family of means that met with financial ruin generations ago. The Blue Ridge Madam – built by Willa’s great-great-grandfather during Walls of Water’s heyday, and once the town’s grandest home – has stood for years as a lonely monument to misfortune and scandal. And Willa herself has long strived to build a life beyond the brooding Jackson family shadow.
39. A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash, 2012
For a curious boy like Jess Hall, growing up in Marshall, North Carolina means trouble when your mother catches you spying on grown-ups. Adventurous and precocious, Jess is enormously protective of his older brother, Christopher, a mute whom everyone calls Stump. Though their mother has warned them not to snoop, Stump can’t help sneaking a look at something he’s not supposed to – an act that will have catastrophic repercussions, shattering both his world and Jess’s. It’s a wrenching event that thrusts Jess into an adulthood for which he’s not prepared.
40. The Cove by Ron Rash, 2012
This lyrical, heart-rending tale, as mesmerizing as its award-winning predecessor Serena, shows once again this masterful novelist at the height of his powers. Deep in the rugged Appalachians of North Carolina lies the cove, a dark, forbidding place where spirits and fetches wander, and even the light fears to travel. Or so the townsfolk of Mars Hill believe – just as they know that Laurel Shelton, the lonely young woman who lives within its shadows, is a witch. Alone except for her brother, Hank, newly returned from the trenches of France, she aches for her life to begin.
41. Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain, 2013
Note: this is set in Grace County, North Carolina.
After losing her parents, fifteen-year-old Ivy Hart is left to care for her grandmother, older sister and nephew as tenants on a small tobacco farm. As she struggles with her grandmother’s aging, her sister’s mental illness and her own epilepsy, she realizes they might need more than she can give. When Jane Forrester takes a position as Grace County’s newest social worker, she doesn’t realize just how much her help is needed. She quickly becomes emotionally invested in her clients’ lives, causing tension with her boss and her new husband. But as Jane is drawn in by the Hart women, she begins to discover the secrets of the small farm – secrets much darker than she would have guessed.
42. Joyland by Stephen King, 2013
Set in a small-town North Carolina amusement park in 1973. College student Devin Jones took the summer job at Joyland hoping to forget the girl who broke his heart. But he wound up facing something far more terrible: the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and dark truths about life – and what comes after – that would change his world forever. A riveting story about love and loss, about growing up and growing old – and about those who don’t get to do either because death comes for them before their time – Joyland is Stephen King at the peak of his storytelling powers.
43. Flora by Gail Godwin, 2013
Ten-year-old Helen and her summer guardian, Flora, are isolated together in Helen’s decaying family house while her father is doing secret war work in Oak Ridge during the final months of World War II. At three Helen lost her mother and the beloved grandmother who raised her has just died. A fiercely imaginative child, Helen is desperate to keep her house intact with all its ghosts and stories. Flora, her late mother’s twenty-two-year old first cousin, who cries at the drop of a hat, is ardently determined to do her best for Helen. Their relationship and its fallout, played against a backdrop of a lost America will haunt Helen for the rest of her life.
44. Guests on Earth by Lee Smith, 2013
It’s 1936 when orphaned thirteen-year-old Evalina Toussaint is admitted to Highland Hospital, a mental institution in Asheville, North Carolina, known for its innovative treatments for nervous disorders and addictions. Taken under the wing of the hospital’s most notable patient, Zelda Fitzgerald, Evalina witnesses cascading events that lead up to the tragic fire of 1948 that killed nine women in a locked ward, Zelda among them.
45. Life After Life by Jill McCorkle, 2013
Note: not to be confused with Kate Atkinson’s novel of the same name.
Jill McCorkle’s novel is alive with the daily triumphs and challenges of the residents and staff of Pine Haven Estates, a retirement facility, which is now home to a good many of Fulton, North Carolinas older citizens. Among them, third-grade teacher Sadie Randolph, who has taught every child in town and believes we are all eight years old in our hearts; Stanley Stone, once Fulton’s most prominent lawyer, now feigning dementia to escape life with his son; Marge Walker, the towns self-appointed conveyor of social status who keeps a scrapbook of every local murder and heinous crime; and Rachel Silverman, recently widowed, whose decision to leave her Massachusetts home and settle in Fulton is a mystery to everyone but her.
46. Mean Streak by Sandra Brown, 2014
Dr. Emory Charbonneau, a pediatrician and marathon runner, disappears on a mountain road in North Carolina. By the time her husband Jeff, miffed over a recent argument, reports her missing, the trail has grown cold. Literally. Fog and ice encapsulate the mountainous wilderness and paralyze the search for her. While police suspect Jeff of “instant divorce,” Emory, suffering from an unexplained head injury, regains consciousness and finds herself the captive of a man whose violent past is so dark that he won’t even tell her his name. She’s determined to escape him, and willing to take any risks necessary to survive.
47. The Risen by Ron Rash, 2016
While swimming in a secluded creek on a hot Sunday in 1969, sixteen-year-old Eugene and his older brother, Bill, meet the entrancing Ligeia. A sexy, free-spirited redhead from Daytona Beach banished to their small North Carolina town until the fall, Ligeia will not only bewitch the two brothers, but lure them into a struggle that reveals the hidden differences in their natures.
48. Birds in the Air by Frances O’Roark Dowell, 2016
Birds in the Air introduces us to Emma Byrd, who’s just moved into the house of her dreams in the small mountain community of Sweet Anne’s Gap, North Carolina where she knows that making friends may prove to be her biggest challenge. Her husband loves his new job and her kids are finding their way at school. But Emma – no natural when it comes to talking to strangers – will have to try a little harder, especially after the sweet, white-haired neighbor she first visits slams the door in her face.
49. The Last Castle by Denise Kiernan, 2017
Note: based around the Biltmore Estate in Asheville North Carolina.
The fascinating true story behind the magnificent Gilded Age mansion Biltmore – the largest, grandest residence ever built in the United States. The story of Biltmore spans World Wars, the Jazz Age, the Depression, and generations of the famous Vanderbilt family, and features a captivating cast of real-life characters including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, Teddy Roosevelt, John Singer Sargent, James Whistler, Henry James, and Edith Wharton.
50. Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, 2018
For years, rumors of the ‘Marsh Girl’ have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life – until the unthinkable happens.
51. Every Breath by Nicholas Sparks, 2018
Hope Anderson is at a crossroads. At thirty-six, she’s been dating her boyfriend, an orthopedic surgeon, for six years. With no wedding plans in sight, and her father recently diagnosed with ALS, she decides to use a week at her family’s cottage in Sunset Beach, North Carolina, to ready the house for sale and mull over some difficult decisions about her future. Tru Walls has never visited North Carolina but is summoned to Sunset Beach by a letter from a man claiming to be his father. A safari guide, born and raised in Zimbabwe, Tru hopes to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding his mother’s early life and recapture memories lost with her death. When the two strangers cross paths, their connection is as electric as it is unfathomable.
52. The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin, 2018
Zadie Anson and Emma Colley have been best friends since their early twenties, when they first began navigating serious romantic relationships amid the intensity of medical school. Now they’re happily married wives and mothers with successful careers – Zadie as a pediatric cardiologist and Emma as a trauma surgeon. Their lives in Charlotte, North Carolina are chaotic but fulfilling, until the return of a former colleague unearths a secret one of them has been harboring for years.
53. The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins, 2019
Note: this is set in Dove Pond, North Carolina.
Sarah Dove is no ordinary bookworm. To her, books have always been more than just objects: they live, they breathe, and sometimes they even speak. When Sarah grows up to become the librarian in her quaint Southern town of Dove Pond, her gift helps place every book in the hands of the perfect reader. Recently, however, the books have been whispering about something out of the ordinary: the arrival of a displaced city girl named Grace Wheeler.
54. Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain, 2020
North Carolina, 2018: Morgan Christopher’s life has been derailed. Taking the fall for a crime she did not commit, she finds herself serving a three-year stint in the North Carolina Women’s Correctional Center. Her dream of a career in art is put on hold – until a mysterious visitor makes her an offer that will see her released immediately. Her assignment: restore an old post office mural in a sleepy southern town. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration, but desperate to leave prison, she accepts. What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets.
What do you think of these books set in North Carolina?
Have you been to North Carolina before? Know any must-visit bookshops, libraries or literary sights? Have you read any of these books set in North Carolina? Do you know some great books I’ve missed? Let me know your thoughts and tips on books set in North Carolina in the comments below!
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