Maybe it’s the serenity of our mountains. The beauty of our coast. Or the vibrant flatlands in between. I don’t know which, but my home state has a deep history of authors (many of them Tar Heels, too) writing tales set in North Carolina (NC). One of the most well-known, Thomas Wolfe’s 1929 classic, Look Homeward, Angel, is drawn from childhood at his family's Asheville boarding house.
To celebrate National Book Lover's Day on August 9, I sussed out 12 NC-based stories that I finished or have on my TBR queue. It was hard to skinny down to a dozen, so you’ll find an eclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction for adults, plus a few bonus kid lit tales.
Read on to find awesome books that will have you humming along with Sweet Baby James and going to Carolina in your mind -:D.
1. Stephanie Powell Watts:
No One is Coming to Save Us
Named a best book of 2017 by The Washington Post, Jay Gatsby is transported to a contemporary North Carolina town ground down by factory closings. WOW! And Watta recasts the Great Gatsby classic with a black family at its center. On my to-read list.
2. Margaret Maron:
Deborah Knott Series
These gentle mysteries featuring a bootlegger’s-daughter-turned-judge are set in the fictional version of the county that’s south of mine. Love when Maron references real places I know, such as Wake Tech and Belk department store. Plus, you'll learn a bit about NC's moonshining heritage from back in the day.
3. Nicholas Sparks:
Nights in Rodanthe
She: flees to the serenity of the remote village of Rodanthe on NC’s Outer Banks after a bad divorce. He: sells his medical practice and also retreats there to re-examine his life. And you know they’re destined to meet! A storm approaches one fateful weekend, setting the stage for life-changing events that ripple long after the tempest passes. Yummy film version with Diane Lane and Richard Gere. Hey, if you visit Rodanthe, you can see the house where the film was shot.
4. Jan Karon:
The Mitford Years Series
These cozy slices of Mitford life are based on the quaint Blue Ridge Mountain village of Blowing Rock and follow the ups and downs of sexagenarian Episcopalian rector, Father Tim, and his flock. Their stone church is modeled after a stunning Blowing Rock edifice constructed from 1000s of small stones washed round and smooth by nearby mountain steams. Karon’s books bring a few tears, but they’re truly uplifting. Her Mitford also morphed into a Hallmark movie, but imho, the film didn’t live up to the books.
5. Ann B. Ross:
Miss Julia Weathers the Storm
My sweet Mama Marg adored reading about Miss Julia, a feisty southern lady from another fictional mountain village. In this 19th novel of Ross’ feel-good series, Miss Julia and friends take a beach trip that’s interrupted by a hurricane, and trouble follows everyone home. As always, Miss Julia must rely on her quick wit and strong will to protect her friends and save the day.
6. Mary Kay Andrews:
Inspired hearing Mary Kay Andrews speak at Quail Ridge Books about writing The Weekenders staying on her fictional Belle Island, my friends and I brainstormed names for my beachy Turtle Team setting afterward on the ride home. Yep. That’s how I found on Gull Island. Andrew’s beach read immerses you on the Carolina coast as her protagonist investigates secrets of a summer that might change everything for her family who weekends on Belle Island.
7. Lee Smith:
On Agate Hill
I loved Smith’s use of letters and diaries about Agate Hill plantation to see-saw between centuries that span Reconstruction years to 1927 and into the present. Both 19th- and 21st-ccentury female protagonists are spunky and determined as their stories unfurl to reveal authentic struggles of their era. Smith injects whip-smart humor, too.
8. Wiley Cash:
The Last Ballad
Another on my to-read list: Set in the Appalachian foothills in 1929 and inspired by actual events, Ballad chronicles an ordinary woman’s struggle for dignity and her rights during a textile mill strike. In addition to the protagonist, Ella, “...the story is told from alternating perspectives, including that of a black train porter, a mill owner and a mill owner’s wife.... In the only contemporary and first-person passages, Ella’s now elderly daughter fills in her nephew, and the novel’s readers, on the tragic details of her mother’s life” [The New York Times].
9. Jonathan Frazier:
Frazier follows a wounded Civil War soldier making the long journey home from his Raleigh hospital bed, while his faraway love in the Blue Ridge Mountains fights for survival on her deceased father's farm.
Did you catch the film with Jude Law and Nicole Kidman? Awesome!
10. Diane Chamberlain:
So many levels of dark, twisty fate and injustice here had my heart lurching. Set against unimaginable truths in the segregated south of the 1960s, the author introduces a young girl working on a tobacco farm to support her family and “…an idealistic North Carolina social worker [who] defies her employers to save impoverished children from overzealous social engineering in Chamberlain's well-researched page-turner” [Kirkus Reviews].
11. Chef Vivian Howard:
Deep Run Roots
Fans of PBS’s award-winning reality series, A Chef’s Life, and foodies, who flock to rural eastern North Carolina to savor regional fare at The Chef and the Farmer, are lining up for Vivian Howard’s beautifully photographed book. Part recipes and part stories from eastern NC, Howard “…Sandwiched amid the fine culinary writing many delicious recipes" [The Washington Post]. I’m not a cook, but I appreciate Howard’s humor in a recipe like Hoarded Corn that require an afternoon, trash bags, the biggest pot you have, and at least 200 ears of sweet corn to yield 20 quarts of corn kernels to have on hand for winter.
12. David Sedaris:
Me Talk Pretty One Day
This two-part collection of essays by humorist David Sedaris first portrays a young Sedaris and his boyhood days in Raleigh before living in New York City. The second section, "Deux," tells of moving to Normandy and the author's outlandish efforts to live in France without speaking the French language. Sedaris’ narration of his audiobook is pure aural pleasure.
bonus section: children's books
Sweet T and the Turtle Team
Yep. Mine. The third book in my Sweet T Tales Series for early and reluctant readers is set on Gull Island, a joyful mishmash of my fave North Carolina beaches. Turtle Team spins a kid-sized yarn of friendship, acceptance and courage, with subtle messages about marine conservation. Over the moon it scored two awards in the 2018 Purple Dragonfly Award for children's books: first place for eBooks AND honorable mention for environmental print books.
Serafina and the Black Cloak
For older kids, this thriller about supernatural evil takes place in 1899 at Asheville’s historic Biltmore House. Beatty introduces the titular spunky heroine, Serafina, who secretly lives in the bowels of the estate with her father, where she specializes in catching rats roaming dark corridors at night. History mixes with mystery but definitely scary for sensitive readers …. especially the Man in the Black Cloak, who steals children away in the dead of night by catching them in his coat with “decaying, blood-dripping hands.”
Jim the Boy
This gentle read for adults and spot-on coming of age tale for middle graders takes you on a sweet journey to a year in the life of 10-year old Jim Glass, who lives with his mother and three uncles in a rural mountain village. There is not one whit of dysfunction, scandal or evil doing, yet Earley’s powerful descriptions of everyday life and beautifully crafted characters will hold your attention on every page.
Doonsey's Beach Adventure: the Great Rescue
For youngest readers by a former kindergarten teacher, the author takes children to the shore to meet Doonsey, a talking crab, and his mysterious Beach Buddies. Inspired after exploring Kure Beach with her grandchildren, Paglia offers whimsy. learning and extension activities that will keep keep your young ones engaged.
Any of my fave NC books strike your fancy? What favorite books, of any setting, would you share for National Book Lover’s Day? Please join the conversation in the comment section ...
...find more book love and great bookish ideas for National Book Lover’s day from my writerly pals:
4 Ways to Celebrate NBLD with your Kids
Fun New Ways to Celebrate NBLD
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Sweet T and the North Wind