Are you looking for books about North Carolina to read before you visit? Don’t miss this North Carolina reading list to spark your wanderlust and inspire your travels.
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It’s no secret that I love reading about a destination before traveling there. Tell me more about the Fitzgeralds in Asheville. What is small-town North Carolinian life like? Paint a picture of those gorgeous mountain ranges, please.
Prior to moving to NC, I asked everyone what books about North Carolina I should read, too. You really get to know a place through its literature, both fiction and nonfiction. Plus, books set the mood.
There are tons of novels set in North Carolina, and if you know me from The Uncorked Librarian, you also know that I read a lot. So how do you pick the best books about NC to read before you go?
Below, find popular and newer books, historical fiction, indie, YA, and nonfiction books on our North Carolina reading list. Of course, these are just a few suggestions to get you started. We’ll also have more NC and Asheville-based book list recommendations for you paired with literary tourism.
Personally, what are my favorite North Carolina novels? I’d start with Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, Look Homeward, Angel by Asheville-native Thomas Wolfe, and the nonfiction book about Biltmore, The Last Castle by Denise Kiernan.
What else do we recommend for North Carolina based novels? Let’s get started!
Popular & Newer Books Set In North Carolina
Are you even a reader if you haven’t heard the hype about Where The Crawdads Sing? One of the most talked-about and bestselling books set in North Carolina, Owens transports readers to the NC marshlands.
A touching coming of age story and southern murder mystery, meet “the marsh girl,” Kya Clark. Kya has lived impoverished and outcast in the marshes her entire life. Never attending school, she must learn to read and survive on her own, especially with a dysfunctional and broken family.
When the town’s pretty boy and star Chase Andrews disappears–and is discovered dead near her home–Kya falls under public scrutiny and accusations from a town that never accepted her.
Can Kya overcome a prejudice society and the loneliness from its isolation? Will the jury find her guilty? Atmospheric, heart-breaking, and suspenseful, you’ll love this contemporary North Carolina novel. Amazon | Goodreads
A 2020 book release, The Girl From Widow Hills by Megan Miranda is a mystery and thriller set both in North Carolina and Kentucky.
Olivia lives in NC where she trying to overcome her troubled past and unwanted fame. With the 20-year anniversary marking her famous sewer drain rescue, she wishes that everyone would just forget and leave her alone. Unfortunately, tripping over a body in her yard puts Olivia back in the scrutinizing public eye.
An author that I have yet to read but everyone always recommends to me is Diane Chamberlain. Chamberlain is a bestselling author with over 26+ published novels–many based in North Carolina.
Set in the small town of Edenton, North Carolina, readers follow the stories of Anna Dale in 1940 and Morgan Christopher in 2018 in Big Lies In A Small Town.
Imprisoned in NC for a crime that she didn’t commit, Morgan must serve a three-year sentence. Tasked with painting an old post office mural, she discovers more of the town’s secrets, especially since the artist of that mural, Anna Dale, mysteriously disappeared back in the 1940s.
More Books About North Carolina From Diane Chamberlain
Fictional Books About North Carolina
Born in South Carolina, Ron Rash is infamous for his stories about Appalachian life set in the Carolinas. Serena follows George and Serena Pemberton, newlyweds, looking to start a timber business in the late 1920s.
More North Carolina Novels From Ron Rash
Sarah Addison Allen is a famous and contemporary Asheville author, pairing magical realism with small-town life. Garden Spells is the first in the Waverly series, set in Bascom, North Carolina.
The Waverly family is a bit magical, known for their prophetic garden. Claire, as a caterer, prepares magical dishes. Her life becomes more complicated when her sister returns home after years of abandoning her.
More Books About NC From Sarah Addison Allen
In high school, I loved The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks, and I read many of Sparks’ North Carolina novels into early adulthood. While his books are mostly fluff, they are also problematic in that there is little representation or diversity. You will find few people of color, if any, as main characters, and throughout the years, Sparks’ public words and actions have shown intolerance toward the LGBT+ community.
Of course, we are learning that JKR–not so beloved author of the Harry Potter series–also disappoints us, questioning all that we know about magical HP. While I will briefly mention Sparks’ formulaic novels here–they are set heavily in North Carolina–I’ll leave you with the decision to read them or pass by.
Returning from World War 2, Noah Calhoun cannot stop thinking about his pre-war love, Allie Nelson. Allie is engaged to Noah’s antithesis, a socialite lawyer. Can Noah win Allie over? The novel is told through a unique life event. Amazon | Goodreads
More Books Set In North Carolina From Author Nicholas Sparks
Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks (Southport, NC)
The Choice by Nicholas Sparks
A Bend In The Road by Nicholas Sparks (New Bern, NC)
A Walk To Remember by Nicholas Sparks (Beaufort, North Carolina)
Every Breath by Nicholas Sparks (Sunset Beach, North Carolina)
The Guardian by Nicholas Sparks (Swansboro, North Carolina)
True Believer by Nicholas Sparks (Boone Creek, North Carolina)
Nights in Rodanthe by Nicholas Sparks (Rodanthe, Outer Banks, North Carolina)
And yes, there are more…
Raised on a farm near Lenoir, North Carolina, Jan Karon eventually settled in Blowing Rock, which is where her Mitford series is set. Although technically a fictional town, you’ll see a lot of Blowing Rock throughout this sleepy and charming southern series.
At Home In Mitford is the first. Enter the sincere world of Father Tim, a single rector looking for more. Father Tim’s life slowly starts to fill up with a stray dog and feelings for his next-door neighbor. Add in a bit of mystery and suspense with a jewel thief too.
I’ve never really been able to get into the Mitford series, but Christian fiction also isn’t quite my jam. Back in my library days, though, patrons loved these North Carolina based books. Amazon | Goodreads
The Next Four Books Set In Blowing Rocking, NC (Mitford)
Historical Fiction Books Set In North Carolina
Most people know about Thomas Wolfe, even if you have not read his lengthy novels. This local Asheville author is best known for Look Homeward, Angel, a book about small-town North Carolina life and dreaming of more.
I hadn’t read any of Wolfe’s novels–even as an English major–until my husband and I visited the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, his mother’s boarding house.
Published in the 1900s, Look Homeward, Angel is classic historical North Carolina ‘fiction.’ Disavowed at the time, Wolfe chronicles his life growing up in Asheville. He barely changed residents’ names, which really ticked them off until his fame grew.
Look Homeward, Angel follows the story of Wolfe, or Eugene Grant, growing up and seeking higher education. Like Edith Vanderbilt, Wolfe’s mom was an impressive woman and entrepreneur. Wolfe is notoriously long-winded so keep in mind that while this is one of the most famous books about North Carolina, it’s a slow burn, too. Amazon | Goodreads
Looking for more North Carolina writers? Don’t miss this list filled with Asheville authors.
Another historical fiction novel set in Asheville, North Carolina includes Guests On Earth by Lee Smith. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda, was one of the nine women who perished in the 1948 Highlands Hospital fire. Zelda had suffered from mental illness most of her life.
Guests On Earth recreate Zelda’s experience at Highland Hospital. When the hospital admits 13-year-old Evalina Toussaint, she befriends Zelda. Evalina witnesses the events leading up to the tragic fire. Amazon | Goodreads
More North Carolina Based Books From Lee Smith:
North Carolina Indie Books
I love reading independently published books both by authors and lesser-known presses. If you are looking for indie books about North Carolina, don’t miss Renea Winchester’s Outbound Train.
Set in the 1960s in Bryson City, North Carolina–about one hour from Asheville–the novel begins with Barbara Parker’s life forever altering on the ominous train tracks.
In the present, Carole Anne, Barbara’s daughter, is growing up trapped in the cyclical small-town nature filled with brutal poverty, abusive and corrupt men, and a judgmental society manipulating the status quo. Can Carole Anne escape this destiny? Does anyone stand a chance at a better life?
In what reads like The Connors and even Empire Falls, readers learn about redemption and working-class struggles. Hard work isn’t a guaranteed means to a better life in Bryson City.
Indie author Kim Beall lives in North Carolina and created the fictional town Woodley to resemble her NC home. For those who love a good ghost story and a haunted house, you’ll enjoy Beall’s Seven Turns.
Even though she has a bestselling novel published, Cally has a case of writer’s block and a dwindling bank account. Cally heads to a haunted bed and breakfast in a last attempt to write a sequel.
More Books Set In Fictional Woodley, NC
Nonfiction Books About North Carolina
An autobiographical slave narrative set in North Carolina, everyone should read Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl. Although scholars debated whether or not the title was historical fiction, Harriet Jacobs wrote her story under the name Linda Brent.
Born into slavery in 1813, Jacobs chronicles her life as a slave, including the abuses, fight for identity, and sexual abuse. From a female perspective, Jacobs emphasizes what it is like to be separated from your children as a slave. Amazon | Goodreads
Biltmore is iconic in Asheville, and I truly believe that you should visit the largest house in America at least once. In fact, we are annual passholders. If you are looking for books about Asheville and Biltmore, don’t miss The Last Castle by Denise Kiernan. Kiernan is an infamous local historian and writer.
The Last Castle describes Biltmore coming to fruition. Readers discover the love story behind George and Edith Vanderbilt. Learn more about Edith’s role in politics and the estate as a woman. Champion the Vanderbilts’ forestry legacy, and witness their progressive ideals during a more conservative time.
You’ll also find more information about writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, Henry James, and Edith Wharton. The Vanderbilts essentially put Asheville, NC on the map for the elite, leaving a legacy of occasional debt, community, and rich history. Amazon | Goodreads
Curious to learn more about Asheville? Don’t miss these Books About & Set In Asheville.
Books About North Carolina For Tweens & Teens
Back when I attended ALA (for library people) in Orlando, I met author Jenny Han. Like me, you might best know Han for the series To All The Boys I Love Before.
Han has a YA series set in a North Carolina-like coastal town, too, called Summer. The Summer series technically takes place in fictional Cousins Beach, which is said to be inspired by the Hamptons, Outer Banks, and Cape Cod.
The Summer I Turned Pretty is the first in the series. Belly spends her summers at the beach house with Conrad and Jeremiah. They have never really noticed her before, but she’s always had her eyes on them. This summer is completely different as Belly feels confident with her crush.
More In This North Carolina Coast-Like Series:
One of the most popular historical fiction books about North Carolina and Biltmore for children, don’t miss Serafina And The Black Cloak by Robert Beatty. Serafina is a child secretly living in Biltmore’s basement.
Serafina’s father works in maintenance for Biltmore. When children start disappearing on the grounds, Serafina and Braeden Vanderbilt decide to solve the mystery, heading into the forest.
More Books About Biltmore From Robert Beatty
What Other Books About North Carolina Have You Read?
There are so many authentic books set in North Carolina. Which ones have you read and loved? Which North Carolina novels do you recommend? Please let us know in the comments!
If you are looking for books set in all 50 states, don’t miss our sister blog’s 50 States Reading List.