57 books directly related to North Carolina 📚

All 57 North Carolina books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Cold Mountain

By Charles Frazier,

Book cover of Cold Mountain

Why this book?

Cold Mountain tells two intertwined stories, often in alternating chapters: one narrative strand follows W. P. Inman, a wounded Confederate veteran who walks home to the North Carolina mountains; the second narrative follows the wartime life of Inman’s beloved Ada Monroe. In this way, the novel portrays both life in the army and life on the home front—equally desperate realities. The novel also studies the war through both masculine and feminine lenses. It is based in part on Homer’s Odyssey and is indeed epic in scope. Cold Mountain has remained an incredibly popular novel and was the basis for the 2003 film by the same name.


Blanche on the Lam: A Blanche White Mystery

By Barbara Neely,

Book cover of Blanche on the Lam: A Blanche White Mystery

Why this book?

I get a kick out of a story that presents a main character who doesn’t fit the expected norms of a hero or heroine. A feisty, middle-aged African-American housekeeper/cook is not your typical amateur sleuth. When her checks bounce because her rich employer fails to pay her, Blanche goes on the lam. Hiding as a maid for a wealthy family, things look bleak when a murder occurs in the home.  Blanche calls on her savvy and wit to discover the truth. As the story unfolds, the author uses humor and biting sentences to present a glimpse into the foibles of southern society toward domestic help. This is the first of this cozy mystery series featuring a very memorable character, Balance White. An enjoyable read!  

Once you read Blanche on the Lam, I believe you won’t hesitate to search out book two of the series to see what further adventures Blanche may stumble into.


Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power

By Timothy B. Tyson,

Book cover of Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power

Why this book?

Robert F. Williams may be the most influential, inspiring, and entertaining leader to be written out of popular American civil rights history. Tyson rescues him and his story, showing how one man can combine writing and organizing talent to outwit the Klan, the FBI, change his community, challenge movement orthodoxy, and then have unforgettable and unpredictable encounters with Castro, Mao  —  and Nixon, at the dawn of a new foreign policy era. This book, like Williams himself, forces us to wrestle with the nuances of arguments about social justice, racism, violence, and ideology. It’s also an unforgettable story in and of itself.


The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government, and Cheap Lives

By Bryant Simon,

Book cover of The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government, and Cheap Lives

Why this book?

Though this book is not a study of movement organizing, it shows just how necessary the task of political and economic empowerment remains, if people are to escape cycles of low wages, dangerous work, persistent racism, and public neglect. This book inspired me, and even more so my students, for the connections it uncovered in a declining North Carolina railroad town: a growing, fiercely competitive, and radically unsafe poultry processing industry; persistent neighborhood segregation and racial disrespect, despite the widespread integration of Blacks and women into workplaces; the exclusion of Blacks and poor whites from local political power; the growth of mother-only and time-pressed poor families increasingly reliant on low wages and cheap food to get by. These are only a few of the topics Simon compressed into his lucid and readable portrait of the tragedy of chicken and the unfinished business of our time.


Liberalism, Black Power, and the Making of American Politics, 1965-1980

By Devin Fergus,

Book cover of Liberalism, Black Power, and the Making of American Politics, 1965-1980

Why this book?

When I teach students about the Civil Rights Movement, many of them had previously learned that the freedom struggle ended after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968. I disabuse them of this notion by highlighting all the political work that was inspired—rather than stymied—by King’s passing. In this book, Fergus provides a provocative idea: What if the radicals of the late 1960s and 1970s were able to influence liberals and conservatives alike? By showing the ways that Black Power actually resonated with the leaders of pre-Reagan America, Fergus recovers the various approaches to capitalism, political participation, and compromise that can’t be easily categorized as Left or Right.


Separate Pasts: Growing Up White in the Segregated South

By Melton A. McLaurin,

Book cover of Separate Pasts: Growing Up White in the Segregated South

Why this book?

Separate Pasts is McLaurin’s account of his 1950s boyhood in the tiny hamlet of Wade, North Carolina, years when the Jim Crow system still reigned. He describes the complex, interconnected lives of the town’s white and black families, and his own confusion as he tried to make sense of the contradictions he observed in his world. A painfully honest account of a white boy’s reckoning with the legacies of segregation and oppression, McLaurin reveals how his own relationships with black neighbors undermined the racist beliefs he was taught.

Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Black Struggle for Freedom

By William Henry Chafe,

Book cover of Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Black Struggle for Freedom

Why this book?

By investigating what white liberal Greensboro meant with the word “civility” against what black activists meant by “civil rights,” Chafe dives deep into the limits of white liberalism, undermining the claim that civil rights could be achieved by following a slow, southern, and civil, approach.


Homefront: A Military City and the American Twentieth Century

By Catherine A. Lutz,

Book cover of Homefront: A Military City and the American Twentieth Century

Why this book?

When I picked up Homefront, I couldn’t put it down. A study of perhaps the most iconic military community in the US, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Homefront brings a reader as close to everyday life in a military town as they can get without being there. Lutz burrows into Fayetteville and Fort Bragg, and pries open their histories and cultures. She offers glimpses into military subculture, the militarization of American infrastructure, the tensions surrounding town-and-installation relations. More than any other book, Homefront sensitized me to the complexities of twentieth-century US military culture and its deep influence on American people, places, and ideas. 


Look Homeward, Angel

By Thomas Wolfe,

Book cover of Look Homeward, Angel

Why this book?

Another Southern cultural landmark, this North Carolina tour de force comes, like Faulkner, out of a tradition steeped in Shakespeare and the King James Version of the Bible. Some people think you can appreciate this one only when you’re young. Not true. I read it for the second time in my 40s and got caught up again in the Gant family saga and those wonderful, rolling sentences, exploding like thunder all around.


Where All Light Tends to Go

By David Joy,

Book cover of Where All Light Tends to Go

Why this book?

I don’t read many current authors. It’s not their fault I’m a slow reader and have so many older novels to work through. But there are exceptions and David Joy is certainly one of those. I’d recommend starting at his beginning with Where All Light Tends to Go. His voice helped (and is still helping) usher in a new generation of southern authors. Joy, unlike the other authors on this list, tends to lean toward spare prose, which creates a bingeable quality to his work. Bonus points for a perfect ending. 


The Secret Lives of Dresses

By Erin McKean,

Book cover of The Secret Lives of Dresses

Why this book?

The vintage fashion descriptions are killer diller with little mini-stories about each dress featured that evoke nostalgia and often melancholy. The mini-stories were sweet, delightful vignettes that reminded me of the way I think of my vintage clothing. They were beautifully written and I loved them all but most noticeably, I loved the story about the wartime mother splashing in puddles with her children. Dora’s character was likable and believable and I rooted for her. The supporting characters were perfectly quirky and delightfully despicable. Plus there is a nice romantic element with a fun love-triangle with wonderful supporting characters.


Stella by Starlight

By Sharon M. Draper,

Book cover of Stella by Starlight

Why this book?

“Nine robed figures dressed all in white,” begins this haunting story of the Ku Klux Klan arriving in the small town of Bumblebee, North Carolina. The year is 1932 and the town is, of course, segregated. Black and White. A line in the soil―just like the neighborhood street of my childhood in Springfield, Virginia that divided my Korean family from the white family who fought and failed to keep us from moving into our home. The reader will step into eleven-year-old Stella Mills' shoes and feel all her fear and anger over the injustices of her world that highlights voting rights. But young Stella harnesses her anger through words (much the way I did as a child) by creating a fantasy newspaper column called Stella Star’s Sentinel. Why didn’t I think of that? I only had my blue diary with a gold clasp. In Stella’s ‘newspaper’ she expresses how she feels, which prompts her to do good for her community and herself. 


The Sugar Queen

By Sarah Addison Allen,

Book cover of The Sugar Queen

Why this book?

This book is full of quirky characters, mouth-watering food, fairy tale elements, and magical realism. It was the first book I read of Sarah Addison Allen’s, and it wasn’t the last. All her books are amazing, but quite simply The Sugar Queen is my favorite. Not only is it cute and clever, it’s also a charming, quick pleasure read. Be warned though, you will get hungry, so have snacks nearby.


Klansville, U.S.A.: The Rise and Fall of the Civil Rights-Era Ku Klux Klan

By David Cunningham,

Book cover of Klansville, U.S.A.: The Rise and Fall of the Civil Rights-Era Ku Klux Klan

Why this book?

To understand white supremacy today, it’s vital to understand how it changed from a set of ideas embedded in law as well as society to a fringe belief scorned by right-thinking people. Klansville, USA is set in the Civil Rights era deep inside the Klan in North Carolina, probably the most important state for the Klan at the time. Sociologist David Cunningham explains why the Klan was so strong in North Carolina and why it was weaker in many states where racism was also deeply entrenched. Cunningham shows how ordinary and embedded the Klan was in many parts of North Carolina and also reveals the tough, and incredibly effective, FBI campaign to crush the Klan, which included an array of dirty tricks against various Klan chapters that ultimately devastated many white supremacist organizations.


Serena

By Ron Rash,

Book cover of Serena

Why this book?

In Serena, Ron Rash gives us a vivid look at an industry largely concerned with un-making: the timber industry of 1930s North Carolina. Through lush descriptions of vast, virgin tracts spread across Blue Ridge mountain vistas, he captures the heartbreak of it. There are rattlesnakes and widow-makers and all manner of axes and saws.


Bootlegger's Daughter

By Margaret Maron,

Book cover of Bootlegger's Daughter

Why this book?

I love this book for many reasons—its rural Southern setting, its lawyer/judge protagonist Deborah Knott, its twisty mystery. But I was particularly intrigued when author Margaret Maron told me that the spark for the book was a real unsolved murder near her North Carolina home. I wrote about the real case when it was finally solved in Triangle True Crime, but Margaret’s version of what might have happened is so much more interesting.


Garden Spells

By Sarah Addison Allen,

Book cover of Garden Spells

Why this book?

Sarah Addison Allen writes beautiful descriptions. Many of her books are set in the south, transporting to humid air, chirping cicadas, and food expressing love—Garden Spells is a wonderful example of southern literature with a twist of magic. Similar to two of my favorite movies, Simply Irresistible (food that makes people feel things) and Practical Magic (two sisters who use magic to deal with a difficult situation), this story is even more emotionally complex. Claire and Sydney give the reader insight into the downfalls of selflessness and how everyone has a unique gift to be embraced, not shunned due to worries about a “reputation.” And as a foodie myself, I love the idea of gardens and apple trees providing magical ingredients. 


Wilmington's Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy

By David Zucchino,

Book cover of Wilmington's Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy

Why this book?

Wilmington’s Lie, winner of the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction, documents one of the darkest episodes in North Carolina’s history – the violent overthrow of an elected government in the Black-majority city of Wilmington. It was a massacre that left at least 60 Black men dead. I lived in North Carolina for decades before I heard about this history. And I’m hardly alone. Until recently, this coup had been described as a “race riot” and largely omitted from textbooks, while its White supremacist organizers had been revered as great North Carolinians. If you want to understand what people mean when they talk about the “whitewashing” of American history, this book is the ultimate case study.


One Second After

By William R. Forstchen,

Book cover of One Second After

Why this book?

In this New York Times bestseller, an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack on the United States destroys the power grid and every electronic device. John Matherson, a widowed history professor in a small college town in North Carolina, his family, and his community must learn to survive as people did in the 19th century, but without having the necessary things in place to do so. I love this book because the scenarios that play out are so similar to my own series of books, as an EMP has virtually the same effect as the coronal mass ejection (CME) described in my books. Besides being a great read, there is plenty of real-life, useful information to help people who might someday find themselves in a similar situation for whatever reason.


Legendborn

By Tracy Deonn,

Book cover of Legendborn

Why this book?

A modern take on the Arthurian legends, this nuanced story tackles the subjects of grief, maternal lines, and heritage.

A college student struggles with the pain of the loss of her mother, just as she grapples with the mysterious abilities which woke within her. As she tries to settle into the student life she discovers that a secret society carries in it the truth of the ancient myths, and she comes to terms with the reality and the burden of her inheritance.


Roanoke Hundred

By Inglis Clark Fletcher,

Book cover of Roanoke Hundred

Why this book?

Caroline Todd was born and raised in North Carolina and Charles lived much of his adult life there. We love the Tarheel state and Ingles Fletcher exposed us to the history of our home! It too speaks to my love of the ocean and the Outer Banks. Inglis Fletcher wrote the almost-forgotten Carolina Series, an early history of the coast of North Carolina, carrying it from its development through the Revolutionary War, with such a wealth of rich detail and such a mixture of real people and well-drawn characters, that the reader knows them intimately. The story begins with Roanoke Hundred, continuing through Men of Albemarle and Raleigh’s Eden, to The Scotswoman, which tells the story of Flora MacDonald’s years in the state, after the Stuart Rebellion.

Land of the South

By James W. Clay, Paul D. Escott, Douglas M. Orr Jr., Alfred W. Stuart

Book cover of Land of the South

Why this book?

This atlas, a beautiful but money-losing coffee table book from the book-publishing arm of Southern Living, appeared just as a new CEO ordered the company’s book people to think of themselves “more in the direct-marketing business, as opposed to being a book publisher.” (This strategy led eventually to How to Cook for Your Man and Still Want to Look at Him Naked.) It was probably treated as a write-off from the beginning and not marketed at all, which is a shame, because it is much more than a handsome ornament for your living room. Three geographers and a historian, all from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, produced a solidly-researched and profoundly informative work of cartographic excellence, one that repays both casual browsing and close study. (Some used book sites incorrectly show a different cover, but don’t worry about that.)


History of the Lost State of Franklin

By Samuel Cole Williams,

Book cover of History of the Lost State of Franklin

Why this book?

For many years this was the most comprehensive examination of the ill-fated State of Franklin. The author goes into great detail presenting the factors that led to this secession of its western counties from the State of North Carolina, in 1784. Still a must-read for anyone exploring this subject.


Fatal Vision: A True Crime Classic

By Joe McGinniss,

Book cover of Fatal Vision: A True Crime Classic

Why this book?

A highly controversial 1983 book about Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald who was accused of murdering his wife and two children in their home in 1970. Initially, MacDonald hired McGuiniss to prove his innocence, but the author eventually changed his mind about the physician’s guilt. He was convicted and the book underscored the perils of writers getting too close to their subjects, especially when they're criminals.


The Secret Game: A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball's Lost Triumph

By Scott Ellsworth,

Book cover of The Secret Game: A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball's Lost Triumph

Why this book?

Scott Ellsworth's account of a legendary game that took place between the Eagles of North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University) and Duke University on Duke's campus in Durham, in 1944 (the Duke team comprised medical students but included several former college stars). John McClendon, a protege of the game's founder, John Naismith and coach of the Eagles is widely credited with having transformed the sport, refashioning a slow, stolid affair into a fast-paced, exhilarating game. In the process, he turned the Eagles in mid-century into a juggernaut in the Carolina Intercollegiate Athletic Association, a conference of Black colleges and universities. Jim Crow made it illegal for the Eagles to compete publicly against their intracity rivals, but both programs relished the prospect of playing one another, and a secret game was organized, widely considered the first integrated collegiate game to be played in the south. Ellsworth paints a rich historical portrait both of the indignities and violence of Jim Crow Durham, as well as the economic and cultural dynamism of Black life there.

In the game itself, after a slow start, the Eagles ran the Duke squad off the floor, trouncing them by over forty points. This at a time when supposed Black athletic inferiority was still widely taken for granted.


Mothers of the South: Portraiture of the White Tenant Farm Woman

By Margaret Jarman Hagood,

Book cover of Mothers of the South: Portraiture of the White Tenant Farm Woman

Why this book?

Strictly speaking, this is not a first-person account, but it includes dozens of detailed case studies drawn from interviews with white tenant farm women in North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. It was written in the 1930s by the pioneering sociologist Margaret Jarman Hagood, one of a group of practitioners at University of North Carolina who sought to produce academic studies that advanced solutions to the socio-economic problems that plagued the rural South. Although Hagood feared that “it is impossible for me to do justice to it either in observing or recording,” her study paints a vivid picture of life among white women who raised children and worked the land on the South’s hardscrabble farms.


At Home in Mitford

By Jan Karon,

Book cover of At Home in Mitford

Why this book?

Such a charming, colorful smorgasbord of characters in one tiny North Carolina town that leaves a lasting impression. At Home in Mitford is just that, an open door to a world where everyone is at home, the reader included. First in a series of fourteen, each novel is unique and centers around home and those who inhabit it with all their commonalities and quirks, concluding with Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good, published in 2014. The Mitford Museum is now open in Hudson, North Carolina along with Happy Ending Bookstore, a beloved, must-visit site. 


A Slipping-Down Life

By Anne Tyler,

Book cover of A Slipping-Down Life

Why this book?

This book has one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever come across in fiction. Evie Decker is an introverted and slightly eccentric teen living in small-town America whose ordinary life takes a completely different turn when she hears a young musician, Drumsticks Casey, being interviewed on the radio. Anne Tyler can be depended on to create fascinatingly quirky characters – I’ve long been a big fan of her writing – but I think she outdid herself with Evie. The story is unexpected and moving and funny and sad – really, it provides all the feels. The evolving relationship between Evie and Casey, with its ups and downs and twists, is perfectly told, and the dialogue sparkles with authenticity. 


The Weight of This World

By David Joy,

Book cover of The Weight of This World

Why this book?

The Weight of this World is one of my absolute favorite additions to southern literature. I enjoyed this book, and honestly all of David Joy’s books, because it is crafted in a way to show darkness while at the same time showing glimmers of hope within the characters. This novel is real, raw, and a wonderful read that I would recommend to anyone who is looking to read a book that you can’t put down because of the action, the moments of self-discovery, and the depiction of the roughness within the world.


The Hollow Places

By T. Kingfisher,

Book cover of The Hollow Places

Why this book?

The Hollow Places follows Kara, who has returned to her childhood home in North Carolina, as she takes over running her uncle’s museum of eccentricities after he’s injured. If you love nature-based horror as much as I do, this is a must-read–when a portal opens up in the museum, Kara goes through it into a willow-filled, marshy world of rivers and doors and terrifying, hungry creatures. She has to find a way to protect her home from this new world, which seems desperate to spill into hers and consume it, leaving it hollow. 


Meet the Sky

By McCall Hoyle,

Book cover of Meet the Sky

Why this book?

There’s just something about the man-versus-nature struggle, especially when the sheer force of Mother Nature is so vividly described in the pages of this book based in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Main characters Sophie and Finn, no strangers to backstories brimming with tremendous pain and loss, face down the eye of the hurricane, learning to lean on each other while learning more about the beauty of life. With such immersive descriptions (including the location’s wild horses!), readers can expect to be transported to the Southern coast on a true journey of self-discovery and second-chance love.


Book Lovers

By Emily Henry,

Book cover of Book Lovers

Why this book?

How can banter be this sexy? Emily Henry’s characters jump off the page. A tough cynical self-described serial dumpee takes a trip to a small town only to find the one person grumpier than her. Nora is a hard case with a soft spot for her hilarious sister. She absolutely should not be attracted to her fellow book agent, but the sizzle is undeniable. It’s not just the kissy parts of this book that will melt your sheets. The reason I recommend the Hell out of this book is because the banter is just so so sexy. The way the main characters relate to each other makes me yearn to be understood this way. If you want a cerebral romp this book is my number one pick.


The Peach Keeper

By Sarah Addison Allen,

Book cover of The Peach Keeper

Why this book?

Sarah Addison Allen novels enchant readers with lovely prose, multi-layered, engaging characters, and a tone balancing gentle humor against melancholy. In The Peach Keeper, Paxton and Willa are forced to face and overcome their pasts, revealing frailties and strengths as they reluctantly link to solve a decades-old, magic-tinged mystery involving their grandmothers. I loved the unusual mystical quirks in the story, like two dozen snooty women unwillingly shouting out their secrets at a society club meeting. Allen further captures us with heart-rending romance as she builds the allure of the small town, Walls of Water, NC. I’ve been equally compelled by her books The Sugar Queen and Other Birds, a recent release. 


Caterpillar Summer

By Gillian McDunn,

Book cover of Caterpillar Summer

Why this book?

This is one of my favorite middle grade books ever! Caterpillar Summer is about Cat who finds herself spending the summer with her estranged grandparents at their beach house. The setting in this book is so vividly rendered—it made me immediately want to take a trip to a Carolina beach—but it is also a book that heartfeltly covers topics such as grief, sibling relationships, and what it means to just get to be a kid. This book really captured my whole heart. 


Stealing Shadows

By Kay Hooper,

Book cover of Stealing Shadows

Why this book?

This book is an intense psychological thriller that kept me on the edge right towards the end of the book. Cassie Neil has psychic gifts and works with the detectives to locate serial killers wherein her ability to tap into the mind of the killer evoked a chilly feeling in me. But often, her ability to see through the murderer’s eyes didn’t ensure sufficient information to prevent the murders and this often took a toll on her emotionally and spiritually. This was a fresh and exciting read though more than often I was filled with dread hoping there wouldn’t be another victim or guessing who the next one might be! This haunting suspense with an unexpected but interesting twist at the end makes it a delicious paranormal crime thriller. 


The Lost State of Franklin: America's First Secession

By Kevin T. Barksdale,

Book cover of The Lost State of Franklin: America's First Secession

Why this book?

It’s been a decade since I wrote my novel that featured as a backdrop the conflict over North Carolina’s western (Overmountain) counties’ attempt to form the controversial State of Franklin, but I remember how helpful Barksdale’s book was in forming my understanding of the era, the place, and the people involved. If I didn’t, the copious highlights and notes I left in my copy of this book would be enough to jog my memory. This book was highly readable and rich in detail.


The Bondwoman's Narrative

By Hannah Crafts,

Book cover of The Bondwoman's Narrative

Why this book?

Though not published until 2002, after Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. purchased and authenticated the manuscript, the autobiographical novel The Bondwoman's Narrative by Hannah Crafts is widely considered the first book known to have been written by a fugitive enslaved woman. Crafts was the author’s pseudonym, and the novel, estimated to have been written in 1858, parallels the life of Hannah Bond, a woman who is documented to have escaped enslavement on a North Carolina plantation and who, like the novel’s protagonist, eventually settled in New Jersey. The preface and introduction of the published book read like a mystery adventure as Professor Gates reveals his multifaceted strategies to identify the real-life author and the real-life characters of her book.


Where the Crawdads Sing

By Delia Owens,

Book cover of Where the Crawdads Sing

Why this book?

A resourceful woman, an outcast, cleverly survives a harsh life. She turns to art for inspiration and fulfillment.

The descriptions of Kya’s drawings of shells, feathers, and seabirds were evocative. Equally compelling was the poetry composed by the talented and insightful Kya.

The relationship between Kya and the black couple, Jumping’ and Mabel, was moving and heartfelt.

The book tackles topics of abandonment, isolation, and betrayal; against this reality Kya proves to be resilient, creative, and resourceful.


First Frost

By Sarah Addison Allen,

Book cover of First Frost

Why this book?

This book is also set in an ordinary world in a small Georgia town (I think it’s Georgia!), with an extraordinary family whose lineage has women with magical powers. The townsfolk know about the “odd” family, but they aren’t wholly shunned. Each woman has her own vulnerabilities and life journey. I loved the magic and cranky apple tree!


Where the Watermelons Grow

By Cindy Baldwin,

Book cover of Where the Watermelons Grow

Why this book?

One can’t read about families in crisis and not confront the devastation and stigma of mental illness. I think this theme resonates with many people, who are close to someone dealing with this illness, including me. In Where the Watermelons Grow, the consequences of mental illness in a family are stark as seen through the eyes of twelve-year-old Della, whose mother is on the verge of a serious breakdown. Della is thrust into new responsibilities for her baby sister and on the family farm. Despite this, Della is still a child who believes in magic and searches for a cure to heal her mother. Of course, there is no magical cure, but there is magic in understanding and acceptance.


Time of Drums

By John Ehle,

Book cover of Time of Drums

Why this book?

Time of Drums is a personal favorite of mine because it explores the Civil War through the first-person voice of Colonel Owen Wright, who is a native of the mountains of Western North Carolina, my own birthplace and home. Ehle masterfully interweaves the story of Wright’s career in the Confederate army with the volatile and tragic events on the home front in the Southern mountains. In addition, the national conflicts are simultaneously played out in the private lives of the characters in a deeply personal and moving way. Time of Drums is one of the most underrated Civil War novels and deserves a much wider readership. My own civil war book, That Bright Land, was dedicated to John Ehle for this reason.


A Barefoot Tide

By Grace Greene,

Book cover of A Barefoot Tide

Why this book?

Grace Greene writes the ultimate “beach read”—endearing characters, descriptions that put you right there at oceanside, and a poignant blend of emotion and humor. I love how Lilliane, the heroine, discovers courage she never thought she had. A temporary job as a live-in caregiver begins merely as a way to earn money for much-needed home repairs. But her stay in Emerald Isle, NC, becomes a life-changer, not only for her but for the elderly gentleman who soon becomes both friend and mentor. It’s a book about stepping out of your comfort zone and opening your heart to new possibilities no matter your age. And if this novel stirs your heart as it did mine, you won’t want to miss the sequel, A Dancing Tide.


How to Steal a Dog

By Barbara O'Connor,

Book cover of How to Steal a Dog

Why this book?

This is a wonderful book about homelessness that is full of heart and humor. I love that it explores the question of whether it’s okay to do something wrong, in this case stealing a dog for the reward money, when you’re desperate for money. This is an entertaining way to teach kids about the reality of living out of a car, the choices kids and their parents must navigate when impoverished, and how we often make biased assumptions when we encounter those less fortunate than ourselves.


Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

By Harriet Jacobs,

Book cover of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Why this book?

Jacobs’ emotionally compelling book is arguably the most well-known slave narrative written by a woman. Published in 1861, under the pseudonym Linda Brent, this intimate memoir played an important role in the antislavery movement. Nineteen-century readers were moved, as are readers today, by the story of a young woman so determined to avoid the sexual advances of her enslaver that, for seven years, she hides in her grandmother’s coffin-like attic from which she secretly watches from afar her two children at play. The narrative ends on a cautiously hopeful note. When Jacobs finally escapes from North Carolina, she is able to spend time with her children in New York City and Boston, but she is still enslaved.


Landfill Dogs: True Portraits of Shelter Pets

By Shannon Johnstone,

Book cover of Landfill Dogs: True Portraits of Shelter Pets

Why this book?

You will likely never see finer photographs of shelter dogs than those inside Shannon Johnstone’s exquisite book. The photographs capture the dogs’ character, grit, and heart as they run, jump, fetch, or simply stare into the distance. Their faces are joyful, wistful, earnest. In most cases, these photographs saved lives. Posted on a North Carolina shelter’s website, the dogs captured the imaginations of those who would adopt them. Photographs of dogs with their new families cap off the book.


In the Valley

By Ron Rash,

Book cover of In the Valley

Why this book?

In the Valley by Ron Rash is a haunting collection of ten short stories told as lean and efficient as the author’s other works. Filled with surprise twists, I could hardly close the book at bedtime, so delicious were the varied plots. I particularly loved the stories that expanded our understanding of his captivating character, Serena, that was made into a movie in 2014. 


Checked Out (The Village Library Mysteries Book 1)

By Elizabeth Spann Craig,

Book cover of Checked Out (The Village Library Mysteries Book 1)

Why this book?

Like most cozies, the first book of the Village Library Mysteries takes place in a small town, Whitby, North Carolina. The main character, Ann Beckett, like me, is a reference librarian. When a patron sets her up with a blind date and the mystery man turns up dead, Ann steps up to help solve the murder with the help of a few patrons. I loved and related to the library setting and the situations in which Ann found herself and also really enjoyed the addition of Fitz, the rescued library cat. I consider this a purrfect start to the series.


A Gathering of Men

By Rona Simmons,

Book cover of A Gathering of Men

Why this book?

I may be going out on a limb here, but I suspect that Rona Simmons was never a member of the 100th Bomb Group in WW2 combat, which makes this book all the more remarkable. It is her choice of details that make the story so convincing, powerfully evoking the times and the places.  As is often the case with truly great stories, truth trumps fiction. This isn’t historical fiction. It transcends genres, which may be a headscratcher for booksellers, but is a delight for readers like me.

The airmen, face the spinning barrels of a gun in a game of aerial Russian roulette on every mission. In a tale of honour, brotherhood, and true courage, with a twist in the tail that could only come from real life. 


The Notebook

By Nicholas Sparks,

Book cover of The Notebook

Why this book?

It is a novel about an elderly man reading a romantic story to a woman in a nursing home. 

Actually, the man is reading to his wife, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease and does no longer know who he is. He is also seriously ill, battling cancer, suffering from heart disease and kidney failure. He knows he is dying, but his wife, not even recognising him, is unaware of it. Yet he carries on reading the book to entertain her.

A heartbreaking story of true love.

Although in my case it was totally different from Alzheimer’s, I had experienced the never-ending, painful difficulties, with a disturbed loved one.


Christy

By Catherine Marshall,

Book cover of Christy

Why this book?

Catherine Marshall’s masterpiece Christy is revered for a reason. This Edwardian-era coming-of-age story about a young teacher in an impoverished Appalachia village is not only a romantic page-turner, but also theologically rich, psychologically astute, and honest about the effects of poverty, violence, and social injustice. I’ve read Christy multiple times and continue to find it engaging and thought-provoking.


Second Chance on Cypress Lane

By Reese Ryan,

Book cover of Second Chance on Cypress Lane

Why this book?

Small town romance + coming home + second chance? This book was like catnip to me. Dakota and Dexter felt like real people I would know. I love any story that explores how our needs and ambitions change as we grow older, and this book delivered. Dexter made choices when they were young. Dakota made some career choices that have set her life in a tailspin. I also very much enjoyed the friendship between Dakota and her best friend, Sinclair (Sin). Enduring friendships are another facet of a character’s ability to love that I enjoy seeing in a good romance. 


Desertion During the Civil War

By Dr. Ella Lonn,

Book cover of Desertion During the Civil War

Why this book?

Despite this book’s age—almost a century in print—it still stands as a seminal work on an important topic: desertion and its devastating effects on both armies. Lonn was born in 1879 in Indiana, and earned her PhD at the University of Pennsylvania, one of the few female historians at the time to do so. She was not immune to the racism of her day nor the cloying ideology of the Lost Cause, yet she told her readers she wanted to understand “the ugly and sordid sides of war.” Her book offers readers a wealth of information and insight to better understand the myriad of reasons why soldiers deserted.

Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History

By Lesley Pratt Bannatyne,

Book cover of Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History

Why this book?

Lesley Bannatyne’s Halloween. An American Holiday, An American History brought the study of Halloween history into the modern era. Published 71 years after Ruth Edna Kelley’s seminal The Book of Hallowe’en, Bannatyne’s book opened the gates for consideration of Halloween as a subject deserving of more serious consideration. This was the book that certainly inspired ME in my Halloween scholarship!


The Upland South: The Making of an American Folk Region

By Terry G. Jordan-Bychkov,

Book cover of The Upland South: The Making of an American Folk Region

Why this book?

If you want to understand the Ozarks, you need to understand the generations of people who leapfrogged from Appalachia to the Ozarks – and sometimes on to the Texas hill country. This underappreciated little book by a top-notch geographer uses a variety of cultural markers to explore the roots and branches of Upland Southerners. It’s a rare thing for a scholar to do, and Jordan-Bychkov did it efficiently and expertly.


Jubal Sackett: The Sacketts

By Louis L'Amour,

Book cover of Jubal Sackett: The Sacketts

Why this book?

My favorite novel from one of my favorite historical fiction writers. Louis L’Amour is best known for his many western novels, but his earlier Sackett tales harken back to the days when Europeans were first settling the edge of the great North American continent. No one writes swashbuckling, daring-do adventure stories better than L’Amour, but what makes this book really stand out is his hero, Jubal Sackett. Jubal, the youngest son of the adventurer Barnabas Sackett, has his father’s wanderlust and yearns to see new lands that lie to the west of his home in the mountains of North Carolina. 

He sets out alone, is befriended by Keotah, a Kickapoo warrior, and together they cross the Mississippi and venture out onto the great grass prairie the Natchez tribe calls “the far-seeing land.” Jubal’s a bit of a mystic, but it’s his competence, courage, and integrity that keeps him alive in a savage new land.


The Dove in the Belly

By Jim Grimsley,

Book cover of The Dove in the Belly

Why this book?

The story sounds simple: two college-age boys  Ben, a football player and brainy Ronny, his tutor – gradually fall in love even though their relationship is sometimes stormy, and readers may wonder anxiously if it will endure. But true love has a stubborn way of enduring and perhaps it will in this case, too. So, a simple story? No, for it’s as complex as the human heart. What also sets this one apart is its gorgeous writing, which is an undivided pleasure to read and which brings Ben and Ronny to vivid, fully realized life. Readers won’t forget them nor will they forget this haunting novel.  


Of Time and the River: A Legend of Man's Hunger in His Youth

By Thomas Wolfe,

Book cover of Of Time and the River: A Legend of Man's Hunger in His Youth

Why this book?

I was so overwhelmed by the perfection of this American masterwork that I sought out the founder of The Thomas Wolfe Society, the greatest Thomas Wolfe collector who ever lived and who will ever live, and became his very close friend.

This is a huge book, with the music of pitch-perfect prosody from beginning to end, and yet it's only part of a much greater whole—every one of Wolfe's books connect together in some way, forming a massive cadency of music in words. If you examine them, there's only two main branches (Eugene Gant as the protagonist in one, and Monk Webber as the protagonist in the other). But it's really all one big expanding fable. This volume has, in my opinion, the richest writing, from the opening proem to the tiny diamond-sharp moving-picture painting of the final line.