The best books about South Carolina

17 authors have picked their favorite books about South Carolina and why they recommend each book.

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The Invention of Wings

By Sue Monk Kidd,

Book cover of The Invention of Wings

I think of this novel as a prequel of sorts to my own book, because it is inspired by the life of Sarah Grimke, another abolitionist and pioneer of women’s rights who, along with her sister Angelina, was an idol of Lucy Stone’s. The book opens on Sarah’s 11th birthday when she is gifted a slave, "Handful,” a gift she has no interest in keeping. Kidd makes the courageous choice to tell the story from both Handful’s and Sarah’s perspective, giving us very different views of pre-Civil War life in Charleston and what it takes to defy the rules in hopes of escape. At times harrowing and equally uplifting, this is a gorgeous and inspiring story.


Who am I?

I was never much of a history student. Facts and figures rarely stick in my brain until I have a character—their feelings, hopes, fears, and dreams—to pair them with, so I rely a lot on historical fiction to understand different places and times. I’m also a believer that our culture too often serves up the impression that marginalized people have forever hopelessly struggled, held back by those in power. But there are so many true stories that reveal the opposite, in this case, women fighting for their dreams and winning! I aim to bring these stories to light in a way that keeps the pages turning. 


I wrote...

Leaving Coy's Hill

By Katherine Sherbrooke,

Book cover of Leaving Coy's Hill

What is my book about?

Leaving Coy’s Hill is inspired by Lucy Stone, an abolitionist and the first woman to speak out on women’s rights in the US. While she was perhaps the most famous woman in the country in the mid-1800s, she was rather purposely erased from history by her own friend, Susan B. Anthony. In writing this novel I wanted to breathe new life into a woman driven to create change in a deeply divided nation and determined to stand on the right side of history despite painful personal costs. NY Times best-selling author Caroline Leavitt says, “What could be more timely than Sherbrooke’s gorgeously fictionalized and page-turning account of Lucy Stone?... A stunning look at timeless issues…all told through the lens of one extraordinary heroine.”

Prelude to Civil War

By William W. Freehling,

Book cover of Prelude to Civil War

Though venerable, Freehling’s book remains the standard treatment of this early episode in America’s convulsive sectional crisis. Informed by impeccable research, Freehling depicts the growing tension that pitted hardline states’ rights advocates against resolute nationalists, almost to cause a civil war three decades before it finally happened. Vivid portrayals abound with numerous characters, including the volatile Andrew Jackson and the doctrinaire John C. Calhoun, brought to life in a gemstone of the narrative art.


Who are we?

We have been researching and writing about the Early Republic since graduate school and began collaborating on the period with our first co-authored book, Old Hickory’s War: Andrew Jackson and the Quest for Empire. Though we have occasionally ventured beyond the enthralling events that occurred during those years, mainly by editing books on the Civil War and other topics, we always return to them with relish. We hope you will find the books on our list entertaining as well as informative, thus to whet your appetite for the sumptuous banquet that awaits!


We wrote...

Henry Clay: The Essential American

By David S. Heidler, Jeanne T. Heidler,

Book cover of Henry Clay: The Essential American

What is our book about?

He was the Great Compromiser, a canny and colorful legislator whose life mirrors the story of America from its founding until the eve of the Civil War. Speaker of the House, senator, secretary of state, five-time presidential candidate, and idol to the young Abraham Lincoln, Henry Clay is captured in full at last in this rich and sweeping biography.

The authors reveal Clay’s tumultuous career in Washington, including his participation in the deadlocked election of 1824 that haunted him for the rest of his career, and shine new light on Clay’s marriage to plain, wealthy Lucretia Hart, a union that lasted fifty-three years and produced eleven children. Featuring an inimitable supporting cast including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Abraham Lincoln, Henry Clay is beautifully written and replete with fresh anecdotes and insights. 

The Secret Life of Bees

By Sue Monk Kidd,

Book cover of The Secret Life of Bees

Grieving over the loss of her mother and the relentless abuse of her father, Lily goes in search of clues about her mother, hoping to find answers in a place she thinks her mother may have been connected with. During this quest, she finds herself having to examine her attitudes about interracial relationships. Kidd includes information about beekeeping and the black Madonna, both bodies of knowledge that symbolically contribute to the theme about roles that females play in the social order.


Who am I?

Having been an unrestrained traveler myself, I’m fascinated by how being immersed in other cultures forced me to reconcile with my own basic beliefs about myself and about what it means to be a good person. The farther afield and more untethered I got, the more I had to really dig into myself to find common humanity with people of completely different backgrounds, beliefs, and opinions. Like the main character in Sylvie Denied, each of the young women in the books on my list leaves home seeking truth, inner strength, and spiritual connection as well as the means to be able to hold onto it once they find it.


I wrote...

Sylvie Denied

By Deborah Clark Vance,

Book cover of Sylvie Denied

What is my book about?

Disturbed by the life that’s presented to her, Sylvie leaves a wealthy comfortable home in search of a more authentic life, yearning to find a truth she thinks is out there but that eludes her. Though she doesn't realize it, a traumatic early childhood event churns in the back of her mind, leading her to fall for men with a dark side -- including her husband Enzo. It's the 1970s, with few supports or encouragement for women, so Sylvie relies on her wits to forge her path. As Enzo's behavior turns volatile, Sylvie must find a way to escape with her daughter and claim her place in the world.

The Home Place

By J. Drew Lanham,

Book cover of The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man's Love Affair with Nature

Like Rachel Carson, Lanham is a scientist who avoids the stilted style of his profession. His book was also a finalist for the John Burroughs Medal, and like Janisse Ray, he published with Milkweed Editions, a powerhouse publisher in environmental literature. As a black man and lover of nature, Lanham describes himself as an “unusually colored fish out of water.” Growing up in rural South Carolina, he was surrounded by woods and wetlands that beckoned his curiosity on solitary wanderings. Everything captivated him: insects, reptiles, rocks, plants, and, especially, birds. When baptized in his grandmother’s authoritarian religious faith, he questioned the ritual but not the algae and “little black commas of tadpoles” in the devotional waters. Sometime after, he came to believe in Nature’s worthiness for worship, a faith that forms the heart of this elegant book. 


Who am I?

I'm a writer and professor of environmental history who divides his time between two “villes,” Gainesville, Florida, and Harrisville, New Hampshire. On April 16, 2018, while in my campus office excoriating a graduate student for his sloppy writing, I learned that my book The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea won the Pulitzer Prize in History. The chastened student subsequently revised his work and turned in a perfect paper, and I’ve been trying to live up to the distinction of the prize ever since. My first effort to do so will appear in the form of my latest book, The Bald Eagle: The Improbable Journey of America’s Bird.


I wrote...

The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea

By Jack E. Davis,

Book cover of The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea

What is my book about?

Covering the period from geological formation to the present, The Gulf is a biography of a natural place and the peoples and cultures that have intersected with it for some 10,000 years. Dismayed that the Gulf remains largely absent from the pages of American history, I saw a need to write a book about it. An equal motivating factor were big events that had come to define the Gulf as a place. I wanted readers to know its true identity. The Gulf is among the richest estuarine environments in the world, one to which all Americans are connected historically and ecologically. 

Of the book's many fascinating characters, the ones that were most fun to write about, and to indeed treat as characters, were the wildlife and natural features of the Gulf.

The Parker Inheritance

By Varian Johnson,

Book cover of The Parker Inheritance

AKA the book I wish I’d written. but I’m not a colored boy from the 1910s nor a 1940s Negro tennis player nor a contemporary Black girl.

Varian Johnson has so expertly woven rich heritage and unique characters in these three time periods that this book is a master class in writing. More than that, it’s a compelling story that centers on a girl who temporarily moves to her late grandmother’s house, where she finds a letter revealing the first clue to a puzzle, one that may lead to a fortune. The excitement of the plot, a page-turning mystery, also showcases a remarkable depth of culture that has brought me a greater understanding of the Black South then and now.


Who am I?

I teethed on Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and Encyclopedia Brown; I dove further into mysteries with Agatha Christie, Donald Westlake, Mary Higgins Clark, Harry Kemelman, Dashiell Hammett, and whatever my parents had at home. Meanwhile, I couldn’t get enough of TV game shows plus puzzles and brainteasers of all kinds. So, when it came to writing my first novel, it naturally followed that I combined what stirs some excitement within. Even now, with No Way Home, my first YA thriller, I’ve found myself combining mystery with a puzzle-like element. I suppose there’s no escaping what intrigues me when I write and even when I read. 


I wrote...

The Gollywhopper Games

By Jody Feldman, Victoria Jamieson (illustrator),

Book cover of The Gollywhopper Games

What is my book about?

Gil Goodson’s future happiness depends on winning Golly Toy and Game Company’s ultimate competition. If Gil wins, his dad has promised the family can move away from all the gossip, false friends, and bad press that have plagued them ever since The Incident.

Gil has been studying, training, and preparing for months, and once he makes it through the tricky preliminary rounds and meets his teammates, the competition gets tougher. Brainteasers, obstacle courses, mazes, and increasingly difficult puzzles and decisions—not to mention temptations, dilemmas, and new friends (and enemies)—are all that separate Gil from ultimate victory. Does Gil have what it takes to win? Do you?

Chasing Freedom

By Gloria Ann Wesley,

Book cover of Chasing Freedom

After the American Civil War, the British promised freedom and land to the slaves in the British Colonies in exchange for their loyalty. Sadly, their new home turned out to be anything but a place of refuge when they found just as much hate and cruelty on this side of the border. Can Sarah and her family persevere and truly find freedom against the odds? The book is an easy read and an interesting lesson on this part of Canadian history.

Who am I?

I am a Canadian who enjoys travelling and reading historical fiction from around the world. Having had the privilege of living in a variety of areas in Canada from coast to coast since childhood, I can recall listening to the stories of past generations and exploring the locations where some of these events took place. With a passion for Canada’s beauty and the history of its people, I like to research, explore, and incorporate these passions into my own stories.


I wrote...

Freedom Reins

By E.M. Spencer,

Book cover of Freedom Reins

What is my book about?

Charlotte Logan, affectionately called Charlie, spent her adolescent years under the control of the Grey Nuns. Now, her free spirit needs to be set loose. When the confined surroundings challenge her sense of adventure, she uses the art of manipulation to join a small wagon train heading west to the Fraser River in search of gold.

Travelling across untamed land brings new relationships and the discovery of her place in the world. When adventure turns to danger, Charlie finds her source of strength in the middle of gunfights, kidnappers, and a battle for her relationship against the temptress called gold.

Beautiful Creatures

By Kami Garcia, Margaret Stohl,

Book cover of Beautiful Creatures

A contemporary storyline mixed with historical details give book one in this four-book, gothic fantasy series a rich backdrop for family conflict on an unexpectedly dark scale as the main character, Lena, faces a cursed countdown to her 16th birthday. The movie version of this book is good, but as often is the case, the book is better. Stellar writing, plotting and a believable, swoon-worthy, and fated romance combined with an intriguing cast of characters make this book one of my favorites for coming-of-age magical stories. 


Who am I?

Traveling through Ireland, everyone notices the low stone walls separating fields, but occasionally much larger stones rising from the green like giant cogs on a wheel—mystical standing stone circles. One in particular—Beltany in Co. Donegal—became the inspiration for my Circle of Nine series, which is a mix of Celtic mythology, pagan ritual, and magic set within alternating historical and modern storylines. It’s no wonder that the books I most like to read are also the same kind I write. There’s nothing better than picking up a new book and immersing myself in these worlds with their rich magical systems, historical details, suspenseful plots, and often a good dose of romance.


I wrote...

Circle of Nine: Beltany Book One in the Circle of Nine Series

By Valerie Biel,

Book cover of Circle of Nine: Beltany Book One in the Circle of Nine Series

What is my book about?

Brigit Quinn’s secret wish on her 15th birthday is for a normal life—an impossible dream when your mom practices an ancient pagan religion, and everyone believes she’s a witch.

Instead, Brigit learns she’s descended from a legendary Celtic tribe—powerful people who protect the mystical energy of Ireland's ancient stone circles. A spellbound book of family history shows her the magical strength of her ancestors. Powers that could be her own—if only she wanted to claim them. And when someone, disguised as a friend, reveals their sinister plan to steal her family’s strength, Brigit must make a decision: fight to keep her unique heritage or reject it for the normal life she’s always craved.

The Sisterhood of Blackberry Corner

By Andrea Smith,

Book cover of The Sisterhood of Blackberry Corner

While the minute details of the plot may have faded, I still recall the feelings Sisterhood left me with, its essence. As the middle of three daughters, sisterhood is highly important to me. Although the women in the book weren’t biologically connected, their bond and unification were definite. I consider our protagonist Bonnie Wilder (despite her own personal challenges), her best friend, Thora, and the women of Blackberry Corner heroic in their efforts to rescue abandoned children—thus, touching on another topic important to me: motherhood. If you like small-town stories with lively, colorful characters, historical references, and a touch of drama dive into The Sisterhood of Blackberry Corner. The sense of satisfaction I felt when reading it remains with me still. 


Who am I?

I have a youthful spirit, but an old soul. Perhaps, that’s why I love African American history and gravitated to Black Studies as my undergraduate degree. My reverence for my ancestors sends me time and again to African-American historical fiction in an effort to connect with our past. Growing up, I was that kid who liked being around my elders and eavesdropping on grown-ups' conversations. Now, I listen to my ancestors as they guide my creativity. I’m an award-winning hybrid author writing contemporary and historical novels, and I value each. Still, it’s those historical characters and tales that snatch me by the hand and passionately urge me to do their bidding. 


I wrote...

My Name Is Ona Judge

By Suzette Harrison,

Book cover of My Name Is Ona Judge

What is my book about?

New Hampshire, 1796. “My name is Ona Judge, and I escaped from the household of the President of the United States. I was the favored maid of George and Martha Washington, but they deemed me a slave and thought me property. Now I must write the truth that I have lived, and tell my story…”

Meet Ona Judge, the young, brave lady’s maid who dared to risk her entire world by escaping enslavement. Take a walk through her early years and the circumstances that led to her harrowing escape. A dynamic dual timeline narrative based on a true story, this riveting novel will whisk you to another world and arrest your imagination.

Edisto

By Padgett Powell,

Book cover of Edisto

Edisto was the first coming-of-age novel I fell in love with as an adult reader and the book that showed me the tremendous literary potential of the genre. Padgett Powell endows his protagonist, twelve-year-old Simons, with what comes across as precociousness, but in fact reflects the depth of thinking that many young tweens and teens have. Simons wrestles with his narcissistic parents’ competing visions of his future—although neither bothers to ask him what he wants—while hanging out on the sultry island of Edisto off the coast of South Carolina with an enigmatic older acquaintance, Taurus, who offers him tastes of adult life and the kind of attention his parents are incapable of providing. Powell’s deft prose and realistic dialogue make it all fully believable, and at times riotously funny. Edisto is nothing short of brilliant.


Who am I?

My novel Venice Beach—like the five books I recommend here—has been classified as a “coming-of-age” novel, a classification that I have no quarrels with as long as it’s understood that coming-of-age is not regarded simply as a synonym for “adolescence” or “being a teenager.” The coming-of-age years—generally defined as between ages 12 and 18—are so much more than a period of life wedged between childhood and adulthood. Coming of age is a process, not a block of time; it is a hot emotional forge in which we experience so many “firsts” and are hammered, usually painfully, into the shapes that will last a lifetime. 


I wrote...

Venice Beach

By William Mark Habeeb,

Book cover of Venice Beach

What is my book about?

It's 1968. A thirteen-year-old runaway flees his home for the lure of California. He barely survives on the streets of Los Angeles until a fateful encounter leads him to the bohemian community of Venice Beach, known at the time as the "Slum-by-the-Sea." He renames himself Moon, symbolizing his quest for something that will shine light on him, just as the sun illumines the moon. Over the next two years he experiences first loves, sexual confusion, drug use, and haunting childhood flashbacks. Amidst cultural upheaval over Vietnam, Moon assembles a new family of his own making, until a shocking and unexpected discovery upends who he thought he was. Venice Beach is a moving tale of the resilience of youth and the power of our personal stories.

The Indigo Girl

By Natasha Boyd,

Book cover of The Indigo Girl

Sometimes strength, particularly for women in history, has been quieter. The colonial early American setting of The Indigo Girl echoed part of the painting’s story from my book as well. In The Indigo Girl, Eliza is willing to speak up, to do what is right, even when it’s the furthest thing from anyone’s mind. As a huge art history fan, and as a hobbyist painter, I am always interested in learning more about where pigments and colors come from. This story told about that, but it also explored forbidden friendship and love and touched the heart, leaving a stain of remembrance, deeper than the indigo itself. 


Who am I?

Before I became an author of ten historical fiction novels (thus far), I was a reader of historical fiction. The challenges of history are best navigated by strong characters. Throughout history, women have played an integral role but have been overlooked too often. Historical fiction with strong women brings these characters to life, giving them a voice and agency. Whatever role the woman has, from nurse to investigator to planter to maid to scientist to artist and more… interesting characters are necessary to activate an engaging plot, and that is something I look for both as a reader and as an author.


I wrote...

What Edward Heard

By Megan Easley-Walsh,

Book cover of What Edward Heard

What is my book about?

Shattered by his experiences on the Western Front in World War One, Edward is looking forward to the peacefulness of England. Partially deaf, everything is quieter than he’s accustomed to. Except for the nightmares that continue to haunt him. In Renaissance Venice, a young artist paints a portrait full of his love, devotion, and passion. When the painting was created, more than paint went into it. Now the painting has a magical ability: reading people’s deepest thoughts… even their secrets.

When Edward finds it, his world is rocked. He must face his demons from the war, or a young servant girl accused of murder might die. Even more alarming, someone is inside the painting: trapped. If Edward can’t solve the mysteries in time, they all might face disaster.

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