Books Set in Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington DC

Whether you’re participating in our Read Around the USA Challenge or simply found your way to our website researching books set in Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia or Washington DC, you’ve come to the right place!

What Kind of Books are Included On This List?

Our curated recommendations strike a good balance between historical fiction, contemporary novels, and non-fiction books about these states. We’ve grouped the books by state and also indicated the time setting of each. You’ll also find a brief description of each state’s characteristics before the corresponding books.

History of Maryland

Long before European settlers arrived, Maryland was inhabited by indigenous peoples, including the Algonquian-speaking tribes such as the Piscataway, Nanticoke, and Powhatan. In 1634, European colonists settled in this area, and Maryland became one of the original thirteen American colonies. Maryland played a crucial role in the American Revolution and the Civil War a decade later. Despite being close to the Confederate states and deeply divided, Maryland remained part of the Union during the Civil War. The bloodiest single-day battle in American history occurred in Sharpsburg, Maryland. The battle significantly impacted the war’s outcome and led to President Abraham Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.

Located in the mid-Atlantic region, Maryland’s widely varied landscape stretches from the Chesapeake Bay in the east to the Appalachian Mountains in the west, with the rolling hills of the Piedmont region in between. In addition to being one of the country’s largest and most ecologically significant estuaries, the Chesapeake Bay also has immense economic importance. In colonial times, it facilitated trade, serving as a gateway for shipping goods like tobacco, fish, and grains to Europe. In the 19th century, it was vital for transporting goods and raw materials via steamboats and schooners. In 1814, Francis Scott Key wrote the national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” after witnessing the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812.

In the 19th century, Baltimore, situated on the Chesapeake Bay’s northern shore, emerged as a major port city. Today, the Chesapeake Bay supports a lucrative seafood industry, including commercial fishing and aquaculture. The state’s largest city has maintained its historic waterfront charm through the years, with cobblestone streets, preserved architecture, and the iconic Inner Harbor. Also located along the Chesapeake Bay, the capital city of Annapolis is smaller and quieter than Baltimore but also boasts a well-preserved colonial historic district. Annapolis is home to the United States Naval Academy.

Several of Maryland’s other major cities, including Silver Spring, Frederick, and Rockville, are considered part of the Washington D.C. metropolitan area because of their proximity to the Nation’s capital and efficient public transportation access for commuters. Being part of the D.C. metro area comes with a wide range of economic, cultural, educational, and social opportunities, making these Maryland cities attractive places to live and work for many people.

Books Set in Maryland

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

95% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

Mary Jane tells the story of two very different family lifestyles and a 14-year-old girl trying to decide who she really is. Mary Jane is a quiet, book-loving girl from a traditional, conservative family in 1970s Baltimore. When she is offered a job as a nanny for a local doctor, her mom assumes their home is equally tidy and respectable.

However, the house is a huge mess, and it’s about to get crazier. The doctor has welcomed a rock star and his wife to stay at the house while he tries to get sober. Mary Jane has a lot to teach them about tidiness and schedules, and all the while they are opening her eyes to the world outside her bubble. By the end of the summer, she’ll have a much better understanding of who she wants to be.

The Book Girls Say…

This was one of our favorite books of the last few years, and one that really stuck with both of us! Angela enjoyed listening to the audiobook because it incorporates music.

Although the main character is a teenager, this is an adult novel, not a YA title. It makes an excellent read because of the perspective that comes from looking back at the years between innocence and maturity.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 10/15/2023
Beautiful Struggle Book Cover

Book Summary

In this intimate memoir, Ta-Nehisi Coates looks back at his Baltimore childhood and reflects on his complicated relationship with his Vietnam Vet father, who was a member of the Black Panthers.

Born in 1975, Ta-Nehisi’s inner-city adolescence was marked by the collapsing civilization of West Baltimore in the age of Crack. His father, though not always present, was integral to the upbringing of Ta-Nehisi and his six siblings (from four different mothers).

One of Ta-Nehisi’s biggest challenges growing up was navigating the violence of his neighborhood. Additionally, he was very smart and often more advanced than his schooling, making him so bored that he often didn’t do the work. His father, however, was determined to see Ta-Nehisi and his siblings escape the streets and get them into Howard University, where he worked so that his children could attend for free.

The Book Girls Say…

There is also a young reader’s edition of this memoir by the same title, so be sure you are picking up the version you prefer. Seven years after publishing The Beautiful Struggle, Ta-Nehisi penned Between the World and Me, which talks about his Howard years.

For a non-fiction option set in Baltimore, consider The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. In the 1950s, Lacks was treated in the “colored” ward of Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital, where she had a tissue sample taken while undergoing cancer treatment. Without her knowledge or consent, those cells became the first “immortal” human cells grown in culture. Still alive today, the HeLa cells have been used to develop the polio vaccine, discover cancer treatments, advance gene mapping, and much more. It wasn’t until more than 20 years after Henrietta’s death that her family learned of her “immortality.”

French Braid Book Cover

Book Summary

This slice-of-life story opens in 1959 when the Garrett family from Baltimore takes their first and last family vacation. Mercy is more passionate about painting than being a good housewife, their teen daughters can’t see eye to eye on anything, and their son (the youngest of their kids) is already planning ways to escape his family’s orbit.

French Braid follows this quirky family across the decades up to and through the pandemic. Over the years, we see their lives progress from several different characters’ points of view. Through this beautifully written novel, Tyler uses the Garrett family to examine the nature of time and memory. She illustrates how cultural expectations of women have progressed over the years, and she explores the consequences of both actions and inactions. You won’t always like all of the characters in this novel, but they are so well drawn that you’ll understand them even when you disagree with their choices.

The Book Girls Say…

It seems that either you’re a fan of Anne Tyler’s character-driven writing style, or you’re not, and there doesn’t seem to be much gray area in between.

If this will be your first time picking up one of her books, consider this quote that she gave to People Magazine to gauge if it’s for you: “If you love a good war story, you won’t be remotely interested in my books. Nothing is going on in them except time passing, and people being who they are.” If that description doesn’t appeal to you, or you’re in the mood for a plot-driven novel that will keep you turning pages to find out what happens next, we’d recommend skipping this one for now.

If, on the other hand, you do enjoy Tyler’s writing style, she has numerous other novels set in Baltimore that you could consider, including Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant and A Spool of Blue Thread.

Husband of Frick Island Book Cover

Book Summary

Journalist Anders thought he’d be further ahead in his career than writing fluff pieces for a small-town newspaper. His latest boring assignment is traveling to remote Frick Island to cover their annual Cake Walk fundraiser. However, when he arrives, he learns that the entire town is pretending to see and interact with Piper Parrish’s dead husband, Tom.

When Tom’s crab boat capsized, his body wasn’t found, which triggered Piper to continue living as if he were still alive. She walks him to the dock every morning and attends their standing Friday night dinner date at the One-Eyed Crab every week. More peculiar, the townspeople just go along with Piper.

Anders believes this story is exactly what he needs to turn his podcast side project into a successful career. He returns to Frick Island for more research and time with Piper, but has no idea he is about to upend many lives, including his own.

Hired Girl Book Cover

Book Summary

Fourteen-year-old Joan spends her childhood on the family farm in Pennslyvania, and her mother encourages her education. However, after her mother’s death, her father insists she earn her keep and work on the farm instead. And perhaps even worse – he burned her books.

Instead of breaking under her father’s harsh rule, Joan finds a job as a parlor maid in a Baltimore, Maryland society household. Now, she earns six dollars a week and can dream of a better future. But this is tricky as she must learn how to fit in with the Jewish family and their older maid.

The Book Girls Say…

Newberry Medal-winning author Laura Amy Schiltz based this novel on her grandmother’s journals.

Readers say they adore the character of Joan, including her wit and how she grows and develops over time. Joan was raised Roman Catholic, and the family she works for, the Rosenbachs, are Jewish. As such, the book does discuss friction between religions, but reviewers say it is not preachy and instead highlights the respect we should all have for each other.

History of North Carolina

North Carolina has a long and storied colonial history. In 1587, twenty years before the establishment of the first of the original 13 American colonies, John White led a group of English settlers to Roanoke Island in present-day North Carolina. He traveled back to England for additional supplies, and when he returned in 1590, the Colony of Roanoke had vanished. The fate of the colonists remains a historical mystery to this day. By 1712, North Carolina became a separate royal colony, and it played an important role in the American Revolution with key battles waged on its soil.

North Carolina ratified the United States Constitution in 1789 and was the twelfth state to join the Union. Seventy years later, in 1861, North Carolina was one of the last states to secede from the Union. Although the state was initially reluctant to join the Confederacy, it relied on slave labor as a major tobacco producer with a robust agricultural economy. During the Civil War, many towns and cities were damaged or destroyed. Nonetheless, numerous well-preserved colonial villages remain, including Old Salem in Winston-Salem, allowing visitors to glimpse into early American history.

After the war, North Carolina, like the rest of the South, faced a challenging period of Reconstruction and rebuilding. The implementation of Jim Crow laws reinforced segregation and discrimination. One of the most significant events in North Carolina’s Civil Rights Movement was the Greensboro sit-ins of 1960, when four African-American college students sat at a segregated Woolworths lunch counter. Their courageous act sparked a wave of similar demonstrations across the state and the nation, highlighting the injustice of racial segregation.

The largest city in the state, Charlotte, is known for its modern skyline, NASCAR culture (including the NASCAR Hall of Fame), and professional sports teams. The city offers a blend of cultural attractions, dining options, and outdoor activities, including the U.S. National Whitewater Center. North Carolina boasts numerous renowned universities like Duke University in Durham, University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. North Carolina has a vibrant arts and culture scene, with attractions like the Biltmore Estate, the North Carolina Museum of Art, and the thriving music and film industry in cities like Asheville and Wilmington.

North Carolina’s geography spans a wide range of landscapes, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Appalachian Mountains. One of its most iconic features is the Outer Banks, a chain of barrier islands off its northeastern coast. Stretching for 200 miles and characterized by sandy beaches, rolling dunes, and abundant wildlife, the Outer Banks are known for their natural beauty and provide a unique blend of recreational opportunities. They are also home to historical sites like the Wright Brothers National Memorial, where the first powered flight took place in 1903.

Books Set in North Carolina

Brighter the Light Book Cover

Book Summary

This duel-timeline novel is set in Nags Head, North Carolina. In the present-day timeline, Ivy has inherited a beachfront cottage from her grandmother. However, returning home to Nags Head means facing those who betrayed her. To avoid that, she hopes to clean up the cottage’s clutter, sell it, and return to New York. However, something happens that leads her to believe the house is full of secrets.

In the 1950 timeline, you’ll follow 12-year-old Ruth (Ivy’s grandmother). She works at her parent’s small resort, and between cleaning rooms, she’s always up for an adventure with her cousin Tally. This summer is full of surprises, like a shipwreck uncovered during a storm and the arrival of a new entertainer for the resort, the beautiful Carlotta.

The two timelines are woven together as you slowly learn how the events of the 1950 summer still affect Ivy today.

The Book Girls Say…

For another entertaining North Carolina beach mystery set in the Outer Banks, try Summer Rental by Mary Kay Andrews.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 10/16/2023

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

Summer Mystery Books & Beach Thrillers

When We Let Go Book Cover

Book Summary

Avery’s past includes a devasting period that she keeps a secret. She knows that she should be happy to have a fresh start with widow Jude, his two young sons, and his teenage daughter, Elle. However, when he proposes, Avery is wary that happy endings aren’t really possible.

An urgent phone call comes saying that she needs to return to her childhood home, a farm in the North Carolina mountains. This forces her to face her tragic history. While she intends to make this dreaded journey alone, she has a stowaway, Elle, who is grappling with the loss of her mother and the complicated emotions of first love. While plan A is for Elle to fly home to her father ASAP, she ends up joining Avery in the small farm town.

Will this trip be what they both need in order to move forward in life?

The Book Girls Say…

On Goodreads, this book is tagged as a romance, however, reviews say that there are actually very few male characters within the book. Instead, the focus is on female relationships, including mother-daughter, step-mother-daughter, and sisters. While loss is also a main topic, the story is more heartwarming than heavy overall.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 10/16/2023
Book Lovers Book Cover

Book Summary

Book Lovers is about a literary agent named Nora. When Nora’s younger sister, Libby, begs her to take a month-long summer trip to a small town in North Carolina, she envisions all the possible romance novel tropes that could happen in her own life. Why couldn’t she run into a handsome country doctor and find her happily ever after?

Instead, Nora runs into Charlie, a brooding editor she has encountered several times back in the city. While neither of them is the ideal heroine or hero, they kept being thrown together in unlikely situations and must confront the stories they’d told themselves about who they are.

The Book Girls Say…

Despite having threads of romance, all of Emily Henry’s books have characters with real-life baggage and flaws. Book Lovers gives us a strong sister relationship and insight into Nora’s work, making her a well-rounded lead.

The town of Sunshine Falls, NC is not a real place but was based on several small mountain towns.

For a modern classic romance set in North Carolina, pick up The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks.

Tobacco Wives Book Cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

93% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

On the surface, Bright Leaf North Carolina seems like a technicolor paradise. When Maddie Sykes arrives in this tobacco capital to assist in her aunt’s sewing business, she’s overwhelmed by the beauty and wealth of the region. War rations and shortages are clearly behind them.

However, when Maddie unexpectedly becomes the lead dressmaker, she’s soon spending time with the town’s most influential women. Although she assumes these wealthy ladies have it all, the truth is bleaker. Many are hiding struggles with their health. Could those struggles be related?

The Book Girls Say…

One of our readers made the following comment after reading this book as part of the Decades Challenge: “I was born and raised in NC and have lived most of my life here. I haven’t ever read a book that addresses the complex relationship my state, particularly those of us with agricultural backgrounds, has with tobacco before. NC owes a lot of the progress we have made to tobacco, despite knowing how bad it is for you. I appreciate the fact that people from other areas can get a glimpse of that now.”

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

Books Set in the 1940s

Moonshiner's Daughter Book Cover

Book Summary

Head back to 1960s North Carolina for another coming-of-age tale. Jessie is 16 and wants no part in her family legacy – the business of moonshine. She believes that moonshine is the reason her mother died when she was four, but her dad refuses to talk about it.

Jessie’s desire for the truth turns into looking for control in other places – like food. As an eating disorder flourishes, Jessie comes up with a scheme to eliminate the moonshine stills, which accidentally brings old rivalries and grudges back to life.

The Book Girls Say…

The popular book Where the Crawdads Sing is another highly-rated title set in North Carolina. However, many readers and North Carolina residents say that book feels like it’s set more in coastal Louisiana, which is also where the movie was filmed.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 10/16/2023

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

25 Books Like Where the Crawdads Sing

History of Ohio

Before European settlement, the region that is now Ohio was inhabited by various indigenous groups, including the Shawnee, Miami, and Delaware tribes. After the American Revolution, the Northwest Territory, which includes present-day Ohio, was ceded to the United States by the British. This territory was opened for settlement after the American Revolution, attracting waves of pioneers seeking new opportunities and land. In 1803, Ohio became the 17th state to join the Union.

During the Civil War, Ohio was a crucial battleground state, contributing thousands of soldiers to the Union Army. Notable figures like Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman hailed from Ohio and played pivotal roles in the Union’s victory. Ohio’s strategic location, agricultural output, and industrial capacity made it a vital asset to the Union cause.

The 19th century also saw the rise of manufacturing in Ohio. Cities like Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Toledo became industrial hubs, with industries such as steel production and manufacturing playing a crucial role. The development of the railroad and the Great Lakes made Ohio a transportation hub, facilitating the movement of goods and people. In the 20th century, Ohio continued to evolve economically. The state became a leader in the automotive industry, with cities like Akron known for rubber production and Toledo for glass manufacturing. Cleveland’s steel industry was a powerhouse, contributing to Ohio’s reputation as an industrial stronghold.

Columbus, as the state capital and largest city, is a hub for education and healthcare, hosting institutions like The Ohio State University. Cleveland, located along the shores of Lake Erie, features world-class museums and a lively music scene, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Cincinnati, located along the Ohio River, is strongly connected to its German heritage, evident in its distinct architecture and culinary traditions. Toledo, situated on Lake Erie, is known for its glass production and a growing healthcare and research sector. And Akron, once famous for its rubber industry, has evolved into a city of innovation and entrepreneurship.

The northern part of Ohio is characterized by the Great Lakes region’s flat terrain, while the south is hillier, forming part of the Appalachian Plateau. Lake Erie, along the northern border of the state, spans about 9,910 square miles and is a popular destination for anglers. Lake Erie’s islands, like Put-in-Bay and Kelleys Island, provide a relaxing getaway with water-based activities and charming communities.

Books Set in Ohio

Daughters of Erietown Book Cover

Book Summary

In the 1950s, Ellie and Brick were Ohio teenagers in love with their whole futures ahead of them. As a high school basketball star, Brick had the chance to be the first in his family to attend college, which would also allow him to escape his abusive father. And Ellie had dreams of attending nursing school.

When they learn that Ellie is pregnant, they instead get married and Brick gets a union card. This novel tells the story of Brick, Ellie, and their daughter Samantha while shining a light on the issues facing working-class families and their communities.

The Book Girls Say…

This book is simply written and follows a smoothly paced, linear timeline, which many reviewers found refreshing.

Suite Spot Book Cover

Book Summary

When Rachel is fired from her management job at a Miami Beach luxury hotel – for something she didn’t even do – the single mom needs to find a new job as soon as possible. She hears about a position at a brewery hotel on Kelleys Island. The man who offered her the job over the phone sounded incredibly grumpy, but she’s desperate, so she packs up and makes the move.

When she arrives, she finds that the owner, Mason, knows a lot about brewing beer, but almost nothing about running a hotel. If you can even call it a hotel – it’s barely more than a foundation and studs. She considers leaving, but she desperately needs a chance to rebuild a life for herself and her daughter Maisie. When Mason offers her full control of the design of the cabins/hotel, in addition to her management role, she decides to stay.

The Book Girls Say…

In addition to being a fun, light read, this novel is very descriptive of Kelleys Island and the nearby small towns. Although it is the largest of Ohio’s Lake Erie islands, the year-round resident population of Kelleys Island is only about 300 people. Kelleys Island is a popular vacation destination that is only accessible by boat or plane, making it a quiet getaway with a laid-back lifestyle.

Trish Doller also wrote Float Plan set in the Carribean, which has been very popular with our readers for other reading challenge prompts. Rachel from The Suite Spot is the fictional sister of Float Plan‘s Anna, but both books read as stand-alones.

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

92% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

In the Shaker Heights suburb of Ohio, the life of the picture-perfect Richardson family becomes intertwined with the lives of Mia and her daughter Pearl, who rent a house from the Richardsons when they arrive in town.

All four of the Richardson children befriend Pearl and are drawn in by artist Mia. As their relationships become more intertwined, the bonds that tie them together will ultimately unravel both families.

This story is about complex family dynamics, small-town politics, and white privilege. When a local family adopts a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle divides the town, with Mrs. Richardson and Mia on opposite sides. Mrs. Richardson becomes suspicious of Mia’s motives and digs into her past. The secrets she uncovers will change everything.

The Book Girls Say…

We both enjoyed this book and felt it did a great job capturing suburban life in the 90s. The book is based on the real Shaker Heights suburb of Cleveland.

This book has been turned into a Hulu mini-series by Reese Witherspoon.

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

Books Set in the 1990s

Light in the Forest Book Cover

Book Summary

After escaping an abusive relationship with nothing other than her two-month-old baby and the van she grew up in, Vega needs a place to disappear. Her mother had spoken of a small Ohio town where she once lived, so Vega decides it might be the ideal place to lie low. She might even learn more about her mother’s past while she’s there.

When she arrives in Crystal, Ohio, she quickly befriends several locals. Heff is a young deputy who enjoys his yard art more than policing. And Eve is a farmer who had an unusual near-death experience. But as welcome as they make Vega feel, she still senses something unsettling. There’s talk of a tragedy in the woods years ago, and Vega soon discovers that she’s connected to the mystery.

The Book Girls Say…

As this dual-timeline story unfolds, each chapter is told from a different point of view.

This book was a 2023 Colorado Book Award Nominee for General Fiction.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 10/17/2023
Betty Book Cover

Book Summary

Betty is the 6th of 8 siblings, born in a bathtub to a Cherokee father and white mother in 1954. The abundant nature in the Appalachian foothills provides comfort as she struggles with poverty and violence both inside and outside her home.

As she grows up, Betty has a continued curiosity about the natural world and a fierce love for her sisters. To cope with all she has witnessed, she discovers the power of writing down her family’s past and present. This lyrical coming-of-age story is told in first person by Betty as she refuses to give up on the beauty in life no matter what she endures.

The Book Girls Say…

Author Tiffany McDaniel is from Ohio and based the fictional town of Breathed on an area outside Minford in Scioto County. She based this book on her mother’s life.

While the cover doesn’t imply this, the book contains some very heavy, dark, gut-wrenching scenes.

History of Virginia

The history of Virginia, named in honor of Queen Elizabeth I, “Virgin Queen,” began long before English colonists landed at Jamestown in 1607. The area was home to numerous indigenous tribes like the Powhatan, Monacan, and Nottoway. As English colonization progressed, Virginia became instrumental in the struggle for American independence. It was the birthplace of several founding fathers, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Virginia’s Patrick Henry famously declared, “Give me liberty or give me death!” in 1775, symbolizing the Revolutionary fervor. The state subsequently played a key role in the Revolutionary War, culminating in the 1781 victory at Yorktown, where British General Cornwallis surrendered.

During the Civil War, Virginia was a battleground state. Its strategic importance was heightened by Richmond’s designation as the Confederate capital. Numerous significant battles, like those at Bull Run and Appomattox Court House, took place on Virginian soil. The war’s conclusion in Virginia signaled the end of the Confederacy. Post-war, Virginia faced the challenges of Reconstruction. 

Fast-forward to the 20th century, Virginia became a notable battleground for the Civil Rights Movement. The 1951 Moton High School strike in Farmville laid the groundwork for the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, which declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional. Later, Virginia’s massive resistance against desegregation became emblematic of the Deep South’s reaction to federal mandates.

Situated on the eastern seaboard of the U.S., Virginia boasts over 3,000 miles of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay. The Tidewater region, with its flat terrain and wetlands, transitions into rolling hills in the middle of the state before giving way to the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains in the east. Virginia’s rivers, notably the James, Potomac, and Rappahannock, have historically provided essential transportation routes and abundant natural resources.

Each of Virginia’s major cities has a distinctive character and historical significance. Richmond, the state capital and one-time capital of the Confederacy, is a mix of modern amenities and preserved historical sites. Virginia Beach is the state’s largest city, and its extensive coastline is a prime destination for tourists seeking beach recreation. Nearby, Norfolk is home to the world’s largest naval base. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Roanoke is called the “Star City of the South” because of the prominent Roanoke Star that sits atop Mill Mountain. Nestled along the Potomac River, just outside of Washington, D.C., Alexandria is known for its well-preserved Old Town with brick sidewalks and 18th-century buildings. And Arlington, located directly across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., is home to the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery.

Books Set in Virginia

House is on Fire Book Cover

Book Summary

In the middle of the 1811 winter social season, Virginia’s planters and their families gathered at the capital for the General Assembly. Just after Christmas, six hundred people packed into the theater for a show.

Newly widowed Sally is in a third-floor box. Cecily is in the colored gallery, happy to briefly escape bad circumstances at home. Stagehand Jack is backstage hoping to earn a permanent job. Blacksmith Gilbert is on the other side of town, trying to make enough money, first to buy his freedom and then to be able to take his wife to the theater.

In the middle of the performance, the theater catches fire. The decisions by Sally, Cecily, Jack, and Gilbert will impact their futures as well as the lives of countless others.

Based on the true story of a fire in Richmond, Virginia’s theater in 1811, this compelling novel moves from tragedy to redemption as the lives of four people instantly become forever intertwined.

The Book Girls Say…

When the Rain Ends Book Cover

Book Summary

Dani has built a beautiful life in the Outer Banks as an artist. However, only months after the death of her husband, she begins losing her vision. So, on a whim, she sells her waterfront home and plans a move with her pre-teen daughter to an old Virginia farm. While this move feels necessary to Dani, her daughter disagrees.

Throughout the summer, they put their efforts into turning an old silo into an art studio, which helps create new friendships in town. Along the way, the mother-daughter duo works to find peace amid their stormy season of life as they each endure new challenges and continue healing from past grief.

The Book Girls Say…

Many of Mary Ellen Taylor’s novels, including Winter Cottage, are also set in Virginia.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 05/01/2023

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

Best Beach Reads – Best 2023 Summer Books

Demon Copperhead Book Cover

Book Summary

This is a modern retelling of Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield. Like Copperfield, Copperhead examines institutional poverty, but in contemporary Appalachia.

Born to a teenage single mother, Damon (soon to be known as Demon) braves the modern perils of foster care, child labor, derelict schools, athletic success, opioid addiction, disastrous loves, and crushing losses.

The Book Girls Say…

Angela was hesitant to read this 500-page book because it sounded quite depressing, but once she picked it up, she was immediately hooked. While it is heartbreaking throughout, it’s also an incredibly touching story that somehow feels both meandering and fast-paced at the same time, thanks to Kingsolver’s gorgeous writing.

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

Readers’ Favorite Books: 2022 Edition

Yellow Wife Book Cover

Book Summary

As the light-skinned daughter of a plantation owner and a slave, Pheby escaped much of the brutality of slavery as a child. Her white father even promised her freedom for her 18th birthday. However, instead of freedom, she is sent to Devil’s Half-Acre by her father’s wife. This jail is where slaves are broken, tortured, and sold every day.

Within the jail, Pheby was groomed to be the personal mistress of slave trader Rubin Lapier. She becomes his sex slave, “wife,” and the mother of his children. Eventually, she faces the ultimate sacrifice to protect her heart as she fights for freedom.

The Book Girls Say…

Devil’s Half-Acre, also known as Lumpkin’s Jail, was a real place located only three blocks from the state capital in Richmond, Virginia. The character of Pheby is based on the true story of Mary Lumpkin, who was forced to “marry” the owner of the jail, Robert Lumpkin.

Yellow Wife was a 2021 Goodreads Choice Nominee for Best Historical Fiction.

Hang the Moon Book Cover

Book Summary

Sallie Kincaid’s father, Duke, was the biggest man in their small Virginia town at the turn of the 20th century – both literally and figuratively. Sallie was Daddy’s little girl. She has few memories of her mother, who died when she was young. By the time she is 8 years old, her father has remarried and has a new son, Eddie. But this shy, timid son is nothing like Duke. Sallie takes it upon herself to teach Eddie to be more like their outgoing, daredevil father. But an accident occurs, and Sallie is cast out.

Nine years later, Sallie has returned to her hometown to reclaim her place in the family. But the world is a very different place now that Prohibition is the law of the land. After confronting the secrets and scandals she left behind, she finds her own calling as a bootlegger.

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

Best Book Club Books for 2023

History of West Virginia

Before European exploration, indigenous tribes such as the Monongahela, Cherokee, and Shawnee inhabited the rugged terrain of West Virginia. West Virginia, originally part of Virginia, became a separate state during the Civil War. Differences in economy, views on slavery, and other factors led to its separation from Virginia. West Virginia was admitted to the Union as an independent state on June 20, 1863.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the demand for coal surged as the U.S. underwent rapid industrialization. West Virginia, with its rich coal seams in the Appalachian Mountains, became a hub for coal mining. Towns sprang up around mines, often isolated and dominated by company-owned infrastructure. Coal barons and mine owners became immensely wealthy, while miners frequently labored in dangerous conditions, leading to significant labor movements, like the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921.

Fast forward to today, and the coal industry faces a decline due to environmental concerns, market shifts, and the rise of alternative energy sources. While it remains a significant part of West Virginia’s identity and economy, many mines have closed, leading to job losses and economic challenges. Efforts to diversify the state’s economy and retrain miners are ongoing, but the legacy of coal remains deeply ingrained in West Virginia’s fabric.

While West Virginia is not typically known for large metropolitan areas, the capital city of Charleston serves as the state’s cultural, governmental, and economic hub. Nestled along the banks of the Kanawha River, Charleston grew in prominence due to salt and natural gas production. Today, the city’s skyline is highlighted by the gleaming gold dome of the West Virginia State Capitol. Cultural attractions like the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences showcase the city’s commitment to education and the arts. Meanwhile, the annual Vandalia Gathering celebrates the state’s folklore, music, and traditions.

West Virginia’s stunning Appalachian Mountains, lush forests, and scenic spots, like the New River Gorge, inspired John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” The iconic song is an unofficial anthem for many West Virginians. 

In addition to coal mining, West Virginia has a historical connection to the glass industry, with many glassworks and artisan studios open for tours. The state has a deep-rooted musical heritage, particularly in genres like bluegrass and country.

Books Set in West Virginia

Glass Castle Book Cover

Book Summary

This a poignant memoir that chronicles the author’s tumultuous and unconventional childhood. Raised in a nomadic and impoverished family, Walls and her siblings were subjected to a chaotic and neglectful upbringing by their eccentric parents, Rex and Rose Mary Walls.

Although Jeannette’s family spent a lot of time moving from place to place during her childhood, West Virginia is one of the significant settings in the book. Much of the early part of the memoir takes place in Welch, WV, where the family lives, often without basic utilities, heat, or food.

Despite their challenging circumstances, Walls and her siblings displayed remarkable resilience and resourcefulness, often fending for themselves and finding solace in their dreams of a mythical “glass castle” their father promised to build for them. As Walls grows older, she strives to break free from her troubled family and poverty-stricken past.

The Book Girls Say…

Nearly 20 years after its initial publication, this memoir remains incredibly popular. The book was also adapted into a 2017 film, which is available for streaming with Prime Video.

Rocket Boys Book Cover

Book Summary

In 1957, Homer Hickman was 14 years old, living in the company town of Coalwood, West Virginia. The only thing that mattered was coal mining and high school football. But then, Homer witnessed the Sputnik shoot across the Appalachian sky. His life changed in that moment.

He soon started a club with friends Roy Lee Cook, Sherman O’Dell, and Quentin Wilson. Together, they began designing and launching homemade rockets. Through this process, they learned the science needed to send scrap metal miles into the sky. But that wasn’t the biggest win. They also learned to imagine a life beyond the borders of their small town.

Hickman wrote this coming-of-age memoir looking back on his childhood after his distinguished NASA career.

The Book Girls Say…

After reading, be sure to watch the 1999 movie version of this memoir, October Sky, which stars Jake Gyllenhaal.

Midwife of Hope River Book Cover

Book Summary

Patience Murphy is an Appalachian midwife during the Depression. She has to fight against disease, poverty, prejudices, and her past as she works to safely bring new life into the world. Initially, Patience must take the hardest jobs that no one else wants to gain community trust. Her patients are those most in need, but least likely to pay.

Outside of her midwifery, Patience encounters the horrors of coal mining, the Labor movement’s Union Wars, and the Klu Klux Klan.

The Book Girls Say…

Much like the main character, the author was a midwife in West Virginia. Her thirty-year career caring for women during childbirth in cabins and farms, and then as an RN in a teaching hospital, provided first-hand experience as she turned her career to writing. She also has a memoir set in West Virginia titled The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife’s Memoir.

Grand Design Book Cover

Book Summary

In 1908, Dorothy is bored by her socialite life, but the annual summer trips to the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia are a bright spot in her otherwise beige existence. The Greenbriar is also where Dorothy unexpectedly falls in love with an Italian racecar driver. Her family, however, has other plans for her – plans that seem even more dull after her taste of passion and adventure.

Thirty-eight years later, as WWII comes to an end, Dorothy’s life looks nothing like the one her family mapped out for her. She’s divorced and a successful career woman, having established America’s first interior design firm. She’s now ready to tackle her dream assignment – restoring the famed Greenbrier Resort to its former glory. She’s dreaming up daring, unconventional ideas that she believes will make it even greater than before.

The Book Girls Say…

This historical fiction novel is based on the true story of famed designer Dorothy Draper.

We love traveling to the places we’ve visited through the pages of books, and a stay at The Greenbrier Resort is now officially on our wish list! This National Historic Landmark and world-class resort has been welcoming visitors from around the world since 1778, with a guest list that includes more than 25 past US Presidents as well as royalty.

Surrounded by the Allegheny Mountains and featuring natural mineral springs, the 11,000-acre luxury retreat sounds like the perfect place for a reading retreat! Who wants to join us?!

Apple Cider Slaying Book Cover

Book Summary

Winnie and her Granny run Smythe Orchards on twenty-five acres in rural West Virginia. While the scenery is picturesque, their finances are struggling. Winnie plans the First Annual Christmas at the Orchard in an attempt to keep the business afloat another year!

Apple-picking locals and cider-loving tourists are embracing the event…until Granny’s long-time nemesis, Nadine, is found dead in the apple press. Winnie needs to figure out what really happened before Granny is arrested or the murderer strikes again.

The Book Girls Say…

This fast-paced cozy mystery also includes recipes! There are two additional books in the series featuring Winnie and Granny.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 10/17/2023

History of Washington DC

Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States, is situated along the northern bank of the Potomac River. It occupies just 68 square miles and is tucked between Maryland (to its northeast, east, and southeast) and Virginia (to its southwest). Despite its small size relative to the states, D.C. is densely populated. Approximately 700,000 people consider D.C. their permanent residence. The capital city also has a large transient population, including members of Congress, their staff, and other government employees who reside there for only a portion of the year. It is estimated that the population of the district swells by 79% every workday as commuters pour in from around the region.

Washington D.C. is not a state but a federal district designated in 1790 to serve as the nation’s capital. The framers of the Constitution established the District of Columbia as a separate entity to maintain political neutrality for the federal government. As such, D.C. occupies a unique position in the U.S. political system. 

Unlike states, D.C. does not have full representation in the U.S. Congress. Instead, it is represented by a non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives and has no representation in the Senate. Additionally, while states possess a degree of sovereignty and can pass their own laws and regulations, D.C.’s laws and budgets are subject to review and modification by Congress. D.C. is also governed differently than US states. It is overseen directly by federal authorities, whereas states operate with a greater degree of independence. 

Over the years, there has been an ongoing debate about whether or not Washington D.C. should be granted statehood. Proponents of D.C. statehood argue that the residents of the District are subject to federal taxes and laws while lacking proportional representation in Congress. They call this a case of taxation without representation. Furthermore, they point out that D.C.’s population is larger than that of some states, yet it lacks equivalent political influence. The main counterarguments to D.C. statehood include concerns about violating the Constitutional intention regarding neutrality.

D.C. is renowned for its iconic monuments and world-class museums, most situated along the National Mall. This expansive greenway is flanked by the U.S. Capitol at one end and the Lincoln Memorial at the other. The Washington Monument, an obelisk reaching over 500 feet in height, stands near the Mall’s center, offering panoramic city views. Many other notable monuments and memorials dot the city, each celebrating pivotal figures or moments in American history. D.C. is also home to numerous world-class museums, including seventeen Smithsonian museums, the National Gallery of Art, and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, among others.

Books Set in Washington DC

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

96% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

House of Eve alternates perspectives of our main characters in 1950s Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Ruby’s story is told in first person perspective as she tries to become the first person in her lower-income family to attend higher education. However, her plans are threatened when she begins to fall for a Jewish boy.

Eleanor’s story is told from the third person perspective as she arrives in D.C. with equal parts ambition and secrets. Like Ruby, Eleanor’s plans are changed when she falls for a man, William, at Howard University. William is from one of Washington’s elite wealthy Black families, and his parents are picky about who is good enough to join them.

While this setup feels like a romance novel, this is a fast-moving historical fiction novel that will take you into a piece of history you may know little about. Don’t miss the author’s note at the end!

The Book Girls Say…

Melissa hadn’t read much more than our description of this book before jumping in, and she enjoyed the twists along the way that came from not knowing more. She recommends that you enjoy this historical novel the same way as you step into the lives of two young black women in the 1950s who are desperately trying to be their best.

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

Books Set in the 1950s
Best Book Club Books for 2023

Upstairs at the White House Book Cover

Book Summary

Author J.B. West spent almost three decades as the Chief Usher at the White House, making him the coordinator of both lavish functions and daily life for six different presidents and their families. His tenure included the Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson families, plus the first six weeks of Nixon’s first term.

His memoir is full of anecdotes and history from behind closed doors. In this era of partisan politics, it’s refreshing to see the mutual respect throughout changing leadership during his years on the job.

The Book Girls Say…

For a fun fictional series set at the White House, try the cozy White House Chef Mystery books. The first book in the series is titled State of the Onion.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 10/16/2023

Book Summary

Alex is the early 20-something son of the first female US President, and Prince Henry is the 2nd in line to the British Throne. Alex considers Henry his nemesis, and the two get into an embarrassing scuffle during a royal wedding.

In order to calm the press and convince them the sons of the US and England aren’t foes, Alex and Henry agree to make public appearances as friends over the course of several months. After spending more time together, and exchanging many amusing text messages, Alex realizes there is much more to Henry than he assumed.

The Book Girls Say…

After reading, cozy up with your pumpkin spice latte and check out the highly-rated movie adaptation by the same name!

For a non-fiction look at what it’s like to be a teenager in the White House, check out Sisters First by Jenna Bush Hager & Barbara Pierce Bush.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 10/17/2023
Senator's Wife Book Cover

Book Summary

Washington D.C. philanthropist Sloane Chase and Senator Whit Montgomery lost their spouses in a tragedy two years ago. They were drawn together in the aftermath and have now married.

Sloane was diagnosed with lupus in her twenties, and now needs a hip replacement. To support her recovery amidst their crazy schedules, they hired Athena to be a home health aide. Athena is soon involved with more than medical needs, even assisting with Sloane’s charitable foundation.

Instead of healing, Sloane seems to be getting more sick. As she declines, she starts to become paranoid – why is Athena asking so many questions? Is she who she says? Are Whit and Athena really exchanging sultry glances with each other right in front of her?

The Book Girls Say…

For another thriller set in Washington, D.C., try The Perfect Marriage, about a powerful defense attorney and her troubled marriage.

American Princess Book Cover

Book Summary

Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter Alice was thrust into the national spotlight at 17 years old when her dad became President in 1901. Her public position didn’t slow her bold personality – she was known for her rebellious gum-chewing, cigarette-smoking, and poker-playing.

Alice quickly learned that she could use her celebrity for political advantage as she used her outspoken and witty nature to influence Congressmen. Her presence on Capital Hill led to romantic entanglements, but she was never overshadowed by the men in her life.

This biographical historical fiction highlights an incredible woman who lived life to the fullest and refused to conform.

The Book Girls Say…

This novel spans the majority of Alice’s life – from the White House years to her final days at age 96. Because of the broad timeline, some of the book takes place outside of Washington D.C., including in the family home in New York. However, you’ll still get a major feel for life in Washington.

Don’t miss the author’s note at the end, which clarifies which aspects of the book are fictionalized. You’ll be surprised how many of the soap opera-like happening in Alice’s life are true!

We hope you enjoyed this book list and found several books to add to your TBR (to be read list). If you’re choosing a book for our reading challenge, you are also welcome to read any other book that meets the challenge prompt.

If you have a suggestion for a book that you think would be a great addition to this list, please fill out this form.

You can read all about the Read Around the USA Challenge and sign up for a free printable challenge book tracker here.

promotional image for post


Comments on: Books Set in Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington DC

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

One Comment

  1. Pat Smith says:

    Couldn’t wait to get to this category. Demon copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (she is amazing) has been on my TBR list since it came out. I am listening on Audible and the narrator is perfect. Will run into December because it’s 68 chapters. Thanks, Book Girls, for all the great reads this year. So glad I found you.