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Whether you’re participating in our 2023 Read Around the USA Challenge, or simply found your way to our website researching books set in your home state or your next travel destination, you’ve come to the right place!
Below you’ll find a list of highly-rated books featuring some of the states in the southeast, including Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee. There are many different definitions of the American Southeast, and future lists will also feature books set in the south. Books set in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi will be included on July’s list. And books set in Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia will be included on November’s list. And books set in Kentucky will be on the May list.
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 the South. The list is broken down by state, and you’ll also find a brief description of each state’s characteristics before the corresponding books.
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Books Set in the Southeastern States
On the list below, we’ve grouped the books by state, and also indicated the time setting of each.
Books Set in Alabama
The culture of Alabama is deeply rooted in history and tradition. Despite often ranking high on the list of least visited states, Alabama has a beautiful landscape - from forested mountains and flat top plateaus to coastal plains and white sandy beaches along the Golf Coast - and lots of history to explore.
Alabama became a state in 1819, and by 1840 it was the country’s biggest cotton producer, earning it the nickname of the “Cotton State.” Like other states in the South, Alabama relied heavily on slave labor to work its cotton plantations, and by the time Alabama seceded from the Union to join the Confederacy in 1861, nearly 45% of the state’s population were slaves. Montgomery served as the first capital of the Confederate States of America for several months before the capital was relocated to Richmond, Virginia.
Fifteen years after the Civil War, Booker T. Washington founded the Tuskegee Institute (now known as Tuskegee University), making it one of the oldest historically black colleges in the US. In the early 1940s, the Tuskegee Institute was at the forefront of helping prepare young African-American pilots to fight for freedom in the skies during WWII.
Alabama, and particularly the cities of Selma and Montgomery, are often regarded as the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement. The Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56 is regarded as the first large-scale US demonstration against segregation, and the voting rights marches led by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965 marked a major turning point in the movement. The Civil Rights Memorial Center and the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery are excellent places to visit to learn more about the movements for social justice and equality.
Located in the north of the state, Huntsville (a small cotton town before 1950) is now referred to as the “Space Capital of America” and boasts one of the highest populations of scientists and engineers in the country. After WWII, German rocket scientists were brought to the city as part of a secret intelligence program that would ultimately help the US win the Space Race. In 1961, when JFK envisioned an American on the moon by the decade's end, NASA turned to the new Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville to create the powerful rocket required to make that a reality.
Take My Hand
by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Setting: Montgomery, ALABAMA 1970s
Civil is fresh out of nursing school and has dreams of making a big difference in her post-segregation African American community. She works for the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic, and she’s sent to a rural cabin during her first week on the job. When she arrives, Civil is shocked to find that her patients are children, only 11 and 13 years old.
The girls, Erica and India, are innocent and not even thinking of boys. However, because they are poor and black, those handling their benefits have requested the children be on birth control. Civil struggles with this unexpected aspect of her new career. Despite the shocking reason for meeting the girls, Civil is endeared to them and their family. However, one day when she arrives for her visit, something unthinkable has happened, and Civil soon finds herself involved in a legal case.
You’ll also see Civil at the end of her career, with a daughter of her own, as she tries to find peace without forgetting those she encountered along the way.
The Book Girls Say… This is one of those books that you’ll wish wasn’t based on real circumstances as it rips your heart out. It’s a quick page-turning read that we should all take the time to understand.
Book Girls' Readers Rate This Book ⭐⭐⭐⭐½
100% Would Recommend to a Friend
Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe
by Heather Webber
Setting: Fictional Town of Wicklow, ALABAMA, 2019
Anna Kate’s grandmother owned the Blackbird Cafe in the small town of Wicklow, Alabama. When Granny passes away, Anna Kate returns to Wicklow to settle her estate. She intended it to be a very quick trip, but for some reason she finds herself drawn to the quirky town that her mother ran away from many years ago. She wants to get to know the people of Wicklow, including her father’s side of the family, and she wants to learn more about the mysterious blackbird pie everybody is talking about.
As she discovers the truth about her past, Anna Kate will need to decide if this lone blackbird can finally take her broken wings and fly.
The Book Girls Say… This charming Southern novel includes both romance and magical realism. While the small mountain town of Wicklow is fictional, the author said in an interview that it’s located exactly where the real town of Mentone is found on a map. Reviewers from Alabama say that the descriptions of this fictional town are very accurate to small-town Alabama life.
For another Kindle Unlimited option with a storyline about a woman returning home to Alabama, consider Burying the Honeysuckle Girls by Emily Carpenter, which is a combination of historical fiction and gothic mystery/thriller.
Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe is included with Kindle Unlimited as of 2/15/2022.
The German Wife
by Kelly Rimmer
Setting: Huntsville, ALABAMA, 1930s & 1950s
Inspired by the true events of Operation Paperclip, this historical fiction novel tells the story of the US intelligence program that employed former Nazis in Huntsville, Alabama, after WWII.
The story begins in Berlin in 1930. Changing political powers are sweeping through Germany, and Sofie von Meyer Rhodes is married to an academic husband whose work benefits from the ambitions of the newly elected chancellor. Though she and her husband, Jürgen, don’t agree on the social views taking hold in the country, she does see how his work with the rocket program is benefiting. Soon, however, she realizes that their morality is being challenged and that neutrality has a price.
At the same time, Lizzie Miller is living in the Texas panhandle during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. The future looks bleak as their farm dries up. And that’s all before her brother, Henry, is called to Germany to fight in WWII.
Twenty years later, Jürgen is one of the many German scientists who is offered a pardon for their part in WWII in exchange for working on the fledgling space program in the US. Sofie is excited for the fresh start in a new country, but she soon finds that her Huntsville neighbors aren’t as welcoming or forgiving of her family’s past as she’d hoped.
Jürgen's boss at the US space program is Calvin Miller, Lizzie’s husband. This is where the two women’s stories collide. Lizzie and her brother, Henry, hate that German scientists are allowed to work freely in the United States. While Sofie is trying to rebuild a life in Alabama, Lizzie is determined to make it difficult for her.
The Book Girls Say… We were excited to discover this new novel because Australian-born Kelly Rimmer is the author of one of our very favorite WWII historical fiction reads, The Things We Cannot Say.
To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
Setting: ALABAMA, 1933
You probably read this classic back in high school (or at least you were supposed to), but we recommend you give this famous book another read. Chances are you'll get even more out of it this time around!
If you aren't familiar with the story, it's set in Alabama in 1933 and told from the perspective of a 6-year-old girl called Scout. Her widowed father, Atticus Finch, is a crusading local lawyer who risks everything to defend a black man accused of a terrible crime.
The Book Girls Say…While Maycomb is a fictional city, it's based on Monroeville where Harper Lee was born.
Book Girls' Readers Rate This Book ⭐⭐⭐⭐½
100% Would Recommend to a Friend
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe
by Fannie Flagg
Setting: ALABAMA, 1930s and 1985
This novel is set in 1985 Alabama as gray-headed Mrs. Threadgoode recounts her younger years to middle-aged Evelyn. Her stories transport you back to the 1930s when her friends Idgie and Ruth opened a cafe in tiny Whistle Stop, Alabama. While serving up good coffee and barbecue, the café was a place for friendship ... and the occasional murder.
The Book Girls Say... While many people have seen the movie adaptation of this novel, as is often the case, the story in the book unfolds differently, and most agree the book is better. Because the book is partially set in segregated 1930s Alabama, there is some unfortunate but historically accurate language.
The sequel, The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop, also goes back and forth in time between the 1930s and present day in Alabama.
Book Girls' Readers Rate This Book ⭐⭐⭐⭐
100% Would Recommend to a Friend
by Bryan Stevenson
Setting: Montgomery, ALABAMA, late 1980s and 1990s
After graduating from law school, Bryan Stevenson moved to Montgomery, Alabama to provide legal representation to men on death row. He founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit law office dedicated to helping poor, incarcerated, and wrongly condemned defendants. One of EJI's first clients was Walter McMillian, a young Black man who was wrongly convicted of and sentenced to death for the murder of a young white woman. Even as he received threats from people in town, Stevenson worked to prove McMillian’s innocence.
In this memoir, Stevenson gives readers and in-depth look at the racial injustice he sees embedded in our society, and specifically in the Alabama justice system in the 1980s and 90s.
The Book Girls Say... Author and attorney Bryan Stevenson's compassion and conviction surrounding the pursuit of justice is made all the more powerful in the audiobook version by hearing the stories of the EJI in his own voice. We both have this non-fiction read on our list based on our reader's glowing reviews. There is also a movie based on the book that we highly recommend.
For a look at the fight for equality in Montgomery in the 1950s, pick up Stride Toward Freedom by Martin Luther King, Jr, which covers his success at non-violent change through the Mongomery Bus Boycotts.
Book Girls' Readers Rate This Book ⭐⭐⭐⭐½
100% Would Recommend to a Friend
Books Set in Florida
When many of us think of Florida, a few things immediately come to mind - Disney World, spring break, and hurricanes (not to mention politics). Its warm sunny weather and beautiful beaches make the Sunshine State a desirable vacation destination, and these perks, combined with the lack of state income and estate taxes, make it a very popular retirement destination as well. In fact, Florida has the highest percentage of senior citizens of any state (21% of the state’s population as of 2023).
Florida was under Spanish colonial rule from the 16th to the 19th centuries (and briefly British colonial rule in the 18th century) before becoming a US territory in 1821. When Florida became the 27th US state in 1845, nearly half of the state’s population were enslaved African Americans working on cotton and sugar plantations.
Key West, the southernmost point in the continental US, is just 90 miles from Cuba, and in the 1830s, many Cubans began migrating to Key West in search of freedom. Among them were skilled cigar makers who founded factories in the Keys, making Key West the cigar capital of the world by the late 1800s.
In the 1920s, a new wave of immigration changed Florida forever. As discussed in Bubble in the Sun (on the book list below), cities began to rise up from the Florida wetlands at a rapid pace to meet the demands of the Roaring Twenties. The decade saw the largest human migration in US history - far exceeding the settlement of the west - as millions flocked to this new American frontier in the sunshine, where gambling was condoned and prohibition was not enforced. Cities were developed with artistic (art deco) vision and featured grand hotels that played host to the glitz and excess of the decade, while also giving rise to a new subdivision civilization.
One Brilliant Flame
by Joy Castro
Setting: Key West, FLORIDA, 1886
The Florida Keys were a nineteenth-century utopia, with the booming cigar industry making Key West the most prosperous city in Florida. But in 1886, the city was also a rebel base for the anticolonial insurgency in Cuba, making it a tinderbox for six friends with big dreams.
Set against the backdrop of the Great Fire of Key West, this historical fiction novel tells the stories of six young people whose lives intertwine as revolution smolders and passions ignite.
The Book Girls Say… The 1886 Great Fire of Key West destroyed a significant portion of the city of Key West.
Chanel Cleeton also has a well-rated series of books about the Perez Family that are mostly set in Cuba and Florida. The first book in the series is set in Cuba, but if you're already midway through the series, it's a great time to pick up one of the more Florida-heavy novels. Like One Brilliant Flame, Cleeton's novels look at the expat Cuban population in the Florida Keys at different periods in history.
One Brilliant Flame is included with Kindle Unlimited as of 2/15/2022.
The Beach Trap
by Ali Brady
Setting: Destin, FLORIDA, present day
Kat and Blake first met at summer camp when they were just 12 years old. They had an instant connection, but their friendship was shattered when they learned that they were not just besties, but also half-sisters.
Fifteen years later, following the sudden death of their father, Kat and Blake discover that he’s left both of them the family beach house in Destin, Florida. This joint inheritance puts the sisters at immediate odds. Blake desperately needs the money (after being demoted from nanny to dog nanny) and wants to sell the house. Social media influencer Kat, on the other hand, desperately wants to hold onto the house because it holds so many happy childhood memories.
The two agree that they’ll spend the summer renovating the run-down beach house, and then Kat will buy Blake out. They immediately begin butting heads when Blake’s renovation plans don’t align with Kat’s artistic vision. As the summer goes on, the two will have to come to terms with their shared past and learn how to become sisters.
The Book Girls Say… This is a great pick if you’re looking for a lighter read. Each sister finds herself drawn into a summer romance (complete with a few steamy scenes), but ultimately this is more a book about sisterhood that may even cause you to shed some tears.
Bubble in the Sun: The Florida Boom of the 1920s and How It Brought on the Great Depression
by Christopher Knowlton
Setting: Miami & Surrounding Area, FLORIDA, 1920s
In the 1920s, cities began to rise up from the Florida wetlands, from Coral Gables and Boca Raton to Miami Beach. The cities were developed with artistic vision and featured grand hotels that played host to the glitz and excess of the Roaring Twenties. Gambling was condoned, and prohibition was not enforced. This attracted tycoons, crooks, and celebrities alike. This rapid development also spawned a new subdivision civilization. The decade saw the largest human migration in US history - far exceeding the settlement of the west - as millions flocked to this new American frontier in the sunshine.
This non-fiction book examines the social, economic, and environmental impacts of this boom. It also shows how the decisions of three real estate moguls, combined with a once-in-a-century hurricane, triggered the stock market crash that led to the Great Depression.
by Mary Kay Andrews
Setting: coastal FLORIDA, present day
Letty’s sister Tanya made her promise that if anything happened to her, Letty would take Tanya’s daughter Maya and run. When Letty finds Tanya dead, she knows the murderer is Tanya’s ex, Evan, so she follows Tanya’s instructions to get out of town. Tanya left behind a go-bag of cash, and massive diamond ring, and a faded magazine article about a small mom-and-pop motel in a Florida beach town.
She heads south to Florida with four-year-old Maya, trying to comfort the child and unravel her sister’s secrets while keeping a low profile among the locals, including the handsome police chief, Joe. But it’s hard to lay low at The Surf because the close-knit flock of retirees and snowbirds who call this motel home every winter regard Letty with suspicion, as well as down-right hostility.
The Book Girls Say… Mary Kay Andrews has been called the Queen of Beach Reads, and what says Florida more than that? Sisterhood, romance, and mystery intertwine, making this a great choice if you want a lighter option this month, but keep in mind that this book is almost 500 pages long.
For another mystery/romance set at a Florida beachside motel, check out Crazy in Paradise by Deborah Brown. When Madison’s aunt passes away, she inherits a whole lot more than her motel in the Florida Keys. Along with the cottages come the shady tenants, including drunks, ex-convicts, and fugitives. Crazy in Paradise is the first of 26 books in a beachy cozy mystery series.
The Newcomer and Crazy in Paradise are both included with Kindle Unlimited as of 2/15/2022.
A Land Remembered
by Patrick D. Smith
Setting: North & Central FLORIDA, 1858-1968
This novel covers 110 years of Florida history in 400 pages as you watch the vast wilderness of 1858 transition into real estate wealth by 1968. You'll watch the state's evolution through three generations of the MacIvey family, starting with Tobias, who brought his wife and infant son to the swampy new frontier of Florida to start a new life. They start as very poor farmers, but work their way into being cattlemen, also known as Crackers at the time, for the sound of their whip as they rounded up cattle.
Two generations later, Solomon is saddened to realize how much of the beautiful land was spoiled and exploited by human greed. In between these generations, the family faces endless challenges and will introduce you to a fascinating cast of side characters.
The Book Girls Say…This epic has been voted best Florida book over and over, including honors by the Historical Society. The author even won a Nobel Prize for literature. Because the book was originally released in 1984, some of the language may be outdated. If you’re looking for a bit more recent book, Stiltsville starts in the 1960s and takes you through three generations of a family in Miami and covers three decades.
by Karen White
Setting: Coastal FLORIDA, present-day
Georgia is an antique expert, specifically Limoges fine china. She enjoys studying the past of others while trying to forget her own. She left her coastal Florida home ten years ago, and never thought she'd return.
When a job brings her back home, her grandfather's apiary brings her unexpected peace. However, a run-in with her estranged mom and sister brings ghosts of the past back to the forefront of her life.
The Book Girls Say...If you loved the bees in Mad Honey and how they intertwined with the story, you may also enjoy the beekeeping aspect of this layered contemporary fiction novel.
For more Southern family dramas with a bit of mystery set in Florida, try author Laura Lee Smith's books Heart of Palm and The Ice House.
Books Set in Georgia
The last of the 13 original colonies, Georgia became the 4th state when it voted in favor of the US Constitution in 1788. Georgia played a pivotal role in the history of slavery in the US, in part due to the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, the use of which was first demonstrated at a plantation near Savannah. This invention led to cotton becoming a major cash crop, which further increased the reliance upon agricultural slave labor in the southern states. In 1861, Georgia was one of the original seven states to secede from the Union and form the Confederate States of America, triggering the Civil War. After the conclusion of the war, Georgia was the last of the confederate states to be re-admitted to the Union in July of 1870.
Nearly a century later, Georgia played an important role in the Civil Rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta, and in 1957 he founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in that city. The SLCL organized many influential marches and protests.
Today, Georgia is synonymous with southern hospitality, peaches (earning the nickname “the Peach State”), and sweet tea (which is so beloved it even has its own state holiday). From the Blue Ridge Mountain in the northwest corner of the state to the subtropical coastal climate in the east, Georgia is filled with beautiful scenery ranging from impressive caves and waterfalls to swamps and beaches.
Located along the Atlantic Ocean near the border with South Carolina, Savannah is Georgia’s oldest city and the first planned city in the US. Over a million visitors a year travel to Savannah to experience its 22 Spanish moss-draped town squares, its well-preserved architecture, and its southern charm. With a history stretching back almost three centuries, Savannah is regarded by many as the most haunted city in the US.
by Patti Callahan
Setting: Savannah, GEORGIA, 1838 & present-day
This historical fiction is based on the true story of the Pulaski steamship, which was one of many ships to sink in the coastal waterways of Savannah. In the novel, history professor Everly is asked to curate a museum exhibit of artifacts from the Pulaski. The wreckage of the ship was discovered in 2018, 180 years after it sunk when the boiler exploded.
As Everly researched the ship’s passengers, she discovered an aristocratic family of 11 had boarded the ship together. Two women from the family, Augusta and Lilly, had dramatically different fates that came from heartbreaking decisions they were forced to make as the ship sunk.
The Book Girls Say… Readers praise this book for keeping the historical aspects more prominent than any romance angels.
We Deserve Monuments
by Jas Hammonds
Setting: Bardell, GEORGIA, present-day
When 17-year-old Avery is uprooted from DC and moved into a house with her terminally-ill grandmother in a small Georgia town, she’s convinced her life is ruined. Even worse, tension within the home is high between her grandmother, called Mama Letty, and her own mom. There seems to be something from the past that they both refuse to discuss.
Things are getting better outside the home as she makes friends with Simone, the captivating girl next door, and Jade, a daughter from the town’s most prominent family. Jade’s mother’s murder is the biggest unsolved mystery in town, and it seems like something insidious is still bubbling under the surface in this town with a racist history.
The Book Girls Say… This YA coming-of-age novel receives extremely high ratings, and is said to be full of both love and heartbreak as it explores events of the past and a present-day LGBTQ storyline. As you read it from the adult perspective, keep in mind that the main characters are just teenagers and don’t have your life experience, so some of their decisions may be different than your own.
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
by Beth Hoffman
Setting: Savannah, GEORGIA, 1967
Twelve-year-old Ceecee has a lot on her plate as the caretaker for her mentally-ill mom. While they live in Ohio and it’s 1967, her mom is convinced that it’s 1951 and she’s the Vidalia Onion Queen of Georgia. Soon, Ceecee is whisked away with a previously-unknown great-aunt, Tootie, who brings her to Savannah, where Tootie works trying to save historic homes from demolition.
The world of Savannah is full of eccentric characters that keep CeeCee entertained for the summer. However, just as she begins to find her sense of belonging in her new world, she’s reminded that her mom’s legacy may have left her destined for destruction.
The Book Girls Say… This Southern fiction will make you laugh out loud and break your heart as CeeCee discovers the power of found family.
by Tayari Jones
Setting: Atlanta, GEORGIA, 1979
This fictional novel is based on the true story of the Atlanta Child Murders, which claimed the lives of 28 children and young adults over a two-year period. The book is told from the perspectives of three 5th graders - Tasha, Rodney, and Octavia.
Throughout the story, you’ll grow closer to each of the characters and experience the growing panic in Atlanta as new children go missing and then are confirmed dead. The book covers more of the characters' lives outside the murders and is also referred to as a coming-of-age story of three black 5th graders in late 1970s Atlanta.
The Book Girls Say… Leaving Atlanta was the first book published by Tayari Jones. You may have read her popular 2018 release, An American Marriage, which was a Goodreads Choice nominee for Best Fiction. It’s another good book set in the Deep South, but doesn’t have a strong tie to a specific location’s history like Leaving Atlanta. However, it would count for this month if it’s been on your TBR list!
The Night the Lights Went Out
by Karen White
Setting: Sweet Apple, GEORGIA, 2010s
When Merilee got divorced, she moved with her children to the Atlanta suburb of Sweet Apple, Georgia. But as she tries to start fresh, her past follows her as an anonymous, local blog gossips about the scandal that ended her marriage.
The cottage that Marilee is renting from the town’s gruff 93-year-old matriarch, Sugar Prescott, becomes her refuge, and Sugar becomes her ally. As Sugar shares stories about the town, she gets a different perspective on the shiny wealth surrounding her. However, she’s still drawn into that world via new friend Heather, whose life seems perfect. But in this small town, sins and secrets are abundant and keeping up appearances is vital.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
by John Berendt
Setting: 1980s, Savannah, GEORGIA
In the early morning of May 2, 1981, shots rang out in a grand Savannah mansion. A question haunts the city's moss-hung oaks and shaded squares for the next decade - was it murder or self-defense?
This is a work of non-fiction about a landmark murder case that reads like a spellbinding novel.
The Book Girls Say…For a lighter, contemporary murder mystery set in Savannah, try The Homewreckers by Mary Kay Andrews. This beach read is a mix of mystery and romance, with excellent descriptions of Savannah architecture.
Book Girls' Readers Rate This Book ⭐⭐⭐⭐½
100% Would Recommend to a Friend
Books Set in South Carolina
South Carolina was one of the original 13 colonies, and its early economy was largely agricultural, including prosperous rice and indigo crops that flourished in the hot, subtropical climate. Plantation farmers relied heavily on slave labor, and in 1730, people of African descent accounted for two-thirds of the colony’s population. By the time of the Revolutionary War, slave labor made South Carolina the wealthiest of all the colonies.
During the Revolutionary War, South Carolina was grounds for more battles than any other colony - over 200 in total. Following the war, South Carolina became the 8th state to ratify the US Constitution in 1788. It was later the first to vote for secession from the Union in December of 1860, and in April of 1861 it was the site of the first shots of the Civil War, when Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter in Charleson Harbor.
When we think of South Carolina today, we are immediately transported to Charleston - a city that the Book Girls have been fortunate to visit together twice. Founded in 1670 and named in honor of King Charles II, Charleston today is a blend of old and new. You can enjoy a horse-drawn carriage down cobblestone, gas lamp-lit streets while taking in the colorful architecture of the centuries-old mansions shaded by Spanish moss-draped trees. Then you can visit the many galleries and restaurants that make up the city’s vibrant and modern arts and culinary scene.
South Carolina’s “Lowcountry” - located in the southeasternmost corner - is home to some of the most picturesque views in the state, as well as a rich and diverse cultural history. Stretching along the coast from south of Charleston to the Georgia border, the Lowcountry region includes salt mashes and coastal waterways that connect the many barrier islands, including Hilton Head. To the north of Charleston, the coastline near Myrtle Beach is one of the premier resort destinations on the East Coast, with over 100 golf courses.
The Invention of Wings
by Sue Monk Kidd
Setting: Charleston, SOUTH CAROLINA, spanning 35 years of the early 1800s
This sweeping novel is said to fully transport you to the South Carolina landscape and culture of early 19th-century Charleston. On Sarah’s 11th birthday, she’s gifted her own slave, a 10-year-old girl named Hetty, aka Handful, as a handmaid. The book is told from their alternating perspectives and covers the next 35 years of their intertwined lives.
Wealthy Sarah believes she is meant to do something special with her life, but finds her opportunities limited as a woman. Hetty also strives for a life that is her own. Both experience sorrow and show courage along the way. The character of Sarah was inspired by the real Sarah Grimke.
The Book Girls Say…Sue Monk Kidd also has a popular and highly rated book titled The Secret Life of Bees, which is set in 1964 Charleston.
by Matt Goldman
Setting: Beaufort, SOUTH CAROLINA, present day
Carolina Moonset is said to be as moving as it is mysterious. Joey takes a trip to his hometown to help his father so his mom can take a break. His dad’s dementia is advancing, and his short-term memory is almost nonexistent. However, his longest-term memories are flooding back, and he’s often reliving his time as a young boy in Beaufort.
While this is nice at first, his dad soon begins having hallucinatory arguments with people from his past. Long-buried secrets and scandals begin to re-emerge, causing Joey to question everything. The past was problematic enough, but now the police have arrived to discuss a new murder.
The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt
by Andrea Bobotis
Setting: Bound, SOUTH CAROLINA, 1980s
Judith Kratt is an affluent 75-year-old woman living in her family's grand, but aging, mansion in South Carolina. It's the home she's known all of her life, and one she hasn't left since 1929. It's now the 1980s, and Judith and Olva, the old family maid, spend long, slow afternoons rocking on the front porch.
When Judith learns that her sister, Rosemarie, is coming for a visit for the first time in 60 years, she decides it's time to take inventory of the home. This includes everything she inherited from the Kratt family - the cut-glass letter opener, the pie safe, the copper clock, and the murder that no one talks about.
As Judith catalogs her possessions, the story is interwoven with chilling flashbacks from the fateful night in 1929 that changed everything. Through her list-making, she begins to piece together her family's influence on their small cotton town and to acknowledge the devastating effects of their dark family secrets.
The Book Girls Say... This book is a great choice for fans of southern fiction! Judith is an unreliable, and, at times unlikeable, narrator - just the way the author wants it. Some readers find that the story starts a bit slow since you may not connect with the characters immediately. But once it draws you in, you'll be hooked. This is not a mystery novel in the sense that, thanks to clever writing and foreshadowing, you'll likely unravel some of the family secrets before the characters unveil them - but this feels intentional and adds to the reading experience rather than detracting from it.
South of Broad
by Pat Conroy
Setting: Charleston, SOUTH CAROLINA, 1960s-1980s
This novel follows a group of friends for twenty years of life in Charleston, starting in the 1960s. The main character and narrator, Leopold, is the son of a science teacher and former nun, who is now the school’s principal. After Leo’s brother commits suicide, the family struggles to resume any kind of normalcy and connection.
Leo finds solace in a new group of friends. Sheba and Trevor are twins with an alcoholic mom and prison-escapee dad. Niles & Starla are siblings who ran away from a hard life in the mountains, and Molly is a socialite with a boyfriend named Chadworth Rutledge the 10th. The group will experience highs and lows over twenty years, from 1960s counterculture to the 1980s AIDS crisis.
The Book Girls Say… Pat Conroy is a beloved author of South Carolina fiction, from Prince of Tides to his memoir The Water is Wide. We intentionally selected his newest book, South of Broad, as some of his earlier work, especially The Water is Wide, contains language accepted at the time in South Carolina, but is horrifying to read today. Our understanding is that while South of Broad’s timeline starting in the 1960s overlaps the time period of The Water is Wide, it reflects an author who has a much deeper understanding of and appreciation for those who are different than himself.
by Sarah Addison Allen
Setting: Fictional Island, SOUTH CAROLINA, present-day
On Mallow Island, off the coast of South Carolina, sits an old cobblestone building in the shape of a horseshoe. It’s called the Dellawisp, named after the tiny turquoise birds who reside there alongside its human tenants. The building has an air of magical secrecy.
When 19-year-old Zoe inherits her late mother’s apartment at the Dellawisp, she meets the quirky and secretive neighbors, including a henna artist, a lonely chef, middle-aged sisters (one of whom is a hoarder), and three ghosts. The property is overseen by Frasier, who has a special affinity for the birds.
When one of the residents turns up dead, the other neighbors search for answers, but each is also hiding secrets of their own. The investigation leads to the island’s famous but reclusive author and a long-lost relative of the sisters.
The Book Girls Say… Reviewers recommend giving this unique book a chance, even if magical realism isn’t your usual genre of choice. They say you’ll fall in love with this cast of eccentric and flawed characters, and be sad to say goodbye to them when you turn the final page.
Food plays a special role in this book and helps to unite the characters. That makes Other Birds an especially good choice for book clubs that like to incorporate a menu of food inspired by the book into their meetings.
The Indigo Girl
by Natasha Boyd
Setting: SOUTH CAROLINA Plantations, 1739-1744
In 1739 when she was 16, Eliza’s father left his three plantations in her hands as he pursued military ambitions. However, he also spent all the money from the estates, leaving her in a terrible position. Failure would have been fine with her mother, who would prefer they leave South Carolina behind and return to England.
Eliza finds hope for the plantations in an unlikely place. She has heard that the French will pay exorbitant amounts for indigo dye, one of the state’s largest exports. However, the process of making the dye is a closely guarded secret. Eliza will do just about anything to gain the knowledge she needs to save her family’s finances.
The Book Girls Say…This historical fiction novel is based on the real story of Eliza Lucus, who played a pivotal role in South Carolina's agricultural history. When she passed away in 1793, President Washington was one of her pallbearers. The export of indigo dye was the foundation of extreme wealth for several South Carolina families who continue still live in prosperity today.
Books Set in Tennessee
Tennessee earned its nickname - “The Volunteer State” - during the War of 1812 when many Tennesseans stepped up to help with the war efforts. In 1861, Tennessee was the last state to leave the Union and join the Confederacy when the Civil War broke out; although “East Tennessee” - the eastern ⅓ of the state - remained a Unionist stronghold. Tennessee was also the first state readmitted to the Union after the war.
Bordered by Blue Ridge segments of the Appalachian Mountains on the east and the Mississippi on the west, Tennessee is filled with beautiful scenery. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most visited National Park, with more than 14 million visitors in 2021 alone (three times as many visitors as either Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon).
Of course, you can’t think of Tennessee without thinking of its famous music scene - from the Grand Ole Opry and Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville to the blues clubs of Beale Street in Memphis. Nashville alone accounts for more music industry jobs than any other US city. Among the legendary music artists that hail from Tennessee are Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Muddy Waters, and BB King. More than 500,000 people visit Elvis’ Graceland in Memphis annually (making it the second most visited private residence in the US, second only to the White House). And each year nearly 3 million guests visit Dollywood, nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains (making it the biggest ticketed tourist attraction in Tennessee).
by Tara M. Stringfellow
Setting: Memphis, TENNESSEE, 1937-2003
This novel spans over seventy years while tracing three generations of a Southern Black family.
In the summer of 1995, 10-year-old Joan, her mother, and her younger sister escape her father’s explosive temper by fleeing to her mother’s hometown of Memphis. Here, a half a century earlier, Joan’s grandfather built a majestic house in the historic Black neighborhood of Douglass. He was then lynched just days after becoming the city’s first Black detective.
As she gets older, Joan finds comfort in art and begins painting portraits of the community in Memphis. One of her subjects is their mysterious neighbor, Miss Dawn, who holds secrets to the past. Her stories will help Joan discover how her passion, imagination, and relentless hope and part of a long family tradition. With a paintbrush in her hand, Joan comes to understand that her mother, her grandmother, and the women before them, made impossible choices to allow her more choices of her own.
The Book Girls Say… Reviewers say that the city of Memphis is described in such detail that it becomes a character in the novel. Told in a non-linear timeline, this story blends real historical events into the fictional narrative. It’s described as heartbreaking and engrossing.
Before We Were Yours
by Lisa Wingate
Setting: Memphis, TENNESSEE, 1939, and present day SOUTH CAROLINA
This book is based on the true story of Georgia Tann's "adoption" agency that claimed to help orphans, but instead kidnapped poor children and trafficked them to wealthy families.
Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings have a wonderful life on the Mississippi River aboard their family’s shanty boat. But on a stormy night when their father has to take their mother to the hospital, Rill is left in charge. Unfortunately, strangers arrive, and the kids are thrown into the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage. They are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents - but quickly realize the dark truth.
In present-day South Carolina, Avery Stafford returns home to help her father during a health crisis. When she stumbles upon the possibility that her grandmother may be harboring a dark family secret, Avery becomes obsessed with her mission to uncover the truth.
The Book Girls say… Melissa read this heart-breaking tale and hates that it was based on true events. It was worth reading, but she recommends grabbing your tissues and keeping them handy!
Book Girls' Readers Rate This Book ⭐⭐⭐⭐
90% Would Recommend to a Friend
by Barbara Kingsolver
SETTING: Rural Appalachia, TENNESSEE, early 2010s
Dellarobia had dreams of college, but she gave that up to marry Cub when she accidentally got pregnant at 17. After a difficult decade in an unhappy marriage on their failing Tennessee farm, she begins flirting with a younger man. One day, while hiking up a rural mountain road in Appalachia to meet this man, she spots what appears to be a lake of fire in the forested valley below.
She soon learns that what she saw are actually millions of Monarch butterflies covering the trees. But why are these butterflies so far off course from their normal winter home in Mexico? Soon scientists, religious leaders, tourists, and the media descent on the town, each offering their own explanations.
The Book Girls Say… This book strikes a nice balance between storytelling, science, and sociology - all with wonderful character development. While the specific biological event described in the book is fictional, Kingsolver says, in her author’s note, that “the rest of the biological story...is unfortunately true.”. It's a longer book at just over 600 pages.
The Girls of Atomic City
by Denise Kiernan
Setting: Oak Ridge, TENNESSEE, 1940s
Oak Ridge, Tennessee didn’t even exist before 1942, and didn’t appear on any maps until 1949. The town was created from scratch as one of the Manhattan Project’s secret cities, and at the height of WWII, it was home to 75,000 - many of them young women recruited from small towns throughout the southern US.
All of the women working in Oak Ridge knew that something big was happening, but the penalty for talking about even the most mundane details of their work was eviction, so few of them pieced together the true nature of their work. But when the US dropped the bomb on Hiroshima in 1945, the secret was out - the women of Oak Ridge had been enriching uranium to build the atomic bomb.
Through historical research and interviews with dozens of the surviving women - many of whom still call Oak Ridge home - Denise Kiernan tells the story of the science and the women in a format that makes this the perfect book for fans of Hidden Figures and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
The Book Girls Say... If you'd rather read a historical fiction novel based on the real-life events that unfolded in Oak Ridge, pick up The Atomic City Girls.
When Stone Wings Fly
by Karen Barnett
Setting: Great Smoky Mountains, TENNESSEE, 1931 and 2016
This novel examines the uneasy relationship between the National Park Service and the people whose land was used to create Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
In 1931, Rosie’s Smoky Mountain home was in the path of the Tennessee Great Smokies Park Commission as they set out to create a new national park. Rosie insists she’ll never give up her land, and a compromise offers her and her disabled sister the opportunity to stay for her lifetime. She forms a bond with an ornithologist who is conducting a bird survey for the park, but this friendship only deepens the rift between her and the other mountain folk who are suspicious of government connections.
Eighty-five years later, Kieran heads back to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in search of answers about her great-grandmother’s mysterious death. She meets a park historian named Zach, who may be the key to finding answers and a precious family heirloom. But when Kieran clashes with government regulations, will Zach block her from solving this family mystery?
The Book Girls Say… Author Karen Barnett spent several years working as a park ranger and naturalist before becoming a professional writer. She has also written a series of historical romances set in the national parks in the 1920s and 1930s called the Vintage National Parks Novels. Barnett is a Christian Fiction author, and this novel includes religious themes, particularly later in this novel.
Run, Rose, Run
by Dolly Parton & James Patterson
Setting: Nashville, TENNESSEE, present-day
Say Nashville, and most people immediately think of the city’s music scene. In this novel, one of country music’s superstars joins with one of the best storytellers to create a thriller about a young singer/songwriter searching for a future in Nashville that will allow her to outrun her past.
The audiobook recording of this novel features a full cast, including one part narrated by Dolly Parton herself. Reviewers say this book is perfect for fans of the Nashville TV drama series.
The Book Girls Say… If you’re interested in reading a book set in Nashville told from a different perspective, consider Emily Giffin’s All We Ever Wanted. Nina lives the good life after marrying into Nashville’s elite. Tom, on the other hand, is a single dad working multiple jobs to provide for his teenage daughter, Lyla, but he finally relaxes a bit after she wins a scholarship to the city’s most prestigious private school. Then one photo, snapped during a drunken moment at a party, changes everything. Tom, Lyla, and Nina are all caught up in the scandal.
You are welcome to choose any book you’d like to read for the challenge, but we hope this list of books has given you a good starting point.
Members of our email list and Facebook group, Read with the Book Girls, can log ratings for their monthly challenge reads. The logs provide us with data for the “BGG Reader Ratings” that are added to descriptions for future years. We’d love you to contribute your rating after you’ve finished your read this month. You can find the links to the logs in your Friday emails each week throughout the month of the challenge.
Join the Read Around the USA Challenge
Book Recommendations for Other Regions of the USA
We’re publishing a book list for a new group of states each month throughout 2023. You’ll find a schedule of upcoming regions in this post.
Can you send me a printable list with the book titles but not descriptions?
This was a big request last year that we weren’t able to add to our plates in 2022. New for 2023, readers who support Book Girls Guide through our Buy Me a Coffee membership site will receive special monthly printable journal pages as a thank you bonus. The voluntary members (we call them our BFFs) help cover the cost of running the challenges so we can keep them free for everyone.
We’re so excited to be able to offer this fun perk this year!
The new pages will be pre-filled with every book title for each state, and include space for you to mark your interest level, make notes about whether you’ve requested the book from the library (or any other notes you’d like), and then fill in your rating. We’ll also include blank lines in case you have other books on your TBR (to be read) list that meet the prompt. We’d love you to sign up here!
That said, you’ll always find the most updated version of our recommendations with descriptions each month at no cost on our website. We do update the list and descriptions regularly based on reader feedback. But, we know some of you wanted to print the list to take to the library or bookstore, and we hope this helps.
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Tuesday 21st of February 2023
I am always thrilled to find books on my physical book shelves listed for the challenge. I have Take My Hand and The German Wife. I will probably go with Take My Hand. I have heard great things about that one.
Monday 20th of February 2023
I’ve read all the books listed for Alabama. Luckily I have many I haven’t read from the other states. Great lists.
Friday 17th of February 2023
What, no Joshilyn Jackson? Love her southern set stories. Just a suggestion for next year's list. Thanks for the great list. Can't wait to explore!
Friday 17th of February 2023
The March selections are so good. There are several books from my TBR list that are included and a couple previously read that I might revisit.