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Explore the best books set in South Carolina to find your next great memoir, historical fiction, contemporary fiction, or Southern gothic novel inspired by the Palmetto state in the Southeastern United States.

South Carolinan books on a Charleston bookshelf.

I am really excited to share this list with you, as I just returned from Charleston, and there I discovered just how tightly intertwined the culture and history of this particular location is with intertwined with literature, which definitely isn’t true of many, or even most, literary locations.

Whether you’re traveling to South Carolina mentally or physically, you won’t want to miss these amazing Lowcountry books and book series, particularly those by famous authors from South Carolina, including so many great names, including Sue Monk Kidd, Pat Conroy, Dorothea Benton Frank, and Mary Alice Monroe.

Top 3

TOP PICKS

Queen Bee by Dorothea Benton Frank: best for fans of beach reads

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd: best for fans of bestsellers and found family stories

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead: best for fans of Oprah’s Book Club and diverse historical fiction

Quick List

  1. The Beach House by Mary Alice Monroe
  2. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  3. Charleston by Margaret Bradham Thornton
  4. The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston
  5. Death by Darjeeling by Laura Childs
  6. Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
  7. Five Survive by Holly Jackson
  8. The House on Tradd Street by Karen White
  9. How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix
  10. The Indigo Girl by Natasha Boyd
  11. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
  12. Lowcountry Boil by Susan M. Boyer
  13. North and South by John Jakes
  14. Other Birds by Sarah Addison Allen
  15. Porgy by DuBose Heyward
  16. The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
  17. Queen Bee by Dorothea Benton Frank
  18. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
  19. The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
  20. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

(This list of memoir books and novels set in South Carolina actually reminds me of the best books set in New Orleans, a similar Southern city with an epic reading list that intimately reflects its uniqueness.)

Details on All the Best Books Set in South Carolina

This list of memoirs and fiction set in South Carolina truly will transport you there in time and place, even including Southern drawls and comfort food references, alongside difficult histories.

I created this list of books about South Carolina (including mostly fiction books about Charleston) based on my own personal research, my own personal reading, and by perusing Charlestonian bookstores and talking with the booksellers there, so it’s a pretty comprehensive list with something for everyone.

The Beach House by Mary Alice Monroe

The tone of The Beach House (now a Hallmark movie) is exactly what you would expect from a Southern book of this title. And Mary Alice Monroe’s books were as abundant in Charleston as Elin Hilderbrand’s are in Nantucket.

Caretta is a big-city businesswoman who returns to the Lowcountry upon her mother’s request, just as her life spirals out of control.

The return forces her to slow down and enjoy the quieter pace as she repairs her family’s beach house and reunites with old friends. And, in reconnecting with her mother, she learns the values of family, sacrifice, forgiveness, and true love.


Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

I’ve read several of Woodson’s works, and Brown Girl Dreaming fell right in line with the brevity and sumptuous prose I expected. I highly recommend it, especially since it’s so short and gives you a great sense of time and place.

It’s a memoir of being raised in the South (South Carolina) and the North (New York) during the 1960s and 1970s, when the Civil Rights movement was growing. And, it’s about finding yourself when two different places feel like home, particularly through writing.


Charleston by Margaret Bradham Thornton

Ironically, I first discovered Charleston the book in Charleston the city.

Eliza returns to high society Charleston after she left ten years earlier for college. She’s a London-based art historian and, while her Etonian boyfriend simply adores her, she finds herself tempted by her first love Henry, who she sees at her stepsister’s Southern debut.

At the end of the day, it’s about whether she can ever truly go home to a place filled with generations of familial history.


The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston

The Dead Romantics is a truly unique and satisfying ghostly love story that’s nowhere near as dark as it sounds.

Florence is a big-city ghostwriter who gave up her belief in love. And then, when her editor won’t extend a deadline for her AND her father dies, she returns home to her South Carolinan family’s funeral parlor. There, she finds the ghost of her editor, and he’s ready to challenge everything she believes about love.


Death by Darjeeling by Laura Childs

Laura Childs’ “Tea Shop Mystery” books were recommended to me by a reader of The Literary Lifestyle.

The first, Death by Darjeeling, is a cozy Southern mystery in which Charleston tea shop owner Theodosia must prove her innocence when a man is poisoned by tea at the annual historical homes garden party.


Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

Ella Minnow Pea is an epistolary fable about freedom of speech. A young named Ella lives on a fictional South Carolina island called Nollop, which was named after the author of the famous sentence containing all the letters of the alphabet, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

She is tasked with saving everyone from the island’s Council, which is banning the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they drop from a memorial statue of Nollop.

(Tip: As the letters drop from the novel’s statue they also drop from the novel’s text. Audio reading is not recommended if you want to fully experience the uniqueness of this book.)


Five Survive by Holly Jackson

#1 New York Times bestseller

Five Survive is a good pick for Young Adult readers. Red is on an RV road trip for spring break with five friends… including a killer. And, when they break down without cell service, it becomes clear that it was intentional.

They must either escape or find out who’s lying by daybreak. Not everyone will make it out alive in this nail-biter.


The House on Tradd Street by Karen White

The House on Tradd Street is the first in a beloved series about a Charleston real estate agent and the secret histories inside the town’s old houses.

Melanie has inherited a historic home in which Jack, a writer of unsolved mysteries, believes are hidden diamonds from the Confederate Treasury.

As he begins to fall for her, he catches the attention of an evil ghost, and they must try to solve a mystery of love, heartbreak, and, perhaps, murder.


How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix

Instant New York Times bestseller

How to Sell a Haunted House is the absolute weirdest book that I couldn’t put down. At its core, it’s a book about demonic puppets, trauma, and grief… yes, you read that right.

After their parents tragically die, Louise and Mark reunite in Charleston to sell the family home. Complicating things, however, is a possessed puppet named Pumpkin who has been part of the family for many years.

This book mixes horror with family drama in all the right ways, and that’s what makes it so special and beloved by readers.


The Indigo Girl by Natasha Boyd

Upon visiting Charleston myself, I learned that indigo dye became one of the largest exports out of South Carolina, and The Indigo Girl just happens to be a historical fiction account of how one sixteen-year-old teenager produced it.

In 1739, Eliza Lucas’s family is about to lose everything, when she learns how much the French pay for indigo dye and believes it can save her family. A seemingly impossible task, her dreams are reached through the help of an aging horticulturalist, a married lawyer, and a slave whom she illegally teaches to read.

And, while she’s not widely known, her historical significance is not to be overlooked, as then-President George Washington even served as a pallbearer at her funeral, and many families still live on the wealth she created.


The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Invention of Wings was actually the book I read during my visit to Charleston (where it’s set), and I thought it was one of the best books about South Carolina in which to indulge during my stay because it was informative, yet the chapters were also very short and moved quickly, which is great for travel reading.

In Charleston, I also first learned that this story of the feminist women in the Grimke family and their quest to free Black slaves was actually based on a true story when I spotted a book called The Grimkes: The Legacy of Slavery in An American Family.

It’s an excellent read about women of different classes who yearn for freedom in different ways and find common ground therein.


Lowcountry Boil by Susan M. Boyer

I had heard about the Liz Talbot mystery book series before visiting Charleston and hoped to pick up one there since it felt so local, but I didn’t see one, so I will just have to keep it on my list for next time.

Lowcountry Boil is the first in the series about a woman who’s both a Southern belle AND a private investigator. When her grandmother is murdered, she returns to South Carolina to solve the mystery with her brother, the chief of police, who ends up shutting her out.

When more residents die in the small seaside town, she becomes even more determined to catch the killer before he catches her, even if she’s on her own in doing so.


North and South by John Jakes

#1 New York Times bestseller

North and South is the first in a popular trilogy of books.

While training at West Point and serving in the Mexican-American War together, a close-knit friendship forms between a Pennsylvania man and a South Carolina man.

But, when the first shots of the American Civil War are fired at Fort Sumter off the coast of Charleston, their bond is tested. It’s an immersive saga in which the tale of these two men reflects the tensions of a nation.


Other Birds by Sarah Addison Allen

I’ve heard good things about Other Birds from other book reviewers on social media, so it’s been on my “to be read list,” and I hope to get to it soon.

The Dellawisp is a cobblestone building on a small alley in Mallow Island, South Carolina. It was named after the turquoise birds who reside there and, like the human tenants, have a sense of bearing magical secrets.

When Zoey claimed her deceased mother’s apartment there, she meets a host of unique residents, including three ghosts. Then, that night, a neighbor mysteriously dies, and she discovers that the missing pages of a famous writer may be hidden there.

The quest reveals that the building is filled with unfinished stories and pasts that must be confronted in order for the residents to move forward.


Porgy by DuBose Heyward

Porgy was the basis for George Gershwin’s musical Porgy and Bess.

It’s based on a true story about the rise and fall of a Charlestonian street beggar living in the Black tenements during the 1920s, as he pursues a woman named Bess.

Of note, some passages contain a Creole language named Gullah, which enslaved persons developed.


The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy

I spotted Pat Conroy’s books ALL over Charleston, and the most popular among them is The Prince of Tides, which is considered to be “a masterpiece” and has been compared to one of my all-time favorite books, John Steinbeck’s East of Eden.

It’s an epic, decades-long family saga that moves between the fast-paced New York City and the slower lifestyle of the Lowcountry, and follows the volatile Tom Wingo, and his smart, but troubled, twin sister, Savannah.

Note: Other popular titles by Pat Conroy include South of Broad and The Water is Wide.


Queen Bee by Dorothea Benton Frank

One of the top three best books set in South Carolina

Frank was (sadly, she has died) the beloved South Carolina author of charming beach reads.

In Queen Bee, Holly is a Southern beekeeper living with her strong-willed mother, the “Queen Bee” and crushing on the handsome widowed next-door neighbor and his adorable young sons. When her exuberant sister moves back in, they fixate all their attention on the neighbor, to the point where some slapstick moments unfurl. At the end of the day, family remains.

It’s a light family story filled with strong women and Southern charm that feels as sweet as honey!

Note: I only included Queen Bee here because it’s my current favorite title of Frank’s, but I want to note that she has many other titles that are popular with readers. I plan to add them here as I read them and can determine whether to officially recommend them.


The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

New York Times bestseller of millions of copies

One of the top three best books set in South Carolina

EVERY year, The Secret Life of Bees is the most popular choice in my book club, The Rory Gilmore Book Club — and for good reason. It’s a beautiful story of found family and so many other hot topics, including Civil Rights, and there’s even a bit of mystery and romance.

Set in South Carolina in 1964, Lily is a young girl with a blurry memory of the day her mother died and a stand-in mother in the form of a Black woman named Rosaleen.

Together, they escape to Tiburon, South Carolina, where they uncover the secret to the past of Lily’s mother’s after being taken in by Black beekeeping sisters.

It’s just one of those books everyone should read.


The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

New York Times bestseller

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is a popular book described as Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias meets Dracula. I feel like that’s a comparison that either TOTALLY intrigues you or it doesn’t at all. You can make the call for yourself!

Patricia is a middle-aged mother of uninterested teens, wife of a workaholic, and daughter-in-law of a woman needing constant care. She takes solace in her Charleston book club that loves to read true crime.

After she’s attacked by a neighbor, she becomes acquainted with his handsome nephew, James. But, when local children go missing and the police write off their deaths, she begins to believe James may be a monster.


The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

One of the top three best books set in South Carolina

Set partially in South Carolina, The Underground Railroad is a modern masterpiece that weaves the story of a young female slave named Cora seeking freedom with that of other characters, including her mother, her grandmother, a slave catcher; a South Carolina doctor conducting a social experiment, the wife of a North Carolina station agent, and a fellow slave who escapes the plantation with Cora.

These various perspectives, along with excellent writing, breathe new life into what may seem like a familiar story of the Antebellum South. It’s not as familiar as you may think, and it surprised and educated me as much as other great works of historical fiction about suppressed stories.

Conclusion

Those are all the best books set in South Carolina to mentally transport you to the Palmetto state and immerse you in its longstanding history and culture.

SHOP THE POST

To recap and help you decide what to read first or next, my personal top three picks are:

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