It seems as though in the past 20 years or so, writers have discovered the Outer Banks as a place of romance, where hearts and love are rejuvenated. Of course, we already knew that, but it is nice to have it confirmed in literature.
Romance, though, is not the only story to be told about the Outer Banks. There is this amazing history and of course, mystery abounds. And at least one really good local author.
We can’t list everything, but we do feel what we have is a good start.
The Outer Banks and Romance
Nights in Rodanthe, Nicholas Sparks
We have to start here because it’s probably the best-known book about the Outer Banks. And the movie, starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane was shot in Rodanthe giving it an air of authenticity in spite of its fictional roots.
It’s pure romantic fiction, but Sparks gets high marks for providing a compelling back story. Dr. Paul Flanner—for movie buffs, that was Richard Gere—is a surgeon trying to come to terms with his humanity, and Adrienne Willis (Diane Lane) is sorting through the ashes of a failed marriage and changes in her life.
They meet at a beautiful seaside inn and nature takes its course, although not without some personal angst thrown in.
Then there’s the hurricane. As a metaphor for their lines, what they are going through and the growing tempest of their romance, it’s perfect.
For those of us who live here or our regular visitors, well, staying in the north end of Rodanthe when a hurricane has drawn a bullseye on the S Curves would not be considered a wise decision, but it does make for an exciting focus for the book and movie.
Perhaps to underline how dynamic the north end of Rodanthe is, the Inn at Rodanthe where the movie was filmed, had to be moved to save it.
Outer Banks, Anne Rivers Siddons
Another bestselling author writes about the Outer Banks.
Siddons’ novel Outer Banks, is a more textured and complex book than Nights in Rodanthe. Both books feature characters trying to reconcile their past with who they are in the present.
Outer Banks brings together four women who had been friends in college. Twenty-eight years after leaving school the changes in their lives have been profound. There is bitterness, betrayal and resolution as the women come together after their long absence from one another.
The book is still firmly in the romance novel spectrum, but for someone who is looking for something in that genre that is a little more nuanced, Outer Banks works well.
Summer House Series, Jenny Hale
Jenny Hale has written an Outer Banks Summer series that include: Summer House, Summer by the Sea, and The Summer Hideaway.
For fans of romance and doughty heroines, they are the perfect read for the beach. Filled with wonderful descriptions of the Outer Banks in the summer, love, and friendship, Hale has earned a devoted following.
My Ex-Best Friend’s Wedding, Wendy Wax
A bit more than a typical romance. My Ex-Best Friend’s Wedding explores what it means to be true to yourself and the sacrifices that may entail. Very much in the romantic novel style, but with some interesting soul searching.
Put a Little Mystery in Your Life
The Coffin, Deborah Dunn
A double mystery novel, Dunn places her protagonist, Andrea Warren, on the Outer Banks in search of what was truly the fate of the colonists of the Lost Colony.
Warren is searching for answers—answers to the Lost Colony and answers to why her father committed suicide when she was a child. Yet as she peels back layers of archeological mystery, she finds there are people who don’t want her answering those questions, and they will go to any lengths to stop her..
A Death Long Overdue, Eva Gates
Who would have thought that a librarian’s life could be so exciting, but a 40th reunion on the Outer Banks, the body of the former director of her library floating in the water, and threats on her life change everything.
Harrison Weaver Mystery Series, Joseph Terrell
We admit it—we saved the best for last.
Local author Joseph Terrell has been writing his Harrison Weaver mystery series for a number of years. The books are wonderfully entertaining, filled with characters that readers will come to care about and identify with.
Harrison Weaver, his protagonist, is a crime writer who moved to the Outer Banks following the death of his wife. He had hoped that he would be reporting on crime in distant places, but he soon found that murder doesn’t take a holiday.
The cast of characters is wonderful. There’s Janey, Weaver’s parakeet, Chief Deputy Odell Wright, Elly, Weaver’s love interest, and SBI Agent Ballsford Twiddy aka Balls. All of them are carefully crafted characters who play important roles as the plots develop.
It’s hard to pick out any favorites, but here are two that are great introductions to the series.
Last Blue Moon in May features Chief Deputy Odell Wright prominently in a cold case file dating back to the day his nine-year-old sister disappeared. The story becomes a tale of undying love, perseverance, and ultimately closure.
In Deadly Dreams of Summer, Weaver finds himself deep in the world of human trafficking. The case is, of course, solved, but along the way, the human cost is portrayed with an unblinking eye.
Especially in Deadly Dreams of Summer, but in all of his Harrison Weaver novels, Terrell does his research so the plots carry with them an element of realism.
Terrell is a retired journalist and his style is the sparse, precise writing that makes for a good article and it translates really well into his stories. Highly recommended and great summer read.
One additional note—in reading Terrell’s series, it would appear as though murder is a common occurrence on the Outer Banks. It is not.
Outer Banks Nature and Environment
The beauty of the Outer Banks is an extraordinary creation of nature—a place where powerful forces have converged, creating a ribbon of sand that is remarkable in its beauty and diversity.
But as numerous authors and scientists have noted, the Outer Banks exists in a fragile balance, an equilibrium that can be damaged by our actions. Some of the authors like Orrin Pilkey at Duke or Stanley Riggs at ECU, were among the first scientists to give notice of the danger of overdevelopment. Their warnings have often been dismissed, yet over the years, quite a number of their recommendations have become part of how we think about this 130-mile sandbar called the Outer Banks.
We are listing four books in our Nature and Environment section. There are many more books on the subject than these four, but we believe what we are presenting here will give readers an excellent understanding of the forces at work on the Outer Banks.
How to Read a Carolina Beach, Orrin H. Pilkey, Tracy Monegan Rice, William J. Neal
This may be the best book there is to start the study of the science of the Outer Banks. Written in 2004, it is one of some two dozen books Dr. Pilkey has written about the science of beaches and shorelines.
Although there is hard science included in the book, Pilkey and his fellow writers are careful to present it in a way that is easy for layman to understand. The style, which is a somewhat refreshing, is equal parts scientists and wonder at the forces of nature.
What really makes the book stand out, though, is how well organized it is.
The book starts off by describing just what a beach is and the forces that create it. Terms that are commonly used but may not be familiar to some people are introduced as the everyday language of how to think about a beach.
The authors then go on to describe how beaches get their shape and where the sand dunes that are so closely associated with the Outer Banks are formed.
With the forces that create shorelines described the book goes on to explain how barrier islands are formed and why and how they exist in the high-energy environment sandwiched between the ocean and bays, estuaries and sounds.
As the reader takes the journey along the coast, the authors do not shy away from pointing to the cost of development, how that can be mitigated and what could be better strategies.
A well-written and important book for anyone who wants to get a good understanding of what is happening to our Outer Banks environment.
Battle for NC Coast, Stanley R. Riggs, Dorothea von der Porten Ames, Stephen J. Culver, David J. Mallinson
Pilkey in his book introduces readers to the dynamics of barrier island beaches. Dr. Riggs and his co-authors sound the clarion call of what will happen if development continues the way it has been going.
Published in 2011, the book points out that management policies and development practices are in direct conflict with barrier islands dynamics.
Barrier islands are not true islands, rather they are massive sandbars that have risen above sea level. Because they are not rooted in a permanent base, which a true island is, they migrate with changing sea levels. Evidence of that can be seen, as an example, at Wash Woods in Carova where tree stumps from a long dead maritime forest make beach driving a challenge.
Our development practices, they point out, assume a permanent shoreline.
Some of the conclusions proposed in The Battle For North Carolina’s Coast are considered somewhat radical. They suggest suggest abandoning some areas because the cost of protecting them is too high.
However, they are not anti-development. Rather they suggest that we look at areas that are relatively stable and think about how those areas can be developed with a minimal environmental impact.
The book is filled with photos and diagrams that underscore the authors’ points.
Whether a reader agrees with the conclusions or not, the book is an important contribution to how we need to think about the forces at work on the Outer Banks.
The Nature of the Outer Banks, Dirk Frankenberg
Written in 1995, The Nature of the Outer Banks was probably the first book written by a coastal geologist that explained in everyday language the forces creating the Outer Banks.
What sets this book apart is the historic perspective that Frakenberg brings to his discussion. When he writes about the importance of preserving the sounds as a nursery of fisheries, he reminds readers of the first impression that John White and his 1584 expedition had of the Native Americans. White recorded the Indians filling their canoes with fish and sitting down to a feast of roasted seafood and venison.
Frankenberg notes that overgrazing in the early 20th century by livestock denuded the dunes and exacerbated an already unstable environment.
Although the book was published 25 years ago, Frankenberg, who passed away in 2000, was already warning of the dangers of overdevelopment and making recommendations to bring development in line with what the environment could support.
Ribbon of Sand—The Amazing Convergence of the Ocean and the Outer Banks, John Alexander, James Lazell
Written in a much more literary style than any other book on the forces that create barrier islands, Ribbon of Sand is a great introduction to what the Outer Banks is and how complex its environment and ecology is.
Neither Alexander nor Lazell are coastal geologists. Alexander is a journalist and Lazell is a zoologist.
There is considerable time spent discussing the role development plays in coastal dynamics, but there is also an emphasis on the biological processes that occur on barrier islands. Early in the book, there is a description of how waves and ocean currents bring a loggerhead turtle to the beach to lay her eggs.
As the authors examine the natural history of the Outer Banks, they also take some time to write about the human history.
What comes out of their writing is a more nuanced story of what the Outer Banks is, and why preserving it is so important.
Outer Banks Books for Children
Rich in history, with a complex environmental story to tell…a place of romance and mystery, the Outer Banks is an ideal setting for a book. And so many authors have noticed how perfect this sandbar is for storytelling that we can’t even include all of them.
We do think, though that we have managed to compile a reasonably inclusive list. We did have to break it down into categories: children’s books, fiction, history, and the environment. We realize, though, this is not a complete list by any means, but it’s a good place to start.
Suzanne Tate Nature Series with illustrations by James Melvin
Any list of children’s books about the Outer Banks has got to start with Suzanne Tate’s Nature Series.
Written on a pre-K to seven-year old level, the books are beautifully illustrated by Outer Banks artist James Melvin. What really makes the books stand out, though, is Tate has done her research and when she describes the life of a hermit crab or a tuna it’s accurate.
With some 35 books available, it’s hard to pick out a favorite, but Merri-Lee Monarch, A Tale of a Big Trip really caught our attention as Tate tracked the migration of monarch butterflies from the Outer Banks to Mexico and back again. Melvin’s illustrations are startling in their beauty.
Tate and Melvin also collaborated on a series of children’s books about the history of the Outer Banks. The history series books are somewhat difficult to find, but they are a wonderful introduction to the time of the Wright Brothers or the Outer Banks during the Civil War.
The Surfin’ Spoon Series by Jesse and Whitney Hines with illustrations by Ben Weiland
Former pro surfer Jesse Hines and his wife Whitney own the Sufin’ Spoon yogurt shop in Nags Head. With his wife, Whitney, he has written three books for pre-school to first-grade level readers. The books feature Sebi the Spoon learning how to surf and overcoming obstacles.
Captain Stumpy by Herbert and Jeremy Bliven
Wonderful illustrations and a fun read featuring peg-legged pirate cat Captain Stumpy who manages to outwit his arch-rival Fluff Bucket. Written and illustrated by father and son team Herbert and Jeremy Bliven, the book is ideal for pre-k to seven or eight years of age.
Taffy of Torpedo Junction by Nell Wise Wechter
An oldie but a good one. Taffy of Torpedo Junction is based on some of the things that author Nell Wise Wechter witnessed as a teacher on Hatteras Island during WWII. The language in the book is a bit dated now, but it still tells a wonderful story—one that has captivated preteens for years.
Taffy has reason to believe there is a nest of Nazi spies coming ashore on Hatteras Island and her efforts to track the spies and alert the authorities make for an exciting read. It’s also a great introduction to the history of the Outer Banks during WWII when German U-boats sank so many ships off the Outer Banks that it gained the nickname “Torpedo Junction.”
The Summer of Lost and Found by Rebecca Behrens
An excellent young adult book, The Summer of Lost and Found works on so many levels that it becomes a delightful read.
Told through the eyes of protagonist Neil Dare, it’s sort of a city mouse, country mouse tale as Neil is dragged out of her comfortable New York City life for a summer on Roanoke Island.
There’s some subtle humor as well. Neil and her mother check into their Roanoke Island rental late at night, hungry and tired only to discover no one delivers after 9:00 p.m. Coming from a world of 24-hour delivery Neil is aghast.
She does adjust. In fact, begins to thrive in her summer home, making friends and digging into the history and mystery of the Lost Colony.
As she discovers more about history, she also has to confront the struggles of her parent’s marriage.
The dialogue is snappy and real; author Behrens fills the pages with real Outer Banks settings. And the backstories make it a book young adult readers will really enjoy.