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If I had to choose my favourite place in the world, it would probably be Cornwall. I’ve visited so many times that I’ve lost count! I’m also a huge bookworm and devour between 50 and 100 books every. single. year.
There’s nothing I love more than picking up books set in Cornwall whilst I’m travelling in Cornwall! Not only do my surroundings bring the books to life, but the beautiful Cornish setting described in the books makes me appreciate this corner of the globe even more!
I’ve been working my way through my favourite book series of all time, the Poldark Saga, for the last few years now. It’s cemented my love of Cornwall as a setting in books! If there’s one book on this list I recommend you read, it’s Ross Poldark, the first book in the series. It’s set in Perranporth, a place I return to all the time, so that’s another reason I’m so obsessed.
I JUST LOVE POLDARK SO MUCH!
Poldark aside, I know a thing or two about the best books set in or about Cornwall to read! This round-up will contain my top picks for both fiction and non-fiction about Cornwall. In my experience, it seems that fiction books about Cornwall are predominantly chick-lit. As much as I enjoy chick-lit, there are a ton of other great genres out there that don’t get as much love from Cornwall readers. I have tried to include as many genres as possible in this list!
Cornwall Fiction Books:
The Poldark Series by Winston Graham
It’s impossible for me to start this list without first mentioning the Poldark series. It’s recently been made into an incredibly popular TV show, but the books are (in my opinion) even better!
There are 12 books in the series, with the first being Ross Poldark. The series is set in the 18th and early 19th century and follows the life of Ross Poldark, mine owner, and his extended family through their dramatic lives in Cornwall.
In the first book, Ross Poldark returns home from fighting in the American War of Independence to find his father is dead, his mining estate is derelict, and his fiancee, Elizabeth, is now engaged to his cousin. The story unwinds from there!
Jamaica Inn by Daphne DuMaurier
Taking place at the real-life coaching inn on a desolate stretch of the Bodmin Moor, the haunting setting of Daphne DuMaurier’s Jamaica Inn will have you packing your bags for Bodmin Moor instantly!
On her mother’s dying wish, Mary Yellan moves to Cornwall to live with her aunt and uncle at the Jamaica Inn. She soon realises that something terrible is happening at the Jamaica Inn, and Mary takes it into her own hands to stop the murderous gang of wreckers who run ships aground, kill the sailors and steal the cargo.
The Sea Gate by Jane Johnson
It’s so exciting to find a newly released book that’s set in Cornwall! Arriving at her Aunt’s crumbling home, with her Aunt nowhere in sight, Rebecca starts sorting through the mysterious house, finding a mysterious tunnel leading from the cellar to the sea. Desperate to find out why this tunnel exists, Rebecca uncovers buried secrets from the Second World War, when her Aunt was just a young woman, and danger and romance lurked around every corner.
I haven’t got my hands on this yet, but I absolutely cannot wait to read it on the beach in Cornwall this summer!
Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne DuMaurier
Another DuMaurier classic, Frenchman’s Creek is all about throwing caution to the wind and falling in love with a swashbuckling and dangerous pirate!
Well, it’s about more than that, but the two words “pirate” and “romance” were all I needed to hear before I picked this up. Whilst the setting, just like Jamaica Inn, is Cornwall, the tone of Frenchman’s Creek is totally different. It’s more lighthearted, but still retains the scandal and intrigue I loved so much about Jamaica Inn.
Oh, and a bad-ass, awesome female protagonist in literature set in the 17th century is almost unheard of, but Frenchman Creek certainly delivers.
Peril at End House by Agatha Christie
Beloved literary detective Hercule Poirot is holidaying on the Cornish coast in this thrilling murder mystery. Of course, since this is such a short book and I don’t want to give away any spoilers, I can’t really say much more than that!
For anybody who has not read an Agatha Christie book, or a book in the Poirot series, before, you don’t need to read the books in order, and the fact that this is the 6th book in the series shouldn’t deter you. In fact, Peril at End House is often recommended as the best book to read first for Agatha Christie newbies.
The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
There’s something about this book that will make you want to move to Cornwall, spending your days painting beautiful beach landscapes and tending to a very full flower garden. It’s a beautiful family tale told by our sixty-four-year-old protagonist, Penelope.
Penelope’s father was an artist, and it turns out his paintings are now worth a small fortune. Her scheming son then begins a campaign to pressure her to sell the paintings, and we go back in time to experience Penelope’s life. From her bohemian upbringing in Cornwall and London to her marriage to her unloving husband and her experience during WW2, this book gets rave reviews from pretty much everybody for its cosiness, its charm, and, of course, its Cornish setting.
Ingo by Helen Dunmore
This captivating middle-grade book about mermaids is a Cornwall fan favourite for all ages due to its lovely whimsical setting and magical adventures!
11-year old Sapphire’s father disappears off the coast of Cornwall. Comforting herself with the stories he used to tell her of the Mer, mermaids who lived in the underwater land of Ingo, Sapphire starts feeling the pull of the sea and soon realises that Ingo may not have been completely imaginary…
This is a very quick and easy read, perfect if you want something to read on the beach, and is the first book in a 5-part series, so there’s plenty more if you liked it!
The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley
In this bestseller historical fiction, Eva leaves California and returns to Cornwall, where she spent her childhood summers, to scatter her sister’s ashes. But being at the house she spent so much time in in the past she finds she has to confront some uncomfortable memories and starts uncovering the past of the inhabitants that lived there hundreds of years ago.
This book is historical fiction with a sci-fi twist – because the main character can actually go back in time! During her time in the past, she finds herself falling in love with Daniel Butler, a man who died long before she was even born!
Forbidden love, ghosts from the past, time travel and mysteries – what’s not to love?!
The Beach Cafe by Lucy Diamond
This is one of my favourite Cornwall chick-lit books of all time. It’s like a literary hug! You can completely turn your brain off as you read through this charming tale of following dreams and fawning over hunky Cornish dudes. It’s the perfect beach read!
Evie is living a boring yet sensible 9-5 life as a temp worker when her Aunt Jo dies and leaves her an unexpected legacy – her beloved beachside cafe in Cornwall. Thrust well out of her comfort zone, Evie soon finds herself running the Beach Cafe, trying to be accepted by the locals of Carrawen Bay and finding more than she bargained for in the form of one charming local…
Daughters of Cornwall by Liz Fenwick
Another recent release, Daughters of Cornwall documents one family’s experiences from the end of WW1 to the present day. When Caroline finds a suitcase in her home, she’s immediately swept up in the fascinating tale of her mother and grandmother’s lives and secrets.
The story covers significant events in the history of Britain such as WW1 and WW2 and also shares the stories of the lives of the three Bolitho women – Caroline, Hannah and Clara. For fans of historical fiction, who also love family intrigue and hidden secrets, you’ll love this one!
Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan
Another Cornwall chick-lit favourite of mine, The Little Beach Street Bakery is adorable, easy to read and oh-so-cute! Escaping from the fallout of her broken relationship, Polly rents a flat above an abandoned shop in the sleepy Cornish village of Polbearne. To keep her mind occupied, she throws herself wholeheartedly into her favourite hobby – baking bread.
Trying to break through to the frosty locals proves tricky, though. With the help of one handsome beekeeper, Polly decides to take a leap and open her own bakery, and one by one the locals all begin to come round.
Summer at the Cornish Cafe by Phillipa Ashley
Yet another chick-lit book set in Cornwall. There seems to be a bit of a recipe to these, so here goes: Demi doesn’t expect her summer in Cornwall to be anything special until she meets Cal Penwith, a grumpy (yet incredibly handsome, obvs) outsider who owns the run-down holiday resort of Kilhallon Park. Demi convinces him to let her help to renovate the park, they grow closer as they work together and… Guess the rest!
Obviously, this one isn’t going to be requiring a lot of brainpower, but it’s a fun, simple and short read ideal for sunny days on the beach (or just for imagining you’re on one!).
The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex
This was a 2021 release that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on, and it definitely didn’t disappoint!
Inspired by true events, this historical mystery centres around three men who disappear without a trace from an isolated lighthouse in Cornwall. Twenty years after that fateful night, a writer approaches the women these men left behind to try to get to the bottom of the mystery. In this unsettling tale, we explore the isolation the lighthouse keepers felt and the grief suffered by those left behind.
But you’ll have to read the book to find out what happened to the lighthouse keepers!
Cornwall Non-Fiction Books
Dark, Salt, Clear: Life In a Cornish Fishing Town by Lamorna Ash
This is a beautiful memoir of a woman who has had it with the pressures of London living and relocates to Newlyn, the largest working fishing port in Britain. The book explores the contrast between the idyllic Cornwall of the narrator’s childhood holidays and the reality of life in this small town, where locals are far from welcoming and the industry that sustains them, fishing, is under constant threat.
This is a great read if you want to learn more about what living in Cornwall is really like, and what pressures the communities here are facing.
The Salt Path by Raynor Winn
When Raynor learns that her husband of 32 years is terminally ill, everything in her world comes to a stop. And then their home is taken away. With little left to lose, they embark on the 630-mile walk along the South West Coast Path. With little money for accommodation and food, they must carry everything they need to survive on their backs.
If you’re into nature writing, this is the book for you! Beautifully written and awe-inspiring, you can’t read this book without believing in the wonderful power of nature.
Cornwall: A History by Philip Payton
If you want to delve into the history of Cornwall from a bona fide expert (the author is a Professor of Cornish Studies at the University of Exeter) this is the go-to book.
From Celtic origins to the mining industry, Payton brings Cornish history to life in this definitive text.
Mines and Miners of Cornwall and Devon: The Tin and Copper Industries by Anthony Burton
If you’re interested in Cornish history but want to know more about its mining heritage specifically, pick up this book.
Taking the story of tin mining in Cornwall from its early beginnings to the present day, you’ll learn how the industry developed as well as the social, political and economic impact of the mining industry in Cornwall.
Lonely Planet Devon & Cornwall
Obviously, if you’re planning a trip to Cornwall, a Lonely Planet guide is the go-to resource (aside from this blog, of course…). Freshly updated for 2021, Lonely Planet is your travel companion to the most exciting things to see and do, the best places to stay, and some secret hidden gems to get you off the beaten path.
The guidebook also contains suggested itineraries, insider tips, and colour maps of all the important areas!
Okay! So that was, um, a lot of detail, but I had a lot to say on this topic! I feel really passionate about reading, and Cornwall, so this post kind of tied my two favourite things together!
I understand that we covered sooo many books here though, and it might be hard to choose just a few! For this reason, I’ve pulled my top picks into this handy table to make your life easier:
|Best Cornwall Chick-Lit||Little Beach Street Bakery||Click here to check the current price|
|Best Cornwall Mystery||Peril at End House||Click here to check the current price|
|Best Cornwall Historical Fiction||Poldark Series (start with Book 1: Ross Poldark)||Click here to check the current price|
|Best Cornwall Memoir||Dark, Salt, Clear: Life In a Cornish Fishing Town||Click here to check the current price|
|Best Cornwall History Book||The Little History of Cornwall||Click here to check the current price|
|Best Cornwall Travel |
|Lonely Planet Devon & Cornwall||Click here to check the current price|
Let me know if you try out any of my recommendations, and please drop me a comment if there’s a great book about Cornwall that isn’t on this list and I need to check out!
Until next time, folks 🙂
Need help planning your trip to Cornwall? Check out these posts!:
The Most Popular Landmarks to Visit in Cornwall
The Best Places to Stay in Perranporth
The Best Things To Do In Looe, Cornwall
Surfing in Cornwall – A Beginners Guide