The best books about good and evil (without being cloying or preachy)

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an omnivorous reader, a literature teacher, a novelist, and a homeschooling mother of five. I’m a firm believer that literature should be delightful and instructive, and that reading wonderful books should inspire a growth in virtue. At the same time, I loathe cloying, proselytizing presentations of goodness. This is one of the many reasons I love the Gothic; the genre permits me to play around with good and evil, virtue and vice—without preachiness. I am also absolutely terrified of the task of writing a book list and am now going to bury my face in a book before I have time to second-guess any of my own choices.


I wrote...

Book cover of Brother Wolf

What is my book about?

For Athene Howard, the only child of renowned cultural anthropologist Charles Howard, life is an unexciting, disillusioned academic project. When she encounters a clairvoyant Dominican postulant, a stern nun, and a recusant English nobleman embarked on a quest for a feral Franciscan werewolf, the strange new world of enchantment and horror intoxicates and delights her—even as it brings to light her father’s complex past and his long-dormant relationship with the Church of Rome. Can Athene and her newfound compatriots battle against the ruthless forces of darkness that howl for the overthrow of civilization and the devouring of so many wounded souls?

In this sister novel to A Bloody Habit, the incomparable Father Thomas Edmund Gilroy, O.P. returns to face occult demons, gypsy curses, possessed maidens, and tormented werewolves.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Ball and the Cross

Eleanor Bourg Nicholson Why did I love this book?

This madcap story involves a militant Christian and a militant atheist who decide to fight to the death over the question of the existence of God. The trouble is that no one in the world will let them do it. When I first read it, much as I enjoyed the two central combatants and their repeatedly baffled zeal, I was even more delighted by the framework of the novel. The Ball and the Cross begins in a spaceship containing a mad scientist named Lucifer and a holy monk named Michael. The theological-cosmological setting seems clear, but this is not a twee presentation of the battle of the angels (cf. Revelation 12:7–10). These two have rich personalities and Michael in particular had a huge impact on me regarding the proper depiction of goodness.

By G.K. Chesterton, Ben Hatke (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Ball and the Cross as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book was converted from its physical edition to the digital format by a community of volunteers. You may find it for free on the web. Purchase of the Kindle edition includes wireless delivery.


Book cover of A Tale of Two Cities

Eleanor Bourg Nicholson Why did I love this book?

Choosing a single Dickens novel is an excruciating task, and this choice is probably going to give me nightmares. However: one of the most brilliant aspects of Dickens is his ability to present the complexity of moral struggle. Usually his depictions of goodness rely heavily on comedy (which is splendid). Here I think Sydney Carlton and, to a lesser degree, that of Miss Pross, represent vividly self-sacrificial goodness outweighing personal defects of character. Lucie Manette, though symbolically a heroine, is not Dickens’ best (she’s a wee bit boring). Carlton’s redemption through violence, on the other hand, showcases the war between guilt and grace in the human soul, against a backdrop of evil and inhuman bloodlust.

By Charles Dickens,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked A Tale of Two Cities as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Sydney Carton is a lawyer who has wasted his abilities and his life. Now he has to make a difficult choice about what is really important to him, which could be a matter of life or death. The French Revolution is running its violent course; lives are ruined as a new France is created. How did the gentle Doctor Manette and his daughter Lucie become caught up in France's struggles? What is the real identity of the handsome Charles Darnay, who wins Lucie's hand in marriage? And why does the shadow of La Bastille Prison hang over them all? The…


Book cover of Mansfield Park

Eleanor Bourg Nicholson Why did I love this book?

Jane Austen is unparalleled in her depiction of good and evil on a domestic level. While the situations are slightly less dramatic than in the other books I have selected, Mansfield Park compellingly presents the consequences of habituated action. Fanny Price is not perfect and certainly not most people’s cup of tea, but, like all Austen heroines, represents virtue and a growing self-knowledge over the course of the novel. The Crawford siblings are vivid examples of dulled moral vision. Without committing the literary sin of giving away the end, I will say that the “anti-romance” trajectory of the plot is wonderfully satisfying. Further, Sir Thomas Bertram may be my favorite male Austen character of all.

By Jane Austen,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Mansfield Park as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Full of the energies of discord - sibling rivalry, greed, ambition, illicit sexual passion and vanity' Margaret Drabble

Jane Austen's profound, ambiguous third novel is the story of Fanny Price, who is accustomed to being the poor relation at Mansfield Park, the home of her wealthy plantation-owning uncle. She finds comfort in her love for her cousin Edmund, until the arrival of charismatic outsiders from London throws life at the house into disarray and brings dangerous desires to the surface. Mansfield Park is Austen's most complex work; a powerful portrayal of change and continuity, scandalous misdemeanours and true integrity.

Edited…


Book cover of The Lord of the Rings

Eleanor Bourg Nicholson Why did I love this book?

The writings of Tolkien I believe to be too vast to be contained in the category of “fantasy”; he belongs in the categories of “epic” and “myth”. This does not mean he is superficial or impersonal in his characterizations; on the contrary, his capturing of good and evil are enduringly human. The characters of The Lord of the Rings in particular are so vibrant and real that I have spent long hours glorying in their goodness and grieving in their suffering or death. Gandalf, Aragorn, Faramir, and the hobbits are perhaps closest to my heart—and the scene of the Bridge of Khazad Dum nearly brought on emotional collapse in my eldest child. Every film adaptation of Tolkien fills me with dissatisfaction if not outright horror.

By J.R.R. Tolkien,

Why should I read it?

52 authors picked The Lord of the Rings as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell by chance into the hands of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins.

From Sauron's fastness in the Dark Tower of…


Book cover of Declare: A Novel

Eleanor Bourg Nicholson Why did I love this book?

I consider Tim Powers one of the greatest living authors. I pick up any of his books with caution, because I know I will inevitably ignore my responsibilities for several days until I can finish it. A recurring theme in his works is the complex and fault-ridden protagonist, who undergoes purifying torments through his encounters with the preternatural. In essence, Powers beats the evil out of his protagonists. In Declare, he presents perhaps his most comprehensive mythology of demons as the context for a fascinating Cold War espionage plot. Can a spy engage in a life of deceit without losing his or her soul? Throwing in demonic djinn and real-life Soviet double agent Kim Philby, Powers weaves a gripping tale with the question of redemption at its heart.

By Tim Powers,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Declare as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As a young double agent infiltrating the Soviet spy network in Nazi-occupied Paris, Andrew Hale finds himself caught up in a secret, even more ruthless war. Two decades later, in 1963, he will be forced to confront again the nightmarethat has haunted his adult life: a lethal unfinished operation code-named Declare. From the corridors of Whitehall to the Arabian desert, from post-war Berlin to the streets of Cold War Moscow, Hale's desperate quest draws him into international politics and gritty espionage tradecraft -- and inexorably drives Hale, the fiery and beautiful Communist agent Elena Teresa Ceniza-Bendiga, and Kim Philby, mysterious…


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Ballad for Jasmine Town

By Molly Ringle,

Book cover of Ballad for Jasmine Town

Molly Ringle Author Of Sage and King

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Novelist Editor Sociolinguist HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) Good witch

Molly's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

A human child raised by the fae is an uncommon thing. But Rafi was such a child.

Now grown, half-fae but mortal, he lingers on the edge of human society in Miryoku, a nearby town sharing a border with fae territory. He doesn’t want to join the human world properly; he just wants to play music with a local cover band and avoid the cruelest members of his fae family.

Then, he meets Roxana, and his world shifts. She’s a human metalworking witch, up for a friendly fling with Rafi before she and her twelve-year-old daughter move away from Miryoku…

Ballad for Jasmine Town

By Molly Ringle,

What is this book about?

A law-abiding metalworking witch and a form-shifting half-fae musician embark on a secret romance, but soon become caught in escalating tensions between fae and humans that threaten their hometown. The second story after the popular Lava Red Feather Blue comes alive in Ballad for Jasmine Town.

The town of Miryoku has ocean views, fragrant jasmine vines, and a thriving arts scene, including a popular nineties cover band. It also sits on the verge, sharing a border with fae territory, a realm of both enchantments and dangers.

Rafi has been unusual all his life: a human born to a fae mother,…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in good and evil, the upper class, and atheism?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about good and evil, the upper class, and atheism.

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