The best novels portraying the flawed but indomitable human spirit

Why am I passionate about this?

Being a historical fiction writer, I spend much time researching people and places for my novels with my focus being on the South, particularly Florida, where I’m from, as well as Western North Carolina, where I’ve lived for nearly two decades. Family dynamics and character development have always held a special interest for me; particularly the humanness of being flawed, but also the resilience and strength found within us, too. I enjoy creating characters we can identify with, and become emotionally connected to, so much so that when the final page is turned, readers feel a sense of loss at saying goodbye to characters they’ve come to love.


I wrote...

The Art of Breathing

By Janie Devos,

Book cover of The Art of Breathing

What is my book about?

When Kathryn Cavanaugh arrives at Pelham Sanatorium, with Tuberculosis, in 1954, she doesn’t know if she’ll survive. Despite new treatments, TB is still deadly, but twenty-four-year-old Kate has proven her resilience before by leaving her Blue Ridge Mountains for city life with her ambitious attorney husband, Geoffrey. For the sake of her family, especially her young son, Kate is determined to get healthy again.

As Kate begins her battle, she is befriended by the women on her ward, along with fellow patient Philip McAllister. Surprisingly, the hospital’s confines come to offer more independence than Geoffrey’s preoccupation with status ever allowed. With this discovery comes the courage to change her life’s path—and, perhaps, breathe freely at last…

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of To Kill a Mockingbird

Janie DeVos Why did I love this book?

The story takes place in a small town in Alabama, and is seen through the eyes of six-year-old Scout, the daughter of a compassionate and wise widowed lawyer who volunteers to defend a black man wrongly accused of rape. I found this coming-of-age-too-soon story to be both heartbreaking and beautiful in the lessons it offers up in a raw and unflinching look at the good and the bad that can both fracture and fortify the human spirit. Hailing from the South, I felt uncomfortable by Harper Lee’s hard-line look at a culture so broken by fear and prejudice because of the absolute truth of it, but I also felt comforted and hopeful by the kindness and compassion that, I believe, is innate in most everyone. 

By Harper Lee,

Why should I read it?

33 authors picked To Kill a Mockingbird as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.'

Atticus Finch gives this advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of this classic novel - a black man charged with attacking a white girl. Through the eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Lee explores the issues of race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s with compassion and humour. She also creates one of the great heroes of literature in their father, whose lone struggle for justice pricks the conscience of a town steeped…


Book cover of Where the Crawdads Sing

Janie DeVos Why did I love this book?

In the backwoods of a beautiful and wild North Carolina coastal town, comes the tragic but triumphant world of the “Marsh Girl,” Kaya Clark. Left to fend for herself after being deserted by her parents, Kaya’s will to survive, as well as the overwhelming odds to rid herself of long-held stigmas, give voice to the fact that those who are marginalized are victimized as a result of it. As an author who writes the underdog-always-wins stories, this attracted me immediately, as did Owen’s writing, which puts the reader front and center into the ostracized heroine’s life. The storyline, the richly described setting, and her flawed but likable characters, has made this a must-read—and a re-read—for me.  

By Delia Owens,

Why should I read it?

44 authors picked Where the Crawdads Sing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

OVER 12 MILLION COPIES SOLD WORLDWIDE
NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE
A NUMBER ONE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

For years, rumours of the 'Marsh Girl' have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be…


Book cover of Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty

Janie DeVos Why did I love this book?

This fascinating book gives the reader a bird’s eye view into the rise and fall of an American dynasty, the Vanderbilts, set in the grandest homes from New York, to North Carolina. The legendary icon’s great-great-great grandson, CNN’s Anderson Cooper, wrote this biography of Gloria Vanderbilt (his mother,) and their family’s amazing history, making this book both dazzling and mind-boggling as we’re given an intimate look into an unimaginable but doomed world of opulence and wealth. Cooper never whitewashes his family’s often obsessive and often ruthless drive for power and wealth, their great loves and greater losses that ultimately collapsed the dynasty. Anything but dry or academic, this book kept me up long into the night.

By Anderson Cooper, Katherine Howe,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

New York Times bestselling author and journalist Anderson Cooper teams with New York Times bestselling historian and novelist Katherine Howe to chronicle the rise and fall of a legendary American dynasty-his mother's family, the Vanderbilts.

One of the Washington Post's Notable Works of Nonfiction of 2021

When eleven-year-old Cornelius Vanderbilt began to work on his father's small boat ferrying supplies in New York Harbor at the beginning of the nineteenth century, no one could have imagined that one day he would, through ruthlessness, cunning, and a pathological desire for money, build two empires-one in shipping and another in railroads-that would…


Book cover of Cross Creek

Janie DeVos Why did I love this book?

Writing on a theme that is near and dear to my heart, that being Old Florida, the author of the award-winning, The Yearling, accurately portrays her life living on Cross Creek in rural Central Florida. After buying an old orange grove, sight unseen, this divorced Washington, DC writer brought it back to life, and made a life for herself living among the shy and suspicious people on the creek. Rawlings’ accurate use of local dialect and effective nuances in this beautiful vignette of stories is almost poetic, and magically transports the reader to the creek’s mossy banks. Though the writing and her viewpoints are antiquated in places, Cross Creek remains a classic, and a true work of art to be treasured. 

By Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Cross Creek as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Cross Creek is the warm and delightful memoir about the life of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings—author of The Yearling—in the Florida backcountry.

Originally published in 1942, Cross Creek has become a classic in modern American literature. For the millions of readers raised on The Yearling, here is the story of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings's experiences in the remote Florida hamlet of Cross Creek, where she lived for thirteen years. From the daily labors of managing a seventy-two-acre orange grove to bouts with runaway pigs and a succession of unruly farmhands, Rawlings describes her life at the Creek with humor and spirit. Her…


Book cover of A Land Remembered

Janie DeVos Why did I love this book?

This quintessential historical fiction book on Old Florida was both a nominee of the Pulitzer, and the Nobel Prize in Literature. Rich in history and unforgettable characters, the story follows the MacIveys, as they scrap out a living as dirt farmers, beginning in the mid-1800s, through the 1960s. Not hurricanes, the Civil War, freezes, or near-starvation can staunch the family’s resilience, ultimately allowing them to build a great fortune. This novel truly touches my heart as my family came from Georgia, with little in their pockets, in the early 20th century, seeking to fulfill their own dreams. This is writing at its best, steeped in rich and authentic detail, making this a novel that will live on through the ages.

By Patrick D. Smith,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Land Remembered as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Land Remembered has been ranked #1 Best Florida Book eight times in annual polls conducted by Florida Monthly Magazine.

In this best-selling novel, Patrick Smith tells the story of three generations of the MacIveys, a Florida family who battle the hardships of the frontier to rise from a dirt-poor Cracker life to the wealth and standing of real estate tycoons. The story opens in 1858, when Tobias MacIvey arrives in the Florida wilderness to start a new life with his wife and infant son, and ends two generations later in 1968 with Solomon MacIvey, who realizes that the land…


You might also like...

Conditions are Different After Dark

By Owen W. Knight,

Book cover of Conditions are Different After Dark

Owen W. Knight Author Of The Visitors

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Visionary Compassionate Imaginative Conspiracist Apophenia (or apophenic)

Owen's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

In 1662, a man is wrongly executed for signing the death warrant of Charles I. Awaiting execution, he asks to speak with a priest, to whom he declares a curse on the village that betrayed him. The priest responds with a counter-curse, leaving just one option to nullify it.

Over four centuries later, Faith and James move to the country to start a new life and a family. They discover their village lives under the curse uttered by the hanged man. Could their arrival be connected? They fear their choice of new home is no coincidence. Unexplained events hint at threats or warnings to leave. They become convinced the village remains cursed despite their friends’ denials. Who can they trust, and who are potential enemies?

Conditions are Different After Dark

By Owen W. Knight,

What is this book about?

In 1660, a man is wrongly executed for signing the death warrant of Charles I. While awaiting execution, he asks to speak with a priest, to whom he declares a curse on the village that betrayed him. The priest responds with a counter-curse, leaving just one option to nullify it.
Over four centuries later, Faith and James move to the country to start a new life and a family. They learn that their village lives under the curse uttered by the hanged man. Could their arrival be connected?
Faith and James fear that their choice of a new home is…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Florida, the upper class, and romantic love?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Florida, the upper class, and romantic love.

Florida Explore 127 books about Florida
The Upper Class Explore 85 books about the upper class
Romantic Love Explore 845 books about romantic love