Friday, April 11, 2008

Series Books: No Such Thing as Too Much of a Good Thing

By Lisa Curry

There’s nothing I like better than reading a book I love and finding out it’s the first in a series. Unless maybe it’s reading a book I love and finding out it’s the first in a series in which the next 10 books have already been published, which means I don’t have to wait a whole year before I can read the next one. I can devour them all in rapid succession – and then start waiting for the next one.

I hate waiting for the next one.

Sword Song, the latest book in Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Tales, a ninth-century delight featuring the best protagonist/first-person narrator I’ve ever read, came out early this year. I rushed to buy it the day it was released, finished it in 24 hours, and then lamented that I hadn’t read slower and made the book last longer.

On the upside, Sword Song is book four in a series that was originally planned as a trilogy, and the story’s not over yet.

Waiting for book five is infinitely better than not having anything for which to wait.

Back in the 1990s, I was mad about Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series, set in the Roman Republic just before and during the time of Julius Caesar. Even then, Colleen McCullough seemed like an old woman, and I used to pray constantly that she wouldn’t drop dead between books and never finish the series. When The October Horse, the sixth and final book, was published in 2002, I breathed a sigh of relief.

Imagine my surprise when the seventh book in the Masters of Rome series, Antony and Cleopatra, hit the shelves late last year. I bought it last month while I was at the launch party of another book I’d been waiting a year to read, Murder Melts in Your Mouth, book seven in Nancy Martin’s Blackbird Sisters Mysteries. As soon as I finished Murder, I started Antony and Cleopatra. I’m reading it slow and savoring every word – trying really hard to make it last.

Being surprised by a book you weren’t waiting for in a series you thought was over is sweetest of all.

I’m on page 145 of 551 in Antony and Cleopatra. Even if I read as slow as possible, I’ll finish it before the end of the month. Book five of the Saxon Tales won’t come out until next year, and neither will book eight of the Blackbird Sisters Mysteries.

So help me out here – I need recommendations. What’s your favorite series, who’s the author, and what’s the title of the first book? (Because I hate reading a series out of order even more than I hate waiting for the next book.)


Annette said...

My favorite series is Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan series. First book: Charm City.

Tory said...

When I was in high school I got hooked on this young adult series. I'm embarrassed to admit the name of it, because as an adult, I reread it and the writing seems so BAD. And yet I'm hooked on the characters and can't give it up.

Anyway, back then I would go to the library and have to take out whatever books were there, and I never could read anything in order. They issued a reprint of the series a few years ago and I bought all 14 books! It was such a pleasure to read through from beginning to end, and see how all the different plots fit together.

The books are now sitting on my bookcase, but the downside of a series is a I rarely read them. Even with young adult books, who has the time to sit down and read 14???

A young adult series I'm not embarrassed to admit I read is The Friendship Ring series by Rachel Vail (first book: If You Only Knew.) In my child development trainings, I recommend participants read them to get an "insider's" view on the world of kids entering adolescence.

Martha Reed said...

Lisa, I know what you mean. In high school, I started with Dorothy Sayers and was appalled when I blew through a couple in the middle before I found out she had died and there weren't going to be any more.

I've tried reading 'sequels' written or finished by other authors, but even though they may be well written, the voice is different and I can't finish them.

Brenda turned me on to a new author at our last meeting: Phil Rickman, and evidently he has a series that starts with Wine of Angels. That's next on my list!

Joyce said...

Wow, that's a tough one. There are several series I like.

I love Sarah Stewart Taylor's series featuring the art history professor who specializes in funerary art. The first one is "O Artful Death."

I also really like Illona Haus's "Blue" series. The first one is "Blue Mercy."

And Julia Spencer Fleming's series. "A Fountain Filled With Blood" is the first. Her latest one just blew me away. This series should definitely be read in order.

Lisa, I have a feeling you're going to like Kelli Stanley's series when it debuts in July. It's being referred to as "Roman Noir." She's going to guest blog here in July sometime.

nancy said...

Lisa, as a history buff, surely you've already read the Patrick O'Brian books? The first one, Master and Commander, is *not* the book that the movie was made out of. Frankly, I advise people to start with the second book in the series, Post Captain, which is less wordy, more readable and with a better story than the first book. Which, of course, you'll go back and read after you're thoroughly hooked on these magnificent books. The best part? There are 21 books! Have at it!

Annette said...

I agree with Joyce on Sarah Stewart Taylor's series.

Come to think of it, I have one on my bookshelf that I haven't read yet. Hmmm...

ramona said...

Anne George's Southern Sisters series brought me to reading mysteries. Nothing has ever topped Mouse and Sister, although Ngaio March comes close.

Ditto on Sarah Stewart Taylor and the Blackbirds, of course.

Joanne Fluke's series has caused many arguments between me and my sister. I like Mike and she likes Norman. When, or if, Hannah ever makes a choice, there's going to be a big blow-up.

Gina said...

My favorite series by my favorite author: the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling. I know - I'm very immature for my age, but this is a great story told through great writing. I'm in awe of the way J.K. manages to create so many memorable characters and plot lines, then weave them into a perfect tapestry, and how she manages to capture an age-appropriate view of the world as her point of view character goes from 11 years old to 17 -- Harry remains consistently the same character, but he grows and learns and changes in ways that all make sense. I've always been told that every word and every image has to count toward the plot, but I've never really seen anybody do it before!! I've reread all seven books several times, and have reread several sections of Book 6 (my favorite - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) dozens of times. It's astonishing to me that J.K. can present things to the reader from Harry's point of view so completely that you truly believe that you know what's happening and yet, when she later reveals what was really going on, it makes perfect sense. She's brilliant!

Jeannie said...

The best series ever has to be Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon mysteries. There are 13 of them, the first being Track of the Cat which won the Agatha Award for best first mystery. They are best read in order since they cover an extended period of time.
Anna Pigeon is someone I would really like to know, but I will have to settle for rereading the books many times.
Anna is a ranger in our national parks so in addition to a great mystery, a fabulous main character you also get to read about our beautiful national parks.

Cathy said...

Great blog!

Of course, I loved the Harry Potter books (young at heart, Gina, not immature) and the Lord of the Rings books. I also will grab a Tony Hillerman mystery with Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee anytime. I've only read a few and I don't think order matters in this case. I must admit, I've read quite a few Stephanie Plum mysteries by you-know-who, also out of order.

Joyce said...

Jeannie, I agree about Nevada Barr. This is another one of my favorite series.

Joyce said...

Cathy, I like Hillerman's books too. Especially great when you want a really quick read. I can finish one in a couple of hours.

JennieB said...

Oh, wow, my kind of subject! I agree wholeheartedly about the Harry Potter books, and Nancy Martin's Blackbird Sisters series, and Ngaio Marsh, and Dorothy L. Sayers, and Nevada Barr, and Sarah Stewart Taylor and Julia Spencer-Fleming. Here are a few others, not all mysteries.

Tasha Alexander's series about Lady Emily Ashton, Victorian England/France. 'And Only to Deceive' is the first, 'A poisoned Season' is the second, the third (A Fatal Waltz) comes out in May, and she just finished the draft for the fourth.

Diana Killian's Poetic Death series. The first is High Rhymes and Misdemeanors. #4 comes out next year. Also, Diana's new series of yoga mysteries. Corpse Pose is new this month.

Lindsey Davis's Falco mysteries. Soooo much fun. The Silver Pigs is the first.

Elizabeth Peters's Amelia Peabody series, about a Victorian/Edwardian family of Egyptologists. Crocodile on the Sandbank is the first. Also her Vicky Bliss series, the first of which is Borrower of the Night. There's five of those, with a new one coming out this summer.

JD Robb's In Death series. It took me a long time to try these, as I don't like her Nora Roberts romances that much, but they're excellent. Naked in Death is the first.

Lois McMaster Bujold's series about Miles Vorkosigan. Science Fiction, but not so heavy on technology that it's jarring. One of my favorite writers, and favorite series, in any genre, anytime. Starts with Shards of Honor and then Barrayar, which you can find together as Cordelia's Honor. Incredible writing!

Lillian Stewart Carl's Scottish mysteries. Three currently, at least one more in the works. The first is The Secret Portrait.

Yes, I read Janet Evanovich. One For the Money is the first Stephanie Plum, and it's very good. The rest aren't always as good, but they're fun, light reading.

Donna Andrews's Murder With Peacocks is one of my all-time comfort reads. The rest of the series isn't bad, either.

If you like YA fantasy, try Tamora Pierce. She writes a lot of series, in quartets, mostly. My favorite is Circle of Magic. The first is Sandry's Book, then Tris's Book, Daja's Book, and Briar's Book. After that, there's four more books with the same characters - the Circle Opens - and a stand-alone, also with the same characters - The Will of the Empress - and there are more coming. She has recently started a new series, as well, and the first, I think it's called Terrier, is excellent.

Also in the YA fantasy genre, try Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl books. The first is simply called Artemis Fowl.

I don't suppose you're interested in kids books, are you? I know some good series of those, too!

Joyce said...

Wow, Jennie. You are one well-read chick!

JennieB said...

Oh, Joyce, these are just some of the favorite series. Then there are all the ones that aren't favorites, but that I read religiously anyway, and the ones that aren't series, but that I have to read because the author is just so great. Elizabeth Peters, for example, as EP and Barbara Michaels, has written a ton of stand-alones, all of which are pretty much outstanding. Same with Lillian Stewart Carl. And Lois McMaster Bujold writes fantasy as well as SF, and those are equally wonderful. And... and... and...

JennieB said...

I realized I forgot a few. Paul Levine's Solomon vs. Lord series is outstanding. So is the series of Monkeewrench books by PJ Tracy. And Chris Grabenstein's Jersey Shore books. Tilt-a-whirl is the first. If you like light reading, Gemma Halliday's Spying in High Heels and Rhonda Pollero's Knock Off.

ramona said...

I am ashamed that I forgot to mention Chris Grabenstein. I LOVE Ceepak!

If we are talking juvenile books, Anne of Green Gables. Jennie, have you read Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series? The Eragon books?

Michael Simmons writes an interesting YA mystery series. Lubchenko is in the title of both (only 2 so far). I love his trying-so-hard-to-be-jaded teenager voice.

I could go on forever about YA books. IMO, they're the best, most original and daring books out there.

JennieB said...

Eragon, yes. (Boy books...) Anne of Green Gables, sure, back when. Stephenie Meyer, no. Not familiar with Simmons, either. I'll have to look into those. For the even younger set, Bruce Hale's Chet Gecko series is hilarious, especially for people with some grounding in Hammett and Chandler. Cressida Cowell's series about Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, unlikely Viking hero, is another gem. Book 1 is How to train your dragon. Cornelia Funke's series of Ghosthunter books are also wonderful for the kids. Also her stand-alones: Inkheart and The Thief Lord come to mind, especially.

JennieB said...

How could I forget Terry Pratchett...?!

Especially the books about the Ankh-Morpork Night Watch (i.e. police). Dragons! Dragons! is the first. My favorite is Thud! or maybe Night Watch. And just wait until you see the companion picture book to Thud!, called Where's My Cow? You have to read Thud! first, though, or you won't get it.

Joyce said...

I forgot a few, too. I was home for lunch perusing my bookshelves and can't believe I forgot Jan Burke and Marcia Muller!

Annette said...

I want to say ditto to Chris Grabenstein, too. I'm home from having gum surgery this morning and am totally stoned on painkillers, but I do intend on spending the entire weekend reading (when I'm not sleeping). Several of the authors you all have mentioned are represented on my to-be-read bookshelf, so I'm going to start picking out a few and begin a reading marathon.

Anonymous said...

Oh my -- look at all these terrific recommendations! I will have to dig out my library card, because I will surely go broke buying all the books I now want to read. :-)

I think the only books I have read out of all these suggestions are the PJ Tracy Monkeewrench series, which I liked. I've only read the very first Harry Potter book (I then switched to watching the movies with my kids). Nancy, I did read Master and Commander (never saw the movie) and disliked it. I assumed that the rest of the series was more of the same bad, boring writing and gave up. I shall have to give old Patrick another go and try book 2.

Thanks, everybody!


JennieB said...

reading Harry Potter and watching Harry Potter are two totally different things, with very little in common. Read the books!

Theresa said...

"The Thief" by Megan Whalen Turner. Newberry Award winner and the first in a series of 3 (so far, she's working on a 4th)

The first book is excellent 1st person narration. It's been my fave since I was in 6th grade and nothing has swayed my opinion in the 12 years since. =p