Saturday, May 3, 2014

Special Edition Bookshelf: Favorite and Beloved Series

I've read a lot of good books in my almost 40 years of life.  And a lot of those books belonged together in series.  I thought, since I won't be re-reading some of them for quite some time and they wouldn't land on the bookshelf, I would highlight some of my most favorite series.  Let me know if you have ever read these and what you thought.  Or maybe you'll find a new series to dive into and love!  What series do you love that you think I might also?

The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon


Sometimes there aren't words adequate to describe the brilliance of something. The Outlander series is so phenomenal that I don't have adequate words.  So I will do a lame attempt and ask that you trust me and pick up book 1, don't be afraid of its size, and begin to journey with Jamie and Claire through a life neither of them looked for nor asked for.
I was first introduced to this series in 1994 by a co-worker at the time.  I so wholeheartedly dived in that I would spend lunch hours immersed in the world of Claire and Jamie.  Gabaldon brings alive Scotland and rogue Scottish men.  She intertwines history with this fictional story of time travel.
The series starts with Claire on her second honeymoon with her husband in 1945.  Exploring ruins Claire quite suddenly finds herself in 1743 and surrounded by Scottish men who aren't quite sure what to do with the Sassenach ("the outlander") lying on the ground in front of them.  And thus begins a tale of Claire trying to find her way back to Frank, her husband, and 1945 and a desire to stay in 1743 with Jamie, the man who steps in to protect her from dangers unknown.
I truly can't put into words what Gabaldon's series holds for you.  What it did for me was give me history, adventure, mystery, time travel, intrigue, a great storyline, amazing characters.  I think about this series quite a bit even though it's been a good 8-10 years since I read them all in one shot. I just heard news that Gabaldon is continuing the series with book 8, Written in my own Heart's Blood, June 10 of this year.  I have to read it, of course I do and now I'm wondering if I can fit in the first 7 for a refresher before then?!
Disclaimers:  This is a series that contains sex (some graphic), language, and violence.  If you are sensitive to any of those then I would caution you against reading this series.


The Little House on the Prairie Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder


This is the first series I can remember reading.  If you haven't read it...why not?! It's a classic series of books written by Wilder as an auto-biography of sorts.  Her daughter, Rose, asked her to write the books and she started to do so in the 1920's.  She finished the last one when she was 76 and only a few years before she passed away. (Sidenote: I went to school waaaaaay back in the day with Wilder's great-great-great (I think there were 3 great's, might have only been two) granddaughter!  I also went to school with Bull's (from Night Court) niece but I thought the Laura Ingalls Wilder connection was way cooler!)
Chronicling her life on the prairie Wilder made readers, male and female alike, fall in love with her and care about what happened to the Ingalls family. Her story was so popular that Michael Landon decided to see how it would do as a TV series and we got to see some of Wilder's story come to life in Walnut Grove.  It lasted for 9 seasons.  The TV show, btw, hit it's 40th year anniversary this year!  That's crazy to me.  
These books are classic.  Good, wholesome stories about life as Laura remembered it.  


The Love Comes Softly Series by Janette Oke


My Mom and I read this series simultaneously - although it's possible I read it faster than she did.  :)  I was in late elementary school when I started reading Janette Oke.  This is a lovely, lovely series that the made for TV movies have totally tarnished and ruined.  Don't judge the books based on those movies - they totally screw up the actual story.  The movies and books barely resemble each other.  
This series of books starts with two widowers, Marty and Clark, who out of necessity marry each other. And then love finds them in soft ways and they build a life together throughout the 8 books in the series. It is a beautiful love story both of Marty and Clark and of God weaving himself into their lives.  Oke creates characters that you love and some that you love to hate.  She creates a family and a community that draws the reader in.  You will not regret reading this series, especially if you love historical fiction.   
Other series Oke has authored and I have read and loved include: Seasons of the Heart series (4 books), The Canadian West series (7 books), The Song of Acadia series with T. Davis Bunn (5 books), and The Women of the West series (12 books - can be read as stand alones).  

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling


I didn't read the series (or see the movies) until this year (2014).  I know right?!  In my defense when the books started coming out I was 1) in the midst of having babies and so my reading time was limited and 2) at a completely different place in my life and not really digging the genre.  Now let's move on.  
Yes, this series makes my list as a favorite series.  This surprises even me! But really Rowling created a fantastic world and amazing characters with this series about a boy wizard who is marked, literally, for great things.  I devoured the books and was so immersed in the world of wizards and witches that when I was forced to surface for real life I did have to shake my head and remind myself it wasn't real.  Rowling did *that* good of a job writing a believable story.  I really enjoyed pretty much everything about the series, its characters, and her side story lines.  
If, like me, you haven't seen the movies or read the books yet do me a favor. Read the books - all of them - first and then watch the movies. The movies try, they get an A for effort, but honestly they can't hold a candle to the magic of the books. 

The Mark of the Lion Series by Francine Rivers


One of the most beautifully written series I've ever read.  Francine Rivers used to write secular fiction but then found God and switched to writing faith based fiction.  She was extremely successful in the secular market and one can see why when they read her faith based works. This series was the first I had ever read of Rivers and I fell in love.  She chronicles believers in God as they struggle against opulent Rome in the years following the death of Jesus.  It's been years, about 14, since I read this series and I should read it again to refresh my memory of how amazing it is. Rivers crafts characters that draw you into the story and hold you captive to what is happening. She includes historical facts to make the story even more authentic. The bonus with Rivers coming from the secular market is that her faith based books are refreshingly free from the preachy, Christianese that turns so many people off of faith based books.  A great, historical series that you'll think about for days and months, perhaps years, after you finish it.  

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis


I have read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe countless times.  But I had never read the rest of the series.  When the movie was released in 2005 through Disney and a resurgence in Narnia happened I decided to read the whole series.  But I decided to read it in chronological order. Lewis didn't write, or publish them, in chronological order but eventually the whole story was crafted.  
Reading them in chronological order is the best way to go.  You get the story of the wardrobe and so when you meet the wardrobe and the Professor whose home it resides in you have so much more insight into the story.  I absolutely loved the series.  Every single book was filled with imagination, symbolism, beauty. Lewis crafted a really wonderful story. Just as fantastic as Rowling's world with Potter but very different.  What Lewis accomplished with this series is phenomenal. He had a message he wanted to share and he did so in one of the most engaging and creative ways.  
This is a must-read series.  
Here's a chart of the publication order versus the chronological order.  
I highly recommend reading it in chronological order.  


The Kate Burkholder Series by Linda Castillo


The picture doesn't represent all the books in the series but I couldn't locate a picture that had all of them, to date, featured. I stumbled across this series by picking up book 2 which I thought was a stand alone and then discovered it was a series.  Although each one could be read as a stand alone I highly recommend they be read as a series and in order as Castillo includes a couple of side story lines that will make more sense if read in order. 
Castillo has created a mystery series set deep in the heart of Amish country and most of the murders/mysteries involve the pacifist Amish community. Castillo's main character, Kate Burkholder, is a shunned Amish and has returned to her hometown as the Police Chief to keep watch over her old and new community.  What makes this series so compelling is the murders/mysteries Castillo writes and Kate's role in the two communities.  The Amish culture, I think, intrigues people and while I am sure what Castillo portrays in no way represents a real Amish culture it still is engaging nonetheless.  Linda Castillo writes griping stories, if you have a weak stomach or too strong of an imagination then you may want to abstain from this excellent mystery series.  She isn't done with series, book 6 releases in July 2014.  

The Seeds of America Series by Laurie Halse Anderson

Laurie Halse Anderson is a YA author but disregard that label and pick up this series.  It is excellent. I LOVE this series. It starts with Chains, moves into Forge, and for over 2 years I have been anxiously awaiting the third book Ashes.  I'm assuming Anderson has writer's block with the third book because publication has been announced and retracted at least 4 times in the past two years and she has released a few other new titles in the meantime.  Now publication is rumored to be 2015 and I hope so.  I can't wait to continue with this incredibly compelling story that is non-fiction and fiction meshed together. 
Set in the Revolutionary War, Anderson picks her main characters to be two young African-American children.  Isabel and Curzon join the fight for freedom, both of the nation they live in and for their own personal lives.  
Laurie Halse Anderson didn't just pull details out of thin air for this series, she went to great lengths to research the period and bring historical facts to the reader.  Basically it is a factual American history book with a couple of fictional characters thrown in to make it a little more interesting.  And it is interesting, it's thought provoking, it is beautifully written.  Anderson writes such a realistic setting that you feel as if you are there, in the moment, with Isabel and the others.  
Wonderful series for tweens, teens, and adults!


I have read many, many more series in my lifetime.  To list them all would be a rather lengthy post. :)  But the ones I have highlighted here are ones that stick out in my mind and I think about even years after reading them.  Chances are good I have missed a series or two that I have read and really loved but hey, I'm old and my memory is starting to fade! :)  

What series have you loved?  What series do you always recommend others pick up and give a go?  

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