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Monday, January 6, 2014

Series I read

So, I was having an interesting Twitter-talk with the lovely blogger Wendy Darling of Midnight Garden … we were discussing our love of Karin Slaughter and how dedicated we are to her series, and why. 
It’s an interesting thing to think about – the series you read. Especially interesting for me, when I think of the series I've stuck with for the long-haul, and those I've let fall by the wayside. 
There are actually plenty of books that I dropped half-way through their never-ending series and for various reasons. ‘Stephanie Plum’ just got stale. ‘The Hollows’ was writing relationship cheques that the characters weren’t cashing, in my opinion. ‘Anita Blake’ just got … not good … though I still recommend this series, just with the asterisks of; “They get really bad around ‘Obsidian Butterfly’ – you have been warned.” I’m even teetering with J.R. Ward’s ‘Black Dagger Brotherhood’ because it’s getting pretty ridiculous to just keep filtering in new characters I don’t give a damn about just to keep this world alive.  
So, there are plenty of series I've abandoned. Maybe I’ll get back to them one day (I do occasionally sneak-peeks at Amazon reviews of ‘The Hollows’ to see if Ivy and Rachel’s romance is being further developed) but I mostly think the ship has sailed.  
So what are the series I've committed to, and can’t see myself ever wavering from? What makes them so special? There aren’t many – but below are the (ongoing) series I read religiously and feel quite devoted to.  


Grant County by Karin Slaughter 

Karin Slaughter will always hold a special significance for me, and not just because ‘Blindsighted’ was the first book I ever reviewed on this blog. Rather, it’s because ‘Grant County’ was the first crime-thriller series I ever persevered with. In the past I'd tried making a dent in my mum’s impressive Patricia Cornwell collection, but was totally unmoved by the first book. And then I tried Slaughter (possibly because her name in crime-fiction seemed an easy win) and ‘Blindsighted’ absolutely hooked me. It wasn’t even that, as a novice in the genre, ‘Grant County’ was “lite” crime-fic (ask anyone; Slaughter writes some of the nastiest, goriest worst violence against women . . . sometimes, she reads like the Patrick Bateman of crime-fic) rather, what hooked me in Grant County was the characters and, more importantly, the relationship between series protagonists Sara Linton and Jeffrey Tolliver – the county coroner and local police chief, respectively . . . and ex-husband and wife. There was a moment in ‘Blindsighted’ when Jeffrey is really unprofessional and says this to Sara, after she’s conducted an autopsy;

‘Sometimes,’ he began, ‘when I wake up in the morning, I forget that you’re not there. I forget that I lost you.’ 
‘Kind of like when you forgot you were married to me?’ 
He walked toward her, but she stepped back until she was a few inches from the cabinet. He stood in front of her, his hands on her arms. 
‘I still love you.’ 
‘That’s not enough.’ 
He stepped closer to her. ‘What is?’

In my 2009 review of ‘Blindsighted’, I express an annoyance at how little Slaughter feeds readers about Jeffrey and Sara’s marital demise, especially since sparks are still there . . . it frustrated me then, but now I can see that that’s actually what kept me coming back to this series. Yes, the whodunit mysteries are terrifying and brilliant, but it was Slaughter’s impeccable and thorny characters and their relationships that kept me coming back. 


Will Trent by Karin Slaughter 

For that reason, I didn’t know if I could make the trek from ‘Grant County’ to her new ‘Will Trent’ series (especially after I felt so bruised following some ‘kill you darlings’ cruelty. . . ) but then Slaughter bought all the romantic complications of ‘Grant County’ and amplified them by including one of the most genuine and charming but horribly tortured characters, ever, in Will Trent. 


Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

You want to know how much I love this series? I named my dog ‘Murray’, after the character of young Ian Murray (and mostly because ‘Rollo’ didn’t suit my little jackshund). This is the series that has my deep and abiding love, a love that will never waver and is willing to wait 5 years between books . . . It is a love that grows stronger with each new instalment, as I’m left to pine after characters and wonder on their predicaments (no mean feat, since books often finish on cliff-hangers that are more hand-biting than nail-biting). 

I started reading ‘Outlander’ back in 2007, and was quite lucky in that I got to consume books 1–6 over one summer holiday. Since then I've only had to wait for ‘An Echo in the Bone’ and now ‘Written in my Own Heart’s Blood’, which is coming June this year. Of course, when I tell people that I’ll have to clear a week of my life in order to sit down and properly read & appreciate Gabaldon’s latest offering, they look at me with a somewhat perplexed expression. These are 800+ page books (‘Written in My Own Heart’s Blood’ is actually rumoured to be 1008 pages) and the series is now eight-books deep . . . then I explain that these are kinda time-travelling books (but not really) that cover historical events like the Battle of Culloden and the American Revolution, but at the centre of it all is a love story between an ex-army nurse from the 1940s and a 1700’s Highland warrior called Jamie Fraser (*cue swoon*). At this point, I find myself alone on a soapbox talking to empty air. And that’s okay, I get it. These books are hard to surmise, and it doesn’t help when my love for them leaves me utterly inarticulate and I usually just grunt appreciatively; “Oh my God, Jamie is so amazing and these books are just so URGHkeejiwjwioeufjnkndewmdkwjo . . .  y’know?” 

Though I do fully anticipate that the Starz TV adaptation will bring quite a few newcomers to this wonderful series (I mean, have you seen the lead actor? Yowza). 


Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs

This is another series that I have a serious soft-spot for, because it was the first urban fantasy I ever read and it converted me to a genre that I'd previously been pretty snooty about. 

But, if I’m honest, I almost didn’t read beyond ‘Moon Called’. I remember at the time reading and enjoying it, but not being sure if it was a series I'd be sticking with … but then there was a moment in the last six pages. I can actually pinpoint the exact moment when I knew I'd be coming back for more;

… ‘So, Bran tells me that or ordered you to keep an eye out for me.’ 
He stopped laughing and raised both his eyebrows. ‘Yes. Now ask me if I was watching you for Bran.’ 
It was a trick question. I could see the amusement in his eyes. I hesitated, but decided I wanted to know anyway. ‘Okay, I’ll bite. Were you watching me for Bran?’ 
‘Honey,’ he drawled, pulling on his Southern roots. ‘When a wolf watches a lamb, he’s not thinking about the lamb’s mommy.’

And I was sucked right in. It was Briggs layering mythology on top of whodunit central-story and throwing in a tangled relationship web to boot. ‘Mercy Thompson’ remains the benchmark for all other urban fantasies for me. I can only think of one other UF author who has done such a fine job of building up a protagonist’s world from the ground-up …


Kate Daniels by Ilona Andrews

‘Kate’ and ‘Mercy’ came out around the same time (2007 and 2006, respectively) and have roughly the same number of books in the series right now. But they’re totally different, while also hooking me for very similar reasons.

Much like Mercy, when readers first met Kate in ‘Magic Bites’ she was the epitome of a loner. She had secrets to keep and a past to keep hidden, and she had been raised not to trust anybody but herself. But slowly, slowly husband/wife writing-duo Ilona Andrews teased out a love/hate relationship for Kate in the form of were-lion Curran. Now in the upcoming seventh book ‘Magic Breaks’ (out in July) the very fact that Kate has now accumulated a family and a whole community who depend on her – she has so much more to lose. 

I think both ‘Kate’ and ‘Mercy’ keep me coming back because I’m so invested in the heroines’ journey. I've seen them come leaps and bounds, completely change and transform for the people they love – and now all that they’ve gained is teetering on the edge and is in constant threat of being taken away from them. Of course I’m going to stick around for the long-haul, when the journey has been so rewarding.


Saga by Brian K. Vaughan (Writer), Fiona Staples (Illustrator) 

I remember reading this and going, “Ohhh. Okay. Now I get it.” Now I get how people can be so obsessed with graphic novels/comic books. Now I get the impulse to rock up to a convention centre decked out like your favourite character. Now I get the visceral *need* to know what happens next, and not give a damn if you get drip-fed in small instalments that always end on a cliff-hanger. Now I get it, thanks to ‘Saga’. 

This is the first comic series I've dedicated myself to. I’m so obsessed that I can’t even wait for the Volume’s to be released, I now have a standing order to receive each instalment once a month.

What hooked me is just damn good story and these characters who I instantly started rooting for. It’s an intergalactic love-story about Alana and Marko who have gone AWOL from their respective armies in order to raise their daughter, Hazel. The story is actually narrated by Hazel, who is a baby when the story begins but is looking back and narrating as a somewhat older, wiser soul … and that’s probably what really hooked me. The knowledge that Hazel grows up and has her own problems somewhere in the future that she’ll get around to telling the reader, once we understand the whole background to her complicated life. I love it. I especially love that Brian K. Vaughan was inspired to have Hazel narrate by reading children’s books to his kids, which often adopt that sort of whimsy. 


4 comments:

  1. I can define my ability to read series in to time zones. Something happened to me about 2 years ago and I just… stopped reading series. Stopped dead. The only series I continue with are series that I had started before that time (and even those are drastically reduced).

    I find myself without the patience I once had, which is what I attribute to mass-series exodus. I ODed on crappy paranormal/ urban fantasy series and have yet to come back.

    But to be fair to myself I think the standard in trilogies/ series has deteriorated significantly. I can't pinpoint why either. If any one has any theories, hit me with them! I'm desperate to understand WHY?!

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    1. Sometimes I just think it's commercial success. Certainly with Charlaine Harris, I feel she was uneasy writing so many more 'Sookie Stackhouse' books than she had originally intended - but the success of 'True Blood' and, in turn, her series meant that she was being offered extensions from the publisher when perhaps she should have stuck to her original vision? That might also be true of Janet Evanovich and 'Stephanie Plum' - they keep making the NYT bestseller list, so of course she's going to keep writing them - even if that means no conclusion to the romantic relationships she's set up, and no real growth for the protagonist in a never-ending series. Ditto Laurell K. Hamilton

      I don't know. There is certainly such a thing as 'series fatigue' I think.

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    2. I think what is interesting is that 'series fatigue' is (you could argue) an age thing. As children we like the comfort of the familiar. So you have an entire adolescence built on the notion of series. Many many series. Take children picture books: charlie and lola, thomas, blinky bill. They all have endless adventures; endless books; endless series. Same with middle grade: zac power, animorphs, go girls. We're talking books in their 50s here.

      It's when you grow older, in to your teenage years, where all of a sudden the way we view characters and series and adventures completely changes. Why is that? Is it just because we don't need the comfort of the 'known' any more.

      It's all extremely interesting. Why, danielle? WHY?!

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  2. Awesome list!!! so agree with Mercy, Kate and the Slaughter books, which I have read because of you!!!

    btw, The Hollows is pretty great right now... though the end game is Rachel and TRent... which I actually prefer to Rachel and Ivy=D

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