My favorite fiction series!

I’m a reader. Like, it’s a problem. I recently de-cluttered about forty books and there are still about three hundred left on my bookshelves. I have a particular love for duologies, trilogies, and series. Let’s go over my favorite ones!

Outlander SeriesThis first one is probably my all-time favorite series. If you know me, it’s no surprise that I’ve lost entire days of my life to the Outlander novels by Diana Gabaldon. I went to Wyoming a few years ago in an isolated region of the state where there was no electricity or wifi or phone signal. It gave me the kind of silence in the wilderness that I craved and I devoured the entire fourth book, Drums of Autumn, in about three days. Sometimes a truly magical story is as part of a life experience as much as the people you love the most.

Outlander the series follows nurse Claire Randall just after World War II on a vacation to reconnect in her marriage with Frank Randall, yet she mysteriously disappears through the standing stones outside of Inverness, Scotland, back through time into 1743. She tries to make her way through a completely foreign century where she, an Englishwoman, is not entirely welcome in Scotland’s clan environment. There she meets Jamie Fraser, a man living under an alias because he’s a wanted criminal by the English crown, and over time they help each other survive through life’s trials and tribulations.

This is one of the most epic love stories I’ve ever read (and it’s not over yet). Even so, romance is really a minor plot in the great scheme of things. Claire and Jamie witness a lot of history’s biggest moments from Scotland’s endless fight for independence all the way through the American Revolution and they try to stop a lot of it or change history given Claire’s advantage of being a time traveler. These books are so richly written that I often find myself thinking of the characters as real historical figures.

Wilderness SeriesAnd Outlander is connected to my next favorite series, which is commonly known as the Wilderness series by Sara Donati. It begins with Into the Wilderness and goes on for six books of gorgeous historical adventure. I say it’s related to Outlander because Diana Gabaldon gave Sara Donati permission to briefly mention Clare and Jamie Fraser in the first book. She also thinks very highly of this series.

The Wilderness books are a family saga set in the 18th and 19th centuries that follow the Bonner family. You’ll understand these books if you’ve read The Last of the Mohicans or you’ve seen the fantastic movie with Daniel Day-Lewis playing Hawkeye (aka Dan’l Bonner). Honestly, Hawkeye is one of the most romantic characters I’ve ever come across. And the way Day-Lewis played him was perfection.

I’m veering off topic.

Sara Donati’s books are kinda-sorta like really, really good fanfiction that bring Hawkeye and Outlander into an overlapping and delicious sandwich of historical goodness. Her books are about Hawkeye and Cora’s descendants. Their son Nathaniel marries Elizabeth Middleton, the daughter of an English family in the New York wilderness – hence the title. The following books go through future generations up through about 1824. Hawkeye is an old man in these books and his adoptive Mohawk father, Chingachgook, is in the story early in the series. I like how Sara Donati picked things up when Hawkeye’s son was an adult and ready to have his own family. That way she wouldn’t have to tamper very much with a character much beloved from a classic novel, and later, a classic film.

Let’s just think about Daniel Day-Lewis for a minute again.

Daniel Day-Lewis, Hawkeye

Okay, I’m good.

Moving on.

Heroines Behind the Lines SeriesNext on the list of my favorite book series is Heroines Behind the Lines by Jocelyn Green. She wrote four books that carry the reader from beginning to the end of the American Civil War. Each book is from the point of view of a different woman, each serving different roles in that way. They’re all connected by overlapping storylines in some way but they don’t always know each other. It’s really quite ingenious the way Jocelyn Green worked out everything to fit together like one big national puzzle. Some weighty issues are explored as well. One of the women has a mysterious background that, when revealed to her community, completely changes the way people see her even though she worked herself to the bone taking care of the wounded after a battle destroyed her hometown. Other women have to contend with issues like domestic abuse, poverty, hunger, mental illness, rejection by society, mixing families, and trying to redefine what it means to be a woman in a changing world.

The one thing I do need to warn you guys about is that this author writes with a Christian slant. All of her stories liberally quote from the Bible and every plot has a lesson steeped in Christian morality that the reader will arrive at by the end. I’m sure it’s fine for most readers, but if you’re not religious, you might have some trouble swallowing some of the moral sweetness. However, I will point out that I’m a Pagan and I found these books to be very low on the “preaching God in my face on every page” scale. Some of the historical novels I’ve read by Christian authors are really hard to stomach. I don’t mind the Bible quoting – it’s historically accurate in most cases – but I get lost when the characters read to me like high and mighty moral crusaders with very little flawed humanity to drive the story. Jocelyn Green does an excellent job of striking a balance between historical, human realism and religious piety. So if this little witch living in the Bible belt has a Christian author on her list, you can bet the writing is pretty damn superb. And I’m a big snob about Civil War books.


The Queen of Tearling SeriesHere we have an amazing young adult fantasy trilogy by Erika Johansen called The Queen of the Tearling. I know what you’re thinking. Young adult books are for kids or teenage girls lying on their beds dreaming of glittery vampires. Not so with these books. The themes are very adult. These books are only classified as young adult because the main character is a young adult. I can’t even begin to describe the story, so I found a summary to do it for me.

Magic, adventure, mystery, and romance combine in this epic debut in which a young princess must reclaim her dead mother’s throne, learn to be a ruler—and defeat the Red Queen, a powerful and malevolent sorceress determined to destroy her.

On her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, raised in exile, sets out on a perilous journey back to the castle of her birth to ascend her rightful throne. Plain and serious, a girl who loves books and learning, Kelsea bears little resemblance to her mother, the vain and frivolous Queen Elyssa. But though she may be inexperienced and sheltered, Kelsea is not defenseless: Around her neck hangs the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense magical power; and accompanying her is the Queen’s Guard, a cadre of brave knights led by the enigmatic and dedicated Lazarus. Kelsea will need them all to survive a cabal of enemies who will use every weapon—from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic—to prevent her from wearing the crown.

Despite her royal blood, Kelsea feels like nothing so much as an insecure girl, a child called upon to lead a people and a kingdom about which she knows almost nothing. But what she discovers in the capital will change everything, confronting her with horrors she never imagined. An act of singular daring will throw Kelsea’s kingdom into tumult, unleashing the vengeance of the tyrannical ruler of neighboring Mortmesne: the Red Queen, a sorceress possessed of the darkest magic. Now Kelsea will begin to discover whom among the servants, aristocracy, and her own guard she can trust.

But the quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun—a wondrous journey of self-discovery and a trial by fire that will make her a legend . . . if she can survive.

Keeping with the young adult books, my next favorite series is The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer.

The Lunar Chronicles

Some of you might know how much I love fairytales. These books are futuristic fairytale retellings. Each character is based on a classic character like Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Rapunzel, Snow White, Maleficent, etc., but since all of this is set way in the future, there are robots and space ships. The oppressed kingdom is on the moon. Much of the story takes place in (I think – it’s been a while) Japan and Western Europe. There is an American character portrayed a bit like a futuristic cowboy and reminded me in some ways of Han Solo. Basically the story is about a good kingdom on Earth at odds with a much more powerful kingdom on the moon (Luna). It’s only classified as a young adult story because, as with The Queen of the Tearling, many of the characters are in their late teens or early twenties. That doesn’t take away from the wonderful writing and imaginative storytelling though. In a lot of ways, young adult as a genre gives authors much more freedom to play with creative ideas than what you find in adult fiction.

The Vampire ChroniclesI have a thing for history in a big way but I also have a thing for magic if you haven’t caught on yet. Another one of my favorite series is The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice. There are a lot of these books now and I’m sure she will eventually write more of them. I think you guys know what these books are about by now. They’re really, really famous. Just don’t judge the series by the Queen of the Damned movie. They tried to cram three books into about ninety minutes and it skipped so much and rearranged other things until it looked very little like the original Anne Rice story. I felt Interview with the Vampire as a film did a much better job of translating the book to screen. It was because Anne Rice was more involved with that movie. However, neither of the movies can really grasp everything in these books because they are so lush and complicated.

Interview with the Vampire was my first experience with not only vampire literature but I had never seen LGBTQA characters in literature until then either. It was a huge, eye-opening experience for me that made me dive into much older vampire literature as if I was trying to find the source of it all. I read vampire lore and fiction for many, many years after my first exposure to Anne Rice but I stopped short of getting into Twilight books. I can’t stomach a glittering vampire that stalks a girl in high school while fighting with a ripped werewolf over her. That was too much yuck for me. As a very young writer trying to find a literary voice, The Vampire Chronicles was quite a learning experience for me in how to develop characters and how to place the reader in the middle of any dense scene.

The Mayfair Witches SeriesOf course, I got into The Mayfair Witches series after The Vampire Chronicles since, you know, it seemed like a natural progression. These books are, in my opinion, much more frightening than vampires because there are more ghosts and ghoulish elements in the stories. I can’t completely comment on this series because I haven’t finished reading it yet.

Summary: The Witching Hour introduces the fictional Mayfair family of New Orleans, generations of male and female witches. This tight-knit and deeply connected family, where a death of one strengthens the others with his/her knowledge. One Mayfair witch per generation is also designated to receive the powers of “the man,” known as Lasher. Lasher gives the witches gifts, excites them, and protects them. Unsure as to exactly what this spirit is, the Mayfair clan knows him variously as a protector, a god-like figure, a sexual being, and the image of death. Lasher’s current witch is Deirdre, who lies catatonic from psycological shock treatments.

Deirdre’s daughter, Rowan, has been spirited away from this “evil” and has happily become a neurosurgeon and has an uncanny gift to see the intent behind the facade. Rowan also has a gift few doctors possess–she can heal cells. Yet, though she uses it to save lives, she also fears that she hs caused several deaths. She rescues Michael from drowning. Michael then develops some extraordinary powers that compel him to seek New Orleans and to seek Rowan. He finds both, and pulls the tale closer together by meeting people connected to the Mayfair family who now fear Rowan because she is the first Mayfair who can kill without Lasher’s help.

Michael dives into learning the history of the Mayfair witches: Deborah, Charlotte, Mary Beth, Stella, Antha, and many others across hundreds of years and three continents. When Michael looks up from his reading, he learns that Rowan has come to New Orleans to attend her mother’s funeral. Rowan learns of her family history, her ancestral home in shambles, and Lasher waiting for the next one. Rowan dedicates herself to stopping Lasher’s reign. Michael too has his own mission, but it is foggy and unclear to him. But Lasher is seductively powerful and Rowan’s gifts offer him the opportunity to achieve his ultimate goal.

Little House on the Prairie SeriesLastly, I’d like to talk about the two series that made me want to be a writer in the first place.

Little House On the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder is a children’s book series that basically every American child is exposed to around the fourth grade or so. Fourth grade was when I first picked up these books. I read them and reread them until the spines broke and my mother had to go find more durable copies bound in hardback, hoping I wouldn’t destroy those too. We went through the pioneer experience with Laura Ingalls, who was a child close to our age when she set out with her family in a covered wagon for the unknown frontier.

Naturally, as an adult, I’m aware that her literary record of Manifest Destiny seriously glosses over the uglier side of westward expansion. We never hear about how the Ingalls and other pioneers took their land illegally from Native Americans, nor do we hear about the ugly diseases that killed people in the most grotesque ways during that period. But I think the growth into adulthood has to make us re-examine what we accepted at face value when we were children. If I hadn’t been presented with Wilder’s highly romanticized version of watered down pioneer experiences, I might have been too repulsed by the reality of it to look further into history. I think I needed to be eased into history by her tall tales when I was a child so I could grow into the uglier reality of things as I grew into adulthood. Doesn’t all reality become darker as we get older?

Laura Ingalls Wilder is still a big influence on my choice to become a historical author. Who knows where I’d be now if my fourth grade teacher, old Mrs. Hall, hadn’t looked the other way when she found my nose stuck in these books instead of going out to recess with everybody else?

I saved my absolute favorite for the last.

Little WomenLittle Women by Louisa May Alcott is the one book series that I found after Little House that I devoured and still devour like nutrition for my soul at least once a year. I have read the complete series but they don’t mean as much to me as the first book. After finding out Louisa May Alcott didn’t want to be a children’s author and wrote the subsequent books for money, I didn’t touch the other books for a few years. It was almost like a betrayal. But then I grew up and I found out how difficult life can be when you’re a single woman trying to make it on your own even if it is the 21st century. Well, let’s say I forgave Louisa after I figured it out for myself. I understood what made her write more and more in a financially viable series. But I also look to it as an example of how money can dry up your creative flow.

These books are like home to me. Not only are they written in a time and relative region with a similar background to a time and place that feels like my long lost home but re-reading them soothes my soul when I’m unhappy. I know these characters as well as I know my own family. Nobody can know what it’s like to love a book this much until a book has gotten into their souls the way this one has for me. This book is the reason why I’m a storyteller now. I can never get tired of it.

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