A few years back we posted a list of 12 book series for your binge-reading pleasure during the holiday break. Because they were series (some with many entries such as the Bones books by Kathy Reichs), we gave you time to work your way through those of interest. But most of us avid book readers are always trolling around for the next good find to curl up with, particularly in the winter. And sometime one book just wets our appetites for more, so we’re going to suggest another set of 12 book series from our personal favorites. We’ve tried to cover a range of genres, so hopefully there’s a little something for everyone. Happy holiday reading!
Now that we know we’ll be getting a TV series adaptation, this would be a great time to binge read (or re-binge read) this classic series. If you enjoy the core books featuring Lestat, the Brat Prince, consider taking the time to explore the side paths – for example, the Mayfair Witches books. These link into the Vampire Chronicles via Merrick, Blackwood Farm, and Blood Canticle. There are also several books featuring some of the supporting vampire cast such as Pandora and Armand, both of which include quite a bit of back story on my personal favorite, Marius.
An obvious choice, naturally, but the wildly popular HBO series has pulled in many fans that have not read the books. If you are one of them, remedy that. You’ve missed a lot of good stuff, trust me! And you really need to get to know the Imp a whole lot better…
I specifically include both father and son authorship here to encourage those of you who stopped after Frank Herbert’s books with Chapterhouse: Dune. The original six books are a tour de force melding brilliant sociological, theological, and political insights into a science fictional metaphor. But the many, many prequel/sequel books co-written by son Brian and Kevin Anderson bring embodiment and detailing to both the characters and story that is somewhat lacking in the original set. Plus they are cracking good reads!
Specifically, The Elegant Universe, The Fabric of the Cosmos, and The Hidden Reality. Yes, yes, these are non-fiction, but I guarantee this stuff is so wild that you won’t even notice. Fellow science fiction fans will especially enjoy these, as much of this genre tries to base itself in distant technological possibilities. If you want to learn a little bit about how the world of Dune, etc. might actually come about, these are very readable and engaging books about the crazy REAL world of theoretical physics.
Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, and Cryptonomicon are not technically a series, but some of the technological themes and ideas flow and develop from one novel to the next. I suggest reading them in this order as well. Cryptonomicon is the best in my opinion, but it is helpful for a non-computer science professional to ease into some of the higher-level concepts in order to fully appreciate them. All three weave extremely sophisticated ideas of linguistics, economic theory, and social ramifications of technology into intense, thrilling, futuristic stories. Even though I’ve read the books years ago, I still regularly think about the concepts they introduced me to when I see them reflected in current events. Case in point: bitcoin. Cryptonomicon, not surprisingly, delves heavily into the history and theory of cryptography, but also includes related themes of currency systems. The concept of a non-government based monetary system like bitcoin is further developed in the more recently written, but also excellent, Reamde. But hopefully the more dystopian aspects world of Snow Crash will not prove nearly so prophetic!
Moving on from sci-fi and fantasy to the mystery/crime genre. Now a British television series (rivaling the most excellent BBC Sherlock Holmes), the Cormoran Strike novels are worthy contributions from the author best known for creating the world of Harry Potter. Cormoran Strike inhabits our far more prosaic “real” world, but his character is as addictive as Harry’s. We’ve previously review the books of the trilogy – The Cuckoo’s Calling, The Silkworm, and Career of Evil – individually here at PopMythology.
These are southern gothic with a social conscience. The books can be found on the bestseller racks, but do not mistake Iles’s writing for typical popular fluff. He is a seriously talented writer with a style mix between that of Faulkner and Robert Penn Warren, whom he often quotes. The only caveat for the reader is that he ends his books with cliffhangers, but fortunately this trilogy is already out there and complete for your reading pleasure – Natchez Burning, The Bone Tree, and Mississippi Blood. Tip: if you like audio books, try these selections in that format. The narrators do excellent jobs with the deep-south drawls which add great flavor to the story.
A rare set of mystery novels from the master of horror, these tales about a retired ex-cop are as powerful as the classic Joseph Wambaugh’s from the 70’s (e.g. The Onion Field and The Blue Knight). For more information, check out our individual reviews of Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, and End of Watch.
This mystery series provides a unique look into Swedish society and politics all wrapped up in some of the most vivid, electrifying prose of the new millennium. Lagercrantz took over the series after Larsson’s death in 2004 and you can get our take on The Girl in the Spider’s Web here. The brand new The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye is also on our holiday reading list!
Moving next to historical fiction, this series was a huge bestseller about World War II published in the early 70’s. The phrase “powerful, sweeping epic” doesn’t begin to do it justice. It was originally meant to be a single volume, that is until it took Wouk 1000 pages to get to Pearl Harbor. Additionally, this series is unlike any other books about WWII I’ve ever read. All of the events and many of the characters are real, but also placed into the backdrop of these horrific times is a fictional normal, American family. The bland, familiar banalities of their lives provide a sharp framework to the war and let the reader experience this era with a more humble, common context rather than as isolated, shocking atrocities that are hard to approach due to unfamiliarity.
This is another historical fiction set including The Pillars of the Earth, World Without End, and the brand-new A Column of Fire, which focus on 12th century England through Elizabethan times. These books get high marks for all the key elements of the genre – attention to historical accuracy, vivid characters, and engaging story, check. But Follett, typically known and celebrated for his popular thrillers, delivers a great deal more with these novels. The first two books are centered around building events, especially cathedrals. The details provided are meticulous and fascinating, to the extent that the reader is essentially taking a short course in the development of medieval architecture from Romanesque to Gothic style, embedded within an excellent story. (There’s also a game adaptation that came out this year that readers may be interested in checking out.)
Okay, yes, more non-fiction books. And not technically a series. But Isaacson is the most skilled biographer I’ve read. He does not resort to sensationalism to hold your interest, but instead paints a three-dimensional portrait of his subject by covering them from many viewpoints both internal and external. The reader comes to a better understand of the individual and how they were able to achieve the things they did – the who’s and what’s that were instrumental to their successes. I’ve read and loved Isaacson’s accounts of Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, and the most recent Leonardo da Vinci. The latter I bought the day it came out and had it finished a breathless four days later, as if it were a thriller. One of his oldest accounts, of Henry Kissinger, is currently on my holiday list. Pick your favorite figure among these and give Isaacson a try – you will not be disappointed!