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Several series for some serious summer reads

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A look at options for when one book just won’t be enough

We here at The Maine Edge are big believers in the value of books. And there are few times better suited to catching up on your reading than the summertime.

The term “beach read” gets thrown around a lot – often with derogatory connotations. But the truth is that if you’re reading it at the beach, it is literally a beach read.

With that in mind, it seemed like a good time to offer some suggestions for your summer reading pleasure. But rather than simply pluck individual book recommendations out of the ether (though I’ll happily do so if you ask), I thought it might be nice to recommend a few series of books.

Now, we’re not talking about “Harry Potter” or “The Hunger Games.” Nor are we talking about genre mainstays like George R.R. Martin’s work, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” or Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. All excellent, but you probably already know about them.

For all sorts of reasons, you won’t be seeing “Twilight” or “50 Shades” on this list.

Stuff that has served or is about to serve as fodder for blockbuster movies – No Tolkien, no C.S. Lewis. Robert Ludlam’s Jason Bourne books, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan or even Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series – is all out, though it should be noted that there are a few TV translations that made the cut.

Some of these series are well-known; others less so. They run the gamut as far as genre is concerned – mystery and science-fiction and fantasy and crime and horror, you name it. They vary in length – the shortest series are a pair of trilogies; the longest runs to 16 books. A fair number come from the pens of Maine authors.

They’re all fairly different, but one thing’s for certain – there’s something for everyone on this list.

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Stephen King – The Bill Hodges trilogy

Mr. Mercedes

Finders Keepers

End of Watch

Obviously, we weren’t going to be able to get through a list like this without including Maine’s favorite literary son.

It’s not like any Stephen King books can be considered unknown quantities, but this series is certainly a different look for the author. Bill Hodges is a retired police officer turned private detective haunted by a macabre and brutal case from his past. There are elements of the supernatural, but they’re relatively subtle; in many ways, these books could be considered a gateway read for King’s spookier stuff.

(Plus there’s going to be a TV series – the current premiere date is scheduled for August 9 on the Audience Network.)

One could argue that tonally, the Hodges books somewhat resemble King’s work from the early 1990’s, though that’s an imprecise comparison. In truth, these books aren’t really like anything else in the King canon, though the unique storytelling voice is present and accounted for.

Honestly, just about any one of King’s works would be at home in your beach tote, but why not dig into three instead?

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Jeff VanderMeer – The Southern Reach trilogy

Annihilation

Authority

Acceptance

Some readers out there like their fiction to be a bit more on the weird side; it’s only fair that we give them a little something, right?

That little something is Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, a series that tells the tale of a bizarre near-future in which a mysterious land known only as Area X has been utterly cut off from civilization. Those who attempt to explore Area X suffer dire, deadly consequences. Yet still they try.

To say more would be to do the series a disservice, but rest assured – things get strange.

Any fans of speculative fiction who are looking to dig into something a little less conventional would be well-served picking up this series. These books are fast reads that will sit well on the sand – and might well lead the reader into a whole new realm of literary possibilities.

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Elena Ferrante – The Neapolitan Novels

My Brilliant Friend

The Story of a New Name

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

The Story of the Lost Child

This quartet of books are worldwide bestsellers and some of the most compelling beach reading you’re likely to undertake this summer.

It’s the story of two Italian girls – Elena and Raffaella – that follows their respective lives through childhood and into adulthood. The two follow differing paths as they try to navigate 1950s Naples and break free of the less-than-ideal circumstances of their small, poor neighborhood.

I’ve heard these books referred to as “Jane Austen, if Jane Austen was an angry Italian woman.” It was very much intended as a compliment. They’re wildly popular – as well as the subject of much conjecture early on when the true identity of Elena Ferrante was sought.

A four-book bildungsroman might not seem like the right choice for a hot August afternoon, but make no mistake – this is summer reading you can sink your teeth into.

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Diana Gabaldon – The Outlander series

Outlander

Dragonfly in Amber

Voyager

Drums of Autumn

The Fiery Cross

A Breath of Snow and Ashes

An Echo in the Bone

Written in My Own Heart’s Blood

Stop me if you’ve heard this one – a British nurse named Claire Randall time-travels from the 20th century to 18th century Scotland and finds romance and danger and adventure and all that with a Highland warrior named Jamie Fraser.

From that conceit sprang the Outlander series. And while it might be tempting to dismiss Diana Gabaldon’s work as lightweight fantasy romance, the truth is that these books are quite well-researched. Significant value is placed on historical veracity and quality storytelling. Yes, you could argue that it’s still essentially a bodice-ripper … but it’s the sharpest, most compelling bodice-ripper to come down the pike in a long time.

All this, plus a handful of novellas and short stories, a spin-off series and an extremely well-received TV show whose third season debuts this fall. You know, just in case you don’t get your fill.

And by all indications – you might find yourself still wanting more.

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Paul Doiron – The Mike Bowditch series

The Poacher’s Son

Trespasser

Bad Little Falls

Massacre Pond

The Bone Orchard

The Precipice

Widowmaker

Knife Creek

Anyone with a love of the Maine woods and a passion for mysteries is going to be hard-pressed to find a better read than this series from Paul Doiron.

Mike Bowditch is a Maine Game Warden. The mysteries he encounters all revolve around that job, forcing him to use not only his crime-solving skills, but his connection to the woods to work his way through the whodunit.

Since 2010, the former editor of Down East Magazine has been producing one Bowditch book a year. The first in the series won a slew of awards and was nominated for an Edgar Award – the highest honor in mystery literature.

Fans of the great outdoors are unlikely to find a better, breezier series to enjoy this summer.

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Charles Stross – The Laundry Files series

The Atrocity Archives

The Jennifer Morgue

The Fuller Memorandum

The Apocalypse Codex

The Rhesus Chart

The Annihilation Score

The Nightmare Stacks

The Delirium Brief

Anyone who reads my book reviews with any regularity knows that I’m in the bag for Charles Stross and his Laundry Files series. The combination of espionage, workplace humor and the occult appeals perfectly to my sensibility. And maybe it will for you too.

The Laundry is the nickname for a long-standing secret organization within the British government charged with protecting the Crown from the many occult horrors lurking just the other side of the dimensional veil. In this world, complex mathematics and magic are essentially the same thing – with the former sometimes leading to rather unfortunate encounters with the latter.

The books follow IT guy Bob Howard – and later, other Laundry employees – as gibbering things from other worlds attempt to enter ours. And it is the perpetually overwhelmed Bob who, more often than not, is the only one standing in their way.

These books are smart, funny and kind of scary – ideal reading material for a sunny day.

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Tess Gerritsen – The Rizzoli & Isles series

The Surgeon

The Apprentice

The Sinner

Body Double

Vanish

The Mephisto Club

The Keepsake

Ice Cold

The Silent Girl

Last To Die

Die Again

I Know a Secret (coming Aug. 2017)

We’ve talked about Tess Gerritsen as part of previous summer reading stories, but the extensive success of the Rizzoli & Isles series bears repeating.

The 12th book detailing the crime-solving exploits of police detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles is set to hit bookstores next month. While the books served as the inspiration for the long-running “Rizzoli & Isles” television series on TNT that concluded its 105-episode run last fall, the books are very much their own animal.

The cop/doctor team-up is a popular formula in the realm of popular fiction, but one could argue that no one does it as well as Gerritsen. And with so many offerings – including a new one on the way – a new reader has a whole lot to look forward to.

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Sarah Graves – The Home Repair is Homicide series

16 books in total

First: The Dead Cat Bounce

Latest: A Bat in the Belfry

Yeah – this last entry on the list is also the longest. So long, in fact, that it simply didn’t make sense for us to try and include all 16 books on this list. You’ve got the earliest and the latest – the rest is up to you.

Jacobia “Jake” Tiptree is a New York transplant renovating a house in Eastport – yes, THAT Eastport. However, as people sometimes do when they move to small Maine towns, she soon finds herself wrapped up in mystery after mystery – and usually, people die.

There’s a wonderful quirkiness to these books; Sarah Graves has created an ideal character for telling these kinds of stories. And her unabashed affection for her setting is infectious; her love of Maine radiates as thoroughly as her mysteries permeate.

Quick, clever reads, these books will be perfect for anyone seeking a fun, light literary undertaking.

Last modified on Friday, 21 July 2017 10:45

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