Binge-watching is all well and good, but how about binge-reading? It’s just the thing for anyone who’s ever finished a book and thought, “I wish there was more of that.” As many of us adjust to staying at home more often (social distancing, people!) to aid coronavirus containment efforts, here are some suggestions from Seattle Times features staffers for books that come in multiples; you may not need to leave your armchair until summer.
Megan Burbank, outdoors/general assignment reporter
“Dublin Murder Squad” series by Tana French
Last year, I cut back seriously on my true-crime habit after serving as a juror on a six-week criminal trial, which finally forced me to accept my long-simmering misgivings about the lack of real reporting and the abundance of fearmongering propagated by the True Crime Podcast Industrial Complex; some pleasures really are guilty. But while my Ann Rule collection sits untouched on my bookshelf, I’m still reading and watching mysteries, and Tana French is like the Sally Rooney of crime writers, crafting worlds of intrigue in a very Irish setting, in a series of books featuring loosely linked characters. My favorite in the “Dublin Murder Squad” series is “The Trespasser,” which features hard-boiled detective Antoinette Conway investigating the murder of a young woman with a strange past; it manages to juxtapose real intrigue with a commentary on the institutional racism, sexism and overall corruption within a decidedly unglamorous homicide-investigation unit, where Antoinette is an anomaly as a biracial woman. She’s one of the most sharply written characters I’ve read in recent memory (the audiobook is also excellent), and that’s what French does best: She writes murder mysteries populated by characters who feel real. She eludes clichés and depicts a world of crime where criminals are afforded humanity and detectives are fallible rather than saintly. Her books aren’t necessarily easy reads, but maybe reading about murder shouldn’t be. It’s also hard to stop reading them once you start.
Trevor Lenzmeier, travel and books coordinator
“White Noise,” “Underworld” and “The Angel Esmeralda” by Don DeLillo
If you want relief from existential dread — the result of life in uncertain times, among disease, climate catastrophe, nuclear proliferation, dystopian technological advances and more — DeLillo might not be your best pick. But if fictional anxiety, perversely enough, abates your real-life stress, few do it better than cult icon DeLillo. In his decadeslong career, he has covered everything from the aforementioned subjects to family, economics, language, politics, sports and more, all tinged with an eerie discomfort that seems to fill the air like the black chemical cloud and the titular static that drones over the airwaves in “White Noise,” my personal favorite by DeLillo. These three selections aren’t a series, but “Underworld” (considered DeLillo’s magnum opus) is more than 800 pages and “The Angel Esmeralda” is a collection of nine unique stories published between 1979 and 2011, so it’s close enough. Either way, pretty much anything by DeLillo is perfect for the recent morose mood around Seattle.
Stefanie Loh, features editor
“The Clifton Chronicles” by Jeffrey Archer
“The Century Trilogy” by Ken Follett
I’ve always enjoyed sweeping epics that chronicle the lives of a character or a family through generations, set against the backdrop of historical events. If you like those, too, these two book series check all the boxes. They’re not really serious literary fiction. Instead, think of them as the literary equivalent of binge-watching a dramatic TV series.
Archer’s seven-book series begins in 1920 with “Only Time Will Tell,” where we meet Harry Clifton, a working-class English boy who is told his father died in the Great War. Of course, as family sagas go, the tale of who Harry’s father really is reveals itself much later on. There’s lots of properly drawn-out suspense over the course of seven books that take the reader through World War II, Harry’s move to the United States and the Cold War era. We’re introduced to Harry’s love interest and eventually his children, who anchor the later books as Archer shifts the focus to the next generation.
Follett’s “Century Trilogy” is similar in the sense that the three books span years, taking the reader through the 20th century and all its landmark historic events. The difference is that Follett’s trilogy masterfully follows the fates and fortunes of five international families — American, German, Russian, English and Welsh — of different social standing through the decades, and skillfully weaving their storylines through the generations. The scope is remarkable, and if you’re a history lover who enjoys reading about how momentous events (worldwide wars, social movements, political friction) can change people’s lives at the most basic of levels, these books take on an almost oral history-type of feel; as if a good friend is taking you on a tour through their very action-filled family history.
Moira Macdonald, books/movies critic
Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith
It’s an unpopular opinion, I know, to state that I wish J.K. Rowling had spent less time on “Harry Potter” and more time writing detective novels — but I’ll say it anyway: This four-book series (the fifth, called “Troubled Blood,” will be published Sept. 29), written by Rowling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, is better than Hogwarts any day. As the series progresses, we’ve learned more about its two central figures, London detective Cormoran Strike and his associate Robin Ellacott: their pasts, their secrets, their sometimes-prickly friendship, their attraction that they, for the most part, don’t discuss. And along the way we’ve solved some mysteries (the first one, “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” is the best, but they’re all crackers) and reveled in Rowling/Galbraith’s knack for character detail, atmosphere and friendship; you feel as if you’re in the pub with Strike and Robin, picking at the threads of a crime together.
Inspector Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny
When I surveyed readers last year about their favorite crime-fiction series, this one got the most votes by a mile. Should you be among the few who haven’t yet sampled Canadian author Louise Penny’s books, featuring the ever-dignified Inspector Gamache and his idyllic small-town Quebec community (Three Pines, however, does seem to require an awful lot of crime-solving), you’re in luck: There are 15 Gamache novels currently in print, all of them acclaimed bestsellers, with a 16th (“All the Devils Are Here”) coming Sept. 1. I’ve read many of these, though not all; perhaps it’s time to give myself the pleasure of a visit to Three Pines again. Fun literary fact: Penny says on her website that the Gamache books are inspired by this quote from a W.H. Auden poem: “Goodness existed, that was the new knowledge / his terror had to blow itself quite out to let him see it.”
“Anne of Green Gables” series by L.M. Montgomery
There can be enormous pleasure in rereading a book series you loved as a child, as I learned when recently making my way back through L.M. Montgomery’s “Anne” series — the first two of which were published more than a century ago. The first book, “Anne of Green Gables,” remains the best (rereading it as an adult, I found myself quite moved by its portrayal of kindness and friendship), and you have my permission to skip the second-to-last one, the dull “Rainbow Valley.” But the series ends beautifully with “Rilla of Ingleside,” Anne’s teenage daughter’s experiences of World War I; reading it all is a nostalgic pleasure. (Binge bonus: “Anne with an E,” the new-ish series based on the books, is currently available on Netflix.)
Crystal Paul, travel and communities reporter
“The Decameron” by Giovanni Boccaccio
It’s not a series, but at more than 1,000 pages, it might as well be. Besides, it’s essentially a collection of short stories in the vein of “One Thousand and One Nights” or “The Canterbury Tales.” It’s also incredibly topical. Written by Giovanni Boccaccio in the 14th century, “The Decameron” is set during the Black Death. A group of seven women and three men who have isolated themselves together outside of Florence to avoid the epidemic spend their time telling each other stories about love and comedic human trials. The book is a collection of the stories they tell each other to pass the time and keep each other in good spirits. Isn’t that just what we could all use right now?
“Broken Earth” by N.K. Jemisin
Every single novel in Jemisin’s “Broken Earth” series won a Hugo Award for best novel, and yes, they’re that good. The “Broken Earth” series is a breath of fresh air in a sci-fi and fantasy world that has long been dominated by overdone narratives set in medieval times and championed by gruff white men with swords fighting against boring evil tropes and “dark forces.” Instead, Jemisin creates a fascinating world in which Earth itself is the danger but also the source of power, and where the heroes are as diverse, nuanced and complicated as humanity really is. The only downside? They’re so good, you’ll probably tear right through them in a day or two and be left itching for more. Fortunately, Jemisin has built other brilliant fantasy worlds with her “Dreamblood” and “Inheritance” series.
Jackie Varriano, food writer
“His Dark Materials” by Philip Pullman
I especially like this trilogy by Philip Pullman because there are two opportunities to watch these novels come to life — although I’m not sure how successful either was. If you haven’t seen the 2007 film “The Golden Compass” or the “His Dark Materials” HBO series that debuted in late 2019, know that “The Golden Compass,” “The Subtle Knife” and “The Amber Spyglass” grapple with religion, physics and philosophy in worlds that contain witches, talking armored bears and souls in the form of animals that walk alongside us called daemons. The protagonists are children, but the themes explored over the three books are in no way childish. These books are a bit of a slow burn, but the payoff is worth it.
“An Ember in the Ashes” by Sabaa Tahir
This trilogy is an intense page-turner that focuses on two opposites in a well-built world of fantasy: the Martials versus the Scholars. It’s a little like Sparta against Athens plus magic. The thing I really loved was that it’s kind of the trilogy equivalent of a murder-y beach read. You’re into it, but it’s not going to keep you up at night pondering your own existence. You’ll meet Elias Veturius, an assassin Martial in training and Laia, an oppressed Scholar and part of the resistance. Twists and turns will bring them together — but thankfully doe-eyed love isn’t the focus. Instead you’ll find brutality, oppression, loyalty and betrayal. All the good stuff.
Yasmeen Wafai, news assistant
“To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” series by Jenny Han
If you’re a sucker for a young-adult romantic comedy that’s so cute you could barf, this series is perfect for you. It follows Lara Jean Song Covey, a teenager whose love letters to past crushes have been mailed out by her little sister. As you can imagine, that leads to a series of awkward events for Lara Jean. The books follow her journey of navigating the fallout of the letters and her experiences with falling in love for the first time. The series has three books, but they’re easy and addictive reads, so try to pace yourself if you want to savor them. If you do end up devouring the books, the first two have been adapted into Netflix movies, so you can watch those after you finish!
“Crazy Rich Asians” series by Kevin Kwan
If you find yourself getting bored while reading, the “Crazy Rich Asians” series is a great one to turn to because the perspectives change every few pages. The books follow the lives of couple Rachel Chu and Nick Young. Rachel is transported to a whole different world when Nick takes her on a trip to Singapore to meet his family who just so happens to be rich — very rich. Their visit causes a rift between Nick and his mother, who does not approve of Rachel. The books serve up a nice blend of family drama and comedic relief. Just don’t read the books while you’re hungry. Author Kevin Kwan goes into detail about all the food the characters eat and it’s basically torture.
Amy Wong, features producer
“Gone Girl,” “Dark Places” and “Sharp Objects” by Gillian Flynn
This is also not a series, but they’re good literary picks and similar in nature. Gillian Flynn is a master at writing dark, twisted mysteries with complex women. These are the kinds of books that make you gasp out loud — with terrifying descriptions, shocking twists and generally horrifying scenarios. But amid the shocking narratives are some incredibly satisfying depictions of female rage. I won’t spoil anything, but for any cool girl that has read “Gone Girl,” you know what I’m talking about.
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