Book Reviews

Top Ten Tuesday: Book Series On My Radar

The focus for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, is on book series.

I’m really good at starting a book series. Not so good though at completing them. It took me about eight years to read the six novels that form The Chronicles of Barsetshire by Anthony Trollope. In my defence some of those books were very long since Trollope is not noted for his brevity. By the time I finished the series I calculated I had read 3469 pages. Phew.

There are many readers who begin with book one and immediately pick up the next one and just keep reading until they reach the end. I can’t seem to do that — I prefer to have a decent time interval between each “episode”.

The problem with that of course, is that if the gap is too long, it can be hard to remember details about individual characters and the progress of their story. Then I feel I have to start all over again (which is what happened with Mr Trollope).

I’m also guilty of starting a new series instead of finishing the ones I already have underway. Some never do get picked up again such as the Aubrey–Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian or The Chronicles of Narnia by C S Lewis and the Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. I’ve also decided after two books, that I won’t continue with Alison Weir’s Six Wives of Henry VIII.

But there are others I really do want to finish and plenty more that I’d like to begin.

Book Series I’ve Started …. And Will Definitely Finish

Rougon- Macquet series by Emile Zola

There are 19 titles in all, published between 1871 and 1893, of which I’ve read eight in my Emile Zola project. This is one of those cases where the first book I read was not the first in the series. I’ve now gone back to the beginning.

Chief Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny 

Another book series I began part of the way through. My first experience was book number eight, A Beautiful Mystery which captured my interest so much I’ve gone on to read nine more titles set in Quebec province, Canada. I thought Penny would stop writing these books when she got to number 10 book number 10 since this saw the denouement of a narrative thread that went across several titles. But she’s not showing any signs of running out of steam yet and book number 18 is due out later this month. So on I go.

Indian Crime Fiction

I do love novels set in India or written by authors from the sub continent. The crime series by Abir Mukherjee and Vaseem Kahn are both notable for the insight they give into attitudes towards the time of British rule.

Mukherjee’s series which begins with A Rising Man is set before Independence while Kahn’s inspector Persis Wadia series, which begins with Midnight at Malabar House takes place in the first years of the newly-independent nation. I’ve read only the first book in each but really enjoyed the way both authors evoked the spirit of the country and the British/Indian tensions.

Fortunes of War by Olivia Manning

Manning used her personal experience for two trilogies that follow a young married couple in World War II. The Balkan Trilogy features Guy and Harriet Pringle who set up their first home in Bucharest (Romania) in 1939, just weeks after the German invasion of Poland. As the Nazi regime tightens its grip on Europe, the Pringles flee to Greece. In The Levant Trilogy, their flight takes them even further away from Europe, to Cairo.

It’s The Danger Tree, part one of The Levant Trilogy that I read. I loved the atmosphere of Egypt so much I decided I wanted to read the next two titles. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to begin at the beginning with the first trilogy.

Book Series I Plan to Begin

The “Five Towns” novels of Arnold Bennett 

We seldom hear the name of Arnold Bennett now but in his day he was highly popular and one of the most financially successful of early twentieth century authors. Many of his novels and short stories were set in the Staffordshire Potteries region in which he was born — he called his fictionalised community “The Five Towns.”

These towns are the setting for seven novels, starting with Anna of the Five Towns (1902) and ending with the Clayhanger trilogy – Clayhanger (1910), Hilda Lessways (1911) and These Twain (1915). Together they portray the aspirations and challenges of ordinary people in these communities.

Strangers and Brothers by C P Snow

About twenty years ago I press ganged my husband into trawling the second hand bookshops of Hay on Wye, to find all eleven novels in this book series. I was insistent that they were all Penguin orange spine editions. Published between 1940 and 1970, these books deal with – among other things – questions of political and personal integrity, and the mechanics of exercising power.

The books have moved house three times. I’ve yet to read any of them. But I’m still reluctant to give them away until I’ve at least sampled a few.

The Palliser Novels by Anthony Trollope 

I’m not yet finished with Mr Trollope. The four books that came to be known as the Palliser novels feature the wealthy aristocrat and politician Plantagenet Palliser, and his wife, Lady Glencora.

There is a connection to the Barsetshire Chronicles — the Pallisers are a hugely important political force in the county and Plantagenet Palliser makes a brief appearance in book five of that earlier series.

The Cazelet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard

This series has popped up in numerous blogs I follow, most recently featured by MarinaSofia @findingtimetowrite who read the series last year — her review is here. The five books form a saga about a family in Sussex, following them through decades of great social change. The series begins in the years after World War I, takes in the effects of the second world conflict and shows the family dealing with more change to their way of life in the 1950s.

Lord of The Rings by J R R Tolkein

This will come as a shock to those of you who read this blog because you’ll know that I never read fantasy. But it’s good to step outside our comfort zone once in a while and if I’m going to dip my reading toes in the genre, I may as well opt for one of the most acclaimed of fantasy series.

I did try reading Tolkein back in my university days when I was surrounded by people who were huge fans. I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about so gave up after a few chapters. I wonder whether my older self will find it more interesting????


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

31 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: Book Series On My Radar

  • I love Manning’s two trilogies. Do read them in order if you can. I prefer the first set myself, mainly because there is a former aristocrat character who is wonderful. He broke my heart in the end, but I loved him. He’s not in the second set. I also recommend the Cairo trilogy. A very interesting window into a world I did not know at all.

    • Thanks for that advice James. It does make sense to read them in order – when I read The Danger Tree I did feel that I was missing a lot of context about the relationship between Guy and Harriet

  • The series I have on the go at the moment is Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. I’m up to no.3 so far and I think she’s still writing them. Anyway, I’m happy to take it slow. Otherwise there’s probably only Maigret, of which I own a 30 or 40 out of the hundred odd Simenon wrote.

  • I only got as far as The Hobbit and decided that that was enough of Tolkien for me, but I loved The Pallisers and The Cazalets, The Fortunes of War and Arnold Bennett. I’m always impatiently waiting for Louise Penny’s books to come out.

    • Good to hear of your endorsement of some of my choices (Tolkein excepted of course)

  • Lost my comment. I gave up on Tolkien. I read some the Snow novels in Malawi years ago–very good. Counting the minutes till Gamache! Trollope is worth it.

    • Your mention of the Malawi based novels has caught my interest – is the author’s name Snow??

      • No, I meant the ones you mentioned by CP Snow which I read (a few) while living in Malawi. Sorry. I can recommend at least one Malawi book though. Sugarcane With Salt by James Ngombe. It is a novel set in the later days of Kamuzu Banda’s regime–when I was living there.

        • Ah, now I understand.Thanks for the recommendation of the Ngombe book – I’ve never read anything from Malawi so this will help with my international reading project

        • I have a copy from my time in Malawi. Dervla Murphy’s book on Africa is one I’m buying–she was in Malawi when I was there, though I didn’t know anything of her then. I hope to buy it this winter, now that I’m back to work.

        • My own version of “reading the world” recognizes that life is short and money shorter, so I allow books “set in” a country and not just those written by authors from that country. It works for me.

        • if I’d done “set in” I know it would have been easier to find books for some of the smaller countries in the world.

        • I’m 61 with almost nothing to retire on. I’ll go for the affordable option, but will enjoy your reviews 🙂

  • A really interesting post, and I can be quite like you with series reading – especially nowadays when there are even more books around to distract me! Back in the day, I tended to latch onto a sequence and read the lot from start to finish, but I don’t do that now. And in fact a paced re-read has helped with my revisits to Narnia, Middle Earth and The Dark is Rising. As for the Olivia Mannings, I’ve read the first trilogy and would love to get on to the second, but would highly recommend reading them order. Zola and Trollope are on my hitlist too! However, I had to chuckle at your tale of gathering the C.P. Snow books – I have an old set of Penguins too and am determined to get to them sometime sooner rather than later!!!

    • Thanks for the advice about the Manning trilogy – duly noted.
      I think one of the reasons I came to a halt with the Snow series was that I didn’t know in what order to read them.

  • This post rings so many bells for me. I’ve also stopped reading Alison Weir’s Six Wives of Henry VIII, I tried Louise Penny’s first Gamache book and didn’t finish it, read the first two books of the Balkan trilogy and although I have the third lost the impetus to read it. I read several of C P Snows books in my twenties and loved them so bought some secondhand copies a few years ago and haven’t started them yet. I’ve read four of the Barsetshire Chronicles. On the other hand I have read all of the Cazelet Chronicles series, most of which I loved, I don’t think the last one is not up to the others and have read Lord of The Rings several times – the last one time was this year. I too read them the first time in my last two years at school and then again at college when like you I was surrounded by people who were huge fans. If you’re not a fan of fantasy they’re still probably not for you. The books though are so much better than the films – far too much fighting in them for me, so boring.

    • My problem with the Alison Weir books was that they were very slow to get going – the first one really dragged.
      I suspect my Lord of the Rings experiment will not be a great success but I may be proved wrong!

  • Well, I wasn’t expecting Tolkien to appear. Looking forward to seeing how you get on with your second try. I’m thinking of seeking out a Trollope TV adaptation for that one-hour slot in the evening when I need to plonk myself in front of something to watch.

    • The BBC did a good adaptation of the Trollope – I watched the first two and loved them but only recently discovered that there are adaptations of the later books. So guess what is going in my letter to Santa!

  • I do like Trollope. but as you say, the length … And Penny is someone whose books I’ve tried, and enjoyed, but not had the motivation to continue yet. And I feel like you about Tolkein, who’s not currently on my TBR.

    • I would have enjoyed the Trollope even more if we could have had more of Mrs Proudie. What a brilliant character she is – it’s worth reading the last book to find out what happens to her and the relationship with her husband

  • I hear so much praise about the Louise Penny books. I started the first book Still Life earlier this year and it was just about meh. I suppose the later books get better.

  • It seems like you have fun with what you select to read and this is good since reading should be fun and not too much analytics.

  • a books by Louise Penny is always a highlight of the year, November 29 is coming quickly for this one!
    I have read hem all.
    And one day, I want to read the whole series by Zola, I have only read a few as a French student.
    I rarely read fantasy, but Tolkien’s writing is really exquisite literature

    • I get distracted as well while reading series. I keep meaning to return to the Cairo-set Palace Walk trilogy, because I loved the first book but something always gets in the way. Currently attempting to rekindle my reading of the Javier Marias trilogy. I found it works best for me when I do read them in quick succession and immerse myself in their world.
      Thank you for the kind mention. I really enjoyed the Cazalet series, great piece of social history although some soap opera elements. It made me instantly reread a classic Romanian series.

  • LOL Karne, you might enjoy listening to Backlisted’s podcast about Tolkien. (
    The begin by talking about that very issue: wild enthusiasm v huh? what is the fuss all about.


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