So recently, I was talking with someone about some of my all time favorite movies and as I rattled the names off at the top of my head, I was actually surprised at some that popped out. Oh, calling them one of my favorite all time movies was accurate enough…but if someone had not tried to pin me down and force to me to list them, I might never have realized just how much I loved these particular movies. Sure, there are the perennial favorites…the Evil Dead series (anyone who knows me knows this. Duh! Bruce Campbell is a major inspiration for my Jack character after all), Star Wars (the original trilogy), Nolan’s Dark Knight series (so far), the Lord of the Rings, Last of the Mohicans, Gross Pointe Blank, etc. But some of the movies lay in the back of mind…not really on anyone else’s radar (to my knowledge). Perfect example…The 13th Warrior starring Antonio Bandera (yeah, if you’ve never seen this movie…put it on your “must watch” category). But I was kind of amazed at how many obscure, unsung movies had reached my all time favorite list.
So, it got me to thinking…could the same be true for books as well? It was quite possible. In the last few years, I’ve delved deep into the heart of indie fiction and rather shunned the Big 6 published blockbusters. To test the theory, I compiled a list of my Top 10 All Time Favorite Books and Book Series. Let’s see what I came up with:
[Note: This top 10 list is written pretty much stream of consciousness and are in no particular order. But if they made the list, then that means I couldn’t recommend them enough to you…so pick one that appeals to you and give it a try!]
1. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Yeah, this is a no brainer here. As a matter of fact, Tolkien’s classic fantasy series…the series that really led to almost every fantasty novel since…is the reason for “it all”. By that, I mean, it’s the reason for my very literary existence. It’s the reason for this blog. It’s the reason for my own books. It’s the reason I love books to begin with. You see, I first read the LOTR in high school (I’ve read the entire series 12 times since). Before that, I actually hated reading. Oh sure, I enjoyed the frequent comic book…but as for full length novels? I’d just wait for the movie to come out.
That is, until my best friend, Brian Newton, coaxed me into reading the Fellowship of the Ring (the first book of the series). I was already familiar with the story. I had grown up watching the animated Hobbit movie every Easter on CBS. Loved that old movie. But just wasn’t interested in reading. But at my friend’s suggestion, I gave it a try and from that moment on, I was invariably identified as Gimli the Dwarf by all my LOTR loving friends. After I finished the series, there was no stopping me. The world of books became my passion and I began consuming them in voracious amounts.
I’ll refrain from summarizing the book…or even doing a review. Because of the movies, most people are somewhat familiar with the series already. However, don’t be fulled. Just because you saw the epic films, it is in no way a substitute for the real thing. With Peter Jackson’s movies, you get a taste of what it’s like to live in Middle Earth. In Tolkien’s masterpiece, you get to livee there. Eat there. Sing there and fight there. When you read this series, you quite simply get to live in Middle Earth for a brief period of your life. Savor it. I envy those who will get to travel there for the very first time.
2. Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams
First of all, unlike the Lord of the Rings, if you’ve seen the movie version of this film…forget it. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie doesn’t exist. Or at least it shouldn’t. And it should in no way paint a picture of the wonders of this book and its subsequent sequels.
I remember the first time I ever saw a HGTTG novel. I was in middle school. My friends and I would often stop into a local convenience store on the way home from school (yeah, we actually walked home back them). And there, in the turnable book rack, sat this crazy looking book with an even crazier looking cover with the craziest round green smiley face with a tongue lolling out of its mouth I’d ever seen. I had no idea what it was…and as I already mentioned while talking about the LOTR, I had no interest in finding out. That is, until my freshmen year of college. As I said, the cover stood out for me all those years and one day, while trying to find something good to read, I decided that my curiosity would finally win. I picked up a copy of the book…and devoured it in a single night.
Oh the travesty! The horror! Oh, I’m not talking about the book. I’m talking about reading it in a single night! It was over far too soon. Over so quickly…like the faster than light travel of an improbability drive (inside joke for those who’ve read the books).
This book (and its entire series) quite simply is the single most funny thing I’ve ever read in my entier life. Quite possibly, it is the single funniest object in the history of man. Yes. THAT funny. Funnier than seeing fifteen clowns squeeze out of a tiny little car. Funnier than a monkey in a tuxedo playing a harmonica. Funnier, in fact, than any intelligent shade of blue (yeah, that last one is a Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference).
Tell you what…don’t take my word for it. Read it for yourself. And if you have laughed out loud so much your stomach muscles hurt, then…go see a doctor ’cause there’s something wrong with your funny bone.
3. Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher
Okay. If you’ve been following my blog for any amount of time, you’re probably aware that I sort of kind of think Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series is pretty okay. Um, well, that’s a lie. If you follow this blog, then you know that I can’t get enough of Harry Dresden and his very specialized private detective agency. Oh, and did I mention he’s a wizard in Chicago?
Yeah, this first person, hardboiled detective style urban fantasy series, quite honestly, is the best in the industry. Oh, there are plenty of good ones out there. Don’t get me wrong and I don’t want to take away from them. But Butcher’s Dresden has the best of all possible worlds. You have one tough, amazingly powerful wizard who hires himself as a P.I. to a public that refuses to believe in things like trolls under bridges, interdimensional monsters, vampires, werewolves, pizza-loving faeries, sword-wielding knights of God, necromancers, and yes…wizards themselves.
But it’s just not the creatures in the stories that make this series fantastic. It’s Harry Dresden himself. It’s his fantastic sense of humor (yes, I quite often laugh out loud when I read these books too). It’s his major butt-kickingness. But it’s something else that makes Harry one of my favorite fictional heroes of all times. Quite simply, he’s a good guy. I know that sounds strange. Aren’t all heroes good guys? Well, yeah…kind of. First of all, don’t get me wrong. Harry’s no boy scout. He can fight dirty. He lies at times. He’s tough and gritty and not always respectful. But there is something about Harry Dresden that’s just different from the majority of the heroes out there. You see, no matter what the odds…no matter how much is at stake for him on a personal level…he always does the right thing. Even when his friends tell him he’s crazy and that he should give up…his stubborn commitment to doing what is right pushes him on. Even when it means his certain death. There aren’t many heroes out there as committed to the fight as Harry Dresden. He’s a role model. Someone to respect and admire. I hope he continues to be that for a long long time.
4. The Midnight Eye Files by William Meikle
|Cover for the upcoming audiobook|
Along the same lines as Harry Dresden comes another hardboiled detective series that involves elements of the unknown and the paranormal…the Midnight Eye Files by William Meikle. And like the Dresden Files books, the stories are told in a first person noir style with wit and humor.
As a matter of fact, it’s sort of my love of the Dresden novels that led me to meet Derrick Adams of Glasgow, Scotland. You see, one day a while back, Seven Realms author Sean Ellis appraoched me with a simple question: “You’re a fan of Jim Butcher..well, have you ever read anything by this Scottish guy named Willie Meikle?” I hadn’t. But at Sean’s suggestion, I downloaded a copy of the first book, The Amulet, and once again found myself devouring it in about a forty-eight hour period. Oh wow! How in the world can I describe The Amulet? How can I describe this series or the incredible prose in which Meikle writes?
Well, basically, Derrick Adams is just your basic down on your luck P.I. Nope. He’s no wizard. As a matter of fact, I get the impression he’d be just as tickled as all get out if things like magic or monsters didn’t exist. Unfortunately for him, they apparently do. And for some reason, these crazy cases keep falling into his lap. No, his detective agency isn’t designed for this sort of thing. He doesn’t advertise in the Yellow Pages as a paranormal investigator or a monster slayer. These things just sort of find him.
The first story, The Amulet, just absolutely captivated me from start to finish. There are very strong H.P. Lovecraft themes in this one…and at the time I read it, the only familiarity I had with Lovecraft came from a couple of bad movies and the classic horror computer game Alone in the Dark. So, reading this was a huge treat as I got to sink my toes into the tentacled-goodness of a tale that would make Lovecraft proud.
The second story, The Sirens, involved a very unique (and one feels a very authentic) take on mermaid legend coupled with myth straight out of Norse mythology. And the third book, The Skin Game, is definitely not your average werewolf tale.
The fact is that William Meikle is a master story teller. He has an amazing way of taking authentic legends, stripping them of their pop cultural familiarity, and bringing them back to their primal, terrifying roots. The stories…the situations…the monsters…just seem so real. Like they could live in this world easily. Yet, he doesn’t strip them of their magical luster. Do yourself a favor…read a Midnight Eye File book today!
5. The Pendergast series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
And yet another series that I talk alot about on this blog…the FBI Agent Pendergast novels by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. One series that you might strange to be missing among this list is Sherlock Holmes. I struggled with this and strongly wanted to place it way up top on this list…only, it’s difficult to do so because technically, Sherlock Holmes stories are considered more short stories than anything else. Sure, there were a few serialized novels…but I decided that Holmes is in a category all himself and I would wait and talk about him on another occasion. However, I have no qualms about adding Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast to the mix…who I consider to be a very special, modern take on Holmes.
Oh don’t get me wrong. Pendergast and Holmes are two entirely different characters. However, if there was a modern equivalent that could give Holmes a run for his money, it would be Pendergast. In fact, one of the qualities that appeal most to me about the character is his seemingly supernatural ability to just know what’s going on before anyone else does. Even in those instances where the character doesn’t actually know the outcome, one gets the sense that somewhere in the back of his Pendergast’s brilliant brain, he just knows. It’s hard to explain.
And Pendergast doesn’t typically go after the caliber of criminal that Holmes does either. Oh no. For the most part, there is something very diabolical about the prey that falls into the FBI agent’s sights. Some, like the creature stalking hapless visitors to a museum in the first Pendergast novel (Relic), are more paranormal in nature. Others, like the killer in Still Life with Crows is something all together different…unable to categorize. Others still, like his sociopathic brother, are human with almost superhuman intellect and cunning.
But these things aren’t what truly appeals to me about the Pendergast character. No, it’s something else. It’s the man himself. It’s his checkered past. And most importantly, it’s his rich family history filled with madness, insanity, magicians, and murderers. The Pendergast character and his family create an incredibly rich tapestry from which all the mysteries he solves pales in comparison. You can’t help but want to read his books to find out more about the man. Trust me, if you’ve never read a Pendergast novel…you’ll thank me later if you follow my recommendation to do so.
6. Star Wars: Heir to the Empire series by Timothy Zahn
In the early nineties, I became hooked on the many Star Wars novels that started exploding onto the scene. This was long before the dreaded prequels came out and I was definitely jonesing to find out what happened after the defeat of Emperor Palpatine and the Empire. One day, I discovered Star Wars: Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn and experienced something I never believed possible…a story that was, in many ways, better than the original trilogy of movies. I kid you not. Even to this day, I still feel that a great disservice was done to the world of entertainment in not having these books made into films immediately. The world of Star Wars would be vastly different today if they had.
You see, Heir to the Empire (and bear with me…it’s literally been twenty years since I read these books) takes place almost immediately after the original series of movies ends. We find an Empire that is now limping through the outter rim of the Galaxy, biding their time to take revenge against the newly reformed Republic. We have a blue-faced villain…an alien general (which for the xenophobic Empire, this was almost unheard of) who was every bit as wiley and as formidable as his predecessors. And you have a newly revealed race of assassin aliens that would scare the chitin off Sigourney Weaver’s aliens…who were completely devoted to Vader (and subsequently, his heirs).
After this trilogy of books, the literary world exploded in tons and tons of new Star Wars novels. But this one, by far, is the best of the bunch (don’t get me wrong…many of them are excellent. But this one should be included, in my opinion, in the canon of the films). If you read only one Star Wars series, let it be Heir to the Empire.
7. The Darkness series by Frank Peretti
In 1989, I read a book that changed my life. Literally. I won’t go into details here. It’s a private matter. But that book was called This Present Darkness and was written by Frank Peretti. A couple of things you should know about this awesome book.
First, it’s one of the first Christian thrillers I ever read. And second, it’s totally awesome.
I’m serious. If there was ever a Christian novel that should definitely have been turned into a super special FX blockbuster, This Present Darkness (and it’s sequel Piercing the Darkness) should have been it. The book has everything. Good guys. Bad guys. Paranormal battles. Magic. Action. Explosions. Fight scenes. Sword battles. It is just an amazing supernatural slugfest! And the story…wow! I guarantee you…if you pick up a copy of This Present Darkness, you will literally be drawn in from the very first page and you won’t want to put it down. I can confidently say it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Christian or not…if you like awesome paranormal thrillers, you will love it.
Imagine a comic book like the Avengers. Only, instead of a team of superheroes, you have a team of angels. And instead of a supervillain team, you have an army of demons that are battling for the souls of people in a small, insignificant town. That’s what you’ll get if you read these two books.
Plus, who knows. It might just change your life. Like it did me.
8. The Destroyer series (Remo Williams) by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir
So I recently interviewed Warren Murphy and talked in depth about Remo Williams and the Destroyer series. Because of that, I’ll spare you a long, drawn out exposition of this awesome action-adventure assassin series.
All I will say about it is you like to have fun reading…this series is for you. From book one to the last, this is just plain fun to read. Nothing serious. No one will ever accuse it of being too “high brow”, but it’s just plain fun. And funny. Let’s not forget funny. Master assassin Chiun will have you rolling in your reading chair as he berates anyone and everyone who’s not Korean. And Remo Williams himself is not without his own brand of humor.
Like I said, I don’t want to repeat everything I said a few weeks ago in my interview with Mr. Murphy. Needless to say, this is one of my favorite series of all times and I think it could be one of yours as well.
9. On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers
Just like the Destroyer series, I have recently talked about this book. Actually, if you give my website a quick look over, you’ll find a full review of the book somewhere. So I don’t want to get too detailed with this one either. But this is the book that inspired the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie. If you didn’t like the movie, don’t hold it against the book. They changed a LOT! As a matter of fact, the only similarity between the book and the the Pirates movie was that they were searching for the Fountain of Youth.
But On Stranger Tides is an amazing read. Simply wonderful. Pirates galore! Zombies. Pirate magic…vodou…evil spirits…a ghost-infested Blackbeard. Basically it has it all. If you’re looking for a fantastic pirate novel…look no further than this. As a matter of fact, it’s hard to imagine anyone EVER writing a better pirate adventure. Oh, Michael Crichton came close with Pirate Latitudes (another favorite of mine…but not in the top ten), but he didn’t quite achieve the magnitude of piratey goodness that Tim Powers did.
10. The Jack Sigler/Chess Team Adventures by Jeremy Robinson
Another author I’ve talked quite a bit about on this blog (he was the very first author I ever featured as a matter of fact) is Jeremy Robinson. Jeremy has been a huge inspiration to me as both an author and a publisher and I first became a fan of his way back before I ever finished my first novel. The book Kronos is the one that sold me on what a great adventure author Jeremy is.
Well, his most recent series…the Jack Sigler (I prefer calling it the Chess Team) adventures has just about everything an adventure loving reader could possibly hope for. 1) A crack black-ops commando team. 2) Monster. 3) Mad scientistry (yeah, I made up a word). 4) Action-packed scenes of mayhem, narrow escapes, gunfights, and explosions. 4) A little romance. 5) Absolute fun.
Seriously. What more can you ask in a series of books? Even better…there are quite a few books to choose from too! I hate when I am interested in a series of books and have to wait a zillion years for the next one. But not only are there several novels to choose from already…but Jeremy was smart and teamed up with some really amazing authors to produce a series of novellas that take place between the full length novels. That way, you never have to wait long for the next story to come out. Pretty smart, eh?
So what’s the series about? Well, like I said, about a special black-ops team with call signs derived from a chess board (i.e. King, Queen, Bishop, Knight, Rook, and Deep Blue…oh, and sometimes Pawn). This team is then assigned some crazy situations that they are asked to deal with. For instance, the first book Pulse, they went after a pharmaceutical company that was secretly working on developing a drug to prolong life indefinitely. In the process, they not only created a bunch of wacked out zombie-like creatures…but they also awakened a monster straight out of Greek mythology. The Chess Team had to deal with this mess and set things right. And after that, the adventure REALLY took off for the group.
By the way, here’s a bit of a disclaimer for this one. Yes, Seven Realms will be publishing the next full length Chess Team novel (Ragnarok) this Fall (in print). But I want to go on record to say that I didn’t add this to my top ten list because of that fact. Oh no! It was already on my top ten list way back. That’s why I literally jumped at the chance to publish it when Jeremy approached me. It was because I WAS such a huge fan of the series that it was like a dream come true just to be part of it.
So that’s it. That’s my list of TOP TEN ALL TIME FAVORITE BOOKS AND BOOK SERIES. I can’t recommend these enough to you. But I did want to give an honorable mention to another series. This one ranks way up there in my favorite series as well. However, because I publish this particular series, I didn’t think it was fair to list among the others. However, I have to say that since the very first book, I have been this series’ number one fan. I honestly can’t get enough of it and hope the author continues putting them out on a regular basis.
I am, of course, talking about the awesome 1930s pulp inspired series The Adventures of Dodge Dalton by Sean Ellis. First of all, let me tell you that Sean is an amazingly talented author. I read his stuff and just shake my head, wishing that I could write half as well as he does. His ability to write captivating prose and riveting, edge-of-your-seat adventure scenes is something that, I believe, will one day be emulated my thousands of aspiring writers.
And Dodge Dalton himself? Combine Indiana Jones with Flash Gordon and Cary Grant and Fox Mulder and Edgar Rice Burroughs and you might just get an idea of what kind of awesome hero Dodge Dalton is. Yeah, I would definitely be remiss if I left Dodge out of this list of favorite novels and series.
So, there it is. My all time favorites. Take it and do what you will with it. But I hope you’ll give some of these books a try. I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I have over the years. And by the way, I’d love to hear from you on this subject! On the comments section below, share some of your all time favorite books too. Who knows…I might discover a new favorite in the process as well (just please avoid self-promotion on the comments. I’m truly curious about YOUR favorite books you’ve read, not the ones you’ve written. Thanks!)