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I haven't read any Louise Penny books. Is it important to read them in order? Or do they stand alone?

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Diana There is so much wonderful character development and so many story threads that run from story to story, it would be a shame to read them any way but in order.
Philip As I've said before it is almost a must to read these books in order. This is actually not a series but a serial, like the old "Perils of Pauline" at the Saturday morning movies, with each book being the next chapter and picking up one of the plot lines from the previous book.
Mysteryfan They should really be read in order.
Linda Read them in order. I agree with Diana about the marvelous character development and references to past events.
Anna I read the 8th one first then went back and read the rest in order. I loved the 8th one but would've enjoyed it more if I understood the references to past events. I recommend reading them in order.
Melissa Varady I tried to start reading out of order and found not only was I lost, but when I did begin reading them in order, I already knew of truly great plot surprises which I wish I'd discovered in the novel they occurred in, instead of from characters talking about them after the fact.
Jennifer Dade Read them in order!
Steve I just read book nine, and agree with all the others. They can probably be read stand alone, but you're much better off beginning with the first, Still Life.
Bill Wehrmacher All of Ms. Penny's books have more than adequate stand-alone-strength. However, as a new reader I was quite late learning that there were such things as book series. After learning of that fact, I went back and read a couple of series of which I had read excepts. I always try to read a series from the beginning now.

For what it is worth, I recommend that if you find a book that sounds interesting, read the first hundred pages or so and, if the book still sounds interesting, put it down and go to the first of the series and read, read, read. You will learn soon enough if you wish to finish the series (and wait anxiously for additional follow-ons. I have three such series favorites now with two follow-on books on hold waiting for my turn in line)

Happy reading.
Anne Saturley Read them how you like, as you come across different books. I'm sure you will soon feel at home no matter what the setting, and of course Gamache and his wife are constants....
Carol I think it would be very confusing (at least to me!) if I hadn't gone in order.
Myriam Schärz I am reading them completely out of order and it’s totally fine! Yes, there is an underlying story with the main characters but you will get that anyway. The books are in themselves stand alone stories with beginning, middle and neatly tied up ends
Sjkimball Personally I've found it makes the books more interesting and satisfying to read them in order. Louise Penny is so great at character development that you really see the characters grow and change over time. I wouldn't do it any other way.
Dewayna I started in the middle because of book club choice, but I highly recommend that you read them in order. What happens in the first book sets the scene for the rest of the series. They are incredibly well written with characters yo will grow to love
Kathleen I agree, read them in order!
Ann Allen Yes they should definitely be read in order to get the background of everyone who enters the story line and no accidental spoilers for yourself.
Rita I just picked up this book at Cosco and I did not know it was a series but I still enjoyed it very much. I plan on reading the whole series now.
Candy Gill They are a lot more enjoyable read in order. You get attached to the characters.
Carmen I started with Bury Your Dead and the characters were so endearing and the story was so strong I was convinced to read backwards and forwards from that point in the series. If I started with Book 1 without realizing the characters will grow more complex in later books (I was expecting a cookie-cut character like Poirot or Inspector Lewis!), I might never have read up to Bury Your Dead.
Jessie thank you for all the responses. However, I have long since read all of the series, so no need to continue answering.
Susan
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