Monday, June 1, 2015

14 Reasons You Should Read the River of Time Series by Lisa T. Bergren

What if you not only fell back through time... but also fell in love?

For Gabi and Lia Betarrini a vacation in Italy is normal. As the daughters of two archaeologists, they've spent every summer in Italy, stuck among rubble of medieval castles and far from any sign of life, technology, or modern conveniences. Bored, the two do the unthinkable: they explore the dig site without permission. Inside the ancient tombs, they discover a way to time-travel and wind-up in 14th century Italy... in the middle of fierce battle.

Jaime: Four years ago, this synopsis caught my eye when my mother brought home a book called Waterfall. This book--and the books to follow in the trilogy and beyond--soon became something more to me than just another YA series, but: my favorite book series. Mixed with time-travel and romance, packed with action and danger at every turn, and breathing with relatable and real characters, the River of Time Series by Lisa T. Bergren has captured me wholeheartedly. Let's just say, I've been swept away by the River. 

I have a confession: I didn't expect to like the River of Time series at first. I came across the series before I was a fan of YA, and I nearly passed it over. It piqued my curiosity enough for me to download the eBook, though. When I first started reading, I expected an average YA novel; nothing spectacular. I've never been so happy to be proven completely wrong. I devoured the first book and quickly downloaded the others. I loved them so much  that I even had to order print copies to hold (and maybe one day get autographed. ;) The River of Time series captured my heart over and over again as I read them. Each time I flip through the novels, I fall in love all over. 

Today, June 1st, is the four year anniversary of the second book, Cascade, in the River of Time Series. In honor of it's release and the series that followed, the She-Wolves, Jaime and Sarah, unite to discuss why we adore this YA fantasy-action-romance series and why we think you should read it too. Since we're traveling to 14th century Italy, we thought we'd give you fourteen reasons to read. (see what we did there? Please, hold your applause for our wittiness.) 

1. Kick-butt and Strong Female Protagonists

When Gabi and Lia arrive in medieval Italy, they soon catch the attention of... well, everybody. They're anomalies to this world. From riding bareback--not sidesaddle--on horses to wielding swords and fighting like men, they shake up the world they've stumbled upon. Throughout the series, they carry themselves with dignity and strength. It's no wonder they are immediately labeled "She-Wolves" by the people. They fight, they love, and they stand up for what they believe no matter the cost. They are perfect literary characters for girls of all ages to learn from and look-up to as examples. It also pleases me that this sister pair are above average in physical height, as I am. Good example of strong, tall, and independent girls who can still fall in love, have spiritual beliefs, and connect with a gentle side as well.

Gabi and Lia are both extraordinary characters, for so many reasons. Whereas most people wouldn't last an hour after being transported to Medieval Italy (I'm talking about myself here), Gabi and Lia are strong enough to not only survive but to ultimately thrive. They're resourceful, skilled, courageous, and loyal. Both sisters are faced with unimaginable difficulties. Instead of waiting for someone to save them, Lia and Gabi refuse to be passive heroines; things don't just happen to these girls. Rather, the sisters are the She-Wolves who make things happen. This is a pair who could change history. Yet despite their awesomeness, they're also very human and vulnerable. They laugh, cry, ache, bleed and love. There are moments when they mess up- sometimes majorly. But they're able to own their mistakes, adapt to their surroundings, and fight for what they believe in and love. Over the course of the series, I felt like I bonded with the Betarrini girls as if they were my long lost sisters. These are the kind of female protagonists YA needs more of.

2. The Knights

Even though the girls don't wait around to be rescued by a knight in shining armor, the stories wouldn't be complete without said knight in shining armor. Or better still, plural: knights in shining armor. It upsets me when a writer seems to choose between strong female characters OR strong male characters. That isn't the case here. The knights of the River of Time series are the perfect balance and match to our She-Wolves. Gabi and Lia arriving in the 14th century gives our leading men a lot to handle, too, but they take it in stride and almost instantly begin to look out for the girls. Even though Gabi and Lia can manage things pretty well, I love how protective the knights are. They are brave, sacrificial, chivalrous, and deeply devoted. These are not your typical YA high school crushes. These are strong, smart. steady men. They may be working through some things, but these guys know themselves and are comfortable in their roles. They don't feel threatened by the She-Wolves, and are good at working as a team instead of taking over. The male leads have such different personalities, that it's hard not to be swept off your feet by at least one guy in this series!

To parallel the strong women in the series, there are also strong men characters. From the swoon-worthy Marcello to his jester best friend, Luca, the men of the River of Time are loyal, brave, and steadfast. They don't back down either and they go above and beyond the danger to protect and save what they love--especially their She-Wolves. The story wouldn't be the same without the knights. Lisa has given great role models of strong men that should be the types of guys we She-Wolves should look for. Don't settle for anything less than a 14th century knight from Italy, right?

3. The Setting: Italy 

As an adventure junkie, I long to travel--anywhere. Italy's been on my "must go" list for a while, but after I read this series, I long to visit even more. Italy is definitely seen as a hot spot for romance--whether it's with a person or simply falling in love with the land. The descriptions that bring this to life are so stunning, I'm afraid when I finally get to Italy I'll be disappointed! Guess, I'll just have to convince Lisa to take all of the She-Wolves someday. *sigh*

Since first grade, my dream has been to travel to Europe. Italy was included on that list, but it didn't quite interest me as much as other destinations. Once I fell into the River of Time, though, Italy truly beckoned to me. Lisa describes it in such a way, that I expect to feel right at home when I do finally arrive. After I closed the final book, I found myself a little homesick for Sienna and even Firenze, dare I admit it! Now if only I could learn to speak some Italian before I get swept off to Castello Forelli. 

4. The Time Period: 14th Century (Middle Ages)

I'm a big lover of history, and the middle ages have always held a special interest to me. There's just something about castles, knights, and armor. While this series doesn't shy away from the more grotesque or uncleanliness of the time, it does reveal some pretty endearing qualities of ancient history (think stronger relationships, elegance, and a greater sanctuary for the world and spiritual beliefs). All in all, the idea that two people can't be together because of seven hundred year age gap is a unique idea from the typical romance problems.

I have a love/hate relationship with the Middle Ages. There was a lot of brutality in that time, and I get itchy just thinking of some of the living conditions. However, it's also a time period I associate heavily with fantasy (I know, that's not history, but it's how my brain works.) There's something intriguing to me about knights and castles. I've read books before that don't do the time period justice. Either too many history facts feel forced into the story, or there isn't enough setting and I forget where I even am. The River books balance perfectly in this sense. I never wondered what century I had been transported to, but the history details never became overbearing, either. So even though I personally wouldn't like to travel to the 14th century, I feel like I've been there through these books.
5. The Genre: A Blend of Action/Adventure, Romance, Historical, and Fantasy

It's difficult to write an action/adventure story. It's also difficult to write romance, historical and fantasy. But to roll all of those together, and to do it brilliantly? That is truly an art, and it's one Lisa Bergren mastered with the River of Time series. She included enough of each element to satisfy fans of that particular genre, but not so much that the books ever feel scattered or unbalanced. Even if you don't like one of those genres, don't let it stop you from picking up this series. I know some readers who aren't big on romance, but still love these books. I've recommended them to people who aren't crazy about action stories, but enjoy the historical and romance aspects.

As I've mentioned before, the series throw together a few genres that give it the unique spin it carries. There's loads of action moments: fighting, blood flinging, chase scenes. There's the romantic scenes: learning to dance, moments oozing with tension, and wonderful, just wonderful, moments of deep gentleness (it makes me wonder how any She-Wolf will settle for "normal" love now). The time-travel aspect introduces a slight bit of magic and fantasy, which helps the story feel more realistic. If they can time-travel, then it makes sense why they can understand the Italian dialect or why people are drawn to them. And of course, the story would be nothing with the historical aspects--the details really of the medieval life and dangers. All together, the series is a perfect blend of the genres; nothing feels off, trite, or unbelievable.

6. The Writing (Descriptions, Story Flow, etc.)

One of the most important reasons why this series worked for me and why the characters, setting, and blend of genres are so memorable is because of the writing. Lisa is brilliant writer in everything she's written. She crafts the story so it flows well, nothing is unbalanced in the scenes and the story arc. The descriptions she provides are gorgeous. Her writing brings the story to life.

As an aspiring writer myself, I can be a little nit-picky about writing styles. Lisa's words cascade so beautifully, though, that my attention was never pulled from the story by a choppy transition or sloppy sentence. She writes in a way that is elegant without being stuffy. Her words are lovely in themselves, and there were passages I wanted to quote. However, her primary purpose is to tell a story and she does that so deftly. Her pacing, details, characterization... All of it flows together seamlessly, spilling out a tale I wanted to keep diving into.

7. Secondary Characters

You know what upsets me? When I read a book and the secondary characters have no depth. I've come across too many background characters who seem to be made of cardboard. There have been moments in reading other books when a secondary character dies, and I can tell it's supposed to be dramatic, but I feel little connection. With Lisa's books, it was the opposite. I continually found myself attached to characters who were not driving forces in the stories. My heart twisted every time someone was lost. Lisa writes every single person in such a way that I can imagine their full stories. As C. S. Lewis once said, "We meet no ordinary people in our lives." The River of Time series rightly reflects that.

While there's a whole cast of primary characters I've come to love, Lisa has the ability to create secondary characters that are just as memorable. From the other knights to the handmaiden to even characters with one or two scenes before they're gone, each character plays an important part. There were characters I barely knew and their deaths shook me up as much as it affected Gabi and Lia. I've read plenty of books where secondary characters come and go without a second thought, but Lisa makes every character important and every character real. And that makes the series all the better.

8. The Strong Sibling Relationships

I'm kind of obsessed with fictional sibling relationships. Every time I read a series or books by the same author, I try to see if there's a sibling theme in the books. Usually I'm disappointed because either the siblings don't have a strong connection or there's no siblings at all. I adore Gabi and Lia's relationship in the River of Time books. I connect well with it because the two sisters remind me of myself and my sister. But even beyond the obvious two sisters--who will do whatever it takes to be reunited--there are other siblings or close familial connections. Marcello dearly loves his older brother, Fortino. They would--and do--anything for each other. Marcello is also close to his cousin and fellow knight, Luca. These two are as close as Batman and Robin, Sam and Frodo, Harry and Ron. I'm grateful for the strong family connections Lisa provided in her books. I think it's an important aspect that is often overlooked, especially in YA.

Family is a strong theme throughout the River of Time series. Gabi and Lia are the best of friends, willing to go any distance or make any sacrifice for each other. Marcello and his older brother, Fortino, share a similar bond, and there are other tight sibling bonds throughout the stories. I loved this aspect because I'm extremely close with my siblings, and I loved reading a book where the characters understood and cherished the importance of that connection. I know not everyone is blessed with such sibling relationships, but it's still heartwarming to see sibling bonds at the center of these stories.

9. Cool and Present Parents in YA

I think it's becoming a universal law that YA parents have to be either negligent and perhaps cruel, or interfering and super uncool... Or just plain dead. So in keeping with the theme of family, I loved seeing the parent relationships in these stories. The parents have quirks, sure, as all parents (and all people in general!) do. But they are also fiercely loving, devoted, clever, understanding and helpful. They share solid advice, give unconditional love, and are just generally fantastic people.

Another overlooked aspect in YA is the presence of parents--and good, strong, cool parents. The River of Time definitely has a pair of strong parents with Gabi and Lia's parents. They are the ones who taught Gabi and Lia how to be strong and stand up for what they believe. They are also the ones who were perfect role models to teach their daughters what a loving, lasting relationship looks like. Plus both parents are solid when it comes to fighting. They are definitely cool (you can read more reason from Sarah and I why we love Mrs. Betarrini here).

10. Back Story

Backstory is a tricky thing. Too much, and the story goes nowhere. Too little, and characters have no grounding. I love how Lisa wrote in the back story for this series. Because of their upbringing, Lia and Gabi are better prepared than most for the 14th century. We get clues of this throughout, and there are similar explanations for other characters to help us understand them. This sort of goes along with what I was saying earlier, about secondary characters, but the way Lisa adds details to hint at people's lives makes them feel far realer. For example, she mentions one of the maids having a little girl, and from that point, the maid's character had a new layer in my mind. The element of back story is never overused in these books, but it exists in exactly the right way, helping to round out all the present events.

As Sarah said, backstory is tricky but it's also necessary in order to see where the characters started and how they became who they are at the start of a series. Lisa does a wonderful job to shape back story to make aspects feel real, believable, and logical. So they time-travel to medieval Italy? Yes, but their whole lives were preparing them to do so. They're parents are super geeky archaelogists that taught they to sword fight, do archery, learn tricks and trades of survival, and speak Italian. Maybe some of the aspects might feel stretched, but overall, it can be accounted to as real because of back story. Plus, all the back stories give more depth into every character and the plot.

11. Inspirational, Not Preachy

These books come from a Christian publishing house, David C. Cook, but they aren't preachy. Yes, there's plenty of mention of God, even some praying, but it's not overly done. The focus of the story isn't about converting to Christianity in a cliche way. It's more about living life with God's presence there. It's about coming to terms with how life works and making the best of it. Gabi isn't sold on the idea of God at first, but the more she lives--really lives--in the past the more she comes to the conclusion God is there. Plus in 14th century, a lot of people attended church, prayed, and read scriptures. It's a setting thing that works well with the 21st century mindset the She-Wolves bring with them from the future.

I read a lot of books from Christian publishing, and I can think of several that seem to have sermons inserted throughout. That isn't close to the case here. Gabi and Lia believe in God, but are very much figuring out their faith for themselves. It isn't the center focus of the series, and there aren't any dramatic conversion moments. Like the rest of the writing, the faith works in naturally. It adds some more depth to the characters and books, but it never comes across as overbearing or stuffy. I felt inspired at moments of reading these stories, but I would also be comfortable handing the series to someone who isn't familiar with or fond of faith-based books.

12. The Author

This series would be nothing without the author, Lisa T. Bergren. Yes, she wrote the series, created the characters, made me fall in love with different places and different times, but her importance in the story is much more than that. She created this series to get her daughters interested in reading books with good female role models, love that isn't based on looks or some weird connections, and the importance of living life. But she also created this series for every single reader out there. A lot of authors interact with their readers, sure, but Lisa was the first one that I saw interact on a different level. At heart, she's just like all of us--a person who loves to read and write. And I connect with that. She's present on social media (facebook, twitter, pinterest, instagram goodreads), and she uses those platforms to talk to her readers. She responds to things sent to her, she encourages reading and asks questions, and she reaches out to her readers not just for support but to support them. There's plenty of reasons she's become my favorite author and this is definitely one of them.

I remember the first time Lisa replied to one of my comments on the series Facebook page. It absolutely made my day that she had taken the time to answer my question. From observing her interactions with other readers, I had already decided she's an awesome person. But after she addressed me directly, I realized how much it truly means to be able to connect with the person behind these stories. Lisa has such a genuine sincerity in all her posts. It's plain how much she truly cares about her readers, and that makes her books even better in my eyes.

13. The River Tribe (the Fandom)

Another great aspect of the series are the She-Wolves. Not Gabi and Lia, the real world She-Wolves: the fans. The River of Time is good, but it's not Hunger Games popular. There are many of us who have read it, gushed about it, and thrown the books at our friends to read, but there's something endearing about being part of the River Tribe. It connects us to others in a different way. I started talking to Sarah because we shared this mutual love for this series. The River Tribe is definitely a special thing to be a part of. We've got a talented group of She-Wolves who contribute awesome things to the fandom: fanart, fanmade trailers and videos, pinterest boards, movie facecasting, and a discussion group on Goodreads. I love being a She-Wolf and part of the River Tribe.

As much as I would love to see the River of Time spread in popularity, I love the smaller size of our fandom. Having a smaller fandom makes finding another fan even more exciting. When I first discovered Jaime's love for the series, it was hard to contain my glee. Even after this post, there's a ton I want to discuss with her about the series. The River tribe takes everything I adore about the books and builds a community upon it. There's so much creativity and support among the She-Wolves. I have never once seen She-Wolves attacking each other, even over different opinions or ships. Whereas the Hunger Games fandom seems to have mini fandoms within it, the River Tribe feels united. We She-Wolves stand together.

14. The Legacy

When I first downloaded Waterfall, I was expecting a fun summer read. Instead, it hooked me on a series that absolutely stole my heart. I'm not sure I can fully explain the impact this series has had on me, but I'll try to give an idea. Firstly, the River of Time series has been a very big influence on the way I tell stories, and my hope is to one day write something even a fraction as wonderful. In a bigger way, this series has helped me through some rough seasons in my life. I don't like change, and I wouldn't describe myself as brave. Of the She-Wolf sisters, I relate more to shyer, gentler Lia, so her journey especially resonated with me. Seeing her rise to the occasion, time and again, even when she didn't think she could, has reminded me that I can do the same. These books have taught me what a She-Wolf is, and invited me to become one. Thinking of myself as a She-Wolf gives my confidence an instant boost. The greatest thing this series has done in my life, though, is reminding me of God's plan. I promise, the books really aren't preachy, but looking back over the stories, Gabi and Lia are able to see why God placed them as He did. There were a ton of ups and downs throughout the plan for Gabi and Lia's lives; there were times they didn't think they would make it. But in the end, God's perfect plan is fulfilled for them. That message gives me hope.

While I know it might be cheesy to say a book changed your life, but I'm going to go and say it: the River of Time Series changed my life. Maybe I won't need to know how to fight battles or stitch up wounds in 14th century, but the books did leave me to think about life, relationships with others, and overall who I am as a person. The books show a lot of tragedy, which grounds me to earth as a mortal human. There's danger and chaos and it makes me think of how much I am blessed with and also how short life can really be. In addition, these books have helped She-Wolves across the world decide things for their life. One girl--as Lisa told everybody--decided to study medieval history in school because of these books. While these books might never reach the popularity of YA bestsellers, they do affect those that do read them. And that's a legacy worth supporting.

Have you dived into the River of Time? If yes, what's your favorite aspects of the series? And if not, what makes you want to pick up a book?


  1. Oh! I saw the title of this post and squealed! I love the ROT series. Some of my very favorite books with some of my favorite characters. I can't wait to dig in to the series again; I've read it twice already. Proud to be in the River Tribe. :)

    1. Awesome :) I love--and I know Sarah does too--when I find someone else who is part of the Tribe :D

      I don't think I could ever re-read this series too many times. I've read it twice as well! :)