Before I read this book, the only Heinlein I had read was The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, and I had been singularly unimpressed. All the hype about how great Heinlein was had led me to expect something memorable, and all I'd gotten was a mediocre, confusing adventure. It's too bad nobody had thought to tell me that Heinlein's early stuff was where he'd gotten his reputation from. The Past... is a collection of short stories. Even today, half a century after these works were written, they're still distinguishable as innovative stuff, and they're certainly better than the ponderously self-indulgent Cat.
Many people would rank Dune as one of the top ten SF novels of all time. I'm not one of those people. This is an enjoyable book, with good world-building and interesting themes, yes; but the characters are too inscrutable to seem real, and the plot is full of mystical mumbo-jumbo that only serves to detract from the book. It's a good book, but as far as I'm concerned (and mine certainly is the minority opinion), it's not nearly as good as people think it is.
Despite the titles, these books are not Generic D&D fantasy novels. Hobb (a pen name for Megan Lindholm) has managed to write a series that uses the tropes of epic fantasy, but does not consider itself bound to genre conventions. The books are extremely grim, but full of absorbing characters and original plotlines. This may be the best fantasy trilogy of recent years.
Bridge of Birds is a refreshing change from standard fantasy. Instead of being set in a European milieu, it takes place in "a China that never was." It is by turns both hauntingly beautiful and gently humorous, and wonderfully captures the feel of a Chinese fantasy. The sequels (which are apparently out of print again) are somewhat different in feel from the first book: they read less like folktales, and more like mysteries. Fortunately, they retain the virtues of Bridge of Birds and are superb.