These two series comprise a multi-generational epic set in the same world and dealing with the same characters. Their plots are involved and the characters are interesting; however, they have the unfortunate quality of reading like a soap opera. Enjoyable, fluffy fun, but not great books.
When mainstream writers try their hand at SF, the result is almost always unreadable. They'll take plot devices that have been standard SF fare for decades and expound on them at length, thinking they've invented something new. It was for this reason that I was reluctant to read The Sparrow, despite the good reviews it had gotten. I shouldn't have been so reluctant. Russell barely misses a beat with the science-fictional elements of the story, and brings some freshness into the genre. The novel is about first contact, the theological problem of evil, and it treats these topics with depth and rare sophistication. If only all first novels could be this good.