Sunday, April 18, 2010

TSS: Reading Series

I have a confession to make – I am a series junkie. The only thing better than reading a good book is finding out that there is another book set in the same world, featuring either the same characters or at the very least characters you have met before.

So far this year I have read 52 books. Of those, only 21 have been stand alone. I have started 10 new series, finished 4 series, and I have 5 series where I have read the last book in the series that is available and I am waiting for the next book to be published.

There are some advantages and disadvantages to reading series though and I thought for today's post that I would list some of those using series that I am reading or have read as examples.

So here are the advantages of reading a series

Characters and world that you are familiar with -Once you begin to get to know characters and connect with them and their world, the idea of coming back and seeing what they are up to now is so comforting. For example, Diana Gabaldon writes such door stoppers, and the last couple haven't been as good as they had been previously, but I will always come back to read more about Jamie and Claire from the Outlander series. I can't imagine stopping now. I've invested too much time and emotion to not find out what happens in the end.

Knowing what to expect - Some days you just want a certain type of read. You want to be fairly sure that you will pick up the book and really enjoy the contents. Knowing the characters, the world and the author's style of writing helps with this assurance, especially if there is a long history of consistent quality. For example, with the J D Robb series, the quality of the writing has been very consistent from book one. Yes, some books are better than others, but even the worst J D Robb book is better than many other books I have read.

Character development – although it doesn’t always seem to happen – Stephanie Plum is a perfect example of books that continue to be written without much character development happen. Watching a character move through from one point to the next and seeing their growth can be very satisfying.

Funnily enough it is easier to think of disadvantages than advantages

Waiting for the next book – Some times that wait for the next book seems to take forever, especially when the author has ended the previous book with a cliffhanger as so many of them do. As an example, I can’t remember how many I can’t wait for Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, and I know I am not alone there.

Series not being finished due to contract reasons or worse – The Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson is a classic example of this. I can’t remember where I saw it, but I am sure that I read somewhere that the original plan was that there would be more books in the series than the 3 we ended up with due to his untimely death.
Whilst the book felt finished in terms of an individual story, I guess I was reading with the expectation that the book wasn’t the end, and it certainly felt like there was plenty more to come, but unfortunately it is not to be.

There are also plenty of examples of series where the publishers do not want to continue publishing the series. One of the more notable examples of this recently has been Cynthia Harrod-Eagles Morland Dynasty series. The last book that will be released will be book 34, but the original plan was to continue through for another couple of books. As a reader I would be mightily annoyed if I had invested years reading a series that long and then found out that I wasn’t actually going to read the ending that the author wanted to write.

Authors finishing a series: There are a couple of series that I seriously wonder about whether the author will actually ever finish the series – Yes, Janet Evanovich and Diana Gabaldon I am looking at you! The Outlander series was originally slated to be something like 5 books. Now, every time a book comes out in that series, we also get the accompanying statement which says ‘no, this isn’t the last book’. For Evanovich there doesn’t really seem to be a way for her to finish the Plum series without seriously upsetting a large number of fans. As a cupcake, I am definitely hoping that when the Stephanie Plum series does eventually end, Stephanie Plum will end up with Joe Morelli, but there are plenty of passionate babes out there who would like to see her with Ranger at the end of the series. I guess the other option would be to either have her end up with someone other then either of those two characters, or to have her end up with no-one, but then the danger is that you actually alienate all your fans instead of just some of them.

The whole love triangle thing in a series is problematic in itself. For example, in Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swenson series, Hannah is torn between dentist Norman, and policeman Mike. I haven’t read past the 8th book, mainly because I got bored of Hannah alternating between the two of them. Both of the men apparently felt so strongly about her that they both proposed, but Hannah didn't feel strongly enough about either of them to be able to accept either one, and so the threesome continues. To be fair, I am a long way behind in this series now, so perhaps things have changed. At least I hope so.

Another series that I wonder how it is going to end is J D Robb’s IN Death series but for different reasons. Eve and Roarke are one of my favourite literary couples, but how on earth the author is going to finish the series is something I wonder about, simply because it isn’t likely that murders in New York will suddenly stop in the year 2058. You would also think that there will be a point at some stage where Eve and Roarke may want to become parents and that isn’t really something that I would want to read about, simply because of the type of stories that have been written featuring these characters previously

Reading out of order – I really, really don't like reading a series out of order, and I will do as much as I can to avoid that happening. Sometimes though, it is not necessarily clear in the blurbs on books that it is part of a series, and it is only later that you find out that you haven’t started at the beginning. Some times it really doesn’t matter. Other times it is hard to see how someone who comes to a series part way through can really enjoy the book. Using the Larsson trilogy as an example, coming to the third book, if you hadn’t read the first two books in the series you would be left wondering exactly how it was that Lisbeth Salander started the book in hospital, why was Mikael Blomkvist fighting so hard for her and more.

Reading the last book: Thinking about this is actually one of the things that inspired this post. Sitting on my pile of books not too far away from me is The Endless Forest by Sara Donati. This is a book that I have anticipated for a long time, and yet for some reason there is a sense of apprehension at picking up that last book and knowing that this will be the last time I get to read something new about their lives And so I continue to look at the book, and thinking about reading it, but not quite ready to take that step and actually starting to read it. I think it is harder because Sara Donati is no longer writing and so there is no chance that in the near future there will be a new book from her at all.

This list is by no means extensive. I am sure there are many other pros and cons to reading series. Which ones have I not listed that you think are important? Do you like to read series, or do you prefer standalone novels?


  1. I love series! I just kind of ignore all the disadvantages. My favorite part about them is just spending time in the world and more time with the characters. And they allow for more complex storylines which I adore.

  2. The disadvantages for me are there, but they aren't enough to stop me from reading more or from wanting to start to read more!

  3. I love series as well, although that also keeps me from starting one. I'm afraid to get hooked and thus changing all my reading plans whilst I blow through the series.

  4. I feel like I rarely ever read series or, when I do, I don't finish them! I am not sure why that is. I have finally come to appreciate series with the Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson. I wish he had lived to finish it out!

  5. Ha! I'm a total series reader too. I love finding a world I can keep going back to and characters that I fall in love with. And I'm with ya on The Outlander series. I can't stop reading the books but I'm beginning to wonder when it should end...

  6. I absolutely love reading series...mainly for the reasons you stated. Yes, there are disadvantages...but I think they don't outweigh the advantages. Except the one where the author decides not to write the series anymore and they just stop without an ending. That would be tragic.

    I enjoy Eve and Roarke, Jamie and Claire, and many many more. I have to admit though...I haven't read the Stephanie Plum series yet...but I do have the first one reserved at the library.

  7. I tend to LOVE mystery series! :) I don't read a lot of other series though...I guess some fantasy stuff. But yeah, series books can be SO comforting!

  8. I'm a series junkie, too!!! I love them. I think what I like best is the continuing character development and a larger series plot that gets developed beyond the scope of the individual book/plot.

    I have two preferences about series reading though. One is that the series not go on and on and on and on forever without an end. The exception possibly being J.D. Robb's In Death series. My other preference is that the books not be released more than a year apart, because I tend to lose interest, get distracted, or just plain forget the details of what had me interested with the previous book.

  9. I love reading books in a series, but haven't read many of them since I started to blog. I love The Outlander series, but I also wonder just when the story will end. I find that I agree with just about everything that you have on your list, both the pros and the cons. Wonderful post, you have made me want to dip back into some of the series books I have been neglecting!

  10. Excellent post Marg.

    I agree 100% with you on the Outlander series. Started strong, and the Fiery Cross onward, not so much. I have Snow and Ashes and her last one, but hearing it may not be the last book, turned me off the series.

    I've heard nothing but good things about the Plum series, but I have to start at the beginning. When I don't I feel like I'm missing out on something. Plus I'm a bit anal that way. Sourcebooks reissued the Morland dynasty so that's why I jumped on that.

    As far as stand alones versus series books, I guess it depends. I like both, but if a series goes on too long, it can feel like it repeats to me. In the end, for me, as long as the story is good and keeps my interest, I'll read it.

  11. I love reading series but I have given up on a few when I feel they've become a bit stale. For me the Plum series got old even though I do miss the laughs I always got out of those books. Very funny stuff but I just got tired of the whole Morelli/Ranger thing. Oh and I have got to read a series in order too. I want to know what happens from the beginning :)

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  13. Iliana, I stopped buying the Evanovich books around book 11, but I am still reading them from the library. They are nowhere as good as the early books but I find it incredibly difficult to stop reading a series once I start.

    Jenny, I didn't mind The Fiery Cross, but I think that is because I had just discovered the books so I was just devouring them as quickly as I could. I was a bit disappointed in a Breath of Snow and Ashes. There were some truly amazing moments during the book, but there was an awful lot of filler. The early Plum books are really laugh out loud funny. The series does lose momentum though.

    Zibilee, hope you rediscover a gem amongst your series that you have been neglecting.

    Christine, the gap between books can be a real issue can't it. I know that some people like to reread the previous books in a series before the next one comes out but I am not a rereader at the best of times.

    Eva, I have so many different types of series on the go it's hard to keep track. Haven't read a lot of mysteries other than historical mysteries for a while now.

    Kara, I have such good memories of those early Plum books. At times I was lying in bed literally rolling around laughing. If anyone had of been watching me they would have been wondering what on earth I was on.

    Amy, that is exactly how I feel. Let's cut some of the padding and get to the end. Yes, I will be sad when the series has ended, but at least there will be an end.

    Reviewsbylola, I would love to know what Larsson had planned for Lisbeth for the rest of the series.

    Misfit, I guess the difference between you and me is that I don't tend to blow through a series. I read one book, then request the next book and then wait to read it for a while (usually until the book is due back at the library) and then the cycle continues, so I have probably a 8-10 week gap between each book in a series. Sometimes it is less, and sometimes more.

  14. The thing that I absolutely hate about series (owning them, not reading them) is when they don't match on the bookshelf. For example, when some books are paperback but you don't want the buy the hardcover because they won't match but they hardcover always comes out first and it takes so long for the paperback to be released.
    But the absolute worst is when they suddenly change the format of the covers - MaryJanice Davidson is the prime example that I can think of right away.
    An advantage of reading a series, especially one that is several books in, is that as long as the author is imaginative and capable of creating new circumstances for the characters to be in you know that you're going to enjoy the latest book as much or more-so than the last. At worst, it won't be your favourite but you'll still enjoy it.

  15. Oh yes, the non matching covers are VERY annoying!

  16. I love series too. I do think the biggest disadvantage would have to be waiting for the next book in the series to come out. I've been waiting for George R.R. Martin's "A Dance with Dragons" for the past five years. He is one of the slowest I've seen in getting the next book in the series completed. Another concern for readers with some of these older authors is the author might not actually finish the series before he/she dies. This happened with Robert Jordan's A Wheel of Time series.



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