Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Mountain O' Books & Series-itis

You might have noticed from my sidebar that I have 4 books going at the moment. A rarity for me, but the non-fiction titles sounded so interesting that I requested them from work and am mainly skimming through them.

I'm also starting Lover Eternal by J.R. Ward, which I just received for review.

Can I just say I'm scared?

Besides the fact that my last batch of review books were dreadful (D, C-, D and B respectively), Lover Eternal is long. OK, so I think any book over 400 pages is long - but this one has a damn glossary of terms in the front. Which says three things to this reader:
  • Lots O' World Building
  • Danger, Danger - series ahead!
  • Potential fangirl hazard!
Seriously, if I don't like this book will some of you be showing up on my doorstep brandishing medeival torture devices?

All I can say is it better stand alone or it doesn't have a prayer.

Lots of grumblings online recently about the proliferation of series in Romance Novel Land. I like to think I have a unique perspective on this, as I haven't been reading romance "all my reading life," and I love series - just not in the romance genre.

In the romance genre I have two series in my keeper stash. Lorraine Heath's excellent Texas trilogy (she needs to leave England - seriously y'all) and The Rock Creek Six series by Lori Handeland and Linda Devlin. Notice anything? Both of these series had defined endings. Heath's was a trilogy and the Rock Creek Six were about six men - hence six books. Finished. Done.

Now I love mystery series. Cannot get enough. In fact, there are a couple of series I read that I should probably stop reading. Instead, I stop buying and borrow a library copy. I enjoy watching the same protagonist over the course of many books change and grow. You can't do that in romance. For one thing you need a happily ever after. No HEA? It ain't romance. And following the same couple over several books? That's a saga. Two totally different genres. For instance, JD Robb would be writing a saga if she dropped the mystery from her books.

So where do romance series lose me? Here we go:

They Try To Hard - Sooner or later you run out of characters, and then the author/publisher tries to milk every dollar. No more siblings? OK, write about their children, grandchildren, former school chum, the butler downstairs, the bitchy next door neighbor.....

It gets more than a bit absurd after a while.

Series-itis - You do not need to have every previous couple show up in the latest book. If they don't do a darn thing to further the current story, they're just annoying and taking up space. Besides, I'm not reading Book 21 to find out about the couple from Book 6. I'm reading Book 21 to read about the Book 21 couple!

Give Me A Damn Ending - Mystery authors have known for years that you can tie up loose ends and still have readers coming back for the next installment. Why romance authors fail at this so miserably I'll never know. Don't leave huge chunks of the plot unanswered! You're essentially manipulating the reader. "Ha ha ha! Want to know if the pyscho killer gets caught? You have to read my next book that will be out in April 2007!" Seriously, nothing yanks my chain faster or harder. I will harp on this to my dying day. And authors - if you do something like this? Pray that I don't get assigned your book for review. I'll call you to the mat. I'm not talking piddly shit. If the protagonist still has an estranged relationship with her mother - that's fine. But the pyscho killer should have been caught. Hey, he can escape from prison in the next book - but his identity should be revealed at the end of book one thankyouverymuch.

Honestly it all comes down to character-driven stories. Series that are character driven (which I think most mystery series are!), keep the reader engaged. If they like the character, they come back for more. Romance series cannot be about the same character because then it wouldn't be a romance (ah, that pesky HEA). So the author relies on plot devices, external conflict, and has to introduce other characters that will keep the series going. Ultimately, these other characters tend to take up too much space, and the romance you want to read about suffers considerably.

But that's just the way I see it. In the meantime, I read the books that sound good to me - series or not. They just better stand alone.


Kristie (J) said...

I am so with you on the need for Heath to get herself back to Texas - where her writing talent belongs. I picked up her latest one the other day, looked at it and thought - "OK now, can I comfortably take this to the checkout without turning beet red, whistling, looking at everything in the store except the (probably) male cashier?" The answer was a nope - can't do it. Just haven't reached that zen place yet!

Tara Marie said...

I'm almost afraid to ask this, but did you read JR Ward's Dark Lover? If not, you may want to before reading Lover Eternal.

I agree with you about "Series-itis". I think a lot of us are hitting burn out with this. I'm almost positive I wont make the end of the Ward series. There are very few series I follow after 3 books.

Heath definitely needs to go back to Texas, but her early Texas stuff.

OMG--Kristie, I can't believe you notice who the check out person is before you buy a book, nothing keeps me from something I want. But, I guess that's the rub, how much did you really want it?

sybil said...

Lots O' World Building - yes

Danger, Danger - series ahead! - yes

Potential fangirl hazard! - oh yes but really pretty much contained I think.

Seriously, if I don't like this book will some of you be showing up on my doorstep brandishing medeival torture devices?

Oh I love the book(s) and think the author is nifty, a lil nutty but nifty. And if you hate the book I will still respect you in the morning ;).

All I can say is it better stand alone or it doesn't have a prayer. - I have never really thought of this. Honestly I think the book would be better if DL is read first but I think DL is a kick ass book. But could it be read alone and still make sense? I think so... very interested to see if it works or not for you as the first. Cuz I am gonna guess you aren't on your way to buy DL right now ;).

I haven't been reading romance "all my reading life," as well but I still like romance genre series books.

I agree with Heath's needing to come back to texas!

I think of you ever time I see 'The Rock Creek Six series' I collected.

Yep I do want the end. That is what finally killed me with SL. When you get to the sisters, cousin's first wife, young daughter finding her HEA... I can't find the desire to give a fuck.

I like HEA. That is my sookie thing right now. I WANT a HEA or hell just pick a guy.

Series-itis - wow if you are reading book 21 you are a better person than me.

Give Me A Damn Ending - YES!

They just better stand alone. - so how often does this work for you with romance because good lord everything is series these days. I find I can skip around really easy and tend to read backward anyways. So am generally ok with starting on book five, falling in love with the characters than buying the first four so they can sit on my shelves.

Leya said...

I was one of those people that took forever to read the Rock Creek series. And now I have all of the books in my collection (in a very special place!). If I find copies at the UBS I buy them and send them off to friends that haven't read the series. I love it, that much!

I admit I haven't read Heath's Texas series, but I've heard wonderful things about it.

One romance series that I loved but then turned sour was Stephanie Laurens' Bar Cynster. I loved the first few books, but by the time the twin sisters books came out I was tired of the family.

I do enjoy Julia Quinn's Bridgerton series and I believe that the last book will be published this year. And I look forward to reading other books written by the author and not particularly part of a series.

Wendy said...

I'm really curious if Quinn will really be done with the Bridgerton's. I wouldn't be half surprised if she starts spinning it off....

I was thinking of Stephanie Laurens when I was talking about never-ending series. Also, Christine Feehan.

These days I'm so burnt I try to avoid series altogether unless the premise sounds really good. But being a reviewer, I can't avoid them entirely (hence getting Lover Eternal!). My hard and fast rule - the book should be enjoyable on it's own merit. If it relies too heavily on the previous (or future) books in the series, the author is losing readers. I think it's easy to forget that not every reader is as savvy as online readers. Period.

I like to tell the story that I once had a library patron who didn't realize that Shannon Drake and Heather Graham were the same person. I mean, doesn't everybody know that?! Apparantly not.

And Heath - I need to pick up the new anthology she's in, because she's back to "real cowboys" in the U.S. She started losing me when she was writing about those British fellows living in Texas. Blah.

sybil said...

Yes you do! Then let me know if it is any good ;).