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Reading Book Series

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I’m going to put this out there… I LOVE READING SERIES! I always have.  Series are comforting for many reasons… They are familiar. Once you have read one book, you know the key players, the rules, and the world, and you get to return time and time again. They tend to have complex and engaging story arcs. Multiple books allow for the development of fabulous story lines. There is plenty of space and time to create something wonderful. You can never have too much of a good thing. Let’s face it – if it works, don’t fix it! I don’t mean that an author should write the same story over and over, but if the formula and the mythology works, I want to read more.
My love for reading series started back in my youth when I was obsessed with series like Trixie Belden and The Three Investigators.  I loved to collect books in a series, and I HAD to read the books in order… start with book #1 and then #2, etc. Even with those earlier books, where each book was basically a stand alone read, if the books were numbered, I read them in that order.
This habit has continued now that I’m an avid Paranormal Romance (PNR) and Urban Fantasy (UF) reader. When I first re-started my love for reading in October 2008, my dear friends recommended series like Black Dagger Brotherhood and Dark Hunters.  It was nice because there were multiple books in the series available and I could devour them back-to-back. And my order-obsession stayed in tact. I’d buy all of the books in a series at once –  including the novellas that were found in anthologies.  I created spreadsheets for each series I read so that I would know the reading order, the main characters and plot lines.  Yes. I’m a bit OC when it comes to reading series.
But recently that has changed… I have started to receive books directly from various publishers for review purposes. This is a great honor and very exciting. I am being exposed to books that I probably wouldn’t have picked up to read otherwise.  However, many of these books are in the middle of established series. 
I recently read and reviewed 3 different books – all within established series: Ghost Town (Morganville Vampires #9), Magic at the Gate (Allie Beckstrom #5) and The Taming of the Wolf (Westfield Brothers #4 – review to come).  Before I picked up the books, I would ask the publisher if I could read as a “stand alone” story, and the response was always “yes.” But of course it has to be – even though an author may write the books in a specific order, I can’t imagine any other or publisher making the books completely unreadable unless you have read the whole series – how would they attract new readers/fans?
So as I received these books, I had mixed reactions to jumping into a series, but for the sake of my blog and exposing myself to more books, I gave it a try. In the case of Ghost Town, I wanted to go back and read the earlier books, but felt I was well prepared in my reading.  As for Magic at the Gate, I enjoyed the book, but felt it would have been more meaningful if I had read the earlier stories.  The Taming of the Wolf, is pretty much a stand alone book (and I had help from A Buckeye Girl Reads with the backstory!)
So this really got me thinking… Since I don’t have the time to go back and play “catch up” when I receive a book to review (that is in the middle of a series), should I still review it?  As I move forward with my blog and writing reviews, I look to you for feedback…
From authors… Do you have any concerns or issues with a reviewer that reads and reviews a book from the middle of your series without having read the earlier books?
From other reviewers – do you ever do this? Has it caused problems?
From readers – are my reviews helpful to you if I haven’t read the whole series?
Thanks for your time!! Happy reading!

  • I am very anal about reading the series in order, and so far, I’ve managed to do just that. I love the backstory, and sometimes I think you need it. I believe I couldn’t have enjoyed the Psy-Changeling story unless I had started with Slave to Sensation and carried it through.

    Great post Jen!

  • I boldly claim that my books are equally enjoyable whether read in order or not. However, I’ve just received some proof editor’s queries for the 5th in a series and found myself muttering ‘You’d know that if you’d read the series’. It was a wake-up call for me. All books in a series *must* be able to be read and enjoyed on their own merit.

    I have no problem with reviewers or readers reading a book from the middle of a series. The responsibility, in my opinion, is with the author to make sure the books are good enough to stand alone and – hopefully – tempt the reader to check out earlier books in the series.

    Great post!

  • I used to only read books in order, but the same thing happened to me..I would get a book for a review and it would be in the middle of a series.

    If it is a book that interests me, I try to read it. Sometimes I have to put it down because I have no idea what is going on – but a lot of authors get you up to date in the beginning of the book. I think UF is harder to start in the middle..but PNR or contem, with a focus on a new H/H each book is easy to jump into.

  • I’m torn on this issue. When I got The Taming of the Wolf, I’d only read book one in that series. I pushed myself to read books 2 and 3 in that series so I’d be ok with reading book 4. I wish I hadn’t because I didn’t enjoy books 2 and 3 as much as I could’ve if I had just read them after I read The Taming of the Wolf.

    The Virgo in me makes it really hard for me to read series out of order. I used to not care-but now I’m anal, and don’t except review books that are number 4 or 5 in a series and I haven’t read them. I’m weird that way.

  • That should be accept. I really shouldn’t type before I’ve had my morning coffee.

  • I don’t write PN or UF, but in my historical series I write each book as a stand-alone. I have recurring characters, but you don’t need to read past books to enjoy individual titles. You might enjoy going back to read about the characters in previous books, but it’s not necessary to do so in order to understand what’s going on in the latest book. I work very hard to make that happen.

    That’s my writer hat.

    ::Putting on reader hat:: I love, love, love series! And I must read them in order. I don’t care if it’s not necessary. I recently stopped partway into a book when I realized that I had somehow missed one in the series. I went back, got the missing book, read it, and then went back to the one I’d been reading. Did it matter? Not really. But I’m still glad I did it.

  • Oh, man…I LOVE series. Love them. Like you, once I’m immersed in a world, I want to stay there. It’s why I love movies like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, TV shows/movies like Star Trek. My favorite books are from series (Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, for example.)

    I think books in some series can be more easily read alone if there isn’t a big, overarching connection. Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunter series is easily read out of order or from starting in the middle (I read them from all over the place and have never been lost, anyway.)

    As an author, I have to admit, although I try to make sure each book can be read by itself…I’m not sure I always succeed. My first three Demonica books are pretty stand-alone, even with the Gem/Kynan arc, but by book 4, I think there was so much backstory that I was nervous for reviewers who were starting there.

    Same thing happened with the ACRO books — I think the first 4 are fairly stand-alone, but 5 and 6? Maybe not as much, even though we tried.

    Great questions!!!

  • Thanks for the feedback everyone!

    I love how many of you describe yourself as “anal” when it comes to reading books – I use the same word to describe myself, but purposely tried to avoid it when writing my post – glad you all used it anyhow!

    @Stacy: I agree 100% and in general I think series are more gratifying if you read all the books – the emotional investment of the characters leads to a better read down the road in book #3, 4, 5, etc. But as a reader – if I reviewed say book #5 of the Psy-Changeling series w/out having read the first 4, would you still give validation to the review?

    @Shirley: Excellent points! Thanks!

    @Mandi: I agree! UF series are not as easy to jump into. I found that with MAGIC AT THE GATE. Although I enjoyed the book, I felt like emotionally I was missing something. PLUS – book #4 was left with a big cliffhanger (segway to your current blog post!), so when I started book #5, I jumped into the “fire” so to speak.

    @Buckeye Girl: Good to know. I am trying to decide if I should continue to read/review these “middle of the series” books.

    @Samantha: I’ve done the same thing!

    @Larissa: I agree with your comments about your own series! But as someone who has read them all, when I write a review for say book #5 of ACRO, I tell people that the series is so good and the emotional satisfaction greater that they *should* go back and start with book #1. (Although, with ACRO, the Creed/Annika and Dev storylines are my favs and would suffer if you didn’t read from book #1.)

  • great topic

    I anal about series too and want to give my book my entire thoughts but coming into a series , you miss some of the magic of the first book.But that being said I have read the barrons/fever out of order and that was okay..

  • I think it depends on the series. When you start to get into books 5-8 — or when I do anyway — I feel like the main/core characters are solid and you know them and their quirks.

    For Sydney Croft’s ACRO series, picking up at say book 4 wouldn’t be a real issue because that book starts a “new” series with characters you’re getting to know as the book moves forward. The same goes for Lydia Dare’s The Taming of the Wolf.

    Great question!

  • First off-LOVE TRIXIE BELDEN-but you knew that. Still pushing for someone to pick it up when they are adults. lol I want Trixie and Jim to have an HEA.
    I love a good series. I am a reader who hates to let go of her characters so when an author presents me with a series I’m all over it. I have started in the middle before and depending on how I connect in that book I may go back and read the ones before it. Usually I do. I have an easier time doing it with contempts, historicals, and Sus Rom though. If it’s PNR or UF I either get the ones before hand to read really quick first or turn down the review. Like Feehan, Kenyon, or Singh.
    The characters are solidly fixed and reading in the middle is really just going to throw you off.

  • I love reading series! Trixie Belden was the first series I ever got into and I still miss it. 🙂

    As a reader, I refuse to read a series out of order. Maybe it’s my OCD tendencies or maybe I’m just weird like that, but I can’t read a series out of order. As a reviewer…. actually, I’m the same way for both. I hate feeling lost, and even if a book is “okay as a standalone”, I always feel like I missed something big and that irritates the hell out of me.

  • I really try to read a series in order, its very important to me to start at the ‘beginning’. But sometimes you can’t get the the first book, or you don’t know its a series until after you’ve read book 2 or 3. I did that with SEPs Chicago Stars series, I accidentally started with book 5, but once I found out it was a series I went to book 1. I feel like you I LOVE series, they are so comforting to me, I love spending time with all of the characters and getting to know them more thru each book in the series.Even tho most of the books in the series that I have read are ‘stand alone’ there are ‘plot points’ that are revealed from earlier books, so I would much rather read start from book 1 when I can

  • I am seriously anal and OCD about reading a series in order. Reading it out of order is not an option for me even if the book can be read as a “stand alone”. I recently received a book for review that was book 2 in a series. I promptly went out and bought book 1. LOL! IMO series aren’t meant to be read as stand alones because of the back story and possible re-occuring characters. I don’t think I’d accept a review request for a book that’s book 4 or higher in a series if I haven’t read books 1-3. My OCD won’t let me. Hahaha!!!

  • I think if the author has done a good job, each book should be able to stand alone. Obviously, you’ll miss some items that may make the current book more meaningful if you had read the previous books, but you should still be able to understand what’s going on and why characters are acting a certain way. I think authors with long running series should consider writing each book as if it is a stand-alone since so much time usually passes between the first book and the current book. Not everyone has time to go back to read all the books, and those of us who have been with the series since the beginning may have awful memories (i.e. me).

    I prefer to read a series in order, but I’ve also read several series out of order (both series with different main characters and series with same main character throughout). And sometimes there’s a book in a series that I may not care for (main character, plot) and I don’t want to spend time on. I’ve also read only one book from a series (finding no appeal reading the others despite enjoying that one book).

    So, after all this rambling, I think you should review a book even if it’s in the middle of the series. That way readers new to the series will know any issues they may encounter. Those are followers of the series will probably read the book regardless of your rating, but they’ll still get a good feel of what works and doesn’t work in the book.

  • Although I pretty much agree with a lot of what has been previously posted, I two pet peeves when reading series. First, how about we stop with the current trend of cliffhangers? Unless a sequel will be published in a relatively short period of time (like some Orbit books-w/in 3-6 months), I feel that cliffhangers are a bit of a cheat. Trust me, if the book is good, we’ll be back for more.

    Second, and I think this has already been expressed, when the series will be more than a du- or tri-logy, it should either be as self-contained as possible, or have some sort of character/relationship/’Up to now’ guide.

    I absolutely live off series, and there’s nothing like finding a new one.

  • Jen, thank you for a very interesting topic. I’ve been reader, reviewer, and selector for awards lists, and trust me, those selection committees agonize over whether or not to put “series” books on the list. As it has been said before in your comments section (and much more eloquently), if it stands alone, it can work.
    But may I ask about a different side of the equation? What if you are already a fan of the series? Does it skew your review? Do you then judge the book easier or harder than someone who is brand new to the series? Should reviewers not only mention whether or not they’ve read the review without reading its predecessors, but should reviewers also mention if they are prior fans? Does it matter?
    Sometimes I’m cautious about reading a book because I don’t want to get into a new series; it can be a big commitment. I held off reading the Demonica series for a while because I didn’t want to OD on paranormal romance, but but my friend had the whole series (a reasonable 5 in number) and I whipped [heh heh] through them like crazy and loved them.
    Keep up the discussion – and I loved Trixie Belden as a kid!

  • @Julie, @Hanson, @Tori, @Mama, @Andrea, @Marq, @Eva, @Jazz: Thanks for the comments. It’s interesting to see which series different people are “okay” with reading out of order – it varies for everyone. And while my OC didn’t want me to jump in the middle of a series, I did for the sake of the review.

    @Macphail… Great points! I do, in fact, let readers know when I have reviewed a book with which I have a long history (and have read others in the series). Many times I will specifically say that the emotional impact of the story was heightened b/c of my history or that it may be good as a stand alone, but better b/c I’ve read them all. And in one case, I even gave a book two different ratings – one as a stand alone and one for those that have read the series.

    Thank you everyone for your comments. I think at this time, I will continue to read/review the books as I get them – to include mid-series books. As long as my reviews are meaningful/helpful to people that visit my blog, then I’m happy!

  • Your reviews are always meaningful and helpful, Jen. 🙂
    The fact that you ask these questions shows how considerate a reviewer you are. I heart that you tell where you stand in relation to the book that you’re reviewing and even try to look at it from a different perspective every now and then (like with the two ratings for one book).
    Great post!

  • I’m a bit late joining the discussion but I thought I’d comment anyway :o)

    I love reading series, love the fact that you get to know the world you’re in & usually get glimpses of what previous characters are up to now.

    I won’t read a series out of order. I only did that once (& that was by mistake) when I piced up book 5 in the Walker Papers series by C.E. Murphy. Although I enjoyed the book I know I’ve picked up major spoilers for previous books and there were a few things that didn’t make much sense as I was missing too much background info. That was my own fault for starting it without realising it was book 5 though. It made it very difficult to review the book because I know I’d have enjoyed it even more if I knew the full back story.

    I will accept review books for later books in a series if the books appeal to me. I only do it on the understanding that I will have to read the earlier books first though. The library comes in handy for earlier books if you’re not sure how much you’ll love a series or if it’s something I’ve been wanting to read I’ll buy the earlier books first.

    Never again will I read a series out of order, just because that’s what I prefer :o) It’s so nice to know that others feel the same as I do!

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