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Book-Talk Monday: Third Time’s a . . . Dud

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The stand-alone book is becoming more and more unusual. Readers, and therefore publishers, clamor for series—whether it’s a continuing story series (like my Ransome Trilogy) or a series of books interrelated by theme (Debra White Smith’s contemporary re-tellings of Jane Austen’s novels), setting (Susan May Warren’s Deep Haven series), characters (Dee Henderson’s O’Malley series or my contemporary trilogies), an event (my Great Exhibition series), etc.

Most of us who are avid readers either know when we pick up a book that it’s part of a series, or we’re savvy enough to realize when a certain secondary character is given just a little too much attention that they’re being groomed for a sequel/follow-up book. And, frankly, most of us enjoy that. I love it, both as a reader and as a writer. It’s one of the reasons we get drawn into TV series—we become attached to that setting, those characters, that setup. We like consistency. We’re most comfortable with what we know, and in a series, we get the comfort that comes from knowing.

Another reason we like book series is because an author can use each book in a series to drive it toward a big finale. The ultimate mystery that runs through the series. The final battle. The ultimate happy ending. And it’s the anticipation of that kind of ending that keeps us reading a series.

But what happens when the last book in a series is a big letdown?

Five years ago, I was caught up in Harry Potter mania. I’d pre-ordered my book from B&N and went down and spent the evening at the store so that I could get in line at midnight and get my copy of the book the moment it released (well, about forty-five minutes after the moment it released). I rushed home and stayed up most of the night reading. But I’ll admit—I was nervous. I was afraid of being disappointed in the way that Rowling decided to bring the story and the running conflicts in the series to a satisfying conclusion. But I needn’t have worried. I loved it.

Then, in 2009, before the last season of LOST started, I had that same nervousness. And as the season progressed, my nervousness increased. Not only were they not resolving the previous five seasons’ worth of unresolved conflicts, they introduced a bunch of new ones. When the series finale first aired, I had a huge emotional reaction—but I walked away disappointed because they didn’t end it the way I expected/wanted—with every conflict resolved and every question answered. (I’ve later come to appreciate the closure the finale brings to the character arcs, but it still annoys me that they didn’t bother to actually give the answers to most of the questions they’d strung us along with for several years.)

Now, this year, I’ve read two series—totally different in theme/tone from each other—that left me dissatisfied. No, not just dissatisfied; they left me wanting to hurl the third book across the room. (But I didn’t, since I read one on my Kindle and the other was an audiobook and I was listening to it on my iPad.)

Before the first movie released, I wanted to read The Hunger Games. So I “borrowed” it from Amazon (I’m a Prime member). I devoured it in less than two days. It’s one of the three highest-rated books I’ve read so far this year at 4.5 stars (you can see my star-rating matrix here). A month later, when I was eligible to borrow another Amazon book, I downloaded Catching Fire. While I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the first book (review here), I read this one in less than twelve hours and was still excited to see where the series was going. So the next month rolled around and I borrowed the final book in the series, Mockingjay. Unlike the first two books, which I couldn’t put down, I had to make myself pick this one up to read. I was so disappointed with the change in tone and characterization of the first-person narrator, Katniss, that I actually found myself wishing she’d die and that the POV would switch to Peeta or Gale or even Haymitch. I am looking forward to the film adaptation, though, for the very reason that it can’t do what the book did—camp out inside Katniss’s head and give us nothing but page after page of meandering and repetitious angst.

In July, I started reading another trilogy—this time a general-market romance trilogy. The covers are gorgeous, and I’d read stellar reviews of the first book. I downloaded the audiobooks and got started with the first one—and loved it. (Review here.) So much so that I immediately downloaded and started listening to the second book. It was even better! (Review here.) I found myself looking for excuses to listen to it—even just for a few minutes while warming up dinner in the microwave or instead of actually visually reading something else at bedtime. Then the second book ended on a cliffhanger. And wouldn’t you know, I didn’t have any credits at Audible. As a member, I get a discount on the retail price, but I’m accustomed to using the one credit I get each month to “pay” for my audiobooks. But it ended on a cliffhanger. I needed to know what happened next. So, I made the decision not to wait three weeks until I got my next credit and go ahead and buy the audiobook (since it’s relatively new and not yet available in my public library system). And then it happened again . . . I found myself not enjoying the book I’d so highly anticipated. This one for a different reason (review here).

Is the disappointment in a book greater when it’s the last book in a series that we’ve loved up to that point?
In some situations, I think it is. Had I read the third book of the romance series first, I might have enjoyed it more. (Though one of the problems I had with the book was the fact I didn’t like the hero at all.) Had I picked up Mockingjay as a standalone book and tried to read it, I wouldn’t have forced myself to finish it. It represents everything I don’t like about (a) first-person narrative and (b) teen dystopian fiction.

We obviously have higher expectations for a book when it’s part of a series we already love. We become proprietary. We imagine things working out a certain way. We want to savor the same emotions we’ve felt reading the other books in the series. And when a final book in a series doesn’t live up to our expectations, there’s more of a sense of letdown than when it’s a single-title story that we don’t like quite as much as we expected to.

Does being disappointed with the last book in a series taint how you feel about the whole series afterward?
We all know how important first impressions are—but what is it that folks walk away with? What if you have a fabulous meal somewhere, but then the dessert comes. It looks a mess and the pastry chef accidentally substituted salt for sugar and the cream used was starting to sour. No matter how much water you drink, you can’t quite get rid of that salty, sour taste. What will you remember most about that dining experience? Would you go back to that restaurant? Recommend it to friends?

But what if it’s a restaurant you’ve eaten at multiple times—and you have favorite dishes you order each time—but this dessert was new, so you excitedly decided to try it. Will you go back to that restaurant? Recommend it to friends?

It’s the same for me with series. When every book is out and I read them all straight through and I’m disappointed with the last book, I’m more likely to never pick up any books in the series again to re-read. And I’ll probably be wary of that author in the future. When it’s a series I start reading when it first comes out—or when just a few of the books are out—and I have the opportunity to re-read them (sometimes many times) before the last book releases, I’m much more likely to remember the books in the series that I love rather than focusing on my not-so-great reaction to the last one. It’s easier to write that last one off as a fluke.

What about you? How do you feel when the last book in a series is a disappointment?

  1. Monday, September 10, 2012 1:53 am

    Can’t think of a series off the top of my head that disappointed me with just the last book. I tend not to get fully involved in long series (anything over 4 books). I’m not that dedicated of a reader lately.
    Usually it’s a case of liking the first book but subsequent ones not so much. If it’s a trilogy, I may finish it anyway (The Bridefinder by Susan Carroll fit this), but if it’s longer I might just drop the whole thing (Soul Screamers by Rachel Vincent).


  2. Monday, September 10, 2012 1:53 am

    I more often find that the middle book in a trilogy is a disappointment (e.g. I LOVED the first three O’Malley books, and the last book, but the second and third-last were less good). But if the final book is good, at least I’m happy to consider the first in the next series.


  3. Monday, September 10, 2012 11:24 am

    I’ve had it happen different ways. There is one series where I really didn’t like the first book in the series, but the last two were MUCH better. I decided to give the author another chance and I’m glad I did.

    Another series that I just got tired of {and there were too many books in the series} is the Baxter family series by Karen Kingsbury. Her ‘wrap-up’ book of the series came out and truthfully that book {which essentially rehashes the entire 20+ book series} just left me frustrated and irritated with the bulk of her series now.


  4. Rheta Ellis permalink
    Monday, September 10, 2012 12:18 pm

    I had some problems with some books as well, I read the discarded hero’s series by Ronie Kendig and I like all of them except the last.I felt she wrapped it too fast,and she just killed the last person in it to just end the book.I really didn’t like that at all.But I am going to give her another chance with her dog series that she is start.So I will see how it turns out.


    • Monday, September 10, 2012 5:21 pm

      I was very upset about that character’s death too. Cried, in fact. Part of it was contract particulars, which makes it a little easier for me to swallow. Still, I cried because he deserved his own book some day.


      • Sylvia M. permalink
        Tuesday, September 11, 2012 2:21 pm

        Oh, I know! He was my favorite guy out of the entire team. 😦 He was sooo different then the generic, ordinary heroes out of all the other books.


  5. Dora permalink
    Monday, September 10, 2012 2:54 pm

    I generally wish there was another. Sometimes an author has a series and then ends it to son and I want more.


  6. Lady DragonKeeper permalink
    Monday, September 10, 2012 4:25 pm

    This blog post is pretty much exactly how I feel about Ted Dekker’s Circle Quartet. While I didn’t love the books, I thought it was a clever concept and enjoyed it, but then the sequel/prequel “Green” came out and I absolutely hated the end (which I can’t post because it’s a huge spoiler). I wish he never wrote it. There was only way I could reconcile it to the first three books in a way that made it fulfilling as a reader (or for my “personal canon”). I had to place “Green” as the first book and have the series end with “White”. (I heard he has written an alternate ending to “Green” which is in the 4-in-1 omnibus, but I haven’t read that [yet]). I was also following his youth series set in the same world, “The Lost Books” and while I liked the first four books, I was disappointed with the last two books of the series as well.

    The reason why I started reading Ted Dekker’s books was the popularity of them (and the fantasy world aspect appealed to me). I’m not really into suspense and such, so I was never really interested in reading his other works, but since a lot of his books cross paths or intertwine with each other, I would have given them a chance if it weren’t for the let down of the two aforementioned series. I’m hesitant to read another of his novels, even if it’s set in the “Circle” world …


    • Sylvia M. permalink
      Tuesday, September 11, 2012 2:30 pm

      If I ever read prequels that are written after the series I always read them first on re-reads. If I own the series I always place it on my shelf as the first book.


  7. Gloria Williams permalink
    Monday, September 10, 2012 5:31 pm

    I do not want to receive anymore of your emails please……Thank you.



    • Monday, September 10, 2012 5:54 pm

      At the bottom of any e-mail you receive from WordPress, there will be a link that will take you to the page where you can unsubscribe. I cannot do it for you.


  8. Tuesday, September 11, 2012 1:44 am

    Ouch, Kaye. Hugs.


  9. Sylvia M. permalink
    Tuesday, September 11, 2012 2:27 pm

    Speaking of series….ahem… Kaye, have you given any more thought to a book to go alongside the Ransome series about a certain pirate and his Quaker lady from book three? I loved that couple. I know you mentioned the possibility of an e-book. Oh, have you ever seen Angel and the Badman starring John Wayne and Gail Russell? The heroine comes from a Quaker family. It’s such a sweet, but fun film!


    • Tuesday, September 11, 2012 2:32 pm

      I’ll take this moment to admit that I’m currently re-reading Ransome’s Quest, and, yes, it’s still in the back of my mind to write Salvador’s book (and I pitched an entire “next generation” series to Harvest House before I finished writing RQ, but they decided they’d rather go with American West-set historicals instead).


      • Sylvia M. permalink
        Tuesday, September 11, 2012 2:43 pm

        Does Harvest House own the Ransome name? Could you take a next generation series up with another publisher like your current one?

        I’m greatly looking forward to your new series! I didn’t enter the contest because I plan to buy the book when it comes out. I’m currently re-reading North and South and am half-way through. I know the book doesn’t include the Great Exhibition, but it was nice to see a little of it in the mini-series. Are you going to be all fan-girl and sneak Miss Hale and her friends in as “extras” that your characters run in to at the Great Exhibition? LOL!


  10. Sylvia M. permalink
    Tuesday, September 11, 2012 2:36 pm

    The only time I’ve been disappointed is in the third book in the Fletcher Streiker series. I actually didn’t read it. My dad and sister read it and told me about it. There was not point in it, so I just re-read the first two. I have been unhappy when the author has four friends or siblings and they set up the series to be one book featuring each character. You get a fourth book, not about the remaining friend/sibling, but about some random new person who moves to the town.


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