Audiobook Review: Maisie Dobbs

Maisie DobbsWhen we first meet Maisie Dobbs, it is 1929, and she is opening up her London office for the very first time. Maisie, a young woman of about 30, is going into business as a private investigator, thanks to the tutelage of her mentor, Maurice Blanche, and the sponsorship of her patroness, Lady Rowan.

Maisie is an extremely intelligent woman, reserved by nature, strikingly attractive — and it’s immediately apparent that this is a person who has been hurt deeply in her lifetime. That doesn’t stop Maisie, though. She is more than ready when her first client walks through her door, hiring her to investigate his wife’s long afternoons away from home and to determine if she’s being unfaithful.

What Maisie discovers is not infidelity, but yet another lost soul still bearing the wounds of the Great War that ended ten years earlier. As Maisie pursues the trail of clues, her memories of her own wartime experiences come flooding back, demanding to be faced after all this time.

Maisie Dobbs is constructed around a mystery — who is the man whose grave the client’s wife cries over, and why does his gravestone list only his first name? The solution to this case leads Maisie back into the world of wounded soldiers and the terrible sacrifices and pain suffered by those who made it back home.

At the heart of the book lies Maisie’s own story. As her investigation begins to relate to the war, the center third of the book shifts scene and time and takes us back to Maisie’s teen years, when she works as a housemaid in Lady Rowan’s home. Maisie’s eagerness to learn leads her to an education sponsored by Lady Rowan, eventually entering college at Cambridge before the harsh reality of war causes her to change path.

Maisie abandons her college studies and enrolls in nursing school, ultimately training as a battlefield nurse and getting sent to a field hospital on the frontlines in France. I won’t go into too much detail, other than to say that Maisie’s experiences there lead to a tragic loss that has haunted her ever since. And in investigating the case of the soldier’s grave, Maisie is finally forced into confronting her sad, painful history.

I picked up this book not knowing what to expect. I had heard of the Maisie Dobbs series, and thought this first book would be a more or less straightforward detective story. What really impressed me about Maisie Dobbs is how deep and layered the story is. While Maisie is indeed an investigator, the setting and the time period are gateways into an examination of the horrors and tragedies of the terrible losses suffered during World War I — and the ongoing pain and suffering experienced by those who came home to face a lifetime of disfigurement and isolation.

Through Maisie’s thoughts, we come to feel the terrible depth of the tragedy as experienced on a very personal level, and yet there’s also hope. While Maisie carries emotional wounds that will always be with her, she’s also creating a new life in a new era, using her brains and her inner strength to face life on her own terms.

The audiobook narrator, Rita Barrington, does a lovely job of capturing Maisie’s inner dialogue, as well as voicing the people in her life. She does an excellent older, aristocratic voice for Lady Rowan, and a cheeky, working class voice for Maisie’s assistant Billy. Even while narrating conversations between multiple characters, it wasn’t hard to follow or to figure out who was talking at any given time. I liked the clarity and sweetness of Maisie’s voice, and the gentleness with which she speaks to all, especially to wounded soldiers and others in need of her care.

According to Goodreads, there are 11 Maisie Dobbs novels currently in print, with a 12th scheduled for release in 2016. I don’t really know where the series will go from here: Will it be a more traditional mystery series, with a new case forming the focal point of each book? Will Maisie’s connections to the war continue to inform the storylines? I suppose I could read the synopses of the next few books in the series, but really, I’d rather just wait and find out for myself.

I’m quite sure that I’ll continue with this series, which has such a well-written start in this first book. The emotional depths of this novel make it an affecting and throught-provoking read. There’s something about WWI fiction that is utterly compelling and tragic, and I found myself very much enthralled by the character of Maisie Dobbs and her fascinating life. Hearing the voices of Maisie and the other characters, as portrayed in the audiobook, made the experience even richer, and I look forward to listening to the 2nd book as soon as possible.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Maisie Dobbs
Author: Jacqueline Winspear
Narrator: Rita Barrington
Publisher: Penguin
Publication date: January 1, 2003
Audiobook length: 10 hours, 1 minute
Printed book length: 309 pages
Genre: Historical fiction; crime/mystery series
Source: Audible

Wishlist Wednesday

Welcome to Wishlist Wednesday!

The concept is to post about one book from our wish lists that we can’t wait to read. Want to play? Here’s how:

  • Follow Pen to Paper as host of the meme.
  • Do a post about one book from your wishlist and why you want to read it.
  • Add your blog to the linky at the bottom of the post at Pen to Paper.
  • Put a link back to Pen to Paper somewhere in your post.
  • Visit the other blogs and enjoy!

My Wishlist Wednesday book is:

  The Monstrumologist (The Monstrumologist, #1)

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

From Goodreads:

These are the secrets I have kept. This is the trust I never betrayed. But he is dead now and has been for more than forty years, the one who gave me his trust, the one for whom I kept these secrets. The one who saved me . . . and the one who cursed me.

So starts the diary of Will Henry, orphaned assistant to Dr. Pellinore Warthorpe, a man with a most unusual specialty: monstrumology, the study of monsters. In his time with the doctor, Will has met many a mysterious late-night visitor, and seen things he never imagined were real. But when a grave robber comes calling in the middle of the night with a gruesome find, he brings with him their most deadly case yet.

A gothic tour de force that explores the darkest heart of man and monster and asks the question: When does man become the very thing he hunts?

Why do I want to read this?

I just finished reading The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey a few days ago, and I’m still catching my breath! This suspenseful book about an alien invasion is one of my favorites so far in 2013, and I loved it so much that I want to read more by this author.

I actually picked up a copy of The Monstrumologist last year, when I was trying to catch up on some of the Printz award winners and honor books.* I’ve been hesitant to start any new series, particularly ongoing series — but as it turns out, the fourth and final book in The Monstrumologist series comes out this fall, so I think it’s time to jump in!

Have you read The Monstrumologist? What did you think?

*The Michael L. Printz award list has got to be one of my favorite resources. I’ve encountered so many great books thanks to this list! If you haven’t given it a look before, check it out here.

So what are you doing on Thursdays and Fridays? Come join me for my regular weekly features, Thursday Quotables and Flashback Friday! You can find out more here — come share the book love!

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Series I’d Like To Start (But Haven’t Yet)

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is:

Top Ten Series I’d Like To Start But Haven’t Yet

This week’s topic is a bit problematic for me for two reasons:

1) One of my chief resolutions for 2013 was a NO NEW SERIES rule. Basically, I vowed not to start any more new series unless a) the series is by one of my “auto-buy” authors, b) the series is already completed written, or c) the series is still underway but the final volume has a release date.

2) Putting aside my issues from #1, how can I possibly narrow my list down to just ten choices? If I were to start naming series that I’d like to read, I could go on all day! (See, that’s why I made my resolution which — dammit it all — I’m doing my best to keep.) As you’ll see below, this is such a substantial problem that… I went all the way to 20 (and there are still more I could add). There’s just no stopping me now!

Here we go: A whole bunch of series (definitely more than 10) that I’d like to read — but haven’t started yet:

1) The Beka Cooper series by Tamora Pierce:  This trilogy — Terrier, Bloodhound, and Mastiff — is set in the land of Tortall about 200 years before the events in the excellent girl-power Song of the Lioness quartet. I’ve enjoyed the Tamora Pierce books that I’ve read, but my daughter is a huge fan, and has been after me to read the Beka Cooper books for a while now. This trilogy is complete, so I could read this and still keep my reading resolution. Very tempting!

2) Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery: I was a total bookworm as a child (okay, not just as a child), but somehow, I managed to completely miss out on these books. I know a lot about them, but I’ve never actually read a single one. Maybe I’ll stock up and take the first few volumes with me on my next vacation. I feel like I should read these books in a beautiful setting.

3) The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons: I only recently heard of this series via my online book group, but it seems as though everyone loves it. Historical fiction set in Russia, before, during, and after World War II; it sounds intense, long, romantic, and quite engrossing.

4) Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde: I realize that I am totally remiss in never having read these books. The first, The Eyre Affair, is one of my choices for my 2013 TBR Pile Challenge, so I swear I’ll get to it this year!

5) The Colonial Trilogy by Kate Grenville: The three books in this trilogy — The Secret River, The Lieutenant, and Sarah Thornhill — are historical novels that chronicle early generations of white settlers in Australia. I love reading about Australia’s history, and I’ve heard such great things about these books and this author. I really hope to get to these soon!

6) The Dark Tower series by Stephen King: I’m including this series even though I have, in fact, started it. Last year, I finally picked up The Gunslinger, devoured it, and immediately read books 2 and 3. I loved what I’d read and yet — despite having a copy of the 4th book, Wizard and Glass, on my shelf and ready to go — for some reason I just wasn’t in the mood. And still haven’t gotten into the mood. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why I’ve stalled out on this series, but I do intend to get back to it and see it through. I suppose I’m including it on this list as a reminder to myself that starting a series isn’t enough — must finish reading!

7) The Eden Moore series by Cherie Priest: Comprised of three books — Four and Twenty Blackbirds, Wings to the Kingdom, and Not Flesh Nor Feathers, this trilogy sounds ghostly and spooky and overall terrific, with a Southern gothic atmosophere and simply amazing covers. I actually own these books! Just haven’t read them yet…

8) The Frontier Magic trilogy by Patricia Wrede: From what I understand, this is a series set in a magical world that has a wild west flavor to it. I’ve heard good things, and the final book came out in 2012, so it fits my series-reading requirements.

And moving on, a whole bunch of science fiction/fantasy series that I’m either dying to read… or feel like I really ought to read:

9) The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss: Everybody — and I do mean everybody — insists that I need to read this amazing series NOW. To which I reply, tell me when book three has a release date, and then we’ll talk. Seriously, I know this is supposed to be outstanding, but I just can’t start one more series without knowing when it’ll wrap up.

10) The Oxford Time Travel series by Connie Willis: Four novels and a short story. Lots of awards and accolades. I know I must read these! Plus, this series includes one of my favorite book titles, To Say Nothing of the Dog.

11) The Promethean Age by Elizabeth Bear: Fantastic premise, in which our world and the world of Faerie exist side by side, with historical settings and figures mixed in with the magical realms.

12) Riverworld by Philip José Farmer: I have a certain friend who pretty much yells at me every time I admit that I still haven’t read these books, despite his constant reminders that this series is the be-all and end-all. Don’t tell him I haven’t started yet.

13) The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan: Now that the final book has been published, I’m out of excuses.

14) Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card: No excuses, must read.

15) The Company series by Kage Baker: I’ve heard so many wonderful things about these books. Gotta get ’em, gotta read ’em.

16) The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula Le Guin: See my comments about Ender’s Game. Same applies here.

17) Narnia by C. S. Lewis: I’ve read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, but have never gone farther in the series.

18) Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler: I’ve read and loved several Octavia Butler books, but so far haven’t read any of her science fiction works. She’s an amazing writer, but her subject matter is usually pretty harsh, so I may need to gear up for this series.

And finally, two graphic novel series that I absolutely want to read, but which are so vast that I find the idea of starting them completely daunting:

19) The Sandman series by Neil Gaiman

20) The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman

Okay, so I definitely went a bit overboard with this week’s theme. Have you read any of the series on my top 10 (20) list? Where do you think I should start? And which series are you just dying to read?

A modest proposal: My cure for sequel-phobia

I would like to make a proposal that could revolutionize reading and solve a serious problem facing today’s bookworms.

A brief aside: No, I’m not suggesting an approach on the magnitude of curing the common cold, solving the Middle East crisis, or ending world hunger. But believe me, I can’t be the only reader out there plagued by this issue.

The issue is this: In a world with so many books to read, how is a devoted reader supposed to keep plots and characters straight when a year or more elapses between publication of volumes in a series? I typically read 100+ books in a year. I don’t care how much I loved book 1; if a year goes by before book 2 is available, there’s a really good chance I won’t remember how the first book ended.

It’s not that I don’t care (usually) or that my memory is getting a bit shabby (well, let’s assume that’s not the case). Just think about how many other book plots I’ve followed in the intervening year, how many other characters’ lives I’ve become enmeshed in. How can I possibly pick up where I left off a year ago with no loss of detail? And if I don’t remember all the details, how can I possibly care about what happens next? As a result, one of three scenarios is likely. One, I will read the book anyway, remember just enough to get by, and hope to figure out whatever I’ve forgotten as I move along. Two, I start the book, realize I don’t remember enough of the storyline to really enjoy it, and walk away. Or three, since it’s been a year, I realize that I’m no longer interested in finding out what happens next, and don’t even bother starting book 2.

I’m sure none of these outcomes are what the publisher or author is hoping for.

My solution? Hey, here’s where all my hours of TV viewing prove useful. You know how each episode of your favorite one hour drama starts off with a “Previously on…” segment, giving a brief recap of the major plot points that have already happened so you can start the new episode with the relevant details fresh in your mind? Well, why not provide something like that in books in a series? Wouldn’t it be helpful to have a “previously” page when you pick up book 2? It could be a one-page cheat sheet, a bullet-pointed list of what you need to know, what happened at the end of the previous book, and what the unresolved issues are.

Take, for example, The Cat In The Hat Comes Back. You don’t remember what happened in The Cat In The Hat? Well, a previously page included in book 2 could identify:

  • A boy and his sister were left along in a house for the day.
  • A mischievous cat came along and entertained them, but trashed the house.
  • Drama ensued when the children’s mother appeared about to enter the house.
  • The cat saved the day by cleaning everything up at the last minute.
  • The cat promised to return another time for more fun.
  • The children’s mother had no idea that anything unusual had occurred during her absence.

See? Now we’re all ready for book two. (Silly example, I know, but you get the point).

I had a fortunate experience with a very gracious author recently. When the 2nd book in her most recent series was released, I realized that I couldn’t remember exactly what had happened to each character at the end of the first book. I figured, it’s better to ask than not to read the book at all, so I sent a message to the author via Goodreads asking if she had a synopsis available anywhere on her website so I could refresh my memory. She sent me quite a lovely response, with a list (bullet-pointed!) of about 15 major facts to know from the conclusion of the 1st book. She also pointed out that she’s gotten that same question from a  lot of readers (so Ha! it’s not just me) and that she should really find a way to put something online — with big, huge spoiler alerts plastered all over it — so that returning readers could access the information if they wanted. Because she sent me this information, I picked up book 2, was able to jump back in to the story without feeling at a loss, and ended up not only enjoying the book, but very much looking forward to book 3.

I could name several series that I’ve started but haven’t continued, and it’s largely due to the same issue: Too much time has gone by and the story from the first book is no longer fresh in my mind. Granted, for my favorite authors and series, I’ll always re-read the previous book because I don’t want to lose a single detail. Examples that come to mind are Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy, and the Harry Potter series. But in most other cases, my mantra of “so many books, so little time” holds true. I’m just not going to spend time re-reading a book unless I absolutely loved it. And so, in most cases, my sequel-phobia kicks in, and the odds of my sticking with a series are not that great.

So come on! Wouldn’t you love a “previously” page in all your sequels and series? Would having an easy reference like that make you more invested? Would it make you more likely to continue with a story that you read over a year ago?

Listen, what do the publishers have to lose? A few people who maybe would have started the series at book 1 but now figure they’ll just jump in at #2? Seems unlikely. But by providing easily accessible “previously” pages for ongoing series, there’s a lot to gain — namely, returning readers who can reinvest in a series and carry on without feeling disconnected or losing interest altogether.

Book Review: Because It Is My Blood

Book Review: Because It Is My Blood by Gabrielle Zevin

Because It Is My Blood, book 2 in the Birthright series which began in All These Things I’ve Done, continues the story of Anya Balanchine, 17-year-old heiress to the Balanchine Chocolate empire. Unfortunately for Anya, in New York in the year 2083, chocolate and caffeine are illegal under the laws of the Second Prohibition. As a result, the Balanchines are a notorious organized crime family, and as the daughter of the murdered head of the family business, Anya is a prime target for both internecine bloodshed and for the law enforcement agents eager to make a big splash in the press.

On top of all this, Anya must worry about protecting both her genius younger sister and her mentally-impaired older brother — not to mention the more typical teenage worries of boyfriends, best friends, and high school graduation. The fact that Anya is a convicted criminal who has served prison time complicates matters tremendously, and when she is re-jailed on trumped-up charges, an escape seems to be the only answer.

Because It Is My Blood is a serviceable second book, moving the plot along at a mostly fast pace, although several of Anya’s sojourns along the way seem to drag a bit. The heart of the story is somewhat lacking in this installment. All These Things I’ve Done was propelled forward not only by the crime family plotline but by a compelling “star-crossed lovers” romance between Anya and the son of the New York District Attorney. This romance still features in the second book, but doesn’t carry the sense of excitement and passion present in the first. In fact, that sums up the problem that I had with Because It Is My Blood. The book often reads as a recitation of facts and events — jailbreaks, deaths real and faked, meetings with lawyers, meetings with Balanchine family members and associates — but without a sense of burning passion driving the story forward.

This is not to say that Because It Is My Blood isn’t fun to read. I got a real kick out of the familiar New York landmarks reimagined in the setting of a deteriorating city with meager resources and ample crime. The popular nightclub Little Egypt is housed in what was once a museum (i.e., The Metropolitan Museum of Art), and a vacant mess of a property with weird lion statues out front (i.e., The New York Public Library) is described as a place where they used to keep paper books in the old days. Anya is amused by the old-fashioned slang of her grandmother (OMG, for example), and there’s a film festival showing ancient movies including one where a lady crosses a river on a horse (which I can only assume is a reference to Lord of the Rings). Little details like these make the story accessible and bring to life both the setting and the era in ways both entertaining and relatable.

By the end of Because It Is My Blood, the stage has been set for what I believe will be an exciting third installment in the trilogy. Anya has made key decisions and is about to take a bold new step that will impact all the people around her and will have dramatic impact on the family business as well as on the New York political world. The developments are quite promising, and the storyline is left hanging with a tremendous amount of potential for a satisfying conclusion to the series.

As a young adult trilogy, the Birthright series has a lot going for it: a smart, strong female protagonist, an unusual premise that breaks from the ubiquitous dystopian model saturating the YA market, and a clear-eyed look at a girl who has to balance love, family, honor, and her own sense of purpose. Because It Is My Blood is not a stand-along novel, and you wouldn’t want to jump into the series with it. But if this type of story appeals to you, I’d definitely recommend giving the series a try, starting with All These Things I’ve Done. The writing is fresh, funny, and appealing, the characters are not run-of-the-mill YA teens… and who can resist a book about chocolate?

Note: I have two other book 2s in the works this week, and may actually be back with a few astute observations when I’m done. Middle children never have it easy, do they?

Book Review: The Raven Boys

Book Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Boys, book 1 in the new series The Raven Cycle, is the recent release by Maggie Stiefvater, highly praised author of The Scorpio Races and the best-selling series The Wolves of Mercy Falls. At least one unanswered question arises from reading this book: What exactly is a cycle? Is it different from a trilogy or a series? If there are two books in the cycle, would it be a bicycle? Inquiring minds want to know.

I’m a bit stumped by how to review this book, so I’ll just be blunt. It’s not good. I don’t even know where to begin enumerating all the many problems contained within its 408 pages.

Let’s start with the book’s focus — or lack of one. The dustjacket and promotional materials seem to cast Blue Sargent as the main character. Blue is certainly a main character, but there are a few others as well, none of whom exactly clamor for center stage. So, Blue — Blue is the 17-year-old daughter of a psychic who lives in a house full of female psychics. There’s a definite crunchy-granola-earth mother vibe going on there. Blue is not psychic herself, but she acts as a sort of amplifier — when she’s in contact with a psychic or a spirit, all powers are magnified, and the communication between mundane and spirit is clearer and louder. Blue has been told all her life that she’ll kill her true love with her first kiss (cheerful, right?), so she decided early on that there will be no kissing in her life. Easier said than done when you’re seventeen and suddenly have lots of very close, very attractive male friends.

Then there are the boys — the raven boys — who attend the ultra-exclusive Aglionby Academy, a prep school haven for the sons of the extremely, obscenely rich. As a rule, they are privileged, pampered, rude to locals, and self-absorbed. Blue crosses paths with the close-knit group formed by best friends Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah when they come to her mother for a reading. The boys, we discover early on, are engaged in a quest, spear-headed by Gansey but with the involvement of all, to track the ley lines that run through their small Virginia town. Ley lines are focal lines of magical energy, and Gansey’s quest (which apparently he’s been pursuing all over the globe for the last several years, despite the fact that he’s only 17 years old) is to wake up the local ley line as a means of finding Glendower, an ancient king of Wales. Glendower’s bones were possibly transported to the New World centuries earlier and reburied somewhere mysterious… but he’s not really dead, just sleeping. Whoever wakes Glendower will be granted a favor, and each of the raven boys has his own reason for wanting – make that needing – this favor.

Does this make any sense? I read the book, and I’m still confused.

All of this business about ley lines and Glendower comes off as mystical mumbo-jumbo. Gansey is supposed to be a brilliant, manically inspired seeker dedicated to a higher cause, but his character never clicked for me. The quest itself is a muddle. Magical stuff happens, none of it very coherent. Blue gets involved, and there’s a lot of running around seeking the energy focal point, but mostly the plot just jumps from action to riddle to more action to… I don’t even know.

Stereotypes abound. Gansey is the spoiled son of a very wealthy family (he’s got a III at the end of his name, so you know he’s pure country club material). He shows his individuality by insisting upon driving a classic Camaro that’s always breaking down rather than taking one of his father’s pristine high-end vehicles. Ronan is the one with an edge, battling with his older brother, cutting classes, sporting a dangerous tattoo and shaved head — the brilliant loose cannon who must be controlled by his friends in order to avoid expulsion. Adam is the poor local kid, literally trailer park trash, who gets a scholarship to Aglionby as part of his own personal quest to escape the poverty and abuse he faces at home, but too proud to accept any help from his wealthy friends who truly love him. And then there’s Noah, whose circumstances are bizarrely told and, to me anyway, entirely unbelievable.

Blue herself is an enigma. We know that she likes to stand out as a weird girl, but we never see her go to school or talk to a single friend. Does she have any friends? Who knows?

I was at least 100 pages into the book before I could keep the boys straight. They all seemed rather indistinguishable, frankly. Blue’s connection with they boys seemed rushed — but then again, that ‘s my overall impression of the entire book. Rushed, messy, not very well thought-out, and with sentence structure issues that just cry out for a good copy editor… perhaps the goal was just to lay the foundation for the rest of the series, but even so, a first book in a series should be stellar.

I’ve actually read all of the author’s previous works, and have found them rather hit-or-miss. I didn’t care for her faerie books (Lament and Ballad), but I enjoyed the wolf books, particularly Shiver, the first in the trilogy. I also liked The Scorpio Races quite a bit, although with reservations about certain plot points. What I liked best about both Shiver and The Scorpio Races was the author’s use of language to create a mood. Shiver is simply permeated by a sense of tragic longing; you can feel the cold air, sense the loneliness of the winter months, feel the main character’s yearning for the wild unknown represented by the wolves. Likewise, in The Scorpio Races, the writing itself evokes life on a small, windswept island with few options and almost no way out; the effect is practically hypnotic, and lends the book much of its strength and grace.

Here in The Raven Boys, that powerful language conveying atmosphere and mood is missing. What’s left is a plot that’s far from compelling. Perhaps The Raven Cycle will improve and the story will start cohering in the subsequent books. I guess I’ll never know; this is one series that I don’t plan to continue reading.

Book Review: Deadlocked (Sookie Stackhouse, #12)

Book Review: Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris

Oh, Sookie. I think it’s time to say good-bye. Twelve books in, the Southern Vampire series has run its course and then some.

Things I know after reading Deadlocked:

– where Sookie shops for groceries
– how she likes to dry her hair
– whether or not she shaves her legs each day
– how much thought she puts into what she wears
– how she makes sweet potato pie
– that she applies make-up more heavily on days when she’s feeling down…

I could go on and on… which is what Charlaine Harris does in this book. Endless, endless detail about the minutiae of Sookie’s life. If only we were spared even a few of her countless showers, this book would have been a lot shorter.

Not to say that there aren’t plot developments — but not really enough of them, or ones weighty enough to sustain an entire novel. Clearly, the author is trying to spin out the story until we get the final book in 2013. However, I do feel that Deadlocked, with a bit of pruning and editing, could have encompassed a good wrap-up and spared us the year of waiting we’ll now have until the next book comes out.

So what do we get? A mystery that’s not very mysterious, a bunch of werewolf drama, fae intrigue and plotting, a random phone call from an ex-lover, and some very slow-moving changes in Sookie and Eric’s relationship. That’s about it. If I understand the end correctly (and I think I do), then the stage is set for what I’ve believed for some time will be the series finale and Sookie’s happily ever after. I won’t go into detail, because that would be a bit spoilerific. I guess I’ll have to wait a year to find out if I’m right.

Sookie, it’s been a fun ride, but I won’t be sorry to see your story brought to a conclusion, at long last. It’s really time.

Now what?

The problem with catching up on a series… is eventually, you’re all caught up.

If you’ve followed my blog at all in the last few weeks, you’ll know that my obsession du jour is the Fables series of graphic novels (by Bill Willingham). I’ve been devouring these non-stop, to the exclusion of pretty much everything else on my bookshelves. Last night, I finished volume 17 — which was my goal for the week — and suddenly, I’m done. I’ve preordered volume 18, but it’s not due to be published until next January. It’s going to be a long, cold wait.

If I’m hooked, I’m hooked, and despite knowing that sooner or later the fun will end, there’s no stopping me until I’ve reached the end of whatever series I’m reading.*  Not a problem if the entire series has already been published, as was the case when I read Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series a couple of years ago.

*A major exception to my normal series reading behavior is The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. I’d been meaning to read it for years; finally started the series earlier this year, read the first three books and thought they were terrific, took the fourth one off my shelf and placed in prime reading position on my nightstand… and there it still sits. I don’t know why, but I just lost the spark, I guess. I’m sure I’ll return to that world eventually, but for now, I’m just not feeling it.

In 2011, my series obsession was A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin. I read the available five books over the course of a few months, and now I have to wait, like everyone else. If I had been one of his devoted fans waiting six years for the publication of the fifth book, A Dance With Dragons, I might have gotten a bit antsy myself. Not to the extent of the angry bloggers who want the author to “finish the damn book, George!”, but still… (Side note: It seems to me that publicly venting your anger at the author whose work you adore might not be the best display of fan-like behavior. It’s his book! Let the man write at whatever pace works for him. The next book will be amazing, I promise!).

In 2010, there was nothing but Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series for me. I read the seven books in the series straight through, several thousand pages worth. And then came the sad day when I finished Echo in the Bone (cliffhangers galore!), and had to face the fact that there was nothing else to read about Claire and Jamie!

For some of my beloved series, there are spin-offs and side works available. For Fables, there’s a Jack of Fables series, although I never cared that much for the Jack character, so I’ll pass on a series devoted to him. However, I’m sure I will pick up some of the stand-alones to keep me in the Fables world between now and next January.

For A Song of Ice and Fire, I’m afraid it’ll be a long, long time before we see book six, The Winds of Winter. We’re talking years here. No publication date has been announced yet, but it’s a good bet that by the time Winter finally arrives, I’ll have forgotten everything that’s happened already, as well as all of my arcane knowledge of house sigils and bannermen, and will have to do some major re-reads.

Diana Gabaldon is busily working on book eight, Written In My Own Heart’s Blood, and has estimated publication for early 2013, according to the author’s website. In the interim, since finishing Echo, I’ve read the spin-off Lord John series (enjoyed quite a lot, but didn’t love…) as well as the various short stories set in the Outlander world. Diana posts excerpts from her work in progress on a more or less daily basis on Facebook, so at least we faithful followers get regular doses and snippets of the characters we love.

So now what? I suppose it’s all for the best, really. Now that I’m out of Fables, I can start digging through my to-read pile, and plan to enjoy novel after novel, especially those that start and end within the covers of a single volume. Or at least until the next shiny series comes along. I can’t be held responsible for what happens then.

Series mania! Or, the five stages of reading a series.

I’ve realized that my obsessive reading habits can occasionally be problematic, enough so that I think a little acknowledgement of my own personal five stages of series reading is in order.

Quick example: Last spring, eagerly anticipating HBO’s debut of the first season of “Game of Thrones”, I decided to read A Game of Thrones (I love how the “A” is what distinguishes the book from the TV show) ahead of time to see what all the fuss was about. I raced my way through it (on a family vacation, accompanied by loud complaints from my son that I was reading when I should be in the pool or playing air hockey), and fell deeply in love with the world of Westeros. I then made the calm and measured decision to wait until after the season finale on HBO to read the next book in the series, so as to appreciate the TV drama without spoilers for the future. Fair enough… but my resolution didn’t last. When loading up my Kindle for a two-week trip in early June, it seemed that A Clash of Kings would make perfect travel reading, and off I went — quite determined that I’d stop after that one. After all, George R. R. Martin hadn’t even finished the series yet, and from what I’d heard, it would be years before the seventh volume would see the light of day. No problem. Except… I’d bought books 3 and 4 at a used book sale a few weeks earlier, and when I came back from my trip, there they were on my shelf, mocking me, calling my name, daring me to crack their covers. I knew I was a goner. Sure, I had a good rationalization for breaking my resolve: Book 5, A Dance With Dragons, was due out in July, and wouldn’t it make sense to read the other books, be ready for the new one, and then stop? Needless to say, my book gobbling immediately encompassed A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance With Dragons. After which, I came up for air, looked around, and thought — now what? Now I just have to wait, along with legions of GRRM fans, for however many years it takes until a new book is released. Meanwhile, that’s thousands of pages of his novels read over the space of about a month and a half, while ignoring everything else on my shelves.

Not that I didn’t enjoy it. But my experiences with A Song of Ice and Fire do illustrate my worst tendencies when it comes to my reading habits.

Time and time again, I innocently read the first one or two volumes in a series, thinking I’ll take breaks in between, read other stuff, make the series last. Inevitably, though, once I get into it, it’s full speed ahead, no turning back, no distractions, until I get through to the very last page of the very last installment, at which point I am absolutely bereft.

I’ve analyzed my series mania thusly:

Stage 1 – Denial: I can start this series and stop after one book. I don’t have to keep reading it. I’m in control.

Stage 2 – Bargaining: Okay, the first book ended with a cliffhanger, so I’ll read just one more, I swear, and then I’ll stop.

Stage 3 – Anger: Stop looking at me funny because all I can talk about is this book series! I do too have a life! Don’t criticize me!

Stage 4 – Depression: There are thousands of books waiting to be read, and I’m stuck here reading this enormous series. There’s nothing I can do about it. Life will be meaningless unless I finish.

Stage 5 – Acceptance: Big sigh. This is when I finally face facts, and admit to myself, in my heart of hearts, that nothing else will satisfy me, that I am, in fact, enjoying the series immensely, and that reading through to the end is a choice, not something I’ve been forced to do. I accept it!

Now let me keep reading.

 

 

 

 

Another series? Spare me!

Do you remember this terrific Sesame Street song?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnoJwfnzmqA

“Every story has a beginning, middle, and an end…”

Words to live by… except nowadays, when just about every other book I pick up is part of a series. Seriously? Whatever happened to starting and ending a story within the covers of a single book?

It’s frustrating beyond words, especially when you don’t know what you’re getting into from the outset. I remember picking up a copy of The Hunger Games when it first came out, and wondering, as I approached the end, how the author could possibly wrap things up with so few pages left to go. The answer, of course, is that she didn’t. Yes, I’ve since read and loved the entire trilogy, but I wish I’d read the reviews more carefully ahead of time so I wouldn’t have been taken by surprise. Same thing happened to me just a couple of years ago when I read Haters by David Moody. I absolutely had no idea that the story wasn’t complete in one book until I saw those dreaded words on the last page: “to be continued”.

Why so many series, trilogies, sequels? One cynical answer is that there’s more money to be made from three books than one. I especially wonder when I look at the young adult fiction shelves: does every story need so many parts? Or is this an after-effect of the Twilight phenomenon, which proved that teens (and adults) will get hooked on a story and then buy more, more, and more?

And then there are the series that just never seem to end. Charlaine Harris has announced that next year’s Sookie Stackhouse novel will be the last… but in my opinion, this is a series that passed its sell-by date a few years ago. Whether the blame lies with the publisher, the marketing team, the agents, or someone else entirely, it’s hard to see the stretching out of this series as anything other than good business sense. You’d be hard-pressed to claim that these books still have much to offer in terms of plot or character development; in fact, in the most recent few installments, I firmly believe that if the author had cut all the pages devoted to Sookie’s daily beauty routines, we might have been able to condense it all into one decent book instead of three or four mediocre ones.

Even when the writing is excellent and I’m immediately engrossed in the plot, it’s the year or so of waiting in between installments that really drives me nuts. And at my “advanced” age, who knows if I’ll even remember what happened in book one by the time book two comes out?

My new resolution, which I’m trying to keep without too much waffling, is to begin a new series only if I know that the entire series has already been published. A friend had been after me to read Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series for quite some time, knowing how much I enjoy the Dresden Files books. I resisted and resisted – “I don’t need another series in my life!!” – but when I heard that the sixth and final book had been released, I started from #1 and read all the way through the series, barely coming up for breath in between. And you know what? It was fantastic! I enjoyed the books, and I loved being able to follow the characters along their varied trajectories in a seamless journey, without losing the thread of the plotlines due to the long intervals in the publishing schedule.

The same friend has been urging me to read Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. I’m sure I’ll love the books… but for now, I’ve declined my friend’s entreaties. My response so far: “Tell me when there’s a publication date for the third book in the trilogy, and then we can talk.”

Not to say that I don’t have series that I faithfully follow and adore. Give me a never-ending supply of Outlander novels by Diana Gabaldon, and I’ll be happy as a clam. (So what if Claire and Jamie are in their 90s? I bet they’ll still be one hot couple!) Likewise, I’ll wait as long as it takes until George R. R. Martin publishes books six and seven in the amazing A Song of Ice and Fire series.

But picking up a new series at this point? I think I’ll pass. Give me a beginning, middle, and an end, all in one tidy volume, and I’m yours.