Family Ties

familyreunion Judging by what I see on shelves, romance readers love seeing everyone in a family falling over each other to get married. Just about every subgenre seems to have more than its fair share of series about brothers and sisters finding love. I enjoy a good story world, but I have to admit to puzzling over why so many series had to be about sets of siblings. Perhaps it’s because in real life, very few siblings I know fell in love and married one right after the other. Don’t get wrong; I don’t DISLIKE family series. I just never understood the overwhelming popularity.

For myself, if I enjoy entering the author’s world, I really don’t have a strong preference as to what keeps me coming back there. I can enjoy a continuing series about one couple such as those by Tracy Grant, Julia Spencer-Fleming(not genre romance, I know, but they are mighty romantic), and Nancy Gideon. I’ve also enjoyed reading books set in a world involving various groups of friends, such as those in Jo Beverley’s Company of Rogues series. And, of course, I do like some of the families – the Bridgertons are probably one of my favorites. However, it’s the desire to visit that world that draws me in rather than the sibling bond itself.

As I think back through the family series I’ve enjoyed, though, there is something about them that makes them a little different. In addition to creating a world, a good author can create a shared history. Even better, to use my Bridgerton example, that shared family history doesn’t get dumped on the reader all at once, but is doled out bit by bit. This creates an increasing sense of intimacy as one moves deeper into the series. It’s rather like meeting a friend’s family and learning a little bit about them but as one spends time with these friends over the years, the bond deepens and one starts to know the family on a deeper level.

Given that most siblings would have a longer and often deeper shared history than that of other groups, I can see where that history would anchor a reader firmly in a series. Not only does the author have a setting of time and place to use, but the rules of the family dynamics and history also provide a structure within which to build a world. For instance, in her two medieval novels, Carrie Lofty uses her time period and places (1 set in England and 1 in Spain) to create very distinct settings. However, the tumultous relationship between the sisters featured in What a Scoundrel Wants and Scoundrel’s Kiss also governed some of the choices made by the characters and this added an extra layer of depth to the heroines, making the emotional impact of their stories even stronger.

In a poorly written or even merely average series about siblings, the things that make the good books shine can grate on one instead. For instance, instead of feeling a sense of sharing in family history, those cameos in later books that show happy couples, and often their children, can feel contrived rather than warm. I know some are cousins rather than siblings, but more than a few of the great big Cynster reunion scenes I’ve read fall into this category for me. And those childhood memories spoken of by siblings can make the eyes roll, too. I forget which of the many Silhouette romance families I was reading at the time, but the later books were filled with so many down-home Western ranch mishap stories that it just made the characters feel contrived. I remember thinking of one hero that even Lassie would have given up on him after enough falls down the well, times getting trapped in the barn and so on.

Even with the pitfalls, though, a realistic family tie can help create a really good world. It’s kind of fun to read about the sort of families one might want to be friends with or even be a part of. Goodness knows I wouldn’t have minded adopting a few of these for my own!

– Lynn Spencer

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12 Responses to Family Ties

  1. As a writer who uses a lot of siblings to pull everyone together I totally blame Elizabeth Lowell in the best possible way. Her brothers and families made me crazy to read the next book in the series and that a few of the brothers didn’t get stories made me think that I had missed something. Sadly, I just haven’t had the creativity to try and break that mold – but your post is giving me some ideas….

  2. Kim T says:

    Nice piece. I’m definitely drawn to family series more than groups of friends series. However, lately I’ve been getting a little tired of the formula. I was really enjoying Jillian Hunter’s Boscastle series and then just wasn’t and put them aside. Some of my favorite family series are some of the most popular: Bridgertons, Hathaways and friends, Effingtons and friends, Cynsters and Enoch’s Griffin series. And, of course, Deveraux’s Montgomery/Taggert saga and many of Nora Roberts’s series (the two Irish trilogies were great) There’s something comforting in knowing exactly what you’re going to get in a series and family series usually introduce the siblings/cousins up front and you see their characters develop over the course of the books. Your point about how the shared history and stronger familial relationship strengthens the appeal of the family series is very true. Some authors are really good at bringing out the humor and the affection in the family settings. Plus, as in most series, you get to look forward to a particular characters book, for better or worse. Leo in Kleypas’s Hathaway series, was a phenomenal character, especially in the earlier books.

    On the other hand, I cannot stand the loosely connected series, especially the stupid bachelor clubs and the silly spy rings. The only ones I’ll excuse are the Company of Rogues, because they’re well done and the Lauren Willig series because it’s clever and different. Drawing male friendships is really a difficult task and few romance authors excel at it and those that do, Brockmann and Ward for instance, often eventually descend into silliness.

    For some reason I don’t find the female version’s of the bachelor/single ladies clubs as annoying…Eloisa James’s “Duchesses”, Candice Hern and Sophia Nash’s widows, etc. I think, obviously, many female authors can draw on personal experience to portray their “girlfriend” relationships.

    Then there are the series that defy characterization…the Liz Carlyle’s of the world. I’ve loved every book she’s written, but the way her books are connected is so frustrating. I have to read series in order and I look to have a clear memory of where I’ve been and where I’m going. And I’ll never be able to figure out the interconnected families in these books!

    Now I’m just rambling…but I would definitely be interested in an AAR list of “famous” family series, maybe in the Special Titles (excuse me if there’s already one…haven’t looked lately). Or maybe you could do a poll of favorite romance series of all time?!

  3. Sheila Dawson says:

    My favourite books are historical ones and I like series, I really do. However, the stand alone book is a rare commodity.
    I HAVE to read the books in a series in order and sometimes end up re-reading just to remind myself what the heck happened in the previous book. Considering how many book there are unread in Mt TBR this is frustrating.
    So, I hear what you are saying about siblings and friends but I want a list of single titles that I can just pick up without worrying about previous books or futures ones, either.
    Maybe I should post on the message boards asking for recommends..
    Anyone else tired of endless series?

  4. LeeB. says:

    “I remember thinking of one hero that even Lassie would have given up on him after enough falls down the well, times getting trapped in the barn and so on.”

    I love it!!!!

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  6. Pat says:

    Isn’t the reason for the sibling stories what Molly said? Publishers want series. What’s more natural than siblings on which to base a series? Julia Quinn’s Bridgertons and Mary Balogh’s Bedwyns were the ones that got me hooked on family series. (And Slightly Dangerous is still my number one DIK!)

    In fact I’m currently reading a family series by Vicki Lewis Thompson, the Chance family siblings.

  7. I do know of readers who have dropped out of reading romance, when they didn’t want to, because of the unending supply of unending series. I may be the odd duck here, but I prefer a standalone novel, and while I’m not saying no series ever, it would be nice to have a one and done option, so to speak. With series that all take place within one generation, the family homestead can get very crowded, very fast. My favorite sort of linked books is the generational saga, and I would be interested in seeing more of those, though my first love will always be a book that is complete unto itself.

  8. Xina says:

    I like familyseries for the most part, but I think it is only fair to the consumer to make the books stand-alone.I hate to be lost in book 3 and feel I have to buy 1 and 2 just to make sense of it.

  9. Victoria S says:

    I LOVE family series books. I like the idea that there are more books coming, from an author I really like, about characters I am familiar with. I know, not all books within a series are created equal, and I have several series that are missing books because I thought a particular book within that series was just awful. And yes, I am also anal enough to HAVE to read series books in order.But ,from Nora Roberts, to Mary Balogh to Julia Quinn to Amanda Ashley, I still gravitate towards a good family historic series book. I like the thrill of discovering a new-to-me author’s series, and yes, I will stop reading a series until I have them all, just so I can read them in the right order.
    Due to the influence of this site, I have branched out to series book, NOT about families that I enjoy also. The Stephanie Plum books, Ava Gray’s “Skin” series, Tracy Grant’s Colin and Melanie Fraser, Laura lee Guhrke’s “Girl Bachelor” series immediately come to mind. I think I like continuity, and of course being a greedy reader, I like to think that there are more books soon coming for me to enjoy.

  10. snail says:

    I’m not crazy about the sibling series. I find it strains credibility, for example, to read about 8 siblings who all end up in blissfully happy marriages. I find myself distracted from the story at times thinking “really, not even one of the 8 ends up in even a mediocre marriage”.

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