The Dilemma of Reviewing Books in a Series

book stack Three years ago I was very vocal when another reviewer here at AAR reviewed a highly anticipated book without having read the previous books, stating how can a reviewer judge a book if they don’t know the characters’ history and conflicts. I still think it is important and my preferred way of reading a book, being able to start a series with the very first book is becoming more and more difficult. While I really want to break out a little from my preferred genres of women’s fiction, contemporary, and chick lit to read more science fiction and fantasy – genres that incorporate a lot of worldbuilding – I am stymied because so many of the interesting-sounding books I find end up being mid-series books. Is it unreasonable to expect a series book to stand on its own? I feel ambivalent about that. I don’t think I should have to read an author’s whole backlist to enjoy a book, but I have also seen the amount of anticipation that certain authors build over five or six books. Is there really a right answer? I asked fellow reviewers Maggie and Pat to share their opinions as we discuss this debatable topic.
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What a Pain

manHaving had major surgery a few weeks ago, I was a little disconcerted when my next two review books featured protagonists in pain. I was immediately struck by the realization that physical pain is something that many authors don’t portray realistically at all.

We all know the cliché: Hero is shot, stabbed, beaten up, whatever, and his immediate thoughts turn to sex. Sex?! Having just been sliced open under the best sterile surgical conditions, I can say without a doubt that sex was the last thing on my mind. Adding a pain killer like the norco I’m taking doesn’t change my mind at all. General oral pain killers, it seems to me, mask the pain as long as you don’t probe the wound, but don’t totally kill it. You need a shot near the wound site for that.

But Victoria Dahl’s cowboy hero Cole in Close Enough to Touch, recuperating from having a horse fall on him and suffering from a broken tibia and pelvis is ready to roll at the drop of a hat. And does.

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What’s Your Dream Reaction?

crying-womanSo it was a half hour before my husband got home from work, and I was sitting in the living room sobbing. Huge tears running down my face. You know the expression, I’m so happy I could cry?  I was. Both.

He walked in and like many men was immediately concerned and wondering what to do. When he’d left home that morning, he’d left a wife who was cheerfully reading her review book and ready to embark on a number of non-threatening chores: Go to the grocery store, return books to the library, nothing that should make someone cry.

What he didn’t know is that I’d just finished reading the review book and was feeling, no actually wallowing in the moment.

This is a luxury for a book reviewer. Finishing a book for a reviewer often means immediately writing a review and then starting to read the next book in the review pile. Pausing means thinking about what to say in the review, not usually letting the moment linger.

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eReading Survey

The must-have device for readers these days seems to be an e-reader whether Kindle, Nook, Sony, BeBook, or other dedicated reader. For those who want to do more than simply read on a device, there are always computer screens, tablet computers, netbooks, and more.

To test how up to date you are on eReading, I’ve come up with a little multiple choice quiz. (I’m a former teacher. Testing’s in my blood.) The answers come from the recent PEW Report on E-Readers published in April 2012. (The questions use PEW wording so that the results stay true.)

What percentage of Americans have read an eBook?

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A Slow Books Addendum

cloudsI just read an article from The Atlantic online called A Slow-Books Manifesto and wanted to add my addendum to it.

Writer Maura Kelly refers to The Slow-Book Movement whose “sole purpose is to reawaken modern society to the pleasures of slowing down to read, and savor, good literature.”

And there, we have the problem. What’s “good literature”? Slow-book movement founder Alexander Olchowski says he knows, although it looks as if he only knows that his own book is worthy. But the idea of slowing down to read a book instead of going to a movie or watching television while it isn’t new is valid. The idea that the only book worth reading is “good literature” isn’t.

Let’s skip the arguments by feminists and racial groups that the Literary Canon is too male-dominated and go to the heart of the matter: What makes a book worthy of the title “literature”?

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The Cupcake Craze

cupcakeWhat is it about over-priced, calorie-laden, exotic cupcakes that has everyone in such a twitter?  I don’t get it. I particularly don’t get it when a friend was telling me that she bought cupcakes for her daughter’s class at school and thought she had a bargain because they didn’t cost over $100. Fifteen cupcakes for under $100? Is that really a bargain these days?

Then I started getting review books that featured cupcake bakers who find love through exotic ingredients and piles of frosting.

First I read Cupcake Rush by Donna Kauffman, and while I understood the minimalist approach of baking small goodies rather than a huge cake, I didn’t really buy that an upscale New York baker would chuck it all to become a cupcake specialist in a downscale Southern seaside town. But I didn’t think much about the cupcake angle.

Then the avalanche of cupcake books landed on me:

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Keeping It Real

becauseI hadn’t realized until this week what a liar I was about romance books.  If anyone asked what kind of romances I like best, I would have said those that transport me away to somewhere I haven’t been in either time or place.

Then I read three books in a row that convinced me I was lying to myself.

  • Because of You by Jessica Scott looks at love in the setting of today’s military between a wounded sergeant and a nurse. In many ways it reminds me of Cheryl Reavis’ The Older Woman, another in my personal AAR Top 100 list, except with buddies for the nurse and soldier instead of a grandmotherly landlady as charming peripheral characters.  Like The Older Woman, Because of You explores war wounds and breast cancer, two of today’s hot spots, and like the other book isn’t an easy read. It reminded me all too vividly of visits I made to my cousin Jerry in a VA hospital after he returned from the Vietnam War as a paraplegic. Instead of taking me away from reality, it brought all the memories and feelings back to me.
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Pandora’s Box: Deliciously Sinful

sinfulTake one plucky orphaned heroine assuming the family business; add one bad boy who’s hiding his romantic heart; mix with food, food, food; and a large dollop of sex, sex, sex.  We’ve seen it before, but somehow, while we hope these everyday ingredients will produce a culinary masterpiece, we more often get tepid leftovers.

In Deliciously Sinful by Lillie Feisty, Phoebe is spread too thin trying to run both her organic farming business and the family’s organic restaurant The Green Leaf Cafe. Since she can’t cook, in order to maintain the café’s sterling reputation she hires down-on his luck Nick Avalon.  Nick plans on staying a year, then bolt back to L.A. to reclaim the fame and recognition his talents demand.

Leigh: As a fan of Pandora’s Box, whenever I can I try to convince another reviewer to join me. After reading Deliciously Sinful I immediately thought of you, Pat.  Thanks for joining me. So what did you think?

Pat: Since I’ve read your reviews and often thought we have the same reading likes and dislikes, I was surprised you thought I might like this one.  What was it about this book you thought would appeal to me?

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The Game of Love: Romance, Authors, and Casual Games

Mamlambo reported that in 2004 “at the annual Game Developers Conference in San Jose, California, three top game designers were given a challenge – to architect a game with a love story.”  Not surprisingly, the three whose stock in trade revolves around guns and mayhem had a difficult time doing so.

In fact, “Ultima producer Warren Spector struggled to come up with a love story game premise that did not involve giving the characters a gun. After a lot of research on the nature and physiology of love, he came to the conclusion that a true love story was impossible to develop.”

Obviously Spector doesn’t know how to use Google because games surrounding love and some based on romance books not only exist but are bought and played by casual gamers. Most are hidden object or puzzle games in which players not only don’t have a gun but also don’t need one to complete their objectives.

Norah Roberts’ Vision in White may have been the first of the romance author-generated games. In it the player aids Connecticut wedding photographer Mackensie find love—just like the plot in Roberts’ 2009 best-selling book.

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Casting the AAR Top Ten Romance Novels

ioanIn 2010 readers voted on their Top 100 favorite romance novels. Some of these have been made and remade into films, but many of the top 10 haven’t. Isn’t it time to give Hollywood a nudge and help the powers that be to cast the crucial roles in our favorites?

That’s today’s game: Cast the Top Ten.  Let’s start from number ten and work our way to the top. I’ll explain my picks, but the real question is whom you would cast in your favorite book.  In case you’ve forgotten who’s who in the books, there’s a link to the AAR reviews to jog your memory. And the actors’ names are linked to their IMDB pages.

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