I actually posted a little bit of my thoughts on companion novels in my review for Boomerang, which is the first in a series of companion novels from Noelle August, also known as the pseudonym for Veronica Rossi and Lorin Oberweger:
The sad thing, though, is that when I like one of them [new adult novel], I'm usually under the impression that the book is a stand-alone, only to find out later that it's the first in a series of companion novels -- and I usually don't like the "sequels" nearly as much.There was some interest in this topic, so April and I decided to make a discussion post out of it after all. As one does.
I kind of have a love-hate relationship with companion novels. I should probably write up a discussion post about the topic since I have a lot to say on the matter. Anyway, the reason I mention this is because going in to Boomerang, I knew that there would be follow-up books. Which is perfectly acceptable to me...knowing versus not knowing is the key. I just hope that the next novel in the series will prominently feature Ethan and Mia, rather than just giving them a small cameo to appease fans of the first book. That's probably what bothers me most about this type of series: that you're just getting to know the characters in the first book, and then the second book is like starting all over with completely new characters, even if you did meet them briefly in the previous installment.
Jen: Okay, I freely admit that I'm one of those people who always begs for more from an author: more story, more from these characters, more words, period. Just as long as the author doesn't make it last too long, ya know? And that all depends on the series and how it's going. Sometimes, seven books is fine and sometimes it is way past the point of too much and the author seems to be reaching.
I've found the use of companion novels most frequent in contemporary series (YA and NA), and they always seem to start off great with that first book. But then the "series" loses it's momentum by the third book and I find I don't really care about the new characters by then. Obviously that's not always true, but from my experience, it happens more often than not, i.e. The Losing It series by Cora Carmack and the Pushing the Limits series by Katie McGarry. I loved the first and second book in each of those series because the characters were still familiar, but by the third book, I was done.
On the other hand, when a fantasy series makes use of the companion novel, I usually find myself captivated. Admittedly, I haven't read all that many like this, but some favorites include the Graceling Realm series by Kristin Cashore, the For Darkness Shows the Stars series by Diana Peterfreund -- who, coincidentally is also working on a New Adult series of companion novels under her pseudonym, and the Starbound series by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. For whatever reason, it works for me in these series.
April: For the most part I enjoy companion novels. There are those instances like Jen mentioned, where they start to go down hill. For me the Pushing the Limits Series is great, but I haven't read the most recent one yet, it's still sitting on my kindle. I haven't read The Losing it series yet. I suck.
I do get discouraged when I read a book I like and realize it's only the first book in a string of companions, because you guys.. my to read list is huge. Before I started blogging, I was all about the companion books. Who doesn't like to see snippets of previously loved characters, but now I'm like like... *sigh* When will I ever get to those?
So it's really a love/hate thing for me these days.
Jen: My biggest beef with companion novels is that we only get the barest glimpse of the characters we've come to know and love in the first book. I don't need a sequel to a contemporary novel unless it's warranted, but I'd like more than a cursory glance at the lives of the characters that were introduced in the previous novel. With most companion novels, it's all hello goodbye and they don't make another appearance in the story. Of course, this isn't always the case. Sometimes companion novels are only set in the same world and feature none of the previous characters at all. So, it's kind of like that idiom my mom was fond of saying...six of one, half a dozen of the other.
April: hmmm, my biggest gripe is when a companion novel follows a side character I dislike. Because while I want to know what the first beloved characters are up to, I'm not sure it's worth the money to bother with. Then I feel like I'll miss out on something.
On The Flip Side:
Jen: Sometimes, very rarely, I end up liking the second or third novel in a companion series even more than the first. And in those cases, it's a lucky thing that the current installment features new characters, especially if I wasn't fond of the ones I met in the first book. In a fantasy companion series, it's a chance for the author to continue with their world-building by focusing on different characters and areas of their world. I guess that's why I appreciate this technique more in a fantasy setting.
April: Sometimes that side character you hate from the first books, ends up being pretty awesome. I had this happen with the Between the Lines series by Tammara Webber. I hated Reid through book one and two so I wasn't pleased to see he got his own story. I ended up loving it and him.
What Could Make Them Better:
Jen: Obviously, I'd like more interactions with characters from previous books. Maybe make the second novel from the perspective of the first novel's best friend so that they're still very much in the picture, just not the focus of the story. I suppose that negates that whole "separate but still part of a series" vibe companion novels are supposed to have. So, if more character interactions isn't possible then maybe have NO interactions with previous characters in the series. I don't want just a fleeting look at those characters, so I'd rather just not know that they're there. I guess you could say I'm an all or nothing kind of girl. ;-)
April: I agree with Jen. More interactions with previous characters is a major plus. It's one of the things I look forward to most in companions. Also, better plots. Now I'm not speaking for all, but I've read a few companions that just seemed like they were riding off the popularity of the first books. Not a lot of story, and a whole lot of fluff. Just thrown together to make a buck. I feel if there is going to be a companion, it should be as well written as the first. I'm spending my hard earned cash on it after all.
Stand-alone Versus Sequel Versus Companion Novel:
Jen: I find it really interesting how most reviews of companion novels make some mention of the fact that although the book is part of a series, each book can be read as a stand-alone. I'm not usually one to read books out of their published order, mostly because I'll always have that niggling feeling that I missed something in a previous book that's going to be important later. I'm just a little bit obsessive and need to read books in their proper order. Usually. Which is why I'd usually prefer to read a stand-alone or a series with actual sequels. No temptation to read the books all willy nilly.
I'm willing to give more companion novels a chance, but I plan to do more research on the subject, too. I'm currently listening to Breathe, Annie, Breathe, which is the FIFTH companion novel in Miranda Kenneally's Hundred Oaks series. I haven't read any of the previous books. GASP! But I'd been told repeatedly that all of these books can be read as stand-alone novels. I plan on putting that theory to the test and reading them all out of order. This should be fun. So far, I've gotten a brief introduction to Jordan from the first book in the series, but not knowing her story hasn't hindered my enjoyment of Breathe, Annie, Breathe. I am wondering if eight books in this series is overkill, but I won't make any snap judgments till I've read them all.
April: Even when companions are said to be stand alone as well, I have a very hard time reading them out of order. I just can't bring myself to do it.
I can't even say which of these I really prefer. I love Stand-alone's, but they almost always leave me wanting more. And sequels, well they are wonderful if done right and not dragged out. Companions are good too because while you get more, you usually aren't left with a huge ass cliff hanger like in series books. They all have their plus and minuses. I'm undecided. It also depends on the stories.
So, how do you feel about companion novels? Do you prefer a series where you can pick and choose which books to read or do you read them straight through regardless?