Friday, August 1, 2014

When Books Are Better as Companions

Friday, August 1, 2014 with 8 comments

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.

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.
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.

General Feels:

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.

Biggest Gripes:

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?


  1. I hadn't actually thought about this before! And I didn't know it had a like Sinner, right? That's a companion novel to the Shiver series?? Going off that I don't mind at all. x) But I agree there's not much pull if it's of a character you don't like. (I'm waaay too invested in Cole and Isabel's lives to mind for Sinner. I LOVED THAT BOOK OMG.) But like, when I was reading the Cherub series, it kind of flipped away from being about the original main character to these other smaller side characters and I never felt it, you know? I didn't think they were particularly developed enough to get their own books and I wasn't interested in them. Turned me off the series.
    Anna and the French Kiss would be a companion series I guess...THAT one I love.

  2. I like companions, to an extent. A lot of the time, I start missing the characters from the first book. And I had that same problem with Katie McGarry's Pushing the Limits series. Loved the first book, second was good, and the third was kind of a disappointment. I'm nervous about reading Take Me On for that reason. And I agree with you about needing more than just short cameos of the original characters. I hate it when there are only a few scenes and then they just drop off in the story. It always makes me want more. But I do like companions, especially in a fantasy setting, because sometimes I just don't want to leave the world, the story, and its characters.

  3. I agree that usually the second or third book i ls not as good as the first in a series. It is honestly really rare where the sequel beats the original. But I gotta admit that when I read a good book, I want a sequel. I like knowing what the characters do after. The only exception would be one of those really wrapped-up books where it makes a nice and organized conclusion, because when there's a sequel, I get mad that the author didn't just let them be. There has to be something ro lool forward to.

  4. I'm actually reading the Hundred Oaks series backwards. I don't know why, hahaha. I do find it a little confusing since characters from the previous books make appearances but I haven't exactly met them yet :( I think you still need to read the previous books even if the book is a companion, not a sequel.

    Eileen @ BookCatPin :)

  5. I actually haven't read that many companion novels, so I don't have a lot to say on the topic. The only ones that come to mind are the Stephanie Perkins books. Anna was in Lola just enough to see where her life is, but Lola is definitely the star of her book (I was, unfortunately, not one of the lucky few who got an early peek at Isla and have been completely avoiding any and all reviews, but I'm sure both previous girls will pop up). I do have both For Darkness and Breathe, Annie, Breathe (although I also have not read the previous books), but haven't read either. I didn't realize that the Starbound series were companion books. I thought the next one was a the second in a series. That actually makes me more excited to read them. The thing for me is, at least with companion books you don't have to remember exact details the way you do with sequels. I almost ALWAYS have to reread the first book(s) in a series before reading the next installment which is so annoying and time consuming, but if I don't I usually feel lost. My book memory is the worst. Interesting topic!

  6. My first experience with this was with The Dead-Tossed Waves, the sequel/companion to The Forest of Hands and Teeth and I. Was. Pissed. I still really liked the book (after I got over my disappointment), but I was so completely unaware that the story wouldn't be picking up right where the last book left off. So yeah love/hate relationship? Right here. Totally.

    Also, I am increasingly a fan of standalone for the reasons you mentioned above, but I've noticed if they aren't longer standalones, they often feel rushed and sketchy. So I like them, but only if enough time is given to world-building and character development.

    Love this post! *hugs*

  7. My first experience with "traditional" companion novels comes from the Graceling Realms series too! I agree with you, Jen; there's something about fantasy that makes this sort of thing work! For me, Graceling and Bitterblue were very strong, but without Fire, there wouldn't be that glue that holds this series together -- especially because THAT ending in Bitterblue brings everything full circle. Even if the second installment failed to impress, I think Cashore did a fine job with the series. I also think this series is better read in its intended order for some reason.

    So... what about a companion novel to an already established series? Sinner as a companion to The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy worked. I really liked it. But I think I might've liked it more had Sam and Grace appeared a lot more than they did. Those 2 little scenes were such a tease! I was dying for MORE! So, I'm with you Jen, I want more time with the first set of characters I fell in love with in my companions. "With most companion novels, it's all hello goodbye and they don't make another appearance in the story," yup, just a simple glimpse won't do.

    Contemporary companion novels on the other hand, might be a little different. I still haven't moved past Anna and the French Kiss or Catching Jordan, but I suspect readers can read these series out of order and still enjoy them; although, I kinda don't want to! haha! (I'm with you on that one, April!).

    While I haven't read too many companion novels, my experiences have been positive up to this point. So, I do want to make an effort to see what else is out there. Thanks for reminding me AND encouraging me to continue what I already started! :)

    Fantastic discussion post, ladies!

    Marlene @ The Flyleaf Review

  8. I'm glad you decided to go ahead and write this post! I have to say that I'm a huge fan of companion books. I like that each book is basically a stand alone with its own happy ending. Series make me nervous because SO MUCH can happen to characters and relationships, that I just get so stressed out. Especially since, you know, I hate love triangles, and I'm always terrified they'll pop up in later books. But with a companion series, those fears don't usually come up. I do like it when older couples play a more active role in the rest of the series - I like to see how they're doing and get some cute moments with them. There are some companion series that take this a step farther - like the Lunar chronicles. Technically, I don't think you can call them companions, since you can't read them out of order, but then again the focus is mainly on one couple, with MM doing a great job of juggling all the various characters/relationships.

    Anyway, I just like the comfort of knowing each book will have its happy ending, but the story isn't finished yet. :)

    P.S. I know you're reading This Shattered World soon - there's some really great Lilac/Tarver moments. :D


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