I've had a rather frustrating reading week, with books that were almost good but that ended up being disappointing. I'm not going to name names or get into specifics (too much potential awkwardness from ending up on convention panels with someone who's been the target of snark), but I think there might be some big-picture lessons here.
One book was the first in a fantasy trilogy. I liked the world building -- it seemed like a different world with different cultures that weren't so obviously Not!Asian, Not!Middle Eastern, Not!European, etc. They were just cultures that didn't seem based on earth cultures, and in traditional fantasy, that's pretty rare. I liked the characters. There were four main viewpoint characters whose stories converged through the whole book, until they were all present during the climactic scene. I love that kind of storytelling, where you can imagine how various characters might interact, and then actually get to see it. However, the book had a serious pacing problem in that the entire book seemed to mostly serve as the set-up for the series. The main conflict in this book was easily brushed aside with the revelation of something potentially bigger, and most of the action really should have been the first three chapters of a novel -- the entire book was the "refusal of the call" part of the hero's journey, with the heroine not actually crossing the threshold until the end of the book.
But I liked the characters enough to be curious about what happened next, now that all the characters were finally together, only it turns out that the library doesn't have the rest of the series, and I'm not sure I liked it enough to pay full price for the rest. The Amazon reviews made me doubt because they brought up some things that would really bother me. For one thing, the rest of the series doesn't involve all these characters working together now that they've been brought together. They're scattered entirely, and my favorite apparently only gets a cameo in book 2 and a minor role in book 3 that has nothing to do with the rest of the plot. And then there were a number of mentions of an unsatisfying ending to the series.
I've discovered that one thing that will generally make me lose interest in a series is when a group is split up with little hope in being reunited. That may be why I have that three chapters into book three problem with epic series, because that's often where the core group gets scattered. I'll only really stay interested if there are at least a few character combinations that work in the new configuration. If each character is going off alone, then they need to meet someone interesting really quickly. I'll be really annoyed if we've spent a whole book getting a good group of people together, finally, and then they're immediately split up in the next book. I guess I like teams (funny, considering what an introvert I am and how much I hate teamwork).
Then I read a new book by a classic chick-lit author who can be hit or miss with me. I actually kind of enjoyed it and definitely turned the pages fast, but at the same time I wanted to throw one of the characters against the wall. The plot of too many of these books requires that the heroines be too stupid to live. If they weren't getting really drunk and making very bad decisions, there wouldn't be much of a plot, I guess, but it's still frustrating to read. Then again, I've had friends and co-workers who were capable of making decisions that bad, so it's not all just exaggerated for fiction. It is possible to have one of these stories work with someone who makes good decisions (or decisions that seem good given the information available at that time), but it's much harder to write than someone drinking too much and falling in bed with someone inappropriate and then taking too long to realize that he's not Mr. Right.
Reading two books in a row that I found mildly annoying has put me in a hyper-critical mood that's making it hard to choose the next book. I'm reading the last book in the current library stash and having a hard time getting into it, not because of the book but because of that "show me" attitude. Then I may try a few things from the to-be-read pile.