on novellas and side stories

It seems every series these days has companions stories (I’m looking at you, YA) – and, to be honest, I’m not a big fan. Or, at least, I wasn’t. To me, those side stories should be fun bonuses, not required reading. I’ve been burned before by picking up the next book in a series only to be wildly confused (who is that?? when did that happen?? WHAT is going on?!) because events that took place in a companion piece were considered canon.

Last year I received a copy of Django Wexler’s The Shadow of Elysium, a side story in his Shadow Campaigns series. Normally I would have backed away, but I’ve been curious about those books and thought Elysium would be a fun introduction. I’m SO glad I jumped at the chance because this one was great and gave me a good feel for the world and Wexler’s writing and now I’m even more excited to read the books!

That was as far as my foray into side stories went…until this year. For some reason I’ve been hitting them hard – and am shocked to discover how much I’m enjoying them! In January I read The Locked Room Mystery, a super short, 6-page story in Jasper Fforde’s Nursery Crime series. To be honest, I read this because I’ve been dying for the third book in the series. The second book, The Fourth Bear, came out in 2006. Ten. Years. No, it wasn’t nearly enough to tide me over, but it was a fun dip back into Fforde’s crazy world and best of all, it featured the characters without introducing anything new or important to the overall series.

Then in February I was on the hunt for a good thriller and gave across Heather Gundenkauf’s Little Lies, a prequel to her novel, Little Mercies. While Little Lies wasn’t the action-packed, heart-stopping story I expected, it was an excellent set-up to her characters and did a great job at setting the tone and scene for Little Mercies.

What’s the point of my rambling? Yesterday I had that urge again, that need to read something quick that would keep me guessing and invested. Enter Tess Monaghan.

The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippman
Pub. Date: January 18, 2011
Source: e-book via my library
Summary: Originally serialized in the New York Times, The Girl in the Green Raincoat is now in book form for the very first time—a masterful thriller in the Alfred Hitchcock mode that places a very pregnant, homebound Tess in the center of a murderous puzzle that could cost her her life and the life of her unborn child.
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Novella

The Girl in the Green Raincoat is a 158-page novella, originally serialized in the New York Times, and the perfect reading material for when you want to lose yourself in a mystery. The fun part? Tess, the main character, is on strict orders from her doctor to move as little as possible – how could she possibly solve a mystery while on bedrest?

Every day as she stares out the window, Tess people-watches and, every day, she sees the same woman in the park with her young greyhound. The reason they stick out? They’re both dressed alike in matching green coats. One day, however, the dog frantically runs down the lane as though something is chasing it…and the woman is nowhere to be found. Unable to let it go, Tess enlists the help of her best friend and her boyfriend to do all the heavy lifting. The three (plus Tess’s assistant at her PI firm) slowly unravel the mystery of just who the woman is and, along the way, find out some VERY interesting things. Like how she was wife number 3 and the previous wives (plus a girlfriend) had all died. Suspicious, no?

Because of its length, this isn’t exactly a normal review, but I will say I enjoyed this one immensely. I’ve come across the book multiple times and never really thought too much about it until I was browsing my library’s online catalog and saw it was available. Call it fate, I guess. The most recent book in the series, Hush Hush caught my eye last year (a woman starts her life over after she’s found not guilty by reason of criminal insanity when her two-month-old was locked inside a car on a hot August day; now she’s back in Baltimore to film a documentary and Tess is put on security detail, all the while wondering if the woman really is insane) and The Girl in the Green Raincoat got me up to speed with the series so far and introduced me to the characters. Lippman also has several standalones I’ve been eyeing and I’m excited to say I’m even more interested after having finally read one of her books!

What are YOUR thoughts on side stories? Love them? Hate them?

6 thoughts on “on novellas and side stories

  1. I, too, have been pretty iffy in the past on companion novellas! To be honest, to my somewhat cynical heart, they just seemed like a byproduct of the extreme consumerist atmosphere of major book houses… like “if you love the characters, why not pay extra for something that’s not really a part of the story?” But you know what? You’re right, these extras are really fun. Besides, they’re usually not that expensive if you get them for your Kindle, and it’s cool to catch up with certain characters that are often not as fully highlighted in the novels themselves.

    PS. Thank you so much for the link to “The Locked Room Mystery Mystery”… I’m a Fforde fan myself, and I had no idea that existed!! :)

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