A good book that explains the science of baking is BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking Shirley O. Corriher. For many of the recipe varients, she explains how each change in ingredients or procedures affects the finished product. Unfortunately, she doesn't go into that much on dealing with sourdough vs. other leaveners.
As for the specific problems you're having, it likely depends on what you mean by "rarely get good results". I'm guessing that a sourdough for breads may need to be more vigorous than what you'd need for pancakes, so looking at some of the tips specifically for sourdough:
From Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen:
Guidelines for Working with Sourdough
The key to successful baking with sourdough starters is to limit bacterial growth and acidification, and encourage healthy yeast population. In general, this means keeping sourdough starters relatively cool, and "refreshing" them frequently yb adding new flour and water and aerating them vigorously. ...
... starters need to be refreshed frequently, two or three times per day. Adding new water and flour dilutes the accumulated acids and other growth inhibitors, and provides a fresh supply of food. Aerating the starter -- whisking a liquid one, or kneading a doughy one -- supplies the oxygen that yeasts require to build cell membranes for new cells. The more frequently the starter is divided and refreshed, the better the yeasts will be able to grow, and the more leavening power the starter will have.
Of course, this is for a non-refrigerated starter. It mentions 68-78°F / 20-25°C. If you're using a refrigerated starter, you may need to let it warm back up to become active before adding to a starter.
And I also looked through Howard Hillman's The New Kitchen Science: A Guide to Know the Hows and Whys for Fun and Success in the Kitchen, which is close to what you're asking for (more generic than just bread, though), but the only thing I found for sourdough was:
Why is a sourdough bagueatte denser and more acidic than a standard baguette?
The sourdough yeast (Saccharomyces exiguus) multiplies at a significantly slower rate than does common baker's yeast. A more compact and less airy loaf results.
Sourdough bread is more acidic because, unlike baker's yeast, sourdough yeast cannot digest maltose sugar. Bacteria are, however, willing and able to do it -- and a certain type native to San Francisco area does. In the process, a highly acidic byproduct is formed, one that helps give sourdough bread its characteristic flavor.