Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, by David Sedaris (30 April — 7 May)

I had this collection of Sedaris essays as my car audiobook for those long drives to and from my music ensembles, and I thought it worked pretty well. Stopping in the middle of a story left me confused, but when I could listen to a whole story at once I was highly entertained.

Most of the stories in this collection are ruminations on Sedaris’s life, both now and as a kid growing up in North Carolina. I felt a little awkward hearing Sedaris talk about playing strip poker and being beaten up by bullies and his brother training the dog to eat poo, but I thoroughly enjoyed his more humorous stories. In particular, I listened to his essay on Christmas in the Netherlands by myself and then immediately replayed it for Scott to hear. It was good.

That story and another were taped as Sedaris read them in front of an audience, but most of them were just Sedaris talking into a microphone, and you could really hear the difference. The man has a stage presence, but he seems to forget to use it without an audience! I wonder if the stories read differently without Sedaris talking.

Rating: 7/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

The Idiot Girl and the Flaming Tantrum of Death, by Laurie Notaro (2 May — 4 May)

I saw this book in a library display along with several other collected essay books. It was really the title (and its subtitle, Reflections on Revenge, Germophobia, and Laser Hair Removal) that sold me. Flaming tantrums of death? I’m in!

On the whole, I thought the collection was pretty good. There are some super-funny stories, like the one in which Notaro gets flipped off by hippies and decides to turn around and tailgate them in her Prius. There are some super-affecting stories, like the one in which her beloved dog suddenly falls ill. Most are entertaining; a couple of them fell flat for me.

But seriously, Laurie Notaro, you need to get yourself a better editor. I get that the stories are meant to be conversational in tone, but the beauty of writing is that you can take those tongue-tied, baffling moments and fix them to be understandable. There were so many misplaced modifiers and commas in weird places and just generally unintelligible sentences that I lost all sense of the story more than a few times.

I also felt a bit put off by Notaro’s attitudes in general, but that’s probably more about me than about her. She’s the kind of person who would bother to get laser hair removal; I am not. She’s a huge germophobe; I follow the 90-second rule. I couldn’t really get a few of the stories because of this, but I’m sure there are others out there who would totally understand her.

Rating: 6/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

Fool, by Christopher Moore (26 March − 3 April)

I’ve loved me some Christopher Moore since reading Lamb some crazy-long time ago (a few years?), and then Fluke and Island of the Sequined Love Nun and the others… and this new book does not disappoint!

Fool tells the story of King Lear’s fool. Yes, that King Lear. Now, I’ve never actually read the play, but I’m going to take a wild guess that this book is only very very loosely based on it. Especially since the witches from Macbeth show up. You know how it is.

But anyway, if you’re like me and don’t know the story, there’s a king called Lear and he’s kind of an idiot and he splits up his kingdom based on how much each of his daughters loves him. Two lie their arses off and get a fair bit of land; one tells the truth and is banished for her trouble. So then politics and intrigue happen because obviously someone is unhappy.

And in this version, the fool, called Pocket, is behind it all, with the help of some enchantments from the aforementioned witches. Hoorah. And, being a fool, he tells his story with lots of bawdiness and also vulgarity. And, the book being based on Shakespeare, there is also some crazy English borrowed liberally from King Lear and other plays that is conveniently footnoted for the modern reader. And there’s a ghost. And a raven. It’s awesome, is what I’m saying.

Rating: 8/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2009, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

The Fourth Bear, by Jasper Fforde (10 March — 13 March)

I can’t help it. I love Jasper Fforde and his novels. And now I have to wait several months until his next book comes out! Oh no!

The Fourth Bear is the second in Fforde’s Nursery Crime series, in which nursery rhyme characters are real(-ish) and subject to actual laws. Our main participants this time are Goldilocks and the Three Bears and the Gingerbreadman, who has escaped from jail and is again on a murderous rampage. DCI Jack Spratt and his sergeant Mary Mary are not on the case, as they’ve been sidelined after letting Red Riding Hood and her grandmother get eaten by the wolf. Oops.

Instead, they’re on the hunt for the missing Goldilocks, a journalist with an eye lately for cucumber news who was last seen in a baby bear’s bed. The trail leads, well, everywhere. Giant multinational corporation (no, not Goliath), porridge smuggling, explosions, closet-heterosexual member of Parliament, Agent Danvers (Danvers!)… it’s all there, and mostly makes sense. Oh, also, Jack buys a car from Dorian Gray. That’s smart.

I liked the story, here, but it was a little back-loaded answers-wise. Things just keep spiralling out of control until all of a sudden, poof! The answer! Convenient! But the writing is fun enough that I will forgive it. A quote I put up on Twitter when I started out: “He was seven foot three, and she was six foot two. It was a match made perhaps not in heaven but certainly nearer the ceiling.” Strangely, that’s 140 characters exactly.

One other thing I didn’t like about the story is that there’s a point where everything is going wrong and it’s looking bad for Jack and then he’s like, “But wait! This is just a plot contrivance! I will convince those involved in this situation to just, ah, ignore it, and then I can go back to detecting!” I get that in this weird Fforde universe, the characters know they’re in a book. But generally, they’re meant not to let everyone else know that, so this is just lazy. Ah well.

Rating: 7/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge, Orbis Terrarum Challenge: Wales)

Beat the Reaper, by Josh Bazell (28 February — 1 March)

Hee. This book was awesome. I’m not sure if it was just so much more awesome coming off of a book I didn’t like or if it’s actually as awesome as I thought it was, but either way it’s a quick and thoroughly entertaining read.

Our protagonist, Peter Brown, is a doctor at a crap hospital in Manhattan. He’s checking out a patient with cancer when he realizes — too late — that the patient is someone he knows from a past life. One that’s been covered over by the Witness Protection Program. The patient, Eddy Squillante, quickly realizing the leverage he has, orders a hit on Brown if Squillante isn’t alive by the end of the day. Inconveniently, the cancer he has is pretty much guaranteed to kill him, especially with the surgeon that’s come in to operate. Brown now has to “beat the reaper” and keep Squillante alive so as not to have to find a new life as a gas station attendant out west.

The book cuts back and forth between Brown’s current and previous lives, telling us how and why he got where he is, and it’s all done in a very conversational style that makes it feel like you’re really watching the action. Bazell also inserts witty footnotes (!) that let you learn possibly more than you ever wanted to know about medicine, the mob, pubic hair… it’s wonderful.

I didn’t quite appreciate the ending, though. The book ended right before I wanted it to, which was irksome, but I do like that he didn’t overwork the ending, so it ends up on the plus side.

Rating: 9/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2009, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

The Big Over Easy, by Jasper Fforde (29 January — 30 January)

Oh, Jasper Fforde, you’ve done it again! This is the first book of Fforde’s Nursery Crime series, which first shows up in The Well of Lost Plots and exists in tandem with the Thursday Next universe.

The conceit here is that nursery rhyme characters are real but don’t know they’re from nursery rhymes, and that they now get prosecuted for their crimes (they are, of course, Brothers Grimm versions).

So when Humpty Dumpty is found dead and cracked at the bottom of a wall, it’s up to Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and Detective Sergeant Mary Mary to find out whodunnit and why. Was it suicide? Was it one of Humpty’s hundreds of ex-lovers? Was it, perhaps, Solomon Grundy (born on Monday), who is poised to absorb the failing Spongg footcare dynasty into his own chiropody company, Winsum & Loosum?

Of course, the unpublished Spratt is having a hard time with his case because he’s not a Guild member. His cheating upstart former partner, Friedland Chymes, is, and he’s ready to steal this case any way he can to get a new story in Amazing Crime Stories and have even more accolades heaped upon him.

Oh yes. It is that ridiculous, and that awesome. Each chapter begins with an excerpt about other nursery crimes or the Guild of Detectives, and there are so many references to nursery rhymes that it could be a bit overwhelming, but it’s not. I also like that Fforde has trotted out all of the mystery genre traits (I did take a course on mysteries, after all!) and used them well. If you don’t mind a bit of fancy with your murder mystery, I would heartily suggest picking up this book.

Rating: 8/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

First Among Sequels, by Jasper Fforde (5 January &mdash 6 January)

This came in for me yesterday at the library, and even though I was a few pages into another book, I couldn’t help but read this instead. Love me some Thursday Next.

The events of this book pick up 14 years after those of the previous one. Thursday is now 52 and settled into her life as a wife and a mother of three. SpecOps has been officially disbanded, but Thursday’s job as a carpet layer is really a cover for doing SpecOps work, which is really a cover for continuing her duties in Jurisfiction. In that last, she is stuck with two trainee Jurisfiction agents… Thursday1-4 from the first four books of the series as well as Thursday5 from The Great Samuel Pepys Fiasco. Things, as they do, quickly go wonky and Thursday ends up having to save all of Time as well as herself from evildoers. No big deal.

As I said, I love me some Thursday Next, and this is no exception. It’s a bit more heavy on the allegory this go-round (the government has a surplus of stupidity they have to use up and are thinking about getting into the stupidity credits game; there’s a show called Samaritan Kidney Swap) which I think detracts a bit from the real story, which is Thursday kicking butt and taking names. Nonetheless, I am thoroughly looking forward to the next in the series, which will apparently be called One of Our Thursdays is Missing but is not the next book Fforde is releasing. Sigh. Off to find some Nursery Crime, I suppose…

Rating: 7/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2007, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

Something Rotten, by Jasper Fforde (25 November — 28 November)

Something Rotten is the last of the first four books of the Thursday Next series… I figure that since Jasper took a few years off, I can take a break now, too. 🙂

This was definitely a great conclusion for the set… basically, a whole bunch of odd things that happened in the previous books were recalled and sometimes explained here, and, of course, even more odd things happened!

It’s a hard book to summarize, though, because so much of what happens here is tied to things that happened in other books — a fictional character comes to power, Thursday’s husband is reactualized (or is he?), Thursday’s friend’s wife is an assassin out to kill Thursday… yeah.

The new things in the story are a plot by the aforementioned fictional leader to convince England to hate Denmark, going so far as to claim that Volvos are both unsafe and Danish; Thursday’s acquisition of the Swindon Mallets croquet team which needs to win the SuperHoop to take down the Goliath Corporation; and that Thursday needs to find a new Shakespeare to rewrite Hamlet after its characters wreak havoc on the piece.

Basically, if you’ve liked the previous books, read this one. But do not under any circumstances read this first.

Rating: 7.5/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2004)

The Well of Lost Plots, by Jasper Fforde (22 November — 25 November)

The Well of Lost Plots is the third book in the wonderful Thursday Next series in which our hero, Thursday, vanquishes foes who seek to upend literature.

The previous book focused on time travelling; this one is mostly about book travelling. Thursday has entered the world of Jurisfiction, those in charge of policing the fiction shelves both published and in progress, and is at the same time taking a respite from the Goliath Corporation who are still out to get her. She and her pregnant tummy are hiding out in an unpublished book called Caversham Heights until Thursday can figure out how to get her husband back — if she can remember him.

Yeah, it’s pretty much that confusing. Thursday is also out to solve the mystery of several dead and missing Jurisfiction agents and requite the love of two generic characters. I love it.

It wasn’t quite up to the standard of the first two books — a little too much babying of the reader with unnecessary repetition, and also a few too many typos! — but it was definitely intriguing enough (along with those two books) to cause me to move the next book, Something Rotten up to my new current read. Then I’m going to have to take a break from all the alternate universe-ing, I think. 😀

Rating: 7/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2003)

Lost in a Good Book, by Jasper Fforde (8 November)

This is the second in the Thursday Next series of awesomeness, and I must say this one is even better than the first.

After sending away a Goliath Corporation employee to live in a copy of The Raven, the company is understandably upset and asks Thursday to go back and get him out, please. She refuses, and Goliath goes back in time to kill off her new husband before he can become three years old. If Thursday will go get their employee, they’ll bring back her husband. She’s sold. Unfortunately, her uncle Mycroft has conveniently retired away with his Prose Portal and Thursday has to figure out how to get into the book herself and also figure out why a bunch of weird coincidences keep cropping up at inconvenient moments.

The book was great and mostly easy to understand in spite of all the weird time-travelling and odd coincidences. I really love how everything ties in with books, even when the books in question are ones I haven’t read yet (but should! I’ll get to it!). Definitely a must-read if you’re into befuddling plots and funny talks with Great Expectations characters.

Rating: 8.5/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2002)