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)

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)

The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde (28 August − 1 September)

The premise behind this book is an alternate universe in which weird things happen regularly − time gets out of joint, extinct animals can be cloned, religious fighting is replaced by “Who was the real Shakespeare” fighting. As in this universe, the government has a lot of bureaus to control its constituents, among these SpecOps 27, the literary division.

Our protagonist, Thursday Next, is an operative in this group who gets lured into a big investigation by the fact that she’s seen the bad guy involved, Acheron Hades − few others have because he doesn’t resolve on film. He is out to make a name for himself by stealing an original manuscript to Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit as well as a machine called a Prose Portal invented by Thursday’s uncle, Mycroft. With it he can enter original manuscripts, kill a character or two, and completely change every copy of whatever story he’s gotten into.

Thursday works to rescue her uncle, restore a failed relationship, and save Jane Eyre from destruction, all while battling the forces of evil in Hades and government corruption.

I really liked this book. Fforde makes the alternate universe seem very real with little details (an ongoing Crimean War, Jehovah’s Witness-like “Baconians”) and writes entertaining characters. A couple of times, when time-travel and manuscript-revising were involved, I thought too hard about how things could actually work and lost the story a bit, but otherwise it was great. This is the first in a series of Thursday Next novels, and I will definitely be looking for the second the next time I hit the library.

Rating: 8/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2001)