Popcultureboy’s #CBR5 Review #104: The Woman Who Died A Lot by Jasper Fforde



After a disappointing book for my first Cannonball, I really wanted an ace book for the double. But I chose badly. In this seventh entry of the Thursday Next series, Fforde drives his creation right off the literary cliff. It’s a clumsy and over plotted mess. Such a shame. The full review is on my blog here.

Aunt Ada Doom’s #CBR5 Review #11: The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde

The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde, cover imageDetective Chief Inspector Jack Spratt is the head of the Nursery Crime Division of the Reading police department. The signature achievement of his career was putting The Gingerbreadman behind bars twenty years ago. This seven-foot ginger cookie — or is he a cake? — is a killer and a psychopath who’s incarcerated in an experimental program at “Berkshire’s most outdated secure hospital,” St. Cerebellum’s.

At the beginning of The Fourth Bear, Spratt is doing well. His own status as a Person of Dubious Reality is safely under wraps, he’s just cleaned up the Dumpty mess, and he brings in another chronic offender within the first thirty pages. Things begin to go wrong pretty immediately after that. A mysterious explosion takes out a nearby town, Obscurity, and investigative reporter Goldilocks goes missing. Before long, Spratt is embroiled in black market porridge trading and the political battle over the right to arm bears. Then, inevitably, Chekhov’s cookie (cake?) goes off and The Gingerbreadman escapes.

This book is a lot — a lot — of fun, but it’s a little sloppy with its premise. The nursery rhymes of the world are a rich source of material; they’re shared pieces of culture that unite the young with the old, the rich with the poor, and even the Americans with the Brits. I’m willing to grant Fforde the use of “The Three Bears;” while not technically a nursery rhyme, the story is a natural fit for the theme and blends well with the other childhood tales. With so much juvenile literature to draw on, though, it’s puzzling that Fforde also brings in a number of elements that have nothing to do with the uniting Big Idea of a book about Nursery Crime. The plot is incredibly well-crafted, but what are competitive cucumbering, aliens, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the Battle of the Somme doing here?

This is not to say that I didn’t like it. I did. It’s fantastic. And even as I complain about the thematic wandering, I can’t help but tip my hat to the book’s finale. It’s one of the most impressively crafted endings I’ve read in any novel, ever, in terms of tying up all the loose ends (and as you’d imagine from the previous paragraph, there are a lot of loose ends).

This is a great book. If you’re feeling picky about the nursery rhyme theme, try Gaiman’s short “The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds.” It sticks to the same underlying concept but is much more strict about its source material.

If forced to choose, though, I’d recommend the Fforde over the Gaiman. It’s longer, funnier, and it pulls everything together well at the end. I’ll be seeking out The Big Over Easy, the first book in this series.

Read more from Aunt Ada Doom at Two Wrongs and a Write.

Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Reviews #23 & 24: Jasper Fforde’s Something Rotten and First Among Sequels


It is very hard to summarize/explain the Thursday Next books because they are wonderfully bizarre, but I will do my best. Honestly, though, if you want to start the series (and you should!) start at the beginning (The Eyre Affair) to get the full effect. Something Rotten and First Among Sequels are the fourth and fifth in the series, respectively.

Thursday Next lives in an alternate future from ours, a version of Britain where the Crimean War has raged for a century, cheese has been made illegal, and a police force exists to monitor and enforce rules in the literary world (which sometimes bleeds into ours). Thursday is a Jurisfiction officer, and capable of jumping into books and interacting with characters. Sometimes these characters invade our world as well.
In Something Rotten, Thursday is hell-bent on finding her husband, Landen, who was eradicated by the worldwide Goliath Corporation in a previous novel. She’s the only person who remembers his existence, even though she has a two year old by him. She’s also brought Hamlet into the real world with her, in order to solve some problems with his play AND someone keeps trying to kill her. First Among Sequels is actually the first in a second series about Next. It’s set about 14 years in the future, and focuses more on her interacting with two different literary versions of herself, written about her legendary exploits. I really don’t want to give any more away.
These books are very funny, and definitely the kind of humor where you can find something new each time you read them. Lots of puns, meta-references (First Among Sequels is VERY meta) and general silliness. I liked Something Rotten a bit more–it was probably my favorite Next novel yet. There’s a lot going on, and the plot moves very quickly. Overall, both were good additions to the series.

Fancypants42’s #CBR5 Review #4: The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde

the-big-over-easyThe Big Over Easy was not my first foray into the brilliant wacky mind of Jasper Fforde (I’ve read several of the Thursday Next books, with the two newest in my queue for this year), but it was my first time exploring the world of the Nursery Crime Division. The book follows Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and his new and somewhat reluctant partner, Detective Sergeant Mary Mary.

DI Jack Spratt is a bit of an outcast in the Reading police department because the crimes he solves don’t make good stories for the Amazing Crimes publication. In this world, justice is not as important as good copy. When Humpty Dumpy is found dead, though, it begins a chain of events and intrigue that keep you guessing for the rest of the book. How was Wee Willy Winky’s death related to Humpty’s? How will the beanstalk come into play? Will DI Jack Spratt get into the guild of detectives? The book is first and foremost a murder mystery, but it’s a roller coaster ride of fun along the way.

DI Spratt’s cohorts in the NCD range from fairy tale characters (Gretel) to an alien robot sort of thing named Ashley. Prometheus takes up lodgings in the Spratt house and a foot museum plays a pivotal role in the town of Reading. It’s hard to discuss Fforde’s works with those who haven’t read him before, as it can come across as silly. It’s anything but silly though. There’s an intelligence to his writing that is somehow enhanced by his chosen subject matter. He’s writing humor but with a vast knowledge of the world he’s created and the sources that inspired it. There were obviously numerous references to nursery rhyme characters and fairy tales and I know I didn’t even catch them all. I found myself laughing out loud at times, but I was also completely engrossed in the mystery. I couldn’t wait to find out who really did it.

Fforde messes with his audience quite a few times in the book. You think it’s solved, or nearly there, but no – that wasn’t the right answer. And it keeps going. I was never disappointed that the book continued as I could have existed in this fantastical version of the UK for quite a lot longer. The hero is the most average of Joes who is one of the last cops actually seeking justice in this world. And he does so with everyone more or less against him for most of the book. DI Jack Spratt gets his man in the end and it was a joyful romp to get there with him.

iamnothamlet’s #CBR5 Review #3: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Cannonball 1


Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair is too clever by at least half. Though the pacing is admirably brisk, the plot is borderline gibberish and strains at the seams. The humor in the book is more imaginary than the classic literary characters Mr. Fforde so eagerly appropriates. Overall, the whole affair is little more than a tedious exercise in flattering book-lovers who like a book because they get all the references.

In a vastly different version of 1985, England and Russia are still fighting the Crimean War and literature is considered important enough to have a whole division of the special police assigned to it. Just how seriously do these Brits take their books? Whole factions of the state are devoted to proving that Shakespeare wasn’t really a playwright.

It’s in this world where Litera Tec Thursday Next becomes entangled with a dastardly villain committed to evil for its own sake. A demonic purist, if you will, named Acheron Hades. When Hades manages to alter the original manuscript of Dicken’s Martin Chuzzlewit by sending a hitman into the text to kill off a minor character, and threatens to disrupt Charlotte Bronte’s beloved Jane Eyre, Next is plunged into an epic, absurd contest to save English literature.

Many have compared Fforde to Douglas Adams, and it is true that structurally the two authors are similar. However, I found Fforde’s work to contain much less wit than The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I found Fforde’s reliance of puns and silliness to be cheap, unimaginative humor. If your the person who just finds the idea of a character named Jack Schitt hilarious, then maybe this book is more to your taste.

Trudi’s #CBR5 review #2: The Last Dragonslayer

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton, 2011
Page count: 190 pages

Jennifer Strange is wise beyond her years. A foundling left in an old Wolksvagen Beetle as a baby, Jennifer was raised by the sisterhood of The Blessed Ladies of the Lobster before being sent to Kazam, a magical agency, at age 10. Now she is six years into her indentured service, which entails being the receptionist, driver, accountant, mailman, and administrative do-it-all for all the sorcerers, carpeteers, soothsayers and weathermongers affiliated with Kazam. Unfortunately, running an old-fashioned magical agency is an uphill battle in the face of modern inventions and a population sceptical of magic. So Jennifer and the wizards have to take what little work they can find, whether it involves retrieving lost objects, teleporting double-parked cars, or rebuilding collapsed bridges.

One day, one of Kazam’s precogs (sorcerers who have visions of the future) foresees the death of the last dragon. The Ununited Kingdoms immediately go into a frenzy because huge tracts of land currently tied up in the Dragonlands will be up for grabs the moment the dragon is killed by the last dragonslayer. Jennifer, however, worries about the dragon dying, as this might kill off the last remnants of magic power in the world, effectively putting Kazam out of business. Spoiler alert! She therefore tracks down the single remaining dragonslayer in the world to convince him to spare the dragon, only to find herself being tricked into becoming the last dragonslayer herself! All of a sudden, the world’s eyes turn to her, with all the prophesies, political intrigues, merchandising offers, and sleazy game shows that entails. But how can Jennifer kill the dragon when his death is the last thing she wants… Spoiler ends.

True to form, Jasper Fforde has once again created a unique mix of fantasy and magic commingled with a topsy-turvy version of modern Britain. While different from the Thursday Next seris (of which I’m a huge fan), The last dragonslayer is nonetheless a very light read that works impeccably, and I found both the story per se as well as the skewed take on modern-day life hugely entertaining. A great way to pass an evening!

Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Review #01: Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde


Jasper Fforde’s Shades of Grey is similar to his other books in that they are dissimilar to just about anything else I’ve ever read. Shades of Grey takes place in a world several hundred years after the collapse of our own society–referred to as the “Something That Happened”. In this world, people are segregated into classes based on what colors they are able to see, and those without the ability to see colors at all are classified as “Greys” and used for manual labor. Our protagonist, Eddie Russett, is a Red teenager who’s been sent out to the boonies with his father as punishment for some childish pranks. Eddie is considered a troublemaker because he likes to think up new solutions to problems like long queues. While in the Outer Fringes, he befriends a Grey who keeps trying to kill him. He also uncovers some shocking truths about his society, whose motto is “The safest course was actually the simplest-do nothing at all and hope everything turned out for the best. It wasn’t a great plan, but it had the benefits of simplicity and a long tradition”.

The great thing about Jasper Fforde is he drops the reader into these insane made-up worlds with no real explanation of how “Chromatica” functions. The reader has to figure out for him or herself the importance of heirloom spoons, the constant threat of RiffRaff, the un-seeable Apocryphal man and why these people refuse to examine anything that occurred before the Something That Happened. Students take color perception tests to determine their career and romantic futures. People abuse the color green. It’s all a little insane, but nonetheless entertaining.

For me, Fforde’s books always take a little getting used to, mostly because it takes a few chapters to get past the constant barrage of literary allusions and figure out what the hell is going on. That being said, once you “get it”, they’re super fun reads and tremendously clever. I kept stopping to read silly parts out loud to my husband, who most likely had no idea what I was talking about, but humored me anyway. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes their fiction silly, but with a point behind it.