Tag Archives: mystery

Thursday Next: First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde

Thursday Next: First Among Sequels was the last of the Thursday Next books sitting on my to-read shelf. I was a little excited about it, mainly because I’ve had a nonfiction reading jag, and I was ready to return to something I’d find more relaxing and less taxing. What I got was a purely delightful book that stands with its head just a little taller than most of the other Thursday Next books.

One of the best things about this book is that it starts off with Thursday as a middle-aged woman. She has her children and her husband, whom she has told she has given up her work with all enforcement agencies she was previously associated with. Instead, she owns a flooring business.

This is, of course, a lie.

Next works undercover, with the carpet-laying job being a ruse so that she can justify to Landen all the time she spends away from home. Life seems to be going along as smoothly as it can when one’s lying to one’s husband, and then there’s a surprise. Thursday’s son, Friday, who is a typical lazy teenager, is revealed to be the future head of the ChronoGuard — except that he should have started training a long time ago. The fate of the world hangs on his career choice; it appears the universe will end in a couple of days.

Thursday is also training herself from her fifth book, Thursday5, to become a Jurisfiction agent. Sadly, she also gets saddled with Thursday1-4, who turns out not to be cut from the correct cloth for this type of work.

I loved the fact that every plot part was easy to track. Fforde did a much better job of juggling the various aspects of the story within the reader’s mind; some of his other Next books have left me a little confused at points when I had to struggle to remember something that was mentioned quite a bit earlier in the book. This time, it was put together so well that I didn’t have to put forth the effort to find what he’s referencing, which is perfect. I read Thursday Next: First Among Sequels for fun and as a break from nonfiction.

Another great thing about this book is that there is a lot less jumping around between books and time. I prefer it when there’s a cleaner flow, and Fforde provided that wonderfully here. I also liked the fewer references — sometimes the earlier books fell into the fault of stretching for a pun or literary mention. There’s less of that here.

Thursday Next: First Among Sequels left me excitedly anticipating my chance to read the next book in the series. That’s the mark of an awesome book.

Rating: 5/5.

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Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

After a break, I’ve gone back to the Dresden Files.  My fiancé has nearly caught up to me (he’s on the third book in the series), so I felt the need to keep ahead of him.  What a good thing it is that he’s indirectly pushed me, because Summer Knight goes beyond the first three books in the series into creating an actual Dresden mythos, rather than being more reliant on traditional folklore to tell the tale.  I think this stretched Butcher more as an author, and the result is an engaging and eminently readable book.

The book starts off where a Dresden Files book usually starts off — with Harry in dire financial and emotional states.  Instead of being offered a well-paying job by a desperate woman, however, he gets a shock.  His faerie godmother has traded her claim over him to the Queen of Winter, Mab.  She offers to release him from all obligations to her if he performs three jobs for her.  The first she tasks him with is to clear her of the murder of the Summer Knight, the guardian of the opposing faerie court.

Not so bad, right?  Well, he is also tasked with passing a test from the White Council of Wizardry, which also involves the faerie courts.  If he isn’t able to pass the task, he’ll get turned over to the vampires (whom he started a war with in the last book).  This would not be a good thing.  No pressure, but Dresden has a lot riding on his shoulders — and the return of an old flame makes things even more complicated.

Summer Knight brings something completely new to the Dresden Files series.  We get an actual second world to explore.  There are some old characters making a return, but something feels really fresh and new about what Butcher is offering the reader.  It may be that I just haven’t read enough in the topic area, but, other than the names, I think a lot of what he delivers is out of his imagination in a different way from the other books.  It feels creative in the most basic sense — he’s making a new world for us to explore, with new characters and situations.

I really think that Summer Knight is the best of the Dresden Files books.  There’s a lot to keep track of, so it keeps the brain working.  Dresden’s path in this book is by no means predictable, and the fact that we’re taken on a wondrous trip through both Chicago and the Nevernever makes it special in a different way from the books that precede it.

Rating: 5/5.

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Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde

After reading The Well of Lost Plots, I wasn’t sure what to expect in Something Rotten.  It surprisingly picks up two years after the previous book, with Thursday having given birth to her son, Friday, and returning to the real world.  It gets back to the main story of Thursday’s life, which, I think, is preferable to the fantastical world of unpublished books.  Something Rotten is superior, and I enjoyed it even more than The Well of Lost Plots.

Thursday returns with a guest — Hamlet, who needs some time away from his play.  Accompanied also by her son and dodos, Thursday comes back to stay with her mother.  She also finds Goliath Corporation trying to make itself a religion, a prophesy that states that if the Swindon Mallets, the local croquet team, doesn’t win its game against the Reading Whackers, the world just might end.  Thursday ends up as manager, since Goliath hires away most of the talent from the team.

Thursday takes advantage of Goliath’s religious aims, asking for an apology and the return of her husband, Landen.  They hold to their word, but he flickers in and out for a while, causing some issues with showing up at his home only to find his parents there instead, who don’t remember their son ever becoming an adult.

With all this going on, Thursday is also chasing down the minotaur that escaped from captivity in the previous book and is chasing down Yorrick Kaine, who has come to significant political power and has started a crusade against the Danes and all things Danish.  She is also being chased down by an assassin called the Windowmaker, who has close ties to one of her good friends.  A loaded plate, to say the least.

I think the best thing about this book is the balance between the crises.  I didn’t have as much of a problem following exactly what was going on in Something Rotten.  That might have something to do with the fact that I’ve actually read more of the books and plays mentioned in this volume than the others, but I also think Fforde has created a more polished book.  Friday’s escapades make more sense and the prose flows more easily.

One thing that confused me a bit was the inclusion of illustrations in the book, which seemed more heavy in the front of the book than in the back.  I suspect these might have been a holdover from the hardcover edition, but, seeing as they weren’t in the other books in the series, it made me a little perplexed.  I would have preferred them be left out; I think that, unless it’s a children’s book or a nonfiction book that needs figures, illustrations aren’t really necessary.

Overall, I really enjoyed Something Rotten.  I found it more clever than The Well of Lost Plots, which is a pretty difficult feat, and I was completely engaged in the narrative.  I can’t wait to get into the next book in the series, to find out what next happens to Ms. Thursday Next.

Rating: 4.5/5.

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The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde

I have to admit, I’m a little rusty on my Thursday Next.  The last time I read one of the books, it was in 2006, and The Well of Lost Plots was just coming out as a hardcover.  Now, here I am, five years later, and I’m having to do some catching up.  It’s well worth it, though, for the world of Thursday Next is one richly filled with all sorts of literary delights.

We start off pretty close to where Lost in a Good Book leaves off.  Thursday is hiding within the Well of Lost Plots to protect her unborn child, the product of a marriage to a man who never existed.  She finds a place to stay within an unpublished mystery novel, taking the place of one of the secondary characters.  The book is not doing well, and Thursday tries to provide a little help before it gets pulled apart for its words.

Thursday is also being trained, by Miss Havisham, to become a literary enforcement agent.  She goes through some pretty grueling training, which can also be amusing — Miss Havisham leads a group therapy session for the characters from Wuthering Heights, which Thursday tags along to.  We then get to see what happens in between the pages, which, for Wuthering Heights, basically means that everyone spends their time hating Heathcliff.

Here is one of the great things about the Thursday Next series:  it’s for people who love to read.  Not just love to read, but love to read novels.  Not just love to read novels, but love to read those books that are considered great literature.  Fforde takes the characters from big books, like Great Expectations or Jane Eyre, and puts his own take on what their personalities are into his versions of them.  It’s really nice … for those of us who have read the books he’s referencing.

This is, thus, one of the biggest downfalls of Fforde’s books, too — you have to be a complete book nerd to get every little thing he puts in.  Otherwise, the only things you’re going to understand are the puns, and that’s no way to go through a book.  A person’s literary well-being can’t be sustained on puns alone.

Fforde does have a very lovable writing style.  His inner circle of characters are pretty well-rounded, and I enjoy the world he has created where foundering books are in a well far below the library of all fiction created (at least, in English).  I think that many well-exposed readers would really enjoy the Thursday Next series; if one doesn’t, I think The Well of Lost Plots has very limited appeal.  Maybe, though, it’s an incentive to read books that are over ten years old — I know I haven’t read Wuthering Heights, and I think maybe it’s about time I do.

Rating: 4/5.

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Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

Believe it or not, I was aware of this book series before the television series.  I just didn’t get around to reading it.  I have watched the series, though, and liked it.  This book, the one that started it all off, demonstrates that Dexter the television series is faithful in tone.  Darkly Dreaming Dexter has a significant amount of wit mixed in with its gore, with a more nuanced and compelling plot than the first season of the series.

The book starts off with Dexter stalking and eventually killing a priest who had been killing orphan girls.  It’s a definite shock to the system.  I know it’s a relatively common strategy on the part of thriller and mystery writers, but Dexter’s murder gives us insight into what exactly drives his homicidal tendencies — his Dark Passenger.  This component of Dexter’s psyche is essential to understanding what he does, and I think it’s a part of his personality that gets pushed aside in the television series, much to its detriment.

Dexter’s Dark Passenger is a torment for him in a way that is difficult even for him to effectively describe, even to his trusted father Harry.  Having to feed the urges of a part of yourself that seems so foreign in order to drive it back for respite — that must be extraordinarily difficult.  The work is something he enjoys, but is it truly something he would have chosen to do if it weren’t for that Dark Passenger?  That question is raised toward the end of the book in a rather painful, but well-done, way.

I found the choice of first-person narrative here really effective; I don’t think Darkly Dreaming Dexter would work any other way.  We need to be in his head in order to understand, for sure, but we’re also being tricked into sympathizing with a serial killer.  He’s shown to be witty, smart, and scrupulous.  He’s also naïve in an almost child-like way about interpersonal relationships; he’s had to study to figure out how to be a normal person, and the gaps in his education are both awkwardly painful and oddly endearing.  Lindsay does an excellent job of making the reader root for someone who, in another author’s hands, could well be the villain.

My only issue with Lindsay’s book is that it is sometimes too clever or too cute.  There’s a lot of alliteration, which I got tired of after a while.  It’s a good technique for a slogan; it’s not so great as part of the narration.  It almost always jarred me out of the story, which is not a good thing.  I wanted to be engrossed, and this just made it impossible for me to fully immerse myself in the plot.

The bottom line, though, is that Darkly Dreaming Dexter is an excellent example of a thriller with humor.  Lindsay gives us an original idea and follows through extraordinarily well.  I’d be happy to read the rest of the series; I think there must be a lot more to Dexter’s story that the television show just can’t provide.

Rating: 4/5.

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Fool Moon by Jim Butcher

After having read Storm Front, the first book in the Dresden Files series, I promptly put the rest of the books on my to-read list.  I’m one of those people who isn’t happy unless she’s reading through at least one series; I think it’s because recurring characters and a familiar world is easier to lose yourself in.  Anyway, Fool Moon is the second book in the series, and it is certainly just as thrilling as the first one.

We meet up with wizard Harry Dresden six months after the end of Storm Front.  He’s healed up, but most of his business has dried up.  Chicago’s Special Investigations unit isn’t using him much anymore, since he caused all kinds of problems for them the last big case they had him work on.  So it’s not surprising when he’s willing to talk to Kim, a woman he’s been mentoring in the wizardly arts, about something she’s stumbled upon in exchange for dinner.

He recognizes the power of what she’s messing with, and warns her away.  Then Karrin Murphy, the head of SI, asks for Dresden’s help, and we’re on our way to another supernatural adventure.

This series has many good things going for it.  Butcher writes well, with a good mix of narrative and dialogue.  There’s a good amount of humor in both, which is probably the biggest draw for me.  Literary fiction, almost by definition, takes itself seriously, sometimes to the point of tedium.  Genre fiction, whether it be science fiction, fantasy, romance, or mystery, gives the author so much more room for exploring that essential part of human experience.  Butcher gives the reader plenty without overdoing it, which I really like.

I also enjoy the first-person point-of-view.  I don’t get to read many that stick with one character and also has him “narrate” his own story, and I like that.

There were some stumbling points for me with the book, however.  It felt, to me, that we missed some things in the six months between Storm Front and Fool Moon, and that’s a bit unsettling.  I like to feel like I’m getting the full story in a series like this, and dislike it when the author leaves a good amount of information out.  This is probably just me, but I would have liked a little bit more about Dresden’s life in-between the end of the evil wizard of Storm Front and the beginning of the bad werewolf of Fool Moon.

Butcher also stretched my ability to suspend disbelief with the amount of abuse Dresden is able to take.  I mean, sure, a main character can withstand more than the average person, but not even a Timex watch made of titanium and Teflon could make it through what our hero is forced to endure.  I hope future books give him a little more healing time between beatings.

Overall, I find Butcher’s writing to be fun.  Everyone needs their fiction to be something they can immerse themselves in with no hesitation, and the Dresden Files is definitely a series that I can sit back and enjoy with relish.

Rating:  4/5.

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Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Storm Front isn’t a book that I normally would choose to read on my own.  I’m not a huge mystery reader and I’m not all that enthralled with the urban fantasy genre.  My fiancé got me interested in The Dresden Files when he picked up Storm Front last year from the library, telling me that he thought the books would be good.  He wasn’t able to get into it, due to work-related craziness, which is to his detriment.  Storm Front is a rather good story with a compelling main character.

Harry Dresden is a wizard living in Chicago.  He most likely is the only one who is listed in the phone book and offers his services to the public for a fee.  He is an unusual wizard in many other ways, as well.  Having to defend himself to the death from his apparently evil former mentor, he is being monitored closely by the White Council, the administrative body overseeing wizards.

This causes problems for him when a disturbing double-murder occurs and the Chicago Police Department’s Karrin Murphy, in charge of Special Investigations, calls him in to investigate.  Dresden knows just from the look of the crime that incredibly powerful magic had to have been used to kill the two people.  Murphy asks him to figure out how.

Meanwhile, Dresden is also investigating a missing-person (even though he doesn’t typically do that type of thing).  Monica Sells’ husband is missing.  She basically tosses money at Dresden — who appears to be perpetually broke — then desperately calls the whole thing off, which piques his interest.  So he decides to investigate anyway.

Mixed into these investigations is the Mafia boss Johnny Marcone, who doesn’t want Dresden looking into any of this mess.  One of his henchmen was one of the victims of the double homicide, and it also happens that the murders are related to his struggle to control the drug trade in the city.  Dresden has some challenges.

Author Jim Butcher has mixed into all this a good, healthy dose of dark humor.  Dresden has a skull-inhabiting spirit who can tell him the ingredients for just about any potion he needs.  The characters have good banter, which I think is essential for a mystery novel.  I found it to be a book that I actively looked forward to reading; most I really enjoy, but don’t get the energy to read them outside of exercise and waiting rooms, simply because I’m too tired.  The fact that I had a cold while reading this and still wanted to read it is a true feat.

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that I liked Storm Front.  I have read and enjoyed Stephen King in the past.  To my shame, I even read Christopher Pike when in late elementary and middle school — my only defense is that I had no taste at the time, and that it was better for me to be reading something than nothing at all; my mother would not have appreciated a delinquent teenage daughter.

My only issue with the book is that some of the prose was either awkwardly written or not edited in the best fashion.  Some of the prose fell a little flat for me, so that took a little of the joy out of reading it.  Still, the story was well enough crafted, and Dresden well enough developed, for me to truthfully enjoy the first book in The Dresden Files.  I’m taking a trip to the library later today; maybe Full Moon will be on the list of books to get.

Rating: 4/5.

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