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ON AUDIO

Plot twists, satire, birding's big prize

The Well of Lost Plots

By Jasper Fforde

HighBridge Audio, unabridged fiction, 10 CDs, 12 hours and 25 minutes, $36.95, read by Elizabeth Sastre. Also available unabridged on eight cassettes, $36.95; or as an unabridged download from Audible.com, $19.95.

Between Iraq and a Hard Place

Capitol Steps, unabridged comedy, one CD, one hour and 2 minutes, $15, performed by the Capitol Steps. Available in stores or by calling 800-733-7837 or on www.capitolsteps.com.

The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession

By Mark Obmascik

Audible.com, download, unabridged nonfiction, nine hours and 49 minutes, $22.95, read by Del Roy. Also available abridged from Random House Audio, five CDs, six hours, $29.95, read by Oliver Wyman; or on four cassettes, $25.95, read by Mark Wyman.

There is almost nothing as satisfying as popping the latest book from a favorite author into the stereo and settling in for the evening. Except, perhaps, realizing that his latest audacious, fantastical adventure, ''The Well of Lost Plots," may just be the best in a growing series.

Set in about 1986, this is the third Jasper Fforde novel to feature Literary Detective Thursday Next. She landed herself in trouble while trying to save her husband from eradication in her last outing, ''Lost in a Good Book," and is now hiding from her enemies while awaiting the birth of her child. She takes refuge in the Well of Lost Plots, 26 subbasements of the Great Library, where all fiction is stored.

This is Fforde's most complex novel to date, filled with plots within plots within plots. His setup is a marvel. Next joins the Jurisfiction Character Exchange Program, allowing her to jump into a novel and fill in for the sidekick to a clichd detective in a trashy police mystery. She is supposed to rest there, but that soon proves to be impossible, since a ''mispeling vyrus" has been released into the Well, nursery-rhyme characters are on strike, the Minotaur has escaped and is hiding out with the cattle in a Zane Grey novel, and a murderer is stalking Jurisfiction police.

Fforde piles it on so thick that it takes quite a while to figure out the main plot, but once you get the hang of his complex worlds, you are in for quite the literary ride. Not one character from literature is safe. Heathcliff meets regularly for mandatory ''rage counseling" with the other characters in ''Wuthering Heights," and Lucy Deane from ''The Mill on the Floss" suffers from a ''repetitive character disorder" and must be regularly replaced.

Narrator Elizabeth Sastre, having also read ''The Eyre Affair" and ''Lost in a Good Book," has become Thursday Next, easily expressing her amusement, horror, and exasperation. Difficult names slip from Sastre's tongue without effort, and we have no trouble understanding the misspellings launched by the ''vyrus."

Aside from giving us something to laugh about in tough times, the Capitol Steps have kept comedy albums alive and well. ''Between Iraq and a Hard Place'' is their latest collection of songs and skits aimed at President Bush, his critics, Ted Koppel, environmentalists, Disney, and almost anyone or anything else of recent cultural relevance.

Most members of the group have worked on Capitol Hill and know their stuff. And they set that stuff to music. For instance, ''Korea" is set to the tune of ''Maria" from ''West Side Story," as in ''We learned there are nukes in Korea," while ''Condoleezza" is a takeoff on ''Mona Lisa." It is all funny, relatively inexpensive compared with most audiobooks, and provides new laughs on each hearing. The group's 24th album, ''Papa's Got a Brand New Baghdad," was scheduled for release yesterday.

Birding doesn't sound exciting. And the annual contest to spot the largest number of species sounds even less exciting. But in the hands of journalist Mark Obmascik, the race to be the best bird-watcher in North America, recounted in ''The Big Year," becomes an engrossing story.

Obmascik interviewed the three main contenders of 1998's Big Year contest: Sandy Komito, a contractor from New Jersey; Al Levantin, a businessman from Colorado who has the money and time to spend chasing elusive birds; and Greg Miller, a Maryland computer programmer who is fulfilling a dream with this quest. By the time the winner is announced, we have traveled with these men to British Columbia, New Jersey, Alaska, Massachusetts, and Texas. We get a little of the history of birding, including John James Audubon. Obmascik's descriptions are vivid -- a yellow rail is the ''Greta Garbo of the bird world" -- and he delves into the backgrounds of these men, and what drives them. It is also about the human need to conquer and categorize -- and crow.

Narrator Del Roy has a comforting, somewhat unusual voice. He sounds pleasant and a bit bemused. His voice is a little gravelly and not polished, which quite fits this audiobook. The unusual tale of three possessed men and the birds they adore needed someone who sounded a little quirky. Roy fit the (ahem) bill.

Rochelle O'Gorman is publisher and editor in chief of audiobookcafe.com.

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