To Say Nothing of the Dog

( 110 )

Overview

From Connie Willis, winner of multiple Hugo and Nebula Awards, comes a comedic romp through an unpredictable world of mystery, love, and time travel...

Ned Henry is badly in need of a rest.  He's been shuttling between the 21st century and the 1940s searching for a Victorian atrocity called the bishop's bird stump.  It's part of a project to restore the famed Coventry Cathedral, destroyed in a Nazi air raid over a hundred ...

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Overview

From Connie Willis, winner of multiple Hugo and Nebula Awards, comes a comedic romp through an unpredictable world of mystery, love, and time travel...

Ned Henry is badly in need of a rest.  He's been shuttling between the 21st century and the 1940s searching for a Victorian atrocity called the bishop's bird stump.  It's part of a project to restore the famed Coventry Cathedral, destroyed in a Nazi air raid over a hundred years earlier.  

But then Verity Kindle, a fellow time traveler, inadvertently brings back something from the past.  Now Ned must jump back to the Victorian era to help Verity put things right--not only to save the project but to prevent altering history itself.  

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The most hilarious book of its kind since John Irving's The Water-Method Man and A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole."
--Des Moines Sunday Register

"An utter delight.  Ms.  Willis's unique, engaging voice will carry you off to a place where chaos theory makes perfect sense, time travel is a REASONABLE mode of transport, and safeguarding the fate of humanity is a respectable day job."
--Amanda Quick

"Willis effortlessly juggles comedy of manners, chaos theory and a wide range of literary allusions [with a] near flawlessness of plot, character and prose."
--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"I have long thought that Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men In A Boat is one of the highest points of Inimitable British Humor.  I chuckle; I gurgle; I know those three men--to say nothing of the dog.  And now I am convinced there was a woman concealed in that boat, too: Connie Willis."
--Laurie R. King

VOYA - Mary B. McCarthy
In 2057 Oxford, historical research is conducted through travel to the past. Unfortunately, Lady Schrapnell has commandeered all researchers to locate items to restore the Coventry Cathedral. Our intrepid time traveler, Ned Henry, has been sent throughout history to recover an obscure, and appropriately hideous, Victorian bird stump. Exhausted from too many jumps through time, he is sent back to 1889 Oxford to regroup, boat along the river, and return an item accidentally brought forward in time. Trouble is, Ned has no idea what he is supposed to do or why the enchanting Verity Brown knows about time travel. Together, Ned and Verity attempt to correct an incongruity that might collapse the space time continuum, while cavorting about literary Oxford. Throughout this amusing combination of mystery and science fiction, the time travelers refer to classic works of fiction based in Victorian England. Verity Brown, apparently related to Kivrin Kindle from Willis's The Doomsday Book (Spectra, 1993) attempts to solve the mystery by recalling the writings of Dorothy Sayers. Ned draws similarities between his situation and that in Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat, To Say Nothing of the Dog (Viking 1993, (c)1889). Those intrepid explorers, their boating trip along the Thames, and indeed their style of narration is skillfully echoed in this novel. The elements of historical accuracy, mystery, and the convoluted nature of time travel are well balanced and convincing. Like many early mysteries, the reader figures out plot twists that continue to elude the characters, but overall the effect is, well, charming stuff-and-nonsense. VOYA Codes: 4Q 4P S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, Broad general YA appeal, Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
NY Times Book Review
This delightful addition to Willis's series of time-travel tales (which includes the poignant "Fire Watch" and the tragic "Doomsday Book") is a cheery romp through Victorian England on the trail of a monstrosity called the "bishop's bird stump."
Kirkus Reviews
Comic yarn set in the same time-traveling universe as the splendid Doomsday Book (1992), with some of the minor characters in common. In 2057, the fearsome, slave-driving Lady Schrapnell has lent her authority and her money to developing time travel so that she can rebuild Old Coventry Cathedral, destroyed by Nazi bombs in 1940. After too many recent missions, operative Ned Henry is timelagged and in need of a complete rest. But Lady Schrapnell has another vital task for poor Ned: to locate a grotesque Victorian artifact known as the bishop's bird stump. A chronological complication that Ned is only dimly aware of, though, has arisen and must be fixed before history is changed. So a bewildered Ned finds himself in Oxford in 1889, wearing boating clothes, accompanied by a mountain of luggage, a regal cat in a box, and no idea what he's supposed to do next. Finally, after drifting along the river in an unintentional parody of Three Men in a Boat, he locates his contact, Verity Kindle (she caused the problem in the first place). There's a downside to all this slapstick, of course: Unless Ned and Verity resolve the problem, the Nazis will win WW II. Gleeful fun with a serious edge, set forth in an almost impeccable English accent.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553575385
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/28/1998
  • Series: Bantam Spectra Book Series
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 73,336
  • Product dimensions: 4.10 (w) x 6.80 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Connie Willis has won six Nebula and Six Hugo Awards (more than any other science fiction writer) and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for her first novel, Lincoln's Dreams.  Her novel Doomsday Book won both the Nebula and Hugo Awards, and her first short-story collection, Fire Watch, was a New York Times Notable Book.  Her other works include Bellwether, Impossible Things, Remake, and Uncharted Territory.  Ms.  Willis lives in Greeley, Colorado, with her family.
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Read an Excerpt

"We must join hands," the Count said to Tossie, taking her hand in his.  "Like this...."

"Yes, yes, we must all join hands," Mrs. Mering said.  "Why, Madame Iritosky!"

Madame Iritosky was standing in the doorway, draped in a flowing purple robe with wide sleeves.  "I have been summoned by the spirits to serve as your guide this evening in the parting of the veil."  She touched the back of her hand to her forehead.  "It is my duty, no matter what the cost to me."

"How wonderful!"  Mrs.  Mering said.  "Do come sit down.  Baine, pull up a chair for Madame Iritosky."

"No, no," Madame Iritosky said, indicating Professor Peddick's chair.  "It is here that the teleplasmic vibrations converge."  Professor Peddick obligingly changed chairs.

At least she hadn't sat down next to Verity, but she was next to Count de Vecchio, which meant she'd have one hand free.  And next to me, which meant I was going to have an even harder time lifting tables.

"There is too much light," she said.  "There must be dark--"  She looked round the parlor.  "Where is my cabinet?"

"Yes, Baine," Mrs.  Mering said.  "I told you to put it in here."

"Yes, madam," he said bowing.  "One of the doors was broken, so that it would not lock properly, and I removed it to the kitchen for repairs.  I have repaired it.  Would you like me to bring it in now?"

"No!"  Madame Iritosky said.  "That will not be necessary."

"As you wish," Baine said.

"I feel that there will not be manifestations tonight," she said.  "The spirits wish to speak to us only.  Join hands," she ordered, draping her voluminous purple sleeves over the table.

I grabbed her right hand and grasped it firmly.

"No!" she said, wrenching it away.  "Lightly."

"So sorry," I said.  "I'm new at this sort of thing."

She laid her hand back in mine.  "Baine, turn down the lights," she said.  "The spirits can only come to us in candlelight.  Bring a candle.  Here."  She indicated a flower-stand near her elbow.

Baine lit the candle and turned the lights down.

"Do not turn the lights up on any account," she ordered.  "Or attempt to touch the spirits or the medium.  It could be dangerous."

Tossie giggled, and Madame Iritosky began to cough.  Her hand let go of mine.  I took the opportunity to extend the wires from my wrists and hook them under the table.

"I beg your pardon.  My throat," Madame Iritosky said, and slipped her hand in mine again.  And if Baine had turned up the lights, it would have been dangerous, all right.  I would have bet anything it would have revealed Count de Vecchio's hand in mine.  Not to mention my own hanky-panky.

There was a faint rustling on my right.  Verity, moving her garter into position.

"I've never been at a seance before," I said loudly to cover it.  "We shan't hear bad news, shall we?"

"The spirits speak as they will," Madame Iritosky said.

"Isn't this exciting?"  Mrs.  Mering said.

"Silence," Madame Iritosky said in a sepulchral tone.  "Spirits, we call you from the Other Side.  Come to us and tell us of our fate."

The candle blew out.

Mrs.  Mering screamed.

"Silence," Madame Iritosky said.  "They are coming."

There was a long pause during which several people coughed, and then Verity kicked me on the shin.  I let go of her hand and reached onto my lap, and lifted the lid off the basket.

"I felt something," Verity said, which wasn't true, because Princess Arjumand was brushing against my legs.

"I felt it, too," the Reverend Mr. Arbitage said after a moment.  "It was like a cold wind."

"Oh!"  Tossie said.  "I felt it just now."

"Is there a spirit there?"  Madame Iritosky said, and I leaned forward and lifted up with my wrists.

Amazingly, the table actually moved.  Only a little, but enough to make Tossie and Mrs.  Mering both give their little screamlets and Terence to exclaim, "I say!"

"If you are there, spirit," Madame Iritosky said, sounding irritated, "speak to us.  Rap once for yes, twice for no.  Are you a friendly spirit?"

I held my breath.

Clack went the sugared violets box, and restored my faith in mystery novels.

"Are you Gitcheewatha?"  Madame Iritosky asked.

"That's her spirit control," Mrs.  Mering explained.  "He's a Red Indian chief."

Clack, clack.

"Are you the spirit that I saw the other night?"  Mrs.  Mering said.

Clack.

"I knew it," Mrs.  Mering said.

"Who are you?"  Madame Iritosky said coldly.

There was a silence.  "She wants us to use the alphabet," Verity said, and even in the dark I could sense Madame Iritosky glaring at her.

"Do you wish to communicate by means of the alphabet?"  Mrs.  Mering said excitedly.

Clack.  And then a second clack, a different sound, like someone cracking a knuckle.

"You don't wish to communicate by alphabet?"  Mrs.  Mering said, confusedly.

Clack, and a sharp kick on the shins.

"She does," I said hastily.  "A B C--"

Clack.

"C," Tossie said.  "O, Madame Iritosky, you told me to beware of the sea."

"What else?"  Mrs.  Mering said.  "Do go on, Mr. Henry."

Not while there was a foot loose in here.  I slid forward in my chair, stretching my left leg till it touched Madame Iritosky's skirt and pressed my foot hard against hers.  "ABCDEFGHIJK," I said rapidly, my foot held tight against hers, "LMNO--"

Clack.

She pulled her leg back, and I wondered what would happen if I clamped my hand down hard on her knee.

It was too late.  "ABCD--" Mrs.  Mering said, and the rapping sounded again.

"COD?"  Mrs.  Mering said.

"Cod," Professor Peddick said.  "Gaddus callerias, of which the most interesting variety is the Welsh whiting."

"'Will you walk a little faster,'" Terence quoted, "'said a whiting to a--'"

"Cod, coddle, cody," the Reverend Mr. Arbitage said.  "Are you the ghost of Buffalo Bill Cody?"

"No!"  I shouted before anyone could rap an answer.  "l know what it is.  It's not a C, it's a G.  C and G look nearly alike," I said, hoping no one would notice the letters had been spoken, not written, and that they were nowhere near each other in the called-out alphabet.  "G-O-D.  She's trying to spell Godiva.  Are you the spirit of Lady Godiva?"

A very decisive clack and we were, thankfully, back on track.

"Lady Godiva?"  Mrs.  Mering said uncertainly.

Tossie said, "Is she the one who rode a horse without any--?"

"Tossie!"  Mrs.  Mering said.

"Lady Godiva was a very holy woman," Verity said.  "She had only her people's best interests at heart.  Her message must be very urgent."

"Yes," I said, pressing hard against Madame Iritosky's leg.  "What are you trying to tell us, Lady Godiva?  ABC--"

Clack.

I rattled through the alphabet again, determined not to leave any spaces this time for Madame Iritosky to insert a rap.  "ABCDEFGHIJK--"

I made it as far as M.  There was a sharp rap, like a very annoyed toe being cracked.  I ignored it and pressed on to O, but to no avail.

"M," Mrs.  Mering said.  "CM."

"What sort of word begins with CM?"  Terence said.

"Could she be saying 'come'?"  Tossie said.

"Yes, of course," Mrs.  Mering said.  "But where does she wish us to come?  ABC--" and Verity clacked on cue, but I didn't see what good it was going to do us.  We'd never make it to "o," let alone "v."

"A--" Mrs.  Mering said.

I stamped down hard on Madame Iritosky's foot, but it was too late.  Rap.  There was no mistaking the fury behind the rap this time.  It sounded like she'd broken a toe.

"C-A--" Mrs.  Mering said.

"Cat," Madame Iritosky pronounced.  "The spirit is trying to communicate news of Miss Mering's cat."  Her voice abruptly changed.  "I bring you word of Princess Arjumand," she said in a low husky growl.  "She is here with us on the Other Side--"

"Princess Arjumand?"  On the Other Side?"  Tossie said.  "But she can't be!  She--"

"Do not grieve that she has passed over.  She is happy here."

Princess Arjumand chose this moment to jump onto the table, scaring everyone and startling Tossie into a screamlet.

"O Princess Arjumand!"  Tossie said happily.  "I knew you hadn't passed over.  Why did the spirit say she had, Madame Iritosky?"

I didn't wait for her to come up with an answer.  "The message was not cat.  C-A--What are you trying to say to us, spirit?"  and rattled off the alphabet as fast as I could.  "ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTW--"

Verity clacked, and Tossie said, "C-A-V?  What does that spell?  Cave?  She wishes us to come to a cave?"

"Cahv?"  I said helpfully.  "Cuhv?"

"Coventry," Mrs.  Mering said, and I could have kissed her.  "Spirit, do you wish us to come to Coventry?"

A fervent clack.

"Where in Coventry?"  I said, put my full weight on Madame Iritosky's shoe, and started through the alphabet at a gallop.

Verity wisely decided not to try for Saint.  She clacked on M, I, and C, and, not sure how long I was going to be able to hold Madame Iritosky down, I said, "St. Michael's," got a clack of confirmation, asked, "Do you wish us to come to St. Michael's Church?"  another clack and withdrew my feet.

"St. Michael's Church," Mrs.  Mering said.  "Oh, Madame Iritosky, we must go first thing tomorrow morning--"

"Silence," Madame Iritosky said, "I sense a malicious spirit here," and I groped wildly for her foot with mine.

"Are you a wicked spirit?"  she said.

Rap.

I waited for Verity to clack a second time, but there was nothing but a frantic rustling.  She must have moved the sugared violets box back up above her knee.

"Are you being controlled by an unbeliever?"  Madame Iritosky asked.

Rap.

"Baine, bring up the lights," Madame Iritosky said commandingly.  "There is someone rapping here who is not a spirit."

And I was going to be caught with wires sticking out of my wrists.  I tried to pull my hand out of Madame Iritosky's (or the Count's), but whoever it was had an iron grip.

"Baine!  The lights!"  Madame Iritosky ordered.  She struck a match and lit the candle.

There was a gust of air from the French doors, and the candle blew out.

Tossie screamed, and even Terence gasped.  Everyone looked toward the billowing curtains.  There was a sound, like a low moan, and something luminous appeared beyond the curtains.

"My God!"  the Reverend Mr.  Arbitage said.

"A manifestation," Mrs.  Mering breathed.

The shape floated slowly toward the open French doors, canting slightly to port and glowing with a ghastly greenish light.

The hand holding mine relaxed, and I shoved the wires up my sleeves all the way to my elbows.  Next to me, I could feel Verity pulling up her skirts and then reaching over and jamming the sugared violets box down the side of my right boot.

"Count de Vecchio, go turn up the lights!"  Madame Iritosky said.

"Una fantasma!"  the Count exclaimed and crossed himself.

Verity straightened and took my hand.  "O manifestation, are you the spirit of Lady Godiva?"

"Count de Vecchio," Madame Iritosky said, "l command you to turn up the gas!"

The shape reached the French doors and then seemed to rise and take shape as a face.  A veiled face with large dark eyes.  And a mashed nose.  And jowls.

Verity's hand, holding mine, gave a little spasm.  "O spirit," she said, her voice controlled, "Do you wish us to come to Coventry?"

The shape drifted slowly back from the door, and then turned and vanished, as if a black cloth had been thrown over it.  The French doors slammed shut.

"It bids us go to Coventry," I said.  "We cannot ignore the spirit's summons."

"Did you see that?"  Count de Vecchio said.  "It was horrible, horrible!"

"I have seen a seraphim in the flesh," the Reverend Mr.  Arbitage said rapturously.

The lights came up, revealing Baine standing calmly by the lamp on the marble-topped table, adjusting the flame.

"O Madame Iritosky!"  Mrs.  Mering said, collapsing onto the carpet, "I have seen the face of my own dear mother!"

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 110 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(73)

4 Star

(19)

3 Star

(12)

2 Star

(4)

1 Star

(2)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 110 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 15, 2010

    Genre-Bender

    When Lady Schrapnell agrees to endow the time travel project, it seems like a dream come true for the researchers at Oxford University. They didn't count on their benefactor deciding to use the project to re-create Coventry Cathedral, sending travelers back to umpteen different time periods to locate objects. Time lagged and exhausted, Ned Henry is sent back to Victorian England to recuperate away from the demanding patron. Unfortunately, he's sent so hastily that he arrives unprepared to fit into an era of seances, village fetes, and penwipes. He lands at a railway station in 1888 where he meets a dreamy college student who spouts poetry and tends to fall in love suddenly, an eccentric Oxford professor, a bulldog named Cyril and a whole host of characters who could have walked out of a P.G. Wodehouse novel. Ned is infatuated with Verity, a fellow time traveler, but he isn't sure if it's true love or time-lag. Whatever, they need to resolve a little problem caused by Verity's accidental removal of an item that needs to be returned to its rightful place or else. . . well, they're not quite certain what may happen but that might mean the downfall of civilization. At the very least they might be stuck in the past.

    As you may have gathered, this is a difficult book to explain properly. I can tell you that it's an entertaining adventure with science fiction, a bit of romance, some farce and a comedy of manners. I think it's a delightful tale that should appear to a wide variety of readers, including those who don't usually like science fiction or fantasy. One of my favorite scenes has a weary 1940 time traveler telling a colleague that a native asked about the Queen. "I told him she was wearing a hat. She did, didn't she? I can never remember which one wore the hats." They all did, is the response, except for Victoria. And Camilla. (It's worth noting that this book was written in 1997.)

    By the way, the title comes from Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat, but you don't need to have read that to enjoy some of the in-jokes and brushes with history.

    I highly recommend this book for your reading pleasure.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2010

    Delightful Read!

    A fun and witty novel, To Say Nothing of The Dog was engaging and intellectually stimulating. It was quirky and well written, capturing my attention from the very beginning. I enjoyed every minute of it.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2003

    TOTALLY... TOTALLY THRILLED

    I hadn't heard of this book or the author until I saw it on the Hugo Award list. It ended up being the exact book that I was wanting to read. The idea of time travel is appealing to me and the rules and ideas that Connie imploys in her image of it were terrific in my opinion. With it's drama and underlying humor I was only disappointed when I finished the final word. I immediately found, bought and read Doomsday Book and finished that with the same exhuberance.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 19, 2012

    Highly Recommend

    I read this after re-discovering Connie Willis and reading The Dooms Day Book. It takes place in the time traveling historian's universe and is a somewhat lighthearted look at restoration of the Coventry Cathedral. I loved it. Connie Willis is an engaging, wonderful writer and I have enjoyed reading everything in this 'series'. The books stand alone but I liked reading them in the order she wrote them.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 23, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A lighthearted buy complex time travel tale

    The year is 2057 and Oxford University has a time travel device that is used by their historians. When something is brought back through the machine from the Victorian era (something that is supposedly impossible) the historians furiously scramble to figure out if they have caused an incongruity and get events back into their proper course if they have...all while trying to track down a hideous piece of Victorian art for the overbearing Lady Schrapnell.

    This is probably the best fiction I read last year. Between the silliness of Victorian England and all the little things that keep going wrong for the main characters, this book is hilarious. Connie Willis has managed to construct a thoroughly enjoyable time travel tale with a fairly complex plot that seems to be free of major plot holes or paradoxes. Loved it!

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2005

    New Favorite Book!!

    As if you hadn't already guessed, this book suddenly jumped to the top of my favorite book list. It's funny, there's action, there's romance, the characters are creative and detailed. I especially loved how everything fit together at the end. Please read this book!!

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2002

    I don't even like science fiction!

    I picked up this book because I used to live (for a brief stint) in Coventry England, so it peaked my curiosity. I was not disapointed. It mixed Sci Fi with old England in such a great way. I want to read it again!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2000

    Great book from a great author.

    Connie Willis' books are always well researched and written. This is no exception. Time travelers in the 21st century are going back to various points in history to re-build Coventry Cathedral which was destroyed in the second World War. To say much else really could spoil it. Wonderful book with wonderful characters that leaves you with a wonderful feeling when you're done. I wound uop sending this out as birthday presents this year. I cannot reccomend it too strongly!!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2014

    Fantastic and Funny

    While the first chapter or so confused me (on purpose! it's part of the plot) and it took 30 pages or so to get into the story, once I understood what was happening, I was completely hooked. The writing is very stylized, similar to what you might find in Jane Eyre, and it highlights the Victorian setting where the book takes place.
    I found myself literally laughing out loud at the (absurd, yet totally believable) things that happen to the main character, and I flew through this book.
    You definitely have to have a certain academic background and sense of humor to "get" this book. There are several literary references and historical events that might pass you by otherwise.
    It reminded me a little bit of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, so if you liked that, give this one a chance. I'll definitely be reading more from this author!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 2, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Our book club pick

    It was very slow to start. I got to page 100 and gave up. The other ladies whom continued past page 150 finally started to understand the plot. Those who continued enjoyed it. I may pick it back up after I have read other books that interest me more.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2000

    Great book!

    This novel takes a very interesting and refreshing view of time travel, and pens a wonderful tale. I really enjoyed this novel.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2014

    James

    I start humping your mouth. My di.ck starts cummming "oh yess" I pull your head even closer and I smile and close my eyes.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 21, 2014

    Candylover

    Hello

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 21, 2014

    Abby

    Hey

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2014

    To asterson

    Is it u from the other book? The boy who ran away?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2014

    Asterson

    No points and I have got the prophecy but you got to run goad

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2014

    Kileh

    I wil forgive her..but the others will have to opologize tooo

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2014

    Overall a fun read.

    This book was pretty good and had some humor to it. It was a bit predictable in spots but it didn't spoil the overall. I would keep reading if there had been more books.

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  • Posted April 24, 2014

    This is fun!

    A relaxing, entertaining read! It will challenge your grasp of English literature, but it is OK if your grasp is weak! The tour through some the English geography is fun as well as the customs of the nineteenth century English.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2014

    Loved it!

    Loved it!

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