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Actually I started listening to it, and realized that there was no way I could finish it before the audio book was due back at the library. So I ripped the part I hadn’t yet listened to (to make sure I wouldn’t just keep it forever) and put it on my mp3 player to finish. And when I was finished the exciting book that I’d checked out to listen to next didn’t seem nearly so exciting, so I started listening one-third of the way through the book again. Maybe I’ll get over it enough to start listening to something else. Maybe I’ll have to buy the audio book for myself so I can listen to the whole thing legally, over and over again.

book coverReady Player One by Ernest Cline. Read by Wil Wheaton. It’s a dark, dystopian future. The Recession never ended, and the ongoing energy crisis has ended the era of easy travel. Most people are unemployed, living in large stacks of trailers just outside the city. Life in the real world is so grim that the vast majority of people spend all their time logged into the Oasis, an immersive on-line alternate reality. Getting on to the Oasis and its main planet are free; it sustains itself and a large portion of the overall economy by charging for on-line goods and travel to its millions of other planets. The Oasis was imagined and designed by a hard-core socially impaired geek by the name of James Halliday. When he dies without heirs, he sends out to all the millions of Oasis users an invitation to participate in a treasure hunt for three keys leading to the location of an Easter egg hidden in the game. Our hero is one Wade Watts, an orphan living in the trailer stacks who is attending his senior year of high school in the Oasis. He’s named his avatar Parzival after the Arthurian grail-seeker and is determined to find the egg himself. In addition to all the time he spends in the Oasis, he’s devoted himself to mastering the 1980s arcade, computer and role-playing games, movies and movies that were formative during Halliday’s teen years. Geek children of the 1980s, this book is for you. There are multiple clues and puzzles which you might be able to figure out before Wade if you are familiar with the right movie or game, and even if you don’t, the trivia lessons are fun.

Even if the 80s weren’t your era, the plot of the book keeps on moving. Wade may be just one of millions of gunters (as the egg hunters come to be known), but we know from the beginning that he’s the first one to find the first key. His rivals include his best friend H and the zaftig and beautiful (at least on-line)if reclusive Art3mis, but the real enemy is the giant corporation IOI. They have an army of corporate warriors bent on finding the egg to give ownership of the Oasis to IOI, so that they can then start charging monthly fees and adding more advertising to the Oasis. Can our poor, self-educated hero find the egg or help his friends get there before the evil corporation takes over the current refuge of the poor? Wil Wheaton, geek extraordinaire, gives a pitch-perfect narration here. Though this features a teen narrator, it is aimed at adults. There’s a little sexual reference (no actual sex) and some violence, mostly in the game. The language is foul throughout. This is one of my very favorite books this year, and I urge my fellow geeks to seek it out right now.

Cross-posted to and .
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book coverThe Finder Library. Volume 1. by Carla Speed McNeil I’ve had friends from quite different circles recommend this to me before, but I just couldn’t quite get into it. This time I tried the new super-big version, and found that between the introduction and having more of the story together, I was able to understand the world well enough to be sucked in. This is science fiction with a strong grounding in human nature as well as feeling rooted in real traditions, and the nature of the graphic novel lets these things go by without much explanation, though the extensive endnotes go into both these and the many references to literature and film in the stories. McNeil calls it aboriginal science fiction.

We first meet Jaeger waking up in a bowl held by a giant Ganesha statue in the wilderness. He’s clearly vagrant, and as he journeys to the domed city of Anvard, also well-known to many people both as friend and annoyance. Ethnically, he is part Asican, a seeming Native American/Mongolian hybrid culture that is definitely on the fringes of mainstream city culture. Over the course of the story we learn that he is both a Finder and a Sin Eater, but while it gradually becomes more or less clear what these mean, it’s never explicitly explained. Only a pattern that is the symbol of the Finder and which Jaeger wears as a tattoo appears regularly throughout the story. This collection has one longish story arc and a couple of shorter ones. The longest explores Jaeger’s relationship with his friend and lover, Emma, and her three daughters. Emma is constantly afraid that the abusive ex-husband, Brigham, Jaeger’s former commander, whom she ran away from will get out of prison and track her down. Jaeger, though, maintains his relationship with Brigham, who is indeed out of prison. Other stories explore each of the three children, Jaeger’s past, and Jaeger’s involvement in the quest for a new king of a bipedal lion-like clan. And I’m only scratching the surface.

There are lots of shorter Finder books, as well as another big book out soon. Also, current adventures are posted free on the Light Speed Press website. This is a series, characters, a world to immerse yourself in.

Originally posted at .
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In which your faithful Library Mama learns, once again, that battle scenes are not quite her thing. This audio series is on loan from my dear brother-in-law. My love and he both listened happily to the whole series. But, since they don’t write book reviews, here are my thoughts on it.

book coverThe Lost Fleet: Dauntless by Jack Campbell. Narrated by Christian Rummel. The Lost Fleet is a science-fiction series based on two interesting ideas: What if a long-lost hero of legend, one whom people always said would come back at the hour of greatest need, really did come back? And what if what he came back to was not an immediate stunning victory, but just trying to rescue the shattered remains of a battle fleet from the middle of enemy territory? John Geary was in suspended animation in his escape pod for a hundred years before he was picked up by another Alliance vessel. While he slept, the war with the Syndics or Syndicate Worlds that was just beginning when he was last conscious built into a constant way of life. And, his final actions grew into the legend of Black Jack Geary, the best commander ever, whom the Living Stars would send back to help the Alliance some day. Soon after he awakened, the Alliance Fleet suffered a crushing defeat near the Syndicate home world. The Syndic CEO murdered the Alliance leaders in full view of their troops, unwittingly putting Captain Geary back in command of the fleet. He then vows, against all odds, to get the fleet back home again. The book has a lot going for it – an intruiging premise, interesting reflections on the cultural changes that might happen with a culture at war for a century and Captain Geary’s clashes with that culture. There are the politics of Captain Geary both not wanting to believe in himself as a legend and needing to use that reputation to lead the fleet, much of which is inclined to distrust him. Campbell has a good theory of space movement and, as a former Navy man himself, a good command of tactics which he is able to translate well into three-dimensional space. This is plot-driven fiction with a good setting and decent if not terribly nuanced characters. Christian Rummel’s narration sounds somewhat harsh to me, but suits the military nature of the book well. If closely-fought space battles with some politics float your boat, this series is for you.

Originally posted at .
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book coverAmong Others by Jo Walton Our heroine – who doesn’t share her name with us until well into the book – is a Welsh teen who ran away from her mother and is now (now being 1979) being sent to English boarding school. Of course she doesn’t fit in; her leg was damaged in the accident that killed her twin sister, and she can’t participate in the all-important school sports. Although the school is out in the country, it’s less wild than the outskirts of town in Wales, and that means many fewer fairies, and the ones she can find won’t talk to her. But it’s after the great battle, she says, after the Scouring of the Shire. You don’t expect everyone to survive or for things to go smoothly. The world is still going on, and that means you succeeded. Mori spends her time reading, mostly lots and lots of science fiction. Eventually she joins a science fiction book club, her only real social outlet. Oh, how very close to her I have been! It’s a somewhat sneaky book – most of what happens in the present is pretty mundane, so that I thought at first that the story was going to be the slow and tiny revelations about the Big Battle of the past. Mori suffers through school, tries to figure out the social rules, tries to understand the father she met for the first time when she ran away from her mother. She visits her family in Wales – the people she loves who raised her in the face of her mother’s neglect and craziness. She thinks about love and sexuality, and she reads and thinks about what she reads, often comparing the magic in books to the magic that she has experienced herself. And then suddenly, she is in actual present danger and must rely on the knowledge she has gained from her reading. It was a plot twist that I was not expecting at all. I am left feeling that I ought to go back and re-read it. I was also torn between all the fabulous books that she read that I have also loved, many that I have heard of but not read (mostly sci-fi classics that were missing from my parents’ bookshelf), as well as a few authors that I have never heard of. I should read more science fiction! But I’m already behind on all the areas that I try to read already – aggh! I will also note that the cover of this book, while lovely, seemed to have very little to do with the contents and moreover, made it look like mainstream women’s fiction instead of fantasy that would be enjoyed by either gender. This fantasy is a love poem to science fiction and the power of reading, as well as a strong coming-of-age story featuring a most sympathetic protagonist.

Crossposted to and .
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book coverReturn of the Dapper Men by Jim McCann and Janet Lee Once upon a time there was a world where time stopped, and all that was left were children and machines. The machines lived above ground and the children below, with only one robot girl and one human boy daring to risk friendship across that divide. Then one day, a whole host of dapper men – very dapper men, in white pin-striped suits with green umbrellas – falls from the sky. Only one of them talks, and he only talks to Ayden and Zoe. At this point, I was expecting something along the lines of the Grey Gentlemen from Michael Ende’s Momo - quite decidedly evil. But this turns out not to be the case at all, and it is only like Momo, and The Little Prince in that inside of a story for children is a message probably best captured by adults on how to appreciate life. The story is beautifully told, but the artwork really shines. It’s done in an Art Nouveau style, but with the figures in watercolor and ink cut out and pasted on pre-treated boards. I bought this for the adult collection at the library, but I think now it would do just as well in the children’s section, though it probably has too much of the air of the innocence of childhood to appeal to teens. I could be wrong, though. That art might pull just about anyone in. Go look at it, and see if you don’t think so.


Apr. 6th, 2010 08:28 pm
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Many thanks to my love for discovering this book, which Lightning Bolt and I listened to in the car.

book coverLarklight by Phillip Reeve. Read by Greg Steinbruner. Larklight is set in an alternate Victorian world, where the British Empire spans the solar system. Our narrator, Art Mumby (eleven or so, I’d guess), and his proper teen-aged sister Myrtle live in an ancient and remote manor house, Larklight, that orbits the earth past the moon. When their home is attacked by giant white spiders, Art and Myrtle escape to the moon, where they are rescued from the fearsome wildlife there by the young pirate Jack Havock. Art, Myrtle, Jack Havock and his crew of aliens then embark on a quest to save the solar system. I found a whole lot to like about this book. There is the wonderful Victorian-flavored prose, with both the floweriness and schoolboy slang. As part of this, the wooden ether ships are powered by the alchemical wedding which naturally occurs not in an engine room but in a wedding chamber. Many of the characters are archetypes twisted just enough to be self-aware – the Plucky British Schoolboy, the Very Proper Young Lady in Search of Love, and the Pirate with the Heart of Gold. Despite the unreality of wildlife that can survive in the ether and on the moon, the vast distances of the solar system seem much more accurately represented here than in much of sci-fi: Mars is the farthest regular British outpost. There are aliens and a few humans on the moons of Jupiter, but Saturn is farther than humans have ever managed to go. I really enjoyed Steinbruner’s reading of the text, his British accents as Art appropriately youthful and plucky, but the print book is also lovingly illustrated, so you can take your pick. My library has this shelved in teen, but I can’t see why – it seems more appropriate for children’s fiction. If you love this (and why wouldn’t you?) there are two more books in the series.
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book coverPirate Freedom by Gene Wolfe A young but worldly-wise priest is writing his memoirs. It started when Chris was put in a monastery school in Cuba and decided he didn’t want to take orders. When he left the monastery, the Havana he knew was gone, replaced by a much smaller one. Without money, food or shelter, he found work on a pirate ship. He made friends with Cap’n Burt, but didn’t want to become a murderous pirate himself. So much for good intentions. After several more adventures, he finds himself captain of his own pirate ship, pursued (romantically) by the wily and courageous Novia. The straightforward prose suits the book well, telling the plain facts of real pirate life. The action is violent without being romanticized and the plot does several quite unexpected flips. And while Father Chris is writing his memoirs and working at the Teen Center, he’s plotting how he can get back in time to the wife he left behind. I hear Neil Gaiman’s calling it essential reading.
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I’m just writing down my list of things to review. There are six, which is a lot. I’m sure not all of them will make it up at once. Hadn’t realized I was so far behind, but I guess that’s what happens when I both listen in the car and read fast books.

The City of Ember by Jeanne Duprau. Read by Wendy Dillon “The City of Ember is the only point of light in a dark world” say the ancient texts, and this is literally true, since the only light in Ember’s sky comes from huge floodlights, and no one has been able to navigate the darkness of the Unknown Regions to see if there are other cities. On Assignment Day, all 12-year-olds in the City of Ember are randomly assigned jobs. On this day in the year 241, Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow trade jobs. She will become a Messenger, carrying messages between the citizens of Ember, and he, a Pipeworker, repairing the ancient plumbing that takes water from the underground river and sends it to the people of Ember. Once there was plenty of everything – food, supplies, and light. Now supplies are running short, the greenhouses are beginning to fail and blackouts are becoming longer and more frequent. As Doon tries to repair the crumbling underside of the city, Lina finds cryptic, half-destroyed Instructions for Egress. Together they work to find the hidden way out before the generator stops for good. Wendy Dillon, as the narrator, made all the characters sound somewhat uncertain and cartoon-like, but did an excellent job of distinguishing all the characters and building suspense through the story.

I always feel that some spiritual reflection is in order during Lent, and with Anne Lamott, I know for sure I’m not going to find the “God and the Republicans will keep America a Christian nation and save it from the gays if we pray hard enough” kind of thinking or even the “God wants your life to be perfect – all you have to do is pray just right” kind of thinking, both of which I find really abhorrent.

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott This is a journal of Lamott’s son’s first year, not really religious book. Lamott decides to keep an unplanned pregnancy, even though the father wants nothing to do with a baby, and even though she has been clean for only three years and couldn’t take care of a cat in her previous life. Despite differences in parenting and life styles, baby Sam’s story was instantly recognizable. If you’re a parent, you’ll remember being there yourself, and if you’re not, you’ll have a much better idea by the time you’re done (though I’d advise you not to expect a baby to sleep through the night at three months). Lamott’s wrestling with her faith and the difficulties of being a single parent and the sorrow as Lamott’s best friend and partner in parenting is diagnosed with terminal cancer are all described with merciless and irreverent humor. This is one to be careful about reading in public, as you are likely to need tissues and help to keep from falling out of your seat with laughter.

Another entry in my occasional series Kids Music That Won’t Require an Insulin Shot.

Mother Goose Rocks from Boffomedia This is just what it sounds like, classic Mother Goose rhymes set to rock music. This CD (first in a series of four or so) features “Rub-a-Dub-Dub” done to a tune that sounds suspiciously like the Spice Girls’ “Wanna” and “Pat-a-Cake” ala Alanis Morissette. It might be a little too close to the originals for the liner notes not to credit them, but that means more fun for you figuring out which artist they’re mimicking. I was rolling with laughter at the spoofs, and Mr. Froggie Pants was just rocking along with the music.

I sent a patron to get something at another library with just half an hour to go before that library's closing time, before they actually knew the item was on the shelf for them. Now the Mission Impossible theme is stuck in my head.
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You may wonder at my long silence, or you may think that I have been too busy with holiday preparations and a baby to read of late. And while I have indeed been busy, I have yet been diligent in seeking out yummy books for my friends and myself. My latest effort, as seen below, was well over 900 pages and thus took me nearly the entire three-week lending period to read.

A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon The saga of Jamie and Claire Fraser continues with this sixth book. As the story picks up, Jamie and Claire are living in their house on Fraser's Ridge in North Carolina, with their daughter Brianna, her husband Roger, and their son Jemmie. They are all transplants, Jamie from the Highlands and Claire, Brianna and Roger from the twentieth century. The year is now 1773, and the Revolutionary War is brewing. In the back of their minds, too, is the newspaper clipping that sent Brianna back, saying that Claire and Jamie Fraser were killed when their house burned down. Claire and Jamie have always had a powerful romantic relationship, and in this book, Brianna and Roger's marriage also comes into its own. Gabaldon manages to capture amazingly well the small details of eighteenth century life and the human relationships. The war comes into being in the small chaos and conflicts of local politics, the outcome known for certain only by our heroes. They are not permitted to watch from the sidelines, but suffer from multiple kidnappings, murders and robberies – a genuine roller-coaster ride before their invention. Since the genre-spanning series was first published as a romance because that was the best-selling of all possible genres, Gabaldon keeps romance clichés firmly in mind – at one point the kidnapped Brianna thinks that if this were a romance novel, she would lower herself out of the window with the sheet, except that the window is barred and they didn't leave her a sheet.

If you haven't read any Gabaldon yet, I'd recommend starting with the first in the series, Outlander. And don't be scared by the length of the books or the series – we're mostly following our characters and the progression of history here, not the progress of the One True Ring, so if you just want a taste, you can stop after the first one. On the other hand, since becoming a librarian, I've become the queen of reading only the first book of popular series, and I've read the whole series voraciously. If you've been following the series, too, you won't want to miss this one.

Romance! Action! Intrigue! Sex! Humor! Men in kilts! What are you waiting for?

And a brief mention of three fun books for children, which I picked up based on starred reviews in Booklist.

Once Upon a Time, the End: Asleep in 60 Seconds by Geoffrey Kloske. Illustrated by Barry Britt Once upon a time, a tired father was reading to his child, who wouldn't go to sleep without "one more story". So as time went on, the father started cutting bits out of the stories to make them shorter, so his child would go to sleep and he could go to bed himself. Goldilocks decides that her bed is more comfortable after all, Sleeping Beauty wakes up refreshed, and the fallen Goliath looks like he's sleeping. This one made all the staff in the break room giggle when I read bits of it aloud.

Winter Friends by Mary Quattlebaum. Illustrated by Hiroe Nakata This one (and the last one) In this series of linked poems, we follow a little girl on her journey through a snowy day trying to find the owner of a lost mitten. I'm not usually much for poetry, but the imagery here is just delightful – dawn comes up in a pink bathrobe and striped pajamas, and Mama's whistle is "a kiss that sings". Even Mr. Froggie Pants enjoyed the sound play of the words. The luminous watercolors tie the story together beautifully.

Three French Hens by Margie Palatini. Illustrated by Richard Egielski Three French hens are sent as a Christmas gift from a cat to her lover Phillippe Reynard. But the package goes astray; they find themselves in New York and track down one Phil Fox. He's alone and hungry and ready to dine on the three fat chickens on his doorstep – until they give him a Queer Eye-style makeover. Since dinner is now impossible, he invites them to join his Christmas celebration, only to find out that their holiday is Hannukah.


Oct. 11th, 2004 03:46 pm
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Once again, I try to prove that I can think of things besides babies. So, two alternate reality fiction books, and escape by retail therapy.

The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde This is the third book (of four so far) in a series of literary science fiction starring our heroine, Thursday Next. The books are action-packed and hilariously funny, full of subtle and not-so-subtle references to classic literature. “Science fiction” here means alternate reality, not spaceships, as Thursday is from a 1980s England where history and the rules are just a little different. In this book, though, Thursday is hiding from the evil Goliath Corporation in the world of fiction – taking over the part of a character in an unpublished mystery, while continuing her apprenticeship with Miss Haversham of Great Expectations as a JurisFiction agent. Even here, though, it looks like someone is out to get her. Her husband was eradicated by Goliath in the previous books, and now she’s struggling to keep her enemy, Aornis, from erasing her memories of him as well. I’m afraid I’ve simplified things a great deal – Fforde seems to add another layer or two of complication to the world with each book in the series. If you’ve read the previous two books, you won’t want to miss this one, and it may even make sense. If you haven’t, avoid getting lost in this one by starting with the first one, Lost in a Good Book, in which Thursday sets out to rescue Jane Eyre, who has been kidnapped from her book.

Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling The year is 1998, and the world is our own. Mike Havel, a former Marine turned private pilot is flying a family to their cabin in Montana when his plane – and his watch, and their guns, and all the city lights around – stop working. Meanwhile, in Oregon, folk musician and coven leader Juniper MacKenzie is playing a tavern gig when the same thing happens (except she’s happily not in a plane.) The technology of the past couple hundred years has all stopped working, and only those who can adapt will survive. Yes, it requires a major leap of faith to believe that the principles that make our technology work could change overnight. This improbability is brought up several times over the course of the book, but it’s not the focus of the book. Instead, it focuses on what makes a society stripped down to the bare bones work. Our two heroes pick up a bunch of followers with useful skills – a Tolkein fan whose Legolas delusions are suddenly essential, rodeo hands, SCA members with knowledge of fighting and metal crafting. Besides practical skills, the book looks at the importance of myth and belief, as our heroes adjust to being treated as such, and the leader of a small coven suddenly finds her previously marginalized religion in demand. I enjoyed the characters, reflecting on the deeper issues, and was pulled in by the action. And yeah, as a Scadian, it’s pretty funny to read a book where SCA membership could be a life or death matter.

thepurplebook by Hillary Mendelsohn And for a complete change of pace – shopping. Ok, you might think, as I generally do, that a guide to internet shopping is pretty superfluous when you have Google. But if you do shop – or want to shop – on-line, this book is pretty darn useful. It’s divided by major shopping categories, and gives brief one or two sentence reviews of different on-line retailers, along with telling what they sell and icons saying how expensive shipping is, how easy the site is to use, etc. I do wish that her icons included general price ranges for the store, not just shipping, but this is a relatively small quibble, as one can generally tell from the reviews how high-brow a store will be. While some of the retailers were familiar to me, many of them were not – whole worlds of cool sites to browse opened up! I don’t plan to buy it for myself, especially as they come out with a new edition every year, but it’s definitely worth checking out at the library.
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Today, for your enjoyment – two new and highly rated books, and a trio of mysteries.

The New Books

I know, I said I was only going to review books I liked. Well, I can’t say that I loved these books, but they were interesting and got good reviews from other people, so I thought I’d let you know what I think.

Alva and Irva, the Twins Who Saved a City by Edward Carey. Library Journal listed this as one of the best science fiction novels of 2003. Alas, the setting, a fictional European city, is as close as it gets to science fiction. Alva and Irva are painfully socially awkward, unsure even how to relate to each other. To save their own relationship, they decide to make a plasticine model of the entire city, with Alva taking notes on the buildings and Irva making them. When the city is hit by a massive earthquake, this model is the only remaining record of how the city was. The twins are lauded as the saviors of the city. The writer is not French, but lives in Paris, which perhaps accounts for the odd feel of the book, written like an experimental film with odd lighting and film angles, giving ordinary things unusual prominence. Was it enjoyable? The jury is still out. But memorable and thought-provoking, definitely.

Bandbox by Thomas Mallon. This book was billed as a romp through the exciting publishing world of the 1920s. It is that, chronicling the battle between two men’s magazines. The biggest drawback to this otherwise fine book is that the perspective switches from section to section between any one of about 20 main characters. It took me most of the book to remember all of them. Write them down at the beginning, and you should be able to enjoy the book.

The Mysteries

These are all mysteries of the type called “cozy” by librarians – no graphic violence or sex (romance allowed), usually set in a small village, and generally feel-good-at-the-end books. If you liked Agatha Christy, you’re likely to like these.

Aunt Dimity’s Death by Nancy Atherton. This novel is about as comfort-read as it is possible to get, with nary a sharp edge. Down-and-out American Lori Shepherd finds she must spend a month in a cottage in England (all expenses paid), to fulfill the last wishes of Aunt Dimity, previously known to Lori only as a bedtime story. No, no murders or thefts, but this book does feature some friendly ghosts, plenty of romance, and a stuffed pink bunny. This is the first book in the series, which is still on-going, and seems to get only better as it goes on.

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters. A mystery classic – this is the first in a series that has been going on for nearly thirty years, and still has legions of fans. Our heroine, Amelia Peabody, is (at this point) a sharp-tongued Victorian spinster, who would rather have her mind than a man, thank you very much. She sets off on a journey to Egypt for some amateur archaeology, taking the waif-like Evelyn under her wing along the way. When somebody – with the audacity to try to look like a mummy – tries to kidnap Evelyn, Miss Peabody sets out to stop the miscreant. I really enjoyed this as a recorded book, where the snap of Miss Peabody’s character comes through especially vividly.

OK, I lied. It was supposed to be a trio of mysteries – I’m still reading the third. I’ll get back to that one.


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