Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale


 

Midnight in Austenland
Shannon Hale

In Austenland, actors play courting gentlemen and cater to fantasies of Mr. Darcy and other Austeneque heroes for rich female customers. Austenland was about a reporter working on a story about this place, and I enjoyed it, so I was excited to see that Shannon Hale was releasing a follow-up, Midnight in Austenland. This is a review based on an eARC copy.
 
The Premise: Charlotte is a nice and practical woman who is also rather clever. She has two children, a nice husband, and a flush retirement account, thanks to her business sense. Then her husband James became not-so-nice. He slowly pulls away from their marriage until one day, Charlotte finds herself divorced, older, and a little bit lost. With her kids staying with their father and his new wife for three weeks over the summer, Charlotte decides to book a vacation. Admitting to the travel agent that she’d love to be in an Austen novel, Charlotte finds herself with a booking at the exclusive Austenland.
 
Unfortunately for Charlotte, she can’t stop her clever mind from chugging along. Worrying about her kids is driving her crazy, so instead she focuses on the people around her. Wondering if Miss Gardenside’s sickness is real or feigned, what is stressing out Mrs. Wattlesbrook, and if Mr. Mallery is sexy or sinister keeps Charlotte busy until she discovers a dead body. At least, she thinks that’s what it was, but she can’t prove it. Suddenly everything and everyone in Austenland is suspect.
 
My Thoughts: Charlotte is a very likable heroine –  successful in her online landscaping business, a protective mother, and just a little bit of a over-thinker (in an endearing way). For a long time, she felt her husband moving away from her, but no matter what she did to try to mend their marriage, nothing worked.  I felt for her as the only person trying, while James had already checked out. When she finds herself single again, her self-consciousness about not knowing what to do with herself. She worries about what the divorce will do to her teenage daughter and her young son, and she tries to date (and fails miserably). Even in Austenland, where Charlotte can pretend that she’s someone else, she realizes that she can’t stop being the person she is.
 
So to distract herself from her usual worries, Charlotte begins to look at the guests and actors she’s surrounded by in Austenland. These characters are sketched quickly but distinctly.  The gentlemen/actors courting the three guests are her friendly pretend brother, Mr. Edmund Grey (Eddie), the affable Colonel Andrews, and the dark and broody Mr. Mallery.  The guests: repeat visitor Miss Charming, the sickly Miss Gardenside (who Charlotte recognizes as a pop singer her daughter adores), and her nurse, Mrs. Hatchet.  Then there is household staff, including Charlotte’s lady’s maid, Mary. And finally Mr and Mrs. Wattlesbrook, the owners of Austenland. With all these personalities before her, and with the parlor mysteries that Colonel Andrews devises, Charlotte has plenty keep her imagination going. That is, until one of the games takes a dark turn and the story becomes less about Charlotte on vacation and more about Charlotte solving a mystery.
 
Because of this mystery, Midnight in Austenland was a very different story than Austenland. If Austenland is chick lit with shades of Pride and Prejudice, Midnight in Austenland is a suspense-comedy reminiscent of Northanger Abbey.  Charlotte’s thought process is a funny thing, and she can’t decide at first if she really felt a dead body or not. Was it part of the game? Was it her imagination? Or was it a man’s corpse? There’s no way to say for sure until she gets to the bottom of things, so she uses her clever mind to investigate. In the meantime, Charlotte finds herself extremely aware of the dark and mysterious Mr. Mallery (and the feeling appears mutual). This is a man so at home in Austenland, Charlotte can’t imagine him anywhere else. If Mr. Mallery is the bad boy of the place, Eddie, her ‘brother’, is the nice guy.  While Mallery exudes danger, Eddie is safety, even if Eddie seems to treat Charlotte’s strange behavior as a joke or product of his ‘sister’s’ overactive imagination.
 
This is a fun romp with some humor and suspense, and an interesting cast of characters. I enjoyed that Charlotte was not the typical chick lit heroine (twenty-something young working girl), but a older, divorced suburban mom with a brain she can’t stop from churning. But it’s also not a story with huge surprises. It’s clear early on who is behind things and who Charlotte should be with. The mix of the Gothic mystery in the modern day makes the story humorous for some, possibly too farcical for others. For those who want a romance, the mystery leaves less room for the relationship to develop. This also felt like a really short book. Now, my nook has 189 pages for the eARC, while the publisher says the hardcover is 288. Maybe my ARC is missing some scenes added on later? I enjoyed what was there, but it all ended a little quickly for me.
 
Overall: Charming but not what I expected. Don’t expect this to be your typical chick lit or to be the same type of book as Austenland was. This is more Northanger Abbey than it is Pride and Prejudice, but it was a nice little romp. I wished for a little more romance and a little less farce, but I also went into this book expecting something in the same vein as Austenland. If I hadn’t had this expectation, I think I would have fared better. If I reread this book knowing what I now know, I’d like it more.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
Searched but didn’t find reviews within my blogging friends circle. Let me know if I missed you and I will link your review here.

Persuading Annie by Melissa Nathan

Persuading Annie
Melissa Nathan

Persuading Annie is the second Melissa Nathan book based on a Jane Austen novel. I reviewed Pride, Prejudice and Jasmine Field here. This time it's Persuasion which is getting a modern-day retelling.

This book starts off with Annie Markham, an heiress to the Markham fortune, going through a pregnancy scare in college with her boyfriend Jake Mead. Because of some well-meaning but overbearing relatives (her godmother Susannah and Susannah's daughter Cass), Annie is persuaded that Jake isn't the right guy for her, and they break up.

Seven years later, Annie's father, George Markham, CEO of Markham PR is in trouble, and the whole family is on the brink of financial ruin. With Susannah's advice, they hire an expensive consulting firm to save the company – a firm run by Jake Mead, the very same Jake that left Annie years ago. Annie's sisters Katherine and Victoria fawn over their expected savior, but Annie cringes at having to see Jake again. On top of that, she'll be seeing a lot of him, not only in board meetings, because in an effort to cut costs, Jake's people are staying on the first floor of the Markham mansion.

Overall: It's pretty easy to see the parallels between the original Jane Austen novel and this book, but I think this one didn't work as well for me as Nathan's other retelling. The problem I had was I never really fully bought into Annie and Jake, because at the beginning of the novel, when we see them as young and scared, I guess I didn't see much chemistry between them or reasons why they were together. Later when the two reconnected, I was haunted by the earlier impression.  On top of that, Annie's personality was a quiet one. Despite being the main heroine, and having her own life apart from her family (with art and the Samaritians), and some quiet backbone, I thought that she mostly looked good standing next to her obnoxious relatives, especially her selfish sisters. This didn't make me really dislike the book, more like bought down the book from being a really good read. As usual the writing is well done - I had no trouble feeling bored or wanting to put the book down, and the ensemble of other characters also helped the story a lot. I liked the side story of Victoria and Charles – they went from annoying to human over the course of the book. There were a few sweet scenes with Annie and Jake, but as I mentioned – didn't completely work for me. Anyway, I have no trouble imagining this book as a romantic comedy, complete with the typical ending that comes with those movies, and I'm not sure if it's just me that didn't fully believe the romance (it may be). It's a good book to read now, at the start of the holiday season – the timeline for this book ends in Christmas and the New Year.

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Austenland by Shannon Hale

Austenland: A Novel
Shannon Hale

Shannon Hale is another one of those authors whose back-list I want to read, just haven't gotten around to it. Before Austenland I've only read young adult books by her. Just looked it up, yes she as mostly written young adult books. I have only read The Goose Girl, but mean to pick up Enna Burning and The Princess Academy one day. Anyway, when I saw Austenland on display in Barnes and Noble, my gasp was rather audible. An adult book, Austen AND Shannon Hale?

So I kept going to the bookstore and visiting this book, but thinking about my TBR and putting it back down. Yeah, I do that with a lot of books. I visit them at the bookstore and think of how I have to finish what I have…

 After getting into an Austen remake kick with the Melissa Nathan book I read, I went to the library and picked this up (but I have also ordered it online).

This is a bit different from the previous chick-lit + Austen related books I've read as in it doesn't really retell Pride and Prejudice, and it doesn't have any time travel to see Mr. Darcy, but we do have a Jane Austen obsessed heroine, single, who decides to go on an Austen themed holiday. This reminded me a bit of Me and Mr. Darcy, except instead of going on a tour, Jane Hayes goes and lives at Pembrook Park, where actors play the roles of Austen era gentility, and guests' dreams of a pretend romance while wearing Regency clothes come true. This expensive vacation was willed to Jane by her great-aunt so she can get over her very serious view of relationships (she starts off by hoping for forever, and after disappointments mount, starts to rely more and more on the fantasy of Mr. Darcy). Jane Hayes becomes Jane Erstwhile, back from the New World and visiting her aunt Saffonia and her husband Sir Templeton, and meets other guests staying with her "aunt".

Overall: This was a fun read. I found it a bit short though, only 194 pages in my copy, which is more of a young adult length, but it was still a good read. Jane is an amusing character – very forthright with her feelings and quite quick on her feet. Some of her dialogue made me laugh. The book was segmented by short paragraphs about boyfriends Jane has had in her life (13 so far), which added to the amusement and explained some of Jane's character. Because her love interests in this book were both actors (a Mr. Nobley who finds her "impertinant" and Martin Jasper, who breaks role and secretly watches basketball with her in his room), we don't see very much about their backstory, except for a bit when Jane uses her journalist friend's connections. I think that adds to the surreal feeling of – is she really doing this? Pretending? And the oddity of a whole household of people pretending to be in the Regency era for a few rich people's amusement. Jane struggles with this throughout the book, but manages to still be herself while in the ridiculous surroundings.

A complaint I see a lot from people when reading this type of book is how cliched it is – repetition of the same stories created by Austen in the modern world, or trying to continue her books in a bad fan-fiction way. I admit, if that's not your thing, you may not like this book, because this had a lot more references to the BBC adaptations than to the actual books. I'm not sure that accuracy is the point though. This is just a fun story, and I think it does point out the value or real life over fantasy. And while Jane she does meet someone who she at first considers rather Darcy-esque, we don't have an as obvious Lizzy/Darcy parallel as in other books. OK there is one, but it's not bad. It was a fresh spin and I enjoyed it.

Hale's Austenland webpage

An Excerpt

Alternate endings!! <— spoilers therein


Also reviewed:

@ The Written Word (she liked it)

@ Em's Bookshelf (also liked it)

@ AustenBlog (hated it!! Well, I'm giving you a second opinion here).

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The Nanny by Melissa Nathan

The Nanny
Melissa Nathan

Like Linnea Sinclair, I think I'm just going to HAVE to read everything this author has ever written. After I read Pride, Prejudice and Jasmine Field, I went online and got a copy of Persuading Annie, the second one of her modern retellings of Jane Austen. Persuading Annie is a retelling of Persuasion. Meanwhile I also hopped to the library and borrowed The Nanny. Unfortunately, this is the only Melissa Nathan novel my library has, so I have to get her other two books The Waitress and The Learning Curve elsewhere.

This is I think Nathan's third novel and is her own story, not based on an Austen novel. I liked it probably a smidge less than Pride, Prejudice and Jasmine Field, but more than Persuading Annie.

The Nanny is about a twenty three year old nanny, Jo Green, who feels stuck in a rut with her life in Niblet-upon-Avon. Her boyfriend Shaun has proposed a few times, and each time she has turned him down, while her parents think he has never asked and keep wondering aloud what could be wrong and what he's waiting for. When Jo sees an ad for a nanny in London, she decides to apply for the job and just have a change of pace. She gets hired by Dick and Vanessa Fitzgerald, who have three children – eight year old Cassandra, six year old Zak and the youngest, Tallulah and gets sucked into their busy family life. To complicate matters Dick's sons from his first marriage arrive – his teen-aged son Toby and his grownup son Josh. Josh even moves in and sleeps in Jo's living room, and tensions mount.

Overall: This book started off a bit slowly as we got introduced to all the people in Jo's life, but everyone had their own personality and story within the book which made it enjoyable. We not only see Jo's struggle with her relationships but we also see complications in the marriage of Dick and Vanessa, Jo's parents and even the relationships among the kids. This ended up being a feel good story so things ended well for everyone involved, maybe in a too pat way, but it was just the type of book to cheer you up after a bad week. It did not feel short and fluffy, it felt like it had more depth than that, and it was a satisfying read. There are some comments here about being a working mother in need of a nanny, and family dynamics – the woman's role versus the man's, which made it a well thought out book for me. I also enjoyed the humor throughout the book – although sometimes the sarcasm was surprising, it was refreshing to read a book about the trials of parenting that come along with the joys, and to see a parent who loved their kids but may not be cut out for staying at home with them. The romance in this book was sweet as well.

P.S. This was written in third person (FYI for those who hate reading in first person)!

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Pride, Prejudice and Jasmin Field

This book is one of those modern day retellings of Pride and Prejudice. Jasmin Field (Jazz) is a reporter at a woman’s magazine who signed up for an audition for a one day “Pride and Prejudice” play, with director Harry Nobel. She finds Harry really arrogant and her contempt is cemented when she overhears him calling her “the Ugly Sister” compared to her actress sister George. What follows is a parallel of the Pride and Prejudice, which is very obvious considering the play and the title of the book, but there are several things I thought made things more interesting – the author focusses on the characters of Elizabeth and Jane Bennet, Mr. Bingley and Darcy more than others in the Jane Austen Novel and there are some twists to the Wickham scandal, the Bennet family and Mr. Collins.

Nits:

  • Well I saw reviews complaining about the main character being called “Jazz” and her best friend and sister were “Mo” and “George” – like there are too many cool names here. This didn’t bother me, but maybe avoid it if it’s a peeve.
  • There’s apparently a lot of swearing. I barely noticed though, I thought this was all part of Jazz’s lifestyle as a young woman with snarky female friends. They are all very blunt with each other.
  • This was my only really complaint: it was so obvious that the story paralleled the Jane Austen book, but the characters who were doing a play were rather oblivious except to kind of laugh when their words paralleled lines in the play maybe a couple of times. You have to suspend some disbelief here.

 

Good things:
OK, the rest of the book – I really liked it and enjoyed myself. I found it hard to put down. Even though I knew what was likely going to happen because I know the Pride and Prejudice story, I thought that Pride, Prejudice, and Jasmin Field was originally done and was humorous. It was very different from the original because of the modern setting, with Jazz/Lizzy having a job as a reporter and her work issues, while Harry’s actor background is very different from the Darcy in Jane Austen’s book. It was fun to see Nathan’s creativity in translating the Austen book to this setting. I thought the romance was very sweet too. Jazz is often really angry at Harry and he’s a bit intimidated, but she doesn’t realize this, so when they get together at the end, it was nicely done, and showed his insecurity. I also thought Nathan’s version of the scene where Lizzy first sees Darcy’s house was very different – you wouldn’t easily guess it until you see it. So discovering what scenes translated to what was fun. I read this book in just a few hours and quickly googled the author as soon as I was done. I was really sad to find that Nathan died of cancer only a couple of years ago, but she has another Jane Austen based novel which I plan to read (Persuading Annie), as well as other books. I think I’m likely to go and devour her backlist, I think I found a new author I love. Judging from amazon though, it was definitely either loved it or hated it regarding this book. Don’t read it if you want something serious and similar to Austen, it’s more like irreverant, chick-lit Austen.

 

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Hot Mama by Jennifer Estep

Hot Mama
Jennifer Estep

I had fun reading Karma Girl so I picked up the second book Hot Mama, when it came out last month. This was also like candy – really easy and fast to read, fun and campy, but I ended up not liking it quite as much as the first one in the series for a number of reasons.

This is the book dedicated to the story of Fiona Fine, successful fashion designer who is really Fiera, part of the Fearless Five. We continue a few months after Karma Girl leaves off with the Five moving on with their lives and Fiona, after mourning her fiance's death has started thinking about dating again. In the meantime, two more ubervillans – Intelligal and Siren, have entered the scene in Bigtime, New York. Much of the first part of the book rehashed book one – so new readers could read this book without reading the first one (but they would probably be spoiled for book one's ending).

 Fiona Fine aka Fiera is a different character from Carmen Cole – and this was probably part of my issue. She's got a fiery personality to match her superpowers but sometimes stubborn and willfull felt like bullheaded and obtuse! I missed Carmen because she paid attention to details while Fiona sort of stomps all over the place and ignores subtlety – even when it was so obvious to everyone else. In Karma Girl I could guess the secret identities of many of the superheros/ubervillans. I think it wasn't meant to be hard to do, but in Hot Karma it felt like we got twice the amount of hints and Fiona isn't even *trying*. At least when Fiona finally figures it out she does say how ridiculously obvious it was, which somewhat mollified me because I was ready to throw my hands up at that point.

I felt that while there were a couple of compelling emotional story arcs in here (Fiona's grieving for her fiance, falling in love and dealing with vigilante revenge) the book moved forward through Fiona's dating, working, and fighting the bad-guys without me to feeling like I really connected with her character. Emotions of hers were repeatedly brought up but I still coudn't buy it. I got that she was hot-tempered, but I wish I understood her reason for her flare-ups more than – so and so is annoying. Also when she thought about her fiance she'd describe his qualities but I didn't feel emotionally connected to her grief just because she kept saying she was sad. I could buy Carmen's actions and thoughts in Karma Girl and that coupled with the zany story made me really like it. In Hot Mama the fun stuff was there but I didnt feel as involved in Fiona's character. It's weird though – I mean this book is a seriously easy read. So Fiona wasn't enough for me to put the book down, and the rest of the world in the book kept me engaged, but once I finished I felt unsatisfied with how I felt about her character. Maybe this is a matter of preference. I'd be interested if others agree/disagree about Fiona. Meanwhile I'd still recommend this for those looking for an unserious, very-much-like-candy read.

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The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

I'd heard about The Eyre Affair before – something about an agent named Thursday Next and being able to hop into a book and meet the characters and possibly change the outcome of the book's story. I was sort of "meh" over this idea. I've read Inkheart by Cornelia Funke where someone has the ability to make pieces of the book they're reading appear just by reading aloud, and someone in the real world disappears into the book world as well. This wasn't done in a fun way though, it was a sinister talent. I had a hard time imagining visiting a book in the flesh to be "fun" because of it – more like a horrible trap. Anyway, I saw this book at my FOL bookstore for 25 cents, picked it up, then later that day I was stuck in a traffic jam. I was the passenger so I started reading a little bit, and I was surprised – hey, this book is kind of good. And it IS a fun to read book too. wow.. a couple of days later and this book was done.

I highly recommend this to literature fans. If you are a Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Bronte, Dickens or english history fan there are lots of little inside jokes going on here. Even if you aren't so into these things, this book is still enjoyable. A rudimentary knowledge of the basic plot of Jane Eyre helps though. The parallel world described here is surprising and refreshing – its 1985, London, and highbrow art and literature is very important to the masses and a part of everyday life. Richard III is treated like a Rocky Horror Picture show production – complete with audience participation and people who have been to over 30 showings, and little boys trade Henry Fielding cards. Gangs of students backing certain artistic movements riot against other conflicting movements. Compared to our values, everybody in this book seems a little on the nutty side.

Thursday Next is a Crimean War veteran, ex-police officer and now agent in Special Ops 27 – the literary division – they solve crimes like forgeries of famous manuscripts. Usually this is a pencil pushing type of job, but it's getting more dangerous every year as organized crime gets more and more involved with literature crimes. Thursday is after a master criminal who has stolen the original Martin Chuzzlewit manuscript. This criminal is number 3 on the most wanted list, has special powers and has killed 42 people. Peppering this story all is Thursday's odd family and coworkers - her father a rogue ChronoGuard (time travel police) agent, her aunt and uncle – math genius and genius inventor, her pet dodo (created with a cloning kit, version 1.2), Spike the cheerful vampire/werewolf hunter…the list goes on and on.

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Karma Girl by Jennifer Estep

Karma Girl
Jennifer Estep

Wow, I'm so behind on reviews. Oh well. *laze*.

Karma Girl is about Carmen Cole, a reporter who finds out her fiance is cheating on her with her best friend Karen on her wedding day. On top of that she learns he's a superhero and Karen, her now ex-best friend is his arch-enemy. Angry and bitter, Carmen exposes them both, then continues to expose other superheroes and villians throughout the country in her quest for what she considers karmic revenge. Eventually she ends up in Bigtime, New York. She's been hired as a reporter to expose the Fearless Five, Bigtime's resident band of superheroes who constantly battle their archenemies the Terrible Triad. This is where things go bad, and Carmen discovers there is a downside to what she is doing. Since she's persona non grata to the superhero community, Carmen has to rely on herself to fix her own problems, even though she feels a connection with Striker, leader of the Fearless Five.

This was a fun, sort of campy novel, using a lot of comic book standards - yards and yards of spandex, first and last names beginning with the same letter, powers gained by being dipped in nuclear waste that happened to be lying about in the open, and secret identities. I had a lot of fun reading it and recognizing the tongue in cheek references to comic books and superhero tropes. Superheroes and villians are common in this world and Carmen sees at least 5 on her way to work. They even have designated parts of the city that they protect. All of this is mixed to produce a chick-lit/romance/humorous story. Really easy to read, and hard for me to put down. Yes it does have some superficial characters and Carmen gets very angsty towards the end when she doesn't need to be (sigh, most annoying part of the book), but I could overlook this and found it enjoyable.

Excerpt to first chapter of Karma Girl

Review of Karma Girl at Dear Author. With amusing youtube video review that you must watch.

I'll be reading book two – "Hot Mama" which is out in November, and probably book three - "Jinx", out April 2008.

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Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging + On the Bright Side, I’m Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God

 

Both of these books are by Louise Rennison, but Vox's subject line won't let me fit all of that in. Anyway, these were two more of the books I picked up at the Greenwich FOL sale. They're about a British teen, Georgia Nicolson and her amusing take on life. Since I just read The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I couldn't help comparing the two books a little bit. Its funny how it worked out – both are written as if by the main character – as diary entries in Angus/Bright Side, and as letters in Perks, and both of them are of course from a young adult point of view. Also both of them have their own type of humor, but while Perks has a subversive humor, Angus and Bright Side have a class clown humor. Georgia is NOT a wallflower – not at all. She and her pack of girlfriends spend their days at their all-girls school finding ways to drive their teachers crazy, and the rest of the time talking about boys. For instance – the girls wear a school uniform that includes a beret which the girls hate because it gives them hat hair. Meetings are held to decide what to do with the beret and how to make it appear less visible and how to protest the beret. One of their MANY methods of protest is using the beret as a lunchbox and putting a sandwich between their heads and the hat. Another method is to roll it up into a sausage and pin it under their hair. Georgia always seems to be surrounded by the weirdest people – her cat (Angus) is the size of a small pony and eats floor mats and terrorizes the neighbor's dog, her little sister hides her diapers in Georgia's bed, and her grandfather just speaks in non sequiturs (and that's just her family). Her best friend Jas is sometimes not the brightest girl and sarcasm just gets past her and the rest of the girls are similarly amusing. Georgia herself is rather silly – obssessed with certain features like her eyebrows (she shaved them off by mistake), her nose, her hair. Finally of course there are all the boys – particularly an older boy Georgia calls Sex God who Georgia is always trying to get.

This is probably the least serious couple of books you could find. I'd put them under the category of what to read when you are sick and miserable and need something to cheer you up. They're fast reads and not meant to be serious books. One of the few things I could see as a complaint is that they are incredibly british. A lot of british slang is used in the books, which some people may find annoying (I didn't), but there is a glossary at the end of the book which is amusing in itself to help. Also – humor is subjective. I often don't laugh when other people are snorting through their noses because it's just not that funny to me. Still – these books both had a few moments where I couldn't help myself from laughing out loud.

I don't know what I want to give this. 8 out of 10? Or 7? Can't decide. 7.5.

This series is eight (I think) books long so far and I'm not sure when it's going to end (these are the american titles) – there are 7 in the U.S. now, number 8 is out in July:

1. Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging 2. On the Bright Side, I'm Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God 3. Knocked Out by My Nunga-Nungas 4. Dancing In My Nuddy Pants 5. Away Laughing on a Fast Camel 6. Then He Ate My Boy Entrancers 7. Startled by His Furry Shorts 8. Love is a Many Trousered Thing

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