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review 2018-06-13 05:45
The Dark Maidens (book) story by Rikako Akiyoshi, art by Booota, translated by Kristi Fernandez
The Dark Maidens - Rikako Akiyoshi,Booota,Kristi Fernandez

The Dark Maidens is structured like a meeting of the Literature Club at St. Mary's Academy for Girls, a mission school in Japan. It begins with the current club president, Sayuri Sumikawa, opening the meeting by explaining its rules and purpose. This is both one of the club's infamous "mystery stew" meetings and also the first meeting since the club's previous president, Itsumi Shiraishi, either jumped to her death on school grounds or was pushed.

"Mystery stew" meetings are one of the club's traditions. Each member brings an ingredient to add to the stew. At some meetings only edible things are allowed, but at others, such as this one, inedible things may be added, as long as they aren't unsanitary, like bugs or shoes. Each member must eat the stew in darkness until the pot has been completely emptied. While everyone is eating the stew, members take turns telling stories. The theme, this time around, is Itsumi and her death.

I bought this knowing only that it was a mystery and that its author is a woman - my brief check for English-language reviews prior to hitting the "buy" button didn't turn up much. Happily, it turned out to be a quick and interesting read, despite its flaws.

I disliked the format, at first. Sayuri's introductory section was odd and a little awkward, as she described a room the club members she was speaking to should already know and discussed the death of her best and closest friend in what seemed to be a remarkably calm way. Readers were given no sense of what was going on in the room or how Sayuri or the other members were behaving unless Sayuri put those things into words. Fortunately, the stories the club members told were more traditionally written, and I eventually adjusted to Sayuri's parts.

The first character to tell her story was Mirei, one of the school's few scholarship students. After that came Akane, the club member who preferred baking Western-style sweets over reading, then Diana, an international student from a small village in Bulgaria, then Sonoko, a student aiming for medical school who was also Itsumi's academic rival, and then Shiyo, one of the club's first members and the author of an award-winning light novel. The book wrapped up with a story and closing remarks by Sayuri.

The first story, Mirei's, made it crystal clear that this was not going to be a book about female friendship and support. No, these girls were going to verbally tear each other to shreds - apparently in a very neat and orderly manner, since there was never any mention of outbursts and denials in the breaks between stories (I assume there were and it just wasn't included in Sayuri's text, because I cannot imagine a bunch of girls keeping silent as they're each accused of murder).

The second story added an interesting, if not terribly surprising element, as it directly contradicted the first story. From that point on, I started keeping track of details that came up in more than one story, trying to sort the truth from lies. Literally everyone in the room was lying, but what they were lying about and why wasn't always easy to figure out. Also, some stories had more truth to them than I originally assumed.

I can't say whether the translation was very accurate, but it was pretty smooth and readable. I flew through this book like it was nothing, and I appreciated the way the differing styles of some of the stories reflected the characters. For example, Shiyo's story had a very bubbly and conversational style, while Sonoko's was more detached and stiff (at least at the beginning).

As much as I enjoyed attempting to sort out the truth and lies in the girls' stories, this book definitely had a few glaring flaws. The biggest one was the mystery stew. It wasn't believable in the slightest that the club members would willingly eat the stew when they all thought that one of them was a murderer. Heck, one of them even suspected that

another club member had been poisoning Itsumi's snacks! Since the meeting was supposed to be happening in the dark, it would have been easy for the poisoner to refrain from eating, or fake eating, and wait until the soup had done its job.

(spoiler show)

 
I also had trouble believing that the girls would have been as open about some things as they were. For example, one girl shared that she'd been in love with Itsumi, while another girl admitted that she'd lied to Shiyo about having read her book. Several girls said things they had to have known that others in the group would recognize as lies. Why didn't they worry about being called out for it?

Another problem was that Akiyoshi seemed to have trouble keeping certain details straight, or perhaps hadn't thought them through very well. For example, Sayuri said that the usual rule for "mystery stew" meetings was that club members could only bring edible ingredients and that the rule had been changed for this particular meeting, and yet only a few paragraphs later it was clear that inedible items had been allowed in the past. Also, club members were supposed to eat the soup "in total darkness," and yet the room had 1-2 lit candles in it (one by Sayuri, to allow her to put ingredients in the pot, and one by the spot where members were supposed to read their stories). There was enough light for Sayuri to notice that one girl's face had paled, even after she'd left the storytelling spot - hardly "total darkness."

Despite the book's problems, I had a lot of fun with it and could see myself rereading it in the future. Next time, I think I'll start with the final two chapters and then go back to the beginning, just to see if everything really does fit together.

Extras:

Several black-and-white illustrations. One of them shows all the girls at once. When I tried to attach names to faces, I realized that there wasn't enough descriptive information in the text to do that. I know what Sayuri and Itsumi looked like, because they were both introduced with illustrations, but, as far as I can tell, most of the others were never described.

 

Rating Note:

 

I feel like I'm probably giving this too high of a rating, because, oof, some of those flaws. But I really did have a lot of fun, especially during the last couple chapters, and I decided to reflect that in my rating.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-01-05 06:55
A School for Unusual Girls (Stranje House, #1)
A School for Unusual Girls: A Stranje House Novel - Kathleen Baldwin

If I hadn't read Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers first, I might have rated this one a tad higher.  Ditto if the book hadn't been clearly stated to be written for ages 13-17. 

 

According to the author this series looks at historical what ifs:  what if King Louis XVIII had been assassinated?  In this historical context she creates a school for girls with unusual...talents.  A School for Unusual Girls focuses on Miss Georgianna Fitzwilliam (no way Baldwin isn't a P&P fan), a 16 year old with a brilliant mind for mathematics and science.  Abandoned at Miss Stranje's school because she set her father's stables on fire in the midst of an experiment, she's intent on escape until she is offered the chance to perfect her formula for invisible ink.

 

The story is great and the characters are finely crafted but the writing lacks the subtly of LaFevers Grave Mercy or even Ransom's Miss Peregrine's School for Peculiar Children, both of which follow the same basic premise.  Baldwin does not want her readers to miss a moment of Georgianna's angst, denial and sense of abandonment by her family, so she rather bashes the point home for the first third of the book.  I almost didn't make it past the second chapter as her desperation became rather too thick.

 

Things picked up a bit after page 85, although it was replaced with romantic longing; this was done, thank goodness, with a deft hand, which helped to soften the effect of our MC being a wounded puppy.  The suspenseful tone of the rest of the book kept me reading.  I liked it in spite of the MC, and because of the rest of the cast of characters (and a truly evil villainess with all the best lines).  It was a great way to lose myself in a lazy afternoon when it's too hot outside to do anything else.

 

There's apparently at least a book two from the POV of one of the other characters.  It's one of those that I'd definitely pick up if I ran across it, but it's likely not going on any "must" lists.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-08-04 15:45
St. Dymphna's School For Poison Girls - Angela Slatter

 

I am getting really tired of stories that have such great premisses _ a school for training brides into being assassins _ and then gets completely altered because of some dude that the main character has just looked upon. It gets tiresome, and honestly? Everyone's doing it. -_-
To make things even worse it just completely removes the character strength! She had a purpose. An objective. Now?
She's just pinning for some dude and backstabbing people who didn't do anything against her. -_-
Unlike what this may sound, I don't have anything against romance... if done well.
This was not the case.
Besides this aggravating point, the rest of the story was actually good :/

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review 2016-05-21 00:00
Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things
Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things - Lenore Look,LeUyen Pham I read this to screen it's appropriateness for a gift. It is definitely appropriate for any child. It is surprisingly funny. I laughed & even posted some of the lines to F.B. too.

Alvin Ho is allergic to life most days it would seem. He is paralyzed by fear in all unfamiliar situations & he can cuss in Shakespearean quite well! This hilarious story of one 2nd graders life will have you laughing. All while learning some important life lessons.
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2015-07-19 16:37
Miss Mabel's School for Girls - 4.9 Stars
Miss Mabel's School for Girls (Network Series, #1) - Katie Cross

Report Card
Characters- A
Plot- A
Setting - A+
Writing- A

 

Characters
It's a rare find in any book, that I enjoy all of the characters, even the ones that I don't like (if that makes any sense :)) Each person in this book is unique.
Our protag Bianca is a girl on a mission. She's pretty single-minded about it, which I can admire. She didn't let herself get distracted or discouraged. Also, she's incredibly selfless. She wants desperately to help her family, especially her grandmother, whom she is very close with, as well as her mother. I can relate to that. Despite this being a fantasy book, those relationships are very realistically done. She's also quite clever, which comes in very handy through this story. She makes friends fairly easily, considering how little time she has to do with, and she chooses with a great deal of discretion.
Her two best friends Camille and Leda play a pretty big part in this story, not only as her friends but supporters. They play off of each other well, and have something of a symbiotic relationship. Studious, plagued Leda keeps fresh, fun Camille grounded and centered. I enjoyed both of them.
And of course, there's Miss Mabel herself. I so wanted her to be this kindly, old crone who imparts wisdom, but that, she surely isn't. She's is quite cruel and heartless. Despite this, she does do her job, and teaches Bianca a great deal. Of course, this is for her benefit so...

 

Plot
There's a lot of plot here and a few different stories happening. The primary one is Bianca working to relieve her family and herself of a curse that was bestowed on her grandmother years ago and is passed down through her bloodline to females.
As I mentioned above, Bianca is quite single-minded. She went to school with a mission and never let up for a second. Even after

Miss Mabel deceived her

(spoiler show)

, she never gave up.
The plot carries quickly through the story with little filler or dull space. Something is always happening, though it isn't always in an action-packed sense. There are many times when Bianca is simply learning valuable information that progresses the plot.
When the story began I thought, My, this sounds a lot like The Goblet of Fire what with a small group of witches competing against each other in tests of wit and magical ability, and Bianca being younger than the others, and seemingly at a disadvantage. However, those thoughts and comparisons quickly dispelled and I was happy to see that it is indeed a very distinct story. So, if you get discouraged by that, please keep reading.

Setting
First of all, I love boarding schools, so this book was going to get points for that alone. More than that, though, we never get the feeling that we leave the school. You know, how sometimes you're super into a setting, but then there's this brief moment, maybe a page or a line, when a character says or does something and you think, That wouldn't have happened there. Do you have those? Sometimes I get those. But that didn't happen here. When you were in the classroom, you were in the classroom. When Bianca describes a dusty, cramped room, I felt like I was there with her. Setting was very well done.

Writing
Writing was quite good as well, for all the reasons aforementioned. it all came together well and I never felt like I was out of the loop or missing anything, but the story wasn't bogged down with descriptions either. It was a nice balance.[spoiler][/spoiler]

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